Workers’ struggles multiply all over the world

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Poverty, uncertainty, the rising price of food and fuel - we are all feeling the pinch. Even the ruling class is getting worried about the global scale these problems have reached.

Every day, around the world, 100,000 people die of hunger. Taken as a whole, food prices have risen by 83% over the last three years. Grain prices have gone up by 181%. The USA itself has brought in ration cards for rice. Over the last 20 years, it was already clear that the famines in the Sahel, Ethiopia, or Dahfur, so often presented as natural disasters, were caused by the capitalist system itself; but they were relatively isolated. Now the price of basic foodstuffs has become intolerable for a growing part of the world population. The World Bank estimates that the populations of 33 countries are being hit by the disaster. "We are heading towards a very long period of riots, conflicts, uncontrollable waves of regional instability" declared Jean Ziegler, UN special reporter on the ‘right to nourishment' in an interview with Liberation (14.4.08). He also said that "even before the surge in prices...854 million people were gravely undernourished. We are facing a hecatomb". The World Bank also warned that "food price inflation is not a temporary phenomenon and levels will be higher than those of 2004 up until 2015". A large section of the world's population is facing the threat of dying of hunger in the next few months. And why is this? Because the capitalist system is inexorably sinking into economic crisis, which is what lies behind the rise in prices. And now that it's no longer viable to speculate on housing, it's raw materials and food in particular that are the target of the speculators, pushing prices up even higher.

Hunger riots spread across the planet

The first manifestation of this deepening crisis is the spread of hunger riots across the planet. Revolts have erupted in a number of countries. By saying no to misery that is either there already or fast approaching, large parts of humanity are seeking to defend themselves against this society. There have been hunger riots in many parts of Africa - Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Egypt, Mauritius, Ethiopia, Senegal, but also in many other places: Haiti, Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Bangaldesh....

In Haiti the demonstrators expressed their rage at the fact that, among other things, a 120lb bag of rice has gone from 35 to 70 dollars in a year. The head of state René Préval cynically declared: "Demonstrations and destructions won't pay for the increase in prices or resolve the country's problems. On the contrary, they can only increase poverty and prevent investment in the country". And all this not because there's not enough food, but because in a matter of weeks it has become too expensive for most people's miserable income. 80% of the population of Haiti live on less than two dollars a day. This is well below the official poverty line, which has now become a line between life and death

In Haiti as in other countries where there have been riots, the bourgeoisie only has one response for those protesting about their hunger: feed them with bullets. 200 killed in the repression of the riots in Burkina Faso in February, 100 in Cameroon, 5 in Haiti and two youngsters of 9 and 20 shot by the anti-riot forces in Egypt. Capitalism has nothing else to distribute to them. This is one of the proofs that this system is leading humanity into an impasse.

The revolt by a growing mass of the dispossessed throughout the world shows that they are not simply resigning themselves to their fate; and they are not alone. The same anger and militancy is mounting in the ranks of the workers all over the world in the face of spiralling prices for basic necessities and of poverty wages. Strikes and demonstrations have multiplied in numerous countries, both the developed ones and in the huge industrial basins of the poorest countries. Very often, the propaganda of the bourgeoisie tries to set the inhabitants of the North against those of the South, as though the former are ‘privileged' and the latter are not able to do anything. It's their way of making us feel guilty about the ravages of their own economic system. This tactic is beginning to wear out. The bourgeoisie has been shifting many of its enterprises to areas of the world where they can pay the workers next to nothing, but more and more of them are refusing to accept this frenzied exploitation. They are beginning to develop their own experience of the struggle. In a world based on competition between states, companies, exploiters of all kinds, we are told that the working class has also succumbed to the spirit of ‘every man for himself'. But it's not true. In most of these countries we have seen the development of a powerful feeling of solidarity among the workers.

The development of class solidarity is the only response to the failure of world capitalism

Over the last few years there has been a significant development of workers' struggles all over the world, both in the poorest countries at the peripheries of the system and the countries at its heart, especially in western Europe.

For more than two years, there have been a number of conflicts in Egypt, especially around the textile factory Gahzl al-Mahalla to the north of Cairo. The weakness of union control there has allowed the struggle to develop massively and give rise to radical demands. The official unions are recognised for what they are - an integral part of the state. The spirit of solidarity shown by these struggles in Egypt has been demonstrated by the fact that other sectors, such as the railway workers, tax employees, postal workers or university teachers in Cairo, Alexandria, and Mansoura have joined the struggle. All these strikes have given rise to similar demands: against the high cost of living, against humiliating wages, overpriced and insalubrious housing, etc.

In Iran, a powerful wave of strikes has shaken the country: in January bus drivers in Tehran were on strike. A hundred workers were arrested and two of the leaders of the movement are still in prison. On 18 February in Chouch in the south of the country, the workers of a sugar cane factory demonstrated in protest against the non-payment of wages in January and February. They had already been out on strike in September 2007 for the same reason. They had not been in a position to celebrate the end of the year festival with their families and children (new year in Iran is at the end of March). Non-payment of wages were the cause of numerous walk-outs or demonstrations throughout the country, notably by the workers of the Pachmineh Baft factory in Ghazvine in the west, the Mehrpouya textile factory in Isfahan in the centre, at Navard in Karadj in the west, telecommunication workers and employees of Sandoigh Nasouz in Tehran. In the north , in the Rasht region, the workers, especially in the textile sector, whose wages had not been paid for months, blocked the town's roads and went to demonstrate in front of the official buildings, waving placards saying ‘We are hungry'. In the nearby province of Gilan, workers have not been paid for 13 months. Similar strikes and demonstrations took place in Elam in the west and in a pharmaceutical factory in Tehran. Each time the government has responded with harsh repression. On 21 February, at Masjed Soleiman in the south, 800 striking workers were violently attacked by the state security forces and the secret police (VEVAK). On 14 April, after a strike had lasted three days, the police used a bulldozer to assault an occupied tyre factory in the region of Alborz in the north, in order to dislodge strikers who had built a shield of burning tyres around the factory to show their anger, again over the non-payment of wages. A thousand workers were arrested after violent clashes with the security forces.

