Wednesday, 29 December 2010

No War but Class War - December 2010

This month began with the explosive climax of the students' tuition fees revolt. I've written about it in more depth here, noting that "should not be seen as the end of the student revolts" and that "if we build on the momentum of the last few weeks," then what is coming "need not look that daunting a struggle."

It looks as if that point is being heeded. Not only in Britain, where university occupations continued even through Christmas Day, but across Europe.

In Greece, the national coordination meeting of the student assemblies and occupied universities declared that their struggle will continue. They "will continue with assemblies, massive protests, occupations" by "coordinating all these actions with each other and with the strikes organized by the workers" and "will continue till the final victory!"

Their immediate aim is to halt the austerity imposed by the IMF's bailout of the country. They wish to stop these measures being used to roll back workers' rights, and also to demonstrate, occupy, and strike.

Italy has been seeing similar protests to Britain. On the 14th December, the Italy Calling blog reports that "while Berlusconi was narrowly winning a vote of confidence in Parliament (314 to 311…3 fucking votes!), thousands of people took to the streets to protest once again" against government austerity measures and reforms.

Over a hundred thousand people took to the streets, and there were riots following violence by police. All those arrested were released, though one remains under house arrest. As in Britain, it remains to be seen whether the potential of the movement will be built upon.

In Croatia, there have been banner drops to express solidarity with both the British and Italian student protests.

Elsewhere in the country, workers at Mundus Varaždin held a two-day strike over a variety of issues including late wage payments, health and safety, and pensions. However, several days later several workers were fired over a claimed "illegal work stoppage." The workers' response to this isn't yet known, but the struggle continues.

In America, public sector workers have been a lot less successful than in Britain at countering media distortions of what they do. As Labor Notes reports, "plenty of public sector unions are hiding from the resentment the right is whipping up."

However, there is resistance;
Teachers in California are taking on the small-government ideology directly with a counter-education and mobilization campaign. Health care unions and postal workers in Canada are linking arms with the communities they serve. Chicago teachers are fighting school closings and the de facto privatization of education.

These unions are championing the issues that matter most for our communities, defending the public good and serving as watchdogs on cronyism and corruption. They know that the common good is not the same as a healthy bottom line for corporations. These are labor’s values, the antidote to the dog-eat-dog individualism of the market.
But the US faces the same tough lessons as everywhere else: don't trust the bureaucrats. Whilst the IWW's Jimmy John's Union is fighting tooth-and-nail for holiday pay, the United Auto Workers president Bob King has backed a trade deal in South Korea which lacks any of the worker or environmental protections unions had been demanding.

At the same time, WSWS reports how "was relying on the continued collaboration of the UAW, which received 17.5 percent of the company’s shares in exchange for relieving GM of billions in retiree health care obligations and blocking any struggle by workers against the destruction of their jobs and the halving of wages for a new generation of auto workers." With luck, the sell-outs will only spur on the growth of militant, rank-and-file unions such as the IWW.

Elsewhere, "non-union construction firms, fighting for market share, want to bring their low wages and bad work rules to those taxpayer-funded jobs."

They are attacking Project Labor Agreements, "negotiated between the employer and unions to set wages and work rules before a large project is bid," as part of the right wing anti-tax revolt. This, in combination with budget cuts, is putting both jobs and public construction under threat. A fierce propaganda war is being waged to counter the message from the right and the non-union firms.

One of the most significant events across the Atlantic has been the prisoner's strike in Georgia. I commented upon this landmark action here.

This action mirrors one in Greece, where at the very start of the month an abstention from prison catering expanded into a hunger strike. According to Contra Info, "more than 9,000 detainees and prisoners (out of a total prison population of approximately 12,600 nationwide) are struggling for human rights and dignity abstaining from the prison meals, while 1200 prisoners are on hunger strike right now!"

