SWP reply to Eoin Ó Broin | Socialist Worker | Ireland | Socialist Worker | Ireland

via SWP reply to Eoin Ó Broin | Socialist Worker | Ireland | Socialist Worker | Ireland.

By Shaun Harkin on 25th April 2015

A recent article by Eoin Ó Broin in Sinn Féin’s An Phoblacht criticised the SWP for condemning the Stormont House Agreement, claiming socialists who put forward any arguments against their role in the North were “shouting in the service of the system”.

Authors: Michael Collins and Shaun Harkin

A recent article by Eoin Ó Broin in Sinn Féin’s An Phoblacht criticised the SWP for condemning the Stormont House Agreement, claiming socialists who put forward any arguments against their role in the North were “shouting in the service of the system”.


Ó Broin’s attack on Eamonn McCann is in many ways reflective of the ever growing contradictions in Sinn Féin itself. Presenting itself as a radical opponent to austerity in the South, they now face the worrying prospect of a resurgent anti-austerity movement in the North, with 50,000 workers taking strike action against the impact of the Stormont House Agreement. This is a deal agreed by Sinn Féin and the DUP, which proposes unprecedented levels of austerity, and in its own words seeks to “reduce the size of the Northern Ireland Civil Service and the wider public sector”.


Yet Ó Broin is as patronising in his dismissal of the thousands of striking workers, as he is of veteran socialist Eamonn McCann for highlighting their cause. The strike, Ó Broin claims, was not against austerity per se, but only focused on two aspects of the Agreement. According to him these were; 1. The plans to reduce corporation tax to levels of the South, and 2. The 20,000 redundancies being pushed through the civil service.


It is a lazy and dishonest assessment from Ó Broin, but even more so, an insult to the thousands of workers who took part. Ó Broin has, in fact, got the elementary facts of the situation wrong. First and foremost, it is legally impossible for Trade Unions to come out on the basis that the Assembly will reduce corporation tax alone. Thatcher’s anti-trade Union laws of the 1980’s seen to that, and Stormont hasn’t lifted a finger to try and remove these laws. There is widespread revulsion amongst Trade Unionists about Stormont’s plans to reduce corporation tax, but no one was specifically balloted on it.


As for his second claim: the 20,000 civil service redundancies (which the Assembly have borrowed £700 million for) affect only one section of workers balloted. Trade Unions are correct to condemn this scheme, which will see thousands of jobs go at the cost of hundreds of millions. But it was only one aspect of why people were striking. If the strike focused solely on voluntary redundancies, how does Ó Broin explain the fact that health workers were out, INTO teachers were out, Classroom assistants were out and transport workers were out? All of these groups of workers are facing redundancies, not just civil servants.


The Stormont House Agreement is the North’s equivalent to the EU-IMF Troika memorandum implemented in the South over the last few years. For that reason it has received widespread condemnation across the labour movement. The truth is Trade Unions were explicit in their reasons for taking strike action. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions took full page advertisements in every newspaper across the North stating clearly, “No-one voted for our elected politicians to do a deal like this. The Trade Unions reject the Stormont House deal. It is bad for workers, for all communities, for society, and for equality.’

Ó Broin argues that McCann and the SWP should give Sinn Féin ‘tactical’ support. When Sinn Féin speak against austerity, and oppose it by deed, they should be supported. But the deal agreed by Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party is an anti-working class deal. It will deepen austerity in the North. It will lay the basis for further privatisation of public services and the selling off of public assets. It will reduce the public sector so that the private sector can flourish, meaning a low wage, low tax economy for big business. The reduction of the Corporate Tax rate is not a demand of the labour movement but is a demand of profit hungry corporations.

