Thursday, June 26, 2008
Unite Union is welcoming the government’s intention to provide moreprotection for casual and part-time employees. If it’s followed through itshould mean big improvements for workers employed under New Zealand’s worst employment contract. This contract covers workers in the foodcourt at AucklandInternational Airport. This year most of these workers received a 6% cut in paywhen the company cut standard shift hours from 40 to 37.5 hours per week. Thesecuts included workers who have worked at the site for many years. “These workers should be permanent but their contract treats them as casual with nofixed or guaranteed hours of work” says Unite Union National Director MikeTreen. “They don’t even have a finishing time for their shifts – just astart time”.The proposed new law will be welcomed by the union. “We are negotiating withthe company for a collective agreement but the changes they are offering so farare peripheral.” Workers took strike action 2 weeks ago and are consideringfurther action at union meetings this week.
Features of the contract include:
• Workers have a start time but no finish time. A worker could work for 1hour or 10 hours. Staff sent home early have no compensation for lost hours. Thecompany says "…the shift finishes when the supervisor releases the worker".This archaic attitude to workers runs through the whole employment relationship.
• There are no secure hours of work whatever. Even staff who have worked anaverage of 38 - 40 hours over several years are not given permanent positionsand have no guaranteed income.
• Over the years workers have repeatedly worked for up to 7 hours with nobreak whatever.
• The company has now agreed to workers working no more than 3 hours withouta break and have put in 15 minute breaks. However the company this year reducedthe average shift length to 7 1/2 hours so they don't have to give two 15 minutepaid breaks. This has also meant a 6% cut in pay for most employees.
• These workers are all on the minimum wage or a small amount above ($12.00to $13.25)• Workers can be rostered for up to 10 days in a row without consultation.The company running this contract is a joint venture between two high profileand very profitable companies - the Host Marriot Services Corporation andAuckland International Airport Limited. Unite Union has written to the AucklandCity Council and Manukau City Councils (these councils are shareholders inAuckland Airport) urging them as shareholders in AIAL to pressure to airport company to give these workers a fair go.
Mike Treen, National Director, Unite Union - Ph 029 525 4744
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Last message from the ISO's blog-
Saturday, June 07, 2008
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The situation in Zimbabwe continues to deteriorate.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai has sought refuge in the Dutch embassy, while the government crackdown on opposition supporters continues.
This followed the opposition’s withdrawal from the presidential run-off election, due to take place on Friday of this week, in the face of intimidation from Robert Mugabe’s governing Zanu-PF party.
More than 80 MDC activists have been killed during the campaign. There have been arbitrary arrests of civic leaders.
Fourteen leaders of the Women of Zimbabwe Arise (Woza) opposition group were detained for nearly a month for protesting at the delay in releasing the election results. Two of their leaders are still in detention.
NGOs have effectively been closed down by the regime – those providing food relief, drugs and support to Aids/HIV patients have been particularly hit.
But the MDC has borne the brunt of the attacks. Tsvangirai has been repeatedly arrested, his rallies banned and campaign buses impounded.
The state-controlled media is ignoring the MDC, while people are being forced to remove satellite dishes to prevent them from viewing media independent of the state.
Detained MDC secretary-general Tendai Biti faces treason charges, which carries the death penalty.
In the face of the crisis, some in the Western media have called for military intervention. Such intervention is extremely unlikely as military leaders are aware that Western troops would face mass hostility – not just from people in Zimbabwe but from all surrounding countries.
As Britain is the former colonial power, any British troops would be viewed as imperial invaders.
Zimbabweans are suffering terrible hardship, not just from repression, but also from economic collapse.
But they are only too aware that it was Western-imposed structural adjustment programmes that began the country’s economic crisis in the 1990s.
No African Union or regional Southern African Development Community (SADC) negotiators would consider military intervention. Their preferred solution is the establishment of a government of national unity, which would include Mugabe, his supporters and the MDC.
They point to Kenya, where violence has subsided following the recent election crisis after the appointment of a government with both the sitting president and the opposition.
But rather than end political violence, a government of national unity would integrate it into the political structure. The relative support for each party would not affect its representation.
All trade unions and left organisations reject the call for a government of national unity, arguing that it would benefit the elite and further distance the country from any real democracy. It also disarms any mass action that could challenge the corruption at the top.
