Monday, November 29, 2010

Two-tier wage system & class struggle

Published in Workers World Nov 28, 2010 9:26 PM
New York Times economic analyst Louis Uchitelle’s articles usually appear in the business section. That his Nov. 20 feature wound up on page one means his editors found it especially important.

As with most Times’ articles, this one is slanted to discourage workers from struggling. A Marxist activist reading it, however, might conclude that working-class struggle in the United States is inevitable, a new union leadership is absolutely necessary, and this new leadership must refuse to accept private property and capitalism as permanent. They must instead embrace Marxism, the ideology of class struggle and the need for socialist revolution.

This is the only alternative to workers submitting to a life of grinding poverty.

Uchitelle examines the bosses’ strategy of imposing “two-tier” wages in the factories in the industrial region of southeastern Wisconsin. This is where the cities of Milwaukee, Racine, Kenosha and Brookfield are. It’s where 15 percent of the workforce still works in factories and are in unions. It’s also where most of Wisconsin’s African-American population lives.

Most factory workers until recently earned wages and benefits that could provide a family with a home, car, health care and retirement benefits, according to Uchitelle’s numbers.

Factory owners and managers — even at profitable factories — have decided to increase profits even if they must reduce sales. They are consciously cutting labor costs by reducing wages. They do this by hiring “casual workers” at lower wages and no benefits. They impose low wages on new hires.

The new wages are half to three-quarters the existing rate. This disrupts union solidarity, dividing the new and the experienced workers. These wages are too low to allow young women and men to set up a household similar to what their parents could. They create a situation of immediate frustration.

To bludgeon unions into accepting such bad contracts, the bosses threaten to shut the factory or move it, not to China, India or Mexico, but to areas of the U.S. where unions are weaker or nonexistent.

No doubt workers and youth in southwestern Wisconsin want to fight this development. But Uchitelle interviews the old-line union leadership. They became leaders when the workforce was overwhelmingly white and male, and when anti-Communist laws pushed revolutionaries out of the unions. They see capitalism as permanent, and they accept the ground rules of private property. With workers fearful of losing jobs under conditions of high unemployment, these union leaders have already given up the battle.

WW reporter Martha Grevatt has been writing for the last two years about such conditions already imposed on members of the United Auto Workers at Delphi plants and, under the terms of the 2009 government bailout, on workers at the big three car makers.

Uchitelle implies that capitalists all over the U.S. will adopt this strategy: Cut wages in half, starting with two-tier contracts, and make wage cuts and high unemployment permanent.

Such a strategy undermines the social stability in the U.S. working class that has existed for decades. Even if the decline in wages to near-poverty levels fails to provoke an explosion of struggle, it creates conditions where young workers have no choice but to re-examine the society they face. It is a society that stifles them at every turn.

Only by rejecting the primacy of profits can workers even begin to wage union struggles. Only by developing a leadership that includes more women and more people of color can they represent the most combative workers. Only by expanding beyond the plant can they enlist the forces of other oppressed groupings in the community. Only by going beyond their region can they unite with unorganized workers in parts of the country where the bosses threaten to move. Only by viewing the U.S. workers as a class can they envision a national strike. Only by embracing internationalism can they unite with immigrant workers and understand their common interests with workers around the world.

Only by accepting the goal of ending capitalism and replacing it with socialism can they walk the road to victory.

For a thorough examination of the ideas in this editorial, read the book “Low-Wage Capitalism” by Workers World contributing editor Fred Goldstein.

Articles copyright 1995-2010 Workers World. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Minneapolis Truckers Make History - Film on the 1934 Minneapolis Truckers Strikes

This film was produced by Labor Education Services at the University of Minnesota. Its based on an earlier documentary Labor's Turning Point. The video gives a good indication of the significance of the 1934 strike both in Minneapolis and more broadly in the US. There are a few facts and interpretations that I would quibble with, as it does play down both the level of strike breaking conducted by the Farmer Labor Party adminsitration, and also overstates in my opinion the signicance of both the National Recovery Act and the Wagner Act which established the National Labor Relations Board.

