Wednesday, 29 September 2010

No War but Class War - September 2010

This month ends with a 24 hour general strike in Spain, and other protests and actions across Europe in solidarity.

This is a strike about which the CNT are, reasonably, sceptical. They note that although "we have more than enough reasons to strike," it can be said that "a one-day strike (or rather, a workday of symbolic unemployment) is too little too late." An act of wrangling by bureaucrats keen for a seat at the top table.

But rather than heckling at the sidelines, they are responding with action;
Therefore we are calling for participation in a strike, a real strike, not so that they will call on us to negotiate a reform and some cuts to which we are radically opposed, but to throw the reform and the cuts out altogether. But above all, to take the first step in the reconstruction of a class-conscious unionism, one that will defend the interests of everyone who's been suffering from the downpour of the last two years while the state unionists have participated in the spectacle of giving out subsidies and cutting rights. And we are going to do this while following the principles we've always had, without accepting state subsidies or delegating our power to others.

We will call for the strike, we will form pickets and we will protest. Direct action will be our identifying mark on September 29th. We will do this to try to demolish the labor reform that cheapens firings, facilitates layoffs, favors pulling away from labor agreements (including salary tables), and grants full powers to the union bureaucrats in the critical sectors to negotiate with the employers to the detriment of the workers' assemblies...

Worker, unemployed, student... it's past time to reclaim what is ours, because if we don't they will continue to strip our rights. If you're fed up with seeing how the state unions boss us around, and you want to take part in the construction of revolutionary unionism, a unionism that doesn't sell itself to our enemy in exchange for a plate of state subsidies, come to the branches of the CNT or contact our workplace branch in your company.

Starting on September 29th and even before, we'll see you in the street, against the abuses of the employers, the politicians, the bankers, and the pickpocketing so-called "unions", because the struggle doesn't stop here.
As I write, the strike continues and reports have not yet come in. However, it is clear that the course taken by the CNT is the one that anarchists and radical workers need to take.

We should not merely be hecklers on the sidelines, deriding "reformism." Alongside a solid analysis of the flaws of the mainstream union movement, we need to provide an alternative and make the case for it directly to the working class. And the best way to do that is by acting.

At the very beginning of the month, we saw what results such action can achieve. In Warsaw, tenants are celebrating a successful campaign to prevent the sell-off of publicly owned housing.

In the first round of protests, the campaign managed to prevent the sell off of one building under claim, which ,means that all buildings in the same property will remain municipal housing. And the struggle continues, with a rent strike called for October 1st by the anarcho-syndicalist ZSP.

This demonstrates the efficacy of grassroots organisation and direct action. But it also shows that cuts and privatisation can be resisted communally as well as in the workplace.

In Minneapolis, workers at the fast food chain Jimmy John's have formed an IWW-affiliated union, presented demands for better wages and more control over scheduling, and held large pickets. Following the precedent set by the Starbucks union, this clearly shows the efficacy of the libertarian organising model over traditional unions in mobilising casualised workers.

In a similar vein, the Seattle Solidarity Network have helped a woman hounded out of her job by racism to win her dispute with Lorig Associates. Despite heavy-handed union busting tactics, a determined 18 months campaign saw the company drop their lawsuits and pay out $22,000 compensation.

In France, the government's proposal to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62 was met with street protests and a national strike against the measures. This was not a one-off, with two more such events later on in the month. It follows an earlier action in May.

This is in stark contrast to Britain, where such measures were met with little to no reaction. Which is part of a broader inaction against government class warfare, the occasional march notwithstanding.

In Ankara, contractors in one of the biggest university hospitals in Ankara have gone on wildcat strike over wages. They did not receive their pay for August and only got half for September. The workers have vowed to continue their strike until they will receive their wages.

In Poland, LibCom reports on a similar dispute;
A group of hospital cleaners from the Specialized Hospital in Dabrowa Gornicza had a meeting with their new bosses at the Municipal Office in the presence of members of the City Council. The workers are trying to get the city involved in the fate of the hospital staff since it is a public hospital. Still the President of the City claims they are "not a party" in the conflict.

The problem is that the hospital outsourced their work six years ago. The workers became employees of a private firm called Aspen. In the last public tender, a firm called Naprzod won and will now be their employer.