In the North, there are daily reports on the impact of the cuts. Bus and rail services are to be reduced; library hours will be reduced; funding for arts, environment and poverty programs is being cut; student places and hundreds of teaching positions in our universities will disappear; education will suffer when teaching assistants are taken out of the classroom. This is why there is outrage. This explains why there has been mass resistance through strikes, protests, petitions and demonstrations. This explains why the resistance will continue, with Translink workers calling a day’s strike action

The reason why Ó Broin has lashed out at McCann and the Socialist Workers Party is because Sinn Féin is on the wrong side of this austerity budget, and are now coming under real pressure from social movements north of the border, which expose their inherent contradictions North and South. His claims that the SWP are ‘shouting in the service of the system’ fail to acknowledge one crucial point: in the North Sinn Féin are part of the system, and have presided over a power sharing government since 2007, of which public sector job losses, pay freezes, PFI schemes and privatisation have all been common features.

The SWP believe that we need to develop a Left, organised on both sides of the border, with a consistent opposition to austerity across Ireland.


Queen Elizabeth’s Windsor Castle staff threaten to strike over pay

via Queen Elizabeth’s Windsor Castle staff threaten to strike over pay.


30 MAR 2015

In this file photo, Queen Elizabeth II takes her seat during the state opening of Parliament, in London, on May 8, 2013 [AFP]

In this file photo, Queen Elizabeth II takes her seat during the state opening of Parliament, in London, on May 8, 2013 [AFP]


Staff at Queen Elizabeth II’s Windsor Castle are threatening to take industrial action over pay, a trade union said Monday.

If it goes ahead following a ballot, the action would be the first ever by staff working for the royal family, according to the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS).

The union claims that already low-paid staff are currently expected to carry out extra unpaid duties such as giving tours and acting as foreign language interpreters at the 900-year-old castle west of London.

It argues that they should be paid extra for this and staff would stop performing these “goodwill” duties during the industrial action.

“These workers are loyal to their employer and absolutely committed to ensuring visitors are given the royal treatment,” said Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS.

“It is scandalous that staff are so appallingly paid and expected to do work for free that brings in money for the royal family.”

Queen Elizabeth II usually spends weekends at Windsor Castle but also hosts state banquets there and takes up residence for a month over Easter, which this year falls in early April.

The union, which represents 120 out of 200 staff at Windsor Castle, is holding a ballot on possible industrial action from Tuesday which closes on April 14.


Revolutionary Eye • Demonstrations rock University of Zimbabwe

via Revolutionary Eye • Demonstrations rock University of Zimbabwe.

HARARE – Running battles between riot police and students at the University of Zimbabwe rocked the campus after students demonstrated in solidarity with their lecturers and kitchen staff who downed their tools this morning.

This comes after Midlands State University (MSU) and National University of Science and Technology (NUST), Great Zimbabwe University (GZU) lecturers embarked on an industrial action, protesting the late payment of February salaries.

On Monday MSU lecturers did not report for duty following a meeting held last Friday which gave government an ultimatum to explain the delay in disbursing salaries.

Lecturers in all state universities have not yet been paid their February salaries.

Sources at the University of Zimbabwe said government is prioritising government sectors which may be a threat to them at the expense of lecturers.

“How can you justify the fact that the military personnel have been paid their March salaries while we are still waiting for our February salaries,” said one lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe.

The government started disbursing March salaries to all uniformed forces from Wednesday last week.

Three tear gas canisters were shot at the marauding students by the riot police at the Students Union building where they are trying to gather.

One student at the UZ said the demonstration is in solidarity with the lecturers who should be paid their salaries so that they can continue attending lectures.

“We want to add our voice to that of the lecturers. Government should pay them so that we can also be attended to,” the student said.

Sources from Bindura university told Nehanda Radio that lecturers were last week advanced $200 each so that they can continue coming to work until they get their salaries.

However, the source said tempers are simmering as clandestine meetings are underway to join in the industrial action.

Zimbabwe has been rocked by demonstrations since last week when MDC-T youths clashed with police over the disappearance of activist Itai Dzamara.

On Friday prisoners also demonstrated at the Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison over poor living conditions and lack of food.

Last week a cabinet Minister, Jonathan Moyo admitted that the majority of Zimbabweans are angry and a solution to the problems is needed urgently.

In one of his Facebook posts last week Moyo said he received so many insulting messages which show that the nation is angry.

