May Day! International Workers’ Day is on the horizon

A fortnight today will see scores of marches, demonstrations, and other protest actions take place across the world, in recognition of May Day, or International Workers’ Day. Too few people know why May Day became International Workers’ Day and why we should still commemorate it.

It  began over a century ago when the American Federation of Labour adopted a historic resolution which asserted that “eight hours shall constitute a legal day’s labour from and after May 1st, 1886.” It is widely seen as the commemoration of the 1886 Haymarket Massacre in Chicago, when Chicago police fired on workers during a general strike for the eight hour workday, killing several demonstrators and resulting in the deaths of several police officers, largely from friendly fire. To save going into too much length and detail here, you can read the full story of it’s history in this great piece on the Libcom website.

Marchers assemble for speeches at Hereford May Day Rally - 2011

Last year saw a May Day anti-cuts march through high town, with members of Hereford Solidarity League joining with members of the Anarchist Federation, Herefordshire Green Party and others. After taking a detour to give Vodafone a quick passing picket, the march ended at the Shire Hall, where a number of speeches were made on the history of May Day and the importance of working together to stop the ConDem cuts and defend our services. You can read our full report of the march here.

This year the ‘Bristol 1st of May Group’ are taking the lead, planning a number of protest actions to take place in Bristol. They have released a call-out to groups and individuals across the country to mark International Workers’ Day in their own way.

“Reclaim The Beach – May Day 2012
A National Call For Action

This is a national call-out for a week of anti-capitalist action, events and celebration throughout the UK in the first week of May 2012 to show resistance to capitalism and remember all those workers who lost their lives for a better life for us all.

Beneath the road, the banks, the shopping malls and prisons lies the Beach,
Behind the politicians, the bureaucrats, the cops AND the robbers lies Freedom,
Outside wage and debt slavery, false democracy, capitalism and state control lies our Future.

This call is for the parents who can’t buy the shopping they need,
For the migrant workers who wont take their bosses abuse,
For the people of colour sick of institutionalised racism,
For the disabled people marginalised and ignored,
For the elderly who can’t afford to pay their bills,
For the women exploited and objectified,
For the students in perpetual debt,
For all the workers and the unemployed; the downtrodden, and the alienated.

We call now for expression of justifiable rage.
We call to the unionised to remember your proud history of militant labour,
We call to the students and workers in struggle,
To all anti-capitalists, anarchists, communists, rebels, and revolutionaries.
We call for direct action, subversion and creativity,
noise, colour, courage and diversity of tactics.
Celebrate International Workers Day with Love and With Rage.

In the spirit of all who fought and died for the emancipation of the working class.
This is a call to reclaim the streets, the fields, the forests and the beaches.
To break from control, to liberate and to occupy EVERYTHING.
Together, we can achieve the impossible.

Bristol 1st of May Group”

You can view their website.

Another ‘day of action’ against workfare


Saturday 31st March was called as the ‘M31 European Day of Action Against Capitalism,’ which included protests across the continent and a general strike in Spain.

Closer to home, a second ‘national day of action against Workfare’ was called, with over 20 protests being held in towns and cities across the country.

Workfare means unemployed people being forced to do unpaid work for their benefits. Tens of thousands of people are being forced into unpaid work,household name firms are profiting from free labour and disabled people face unlimited unpaid work or cuts in benefit. Workfare began under Labour with the New Deal in 1998, which became the Flexible New Deal in 2009. It is now being expanded by the Conservative-Liberal government under a number of different schemes including: ‘Work Experience’, ‘Mandatory Work Activity’, ‘the Community Action Programme’, ‘Sector Based Work Academies’, and ‘the Work Programme’.

Protests and pickets took place in Brighton, Bristol, Bournemouth, Edinburgh, Kilburn, Glasgow, Halifax, Hastings, Huddersfield, Inverness, Lincoln, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Northampton, Stroud, Swindon, Truro, Wakefield and York.

