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Australia: Sally McManus urges unions to be 'disrupters' to fix neoliberalism's damage to workers

Labourstart.org News - Sun, 06/25/2017 - 17:00
LabourStart headline - Source: Guardian Australia
Categories: Labor News

Slovakia: Volkswagen Slovakia workers win wage hike, end strike

Labourstart.org News - Sun, 06/25/2017 - 17:00
LabourStart headline - Source: AFP
Categories: Labor News

TWU Campaign For A March On Washington

Current News - Sat, 06/24/2017 - 19:49


Why Unions Must Take the Lead and Call a March on Washington to Defend Healthcare – An Open Letter to John Samuelsen, TWU International and Local 100 President
june 15, 2017 by campaignforamarchonwashington
The following letter from TWU Local 100 members was sent to TWU International and Local 100 President John Samuelsen on May 30, 2017. For more information, and to add your name to the list of signatories, write to: campaign4amarchonwashington@gmail.com.
John Samuelsen
Transport Workers Union
International and Local 100 President
May 30, 2017
President Samuelsen:
We are writing to urge you to use your position as TWU Local 100 president and as the TWU’s recently elected International president, to support the call for this country’s unions to take the lead in mobilizing a March on Washington to defend healthcare.
President Trump and the Republicans in Congress are using divide-and-conquer tactics, launching one attack after another on the rights and living standards of working-class and poor people.
First they targeted Muslims, immigrants, and Blacks and Latinos with their “Muslim travel ban,” mass deportations, and end to federal oversight of local police departments found responsible for egregious and systematic racism.
Now they are targeting healthcare, pushing for reforms that will have devastating consequences for tens of millions.
And tomorrow they promise to deal a catastrophic blow to the labor movement, including TWU Local 100, by making anti-union “right-to-work” statutes the law of the land. These statutes, of course, are more accurately referred to as “right-to-scab” laws because they deny unions the right to win the requirement that all workers in an enterprise be represented by a union and have union fees collected from them.
Trump has repeatedly declared his commitment to this union-busting attack and Vice President Pence has brought prominent Republicans to the White House to discuss how to win this battle. Trump has already secured an anti-union majority on the Supreme Court and now right-wing billionaires like the oil industry’s Koch brothers and Walmart-owning Walton family are competing to bring right-to-work cases targeting public sector unions before it. Meanwhile Republicans in Congress have already introduced House Resolution 785 that would apply “right-to-work” nationwide in the private sector.[1] The consequences of these “right-to-work” attacks could be so devastating that prominent figures in the labor movement are referring to it as a potentially “extinction-level-event” for unions in this country.[2]
All these attacks are deeply connected.
Trump and the Republicans’ plan to overturn “Obamacare,” combined with their proposed budget, will:
leave an estimated 23 million people without health insurance over the next ten years;[3]
cut $1.4 trillion in funding from Medicaid;[4]
remove many of the forms of care, such as maternity care, that insurers are currently required to include in their plans as “essential coverage;”
allow states to opt out of covering pre-existing conditions and charge more to people they claim have adverse health histories
defund Planned Parenthood, which is many women’s only health care provider;
allow insurers to increase the prices of their plans; and
it will do all this so that the rich can be gifted massive tax cuts.[5]
Waiting until the next elections with the hope of voting for candidates who promise to undo this damage means accepting the suffering and death of untold numbers of working-class and poor people. Mobilizing now to defeat these outrageous attacks is a matter of life and death.
At “town hall” meetings across the country, thousands have vented their outrage at Trump and the Republicans’ plans. No matter how inspiring they have been, however, it’s clear that such scattered protests will not be enough to stop this attack. The White House’s first attempt to pass its healthcare legislation only failed because some Republicans insisted on even more draconian attacks! So the time is now, while the Senate is considering their latest legislation, to take the protests to another level. And our unions are the only mass organizations to which working-class people can turn to make that happen.
If this country’s unions announced a March on Washington to defend healthcare and then seriously organized for it, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, could be expected to rally in support. That could that deal a massive blow to Trump and the Republicans’ plans. It could create momentum to win the long-standing demand of the TWU and most other unions – quality government-provided healthcare for all, as well as embolden the struggle against Trump’s racist attacks. And it could win widespread public support for our unions – support that we will need if we are to have any hope of defeating the coming “right-to-work” attacks.
In TWU Local 100, morning- and evening-shift meetings of the Track Workers’ Division have already voted unanimously in favor of motions for you and Local 100’s Executive Board to urge all this country’s unions and union federations to call such a March on Washington, so the Division’s officers can be expected to bring it before the Executive Board for a vote at its next meeting. Meetings of the Train Operators’ Department similarly declared unanimous support for taking the idea up, with more Department meetings to come. But why wait?
President Samuelsen, you have just become president of the TWU International and so you are perfectly placed to take this initiative forward by publicly calling on all unions, union federations and councils – as well as organizations dedicated to the rights of women, Blacks and Latinos, immigrants and other oppressed people – to join and build a March on Washington to defend healthcare.
We hope you will do the right thing by advancing this call and look forward to receiving your response.
Jonathan Beatrice, NYCT​ ​Conductor,​ ​Shop​ ​Steward​ ​TWU​ ​Local​ ​100,​ ​Democratic​ ​Socialist​s ​of​ ​America*
John Ferretti, NYCT Conductor, Shop Steward TWU Local 100, Revolutionary Transit Worker newsletter
Jason Hicks, NYCT Track Worker, TWU Local 100 member, Democratic Socialists of America*
Eric Josephson, Retired NYCT Track Worker, TWU Local 100 member, League for the Revolutionary Party
Eric Loegel, NYCT Train Operator, Shop Steward TWU Local 100
Seth Rosenberg, NYCT Train Operator, TWU Local 100 member, Revolutionary Transit Worker newsletter
* Organization listed for identification purposes only

1. Michael Paarlberg, With all eyes on Trump, Republicans are planning to break unions for good,” The Guardian, February 2, 2017; Walker’s Wisconsin could be a model for Trump on unions, Chicago Tribune, February 6, 2017.
2. Harold Meyerson, Donald Trump can kill the American union, Washington Post, November 23, 2016.
3. Rob Pear, G.O.P. Health Bill Would Leave 23 Million More Uninsured in a Decade, C.B.O. Says, New York Times, May 24, 2017.
4. Niv Elis, Trump releases budget that slashes government programs, The Hill, May 23, 2017, .
5. Sullivan, What the GOP’s plan to kill essential health benefits means, The Hill, March 23, 2017;
Sarah Kliff, The American Health Care Act: the Obamacare repeal bill the House just passed, explained, The Hill, May 4, 2017; Josh Barro, This chart shows why the GOP health plan will make health insurance more expensive, Business Insider, March 16, 2017; and Michael Hiltzik, All the horrific details of the GOP’s new Obamacare repeal bill: A handy guide, Los Angeles Times, May 4, 2017.

Tags: TWU 100Healthcare March
Categories: Labor News

Uzbekistan: Falsely convicted union activist dies in prison

Labourstart.org News - Sat, 06/24/2017 - 17:00
LabourStart headline - Source: Solidarity Center
Categories: Labor News

ATU Local 1235 Transit Workers Take the Driver's Seat in 'Right-to-Work’ Tennessee

Current News - Fri, 06/23/2017 - 11:38

ATU Local 1235 Transit Workers Take the Driver's Seat in 'Right-to-Work’ Tennessee

June 23, 2017 / Chris Brooks

By reaching out to workers—and their families—at every opportunity, ATU Local 1235 in Nashville has seen its membership rate jump from 60 to 80 percent. Photo: Patrick Green
At Labor Notes trainings I hear lots of reasons why union members think their co-workers aren’t involved: They don’t understand labor history. They don’t appreciate all the union has done for them. They watch Fox News. They’re scared or apathetic.

