Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Iranian Workers in Action for Democratic Rights

Iranian Workers in Action for Democratic Rights
Introduction by Socialist Voice's Robert Johnson and John Riddell.

The mass protests in Iran, sparked by charges of fraud in the June 12 presidential elections, express deeply felt demands for expanded democratic rights. The establishment press has been silent on the aspirations of rank-and-file protesters. Socialist Voice is therefore pleased to be able to publish several statements by components of Iran’s vigorous trade union movement, which has been a major target of repression by Iran’s security forces. We have provided the titles and some introductory comments.

The U.S. government and its allies hypocritically claim to be “pro-democracy,” a lie exposed by their enthusiastic support of repressive dictatorships in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere, and their alliance with the apartheid regime in Israel. For 30 years they have raged against Iran, jealous of the sovereignty established by its great revolution in 1979. Now they hope that the protest movement can provide an opening for them to undermine Iranian sovereignty and return the country to their sphere of influence. They hope to break Iran’s alignment with the Palestinian freedom struggle and with the progressive nations of Latin America’s Bolivarian Alliance (ALBA).

By repressing mass protests, the Iranian government is weakening the country’s defenses against such imperialist attacks. Continued social progress in Iran depends on the expansion of democratic rights, and the strengthening the working class and other popular forces that are the main pillar of national sovereignty.

Progressive activists in Canada should not take sides between the competing factions in Iran’s capitalist class, nor should we try to instruct the Iranian people on how the present crisis might be resolved. These questions can only be settled by the Iranian people themselves.

We should, however, support the right of the Iranian people to communicate freely, to demonstrate, and to form trade unions and other popular associations independent of government supervision or control. We should support calls for freeing political prisoners and for an end to the repression.

At the same time, we should strongly oppose attempts by imperialism to take advantage of this crisis, and call for an end to sanctions and other forms of foreign oppression of the Iranian people.

The position adopted by the Vancouver antiwar coalition Stopwar.ca provides a good example of this approach. Its resolution also appears below.

* * * * * *

“General prosperity depends on general cooperation, and we must not let others make decisions for us. We must take the initiative ourselves.”

[In 2005-2006, the strike movement of Tehran's bus drivers won respect among working people in Iran and worldwide. The movement was repressed and hundreds of drivers were arrested, but the union continues to function.

[Mansour Osanloo, the president of the bus drivers' union, has been in jail since July 2007, serving a five-year sentence for "threatening national security "and "propaganda against the state." He has suffered gross mistreatment at the hands of his jailers. He is being denied appropriate medical treatment and his health is failing. Other leaders and activists of the bus drivers' union have suffered arbitrary arrests, beatings, and loss of their jobs.

[The union issued the following statement during the campaign for Iran's tenth presidential election, before the outbreak of the national crisis.]

The Tehran and Suburbs Vahed Bus Company Workers’ Trade Union is purely a trade and workers’ organisation. This trade union was formed in 2005 based on the consciousness of the workers and the broad support and involvement of workers, and despite its ups and downs and many problems, has continued its activity as before until today.

The Tehran and Suburbs Vahed Bus Company Workers’ Trade Union does not support any candidate in the tenth presidential election and does not view supporting any candidate as within the scope of the activities of independent workers’ organisations. With the absence of freedom [of activity] for parties, naturally our organisation is also deprived of a social association that would protect it. While the Tehran and Suburbs Vahed Bus Company Workers’ Trade Union views political intervention and activity as the absolute right of every single person in society, it believes that if the presidential candidates present workers’ manifestoes and give practical guarantees about their electoral slogans, workers throughout Iran can either participate or not participate in the election.

But the Tehran and Suburbs Vahed Bus Company Workers’ Trade Union, as a workers’ association, sees it as its duty to ask all candidates [some questions], so that in case there is a logical answer, workers can make a decision about these [replies]. But unfortunately, until now the presidential candidates have not expressed any views about workers, the unemployed, and their demands in the press, at conferences, in press conferences or during provincial trips.

Today, for workers and their families, encouragement about participation in the election is one of the most meaningless of existing debates, because during the past three decades the workers have experienced all the presidents from the time of the [Iran-Iraq] war and the [post-war] reconstruction and reform, and also the affection-cultivating president.

We want all our workmates and people of our class, if there is a discussion about the election in their place of work or study, home or neighbourhood, to not forget to ask themselves and others what is the programme of the presidential pretenders for workers?

