Bridgwater post strike – picket report

Bridgwater strikeThis morning [yesterday] a few Wobblies from Bristol travelled down to Bridgwater, Somerset to give support to striking postal workers and hand over a donation from members in our branch.

This was the posties’ seventh day of strike action since late June. Despite contradictory claims by management, the morale and support for the action among the workers remains strong. 109 out of a total of 122 at the depot are on strike, with over 50 gathered outside at one point this morning. Members of other unions have also been showing their support by visiting the picket lines and donating to the solidarity fund.

As we have also seen at previous strikes in Bristol, Royal Mail always manage to find the money to ship in scab management from elsewhere, put them up nearby and hire god knows how many minibuses to drive them in. This is happening against a backdrop of bullying and harrassment allegations against management, which has increased against CWU reps as the series of strikes has gone on. Far from detering workers from fighting against cuts to jobs and bullying managers working conditions, it seems to have only strengthed their resolve. There are two more days of strike action planned (Saturday 17th and Monday 19th), with the possibility of longer strike action in early September.

What’s happening in Bridgwater seems to be becoming common practise across the rest of the country. We saw a similar dispute in Bristol at the end of last year and it has recently been announced that the Communication Workers Union will ballot for national strike action next month in response to the proposed privitisation of Royal Mail. Next Saturday will also see postal workers in Weston-Super-Mare take strike action for the first time in 20 years.

We will be paying another visit to Bridgwater very soon and we wish the striking posties there and across the rest of the country the best of luck in their fight against the privatisation and casualisation of their work and cuts to their pay and working conditions.

The longer the picket line, the shorter the strike.

Bristol Industrial Workers of the World

An interview with…a Wobbly

The Heckler continues to find out about local and national campaigns and social-change groups, this time interviewing a member of the Bristol branch of the workers union, the Industrial Workers of the World (or Wobblies).

Heckler: Could you briefly explain what the Industrial Workers of the World is, what you aim to achieve and how you go about this?

Wow, that is a big question, which could take many a branch meeting to discuss.  The IWW is a workers union, which organises across all trades and industries, and is open to all workers and unemployed people. It is a member-led union, with the ethos of true democracy and solidarity at the heart of it. In my opinion, we are opposed to wage labour, and hope to build a new society in the structure of the old.  As a syndicalist union, we want to take control of the modes of production, and organise ourselves as workers.  We should enjoy the profits of our labour, whilst ensuring that nobody goes without.  It is a completely different way of thinking about how we live and work together.  Profit is a complete irrelevance to us, and we would work for the common good.  To be fair, we are miles away, and our main role at present is organising our class, mainly through workplace organising, fighting for workers rights and education.  One of the major positives of the IWW, is that it is ours as member, and up to us to do the work.  With that responsibility comes ownership, and we would decide collectively as to the best way forward.

Heckler: You say it’s the union for all workers, so it’s not just about factory workers as the name might suggest?

Good point comrade, the name is a bit disceptive.  We were formed in 1905, right in the middle of Fordism.  Most of our class worked in massive factories, or farms.  It was far easier to collectively organise, it could be argued.  Now, we have members in many different occupations, and the IWW, prides itself on helping those who do not normally get trade union support, like sex workers, charity callers, and cleaners.  This also includes those who work cash in hand.

Heckler: How is the IWW different from other mainstream unions?

We are different in many ways, but our organisation does not require paid officials.  As a dual carder (a member of a mainstream trade union) I find trade unions held back by paid officials.  Their interests are differnet from the rank and file members.  Also they “service” the membership.  The IWW encourages the membership to be active.  We all have ownership of our branch.  Also we have officers under instant recall, therefore if they do not work for members interests they can be removed. 

Heckler: Judging by a quick internet search, the IWW has a long and colourful history. Could you explain it’s roots and shed some light on some of the union’s past?

