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On Inflation and Working Class Struggle

By anonymous - angryworkers.org, June 17, 2022

On Saturday 18th of June, (there was) a national TUC demo in London, and as part of the build up, we were invited to sit on a panel hosted by the People’s Assembly called ‘Wages Up, Bills Down, Tories Out’. We were joined by six other panelists from the RMT, Bristol Co-operative Alliance and the Tribune, Bristol Trades Council and the NEU, the TUC and PCS, the Green and Labour Councillors for Ashley Ward, and the Secretary for Unite South West, who chaired the meeting.

Below is the transcript of the input from one AngryWorkers comrade about the current crisis, followed by a report from a comrade on the meeting in general.

I work as a housekeeper at Southmead hospital and I am a GMB rep there. I previously worked for several years in warehouses and food factories. I can see every day how people who earn around the minimum wage are struggling more.

I think we’re in a crisis in more ways than one. It’s a cost of living crisis, yes. It’s also coinciding with a long-running crisis of working class organisation and militancy (e.g. the fact that NHS workers can’t even enforce an actual pay rise, despite all the public support and the fact that we slogged our guts out in the pandemic, says a lot). And it’s also a crisis of the system where there aren’t any obvious answers.

“We Want Everything”: A Four-Day Work Week

By Samantha O’Brien - Rupture, June 9, 2022

“It’s not fair, living this shitty life, the workers said in meetings, in groups at the gates. All the stuff, all the wealth that we make is ours. Enough. We can’t stand it any more, we can’t just be stuff too, goods to be sold. Vogliamo tutto - We want everything”

- Nanni Balestrin

Labour Power

The four-day work week has captivated media headlines internationally, with different countries piloting programmes in the Global North. Seventeen companies have signed up to commit to a pilot programme in Ireland. Thirty companies in the UK are taking part in a new pilot. Workers will maintain one-hundred per cent productivity for eighty per cent of their time.[1] Belgium has given workers the right to request a four-day work week with no loss of pay, effectively condensing their five day work week into four days. This has rightfully attracted criticism, as working time has not reduced, but workers get to maximise their stress levels by working nine and a half hours per day.[2] The central theme of many global campaigns is that the implementation will look different in varying sectors, rosters and working arrangements. The campaign’s main aim is for a shorter working week with no loss of pay and challenging the dominant narrative that long hours equate with greater productivity.[3]

The key demand of socialists has long been a shorter working week with no loss of pay. Karl Marx in Capital describes how the hours that make up the working day mean different things to employees and employers. Workers put in their time to afford the basic necessities in life. Employers buy labour-power, and the value is determined by working time. Any labour-power beyond what is required to produce the necessities of life is surplus-value that employers get for free. It is not necessary for us to work long hours to produce what is needed, but instead employers maximise their profits by taking our surplus value. Marx notes that “the history of capitalist production, the determination of what is a working-day, presents itself as the result of a struggle, a struggle between collective capital, i.e., the class of capitalists, and collective labour, i.e., working-class.”[4]

There are many examples of struggles over shorter working hours throughout history. The eight-hour working day in the Global North was not granted because of benevolent employers or lobbying politicians, but fought for and won through struggle. In 1856, Australian Stonemasons who were working harsh ten hours days walked off their job and eventually won an eight-hour day.[5] The same story was echoed in struggles internationally, with workers taking a collective stand for their pay and conditions. Eleanor Marx, who was a founder of the GMB Union in 1889, fought and won an eight hour workday for gas workers. On May Day in 1890, she also played a crucial role in organising the Hyde Park protest in London. This protest gathered hundreds of thousands of people with the key demand of an eight-hour workday.[6]

Workers and Communities in Transition: Virtual Discussion on the Just Transition Listening Project

By J. Mijin Cha, Vivian Price, Dimitris Stevis, and Todd E. Vachon - Labor Network for Sustainability, May 3, 2022

The Center for Global Work and Employment, Labor Education Action Research Network (LEARN) and Center for Environmental Justice at Colorado State University have recently sponsored a virtual discussion on the Just Transition Listening Project (JTLP)’s 2021 report Workers and Communities in Transition. You can watch the recording online on LEARN-TV.

Webinar: Investing in Workers for a World Beyond Fossil Fuels

How movements can maintain their radical vision while winning practical reforms

By Mark Engler and Paul Engler - Waging Nonviolence, April 12, 2022

Forty years of struggle by Brazil's landless workers movement offers lessons on engaging the system without being co-opted.

