Monday, December 22, 2008

How much is your life worth?

The reality behind despair and health cutbacks at Christmas- A Hamilton socialist writes.

Like everything else under capitalism the mental health system is broken.

I'm having to consul my cousin right now because her partner is in intensive care in a coma after trying to commit suicide and he probably won't make it.

I know what you're thinking, well who could have known he was going to kill himself, or if he wanted to do it he would have found a way.

M wanted help- he didn't want to do this, he didn't want to die, he begged and pleaded to be admitted to the Henry Bennett centre and they turned him away time and time again.

I spoke to my mum, a nurse, she said oh yeah this happens all the time, again and again, people ask for help and don't get it and die as a result.

It was less than a week since he last asked to be admitted to Henry Bennett centre and was denied, and then attempted suicide, the reality is the system doesn't give a fuck, we all have a dollar value on our heads people.

Someone is literally sitting in an office deciding that it is reasonable to deny x amount of people care even if the risk is that one of them dies.

How much is M's life worth?
That's what I want to know.

Maybe they're even happy because the cost of his ICU stay while he dies is less than the cost of treating his medical illness over his life.

Friday, December 19, 2008

New Spirit in the Fighting Left of Auckland

ALL OUT- FEB 28 2009

There's a new spirit in the fighting Left of Auckland.

Faced with a barrage of attacks from the new National led government, in particular the 90 Day Fire at Will Law (which now comes into effect on March 1st, thanks to pressure from ACT), socialists, unionists and left Greens have got their act together and began planning the fightback.

Socialist Aotearoa organised an inspiring meeting on Thursday 11th December, where Unite union's John Minto and the Green's new MP, Catherine Delahunty, joined SA's Frank Doleman in outlining the need for a united front to resist the effects of the international crisis in capitalism and the new government's attacks on workers and the poor. Leading activists from the Workers Party, Greens on Campus, the National Distribution Union, the Residents Action Movement, the CWG and the CL also spoke from the floor. All agreed that we could work together round the slogan "We won't pay for their Crisis".

The next day saw this new unity in action, where activists from Socialist Aotearoa, the Workers Party, Greens on Campus and Unite joined a vocal picket of John Key's Auckland mansion, as his government rammed through the 90 Days Fire at Will Law.

Thursday December 18th saw the United Front convene again in Unite Union's Morningside HQ, where Mike Treen gave a powerful lead off that critiqued the inadequacy of the response from the so called Opposition Labour Party, and the need for a fighting left alternative. That alternative will now-

(a) Call a National Day of Action against this government and its attacks on workers rights, in particular the 90 Days Fire at Will law, on Saturday Febuary 28th 2009.

(b) Build this day of action through all our union, community, college and political networks, and organise mass postering, leafleting, stickers and badges to oppose the Fire at Will law. Activist stalls will take the word out to major markets, workplaces and city streets.

(c) the stalls will also collect pledges of resistance from those who want to do more than just sign a petition, who will then help staff a Rat Patrol which can picket, protest or occupy any workplace where a worker has been unjustly sacked using this law. This warning goes out to employers immediately.

(d) organise a major weekend conference on the Global Economic Crisis in mid or late March, with respected international critics of capitalism and a wide range of speakers from Aotearoa's fighting left, to help educate and cohere the movement we bring out onto the streets on Feb28.

The stakes are very high for our class. Already, redundancies are mounting, and the employers are preparing to flex their muscles in the workplaces as they begin stripping us of our work rights. And sorry, Chris Trotter! The Labour Party leaders have failed us- the answer to the worst economic crisis since the 1930s is not Phil Goff...

The answer is building a powerful coalition of our community, political and union organisations to resist them on the streets and in every workplace facing their attacks. We need to learn the lessons from workers in other countries who are already resisting the Crisis. Factory occupations in Chicago got the goods against redundancies imposed by the banks- a tactic that we should educate NZ workers facing the sack about. Irish teachers, pensioners and students have had mass street protests and fought back against cutbacks in public services- which is what we now face in Tory controlled Auckland City and with increases in the ACC levy. And the economic crisis has seen scenes in the cities of Greece not glimpsed since the heady days of Paris, May 68, as a generation of students and young people are joined by the organised working class in what 62% of Greeks refer to as a national uprising.

FEB 28 2009
John Key's Honeymoon is over.
We won't pay for his Crisis!

If you want posters, stickers and badges for the protest, or need assistance building it in your town, please contact Joe at 021 1861450, email

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Auckland: no more Kwila protest against 4 seasons

Demonstrate Saturday against the sale of Kwila at the Four Seasons furniture outlet in Wairau Park.

After winning at Design Warehouse the campaign group will now focus on Four Seasons, with a demonstration outside their showroom this Saturday 20th December between 1pm and 3pm.

Solidarity with indigneous people struggling against murderous logging corporations who want to destroy the forest homes of the West Papuan tribes can only be manifested by making it uneconomic to stock Kwila. If logging at current rates continues, Kwila will be extinct in 35 years...

