Workers of the World

Submitted by Anon on 18 June, 2003 - 6:47
  • French strikes over: we'll be back
  • 50th anniversary of East German uprising
  • Strike wave in South Korea tests the new president
  • Zimbabwe extends strike bans
  • Demonstration against Lula's government
  • Cambodian police kill demonstrators
  • No jobs for sacked Venezuelan oil workers
  • Celebrate 100 years of the car industry?
  • ICFTU figures for deaths of trade unionists

French strikes over: we'll be back

The inspiring fight of French workers against the Chirac-Raffarin government's plans to cut their pensions is over. The legislation is going through parliament where the government has a massive majority. Who is to blame for the dissipation of this great movement? The 'leaders' of the trade union federations did not organise the general strike which alone might have stopped the attacks. Raymond Adams, a teacher in Lille, draws up a balance sheet.

The teachers were at the forefront of the strikes against the government's plan to "reform" pensions and to decentralise education. The French education system has never seen such a movement before. It surpassed the struggles of 1995.
After a number of one-day national strikes in the education sector, it became clear to many teachers that only an unlimited strike, linking public and private sector workers, would force the government to retreat. At the peak of the movement, more than 3,000 schools were on unlimited strike action. In my school, as in many others, teachers were on strike (sometimes for two full months), up at 5am to meet the factory workers, trying to build the movement into a general strike, visiting other schools, blocking roads, railway lines, transport depots, urging public and private sector workers to join in the movement. In some schools, teachers prevented exams from taking place.

If the Socialist Party and the Communist Party kept their distance from the movement (many leaders of the SP went so far as to openly support the government), far-left activists played a leading role.

After 13 May, which saw two million people in the streets, there could have been a general strike, but the union leaders refused to call it on the grounds that it was "political". They also refused to demand the withdrawal of the government's plans. Instead, they wanted to negotiate on them. The Confédération Générale de Travail (CGT) even broke the strikes at the SNCF [national railway] as workers sought to continue the struggle after 13 May. Instead, they chose to call the railworkers out on unlimited strike from 3 June, in the hope that the teachers' movement would be finished by then.

The trade union leaderships' refusal to confront the government was so blatant that both Bernard Thibault (CGT) and Marc Blondel (Force Ouvrière) were jeered by the crowd that called for a general strike at the 12 June rally in Marseille.

Not everywhere did the unions succeed in keeping the movement in check. In some cities the movement reached general strike proportions. In many places, cross-sector rank and file strike committees were set up. But the trade union leaderships managed to avoid a direct confrontation with the government.

The three-month long movement is now over. Many are bitter, and angry with the union leaders. The government has won this time but important experiences have been gained. The government can take our wages but not the sense of solidarity the movement has created between the teachers and the other workers. We have learned many lessons on how to organise our struggles. We'll be back in September.

Benoit Mély

Benoit Mély, who wrote the report we quoted in the last issue of Solidarity of how teachers were linking up with railworkers in Paris, died on 22 June. We would like to express our sympathy to his family, friends and comrades.

50th anniversary of East German uprising

In June 1953 workers rose against the Stalinist dictatorship in East Germany, until the rising was brutally crushed by government and Soviet tanks.

Construction workers in Berlin were the first to strike. In Bitterfield, outside Berlin, 30,000 chemical and engineering workers occupied the town hall and demanded the government's resignation.

At least 170 demonstrators were killed, with thousands more imprisoned and tortured. Churchill was prime minister in Britain at the time and refused to intervene, fearing a united Germany. A memo from the foreign secretary said: "A divided Germany is safer at present. But none of us dare say so in public because of the impact on public opinion on Germany."

Strike wave in South Korea tests the new president

By Pablo Velasco

Workers at the state-run Chohung Bank organised a strike last week in protest at government plans to sell it off. About 6,000 workers joined the walkout, some of them workers in charge of the electronic banking system, which was brought to a halt.

The strike was organised by the Korean Financial Industry Union (KFIU), part of the Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU), which historically has been tied to the government. The strike took place a week earlier than the union's original schedule, after the government and the Shinhan Financial Group reached an agreement on the privatisation. The takeover by Shinhan would create the country's second-largest bank. The government became the bank's largest shareholder in the wake of the 1997 financial crisis.

