Sunday, 28 March 2010

No War but Class War - March 2010

This month, Britain has seenwhat right-wing commentators have been quick to dub a "Spring of Discontent." Three big unions, namely PCS, Unite, and the RMT, have called strike actions which have drawn heavy fire for their immediate impact upon services and the public.

PCS took part in a two-day strike at the start of the month, followed by a third day to coincide with the delivery of the Budget in Parliament. Despite condemnations from ministers and senior civil servants (who may look more kindly as their own pay gets affected), and propaganda in the media, there was strong support for the action from the general public. Families of civil servants have now started a petition to get the Prime Minister to respond to the action and call a halt to disputed changes in the Civil Service Compensation Scheme.

Unite members in British Airways cabin crews yesterday began their second round of strike action, after their first three days took place from the 20th to the 22nd. The dispute centres around attempts by BA to impose crippling changes to the terms and conditions of staff and, essentially, create a two-tier workforce. Even more so than the civil service dispute, the cabin crew action has come under intense propaganda fire from the media. The Daily Mail has been particularly vocal in this, the latest point being the ridiculous attempts to associate the strike with allegations that Unite official Derek Simpson visited a "seedy go-go bar" in Thailand. Unfortunately, in the anti-union media world, ad hominem attacks work.

Members of the RMT are planning to strike on the 6th to 9th April, over London Underground's cost-cutting plans which would see 800 staff lose their jobs. The union gave the employer a deadline to withdraw the job cuts, before ballotting members on striking. The ballot passed overwhelmingly, and the walkout would effectively see the rail network shut down as a result. However, the "rail strike chaos" (another propaganda play from the media) may be averted now that talks have resumed.

In all three of these cases, the dispute has still yet to be resolved. Workers are fighting to save their jobs in a post-recession environment which allows employers to eradicate people's livelihoods in order to save themselves. The unions are fighting back, but this remains limited to within specific industries and sectors, and from a reformist and concilliatory perspective. What is lacking is the will to link up these disputes and publicly state that this broad attack on workers is nothing less than class war.

When that link is made, we can see a marked difference in the fightback. In Greece, strikes and industrial disputes have become part of the ongoing and explosive struggle there. In the past month, the country has seen the amplification of a genuine Spring of Discontent;
Lawyers have called a 3-day long strike and doctors continue withdrawing their labour against the austerity measures, train workers halt their locomotives, while four different labour marches are to be performed within the day by judicial officers, firemen and pensioners in Athens, along with a central public sector march in the afternoon.

Just a few days before the long holiday season of the greek easter, which is the government's main hope for easing tension, a new wave of strikes and protest marches against the austerity measures is hitting the country.

Lawyers have declared a three day strike against the austerity measures for the 23, 24 and 26 of March (the 25th is a national holiday). Meawhile, doctors are continuing to withdraw their labour from the country's public hospitals in demand of the immediate payment of all their owed salaries. Athens doctors will be seeing the Minister of Health today, although their Salonica colleagues refused to see the Minister for negotiations a few days ago. Yesterday doctors across the country performed a coordinated 6 hour stoppage and a demo outside the Ministry of Health in Athens. It must be noted that talks between National Electricity (DEH) workers and the Minister of Labour are in progress. The DEH union has declared that if the talks fail it will move to rolling 48h strikes that will plunge the country in darkness.

At the same time, train and suburban train workers are performing a 4 hour stoppage today against the measures, during the noon peak-time that will see all trains come to a standstill. Judicial officers continue their daily 2-h work stoppage campaign against the measures, which has brought chaos to the greek courts. The judicial officers will gather today at 10:00 at the Eirinodikio Courts and march to the Parliament. Meanwhile, firemen have called a demo at Omonoia for 11:00 intending to march against the measures to the Ministry of Finance. A little later pensioners have called a march against the measures to the Ministry of National Economy. They will be joined by National Telecommunications, National Railway and National Post workers also protesting against pension cuts. Later in the day, at 18:00, ADEDY, the public sector umbrella union, has called a central protest march against the measures from Propylaea to the Parliament. At the same time, anarchists are calling for an anti-racist demo at Amerikis square, an hang out area of African immigrants coveted by neon-nazi groups.