Here are a few selected pictures of protests from around the country-

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Brighton

Kilburn

Bristol

Edinburgh

-You can see more about the protests on Solidarity Federation website

-For more info about workfare visit Boycott Workfare

Activists give free subway rides in NYC

A group calling itself the “Rank and File Initiative” claimed credit yesterday for opening up more than 20 subway stations throughout the city for free entry.

Chaining open emergency gates at stations on the F, L, R, Q, 3, and 6 lines during rush hour yesterday morning, the anonymous activists posted signs designed to resemble MTA service-change announcements that read “Free Entry, No Fare. Please Enter Through The Service Gate.”

A press release claiming credit for the action said it was carried out by activists affiliated with Occupy Wall Street, as well as by rank-and-file members of Transit Workers Union Local 100, which is currently in negotiations with the Metropolitan Transit Authority.

The release cites Albany’s chronic underfunding of public transit, which has led the MTA to borrow heavily just to maintain its operating budget – debt which must be serviced in part with transit fares that have gone up 50 percent over the last decade.

“This means Wall Street bondholders receive a huge share of what we put into the system through the Metrocards we buy and the taxes we pay,” the press statement reads. “More than $2 billion a year goes to debt service, and this number is expected to rise every year. If trends continue, by 2018 more than one out of every five dollars of MTA revenue will head to a banker’s pockets.”

Last night we spoke with a representative of the Rank And File Initiative, who wished to remain anonymous. He told us that teams set out in the early hours of yesterday morning, disguising their identities, to lock open gates at roughly 25 stations.

“It was three or four people to each station, so you can do the math of how many people were directly involved,” he said. Not every team was successful — one dispatched to a Bronx subway station had to abort their mission — “But everyone came safely back without getting caught, which was our first priority.”

The source stressed that MTA station agents were not aware of the action, and no MTA employees were involved in actually locking the gates open. But that’s not to say that Transit Workers Union members weren’t involved.

“We’ve been planning this for months — Occupy people, other activists, and union members,” the source said.

“Union members were central to the planning. They told us the best places to go, they talked to their colleagues about what was going to happen, and not to be freaked out when we came in, and they gave the final green-light for the mission in the morning.”

Transport Workers Union Local 100 leadership denied knowledge of the action, and the Rank And File Initiative source confirmed that they were not notified. Relations between TWU 100 members and their leadership have long been strained, dating back to 2005 when union members, historically fairly radical, felt their leaders rolled over in a standoff with the MTA.

“There are a lot of angry and afraid union members who wish they could do more, but they’re held back by the leadership,” the source said. “We listened in on a conference call with [TWU President John] Samuelson and the shop stewards, and they were all telling Samuelson the union needed to be doing more. He got so mad he was muting out whole parts of the conversation, until it was just him talking on the line.”

Yesterday’s wildcat action — carried out by union members without the knowledge or coordination of their leadership — violated both the Taylor Law and the Taft-Hartley Act.?It suggests that TWU 100 leaders may be losing control of their members, and also may lend some credence to claims by Occupy Wall Street organizers that labor’s rank and file will take part in the upcoming May 1st “Day Without the 99 Percent” action, despite skeptical statements from some union leaders.

The tactic isn’t without precedent. San Francisco saw a fare strike in 2005, and the Spanish Indignados, to whom Occupy Wall Street protesters have often looked for inspiration, have been running their own fare strike, Yo No Pago, since early this year.

The source said his group’s inspiration for yesterdays action came on November 17 of last year. During that day of action for Occupy Wall Street, someone — quite possibly members of Occupy’s Direct Action Working Group — locked open doors at four stations.

“We wanted to do something like that, but scale it up,” the source said.

Going forward, the coalition is unlikely to repeat the fare strike tactic, the source said, though it will conduct other sorts of actions. The group also plans to release how-to guides to help anyone else who might want to stage a fair strike in New York subways.

“It’s a great tactic, because it aligns the interests of transit workers with the interests of the working classes throughout New York,” he said. “That’s important, because whenever transit workers get hit, it’s bad news for everyone else who rides the subway too . You see fare hikes and service cuts. It makes sense to make common cause.”

