Wednesday, 31 August 2011

No War but Class War - August 2011

The most attention-grabbing point in the class conflict this month was obviously the rioting which spread across England. However, it has been covered to death by this point, and so I will direct anybody who hasn't yet seen them to my analysis of the initial Tottenham riot, my response as the disorder spread across the country, and my notes on the reactionary backlash.

There are also links to other commentary on these events at the beginning of this post.

Elsewhere, one of the major flashpoints in America has been the Verizon strike. The company, which made $19 billion of profits in the past four years, and yet wants to take back $1 billion in health pension and other contract concessions, as well as outsourcing jobs, slashing sick leave, increasing health costs, and eliminating job and pension security. As such, workers ended up on strike for two weeks before the union cut a deal to bring everyone back to work.

However, WSWS reports that workers are far from happy with the deal, since it has seen no agreement from the company to withdraw its demands. "Negotiations continue," but whilst they do the situation still looks an awful lot like a loss.

This is doubly angering given how bitter the dispute became. The bosses used court injunctions and even an FBI investigation to intimidate workers, and set an arbitrary deadline of 31 August (now met) for staff to accept the demands and return to work or face consequences. Pickets responded with mobile picket lines and successful attempts to turn away customers, but ultimately the union sold them out - even going so far as to demand that public protests in support of the strikers stop. Certainly, rank-and-file workers still have a considerable organising challenge as this dispute goes on, not just to fight Verizon but to undo the damage wrought by their own leaders.

Strikes in Chilean mines strengthen workers' struggles throughout the copper industry, and reflect growing political unrest in Chile.

2,300 miners at Chile's Escondida copper mine - the largest in the world - have been out on strike since 22nd July, and were joined by 7,000 contractors on 27th July. The mine is privately owned by Australian firm BHP.

Workers at Escondida are demanding a rise in monthly production bonuses, and initially aimed for $11,ooo per worker to be paid out by the end of the year. BHP have declared the strike illegal, as bonuses are discretionary and fall outside the collective contract and strict anti-labour laws in Chile prevent workers from striking outside of the collective negotiating agreement. The union rejected BHP's offer of $6,000, which has since been lowered to $5,600 per worker. The strike continued, with the union lowering it's demand to $8,700, but BHP are now refused to negotiate while workers are still downing tools. Today, the union has put the $5,600 offer out to be voted on, and if accepted by the workers, the strike will be over. The union is also demanding protection for workers who contract work-related illnesses, removal of surveillance cameras throughout the mine, and improved punch-clocks which monitor their 12 hour shifts.

The Escondida strike is yet another case of workers' struggle throughout the mining industry in Chile and the rest of the world, as workers are demanding their share of record profits. Workers in Zambia and Indonesia have also been striking against private firms such as Anglo-American and Freeport McMoran.
Industry bosses are keen to bring an end to the Escondida strike as they fear a success for the workers here could fuel further strikes across Chile. At another major Chilean copper mine, Collahuasi, workers staged a 24hr stoppage over the weekend in protest against anti-union measures, pressure being placed on workers, and bosses attempts to negotiate with workers outside of the collective union contract. Collahuasi workers have previously held a 33-day strike in December 2010.

The state-run Coldeco mines have also seen their first walk-outs in over 20 years, prompting the increasingly unpopular President Pinera to meet with union leaders and assure them that Coldeco will not be privatised. Previous strikes at Coldeco saw sub-contractors demanding improved conditions. Signs outside the Escondida mine are calling for the mining industry to be re-nationalised.

The miners strikes form part of a wave of growing unrest in Chile, as students and environmentalists have also been protesting against the right wing Pinera government. 
Finally, in Greece, it is worth noting that whilst last month ended with the eviction of the Syntagma square occupation, this month ends with 87 university departments under student occupation as a protest against the recent education reform bill. No matter how much force they use, it seems that Greek authorities simply cannot stamp out the popular resistance to their measures.

There is no doubt much and more that I've left out of this month's update. However, with the English riots forcing everything else into the background, it was worth focusing on the other key struggles that the media has lavished little attention on. The class war is flaring up for a number of reasons all across the globe, and it is now more vital than ever that we pay attention to the ones that cause the most ripples. We have as much to learn from the defeats and sell-outs as from the victories.