The roots stretch back to the USA.  Personally I am proud of the anarchist roots, some would disagree.  The IWW most recognisable catch phrase, if you like, is ‘an injury to one is an injury to all.’  Anyone who was not an employer could join.  This included black people, women and the unemployed.  As distasteful as this is, this was not the case in all trade unions, who at times progressed an open racist or sexist agenda, and membership. The IWW recognised early about the issues of our class, and gender etc are barriers constructed by those who wish to keep us apart.

IWW also celebrate direct action, because it gets the goods.  The strikes that they organised and engaged with were member led, and the violence of the employers was matched.  Also I like the way they engage with issues that might not be seen as main stream trade union issues.  The free speech movement for example.  The IWW in Britain are just about to engage in the ‘right to march’ struggle in Scotland.  This is not work based, or determined by a single trade.  But if we cannot voice our opinion or march in solidarity, we are truly fucked.

IWW rally in New York, 1914

Heckler: How active is the IWW in this country, and what campaigns is the union involved in?

The IWW is growing daily, as people turn away for the main stream TU’s and political parties, who have let us down time and time again.  We support any campaign the membership builds.  A recent victory was the John Lewis cleaners in London.  These were low paid, without proper contractual status, many did not speak English.  Many main stream trade unions would not approach this group.  Not only did the IWW secure better terms and conditions, but we have influenced the whole attitude towards this work group, and many other cleaners are getting active, and standing up for themselves.  In Bristol, the IWW are active in the anti-cuts campaign, and have just supported the national Pizza Hut campaign, but we need focus.  The Pizza Hut campaign is another benefit of the IWW. This dispute started in Sheffield.  Within a month restaurants in a number of cities were picketed, and Sheffield members got their pay increase.  It was a freezing snowy winter day; and every time the picket was breeched, we got a whiff of pizza up our hungry noses.  But nobady said that the class struggle was easy.

IWW Cleaners’ Branch members on a recent strike at John Lewis’ store at Oxford Street, London

Heckler: Last but not least, who should join the IWW and why? (And if you want to, how do you go about it?)

All workers should join the IWW, and shout ‘an injury to one, is an injury to all.’  We need to start to thinking differently about our relationship with capitalism, and our communities.  This system has had it.  The Con-Dem government are in the process of dismantling the welfare state.  This will effect everyone.  Also we have the worst employment rights in Europe, and they are getting worse.  We create all the wealth, food, services etc etc.  We need to start organising how we do this, and for what purpose.  None of us need to be working 30+ hours a week.  That is stupid, we have far better things to be doing.  But this change is not going to happen in the very near future, and will take struggle.

However, whilst I have been in the IWW I have met some of the best comrades you could hope for.  They give me hope, a solid network of people willing to stand up for each other and organise for themselves in the workplace and beyond, and their comradeship makes me happy.  This is important, and is a start for building a new society in the shell of the old.

If you want to join, please see the links below.  If you live in or around Bristol, pop into the Hydra Bookshop at 34a Old Market.  We also have regular meetings at the shop.  If you look hard enough, you will find us.

For more information or to join the IWW you can visit:

Bristol IWW blog : http://bristoliww.org.uk

UK IWW website: http://iww.org.uk

International IWW website : http://iww.org

 

*The Heckler previously interviewed a Hunt Saboteur in our ‘An interview with…’ series.

**The views represented in this interview are those of the individual interviewed and not necessarily those of IWW as a whole.

Striking cleaners win victory in John Lewis dispute

Cleaners at the flag ship John Lewis store on Oxford Street have won a fantastic victory against job cuts and low pay. The management have now agreed to withdraw, totally, plans for mass compulsory redundancy, and to give cleaners 10% pay rise, backdated to March – following a strike by staff who had organised themselves within the IWW.

Back in late July I went down to the John Lewis store to support the strike. I must confess that I was initially unsure as to whether the workers could win: at this point only a section of cleaning staff were actually organised in the union. What impressed though was the militancy and sheer presence of the picket line. Everybody who went in – whether they were colleagues, bosses, or delivery drivers  – was compelled to properly engage with the fact that their was a strike on. Meanwhile a very deliberate effort was made to inform the shopping public of the dispute – both at the flagship store and at John Lewis’ sister store Peter Jones. (At one point the police were called to prevent a few of us leafletting outside the latter. To their credit, the police seemed rather amused that they had been called down and explained to the manager that it was not within their remit to stop people giving out leaflets).