When: 1pm-3pm, 20 December 2008.
Where: 4 Seasons, 1/14 Link Drive, Wairau Park, Auckland.
Who: Rainforest Action Coalition
Contact: Transport will be going from Auckland city, email the above address to get a ride. For more info or to get involved.

This summer a rag-tag bunch of activists will attempt to impose a people's ban on the selling of Kwila in Auckland City, a mostly illegally logged rainforest hardwood sold across the Western world as outdoor furniture or decking timber. More info:

Click on image for a larger version


Indonesia is New Zealand's biggest source of tropical timber imports. Indonesia's forests are being logged faster than any other forested nation and globally deforestation contributes approximately 20 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, it is through this deforestation that Indonesia and Brazil are 3rd and 4th respectively as the world's biggest greenhouse gas emitters.

in the spirit of the Papuan anti-colonial and ecological resistance - NO MORE KWILA

Unite Union- Fighting the 90 Days No Work RIghts Law

6pm Thursday, Dec 18, Unite Office, 6a Western Springs Rd, Morningside

Campaign for Workers Rights in 09: Unite Union is calling a meeting for union activists and supporters of workers’ rights to come to an emergency meeting to start planning action for 09. The 90-day No rights Law and need to continue pushing for the minimum wage to go to $15 an hour are signals of the need for a coordinated effort. Many of the workers covered by the 90-day law will have no formal union representation but will need support.

Mike Treen

National Director, Unite Union
Organiser, Postal Workers Union Aotearoa

Unite Organising Centre

6a Western Springs Rd,

Morningside, Auckland, 1021

Ph: DD - 64 9 846 9485

Mobile - 64 29 525 4744

Ph: Office - 64 9 845 2132; Fax - 64 9 846 9509

Greece: The Struggle Continues!

by Greek Socialist Panos Garganas

The anger that exploded in Greece following the police killing of 15 year old Alexandros Grigoropoulos is still raging.
Workers’ strikes, student occupations, walkouts by school students, mass demonstrations and clashes with the police are intensifying the pressure on the right wing New Democracy government.
The shooting of Alexandros on Saturday 6 December has become a focus for all the discontent in Greek society – over job cuts, low wages and lack of opportunities.
Instead of dying down, as the government had hoped, the revolt has instead taken on a more organised form.
Teachers struck on Tuesday of last week over the killing, as Alexandros’s funeral took place. Thousands of school students also demonstrated.
A general strike of workers over the government’s austerity budget plans shook the country the following day.
Trade union leaders cancelled a march that was to take place in the centre of Athens and held a rally instead. But the Anti-Capitalist Left coalition went ahead with the march.
And it was massive – with several thousand joining it. The march reinforced the feeling that it is possible to act and to demonstrate – and that we will not let the police teargas us off the streets.
Many students refused to go to school the next day. They marched to the local police stations and attacked them.
When the police fought back, local people intervened on the side of the students to help chase the police away.
A coordinating meeting of university students has called for a day of action and national demonstration on Thursday of this week. It also urged the unions to call a new strike.
Hospital workers are already planning to strike on that day against cuts and privatisation, and the teachers’ union is also expected to join the action.
The Greek TUC has called a demonstration outside parliament for Friday of this week, as that is the day of the budget debate.
The following day there will be an anti-racist demonstration against recent attacks on Pakistani immigrants.
While things may calm down over the Christmas period as schools and universities are closed, there are signs that the movement will re-emerge in the new year.
There is already a day of action planned for 12 January, when teachers will commemorate a colleague killed by right wing thugs during a wave of industrial action in 1991. The day will also now be used to remember Alexandros.
The revolt has intensified the government’s crisis. Its support is plummeting, with polls showing it trailing the centre left Pasok by 5 to 7 percent.
But the parliamentary left is in disarray. The Anti-Capitalist Left has argued that the riots should turn into an organised movement that could then overthrow the government.
The first part of this has happened. Now many people are pushing for the second part to take place.
There is a massive feeling in society that the government must go. So there is a big opportunity for the radical left—and we are trying our best to grasp it.
The solidarity protests across the world have shown us that we are not alone. People around the world should continue to stand with the uprising in Greece.

The following should be read alongside this article: » Greece in revolt» Voices from the Greek struggle» 1973: the student uprising that drove out the colonels in Greece
Panos Garganas is the editor of Workers’ Solidarity, a Greek revolutionary socialist newspaper.

South Korean Government hunts Socialist leader of Candlelight Movement

International Appeal in Defense of the South Korean Candlelight Movement

We would like to express our deep concern for the arrest of leading members of the candlelight movement against the import of US beef and the military-dictator-style repression against left organizations including the illegal military-operation-like search for another leading member of the movement and All Together, Kim Kwang-il.

With the arrest of Chairperson Lee Seok-haeng of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions on December 6, 2008, Kim Kwang-il became the last leading members of the candlelight movement on wanted list.

