Wednesday, 29 June 2011

No War but Class War - June 2011

Yesterday and today, workers in Greece have staged the country's first 48-hour general strike. Occupied London, as ever, has the fullest updates. However, we know that there have been clashes in the streets between riot police and strikers, with authorities trying to clear the occupied Syntagma square as parliament voted for more austerity measures in return for a further bailout.

It is worth noting that, already, Greek workers have suffered significant pay cuts and attacks on pensions, as well as cuts to services and increased tolls and taxes. The measures passed today only exacerbate that. Moreover, with this first 48-hour strike actually being the eleventh general strike in two years. It is indicative, perhaps, of exactly how far Britain will have to go beyond limited public sector strikes such as tomorrows. But it also shows the limits of even general strikes if they occur in a pre-defined time frame. More sustained action, such as the "can't pay, won't pay" campaign, has been far more effective.

Then there is the real democracy movement. As an analysis on LibCom.org notes, this was "inspired by the square occupations in Spain, but have taken a different direction, one that favours direct democracy against parliamentary democracy and representation."

The Syntagma people's assembly is "where decisions are taken about forms of struggle and demands, and ideas and practice are developed for alternative organising and politics." No doubt this being the reasoning behind police attempts to shut it down before the vote, especially as on the back of it the last general strike saw an attempt to blockade parliament. The Greek attempts at direct democracy and direct action as a way to challenge austerity are gaining momentum and they offer perhaps the most inspirational example of developing class struggle in Europe.

Moving to China, Adam Ford reports on some interesting developments in the struggle over there;
Following the international credit crunch, Jiaboa's regime feared that demand for Chinese manufacturing would collapse, so they introduced various stimulus measures. That money has largely run out, forcing businesses to attack working conditions with increased ferocity.

At the same time, China's inflation rate has surged to around five per cent, meaning that millions of young Chinese industrial workers face a struggle to put food on their own table, never mind send money home to their rural relatives. Social tensions have now reached the point where even comparatively small incidents can trigger a huge response.

Migrant workers in the city of Chaozhou rioted over unpaid wages at the start of June. The following weekend, more riots broke out when local government security staff pushed a pregnant woman to the ground in the "jeans capital" of Xintang district. A kilometre-long column of heavily armed police were eventually paraded through the streets, in an attempt to intimidate would-be the general public.

Industrial stoppages have followed hard on the heels of these uprisings. Two thousand workers at the Japanese-owned Citizen Watch factory in Dongguan went on strike for several days, in protest against long hours and low pay. Just last week, four thousand toilers in a South Korean-owned Guangzhou handbag factory struck for higher pay and an end to management abuses.

These strikes failed to win concessions from bosses, and police were sent in to suppress the resistance with violence and arrests. But the underlying tensions remain, and will surely be released over the next weeks and months. If workers are able to link up their individual struggles, the stage could be set for a confrontation that would dwarf the 'Arab Spring' in terms of historical significance.
In the United States, the Wisconsin Supreme Court has overruled an injunction against the Governor's law banning collective bargaining. With the passing of the austerity budget, this means that the inspirational movement of February has suffered significant defeat. Juan Conatz provides a more thorough analysis, both of the right-wing attacks and the unions' demobilisation of attempts at radical action.

In Egypt, too, the inspiration from the start of the year has given way to defeat. Only today, more than 1,000 people were injured in Tahrir Square following violent clashes with the riot police. This is just the latest in a line of repressive acts that have occurred this month - such as security forces arresting protesters outside parliament and soldiers attacking protests by railway workers. But the workers continue to strike, and before today's repression there were protests against the ban on strikes and assemblies.

Egyptians are now acting against the limitations of the first revolution, which has seen the West's declared "leader" of the uprisings Mohamed ElBaradei joining a "unity goverment" and declaring it a "red line" to protest against the army. 8th July has been dubbed "Correcting The Track Friday," and will perhaps be where the working class meet their own demand for a "second revolution."

50,000 Canadian postal workers were locked out by bosses on 15 June following weeks of rolling strike action. This came in a dispute about attempts to cut services and establish a two-tier employment system. However, with no agreement reached, the Conservative government has enforced back-to-work legislation to end the strike. The unions are preparing to challenge this through the courts, but it shows just how the struggle is weighted in the employers' favour when staying within the confines of the law.

By contrast, in Britain, Royal Mail workers won victories in two separate wildcat strikes. In London, strikers won the reinstatement of a fellow worker. In Liverpool, the victory was less clear-cut, but walkouts forced management to allow six sacked workers an independent hearing and negotiated with the union to bring staff back to work.

Wildcat strikes have also been employed by workers at the Maruti Suzuki car plant in Manesar, India. 2,000 workers walked out demanding union recognition, and soon after another 1,000 workers from different firms in the industrial belt gathered to show solidarity. Representatives of workers organisations in the region formed a strike support committee, threatening to join the strike if demands were not met. Ultimately, management never acceded to the demand for recognition, but the strike did end with the reinstatement of 11 sacked workers. It has also allowed workers representatives to sit on a governing council, though given the experience of European works councils, this will be at best an ineffective talking shop.

For British workers, particularly those taking action tomorrow and those who will be joining in subsequent coordinated strike action, there are lessons in what is happening abroad. They are the same lessons that the libertarian wing of the workers' movement has been parroting for years - the need for solidarity over legalism, for rank-and-file control of struggle, and for mass movements to reject bureaucrats and would-be revolutionary leaderships.

But the most important point is that the fight we face cannot be won through set-pieces. As we are seeing in Greece, the ruling class are fighting a war of attrition - aiming to wear down the most rebellious section of the working class as a warning to the rest of us. But rather than a warning, it should be a rallying cry, because there is too much at stake if we lose this fight.