Archive for the ‘Unions – general’ Category

by Lutte Ouvriere

“I am not Santa Claus” was the first declaration that French president Macron made when he arrived in French Guiana in late October. In this part of the old French colonial empire, half the families live below the poverty line and one youth in two is out of work; some of the inhabitants have neither running water nor electricity.

Right next door to the population living in extreme poverty is the Kourou space center from where the Ariane rockets are launched. All the equipment in the space center is ultra-modern and there’s a medical center strictly for employees only. This shocking contrast is revolting! When the population demands that the state put an end to injustice, it’s not asking for gifts, it’s asking that the state respects, at long last, the population’s right to live decently!

Last spring, the Guianans mobilized during five weeks to make their rights heard. Guiana was paralyzed by a general strike and barricades where the (more…)

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Below we’re running an article on a strike that took place in Detroit in 1987.  We’re running it because of what workers here in NZ, and readers around the world, can learn from this dispute.  It’s one where the workers said a resounding “No!” to the company’s demands that they sacrifice conditions and benefits and to the union leaders whose starting point was to make concessions to the employers – and get in the way of workers being able to fight!

This strike against health care giant Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM) went against the wider trend in the US workplace at the time, which was to make concessions and not resist, a trend which is very much dominant in the New Zealand workplace thirty years later.  It was also marked by a large degree of rank-and-file control over the struggle and a continuous battle for workers to maintain this control in the face of manoeuvres by the union bureaucracy to take it over – and bring it to an end.

The BCBSM strike also won support from other workers, most particularly auto workers and a number of local officials in the auto workers’ union. 

The Spark is an American Marxist workers’ group which was active in the strike, Detroit historically being one of their main centres of activity. 

by The Spark

Thirty years ago, workers at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM) went on strike. Chants of “No contract, no work!” and “Don’t get sick tonight: Blue Cross is on strike!” filled the air in downtown Detroit and at other statewide locations. The strike of approximately 4,000 workers began in September 1987, immediately preceding Labor Day. The strike was not over until winter moved in, eighty-three days later, in November.

The healthcare giant, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, dominated the Michigan health care industry and controlled around 70 percent of the industry statewide at that time. It was demanding major concessions at the bargaining table, taking advantage of the fact that the new 1987 contract would now cover all four local unions in offices around Michigan in a Master Labor Agreement. The company viewed it as an opportunity to impose the worst from all of the former agreements, and then some. They were a paternalistic employer; the majority of employees were women and, like public employees, were considered lucky to have decent benefits that included time off for taking care of family needs, and health care as well. Of course, the wages were not equivalent to wages earned by manufacturing workforces that were predominately male.

In the concessionary drive, earlier unspoken agreements regarding benefits as a trade-off for wages were forgotten, as the bosses came after all they could get. Benefits were at the front of their list. Always a company that believed in the stick before the carrot, BCBSM looked to impose drastic cuts in workers’ sick time off provisions and to eliminate policies that gave women workers some needed flexibility in work start times and in taking increments of time off to attend to personal and family needs. While wages were an issue in the strike, the elimination of time-off provisions and the flexibility to be able to avoid discipline and firing while still maintaining their second job, the family, was foremost in women workers’ minds.

The largest number of workers were housed in Detroit, with almost 3,000 unionized employees and almost as many more who were salaried workers, called “exempts,” meaning they couldn’t be in the union. While the union was comprised of clerical, office and professional employees, the majority of the professionals were non-union. Many of them were not particularly well paid. But they were (more…)

by Robert Belano

On Sunday (October 22), Argentinians went to the polls for the second and final round of mid-term elections. While the mainstream media celebrated the success of President Mauricio Macri’s right-wing Cambiemos coalition, a growing political polarization has strengthened the far left as well. Amid continued economic crisis, the anti-capitalist proposals of the Left and Workers’ Front have resonated strongly with increasing numbers of workers and youth.

A growing left alternative in Argentina

As perhaps the strongest recent electoral showing for an anti-capitalist coalition in the world, the Frente de Izquierda y los Trabajadores (FIT, Left and Workers’ Front) won five percent of the overall vote, earned two congressional seats and various municipal seats, and achieved close to 20 percent of the vote in the northern province of Jujuy.

