Posts Tagged ‘strikes’

Important strike action in the Netherlands in recent months

June 5, 2010

Class struggle, in the Netherlands? Yes, class struggle in the Netherlands, that is the subject for today – workers’ struggles in this country that is not especially known for its militant workers’ struggles. However, in recent months there have been a number of serious strikes, bringing serious results.

Two strike campaigns  are especially important. First, their was a long and succesful campaign of cleaning workers for a wage rise and better treatment. The campaign culminated in an nine-week-long strike – the longest strike the country has experienced since 1933. Cleaners stopped cleaning in train stations, at Schiphol airport and in several offices. In this way, they put pressure on the companies that buy cleaning services from cleaning companies. The cleaning sector works as follows: Schiphol, for instance, wants cleaning done. Several cleaning firms offer their services. Schiphol takes the cheapest offer. Wages and conditions suffer from this competition. When workers and trade union functionaries demanded a rise, cleaning services said: we can’t afford a rise, the companies buying our services force us to cut things to the bone. That is why it made sense for the campaigners to pressurize not just the cleaning companies, but the big companies and institutions contracting out cleaning services to those cleaning companies. Besides pressurizing the companies, the campaign raaised the profile of the lowly-paid cleaning workers with public action which helped rally broad sympathy to the struggling cleaners.

The strike was held in quite a militant fashion. Therer were demonstrative actions, there was a sit-in of cleaning workers and sympathizers in Utyrecht central station that lasted five days. The cleaning sector has a low trade union membership; one noticeable aspect of the strike is the use of trade union organisers, first listening to cleaners, encouraging their initiative and taking the struggle from there. The union machine needed a bit of militancy to get a foothold, in the form of new members.

The strategy worked: the union gained a lot of new members. Whether a stronger, stable union will encourage quite this form of militant action in the future is open to doubt. A strong, well-organised union tends to be a bureaucratic union as well, and that is not an accidental coincidence. That is one reason why cleaning workers will need to defend their struggle as their own struggle.

More important, for now at least: the militant insistancy of the core of cleaning workers on strike won the day. In the end, a wage rise close to the demand was won, and more concessions. The Commune has a good article on the campaign,  written by one of the trade union organisers, and containing an interview with one of the trade union organisers.

This strike ended in April. In the weeks after that,, another wage campaign grew to a climax. Municipal, provincial and other local authority personnel struggled for anew labour contract. Local authority refused any pay rise; the trade union demanded lifting of this ceiling, which would have meant lower buying power, because prices did not stop rising.

The campaign started with symbolic action, Near the end of April, municipal workers started strikes, especially the dustbin workers. First, the strikes were limited in duration. In May, however, workers in Utrecht and Amsterdam decided that they would continue strike action until there was a new contract. Rubbish took over the streets. Still, there was public sympathy for the strikes. After the second week of May, local authorities had enough: a wage rise was granted. The strikers were victorious, not completely – the rise was not especially big – but victorious nevertheless.

The repercussions of all this are serious, and positive. No doubt related to this: the civil servants’ union, ABVA KABO, has seen a leadership struggle in recent weeks, with a new leadership more to the left, more in sympathy with militant actions. How this translates in practice, remains to be seen, and even a trade union bureaucracy somwhat more to the left is still a trade union bureaucracy, whose profession is negotiation and containing struggles. I think the article in International Viewpoint on this development, useful as it is, exaggerates the positive news. Still, the shift is a symptom.

The main things are the strikes themselves. We have now seen two succesful and rather high-profile strike campaigns, following cosely behind eacht other.   This may well encourage other groups of workers demanding more and fighting for it. That would be a most welcome development, in these times when political parties are planning and annopuncing ferocious budget cuts. A workers’ movement flexing its muscles, a political establishment preparing for social war, elections coming next week  – tense times may be ahead in the usually oh-so-quite Netherlands. Revolutionary-minded people have reasons to be on the alert – but the succesful strikes give reasons to be in a good mood as well.

