Monday, 30 May 2011

No War but Class War - May 2011

The key event of this month has been the still-ongoing Spanish 15-M Movement. The initial protest was organised around the slogan "we are not goods in the hands of politicians and bankers." Marches and rallies took place across the country, but it was in Madrid that events went beyond a standard day of action. The occupation of Puerta del Sol became a beacon of the "Spanish Revolution" across the globe.

This inspired a wave of solidarity protests internationally, including the small one I attended in Liverpool but also far more radical ones - such as that in Brighton - which also became protest camps.

There were, and are, a number of internal contradictions in the movement. Most of them have been highlighted by the statement from the CNT, particularly the juxtaposition of revolutionary demands with traditionally reformist concepts that politicians ought to give voice to those they represent. Nonetheless, in a time of high youth unemployment and vicious austerity measures, the movement's main positive was that in action it was far more radical than in theory.

A case in point for this was that the encampments continued after the election, and a sign of just how radical the camps were came from the decision by the police to forcibly evict protesters. However, the authorities appear to have greatly underestimated what they were dealing with and not long after many of the protest camps were back as they had been before.

The Spanish protests have inspired a similar movement in Greece, which has quickly escalated alongside a pre-existing campaign of "organised lawlessness" as the country awaits the IMF's verdict on its attempts to bring the budget deficit under control.

Occupied London, which has provided constant and extensive coverage of the situation in Greece since December 2008, offers us the resolution by the 3,000-strong popular assembly of Syntagma square;
For a long time now, decisions are taken for us, without us.

We are workers, unemployed, pensioners, youth who came to Syntagma to struggle for our lives and our futures.

We are here because we know that the solution to our problems can only come from us.

We invite all Athenians, the workers, the unemployed and the youth to Syntagma, and the entire society to fill up the squares and to take life into its hands.

There, in the squares, we shall co-shape all our demands.

We call all workers who will be striking in the coming period to end up and to remain at Syntagma.

We will not leave the squares before those who lead us here leave first: Governments, the Troika, Banks, Memorandums and everyone who exploits us.

We tell them that the debt is not ours.

DIRECT DEMOCRACY NOW!

EQUALITY – JUSTICE – DIGNITY!

The only defeated struggle is the one that was never given!
In South Korea, there have been echoes of the Ssangyong strike of 2009, in the police repression of a strike and occupation at a Hyundai factory. The majority of occupiers were arrested after 3,000 riot police attacked the 500 taking part. As libcom.org note, "the raid marks a significant attack on a building strike wave in the South Korean automobile industry which has seen several victories, but also follows several years of mounting repression against the workers' movement."

Al Jazeera notes that repression is a more prominent feature of the "second wave" of the Arab Spring. "Marred by ugly sectarian violence in Egypt and on-going scuffles between police and protesters ahead of the July elections in Tunisia, even the success stories of 2011 are permeated with unease over what lies ahead." But even were that not the case, in those two instances western powers were able to "jump on the revolutionary bandwagon" and even "ease their erstwhile clients from power." But in Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria are right in the middle of "the complexity and contradictions of the international alliance system of the region" and so the "tanks, snipers, noxious gases and bulldozers" are better able to repress the would-be revolutionaries.

The media has played its role too, not giving this second wave anywhere near the attention it (belatedly) did the first. Which is even before we mention the NATO intervention in Libya which has only further complicated matters and made explicit the fact that the region faces not just competing class interests but imperial ones too.

If there is any lingering optimism about revolution in the Arab world, then, it seems somewhat misplaced. Not least because, even though it is true to say that the current uprisings against the ruling class are global, they remain unconnected. There are references, such as the comparison between the Puerta del Sol and Tahrir Square, but they are abstract. The solidarity demonstrations outside Egyptian embassies never maintained momentum for subsequent uprisings. The few anti-war protests in relation to Libya petered out. By and large, those who face tank attacks in Syria or air strikes in Yemen face them alone.

This is not to say that there is no hope. Indeed, people continue to struggle on even in the face of such repression and bloodshed. More generally, that people have risen up at all is a testament to their strength of character given that they come from countries which engage in brutal repression even without the context of a revolutionary uprising.

In America, perhaps the most significant struggle of the moment is a hunger strike by grocery store workers. The group, led by immigrant workers, want the reinstatement of an illegally fired comrade, but also against cuts in wages to the minimum wage and sometimes less, with absolutely no benefits whatsoever.

As the Huffington Post's Dave Jamieson writes for The Trial By Fire;
All night long, Jose Garcia performs his job while surrounded by food — a painful bit of irony, he says.
The 52-year-old Mexican immigrant works the overnight shift cleaning floors inside a Cub Foods store in Minneapolis, Minn., a job he’s mostly appreciated for the nine years he’s held it down. But lately, waxing aisle after aisle filled with groceries has simply reminded him of how little he has.

Despite his long tenure with the same cleaning company, Garcia says he earns a wage of $9 an hour — more or less the same rate he was making when he started cleaning floors back in 2002. Taking inflation into account, his salary has effectively gone down since he started working on the cleaning crew.

There are times when he can’t afford as much food as he’d like. He says it pains him to see workers at the store throw out unsold perishables like roasted chicken at the end of the night.

“It’s perfectly good food,” Garcia says through a translator. In the past, when he’s asked if he can take the food home, he says he’s been told that under-the-table giveaways are against store rules.

Sometimes he resorts to visiting the charitable food pantries around town. The irony there doesn’t escape him, either: Grocery stores like the one where he works often donate the very food that goes to those pantries and, eventually, to the needy like himself.
This situation is mainly due to contracting out, which puts intense downward pressure on wages and conditions. In some cases, sub-contracting goes on for several layers, and "there are workers who end up not getting paid at all," according to organiser Veronica Mendez.

This situation will only continue as job growth continues to be largely in low-paid sectors. Part of the result of that is workers being in ever more precarious positions, and thus the traditional strike not being an option. This explains Garcia's drastic choice of protest, but it also shows how far organised workers have to go. These are after all nothing less than starvation wages.

To end on a positive note, one solution for people in such a precarious position is the solidarity and concerted campaigning efforts of others. Whilst the mainstream trade union movement has started lumbering towards a one-day strike on June 30th - which many are ridiculously billing as a "general strike" - the Solidarity Federation, supported by members of the Anarchist Federation and the British IWW, have put that principle into action to win victory for a London agency worker.

The importance of this shouldn't be over-stated. However, the Cautiously Pessimistic blog points out that "he important thing is that this is a victory. A clear, straightforward, knock-out victory." If we can win one, there's no reason we cannot win more. In doing so, whilst being willing to learn the lessons of our failures, there's no reason we can't also win bigger.