Monday, May 4, 2009

Workers’ struggles heat up in Europe

Workers’ struggles heat up in Europe

The German socialist writer Bertolt Brecht wrote, “Sometimes when you struggle you lose, but if you don’t struggle you’ve already lost.” Workers in various guerrilla-type actions—especially in France—are showing that even in the midst of the capitalist economic crisis, if you struggle, you might win.

FRANCE: Toyota workers win demands

After four days of blockading the Toyota plant in Onnaing in the north of France, workers on April 20 reached an agreement that won most of their demands. It was the first strike at the Toyota plant since it was set up in 2001. Since September, the plant’s 2,700 workers have been forced to take “partial unemployment,” where they are paid only 60 percent of their usual wages. They wanted 100-percent pay and thought that since Toyota is the fifth-richest enterprise in the world, it could pay up.

To put some muscle behind this demand, some 200 of 250 workers who had been on strike blocked all plant entrances starting April 16, preventing resupply of parts. In the end, Toyota agreed to pay the equivalent of 90 percent of normal take-home pay and partial pay for days on strike.

Electric workers cut prices, cut power

Workers in the state electrical company in France, EDF, now partly privatized, have been hitting management with guerrilla actions this April to enforce their demands for a 10-percent pay raise and an end to outsourcing of EDF jobs. The government of Prime Minister Nicolas Sarkozy has condemned the union workers as “saboteurs” because clandestine job actions cut off electricity to parts of the Paris region during the strike.

If the striking workers lost some popular support by actions that inconvenienced the public, this was more than made up for when another union action switched 350,000 customers from peak to off-peak rates, a 50-percent saving. For hundreds of families that had been cut off by EDF for failure to pay bills, the union switched their lights back on.

FRANCE-GERMANY: Continental workers unite for protest

Over 1,000 workers from the Continental tire company’s plant in Clairoix, France, joined with their sisters and brothers at Continental’s plant in Hanover-Stöcken to demonstrate against layoffs in Germany. Some 3,000 jobs are threatened by Continental’s plans to close the two plants. The action was one of the first taken by work forces in neighboring countries.

The French workers did the traveling because Continental shareholders were meeting in the Hanover Congress Center, which is where the workers demonstrated. Already almost half of the German work force was working short hours. Continental’s CEO Karl-Thomas Neumann said at the meeting that 6,000 workers were laid off in March and 25,000 workers would be on part-time work by the end of April.

German workers held placards welcoming their fellow workers from France. Some told the media they were encouraged by the militancy of the workers’ struggle there. Given the international organization of production by most large firms, it is apparent as May 1—International Workers’ Day—approaches that more such joint actions will be needed on a worldwide scale to defend jobs and salaries.

PORTUGAL—April 25 sizzles, one week before May Day

Portugal’s annual April 25 march drew more than the usual tens of thousands to Lisbon to gather and march for tradition’s sake and also reflected a new mood. The action celebrates that this year is the 35th anniversary of the 1974 revolution, when the junior officers of an army weary of colonial wars led a mass soldiers’ coup that overthrew the decades-long fascist regime. This unleashed a mass workers’ movement that in the following 18 months established strong pro-worker laws and also helped the respective liberation movements free the Portuguese colonies of Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau and East Timor.

Now, with 600,000 people unemployed out of a population of 10 million, Portugal has been hard hit by the crisis. The front page of Avante, the newspaper of the Portuguese Communist Party, says that what is needed is “a new April.” This means a new round of broad working-class struggle to restore the gains that have been severely eroded since that earlier uprising.

In Portugal, in the neighboring Spanish state (where official unemployment is over 17 percent), in France and throughout Europe, millions of workers in the imperialist countries will march on May Day. From the mood of these marches, traditionally led by unions, it will be possible to get an idea of the temperature of the class struggle in each country. In the countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America, the protests may take a more anti-imperialist character. In both cases, it will be a day to watch.

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