One class, one struggle
Never have so many countries been hit by workers' struggles at the same time. This is testimony to the strength and militancy of the working class on an international scale. Faced with the black-out of the bourgeois media, here are just a few examples, only going back to the beginning of 2008. This article should be read in conjunction with ‘Workers' struggles multiply all over the world' in World Revolution 314.
Belgium: in March, strikes at Ford in Genk, in the post at Mortsel against temporary contracts; public transport strike in Bruxelles and wildcat strikes at BP petrochemicals and in the logistical enterprise Ceva against lay-offs.
Greece: three 24 general strikes since the beginning of the year against the ‘reform' of pensions by a conservative government re-elected in September 2007 on the promise that it wouldn't touch pensions. In fact it is now proposing a 30-40% cut in pensions, raising of the retirement age past 65 for men and 60 for women, cancelling of retirement dates already in place. The strikes were also against the ‘reform' of social security (fusion of funds, reduction in the number of security funds and abolition of help given to low-paid workers). These strikes paralysed the main economic activities of the country: transport, banks, post, telecom, railways, etc. On the last one, 19 March, millions of people joined demonstrations.
Ireland: strike by 40,000 nurses for over 15 days at the beginning of April, demanding a 10% increase and a reduction of the working week to 35 hours. Struggle by Aer Lingus pilots in response to new working conditions following the opening of a new terminal in Belfast. Wildcat strike, against the advise of the unions, by 25 bus drivers in Limerick calling for a new wage contract.
Italy: in the Naples region, the Fiat factory at Pomigliano came out on strike on 10 April in protest against the ‘externalisation' of 316 jobs (a practise which the workers fear will become the norm).
Russia: the bauxite mines were occupied by 3000 workers for over a week. They were calling for a 50% increase in their wages and the re-establishment of social benefits that had been suppressed recently. This movement had a lot of sympathy throughout the country and the support of the local population. The management granted a 20% wage increase and a part of the social benefits.
Switzerland: in Bellinzone (Tessin) a month-long strike by 430 mechanics against the suppression of 126 jobs at CFF Cargo. After a demonstration in Berne in which other workers took part, the restructuring plan was abandoned on 9 April.
Turkey: the war in Iraqi Kurdistan did not prevent the outbreak of a massive strike among the 43,000 workers in the shipyards of Tuzla on the Marmara sea. Following a demonstration on 28 February, which was met by police repression, several thousand workers went on strike for two days and held a ‘sit-in' at the shipyard. This was attacked by the police who beat up workers and carried out 75 arrests. "Our lives have less value than their dogs" the workers shouted in anger, demonstrating their intention to fight for their dignity. The workers only went back to work after the arrested strikers had been released and after they had obtained some promises from the management regarding their demands (improvements in hygiene and safety, guarantees on social payments, limitation of the working day to 7 and a half hours...). On May Day there were violent clashes between the police and demonstrating workers in Istanbul.
Algeria: three days of ‘illegal' strikes in the civil service on 13 April (1.5 million wage earners) for a wage increase and a rejection of the new wage structure. Strike by 207 cement workers at Hammam Dalaa in the M'sila region, with a platform of 17 demands about their working conditions.
Cameroon: several strikes between November 2007 and March 2008 against the inhuman working conditions in the palm oil plantations run by Socapalm, linked to a Belgian company and the French Bolloré family.
Swaziland: at the end of March, threat by 16,000 textile workers to come out on strike to obtain better wages and bonuses in this former South African ‘bantustan'
Tunisia: On 6 and 7 April, after the general strike and explosion of anger of January 2008, which was brutally repressed (over 300 deaths), a new wave of repression and arrests in the mining zone of the Gafsa basin, directed at workers struggling against redundancies; on 10 March, strike at the telemarketing firm Teleperformance which employs 4000 workers.
Canada: wildcat strike at the pork processing plant Olymel in the Vallée Jonction. Less than a year after the unions accepted a 30% cut in wages and a 7 year freeze in exchange for guarantees about job security, a spontaneous walk-out by 320 workers in one workshop following disciplinary action against a worker who arrived late for work. The management got the unions to call for a return to work and an end to slow-downs in production; soon after, 70% of the workers decided in a general assembly to stage an indefinite unofficial strike from 20 April.
USA: the screen writers' strike is well-known, but there has also been a militant strike by 5000 MTV workers ; in Detroit and Buffalo, on 26 February, strike by 3650 UAW workers at Axle and Manufacturing Holding (supplying parts to General Motors and Chrysler) against a reduction in wages and benefits; work stoppages against the war in Afghanistan and Iraq by dockers on the west coast on 1st of May.
Mexico: 11 January, strike at the country's biggest copper mine in Cananea (in the province of Sonora in the north) for higher wages and improvements in safety and health. This strike was declared illegal and was violently attacked by the police and special forces (20-40 wounded, a number of arrests). The courts finally recognise the legality of the strike; on 21 January there was a new strike involving 270,000 miners.
Venezuela: massive strike by the steel workers (steel is the country's second largest industry) in the Guyana province. The workers encounter harsh repression at the hands of the state controlled by that ‘champion of 21st century socialism', Chavez.
China: 17 January, revolt by workers employed by Maersk in the port of Machong. In the single region that comprises Canton, Shenzhen and Hong Kong, which contains 100,000 firms and employs 10 million workers, there has been at least one strike a day involving 1000 workers since the beginning of the year!
Emirates: after making some concessions in the wake of the massive revolt by the building workers in Dubai , an ‘exemplary' repression was meted out: six month prison sentences and expulsion of 45 workers for ‘inciting strikes'. But the struggle has had its impact: 1300 building workers in the neighbouring Emirate of Bahrain, suffering the same atrocious working conditions, came out on strike for a week at the beginning of April. They quickly won a wage increase because the threat of contagion in the region was so great. There are over 13 million foreign workers in the six Gulf Emirates.
Israel: wildcat strike by baggage handlers employed by El Al in march; strike by stock exchange employees in Tel Aviv for wage increases and against extra hours and casual contracts, causing considerable instability on the county's financial markets.
ICConline, May 2008.