Showing posts with label political strikes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label political strikes. Show all posts

Friday, August 30, 2019

Labor Day Scorecard- 2008




This writer entered the blogosphere in February 2006 so this is the third Labor Day scorecard giving his take on the condition of American labor as we approach Labor Day. And it is not pretty. That, my brothers and sisters, says it all. There was little strike action this year. The only notable action was that of the autoworkers last fall that I made comment on then and have reposted here. The situation since then for the beleaguered auto workers has only gotten worst, as the dramatic decline in auto sales and the energy crunch have kicked in.

Once again there is little to report in the way of unionization to organize labor’s potential strength. American workers continue to have a real decline in their paychecks. The difference between survival and not for most working families is the two job (or more) household. In short, the average family is working more hours to make ends meet. Real inflation in energy and food costs has put many up against the wall. Moreover the bust in the housing market has wrecked havoc on working people as the most important asset in many a household has taken a beating. Once again forget the Federal Reserve Bank’s definition of inflation- one fill up at the pump confounds that noise. One does not have to be a Marxist economist to know that something is desperately wrong when at the beginning of the 21st century with all the technological advances and productivity increases of the past period working people need to work more just to try to stay even. Even the more far-sighted bourgeois thinkers have trouble with that one. In any case, here are some comments on the labor year.

*The key, as it was last year, to a turn-around for American labor is the unionization of Wal-Mart and the South. The necessary class struggle politics that would make such drives successful would act as a huge impetus for other areas of the labor movement. This writer further argues that such struggles against such vicious enemies as Wal-Mart can be the catalyst for the organization of a workers party. Okay, okay let the writer dream a little, won’t you? What has happened this year on this issue is that more organizations have taken up the call for a boycott of Wal-Mart. That is all to the good and must be supported by militant leftists but it is only a very small beginning shot in the campaign (See archives, dated June 10, 2006). National and local unions have taken monies from their coffers not for such a worthy effort as union organizing at Wal-Mart but to support one or another bourgeois electoral candidate. Some things never change.

*The issue of immigration has surfaced strongly again this year, especially in presidential politics. Every militant leftist was supportive of the past May Day actions of the vast immigrant communities to not be pushed around, although one should also note that they were not nearly as extensive as in 2006 or 2007, a sure sign that the norms of electioneering by the affected ethnic leaderships have put a damper on such extra-parliamentary actions. Immigration is a labor issue and key to the struggle against the race to the bottom. While May Day and other events were big moments unless there are links to the greater labor movement this very promising movement could fizzle. A central problem is the role of the Democratic Party and the Catholic Church in the organizing effort. I will deal with this question at a latter time but for now know this- these organizations are an obstruction to real progress on the immigration issue. (See archives, dated May 1, 2006 for a recap on this factor)

The Auto Workers Struggles of the Fall of 2007



The big labor news this fall has been the fight by the United Auto Workers (UAW) for new contracts with General Motors, Chrysler and now Ford. I have already discussed the GM and Chrysler settlement and now as of Friday, November 3, 2007 Ford and the UAW have reached a tentative agreement. That agreement is along the same lines as those ratified by GM and Chrysler (barely) - a new two- tier wage system for new hires who will get one half the average pay of senior autoworkers and union takeover of the health and pension funds. As I have lamented previously these contracts are a defeat for the autoworkers. Why? The historic position of labor has been to fight for equal pay for equal work. That apparently has gone by the boards here. Moreover the pension and health takeovers are an albatross around the neck of the union. No way is this an example of worker control not at least how any militant should view it. After all the givebacks its time to fight back even if this is a rearguard action in light of the previous votes AND the futility of the 'apache' strategy. Any illusions that the give backs will buy labor peace and or/avoid further layoffs, close downs or outsourcing got a cruel comeuppance in the previous contract negotiations. No sooner had those contracts been ratified, and well before the new contracts were even printed, Chrysler announced layoffs of 8000 to 10, 000 and GM had previously announced about 1500 layoffs. FORD AUTOWORKERS VOTE NO ON THIS CONTRACT.