Described as the “great people’s power” by International Amnesty researcher Norma Kang Muico sent to investigate police violence against peaceful protestors, the candlelight movement against the import of US beef represents the mass of ordinary working people in South Korea including elementary school students to 80 years old seniors who wanted to express their concern about the violation of their food sovereignty and, most of all, their democratic rights.

Although the first protest on May 2, 2008, was triggered by the unilateral decision of President Lee Myung-bak (LMB) to resume the import of US beef that was banned with the credible reasons that it might be infected with mad cow disease, the protest quickly became the symbol of democracy and people’s power against the ‘profit, not people, first’ neoliberal policies of the LMB government and the extreme inequality prevalent in South Korea society. The movement reached a peak when more than a million people just in the greater Seoul area alone gathered on June 10 for a peaceful candlelight protest.

However, the LMB government responded with force repressing the peaceful protests. It discharged fire extinguishers and water cannon, wielded shields and batons, and crushed the people with military boots. Police Commissioner Eo Cheong-soo is leading what he proclaimed in the mainstream media “the real 80s military dictator style” violent repression.

In order to completely clamp down on all resistance, the LMB government resorted to bringing back the half-dead anti-communist national security law to life and attacking people’s rights of freedom of speech and assembly by arresting activists in far left and pro-North Korea organizations.

Currently, the police are carrying out an extensive military-operation-like search for Kim Kwang-il. Known to many as anti-war activist at home and internationally, Kim Kwang-il is also a leading member of All Together, a socialist organization in South Korea. The police raided and searched the office of All Together without proper warrant. Plain-clothes police are staked out in front of the office and have placed All Together’s internet homepage and other activities on constantly surveillance. Using the cell phone records of Kim Kwang-il, the police harassed and questioned more than 60 All Together members and others.

We demand that the Lee Myung-bak government and the police immediately stop military-dictator-style repression against the South Korean people’s democratic rights and release the arrested leading members and participants of the candlelight movement. Furthermore, the police must immediately clear Kim Kwang-il of any charge and stop the surveillance of All Together.

Please feel free to circulate this appeal and return signatures to

Monday, December 15, 2008

Thailand- the Cockroaches Take Over

Giles Ji Ungpakorn,
Turn Left Thailand

The appointment of "Democrat" Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva as the new Thai Prime Minister is the final stage of the second coup against an elected government. After the deliberate chaos created by the PAD's seizure of the airports, the courts stepped in to dissolve the hugely popular governing party for the second time. The Army chief then called a meeting of Democrat Party parliamentarians along with some of the most corrupt elements of the governing coalition parties. It is widely believed that the Army chief and others, threatened and bribed MPs to change sides. Chief among them is "Newin Chitchorp", who was named by his father after the infamous Burmese dictator.

The Democrat Party is known among the cyber community as the "Cockroach Party". This is because cockroaches live in filthy places and can survive even nuclear holocausts. The party has survived for many years, forming governments after various crises. These so-called Democrats have systematically backed anti-democratic measures. They supported the 2006 coup, the military constitution and the PAD. One Democrat Party MP was the leader of the mob that took over the international airport. Over the last 30 years, the Democrat party has never won an overall majority in parliament. It does not represent the people. During the Thaksin years it spent the whole time criticising the universal health care scheme and other pro-poor policies. After the 1997 economic crisis it used state money to prop up the banks and guarantee the savings of the rich, while telling the poor to fend for themselves and depend on their families. Even Abhisit's name in Thai means "privilege". He is an Oxford graduate from a wealthy family.

The first coup, on 19th September 2006, was a straight forward military coup, using tanks and soldiers wearing Royal yellow ribbons. The military junta tore-up the democratic constitution and replaced it with an authoritarian one. Half the Senate was appointed by the military and many so-called independent bodies were staffed by junta supporters. The military appointed themselves to lucrative state enterprise positions. Then they got the courts to dissolve the Thai Rak Thai Party despite the fact that it had won repeated elections.

Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai party was and remains hugely popular among the majority of Thais. This party introduced the first universal healthcare scheme and projects to stimulate village economies. The aim was to develop Thailand as a whole, increasing the education and health status of the general population, thus turning them into "stake-holders". This was a winning formula, an alliance between a pro-poor capitalist party and the poor, both urban and rural.

But Thaksin's modernisation plans, which also included major infrastructure development such as public transport projects for Bangkok, upset the Old Order. This "Old Order" is not headed by the King, as many commentators think. The Old Order is made up of local political mafias, the army, conservative judges and the Democrat Party. They were joined by businessmen like Sonti Limtongkul, who initially supported Thaksin, but fell out over personal interests. The PAD mobilised a fascist-style middle class mob to cause chaos. They seized the Government House, destroyed offices, stole weapons and then tried to close parliament. There final act was the take-over of the two international airports with the open support of the military. The PAD and the Old Order want to reduce democracy further. They want to reduce the number of elected members of parliament, stiffen Les Majesty laws and destroy the alliance between the poor and Thaksin. They are angry that the poor have become politicised. They hate the fact that state budgets were spent on healthcare, rural development and education. Instead they want to cling to their old privileges, espouse strict "Monetarism" (except for elite and military spending) and advocate that the poor should be "Sufficient" in their poverty. These people use neo-liberal free-market ideas in association with the King's "Sufficiency Economy" ideology. Their excuse for opposing democracy is their belief that the poor are too stupid to deserve the right to vote.

