Monday, September 28, 2009

Workers' Fightback: Update 18

As the refuse strikes continued in Liverpool, Leeds and Edinburgh over the last fortnight (with the Liverpool action ending on the 18th), supporters in each city took direct action in solidarity with workers in struggle against worsening pay and conditions. As they did so, they showed a way forward for a new, militant working class movement in the UK, which will not limit itself to ritualistic strikes as it confronts the economic crisis.

Liverpool activists organised a physical and virtual picket of Assist Streetcare, who have supplied scab labour on that city, as well as Edinburgh, where the council has faced an all-out strike. On Tuesday, 15th September, activists picketed the Assist Streetcare depot in Aintree, Liverpool, whilst many others sent emails, faxes and phonecalls to the company, expressing their anger at the use of scabs to break the Liverpool strike action. The main telephone number was soon shut down, and the email address started bouncing messages back to their sender.

The very next day, Leeds City Council Richard Brett had his doorstep “trashed” by activists, who dumped several bags of rubbish at his home, 991 Scott Hall Road. Police arrested and bailed six people. According to one participant:

“Refuse collectors are being told to lose £3 an hour off an already low wage. £3 an hour won’t seem much to Councillor Brett who took £48,000 just in expenses last year, but it is to those struggling to live already during these times of crisis. We refuse to accept this, it’s rubbish!”

On the Friday, scab lorries were blockaded up in Scotland, as Industrial Workers of the World members and others detained strike-breakers at the top of Blair Street, Edinburgh for half an hour, before police arrived and broke up the cordon. According to an IWW member:

We explained to the workers who were scabbing that what they were doing was wrong and that in these hard times people have to stick together and not stab each other in the back....fighting for the crumbs from the rich man's table…”

The Vestas blockade – aimed at preventing the company from shifting the last wind turbine blades from its Isle of Wight factory – was brought to an end by typically uncompromising police repression last Tuesday. Cops issued warnings to thirteen people “suspected of having committed, committing, or about to commit, criminal offences of aggravated trespass”, at 6.30am. Two hours later, the site had been cleared, and security staff were erecting their own blockades – to keep protesters out.

Four activists were arrested in Southampton docks, having locked onto cranes in an attempt to pressurise Vestas into reinstating the workers they had sacked. After seventeen hours in police custody, they were charged with aggravated trespass.

The 'Save Vestas, Save Jobs, Save The Planet' Facebook group and 'Save Vestas' blog both continue to call for the government to step in and protect green jobs.

With many students returning to campuses after their summer break, and many educational facilities facing cuts, a rebellious reaction was inevitable. The economy in the state of California is experiencing a particularly traumatic time during this crisis, and Governor Schwarzenegger has responded by making enormous cuts to jobs and services.

The University of California has a budget gap of $750 million, and aims to balance the books by ordering unpaid ‘furloughs’ (compulsory time off) for non-union staff, course cuts and tuition fee increases of almost one third. In protest, staff and students at ten UC campuses staged walkouts last Thursday. However, students at the Santa Cruz campus took things a stage further.

Calling themselves ‘Occupy California’, and using the pretext of a ‘dance party’ organised on Twitter, the group have barricaded themselves into parts of the Kimmel Center, proclaiming:

“We must face the fact that the time for pointless negotiations is over. Appeals to the UC administration and Sacramento are futile; instead, we appeal to each other, to the people with whom we are struggling, and not to those whom we struggle against. A single day of action at the university is not enough because we cannot afford to return to business as usual. We seek to form a unified movement with the people of California. Time and again, factional demands are turned against us by our leaders and used to divide social workers against teachers, nurses against students, librarians against park rangers, in a competition for resources they tell us are increasingly scarce. This crisis is general, and the revolt must be generalized. Escalation is absolutely necessary. We have no other option.”

The group's website - 'We Want Everything' - can be found here.

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