The Wal-martization of the Once Proud UAW

Yes, I know that we are in the age of ‘globalization’. That is, however, merely the transformation of the same old characters like General Motors, Ford and Chrysler in the auto industry that we have come to know and love moving away from mainly nationally defined markets to international markets. In short, these companies allegedly are being forced to fight their way to the bottom of the international labor wage market along with everyone else. As least that was the position of these august companies in the on-going labor contract negotiations with the United Auto Workers (UAW). And the labor tops bought the argument. In the General Motors settlement GM was nicely absolved from having to administer its albatross health and pension funds. Now autoworkers are held responsible for deciding what autoworkers get what benefits. This is not my idea of workers control, not by a long shot. Based on those provisions alone that GM contract should have been soundly defeated. That it was not will come back to haunt the GM autoworkers in the future.

Now comes news that, as of October 27, 2007, the Chrysler workers have narrowly (56%) ratified their contract, although some major plants voted against it and the labor skates pulled out all stops to get an affirmative vote. If anything that contract is worst than the GM contract because it also contains a provision for permitting a two-wage system where ‘new hires’ will be paid approximately one half normal rates. So much for the old labor slogan of 'equal pay for equal work'. If the GM contract will come back to haunt this one already does today. Remember also that Chrysler was bought out by a private equity company that has a history of selling off unprofitable operations, driving productivity up and then selling the profitable parts for huge profits. That, my friends, is what the global race to the bottom looks like in the American auto industry. This contract should have been voted down with both hands. Ford is up next and based on the foregoing that contract should also be voted down.

Look, every militant knows that negotiations over union contracts represent a sort of ‘truce’ in the class struggle. Until there is worker control of production under a workers government the value of any negotiations with the capitalists is determined by the terms. Sometimes, especially in hard times, just holding your own is a ‘victory’. Other times, like here, there is only one word for these contracts-defeat. Moreover, this did not need to happen. Although both strike efforts at GM and Chrysler were short-lived (intentionally so on the part of the leadership) the rank and file was ready to do battle. The vote at Chrysler further bolsters that argument. So what is up?

What is up is that the leadership of the autoworkers is not worthy of the membership. These people are so mired in class collaborationist non-aggression pacts and cozy arrangements (for themselves) that they were easy pickings for the vultures leading management. The epitome of this is the ‘apache’ strategy of negotiating with one company at a time. If in the era of Walter Reuther, at a time when there were upwards of a million union autoworkers, that might have made some sense today with reduced numbers it makes no sense at all. Labor’s power is in solidarity and solidarity means, in this case, ‘one out, all out’. Beyond that it is clear a new class struggle leadership is needed, just to keep even, and it is needed pronto. Those rank and filers and, in some cases, local union leaders who called for a no vote at Chrysler are the starting point for such efforts.




As of September 24, 2007, after a break down in negotiations the General Motors autoworkers went out on a nation-wide strike. In the old days, in the 1930 and 1940’s, the United Auto Workers (UAW) union was created and solidified by fierce class battles. This action evokes memories of those times although then the fight was centrally around wages and working conditions. Today, in the age of ‘globalization’ (meaning, in reality, most of the same capitalists like GM fighting it out in the world market rather than in nationally isolated markets) the fight is against the corporation- driven race to the bottom. The issues of health care, pensions, outsourcing and job guarantees are what drive today’s struggles. And the prospects are not pretty.

Take the case of heath care provision. General Motors (and ultimately the other auto makers) want to foist that responsibility onto the union with some kind of trust fund arrangement. I think an unidentified UAW local president in Detroit made the most eloquent response to that idea. His response: Why should the union be responsible for cutting off the health benefits to its own membership as health costs continue to spiral or a member reaches the plan maximum. Make no mistake this scheme is not some step in the fight for workers’ control of working conditions. The company is merely trying to bail out from its own mistakes. Ditto on the under- funded pension plans. However, GM is more than happy to try to lock the union into an agreement on outsourcing to their other plants internationally in order to cut costs. This they know how to do as the decline in membership of the UAW dramatically shows. In the end that means poorer working conditions not only here but also internationally. To mitigate the problem of outsourcing it is not enough to call for job protection. Also necessary is an international organizing drive to unionize all autoworkers.