1. What is the clear position of the candidates of the tenth presidential election on the formation of independent workers’ organisations without the interference of the government and employers?
2. How do you justify the suppression of independent workers’ organisations like the Tehran and Suburbs Vahed Bus Company Workers’ Trade Union?
3. Considering the accumulated demands of workers and that the poverty line announced for this year is 850,000 tomans [$874], but on the other hand the monthly wage has been set at 263,000 tomans [$270], will you accept the demand of workers’ organisations that the minimum wage should be one million tomans [$1,021]? This was what the signatures of factory workers throughout the country have proclaimed.
4. To announce their opinion on international conventions on labour rights, children’s rights, women’s and human rights, and to say how they will adhere to them?
5. To say what their opinion and programme is on job security, job creation, housing, and unemployment insurance for people over 18 years old, medical insurance for everyone, and scrapping temporary contracts that are the cause of hardship and poverty for working class families?

During these past years, the workers have been told to make sacrifices and to accept their hardship and their lack of rights. While the workers can neither go to work with security or hope, nor to their homes for rest, thousands of plain-clothes and security force [officers] – forces that perform no productive work and are used everywhere and for any deed that is necessary, with any level of violence and use of force – are kept to deprive and detain workers from a free life. Yet [the candidates] refuse to [devote] one day to talking about the workers’ demands and needs.

These are not issues specific to the time of the election. These problems depend on the co-operation of all toilers who see this dam in front of them.

We must strive to go past this dam and reach a society where the solving of social problems is not handed over to the president and parliament only.

General prosperity depends on general cooperation, and we must not let others make decisions for us. We must take the initiative ourselves.

–Tehran and Suburbs Vahed Bus Company Workers’ Trade Union May 2009

* * * * * *

We “fully support this movement of [the] Iranian people to build a free and independent civil society and condemn any violence and oppression.”

[In this later statement, the union states its position on the post-election crisis.]

In recent days, we continue witnessing the magnificent demonstration of millions of people from all ages, genders, and national and religious minorities in Iran. They request that their basic human rights – particularly the right to freedom and to choose independently and without deception – be recognized. These rights are not only constitutional in most of the countries, but also have been protected against all odds.

Amid such turmoil, one witnesses threats, arrests, murders and brutal suppression that one fears only to escalate on all its aspects, resulting in more innocent bloodshed, more protests, and certainly no retreats. Iranian society is facing a deep political-economical crisis. Million-strong silent protests, ironically loud with unspoken words, have turned into iconic stature and are expanding from all sides. These protests demand reaction from each and every responsible individual and institution.

As previously expressed in a statement published on-line in May of this year, since the Vahed Syndicate does not view any of the candidates support the activities of the workers’ organizations in Iran, it would not endorse any presidential candidate in the election. Vahed members nevertheless have the right to participate or not to participate in the elections and vote for their individually selected candidate.

Moreover, the fact remains that demands of almost an absolute majority of the Iranians go far beyond the demands of a particular group. In the past, we have emphasized that [so long as] the freedom of choice and right to organize are not recognized, talk of any social or particular right would be more of a mockery than a reality.

The Syndicate [Union] of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Vahed Bus Company fully supports this movement of [the] Iranian people to build a free and independent civil society and condemns any violence and oppression.

In line with the recognition of the labour rights, the Syndicate requests that June 26, which has been called by the International Trade Unions Organization “Day of Action” for justice for Iranian workers, include the human rights of all Iranians who have been deprived of their rights.

With hope for freedom and equality

–The Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Vahed Bus Company June 18, 2009

* * * * * *
Organize 30-minute protest strike; “it is our duty to join this people’s movement”

[Khodro, Iran's leading car company and the largest vehicle producer of automobiles in the Middle East, has a strong recent history of labor militancy, strikes, and repression. It employs more than 100,000 workers and produces more than half a million vehicles a year.

[A few weeks before Iran's June elections, a strike by the Khodro workers quickly won its two demands: for payment of unpaid wages and for Khodro itself to sign up employees previously supplied by third-party contractors.

[In a recent letter to the International Labour Organization, Khodro workers have also made their long-term demands clear, asking that ILO work to help ensure that Iran:

* Observes workers rights.
* Does not prevent the formation of free workers' organisations.
* Does not arrest and jail workers for the offence of going on strikes and forming workers' organisations.
* Respects the conventions of the International Labour Organisation.

[The following is the Khodro workers' response to the crisis.]

Autoworkers, fellow labourers: What we witness today, is an insult to the intelligence of the people, and disregard for their votes, the trampling of the principles of the Constitution by the government. It is our duty to join this people’s movement.

We the workers of Iran Khodro, Thursday 28/3/88 [June 18], in each working shift will stop working for half an hour to protest the suppression of students, workers, women, and the Constitution and declare our solidarity with the movement of the people of Iran. The morning and afternoon shifts from 10 to 10:30. The night shift from 3 to 3:30.

–Labourers of Iran Khodro

* * * * * *
“Honour the will and the vote of the people”

[We have been unable to find an English translation of the statement by the teachers' union. Below is a summary and partial translation of the statement as it appeared on the LaborNerd website June 19.]