One positive is the inclusion of segments of interviews with Shaun "Jack" Maloney, who was a militant both in Local 574 at the time of the strike, and in the Communist League of America, the Trotskyist current which lead the strike, and built Local 574 and subsequently Local 544 into a leading force in the US labour movement until their removal from offce as consequence of convictions for subversion in 1941.

Maloney was imprisoned in 1938 for his involvement in a strike in Iowa.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Inter-Union statement of 8 November

Inter-Union statement of 8 November
Joint Declaration of the trade unions CFDT, CGT, FSU, Solidaires, UNSA
Original in French is available here
After several weeks of mobilization and despite the measures taken by the government to try to support the idea that "the page on pensions" has turned, 1.2 million workers who demonstrated on November 6 in 243 cities against these pension reforms which are unfair and ineffective.

As everyone is aware that the pension law may be enacted in the coming days, it is not the time for resignation. The trade unions will continue to act to reduce inequality, to win recognition of the reality of the harshness of the proposed changes and win other alternatives for finance the PAYG system. They reaffirm their commitment to maintaining the statutory age of retirement at age 60 and age of the full rate at age 65.

They note that the economic and social situation remains very poor and particularly a concern for employees, pensioners, unemployed and youth who still face the hard consequences of the continuing crisis.

The trade unions believe that the exceptional level mobilisation over the past months has highlighted the glaring dissatisfaction of workers and posed their demands for improved employment, wages and working conditions, and end to inequality between women and men, along with increased tax and wealth-sharing. They decided to deepen their analysis and proposals on these issues in order to challenge the government and employers.

The unions decided to continue the united mobilisation by making November 23 a national day of mobilisation across sections in a range of forms. These actions must address the concerns of employees and ensure a large participation. They ask the territorial and sectoral organisations to specify the form of action (rallies, demonstrations, rallies, work stoppages ...).

Trade unions seek to ensure their success.

The unions now committed to participate actively in the European day of action on 15 December to oppose austerity plans that are multiplying in Europe.

The organizations will meet again November 29, 2010.

On November 8, 2010


Friday, November 12, 2010

France: Sarkozy Enacts Pensions Law as Mass Mobilisations Continue

Lisbeth Latham

President Nicolas Sarkozy, on November 10, enacted new legislation which increases the retirement age of French workers just days after more than a million workers and students mobilised across France against the law. The protests held on November 6, were the eighth, and smallest, national strike since September 7 against increases to the retirement age. The protest highlighted both the continuing depth of popular anger over the changes which were pushed through parliament on October 27. However the decline in the size of the mobilisations reflect growing divisions in the movement over how the movement should have responded to the counter reforms and the direction for the campaign now the legislation has been passed.

Sarkozy enacted the law just hours after it had been approved by the Constitutional Council. There had been hope by sections of the union leaderships and the plural left that the council would reject the legislation.

According to the inter-union coordinating committee the day attracted some 1.2 million people to protests in 243 cities and towns. This was down 40% on the size of the last day of action on October 28 and a decline of 65% on the largest protests of 3.5 million of October 12 and 19. While numbers were down across France the largest declines occurred in cities such as Paris (90, 000 compared with 170, 000 on October 28).

The government and its supporters have sort to convince people that the decline in size, the interior ministry estimated that 375, 000 participated compared to 560, 000 on October 12 a peak of 1.2 million, reflects that the movement in defence of pensions is effectively over. Sarkozy and government ministers have

For a number of reasons this appears to be wishful thinking on the part of the government. President Nicolas Sarkozy’s support in the polls has fallen below 30%, the lowest level ever for a president. Popular sentiment against the reform remains high with 70% of people opposed to the counter reform and 74% of young people. It is unclear whether government will be in a position to push through any further major attacks prior to the next elections in 2012, however it is likely that they will attempt smaller attacks against marginalised sections of the population, aimed at paving the way for broader attacks and to win support of more reactionary sections of society.

While there has undoubtedly been a sharp decline in the size of the movement, as Sandra Demarcq, of the Nouveau parti anticapitaliste (New Anticapitalist Party) argued in Tous est à nous! on November 3 the struggle has brought a large new layer of militants into the struggle – who she argues will not be easily discouraged by the ballot. This is reflected in the fact that the size of the November 6 mobilisation is larger than the three mobilisations that occurred against the reform in March and May.