It is a tragedy that the general strike it called in April against the fixing of the election results collapsed within a day.
The workers of Zimbabwe are still enormously powerful and mass action would be the most effective way to challenge Mugabe.
However the movement faces a real problem of direction. It is no small thing to go out on strike against a repressive regime in a time of severe hardship. The leadership offered by the MDC was at best vacillating, and often non-existent.
Since the MDC was founded it has steadily moved away from its trade union roots to embrace neoliberalism. It is hardly a surprise that workers do not see the party as a reliable leadership.
Repression has been stepped up since the failure of the strike. But Zanu-PF has not had everything its own way. Groups of opposition supporters have fought them on the street in areas like Epworth, Bikita, Zaka and Chimanimani. But these were isolated actions, with no central leadership.
The International Socialist Organisation of Zimbabwe commented that, “the alternative is a regrouped united front of civic society and the opposition to launch a serious and determined programme of civil disobedience and mass action.
“Any struggle that fails to do this will be outflanked on its left by this crafty regime, which has shown strong capacity to cynically manipulate the poor’s concerns and demonise the opposition as a stooge of the West.
“Without such a united front and a pro-poor, pro-working people and anti-capitalist ideology we shall not prevail against this regime.”
We have all been sickened at the callous brutality in the killing of New Zealander Navtej Singh last week.
This father of three young girls was shot during a botched robbery of his bottle store in Manurewa.
This was not a planned, premeditated crime. It was a hapless, pathetic attempt to get booze and cash.
There is argument about the police response and the time taken before clearance was given for an ambulance to tend to Singh but while issues like this are important, they are dwarfed by the bigger picture.
For a long time now, we have been on a relentless downward spiral of social breakdown.
More than any other developed country we are undergoing nothing less than the transformation of New Zealand into a mini-America, a place where the rewards are great for the few while hopelessness grows for the many.
We tend to think other countries are on the same path but we are well ahead on the road to riches and desperation.
The gap between rich and poor has grown more quickly here than in any developed country over the past 20 years. We have the least regulated economy in the developed world but while we have low unemployment, this merely masks the degree of poverty and alienation associated with the working poor who inhabit our low-income communities.
But still we feign shock and outrage when the social consequences of economic policy repeatedly smack us in the face.
We tend to respond in much the same way as the United States. We want the Government to harden up on crime. Our major political parties, and most of the minor parties, compete to see who can be the toughest on lawbreakers. More and more extreme measures are proposed and then adopted into policy because the greatest political dread is to be seen as soft on crime. The mindless cry of the many is for tougher parole, more prisons and harsher sentences.
So while we worry about underfunded schools, long hospital waiting lists and poor public transport, we never question the amounts spent on the bottomless, dead-end pits which are our prisons. Already in the developed world we rank second only to the US in the proportion of our population in jail. We will surely overtake them if we try just a little bit harder.
The same people who want more in prison also applaud the arming of the police with pepper spray, guns, rifles and Tasers, and are ready to extend police powers at the drop of a hat. Civil liberties are for pansies, they say.
Lobby groups, well funded by the corporate sector, advocate for harsher sentences. Until, of course, someone is charged with the murder of a tagger when suddenly these same people spring to the defence of the man charged and claim the murdered tagger got what he deserved.
All this serves to divert attention from the reasons for rising crime. We need to accept that the increased crime we face goes hand in hand with extreme free-market economic policies.
It’s no coincidence that New Zealand’s economic policies more closely resemble the US market model than other developed countries which have not suffered social breakdown to the extent New Zealand has. The simple truth is there is a strong correlation between the degree of free-market economic policies and the degree of social breakdown. The US and New Zealand have big doses of each. Countries such as Australia have more moderate amounts of each and so it goes through to Scandinavian countries which have much more modest amounts of both.
So while there’s never any excuse for vicious criminal activity, neither is there any excuse for us not to recognise this relationship.
The unregulated free market has seen our low-income communities flooded with pokie machines, loan sharks, bottle stores and the garish glare of fast-food outlets. Community attempts to control these have been ignored by political parties which have been happy for this unregulated market activity to flourish on the backs of poor families and poor communities. Our leafy suburbs are not afflicted by these parasitical services.
Labour is unlikely to form the next government and future historians will point to its failure to deliver policies to build dignity and respect for families and communities. Just this year, Labour reduced business tax by 9.1 per cent while the working poor, facing big increases in the cost of living, will receive around 3%. Beneficiaries have received nothing and the 180,000 New Zealand children living in poverty is the result.
