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Exclusive excerpt from John Tully's 'Silvertown: The Lost Story of a Strike that ... Helped Launch the Modern Labor Movement'
February 9, 2014 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- The following is an excerpt from John Tully's new book, Silvertown: The Lost Story of a Strike that Shook London and Helped Launch the Modern Labor Movement, published by Monthly Review Press. It is posted with the kind permission of Monthly Review Press. Readers of Links international Journal of Socialist Renewal are urged to order a copy HERE. You can download the excerpt HERE (PDF), or read it on screen below.
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“This is a revolt against oppression: a protest against the brute force which keeps a huge population down in the depths of the most dire degradation, for the benefit of a knot of profit-hunters … this is a strike of the poor against the rich.”—William Morris, 1889
Striking garment workers marching to the Ministry for of Labor Vocational Training with placard demanding US$160 a month minimum wage, December 30. Photo by Workers Information Centre, Cambodia.
By Chrek Sophea, Phnom Penh
January 20, 2014 -- Green Left Weekly -- I was deeply saddened to read the article by Anne Elizabeth Moore titled “What’s the Price of Workers’ Lives in Cambodia?”, published on January 17 in the US-based Truth-out.org website.
This story contained an outrageous attack on the Cambodian garment workers' demonstration over the minimum wage by a well-known Cambodian blogger, academic and human rights activist Sopheap Chak.
I am used to hearing such arguments from employers as a way to escape from their responsibility to pay workers a decent wage, but I did not expect this from an experienced human rights activist.
Chak, program director for the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), claimed she has been watching the recent events closely, but disparaged the garment workers' campaign for a US$160 a month minimum wage.
By Hao Qi
January 2014 -- Monthly Review -- In the past two decades, China’s economic growth has been increasingly dependent on investment.1 To maintain the growth of investment, China must sustain a fairly high rate of profit, and the fall in labour’s share has been seen as a crucial factor to sustain profitability.2 Using a raw measure of labour’s share—the compensation of employees as a percent of GDP—as shown by the bottom solid line in Chart 1, labour’s share has experienced a major decline from 51.4 percent in 1995 to 42.4 percent in 2007.
Striking garment worker shows spent cartridges from police and military shootings the Veng Sreng Street in Phnom Penh on January 3. Photo by Malay Tim, President Cambodian Youth Network.
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Chrek Sophea, former garment worker and interim coordinator of the Worker’s Information Centre (WIC), a women garment workers' base association in Phnom Penh, interviewed by Peter Boyle
Railway workers' three-week strike against privatisation garnered wide support—and government repression. Photo by DDanzi Ilbo.
By Li San
January 8, 2014 -- Labor Notes -- South Korea’s railway workers have ended a 22-day strike, the longest such stoppage in the country’s history. Though they didn’t win a clear victory, they succeeded in placing the issue of privatisation in public focus.
The government’s and management’s attack on the strike was ruthless to the point of recklessness, while the public’s solidarity and sympathy with the striking workers continued to rise.
And the full impact of the action has yet to ripple out. Amid rising political tensions, the country’s biggest union umbrella, the 700,000-strong Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), has called for a one-day general strike February 25.
Privatisation Plans Sparked Strike
About 15,000 unionists, or about 45 per cent of the workforce, of Korea Railroad Corporation (Korail) walked off the job December 9 to protest what they saw as a preliminary step to privatising rail service—a plan by management to spin off the most lucrative slice of its business.
January 5, 2014 -- Anticapitalist Initiative -- With new papers released by the National Archives about the British miners’ strike the Anticapitalist Initiative’s Chris Strafford caught up with Harry Paterson, author of the upcoming book Look Back in Anger: The Miners’ Strike in Nottinghamshire 30 years on, to discuss what we have learnt.
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Chris Strafford: With the release of documents from the Cabinet Office and Prime Minister’s Office from 1984 detailing discussions and actions of the Thatcher government in the 1984-85 miners’ strike we have got some insight into how the attack on the miners was carried out. What were your initial thoughts once you had finished reading the documents?
North Carolinians mobilised against an anti-worker (and anti-woman, anti-civil rights) legislative assault by bringing thousands of protesters to the state capitol every week for “Moral Mondays”, with close to a thousand arrests. Photo by Ajamu Dillahunt.
By Jenny Brown
December 30, 2013 -- Labor Notes -- Lean meanness stalked workplaces. The political and economic outlook continued dismal. But the year was marked by workers trying new things and setting higher standards, for their employers, their unions, and—in the case of low-wage workers—their pay.
Unemployment ticked down slightly, but the jobs created paid worse than ever. Mainstream media reported with amazement that jobs that once paid the bills, from bank teller to university instructor, now require food stamps and Medicaid to supplement the wages of those who work every day.
California Walmart worker Anthony Goytia spoke for many when he said it’s no longer pay cheque to pay cheque for him and his co-workers, but payday loan to payday loan.
Striking Honda workers, 2010.