I always say, “Remember what inspires people to organize a union in the first place. They join and stay involved when they experience what it means to wield collective power.”

This story takes place in my home state of Tennessee, where Patrick Green started driving a bus in Nashville in 2008. Back then, he says, here’s how negotiations typically went in Transit (ATU) Local 1235: A month before bargaining, officers “would send out a note to the members asking for the top three things they wanted the union to achieve. Then the executive board would never say another word about it.”

When it was time to ratify, members never saw the deal. “We would come in and vote on the agreement without knowing anything about what was in it,” Green said. The union seemed useless, and for a long time he didn’t get involved.

But that changed in the lead-up to 2015 bargaining, when friends who knew he had a management background and experience with negotiations encouraged him to get involved in the contract somehow.

Union leaders weren’t so enthusiastic. “The leadership rejected all of our attempts to help,” said Green. “Out of this frustration with getting involved, my friends said I should run [for president]. I agreed.” Two other members agreed to run with him.


One member had the idea of hosting town hall-style debates among the candidates—something the local had never done before. Held over multiple Saturdays at a Shoney’s restaurant, the debates drew an enthusiastic response. Members showed up with their families to eat breakfast and lob questions.

The incumbent president had run the local for 18 years. Green had no formal union experience—and says he’s an introvert.

But at the town halls, Green and his slate laid out a different vision for the union. In particular, they pledged transparency and member participation in negotiations.

In a field of four candidates, Green swept 65 percent. The others on his slate won as well. And the new leaders jumped right into negotiations, winning some strong gains—starting wages went up by $3 an hour—in a contract that all members got the chance to read before casting their votes.


It’s no wonder that in “right-to-work” Tennessee, Local 1235 is recruiting new members. A year ago, its membership rate was 60 percent. Now it’s 80 percent.

Organizing conversations are a key recruitment tool. Union officers and stewards meet with workers to hear about workplace problems and plan how to fix them. They reach out at every opportunity, including at new-hire orientation, during training, and when they meet to bid for jobs.

The union doesn’t limit these conversations to new hires—or even to members. “Many times it is the spouse that takes the children to the doctor, so we reached out to talk to them about our medical insurance,” Green said. “We even opened it up to non-members.” The local has also worked alongside a worker center to found a Bus Riders Union.

Since Nashville drivers are employed by a private nonprofit, not the city, they have the right to strike. Green is organizing a meeting in September to talk with members and families about financial planning—both for retirement and for a potential strike.

The meeting is part of involving everyone in a plan to win a better contract. “I will be asking our members to put away $20 per pay period into an account to build up for a strike next year,” Green said. “The bank will be on hand to help them open the account for free.”

Most of us, most of our lives, live with decisions made by others. When we take action together, we change that. Suddenly we have a feeling that another world is possible. Those are the moments that create converts—and sustain those already on board. Those are the moments that unions need to multiply.

Chris Brooks

Tags: ATU 1235solidarityRight To Worktransit workers
Categories: Labor News

Spain: Workers Suspend Dockers Strikes as Companies Quit Anesco

Current News - Thu, 06/22/2017 - 10:42

Spain: Workers Suspend Dockers Strikes as Companies Quit Anesco


The Spanish stevedoring unions have decided to shelve their strike plans for the rest of this month as a sign of good will.

The move was prompted by a letter from Javier Vidal, president of the Association of Port Stevedoring Companies of Barcelona, who asked for the suspension of strikes after major port companies left the employers’ association Anesco.

Previously, the unions said that a number of major companies did not support Anesco’s approach to resolving the conflict, and that many vowed to guarantee all jobs to keep the social peace, and remain open for negotiations.

According to Vidal, a new document was signed by workers and port companies that left Anesco aimed at restructuring the association.

In addition, the workers are waiting to set a new meeting to formalize the agreements made with majority of companies.

In light of the latest developments, the unions cancelled the strikes planned for June 23, 26 and 27.

The unions had announced a new wave of 48-hour strikes scheduled for 26 and 29 of June and 3 and 6 of July starting at 0800 a.m.

According to the country’s Ministry of Public Works, minimal level of services had been agreed with the unions so the regular lines and passenger traffic were not affected.

The dockworker strikes have had a major impact on the Spanish economy having in mind that the country relies on its ports for 80 percent of its total imports and 57 percent of its total exports.

The new strikes came on the back of a framework agreement proposal submitted by Anesco to the workers.

However, a joint statement from Coordinadora Estatal de Trabajadores del Mar, Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT), Confederacion Intersindical Galega and General Confederation of Labour of Spain, indicated that the proposal did not guarantee job security to all employees and brought nothing new to the table.

Spanish dockworker unions launched a nation-wide strike on June 5, impacting operations across the country’s 39 cargo ports. Strikes were also held from June 14, 0800 hrs till June 16 0800 hrs, and at odd hours on June 19 and 21, resulting in only 50% of workable time.

World Maritime News Staff

Tags: Spanish Dockworkersstrikederegulation
Categories: Labor News

Global: ITF tells Uber to seize chance to change

Labourstart.org News - Wed, 06/21/2017 - 17:00
LabourStart headline - Source: ITF
Categories: Labor News

Uruguay: Workers Hold 24-Hour Strike Ahead of Budget Approval

Labourstart.org News - Wed, 06/21/2017 - 17:00
LabourStart headline - Source: TeleSUR
Categories: Labor News

China: Still no response from Ivanka about Chinese factory supplying her brand

Labourstart.org News - Tue, 06/20/2017 - 17:00
LabourStart headline - Source: China Labor Watch
Categories: Labor News

USA: The Conservative case for unions

Labourstart.org News - Tue, 06/20/2017 - 17:00
LabourStart headline - Source: The Atlantic
Categories: Labor News

Fleet Memo for June 17 2017

IBU - Tue, 06/20/2017 - 10:54
Categories: Unions

Striking truck drivers slow traffic at LA, Long Beach ports

Current News - Mon, 06/19/2017 - 22:53

Striking truck drivers slow traffic at LA, Long Beach ports

Teamster Local 848 picket at Everport Terminal Services, in San Pedro Calif., in the Port of Los Angeles, protesting XPO Logistics and California Cartage that use contract workers rather than employ them as full-time, hourly workers. Monday, June 19, 2017. ( Photo by Stephen Carr / Press - Telegram / SCNG )

By Rachel Uranga, LA Daily News

Teamster Local 848 picket at Everport Terminal Services, in San Pedro Calif., in the Port of Los Angeles, protesting XPO Logistics and California Cartage that use contract workers rather than employ them as full-time, hourly workers. Monday, June 19, 2017. ( Photo by Stephen Carr / Press - Telegram / SCNG )

L.A.’s mammoth hub, the nation’s busiest container port, reported about 60 picketers outside six different container terminals around 10 a.m., causing occasional traffic delays. But officials said operations inside the gates were not delayed.

“Cargo operations are ongoing at all terminals with occasional traffic delays,” said Phil Sanfield, a spokesman for the Port of Los Angeles.

In Long Beach, a handful of protesters were striking outside three terminals. Officials there also said operations continued as usual.

Backed by the International Brotherhood Teamsters and Local 848, representing about 500 port drivers, those on the picket lines are calling for several port trucking companies to end the practice of hiring drivers as independent contractors. The union is pushing for full-time status for the drivers, including overtime and options for medical and other benefits.

Protests targeted Connecticut-based XPO Logisitics Inc. on Monday, but the strike will expand over the coming days to include more drivers at other trucking companies and will last until the end of the week. This marks the 15th strike in the past four years. Those walking the picket line receive some compensation through a union hardship fund.