Moreover there are additional explanations for the decline in the movement beyond public acceptance of the laws. A central factor was the decision by the inter-union to slow the pace of mobilisations and withdraw support from the indefinite strikes that had affected a wide range of industries prior to the Senate passing the legislation on October 22. These decisions clearly helped to sap confidence from the movement. Then in the lead-up to the November 6 strike, the inter-union when it met on November 4, failed to make a clear call for a new mobilisation to come out of November 6, instead stating that there would be more action in the week beginning November 22. While the lack of clear direction has undermined the movement in defence of pensions, it hasn’t undermined the combativeness of French workers, with localised struggles continuing around wages and conditions such as the four day strike, which began November 5, called by pilots and other airline staff over plans to tax allowances and benefits.

The indecisiveness of the inter-union has lead to growing public disagreements as to the direction of the campaign. Liberation on November 6, reported the views of a range of union leaders. François Chérèque, Secretary Geneeral of the Confédération Française Démocratique du Travail (French Democratic Confederation of Labour -CFDT), argued that it was a “dream” to believe that Sarkozy could be forced to back down, and that the movement would slowly away from a focus on pensions and onto other demands. The leadership of Union nationale des syndicats autonomes (National Union of Autonomous Unions) warned other unions against “forms of action that do not correspond to the situation” and might cause a collapse of investment. Jean-Claude Mailly, Force Ouvrière (Workers Force - FO) General Secretary, said that the decline in the movement was a sign that the conduct of the movement was a mess. Bernard Thibault, Confédération Générale du Travail (Genderal Confederation of Labour - CGT) General Secretary, told the November 6 l’Humanite, “that if it proved impossible to continue the battle over pensions with a unified effort of all unions, the CGT would continue the fight with those who want continue”, including being willing to continue alone. The primary focus for Thibault was positioning the movement to conduct negotiations over the implementation of pension changes when they come into effect on July 1 2011.

The inter-union met on November 8 and called a new day of multi-facetted actions for November 23. This call was not signed by either Confédération française des travailleurs chrétiens (French Confederation of Christian Workers - CFTC) or Confédération française de l'encadrement - Confédération générale des cadres (French Confederation of Management – General Confederation of Executives). FO released a statement on November 8, in which it criticised other unions of not supporting argument at the November 4 meeting, for a 24-hour strike in the public and private sectors aimed at expanding the movement and that it could not engage in a strategy of forgetfulness, distraction and exhaustion and so could not participate in the inter-union meeting, but that it reaffirmed its availability and commitment to build the balances of forces through a process of resistance and reconquest. The CFTC issued a statement on November 9 that with the law being close to being enacted the time for demonstrations is over. Instead the CFTC will look to engage with government over its concerns with the legislation specifically in 2013, which has been specified in the law as a new period for reviewing pensions.

In contrast to these positions the militant union Solidaires in a statement issued on November 10, in which it outlined its view of the dynamic of the movement. Solidaires argued that early days of action in March, May and June were too far apart, yet despite this they had a growing resonance. However it was only in the indefinite strikes, which Solidaires had argued for from the outset, which had the opportunity to knock the employers by blocking the economy. The workers in refineries, rail, road transport, officials from the state and the hospital, local authorities, waste, energy, and many other sectors initiated indefinite strikes, and held several weeks hoping for a generalisation of the movement. However only Solidaires and the Fédération syndicale unitaire (United Union Federation) supported extending these strikes to other sectors and it was necessary for the strikes to be suspended. The Solidaires statement expressed its support for continuing collective action at the local level and for workers to “seize November 23 as a day to make their voices heard again”.

With the moderate unions shifting the terrain of struggle to modifying the impact of the law and hoping that the laws will be repealed if there is a change of government following the 2012 elections, the far-left parties have attempted to warn the movement from a reliance on elections rather than the mobilisation of members. Demarcq argued on November 3, that the movement can rebound in other forms, other struggles”, but warned “Many of us know that the solution to our problems is not the perspective of a plural left government in 2012, headed by the Parti socialiste that votes in the National Assembly lengthening the contribution period or the requisitioning of the municipal employees strike in Marseille, with the "left" who, when they have a majority, implement de facto right-wing policies, such as in Greece or Spain. It is in our struggles to make those have caused the crisis to pay for it, that we can forge the power capable of challenging capitalism”.

