Tuesday, July 28, 2009

All Quiet On The Vestas Front

It was an oddly relaxed mid-afternoon on the seventh day of the Vestas wind turbine factory occupation yesterday, as demonstrators in the roundabout solidarity camp listened to a couple of musicians in the Isle of Wight sunshine.

With Vestas going to court on Wednesday in an attempt to get legal backing for an eviction, it was very much a case of the calm before the storm. In the meantime there was apparently little for people to do except lounge around in their tents, and occasionally shout their support to the occupiers when they came out on the balcony.

The two-strong police presence looked quite bored, faced by a small but diverse gaggle of campers. There seemed to be little interaction within the camp, as representatives from the RMT sat quietly next to timid elderly green protesters and younger climate activists. More importantly, there was no organised practical way in which casual visitors could contribute.

Certainly, it could be argued that a 'do it yourself' ethic must form part of the way forward, but the absence of even a collection bucket for the solidarity fund illustrates a disconnect between the various groups of experienced activists present (all of whom have their own agendas to push), and a general public which will be looking for an entrance point to radical politics in the months and years ahead.

There can be no doubting the significance of the red/green alliance on the Isle, but Monday's evidence suggests it is still very much an uneasy one.

More photos can be seen here.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Workers' Fightback: Update 12

On Monday evening, twenty-five workers at the UK's only wind turbine factory began an occupation, taking direct action against their imminent redundancy.

As reported in Update 11, the government intends to let Vestas on the Isle of Wight close, despite the fact that Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Milliband wants to invest £100 billion in renewable energy over the next decade. However, he also wants to take advantage of cheaper labour in China, Germany and Denmark. The case underlines the fundamental link between working class struggle and the struggle for environmental stability.

Since occupying, the workers have been under a state of siege from police and security. Riot cops moved into part of the factory on Tuesday, and arrests were made on Wednesday as climate activists tried to get food supplies to the occupiers. Though he was released without charge, the custody sheet of one activist described him as being "armed with food". However, by Thursday managers had backed down to the extent that they were supplying food.

The 'Save Vestas' blog has regular updates from the frontline, and the main 'Save Vestas, Save Jobs, Save The Planet' Facebook group is here.

Perhaps lessons can be learned from the fight in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, where desperate car workers have now been under police siege for over a month. As described in Update 8, workers began an occupation of the Ssangyong factory in May, when 2,600 out of 7,100 staff were sacked as a result of the car industry collapse. The struggle has been betrayed by the Korean Metal Workers Union and the Korean Council of Trade Unions, both of whom have made supportive noises, but failed to bring their members out in solidarity. Occupiers are now in engaged in hand-to-hand combat with riot cops, and have vowed to "...fight to the death, to live as real human beings."

Daily updates and astonishing photos are being uploaded here.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Workers' Fightback: Update 11

How bitter the irony must have been for workers at the UK’s only wind turbine factory last Wednesday.

That day, Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband announced that the government intends to invest more than £100 billion over the next decade, increasing the proportion of energy obtained from renewable sources from by 13%. Most scientists and many campaigners say we need much faster reductions in the global use of fuels that cause catastrophic climate change, but some gave the declaration a cautious welcome.

However, seventy-five miles south, Wednesday also saw workers at the Vestas factory on the Isle of Wight produce what is scheduled to be their last batch before the factory closes. Almost six hundred staff at the Newport plant and a related facility in Southampton will be made redundant at the end of the month, because the government intends to take advantage of cheaper labour in China, Denmark and Germany.

While the Vestas case is vitally important to the particular workers involved, it also shows how the working class struggle against the profit motive and the struggle for environmental sustainability are fundamentally one and the same. While wave and solar power will arguably play a larger role in slashing carbon emissions, it clearly does not make sense for a single wind turbine factory to close, anywhere in the world. Indeed, many must be opened. What is more, in an environmentally sane system, factories in China, Denmark and Germany would be making products for use nearby, not for global transportation.

But all is not lost at Vestas. Workers’ Climate Action – a group organising for class-based solutions to the climate crisis – seem to have a catalysed a defiant reaction from the non-unionised factory employees. The founder members of WCA were from the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, but the group includes activists from diverse left backgrounds. According to The Commune:
“Workers Climate Action members made contacts on the island through union networks and using the internet. They travelled to the island, and begun to talk to workers outside factory gates, finding bitterness, but resignation. Slowly, they began to agitate and gather contacts, built a meeting in conjunction with the trades council, and are living on the island, cooperating with groups of workers who are now considering an occupation.”
The AWL reports that:
“We encountered problems and obstructions from all the usual sources. Just before the public meeting, a police inspector phoned the secretary of Cowes trades council, informing him that the Workers’ Climate Action had published a piece exhorting Vestas workers to chain themselves to machinery. This was, of course, a lie. The police were, nevertheless, very visible outside the public meeting.