Some applaud New Zealand’s rush to become a US lookalike. The rest of us should ponder the cost.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
- Red Rosa now has vanished too. (...)
- She told the poor what life is about,
- And so the rich have rubbed her out.
- May she rest in peace.
Of Rosa Luxemburg, Trotskyist writer-historian Isaac Deutscher wrote: "In her assassination Hohenzollern Germany celebrated its last triumph and Nazi Germany its first."
Rosa Luxemburg was one of the greatest revolutionary socialists of the 20th Century. Come to the Workshop organised by Socialist Aotearoa to discuss her life and involvement with the German Revolution, and the questions that this raised- reform or revolution, the power of the mass strike, the Dialectic of Spontaneity and Organisation, what kind of revolutionary organisation do workers need, and the treacherous role of Social Democracy using nascent fascist forces in Germany to murder her and her comrades.
The workshop will start with a presentation by our own Chris Hoffmeier, a militant of the Marx21 group within Germany's Die Linke party, and will then break into smaller discussion groups of four or five to facilitate wider debate. Handout material will be supplied, and there will be a short film screening. Then we will give Comrade Chris a good seeing off in Tom Forde's on Anzac Ave, as he leaves Aotearoa to continue the work of Rosa and the German revolutionaries.
'Order reigns in Berlin!' You stupid henchmen! Your 'order' is built on sand. Tomorrow the revolution will already 'raise itself with a rattle' and announce with fanfare, to your terror:
I was, I am, I shall be!"
Workshop: Red Rosa and the Lost Revolution
7-9pm Thursday 26th June
University of Auckland
Monday, June 16, 2008
Police clashed violently with anti war protesters last night at a rally against George Bush's farewell visit to Britain. Two hundred yards from Downing Street, where Mr Bush was dining with Gordon Brown, riot police confronted hundreds of ant-war protesters as they pushed against security barriers.
There were several injuries during the stand-off which began when more than 2,500 marchers converged outside the Houses of Parliament. The Metropolitan Police deployed 1,200 officers to protect the president.
A row of barriers had been erected across Whitehall - which runs past Downing Street.
That was backed up by two rows of policemen, two lines of police vans packed tightly across the road, and then a line of mounted police officers in front of another row of sturdy barriers.
There was a sea of placards with slogans denouncing the U.S. leader as demonstrators chanted 'George Bush: terrorist' to the beating of drums. Protesters who broke through the first line of barriers were seized by police officers, handcuffed and led away. Others wandered back from the front of the barriers, dazed and bloody. A 17-year-old girl was detained on suspicion of assaulting a police officer.
Protester Mary Robin, 61, said: 'There is never trouble at these things, but there were so many police officers it was like a war zone on our streets.' Suzanna Wylie, 29, from London, was left bleeding from a head injury. She said: 'We were standing near the front, the police shouted at us to move back, we tried but couldn't and they started hitting people on the heads with their truncheons. "It was frightening. I somehow got hit. I was caught between the police in front of me and people behind me who were throwing things at the police."
Members of the Stop War Coalition, CND and the British Muslim Initiative organised the rally which began with speeches from Tony Benn, Bianca Jagger and George Galloway.
Many protesters were angry they had not been allowed to march past Downing Street but a police spokesman said Whitehall had been closed for two wreath laying ceremonies and 'security reasons'.
The events on the streets deepened the shadow of war which hung over Mr Bush's visit yesterday.
In Afghanistan, the bodies of Lance Corporal James Bateman and Privates Jeff Sean Doherty, Nathan Cuthbertson, Charles David Murray and Daniel Gamble were put aboard an RAF plane and will arrive home today. The five paratroopers were killed in two Taliban attacks within seven days - the regiment's worst week of losses since the Falklands conflict a quarter of a century ago.
In London, Downing Street was quick to deny a split with the U.S. after the president appeared to warn against British attempts to accelerate troop withdrawal from Iraq. Then, at last night's dinner, it looked as though the Prime Minister might be offering Mr Bush a history lesson with three academics - Simon Schama, Sir Martin Gilbert and David Cannadine - as guests.