It is of some significance that these Cleaners were outsourced, rather than being direct employees of the firm. It is typical, in such situations, for businesses like John Lewis to plead impotence, and claim that the dispute can only be settled between the workers and the contractor. This dispute has shown what rubbish some claims are. This victory was won, in part, because John Lewis themselves did not want it happening in their shop front. Indeed, on the day of the strike a senior member of the partnership – in an attempt to illustrate his good intent – showed us an email sent from John Lewis to their outsourcer, urging them to resolve the dispute quickly and satisfactorily.

This dispute really does represent an important example to us all in these otherwise grim times.  “First 50% of cleaners hours were to be cut, then nearly a third of the work-force were to be made redundant, now after a courageous struggle not a single cleaner at John Lewis Oxford street will be forced to loose their job”. said Chris Ford an IWW organiser. “In an age of austerity this is no small  achievement”.

From Bristol IWW

New report documents ‘total policing’ clampdown of freedom to protest

A detailed new report launched today by the Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol) highlights how promises made by the police to ‘adapt to protest’ after 2009’s G20 demonstrations in London have been forgotten in a remarkably short space of time and a far more intolerant ‘total policing’ style response to protesters has developed in the UK.

The report, which covers a fourteen month period from late 2010 to the end of 2011, paints a bleak picture of the state of the freedom to protest in the UK. It documents how the tactic of containment known as ‘kettling’, the use of solid steel barriers to restrict the movement of protesters, the intrusive and excessive use of stop & search and data gathering, and the pre-emptive arrests of people who have committed no crime, have combined to enable an effective clamp-down on almost all forms of popular street-level dissent.

The High Court last week ruled that the use of pre-emptive arrests in advance of the royal wedding in 2011 was lawful but, from the experiences of activists gathered by NetPol, the report argues that this tactic is ‘one of the most disturbing aspects of the policing of protest’. Squats and protest sites were raided by police and potential protesters were rounded up and arrested. This including ten people who were carrying republican placards and a group who had dressed up to attend a ‘zombie wedding’, who were arrested while sitting in a café drinking coffee.

The report is also critical of the use of ‘section 60’ stop and searches, which require no ‘reasonable suspicion’ and have been disproportionately targeted at young people taking part in protests. This group has also faced arrest for ‘wearing dark clothing’, for ‘looking like an anarchist’, and in some cases under eighteen year olds have been threatened with being taken into ‘police protection’ if they participated in demonstrations.

NetPol’s research also highlights the invasive but routine use of police data gathering tactics, which oblige protesters to stand and pose in front of police camera teams and to provide their personal details. The report gives evidence of an increasing misuse of anti-social behaviour legislation to force protesters to provide a name and address under threat of arrest. NetPol believes political protest should not be equated with anti-social behaviour, and that the use of such powers against demonstrators should end.

Each one of these measures restricts and deters legitimate protest, but taken together these measures allow the police to impose a level of deterrence, intimidation and control that makes taking part in legitimate protest a daunting and often frightening experience.

Val Swain, commenting on the report’s launch on behalf of NetPol,said:

“The evidence we have gathered has been published just as news emerges of further pre-emptive arrests and other restrictions on the freedom to protest taking place in advance of this summer’s London Olympics. With an apparent willingness by the courts to defend any actions by the police against protesters, we fear that dissenting voices face an even harsher clamp-down in the weeks to come.”

Netpol

International Workers Day 2012 – In Pictures

Here’s a few snapshots of May Day protests from around the world…

Anti-Workfare protesters close down stores on Oxford Street, London

Thousands join May Day rallies in Spain

Riot police flank revolutionary left-wing May Day demonstration in Germany

Protesters try and tempt police with doughnuts. Montreal, Quebec

Anarchists get stuck into stores in Downtown Seattle, USA

Flag waving anarchist gets water cannoned in Santiago, Chile

A lighter shade of policing. Bogota, Columbia.