Showing posts with label labor militants. Show all posts
Showing posts with label labor militants. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

In Honor Of The 100th Anniversary Of The Founding of The Communist International-From The Archives- *Labor's Untold Story- A Shining (If Brief) Moment- The Seattle General Strike Of 1919

Click on title to link to information site about the great Seattle General Strike of 1919. There will be more, much more on this subject later, especially the act of international working class solidarity by refusing to load weapons destined for the "White" side in the Russian Civil War that was going full blast at the time and at a time when the fate of the first workers state hung in the balance.

Every Month Is Labor History Month

This Commentary is part of a series under the following general title: Labor’s Untold Story- Reclaiming Our Labor History In Order To Fight Another Day-And Win!

As a first run through, and in some cases until I can get enough other sources in order to make a decent presentation, I will start with short entries on each topic that I will eventually go into greater detail about. Or, better yet, take my suggested topic and run with it yourself.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

In Honor Of The King Of The Folk-Singing Hard-Living Hobos The Late Utah Phillips -From The Archives- * The Wobblies Still Going Along - The Newspaper "Industrial Worker"

Click on title to link to current issue of "Industrial Worker" the newspaper of the Industrial Workers OF The World (IWW, Wobblies). I am about a million miles away from this organization politically but every knowledgeable labor militant has to pay homage to their revolutionary past and the labor militants who passed through their gates. James P. Cannon, Vincent St. John, Big Bill Haywood, Frank Little, Ralph Chaplin and many more. Those are real heroes of the American and international labor movement. On the modern scene I would say , in passing, the name of the late folk singer/storyteller and performer Utah Phillips. Adieu old militants, rest easy the struggle is still being continued.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Struggle For The Labor Party In The United States-Leon Trotsky Speaks-On the Labor Party Question in the United States-Three Discussions in Mexico City with the SWP's James P. Cannon, Vincent R. Dunne and Max Shachtman-1938

Click on the headline to link to the Leon Trotsky Internet Archives website for an online copy of On the Labor Party Question in the United States-Three Discussions in Mexico City with the SWP's James P. Cannon, Vincent R. Dunne and Max Shachtman-1938.

Markin comment on this series:

Obviously, for a Marxist, the question of working class political power is central to the possibilities for the main thrust of his or her politics- the quest for that socialist revolution that initiates the socialist reconstruction of society. But working class politics, no less than any other kinds of political expressions has to take an organization form, a disciplined organizational form in the end, but organization nevertheless. In that sense every Marxist worth his or her salt, from individual labor militants to leagues, tendencies, and whatever other formations are out there these days on the left, struggles to built a revolutionary labor party, a Bolshevik-style party.

Glaringly, in the United States there is no such party, nor even a politically independent reformist labor party, as exists in Great Britain. And no, the Democratic Party, imperialist commander-in-chief Obama's Democratic Party is not a labor party. Although plenty of people believe it is an adequate substitute, including some avowed socialists. But they are just flat-out wrong. This series is thus predicated on providing information about, analysis of, and acting as a spur to a close look at the history of the labor party question in America by those who have actually attempted to create one, or at to propagandize for one.

As usual, I will start this series with the work of the International Communist League/Spartacist League/U.S. as I have been mining their archival materials of late. I am most familiar with the history of their work on this question, although on this question the Socialist Workers Party's efforts runs a close second, especially in their revolutionary period. Lastly, and most importantly, I am comfortable starting with the ICL/SL efforts on the labor party question since after having reviewed in this space in previous series their G.I. work and youth work (Campus Spartacist and the Revolutionary Marxist Caucus Newsletter inside SDS) I noted that throughout their history they have consistently called for the creation of such a party in the various social arenas in which they have worked. Other organizational and independent efforts, most notably by the Socialist Workers Party and the American Communist Party will follow.
From an earlier The Struggle For A Labor Party In The United States entry.

Renegade Eye said...

Trotsky had interesting talks with James Cannon and others in the SWP. (See

Its a cardinal rule, when workers become involved in politics, the first place they go to is their traditional groups.

See this. (See Committee For Mass Labor Party, dated today August 8, 2011)

6:45 PM

Markin said...


I too am looking to talk to Democrats, at least some Democrats who are leaning away from that party left-ward. In other words ready to think about breaking from the Democrats in the direction of an independent labor party. It is crazy to think that strategically in the United States you could operate otherwise unless you wanted to, as I think we are now reduced to today, to talking to other reds and radicals. The mistake made in the past and both CP and the SWP though was to equate ephemeral (very ephemeral) reliance on the labor bureaucrats, labor bureaucrats wedded, no welded, to the Democratic Party by a thousand strands, with influence in the labor movement. I think that we saw in the Wisconsin dust-up the extreme limits of relying on that element (except for episodic united fronts over specific issues like in Wisconsin).

As for your Trotsky on Jim Cannon point remember at that time Trotsky was try to get the SWP to orientate toward the Stalinists during the period of the Hitler-Stalin Pact when they were making a “left” turn and to move away, way away from the too cozy relationship with “honest” trade unionists who were working hand and hand with Roosevelt. In the end though whatever strategic approach to the labor party question program will be decisive if we are every going to get this thing right no matter who we talk too. I am sure, as well, that you agree we are rolling a very big stone up a very big mountain. Forward. More later, especially as you have indicated that you are spending more time working on this labor party question as your main arena of work.

Saturday, November 03, 2018

***From The Archives Of "Women And Revolution"-Norma Rae":A Review

Click on the headline to link to an American Left History entry on this film and mention of  the real Norma Rae (Chrystal Lee Sutton) who passed away a couple of years ago. 

Markin comment:

The following is an article from an archival issue of Women and Revolution, Spring 1979, that may have some historical interest for old "new leftists", perhaps, and well as for younger militants interested in various cultural and social questions that intersect the class struggle. Or for those just interested in a Marxist position on a series of social questions that are thrust upon us by the vagaries of bourgeois society. I will be posting more such articles from the back issues of Women and Revolution during Women's History Month and periodically throughout the year.

"Norma Rae": A Review by Ellie Raitt

"Norma Rae" is an often gripping story of a proletarian heroine. Set in a small Southern town dominated by a textile mill, the film depicts the arrival of a union organizer, Reuben Warshovsky (played by Ron Liebman), and the unfolding of his relationship with Norma Rae (Sally Field), a 31-year-old widow with two small children who works in the mill along with both her parents. Their efforts to organize a union among the socially conservative mill workers form the plot of the movie, but its substance is less concerned with this potentially explosive subject than with Norma Rae's discovery of her own inner resources through her deepening commitment to social justice as expressed in trade unionism.

The use of the political theme as a backdrop for exploring Norma Rae's evolution from victim to "free woman" is an implicit attack on "me decade" feminism which poses introspection, subjectivity and therapy as the road to liberation. So far so good. The problem is that wherever the film touches politics, the politics are fundamentally false. The filmmakers have worked hard to achieve a documentary effect in the in-plant photography, but the political world of the plant is a liberal fiction. The bosses (and cops) in this Southern company town have profound respect for the law and never overstep its bounds; nothing worse than a traffic ticket ever happens to Reuben Warshovsky. But the central problem is the film's view of trade unionism as a kind of liberal ideology divorced from any hint of class struggle. There is no need for picket lines involved in the building of unions, only legal briefs because behind the union stands that well-known "friend of the working man," the federal government.

Norma Rae is an engaging character. Bright, pretty, spirited, she is also deeply frustrated, lacking an outlet for her energy and her anger. Since the death of her husband in a barroom brawl some years before, she has lived with her parents and her children (one of whom is illegitimate). Her sex life is a series of unsatisfying affairs with casual lovers who use and abuse her. At her job, her friends view her promiscuity with envious disapproval while the company calls her "the largest mouth" because of her complaints about working conditions. In an effort to buy her off, the bosses promote her to "spot-checker," which means following the other workers around with a stopwatch. Despite the pay raise, Norma Rae gives up "spot-checking" after her friends stop speaking to her.