Professor Schama, presenter of the BBC's History of Britain series, has described Mr Bush as 'an absolute fucking catastrophe'. He has said the American people felt a 'sense of moral nausea at the evils done in their name' in Iraq.
Mr Brown has been looking to speed up the withdrawal of British forces from Iraq, but has faced White House pressure to stay on. Britain still has 4,200 troops there. In an interview yesterday, Mr Bush opposed a timetable for withdrawal. 'Our answer is: there should be no definitive timetable.' No 10 rejected suggestions of a rift, pointing out that Mr Brown had long rejected an arbitrary timetable.
Bush will go on to Belfast before flying home. It is expected that he will get a similar reception there!
Saturday, June 14, 2008
Now Howard Zinn, historian Paul Buhle, and cartoonist Mike Konopacki have collaborated to retell, in vibrant comics form, a most immediate and relevant chapter of A People’s History: the centuries-long story of America’s actions in the world. Narrated by Zinn, this version opens with the events of 9/11 and then jumps back to explore the cycles of U.S. expansionism from Wounded Knee to Iraq, stopping along the way at World War I, Central America, Vietnam, and the Iranian revolution. The book also follows the story of Zinn, the son of poor Jewish immigrants, from his childhood in the Brooklyn slums to his role as one of America’s leading historians.
Shifting from world-shattering events to one family’s small revolutions, A People’s History of American Empire presents the classic ground-level history of America in a dazzling new form.
Friday Night was Fight Night as over a dozen workers from SkyCity Cinema in St Lukes Shopping Mall downed their popcorn scoops and walked out the front door, joining one of the most boisterous and celebratory picket lines seen in Auckland since the heady days of the SupersizeMyPay.Com campaign. Young Maori, Pasifika, Asian and Pakeha workers flew the flag and held their placards high, enlisting hundreds of honks of support from heavy traffic passing by. They were joined on the picket lines by members of Socialist Aotearoa and the Workers Party, as well as Unite Union's Matt McCarten and the NDU's Laile Harre.
A sour point to the night was reached when Westfield management enlisted the support of two young, heavily tattoed cops, to try and serve a trespass order on the Site Organiser Jared Phillips. The management felt that workers were not allowed to exercise their freedom of speech in the privatised social space of St Luke's Mall, and attempted to argue that chanting inside was illegal. Unite Union will be heavily contesting this claim, and hundreds of activists in Auckland stand ready to challenge Westfield if they try and deny young workers their democratic union rights in the next few weeks of the Popcorn Strike campaign.
The Cinema Workers strikes are an example to low paid workers everywhere to unionise, stand up with your mates and fight for better pay! Socialist Aotearoa will be txting supporters about the next lightning strikes- if you want to get to the picket line, txt
Tom at 0294455703
Friday, June 13, 2008
- Lisbon Treaty makes the EU more undemocratic
- Lisbon Treaty increases the militarisation of the EU and undermines Irish neutrality.
- Lisbon Treaty will lead to further privatisation of public services including health and education.
- Lisbon Treaty will create a Europe committed to the free market and competition and restrict the power of member states acting to defend the public sector and the welfare of citizens.
A total of 53.4 per cent voted to reject the treaty, while 46.6 per cent voted in favour. All but 10 constituencies rejected the treaty, with a total of 752,451 voting in favour of Lisbon and 862,415 votes against. Turnout was 53.1 per cent.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen's constituency of Laois Offaly was last to declare a result and voted in favour of the treaty.
Tallies from early on in the count this morning showed the No campaign appeared to be winning in most constituencies across the State, with significant majorities emerging from rural and urban working class areas in particular.Luxembourg Premier and Finance Minister Jean-Claude Juncker said the defeat of the Lisbon Treaty represents a new "European crisis."
Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, urged all EU states to back the treaty, which is due to come into force on 1 January 2009.
He said the reforms would strengthen the EU to meet global challenges.
Fourteen countries out of the 27 have completed ratification so far.
European leaders have said that they have no "plan B" for how to proceed if Ireland's electorate does vote No.
"If the Irish people decide to reject the treaty of Lisbon, naturally, there will be no treaty of Lisbon," French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said on Thursday night.
More info as it develops HERE.Kieran Allen, from VoteNo.ie has claimed that the surge in support for the NO side shows that the strategy of the Yes campaign has backfired.