Their demands are listed as follows;
  1. To stop the abuse of pre-trial detention.
  2. Reduction of the statutory upper limits to continuous imprisonment
  3. Abolition of devastating sentences and wider application of the measure of probation/remission and conditional release
  4. Legislation setting the upper time limit of the statute of limitation for disciplinary sentences at 6 months – for these not to be used as restraining factor for conditional release.
  5. The abolition of the anti-terrorism law and the special terms of detention for political prisoners
  6. Abolition of under age prisons and the establishment of structures of protection for underage offenders [translators' note: we are unsure of the meaning 'ανοιχτών δομών προστασίας']
  7. Immediate release of prisoners with special needs and those who suffer from chronic serious illnesses
  8. Immigrant prisoners: (a)immediate and unconditional practice of their right to serve their sentence in their country of origin (b) immediate release of all those who are held for judicial or administrative deportation, c) immediate trying of all trials of Greeks and immigrants in all degrees
  9. Leave of absence: (a) granting of leaves of absence with the same preconditions for all, no to the unequal and discriminatory treatment, no to arbitrary rejections of applications. (b) increase in the duration of leave in all cases. c) granting of leaves at the 1/5th [of the sentence] for all offences and for all prisoners, including those who are serving sentences for drugs.
  10. Improvement in conditions of imprisonment: (a) the right to dignity, health, education, communication, development of personality, free speech, exercise (b) the right to work, immediate opportunity of employment for those who wish to do so, without restrictions due to disciplinary measures c) increase of jobs and increase in the percentage accounted for the days worked [which is subtracted from the sentence] (d) application of measures alternative to imprisonment – expansion of the institution of rural prisons to include female prisoners (e) banning of physical examinations, especially vaginal and anal, (f) improvement of the conditions within holding areas, of transfers and of means of transport.
  11. Abolition of monetary sentences (fines).
To echo what I said on the US prisoner strikes, "a society built upon the class divide between the rulers and the ruled breeds crime. By perpetuating poverty, misery, and injustice, it cannot do everything but. Prison - and the police force that puts people there - exists to contain all manifestations of the discontent that results, positive and negative, without addressing their root causes. The prison system is essential to maintaining the social order of capitalism.

"In challenging that, improving conditions in the here and now and building towards more radical change in the future go hand in hand."
    Staying in Greece, Occupied London has a report on the general strike of December 16th;
    More than 100,000 people marched in central Athens today against the freshly-voted labour relations law and the austerity measures imposed by the government and the EU/IMF/ECB troika. One of the most mass demonstrations the city has seen in recent times was met by brute police violence; the police, nevertheless, proven unable to quell peoples’ anger. A former conservative minister, Kostis Hatzidakis, made the unfortunate decision to be present at Stadiou Street at the time of the demonstration and felt the anger of the demonstrators, quickly leaving the scene injured. Street-fighting erupted across the city, which saw chaotic scenes for hours. Barricades were erected across Patision Avenue, which leads to the Polytechnic School; waves of demonstrators arriving at Syntagma square, outside Parliament, fiercely fought with the police. An – eventually unsuccessful – attempt by demonstrators to occupy the building of GSEE (the country’s mainstream trade union) saw people fighting off the notorious Delta motorcycle police and two of their bikes were set ablaze.

    ...

    One of the most empowering elements of today’s demonstration was peoples’ sheer anger and their willingness to fight back at the police repression and to defend their right to be on the streets. New tactics, including the incredibly successful use of fire extinguishers in keeping police away from demonstrator blocks, is surely a legacy for the struggles to come.
    This follows on from the general strike in Portugal, which ground the economy to a stop for an entire day.

    But what is important is that it is no longer isolated. Militancy on the streets in Greece is now easily matched by scenes in London, Italy, and elsewhere.

    Discontent is growing, and on the back of dedicated organising efforts by grassroots activists it is being transformed into angry direct action. And it has remained beyond the control of the bureaucrats and self-appointed vanguards. It is fair to say that the class war is now ours to lose.