Meanwhile, Reuben Warshovsky has arrived in town. Norma Rae meets him when he comes to the door of her house and tells her father, "I'd like to get me a room with a mill family.... I want to get to know some mill hands close up." Rebuffed, he sets up shop at the Golden Cherry Motel, where he encounters Norma Rae en route to an assignation with her current boyfriend.

The latter is your classic male chauvinist pig. She tells him not to expect her next time he is passing through. He calls her names, demands, "What the hell are you good for anyway?" and slaps her. As she hurries past Reuben's door with a bloody nose, he befriends her with a kind word and an icepack. Norma Rae's platonic friendship with Reuben is to become the catalyst for her transformation. They meet again at the local Softball game, where Norma Rae is hassling with another former lover (and Reuben is spitting out his hot dog with the remark that it's "not Nathan's"). She asks him what he thinks of her and he replies, "I think you're too smart for what's happening to you."

How you respond to Reuben Warshovsky probably will depend on your tolerance for the self-mocking Jewish intellectual stereotype. Reuben is a self-avowed hypochondriac who talks about his mother more than about his girlfriend (a "lefto labor lawyer") and consumes club soda at the local bar. When Reuben and Norma Rae take to the back roads one Saturday to proselytize for the union, Reuben trips and falls in cow dung; later, making conversation with a group of old men whittling on the porch, he cuts his finger.

Like the socialist professor hero of "The Organizer," Reuben Warshovsky is a culturally alien "outside agitator" whose success depends on channeling the class instinct of a local militant to create a workers' leader. Yet in transforming Norma Rae into "our own Mother Jones," Reuben never talks politics to her; of his massive pile of books, he lends her only some Dylan Thomas poetry. She becomes a class-struggle heroine without ever articulating more than the liberal rhetoric of democracy and self-help: "The union's the only way we're gonna get our own voice and make ourselves any better."

At the first union organizing meeting, held at the local black church and attended by a racially mixed audience of about 30 mill workers, Reuben comes on more like a liberal-integrationist preacher from the old civil rights movement than a union organizer. He begins:

"On October 8, 1970, my grandfather, Isaac Abraham Warshovsky, died in his sleep in New York. The following Friday his funeral was held. My mother and father attended. My two uncles from Brooklyn were there. And my Aunl Minnie came up from Florida. Also present were 852 members of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers...also members of his family. They had fought battles with him and bound up the wounds of battle. They had earned bread together and had broken it together. When they spoke, they spoke with one voice, and they were heard. And they were black and they were white. And they were Irish and they were Polish. And they were Catholics and they were Jews. And they were one. That's what a union is: one."

He goes on to tell the workers that textile is the only unorganized industry in the country and therefore the company can deny "your health, a decent wage, a fit company. The first day that he turns up at the plant gate to give out leaflets, he has no real conversation with any of the workers (except to ask Norma Rae if her nose is better), but when the company guards bait him, Reuben is ready with a snappy answer: "We already got six of you boss men in civil contempt. Would you care to make it seven?" In the filmmakers' view, union organizing is clearly seen as an adjunct of the legal profession.

In his first confrontation with the company, Reuben arrives at the mill one morning to inspect the employees' bulletin boards. However bumbling he may be in private life, he is in his element now:

"The federal government of the United States in federal court order No. 7778 states the following: The union has the right to inspect the bulletin boards once a week to verify in person that its notices "are not being ripped down."

Gloating that "no union organizer or known union member has been inside the fences of this plant for more than ten years," he proceeds through the plant escorted by management. When the bosses refuse to move the union notice to eye-level, Reuben aggressively responds: "Why do you guys pull this horseshit? Now I got to go to the phone, call my lawyer and get him on your ass." The bosses, seething with rage but trembling at the prospect of a lawsuit, back down.

Norma Rae hesitates before joining the union; she is afraid she may lose her job. "No way," says Reuben. "You can wear a union button as big as a frisbee when you go to work.... There's not a goddamn thing they can do to touch you." Subsequently, when she has been fired and dragged screaming to the police station, he tells her:

"It goes with the job. I saw a pregnant woman get punched in the stomach on a picket line. I saw a boy of 16 get shot in the back.... And you just got your feet wet."

She quickly becomes the spearhead of the organizing. When the local minister refuses to let her use his church for an integrated union meeting, she holds it in her home. She organizes with energy and characteristic personalism: "Will you read one of these for me please," she entreats one man; "Now Doris/' she says, "I want you to come on down to Golden Cherry and bring your peanut butter pie." Putting in long hours on clerical work in Warshovsky's motel room, she jeopardizes her relationship with her new husband (Beau Bridges).

Finally the company hits back, posting a racially provocative notice:"You black employees are being told that by going into this union en masse you can dominate it and control it as you may see fit—"
Reuben is ecstatic: "I love it when these pricks get mean. We can take legal action." He insists that if Norma Rae cannot steal the notice, she copy it down word-for word. The company orders her to stop and finally demands she leave the plant. She refuses. When the security guards arrive, she scrawls the word "UNION" on a piece of cardboard and stands up on a table in the middle of the weaving room. The scene is charged with extraordinary power as the workers, one by one, turn off their machines in a spontaneous work action. The silence in the usually deafening factory when the last machine is down is the film's only hint that unions can be built through the concerted militant action of the workers.

But the movie can do nothing with it. Norma Rae, fired, leaves the mill. The film attempts to defuse the tension of the work stoppage with a scene of her struggling against the burly cops as they stuff her into the patrol car and haul her off to the station.

The film's climax, as befits its view of unionism, is the bargaining election. The workers wait anxiously in the heat as the ballots are counted. When the vote is announced—373 for the company, 425 for the union— pandemonium breaks loose. Outside the gate, Reuben and Norma Rae hear the triumphant chant of "Union, Union." Reuben knows his job is done. He bids Norma Rae a fond farewell ("Be happy. Be well."), gets in his car and drives away. At the point that a real struggle over wages and conditions should begin, the movie ends.

The ending, though unsatisfying, is not so unrealistic. In 1963 the Textile Workers Union embarked on a drive to organize J.P. Stevens, the country's second largest textile firm. In August 1974 the union won its first bargaining election, in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina. But the workers there are still working without a contract.

"Norma Rae" is most engaging as a portrait of a very appealing working woman of character and courage. As a film it has its flaws, most notably its sentimentality, some idiocies of dialogue and an old-fashioned sharp separation between sexual relationships and "pure" friendship. Politically it is a cruel joke, presenting the government rather than class struggle as the mechanism for trade-union organizing. To its credit, it treats the working people with sympathy and it presents social involvement rather than self-absorption (a la "An Unmarried Woman") as the means whereby the heroine discovers strength and purpose."

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

*Labor's Untold Story- The Split In The Organized Labor Federations In The 1930s- The AFL-CIO Split

Click on title to link to some background information from a YouTube film clip, "AFL vs. CIO Split Of 1935", about the split in the organized labor movement in the 1930's that led the way to mass industrial unionism. Under most circumstances we want the labor movement to be unified under one roof. That is not always possible, nor given certain political realities wise. The split, for labor militants then, was necessary. The reunification of the two federations in the 1950's was something, given those changed political circumstances and with the bureaucratization and congruent politics of those organizations, that we would not have opposed. I will cover the 2005 split of the current two major organized labor federations separately.

Every Month Is Labor History Month

This Commentary is part of a series under the following general title: Labor’s Untold Story- Reclaiming Our Labor History In Order To Fight Another Day-And Win!

