Tag Archives: Labor

What can the Ssangyong strike in South Korea teach us?

SsangyongOne of the most militant strikes in the current crisis has been the occupation of Ssangyong Motors in South Korea.
The strike failed to win its main demand of no lay-offs, however, it blazed a light in a murky time of reactionary offensives by the rulers and defensiveness by the oppressed that characterizes much of the current moment. There is a lot that we can learn from these heroic auto-workers.

Loren Goldner, who was in South Korea during the occupation, has a comprehensive interview here about the strike.

Also, here is a summary of Goldner’s conclusions taken from the Libcom archive.

Ssangyong motors strike in South Korea ends in defeat and heavy repression

by Loren Goldner

The Ssangyong Motor Company strike and plant occupation in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, ended after 77 days on Aug. 5. For the 976 workers who seized the small auto plant on May 22 and held it against repeated quasi-military assault, the settlement signed by Ssangyong court receivership manager Park Young-tae and local union president Han Sang-kyun represented a near-total defeat. Worse still, the surrender was followed by detention and interrogation of dozens of strikers by police, possibly to be followed by felony charges, as well by a massive ($45 million) lawsuit against the Korean Metal Workers’ Union and probable further lawsuits against individual strikers for damages incurred during the strike. The hard-right Korean government of Lee Myong Bak is signaling with these measures—its latest and most dramatic “take no prisoners” victory over popular protest in the past year and a half– its intention to steamroller any potential future resistance to its unabashed rule on behalf of big capital.

The Ssangyong strike echoed in many ways the dynamic seen in the recent Visteon struggle in the UK and in battles over auto industry restructuring around the world. Involving, on the other hand, an outright factory seizure and occupation, and subsequent violent defense of the plant against the police, thugs and scabs, it was the first struggle of its kind in South Korea for years. Its defeat—one in a long series of defeats extending over years—does not bode well for future resistance.
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50,000 Lineup for Housing Aid in Detroit: Where is the Left?

-Will

I only have two questions when reading the World Socialist Website article:

What does this say about the objective situation for the radical/ revolutionary left?

Where is the radical/ revolutionary left?

TheWSWS websites writes:

“In a scene reminiscent of the crowds of jobless workers who lined up for free soup during the Great Depression, a queue of tens of thousands of workers and unemployed people wound around the downtown arena. Young mothers pushing baby carriages, disabled workers in wheelchairs, senior citizens and throngs of young workers and youth stood for hours waiting. Many had slept on the streets the previous evening to be the first served.

Several people fainted during the wait and were treated by medical personnel on the scene. By 11:30 a.m., Detroit’s mayor, David Bing, made a public appeal for citizens to stop coming to Cobo Hall. Hundreds of police, including officers from Detroit’s special Gang Unit, stood guard at the entrances to hold back the crowd.”

California Students, Workers and Teachers Walk-Out

ucwalkoutThousands Gather For Rallies Against UC Budget Cuts

Thousands of University of California students, faculty and staff gathered in Berkeley Thursday for one of many rallies held statewide to protest how the system’s Board of Regents has dealt with reductions in state funding.

A noontime rally brought more than 5,000 people to UC Berkeley’s Upper Sproul Plaza, according to Tanya Smith, president of the Berkeley chapter of the University Professional and Technical Employees-Communication Workers of America union Local 9119.

Among other protests in the state, hundreds of people also gathered at the University of California at San Francisco Medical Center, where state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco/San Mateo, criticized how the UC system was being run.

The rallies were a response to recent moves by the UC Board of Regents, which approved a plan in July to institute employee furloughs along with other cuts and fee hikes. UC President Mark Yudof also announced this month a plan to increase student fees by another $2,514 over the next year.
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Queer Liberation is an Insurgent Movement from Below

Across the country, the debate over Gay marriage is continuing with Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, and Iowa initiating its legalization, and other states currently facing struggles over prop-8 style ballot initiatives which aim to halt the ability of all people to have their marriages recognized by the state. Here in the state of Washington, the legislature passed an expanded domestic partnership law last year which would provide many of the rights and privileges associated with marriage to same sex and elderly domestic partners. The Washington Values Alliance opposes Referendum 71 in an attempt to strike down this law; a yes vote on the Referendum keeps domestic partnerships in place and a no vote gets rid of them.

Washington Values alliance and many of the other right-wing forces mobilizing to attack Gay Marriage are linked to far-right white supremacist organizations that are also attacking immigrants. Many folks on the Left both locally and nationally are discussing how to respond to these right-wing offensives. Many of us are not thrilled about gay marriage itself or the often liberal racist, patriarchal, and assimilationist groups that are fighting for it. But at the same time it is important to fight the bigots who oppose gay marriage since they are using the anti-gay marriage organizing to build their base preparing for more devastating attacks on queer folks and people of color.