“XPO and many other trucking companies are violating workers’ rights by refusing to recognizing they are employees,” said Barb Maynard, who has been organizing port truck drivers for four years as part of Teamster campaign. “This means lower wages, they don’t get benefits like social security, worker’s compensation and their boss can evade the laws that protect workers like minimum wage, overtime and health and safety rules.”

Plus she said, “these companies aren’t paying payroll taxes.”

Union officials said since 2011, port truck drivers have filed at least 875 claims with the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement. In 376 cases, drivers were found to be employees and owed about $40 million in stolen wages and penalties. More than 100 other cases are still pending, while hundreds more appear to be settled out of court or dealt with by a private arbitrator.

Trucking companies defend such practices, saying they allow drivers to choose their schedules and other freedoms.

There about 16,000 port drivers — most are independent contractors.

Last week, a representative from XPO said the arrangement works well for many drivers.

Tags: LA Port Strikeport truckers
Categories: Labor News

Qatar: Qatar Blockade: Fears for Migrant Workers in a Region in Turmoil

Labourstart.org News - Mon, 06/19/2017 - 17:00
LabourStart headline - Source: ITUC
Categories: Labor News

Transit Riders Unions vs. Climate Change, White Supremacy, privatization and Disaster Capitalism

Current News - Mon, 06/19/2017 - 12:36

Transit Riders Unions vs. Climate Change, White Supremacy, privatization and Disaster Capitalism


JUNE 19, 2017

Over the past few weeks, Portland, Oregon has been catapulted into the national spotlight as the site of clashes between antiracist and antifascist activists, on the one hand, and white supremacist and militia groups like the Prayer Patriots, Oathkeepers and American Freedom Keepers on the other. The right wing militia groups, along with other assorted Trump supporters, descended on the city in the immediate wake of the May 28th deaths of two out of three men who intervened to stop 35-year old Jeremy Joseph Christian, a self-professed white supremacist, from harassing two young Black women, one of them wearing a hijab. The attacks occurred on the city’s light rail or “Max” line on the eve of Ramadan.

Unremarked, however, in national media coverage of the attacks and their aftermath is the fact that the attack came in the midst of a growing debate in Portland about the militarization of public transportation. The attacks, in fact, came within days of a May 24 vote by the board of Trimet—the tri-county agency that manages Portland’s public transit system—to spend $9.9 million dollars to construct a new transit police facility and jail, and an additional $1.6 million to ramp up policing of public transportation.

The standing room only crowd at the May 24 Trimet Board meeting represented a cross section of Portland progressive community. At the center of the organizing work was the people-of-color-led statewide Portland-based NGO OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon, and its member organization Bus Riders Unite! (BRU). OPAL and BRU worked to turn out a strong showing for the hearing, which included activists with union, disability rights, fossil fuel/climate justice, immigrant, houseless and renters’ rights activists, and police accountability activists from Black Lives Matter, Don’t Shoot Portland, and Portland Copwatch. Police violence became a particular flashpoint for the hearing, coming as it did on the heels of the police shooting of a 24-year-old Black man named Terrell Johnson. The shooting occurred within two months of a grand jury decision not to pursue charges against the officer who, in February, shot and killed another Black man, 17-year-old Quanice Hayes.

The shooting occurred within two months of a grand jury decision not to pursue charges against the officer who, in February, shot and killed another Black man, 17-year-old Quanice Hayes.

Barely a month earlier, OPAL activists and their allies in Oregon’s Just Transition Alliance also mobilized thousands to turn out for an April 29 march, part of the global People of Color’s Climate March, calling attention to the disproportionate impacts of climate change on frontline communities of color worldwide. On the same day, white supremacists and Trump supporters held a march down 82nd street, in a neighborhood that has increasingly become home to immigrants and people of color, many of whom have been forced out of the city’s urban core by decades of gentrification. As the Reverend Joseph Santos-Lyons, a long time OPAL board member and Executive Director of APANO (the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon) wrote in an op-ed in the Oregonian, “The sight left me with a feeling of deja vu. I was born and raised in Oregon and I had heard these chants before: ‘Go home,’ ‘Get out of our country,’ ‘You do not belong here.’ Only there was a key difference. The white supremacists were more confident, less ashamed. And perhaps for good reason. Their views are amplified nationally.” . Present on the scene at the April 29th march was Jeremy Joseph Christian, who would go on to slash the throats of three men on the city’s light rail, killing 53-year-old Ricky John Best, and 23-year-old Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche, of Southeast Portland, and severely injuring 21-year-old Micah Fletcher.

With OPAL activists and their allies regrouping from the April 29 marches and mobilizing to turn out activists for the May Trimet board meeting and budget vote, Portland’s Willamette Week newspaper published a front page story headlined “Governor Kate Brown Might Sell Four Agencies to Private Bidders to Keep Oregon Afloat.” Among the state “assets” slated for sale, as a subheading indicated, is “Portland’s light rail system.” A primary impediment to the sale, the article indicated, however, would be “TriMet’s union employees [who], reporter Nigel Jaquis noted, “exert enormous power and would oppose a sale of any TriMet functions.”

Nationwide, state and local governments are facing increasing pressures in the wake of the manufactured debt crisis, to include public transportation among “assets” to be liquidated in corporate fire sales. The Willamette Week story, and the prospect of the Democratic governor selling off state agencies met with a predictably celebratory response in the conservative Weekly Standard, which responded gleefully to the prospect of the governor “burning the [state’s] household furniture to say warm” , and “rechristen[ing] the University of Oregon ‘Nike U.’” The prospect of the privatization of Portland’s light rail system is a barometer of Brown’s willingness to pursue neoliberal austerity measures, and the power that corporations like Nike and Intel exert in a state with one of the lowest corporate income taxes in the country.

The possibility of privatizing light rail ought to send shock waves throughout Portland. The city, after all, is at the forefront of the national battle to divest from fossil fuels and convert to more sustainable forms of energy. Few cities nationwide are better situated, then, to form a united front to push back against this regressive proposal, given the intersectional organizing already at work in a city that has been profoundly shaken by the resurgence of white supremacy and creeping fascism.

Nationwide, transit riders unions represent an important new front in organizing efforts to not only preserve but strengthen and exponentially broaden investment in and access to public transportation. Privatization of light rail would, of course, represent an incremental step toward privatization of public transportation as a whole, not to mention other public services and infrastructure. It would also deal a major blow to the fossil fuel resistance movement, and living wage jobs throughout the region, which is one of the reasons why privatization of public transportation is being modeled and vaunted by the Koch Brother-funded American Legislative Council (ALEC). But as the broad coalition represented in the May 24 hearing reflected, transit riders unions are on the front lines of a transit justice movement that intersects with multiple organizing fronts—including labor, fossil fuel resistance, climate, food and racial justice, police accountability, immigrants rights, disability rights, and health care access.

A 2016 article in Forbes Magazine entitled “Privatizing Public Transit Lowers Costs and Saves Cities Money” represents the erosion of unions and the power of labor as a primary benefit of privatizing public transportation. Privatizing public transportation has the potential to transform local politics and expand corporate power across the board.

The arguments are based in bait and switch tactics; they promise cost savings from eliminating union wage jobs and benefits, which would ostensibly be used to shore up other public institutions, including “local roads, schools and public pension funding.” Quite clearly, however, the elimination of transit unions would substantially erode the power of labor and would mark an important step toward eliminating and draining public pensions.