As a first run through, and in some cases until I can get enough other sources in order to make a decent presentation, I will start with short entries on each topic that I will eventually go into greater detail about. Or, better yet, take my suggested topic and run with it yourself.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

*Labor Day 2010 Roundup- The Union Victory At Continental Airways-A Guest Commentary

Click on the headline to link to a James Cannon Internet Archives on line copy of his 1934 article, The Great Minneapolis Strikes..

Markin comment:

This linked Cannon article above is still one of the best places to draw some important lessons abut the way to conduct, and win, union organizing drives. Absolutely critical, as Cannon points out, is to conduct such actions from a political prospective and not just around the narrow question of union recognition and conditions of work. Given today's massive billion dollar corporate union-busting schemes this is merely the beginning of wisdom, working class wisdom.

The article below is a modern-day exposition, using the long hard-fought victory for union recognition at Continental Airways as the central focal point, of all the pitfalls (and countering wise moves, as well) that trade union militants confront today. From the concerted efforts of national and international capital to keep unions out, to the seeming never-ending historic role of the labor bureaucracy in letting organizing efforts twist in the wind, to the need for inclusive transnational industry-wide unions in the face of globalization and collusion among capitalists, nationally and internationally, the major issues get a workout. For any modern political trade unionist this article is a primer of what has to be worked through in order to revitalize the labor movement. Don't mourn, organize! Old Wobble songwriter Joe Hill had it right.


Workers Vanguard No. 957
23 April 2010

Union Organizing Victory at Continental Airlines

Labor scored a victory on February 12, when it was announced that the nearly 8,000 Continental Airlines fleet service workers had voted to join the Teamsters, capping a 13-year organizing campaign that involved two other unions and five previous representation elections. These workers, mainly ramp and cargo agents who perform difficult, physically demanding labor for as little as $10 per hour, had been one of the largest non-union work groups in the airline industry. After almost a decade of mass layoffs, wage and benefit cuts and onerous work-rule changes, they again braved the company’s wrath to vote for the union, this time with success.

But the election victory is only a first step. Winning a contract is far from automatic. Over the years, in order to head off the unionization of the fleet service workers, the company did everything from issuing empty promises and holding mandatory anti-union workplace meetings to cultivating a network of spies and finks and selectively disciplining union activists. The same tactics will continue to be used against union supporters in order to intimidate the workforce and stonewall on contract negotiations. It is crucial for the Teamsters—and the other unions at Continental—to defend the new members.

This defense must go hand in hand with the fight against racist discrimination. At Continental, where fleet service workers are heavily black and Latino in many stations, it was not uncommon for anonymous propaganda retailing vicious slanders against the union and its supporters, at times laced with racist appeals, to be circulated throughout the workplace. Just before voting began in January, workers had to protest flyers smearing organizers as “pimps.” Meanwhile, hangman’s nooses recently turned up in the operations area of Newark airport, a union stronghold. The lynch rope embodies a program of white supremacy and violence against black people. The union must combat such provocations if it is to consolidate itself.

The success at Continental, however fragile, stands out against the wave of setbacks labor has suffered for many years, which has been made all the worse by the current sharp economic downturn. It is a testament to the determination and sacrifice of hundreds of volunteer organizers, who struggled together for years against lies and intimidation by the company. In addition to wanting to improve their lot, many were spurred on by chronic abuse from management and derision toward their “unskilled” labor, others by blatant favoritism on the job. By all accounts, the decisive factor in this election was the organizers’ efforts in traveling throughout the Continental system to unite workers at outlying stations behind the union.

Even as Continental was turning the screws on its fleet service workers, the carrier was able to keep them from organizing for so long in no small part because the leadership of the unions—whether the Teamsters, the International Association of Machinists (IAM) or the Transport Workers Union (TWU)—steered clear of anything smacking of class struggle. One missed opportunity occurred in 2005, when the IAM-represented flight attendants at Continental voted to reject concessions, putting in jeopardy the company’s goal of wresting major givebacks from all its union workers. At the time, the Machinists were attempting to organize the fleet service workers, but there was no move to link the two causes. Instead, the IAM tops foisted a new concessionary deal on the flight attendants while allowing the organizing campaign to flounder.

Divisions along craft lines and between workers at different carriers, regional affiliates and “third party” subcontractors sap the strength of the many unions in the airline industry. Mergers, such as that of Delta and Northwest and the possible Continental-United combination, have given the bosses another opening to pit workers against each other in order to impose layoffs and cutbacks. Nonetheless, workers in the industry have enormous potential power, as air transport of both passengers and cargo is vital to a modern industrial economy. What is needed is a single industry-wide union that encompasses everyone from baggage handlers to pilots.

The disastrous consequences of this atomization were laid bare in the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA) strike at Northwest Airlines in 2005. Not only did the leaders of the other unions refuse to shut down Northwest in solidarity with the AMFA union, but IAM officials criminally engaged in open strikebreaking under the pretext that the AMFA craft union had carried out raiding operations against the IAM. The strike went down to a bitter defeat, and all airline workers are now worse off.

It should hardly be news to union “leaders” that when unions scab on each other, labor loses. This was seen clearly when the PATCO air traffic controllers union was smashed in 1981 by Republican president Ronald Reagan, implementing plans drawn up by the Democratic Carter administration. Responsibility for the defeat lay squarely with the leaders of the IAM, Teamsters and other unions who refused to honor the picket lines and shut down the airports. The smashing of PATCO laid the groundwork for a quarter-century of givebacks and union-busting from which labor has yet to recover.

For a Class-Struggle Leadership of the Unions!

At Continental, the Teamsters also represent the mechanics, whose contract became amendable on the first day of 2009, shortly before the union kicked off its bid to organize the fleet service workers. During this time, the union tops sought to bring out both work groups together only for a few rallies outside Continental’s hubs in Houston, Newark and Cleveland. In speeches at these rallies, Teamsters president James Hoffa praised the virtues of supposed “allies” in the capitalist Democratic Party, outlining a legalistic response to the company’s anti-union dirty tricks. It is the reliance on the political agents and institutions of the class enemy—the calling card of the pro-capitalist labor bureaucracy as a whole—that has hastened the decline in union power.

An earlier TWU organizing rally for the Continental fleet service workers in Newark featured one local Democratic Party politician after another seeking votes in the 2008 elections. The union tops spent a whopping $450 million of union members’ dues money on the 2008 bourgeois elections. Upon coming to power, Barack Obama, a Wall Street Democrat, imposed harsh austerity measures on unions, beginning with the United Auto Workers. In 1978, Jimmy Carter pushed through the deregulation of the airline industry, which opened a new round in the carriers’ war on labor. Democrat Bill Clinton would later invoke the Railway Labor Act (RLA) 14 times to ban potential rail and airline strikes. Labor must break with the Democratic Party!

During the campaign at Continental, the Teamsters and 30 other unions began lobbying for a rule change proposed by the Obama appointees on the National Mediation Board (NMB) that would bring the union certification procedures for rail and airline workers in line with those in other industries. To win union recognition by NMB precedent today, the majority of an entire work group has to favor unionization, with absent ballots automatically counted as “no” votes; the change would make it a majority of those voting. We would support such a change, as companies like Continental and Delta pad their employee rosters to rig the vote.

But the union tops’ declaration that this would “level the playing field” is a lie. The reality is that the NMB, whatever its composition, is a capitalist government agency set up to impose “class peace” and bind the unions to the bourgeois order. Under government boards like the RLA, the deck will always be stacked in favor of the bosses. If the certification rules change, so will their anti-union tactics. The unions were built through hard class struggle in defiance of labor laws and, no less today, that is what is decisive. By accepting the framework of the RLA, the union bureaucrats are reduced to tinkering with the bosses’ rules in a losing game.