“After a whole week of reading the insults that were sent my way, I’ve come out with the distinct feeling that some compatriots out there have a lot of anger that they want to get out of their chests,” Moyo said.

Source:- http://nehandaradio.com/2015/03/17/breaking-news-demonstrations-rock-university-of-zimbabwe/

Climate activists have to stand with the strikers | SocialistWorker.org

via Climate activists have to stand with the strikers | SocialistWorker.org.

Ragina Johnson argues that the climate justice movement must see the oil workers on strike at refineries and other facilities as their allies.

February 12, 2015

Striking oil workers rally to demand safety come before profits (United Steelworkers)

Striking oil workers rally to demand safety come before profits (United Steelworkers)


The oil workers are fighting energy giants who put their multibillion-dollar profits ahead of the health and safety of their employees and the surrounding communities, whom they treat as disposable. Workers are demanding that the oil corporations address safety issues on the job, including forced overtime and outsourcing of work to contractors.

The strike comes amid a growing climate justice movement–a movement that is also challenging the fossil fuel industry. These corporations are poisoning our drinking water, filling our soil with toxic waste, and polluting the air we breathe.

Tesoro, Shell, Chevron, Exxon and other oil affiliates have blood on their hands. The most recent example is the explosions on trains transporting crude oil through towns and cities–trains that eventually bring crude oil to these refineries. The very plants where workers are squaring off with their bosses–in Anacortes, Washington, and Richmond, California, for example–have been the sites of explosions and fires that killed workers and exposed communities to deadly toxic chemicals.

At the extraction end, this industry sucks vital natural resources from the ground–specifically on Native lands, violating treaty rights of First Nations or surrounding working-class communities and farms–as it increases CO2 emissions that are burning up our planet.

Thus, some activists in the climate justice movement have asked why they should support workers in an industry that is the root cause of all these ills. While groups like 350.org, the Sierra Club and others have called on their members to support the strikers, some radicals are asking whether they should call for the destruction of the industry instead, and move ahead with the transition to renewable energy facilities like wind, solar and thermal. Can we be in solidarity with the workers, they ask, given their demands don’t talk outright about climate change, global warming and the need to get rid of an industry that currently puts food on their tables?

The answer should be yes to all these questions. We should be in active solidarity and support the strike if we ever hope to have a real transition out of fossil fuels. Our enemies are the corporations endangering all our lives, not the workers.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

FOR YEARS, activists and organizations have been fighting to stop the completion of the Keystone XL pipeline as part of the project of slowing climate change and the destruction of our planet and ecosystems. There have been mass arrests, direct actions, marches and demonstrations of all kinds, including the historic march that brought together over 300,000 to New York City in fall of 2014. People have come up with all sorts of creative tactics for blockades against the oil giants, including First Nations using their treaties and sovereignty rights to not allow the pipelines completion within and around their territories.

This movement has slowed the construction of the KXL section of the pipeline, which is a victory, but during this time, other pipelines have been built or updated, and thedangerous transportation of Bakken crude oil by rail has dramatically increased.

Corporations have, in essence, worked around our blockades. Our movement has not yet had the social and political force to confront the capitalist class that has restructured its economy and filled its bank accounts with revenues from the extraction and refinement of cheap fossil fuels, including fracked oil and gas.

Cheap energy is being used to reduce operating costs for the government and businesses, and just as importantly, U.S. oil companies are selling this black gold abroad. The abundance of cheap fuel isn’t about helping consumers run our vehicles more affordably (although many working and poor people have sighed in relief as the prices have dropped). Politicians like Gov. Jerry Brown in California would like us to think all oil and gas production goes to U.S. consumers, as he pushes fracking alongside renewable energy programs in California.

The U.S. has become the top oil producer in the worldchurning out over 14 million barrels of oil per day, surpassing Saudi Arabia’s 11.7 million barrels. Big Oil has been one of the most profitable industries, despite increasing economic and political instability internationally with the price of oil commodities falling due to massive overproduction.

