Tag Archives: Labor

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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