The FIT had impressive results throughout the country and particularly in provinces and cities with higher concentrations of workers and poor people, such as Jujuy and the industrial center of Greater Buenos Aires. Sunday’s results represent an increase in votes of 30 percent for the FIT since the primaries, held only last August. The left coalition surpassed its 2015 totals by around 50 percent making this year’s election results, along with those in 2013, among its most successful yet.

Leaders of the FIT. Image by Juan Manuel Foglia

The FIT is an electoral coalition that was formed in 2011 and is composed primarily of three Trotskyist parties — the Partido de los Trabajadores Socialistas (PTS, Socialist Workers’ Party), Partido Obrero (PO, Workers’ Party), and Izquierda Socialista (IS, Socialist Left). Among the coalition’s demands are: the right to free and unrestricted abortion, an end to all layoffs and furloughs, a 6-hour work day without any reduction in wages, the non-payment of Argentina’s external debt, the nationalization of all foreign trade and large land holdings, a massive public works program, and the forging of a workers’ government.

More than 1.2 million people cast their ballots for the FIT, sending a strong message to the ruling class and the mainstream media that they can no longer ignore this phenomenon. It is clear that large numbers of Argentines, particularly workers and young people, are rejecting not only the austerity and repression associated with the capitalist parties but also the “lesser evil” argument that Peronism and the reformist candidates (more…)


In the early 2000s, in response to capitalist austerity, especially workplace closures, a wave of factory takeovers by their workers occured in Argentina.  Factory occupations in that country have continued and provide useful and practical examples how to fight redundancies and closures.  In the article below, Sonja Krieger, of US-based Left Voice, writes about a factory she visited as part of a Left Voice delegation to Argentina.

by Sonja Krieger

Many are familiar with the story of Zanon, the ceramic tile factory in Neuquén Province in Southern Argentina that was taken over by the workers in 2001/2002. The reason why Zanon – now FaSinPat, Fábrica Sin Patrones (Factory Without Bosses) – has become well-known all over the world is because of the 2004 documentary The Take by Naomi Klein, a film about the “recovery” of closed or abandoned factories in Argentina in the context of the 2001 economic crisis and its aftermath. The film is about the fábricas recuperadas (recuperated factories) movement in Argentina and shows the struggles of workers to save their workplaces by occupying them and continuing production under workers’ control. Many of these cooperatives continue to run and to be self-managed by the people who work in them, and they represent a significant social phenomenon that proves that the working class can not only effectively respond to the attacks and the failures of capital, it can also organize work collectively, democratically, and without bosses and managers.

The Take tells the story of the workers’ struggles at Zanon, as well as those at the Forja auto parts factory outside of Buenos Aires and the textile factory Brukman in the city, but there are many more workplaces that have been under worker self-management for as much as a decade and longer. There are also hotels, restaurants, and other businesses that are run as cooperatives, including in areas like media and education, construction and transportation, and even health care and trash collection.

Madygraf takeover

A more recent example of the Argentinian workers’ fight to “reclaim” their workplaces is the print shop Madygraf, which our delegation had a chance to visit on its three-year anniversary in August. The experience of listening to the workers there talk about how they fought for better working conditions, for their jobs, and ultimately for their plant was a powerful one.

Now in its fourth year as a cooperative, the (more…)

Police violence against locked-out workers sparked the formation of a workers’ militia

Constance Markievicz, founder of first republican paramilitary organisation of 1900s and a founding leader of the workers’ militia

 

by Philip Ferguson*

Described by Lenin as the world’s first Red Army, the Irish Citizen Army was formed by members of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union and other trade unionists in Dublin in August 1913.  Socialist and therefore also republican, the ICA was not, however, the first working class paramilitary organisation to be formed in Ireland in Ireland in the early 1900s.  That honour goes to Fianna Eireann, a predominantly working class youth organisation founded by Constance, Countess Markievicz who would go on to be a key figure in the workers’ militia.

James Larkin and James Connolly

The Fianna

Markievicz, a militant left-wing republican, was moved to form the Fianna in August 1909 for two reasons.  One was that, while new to Irish republicanism – she had thrown herself into it just the year before – she had already decided that any serious political movement for Irish freedom would, sooner or later, have to confront Britain in arms.  Her reading of Irish history had taught her that if you built a serious political movement, at some point the British state would confront you with its military force.  Unless you were armed and prepared to fight, your movement would end in ignominy, confusion and demoralisation.