'The political establishment thought they could turn this campaign into a vote for or against the EU. They refused to accept that it was a referendum on what kind of Europe people wanted. They deliberately dodged the details about what was contained in the treaty and treated their opponents as if they were 'irrational'.
'They have failed to address real concerns about the erosion of neutrality, attacks on workers’ rights and a trend towards greater privatisation.
'I expect that the Yes side will resort to a combination of fear-mongering and concessions in the coming week.'We will be told that Ireland will be marginalised; that foreign investment will be scared away; that the No campaign is run by the 'extreme' left or right. The No campaign will need to intensify its efforts and educate ever more people on the dangers the Lisbon Treaty poses to a 'social Europe ' and to Irish neutrality.
Irish Union UNITE on reasons why Irish workers voted No.
CNN coverage HERE
It has been 30 years since the eviction of the Ngāti Whaatua and their supporters from Bastion Point- a lot of memories to reflect but still wariness that history could repeat itself.
Watch the Native Affairs Documentary from Maori TV HERE
Thursday, June 12, 2008
WHAT ARE THE POPCORN STRIKERS FIGHTING ABOUT? INFO HERE
Popcorn strike heats up
Management were forced to step in after 26 staff at SkyCity's WestCity Shopping Town cinema in Henderson, took to the streets at 6pm yesterday, in support of a pay increase and secure working hours.
The action has been dubbed the "popcorn" strike after staff requested cinema patrons to show support for their cause by boycotting buying food from confectionary stands.
Unite Union national director Mike Treen said today that further industrial action would continue over the next month.
"SkyCity put out a statement saying they pay the industry rate – well, they rule half the industry and that's the problem," he said.
"Eventually the entire movie industry will be involved. We are already negotiating with the other players including Reading and Hoyts."
Members were asking for an hourly rate of $12.20, moving up to $13.10 after two years' service, as well as guaranteed work hours.
Mr Treen said the public reaction to yesterday's picket was overwhelming.
"[The workers] had big signs up saying 'toot for support', 'for secure hours', 'against low pay', and the toots were deafening."
Mr Treen said when the workers went back to work they were met with big lines after senior management had tried to fill the strikers' shoes.
The union was willing to re-enter negotiations at any time but he did not believe SkyCity took its workers seriously.
"In our negotiations with them they were contemptuous and dismissive of any idea that these workers deserved greater rights."
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Food prices increased 1.0 percent in the May 2008 month. The increase was mainly due to higher prices for the fruit and vegetables subgroup (up 3.8 percent), non-alcoholic beverages (up 2.6 percent) and grocery food (up 0.5 percent).
Within the fruit and vegetables subgroup, the main contributor to the 3.8 percent increase was higher prices for vegetables (up 11.0 percent), driven in particular by tomatoes (up 25.9 percent), lettuce (up 34.5 percent) and broccoli (up 37.3 percent). Fruit prices (down 6.1 percent) made a downward contribution to this subgroup, driven by lower prices for mandarins (down 46.5 percent) and kiwifruit (down 47.6 percent).
For the year to May 2008, food prices rose 6.8 percent. All five subgroups recorded upward contributions, with the most significant upward contribution coming from higher prices for the grocery food subgroup (up 11.8 percent). Within this subgroup, the main contributions came from higher prices for fresh milk (up 21.5 percent), cheddar cheese (up 59.4 percent), bread (up 13.9 percent) and butter (up 80.1 percent).
Peter Conway, Economist
New Zealand Council of Trade Unions - Te Kauae Kaimahi
The 700,000 on the huge candlelight demonstration in Seoul, on Tuesday (Pic: All Together)
More pictures HERE BBC video of gigantic protest HERE
by CJ Park in Seoul
Up to a million people gathered across South Korea on Tuesday of this week to commemorate the 21st anniversary of the 1987 June Struggle.
The June Struggle was a milestone in the history of democracy in South Korea. It ended the military dictatorship and brought many democratic reforms.
Above all, it gave working people confidence that they have the power to stop oppression and exploitation. It inspired a generation of social and political activists.
This year, however, people are not just commemorating what happened 21 years ago.
Instead, they are re-enacting the struggle in real life – and many are hoping to bring down the current right wing government of president Lee Myung-bak.
The candlelight protest movement that began in early May started as a campaign against the new government’s decision to lift the ban on US beef imports – which are rightly seen as risking mad cow disease and as dangerous to people’s health.