The U.S. oil barons’ success has come not only at the expense of taking vital resources out of the earth in deadly proportions. Their profits have also come on the backs of the workers in the plants, factories and oil fields–and at the expense of communities that live and work around these plants and pipelines.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

THROUGHOUT THE U.S. economy, corporations have forced workers to labor for longer hours and at faster rates, hiring contractors and temporary workers, instead of more full-time employees, pushing the increase of privatized health care costs onto workers, and attempting to smash unions’ collective bargaining rights. This all has been part of the recipe book of austerity and neoliberal practices of the corporate elites, as their cheap solution for getting out of the economic crisis. Even when profits return, as the Bay Area tech boom has shown, wages stagnate.

That is, unless there’s a fightback–especially by a section of the organized working class within unions.

The Steelworkers’ fight for better working conditions and against what is termed “lean production” has to be understood in terms of the overall attack on working people today. In essence, these strikers can show the rest of the working class how to fight back in a period of lowered standards of living and working conditions.

Dave Martin, vice president of the local striking the Marathon refinery in Catlettsburg, Kentucky, told Labor Notes: “As you get older, it takes more time to recover, a day off here and there helps, but it doesn’t heal you up enough to where you are 100 percent. If they staffed this refinery, it would create 150 to 200 full time jobs in our community.”

“The fatigue issue has been a very big problem in this industry, that problem has consistently gotten worse,” said another union official. “These companies are trying to run very lean.”

It’s not hard to see how the conditions of an expanding industry that doesn’t hire enough workers to do the job can cause an increase of fatalities as well as man-made environmental catastrophes. In 2012 alone, 138 workers were killed on the job while extracting, producing or supporting oil and gas. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, 823 oil and gas extraction workers died on the job between 2003 and 2010–seven times worse than the rate for all U.S. industries combined. An August 2012 fire at a Chevron refinery in Richmond, California, was caused by decades of health and safety violations by the company.

For a long time, some radical activists have argued that “overpaid union members who don’t live in the communities” can’t be seen as part of the solution of confronting environmental pollution. Instead, nonprofits and left electoral strategies have attempted to take on Chevron by themselves.

The demands of the USW strike confront these myths about U.S. oil workers somehow being “outside” our struggle, and instead show how union workers can strengthen the climate justice movement’s ability to take on the oil giants.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

THE CLIMATE justice movement should take up a slogan that paraphrases one popularized by the Chicago Teachers Union during their strike in 2012: “USW members’ working conditions are our living conditions.”

During the 2012 strike, the union connected the demands of striking Chicago teachers with those of Chicago’s working-class parents and students with the slogan “Our teaching conditions are your kids’ learning conditions.” Likewise, we in the climate justice movement have to see how our struggles are connected and how we can’t win without solidarity.

In Richmond and surrounding cities like Martinez, oil refineries have been under the spotlight for their deadly contribution to pollution for years, which has to be seen as environmental racism and an attack on the whole working class. As Socialist Workerreported:

Chevron’s record doesn’t stop at industrial accidents. Since April 2009, the refinery has been in noncompliance with the Clean Water Act and National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System. It has also been in “high-priority violation” of Clean Air Act standards since 2010. It has had nearly a 100 citations since 2007 and paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.

The fire inflamed already bitter opinions in a city that has three times the national rates for asthma, and where one-third of children can be expected to at some point go to the hospital for respiratory problems. Richmond also has significantly higher rates for cancer and other chronic diseases. Of the people living within three miles of the refinery, up to 85 percent live under the federal poverty line and a similar percentage are minorities.

What is often not discussed is the health of the workers who are in the plants surrounded by toxins and whose lifespan is reduced by exposure to pollution on the job.

This fact has not been lost on the nurses who have been supporting the strike. On the picket line in Martinez, members of the California Nurses Association talked to workerswho told stories of “how they’ve had acid spilled on them, including one who says Tesoro still hasn’t paid for the medical bills.”

Nurses have been a central force in the labor movement, connecting the fight for workers’ rights to the fight for climate justice and against the fossil fuel extraction drive. In a press release, the National Nurses United (NNU) stated:

The hard line adopted by the wealthy oil corporations is symbolic of what nurses and other working people experience on a regular basis in an environment where workers’ rights and livelihood as well as public health and safety are too often jeopardized by voracious employers and the politicians who support them.