37 cleaners have refused the conditions of the new contract. They are asking for permanent contracts with a minimum guaranteed salary. In other words, they are also concerned that the company can cut their working hours.

Naprzod wants to give the women 3 year contracts. Those trying to convince the workers to accept this point out that Naprzod's contract with the hospital, which they won in a public tender, is only three years long.

The struggle then is in fact against the outsourcing and the way people are hired in public health care. In recent years, the majority of health care workers have lost their labour relationship with their hospital as part of reforms connected to the commercialization of health care in Poland.

The cleaners had no luck talking to their new employer or the city so they decided to occupy the office. The security guards then locked the door of the top-floor conference room where they were meeting. In this way, they tried to get them out, by among other things, cutting their access to toilets. But the women were able to get onto the roof, from where their protest became visible. They spent the night on the roof and say they are waiting for the President of the City to speak with them. 
Migrant workers in Greece have responded to police violence and harassment by striking. As the culmination of a long campaign of racism and terror, police inspired their employers to evict them. The strikers demands are human housing, decent wages, and legal status / asylum for migrants and refugees.

We should hope that they get solidarity from native Greek workers and follow the same example here. Class solidarity - not nationalism - is the only sensible solution to capitalist abuses.

Still in Greece, "struggle season" has once more begun anew;

The massiveness of what in the last decades has become a 'traditional' and usually lukewarm protest march, accompanying the Greek PM's economic plenary speech in the Salonica Expo was not matched by any considerable pulse on the part of the protesters. Surrounded by thousands of riot policemen, who did not hesitate to apply the Socialist Party's new repressive method, i.e. preemptive detainment of some 35 "anarchist-looking" folk before the start of the march, the protest was more massive than the last years but equally numb and silent. Held in one of the most conservative cities of Greece where the extreme religious element mingles with a long-standing antisemitic nationalism it is no wonder that the man arrested after throwing a shoe at the PM wailed about some "United Patriotic Front". The two marches (one by the GSEE and the other by the grassroots unions) numbered up to 30,000 people under rain.

Nevertheless, the marches during the Expo always mark the beginning of the so-called 'struggle season', which even the most conservative estimates expect to be angry and unpredictable. Even the right-wing daily Kathimerini figured a Friday front-page predicting that numbness will soon lead to rage and perhaps bloodshed. The prospects of a social explosion have risen considerably in the last weeks after the government has proved insensitive enough to introduce a new heating fuel tax that will double the price of heating petrol, amounting to an extra lost salary p.a. Statistics have shown the GDP to have plunged by almost 3,5% in the last 6 months, while unemployment up from 8 to 12% with modest expectations of it to rise to 20% by December. At the same time 20-25% of high-street shops remain shut due to the recession, while 3/4 of the stock-market registered companies have recorded losses. The picture becomes really absurd if one adds to it the fact that the Athens Mayor has announced a budget of 4,000 Euros per uniform, in order to dress his municipal policemen, while the government announcing a multi-million emergency budget for upgrading the police forces. With nearly 90% of the population declaring in various polls that it is against the government and its handling of the economy, the recent reshuffling of the government cabinet has done little to appease the wide spectrum of discontent.

As a nightmare coming back alive, fuel carrying truck drivers have decided to end their peace with the government and resume striking from Monday. News agencies report that on that day the drivers plan a huge motorised march to the capital where they will give the keys to their vehicles to the Transport Ministry refusing to serve under the civil conscription orders that linger over their heads since late July. 
But, with protests and strikes flaring up all over the world in reponse to what is quite clearly a global consensus of austerity, the dilemma is how to turn a "season" into a tidal wave.

Too often, a "winter of discontent" will peter out after much bluff and bluster. The ruling class remain unharmed, as does the social order that perpetuates them. Whilst the masses are in a worse off position than before having been demobilised by their "leaders."

That pattern needs to be challenged. As the CNT are, we need to push for resistance led from below by the rank-and-file. We need to argue and agitate for effective direct action over collaboration.

In individual struggles, the anarcho-syndicalist model has claimed impressive victories. But across the broader movement, we remain a minority. If we are able to put across our perspective through growing and effective organisation, that may not remain the case for too long.