Workers' Voice mailing list
March 13, 2019
RE: the strike movement
By Frank Arango, Seattle Workers' Voice, March 3, on FB
Rebounding from dismal lows, there has been an encouraging increase in the number of strikes during the past year, including an actual strike wave among school teachers. Thus, at present, Oakland teachers are discussing a tentative agreement after being on the picket lines for a week. (Later note by Frank: Oakland teachers have now accepted a contract recommended by the union leadership. But the vote was close, 1,141 to 832, and many teachers have angrily denounced the agreement as a sellout.) Meanwhile, in basic industry 1,700 workers at Westinghouse Air Brake Technologies Corp (Wabtec) in Erie, Pennsylvania are on the picket lines. The company is calling it a strike, but the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers (UE) is calling it a lockout so that workers are eligible for unemployment benefits. The workers have used mass pickets to stop scabs, but the company has now gotten an injunction to prevent prevent that.
Another battle has been taking place against the closing of the General Motors plant in Oshawa, Ontario,
where 2,600 unionized Canadian workers would lose their jobs. Some of
the tactics used have been walkouts, sit-ins and "rolling blockades,"
and this week GM went to court to get an injunction against the
workers. Lastly, the largest industrial actions to take place in North
America in many years have been occurring in Matamoros and Tamaulipas
State in Mexico. They've involved tens of thousands of workers in some
70 factories, many of which produce auto parts. (Production at Ford
assembly plants in the U.S. and Canada has been cut back due to the
strikes.) Many of the workers in these maquiladoras are women, and
they've been demanding and winning 20/32 (20% pay hike and an annual
32,000 peso (about $1,578) bonus. But alongside this two things are now
happening: revenge firings of militant workers by the capitalists; the threat of new strikes, including in other sectors of the economy.
It's through struggles like these that the workers defend their immediate interests as well as prepare themselves for future struggles and their ultimate class emancipation. Thus, victories or defeats cannot merely be measured in wage and benefit gains or loses, but must also be measured in the degree of class consciousness and independent organization developed in the struggle. And in the final analysis the latter is decisive. For example, in order to do anything the Matamoros workers had to use the weapon of independent organization in order to overcome the obstruction of the official trade union leaders and their machinery. Another example is that while the Los Angeles teachers were able overcome the stalling tactics of the union leaders and actually strike, they didn't yet have the mass experience and organization necessary to deal with the union leaders' organizing a quick vote on a recommended contract the teachers didn't have time to even read, let alone organize opposition to. Yet it's only through repeated battles that such mass lessons about whom our friends and enemies are can be learned. <>
Below are excerpts from an interview with an Oakland teacher, Matt Casciano, in Commune magazine. It shows the tremendous support for the teachers, but also that the union leadership didn't share the militancy of the union members. This has been a problem in other teacher strikes as well. Workers face the problem of transforming their unions, as well as fighting their employers.
I got involved in the strike through the momentum that had been building over the past couple years. This is my second year teaching at Oakland High School. When I got here last year, there was a lot of grumbling about the recently expired contract. We wanted an updated contract with higher pay and more support, but the district was unwilling to work with us. ....
Personally, I feel like our union really dragged its feet. My site was set to strike long before the union made any major moves. We actually went out on a wildcat strike a month or two before the union action. We felt like everything was super stagnant and something had to happen. We wanted to spark something, and I think it really helped. We organized our action pretty quickly, but even with just one day notice, we were able to get two other high schools involved in a wildcat sick-out and a march downtown. ...
We talked to our students about what a strike means and why we were taking these actions. We aren't supposed to encourage kids to stay out of school but some students came out to the picket lines every day to show support and stand in solidarity with us. This was awesome to see. There was a tremendous outpouring of community support. "We support Oakland Teachers" signs were in every local shop window. Folks were setting up solidarity schools and free daycare for elementary school children. People were dropping off food to the picket lines every day. I don't know who organized this, but shout out to whoever dropped off fresh, homemade, tamales every day! ...
I feel like our students fell into two basic categories: 1) "Support our teachers. Let's get a better situation for them and us" and 2) "Cool, I can stay home and play Fortnite." For me, both of those are fine. I didn't hear any student who was opposed to the strike.
We had three main demands: 1) higher pay (we were pushing for 12% over three years), 2) smaller class sizes, and 3) more support for our underserved kids (including special education and English language learners). ...
Negotiations went on for about a week and a half. Honestly, I think we got screwed. Many teachers and students feel this way. Basically, we got an 11% raise over four years, which isn't much of a raise, as it is just enough to keep up with inflation and the gentrification of the Bay Area. They reduced our class size by one student, which is hardly noticeable. We got no extra support, as far as I know, for our underserved kids. On top of that, nurses and other classified staff are going to end up losing their positions, while those who are left are going to be burdened with the extra work.
I feel pretty betrayed by our union. They went out and declared the tentative agreement a "historic victory," claiming that all of our demands were met when, obviously, that is just not true. In the end, it went to a vote and the tentative agreement won out by only 8%. ... The worst part of it all is where the board decided to cut money from. Instead of chopping funds from the top, they cut out student programs, including libraries, restorative justice, and programs for Pacific Islanders. This is the moment the students really began to feel affected by the strike. ...
Earlier this week, students staged their own sickout and marched to the OUSD board meeting where the cuts were being voted on. They invited teachers along to join them. We were happy to march along with them, especially since those students leading it were the ones on the picket line with us. The last I heard, the students are planning a student strike to get their programs back. Based on their past actions, I think there is a high likelihood they'll go through with it. ...
