Sunday, 31 July 2011

No War but Class War - July 2011

One of the more significant events that has taken place this month is the Israeli housing revolt, and I have covered it in depth here. Whilst this is ongoing, with the possibility of a general strike tomorrow, Palestinian government workers are demanding their pay within 48 hours, or they will take indefinite strike action.

Elsewhere in Israel-Palestine, Libcom.org reports on a quarry workers' strike;
Palestinian quarry workers at an Israeli settlement in the occupied territories have gone on strike over unpaid wages.

The strike began last month at Salit Quarries in Mishor Adumim, in occupied East Jerusalem. The workers demands included a pay raise, and end to the withholding of pay, arranges pension provision and signs a collective agreement with the workers. 

The action is supported by WAC-Ma’an, an independent trade union based in Israel that states that is aims to unite “workers regardless of nationality, religion, gender or the color of their skin.” The strike began on June 16th after quarry management failed to attend a meeting organised to discuss a collective bargaining agreement.

The Israeli-owned Salit quarry are employed to break rocks down to gravel. Tens of thousands of Palestinians work in similar conditions in Israeli-owned businesses, rarely with any form of union organisation. 
It is a promising sign that, even in the region arguably worst affected by sectarian and nationalist divisions, class issues continue to push themselves to the fore. In part, this is because these issues are not only directly tied into the behaviour of states and other injustices, but they have a direct impact on people's ability to survive day to day even when bombs aren't dropping or rockets flying. The emergence of these struggles also gives hope that resistance can be built on a class basis, and the ruling class on both sides held accountable for their actions.

In South Africa, twelve shack dwellers arrested following an attack on their settlement in Durban have been acquitted of all charges brought against them. The African National Congress and the local police were complicit in the original attacks, which saw two residents killed and many others beaten. It was only when the residents moved to defend themselves that police intervened, charging residents with murder for the deaths of several attackers and seeing the settlement handed over to the pro-ANC militia.

After two years, all charges of murder, attempted murder, armed robbery, public violence and damage to property have been thrown out. Shack dwellers movement Abahlali baseMjondolo have declared this a victory "for all poor in South African who are suppressed every day when they try to resist their repression," and say it shows up "those in high authority" as well as "the regressive left that would rather support state repression against a movement than to allow the poor to organise ourselves and to speak for ourselves." The latter point refers to the attitude taken by the likes of the South African Communist Party.

The movement of the shack dwellers continues to be an inspiration to the most alienated and isolated sections of our class everywhere. As I've written elsewhere, they show the revolutionary potential of those dismissed by Marx as "social scum." As they say, their struggle continues, and let's hope that they live up to their word and "move forward without any fear of any thuggery from any politician."

In Britain, whilst the focus of the left has been on the set-piece J30 strike, there have been two key struggles worth following. One, the strike by IWW-organised migrant cleaners in Guildhall. The other, the ongoing battle of council workers in Southampton.
In Guildhall, 34 cleaners employed by Ocean Contract Cleaning London struck for 2 days in June over under-paid wages dating back three months. The workers are on poverty pay as it is and this reduced wage could not be tolerated. The dispute was suspended on a promise that the wages would be paid, but when the employer failed to keep its promise a new strike date was set for 15th July.

In the face of a solid strike and strong shows of solidarity, the management gave proof that they were addressing the wages issue worker by worker. This is a small victory and the cleaners have vowed to now fight for the living wage. But it demonstrates what a united workforce, acting for itself, can achieve.

In Southampton, the threat of 250 immediate job losses and a 5.4% pay cut for everyone earning over £17,500 sparked a two-month dispute. Targeted and rolling strike action has seen two thousand tonnes of rubbish pile up and considerable inconvenience caused locally. Despite which, 63% of residents polled still support the strikers.

One concession already won is that a formal pay cut for children's care workers has been revoked, but they still face a three year pay freeze. At present, social workers are engaged in a seven-day strike, but as Libcom.org notes "the organisation and militancy was not there to organise an effective boycott of the new contracts." As such, it is vital that there is "effective further action, espectially when the inevitable next cuts are proposed, to show that declaring war on the council's workforce in this manner will have dire consequences." Council leaders elsewhere will be watching this action closely, and workers should too.

In Greece, the tent occupation of Syntagma Square was evicted yesterday morning, with riot police destroying and removing tents on the order of the attorney general and the mayor of Athens. There was a call to assemble at 6pm that night and to have the general assembly as normal, but there has been no word on whether this occurred.

The Spanish "indignants" have set off on a march from Madrid to Brussels, in protest "against what they see as governments bowing to financial markets and ignoring the needs of their own people in the economic crisis." In the spirit of the open and democratic movement which emerged on 15th May, they "plan to hold meetings, collecting complaints and proposals as they go." They aim to meet up with similar movements from other countries, who have followed their lead and also taken up the march.

There are limitations to the movement, and no end of internal contradictions between reformist demands and radical, direct action means. But it offers a glimpse of the class anger boiling over across Europe and across the world, as well as the power it holds if rank-and-file workers organise themselves and take direct action.