Strike in Yemen should cheer us up

May 16, 2010

Capitalist society is torn apart in two ways. One offers despair; the other may offer a way out. One way leads to a seemingly endless series of wars.  ‘Seemingly ‘, because, with all the high-tech-weaponry around, sooner or later humanity might get utterly exterminated through military violence, in which case the series of wars does come to an end. The other way puts class against class, those down below against those at the top. This may lead to revolution, the end of capitalism, liberation from wage slavery, from exploitation, the end of capital and the state.

The two tendencies play themselves out all around the globe. Competition drives segments of the ruling class into rivalry, spilling over into wars. That is the root cause of the first tendency. But competition also leads capitalists to put pressure upon workers, to exploit them even more in order to remain, uh, competitive 🙂 This pushes workers towards self-defence, towards resistance. This is the root cause of the second tendency.

We are in a race between these two tendencies. Will wars – and other destructive tendencies rooted in competitive exploitation – dominate? or will workers find and use their collective strength in time to themselves and thereby liberate humanity? To be free, or not to be at all? That – with due respect to Shakespeare – is the question.

These two tendencies are both at work all over the world. In countries like Greece, the tendency of hope, of workers against capitalists and state – dominates. That does nog mean that revolution is at the point of succeeding. But it does mean that the battle lines are those indicating revolution as possibility. We see insurgent workers and other downtrodden layers of the population, striking, demonstrating, rioting against the government, the banks, the police. Class against class, the tendency of hope. But the other tendency is there as well: the Greek government who translates the crisis as a national one: international financial institutions   ant EU governments on one side, the whole of the Greek population on the other. A shallow anti-imperialism, not without influence amongst left-wing parties which have influence among the working class as well.

Other parts of the world are, sadly, dominated by the other, dangerous, destructive, tendency. A case in point is the Middle East region. Here, we see rivalries between segments of the ruling classes, mobilising peasants, workers, the poor against other peasants, workers and the poor, by means of religious, nationalist, ethnic and/ or regionalist themes. We have seen Iraqi society torn apart in that way. First, an American-British invasion and occupation. Then through classic divide-and-rule policies, Shiite elites, often under cover of the occupation,  encouraging oppressive policies against Sunni population, Sunni leaders encouraging a resistance against both the occupation and against the Shia community. Western occupation opened the door to communal slaughter. The violence has abated in recent years. In recent months, however, we see a new wave of bombings and bloodshed.

Other countries see the same dynamics. There is, for example, Yemen. A very poor country, formerly two countries that became one through a unification process in 1990. Regional rivalry remains, however. People in the south complain that most power is reserved for people in the North. There is an armed resistance in operation, based on this kind of feelings. Again, poor people kill and die for the ambitions of the powerful. Again, the destructive war-tendency in full bloom.

But even in countries full of despair, like Iraq, like Yemen, the other tendency now and then raises its head. There is a workers’ movement in Iraq, for instance with collective action in the oil industry – sometimes, as in April 2009,  successfully. In Yemen, there is workers’ struggle as well. The GLU trade union federation, in which 520.000 empluyees are organised, is  holding strike action, in the form of escalating general strikes: one hour yesterday and today, two hours the next to days, three hours the day after that… until the strike is complete on May 24. Emergency services in, for instance, water supply and health, are exempt from the strike.

The union federation demands higher wages. “Following  the sharp rise in prices and cost of living that has been afflicting Yemeni citizens in the last two years, GLU demands a rise in wages and salaries and the establishment of a minimum wage of at least 300 dollars as well as recognition of employees’ rights for workers in the cleaning sector.”  This is the kind of news that cheers me up, as it hopefully cheers you up as well.

Strikes in Burma

March 7, 2010

A strike wave of workers in the garment factories of Rangoon  is beginning to shake the foundations of the military dictatorship of Burma (1). There was already strike action at the end of last year. In recent weeks there have been reports of several strikes. Yesterday, several thusand workes went on strike.

