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(en) [Copied from: prol-position] tram-drivers [EXCERPT + addition]

From las kalinkas <laskalinkas@yahoo.de>
Date Tue, 25 Feb 2003 20:47:51 +0100 (CET)

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

Hi, it took us a while to update the website due to
all the stuff that's going on against the war...

This report went online today:

tram drivers' strike in prague
The tram-drivers in Prague went on strike in January -
as many other bus-, metro- or tramdrivers in other
countries and cities recently. Behind these struggles
lies the attack on wages and conditions as part of the
so-called privatization. Comrades in Prague went to
the picket line and tried to understand the chances
and limits of the struggle.

For more click here: 

  [Letter from a comrade in Prague]

  The class struggle in the Czech Republic has so far
  been developing in its more hidden forms. Open
  conflicts are extremely rare. The capital city of
  Prague is bastion of right-wing politics and working
  class conservatism with the unemployment rate far
  below the state average (in this connection, it is
  good to mention, that in January of this year the
  average unemployment rate rose over 10 per cent - for
  the first time since 1940's!). The tram-drivers of
  Prague Public Transportation Company experience daily
  abuse and hard work - not that this make them
  exceptional. They are underpaid compared to their
  colleagues - bus and underground drivers. Moreover,
  the main feature of their job is extensive overtime
  working, which results from the fact, that their
  numbers (unlike with bus and underground divisions) by
  no means meet the needs of the transport. In 2001 some
  drivers, confronted with the the total impotence of
  old trade-union (which does not even worry with at
  least pretending the defence of its members), formed a
  new union Federation of tram-drivers, which
  immediately began to be more active in pursuing
  improvement of the work conditions. Now Federation
  covers 1/3 of drivers, another 1/3 is organised in
  traditional union, 1/3 is outside the unions. However,
  capital made a big mistake by refusing to recognize
  the Federation as another labour-market mediator, and
  since its beginnings, Federation has been marginalized
  and its members have been subjected to harder chicane.
  This leads to the ambiguous character of Federation,
  which has not been co-opted into capital on a full
  scale yet and still bears significant characteristics
  of spontaneity, which marked its formation. On the
  other hand, one can already see how the union form
  suppresses spontaneity - this fact was most obviously
  manifested on two occasions - firstly when union
  leaders (who otherwise still work as rank-and-file
  drivers) agreed to prolongation of negotiations with
  Transport Company, secondly when they argued against
  the strike as an extreme solution (however, after
  seeing the determination of drivers, they voted for
  the strike). 

  First attempts at organizing strike for better working
  conditions and higher wages appeared at the late
  summer of 2002. But then, Prague had been hit by
  floods and following solidarity of/with the affected
  workers was channeled into solidarity for capital and
  its rebuilding (and thus its reinforcement). So
  although Prague experienced transport collapse
  providing ideal conditions for staging sudden, quick
  and successful strike, the ideological attack was
  impossible to resist and tram-drivers postponed the
  strike. Actually, they were the core of provisonal
  traffic collapse solutions, after the destruction of
  underground system. Overtime hours raised incredibly. 

  With survival getting back to its routine, by December
  2002 the tram-drivers were again ready to strike. The
  demand of wage increase was posed rather
  unfortunately: to even up the wages of tram-drivers
  with the wage level of bus drivers. This functioned as
  a split factor among the Transportation Company
  employees, fully reinforced by the traditional unions,
  company managers and city representatives. As a
  result, bus drivers were ready to work as
  strikebreakers en masse. The officials of the
  bus-drivers section of the traditional trade-union
  even went so far as to threating with counter-strike,
  if the company would subject to the demands of
  tram-drivers (well, this was a way too absurd threat
  even for the bus-drivers and the rest of the union
  bureaucracy). On 5th of January, Federation
  represenatives held negotiations with company and
  agreed not to call strike and wait for the results of
  comparation study, which was supposed to compare the
  labour-intensity of the three drivers' professions.
  City Hall and its company used the gained time to
  launch media campaign against the tram-drivers, to
  reinforce divisons of the three drivers' proffesions
  and to prepare various measures for the case of strike
  (such as having work schedules ready for the strike,
  which counted on loayal workers and hired scabs). As a
  part of the media campaign, the company made public
  the wage figures of the tram-drivers - it used figures
  from the after-floods period with extreme numbers of
  overtime hours. These figures were about 19-20 000
  crowns, which is some 5 000 crowns above the average
  (with circa 60 per cent of the working class having
  less than "average"). This of course helped the
  company to turn part of the public opinion to its
  side. However, the average working hours of
  tram-drivers are about 1.5 of the working hours of
  other workers, the basic hourly wage is 84 crowns
  (less then 3 dollars). These information, showing the
  actual misery of the job, of course was not
  disseminated by the media. 