NNU members have already stood with USW members on picket lines at various locations in this fight, and we will continue to offer our solidarity. We also call on our elected officials to demand the oil giants, who receive so much economic and political assistance from government, stop their attack on the oil workers and reach a fair settlement that respects the workers’ rights as well as public safety.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

FORTY YEARS ago, during a period of increased class struggle, the central role of workers in the environmental movement wasn’t a question. From mining communities in the Appalachian Mountains, to struggles against uranium in the Black Hills in South Dakota, to the organizing against energy corporations in the Navajo Nation, people connected the struggle for better working and living conditions to larger political fights. Environmentalists, farmers, workers, families and communities organized a multiracial, class-based movement as a united front to take on energy corporations and the U.S. government.

One hidden example of this history is the story of the Navajo miners told in the bookEcocide of Native America: Environmental Destruction of Indian Lands and Peoples. Authors Donald Grinde and Bruce Johansen write:

Many Navajos who had been forced off their land and into employment in power plants or oil refineries went on strike. The strikes sparked occupations of some work places, as community residents often joined the workers. For example, a Texaco oil refinery in Aneth, Utah, on the northern edge of the reservation, was occupied by workers and their families during April 1978. The occupants demanded that Texaco agree to keep its white employees from bringing alcoholic beverages onto the reservation, dismiss employees from carrying side arms on the reservation, reclaim land damaged by oil drilling, compensate Navajo families who suffered losses due to oil drilling (including water wells which had been damaged), preserve Navajo burial sites, and give Navajo people preference in hiring at drilling sites.

To resist expropriation of Navajo resources under cover of a domestic energy crisis, the growing grassroots resistance in Navajo country expanded into a large popular movement during the 1970s.

On February 7, an estimated 8,000 people marched in Oakland to pressure Gov. Brown to stop fracking in California. Imagine if this protest had targeted the refinery and led a picket of thousands to support the workers?

This is what our movement should be thinking about. If the workers win their demands, it will be a victory for the climate justice movement as whole–and we need to show them our solidarity. While we’re on the picket line, we need to listen to workers talk about what they face inside this industry as we point our anger at the oil bosses together. It’s here that we can create the basis for a much larger discussion on how to break down the false division that we have to choose between jobs and feeding our families, and whether the planet burns or we die early from pollution.

We can also start to have a discussion and learn from the very people who have the ability and agency to concretely take on the demand of the movement–transitioning out of fossil fuels.

Frankly, we are kidding ourselves in the climate justice movement if we think we can get around this by just blockading trains and pipelines in civil disobedience. I wish it wasn’t this hard. The oil giants will continue to go around us, unless we confront them with a more central force in the industry.

We are up against a mighty giant, really the whole capitalist system. Fossil fuels are a central foundation to the whole of society from transportation of goods to people, to packaging and production of commodities. Just look at the history of how the auto industry and big oil destroyed pubic transportation and you get a sense of the battle that lies ahead.

We have to build our giant. We have much of the ingredients we need to build a more powerful movement–from indigenous activists and coalitions, to students, to community groups and people of color fighting environmental racism. Now we have the missing vital element–a collective of workers out on strike in the very industry we’re all fighting against.


The Sound of the Police | Jacobin

via The Sound of the Police | Jacobin.

by Alex Gourevitch

The point of a strike is to stop production to show the work you do is essential. The NYPD slowdown has proven the opposite.

Spencer Platt / Getty Images

Spencer Platt / Getty Images



dropped what happens when the police go on strike? Over the past two weeks, the New York Police Department (NYPD) has done its part to answer that question. Officers have been on a particular kind of strike called a slowdown: they come to work, but don’t do their job as quickly or fully as usual.

While police union officials have denied officers are working at a slower pace, arrests in all categories are down more than 50 percent. The decline in traffic violations and minor incidents, like public urination, has been especially pronounced: where arrests for major felonies have dropped by about 20 percent, summonses for low-level crimes and parking and moving violations have decreased by more than 90 percent.