Saddled with a leadership wedded to the rule of capital, airline workers have taken it on the chin for years. Amid the wave of airline bankruptcies that followed the 11 September 2001 attacks, the bosses wrung billions in wage and benefit concessions from the unions and drastically chopped their employment levels. Continental first pioneered this form of union-busting back in 1983, when then-honcho Frank Lorenzo filed for Chapter 11 in order to tear up union contracts, shed jobs and slash pay. The bloodletting has continued to this day, as the airline bosses cite “low cost” competition, fuel prices and now the faltering economy to make the workers pay for the vicissitudes of capitalism.

Meanwhile, increasing numbers of ground workers, from cleaners and baggage handlers to aircraft mechanics, are employees of largely non-union “third-party” subcontractors, and many domestic routes are now flown by regional affiliates, where workers typically earn far less. At the outset of the organizing campaign, there were 15,000 fleet service workers at Continental. After the union won certification, Continental announced plans to outsource 150 ramp jobs at seven stations serviced by its regional partners. The increasing use of subcontractors poses a broader task for the airline unions: organizing the unorganized throughout the industry, whether at the carriers or subcontractors, and winning equal pay for equal work, no matter the employer. But rather than fighting to organize the workers at the “third party” outfits, the union bureaucrats denounce these workers as “scabs.”

At a 2008 national summit on outsourcing, jointly sponsored by the Teamsters and the “Business Travel Coalition,” union leaders representing airline mechanics urged government officials to strengthen “war on terror” security measures at third-party repair stations. A taste of what this would mean in practice was shown by the government’s 2005 anti-immigrant raid on the non-union TIMCO maintenance facility in Greensboro, North Carolina, during which 27 mechanics were arrested and later deported. As well, the bureaucrats pushed increased U.S. government inspections and protectionist legislation directed at the overseas shops. It is in the vital interest of the labor movement to fight for full citizenship rights for all immigrants.

Few industries are as conducive to coordinating joint struggle as air transport. But in his speeches to Continental workers, Hoffa promoted “save American jobs” chauvinism in support of a Congressional moratorium on foreign outsourcing. Whether by blaming mechanics abroad for jobs lost or railing against Mexican truckers, Hoffa & Co. poison the perspective of international labor solidarity. With the European flag carriers gunning for their unions, strikes have recently broken out in Britain, Germany and Italy. In March, the Teamsters and TWU made headlines for meeting with an official of the union representing British Airways flight attendants, shortly before they went on strike. But no labor action was taken in the U.S. to back up the strikers; the Teamsters did not mobilize its ground workers to refuse to work the arriving scab aircraft.

Despite the hard times, there are indications that airline workers are ready to test the waters. Those who remain at the major carriers are still heavily unionized and many are eager to restore what was lost over the last decade. At American Airlines, where nine union contracts are in mediation, the flight attendants and fleet service workers filed with the NMB for a release from talks, the first step in a long process to a potential strike under the RLA. As is typically the case, the request was denied. Other carriers, among them Continental, United, US Airways and Southwest, have also stalled for years on reaching agreements with their unions. What is necessary is for the unions to fight together in a common front against the bosses and their government.

Airline unions embody a strategic concentration of integrated union power in the “open shop” South, where a massive organizing drive is key for labor to regain its strength. In fact, with the victory at Houston-based Continental, the next major arena for organizing at the airlines is Atlanta-based Delta on the heels of its merger with Northwest. A large number of the non-union subcontractors in the industry are also headquartered in the South, where “right to work” laws have historically been enforced by racist terror. To organize the South will require a labor leadership that actively champions black rights and fights in the interests of all the oppressed.

The way forward is the forging of a class-struggle leadership committed to mobilizing union power independently of and in opposition to the capitalist politicians and government boards. It was just such a leadership, composed of Trotskyists and their sympathizers, that helped build the Teamsters into a powerful union. In 1934, these militants set out to organize every truck driver and warehouse worker industry-wide in Minneapolis. First to win union recognition and then a contract, the city’s proletariat and its allies were mobilized in mass strike action involving pitched battles with scabs, cops and the National Guard. In assessing the strikes, James P. Cannon, a founder and leader of American Trotskyism, noted:

“The modern labor movement must be politically directed because it is confronted by the government at every turn. Our people were prepared for that since they were political people, inspired by political conceptions....

“They prepared everything from the point of view of class war. They knew that power, not diplomacy, would decide the issue. Bluffs don’t work in fundamental things, only in incidental ones. In such things as the conflict of class interests one must be prepared to fight.”

—The History of American Trotskyism (1944)

The airline industry under capitalism is a paradigm of irrationality. The current air traffic control system is based on World War II-era radar technology. Many pilots are paid poverty-level wages, with some even living off food stamps. Critical maintenance inspections are routinely put off by the bosses, courting death and disaster. The contradiction between the inherently international character of the industry and how it is operated by nationally-based rival carriers is a crystalline example of the generalized anarchy of capitalist production for profit. To end this capitalist chaos requires a collectivized economy with centralized planning, which will come about only through socialist revolution. What’s needed is to build a workers party that, standing at the head of the exploited and oppressed, fights for the expropriation of the capitalist class and the establishment of a workers government.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

*The Latest On The Shaw Supermarket Warehouse Workers Strike (Massachusetts)-Victory To The Shaw Workers!

Click on the headline to link to a "Boston IndyMedia" post on the latest on the Shaw Supermarket Warehouse Workers Strike (Massachusetts)-Victory To The Shaw Workers!

Markin comment:

After fourteen weeks of company stonewalling I suppose every tactic, including working through third parties, should be tried. But considering the issue, the pressing one , of health care benefits, shouldn't the union be thinking about calling all Shaw workers out in support of their brothers and sisters. This issue isn't going to go away and a victory here is desperately needed.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

*From The Archives Of "Women And Revolution"-Hamburg: Women Spark Shipyard Occupation (1984)

Markin comment:

The following is an article from the Spring 1984 issue of "Women and Revolution" that may have some historical interest for old "new leftists", perhaps, and well as for younger militants interested in various cultural and social questions that intersect the class struggle. Or for those just interested in a Marxist position on a series of social questions that are thrust upon us by the vagaries of bourgeois society. I will be posting more such articles from the back issues of "Women and Revolution" during Women's History Month and periodically throughout the year.

Markin comment:

With the desperate need to ramp up the class struggle today (from our side, the bosses have been on a seemingly eternal offensive) this is a good article not only about the vanguard role that women can, and have, played in important class struggles in the past but about the tactics and strategy necessary to win struggles, if possible.


Last fall in West Germany strikes and plant occupations broke out in the key Hamburg and Bremen shipyards against massive layoffs of the workforce. The nine-day Hamburg HDW [Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft] shipyard occupation in September was sparked in large part by the militant actions of a group of women, wives of shipyard workers. W&R, along with comrades of the Trotzkistische Liga Deutschlands (TLD), section of the international Spartacist tendency, recently spoke at length with Birgit Wojak, one of the main activists of the women's group; we are pleased to print below excerpts from this very exciting interview.

The TLD had raised key demands during the occupation, in leaflets and discussions with workers in Hamburg and nationally, to extend and win the workers' strikes. These included: "For factory occupations in all plants hit by mass layoffs and closings! For a joint national shipyard, steel and mine strike!" Layoffs were hitting the vital Ruhr steel and mining districts. At the same time the Board of Directors of HDW (which is owned by a state conglomerate) announced that in HDW's Hamburg branch one half of the 4,500 workers would be laid off and in HDW's Kiel branch one out of every three of the 9,000 workers. This "hot autumn" of workers' demonstrations, strikes and occupations
potentially posed the most important class battle for the German workers in 30 years.

The Hamburg and Bremen shipyard occupations took place as political ferment in West Germany is greater than at any time since the founding of the Federal Republic in 1948. The deployment in West Germany of the first-strike Pershing 2 missiles, under the command of the anti-Soviet fanatic Reagan, has deeply polarized West German society. The dramatic actions of the North Sea shipyard workers is a further sign that the West German capitalist order, long the relatively stable core of NATO Europe, is now beginning to break down under the combined impact of war mobilization and economic crisis.