The movement has now grown to became a mass protest for democracy and wider change.
More than 200,000 people gathered in the centre of Seoul last Saturday to support a 72 hour siege of the City Hall plaza which continued over the long holiday weekend.
Candlelight protests were also held in more than 100 cities nationwide and even in some cities abroad. Protests have been met by riot police.
Families camped out on the lawn of City Hall plaza. People marched toward the presidential house round the clock demanding the president step down.
“Lee Myung-bak Out” was the most popular slogan. High school students chanted “No US Mad Cows” and “Down, Down Lee Myung-bak”. University students and organised workers are calling for a strike.
Amazingly, it is not the end of a presidential term. The president has been in office for just over 100 days.
His recent “popularity” rating was only 16 percent. Clearly, the Lee Myung-bak government is in a deep crisis.
This crisis started as soon as he took office.
The new president gave government posts to his close friends and allies, congregation members of his church, and those living in the wealthy area of Kangnam who got rich by illegal speculations in real estate.
In particular when Lee Myung-bak gave cabinet posts and presidential staff jobs to the rich of Kangnam, people realised that the government is made up of people who are living in a completely different world from ordinary working people.
Most people feel that the government doesn’t even try to understand the reality of working people’s lives.
To add insult to injury, the Lee Myung-bak government showed its stubborn determination to go ahead with widespread privatisation of the public sector and the planned construction of a major grand canal project.
More than 70 percent of South Koreans now oppose this project. They fear that it will bring environmental disaster.
The government’s business friendly policies are transferring the heavy burdens of oil and food price rises to the poorest people.
It is marketising state schools, which will encourage competition among students and between schools.
This is the backdrop to the current mass protests in South Korea. The struggle for democracy has been revived.
Ordinary working people of South Korea will once again show that the real power belongs to us and not to the rich.
CJ Park is a member of the All Together socialist group in South Korea
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
A-Z of Socialism article by Mark Thomas, June 2008
"...for the first time [it] awoke feeling and class-consciousness in millions upon millions as if by an electric shock... the proletarian mass... quite suddenly and sharply came to realise how intolerable was that social and economic existence which they had patiently endured for decades in the chains of capitalism. Thereupon there began a spontaneous general shaking of and tugging at these chains."
This is Rosa Luxemburg's description in The Mass Strike of the impact of the strike wave that swept the Russian Empire in January and February 1905.
More mass strikes followed in October and December, leaving the Tsar's autocratic regime battered if not yet overthrown. In all there were 23 million strike days in Russia during 1905, far outnumbering anything seen previously in Russia or the more advanced industrialised countries.
For the first time the strike weapon was the central driving force of a revolution. The experience of the Paris Commune in 1871 had been full of lessons for Karl Marx, not least that workers could not simply lay hold of the existing state machine, but had to smash it. But strikes were marginal, reflecting the predominance of small scale artisanal workshops in the city. Now the mass strike revealed itself, in Luxemburg's words, as "the method of motion of the proletarian mass, the phenomenal form of the proletarian struggle in the revolution".
The experience of revolution throughout the course of the 20th century vindicated this insight time and again. There were revolutionary mass strikes in Russia in 1917, Germany in 1918-23, Italy in 1920, Hungary in 1956, France in 1936 and again in 1968, Iran in 1978-79 and Poland in 1980.
Luxemburg was concerned above all to draw out the lessons of 1905 for the German working class, the most powerful of her day.
In "normal" periods, outside of revolution, a division between politics as the realm of parliamentary representation and economics as the sphere of trade union bargaining is deeply entrenched. In both, workers are often passive by-standers, only occasionally asked to participate in elections or in limited strike action to strengthen the hand of the union negotiators. The mass strike sweeps all this aside, as workers enter the struggle on their own behalf, and barriers between economics and politics are dissolved.
It is not just that militant economic struggles can lead to clashes with the state, its laws and police, but mass political strikes provide a huge stimulus to economic strikes, especially among sections of workers who previously had little or no tradition of militancy or even union organisation. The "ceaseless reciprocal action" between economic and political issues in mass strikes acts to constantly recruit new forces to the battle, as new groups of workers stir, and raise their own demands, perhaps for the first time.