Ever since it launched its first audacious land occupations in the mid-1980s, in which groups of impoverished farmers took over unused estates in Southern Brazil and turned them into cooperative farms, the Landless Workers Movement (known in Portuguese as the Movement dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra, or MST) has stood as one of the most innovative and inspiring social movements in the world. By 2016, its estimated 1.5 million members had established 2,000 permanent settlements throughout Brazil, with some 350,000 families winning land by organizing for their rights. By the start of the pandemic, the movement also maintained more than 170 community health clinics and 66 food processing facilities, which quickly became vital centers of mutual aid, as the group began giving out huge quantities of food to people in need.

In addition to using direct action to win land reform, the MST has pioneered a program of radical schooling for Brazilian youth and adults, especially those living in rural areas. As of 2018, the movement was operating in 2,000 schools — with thousands of MST-aligned teachers instructing upwards of 250,000 students. Remarkably, although state and local governments fund and administer many of these schools, the MST has been able to place its own teachers and implement a radical pedagogy. This includes study of agrarian reform and social justice movements, as well as the ideas behind agroecology — a model of sustainable agriculture that rejects corporate agribusiness.

For movements in the U.S. and beyond wondering how they can engage with the system without being co-opted, the MST offers a powerful example. Many social movement scholars believe that movements can institutionalize their wins over the long-term by having the state and mainstream political parties adopt their demands and programs. However, these scholars also contend that such institutionalization comes at a price: too often, as movement programs are incorporated into mainstream structures, grassroots forces become demobilized, dull their radical edge and lose their ability to exercise disruptive power.

Rebecca Tarlau, a professor of education at Penn State University, believes that it does not have to be this way. In her 2019 book “Occupying Schools, Occupying Land: How the Landless Workers’ Movement Transformed Brazilian Education,” Tarlau argues that the MST provides a model for how activists can use a strategy of “contentious co-governance” to win practical reforms from the state while also resisting cooptation.

We recently spoke with Tarlau to discuss this strategy — as well as the wider lessons we can learn from the 40-year struggle of Brazil’s landless workers. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Nationalize the U.S. Fossil Fuel Industry To Save the Planet

By Robert Pollin - American Prospect, April 8, 2022

Even as Vladimir Putin’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine proceeds and concerns over the subsequent high gas prices proliferate, we cannot forget that the climate crisis remains a dire emergency. The latest report of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—the most authoritative source on climate change research—could not be more explicit in reaching this conclusion. U.N. Secretary General António Guterres described the report as a “file of shame, cataloguing the empty pledges that put us firmly on track towards an unlivable world.” This follows several equally vehement studies in recent years, as well as those from other credible climate researchers.

If we are finally going to start taking the IPCC’s findings seriously, it follows that we must begin advancing far more aggressive climate stabilization solutions than anything that has been undertaken thus far, both within the U.S. and globally. Within the U.S., such measures should include at least putting on the table the idea of nationalizing the U.S. fossil fuel industry.

'Coal Country' Mines Seam of Class Anger in West Virginia Explosion

By Alain Savard - Labor Notes, April 4, 2022

If Don Blankenship were a fictional character, critics would say he was a cartoon evil capitalist. Unfortunately, he’s real. One of his lesser crimes was to dump toxic coal slurry into disused mineshafts, poisoning the water of his neighbors, all to save $55,000. While they sickened, he piped his own water from the nearby town of Matewan. Yes, that Matewan. He has characterized strikes as “union terrorism.”

As chair and chief executive of Massey Energy, he received production reports from Upper Big Branch mine every half hour, including weekends. And no wonder, Blankenship’s compensation was tied to production, and UBB produced $600,000 worth of top-quality coal every day in a mile-deep operation near Whitesville, West Virginia.

That is, until it exploded in a completely preventable disaster that killed 29 miners on April 5, 2010.

The workers knew something bad was bound to happen. Methane readings were too high, the ventilation and air control systems were a shambles. One day the mine was sweltering, the next freezing cold. They operated in a fog of coal dust and exhaustion. Management threatened anyone who spoke up.

“Coal Country,” a play recently re-opened at Cherry Lane theater in New York, tells the story of the disaster through the words of the miners and their families. They are backed up by stunning original songs by Texas songwriter Steve Earle, who accompanies himself on guitar or banjo from the corner of the stage. “The devil put the coal in the ground,” he growls, and you can believe it. Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen created the play, and Blank directs it.

Performance Coal, the subsidiary of Massey that ran Upper Big Branch, was created specifically to exclude the union. Gary Quarles (played by Thomas Kopache), recalls that when he first hired into the mine, he couldn’t believe how management shouted at the men. That wasn’t tolerated on his union jobs. Unrelieved overtime was another difference.

Managers brought in experienced miners like Quarles for their knowledge about extracting coal, but dismissed their knowledge about how to run a safe mine. Union mines are safer according to Phil Smith of the United Mineworkers of America, "because workers elect their own safety committees and they know they can report hazards without fear of retribution.”