While the debate that has emerged robs the movement of the appearance unity, it reveals the real disagreements that made it impossible for the movement to build the momentum \to a sufficient level to allow victory. The hope must be that through an ongoing open discussion real unity in action can be achieved.


Monday, November 8, 2010

Joint Communique of the inter-union coordinating committee November 4, 2010

CFDT - CFE-CGC - CFTC - CGT - FSU - Solidaires - UNSA
Original French text is available here

Trade unions welcomed the successful mobilization of private and public sector employees, and young people last October 28 while we were in the middle of school holidays and after the final vote of the Pensions Act in parliament.

The determination of employees is not fading for months, supported by public opinion, demonstrates that there are many social concerns, a rejection of this pension reform and a deep dissatisfaction with a government that has chosen to force the passage.

The Trade Union Organisations reaffirm their determination in face a government reform which continues to be unfair, ineffective, unacceptable and does not respond to actual issues. They confirmed their call for a massive mobilization Saturday, November 6, 2010 over France. Le gouvernement porte seul la responsabilité de la situation actuelle. The government bears sole responsibility for the current situation. It must hear that a real debate on the future of pensions is essential.

The Labour organizations, with the workers, are attached to the work that has been conducted by the Inter-Union through united actions over the past two years. They decide to continue joint work on employment, wages, purchasing power and working conditions by updating their joint statement of January 29, 2009.

Echoing the concerns of employees, the Union Organizations are already calling a new meeting domestic mobilization during the week of November 22 to 26, the terms and content will be determined at the meeting of 8 November.


Saturday, November 6, 2010

The same vote in the Assembly or Senate, we do not let go!

Sandra Demarcq
November 3, 2010
Published in: Hebdo Tout est à nous!

The government is keen to silence protest, claiming that the mobilization is over. We will show them otherwise.

The pension counter-reform has been passed by both houses against the wishes of millions of demonstrators and a large majority of the population. Central to the government's austerity plan to make the majority of the population pay for the crisis, this law - extending the legal age of retirement and the contribution period in particular – in the end does nothing, as demonstrated in May last report of the Policy Board (COR) and as has been understood by the millions of demonstrators. This is just an excuse to decrease drastically the amount of new pensions and to leave some space to private insurance. Worse, one of the amendments voted by the Senate and retained in the final text, grabbed the steering of pension to prepare a report for the first half of 2013 on the implementation of systemic reform, scheduling and a new social attach. So it's a great scam and a real coup on the part of the government.

Les syndicalistes "Solidaires" sautent : grève générale !
Uploaded by frasol. - Up-to-the minute news videos.

On the morning of the day of demonstrations and strikes of 28 October, ministers and commentators of all kinds were unanimous in attempting to bury the movement once again. They all reported breathlessly, the end of the mobilization, while the day was attended by 2 million demonstrators in full during school holidays, with parades also even more dynamic and aggressive than previous days. So it was very, very far from being a failure. Instead, this new day has demonstrated once again the roots of the movement, the denial not only of the Pensions Act but also for any of Sarkozy's policies tailored to business and the wealthy. Through this movement, employees in the private and the public, youth, pensioners also reject layoffs, job losses, rising unemployment and employment insecurity, poor working conditions, wages lower, but still also the whole aspect of this racist and secure government that has still not grasped the depth of the dissatisfaction caused by its arrogant policy.

After the vote, the government wants to whistle the end of the mobilization. We are told in every tone and every wave that now the law is passed, we can no longer be resist or even continue to state that a "law of the republic" would be "undemocratic". A democracy would be for Sarkozy and his clique to impose a social regression against the wishes of those it effects? In any case, the determination is still there. And in the past weeks links were forged between workers of different sectors, local actions of all kinds, such as blockades, collective action, general meetings, and which has developed a significant layer of motivated activists, will not easily be removed by a single vote.