One of the most compelling pieces of data that I have run across lately on the labor movement is from an article on globalization in which it was stated that today there are as many auto workers as in the past but only about a third of them are organized. Today GM has 73,000 UAW autoworkers. In the past there were several times that number. As we support the current UAW action let us remember this for the future. The same can be said for the other members of the Big 3. And while we are at it since all autoworkers will ultimately be affected by the GM action- extend the picket lines to the other Big 3. Call out the whole UAW to defend this strike. VICTORY TO THE GM AUTO WORKERS!

Sunday, September 04, 2016

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!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

*Labor's Untold Story-The Hard Struggle to Organize Ford Motor Company

Click on title to link to "Socialist Action" entry for a look at the organizing of black workers at the Ford River Rouge automobile factory. River Rouge at one time could be considered the equivalent of the famous Putilov metalworks factory in Petrograd as a vanguard "hot bed" of militant labor. Sadly, those days are long gone.

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.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

*Honor The Heroic British Miners Strike Of 1984-85

Click On Title To Link To YouTube's Newsreel Footage Of A tribute To The British Coal Miners And Their Families

Guest Commentary

20th anniversary of an historic battle: the British miners strike
by Kjell Pettersson

The following article is translated from the April 8 issue of Internationalen, the weekly newspaper of Socialist Action’s cothinkers in Sweden, the Socialist Party, Swedish section of the Fourth International. It commemorates the great British coal miners strike of 1984-85, the opening battle against the worldwide capitalist and imperialist offensive known as neoliberalism, which has since worn away many of the historic gains of working people and sent millions of workers into chronic unemployment and misery. In several Latin American countries and Indonesia, it has led to recent mass uprisings. But the first fight came in the oldest country of capitalism, and it already demonstrated the new aggressiveness of capital in the age of economic decline that began with the recession of the early 1970s.

The British working class and especially the British coal miners have their pride. They have a strong self-consciousness and an acute awareness of their historic importance for the British energy supply. They struck in 1925. They broke the Heath Conservative government in 1973. Politicians, whether they come from the British Labour Party or the Conservative Tories, had to think more than once before they took a decision that did not suit this section of the British working class.

The coal miners and their families live in British working-class row houses where life tends to be hard and unrelenting. A cave-in, a badly laid dynamite charge—there are always risks. And those who have to live with death have to harden themselves.

But not even the coal miners, with their collective strength as their foundation and a mutual solidarity pact against the expected results of the Tory victory in 1979 for their own cause, were prepared for the fight they would have to face. Nor could the other British unions in their wildest imaginations grasp the scope of the open class war that was launched the same day that Margaret Thatcher took office as prime minister.

Thatcher, also called the "Iron Lady," with her icy gray eyes and her nimble tongue, was more neoliberal than neoliberalism itself. She was a reactionary fanatic, a dangerous visionary, who understood that one of the prerequisites for the capitalism of today and tomorrow is to sweep away all the obstacles on its path. For Thatcher that meant tearing down the public sector, the state monopolies, job security, wage bargaining—and not least of all, the counterpower, the hated trade unions.

This not something that she and the other members of her government and her advisors first thought of in 1979. It had been in the works before the Tory government came into office in 1979. It was to develop into an open crusade against the coal miners in the year-long strike that started at the end of January 1984.

Already in May 1978, the British magazine The Economist had ferreted out the future government’s strategy for fighting the unions. The outlines were drawn up by the Conservative parliamentary Policy Group under the leadership of MP Nicolas Ridley. This group was perceptive enough to work with the entirely likely hypothesis that, a year or two after the Tory election victory, the unions would start to recover from the shock. A challenge would come either over wages or layoffs.