The Thai King has always been weak[1][1]. His status has been systematically promoted by military juntas and the elite in general. We are all socialised to think that the King is an "ancient Absolute Monarchy", while at the same time being within the Constitution. This picture of power creates a shell to protect the entire ruling class and the status quo under a climate of fear. The army especially needs such a legitimising shell because it is no longer OK for the military hold political power, unless it can claim to protect the Monarchy.

In previous political crises, such as in 1973 and 1992, the King only intervened late in the day after it was clear who had won. In the present crisis the King has remained silent and has not made any attempts to resolve the crisis. He missed his annual birthday speech on 4th December this year, claiming a sore throat.

The Royal dimension to this crisis is that it is a struggle between two elite groups. One side have been much more successful in claiming Royal legitimacy. But ironically this claim by the anti-Thaksin lot is causing a crisis for the Monarchy because it associates PAD violence and law-breaking with the Monarchy and the actions by the military have created an image that the Monarchy is against the majority of the population. The support shown by the Queen for the PAD has also angered or disappointed many Thais.

The new government will be made up of a coalition of some of the most corrupt and unprincipled politicians. This shows that the elites' opposition to Thaksin was never really about preventing corruption or vote buying, despite the fact that many ordinary middle-class people might have felt that it was. Even the Democrat Party has a history of vote buying and corruption. The Democrat governor of Bangkok had to resign recently under a corruption cloud. Yet the party was not dissolved by the courts. So far, Thaksin and his fellow politicians have only been found guilty of technicalities. No serious corruption charges have been proven. No evidence of real election fraud has ever been unearthed. In fact, Thaksin's party was reducing the importance of vote-buying through pro-poor policies. This is what angered the Old Order. It meant that they could only overthrow his government buy promising more to the poor or by using various means to organise coups.

There are a number of questions which need to be put to the new government:
1. Will the government punish PAD leaders for breaking the law, including the Democrat MP who took over the airport? Will the PAD be made to answer for the damage at Government House? Will the Democrats expel their MP who lead the airport occupation?
2. Will the military chiefs be sacked for breaking the law and intervening in politics. Will they be sacked for giving the green-light to the take-over of the airports and thus compromising airport security?
3. Will the government defend the undemocratic constitution or will it amend the constitution to increase democracy?
4. Will elections be held as soon as possible to allow the Thai population to have a say?
5. What serious measures will the government take in order to protect the poor from the economic crisis. What job creating policies do they have? How can they stop workers being sacked from factories. Will they increase wages and cut VAT in order to stimulate the economy? Will they increase taxation on the rich in order to help the poor?
6. Will the government punish state officials who murdered unarmed demonstrators in the South at Takbai during the Thaksin government? Will they withdraw troops and police so that a peaceful political solution can be achieved?
7. Will the government ensure a balanced media by allowing significant space for Red Shirt anti-government critics? Or will the government increase censorship and media bias? Will they repeal the les majesty law and allow public scrutiny and criticism of the courts?
Many of us can guess what the answers will be....

Friday, December 12, 2008

USA Factory Occupation- Victory at Republic!

Lee Sustar reports on the workers' big win in a factory occupation that made headlines across the U.S. and inspired union members and activists everywhere.

Supporters of workers at Republic Windows & Doors picket the Bank of America building in Chicago (Nicholas Kamm | AFP)

Supporters of workers at Republic Windows & Doors picket the Bank of America building in Chicago (Nicholas Kamm | AFP)

WITH A unanimous vote, workers at the Republic Windows & Doors plant in Chicago ended their six-day factory occupation late on December 10 after Bank of America and other lenders agreed to fund about $2 million in severance and vacation pay as well as health insurance.

"Everybody feels great," said a tired but beaming Armando Robles, president of United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers (UE) Local 1110.

Melvin Maclin, the local's vice president, agreed. "I feel wonderful," he said. "I feel validated as a human being. Everybody is so overjoyed. This is significant because it shows workers everywhere that we do have a voice in this economy. Because we're the backbone of this country. It's not the CEOs. It's the working people."

Pointing, he continued, "See that sign up there? Without us, it would just say 'Republic,' because we make the windows and doors. This shows that you can fight--and that you have to fight."

The settlement was a resounding victory for union members who were told a little more than a week earlier that the factory would be closed in less than three day's time--and that, contrary to federal law, they would get no severance pay.

So to pressure the company to make good on what it owed them, the workers voted to stay put after the plant ceased production on December 5.