But as Wojak graphically describes, not only the "IG Metall" union bureaucracy and the SPD [Social Democratic Party], but even the so-called "leftists" who had control of the Hamburg occupation itself, did everything in their power to undercut the struggle and prevent the workers from carrying it to victory. The main brake on the German working class is the Social Democrats. Though out of power when these shipyard layoffs were announced, they were the architects of the West German bourgeoisie's present austerity program which has meant massive attacks on the working class.

The dramatic Hamburg occupation—and its betrayal— showed above all the need to forge a revolutionary working-class party by splitting the working-class SPD ranks away from the pro-capitalist tops.

The TLD's aggressive propaganda campaign around the occupations presented a broad programmatic alternative for the workers. Its leaflet noted the importance of the foreign workers: "Yesterday and today these foreign brothers are in the front lines of the struggle.... Full citizenship rights for foreign workers and their families!" The TLD further noted: "While the IG Metall bureaucracy wants to stiffen the backbone of the German steel magnates in the protectionist Common Market cartel, the 'left' is mobilizing for a 'National Steel Company/ or a 'National Shipyards Company.' But if the capitalist economy is not done away with, these nationalized companies (like HDW) will serve the capitalists. As opposed to the Rostock Yards only a few miles away [in East Germany], whose order books are filled with contracts for icebreakers, passenger ships, etc., running for years thanks to the Soviet planned economy, the capitalist 'solution’ to the crisis in the shipyards is arms production: battleships and submarines for war against the Soviet Union."

Lenin said that the fate of the October Revolution was inseparable from the victory of the German October. The converse of that is that the failure of the German working class, the best organized working class in Europe, to live up to its revolutionary obligations has led to two world imperialist wars. The TLD's leaflet concluded: "A militant strike in steel, the shipyards and coal would show the workers the way to prevent stationing NATO first-strike weapons. By strikes—not 'minutes of warning' against the 'superpowers.' For the Breits and the Loderers the Bundes-wehr is a 'peace force. They hate the Soviet Union and fear a new Bremen Soviet Republic, a new Ruhr Red Army—a German October.

"For the revolutionary reunification of Germany by a social revolution in the West and proletarian political revolution in the East! Smash the anti-Soviet war drive! For unconditional military support of the DDR/Soviet Union! For a socialist planned economy! For the Socialist United States of Europe!"

W&R: Can you tell us something about your background that you feel contributed to your becoming an activist in this struggle and occupation? Wojak: The thing that made me just want to do something—I didn't know what I wanted to do—was that my mother died, basically because she worked herself to death. Normally she shouldn't have been allowed to work at the job she did because she had asthma. She worked as a presser in a knitting mill and couldn't handle the wool dust. My father had to retire early as a partial invalid. He lost a leg, also worked 25 years at HDW as a welder, and now he can hardly do anything. The only thing my father had was my mother. He's just vegetating. And that was the main thing that made me say, that's not going to happen to me, and I wasn't going to put up with it any longer. And they want to fire my husband from the HDW plant.

W&R: Plans were announced for massive layoffs in the shipbuilding industry in early spring and a "warning strike" was called, including demonstrations. How did you become involved in the struggle? Wojak: I was approached by my husband to get involved with this women's group—they were actually all wives of men who were already active in the HDW shipyard and who were also affiliated with one political current or another. I met the women's group myself at a forum and found out that they had gone into the Hamburg parliament, tried to storm the microphone to draw attention to the situation of workers in the entire shipbuilding industry. The mike was cut off immediately so that they couldn't say anything. And because they had counted on that they had written an "Open Letter" to the mayor of Hamburg, the Social Democrat von Dohnanyi, and rained these leaflets from the gallery down onto all the parliamentarians. And they unfurled a banner reading, "HDW and MAN wives fight together with their men." Two women were picked out and criminal charges were brought for disrupting a public parliamentary session.

I met these women at a forum on this HDW issue, and Klose, the former Social Democratic mayor of Hamburg, was present. What struck me about this forum in particular was the workers; there were a whole lot of workers from HDW there. They were absolutely furious and wanted a complete change. And this Klose, he just tried to channel it into orderly channels that he could keep in hand. In the beginning, when I heard about what they did, it seemed to be a little bit too radical to me. But that Klose wanted to steer the workers in a very definite direction that he could keep in hand seemed even more awful. So I decided then to go to this women's meeting and take a look for myself.

At this first women's meeting I went to, in April, one woman said right away, yeah, maybe we can still see to it that there are a couple of strikes at HDW, and if it all
doesn't do any good, then we have to occupy the plant. And I thought, sure, if they occupy the plant, that's a long way off, and you don't have to go along with them. But during the occupation, in September, it turned out that some of the workers— I count myself among them as well—that we were the ones who carried out the occupation, whereas the women who had been talking weren't at all the ones who did the occupying. These women as well as so-called "activists" in the plant saw the plant occupation as a means to put pressure on the government to save jobs. And then when I participated in this occupation and got angry every time I had to leave the occupied shipyard and had to sleep alone in my bed at home, I saw it as if I had seized a piece of this shipyard along with all those workers. W&R: The women's committee waged a hunger strike that led up to and in some sense precipitated the September shipyard occupation. What motivated it?

Wojak: In all our work between the warning strike in the spring and during the occupation in September, we tried to do all kinds of actions to mobilize the workers so that they would occupy or put up any line of resistance against the layoffs at all. Whenever there was any kind of plant assembly or when any new events in the shipyard came up we stood in front of the gates with our banner and passed out leaflets, calling on the men to defend themselves, to do something, offered them our help. The result was that the men laughed at us. Then this situation came up in a plant assembly where we said, either we're going to storm the microphone now, just like in parliament, or you guys read these things aloud. And the guys running the meeting were scared to death that we'd storm the mike, because they didn't expect the workers to do the same thing the parliamentarians did, namely nothing, when the mike was turned off, but that the workers would probably resist. So under this pressure, they read what we had written. And for the rest of the plant assembly we were surrounded by a ring of company cops. W&R: What were your demands? Wojak: Our demands were basically the men's demands. They were for the 35-hour week, statification of the shipyard under control of the workforce (we extended it to real control). Then there was the men's demand for "useful alternative production," and that filter systems be installed in power plants so they don't pollute the atmosphere so much. In fact, there was quite a hard discussion with one of the women in the women's group about this, with the result that the men raised "alternative production" as a very hard demand and we just raised it on the side.

W&R: Who were they, and what were the political currents in the women's group?

Wojak: The political people in the plant were primarily from the DKP [pro-Moscow Stalinists], people from the GIM [German section of the United Secretariat], people from the SPD, from the union—in fact all the political groupings were present. In the women's group there were the DKP, KPD [Maoists], GIM; there were people from Arbeiterpolitik [Brandlerites] who got in through women's groups in the union. It was the same with the Social Democrats who also had influence through the unions and some women's groups.
This discussion about "useful alternative production" that came up in the women's group was introduced by me, because I was the only really unpolitical woman there and saw immediately what this "useful alternative production" basically meant for jobs. I told them that it's baloney and meaningless for jobs, whereas all the others supported it at first. The minute I started this discussion I had the feeling that all these women had a narrow-minded view of the whole situation because of their political orientation. That led me to view everything essentially more critically than before.

Maybe one more reason why the hunger strike happened. We wanted to spur the men on to fight. And we had found out that at Hoesch, in the Ruhr, where layoffs in the steel industry are also an issue, there was also a women's group, and they had waged a hunger strike. We had exhausted all the possibilities—standing in front of the gates; in plant assemblies; we went into the union and meetings organized by the union, where we were regularly thrown out. But the men saw us, and you couldn't pretend we weren't there. The Hoesch women had videos of their hunger strike and of the men's strike, and they advised us, if you do a hunger strike, there's no way it can fall through—you definitely have to do it.