Village Voice

Managing down the pensions struggle

On Monday, the National Executive Committee of the Public and Commercial Services union voted not to call a national strike on 28 March. This, despite a ballot that specifically named that date and endless rhetoric around “M28,” naturally left many feeling deflated. But the consequences of this decision are far broader than that.
Before I go any further, I’d like to lay my cards on the table. This won’t be a secret to regular readers, but I’m a member of PCS and a lay rep in my office. I do a low paid clerical job in the civil service and I’ve absolutely busted my balls organising around the pensions issue, often despite a significant clique of reps in my branch whose ambitions don’t tally up with members’ interests. In other words, I am not writing this as an outsider observing the struggle, but as an active participant in it.
Returning to the main issue of March 28, the PCS decision was informed by the fact that “the NUT executive had voted not to proceed with the one day national strike on March 28 as previously discussed.” The teachers union are striking on the day, but only in London. This “may provide a platform for a decision on national action at the end of April,” but until then PCS “must now work tirelessly to build the alliance of unions willing to take the serious national action we need to defend pensions.”

All well and good, but there are too many ifs and maybes. The PCS executive insists that it is looking at a “clear and unambiguous strategy” of “joint national strike action with other unions in the civil service and education sectors; joint national, regional and local protests; lobbying of Ministers, MPs and other politicians; and coordinated targeted industrial action in some sectors.” However, when grilled by lay reps at a pensions briefing in the North West ahead of the recent ballot, PCS Vice President Paula Brown was forced to admit that no details of this had been discussed and the old favourite of a one day strike was still the only concrete action PCS had ready.

On top of such a lacking and reductive strategy, even if the union lives up to its own hype, there’s the delay. Joint action was first mooted for February. Then 1 March. Then 15 March. Finally, 28 March seemed to be concrete. Now it’s the end of April. Maybe. In the meantime, members are seeing the government press ahead with its attacks whilst the unions offer next to no opposition. Because three days of strike action in a little over a year, even if they’re really big, are never going to defeat austerity.

Don’t believe me? Ask the Greeks.

The answer to this point is always one about “the will of the membership” and how we “must take the members with us”. In other words, the nonsense of a radical or militant officialdom held back by conservative or apathetic members. But that idea is demonstrably untrue.

I’m a member myself. I work in an office with 1,000 other members and I speak to them – both individually and in union meeting settings. I know that the appetite for a real fight is there, because the people who declare that we need more than a one day strike, like going out for a week, aren’t socialists or anarchists. The people who actively started talking about wildcat action at members meetings aren’t far left militants waiting for revolution. They’re not even reps. They’re ordinary workers and union members who can see themselves getting screwed over, who want to do something about it, and who more often than not are sold only passivity by the trade union leadership.

You can see it in the wider working class, too. The trade union movement lumbers on, bolstered somewhat by the escalating struggle. But any pretence of militancy is thrown into stark contrast by the students in 2010, by UK Uncut, by the Sparks, and most recently by the incredible anti-workfare movement. A growing minority of people – often new to struggle – are punching above their weight and giving the working class what they haven’t seen in a long while: victories. The unions continue to punch below their weight and to win only the concessions that take the most moderate out of the game.

It is in this context that the PCS position needs to be seen. Sure, by the standards of the official union movement as a whole, they’re “militant”. But this isn’t the level of militancy that can win struggles – indeed, it can’t be by the nature of the trade union structures. Rather, in most government departments and nationally PCS members have been sold out on various issues by the Left Unity leadership. I’ve documented the sickness absence and privatisation disputes in the Revenue & Customs group, for example, whilst nationally the union already conceded a two-tier pension scheme several years back under a Labour government. Far from being a “fighting left leadership” (is there such a beast?) they are simply more hard-nosed than some of their compatriots within the same structures and facing the same interests and pressures.