In Oregon, then, and across the country, proposals to privatize public transportation should be read as part of a broader attack on public pension funds, living wage jobs, climate justice and progressive policies across the board. “The positive effects of privatization would be largest in areas where union power is strongest,” observes Adam Millsap, a fellow with the State and Local Policy Project at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. Unions, Millsap notes, “are able to negotiate for wages above the market rate,” while “[p]rivate, competitive firms have an incentive to minimize costs and consequently will be tough negotiators.” By contrast, “public officials tend to acquiesce at the bargaining table since transit unions are a powerful constituency in local politics.” Predictably absent from Millsap’s analysis is any acknowledgment of the role that unions play in negotiating for higher wages across the board. Privatizing public transportation is, then, an important weapon in shifting the balance toward unrestrained corporate power.

Budget strapped cities with strong labor traditions are in the cross hairs of this initiative, which attempts to pit low income transit-dependent riders against bus and light rail drivers. Millsap, for example, identifies transit riders unions such as the New York City’s Riders Alliance as impediments to this broader assault on labor. Campaigns like the Riders Alliance’s “Fair Fares” campaign, Millsap argues, “might be unnecessary if New York City officials lowered costs by privatizing more of the city’s public transit network.” A 2014 article in Labor Notes heralds the importance of bus riders unions, which “make ready allies for willing unions”. New York, Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, Orlando, and Pittsburgh are among a growing number of cities nationwide in which transit riders and bus drivers are forming common cause to beat back transit cut backs and attempts to privatize public transportation.

New Orleans, Long Island and San Diego number among major U.S. cities that have privatized at least parts of their public transit systems, and they provide object lessons in the dangers of doing so. In New Orleans, the privatization of public transit was among the many “shocks” administered following Hurricane Katrina that intensified inequality and racialized disparities in income and wealth. In a phone interview, Robert “Tiger” Hammond, President of the Greater New Orleans AFL-CIO, spoke to the impacts of privatization on labor and living wage jobs. “When you privatize a company, they want to cut jobs,” he stated. “They want to cut benefits, such as health insurance, pensions…. We’re still in a fight for our life everyday in this hostile environment.”

For taxpayers, promised cost savings of privatization routinely fail to materialize, while wages and services are both cut. As Hammond notes, the companies that take over are focused on their own profits rather than community interests. They “always have to make money for the shareholders.” An article in California Watch, a project of the Center for Investigative Reporting, , examines the aftermath of the privatization of bus lines in San Diego. The article notes that the cost-savings have been “quite a bit less than advertised,” while bus drivers’ wages have taken a significant hit, with starting wages dipping from “$14 to $10.50 an hour.” In New York, the Long Island Bus Riders’ Union, a project of Long Island Jobs with Justice, emerged in the wake of outsourcing of bus lines to the massive French-based multinational company Veolia Transportation, the same company that now operates the bus lines and rail lines throughout the country.

In 2011, Veolia absorbed Connex Railroad, the contractor that “provide[d] engineers to the commuter line, MetroLink,” in Los Angeles, which was implicated in a 2008 head-on train collision that killed twenty five people and injured 130. The train engineer was reportedly texting at the time of the accident. The accident resulted in a $200 million settlement, “one of costliest rail settlements” in U.S. history.

With buses under operation by Veolia, The Long Island Bus RidersUnion fought back against threatened cuts to “60% of all routes, and weekend and off-peak service cuts equaling nearly 25% cuts on certain routes.” Not surprisingly, the transit union reported that many of the proposed cuts “appear[ed] to be in low income communities where more people rely on buses to get to work and to access the few health care centers that serve their needs.” The Riders Union publication included an interview with Dr. Niev Duffy of the Center for Social Policy and Community Engagement at SUNY Old Westbury. Duffy indicated that it was “’very difficult or impossible to evaluate the full economic consequences of the cuts,’” given “people los[ing] access to employment” and “cuts forc[ing] more people to use emergency rooms for their health care.” Among several health care facilities slated to lose access in the wake of cuts proposed in 2012 were the Nassau County Department of Health, and the Nassau County Department of Social Services.

The Portland-based Trimet’s proposed $12.9 million dollar expenditure, funded largely by a bond measure, was particularly galling to OPAL, BRU and their allies, given OPAL’s campaign to secure passes for the city’s low income riders at the nearly equivalent cost of $12 million. OPAL organizers note, moreover, that the city is in the process of implementing a flashy new electronic fare card system, the “Hop Fastpass,” the total costs of which are estimated at $35.9 million. OPAL/BRU organizers see the expenditure as evidence of the Trimet Board’s insularity from community needs and interests, including those of low income transit-dependent people, who for decades have been pushed to the outskirts of a city that ranks among one of the most rapidly gentrifying cities–with one of the tightest rental markets in the U.S. OPAL organizers emphasize that “fare evasion” may at times be a necessary survival tactic for low income riders whose quest for lower rents increases the cost of their daily commutes, and who may at times be forced to choose between fare evasion and job loss from missed shifts.

The $11.5 million expenditure, OPAL and BRU contend, represents a ramping up of militarized policing. In a phone interview, BRU organizer Orlando Lopez described Trimet’s practice of conducting mass fare checks or “sweeps.” Riders exiting stations at what Trimet describes as “checkpoints” are met with a gauntlet of three to five armed officers, often with police dogs. Transit police officers, Lopez observed, “use sweeps as a dragnet” to look for people with outstanding warrants. According to OPAL, while sweeps are often used at events like concerts and baseball games, they seem to occur most routinely in lower income areas frequented by people of color, including recent immigrants. At the May 24th hearing, OPAL organizers noted reports of individual Trimet police inquiring not only after fare cards, but into riders’ citizenship status as well, though it’s illegal under Oregon law for local law enforcement to do so—in the absence of suspicion of criminal activity–and Trimet officials have expressly stated that such practices deviate from agency policies.

OPAL organizers cite a pattern of racial profiling that informs fare checks and sweeps. Though individuals are ostensibly selected at random for fare checks, Lopez noted, “if you’re white and wearing a suit, they don’t bother to check.” The same pattern, he noted, applies to fare checking on the city’s light rail. A single individual whose fare is being checked, and who “poses no harm to officers,” may, nonetheless, be surrounded by three or four armed transit police. “Typically what we’ve heard from riders and members,” Lopez observed, “is that they target youth, people of color and people who look homeless or low income first to see if they’ve paid their fares.” Racial and economic disparities in fare enforcement, then, may account in part for the fact that, according to a study conducted by Brian C. Renauer with Portland State University’s Criminal Justice Policy Research Institute, African Americans comprise only 7% of Trimet ridership, but they represent 17.7% of individuals cited for fare evasion, and 22.4% of those who are issued 90 day exclusions that are accompanied by charges of “interfering with public transit” or IPT. “Black folks in Portland,” observed Lopez, an organizer with BRU, observed have higher rates of unemployment, and poverty and lower incomes than whites. According to a 2014 Multnomah County equity report, at 15.9%, unemployment rates for African Americans are nearly double those of whites (8%). “So when [Black riders] are punished, they’re punished for living in poverty,” observed Lopez.

Until this past week, IPTs, as they’re called, qualified as Class A misdemeanors equivalent to DUIs. On June 12, the Oregon legislature voted to reduce them to a Class C misdemeanor.

While IPTs are issued for a variety of offenses from harassing riders and drivers to fare evasion, the latter accounts for 90% of IPTs issued by Trimet police. IPTs for fare evasion result in criminalization and, notes Lopez “set them back financially.” According to Portland’s Street Roots newspaper, the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission determined that, between 2010 and 2014,“in Multnomah County the average jail sentence for an IPT conviction was 15 days at a cost of $2,520 per inmate.”

And while no evidence exists to date of undocumented people being detained or deported by ICE for fare evasion, both locally and nationally, undocumented people with even decades old DUIs are now facing detention and deportation. In January, district attorneys in the counties served by Trimet announced that “their offices will no longer prosecute TriMet fare evasions or exclusions.” . “We’ve been trying to push for the complete removal of IPTs,” noted Lopez, but to date, Trimet continues to issue them. The privatization of light rail might, moreover, erode the progress that OPAL and BRU have helped forge around the issue.