  By the 31st of January, the results of the
  "independent" comparation study were delivered. Even
  though it actually confirmed the equality of
  labour-intensity of tram- and bus-drivers, it
  justified the wage differences by (basically made-up)
  different qualification demands. I mean, after all,
  who cares about the actual height of the wage or
  labour-intensity, class struggle does not need any
  legitimacy, but in reality even simple things can get
  complicated. So Federation refused to recognize the
  study and called a meeting to decide about further
  steps. At the meeting, workers voted on strike -
  dozens voted for it, 4 voted against, though only
  because they were intimidated by infavourable media
  campaign. It is worth noting, that at least two
  workers, who voted against the strike, actually acted
  the most radically on the picket-lines. The date of
  the strike was not published yet, so as to not to make
  it easier for the company to prepare for it. 

  At the afternoon of the 2nd of January, the one-day
  strike and picket lines were publicly called for 3-4AM
  of the next day, the time, when shifts change. The
  divisons between strikers and strikebreakers did not
  follow the union/non-union lines, but rather support
  (or better to say, readiness to join) for the strike
  varied on the basis of depos. Two depos did not
  strike. Picket line (see the report) in another one
  was defeated before the morning. Two depos gave up
  around noon. Two other depos held basically until the
  end. The strike was broken mostly by two factors, one
  were the strikebreakers (bus- and underground-drivers,
  occasionaly hired workers, and of course tram-drivers
  from problematic depos), the second were security
  guards and police attacks (this is the second time
  since 1989, when police was used against workers).
  Although actually in the case of one depo, the strike
  was reinforced, when the noon shift joined strikers
  after seeing the video-footage of the anti-riot police
  attack on their colleagues. It can be said, that the
  strike was defeated, but the radicalism of the workers
  was not. Above, I tried to explain the development of
  the Federation - its marginalization created unique
  situation, when the tram-drivers actually welcomed
  support from the outside. In a way, due to their
  circumstances, they were able to see beyond the narrow
  limits of the separate workplace - something one would
  not usually expect at this level of generally hidden
  class struggle. That was also why I joined the picket
  line and stuff. Other supportes were from
<snip by Ed.>

  The current situation shows rather sad picture though,
  when union apparatus of Federation draws back to legal
  battles with the company. 
  Interesting figures show, that the costs of the strike
  repression were equal to the annual wage-increase
  demanded by the drivers. 

  [Report from comrades from Prague]

  Experience from the Picket Line 

  Picket lines, strikebreakers, private security guards,
  and the police anti-riot squad: this division of
  forces characterized the situation at the Kobylisy
  tram depot on Monday morning, the 3rd of February. Not
  only was the situation the first of its kind for our
  group, which had come to support striking
  tram-drivers, but probably for everyone involved.
  Fighting on the picket lines is another feature of
  class struggle that came to the Czech Republic. 

  At three in the morning the area in front of the
  Kobylisy depot is rather deserted, from time to time a
  police car passes by (but still it passes
  threateningly often, considering this is the middle of
  nowhere.) Only a little group of six people pass the
  time next to the station gate. It is freezing and damn
  windy, which is even more difficult to bear because
  your body refuses to forgive you for not giving it any
  sleep. Well, what next? 

  Yet before we can ring the mobile phone of a driver
  from the Kobylisy depot who is a member of the
  Federation of Tram-Drivers, two shadows split from the
  group and head towards us. "Have you come because of
  the strike?," a tall guy wearing a tram-drivers'
  uniform asks us. However, his uniform is not a
  guarantee that we are welcomed 'guests'; we knew that,
  regarding sympathies and support for the strike, the
  Kobylisy depot is a problematic one. We nod, but when
  he asks, "for or against the strike?," we answer, "for
  the strike," with an instinctively cautious tone in
  the answer. "Great then! So come join us!" The
  situation gets clarified, and we all go to join the
  other unionists at the gate. 

  "There is a police van behind the corner and over
  there are two plainclothes cops," we receive the basic
  information from the tram-drivers, who are members of
  Federation but do not actually work at Kobylisy. They
  came here from the Hloubetin depot; the necessity of
  their mission merely stresses the fact that the
  situation will be tough in Kobylisy. The mood of the
  tram-drivers inside the depot no one knows, not even
  the unionists. Occasionally, one of them goes in, but
  returns only to report that there is uncertainty and
  hesitancy inside. The trade-unionists call for back up
  - and before dawn another group from Vokovice should
  arrive. Meanwhile, the picket line is being
  strengthened by a few additional tram drivers, as well
  as the five of us from the outside. 

  First blockade - for twenty minutes 

  The assumption that the situation inside of the depot
  is not developing favorably could be made on the basis
  that, after a 15 minute delay of the first morning
  trams, only one tram-driver, a member of the
  Federation, came from the garage. Still their
  determination was proven when the group of
  trade-unionists set out to block the first tram

  At this point, police come to the gate and start the
  fight for positions by asking for our documents. And
  the legal reasoning? The police must have been able to
  learn something somehow as they reply with, "You fit
  the description of a wanted person." "Which one?" "We
  have tons of pictures of wanted people at the station.
  Surely you resemble one of them and, if you want, we
  can take you there and find it." By their sharp
  behavior the ordinary police officials apparently want
  to make up for the handicap they feel in the presence
  of a dozen better-armed colleagues with shaved heads
  and permanent anti-riot troop emblems on their
  sleeves. The police ensemble is supported by two
  'undercovers' and a burgess cop. 