The other – and this was the immediate factor in the formation of the Fianna – was the arrival of Baden-Powell in Ireland to start an Irish wing of his boy scouts movement.  Markievicz noted that his aim was to get Irish youth to support the British empire and oppose the liberation of their own country and their own class, the working class.  Her and friends such as Helena Moloney went recruiting for na Fianna in working class areas of Dublin.

Having come from the aristocracy, Markievicz knew about shooting and had a great interest in things military.  She wrote the Fianna handbook, taught the boys to drill and to shoot and, later, how to blow things up.  The Fianna were also sent out to rough up the Boy Scouts.  This ‘ruffianism’ was guided by two ideas: (more…)

Bosses, not robots, lay off workers

The article below is taken from the French revolutionary workers’ journal Lutte de Classe (Class Struggle).  It was translated by members of the US revolutionary group The Spark.

French Socialist Party presidential candidate Benoît Hamon justified his proposal for a universal guaranteed income by citing the “inevitable disappearance of work.” Referencing the growing role of digital technology and robots, which he believes are going to cause the destruction “of hundreds of thousands of jobs in Western economies,” he also proposed to create a tax on robots. The deputies of the European Parliament, for their part, debated last January about the need to require businesses to “publish the extent and the share of the contributions of robotics… to their financial outcomes, for the purposes of taxation and determining the amount of their social security contributions” (Les Échos, January 13, 2017).

The idea that human labor will be replaced by machines and robots, and that we are heading toward the inevitable end of work, has recently come into fashion. Does this reflect reality or the ranting of pseudo-experts, good news for humanity or the chronicle of a catastrophe foretold? All of the discussions around this question make no sense if the heart of the matter is not taken into consideration: all of the means of production, which are set in motion in a social and collective manner through a vast international division of labor, remain the private property of a tiny minority of capitalists.

In order to justify their propositions, Hamon and the European deputies rely on a range of studies, such as one made by the think tank France Stratégie, according to which 3.4 million jobs in France are in danger of disappearing over the next ten years. In 2013, two researchers at the University of Oxford, Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne, maintained that 47% of U.S. jobs are at “high risk,” meaning that they “could be automated relatively soon, perhaps over the next decade or two.” They base their arguments on the progress that has apparently been achieved in the fields of robotics and machine learning, which would allow machines to carry out (more…)

Camilo Mones

Camilo Mones worked and organized for decades at the PepsiCo plant in Buenos Aires until this past June, when the corporation abruptly closed it and about 700 workers were fired. Today, he continues to fight alongside other dismissed workers for the factory’s reopening.

In the following, Camilo describes their struggle, the crisis of the CGT (General Confederation of Labour), politics and opposition within the national unions, and the need to fight for a class-struggle perspective within the labour movement.  

The interview was conducted by Left Voice and translated by Nicolas Daneri. 

Left Voice: The media is saying that, apart from the CGT, the PepsiCo workers were one of the main participants in the rally on August 22.

Camilo Mones: We managed to gather a broad range of organizations under the PepsiCo banner that represented the fight against the layoffs, the demand for the appearance of Santiago Maldonado (a political “desaparecido” during a repression against indigenous Mapuches in the south of the country) and the motto, “For a general strike.” There were people from other food factories, the tyre factories workers’ union, the Buenos Aires province teachers’ union, delegates and shop stewards from the subway, railroad workers, airport, left-wing parties, and a delegation of workers from MadyGraf–a printing company under workers’ control.

Although the bureaucracy did not want us to go to the rally, we decided to go in full force. There, we planted our banners with the demand for a general strike, which we chanted throughout the speech. This and our early morning demonstration that blocked 9 de Julio Avenida (one of the most important avenues in Buenos Aires City) led the media to highlight our participation.

LV: Did the CGT’s call to action and their speeches at the rally seem a bit soft?

CM: Completely. The rally–among the smallest in recent years–revealed the crisis within the federation and its leadership. Most of the unions did not take part and some of them only sent small delegations. This crisis is partly a result of 19 months of inaction, when unions had no policy to oppose the austerity measures of (more…)