The continuous protest marches are expected to keep the centre of Athens off limits for cars throughout the day. The government is meanwhile launching a mixed campaign of rumors and declarations against these very rumors concerning the country seeking IMF help, or going bust, or changing back to its old national currency. This strategy of confusion is supplanted by newspaper talk of secret printing of old currency notes in the Treasury vaults, and about the 25th of March being a "critical day" for the currency. At the same time the government is trying to let some steam out of radical protester's anger, by promising an immediate reversal of the anti-hood law and an immediate ban on CCTV in public spaces.
Alongside this, Athens has once again been transformed into an urban warfare zone;
An urban guerrilla offensive seems to be underway in Athens with two major bomb attacks within the last 48 hours, one against the headquarters of the neo-nazi party Golden Dawn, and one against the Police Directorship for Immigrants.

In less than 48 hours two major bombs have hit Athens, marking what seems to be an urban guerrilla spring offensive in the greek capital.

The first bomb exploded a little after 8:00 a.m. on Friday 19 March at the headquarters of Chrisi Avgi (Golden Dawn) the neo-nazi party of greece, an organisation responsible for countless murder attempts, arson attacks and pogroms against immigrants, leftists and anarchists. The group is led by Mr Mihaloliakos a convicted bomber who founded the Golden Dawn in the early 1980s under the direct orders of the imprisoned head of the colonels junta, Georgios Papadopoulos. The daily Eleftherotypia has published documents of Mr Mihaloliakos salary details in the service of EYP, the greek secret services. The bomb that hit the offices on Sokratous street had been pre-announced to the daily Eleftherotypia, giving 20 minutes to evacuate the building and the near by hotel. The bomb, which has been estimated by the police as "very strong" but with a slow diffusion as to minimise the blast wave that could damage near-by buildings, has demolished the officers, creating a crater through the concrete floor and leaving none but cement columns standing. To this moment no urban guerrilla group has claimed responsibility for the attack which the anti-terrorist bureau has coined "a classic divergence tactic" in relation to the investigations on Lambros Foundas, the 35 year old anarchist shot dead during a gun battle with the police earlier this week. The man is proclaimed by the anti-terrorist bureau as "a key member of one of the big new generation terrorist groups" of greece. Anarchist have launched an extended campaign in honour of Lambros Foundas with thousands of posters and a one thousand strong protest march to the spot of his assassination being realised today noon.

The second bomb exploded at 15:58 p.m on Saturday 20 March at the Police Directorship for Immigrants (Allodapon) at Petrou Ralli avenue, Athens. Allodapon is the notorious camp-like place where all immigrants have to stand in line for endless hours waiting for papers applications while cops brutalise them indiscriminately. There have been many deaths of immigrants as a result of police brutality, as well as protest marches and clashes with the police as a result (all covered in earlier postings in libcom). The explosion was pre-announced to the daily Elefterotypia with a phone-call that allowed 20 minutes to evacuate the buildings and close of the streets. The bomb, which is claimed by the police to be "strong" has damaged part of the premises, while its blast wave has also damaged shops across the avenue, with no human injuries due to the evacuation. Both this and the bomb in Sokratous street were time-bombs.

The bomb attacks come after more than a month of a lull by urban guerrilla groups which has launched a winter offensive during December and January. It must be noticed that the small bomb that hit the house of the vice-president of the Pakistani community yesterday is widely considered to be related to the Pakistani secret services (due to the fact that it has been proceeded by the assassination of an embassy official of Pakistan) and not to domestic armed struggle.
The question now must be whether Greeks can take the armed struggle and the atmosphere of general strike and push forward towards some kind of victory for the working class.