It is true that in the week just past, the renewed strikes were suspended in many areas, especially in garbage services in Marseille, SNCF and the refineries, the marked pause in the pace of mobilisation up to that point. But pockets of resistance persist as in territorial agents in the Paris region or in waste where employees are on strike for their wages and working conditions. Already, it is expected before the new day's event on 6 November in many cities, protests, rallies the students' initiative in conjunction with other sectors. The movement can rebound in other forms, other struggles. Many of us know that the solution to our problems is not the perspective of a plural left government in 2012, headed a Socialist Party that votes in the National Assembly lengthening the contribution period or the requisitioning of the municipal employees strike in Marseille, with the "left" who, when she has a majority, leads de facto right-wing policies as are in Europe, like our friends in Greece or Spain. It is in our struggles to forge able to make those have caused the crisis pay for it, capable of challenging capitalism.

In raising the head, winning the battle of public opinion against the propaganda of the ruling classes, we have already scored points.


Monday, November 1, 2010

France: Big protests as movement debates way forward

Lisbeth Latham

French workers and students have mobilised in large numbers again to oppose changes in pension laws that will raise the age at which workers are able to retire.

The seventh national strike in as many weeks took place on October 28, as indefinite strikes in many industries against the changes entered their third week.

The protests took place despite the government’s pension bill passing through France’s parliament on October 27.

However, there are clear signs the movement against the changes has begun to weaken. The passing of the pension law, and signs the struggle against it is slowing, have heightened debate over the direction of the campaign.

More than 2 million people took part in 270 protests in cities and towns across France on October 28.

The turnout, while large, was down on preceding national strike days, during which between 2.7 million and 3.5 million people took to the streets.

Bernard Thibault, general secretary of the Genderal Congress of Labour (CGT), told l’Humanite on October 28 that the mobilisations that day were “inferior” to the previous ones, but still “large” and “impressive” given the passage of the law.

He added: “What is impressive is that was probably the first time that after the passage of a law, we have events equally large … with popular support.”

The size of the protests was undoubtedly affected by the parliamentary vote, but the decline was also a consequence of the decision of the inter-union coordinating committee at its October 21 meeting to slow the pace of protests and strikes.

The meeting also reduced support for the indefinite strikes occurring across France.

The statement was not signed by one of the participating national unions, the radical Solidaires union, which argued for an intensification of the strike movement.

The United Union Federation (FSU) supported Solidaires’ call for an indefinite general strike, but put its name to the statement.

The October 21 committee statement set two new national days of protests for October 28 and November 6. This meant there were nine days between national strikes.

In that time, the bill was passed by the Senate on October 22 and went through the final stages of adoption of a common text between the National Assembly and the Senate over October 25, 26 and 27.

Between October 12 and October 19, three national strikes had involved between 3 million and 3.5 million people. Given that the October 28 national strike was supposed to provide a final show of defiance before the bill becomes law, it was a significant loss of momentum.

This is especially the case considering opinion polls continued to show huge opposition to the changes of 65-70%.

The October 21 statement also failed to endorse the daily local actions by workers. This contrasted sharply with the previous repeated calls by inter-union committee statements for unions to hold discussions at the regional and workplace level to determine appropriate forms of action.

After the statement, there was a decline in the indefinite strikes. Participation in the strike by state rail workers, which management had said involved 40-50% of workers when the strike began on October 25, fell to 4% by October 29.

Most significantly, workers at two oil refineries voted to lift their strikes on October 25. The shutdown of France’s refineries had caused a severe fuel shortage.

By October 26, workers at four refineries had voted to lift their indefinite strike.

Despite this dynamic of retreat, other developments showed the movement still has considerable strength. At the six large Total refineries, workers voted to continue their strikes.

At those refineries where workers had voted to return to work, it was difficult for production to restart with strikes continuing at the ports in Le Havre and Fos-Lavera.

This meant the refineries were only able to refine previously stored crude product and allow the transport of oil refined before the start of the strike.

The determination of a significant section of workers to continue striking with no pay, especially in the oil industry where the action resulted in more than a third of petrol stations across France running out of supplies, reflects a willingness to continue the struggle.

However, without the leadership and support of most national union federations, those continuing the struggle risk isolation. This is especially the case as the government has begun issuing “requisitions orders” forcing workers to return to work or face prosecution.

By October 29, other refinery workers and port workers had voted to return to work. reported that CGT representatives in the refineries expressed regret their strikes had not been supported by workers in other sectors.