This piece raises some key questions about how to tie the struggle against anti-queer bigotry to immigrant workers’ and student’s struggles against white supremacy. It is a talk given in July by comrades Jomo and Wen, two queer Asian American activists with Democracy Insurgent in Seattle. It was part of a panel of various queer Seattle activists from different organizations hosted by the socialist feminist group Radical Women.

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Democracy Insurgent is a Middle East solidarity group animated by principles of anti-racism, democracy, third world feminism and queer liberation. The group came together last fall and have started by doing Palestine Solidarity organizing. A few months ago the anti-budget cuts committee within DI was created because of the budget cuts that University of Washington has distributed disproportionally affected immigrant workers, low-income students, people of color, women, people with disabilities and queer folks. That’s how we started getting involved with organizing with the custodians on campus and supporting their fight against the management because we see our struggles as connected with theirs.

How we see “queer movement” as opposed to white liberal queer movement

The topic of the panel today is on queer liberation and that’s what we are here for! DI is a multi-racial, multi-gender and multi-sexuality group. The way we approach queer liberation is not to compartmentalize issues solely on an identity basis, like that of gay people getting together to fight on marriage equality without any class or race analysis, neglecting the needs of people of color, immigrant folks, or women. Identity based organizing can be very harmful to the movement in the long term. We all know that 40 years ago the Stonewall Riot was lead by majority people of color and majority of gender-queer, and trans folks– but how did it turn into a white middle-class gay man’s story of liberation?
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A Summer of Workers’ Revolts and Ethnic Divisions in China

By JOMO and BaoYunCheng

Two major incidents in China have grabbed international headlines recently. First are the workers protests, occupations and strikes against the privatization that took place in Jilin and Anyang. Second, are the inter-ethnic rebellions in the Xinjiang Autonomous region, also known by some as East Turkestan. The authoritarian measures taken by the Chinese state further fanned the discontent and violence. That both of these actions have been sparked off by incidents taking place in factories, initiated by workers, is worth noting. It raises some questions to be asked about the challenges that lie ahead of building a working class movement in China.

In an effort to increase profitability, the Chinese state has started to privatize and sell off many state-owned enterprises, and its impact on workers is glaring.The guarantee of jobs and benefits to state employees had, for many years, prevented the state from realizing its maximum profitability. As global consumption and demand for Chinese products have declined with the recession, the drags of paying out benefits and protecting jobs have only been exacerbated. Thus, more and more state-owned enterprises have fallen into the ownership of private companies. Concretely, privatization has led to massive firings of long-time workers, while those remaining have experienced increased workloads, work speed-ups, decreased wages, and the elimination of benefits. For those reasons, China has seen a rapid increase of working class resistance against privatization.

On July 24, 2009, some 30,000 workers and retired employees at the state-owned enterprise of Tonghua Steel as well as their families staged a massive strike to protest against the decision of the provincial government of Jilin to sell Tonghua Steel to the private firm Jianlong Steel Group. The owner of Jianlong Steel, Zhang Zhixiang, has been acquiring large and medium-sized state-owned enterprises at low prices and then expanding and developing them. In the process, he has been amassing incredible wealth (his own personal wealth estimated to be over 20 billion RMB), soaring to become the country’s tenth richest man. Tonghua Steel was for a time, managed by Jianlong in 2005 but later resold in March 2009 following successful worker demonstrations and unprofitability. During Jianlong’s ownership (and in contrast to Zhang Zhixiang’s personal wealth), experienced workers with more than 20 or 30 years of work saw their monthly salary decrease to around 300 RMB, whereas new management was constantly hired from the outside and awarded with high salaries. The CEO of Jianlong, Chen Guojong, had an annual income over 3 million RMB. Thus, when in June 2009 Tonghua Steel began yielding profits again (specifically 60 million RMB in revenue that month), Jianlong began talks to reacquire Tonghua Steel. It is in this context that the massive turnout to the July 24th strike must be understood. By the afternoon, workers had violently clashed with armed police and fought with managers, ultimately capturing the CEO Chen Guojong and beating him to his death. By 10:00pm, the 30,000 strong contingent of workers had occupied the factory zones and refused to retreat. Because of this immense pressure, the local government, which had given Jianlong the consent to reacquire Tonghua in the first place, reneged on this consent and declared through the media that Jianlong had decided to quit from Tonghua Steel.
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Not a Recession, but a Depression for Black workers

Despite some important examples of struggles in this country in response to the effects of the economic crisis, it is the capitalist who have carried out a consistent offensive.

The devastation from unemployment is the worst since the 1930s, and the real percentage of which is above 16%, with over 20% in some areas. But the recession isn’t effecting all people the same way. Black and Latino unemployment is nearly double that of whites. One of the reasons is that the recession isn’t just attacking skilled labor, which is more white, but it’s blitzing unskilled labor. As more skilled labor takes up unskilled jobs to pay the bills this adds to the effect.