In America, the big moment in this month's struggle was March 4th, when California's educational system was hit by walkouts, student strikes, and marches. As Labor Notes tells us, the action occured "against crippling state budget cuts—$17 billion in two years to California’s education fund." "Rallies in each city [in the state] numbered in the thousands—a gathering sponsored by the San Francisco Labor Council drew 20,000 people to the Civic Center. Hundreds of marchers took their protests onto the freeways, stopping traffic for nearly an hour in Oakland. UC Davis students marched through two police lines before baton-swinging cops turned them away at an on-ramp."

The IWW has a report on the day's action, but for a fuller analysis we must return, once again, to LibCom;
In response to the state government's attempt to use the crisis as en excuse for rolling back public services -including tuition increases of 32% at the UC system- students and workers struck and occupied across the state of California, as did their counterparts at colleges in New York and 30 other states, defying efforts to corral the movement into after-work rallies or "dialogues" at the Capitol.

One of the most striking facts about the breadth of the action on March 4 was the popularity of radical action in areas with very little history of struggle. Students across the UC system were consciously referring to their activity as a strike and attempting to shut down their campuses, not just at the "activist" campuses of Berkeley, LA, and Santa Cruz, but also at San Diego, Irvine and Riverside (all in the heart of suburban Southern California), Santa Barbara (notorious as a party school) and Davis (the agricultural campus, located in "The Tomato Capitol of the World").

According to Occupy California (occupyca.wordpress.com), each of these campuses saw at least several hundred students attempting to shut down the functioning of the university and, in many cases, to spread the disruption off campus. At Santa Cruz pre-dawn picket lines closed the entrances to the campus and were held even against violent attempts by drivers to break through, including one attempt by the driver of a Prius that broke a picket's leg. Many campus workers, instead of getting angry at another "student protest", respected the strike by joining the picket lines or by defying supervisors (and police escorts) and claiming that they couldn't get through the picket lines. In Oakland, around 1000 students from Berkeley joined students and teachers from public schools, community colleges, and CSUs for a mid-day rally at City Hall. The marchers managed to get onto Interstate 880, a freeway going through the most working-class sections of Oakland, where 150 were arrested. At Irvine and Davis hundreds of students shut down their campuses and then moved to shut down surrounding traffic - in Davis the marchers then moved to occupy Interstate 80 (the main artery to nearby Sacramento), but after overcoming several lines of police using batons and shooting pepper balls, were eventually prevented. Similar strike attempts occurred at other UC campuses, as well as many campuses of the California State University.

There were simultaneous actions at universities in 31 other states, including at several branches of the CUNY and SUNY systems in New York. Take The City reports an occupation at SUNY Purchase, as well as demonstrations and walk-outs at Brooklyn College, CUNY Hunter, and the CUNY Graduate Center.

The movement is spreading and echoing quicker than anyone expected. Capital demands its pound of flesh and, in so doing, creates its own gravediggers. The students are not relying on any existing organizations for leadership but are spontaneously creating General Assemblies to strategize. By consciously referring to the movement as a strike and by attempting to spread off campus students are showing an implicit consciousness that this is not simply about 'defending education', but is about refusing to pay for the crisis created by the contradictions of capitalism. In order to move forward, the strike movement is going to have to spread - students will have to make links with workers, such as the 15,000 municipal workers who are receiving pink slips in San Francisco today, and they will have to encourage the workers to form general assemblies or general strike committees, instead of relying on the established unions that will divide the workers and prevent a general strike.
South African shack-dwelling movement Abahlali baseMjondolo have emerged stronger after the repression they faced last September, and occupied downtown Durban during yesterday's public holiday in honour of human rights. South Africa has quietened down since the mass rebellions of last year, with the ANC government needing to keep order ahead of the 2010 World Cup, but the resentment of the oppressed is still there, brewing beneath the surface.We can only hope South African activists are able to build a movement to raise awareness around this global event, perhaps with more success than was achieved during the Beijing olympics.