However, since the inter-union committee’s statement, university students have increased the size and extent of their mobilisations against the pension bill.

On October 25, Young New Anti-capitalist Party (JNPA) reported that 37 universities were on strike and a further 10 universities had been closed by their administrations.

A coordinating committee representing 40 universities has called a national strike for November 4.

The differences expressed at the October 21 meeting of the inter-union committee were not new. But the meeting reflected a clearer expression of the differences that had existed since the start of the campaign.

The more conservative union federations had previously expressed support for an increase in the age for receiving the pension. This wing includes the French Democratic Confederation of Labour (CFDT), National Union of Autonomous Unions (UNSA), the French Confederation of Christian Workers (CFTC) and the French Confederation of Management-General Confederation of Executives (CFE-CGC).

The CFDT leadership had publicly supported the pension changes attempted by the Jean-Paul Raffarin government in 2003.

These unions were drawn into the campaign and the inter-union committee largely due to the refusal of the government to negotiate seriously with unions.

The focus of the leadership of these unions, along with the leadership of the more militant CGT, has been on forcing the government to reenter talks with unions.

However, among CGT ranks and some regional leaderships, there has been a lot of support for an indefinite general strike aimed at the total defeat of the pension bill.

Popular support for the strikes has been high. In the aftermath of the 3.5 million-strong national strike on October 19, Sandra Demarcq wrote in International Viewpoint that 61% of those polled supported prolonged strikes.

This dynamic has allowed alliances to be formed between militants across unions for indefinite strikes in the face of opposition from the more conservative national leaderships.

Despite popular support for further strikes, CFDT secretary general Francois Cheroquem was reported by Bloomberg on October 29 as saying the CFDT would not support further strikes once the legislation becomes law.

The bill has now been referred to the Constitutional Council to determine whether it complies with France’s constitution. Given the pressure from right-wing parties, it is unlikely to be blocked by the council without an escalating mass movement.

At best, the council discussions will delay President Nicolas Sarkozy from enacting the law.

With the changes likely to become law, there will be an increased pressure within the social movements to support the opposition Socialist Party (PS), which has promised to repeal the law if it wins the 2012 elections.

The militant Solidaires federation and the far-left parties continue to focus on pushing for further mobilisations to defeat the changes.

In an October 28 statement, Solidaires noted the movement still had strong public support. It said the bill’s passing made no difference “as democracy cannot be reduced to the parliamentary vote”.

Solidaires called for “a continuation of the engagement process, through national and local actions determined on a daily basis within individual units: support for strikes, blockades, rallies, initiatives of solidarity … It is responsibility of organisations to give this process a new impetus.”

The passage of the pension bill has significance beyond the negative impact it will have in lengthening the working life of French workers.

Solidaires pointed out in its daily strike bulletin on October 11: “Defeat on this issue will open the door for further challenges.”

The huge French strike movement has given hope in the ability of the working class to hold back the wave of austerity programs being implemented by capitalist governments across Europe.

In the latest of these attempts to make working people pay for capitalism’s economic crisis, the British government announced severe cuts to public spending on October 19.

This austerity drive has been bitterly opposed, with and big protests in Greece, but such resistance has so far failed to stop any of the anti-worker measures.

The militancy of the French strike movement, and the depth of public support for it, has held the possibility of galvanising resistance across Europe.

This hope was reflected in the actions of Belgian workers on October 26. They organised blockades to stop oil being transported from Belgium to France to ease the shortage caused by the French oil workers’ strike.

The Sarkozy government recognises the importance of this struggle and is determined not to back down in its plans to raise the retirement age.

How the movement will play out remains unclear. The growth of the student movement could give the broader movement renewed energy.

However, its strength remains untested until high school students return from school holidays on November 4 — coinciding with the national student strike.

A strong turnout for the student strike will strengthen the hand of the militant unions when the inter-union committee meets again that day. Its decisions will have a big impact on the size of the national strike that has been called for November 6.

Whatever the outcome, the revolt of French workers has already reverberated across Europe. Even if defeated, it could prove a sign of deeper resistance still to come.

[This article was originally published in Green Left Weekly #859]


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