  The group of striking tram-drivers behind the garage
  gate is able to withstand the onslaught of the scabs'
  trams until they are pushed aside by police at about
  4:20AM. The same happens to us, who, after an
  arrangement with the members of the Federation, were
  standing in the front of the gate. They manage to
  block the departure of all trams for almost twenty

  One more try 

  After four trams were escorted out, our group and the
  strikers stake out the rails again. Other trams that
  are ready for departure remain still. The two groups
  continue to block the gate for additional tens of

  The strikers are joined by another tram-driver
  (probably from Hloubetin), as well as by the most
  radical driver from the Kobylisy depot - with his
  tram. When returning from the night shift, he left it
  stuck in the gate. It is pulled away in a couple of
  minutes, but it is still some encouragement. 

  From time to time some of the strikers come to our
  group in front of the gate, and we exchange
  information about depots that are still on strike and
  about those where police have attempted an attack. In
  this way, we learn that at about half past four police
  raided the Motol depot - and that the strikers
  defended themselves. At the Pankrac depot all trams
  departed without problems, but no one ever expected
  that anyone from Pankrac would join the strike.
  Apparently there were similar conditions at the
  Vokovice depot, where trams departed after brief rail
  blockades by another group of strike supporters. The
  blockade was ended after police gained control over
  the situation. Depots Strasnice, Hloubetin and Zizkov
  held out well. The Kobylisy depot was perceived by the
  tram-drivers as a crucial depot; as if it joined the
  strike it would add to its success, all depending on
  the courage inside and support from the outside. 

  From our perspective it seems that the Kobylisy
  tram-drivers are hesitating. As we ask those who were
  enter the depot, "To work or to strike?," a couple of
  them answer, "To hell with your strike!" But the most
  of them respond with words such as "I do not know," or
  "We will see." A tram-driver from the Zizkov depot,
  who lives nearby, also stops at the picket line and
  she wishes us that we will be able to hold. We can
  only guess at what is happening inside of the depot.
  Even the strikers do not know. But the Kobylisy depot
  is notorious (just as Vokovice and Pankrac) for its
  particularly crude management, and surely the police
  presence played its role by influencing the mood

  After a longer time the tram-drivers finally decide to
  depart. The lights on the stored trams are switched on
  and the cars are ready to go - only the picket line
  stands in their way. 

  The strikers were beaten by someone who was not there 

  The police push us out again, much in the same manner
  as before, the only difference being that the police
  target us, while the members of the Federation are
  dealt with by two private security guards, skin headed
  and seemingly close to nazis. "Yeah, those were
  probably fascist bastards," one of the strikers would
  later comment about them. It is not hard to guess how
  he would comment if he only knew the security director
  of the transportation company, Antonin Fedorko, would
  proclaim that the security agency did not take part in
  the attack. Also, there is no reason to wonder about
  Fedorko's lies; as a former chief of the Prague
  police, whose past includes raids as the one in
  Propast (in 1997 the alterative club Propast in Prague
  was raided under a false drug pretext; in reality,
  this action aimed to terrorize the anarchist movement
  by crudely beating people, including a pregnant
  woman), he has all the qualification and praxis needed
  for his new job. 

  It seems as if the story would like to illustrate, how
  the system works. It fits together quite well: a
  former cop, who used to disperse the actions of
  discontented youth, is the most competent person for
  repressing the workers' strikes. 

  Something that will pay off 

  The strikers are performing well in the fight, so to
  the rescue of the security agents the police must
  rush, with whom the tram-drivers do not dare to fight.
  The sharp divisions that can exist within one
  workplace during a strike is demonstrated mainly by
  the way the workshop employees of the Kobylisy depot,
  members of the majority union, are fighting against
  the strikers as if they were hired the same as the
  body-builders from the security agency, all defending
  the bosses. 

  The strikers after being pushed away go inside the
  depot; as such there is nothing left for us than to
  observe the leaving trams over the shoulders of police
  officers. We chant a bit at the trams, "Scabs!", "You
  betray your colleagues!" or simply "Shame!" It is
  quite possible that many of the departing drivers are
  hired brigade-workers or strikebreakers, but many are
  also directly from the depot. It has to be said that
  they took the side of capital in this conflict. "I
  thought they would hold together," even the burgess
  cop remarked with disbelief. 

  We talk for the last time to the member of Federation
  from the Kobylisy depot, the one who left his car
  stuck in the gate. We exchange experiences and he
  thanks us for the support. We reply to him that we
  have come also for ourselves, that during class
  conflict workers should not let themselves be divided
  by capital, the lost strike signifies loss for our
  entire class. 

  Yet this picket line was broken. But even this class
  struggle, that cannot exactly be called a victory, is
  an experience that may pay off in struggles to come.
  After all, one of the tram-drivers said that he did
  not regret having joined the strike against the will
  of the majority of his workplace. Rather the problem
  is what to do next. 

  6.2. 2003 

  jil [alarm.solidarita.org]
  KW [www.komrad.net] 
Stay tuned!

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