In the days following the nationally publicized murders on the city’s light rail, many in Portland seemed eager to endorse Trimet’s plan for ramped up policing. Lost on some, it seems, was the fact that it was “civilians,” rather than police, who intervened to defend the passengers against Christian’s verbal assault, and who initially chased Christian, still holding his bloody knife, from the scene of the attack. On social media, however, many honed in on the disparities in police treatment of African American Terrell Johnson and the white supremacist. Johnson had reportedly been threatening passengers at a light rail station, but when police approached him, he ran. When Johnson reportedly brandished box cutter or “utility knife” at officers, he was shot– multiple times in the back– and died at the scene. Christian, who reportedly threw his nearly four inch long bloody knife at a moving squad car, was allowed to finish his beer before he was taken safely into custody.

Police conduct during the subsequent showdown on June 4 between progressive, anti-racist and anti-fascist activists on the one hand, and Trump supporters and white supremacists on the other, raised troubling questions for many about the intersections of militarized policing and white supremacy. Police in full riot gear trained their weapons throughout the day exclusively on progressive and anti-fascist activists, and before the day was over, the PPB, with a complement of interagency support, including “Homeland Security,” hit activists with stun—or “flashbang”–grenades, chemical agents and rubber bullets. Homeland Security agents, meanwhile, were caught on tape enlisting the aid of a member of the American Freedom Keepers, a right wing militia group, in pinning and cuffing an antiracist protester. The U.S. Attorney’s Office is reportedly investigating the incident.

The possibility of white supremacist sympathizers within the ranks of the PPB itself, however, would hardly came as news to many in the city. A captain in the PPB was disciplined in 2010 for reportedly erecting a shrine in a local park in homage to five dead Nazi soldiers., and in 2014, then Mayor Charlie Hales signed off an agreementexpunging records of the disciplinary action.

On June 6, Mat Dos Santos, Legal Director of the Oregon ACLU, issued a statement calling the June 4 showdown a “trial for the first amendment and policing” in Portland. Dos Santos took pains to notethat “no other police force in America uses crowd control weapons with the regularity of the Portland Police Bureau…. these ‘less lethal’ weapons are dangerous and indiscriminate.” . Collectively, incidents of the last few weeks have gone a long way toward undermining Portland’s “progressive” reputation. For many longtime Portlander’s the recent events are a grim reminder not only of Oregon’s roots as a “white only state,” but also of the visibility that white supremacists assumed in Portland as recently as the 1980s, that culminated in the 1988 murder of Ethiopian student Mulugeta Seraw, who was beaten to death by baseball bat wielding members of the White Aryan Resistance or WAR. A $12.5 million legal settlement by the Southern Poverty Law Center against WAR leader Tom Metzger played a significant role in breaking the regional power of WAR and curtailing white supremacist organizing in the Pacific Northwest for nearly two decades.

As the city continues to be hit on an almost daily basis with white supremacist threats—from racist leaflets to bomb scares—and Portland activists regroup and strategize ways of contending with the shifting political landscape, Trimet might be a particularly strategic focus for activist energy. At an April breakfast meeting hosted by Portland Business Alliance with sponsorship from Portland General Electric, reported on by Willamette Week, Mayor Ted Wheeler “announced his interest in welcoming driverless cars to Portland by the end of the year.” “’My goal is to have an autonomous vehicle pilot program in Portland, working for Portlanders, by the end of the year….To the inventors, investors and innovators, I’m here to say that Portland is open for business.’” While the development of a fleet of autonomous vehicles may serve as a boon to Portland General Electric, it also sends an ominous signal about the future of public transportation and evokes comparisons to San Francisco. In the latter city, Google’s high tech workers are shepherded to work and back in privately owned buses that not only insulate them from the realities of economically embattled service workers and but give them little reason to want to invest in public transportation.

If Wheeler hoped to lend credence to PGE’s claim to serve as the forefront of Portland’s clean energy movement, in May, regional fossil fuel resistance activists turned out in droves to speak out against PGE’s plan to build a new natural gas plant to replace an existing coal-fired plant. At the meeting, activists “raised the specter of methane leaks from [fracked] gas, unhealthy pollution from gas-plant operations, [and] uncontrolled global warming.” On June 1, the same day the Trump administration announced plans to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, Portland’s city council passed the latest in a series of resolutions affirming its commitment to a fossil fuel future. It voted to power “100 percent of community-wide energy needs with renewable energy by 2050.”

In the coming years, however, Portland’s struggle for a livable, white supremacist-free future may increasingly center on the fate of the city’s public transportation system. Around the country and around the world, the preservation and expansion of public transportation may prove a critical variable in the struggle for a “livable future.” Both nationally and globally, the stakes for frontline communities of color in the crosshairs of both climate change and disaster capitalism couldn’t be higher.

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More articles by:DESIREE HELLEGERS
Desiree Hellegers is a co-founder and affiliated faculty of the Collective for Social and Environmental Justice at Washington State University Vancouver, and author of No Room of Her Own of Her Own: Women’s Stories of Homelessness, Life, Death and Resistance (Palgrave, 2011).

Tags: privatizationrepressionracism
Categories: Labor News

UBER Destroying Public Transit As Capitalist Politicians Refuse to Regulate And Control “Disrupters” Deregulation Gone Wild

Current News - Mon, 06/19/2017 - 08:01

UBER Destroying Public Transit As Capitalist Politicians Refuse to Regulate And Control “Disrupters” Deregulation Gone Wild
Is the Uber phenomenon killing transit in Sacramento?
The opening of the Golden 1 Center downtown last fall was billed as a rare opportunity for Sacramento Regional Transit to attract new riders. The agency stepped up its game, scrubbing trains, bolstering security and improving customer service.

By many accounts, it made a good impression. Yet new numbers show SacRT ridership on buses and trains has dropped 12 percent since last summer.

What happened?

The answer is simple. The transit agency’s ongoing challenges are bigger than an arena, and will require more work to address than an image upgrade.

While light rail trains did carry 1,700 fans on some arena nights, that amounts to only a small slice – about 2 percent – of daily transit travel, and those riders materialize only when the arena is hosting major events.

SacRT has been losing ridership almost annually for seven years – a 30 percent decline since 2010. American Public Transit Association data show that transit ridership is dwindling in most other cities as well.

Dan Sperling, founder and head of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis, who is writing a book about revolutions in transportation, says public transit in America is at a pivotal juncture.

“The story is of transit under great duress,” he said. “Transit is under great risk of shrinking. That is not in anyone’s interest.”

Nationally, transit experts point to many factors, including low gas prices that cause more people to get back in their cars. Others point out that poorly funded transit agencies, SacRT included, don’t provide sufficient service to be useful to many.

The most provocative possibility is what transit officials call the “Uber phenomenon.” App-based ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft have arrived on the scene in cities across the country, siphoning riders from traditional, or “legacy,” transit.

Ride-hailing companies do not release ridership details, but an Uber spokesman told The Sacramento Bee earlier this year his company has 2,000 drivers signed up in Sacramento. The streets around Golden 1 Center during event nights tell a story. Cars with U stickers or pink mustache stickers on windows frequently roll through the area, picking up and dropping off fans.

Ride-hailing allows people to hit a button on their cellphone and be picked up within minutes right where they stand, and then be dropped off directly at their destination. The price is typically higher than a bus fare, but the convenience improvement is obvious.

