Tuesday, 29 June 2010

No War but Class War - June 2010

Whilst everyone has been focused on pay freezes, job losses, and service cuts, the elephant in the room for workers of late has been Health and Safety.

David Cameron has appointed Lord Young to undertake a "Whitehall-wide review" of Health and Safety laws. The obvious intent behind rhetoric about "red tape" being to water down the enforcement of said legislation.

To see the effects of this, we need only look to America, where the lack of a last-ditch safety valve, despite warnings from workers, led to 15 deaths and the worst environmental disaster in US history.

But, as Labor Notes reports, this is overlies a far quieter but equally disturbing story;
In the same week as the human-created disaster in the Massey mine in West Virginia, local media outlets around the country carried dozens of stories with headlines like “Man Killed in Trench Collapse” or “Fall from Roof Fatal.”
The toll of these routine incidents—14 deaths a day from injuries alone—is obscured because most occur one death at a time.

Month after month, year after year, workers die in trench collapses and falls from roofs. OSHA cites the employer, slaps it with a modest fine (a median penalty of only $3,675 per death in 2007), and points out that simple methods exist to prevent such tragic loss of life. Yet some employers continue to ignore the hazards and workers continue to lose their lives due to this criminal neglect.

Like the high-profile workplace disasters, the vast majority of deaths on the job are entirely preventable. The problem is not a technical one of chemical concentrations, safe machinery, and ventilation, but a political one—simply put, our national system for enforcing health and safety regulations in the workplace is broken.
This is what we can expect in the UK if Cameron and Lord Young get their way. But, as of yet, there has been no significant response from the TUC unions. And a few quotes in the media will not effect any change at all.

Still in Britain, the British Airways dispute rolls on. BA have put forward another offer to cabin crew staff, and Unite are delaying a strike vote to allow members to vote on it. Despite Tony Woodley saying that he will not recommend the deal, because it doesn't reinstate member travel perks, this seems to be the best way of resolving the dispute without mutually assurred destruction.

Between Willie Walsh's aggressive union-busting tactics and Unite's earlier dithering over strike action, the workers have been led to a point where no outright victory is possible. Of course, if they opt to strike again they should have the solidarity of their fellow workers, but it seems the best BA cabin crews can hope for is to not lose outright.

The "Belgrade Six," Serbian anarcho-syndicalists arrested on trumped up charges of "international terrorism," have been formally acquitted. After the earlier victory for the German FAU-B, who have reclaimed the right from the courts to call themselves and act as a trade union, this is a positive development for the radical workers' movement.

Anarcho-syndicalists in the ZSP, the FAU-B's sister-organisation in Poland, are engaged in a struggle for Chinese immigrant workers stranded in Warsaw without money or a travel permit. Lawyers for their employers involved are trying to dissuade action and avoid responsibility.

In Spain, the CNT have called to make a coming general strike indefinite, arguing that single-day actions will not disrupt the bosses enough to deter them.

Evidence of this can be seen in Greece, where even rioting and violence has failed to make the actions more effective. Instead of short and dramatic show pieces, there needs to be a more concerted attack on the capitalist system and in favour of workers' control. An indefinite strike would be an integral part of that, and it would seem that some in France feel as the CNT does in Spain.

However, the ZSP have vowed that they "will not be confused by legalistic bullshit" and "will continue to demand help for these victims of exploitation from the entities involved."

In South Africa, the World Cup has become the story, eclipsing everything else. In response not only to this but also evictions, detentions, and a crackdown on dissidents, the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign have launched the Poor Peoples' World Cup.

At the main World Cup, stewards went on strike over a pay dispute. This was met with police violence, with at least one woman hurt and two strikers arrested.

"The sale of rice on the Cuban black market has reached more than three times the price of this product in agricultural markets," according to reports, and the scarcity has led to desperation amongst the country's poor workers. Dockers have refused to allow a ship taking rice to Haiti to leave, defying the army in order to claim a victory for popular militancy.

Another blockade occurred at about the same time in San Francisco.

800 activists blocked the Oakland docks from the early hours of the morning in opposition to an Israeli ship after the attack on the Gaza flotilla. In soldarity, dock workers cited health and safety concerns and refused to cross the picket.

Speaking of pickets, Labor Notes asks the question "How Do We Win Strikes Again?" Noting that "unions avoid strikes because they fear they can’t win them," they get Peter Olney of the Longshore and Warehouse Union, who have just won a 15-week lockout, to explain how to "break this mold;"
You have to set the strike up very carefully. You can’t get suckered out in a pure economic strike. You have to find a way to be out on an unfair labor practice strike so you have more flexibility in returning to work, and returning without permanent replacements. That’s basic rule No. 1. But so many unions walk off the cliff and do what the company wants—I’ve done it myself.

A lot of it is preparation and training. There’s a lot of discussion of heroic actions around not handling struck work or blockading trucks. The tactical part of the struggle is important, but the bottom line is you have to take care of the members. When that breaks down it causes tremendous demoralization.

You must be prepared with a strike fund or food-and-money-raising operation to take care of the workers, who are immediately destitute. People drift away and pay for the strike by crossing the picket line. Feeding the members is part and parcel of winning. It’s a lost art.
As general strikes and unrest at austerit measures continues to spread, this would be a lesson worth learning for worker organisation the world over. The class war is intensifying and disputes continue to heat up.

It would be good if we could win them.