After the mini-recession of 2000-2001 there was a jobless recovery. But Black people saw faster rates of unemployment after the relative “boom” time of the 1990s at the same time the class divide in Black communities has expanded. But even considering that, in historical perspective black male unemployment has officially shifted between 15 and 10 percent from the 1980s and 1990s.

Dedrick Muhammad spoke recently on Democracy Now about this, touching on Black unemployment and Latino unemployment as well as the role of predatory lending by the banks that has lead to a loss of 70-90 billion dollars in home-value wealth for Black and Latino people.

Although we should realize they are talking about the working class and not the middle class, in the following article, taken from the Institute for Policy Studies, Barbara Ehrenreich and Dedrick Muhammad address some of the details.

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The Destruction of the Black Middle Class

By Barbara Ehrenreich and Dedrick Muhammad

To judge from most of the commentary on the Gates-Crowley affair, you would think that a “black elite” has gotten dangerously out of hand. First Gates (Cambridge, Yale, Harvard) showed insufficient deference to Crowley, then Obama (Occidental, Harvard) piled on to accuse the police of having acted “stupidly.” Was this “the end of white America” which the Atlantic had warned of in its January/February cover story? Or had the injuries of class — working class in Crowley’s case — finally trumped the grievances of race?

Left out of the ensuing tangle of commentary on race and class has been the increasing impoverishment — or, we should say, re-impoverishment — of African Americans as a group. In fact, the most salient and lasting effect of the current recession may turn out to be the decimation of the black middle class. According to a study by Demos and the Institute for Assets and Social Policy, 33% of the black middle class was already in danger of falling out of the middle class at the start of the recession. Gates and Obama, along with Oprah and Cosby, will no doubt remain in place, but millions of the black equivalents of Officer Crowley — from factory workers to bank tellers and white collar managers — are sliding down toward destitution.
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Struggles from Detroit

Detroit workers on the march.
Detroit workers on the march.

 

by Will

It is tough watching Detroit go through this. But anyone familiar with the state of the Midwest, the rustbelt, with majority Black cities, knows that the recent budget and social crisis has been in the making since the early 1970s. Some historical accounts like Thomas Surgue’s The Origins of the Urban Crisis and the famous Detroit I Do Mind Dying by Dan Georgakas and Marvin Surkin place this transition to the 1950s. Yet these two books paint a very different picture of what Black working class life and city looked like before deindustrialization officially attacked the Black working class.

The articles below, from the World Socialist Website and The Michigan Citizen bring us to Detroit amidst a national and international recession. The last decade or so saw the Detroit bourgeoisie try to revive the economy through the casino economy. They also hoped that they could ride the coat tails of the real-estate boom, but Detroit has been cursed—always too late, always too little. The official unemployment rate of Detroit is 17.7% and I have talked to friends who have told me it is probably closer to 30%.  Considering 80% of the city is Black, it is not hard to figure out who is getting hit the hardest. The new mayor of Detroit is using this crisis as a pretext to attack almost all layers of the class in the city. Now working class anger is beginning to erupt across the city.  Public sector workers are on the move.  I will try to interview a friend next week so we can get a picture of some of the movement dynamics happening.  As this crisis unfolds, we all have come to a realization that movement alone will not push the racists and capitalists back.  Our people need to step up their game cuz the enemy is on the march.
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Students as Positive Proletarian Actors from Advance the Struggle

Custodians and students protesting speedups, wage cuts, and more at the University of Washington.
Custodians and students protesting speedups, wage cuts, and more at the University of Washington.

Here is an article originally from the blog, Advance the Struggle. The author, Esteban, raises important questions considering the size of the student population in the United States, the role students have played in radicalizing movements, and how they can think about themselves in terms of their own emancipatory capabilities. This is especially pertinent when student struggles break out of narrow university demands and into realms which directly impact the working class. Considering the U.S. has hundreds of public universities where working class students are struggling to get by, it is a matter of time, organization, and self-activity before these questions are bumped into.

There are many more points raised in this piece and I will not go into all of them, leaving it to others to raise insights, agreements, and critiques.

-Will

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American Labor: New Beginning

There is much we can be and do on a local, national, and even international scale. We will never find out what that may be, far less carry out, unless everyday people seek to become politically organized in workplaces, schools, and neighborhoods. There will never be any progress unless we begin here.

This can’t be taught like a school lesson. Only through the practice of independent activities, and the new understanding drawn from them, is it possible to achieve a new way of life. By discerning the signs of independent self-activity in the history and struggles of working people, it is hoped that this way of life may emerge as a new beginning: an independent labor movement through which ordinary people aspire to extraordinary acts.

However, there are many obstacles to self-government; obstacles that stem from the repression experienced on a day-to-day basis as well as our own fears, desires, complacency, and lack of hope.

Against these odds, a new beginning can only emerge if working people begin to put forward and implement programs and perspectives of our own, transforming workplaces, schools, and neighborhoods, and redefining what is currently meant by work, the labor movement, and the union. No political party, no movement vanguard, no capitalist, progressive, or “socialist” rulers can do this for us.
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