Sunday, August 09, 2009

Workers' Fightback: Update 14

The past week has seen the end of three worker occupations around the world, and in each case, the brave occupiers have failed to win their demands. Isolated in their different ways, each set of workers has effectively been overwhelmed by the force of the state, as it works iron fisted hand in glove with corporate interests. There are therefore many lessons to be learned for the inevitable struggles ahead.

The occupation of Thomas Cook outlets in Dublin proved to be very short-lived. Following the start of the action last Friday, which was aimed at preventing the closure of the shops, Irish police swooped at 5 am on Tuesday morning, and arrested twenty-eight sacked workers. These were later released, having apparently agreed not to resume their occupation or damage the property of Thomas Cook.

Despite the early defeat, this first major occupation of a retail outlet during the current crisis provides plenty of food for thought. Unlike manufacturers (such as the Prisme packagers in Scotland), retailers could not take over the means of production. Instead, they are at the end of a supply chain, and without the financial capital of their employers, they could never take over distribution outside of a mass movement against the profit system. During this economic collapse, demand for consumer goods (in this case holidays) has fallen, but that doesn't mean that less people want to travel. However, fewer people can afford to travel, because of the insane chaos of capitalist overproduction, which has led to a deep recession rooted in the financial system. The isolation of Thomas Cook staff forced them into effectively appealing for their bosses to sacrifice their own self-interest and put more of their money into keeping workers on, rather than appealing for working class solidarity.

The 'Stop Thomas Cook shop closures!' Facebook group is here, and the petition to the Thomas Cook CEO is here.

On Thursday, the occupation of the Ssangyong car factory in South Korea came to an end, on its seventy-seventh day, following massive state repression. Despite ferocious and determined resistance from the occupiers, police finally won control of the building, as the
Korean Metal Workers Union called an end to the action, and declared victory. Throughout the campaign, the KMWU and the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions have worked to isolate the workers, and refused to call for broader support from the wider working class. As a result, the state was able to lay paramilitary siege to the factory, and finally wring favourable conditions from the willing KMWU negotiators.

Friday saw the end of the Vestas wind turbine factory occupation on the Isle of Wight. Following last week's bureaucratic mixup, which saw a judge turn down the company's possession order, the legal formalities were completed early this week, and bailiffs forced their way into the factory office at noon on Friday.

While the commitment of the workers and many supporting activists is beyond question, and the campaign is still very much ongoing, it is clearly lost its best bargaining chip - i.e. the factory itself. By appealing to the government to nationalise the company - in complete opposition to the neoliberal privatisation agenda of all three big business parties - they were limiting their appeal for class-based solidarity. The 'Save Vestas' blog continues to publish here, and the Facebook group is here.

As the economic crisis deepens, and the exploiting class continues to make workers suffer ever more for their profits, resistance will materialise with greater regularity. Links will grow between those in struggle, lessons will be learned, and a working class movement worthy of the name will materialise.
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