What we are seeing with the decision to postpone the strike is not exactly a “sell out,” as some have termed it. More, it is the latest increment in a gradual winding down of the struggle.

When it began, the PCS ballot mandate was for jobs and pay as well as pensions, with “fair pensions for all” being the answer to the attempt to play up a public/private divide. Over time, pay and jobs disappeared from the rhetoric. In the recent ballot, we weren’t even fighting for fair pensions for all, just “concessions.” Now, the date that is actually mentioned on the ballot paper is set to simply pass us by.

There are a number of reasons for this. One is undoubtedly that the capitulation of Unison et al knocked the wind out of a lot of people’s sails. As a result, this will have dampened the rank-and-file pressure that forced strikes over the issue in the first place, giving the leadership some breathing room. Add to this that the thunder and enthusiasm has been stolen by the more vibrant and exciting struggles led on the ground, like workfare and the Sparks as cited above. All of which will have meant that N30 was a peak in this fight that has now passed.

But this was not an unpredictable occurrence. The fact that Unison dragged its heels so long told everyone that they would always be the most reticent to strike and the first to capitulate. That could have been planned for. And if action is only effective if “coordinated,” in a “coalition,” where was this sectional and targeted action going to come from? The unions and the left have been good at picking up buzz words to sound militant, but it is clear that they have no appetite to actually fight and win.

If more coordinated action does take place, it will only be after a hard fought battle within the unions. Even then, it will be after the first pension contribution increases have been imposed and enthusiasm will dampen further. We then face the prospect of a “deal” that can be sold as a win but isn’t, somewhere down the line, and an open door to privatisation, job losses and attacks on workers’ conditions across the board. In short, not only a defeat in this dispute, but a crushing defeat for the working class over a whole raft of issues relating to austerity.

There is no easy answer to this, of course. A rank-and-file movement like the Sparks simply doesn’t exist amongst public sector workers, and whatever strategies we come up with will not be implemented by the leadership. Though of course we should try to build that rank-and-file movement, and re-apply the pressure to force the union tops that very short distance they will actually budge to the left. The fight goes ever on.

Whatever happens, this incident serves as yet another example of why talk of “left leadership” is a red herring. The spectrum of left to right is very narrow, and on opposite ends of it the union structure still has its own interests as the keeper of industrial peace. Putting all our energy into propping up one end of it for supposedly being “left” or “more militant” only takes us away from what we really need to start scoring victories – the confidence to take control of our own struggles at a rank-and-file level.

Republished from Truth, Reason & Liberty

Swindon cleaners fight back against racist bosses

For the past month cleaners and other staff at the Great Western Hospital in Swindon have been campaigning against racism, bullying, and unfair treatment by their employer Carillion. The campaign has included 12 days of strike action by over 100 workers in the GMB union and numerous demonstrations.

On Saturday, as the workers are set to enter another week of strikes, they held their largest demonstration to date. They were joined by locals from Swindon including the National Union of Teachers, Unite, and Swindon anarchists; as well as groups from around the region such as Bristol Anarchist Federation, Socialist Workers Party and Socialist Party.

The demo was lively as the cleaners and their supporters (totalling around 350 people) marched and danced their way through the streets of Swindon. There was unanimous support for the strikers amongst all the passers by we spoke to, with some showing particular interest in the fact strikes were spreading from the public sector to the private sector.

The dispute began due to the mostly Goan cleaners facing constant bullying and harassment from Carillion, despite 109 individual complaints the company refuses to accept and deal with what the cleaners have described as institutional racism. There are also demands for the right to take their holiday in blocks larger than ten days to allow people to visit their families, and accusations of corruption amongst the Carillion management. Whilst the company seems to think it can ride out the dispute with scab labour bussed in from other sites, the GMB is digging in for a long fight and they have the passion, energy and drive to see this through.

For more information or to get involved in the continuing actions get in touch with Swindon anarchists: swindonanarchists@riseup.net

From Bristol Anarchist Federation

Also reported on BBC News