By deciding to occupy their factory--a tactic used by labor in the 1930s, but virtually unknown in this country since--the Republic workers sparked a solidarity movement that forced one of the biggest banks in the U.S. to pay two months of wages and health care, even though the bank had no legal obligation to do so.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

WHAT BEGAN as a resolute act of some 250 workers quickly became a national symbol of working-class resistance in a crisis-bound economy. Hundreds upon hundreds of union members and officials--not only from Chicago, but around the Midwest--came to the Republic factory to express their solidarity and bring donations of food and badly needed funds.

But support for the Republic struggle went beyond the ranks of organized labor. The fightback crystallized mass anger about the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street. Even though Bank of America--Republic's main creditor--is in line to receive $25 billion in taxpayer money, the bank refused to finance the 60 days' pay due to workers under the federal WARN Act if a plant closes without the two-month notice required under the law.

Democratic politicians, from President-elect Barack Obama down to Chicago aldermen, felt the pressure to declare their support for the struggle.

Press coverage was affected as well. For once, the media not only highlighted the issues in a labor struggle, but also used its resources to investigate the employer. The Chicago Tribune reported that Republic's main owner, Rich Gillman, was involved in the purchase of a nonunion window factory in Iowa to move to. Journalists also uncovered evidence that Bank of America refused repeated requests to extend more credit to Republic, despite its infusion of bailout money.

Thus, when UE decided to make Bank of America the target of a December 10 rally, there was a ready response--about 1,000 people turned out on short notice.

"Since we're down here in the financial district, let's do a little mathematics," said Rev. Gregory Livingston of Rainbow/PUSH. "Bank of America got $25 billion. Citibank got $25 billion. Republic workers got how much? Zero.

"That's why we're here in the financial district. It's where the money is. The people work, and guess whose money is in these banks? Guess whose money is in the market? Guess whose money is in their pockets? It's our money."

But what was noteworthy about the picket wasn't the anger against the banks, but a palpable sense of workers' power. Members of a dozen different unions were on hand, as were student groups, socialists and community groups, all inspired by the Republic workers' bold stand.

Larry Spivack, regional director of AFSCME Council 31, summed up the mood in his speech. "Look around you," he told the crowd, naming the main financial institutions nearby. "Who created all their wealth?" he asked--and was answered by the chant, "We did!" "Who has the power?" "We do!"

Spivack continued: "This is a beginning, like when the Haymarket struggle took place in 1886," a reference to the Chicago martyrs in the struggle for the eight-hour workday. He concluded with a shout, "Power to the workers!"

A few hours later, back at the Republic plant, after workers heard the terms of the agreement and voted, Bob Kingsley, the national director of organization for UE, made a similar point in assessing the victory:

The significance of this struggle for the labor movement is that at a time when millions of American workers are facing greater and greater economic turmoil, and with it more and more instances of unfairness, there needed to be a clear symbol of resistance.

What the workers at Republic are is the face of that resistance. They personify the challenge that the working class faces in today's economy, but they also symbolize the hope that if we, as workers, stick together, if we fight together, and if we're willing to push the limits, we can achieve incredible things. And their victory comes at a time when the labor movement needs it.

The meaning of the Republic victory

Hundreds of people rallied in support of Republic workers outside the Bank of America in downtown Chicago (Bob Quellos | SW)

Hundreds of people rallied in support of Republic workers outside the Bank of America in downtown Chicago (Bob Quellos | SW-USA)

THE FULL implications of the workers' breakthrough victory at Republic Windows & Doors are still unclear, but a few lessons can already be drawn.

First, by occupying their plant, the workers--members of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) Local 1110--gained enormous leverage over the owners and their creditors. The action forced the company's banks to pay for severance pay legally required in a plant closure.

Overnight, a factory occupation--something usually reserved for labor history books on the 1930s and nostalgic speeches at union conventions--became a focal point for working class resistance amid a profound economic crisis.

There is, of course, an important difference with the workers' takeover of Republic and the most famous sit-down strike in U.S. history, the occupation of General Motors' main plant in Flint, Mich., in 1936-37. Unlike GM, which kept operating during the Great Depression of those years, Republic had shut its doors.

A better comparison for the Republic workers' action, therefore, may be the factory takeovers in Argentina and some other Latin American countries, where workers restarted production under their own control after management tried to shutter their plants during the recession of 2001.

The Republic workers didn't attempt to keep their plant operating--not least because management had already moved out some of the most important equipment, perhaps to the nonunion windows factory that the owners' family recently purchased in Iowa. The union has, however, established a "Windows of Opportunity" fund to explore the possibility of resuming production.

Nevertheless, by seizing control of the owners' property, the Republic workers demonstrated to the rest of the labor movement that workers' power is based at the point of production. In an era in which strike picket lines are more often symbols of protest than serious efforts to stop a company's operations, the Republic workers showed that more militant action can win.

The second key lesson of the Republic victory is the centrality of solidarity action.

Within days--if not hours--the occupation became national and even international news. By the end of the struggle, statements of support had appeared from labor organizations all over the world, including the main trade union federations in France and Japan.