From the very beginning we said we don't want to starve ourselves to get sick or die or something, but we agreed from the first if we do a hunger strike to limit it to three days. Because we thought, three days: that's enough to get it in the public eye. And if the men haven't gotten it together after three days to pull off a decent action, then even a ten-day hunger strike won't do any good.

W&R: So how long did the hunger strike go on before the occupation began?

Wojak: We waged a three-day hunger strike right before the occupation. When it got under way there were five women who took part in it from the first to the last day. And there were nine on the last day. We didn't just want to wage a hunger strike without drawing in the men in the shipyard. Because we didn't know that they would publish the list with the mass layoffs at just the same time, we had convinced the men beforehand to carry out an action in the plant as well, if we did this hunger strike. We won them over to boycotting overtime at that point. And then-it became known in the yards—that was the afternoon before the hunger strike, right before quitting time—as people found out that 1,354 people were supposed to be laid off, there was a symbolic occupation of the plant gate for two hours, with only 1,200 people taking part.

The first day of our hunger strike, when nobody knew anything about it beforehand, even the men in the shipyard, about 80 percent of the workforce said completely spontaneously, if the women go on a hunger strike then we'll boycott the canteen for the day. That was a very important thing, because you could see that we women were recognized by the men in the shipyard for the first time. The canteen had been contracted out to a private company before the layoffs were announced, and some women who worked in the canteen were thrown out and rehired for considerably less pay—we wanted to boycott the canteen until the women got the same pay as before.

All the men who were at all political had laughed at us before for this demand, and said that no worker would follow this demand because their own stomachs are more important than other people's stomachs. And the fact that 80 percent carried out this canteen boycott— and they really went hungry, because they didn't know they were going to boycott the canteen and didn't bring sandwiches from home—that proves that they were simply wrong, that the workers forgot their own empty stomachs in their solidarity.
This whole hunger strike was received by all the workers in the shipyard extremely well anyway, although they hardly dared to approach us because of their preconceptions—these poor, weak women, they're standing there and what's more, going hungry for us, and what have we done? They could hardly look us in the eye. And after quitting time that evening, here came all the workers and they brought us flowers. Most of them just kind of shoved them in our hands and walked on by.

W&R: So how did the actual plant occupation begin?

Wojak: The first one to call for an occupation, or for a massive action, I believe, was me. After the three days of the hunger strike were over, there was a closing rally. We had gotten an enormous amount of solidarity and over DM 9,000 ($4,500) in contributions. Several plants declared their solidarity, and it was not only for the women but for solidarity against all layoffs.

We held a rally at the end where each of the women who had taken part in the hunger strike was supposed to say something to the brothers in the shipyard. And I was the last one, and I had lost my notes. So I just called on the men to just do something, and if they didn't fight, that we women would think up something to do to them that would be pretty nasty. W&R: Lysistrata meets the class struggle. Wojak: But the effect of that was not that they all got terribly scared of me or the women, but they applauded it wildly, they cheered it, they picked it up like something they'd wanted to say themselves for a long time. And finally somebody said it. The hunger strike was over on Friday and then came the weekend. The gates were picketed from the outside so that no overtime could go on—organized by the men and some of the women picketed too.

There was a general plant assembly during the hunger strike where the men fought with the bosses and got us the right to speak. A plant assembly is where the whole plant comes together in one room, organized by the union—there's a minimum of four assemblies annually. And the Management Committee [the bosses] and the plant council are there and make reports. Every individual worker can speak.60 this plant assembly continued on Monday morning. It ended with a march of the workers through the inner city in a demonstration of 3,000. And after the demonstration all the workers went back into the plant and continued the plant assembly and then voted to occupy the plant. And that was adopted 100 percent.

W&R: And who was elected the leadership of the occupation?

Wojak: There was a prominent supporter of the DKP, who had worked out this occupation plan just in case. And they were essentially the people who had been working together beforehand—like the DKP, SPD, KPD, GIM, unionists.

W&R: What was the relationship of the official union leadership of the Metalworkers [IG Metall] to the occupation?

Wojak: Before the occupation the IG Metall didn't look upon it kindly and it didn't look on the women's activities kindly either. A week before the hunger strike somebody from the union put out the word that the HDW women are dead, they don't exist anymore. And then when this demonstration through the center of town took place and afterwards the occupation was voted, they were singing a different tune all of a sudden. Because they probably saw that the workers just couldn't be stopped. So they said, we'll support every action; go ahead, and we'll always be behind you. Only I'm talking about the local union organization in Hamburg—there wasn't so much as a letter of solidarity from the IG Metall from the rest of the country. During the occupation the union reps didn't behave worse than the "activists" in the plant, which were in all these parties, but they were awful enough themselves.

W&R: We haven't discussed the laws that come from the 1950s—the "Factory Regulation Law" (Betreefasver-rassungsgesetz). Can you explain why this law is followed so slavishly, and what it in fact means with regard to workers' struggles?

Wojak: The "Factory Regulation Law" is a law the government passed that means limitations on the workers, especially in strikes. It's a terribly thick book that's not easy to explain. But for example it says that in your plant you can't just support strikes in other plants or collect money for them. All the plant assemblies— how they are to be held, whether there are secret or open ballots, are governed by it. And a plant occupation is a violation of the "Factory Regulation Law" because a worker can't just seize the plant that belongs to someone else.

W&R: The fact that the members of the plant council are bound to silence is also laid down in the "Factory Regulation Law" as well, including about layoffs. Wojak: Yes. In the case of this list of 1,354 people to be laid off, for example, the members of the plant council were obligated not to make that public. This law basically just hinders the workers from using their power m any way whatsoever against the bosses. And the unions haven't done anything against it and are therefore complicit.

W&R: What was the role of the women's committee during the occupation?

Wojak: Pretty pathetic, because we had set as our goal calling on the men to wage a fight. And in fact we reached that goal with the hunger strike. So during the occupation we didn't want to stand on the sidelines; but we really didn't know at all what we ought to do
I myself concentrated on extending the strike together with two other women. We went to AC Weser, to a shipyard in Bremen where they had decided long before the HDW occupation to occupy\ this shipyard because there was no more putting the brakes on these workers or holding them back from doing an action like that. So we drove to Bremen and were totally depressed when we got there, because the conditions under which the shipyard was occupied were really awful for the workers. They had one last ship in Bremen which was up for repairs, and then the whole shipyard was supposed to be shut down, closed

We weren't allowed to speak to the workers there before the occupation was voted. And when they did vote to occupy, you could see that a crime was perpetrated against the workers, because the occupation was coupled with the condition that the necessary repairs for this one ship still had to go on during the occupation. Further, the occupation in Bremen was; an extremely late point in time—one day before the occupation in Hamburg was given up, and it w; planned that way.

During the HDW occupation a ship was literal kidnapped from the HDW workers. The cables were cut. One worker was injured, not very seriously, bi people could in fact have been killed. We took the brothers in Bremen a cable from this captured ship as warning that they should keep a close watch on the ship. The workers welcomed us with cheers. We g more applause for what we said there than ever before although it was just to give them a little courage at really nothing more. Afterwards we also discussed with a whole lot of workers, and a lot of them who h been for going on with these repairs changed this opinion within five minutes and didn't want to do it anymore.

Another guy, the DGB [German trade-union federation] chairman in Bremen, spoke, and first express his solidarity and cozied up to them like mad and said you guys are in an unusual situation; so an unusual situation demands unusual means and you guys have
grasped them. And it's right that you have occupied your shipyard and you ought to occupy it a while longer—and then you ought to let the bosses and the politicians decide what ought to happen to the shipyard. And even then the workers applauded. And there was this worker sitting next to me during this speech, and it just slipped out of my mouth: how can this man be allowed to speak here? Why doesn't somebody throw him out? Then he really thought about it, at first he didn't say anything at all, then he said, yeah, that's outrageous, what he's saying here. He can't be allowed to do that. But then the guy up front was already gone. But before, this guy had clapped too.

