Thursday, 17 September 2009

No War but Class War - September 2009

Although last month saw the end of the worker occupations in Ssongyang, the Isle of Wight, Dublin, and Lewisham Bridge, it by no means saw the end of the struggle against the exploitation of labour by capital.

In Belgrade, five Serbian anarcho-syndicalists accused of international terrorism remain in jail. Despite protesting their lack of involvement with a firebomb attack on the Greek embassy - in solidarity with then-hunger striker Theodoris Iliopolous - the government has condemned them as members of a group called "Black Ilija," which supposedly claimed responsibility for the attacks. Blic, however, reports that anarchists in Belgrade "have never heard before about an organization called ‘Black Ilija.’" Meanwhile B92 has announced that "a group calling itself Anarhosindikalna Inicijativa (the Anarcho-Syndicalist Initiative) has announced protests in Belgrade" in solidarity with the five prisoners.

As the group themselves explain;
Wanting to brutally suppress its fierce critics the state, through its mechanism of repression, acts with banal logic and maps as suspects those who explicitly stated their libertarian beliefs, and by their imprisonment ends the case and gives a false picture of its efficiency to the public.
Unscrupulous actions of regime’s organs can be observed from the first moments of arrest, unlawful searches of their apartments, intimidations of their families to extreme charges of international terrorism.
Given the fact that we do not support the acts of now famous anarchist group “Crni Ilija” (Black Iliya) we still cannot characterise what happened as “international terrorism”, because terrorism, by definition, entails threats to the lives of civilians, whereas in this case no one was even hurt and only symbolic material damage was done.
It is clear that this state produced farce is just one way of intimidating anyone who decides to point out the injustice and hopelessness of contemporary society.
September 11th saw solidarity protests held at Serbian embassies around the world. No doubt, as the cause continues, more will follow.

In Greece, meanwhile, there has been no news since I reported on the trend of growing repression there. However, with a snap election due, and the people restless in the face of brutal violence and kidnappings by the authorities, we have not heard the last of the unrest.

Here in Britain, we are now beginning to glimpse the kind of turmoil faced by the working class of Greece, with anti-fascist and industrial struggles now running almost in tandem. The convergence of the two issues became apparent on Sunday, with the Merseyside branch of the British National Party holding a farcical protest against what they see as a gathering of "Anti British Communists [sic]." The party managed to draw out six "activists" to offer their message of division and hatred to the working class, whilst hundreds of socialists, trade unionists, and working class people took to the streets in a "Time to Fight Back" march against the real issues blighting ordinary people.

Inside the conference, the first in Liverpool for 100 years, union bosses made token noises about "an end to bonus culture." Gerry Doherty, general secretary of the transport salaried Staffs' Association (TSSA) said, "it's pure greed. This is wrong, it has to stop and it has to come from the trade union movement. Greed has to go and we have to tell the government that." However, whilst the higher echelons of government bureaucracy may be able to voice the opinions of their members, they are much less inclined to act on them. At the same time, Gordon Brown's announcements that he would delay a long-awaited increase in paternity leave and continue with plans to make low paid public sector workers pay for the financial crisis with their jobs met with "concern," but no real opposition.

Indeed, the real battle for workers rights is happening not in the comfortable setting of the TUC conference, but on the streets. There, workers are battling for their livelihoods against corporate and council anti-union measures.

The refuse workers of Leeds are following the example set by their comrades in Liverpool, declaring an indefinite strike over pay cuts worth thousands of pounds per year. Unfortunately, the councils in the two cities are also emulating each other, with Assist-Streetcare providing scabs in both cases. Solidarity will be vital against such tactics, and the picket of Streetcare's Liverpool offices this past Tuesday has to be just the beginning. Yesterday's action in Leeds, whereby "supporters of the Leeds refuse collection strike, dumped several bags of rubbish on the doorstep of council leader Richard Brett" provides a useful indicator of the kind of direct action that will help drive home the level of feeling in support of the workers, and in opposition to the actions of the council, on this issue.

At the same time, postal workers in Swindon have gone on strike in opposition to the Royal Mail's "modernisation" plans, which actually amount to a decimation of the service being offered to the public. As postal workers vote on taking the strike national, it is worth noting what the bleating by the media and Royal Mail bosses about strikes being "damaging" and "hurting customers" really amounts to. Kevin Beazer of the Communication Workers' Union (CWU) is right when he says that although there is "a little bit of pain at the moment but it'll be lot more pain if we don't defend the current service that we've got."

Also worth noting is that, despite the end of the occupation, the campaign to save Vestas continues. Solidarity groups have emerged all across Britain, whilst protesters on the Isle of Wight staged a blockade to prevent blades being removed from the factory, made particularly poetic by the presence of a lone scout perched atop a steel tripod erected for the event.

Workers' unrest in China continues to be far more volatile and violent than elsewhere, perhaps in response to the brutal destruction of the working class that has been in effect there for so long. In response to cases of lead poisoning and other forms of pollution across the country, numerous protests have arisen. Wenping, Hunan, saw 15 people arrested then released after "a recent protest over a lead poisoning incident that was suspected to have sickened more than 1,300 local children." Whilst in Quanzhou, Fujian, "two weeks of protests against a polluting tannery and oil refinery culminated in a 10,000-strong protest." Pollution has now become so bad that, according to CNN, "environmental protection officials from the central government have been dispatched to various locations to conduct factory inspections and environmental evaluations,"whilst numerous factories "will remain closed until they meet official safety standards."

China also saw coal miners in Hunan refusing to sign agreements which will result in a drastic loss of compensation benefits and downing tools over proposed privatisation plans. Libcom reports that "the company had recruited local thugs at 200 yuan per person per day to form a “mine protection corps” to remove strikers from the mine premises by force." Not long afterwards, according to the Epoch Times, "a strike by one thousand workers was curtailed by armed police in the southern China city of Shenzhen." "The workers were employees of the local factory of Philips Respironics, a sleep and respiratory healthcare apparatus manufacturer, headquartered in the U.S." and "were expressing their grievances with the company for changing their work hours, effecting wage deflation through various tactics, and providing inferior quality meals and benefits."

That such discontent and protest could arise so rapidly in as brutal a society as China, that brutality testified to by the equally rapid crackdowns, is something of which we should all take note. Working class resistance against the state continues to mount, but so does state and corporate repression of that resistance. Where strike breaking scabs fail, bailiffs and police forces may succeed. This is a lesson worth remembering.

We are the many, the vast majority of the people on this planet under the yoke of the minority. But that minority has all the instruments of authority and violent coercion at its command. In opposition, our only weapon is solidarity. We must continue to exercise it, making ourselves aware of - and showing our support for - the struggles of all workers across the globe. The association of capital is international. So, too, must be the association of labour.