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workers' rights

China: 'Smashing the iron rice bowl' -- expropriation of workers and capitalist transformation

"Managers have powerful market-based incentives that their predecessors did not—fines, bonuses and the threat of termination." Graphic by Jon Berkeley.

By Joel Andreas

October 2011 -- China Left Review, #4 -- In debates about whether the economic order that is emerging in China after three decades of market reforms can be called capitalist, the main focus has been about trends in the relative importance of private and state enterprises and the role of the state in the economy. These are important issues, of course, involving fundamental features of capitalism. Much less attention, however, has been given to employment relations.

In this paper, which focuses on the restructuring of urban enterprises beginning in the early 1990s, I argue that the dismantling of the old “work unit” system and the elimination of permanent job tenure have effectively severed ties between labour and the means of production. This has changed not only the nature of employment relations, but the fundamental goals of economic enterprise, establishing the foundations for a capitalist economic order.

Thailand: Free Somyot Prueksakasemsuk!

September 17, 2011 -- Australia Asia Worker Links reports that jailed trade union activist Somyot Prueksakasemsuk was denied bail on September 12. Somyot is in jail for allegedly insulting the Thai king, under the country's notorious lèse majesté law.

The new Thai government, headed by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra of the Pheu Thai Party, has jailed three people under lèse majesté law since coming to power two months ago. The Pheu Thai Party campaigned in the recent election campaign as the party of democracy and freedom,.

The campaign to free Somyot and all other Thai political prisoners continues. The background to the case is explained by the following article, gleaned from the posts at The Librarian of Bangkok Prison.

Should China create a law on workers' strikes?

State-backed "trade union" officers (in yellow caps) harrass striking workers at the Nanhai Honda plant in 2010.

July 20, 2011 -- China Labor News Translations, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with permission -- Even though strikes frequently occur across China, the country actually has no law regulating labour strikes. There is no law permitting strikes, but at the same time there is no law banning them.

Israel: Histadrut unmoved by Arab winds of change

Members of the Workers Democratic Party march through Tahrir Square on May Day, 2011. Photo by Mohamed El Hebeishy/ahramonline.

By Assaf Adiv

May 11, 2011 -- Challenge -- Ofer Eini and the Histadrut  [Israel's Zionist, pro-capitalist peak trade union body] are deaf to the voices of change calling from Cairo and the Arab world. Trade unions around the world identify with the new forces, leaving the conservative Histadrut alone in its corner.

Hussein Mugawer was recently arrested in Cairo. Mugawer is the head of the official federation of Egyptian workers, which was affiliated with Mubarak’s regime for many long years. He is accused of being involved in the suppression of the revolutionaries in Tahrir Square and of corruption. This year the Egyptian workers, whose official union lined up against them and took the side of their employers for years, celebrated International Workers Day in Tahrir Square as they waved the flags of the new independent unions established during the uprising.

South Korea: Irregular and migrant workers continue their daily struggles

February 8 rally at Yonsei University by irregular cleaning staff.

By Roddy Quines

March 20, 2011 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- This is to update my article published in Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal on January 14, 2011. There are a number of victories to report. These victories show the power of diligent action and solidarity in overcoming injustice. They also serve as evidence that direct action is an effective way to get results. There are some new struggles to report, and hopefully these struggles can also generate positive results. The struggles in this article are just a few of the many across the country being fought by “irregular” workers.

The European workers' movement: dangers and challenges

In Portugal, November 2010 general strike called by the Communist Party-led CGTP and the Socialist Party-led UGT was massively supported, with 3 million strikers out of a workforce of 4.7 million.

By Murray Smith

March 6, 2011 -- New Socialist -- With the onset of the world economic crisis, the European workers' movement finds itself in a new phase, one that is replete with dangers and challenges. It is important to underline that we are in fact in a new situation and not just a continuation of the previous period.

United States: New workers' movement at the crossroads

By Dan La Botz

March 4, 2011 -- Solidarity Webzine -- The new US workers' movement, which has developed so rapidly in the last couple of months in the struggle against rightwing legislative proposals to abolish public employee unions, suddenly finds itself at a crossroads. Madison, Wisconsin, where rank-and-file workers, community members and social movement activists converged to create the new movement, remains the centre of the struggle. In Ohio, which faces similar legislation, unions have also gone into motion, while working people around the country have been drawn into the fight.

In both states, things are coming to a head. In Wisconsin the courts have ordered the capitol building closed and the governor is threatening layoffs to begin next week. In both Wisconsin and Ohio the legislators are threatening to push the bills through one way or another. And now, in the fight to win, the movement has come to a fork in the road.

Two different tendencies in the labour movement point in two quite different directions. The top leaders of the AFL-CIO and Change to Win unions like the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) have thrown their weight into the struggle in the only way that they know how. Following the model they use in political campaigns, they have reached out to established organisations to build coalitions. They have sent organisers into take charge and to reach out to communities. Their goal is to rebuild their institutional power and their relationship with the Democratic Party, hoping to turn the upsurge in support for public employees into a political victory.