This leads to a point Luxemburg makes in response to the arguments put forth by the trade union leaders of her day, and ours. "How can a mass strike be attempted without the overwhelming majority of workers being already unionised and with full trade union treasuries to ensure hardship doesn't drive workers back to work?" cried the leaders of Germany's well organised unions. Luxemburg responds that it is the mass strike itself that draws new groups of workers into union organisation, in a way the normal course of trade union affairs could never do.
In Russia a "feverish" work of unionisation set in after the first mass strikes of 1905. The strikes and factory occupations in 1936 in France saw the membership of the main trade union federation, the CGT, rise from 1 to 5 million. Luxemburg gives one condition for this: the strikes must be "fighting strikes" that really threaten to settle accounts with the exploiters. When they are top-down strikes, controlled in scope and duration, they will tend at best to be limited to those already encompassed by trade union organisation.
Mass strikes, Luxemburg observes, above all change workers themselves and on a scale and with a speed years of socialist propaganda alone could never achieve. In January 1905 workers petitioned the Tsar and called him "little Father"; by December a significant minority were determined to overthrow him. Through the mass strike workers cease to be the passive victims of capitalism and become an active revolutionary force.
The Mass Strike took fire above all at the powerful layer of trade union officials in Germany who reacted in horror to any hint that the "Russian" methods might be contemplated at home. In "backward" Russia, where workers lacked legal rights, such militant methods might be suitable, but they were wholly inappropriate, dangerous even, in "advanced" Germany. Luxemburg's book was a devastating attack on this complacent outlook.
But Luxemburg underestimated the danger the trade union bureaucracy - and its allies inside the Social Democratic Party - represented. She argued they would be "swept aside" if they resisted the mass strike once it was in motion. But the roots of reformism go much deeper than this suggests, and the capacity of the trade union bureaucracy to derail even the most powerful strike movement has been proved repeatedly.
But, finally, we should also note that more than once a strike begun as a bureaucratic manoeuvre, initiated and controlled from above, has turned into something much more militant. In May 1968 a one-day general strike called by reluctant trade union leaders in solidarity with students facing de Gaulle's riot police turned, in the following days, into an enormous wave of factory occupations that challenged an advanced Western capitalism.
- The Mass Strike by Rosa Luxemburg
- Rosa Luxemburg by Paul Fröhlich
The Patterns of Mass Strike by Tony Cliff is available online.
Unite Union is asking cinema patrons to boycott the confectionary sold at cinemas in support of what the union calls a “popcorn strike” until their members are able to get a better pay offer from the Cinema employers.
Unite union members in the SkyCity Cinema chain have overwhelmingly rejected their employer’s final offer made in this year’s round of bargaining. “The so-called ‘offer’ was no more than the legal minimum wage for a majority of workers” said Unite National Director Mike Treen.
“If the offer was accepted cinema workers would be paid significantly less than those in the fast-food industry who are also represented by our union.
“Cinema attendants are asking for a very modest pay rise with more secure hours of work. All the company has offered these staff is a discounts on parlor ice cream!” said Mr Treen.
Mechelle Warlich, Unite delegate at Skycity’s Henderson complex said, “the company’s offer is laughable. The supervisors would lose their relativity against the minimum wage and the cinema attendants would get no service-pay, no matter how long they have been employed – so much for loyalty”.
Under the banner “Un-sexy Pay in the City” her site will be taking action at 6pm tonight, with attendants striking and asking movie-goers to boycott drinks and the candy bar. This strike represents the beginning of a campaign to lift the pay and conditions across all the cinema chains.
- Tom Buckley is Unite Unions’s national cinema organiser, he can be contacted for comment on 0294455703.
Monday, June 09, 2008
Foodcourt employees at Auckland International Airport walked off the job this morning, protesting what their union is calling "New Zealand's worst employment contract".
All the strikers are members of Unite, a union aimed towards low-income workers in the service industry.
Unite's National Director, Mike Treen, says their contract with the airport is "positively medieval".
"These workers are vulnerable in the first place. They are mainly Maori, Pacific and recent migrants. They deserve a fair go."
According to Mr Treen, foodcourt employees have no secure hours, can be asked to work up to 10 days in a row without consultation and in the past were forced to work for up to seven hours without a break. Their employer, a joint venture between Host Marriot Services Corporation and Auckland International Airport recently began allowing breaks, but Mr Treen says the shifts were reorganised in order to minimise the number employees could take.
The strike, assisted by veteran campaigner John Minto, began at 11am this morning.
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