By Ellen David Friedman
November 27, 2013 -- Labor Notes -- More than 30 years since China opened up to foreign investment, wildcat strikes surge month after month. They are driven by workers with no meaningful access to union representation, to a worker centre, to the media, to legal mechanisms, or to government intervention on their behalf. And yet workers in industries from electronics to health care continue to strike, impelled by low wages as low as US$2 an hour.
This raw resistance has generally gotten employers to give in to strikers’ economic demands. The typical wage is minimum wage, but overtime and the mandatory social insurances are often not properly paid, so workers’ demands are frequently just to get their legal due, which employers can easily meet.
Bolivia: Workers to take over closed or abandoned firms; The working class and the political process
By Richard Fidler, La Paz, Bolivia
October 10, 2013 -- Life of the Left, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with permission − On October 7, Bolivia's President Evo Morales issued a government decree that allows workers to establish “social enterprises” in businesses that are bankrupt, winding up, unjustifiably closed or abandoned. These enterprises, while private, will be operated by the workers and qualify for government assistance.
Morales issued Supreme Decree 1754 at a ceremony in the presidential palace marking the 62nd anniversary of the founding of the Confederación General de Trabajadores Fabriles de Bolivia (CGTFB – the General Confederation of Industrial Workers of Bolivia). Minister of Labour Daniel Santalla said the decree was issued pursuant to article 54 of Bolivia’s new constitution, which states that workers
in defense of their workplaces and protection of the social interest may, in accordance with the law, reactivate and reorganize firms that are undergoing bankrupty, creditor proceedings or liquidation, or closed or abandoned without justification, and may form communitarian or social enterprises. The state will contribute to the action of the workers.
Balearic Islands (Spain): Attack on language rights provokes indefinite teachers’ strike, citizens' revolt
By Dick Nichols
October 1, 2013 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- The school year should have already begun on the Balearic Islands (Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera, near the eastern coast of the Iberian Peninsula), but it hasn’t. Since September 16, high school and primary teachers have been on an indefinite strike.
On September 30, after an earlier mass meeting of the cross-union Teachers’ Assembly voted to stay out, the strike entered its third week.
The day before, the Balearic Islands saw their biggest ever demonstrations, when at least 100,000 came out to support the teachers and to protest against the education and language policy of the regional People’s Party (PP) government of Jose Ramon Bauzá and his education minister Joana Maria Camps.
By Dan La Botz
September 25, 2013 -- New Politics, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with permission -- Since school began again on August 19, tens of thousands of teachers have been engaged in strikes and demonstrations throughout Mexico—including seizing public buildings, highway toll booths and border crossing stations, occupying public buildings and city plazas, and blocking foreign embassies—actions taken against the Education Reform Law and the new Professional Teaching Law and over local demands linked to wages and working conditions. While these are traditional tactics, these are the largest and most militant teachers’ union demonstrations in Mexican history.
Billionaire sweatshop sponger Bruce Rockowitz's CEO in October 2011 Rockowitz married Hong Kong pop star Coco Lee in a ceremony that reportedly cost $20 million. The company he manages had a combined net worth of $6.2 billion in 2012.
By David L. Wilson
September 19, 2013 -- Climate & Capitalism -- Consumers are ultimately the ones responsible for dangerous conditions in garment assembly plants in the global South, Hong Kong-based business executive Bruce Rockowitz told the New York Times recently. The problem is that improved safety would raise the price of clothing, according to Rockowitz, who heads Li & Fung Limited, a sourcing company that hooks up retailers like Macy’s and Kohl’s with suppliers in low-wage countries like Bangladesh. ”So far”, he said, “consumers have just not been willing to accept higher costs”.
By Mike Marqusee
“Ex-Midrand Council Workers in Dispute Since 1994! Dismissed for fighting corruption in 1994 and still fighting today! 20 years of Sacrifice! 20 Years of Poverty! 20 Years of Solidarity!” -- ex-Midrand Council workers' banner
September 13, 2013 -- Mikemarqusee.com, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with permission -- South Africa’s ex-Midrand Council workers are engaged in what is surely the world’s longest running industrial dispute, a Burston for our times. It started back in 1994, in the midst of the birth pains of South African democracy, when more than 500 workers employed by Midrand Council took industrial action against corrupt employment practices.
At that time, local government structures had not yet been subject to democratic "transformation"; they were still the creations of the apartheid era. Midrand was run by remnants of the old regime with no interest in reaching a settlement. Under pressure, some strikers returned to work, but the great majority remained in dispute.
Document of the Greens/Green Party USA, submitted to Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal by Don Fitz, national committee member of the Greens/Green Party USA. It is posted in the interests of discussion.
July 22, 2013 -- Why should we work longer hours in order to …
- put our neighbours out of work,
- produce fall-apart products that poison our children and grandchildren, and
- have less time to enjoy life?