Having learned from their previous experience, they feared that the fight would start in a so-called vulnerable industry, such as coal, electricity, or the docks, with the support of what they called "the full force of the Communist troublemakers."

After a day’s work, the Policy Group came to the conclusion that the most likely and the most favorable battleground was the coal industry. Out of sheer self-preservation, the coal miners and their militant leader, Arthur Scargill, had to fight back when the government announced that at least 20,000 jobs were going to go, and in the longer term talked about 70,000 jobs.

If the government could break the hard nut of the coal miners, it would be much easier for it to tame the weaker and more yielding sections of the trade-union movement.

But to win they needed a strategy. The Policy Group, or more correctly, the general staff of the Tory government, thought there several prerequisites for winning the fight. They needed a series of cards to win the fight. The hand they played had at least six. Before the government launched its war, it had to: Build up the maximum coal stocks. Make plans for the eventual importation of coal. Promote the recruitment of unorganized truck drivers to help transport coal when necessary. Introduce parallel coal and oil firing at all power stations as soon as possible. Cut all benefits for strikes and force the union to finance the strike. Have a mobile police force equipped and ready to enforce the law against strike pickets. "Good unorganized drivers should be recruited to drive through strike picket lines under police protection." The government was playing a loaded game. It held the aces. The war could start, and it started a few months into 1984.

Before it got underway, the British National Coal Board got a new chief, Ian McGregor. He did not mince any words: "Behave yourselves and you have a future, don’t behave yourself, and you have none. " Later on, it turned out that there was no future for any coal miners.

At the start of the strike, the Iron Lady thundered, "On the Falkland Islands [in the war against Argentina], we had to fight the foreign enemy. We have the internal enemy, and it is harder and more dangerous to freedom."

The coal miners’ strike held out for an incredible year. The odds from the beginning were not the best. By April, 80 percent of the coal miners had joined the strike.

But, and this is an important "but," in Nottinghamshire, the strike front broke from the start, when a majority of the coal miners in the district refused to join the strike. They did this in the belief that their mines were more secure. Later, after the strike, they would see things differently. Even though during the strike, the coal miners proclaimed again and again, "Miners united cannot be defeated," they were not entirely united.

Moreover, it is one thing to strike for higher wages when the economic situation is good and the enterprise is making high profits. It is quite another thing, and a much harder struggle, to strike against layoffs, when the employers want to shed labor power.

Strikebreakers and a hard fight to save jobs were already in store before the strike started. Moreover, there was a government ready to resort to any means whatever to crush the strike.

In order for the strike to have a chance, the miners had to get all the support they could; in part from the central British trade union organization, the Trades Union Council; and not least from the British Labour Party, led by Neil Kinnock.

The support from the TUC remained half hearted, and from the Labour Party not even that. On the other hand, the miners got unprecedented support from solidarity organizations in Great Britain and internationally.

Facing an almost unnatural test of strength, it was a wonder that the miners could hold out for a year before they finally were forced to lower their flag. For those arrested, imprisoned, and harassed, there was no money—nothing but their class feelings and their solidarity. They had been mocked and slandered by a more or less united British press, which loyally followed and supported the Thatcher government.

Their opponents were well organized. They had passed laws against the blockades around the workplaces, stocked coal, and when the coal stocks began to empty out in the summer of 1984 they managed to bring in the first ships of strikebreaker coal—from Poland, among other places.

Through laws, the government had stopped all local and state contributions, and that led to unions being able to pay strike support only exceptionally. The total outlay for police was around about $250 million. About 11,000 workers were arrested and treated like criminals.

They sacrificed everything. The words, "Blood, sweat, and tears," never had such a concrete meaning as during the long miners’ strike.

