Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Workers' Fightback - Students, Posties and European Workers Confront Cuts

The past ten days have seen big mobilisations against austerity Europe, and the domination of the financial sector over government spending. Last Wednesday, two million public and private sector workers struck in Greece, following protests or general strike calls in Spain, Portugal and the Czech Republic. At its birth, it is apparent that the emerging new movement will be an international one, but it will be obstructed and misled by trade union and 'radical' groups which organise on a national basis.

Since the previous Workers' Fightback update two weeks ago, unions in Germany, France and the UK have taken action to curb their members' resistance, and defence of their own livelihoods. The German pilots' union Vereinigung Cockpit called off a strike at Lufthansa on the first day. Similarly, the French General Confederation of Labour sabotaged a nationwide strike against oil giant Total. Concessions had not been won before the bureaucracy called a halt in either of these cases. In Britain, the Unite union announced that the overwhelming mandate for strike action against British Airways would be put "on hold" while they held talks with management.

As thousands of Greek workers took to the streets, their banners could easily have spoken for the working class across much of the world at the moment: 'Where has all the money gone?'; 'People are more important than markets and banks', and 'Billions of euros for capitalism, but nothing for the workers - rise up!'. Even more simply: 'Enough is enough!'

An article on The Commune website suggests:
"A further day of action in another two weeks’ time seems likely: but a series of national one-day strikes does not look like a strategy to stop the government. After all, while tolerating occasional demonstrations the state will not shrink from invoking anti-union laws and using riot cops to suppress the most ‘threatening’ wing of the movement. Before the general strike, an indefinite stoppage by 3,200 customs workers saw Greece’s petrol pumps run dry for five days, such that the courts intervened to rule the action ‘excessive’. The union put an end to the strike, even though they could have been given even greater strength by the national strike action."
Students in the UK have been dusting off the tactic of university occupation, which spread nationwide in the first half of 2009. According to the Fight Cuts at the University of Westminster blog:
"Over 200 staff and students at the University of Westminster have protested, stormed the board of governors meeting [on Monday} and are currently in occupation, vice-chancellors office, in regard to recently proposed tutoring and administrative job cuts."
This action is in response to management plans to slash 250 jobs by April. Two weeks ago, a motion of no confidence in the vice chancellor was unanimously passed by over 150 staff and students.

The occupiers demand a statement on the avoidance of redundancies, financial documentation being made freely available to unions, and the production of alternative plans for addressing budget problems for the next several years.

This afternoon, Sussex students barricaded themselves inside management offices at their university, against plans to make another 115 redundant. These student occupations must link up with each other, but also turn to the wider working class if they are to have a chance of success.

The Fight Cuts Campaign at Westminster Facebook group is here.

Finally for this busy roundup, it seems that the Communication Workers Union bureaucracy has reached a deal with Royal Mail, regarding the 'modernisation' of the postal service. In a message to the union's membership, deputy general secretary Dave Ward announced that:
"Following 3 months of talks facilitated by Roger Poole, the Independent Chair and ACAS, the negotiating process between Royal Mail and CWU has now reached its final phase. Both parties believe significant progress has been made. A document, will this week, be considered by the Postal Executive Committee."
Last November, the CWU executive brought a well-supported strike to an end, having received no guarantees on jobs and conditions, other than a seat at the negotiating table. Doubtless, a total or near-total sell-out is being prepared, but the executive will have great difficulty controlling rank and file anger.
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