Sazman-e Moalleman-e Iran (Teachers’ Organization of Iran) is writing a statement protesting the arrest three days ago of its leader, Ali-Reza Hashemi. It expresses the view that the wave of arrests by the government will only serve to unite the people. It says, “The only way out of this situation is to accept the request of the candidates and to honour the will and the vote of the people.” It expresses extreme objection to the arrest of Hashemi and other activists and says that freeing those who have been arrested will serve to decrease the amount of conflict in the country. It also says, “The Teachers’ Organization of Iran, further, supports the goals of Messrs. Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi and calls on the election authorities to annul this election and undertake a free election.”
* * * * * *

STOPWAR COALITION (Vancouver, Canada)
Statement on the Iran crisis

[The Vancouver antiwar coalition StopWar adopted the following statement at its June 24 monthly membership meeting.]

StopWar, the broad-based anti-war coalition which has been active in the Vancouver area since 2002, sends warm greetings and solidarity to all those who are rallying for democracy and justice in Iran and abroad this week. We share your commitment to a peaceful and just resolution of the disputes brought to the surface by the recent presidential election in Iran, and your desire for Iranians themselves to determine the future of their country.

We condemn the regime’s killing of protesters and we join with others in demanding the right to organize, strike and protest, and to free speech and assembly for all Iranians. We demand the release of all arrested workers, students, and political prisoners.

We condemn any attempt by pro-war forces in the United States, Canada, and other countries to take advantage of this situation to push for ‘regime change’ imposed by outside powers. The drumbeat of threats against Iran should remind all peace-loving people of the build-up for war against Iraq seven years ago, which brought a terrible tragedy to that country without advancing the rights of the Iraqi people.

StopWar expresses our full confidence that the people of Iran will achieve their goals without the interference of governments such as that of Canada, which has only hindered genuine progress towards democracy, social justice and gender equality with the ongoing military mission in Afghanistan.

* * * * *


1. Tehran bus drivers’ union (pre-election statement) Translated by Iranian Workers’ Solidarity Network.

2. Tehran bus drivers’ union (post-election statement)

3. Iran Khodro autoworkers. Translated for The Field by Iraj Omidvar.

4. Teachers’ Organization Of Iran. Summary and partial translation posted on LaborNerd website.

5. Stopwar website.


Honduras: Dawn of General Strike

Honduras: Dawn of General Strike
by Gabriela Gurvich
There was a curfew until 6 AM. The city is militarized. Hondurans remain in the streets, demanding the return of their president, Manuel Zelaya, keeping a vigil all night.

This Monday morning began in Honduras with people demanding the return of democracy, ready for struggle. There was a curfew until 6 AM. The city is militarized, but Hondurans remain in the streets, demanding the return of their president, Manuel Zelaya.

People held an all-night vigil at the gates of the presidential palace, which is occupied by soldiers. Zelaya supporters are trying to talk to soldiers, pleading them not to betray their country. Adriana Sívori, a TeleSur correspondent, said that soldiers have been deployed and that they have fenced the area with cars and tanks.

The protesters vow that if the de facto president, Roberto Micheletti, tries to enter the presidential palace, they will not allow it, because it is the home of their legitimate president.

A bonfire is burning about 500 meters from the government palace, and both the youth of the Democratic Unification Party and other organizations opposed to the coup have set up barricades on the main access roads to the zone of protests.

"We Want Mel" and "No to the Coup d'État" are some of the slogans chanted by the speakers, audible all the way up to the government palace, occupied by the perpetrators of the coup.

On Sunday, political and social organizations formed the Popular Resistance Front, which called on the public to go on a general strike of citizens, and trade unions, peasant organizations, and student groups will be participating, beginning this Monday.

Marches and rallies across the country to be held on Monday have been announced as well.

The presidential palace remains surrounded by military tanks, while people hang in there to protest.

Sívori reported that at the international airport foreigners and visitors are trying to leave the country before militarization.
The original article "Honduras amaneció de paro general" was published by YVKE Mundial on 29 June 2009, at 8:51 AM. Translation by Yoshie Furuhashi and published at Monthly Review Zine.


Saturday, June 27, 2009

Iran: Message from Iranian Workers' Free Trade Union

The following statement was posted at uruknet - Information from Occupied Iraq

Iran: Message from Iranian Workers' Free Trade Union
June 24, 2009

Forty-eight days have passed since the suppression and arrest of workers' gathering on International Labour Day May Day. During this time our country has witnessed important events and we witness widespread and amazing changes in the social movement.

During their televised debates the presidential candidates repeatedly accused each other of violating citizens' rights, embezzlement, theft, mismanagement, and incompetence. But none of them had any objection to the laws that have allowed the disastrous events affecting the majority of the population. None of them had any objection to legislation that takes away a worker's right to strike, sets his wages at a quarter of what is the government's poverty line, takes away the workers right to set up their own organisations, allows mass lay-offs, forces workers to sign blank contracts a one-month temporary contract.