The Irrawaddy writes: “In the latest escalation of labor tension in Burma, around 4,000 factory workers at an industrial  estate on the outskirts of Rangoon staged a sit-in on Saturday to dmand betterpay, according to  sources in the area.” There were strikes in two factories. 

Wages – stagnant, with inflation eating them away – are at the center of  the discontent. With 30 – 50 dollar, they are even lower than in Cambodia and Vietnam, where wages for comarable work are 150 dallar, according to an official of the Chamber of Commerce in Burma. These are monthly wages.

These strikes – and earlier ones, as reported in Spero News – are important. They threaten the economic base – export industries with low-wage labour – of the military regime. The authorities react with reprssion: they usually send hundreds of police and soldiers. But they don’t simply smash the strikes. Negotiations usually take part, some concessions are made. It looks as if the rebellious workers are opening a space for further struggle. And does not look as if the regime is that powerful and that confident.

All this is happening while the regime has promised elections, while still continuing to hold opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in house arrest. Western support – hypocritical, in essence -has not helped the poor masses of Burma much in their struggle against the military junta. Workers rebelling angainst their atrocious wages and working conditions can open an road to freedom that may look hard. But it is a road much more trustworthy than all U.N. sanctions and all Western politicians’ promises combined.

I found the Irrawaddy article through Labourstart.org. The Spero News article is linked in an valuable report on workers’ struggles in Asia on Libcom.org. I wrote two articles on workers’ actions in Burma on my Dutch-language weblog, Rooieravotr, on Februari 11, and on Februari 17. While both these last articles are in Dutch, it is based on information found through English-language links.

(1) Yes, I know, the official name of that country is Myanmar. However, that is the name given by the miitary dictatorship, whose language I refuse to speak. . I stick to ‘Burma’ in this article.

Greece: class battles

February 11, 2010

From all the countries of Europe, Greece is probably the most unstable. And it’s a kind of instability that brings hope to workers and their allies. There are strikes and demonstration, again and again. Workers are protesting aginst severe austerity policies, imposed by the Greek goverment, at the behest of Greek and international capital (1).

For instance, yesterday: a big strike in public services. Schools, air traffic, other services wer  brought to a halt for the day. BBC has a report. Bu there was more action than this public sector action. Libcom.com mentions strikes held by an Communist Party-affiliated union in parts of the private sector. There has also been strike action held by autonomous unions. building workers, telecom workers and lift elevator employees were involved in both these strike initiatives.

The austerity policies imposed by the government are quite draconic. A wage freeze for public employees, a higher age of retirement, higher taxes on gasoline, alcohol and tobacco. Only one in 5 civil servants who leaves will be replaced. All this is supposedly necessary to bring public debt and the deficit – 12,7 per cent – under control, to fulfill demands made by the US, of which Greece is a member. High debts and deficits mean that tge Greek government has to pay high interest when borrowing money. There are doubts that the greek state will be able to pay the moneyback, doubts wicht make the financial  wordl quite nervous.

But public debt and defiits are not made by the workers who are now ‘asked’ to pay for them. Even now, the government spends money on ridiculous, sometimes openly anti-social things. Libcom.org mentions examples: a new website forthe Forestry Department, for the price of 1,6 million euros.  Bigger money: 6 warships, to be bougt in France, for the price of 2,5 billion euros.

The money is clearly there. But the Greek government thinks that preparation for war is a priority, more important than keeping up workers’ living standard (no  surprise there), and more important than controlling public spending. If they continue with their attacks on the working class, they may get their war sooner rather than later. But in that prticular war, even the biggest battleships will be of little use.

(1) An interesting piece on the Greek social and economic crisis can be readat Socialistworker.org: “Europan capitalism’s weak link?”, written by ntonis Davenellos, member of one of the Trotskyist organisations in Greece.