At the local level, the factory entrance was the site of a running solidarity meeting involving a wide range of union leaders, union reform caucuses, rank-and-file activists, community organizations, radicals, socialists and religious groups. Organizers compared notes, strategized and made plans--not only to build support for Republic workers, but about other struggles as well.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

THE THIRD point to make about the struggle is that it showed how organized labor can speak for the interests of the entire U.S. working class, even though unions represent just 12.1 percent of workers and 7.5 percent in the private sector.

Thanks to the Republic workers' struggle, an ordinarily hostile national media focused on the fact that Republic's main creditor, Bank of America, had cut off the factory's line of credit despite the infusion of $25 billion of taxpayer money into that bank as part of Congress' bailout of Wall Street. Politicians and bankers, therefore, felt pressured to resolve the issue in workers' favor.

Ordinarily, workers in this situation can wait for years to receive the money due them--if they ever do. But Republic workers forced Bank of America and other creditors to come up with nearly $2 million in less than a week, even though the banks had no legal obligation to do so.

A fourth aspect of this victory is the key role of immigrant workers in the U.S. labor movement. The overwhelming majority of the Republic workforce is Latino, and most are immigrants. Yet in an increasingly repressive atmosphere of workplace immigration raids and deportations, these workers were willing to risk arrest or worse in order to stand up for themselves.

The big marches against anti-immigrant laws played a role in boosting workers' confidence. "We learned that we had rights," one worker said.

Finally, the Republic struggle underscored the fact that class-struggle, social-movement unionism must be at the heart of any serious revival of the labor movement. After decertifying a mob-dominated union, the workers brought in UE, a union with radical roots in the 1930s.

UE eventually grew to be the largest union in the old Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), before withdrawing amid the anti-communist witch-hunts. In the 1950s, UE was raided by rivals in the AFL and CIO, and greatly reduced in size.

Today, it numbers just 35,000 nationally--a far smaller number than in the vast, bureaucratic "locals" of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). And where SEIU seeks clout through political deals and partnership with employers, UE promotes democratic, militant unionism.

The victory at Republic flowed directly from the rank-and-file union democracy practiced in UE Local 1110. If the Republic workers' win has an impact on the rest of the labor movement, it will be because more union members follow their fighting example.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Greek mass movement rises up against the State

Greek socialist Panos Garganas speaks about the demonstrations shaking Greece

The furious response to the police killing of a 15 year old boy in Athens last Saturday has seen mass protests, strikes and student walkouts rock Greece's right wing government.
Police shot Alexandros Grigoropoulos in the Exarchia area of the capital city on Saturday evening.
The killing has provoked rage among workers and students already angry at the government's neoliberal economic policies.
Immediate protests broke out as news spread. The police attacked the demonstrators and people smashed up the centre of the city.
While much of the international media has focussed on the riots, they have virtually ignored the mass movement sweeping Greece's streets and workplaces. This has successfully targeted anger against the government.
Large demonstrations took place across the country on Sunday calling for the resignation of the interior minister and punishment for the police involved.
There was a mass walkout by school students in around 100 areas on Monday morning. They then protested outside local police stations.
The atmosphere was very similar to that of March 2003 when tens of thousands of young people spontaneously walked out of schools to demonstrate against war in Iraq.
The anger has spread throughout the population. Over 40,000 people joined a demonstration in Athens this Monday evening against the killing – called by the anti-capitalist left.
There was a separate demonstration by the Greek Communist Party nearby, but there were so many people that the two protests merged into one.
The government has a clear strategy – to use the police to break up demonstrations, leaving people to riot. It is shutting down colleges and schools in an attempt to stop people coming together to organise.
The police attacked Monday night's demonstration with teargas, and smoke and percussion grenades, forcing people to disperse.
Large groups of young people then engaged in a running battle with the authorities. There were other protests across the country on Monday that followed this formula.
The government is hoping that public opinion will harden against the rioters and the situation will calm down. But workers and students have taken the lead in turning up the heat on the government.
There were stoppages in local authorities on Monday as workers attended mass meetings, which voted for resolutions supporting the young people against the police.
The teachers' unions in primary and high schools struck on Tuesday of this week, the day of Alexandros's funeral, so that students could attend the funeral. The lecturers' union called a three-day strike from Monday of this week.
University students have been at the forefront of the struggle against the government's plans to privatise higher education.
There was a three-day occupation of the colleges last week – a continuation of the movement that rocked Greece 18 months ago.
The unions have also called a general strike for Wednesday of this week against the government's budget, which will give 28 billion euros to the bankers.
This is a very explosive mix for the unpopular government. It has been rocked by a series of scandals – two ministers were forced to resign earlier this year over their roles in land deals between the state and a wealthy monastery.
A year ago the government called a snap election as it faced a wave of student occupations against its education plans. It won a small majority and thought this would get it out of its mess.
But now the government is in even worse trouble than before. The police officers responsible for Alexandros's killing have been arrested and the government has said that they will be punished. But their first response was an attempt to cover up the killing.
The police claimed they had been attacked and then fired a warning shot that ricocheted, hitting Alexandros. But there were too many witnesses who have said it was a direct shot. The government had to move against the police in an attempt to calm the anger.
The mood is such that even shopowners who have had their windows smashed made sympathetic comments, such as, "It is no time to talk of compensation as a young boy has just died."
Things are collapsing at the top of society, while people on the ground are in a fighting mood.
Greek government tries to push through cuts
The Greek government is attempting to push through a series of austerity measures in response to the growing crisis.
It is making cutbacks to public services, and introducing pension reform and privatisation. Workers' anger over rising job losses and high inflation has led to this week's general strike.
The Greek TUC is under pressure to produce action against closures and privatisation. The country's parliament is voting on a budget which will give billions of euros to the bankers, in the week before Christmas.
The unions are calling for strikes and demonstrations – and the wave of protests will continue until Christmas and probably into the new year.
Greece has a long history of distrust of the state. A US backed military junta ruled the country between 1967-74. The 1973 student revolt soon turned into a general uprising against the regime – leading to its collapse.
Since 2004 there have seen a wave of struggles against Kostas Karamanlis's right wing government. These have included demonstrations by short-term contract workers for permanent jobs. These, and the last week's events, have weakened the government.
Panos Garganas is the editor of Workers Solidarity, Socialist Worker's sister paper in Greece