The presidential candidates failed to take up issues regarding freedom of speech, the right to choose one's dress, and hundreds of other inhuman laws that today govern our society. When they raise any issue it was in a superficial way, every one of them attempted to clear himself and accuse the others, as if his opponent had been more strict than himself. In all those debates, clearly and in confronting each other, the candidates themselves proved that they accept all the current laws and conditions and that their only quarrel is on who should be in power.

Therefore, we workers, under the present conditions, when social protests have taken the form of a mass and a huge movement has come on the scene to achieve its demands, see it as our right to put forward the demands of fellow workers and to raise our banner. These demands are as follows:

1. Immediate increase in the minimum wage to over 1 million tomans [$1010] a month.

2. An end to temporary contracts and new forms of work contracts.

3. The disbanding of the Labour House and the Islamic Labour Councils as government organisations in the factories and workshops, and the setting up of shoras [councils] and other workers' organisations independent from the government.

4. Immediate payment of workers' unpaid wages without any excuses.

5. An end to laying-off workers and payment of adequate unemployment insurance to all unemployed workers.

6. The immediate release of all political prisoners including the workers arrested on May Day, Jafar Azimzadeh, Gholamreza Khani, Said Yuzi, Said Rostami, Mehdi Farahi-Shandiz, Kaveh Mozafari, Mansour Osanloo and Ebrahim Madadi, and an end to surveillance and harassment of workers and labour leaders.

7. The right to strike, protest, assemble and the freedom of speech and the press are the workers' absolute right.

8. An end to sexual discrimination, child labour and the sacking of foreign workers.

Workers! Today we have a duty to intervene, to pose our demands independently and by relying on our own united strength, together with other sections of society, to work towards achieving our human rights.

The Free Trade Union of Iranian Workers


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Thousands Join Protest Against Financial Crisis in France

Lisbeth Latham

More than 150, 000 people joined protests in France against the Sarkozy Government’s handling of the financial crisis. The protests, which were the fifth major joint-mobilisation this year called by France’s eight union confederations, were significantly down on both previous mobilisations and on union predictions. The low turn is increasing the debate as to the way forward for the movement in France.

While support for the movement has continued to grow, with opinion polls indicating 75% of French people support the union actions, the numbers attending mobilisations have been in decline. The January and March protests involved 2.5 million and 3 million people, compared to 1.2 million and on May 1. The May 26 mobilisations, which featured hundreds of decentralised protests across France, were far smaller than the previous protests. Following the May 26 mobilisations, AFP reported that Maryse Dumas, Secretary General of General Confederation of Labour’s (CGT) Postal and Telecommunications Federation, said "the goal is not to make this initiative highly visible, but to ensure that the movement takes root and expands”.
Union leaderships, who predicted that June 13 equal the May Day protests in size, have had to acknowledge that the June 13 mobilisations were a disappointment. Bernard Thibault, Secretary of the CGT, telling AFP “turnout is lower than we had hoped”, and Francois Chereque, General Secretary of the French Democratic Confederation of Labour, was reported by AFP as saying the “day will not be a success in terms of numbers”. Chereque continued "what matters most today is to make a splash, to say before the summer and our meeting with the president that we have to go further".

While the turnout was low, public support for the movement remains high with polls indicating 75% of French support the mobilisations. This contradiction has caused considerable speculation as to the gap between the public support for mobilisations and the actual size of the protests. The mainstream media has speculated that the key causes are the strong return for Sarkozy’s UMP in the European Parliamentary elections, the fast approaching summer holidays and a growing sense that the protests are not achieving anything.

The leadership of the Force Ouvriere Confederation has also questioned the effectiveness of repeated demonstrations. FO’s General Secretary, Jean-Claude Mailly told Reuters on June 13, “if the government doesn’t budge with demonstrations, we will have to move up a notch and call a day of strike action”. The other union confederations have criticised the FO’s critical statements for both breaking the united front which had previously been presented by the eight confederations but more importantly for failing to mobilise its militants for the June 13 demonstrations - Liberation on June 24 reported that there was a contingent of just 50 FO members at the Paris demonstration.

However FO’s criticisms echo those of the radical Solidaires confederation who have been arguing since January that in order to build a movement that can force both the government and employers to respond to union demands will require a general strike.