The dispute could spark a wave of protests this summer as workers test newly elected President Roh Moo-hyun. The FKTU has threatened to stage a general strike on 30 June, involving 200,000 members from 300 workplaces across the country. Rail workers, taxi drivers and textile workers have all pledged to support the general strike.

On another front, the Korean Metal Workers Trade Union is threatening to launch a strike, over issues such as the five-day workweek and the status of temporary workers. Workers from Hyundai, Korea's biggest car maker, are balloting on a walkout starting 24 June.

The union wants Hyundai to grant 80% wage increases to temporary workers. It is also demanding the right for union reps to attend board of directors meetings. The independent trade union federation, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCFU), has also planned a subway worker strike to start on 24 June in Daegu, Incheon and Busan. The union wants an end to the one-operator system, and the establishment of a security committee.

Zimbabwe extends strike bans

Zimbabwe's government has tightened its grip on unions, banning some sectors from striking and introducing sweeping powers to declare others essential services.

Workers in hospitals, clinics, fire brigades, electricity, telecommunications, civil aviation, broadcasting, public transport and state railway services were already banned from striking. Civil servants and teachers are not currently on the list.

The labour minister now has the power to declare any other sector an essential service if a strike "persists to the point that the lives, personal safety or health of the whole or part of the population is endangered".

The implications of the law have been felt by electricity workers, who were attacked last week by armed police during a strike in support of nine fellow workers suspended for participating in industrial action in May. Members of the Zimbabwe Electricity Energy Workers' Union were told that they are providing an essential service.

Demonstration against Lula's government

At least 30,000 Brazilian government workers rallied in Brasilia to voice their opposition to planned pension reforms. This was the first mass protest against President Lula da Silva, who took office in January.

Lula wants to raise the retirement age for civil servants by seven years, and extend to 20 years (from 10) the period to qualify for a pension. He would also levy a tax on the pensions of retired public workers, and reduce benefits to widows and dependents. The change could affect four million workers. The measures come as part of the government's austerity plans, agreed to secure an IMF loan.

General strike in Colombia

Thousands of Colombian workers came out in a general strike against privatisation last Thursday. Workers marched on the presidential palace to defend their jobs and public services.

"The government wants to sell off the few assets of our country," said Mauricio Canon, a union leader from the Bogota telephone operator ETB. "[President] Uribe is paying with our jobs for multinationals to take over."

The strike protest was prompted by last week's dissolution of the public phone company Telecom, which allowed authorities to lay off around half of the group's 10,000 workers. Telecom was immediately reconstituted under the same name.

Cambodian police kill demonstrators

Cambodian police have opened fire on protesting workers, leaving two dead and dozens wounded. Police fired hundreds of rounds from AK-47 assault rifles, and used water cannons and electric batons. Workers responded with knives and axes and threw rocks and broken bottles.

The shooting took place outside the Terratex Knitting and Garment Factory. Protests have taken place outside the factory in recent weeks with between 200 and 500 workers striking daily and demanding the removal of a senior manager. Garment workers said they were demonstrating in good faith by demanding the removal of their boss because of corruption.

No jobs for sacked Venezuelan oil workers

The 18,000 Venezuelan oil workers sacked for taking part in anti-government protests last winter will not be allowed to return to their jobs, says President Hugo Chavez, even though a court has ruled that their collective dismissal was illegal. Oil company Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) sacked the engineers, office workers and managers for participating in the stoppage that sought to topple Chavez in December-January.

Celebrate 100 years of the car industry?

Henry Ford set up his first factory in Detroit in June 1903. Car-making was the leading industry of 20th-century capitalism, and mass production spread from the US all over the world. Should socialists celebrate? As the car industry developed, it created large working classes that formed militant unions. Car-workers were the backbone of struggles to end military dictatorships and end apartheid. Where capital goes, so does class struggle!

ICFTU figures for deaths of trade unionists

More than 200 trade unionists were killed and 1,000 attacked last year, according to a report by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU). Of the 213 killings, 206 took place in Latin America, with Colombia the most dangerous place for trade union activity-184 killed. More than 2,500 trade unionists were detained, and 89 given prison sentences. Independent unions are outlawed in countries such as China, Iran and Egypt and anti-union laws shackle millions more, but there are nearly 160 million workers who belong to unions.

  • The report can be downloaded from the ICFTU website

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