People are losing their jobs and homes. Many throughout the world are without food, medical care and transportation. Instead of addressing real needs, governments and international financial institutions are designing “austerity programs” that cut back on basic services and privatise everything from education and mail delivery to pension plans and public health.
Simultaneously, climate change intensifies before our eyes as summers warm, droughts expand, polar ice caps melt, and those who live in coastal areas are threatened by rising waters. This occurs amid heightened use of radioactive and other toxic chemicals, the destruction of biodiversity and a drive to pull the last resources out of the Earth so that nothing will be left to future generations.
By activists of the Zashchita union, Moscow, translated by Renfrey Clarke
July 21, 2013 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- The Metrovagonmash factory has begun producing large numbers of railway wagons with defective braking systems. In June, after three serious incidents on the Moscow Metro, the factory was fined 6 million rubles. The trade union Zashchita (“Defence”) has brought a suit in the prosecutor’s office, anticipates the laying of criminal charges against the factory directors, and is beginning a protest campaign.
The factory management and the workshop chiefs are forcing workers to fit defective components despite breaches of technical standards and serious faults in the parts involved. Plant employees are concerned for the reputation of its products and for the safety of Metro passengers. But workers who refuse to install the parts, demanding that quality standards for the factory’s products be adhered to and normal working conditions observed, are being subjected to reprisals and threatened with the sack by Metrovagonmash chiefs.
By Dale T. McKinley, Johannesburg
May 13, 2013 -- South African Civil Society Information Service, submitted to Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal by the author -- If capital is to be believed, it is the worker who is the main source of our contemporary social and economic problems.
Every time the annual South African season of wage negotiations is about to begin, as it is now, representatives of capital unleash a tsunami of propaganda about workers’ "high and unaffordable" wage demands. Dire warnings of destructive social unrest/conflict, high inflation rates, poor competitiveness and generalised economic devastation roll off their silver-lined tongues. The underlying message is neither subtle nor sanguine: wage demands of workers are to blame for just about everything bad that is happening in our society.
Workers and protesters holding a defaced portrait of Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing march on May Day, May 1, 2013. Thousands of workers, local labour rights groups, socialists and striking dockworkers joined in. The Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions said a record 5000 people took part in its march from Victoria Park to government headquarters before ending near tycoon Li Ka-shing’s Cheung Kong Center.
By Ellen David Friedman
May 7, 2013 -- Labor Notes -- The 40-day strike of more than 500 dockworkers at the Port of Hong Kong ended on May 6 with a settlement that included a 9.8 per cent wage increase, non-retaliation against strikers and a written agreement, all of which had been fiercely resisted by the four contractors targeted in the strike.
Strikers accepted the offer by a 90 per cent vote.
April 17, 2013 -- Labor Notes -- A new video shows Hong Kong dock workers walking off the job March 29 and describing apalling working conditions at the world’s third-busiest port, where their dramatic strike has brought transport to a virtual halt.
Their energy is palpable. “It’s like—the things we’ve suppressed for 10, 20 years, it’s all blowing up now”, one worker says (at 3:59 in video above). He points to a co-worker seriously. “Look at his face. He’s done 24. That’s what a 24 looks like.” Then he cracks a smile. “Actually, you know, he used to be pretty [bleep] good-looking—at least if you shave that beard!”
The workers are appealing for protest letters to be send to support their strike. Please visit Dock workers defy Hong Kong's richest person, seek solidarity, attract huge support for sample letters and more background the struggle.
The video was produced by students from Left 21, a left organisation in Hong Kong. Richard Chen, who translated it, writes:
Striking Hong Kong dockworkers and supporters march at the world's third-busiest port. The two-week-old strike has bottlenecked cargo and gained enormous public sympathy. Photo: Left 21.
By the Union of Hong Kong Dockers
April 9, 2013 -- Text via ESSF -- Hundred members of the Union of Hong Kong Dockers (UHKD) are striking to demand pay rise while their wages have not risen in the past 15 years. Moreover they are also fighting for the collective bargaining right to negotiate with the management.
We ask you to send protest letters to the Hong Kong International Terminals (HIT) as well as its parent companies Hutchison Port Holdings Trust (HPHT), Hutchison Whampoa Ltd (HWL) and the Hong Kong SAR government to support the dockers.
For this purpose we attach a template which you can adapt and send, with a copy to the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Two workers of the 1000-member TRADOC cooperative. The hiring of women in the plant was one of the many gains of worker ownership. Photo by Bob Briggs.
By Jane Slaughter
April 3, 2013 -- Labor Notes -- A tyre is not just a piece of rubber with a hole in it. I learned this when I visited the workers’ cooperative that makes Cooper tyres in El Salto, Mexico. A tyre is a sophisticated product that comes about through a chain of chemical processes, lots of machine pounding, and still the intervention of human hands.
A fervent inspection worker pointed out that every single tyre is tested under road-like conditions, “If not, it could kill people”, he noted. And, he added practically, “keeping the tyres safe saves our jobs”.