This article is posted under copyleft, verbatim copying and distribution of the entire article is permitted in any meduim without royalty provided this notice is preserved. If you reprint this article please email me at revitalisinglabour@gmail.com to let me know.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Workers Creating Hope: Factory Occupations and Self-Management

Workers Creating Hope: Factory Occupations and Self-Management
by Shawn Hattingh
Posted at MRZine.org


In most countries, political leaders and bosses are using the global economic crisis to once again unleash an attack on workers and the poor. As part of this, we have seen corporations around the world trying to make workers pay for the crisis by retrenching tens of millions of people. In the most extreme cases, workers arrive at their companies in the morning and are told they no longer have a job. With all these retrenchments, corporations are not just taking away jobs but they are also attacking people's dignity. They are literally throwing people into a very uncertain world where it is getting harder and harder to even get the basics of life such as food and shelter. Of course, the corporate elite are not worried if people starve or live in misery, what they care about is their profit margins and bottom lines. Through retrenchments, therefore, the elite are waging a war on workers and the poor in the name of corporate survival and profit prospects. Fortunately, workers around the world have started resisting. Strikes against retrenchments have occurred from France to China and from Greece to South Korea. In some cases, workers have even kidnapped their bosses and occupied factories and offices to stop being made 'redundant.'1 It is through this type of direct action that the workers involved are winning concessions from the elite. Indeed, workplace occupations seem to be one of the most effective ways for people to win their demands and reclaim their dignity back from the elite.

Worker Occupations Are Spreading

A few years ago, it would have seemed crazy to even suggest that workers across the world would be starting to once again occupy their factories to stop closures and retrenchments. The only place this seemed to happen up until recently was in Argentina. With the crisis in Argentina in 2001 hundreds of workplace occupations occurred. In the end, over 200 factories were recovered by workers and in many cases they became democratically run by the workers themselves.2 Nonetheless, few even imagined that factory occupations and self-management would become a possibility in many other countries. Certainly, in every country around the world retrenchments have been rife over the last 20 years, but staging direct action to stop this through occupations did not look like a realistic option. For example, in South Africa hundreds of factories have closed since the 1990s, but trade union leaders did not even consider occupations as a viable strategy to combat this. Within the last several months, however, factory occupations have occurred in at least a dozen other countries besides Argentina. Once again direct action and even talk of worker self-management are back on the agenda of many workers.

Even in Britain and Northern Ireland, where Thatcher's brutal attack on the coal miners in 1984 left lasting scares amongst workers and the poor, workplace occupations have occurred. When the car parts manufacturer Visteon informed workers that the company would be shutting its doors, the workers decided to occupy the company's plants. They were furious as they had only been given 6 minutes notice and a severance package that was paltry. For over a month, the workers occupied Visteon's buildings despite the threat of arrest.3 In the end, even though they could not save their jobs, they won a severance package that was worth ten times the original offer. In the process, the Visteon workers regained the dignity that the management tried to strip them of. Similarly, when workers at Prisme Packaging in Dundee were told that the company was shutting its doors, they staged a 51-day sit-in. They had decided that they were not willing to lose their jobs and said that they wanted to re-open Prisme as a co-operative under self-management. For them, victory came when they managed to secure funding for their co-operative venture.4

Similar stories of workplace occupations have also occurred in the Republic of Ireland. Earlier this year, workers at the Waterford Crystal factory were informed by the companies liquidators -- Deloitte and Touch -- that they no longer had jobs and that they would not even receive severance pay. The workers decided to defend their livelihoods by staging an occupation. In response Deloitte and Touch sent in a private security force to threaten and intimidate the workers. Eventually, however, 10 million Euros was made available for a severance fund and negotiations are now underway for some of the workers to keep their jobs.5

Factory and workplace occupations have also been taking place in several countries on continental Europe. When the current crisis first struck, in late 2007, 300 workers at Frape Behr in Spain occupied their workplace to stop retrenchments. As part of this, community activists and supporters surrounded the building and protested in solidarity with the workers inside.6 At the same time as this was occurring, workers in Serbia were occupying their factory, Shinvoz, to prevent it being privatized.7 In France, workers under the threat of retrenchments have also charged into the offices of their bosses and held them until their demands have been met. For example, at FM Logistics 125 workers invaded a managers meeting and held the bosses hostage. The reason the workers did this was because the company had formulated a plan to retrench over 470 workers due to the current economic crisis. After only one day of 'captivity,' the managers of FM Logistics agreed to re-examine their retrenchment plans. Similar 'bossnappings' have also occurred at the French holdings of Sony, 3M, and Cattepillar. The majority of the French public have supported these 'bossnappings.' This support has meant that the French state has not been able to move against the workers involved.8

Over the last few months, factory occupations have also been taking place in Turkey. Workers in Turkey have been hit extremely hard by the crisis with over 500,000 people losing their jobs since September 2008. In order to stem this, workers in a number of factories -- such as MEHA textiles and Sinter Metal -- embarked on workplace occupations. The Turkish state, however, has reacted harshly and used security forces to drive the workers out. Nonetheless, the workers then camped outside of the factories and their resistance has continued. Recently, the workers at Sinter held a celebration to mark their 100th day of resistance.9