A description of what the miners were forced to go through comes from a miners’ community where both father and son struck. A nearly year-long strike had led to many miners’ families living on the edge of starvation. In one of these many families, the situation was more than stark. Someone simply had to go back to work and become hated as a blackleg for the rest of his life. The father took on this burden so that his son could avoid being called a "scab" for the rest of his life, because he himself had less time to live.

On Sunday, March 1,1985, a year after the strike started, two Welsh miners’ wives, Anne Jones and Barbara Edwards, were to speak at the Fokets Hus in Stockholm. An hour before the rally, they learned that the Mine Workers Delegate Conference had decided by a narrow majority to end the strike. But the two women still summoned up their strength went up to the platform.

"As the men go back to work on Tuesday," they said, "bills are going to start pouring in. For the whole strike, we did not pay rent, gas, or electricity. the bills are going to mount up in the miners' homes. Some of us have already gotten eviction notices.

"Our going back is not because the miners did not fight hard enough for their cause. The responsibility for the defeat does not lie with the coal miners or their union. The responsibility falls entirely on the leadership of the TUC and the right-wingers in the Labour Party who did not lift a finger to support the miners."

Two days later, on March 3, the miners went back to work. Over TV, I saw a union leader of a type that does not grow on trees, Arthur Scargill, at the head of his miner comrades behind a trade-union banner leading the union Golgotha march back to work in the Welsh mine where he once worked.

In 1984, when the strike started, there were 170 coal mines in Great Britain. Ten years later, in 1994, there were 17. In the same period, the number of coal miners declined from 181,000 to 11,000.

After the end of the strike, the National Coal Board chief, Ian McGregor, scolded, "Now people are finding out the price of their stubbornness and rebelliousness. And, my children, I will see that it is recognized."

Now it is 20 years since the coal miners’ strike started. It was a strike that certainly ended in a crushing defeat. A defeat that for the Thatcher government was a victory that opened the door for neoliberalism and ruinous capitalism.

The defeat was not one for the coal miners alone but for the whole international workers’ movement and not the least for its trade-union structures. They did not want, or were not allowed, to understand that the coal miners were fighting for them as well.

The coal miners lost. But one thing cannot be taken from them. They fought, and in the circumstances, they fought more than well.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

*Defend The Republic Window Workers' Chicago Factory Occupation

Click on the title to link to an article in December 2009 "Socialist Appeal" concerning last year's factory take-over at the Republic Door and Window factory in Chicago.


This is a little news item that I have just picked up from the AP. I note here that last week I mentioned as a "fantasy" that the Detroit auto workers needed to "seize" the factories in order to get something for all the wealth they had produced. One should also note that this was a union-led action. More, hopefully much more, later. Markin

Idled workers occupy factory in Chicago

By Rupa Shenoy

Associated Press Writer / December 6, 2008

CHICAGO—Workers laid off from their jobs at a factory have occupied the building and are demanding assurances they'll get severance and vacation pay that they say they are owed.

About 200 employees of Republic Windows and Doors began their sit-in Friday, the last scheduled day of the plant's operation.

Leah Fried, an organizer with the United Electrical Workers, said the Chicago-based vinyl window manufacturer failed to give 60 days' notice required by law before shutting down.

Workers also were angered when company officials didn't show up for a meeting Friday that had been arranged by U.S. Rep Luis Gutierrez, a Chicago Democrat, she said.

During the peaceful takeover, workers have been shoveling snow and cleaning the building, Fried said.

"We're doing something we haven't since the 1930s, so we're trying to make it work," Fried said.

Union officials said another meeting with the company is scheduled for Monday.

Representatives of Republic Windows did not immediately respond Saturday to calls and e-mails seeking comment.

Police spokeswoman Laura Kubiak said authorities were aware of the situation and officers were patrolling the area.

Crain's Chicago Business reported that the company's monthly sales had fallen to $2.9 million from $4 million during the past month. In a memo to the union, obtained by the business journal, Republic CEO Rich Gillman said the company had "no choice but to shut our doors."

© Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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