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trade unions

South Africa: Irvin Jim (NUMSA) on new working-class leadership and prospects for socialist politics

In three parts.

[For more on NUMSA, click HERE. For more on South Africa, click HERE.]

Presentation by Irvin Jim, general secretary of National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa; chaired by John S. Saul.

March 6, 2014 -- Left Streamed, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with permission -- The dramatic upsurge of popular grass-roots protest in South Africa's townships and rural areas in recent years has marked a “rebellion of the poor” in that country. The working-class itself has also been assertive, prompting the African National Congress administered state's horrific massacre of dissident mineworkers at Marikana in 2012.

Until recently, leading trade unions have confined been within the tripartite governing coalition of the ANC, the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the country's largest trade union federation.

South Africa: Workers' guide to the crisis in COSATU; Reply to Jeremy Cronin

Tens of thousands of workers across South Africa responded to the call from NUMSA for a general strike on March 19, 2014, against neoliberal government policies.

Break the paralysis of COSATU!

Why the attacks on Comrade Zwelinzima Vavi and NUMSA will fail!

Our call for a special COSATU national congress

[Posted March 20, 2014 at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal]

Statement by the nine COSATU affiliates campaigning for the reinstatement of Comrade Zwelinzima Vavi as general secretary

Almost 29 years ago at the height of mass struggles by workers, youth, women, students and communities, despite repression, detention without trial, a state of emergency, killings and assassinations of activists and leaders, the workers of South Africa declared; “A giant is born”. And so the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), by the blood, sacrifices and sweat of many generations before it, was launched.

How did the giant help to defeat apartheid?

Britain: Bob Crow's death 'a huge blow to militant class-struggle unionism'

By Liam Mac Uaid

March 11, 2014 -- Socialist Resistance -- We are deeply shocked at the news that Bob Crow has died suddenly early this morning of a heart attack at the age of 52.

We send our heartfelt condolences and solidarity to his family and friends and to the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union and its members. His death is a huge blow to the RMT and to the wider trade union movement and to the cause of militant class-struggle trade unionism. During his 12 years as general secretary, the RMT has grown in both size and stature. He has been prepared to support strike action to defend the wages jobs and conditions of his members, and has done so very successfully.

As a result of this he has been vilified by the employers, government ministers and the likes of London mayor Boris Johnson, but has enjoyed strong support among the rank and file of the union. To say that he will be sorely missed is a gross understatement.

* * *

Germany: Union militant on how wind-power development is held to ransom for profit

Wind turbine towers at Bremerhaven port. Photo by Lucy Alcorn.

March 11, 2014 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- Socialist Alliance member Zane Alcorn spoke with Ali Can, a metalworker who has worked in the wind-turbine industry in the north German portside town Bremerhaven. Ali is a rank and file organiser with the trade union IGMetal and is an active member of Verein für Gleiche Rechte (Equal Rights Association), a secular Turkish community centre. Translated by Anne K. Schulz.

Can you tell us a little about Bremerhaven – how many people live here, what are the main industries, how has the city changed in the last 20 years?

South Africa: NUMSA to hold socialist conferences across the country; critical election looming

[For more on NUMSA, click HERE. For more on South Africa, click HERE.]

By Terry Bell

March 6, 2014 -- Terry Bell Writes, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with permission -- Despite media claims to the contrary there is no move by the National Union of Metalworkers (NUMSA) to start a political party. What the union plans to organise is a series of “socialist consultative conferences” in the nine provinces of South Africa— and this is in line with a 21-year-old Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) decision that has apparently never been rescinded.

The jargon used at the NUMSA press conference at which general secretary Irvin Jim referred to the establishment of a united front or movement that may in future contest elections was the probably cause of media confusion. Neither a movement nor the more formal united front is a political party in the traditional sense. Both are groupings of individuals and organisations that share broadly common aims.

South Africa: 'Leadership faction wants COSATU to be a toothless giant', declare nine affiliates

[For more on COSATU, click HERE. For more on South Africa, click HERE.]

Statement by nine COSATU affiliates campaigning for the reinstatement of Comrade Zwelinzima Vavi as general secretary

February 15, 2014 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- The outcome of the special central executive council (CEC) of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) that was shunned by those affiliates who had formally called for a Special National Congress has confirmed our worst fears.

The current leadership faction that currently controls the boardroom manipulated the quorum, the agenda and the discussion to reach outcomes that have nothing to do with protecting the rights of workers or their organisations. It is clear that this faction is prepared to sacrifice COSATU and turn it into a toothless giant in order to please its political masters. We cannot and will not allow this to happen without a determined struggle and we believe that we have the support of the majority of COSATU workers.

South Africa: 'ANC in lucrative alliance with international capital', says NUMSA's Irvin Jim

Irvin Jim, NUMSA general secretary.

[For more on NUMSA, click HERE. For more on South Africa, click HERE.]

Presentation by Irvin Jim, National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) at the Cape Town Press Club

February 11, 2014 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- I speak to you today with a powerful and united mandate from 341,150 metalworkers. They made their views extremely clear in our workers’ parliament in December 2013 – the parliament we called the NUMSA Special National Congress. In that parliament there was vigorous debate. Every delegate knew that they would have to account to their constituency. We are justifiably proud of our democratic heritage. We know that what we decided has the backing of our members. We don’t have to change decisions after the congress has spoken, as some do, even though there are those who would urge us to “come to our senses” and take NUMSA in another direction from the decisions of that Congress.

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.

* * *

“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

South Africa: Nine COSATU unions call for Zwelinzima Vavi's reinstatement

Zwelinzima Vavi.

[For more on COSATU, click HERE. For more on South Africa, click HERE.]

