Wednesday, 21 October 2009

No War but Class War - October 2009

After the snap election called by the government last month, Greece gained a "socialist" government headed by George Papandreou. His first actions upon assuming office were to continue the vicious state repression against anarchists and workers in the country, which has only increased the sense of unrest and rebellion there.

It began, the day after the new government was sworn in, when "Minister for Protection of the Citizen" Michalis Chrysohoidis authorised a 1,000-strong invasion of the radical Exarchia district of Athens. Kathimerini justified the siege with reports that a "group of around 20 hooded youths went on the rampage in central Athens," citing unnamed "witnesses." A day later, it reported that Chrysohoidis sought "the reorganization of the anti-terrorist squad and the introduction of neighborhood policemen" in order to offer a police force that was "democratic and friendlier to the citizen." This, after "Police searched and questioned over 200 people, searched 16 automobiles, several motorbikes, and 26 cafes (there are many anarchist bars and cafes in the neighborhood), took 81 people to the police station, and arrested 8" in order to "repress the anarchists" and "establish police authority in Exarchia."

On the same day that Chrysohoidis spoke of the police being "friendlier to the citizen," Mohammad Atif Kamran died. OccupiedLondon tells us that "on the night of September 26 fifteen cops raided the house" of the 25-year old migrant, "shouting and beating him and his family." The local police station "became a torture chamber" where Kamran was "subjected to severe beatings (while tied hand and foot) and electrical shocks." His family didn't take him to a hospital as he was undocumented, whilst "his brother was pressured and misled into signing that Kamran had no bruises when he left the police station." In response, demonstraters occupied the Nikaia Town Hall "in a demonstration of rage for the recent assassination of 25-year old Pakistani migrant Mohammad Atif Kamran." Though the occupation ended two days ago, it was immediately reinstated in the university building of Propylea and resistance continues.

Meanwhile, workers struggles in the country escalated, with workers from Vodafone and Wind Telecom going on strike, and dockers at Peiraeus, the largest harbour of Greece, continuing a blockade "which has caused all sea-related commercial activities to freeze." It wasn't long before the blockade faced violence, and "serious clashes broke out on Thursday 15/10 morning between shipyard workers and riot police forces outside the Ministry of Labour and Social Solidarity, blocking the main road from Athens to Peiraeus." Although the government has claimed that "the use of police violence was necessary because the workers tried to occupy the ministry," in reality "the police attacked the workers with blast and flash grenades and tear gas" because they, unarmed, "refused to disperse and allow the minister [negotiating with unions] to leave the building."

In Iraq, the government is trying to enforce Saddam-era labour laws under which, according to the Trade Union Congress (TUC), "public sector workers are not officially allowed to join trade unions," only "the General Federation of Iraqi Workers (GFIW), is formally recognised," and "the authorities in Iraq continue to use a controversial decree (Order 8750 of 2005) which froze all trade union assets and financial accounts, making it almost impossible for unions to function effectively." Brendan Barber, General Scretary of the TUC, "wrote to Foreign Secretary David Miliband asking him to press the Government of Iraqi to drop this demand and instead put in place an ILO-compliant labour code that allows all workers the right to form, join - and have a say in the running of - trade unions." It remains to be seen, however, what will come of this, and a wider solidarity with Iraqi workers is desperately needed.

"Edinburgh Street cleaners have hit out at Council leaders’ claims that they are “set to give up their protest” in the long-running dispute over wages and conditions," according to Indymedia UK. "Hundreds of Council manual workers agreed at a mass meeting on 9th October to continue their work-to-rule and overtime ban to oppose wage cuts and changes in conditions."

A similar dispute in Liverpool ended with an improved pay offer, although nothing was done over the fact that the council were using Assist Streetcare to provide scab labour. With a similar situation in Edinburgh, and the council "still refusing to comply with Freedom of Information requests to reveal the sums being paid to Assist, Shank Waste Management and other companies," we need to hope that the Edinburgh workers can not only improve their own conditions but challenge the increasingly oppressive anti-worker attitudes of local councils.

In several hours, postal workers all across the country will join the struggle by beginning a nationwide strike. Whilst the BBC continues to repeat government claims that the dispute is "something of a tragic matter" and "wholly unjustified," with the workers so coldly ignoring a "last-gasp plea" to surrender to the destruction of their livelihoods, others are asking more important questions. The Socialist Equality Party questions the motives of the CWU, "which wants nothing more than a shabby compromise so that it can restore its relations with management," whilst condemning the "coordinated campaign to defeat their strike in defence of jobs and conditions."

The postal workers now appear to be the front line of "a political struggle against the Labour government, the Conservative opposition, and the financial aristocracy, which are seeking to impose the full cost of the failure of the capitalist profit system onto working people." This leaves much resting on the outcome of this dispute. But they are not the only ones fighting.

In Hartlepool, the Peterlee Mail reports that "workers at the Brenda Road plant of steel giants Corus have started a ballot for industrial action in the continuing dispute over pensions and bonuses," whilst Libcom tells us that construction workers "want Unite to be given official recognition at the Heerema site in Greenland Road" and have called "a wildcat strike ... with an estimated 200 workers standing outside the gates of the site."

Over in the Americas, as in Europe, workers are fighting back against the bosses. However, the plight of the Mexican Electrical Workers' Union tells us how much harder the fight can be in other countries. According to Labor Notes, "Federal Police seized the plants of the Central Light and Power Company of Mexico, which provides electricity to Mexico City and several states in central Mexico." the action came as "President Felipe Calderón announced that the company would be liquidated and all its approximately 45,000 workers fired, which would mean the destruction of the Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME)" because "the union has been a leading force in organizing to oppose Calderón’s economic policies."

In response, the union "has asked for international solidarity in resisting the government liquidation of their company, the termination of the workers, and thus the destruction of the union." Labor Notes are asking that supporters write to President Felipe Calderón at, copying in

The magazine is also involved in setting up "troublemaker schools" with the aim of helping activists "learn tactics, skills, and strategies folks can use in their locals and workers centers right away: beating back concessions and employer attacks; defending immigrant members against raids; activating members on the shop floor and in the community." In this way, they hope to revitalise a labour movement "crippled by leaders’ cooperative response to employers in the early 1980s."

If successful, such an action could add considerable weight to organised labour by offering meaningful resistance to the lone global superpower. There is still much to be done, however, and to engage in navel gazing about future successes would only be a setback at this point. Instead, we must be welcoming such actions, showing solidarity with fellow workers as they stand against brutal oppression by state and capital, and continue to build upon the organisation and community that we already have.