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(en) Britain, Anarchist Solidarity Federation* Newspaper Catalyst #22 Winter 2009 - Crisis, cuts and class conflicts

Date Sun, 18 Apr 2010 18:50:48 +0300


Cleaning up an industry Page 2: Round up and analysis of recent cleaners struggles for a living wage. ---- You can’t take our education Page 3: What happened with the wave of occupations of schools by parents across the country, and why were they frequently successful? ---- College bosses get schooled? Page 5: A look at the recent Tower Hamlets College ESOL workers dispute, claimed by the union as a complete victory. --- Crisis, cuts and class conflicts ---- 2009 has seen a wave of workers’ struggles against the effects of
the recession. ---- Firstly, workers at Lindsey Oil Refinery (LOR) in Lincolnshire staged an unofficial walkout over claims that foreign workers were being used to undermine a national agreement on pay and conditions. Solidarity walkouts rippled across the country at 13 refineries and power stations from Longannet in Fife to Milford Haven in South Wales to Langage Power Station near Plymouth, involving in total upwards of 4,000 workers.

While the media were quick
to pick up on the slogan ‘British
Jobs for British Workers’ that
some strikers echoed back to
Gordon Brown, the reality was
the demands of the LOR workers
reflected working class solidarity
- making no reference at all to
‘British workers’ and calling for
assistance to migrant workers.
Not only that, the refinery
strikers openly defied the laws
banning solidarity strikes with
impunity – and won – providing
the latest example that ‘direct
action gets the goods!’
Shortly after the refinery strikes,
laid-off employees at Prisme
Packaging in Dundee occupied
their plant. They suceeded in re-
opening the factory as a workers’
co-op, securing the income of the
nine workers after bosses had tried
to withold even redundancy pay.
Following hot on the heels
of the Prisme occupuation,
workers at Ford-Visteon in Belfast
responded to being laid-off with
only 6 minutes notice and no
redundancy pay by occupying
their factory. As news spread,
workers at Visteon’s two other UK
factories in Basildon and Enfield
followed suit.
Occupy! Resist!
The Belfast occupation was
maintained for over a month,
ignoring union ‘advice’ that the
occupation was illegal (it wasn’t)
and ceremoniously burning court
possession papers granted in
favour of Visteon.
When the dismissed Visteon
workers began preparing a
delegation to visit Ford’s UK
factories to encourage solidarity
strikes, bosses suddenly returned
to the table (as union bosses tried
to call-off the delegation).
A partial victory was won,
although some issues, such as
pensions were left unresolved.
Coinciding with the Visteon
occupations,
several
schools
in Glasgow and South London
were occupied by angry parents
protesting against closure plans.
The occupation of Lewisham
Bridge primary in South London
was inspired by the ongoing
nine workers after bosses had tried
to withold even redundancy pay.
Following hot on the heels
of the Prisme occupuation,
workers at Ford-Visteon in Belfast
responded to being laid-off with
only 6 minutes notice and no
redundancy pay by occupying
their factory. As news spread,
workers at Visteon’s two other UK
factories in Basildon and Enfield
followed suit.

Occupy! Resist!

The Belfast occupation was
maintained for over a month,
ignoring union ‘advice’ that the
occupation was illegal (it wasn’t)
and ceremoniously burning court
possession papers granted in
favour of Visteon.
When the dismissed Visteon
workers began preparing a
delegation to visit Ford’s UK
factories to encourage solidarity
strikes, bosses suddenly returned
to the table (as union bosses tried
to call-off the delegation).
A partial victory was won,
although some issues, such as
pensions were left unresolved.
Coinciding with the Visteon
occupations, several schools
in Glasgow and South London
were occupied by angry parents
protesting against closure plans.
The occupation of Lewisham
Bridge primary in South London
was inspired by the ongoing
Glasgow ‘Save Our Schools’
campaign and the Visteon
occupations.
Workers from Visteon visited
the school and spent some nights
on the roof in solidarity with
the occupiers. Charlotte Turner
primary in nearby Deptford was
also occupied after the council
ignored a sham ‘consultation’
exercise which returned 296 out of
297 responses opposed to closure.
Lewisham Bridge was a resounding
victory, with parents forcing the
council to abandon their plans to
demolish the school.

Profit before planet

Another high-profile occupation
began in July after 625 workers
at Vestas Blades, a wind turbine
manufacturer in the Isle of
Wight were laid off in similar
circumstances to the Visteon
workers earlier in the summer.
Around 20 workers responded
by occupying the plant, pointing
to the farce that the closure
of the UK’s only wind turbine
plant came just hours after the
government announced plans to
build 10,000 more wind turbines
as part of its green energy
‘commitment.’ Vestas had had
no problem pocketing several
million pounds in government
cash just before the redundancies
were announced.
After resisting management and
police attempts to literally starve
them out – one worker was taken
to hospital with low blood sugar
levels but supporters risked arrest
to break the siege and deliver
much needed supplies – the
workers ended their occupation
after nearly three weeks.
Whilst the occupation did not
achieve its goal of keeping the
factory open, it highlighted the
severe lack of jobs on the island
and drew attention to the fact
that despite the rhetoric, the
environment will also be made to
pay for capitalism’s crisis.
There have also been ongoing
official and unofficial postal
strikes up and down the country
before voting overwhelmingly,
for national strikes (see page 8),
disputes including refuse workers
in Leeds, Edinburgh and Brighton,
and an indefinite strike over cuts
by education workers in Tower
Hamlets, London which secured
a partial victory guaranteeing no
compulsory redundancies.

Back to the future?

This resurgence in working class
militancy has already got sections
of the ruling class scared. The
‘favourite think tank’ of Tory
leader and likely next Prime
Minister David Cameron has
even warned of a “new age of
militancy.”
Against this backdrop, the BBC’s
economics editor writes that “the crucial
difference between Labour and Tories is
not so much the scale of spending cuts - but
the timing.” The Liberal Democrats say no
public services should be “ring-fenced” from
cuts.
The political consensus is clear: drastic
cuts are on the way, with talk of spending
being slashed by at least 10% over the next
three years.
Reportedly the favoured model is Sweden,
where major cuts were made following a
budget crisis in the 1990s. According to the
BBC “even though it was a Social Democrat
wielding the axe, it was Sweden’s over-
arching welfare state which received most
of the cuts.”
With an election looming all the politicians
will deny it, but there’s no doubt they intend
to make the working class pay for the crisis.
The last years of the ‘economic boom’ saw
numerous workers’ struggles against sub-
inflation pay offers and deteriorating terms
and conditions, which came following years
of real-terms decline.
Then when the recession hit, workers were
urged to tighten their belts for the good of
the economy, as unemployment rocketed,
pay was slashed and home repossessions
reached record levels. Now there is talk of
economic recovery, politicians of all stripes
are already planning how best to make
workers pay.
This underlines a simple fact absent from
most mainstream commentary: it is not
the health of the economy that determines
workers’ living standards, but our ability to
collectively impose our needs on the bosses.
Without this collective power, economic
growth is simply accumulated by the bosses
as profit, and economic crises have their
costs passed on to weak and disorganised
workers.
By contrast, when workers take collective
direct action, they are able to improve
their conditions regardless of whether the
economy is in boom or bust.
Sections of the ruling class are alert
enough to fear this; it’s up to us to make
their fears into reality.

========================================
* Part of the International Workers’ Association
_________________________________________
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