In addition to this, many of the speakers brought to the public meeting by the local Trades Council revealed themselves to be bureaucrats. They told workers to simply join UNITE and get official recognition, but were disdainful about the idea of occupation. These business unionists and social partnership bureaucrats brought little to the campaign, but they certainly alienated a lot of workers with their elitist talk of letters written to ‘Lord Mandelson’.”

Vestas workers will need encouragement and solidarity in the days and weeks to come. For more information, there is a ‘Save Vestas’ blog, and a ‘Save Vestas, Save Jobs, Save The Planet’ Facebook group.

Over the Channel, there was a significant victory for crane-platform manufacturers striking for redundancy payouts. Fifty-three workers had been laid-off by JLG France, in response to the economic collapse, but the entire workforce downed tools for three weeks, and this was combined with direct action such as blocking a high speed train, and threatening to explode four cranes with gas canisters. The sacked workers have now been promised 30,000 euros each (about £26,000). French workers have resorted to increasingly militant actions over the past several months, including a series of ‘boss-nappings’, where managers have effectively been held to ransom by furious labourers.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Brüno (18)

Directed by Larry Charles
Written by Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Dan Mazer, Jeff Schaffer and Peter Baynham
On general release from 10th July 2009

There is a special type of laugh that might only be heard at screenings of Sacha Baron Cohen films. It starts with a rapid, high-pitched expulsion of air from the lungs, at the moment when you can't believe he just did that. But it is quickly strangled in the throat, in the instant when you realise you're not sure what you're laughing at, or whether you'd like to sit next to the kind of person who finds that sort of thing funny.

Following on from lightweight political spoof Ali G Indahouse (2002), and the often deceptively clever journey into the dark side of the American dream that was Borat (2006), Brüno is just a silly caricature of a gay man. Sacked from his Austrian fashion TV show, he travels to the US with loyal assistant Lutz (Gustaf Hammarsten) in step, seeking celebrity by any means necessary.

So yes, he films a disastrous pilot show, he swaps an African baby for an iPod and names him ‘O.J.’ (“a traditional African name”), and he even tries to become hetero, with the ‘help’ of a deeply bigoted church pastor, and ever-so-straight activities such as going into the woods with a bunch of men and killing furry creatures.
On Da Ali G Show – the Channel Four series that spawned all three of Baron Cohen’s big screen alter egos – he used the naivety of his creations to draw out subversive revelations from his often clueless yet pompous establishment guests. Brüno in particular has travelled a long way since then. Previously, he encouraged us to laugh at the vacuity of the fashion industry, as he metaphorically stripped away the glitz and revealed that the emperor was actually starkers. Now, as a hypersexual cartoon, he offends and upsets exactly the people you might expect to be offended and upset by having queerness thrust in their faces (puns very much intended).

In one scene, 2008 Republican Presidential candidate Ron Paul is Brüno’s victim. Paul is a racist, anti-abortionist, ultra-nationalist representative of the US super elite. But as Brüno postpones an ‘interview’, marches Paul to a bedroom and starts gyrating – apparently attempting to ‘seduce’ the seventy-three-year-old so he can make a sex tape – it’s easy to feel sorry for an elderly man who has blatantly been conned and sexually intimidated. Under extreme provocation, he leaves the bedroom and barks a few words at a crewmember, like most people would. Is this meant to be funny, or merely shocking?

Buried under piles of cash beyond his wildest dreams, it is easy to see why Baron Cohen wouldn’t be particularly bothered by establishment hypocrisy these days. Instead, like some of the worst comedians in circulation, he has been reduced to nothing more than shock tactics. Time and time again, Brüno acts in a way specifically designed to upset certain people, and then they are upset. Presumably, we’re meant to pat ourselves on the back for only laughing ‘ironically’. It's like...vassever.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Workers' Fightback: Update 10

Three weeks after the brutal UK Borders Agency raid on cleaners at the School of Oriental and African Studies in Camden, and the milestone student solidarity response (see WF 7), details have emerged about the predicament currently facing some of the cleaners abducted in the swoop. According to freesoascleaners.blogspot.com:
"One of the UNISON members picked up, who was traumatised by the clandestine nature of the raid and the appearance of around 40 officers in full body armour, arrived back in Bogota, 48 hours after the raid, wearing the same clothes she was arrested in and with 75 pence in her pocket. Disorientated and distressed, she was simply dumped in Bogota—hundreds of miles from her home town without any concern as to how she could get back to her family."
Similarly, Rosa Perez was deported on 30th June, without the statutory 72 hours notice, and therefore without the chance to say any goodbyes. Marina Silva is being detained at Yarl's Wood in Bedford, where inmates face appalling conditions and many are currently protesting this in the only way left open to them: hunger strike.