We had these buttons with "Stop the death of HDW in installments—HDW must stand" on them, with the HDW insignia and over that "HDW Occupied" on a red background. And a worker in Bremen just had to have it, and he gave me his helmet. It has a sticker on one side, "AC Weser Occupied," and on the other "HDW Occupied."

When we women came back from this shipyard occupation, we didn't have the feeling that this occupation would be a support for the HDW workers, but that it was something designed to. go against workers' struggles. When we got back to HDW, we told the strike committee what was going on, that AC Weser wouldn't be a support for Hamburg and that they would have to extend the struggle in other ways. They said it wasn't right to tell the workers something like that. I did tell the workers that, and I know one other woman—from the GIM—also told it to the workers.

W&R: The TLD raised the demand to extend the strike to mining and steel, where there were also plans for substantial layoffs and firings. How do you feel about that demand, and given a revolutionary leadership, do you think it could have been an outgrowth of the shipyard occupation?

Wojak: It would have been possible, definitely. The question of extension was already very close, even without a revolutionary leadership, and only a spark would have been necessary to ignite it. But with a revolutionary leadership there would have been a guarantee for extending it.

W&R: How did the occupation end, and what did the workers win or lose?

Wojak: The HDW occupation lasted nine days. The mass of workers lost their jobs. The layoffs were carried out just like they had been planned. The layoffs are continuing today. The workers in the plant have worse working conditions than before, there's speedup. There have already been two deaths as a result.

The reason the occupation was broken off then was: yeah, they said we have the chance of getting a decent severance plan. They didn't even get the severance plan they had before the occupation but one significantly worse.

The foreign workers are in a very bad position. They are the ones primarily hit by the layoffs. About 50 percent of the foreign workers at HDW were fired. And they can be deported immediately if they don't get a new job, and they don't have a chance to get a new job either. So they won absolutely nothing, except when one or the other can draw the lessons—that you have to design an occupation differently, that is, not carry out an occupation under such conditions, but from the very beginning set the conditions yourself and not let them be dictated to you.

The occupation ended with a general plant assembly, which includes the lower- and middle-level management. Then the Management Committee has the right to take part; most of the time politicians are also invited—but not to this one. The Management Committee announced that if they didn't give up the occupation then they might fire the whole workforce— in one fell swoop. Without notice. People weren't quite convinced that that would in fact happen. But in the 70s that did happen once, when two shipyards, the Deutsche Werft and the Howaldtswerke fused. They fired the whole workforce because they were on strike, and afterwards they just hired back the part that they needed. So the threat of firings was in the air. Then there was the second thing. The Management Committee had announced that if Hamburg resisted and continued the occupation, the works would go deeper and deeper in the red, and then they wouldn't have any other choice but to split off Hamburg and Kiel from one another, as affiliates or even as two independent companies. But this plan has existed a long time, even without the occupation.

W&R: What was the role of the DKP and the KPD and the GIM during the occupation, and in the plant assembly meeting?

Wojak: From the first moment they set their stakes all on negotiations—negotiations with the politicians in Bonn and Schleswig-Holstein, since HDW is 100 percent state-owned. Those are both Christian Democratic governments. And their role was precisely to put pressure on these politicians, to say, "Do something about the shipyard please. Don't throw all these people out onto the street, after all." They all agreed completely on that. Those were always the things that kept coming up even before the occupation, in strikes or other actions—apply pressure. You can also see it in this program for "useful alternative production." That was drafted by people from the DKP, from the GIM— in effect a somewhat broader version of the strike committee together with people from the union and other activists. Then the union took it up and printed it as a program. For all practical purposes their aim is to give the capitalists a hand, how to make it, if you can just get a little bit more capital to boot, without having to fire guys.

W&R: I understand that in the course of the occupation a GIM supporter in the workforce put up a banner of Solidarnos'c'. How was this received?

Wojak: This Solidarnos'c' banner actually only had a slight meaning for the workforce. It was one banner among many. There were other banners from other plants, for example AEG Schiffbau brought over a huge banner. Such banners were received with more applause and many more workers also crowded around them. Solidarnos'c' itself was seen as the shipyard workers there going into the streets, and they stuck together and fought for their rights. Solidarnos'c'' real role wasn't seen; most of the workers don't know much about Solidarnos.

The thing is, they tried to block every political discussion in the union. There was a band in the yard one evening and they were singing some kind of political things, and a guy from the SPD took the mike away from them and said, look, leave politics out of this; the shipyard occupation isn't a political affair. The workers who got wind of it were pretty pissed off. And I noticed how they attacked the union bureaucrats pretty hard: what is this, and everybody can say what they want to here, and even if there's political stuff here—there's a highly political situation at HDW. He went away then, but the musicians didn't have the nerve to start again. But that was just the way discussions about Solidarnos'c' or issues in a larger context during the occupation were blocked, and the GIM supporters hung the sign up, intervened by doing that, but didn't tell the workers anything about it.

W&R: What role did these left groups play in the plant assembly discussion regarding the occupation in the face of the fact that the occupation had spread to Bremen, so that ending the occupation at that particular point in Hamburg was particularly criminal.

Wojak: It was criminal. The political groups were all straining to reach the same goal, told the workers, yes, under these conditions where we have to take into account that the whole workforce will be fired, where there's no sort of severance plan at all, and then the poor foreigners will be fired and won't even be able to take home any severance pay at all if they're deported—at such a point we can't call on you guys to continue the occupation, although we would have really liked to. That was what was said during the occupation, during the vote, by all the political groups. And Bremen. The workers in Bremen were of course terribly disappointed. They probably did see it as criminal, what happened in Hamburg. Only the strike committee (which was the same as the plant council in Bremen) said, what's so bad about that? Hamburg and Bremen don't have anything to do with each other.

W&R: Let's return to the question of the foreign workers. It's my understanding that the foreign worker also supported the end of the occupation even though they had the most to lose by the layoffs. Why was that?

Wojak: It was essentially Turkish workers who sup ported ending the occupation. Not because they were Turkish, but simply because the Turks speak the leas German, and because they were absolutely no properly provided with information. Hardly anything was translated. There was one Yugoslavian woman in our women's group and we were the first ones in the shipyard to have leaflets and placards in Turkish and Yugoslavian when we went into the plant assembly during the hunger strike, and a lot of foreign workers stood up. They applauded us and brought us chairs, because finally somebody in the shipyard was thinking of the foreign workers. I believe that without the women, the foreigners wouldn't even have known what was going on at the beginning of the occupation.

There was one Turkish guy in the yard who could speak good German. They told him, this is the way things are, and then it was up to him the extent to which he passed on the information to his brothers, or not. He handled it by saying, listen, the next vote is going to be about this or that, and if I raise my hand, that's correct, so you guys do the same. Of course, in this vote on the occupation that wasn't possible—it was secret, and nobody raised his hand. Most of the Turks had no idea what they should do and were totally unsure of themselves.

I heard that a couple of days beforehand there were also people in the yard who had threatened the Turkish workers. There was almost a physical fight. They threatened that if the Turks continued to participate actively in the occupation they would beat them up, or they threatened them in other ways. As far as I could find out these were people that came from the [Turkish fascist] Grey Wolves.

W&R: Did the workers in the shipyard occupation take any measures such as forming workers defense guards to defend against the fascistic Grey Wolves or other fascist groups that might attempt to break up the occupation?

Wojak: No, none at all. There was no defense, neither against the fascist groups, nor against the scabs, nor against the police attacks that had been threatened.
I have to add that there were a whole series of scabs during the occupation: almost all the white-collar workers worked during the occupation, and after a couple of days parts of the machine shop started working—in the end I believe it was half of the machine shop that worked, first secretly and then openly.