North America has also seen a string of workplace occupations. Due to the collapse of the auto industry in Canada, workers have occupied 4 different plants because they had been refused any compensation. Reportedly, the workers were occupying the plants in order to prevent machinery being removed by the liquidators. In fact, they were using this tactic in order to force the bosses and the liquidators to the negotiating table. Likewise, in the United States, there have also been a number of occupations. The most well know was the Republic Windows and Doors occupation. The occupation occurred because the workers at the plant were given just 3 days notice that it was to be shut. To add insult to injury, it turned out that Republic was closing because the Bank of America -- which had received billions of dollars of public money in bailouts -- refused to extend the company's credit. Again the occupiers received massive public support. Subsequently, the workers won severance pay and the company has opened under new ownership -- meaning some jobs, but certainly not all -- have been saved.10

With the current global economic crisis, Argentina has once again been taking the lead in occupations and turning occupied factors into worker self-managed institutions. Under the threat of downsizing and pay cuts, 10 factories have been occupied in Argentina since 2008. The workers have taken this action to stop the owners from declaring bankruptcy. Indeed, it has been a strategy of the Argentine business elite to use crises to declare insolvency, then fraudulently liquate assets and suddenly open the business under a new name a few months later. A number of the newly occupied factories have also received major support from the older self-managed factories.11 Already, workers at least one of the 10 occupied factories -- Arrufat Chocolate -- have elected to take over the factory permanently and operate it on a democratic basis. They have already gone into production using generators and are turning Arrufat into a viable worker self-managed operation.12


The current economic crisis has seen corporations unleash a series of attacks on workers. This has included retrenchments, wage freezes, and in some cases closers. In many parts of the world, workers have responded with their own actions. These have included workplace occupations and even in some instances complete factory takeovers with the aim of embarking on self-management. As such, these workers are finding their own solutions to the crisis. The actions of these workers are inspirational. It seems likely that more and more workers will begin adopting and adapting the idea of factory occupations as a viable way to save jobs and reclaim the dignity that bosses have tried to take away from them. Perhaps what we are also seeing through the occupations, takeovers, and self-management is a glimpse of what a post-capitalist world, created by the workers and the poor themselves, would look like. Indeed, hopefully the factory occupations that we are beginning to see are an embryo of a different world -- a world where there are no bosses, where workers manage themselves, where the economy is democratically planned through worker and community assemblies, where there are no hierarchies, where the environment is not raped, and where the goal is to meet peoples' needs and not make profits.

1 Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis, "Fire the Boss: The Worker Control Solution from Buenos Aires to Chicago,"15 May 2009.

2 Marie Trigona, "FASINPAT (Factory without a boss): An Argentine Experiment in Self-management." In Spannos, C (ed.) Real Utopia: Participatory Society for the 21st Century, AK Press, 2008.

3 www.libcom.org/tags/visteon-occupation

4 Left Luggage, "Dundee: Prisme Occupation Workers Save Their Jobs," IndyMedia, 24April 2009.

5 Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis, "The Cure for Layoffs: Fire the Boss!" 20 May 2009.

6 Freedom Fight, "Catalan, Serbian Workers 'Squat' in Factories," ZNet, 21 January 2008.

7 Freedom Fight, "Letter of Support to Factory Occupations in Serbia," ZNet, 9 January 2008.

8 Christopher Ketcham, "Enraged about Corporate Greed? Kidnap Your Boss," 1 May 2009.

9 Eren Buglalilar, "Deepening Crisis, Growing Resistance: Workers in Turkey," MRZine, 27 April 2009.

10 "Chicago Window Factory Reopens with Occupying Workers Back on the Job," DemocracyNow! 15 May 2009.

11 Marie Trigona, "Argentine Factory in the Hands of the Workers: FASINPAT a Step Closer to Permanent Worker Control," 27 May 2009.

12 Klein and Lewis, "The Cure for Layoffs: Fire the Boss!" op. cit.

Shawn Hattingh works for the International Labour Research and Information Group (ILRIG) in Cape Town. Comment | Trackback | Print


Monday, June 8, 2009

Solidaires Leaflet for the June 13 Mobilisations in France

Below is a rough translation of the text of the leaflet being distributed by the Solidaires in the lead up to the joint Union mobilisation in France on June 13.

Continuing, Together we will decide!

For the privileged minority

  • 360 billion for the bankers;
  • 32 billion in "employment assistance” for employers who dismiss;
  • 14 billion from the tax package that benefits the richest;
  • 8 billion from the business tax that will not be paid any more, 4 billion through the exemption of overtime pay from tax.

So much given to management and shareholders who continue to reap dividends, stock options and exorbitant incomes.

For the majority who are exploited
Wage earners, retired, young people in training and the unemployed share a burden measuring 3 billion.

Those who created the crisis will continue to fill their pockets.
Why should we continue to bear the consequences?