Clearly, despite the early declaration of 'victory' by the Socialist Workers Party contingent at SOAS, great suffering was caused by the collusion of anti-worker SOAS Director Paul Webley and UKBA. The student resistance has not been enough to save Perez, Silva, and their colleagues from a terrible fate. Another critical analysis of the student occupation recently appeared in The Commune, arguing that:
"While an open and self-critical debate is needed to ensure that future occupations realise their potential, many aspects of the SOAS protest nevertheless offer hope for the future: the breadth of the coalition assembled, the willingness to adopt militant action, the barriers (at least initially) that were broken down between workers and students, and the growing awareness of the connections between immigration policy and exploitation in the workplace."
On 28th June, soldiers serving under US-trained commanders seized power in Honduras, expelling elected President Manuel Zelaya, and appointing Roberto Micheletti as Acting President. Zelaya had angered the US by having friendly relations with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, and while neither Zelaya nor Chavez had challenged the profit system in any practical sense, both have made significant populist concessions to their respective working classes. The coup has therefore shown that even small impediments to profit-making will not be tolerated during this economic collapse, and is a stark warning to working people around the world.

So it is even more significant that Honduran workers have not taken this attack lying down, fighting back with strikes and protests. Teachers in particular have been militantly opposed the new dictatorship, and have now been on indefinite strike for two weeks. Narco News reports:
"In the one school where some (not all) classes were scheduled to begin on Monday, the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH), students occupied the school to maintain the strike despite the university rector's attempts to re-open the school. A student who is participating in the occupation told Radio Progreso that the students will continue to occupy the university until Zelaya returns."

Friday, July 03, 2009

Workers’ Fightback: Update 9

This past week has been relatively quiet on the industrial front. However, this is only in comparison to the past several, have seen workers gain real if unstable victories at the Lindsey oil refinery in North Lincolnshire, the Linamar car parts factory in Swansea, and a link-up between students and cleaners at the London School Of African and Oriental Studies.

So with other disputes simmering, the 'only' direct action explosion this week has been the re-occupation of Wyndford Primary School in the Maryhill area of Glasgow. The city council's Labour administration closed twenty-two primary schools and nurseries this year, with many more closures planned. Inevitably, this results in very difficult school runs for parents, as Colette James explained to the WSWS.
"I’m a single parent with three kids. One’s just moved to nursery school, one to primary. They both start at 9 o’clock. Now, the primary school is just a stone’s throw away from the nursery. But how am I supposed to get to two places at the one time if the primary school is mile and half away?"
An earlier occupation of the site (along with nearby St Gregory's, which is also slated for closure) took place over the Easter holidays, but the Council refused to be moved, despite 95% parents opposing the plans during a sham 'consultation'. Last Friday, 26th June, was to have been the last day at Wyndford, but according to the Anarchist Federation, "Amid tears and distraught goodbyes, parents in one of the targeted schools slipped past security and chained the doors shut behind them."

Occupiers won an early victory, by preventing a council van from taking equipment away on Saturday morning. Again, AFed reports:
"On Saturday the Council vans arrived at 7am and began emptying the school of its furniture and equipment, catching the occupiers offguard who looked on with dismay as it seemed the Council would achieve its aim of the school closure being a fait accompli.

The occupiers sent out urgent messages requesting support and quickly a crowd gathered at the front gate. Suddenly the tables had turned, and it was the occupiers who were in control! As council officials looked on impotently, the campaigners refused to let the vans leave the front gates until all the furniture and equipment was returned to its rightful place, back inside the school!"
Extraordinary footage of this event can be seen here.

The Council have now cut off the water supply in the school, but many litres have now been donated by the local community! Money donations are urgently needed, and the campaign bank account is : "Save Our Schools”. Sort code 30-25-83 Account number 0558506

Those within travelling distance are invited to pay a visit, and bring food, a laptop, inflatable beds, sheets, poster paint, PVA glue and paint brushes to make banners, cable ties, disposable cups, games for the kids, and themselves if they wish to volunteer. The occupation's Facebook group is here, and the wider 'Save Our Schools Glasgow' group can be found at this location.

In Update 2, I drew attention to the struggles of textile workers in Bangladesh (check your clothes labels; this a huge industry). In response to reduced orders (caused by the global economic crisis) and cutbacks coupled with unpaid wages, worker militancy has increased dramatically in the Ashulia region, and provoked a fierce response by the state.

Last week, two garment workers were killed by police, and this Monday saw immense pitched battles with cops, which saw the state forces completely overwhelmed. Protesters then started burning fifty factories, in an apparent attempt to stop strikebreakers.

The Liverpool Workers’ Fightback group will be meeting at Next To Nowhere social centre, 96 Bold Street, on Tuesday 7th July, from 6pm. Solidarity with local resistance will be on the agenda, and all who are interested in supporting rank-and-file workers in struggle are welcome.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Workers Fight Motor Meltdown

The recent reinstatement of union convenor Rob Williams by his bosses at the Linamar car parts factory is a welcome victory for the Swansea workers, as well as all those who expressed their solidarity. Amidst the celebrations, however, caution is needed. Linamar are likely preparing a counter-attack, and this is just one front in a global war on car workers’ conditions.

Linamar sacked Williams on April 28th. According to the company, there had been an “irretrievable breakdown of trust”.

Read more at The Commune...

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