United States: The new American workers' movement and the confrontation to come

Protesters fill the Rotunda at the state capitol building on February 16, 2010, in Madison, Wisconsin.

By Dan La Botz

February 28, 2011 -- Solidarity Webzine -- The new US workers' movement—born in the last few weeks in the giant protests in Wisconsin and Ohio—faces a fateful confrontation. In Madison and Columbus, Republican legislators are pushing to abolish public employee labour unions and tens of thousands of workers are protesting and resisting. We have seen nothing like this face-off between workers and bosses in the United States since the labour upheaval of the early 1970s, though the issues in the balance are more like those of the 1930s. The very existence of the US labour movement is at stake. The question is: What will it take to win?

New book reveals the history of rubber: holocausts, environmental destruction and class struggle

The Devil’s Milk: A social history of rubber
By John Tully
Monthly Review Press, 2011

[Order the The Devil’s Milk from Monthly Review Press HERE. John Tully launched the book in Melbourne on February 17, at Readings Books, Carlton (309 Lygon St). He will also launch it in New York City on February 22, 7.30pm, at The Brecht Forum,  451 West Street.]

February 18, 2011 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- This new book from Monthly Review Press – by Australian socialist John Tully -- documents the history of rubber and the role it has played in the development of capitalism.

Rubber is an essential industrial material, although underappreciated by most of us, even though we are surrounded by it. Since its industrial uses began to be fully appreciated in the 1800s, the quest for rubber has been, in Tully’s words, “a paradigm of imperialism”.

Egypt: Much more than a `Facebook revolution'

February 18, 2011 -- There has been much written in the mainstream and even the alternative media -- much of it superficial -- about the uprising in Egypt, and previously in Tunisia, being a "Facebook revolution" and/or a "Twitter revolution". Rare have been analyses that try explain the deeper dynamics at play beneath the surface, which put the effectiveness of cyberspace organising tools into a political and class context. Exceptions to this are two very useful articles that appeared in the February 12, 2011, edition of the India-based left-wing journal, Economic & Political Weekly, which map the interaction between the build-up to the uprising in Egypt and developments in the labour and working-class movements, and how they influenced the technology-savvy young men and women of Egypt.

* * *

Why Egypt's progressives win

By Paul Amar

(Updated Feb. 13) Mubarak toppled! `We will ... celebrate, then start building our new Egypt!' + analysis by Tariq Ali

Tahrir Square. Photo by Hossam el-Hamalawy.

[Click HERE for Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal's full coverage of the Egyptian revolution.]

By Hossam el-Hamalawy

February 12, 2011 -- Jadaliyya -- Since February 11, and actually earlier, middle-class activists have been urging Egyptians to suspend the protests and return to work, in the name of patriotism, singing some of the most ridiculous lullabies about "let's build new Egypt". "Let's work harder than even before", ... In case you didn't know, actually Egyptians are among the hardest working people around the globe already.

Egypt: Independent workers' union leader: `This revolution will never stop until Mubarak goes'; Suez workers rattle regime

The US Navy counts on the Suez canal for rapid deployment of vessels from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf.

[For background to Egypt's working-class movement see also "Egypt: Historian Joel Beinin on the role of the labour movement" and "Egypt: Workers hold key to uprising".]

* * *

Kamal Abbas, director of the Center for Trade Union and Workers Services, interviewed by Jane Slaughter

February 9, 2011 -- Labor Notes -- Though all eyes are on Cairo and its Liberation Square, few could know that Egyptian workers have been protesting and striking in huge numbers for years.

(Updated Feb. 11) Strike wave across Egypt: `The working class has entered the arena with full force'

February 10, 2011 -- Democracy Now! -- Reporting from Cairo, Democracy Now! senior producer Sharif Abdel Kouddous says thousands of workers, including doctors and lawyers, have joined the protests in Tahrir Square. The demonstrators continue to flood the streets despite government threats and just one day before what is expected to the largest day of protests to date. Click here to read the transcript.
* * *

[For background to Egypt's working-class movement see also "Egypt: Historian Joel Beinin on the role of the labour movement" and "Egypt: Workers hold key to uprising".]

Egypt: Historian Joel Beinin on the role of the labour movement; Democracy Now! interview

February 10, 2011 -- Democracy Now! -- Egypt’s pro-democracy uprising is surging after striking workers joined in the protests nationwide. Thousands of Egyptian workers walked off the job February 9 demanding better wages and benefits. Strikes were reported in Cairo, Alexandria, Luxor and the Suez Canal. We speak to Stanford University Professor Joel Beinin, who, as the former director of Middle East Studies at the American University in Cairo, has closely studied the Egyptian labour movement for years. “This is huge, because there has been for the last 10 years an enormous wave of labour protests in Egypt”, Beinin says. “In the last few days what you’ve seen is tens of thousands of workers linking their economic demands to the political demand that the Mubarak regime step aside.” Click HERE for the program transcript. Intervew continues HERE.