Another way is possible

The millions of demonstrators from January 29, March 19 and May 1, but also the many strikes that have occurred in various sectors (Industry, Chemicals, Transport, Energy, Research, Retail and Services, Post Office, Public Service, ... ) show that there is a strong social response.

Have our current responses been sufficient?

Unity of action at all levels is necessary, the workers are committed. But this unity must be useful in developing mobilization. Being on the street every two months was a useful step in the construction of power. But it cannot be a goal in itself.

The question which is posed to the trade union movement as a whole is how and why to use the power created by the millions of strikers and demonstrators.

What we want is to win our demands and impose an alternative share of wealth that we collectively produce.

For that to happen requires assuming responsibility for a social confrontation with the government and employers.

We are not their "social partners": they multiply the laws and decisions that make employees, the unemployed, retirees and the youth pay for the crisis.

They only know the struggle for power, when we do not act collectively it is favourable to them!

Setting a course!
The Union Syndicale Solidaires, proposes that in response to the situation faced today millions of wage-earners, the retired, the unemployed, young people in training and trade union organizations:

  • Undertake nationally to support each struggle that occurs when a company lays-off workers or public services are reduced, against employers who steal from us and the government that is attacking social gains;
  • Promote and organize a movement for an ongoing general strike.

Fighting together, relying on our numbers, is the only way to enable workers in smaller private companies to take their place in the struggle. The unions must give them confidence by showing that through a movement of solidarity between workers all can win!

Union Syndicale Solidaires proposes four demands:

  • Prohibition of layoffs in companies that are profiatable and establishing a new guarantee for workers’ salaries, seniority and qualifications, compensation at 100% during unemployment paid exclusively by employers, reduction of working time, because workers should not pay for the crisis while firms earn profits;
  • Immediate General increase of wages, pensions, minimum wage and minimum social standards, 300 € for all, because the workers should not pay for the crisis, while management and shareholders reap dividends and receive exorbitant pay. It a question of imposing a greater division of wealth in favour of wages;
  • Stop the job cuts and increase resourcing for public services. With the general revision of public policies and false reforms, we want new guidelines for public services, so that fundamental rights are accessible to all people: employment, health, education, transport, communication, ...;
  • Stop the taxes that favour the rich: removal of tax shield, the tax package, the overtime exemption of VAT on basic necessities, for a more progressive income tax and increase taxation on the richest households.

Availble in French on the Solidaires website the leaflet is also available to download.


Thursday, June 4, 2009

Socialist Alliance: Open Letter to delegates to the 2009 ACTU Congress

Dear fellow unionists,

As delegates to this ACTU Congress you have piles of policy before you, but one basic decision to make.

Should you back the ACTU leadership’s support for Rudd’s Fair Work Act or oppose it?

The Congress papers say that “the Fair Work Act sees the end of the direct legislative assault on organised labour” and “represents a substantial, albeit imperfect, transition of the 2006 ACTU Congress policy into legislation.”

That’s just spin! Read the Congress’s own Industrial Relations Legislation Factsheet and the truth comes out (see the basic facts about the Fair Work Act below, mainly taken from this Factsheet). Workers are still losing.

The draft Congress Industrial Relation Policy says that the new legislation gives the union movement a chance to “grow unions, protect jobs and advance workers’ interests”.

If the economy were booming we could almost believe this, even though it would still be a recipe for a stagnant union movement. But we’re entering the biggest recession in 70 years, with thousands of jobs already lost and one-and-a-half hands tied behind our backs by Rudd’s law.

If more workers have joined unions since 2006, it’s because the Your Rights at Work campaign was seen as defending their interests. To keep growing we must keep campaigning for our rights, which remain crippled by Fair Work Australia.

It’s high time to drop business-as-usual-don’t-embarrass–Kevin-and-Julia-too-much unionism. This compromised approach gave the vast majority of workers lower wage increases during the resources boom than would otherwise have been the case, and meant that profits and CEO packages skyrocketed (check the Congress Wages and Collective Bargaining Factsheet for detail).

Instead of a vague, feel-good resolution about “campaigning” and waiting for Kevin 2010 to remove the bad bits of the Fair Work Bill, this Congress must adopt two basic positions:

  1. For a full-scale, cross-union industrial and community campaign against the Australian Building and Construction Commission, one that will continue until it or any replacement scheme is abolished, and building workers have the same rights as all other workers;
  2. For a campaign of industrial disobedience to the most crippling provisions of the Fair Work Act, including its ban on pattern-bargaining, restrictions on the right to take industrial action, restrictions on the rights of unions to organise and enter work sites and restrictions on the contents of industrial agreements.

The November 2008 suspension of charges against CFMEU official Noel Washington shows that workers and their unions can win if they organise to act against injustice. It’s the sort of unionism we´ll need just as much under the Rudd government as under Howard.