Jim Corless, head of the Sacramento Area Council of Governments regional planning group, says transportation is dealing with a generational disruption.
Sacramento streetcar project effort scores key local funding
“This disruption technology and the drop in ridership numbers means that every transit provider across the country has to rethink their business model,” he said. “They have to understand their competitive advantage.

“It may be what RT can do best is serve high-frequency, high-volume corridors. Nothing will ever beat a frequent, safe and reliable bus or train ... that can move volumes of people.”

While the ride-hailing phenomenon represents a challenge, transit experts say it also provides an inspiration and potential collaboration opportunities.

SacRT has been putting its toe in those waters. The agency teamed up on a test basis with Uber, Lyft and Yellow Cab this winter, offering discount vouchers for light rail riders to take ride-hail services to and from transit stations. Regional Transit officials say they do not have data yet for how that turned out.

Lyft spokeswoman Darcy Nenni also did not offer an analysis of how that went, but, in an email to The Bee, called it “a great learning experience for us and SacRT.”

“We hope to continue working with them on future endeavors,” Nenni said.

Devra Selenis, SacRT communications head, said she envisions a day when a single phone app will tell a person their best bet is to grab an Uber to a light rail station and allow the person to pay for both with a single tap on the phone.

Transit agencies say they realize they must become more tech-friendly in order to attract millennials and future generations of new riders.

SacRT recently added smartphone payment apps, and last week joined eight smaller local transit agencies in introducing “Connect Card,” an ATM-like universal card that riders can use at any of those agencies. Peter Tateishi, president of the Sacramento Metro Chamber, suggests transit agencies might be even bolder by considering merging more of their operations.

But transit officials acknowledge their challenges go far beyond Uber. SacRT’s existing bus route system is out of date. The agency has launched a bus route analysis that likely will result next year in the most dramatic route changes in the agency’s history.

“Travel patterns have shifted, but our bus routes haven’t shifted,” chief operating officer Mark Lonergan said. “That is why we talk about a clean slate.”

SacRT has begun meeting with business leaders on how to attract and retain young people who are less inclined to own cars, and are interested in using transit if it works for them, according to SacRT consultant Wendy Hoyt, who has been pushing SacRT to be more entrepreneurial.

The Metro Edge business group, made up of young professionals, conducted a survey that shows transportation issues are members’ No. 1 concern, up from No. 3 the previous year. That suggests there is an opportunity for SacRT to gain some footing.

Rachel Zillner, Metro Edge chair, uses light rail at times. She said she loves Uber, but considers the ride-hailing service “partially a Band-Aid for the transit connection that is not there yet.”

SacRT officials say the ridership slide is a catalyst for reinvention. The biggest drop in its ridership came in 2010, when the financially strapped agency cut service more than 20 percent. The agency took another ridership hit last year when it raised fares.

That points to another long-standing problem: the lack of sufficient, ongoing funding for public transit, SacRT officials said.

The agency had hoped to get an infusion of money last year from a countywide sales tax measure, but that proposal lost at the ballot box. SacRT and others in transportation circles locally are talking about trying again, especially if they can pass legislation to lower the required voter approval threshold from the current two-thirds.

Nailah Pope-Harden of the Capital Region Organizing Project, which works in disadvantaged neighborhoods, said that a lot of the riders SacRT lost over the last few years are poorer people who feel abandoned by the agency as it focuses on attracting millennials.

Agency officials say they realize their mission includes serving people who don’t have cars, but say they need new, higher-income riders to help fund service that can be used by everyone.

Even with new funds, progress will be incremental, they say.

“It may take some time for people to come back,” said SacRT executive Laura Ham. “It may happen gradually.”

Tags: UberderegulationDisrupterstechnology
Categories: Labor News

BHP Billiton Joins the Push for Autonomous Vessels

Current News - Sun, 06/18/2017 - 21:04

BHP Billiton Joins the Push for Autonomous Vessels

Conceptual autonomous ship (illustration courtesy Rolls-Royce)
By MarEx 2017-06-07 19:58:31

Mining company BHP Billiton has thrown its considerable weight behind the concept of autonomous vessels. The firm ships 250 million tonnes of ore on 1,500 voyages per year, making it among the largest dry bulk charters in the world, and it believes that it could significantly improve the bottom line by switching to self-navigating ships. It is easily the largest charterer to date to endorse the concept of vessel autonomy.

"Safe and efficient autonomous vessels carrying BHP cargo, powered by BHP gas, is our vision for the future of dry bulk shipping. We believe that future could manifest within a decade," says vice president of freight Rashpal Bhatti.

The move would mirror BHP's increasingly automated operations on land. The firm already works with driverless trucks at its mines in Australia, reducing overhead and removing human drivers from a potentially hazardous environment. (Competitor Rio Tinto was an early and enthusiastic adopter of these self-driving trucks, and it is also adopting self-driving trains and drilling rigs.) These innovations save labor costs, but they also reduce uncertainty: with increasingly automated operations, miners have fewer concerns about future labor availability and wage levels for their shoreside operations.

Charterers can vote with their contracts

In a keynote address at the Nor-Shipping 2017 conference last week, Bhatti also emphasized shipping's role in reducing CO2 emissions; the promise of new data analytics tools to benchmark vessel performance and facilitate cost-effective chartering decisions; and most of all, the importance of ship operator vetting to improve safety standards. "Due to our size, the decisions BHP makes around the vessels we choose to charter are important symbols for motivating change," he says.

Recalling the Stellar Daisy disaster, Bhatti placed special emphasis on safety: he says that his firm’s goal is to bring dry bulk's standards up to and beyond the benchmark set by the tanker industry. To push operators to improve, the firm only allows shipowners with top environmental and safety records to participate in its eAuction online chartering platform: low day rates are no longer enough.

Tags: Automationautonomous vessels
Categories: Labor News

Spanish Dockworkers Strike in Defense of Jobs & Dockworkers: the “can do” of the working class

Current News - Sun, 06/18/2017 - 20:59

Spanish Dockworkers Strike in Defense of Jobs & Dockworkers: the “can do” of the working class
Spanish Dockworkers Strike in Defense of Jobs
On June 5, Spanish dockworkers began the first of a series of strikes that will see eight days of strike action over three weeks. These strikes have been called in response to the conservative government’s new Royal Decree Law that targets the country’s port labor system, and the stevedoring companies’ refusal to protect the jobs of 6,150 currently employed dockers.
Sean Robertson
June 10, 2017

Left Voice’s second issue, "Women on the Front Lines", is now available for purchase. For every magazine sold, we are donating $1 to a worker controlled factory in Argentina.

The jobs of over six thousand Spanish dockers are now in jeopardy. The conservative Partido Popular (People’s Party) government has succeeded in getting its new Royal Decree Law, which targets the country’s port labor system, approved by the Spanish parliament. This legal victory has given stevedoring companies the upper hand in their efforts to liberalize the port labor system. All this has left Spanish dockers with little option but to take strike action in order to defend their jobs.

Spanish dockworkers’ unions struck on June 5, 7 and 9. These strikes follow a traditional pattern on the Spanish docks, where strikes take place on Monday, Wednesday and Friday on alternating hours across a 24-hour period, that is, one hour working, then one hour where work stops and so on. Next week will see a 48-hour strike from June 14 to 16. The strikes on June 19, 21 and 23 will follow the same hour on / hour off pattern as those in the first week.

Over the last few months, Spanish dockers’ unions have repeatedly announced numerous planned strikes, only to call them off in a show of “good faith” to parliamentary legislators and company negotiators. However, both the conservative government’s definitive legal victory and the port employers’ pigheadedness would suggest that this tactic has run its course.

Conservative legal victory

After much difficulty, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and his conservative Partido Popular government have succeeded in getting their anti-docker Royal Decree Law approved in the Spanish parliament.