* * *

Egypt: Workers hold key to uprising

Pro-democracy protesters confront police in Suez.

By Jeff Kaye

January 31, 2011 -- MyFDL -- While much analysis has focused on the youth-social network driven aspects of the recent uprising in Egypt, or on diplomatic and political maneuvers that thus far have left President Mubarak in office, and given even more power to the state repressive apparatus through the appointment of intelligence chief Omar Suleiman to the vice-presidency, it is the Egyptian working class that holds the future of its country in its hands.

The organised workers' movement saw its unions gutted by state privatisation and the gutting of union independence though the hated Law No. 100, which guaranteed that union representation would be strongly controlled by the state. However, recent events, particularly in strategic Suez, have shown that when the social weight of the workers is thrown into the balance, even all the machinations of Hillary Clinton’s State Department will not be able to patch together Mubarak’s state apparatus. The question then will be, what will follow it?

[단독]홍익대 투쟁에 대한 국제적 지지가 조직되다

http://left21.com/article/9168

2011-01-22

저 명한 국제적 지식인들과 좌파단체·노동조합 등이 홍익대 미화 노동자 투쟁에 연대 메시지와 서명을 보내 왔다. 1월 22일 현재까지 미국의 저명한 경제학자 마틴 하트-랜즈버그, 세계적으로 저명한 마르크스주의자이자 영국 사회주의노동자당 중앙위원인 알렉스 캘리니코스를 포함해 지식인, 좌파·노동조합 주요 활동가 27명과 2개 단체가 동참했다. 아래 명단은 1차분이고, 이 서명은 앞으로도 계속 진행될 예정이다. 이 서명은 다함께 국제연락팀 박준규가 주도적으로 조직했다.

연대서명과 메시지(1월 22일 현재까지 1차분)

South Korea: Struggles by 'irregular' workers multiply, solidarity needed

January 11, 2011, irregular cleaning staff at Hongik University in Seoul protest their unfair dismissal.

[For more background to the South Korean irregular workers’ struggle, see Chris Kim’s excellent article on the Hyundai irregular workers’ strike in Ulsan: “South Korea: ‘Just the first round’ by ‘irregular workers’ at Hyundai Motors”, Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal, December 16, 2010.]

By Roddy Quines

China: Workers' strikes -- what did they win?

By Boy Lüthje

December 23, 2010 -- Labor Notes -- 2010's auto worker strikes in South China reverberated throughout the country and overseas. As workers in supplier companies for Honda, Toyota and other auto multinationals downed tools, the international business press expressed fear over the rising power of workers in China.

At the same time, a tragic series of suicides at Foxconn—the world’s largest contract manufacturer of computers and iPods—exposed the inhumane nature of low-wage mass production for global brands such as Apple, HP and Nokia.

Both events shook unions and the public in China—and experts thought they could be a watershed moment for labour relations in the country.

But the workers’ activity disappeared from the media radar almost as quickly as it arrived. What happened?

Workers vs. boss—and government

South Korea: `Just the first round' by `irregular workers' at Hyundai Motors

Hyundai Motors workers' sit-in at Hyundai's plant in Ulsan.

Chris Kim reports on strikes and factory occupations at Hyundai Motor Company in South Korea, which is building solidarity among regular and irregular workers, and among workers internationally.

December 16, 2010 -- Socialist Worker (US) -- "Even a worm will squirm when it is being stepped on" is an old Korean idiom that basically means that even the most powerless creature reacts against an aggressor. However, when such a worm is transformed into a fearful dragon, it will do a lot more than just squirm, to the point that you had better think twice about stepping on it.

That's what happened at one of South Korea's most profitable companies, Hyundai Motors, when the company's irregular workers mobilised with strikes and factory occupations during the middle of November, after decades of being "stepped on". Before we start with that fateful day of November 15, we need to take a look at how it progressed.

France: Not victorious, but not defeated

By Murray Smith

December 8, 2010 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- It is now possible to begin to draw a tentative balance sheet of the vast movement against the reform (or more exactly, counter-reform) of the pension system in France over the last few months. We need to look at the depth and breadth of the movement, the forms that it took and the positions adopted by its various components. And finally at what might be the repercussions and consequences.

The immediate aim of the reform proposed by President Nicolas Sarkozy and his government seemed quite clear. It was to raise the minimum retirement age from 60 to 62 and the age for retiring with a full pension from 65 to 67, with corresponding increases in the number of years of contribution required. But behind this immediate aim lies the ongoing objective of slowly undermining the public pension system, with the aim of pushing workers towards subscribing to private pension plans, to the greater profit of the pension funds.

Private funds have never been able to develop in France to the extent that they have elsewhere.

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