Sunday, 31 October 2010

No War but Class War - October 2010

This month, the scale of the attacks on the working class in Britain to shore up the ruling class became clear. Under the banner of the Comprehensive Spending Review, chancellor George Osborne wrought attacks on the unemployed and disabled, tax hikes, and at least 1 million job losses.

The response to the cuts agenda  has thus far been lacklustre, at best. However, in the weekend following the CSR it looked like there were at least a few people up for a fight and, although the same compromising bureaucratic nonsense was there, something of a radical militancy was beginning to break through. Fire-fighters in London organising mass pickets and blocking the way for scabs is just one example.

The last weekend of the month saw people respond with direct action to the disparities in how ordinary people and big corporations are treated by the state.

Across the country, protesters blockaded the entrances of Vodafone stores, in response to the news that the mobile phone company had an outstanding tax bill of £6bn. This became the focal point for a mass outpouring of anger, which saw the flagship store in London closed.

The Northampton Solidarity Federation made the reasons for this quite clear in a leaflet handed out at the event;
Those of us working for our living, or even claiming benefits, have our tax deducted at source. But the rich, and companies such as Vodafone continually avoid their tax bill – and with the blessing of government.

After cancelling this £6bn tax bill, Osborne appointed Vodafone’s finance director to the government’s Advisory Board on Business Tax Rates. Presumably to work out more ways in which the elite can avoid paying tax.

But it’s not just Vodafone.

It’s been calculated that UK corporations succeed in avoiding paying £12bn tax every year, and the wealthiest people in the country (Osborne and his friends) avoid or evade up to £120bn!

Whose interests are the government looking after? IT ISN’T OURS!
And, as Laurie Penny pointed out in the New Statesman, this was not the act of old hands;
This is not just the usual troublemakers making the usual nuisance of themselves. They are very young, they are very resolute, and they are certain that the left's usual response just won't cut it anymore.
That the present attacks have inspired such radical action from people who aren't long-in-the-tooth class warriors can only be a good thing. We have to hope that they can maintain that fighting spirit - perhaps with some improvement in tactics and security - without being demobilised by the traditional left.

LibCom provides a helpful round-up of other struggles across Britain this month;
Taxi drivers in Rossendale vote to strike

Taxi drivers in Rossendale, Lancashire, have voted for strike action in protest against the council's plans to implement penalties on drivers.

Under the scheme, drivers will be hit with point-based penalties if they break one of 34 rules. Drivers who accrue more than 20 points in a year will have to resit their test or have their licence revoked. For example, sounding a horn to announce arrival at an address will result in four points.

The decision was taken at a mass meeting of 150 cabbies. At the time of writing, the Taxi drivers have voted to strike within the next fortnight.

Sellafield workers in strike over pay

Workers employed by Babcock, a contractor at Sellafield nuclear plant, have struck and held up traffic at the entrance to the site.

The workers, who are members of the Unite union, are owed back pay relating to a promised annual pay rise which never materialised. They have been taking regular strike action and have imposed an overtime ban. They held up traffic at all four entrances to the site leafleting other workers.

Strikes at Swindon Leisure Centres

September saw two strikes at Swindon's leisure centres, parks and car parks after the Tory-run council moved to withdraw shift allowances for compulsory overtime at antisocial hours.

The ballot was organised by Unison, which backed the strikes. The cut represents a significant drop in pay for many workers, resulting in the loss of as much as £300 a month. The strike has led to the closure of car parks and the winding down of leisure centre activities. The hardship fund set up for the strike is reported to have received £1500 in donations so far.

AstraZeneca workers fight on

The strike by workers at AstraZeneca in Macclesfield has continued into October. The dispute began last month after the company, which reported pre-tax profits of £1.8 in the three months to June this year, implemented cuts to staff pensions (whilst Chief Executive David Brennan boosted his pension entitlement to £17,500 a week).

The strike vote saw a 70% backing for action being given by GMB members, with the Macclesfield drug factory seeing the first strike in its history.

A GMB-organised demonstration marched from the AstraZeneca site to Macclesfield town centre on the 6th of October before returning back to the site, on what was the sixth day of strike action. 
The response of French workers to their government's attacks has been far more determined and explosive. Nicholas Sarkozy's plans to raise the state retirement age have been met with waves of protests, strikes, blockades and occupations.

The Mouvement Communiste offers an in-depth report and analysis of the situation, and states that one of the main weaknesses of the protests there is that strikes have not hit the private sector. However, they remain optimistic because "in many places very tiny groups of people tried to organize themselves on a rank and file basis to do something, for instance blocking the economy."

This may be unrealistic, but it "allows people to create horizontal links that could be useful for the future." There are people willing to fight, and the point is to build upon that.

In Peru, the textile exporter Topy Top sacked 35 workers for organising into a trade union. Peruvian textile workers say they are routinely bullied and "brutally harrassed" by their employers and that legal systems favouring the bosses have led to their working day reaching more than 12 hours in some cases.

A 2008 study from the Fair Labor Association found that workers were afraid to join a union for fear of retaliation, and regularly worked 60 -77 hour weeks. The company had no health and safety policy and did not provide adequate safety equipment or clothing and was unable to demonstrate that it had any protections against the use of child labour.

In 2009, there was strike action against Law 2242, which effectively allows textile exporters to end anyone's employment within two months without having to state a reason. However, little has changed and these sackings are just the latest incitement against workers.

As a result, campaigning publication Periodico Humanidad has published a callout through the International Workers Association for actions to be taken at the outlets of transnational fashion chain Zara, one of Topy Top's biggest clients, on October 9th. This call was taken up by, among others, the Brighton and Liverpool locals of the Solidarity Federation.

In the United States, the Jimmy Johns' union has been facing difficulties in its struggle to be recognised by bosses. According to a press release on the IWW website;
Franchise owner Mike Mulligan decided to go beyond the pale. His managers asked workers to wear anti-union pins, fired pro-union workers, threatened a mass firing, implemented an illegal wage freeze, tightened policies and retaliated against union members, offered bribes, and pressured workers to vote no. He broke the law repeatedly in order to win, and he just barely won. That's not right. We are calling on the NLRB [National Labor Relations Board] to set aside the results of this election.
This tactic is typical of union busting companies in America, most notably Starbucks and Walmart, But Starbucks, at least, now have a fighting union presence and Jimmy Johns workers are determined to join them. The union has filed to have the election results nullified, and at the same time "the workers also plan to mount a campaign to win their demands without union recognition."

In different parts of the world, workers are taking struggles into their own hands and forcing their demands upon the bosses. And those who suffer the backlash are receiving international solidarity. As the attacks on our class become more savage, this trend will only continue to grow.