Solidarity with strikers at the Chevron refinery in Richmond, California

By Workers' Voice, East Bay - Socialist Resurgence, March 28, 2022

On March 23, members of Workers’ Voice went out to support striking refinery workers at the Chevron facility in Richmond, Calif. This strike is taking place in the wake of the United Steel Workers’ national oil pattern bargaining agreement with the oil companies, which covers some 30,000 workers at refineries and chemical plants across the country. The pattern bargaining agreement now only covers those 30,000 USW-organized oil and chemical workers whose contract expired this year on Feb. 1, which union locals had to ratify.

In Richmond, over 500 oil workers represented by USW Local 5 rejected the tentative agreement, as it was insufficient to meet their needs. They are thus striking over wages, hours, and other workplace issues, including being forced to work during the peak of the COVID pandemic. They have set up 24-hour pickets, with six-hour shifts. The union has created a solidarity fund and will cover basic expenses of workers who can’t pay their mortgage or get health care or food costs covered.

When we visited, the workers were picketing in shifts of a few dozen workers in front of the refinery gate, keeping up an optimistic mood of camaraderie and humor on a chilly, foggy day.

Many of the drivers of vehicles passing by the picket line honked their horns in support. However, a bothersome Richmond cop and one or two surly truckers wanting to drive into the facility—which the workers were trying to block—attempted, unsuccessfully, to dampen the positive atmosphere.

The grievances of the workers relate to wages and to other grievances as well. They need a raise to keep up with cost of living increases, especially in the brutally expensive Bay Area. They’re also confronting increased health-care costs. A worker told us that their new health-care plan would barely be covered by the wage increase of 2.5% currently on offer. This increase would also not keep up with inflation, which was 7% last year alone. Shopping for groceries is much more expensive now, workers we talked to said. In fact, they added, everything is more expensive.

Workers also talked about a manager who got a 10 percent raise to move up from Los Angeles. This upset workers because that manager is already making a good salary. Moreover, Chevron recently reported billions in profits, the most since 2014; but the boss always says there’s no money for workers.

But workers say they’re not just striking about money.

On The Line In The Fight For Justice: USW 5 Chevron Richmond Refinery Workers Strike

By Steve Zeltser - The Valley Labor Report - March 28, 2022

USW Local 5 striking Richmond Chevron refinery workers rallied with community members and supporters on March 28 2022 in front of the plant. Operators talked about the attack on health and safety conditions, 30% increases in healthcare costs and increasing stress, dangerous long hours and rotating shifts. Last year Chevron made $15.6 billion but obviously that is not enough for the company. Community and labor supporters also talked about health issues for workers and the community and the ongoing efforts that have been made to keep the plant safe.

The strike which included 500 union members started on Monday March 25, 2022 after the company according to workers continued to demand concessions and even wanted to negotiate away health and safety inspectors to keep the plant safe. In 2012, a major explosion nearly killed a fireman. The company managers even though they knew of a serious leak refused to shut he plant down to protect their profits according to workers. It also heavily contaminated the community which is still facing flaring and other dangerous practices by the company.

Additional media:

Understanding Sunrise, Part 2: Organizing Methods

By Dyanna Jaye and William Lawrence - Convergence, March 24, 2022

Sunrise melded mass protest, electoral work, and distributed organizing to great effect, but 2020 upended its plans and forced a reassessment.

Sunrise Movement grew from a labor of love by 12 young people, including the two of us, into the most prominent climate justice organization in the country. We put the Green New Deal on the map, strengthened the Left insurgency in the Democratic Party, and helped drive youth turnout to defeat Trump in 2020. Climate change became a political priority for the Democratic Party, and Sunrise directly influenced Biden’s Build Back Better agenda.

In the last year, though, despite a few impactful protests demanding ambition and urgency from Congress, Sunrise members and observers alike have noted a loss of strategic clarity and organizing power compared to 2017 through 2020. And it’s not just Sunrise: the entire Left has struggled to make the jump from punching upwards in the Trump era to winning material reforms in the Biden era.

In this essay, we’ll pull back the layers of Sunrise’s organizing model: how we actually recruited young people and united them in a structure for collective action. We’ll first discuss the major influences on Sunrise’s organizing and run through how it all played out in practice, the good and the bad.

We share a diagnosis that a central shortcoming in Sunrise’s organizing model was the absence of a sustained method of mass organizing at a local level, which left us nowhere to go once we could no longer rely on the fast-but-shallow growth of distributed organizing methods. We’re proud of the movement’s accomplishments while humble about its shortcomings. We offer our reflection in the practice of learning together in public; we hope our transparency can empower the next generation of movement builders—in Sunrise and across movements—to lead transformative organizing for the next era.

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