The actions across the US are definitely inspiring to teachers. It was literally a topic of conversation every day on the picket line. We were comparing too. Like, "OK, we made it as long as LA, let's see how much longer we have to hold out." I do think that the strike has positioned other teachers for a better fight. Even though I'm not happy with the outcome, the media certainly makes it look like we won. I think that's gotta be helpful for other teachers and unions in similar situations.
The full interview can be found at
Despite the lack of a legal right to strike and the brutal repression of previous protests in Iran, workers, students, women, and youth have been involved in numerous struggles in the past few months. It is not the theocratic regime, but the mass struggles that represent the will of the Iranian people. Below are excerpts from an article by Minna Langeberg, Iran: Class struggle and neo-liberal capitalist accumulation, Feb. 25, 2019.
Recent months have seen protests throughout Iran, by teachers, nurses, labourers, retirees, oil industry workers, bazaar traders and shopkeepers, truck drivers, farmers, the unemployed, students, and many more.
The current wave of protests across the country is a continuation of those of December 2017- January 2018 that were brutally suppressed by the regime. Like the 2017-18 protests, they signal the deep crisis of legitimacy of the regime, as expressed by one of the most enduring slogans that emerged from those protests: 'Fundamentalists, Reformists, the game is over'. The main slogan of current protests is 'Bread. Work. Freedom'.
These protests are sporadic, self-organised, fragmented and generally small in size – but more or less continuous. They are grassroots protests against the current situation in Iran, which has reached a boiling point. These are protests of the working class, women, the poor, the unemployed, marginalised, the underclass and the 'surplus population' who cannot be absorbed into capitalist wage labour.
These protests are about starvation wages, slavery-like workers' conditions, poverty and hunger, unemployment, inflation, currency devaluation, collapsed fraudulent financial schemes that have eaten up retirees' savings, and systematic corruption at every level of government and society. Contrary to what has often been said, these protests are not merely about economic conditions, but about almost every aspect of life in Iran. And although US sanctions have worsened the economic situation, they are not the cause: the cause is a religious fascist regime that faces a deep crisis of legitimacy. ....
It is very difficult to show the exact extent of this structural crisis statistically because of the nature of data. The government sees publication of economic and social data as a political act; data is either suppressed and withheld, or highly manipulated for public consumption. ...
However, we can provide some information. In a November 2018 report, the IMF predicted that Iran's inflation rate would rise to 40% by end of the year, and that the economic recession would deepen into a 3.6% economic contraction in 2019, partly aided by US sanctions, the devaluation of the currency and falls in oil production and exports. This inflation rate is possibly an underestimation; some economists estimate the inflation rate to be 100%. ...
There is a system of national minimum wage in Iran, determined by the Supreme Labour Council within the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, ... Reports indicate this minimum wage is so low, compared to the rate of inflation and cost of living, that it may cover only some 30% of living costs of a worker and her/his family. ...
There are now plans to dismantle even this extremely low and barely enforced minimum wage. Some of the deregulatory measures proposed so far are the 'floating' of the minimum wage, introduction of a 'multi-layered' minimum wage, 'regional' minimum wage or 'consensual' wage, and exclusion of women household heads and rural workers from minimum wage and labour legislation protection altogether, all in the interest of 'flexibility', improving capital's falling rate of profit and reducing the unemployment rate. These proposals have been advocated by various factions of the ruling class, members of the Parliament, Ministry of Labour officials, some 'charity organisations' and sham government-controlled 'Islamic Labour Councils'. Many of the workers, whose terms and conditions are going to be further deregulated, are already on starvation wages. ...
Officially, the total labour force is just below 27 million, over 3 million of whom are estimated to be officially unemployed. Between 40- 42 million of the working age population is 'economically inactive'. Some are students, but a large number are made up of 'discouraged job seekers’, those with tenuous connection with the labour market, working from home, and absorbed into the informal sector. Officially, informal work is work not protected by the labour law and social insurance provisions. There is no data on the size of the 'informal economy' but it has grown massively in the past 10 to 15 years – an almost new phenomenon in Iran – the low official participation rate of about 40% is an indication of a huge reserve army of labour partly absorbed into this sector. ...
The drive towards privatisation began in the early 2000s with the 2006 amendment of Article 44 of the Constitution, allowing for the sale of state-owned companies. The Iranian Privatisation Organisation (IPO) was created by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Finance, and the government declared a large-scale privatisation program in its Fifth Five-Year National Development Plan 2015-2020, aiming at privatising about 20% of the state-owned enterprises each year.
But full-fledge privatisation of the economy, dismantling of the social wage, cuts to social spending and state-subsidies, and thus socialisation of poverty, were implemented during Ahmadinejad's presidency (2005-2013). The main beneficiaries of these policies were the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and economic institutions under the control of the Supreme Leader Khamenei. ...
There is no trade union system in Iran and independent trade unions are banned. Workers lack the power of collective bargaining and are 'represented' by state-controlled Islamic Workers' Councils, which are present in most workplaces and sectors of the economy. These Councils are supervised by the (Islamic) Workers' House, affiliated with the World Federation of Trade Unions. The Islamic Labour Councils are by no means trade unions; they are tripartite organisations made up of the government, employers and (sham) worker 'representatives' who are selected based on their royalty to the regime and commitment to Islamic ideology. One of the tasks of these Labour Councils is workplace spying on militant workers.
The right to strike is not recognised by law in Iran, and labour strikes are brutally suppressed. Labour activist are routinely harassed, arrested, prosecuted and sentenced to long jail terms. Torture, beating and murder have been the modus operandi of the regime from its very inception, and are neither new nor isolated practices.
See the full article at
http://links.org.au/iran-class-struggle-neo-liberal-capital-accumulation . <>
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Posted on March 14, 2019
Some typos have been corrected.