The government’s first attempt to have these laws approved was blocked by the Spanish Congress of Deputies on March 16. Threats by dockers’ unions to exercise their industrial muscle saw parliament reject the original decree law by 175 votes against, 142 in favor and 33 abstentions.

For more on this, see: “Dockworkers: the “can do” of the working class”.

Nevertheless, the tables were turned just two months later. On May 18, a modified version of the government’s legislation was approved by 174 votes in favor to 165 against with eight abstentions. The center-right parties of Ciudadanos (Citizens), the Basque Nationalist Party and the Catalan European Democratic Party who had previously either abstained or voted against now sided with the government.

For the conservative Partido Popular administration, this parliamentary victory means two things. Not only does it bring to an end the continually accruing fines that the EU has imposed on the Spanish government but more importantly, it guarantees the phasing out of the current hiring hall-style labor system which Spanish dockers have worked under for decades.

Under the current system, all dockworkers belong to the Port Stevedores Management Company, known by its Spanish acronym SAGEP, similar to the hiring halls of longshore workers in the United States. The European Court of Justice has ruled that this system does not abide by EU regulations, and in July 2016 fined the Spanish government 15.6 million euro plus additional daily fines of 134,000 euro for every day that the system remained in place. The government’s May 18 decree law meets EU requirements and brings the accumulating EU-imposed fines, now almost 25 million Euro to an end.

For more on the SAGEP system and the ECJ rulings see: “Over Six Thousand Spanish Dockworkers’ Jobs Face the Axe”.

Iñigo de la Serna, the Minister of Public Works and Transport behind the decree law claims that it “guarantees employment for dockworkers”. Yet in the next breath he stresses that the “European Commission does not allow” for “subrogación,” agreements that guarantee all existing dockworkers’ jobs and working conditions, which is the central demand of the dockworkers’ unions. Dockworkers’ unions argue that these new laws go much further than was needed to comply with the EU requirements and now pose a dire threat to the jobs of 6,150 currently employed dockers.

Royal Decree Law

The Partido Popular’s new Royal Decree Law all but guarantees the extinction of the SAGEP port labor system. After a three year transitional period ending in May 2020, SAGEPs will lose their previous monopoly on the supply of port labor; stevedoring companies will no longer be legally obliged to take part in them; and individual SAGEPs will have to seek legal authorization to continue operating. Port employers will also be able to undertake direct company employment and hire labor from other sources if they so wish.

These laws do however allow for the creation of Port Employment Centers or CPE in Spanish, which could potentially play the same role as SAGEPs. But there will be no legal obligation for stevedoring companies to belong to them, and like SAGEPs in three year’s time, CPEs will also have to seek legal authorization before being established. Every existing SAGEP and CPE in three year’s time will also fall under the provisions that regulate temporary employment agencies. While these allow for fixed contract and indefinite employment, they also open the door to sweeping casualization across the industry.

These new laws also commit 120 million euros to the funding of an early retirement scheme. Dockers within five years of the legal retirement age (currently at 65) will be eligible to receive monthly payments of 70 percent of the average earned over the previous six months, which will increase in line with rises in state pensions and end once dockers hit the legal retirement age and are eligible for regular state pensions.

One of the few positives in the new laws is that they allow for either a state-sponsored accord or collective bargaining agreement to provide for subrogación, the rollover of all existing jobs and conditions.

Negotiations break down

Just days after the new decree laws were adopted, representatives of the stevedoring companies and dockers’ unions met on May 22 and drew up an in principle agreement. The port employers’ organization ANESCO (National Association of Stevedoring Companies and Ship Consignees) agreed to a guarantee of all existing jobs. In return, dockers’ unions agreed to a ten percent reduction in gross monthly salaries to 2,230 euros and further negotiations on shift changes and work organization in order to increase productivity. Unions have previously offered to accept a six percent pay cut just a week after the Royal Decree Law was first rejected back in March.

However, negotiations broke down at the next meeting on June 1. According to the dockers’ unions, the employers were now “giving contradictory signals with regards to the future of jobs in the sector” and proposing separate port-by-port negotiations instead of a national agreement.

It was after this breakdown in negotiations that dockers’ unions confirmed that the previously called strikes for June 5, 7 and 9 would go ahead, and further strike action on June 14-16, 19, 21 and 23 would also take place.

Solidarity with the Spanish dockworkers

Leaders of the different dockworkers’ unions (CETM, UGT, CC.OO, CIG and CGT)* have made it clear that their primary objectives are maintaining all current dockworker jobs, getting all port employers into the Port Employment Centers and converting these into a SAGEP-style system.

Spanish dockers’ unions certainly have plenty of industrial leverage with which to win these demands. As outlined previously in Left Voice, Spanish ports are a strategic sector of the Spanish economy, with over half of all Spain’s exports and nearly 80 percent its imports moving through them.

Along with their own industrial leverage, Spanish dockworkers will also need practical international solidarity from other dockworkers, especially their European and North African counterparts. Already dockers’ unions in Portugal, France and Italy have refused to handle any cargo diverted from Spain.

But the best chance of victory will arise with a fighting movement that unites Spanish dockers with all those currently struggling against Mariano Rajoy and his conservative government. For instance, Spanish taxi drivers have just held their own strikes along with a 20,000-strong demonstration on May 30, while campaigners for public education held a sector-wide strike on March 9 and demonstrations as recently as June 6. A movement that unites these forces not only has a better chance of victory, but it also has the potential to topple the minority conservative government.

More immediately, Spanish dockers need to take into account the disturbing signs coming from their own union leaders. For one, there is the tactic of repeatedly announcing and then calling off strikes over the last three months. After not having called one day of strike action since 2006, such a repeated on again, off again approach can only have a corrosive effect of dockers’ morale. Even more worrying is the willingness of Spanish dock union leaders to offer up pay cuts – first six percent and now ten percent - in exchange for a guarantee on jobs. “Watch your leaders”, the catch cry first popularized by British Communists in the early 1920s, appears to be just as applicable today as it was almost one hundred years ago.

For months now Spanish dockers have been chanting ¡Ni un paso atrás! (Not one step back!). In order to make this slogan a reality, Spanish dockers will need to use their potential to paralyze the Spanish economy and enlist the support of other Spanish workers and dockworkers from neighboring countries. They will also need to keep an eye on union leaders who have shown themselves too willing to concede unwarranted concessions to the port employers.

* CETM / La Coordinadora – Coordinadora Estatal de Trabajadores del Mar (State-wide Coordinating Committee of Maritime Workers), the main dockworkers’ union covering 80 percent of Spanish dockers.
UGT - Unión General de Trabajadores (General Workers’ Union), aligned with the Spanish Socialist Party, the PSOE).
CC. OO. - Comisiones Obreras (Workers’ Commissions), historically linked to the Communist Party of Spain, the PCE.
CIG - Confederación Intersindical Galega (Galician Inter-union Federation), a radical nationalist union federation
CGT - Confederación General del Trabajo (General Confederation of Labour), anarcho-syndicalist.

Dockworkers: the “can do” of the working class
What can the victory of the Spanish dockworkers teach us? That class struggle is the way to twist the arm of the government, the European Union (EU) and the way to make the capitalists pay for the crisis.
Santiago Lupe
April 11, 2017

Left Voice’s second issue, "Women on the Front Lines", is now available to purchase. For every magazine sold, we will donate a dollar to a worker controlled factory in Argentina.

Editor’s note - March 16 saw the Spanish parliament vote against the Royal Decree Law that sought to scrap the country’s port labor system. The decree put forward by the conservative Partido Popular (PP - People’s Party) government was voted down - 175 votes against, 142 in favor and 33 abstentions. Crucially, 32 of these abstentions came from the center-right Ciudadanos (Citizens) party that helps to prop up the minority Partido Popular government. This vote is the first time in nearly four decades that a royal decree has been rejected by the Spanish parliament.