First the workers said, look, they're working. They can't do that. We're going to throw them out. And then there were discussions with the strike committee, and they said, no, that would disturb the "peace and quiet" in the yard, and peace and quiet and order [Ruhe und Ordnung], that's the one thing that you have to maintain in such a big occupation, and you ought to go to the people and talk to them and try to convince them not to work. When I came onto the yard the next day I asked, well, did you guys throw out the white-collar workers? And the workers said, no, we have to keep it quiet, and all that creates an uproar, and we can't do that either. That's the way they manipulated the workers' opinion in practice.

I ask myself how these people in the strike committee wanted to convince people to continue the occupation or not to work, when they themselves had made a deal with the management about painting the bottom of a ship and sent the workers off to work. The painting has to be done in two coats—if the second coat isn't done, then the first coat is ruined too. And for doing that they got from the management deliveries of food to the canteen for one more day.

A number of times in the Social Democratic daily paper there were two-page spreads: HDW will be cleared; police attack; police intervention threats—in order to confuse the workers about what they ought to do. When the first article came out I was in the yard too, and the workers said—a lot of them anyway—what do they think they want, the police? They won't even get in here; the gates are shut tight, and right behind the gates is the fire station. We have water cannons, we have helmets, we have clubs, we have everything here. They won't get in here at all; we'll know how to defend our shipyard for sure. And the next day I asked, what are you guys doing now, and they said, well, when the police come, then we'll let them carry us all away. We won't offer any resistance. And so that's another sign how the opinion was manipulated by the strike committee.

W&R: One of the points made in the TLD's leaflet directed at the HDW occupation was the comparison between the Rostock shipyards in East Germany, where the order books are full—a demonstration of the power of a planned economy—and HDW, which is even turning away work from the Soviet Union at the same time it's laying off thousands of workers. Did this contrast have any impact on the workers during the occupation?

Wojak: This discussion definitely existed in the shipyard, this comparison between the DDR yards in general and shipyards in the Soviet Union, and here in West Germany—simply because these orders to build ships were refused. The workers said, sure, build ships—if it was a question of what kind of ships we need, we could be booked up too. The thing is whether we want to build them—or whether our bosses want to build them. And they just don't want to. And that's whose fault it is that we aren't getting any more work in the harbor.

W&R: After the occupation you put out a leaflet in which you call for a study of the lessons of the occupation. What do you think those lessons are?

Wojak: The lessons of the occupation are that the workers' interests were not represented during the occupation at all, otherwise they would have had something to take home with them from such a large-scale occupation. The people who are responsible for this are the strike committee, who belonged to all the political parties. It would have definitely been possible to extend a strike to all the shipyards, to the mines and to the steel industry, like it says in the TLD's leaflet. That was the least that could have happened. Such an extension into broad areas would have paralyzed a large part of the West German economy. At that point the HDW occupation would have been just one point of a massive campaign.

But of course you can't carry out such an extension if you basically don't want to win but only want a couple of concessions from the capitalists. If you lay the basis for things like this, then the consequence is that the workers take the power. And you have to want that.

There was criticism of a lack of solidarity from other plants. Well, if you don't offer me something to fight for, then what am I supposed to go running off and fight for?
During the occupation I saw what would have been possible, and I saw what all the parties and political groupings did. I saw what the social democrats of the SPD did. They said to the workers, we are the party; we'll do everything for you; we'll save your jobs, but we're going to do it together with the capitalists. And together with the capitalists means against the workers. That's not a party that can be the leadership of an occupation or of strikes, or of the workers' interests.

The DKP did nothing different from the SPD. Maybe there was a little bit more leftist touch in their speeches, but looking at what they did, they are indistinguishable. The GIM was in the shipyard, and they hardly opened their mouth. But the one guy from the GIM that was in the strike committee was also indistinguishable. It's exactly the same with the KPD, and the people from Arbeiterpolitik didn't have any different program either.

The first thing the workers have to have, that's a decent party that represents their interests. When you read the TLD's leaflet, you saw that they did represent the workers. The other political groups, parties—they wanted to keep the TLD out of the shipyard as far as possible. And discussions they had with individual workers were also not looked on kindly.

All the political groups except the TLD said, the workers—they're not that advanced; they can't do all that yet; and they don't understand all that yet. But I'm a worker myself. If somebody asks me, do you want to determine what's produced in your plant, I'll say of course I want that. And if he asked me, do you also want to determine how much you earn, then I'll say, of course I want to determine that. And do you also want to determine your hours and your working conditions? Then of course I say I want to determine that too. I don't have to be so all-fired advanced for that; every worker understands that. And that's what the TLD said. And it's simply necessary to have a party, one you can really turn to with your interests and doesn't turn right around and betray the workers again.

Friday, April 16, 2010

*From The Pages Of "Workers Vanguard"- Victory To The Rio Tinto Borax Strike!

Click on the headline to link to a "Workers Vanguard" article, dated April 9, 2010 concerning the lessons to be drawn from the struggle of the Rio Tinto miners out in California.

Markin comment:

Hot-cargoing scab Borax products is simply the beginning of wisdom on this one. Sometimes there is only one way to get successful results and it starts by putting a crimp in the profits of these monster mining conglomerates.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

*Boycott Call In Support Of the Shaw's Supermarket Workers (Massachusetts)

Click on the headline to link to a "United For Peace and Justice" Website entry concerning the fate of 300 striking Shaw's Supermarket unionized workers.

Markin comment:

All out in support of the fired Shaw's Supermarket workers! Support the boycott! An injury to one is an injury to all!

Friday, March 26, 2010

*From The "HistoMat" Blog- Greek Workers Solidarity Meetings (In Britain)

Click on the headline to link to a "HistoMat" blog entry- "Greek Workers Solidarity Meetings (In Britain)".

Markin comment:

I have not done adequate justice to the long on-going struggles of the Greek workers and attempt to start to rectify that here. Much more on this important center of the international class struggle later. The Greek workers appear to be far, far ahead of most of the workers movement in resisting the "demands" of international capitalism by as they confront their bosses' capitalist government. Victory to the Greek workers!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

*Labor's Untold Story-The Real "Mother" Jones-Labor MIlitant

Click on title to link to Wikipedia's entry for Mother Jones.

Every Month Is Labor History Month

This Commentary is part of a series under the following general title: Labor’s Untold Story- Reclaiming Our Labor History In Order To Fight Another Day-And Win!

As a first run through, and in some cases until I can get enough other sources in order to make a decent presentation, I will start with short entries on each topic that I will eventually go into greater detail about. Or, better yet, take my suggested topic and run with it yourself.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

*Labor's Untold Story-The Class Wars In The Mines Of Colorado-Cripple Creek 1892

Click on title to link to Wikipedia's entry for the Cripple Creek strike of 1982-this was class war, rare and ugly, down at the base.

Every Month Is Labor History Month

This Commentary is part of a series under the following general title: Labor’s Untold Story- Reclaiming Our Labor History In Order To Fight Another Day-And Win!

As a first run through, and in some cases until I can get enough other sources in order to make a decent presentation, I will start with short entries on each topic that I will eventually go into greater detail about. Or, better yet, take my suggested topic and run with it yourself.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

*Labor's Untold Story- Honor The Memory Of 19th Century Labor Organizer Ignatius Donnelly

Click on title to link to Wikipedia's entry for Ignatius Donnelly.

This Commentary is part of a series under the following general title: Labor’s Untold Story- Reclaiming Our Labor History In Order To Fight Another Day-And Win!

As a first run through, and in some cases until I can get enough other sources in order to make a decent presentation, I will start with short entries on each topic that I will eventually go into greater detail about. Or, better yet, take my suggested topic and run with it yourself.