January 29, 2014 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- This press conference has been called to explain why the nine Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) affiliated unions have taken the unprecedented step of coming together in an attempt to rescue and regenerate COSATU.

Our main and overriding purpose is to work openly towards freeing COSATU from its current state of organisational and political paralysis, for it to become once again a vibrant, independent, progressive worker-controlled federation. The working class at this critical time demands nothing less!

What crisis in COSATU?

We hold the view that COSATU is in deep crisis, and denying the scale and extent of the crisis makes matters worse. A review of what COSATU was supposed to implement following its 2012 congress reveals an organisation unable to move forward on any significant area, and especially in relation to economic and social matters. Meanwhile millions of our people continue to face unemployment, poverty and worsening inequality.

United States: Chicago Teachers Union votes for independent political and electoral activity

Chicago Teachers Union members during their strike against Democratic Party mayor Rahm Emanuel's assault on public schools.

By Marilena Marchetti

January 14, 2014 -- Socialist Worker (USA) -- The Chicago Teachers Union wants to shake up the city and state political establishment. In a sweeping majority vote, representatives of the union's 23,000 members passed a resolution to launch an independent political organisation (IPO). The goal of the initiative is to unite progressive groups, non-profit organisations and trade unions around political campaigns that have the potential to sustain social movements and activism, rather than empowering Democratic Party candidates who have turned their back on teachers and public education.

The resolution concludes:

RESOLVED that the Chicago Teachers Union, along with key allies in the progressive labour movement and among progressive community organisations will launch an independent political organisation (IPO) that is capable of leading strong electoral and legislative campaigns to benefit working families, our active and retired members, and our communities, and be it further

Cambodia: Striking garment workers killed in brutal repression: interview, photos

 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.

* * *

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

South Korea: Rail workers strike against privatisation, general strike called

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.

Britain: Looking back in anger -- the miners’ strike 30 years on

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.

* * *

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?

United States: In 2013, workers tried new angles and alliances

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.

South Africa: NUMSA calls for new movement for socialism, end to ANC alliance

Delegates to NUMSA's special congress greet suspended COSATU general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi (centre).

[For more on NUMSA, click HERE. For more on South Africa, click HERE.]

Declaration of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) Special National Congress, held in Boksburg, December 17-20, 2013. This document had been abridged.

This and other congress documents are available in full at http://www.numsa.org.za.

* * *

1. Introduction

NUMSA’s Special National Congress convened from December 17 to December 20, 2013. It was attended by 1200 delegates representing 338,000 metalworkers from 50 Locals throughout the provinces of South Africa. NUMSA was proud to announce in the congress that it is the biggest union in the history of the African continent. In the last 17 months, since our 9th Congress in Durban, we have grown from 300,000 members to 338,000 members. We are ahead of schedule in our goal to organise 400,000 workers by the time of our 10th Congress in 2016.

2. The passing of Madiba

Unite union leader on the struggle against climate change, and for socialism

Mike Treen on the picket line. If trade unions take up the challenge, they could become “the voice for a boldly different economic model, one that provides solutions to the attacks on working people, on poor people, and the attacks on the Earth itself".

By Mike Treen, national director of the Unite union (New Zealand)

December 2, 2013 -- Daily Blog, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with the author's permission -- The continuing pretense that world governments will do anything about climate change was exposed once more at the latest round of climate negotiations held in Poland November 11-22. This was the 19th round of annual negotiations.

It is 21 years since the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992. Emissions are 60-70% higher than they were then. Global warming has proceeded at an accelerating pace. As a great article by economic historian Richard Smith notes:

Wildcat strikes push China to write new anti-labour laws

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.

South Africa: Zwelinzima Vavi explains the real cause of the crisis in COSATU

Zwelinzima Vavi.

Below are suspended general secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions Zwelinzima Vavi's speaking notes for his address to the National Union of Metalworkers KwaZulu-Natal congress, on November 23 2013.

* * *

I am speaking strictly in my personal capacity and not in any way as a representative of anybody.

A. Very lazy, shallow and extremely misleading explanations of the bases and causes of the paralysing crisis in Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) suggest the following:

a. That the current general secretary of COSATU, Comrade Zwelinzima Vavi has fallen out with a pro Jacob Zuma leadership faction inside COSATU, and that he is himself is supported by an anti-Zuma faction. This is arguably the most publicly punted explanation for the crisis in COSATU by the media.

b. That both the African National Congress (ANC) and the South African Communist Party (SACP) national leaders are unhappy with Zwelinzima Vavi and his anti-government corruption crusade, oppositional stance and public criticism of the ANC.

Mass action key to winning change

Melbourne protest against Work Choices, September 2007.

By Sue Bolton

November 16, 2013 -- Green Left Weekly -- Over the years, I have heard many left-wing activists say that mass peaceful protests do not achieve anything. Rather, “militant actions” which “take it up to the ruling class” are more important.

But for smaller direct actions to have any real political significance, they have to be connected to a patient and democratic approach to building mass movements that can win reforms. Smaller direct actions that are not tied to this political aim are a posture.

In a period of relative political quiet, some on the left are being snookered into the false idea that demonstrations that insist on direct action and militancy are the only way to win reforms.

This is a failed strategy, because it rests on the notion that a tiny number of conscientious and outraged activists can frighten or shock the ruling class into delivering reforms or stopping cuts. This sort of idealism is dangerous, and ignores evidence of how social movements throughout history have grown and succeeded in their aims.

When I first arrived in Melbourne in 1993, I met a man at a tram stop who told me that Victorians supported then-premier Jeff Kennett because they had stopped protesting.

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