The simple threat of a strike was enough to ensure the overturning of the anti-worker Royal Decree Law drawn up by conservative leader Mariano Rajoy. The “no” vote was not just a blow for the current Partido Popular government but also for the EU Court of Justice and its threat of sanctions.

One of the most concentrated, unionized and coordinated sectors of the labor movement has flexed its “muscle”, which this time round was enough to stop the parties of the post-Franco regime from voting for the “national interest” as they have done in the past. The threat of a strike was not only to have economical consequences - an estimated potential loss of 50 million Euros a day - but also political consequences. The flexing of this political “muscle” raised the specter of a big labor dispute taking center stage in Spain, one that could potentially recreate the solidarity and militancy of the Spanish coal miners’ dispute of 2012 and direct this at all those who voted “yes”. This is a scenario that the social-democratic Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE - Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party) fears as it enters its worst crisis in recent history.

If anything, what this demonstrates is that - despite all the skepticism about social mobilization and all the illusions in “storming heaven” through institutional means – determined class struggle is the way to defeat a government and the European institutions which shield its anti-labor policies. But not only that, it is also the way to open up the opportunity to bring the “democracy of the IBEX35” (the Spanish stock exchange) to an end and impose a program that makes the capitalists pay for the crisis.

As the media have pointed out, parliament’s rejection of the Royal Decree Law is historic. It has only happened twice since 1979, and one of these was by accident. Not only that, but among the “no” voters were key social-democratic PSOE deputies. These deputies belong to the same “socialist” party that, under pressure from the European Union (EU) and the financial markets, amended Article 135 of the Spanish Constitution in 2011 to ensure budget stability; that introduced a series of austerity measures in 2010 at the behest of the ‘Troika’ of the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund; that implemented the industrial reconversion process in the 1980s that closed down and sold off much of the country’s state-owned enterprises at the EU’s request ... if anyone knows anything about offloading economic crisis onto the strategic sectors of the labor movement, it is the “socialists” of the PSOE. Nevertheless, the dockworkers have taken advantage of the current crisis affecting this political pillar of the regime and shown that they could twist its arm and force it to vote “no”.

There is no doubt that the attacks on the dockworkers are far from over. Now the “cavalry” will come from the EU capital of Brussels; the media campaign against these so-called “privileged workers” will start again ... and the last word has not been spoken. Nevertheless, there are some interesting lessons that can be drawn from this first victory that go well beyond just the dockworkers.

Since 2014 we have seen the imposition of a new “common sense”, one that has been fueled by the rise of the neo-reformism of political parties such as Podemos (We Can), one that suggests that social mobilization is incapable of finishing off a rotten regime and the policies it uses to unload the crisis onto the majority of the population. This new “common sense” suggests that the key is to take the movement off the streets and into the electoral arena. Through these electoral projects, these forces would fight for social, political and economic reform with the idea of taking hold of government institutions and using them to make social change.

After nearly three years, the growth of various parliamentary groups for “change”, beginning with the 71 Congress deputies of Unidos Podemos (United We Can) and its allies*, has seen these forces take hold of a number of important municipalities and legislative bodies. However, their political practice is very different from what has been promised. In the municipalities of “change”, government debt is paid religiously, demands such as remunicipalización (taking previously privatized entities back into public hands) are abandoned and either their minority status or the existing legal framework is used to justify their refusal to take effective measures to end unemployment, evictions or energy poverty. In the Congress and the regional parliaments, they allow themselves to make very left-wing speeches and come out in support of existing mobilizations such as those of the dockworkers, but they do not propose one single measure of struggle or organization that would help to implement concrete measures against major social problems.

The dockworkers have shown us that just flexing their “muscle”, without even having to put their fighting ability into action has, to date, managed to overcome both the problem of the parliamentary majority - 268 of the 350 deputies are from neoliberal formations that have turned obedience to the EU into a dogma - and the threats from Brussels. It has not been the threat of strike action alone that has achieved this, for the division among the employers and especially the conditions of open crisis in the regime and its political agents have undoubtedly played a role. But this critical situation is not an exceptional one, for it has in fact been the norm since 2011. What dockworkers have demonstrated is that there is another way to occupy the electoral space.

You have to wonder about what we could achieve if the reformist left, which speaks of “change” and even of “returning to the streets”, started demanding that trade union leaders end their criminal policies of compromise and social peace? What could we impose on the parties of the regime if the reformist left took advantage of their positions and called for the organization and mobilization of workers, young people and women?

Examples arise by the dozen. The municipalities of “change” say that they cannot take privatized firms back into public hands because they are in a minority, or that if they generate quality public employment, then Partido Popular Finance Minister Cristóbal Montoro will audit them. Both things are as true as the fact that the EU Court of Justice will sanction the Spanish government if Rajoy cannot get his ‘reforms’ to the port labor system approved. Then what should be done? Resign yourself as local mayors for change such as Manuela Carmena (Madrid), Ada Colau (Barcelona), Pedro Santiesteve (Zaragoza) and José María “Kichi” González (Cádiz) have done? Or, on the contrary, prepare a great movement that fights to impose its demands on the politicians that serve big business and their courts, just like the dockworkers have done?

The same can be said of the parliamentary work of Podemos. As Pablo Iglesias himself says, in the Courts you can draw up little more than proposals that do not become law. But why is it that in over one year as a deputy, he has not called for a mobilization, or an assembly, or demanded that the union bureaucracy moves a finger ... for an increase in the official minimum wage, for the repeal of various labor ‘reforms’ or the nationalization of the criminal energy sector?

The dockworkers have shown us what they think of the new “common sense”, fueled as it is by the reformism of “change” that tells us that we cannot aspire – “because it is one thing to form government and another to have power”, “because I am only going to promise what I can get, in agreement with the PSOE and existing legality”. This “common sense” can be quickly surpassed once the road of social mobilization is returned to, with workers on the front foot and consistently defending the only realistic program to solve the great social problems: one that directly affects the profits and interests of the capitalists.

The most important conclusion that those moved by the victory of the dockworkers can draw is that the whole working class “has to do it like them. Our class has to learn how to flex its “muscle” and set it in motion a massive movement of workers together with young people, women and immigrants... in order to end unemployment by imposing the distribution of working hours with no reduction in wages, at the expense of the record profits being made by large corporations; by demanding the nationalization of banking and large strategic companies such as electricity providers under workers’ control; by refusing to pay all government debt; and by taxing large fortunes in order to guarantee good education, universal health and public services, among other urgent and fundamental measures.

The dockers’ victory is a victory for the whole working class against the precariousness of work. It is necessary to use this victory as a launching pad. They are going to keep attacking the dockworkers in order to try to break them, so for that reason we need to close ranks and surround them with our solidarity. At the same time, we must demand that if the trade union bureaucracy and the ‘neo-reformists’ want their declarations in favor of the unemployed, the precariously employed and other workers to have some credibility, they must call assemblies in every workplace for the organizing of a real plan of struggle that imposes a working-class solution to the crisis.

Translation: Sean Robertson

This is a translation of an article which first appeared at the Spanish Izquierda Diario website

* Unidos Podemos (United We Can) is the left-wing coalition that contested the 2016 Spanish general election. It consists of Podemos (We Can); Izquierda Unida (United Left) which has the Communist Party of Spain at its core; the Green Party “Equo” and other smaller, mainly regional parties. In various regions, it ran under different names, such as En Comú Podem (In Common We Can) in Catalonia and En Marea (En Masse) in Galicia.

Tags: Spanish Dockworkers Strikeunion bustingderegulation
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