France's New Anti-Capitalist Party

Alain Krivine of the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR) spoke to the British Socialist Worker about the conference in January that will found a new party, now known as the New Anti-capitalist Party (NPA).

Alain explained that the new party has emerged out of a period of consultations involving some 400 local committees across France.
These meetings have involved tens of thousands of people in a discussion on forming a party that can give expression to growing anger at the neoliberal policies of president Nicolas Sarkozy.
The meetings have drawn in activists from the women’s, anti-racist and environmental movements as well as communists, socialists, revolutionaries and libertarians.
Alain said that the size and diversity of the meetings has raised the confidence of the revolutionary left in France.
He said, “For many people this is a new experience, as they have never been in a political organisation. It is taking time to explain the work we need to do, how parties work, and even the vocabulary that is being used.
“These people are shaping the foundations of this new party.
“Many of the discussions, especially with the young people, are on questions such as whether we should be part of trade unions – many of them feel that union leaders have betrayed us.”
In an open letter to members and sympathisers the LCR recently announced, “We want to establish a new political movement more important than our party.
“One that will have a presence in all schools, colleges and universities, towns villages and working class areas.
“Even though the new party has not yet been officially launched we are already part of the politics in France.
“Whenever there is a political debate on the radio or TV we are invited on.”
The most well-known person in the LCR is Olivier Besancenot, a postal worker and the LCR’s presidential candidate. Besancenot is a regular guest on political talk shows and debates.
There have been huge movements in France over the past few years against the European Constitution – which was defeated – and a new labour law that attacked young and part-time workers.
Social discontent among the belts of misery that surround most French towns and cities exploded into weeks of rioting in 2005.
The new party will be launched during a period of deep crisis in capitalism, Alain said.
Its main aim is to give a political and organisational expression to this mood of rebellion and defiance.
“It has become a real political subject across the left in France,” Alain said.
“The Socialist Party and the Communist Party have had to take account of this new party.
“It is already involved in the social campaigns and the strikes. Already on demonstrations we have contingents marching behind the NPA banner.
“Next June we expect to stand candidates in the European elections.”
Discussions about the NPA’s formation have now reached a crucial stage as “initiative committees” will produce three documents to be presented at the founding conference of the party at the end of January.
Alain explained, “The first document will set out our programme.
“It is not definitive, but it will outline some of the principles and political points of the new party.
“There are questions such as what kind of party we want, its links to the state, of reform and revolution, and so on.
“The second document includes political resolutions that will guide us for the next few months such as decisions concerning standing candidates in the upcoming European elections.
“The third document will set out how the party will function over the next two or three years.
“These will not be the statutes of the new party, as we need to spend more time on discussing the details.
“These documents will be presented to a vote at the congress which will then elect a leadership.”
Alain said that those involved in this new formation are feeling optimistic.
“Our confidence comes from the present situation – especially the economic crisis – because now many people understand that capitalism is not the only way to organise society.
“Many people also feel that with the political crisis inside the reformist left many members of the Socialist Party will join us.”

The following should be read alongside this article: » France: crisis and revolt

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Centrist Honeymoon is over- National Government Attacks Begin.

The honeymoon is over.

On the first day of parliament, John Key's new National Government announced it would ram through legislation before Christmas enabling employers to Hire and Fire workers at will during their first 90 days of employment. Over 100,000 workers at any time will be affected by the new bill, which will be pushed through parliament under urgency.