Let’s build a campaign now against all that is still anti-worker in the Fair Work Act—beginning with the anti-democratic Australian Building and Construction Commission.

Socialist Alliance National Trade Union Committee
Distributed by Tim Gooden, Secretary, Geelong Trades Hall Council, as a contribution to debate at the 2009 ACTU Congress

Yes, the Fair Work Act is WorkChoices Lite!
Check out the following powers of the Fair Work Act, detailed in the Congress’s own Industrial Relations Legislation Factsheet.

If Malcolm Turnbull introduced such anti-worker industrial laws—which violate International Labour Organisation standards—wouldn’t the union movement be fighting them?

  1. The Fair Work Act cuts back unions’ right to organise
    ↓ 24 hours notice of right of workplace entry, restricted access to employee records ↓Bans pattern bargaining, allowing very restricted “multi-employer bargaining” only for low paid
    ↓No restriction on employers using pattern bargaining
    ↓Employer right to seek injunctions against unions using pattern bargaining ↓Employer right to challenge the conduct of ballots to frustrate protected industrial action
    ↓No positive rights for union delegates
    ↓No positive rights for workers to join unions and participate in their work ↓Almost no recognition of the role of delegates in representing workers in bargaining process
    ↓ No requirement for employers to facilitate union access to workplaces
  2. The Fair Work Act prevents workers from improving their living standards
    ↓Limits award content to 10 listed matters
    ↓Fails to enshrine in minimum standards: 11 public holidays per annum, a right for parents of pre-school children to part-time work, rights to information and consultation in the workplace, retrenchment pay for employees of smaller businesses, and any guarantee that workers entitlements will be paid first in the case of company failure
    ↓Restricts matters that can be covered in an agreement, banning enterprise-specific unfair dismissal and right of entry agreements.
    ↓Allows award modernisation that could result in reduced standards in some industries and occupations
    ↓Maintains existing AWAs, including ones that would not meet the government’s own standard for fair agreements
    ↓Allows an employer taking over a company to refuse to employ workers transferring from business being taken over
  3. The Fair Work Act keeps penal powers, including those established by Work Choices
    ↓Requires secret ballots for protected industrial action
    ↓Preserves the Work Choices requirement that employers deduct strike pay even in circumstances where employees are at work
    ↓Allows the use of scab labour
    ↓Doesn´t give workers the right to conduct meetings to prepare for bargaining ↓Increases the penalties Fair Work Australia can apply to “ensure compliance” with its rulings
    ↓Bans industrial action in support of economic and social campaigns (like that against Work Choices)
    ↓Bans industrial action even where an employer proposes radical workplace restructuring
    ↓Keeps the anti-union provisions of the Trades Practices Act
    ↓Leaves a dispute with the boss to be settled in the normal court system unless the boss agrees to have it judged by Fair Work Australia
  4. The Fair Work Act discriminates against different groups of workers
    ↓Removes “high income” earners from award coverage
    ↓ Leaves contract workers with fewer rights than employees, including no rights to union representation or collective bargaining
    ↓ Allows a longer qualifying period for employees in small business
    ↓Makes it easier for small business to sack workers
  5. The Fair Work Act maintains unions in a weakened legal position
    ↓ Does not actually define the rights of unions
    ↓Abolishes unions as parties to agreements, which are made between employers and their employees
    ↓Does not require unions to consent to changes to an agreement, even when the union is covered by the agreement.
    ↓Fails to enshrine a right for all employees and unions to be informed about the strategic designs of the employers
    ↓Provides no clarity about where federal or state laws apply, much less enable workers to opt into the federal or state systems


      Tuesday, June 2, 2009

      French Workers Continue Mobilisations Against Crisis

      Chris Latham

      Workers joined protests across France on May 26 as part the fourth day of protests called by France’s eight union confederations in support of their demands for greater action by the government to defend the rights of workers, pensioners and the unemployed and to make employers pay for the current crisis.

      The May 26 mobilisations were projected as a day of localized protests that would highlight specific problems in the workplace. The largest support for the day came from workers at the state rail operator SNCF, who conducted a 24-hour strike beginning on May 25. While the strike was timed to coincide with the broader mobilization and the joint demands of the confederations, it was also in support of specific issues in the SNCF particularly opposition to the privatization of SNCF.

      Without centralised demonstrations as a mechanism to illustrate the breadth of support for the day, the government, employer groups, and the mainstream media have sort to down play the protests.

      Reuter’s reported on May 27, that joint unions had said that they never intended bring millions out onto the streets, as in the three national days of protest they have staged so far this year, but rather to maintain pressure on the government through grassroots action.

      Annick Coupe, trade union Solidaires spokesperson, told Reuters, “if the government is watching the clocks tick hoping that workers will get tired, it's making a big mistake. If there is no major change in policy, it can expect to face lots more social mobilisation in coming months".


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