Since the beginning of the year, in Vietnam, there have been 150 strikes in various enterprises. Recently 17,000 workers of a Nike shoe factory in the south of Vietnam came out for wage rise, demanding an increase of 200,000 dongs (8 euros), in response to the spiralling cost of consumer goods. They only obtained half of what they asked for, but, as they went back to work, clashes with the police took place and the factory had to close for three days. Ten thousand workers making toys in Danang also went on strike for a raise in bonuses and an increase in holiday during the Tet festival.

In Rumania, the workers of the Dacia Renault factory won wage rises of 100 euros (a 40% increase in their wages) after a strike lasting several weeks. And 4000 steel workers at Arcelor Mittal in Galati, in the east of the country, came out on indefinite strike. They wanted their wages doubled, a rise in weekend bonuses and an increase in benefits to the families of workers injured or killed at work. The management immediately conceded a wage rise of 12%. But the strike was suspended by the courts "for reasons of security and because of the risk of explosions at the site because certain furnaces had been reduced to minimal operations". These struggles at Dacia-Renault and Arcelor Mittal give the lie to all the propaganda about outsourcing and all the efforts of the bourgeoisie to divide the workers by national frontiers. They remind us of this simple truth: the working class suffers the same exploitation in all countries and therefore has the same struggle. There is only one working class across the planet.

In Poland, in January and February the workers of the Budryk coalmine in Ornontowice in Silesia struck for 6 days to demand parity with other mines in the country (all the mines have gone back to state control). It's the biggest strike in this sector since 1989 and it saw the occupation of the pits. This strike was supported by 2/3 of the population. The great strike of 1980 was held back and then openly opposed by the creation of Solidarnosc, applauded by the bourgeoisie in all the western countries. And now you had the same Solidarnosc union, and the ZZG union federation, working hand in hand with the bosses, and calling the strikers a "rabble". The wives of the miners went to demonstrate their support for the strike in Warsaw. A week after the return to work and because the management was clearly in no hurry to grant the wage increase, 900 workers threatened to come out again.

But the resistance of the workers can also be seen in countries in the heart of capitalism.

In this issue we have written separately about the recent strikes in Britain. In Germany, after the mobilisation of the workers in the Bochum region (especially at Opel) in support of the workers at Nokia threatened with redundancies[1], there was a series of walk-outs in the steel sector in February, resulting in a 5.4% increase in wages for the 93,000 workers. Since then the country has been through a wave of ‘hard' strikes, especially in the public sector in the week 3-7 March. The unions were obliged to launch a ‘warning strike' in public transport (regional trains and buses were halted, especially in Berlin where a 12% increase in wages was demanded), in the hospitals, childcare, the airports (Frankfurt, Munich, Dusseldorf, Hamburg, Stuttgart, Hanover) and in a number of public offices. Under the pressure of the workers, the Verdi union threatened a massive and indefinite strike at the end of March or the beginning of April for a further 8% wage rise, whereas the management were only offering half that; it was also proposed to hold an indefinite strike on 2 May in the post, with a demand for a 7% wage rise, guaranteed jobs until 2011 and the dropping of plans to increase the working week by half an hour. In exchange for this extra half hour, the bosses were proposing a 5.5% wage increase and a vague promise about no redundancies. In Berlin, Verdi also called for a strike on 20 April in factories making buses, metro trains and trams as well as in the services that do the cleaning and supply fuel to public transport. The fact that the German working class has entered onto the scene, a working class which was hit with the full force of the counter-revolution in the 1920s following its insurrectionary movements between 1918 and 1923, and which has such a wealth of historical experience behind it, is a factor of considerable encouragement for the development of the class struggle worldwide.

Towards the unification of struggles

The most obvious thing about all these examples of class struggle from around the world is that workers are getting angry about similar issues. First and foremost, the general increase in prices and the low level of wages are making daily survival increasingly difficult. To this must be added unbearable working conditions, pensions disappearing into the distance and pretty miserable ones at that, growing problems of accessing healthcare, and so on. Some workers are already being reduced to famine, while everyone is seeing their living standards and security of employment diminishing.

In the last few years, the working class has come a long way. Not only has it returned to the path of struggle, but its struggles are becoming more and more simultaneous and extensive[2]. There is a profound link between the struggles at the edges of the system and those at its centre. The struggles in countries like France, Britain and Germany, where workers have a whole historic experience of the traps that the ruling class can lay, are key to the future internationalisation of the movement. But at the same time, the courageous battles fought by workers in the peripheries are an encouragement to the workers in the heart of the system. They show that even when workers live in conditions of extreme poverty and face the harshest repression, they are refusing to lie down and accept their lot. The feeling of dignity is one of the deepest moral values of the working class and gives us the confidence and strength to fight back. Map 25.4.08



[1] See ‘Workers' struggles in Germany: an accumulation of discontent ', ICC Online.

 

[2] See the far from exhaustive list of recent struggles around the world in ‘One class, one struggle ', ICC Online.

 

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