Those who argue that this government is centrist are providing a saccharin coating for the bitter pills a coming. Supporters of the Maori party within the union movement in particular face a major test of loyalty- to their new NAT-ACT coalition partners or to their fellow workers. The sheep's clothing is coming off the wolf, and workers need to be ready to respond to these attacks on our rights as soon as possible.

That's why Socialist Aotearoa has convened the "We won't pay for their Crisis" meeting at 7pm on Thursday night in Auckland's Trades Hall. We'll be joined by John Minto from Unite union and Catherine Delahunty, the new Green MP. We have also invited our comrades from the Workers Party, the Auckland Anarchist Network, RAM, the NDU and the EPMU to come and speak. W e appeal to you to make the effort and get there with your mates.

It's vital that the fighting left unites and gets politics out onto the streets and into the workplaces to defend our rights during what John Key called today "the worst financial crisis since the great Depression of the 1930s." The day before he was elected, Socialist Aotearoa heckled John Key on a photo-op walkaround in Auckland. The one question we kept asking him, was "who will pay for the Crisis, John? The bankers, or the workers?"

Now we've got our answer.

Fight the 90 Day Bill.

We Won't Pay for Their Crisis
Public Meeting convened by Socialist Aotearoa
with John Minto, Unite Union
Catherine Delahunty, MP Green Party
Frank Doleman, Socialist Aotearoa
and a wide representation of Auckland's fighting left.

7pm Thursday Dec 11th
Auckland Trades Hall,
147 GreatNorth Road
Grey Lynn
021 1861450

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Crisis USA- Workers Occupy Factory in Chicago

Lee Sustar reports from Chicago on an occupation by workers who want what's theirs from management and the Bank of America.

WORKERS OCCUPYING the Republic Windows & Doors factory slated for closure are vowing to remain in the Chicago plant until they win the $1.5 million in severance and vacation pay owed them by management.

In a tactic rarely used in the U.S. since the labor struggles of the 1930s, the workers, members of United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) Local 1110, refused to leave the plant on December 5, its last scheduled day of operation.

"We decided to do it because this is money that belongs to us," said Maria Roman, who's worked at the plant for eight years. "These are our rights."

Word of the occupation spread quickly both among labor and immigrant rights activists--the overwhelming majority of the workers are Latinos. Seven local TV news stations showed up to do interviews and live reports, and a steady stream of activists arrived to bring donations of food and money and to plan solidarity actions.

Management claims that it can't continue operations because its main creditor, Bank of America (BoA), refuses to make any more loans to the company. After workers picketed BoA headquarters December 3, bank officials agreed to sit down with Republic management and UE to discuss the matter at a December 5 meeting arranged by U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill), said UE organizer Leah Fried.

BoA had said that it couldn't discuss the matter with the union directly without written approval from Republic's management. But Republic representatives failed to show up at the meeting, and plant managers prepared to close the doors for good--violating the federal WARN Act that requires 60 days notice of a plant closure.

The workers decided this couldn't go unchallenged. "The company and Bank of America are throwing the ball to one another, and we're in the middle," said Vicente Rangel, a shop steward and former vice president of Local 1110.

Many workers had suspected the company was planning to go out of business--and perhaps restart operations elsewhere. Several said managers had removed both production and office equipment in recent days.

Furthermore, while inventory records indicated there were plenty of parts in the plant, workers on the production line found shortages. And the order books, while certainly down from the peak years of the housing boom, didn't square with management's claims of a total collapse. "Where did all those windows go?" one worker asked.

Workers were especially outraged that Bank of America, which recently received a bailout in taxpayer money, won't provide credit to Republic. "They get $25 billion from the government, and won't loan a few million to this company so workers can keep their jobs?" said Ricardo Caceres, who has worked at the plant for six years.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

THE MEMBERS of Local 1110 have a history of struggle. In 2004, they decertified the Central States Joint Board--a union notorious for corruption and sweetheart contracts with management--and brought in UE, a far more democratic organization.

In May of this year, Local 1110 mobilized for a contract by organizing a "practice" picket, and 70 workers used their lunch break to confront the boss with a petition listing their demands. The workers were able to turn back company's effort to win major concessions and won solid pay increases.Now, management is trying to get revenge by pocketing money that belongs to the workers.

UE officials and workers acknowledge that it will be difficult to stop the plant from closing. But they're determined to get the money owed to them--and they believe that by fighting, they can set an example for other workers facing layoffs and plant closures as the recession deepens.

Negotiations are set for Monday, December 8. Whatever happens, however, the workers have already sent a message to employers that if they violate workers rights and the law, they can expect a fight.

"This is a message to the workers of America," said Vicente Rangel, the shop steward. "If we stand together, we will prevail until justice is done, and we get what we're due."

What you can do

Members of Local 1110 need your support. Make checks payable to the UE Local 1110 Solidarity Fund, and mail to: 37 S. Ashland, Chicago, IL 60607. Messages of support can be sent to For more information, call UE at 312-829-8300.

At the Jobs with Justice Web site, you can send a message of protest to Bank of America.