According to a New York Times article this past week, “In Coney Island, the precinct covering that neighborhood did not record a single parking ticket, traffic summons or ticket for a low-level crime like public urination or drinking, the statistics showed.” This decline in arrests and summons has spilled over into the courtroom:

One arraignment courtroom instead of two. Clerks watching “Batman” on their computer screens and playing with their cellphones as they wait for something to happen. And Manhattan’s night court shutting down an hour early because there are no more cases to call.

Those were scenes from the city’s arraignment courts in the third week of a precipitous drop in arrests by the New York Police Department. The usual chaotic bustle of the courts — the odd mix of transgressors, from murderers to fare-beaters — has given way to unusual scenes of tranquil inactivity.

The NYPD has effectively suspended its notorious “broken windows” policy, characterized by heavy policing of small-time misdemeanors and minor infractions in the name of preventing more serious crimes. The effect of this practice, under normal conditions, is the over-policing of poor, especially minority, neighborhoods. The homicide of Eric Garner began with police accosting him for illegally selling a few loose cigarettes.

Normally the point of a strike is to halt production to show society, or at least your employers, that they need you. Stopping work imposes costs on others — lowering employers’ profits, reducing politicians’ legitimacy, increasing consumers’ needs — but it only does so because the work that workers do is essential. The work cannot be done without them. This is why employers hire replacement workers, or seek court injunctions to force employees back to work.

It is also why strikers risk becoming unpopular with the public — the absence of the goods they are producing or the services they provide can become a serious inconvenience. And it is why workers often take care to build public support for their strike, with the hopes that the public attributes those inconveniences to the causes of the stoppage instead of to the strikers themselves.

A perfect example is the 2012 Chicago Teachers Union strike, which shut down the first days of school. This caused some headaches for working families and their children, but because of the union’s pre-strike community organizing, those families largely supported the teachers against city government. The strike proved how important the teachers were, and why they deserved more respect than they received.

The irony of the NYPD strike is that it has demonstrated the opposite. When police do not do their jobs, at least as defined under current policy, the costs are low. There is no dramatic damage to public safety. Relative to the precipitous drop in policing, there have been very minor increases in violent crime. Nor are the other costs, such as the decline in revenue from fines and tickets, particularly significant. Meanwhile, the benefits to (formerly) over-policed neighborhoods is large.

With their slowdown, New York police officers have shown that most of their activities are inessential. Society is better off when they are not engaging in broken windows, quality-of-life harassment of poor neighborhoods. The next logical step is to simply normalize the present. In the infamous words of one former vice president, this should be the “new normal.”


SMB Strike SUSPENDED – Management climbdown!

via SMB Strike SUSPENDED – Management climbdown!.

Further proof that solidarity works…

St Mungos Broadway SMB 10 day strike was suspended after management climbdown.


Hundreds of strikers gathered for a victory rally outside the St Mungos Broadway head office yesterday morning. Len Mcluskey described the strike as pivotal when he spoke to Unite members earlier in the dispute – yesterday speakers spoke of the significance of this win for the sector and for the workers movement more widely.

Unite convenor Adam Lambert said to cheers, “This strike has shown that when people take collective action, they can move mountains. And these ideas are infectious. They can cut through the division and despair in our society. We can inspire others just as others inspired us.”

Suzanne Muna, HCA lead rep & Branch sec reflects on the SMB strikes: “Members at St Mungos (Broadway) have given us our smallest ever strike (just 5 members at the Hitchin project), and our biggest – nearly 700 in the last couple of weeks.  Both have been victorious.As a trade unionist I hear all the time why a fightback can’t take place – the membership are too scattered across different projects / shifts; they are poor and can’t really afford to do it; they work with vulnerable people so won’t go on strike; the tide is against us and we must

accept the inevitable; the numbers are too small for it to make an impact; etc., etc.What these victories do is put a lie to all of the excuses for doing nothing by those who are too weak, self-interested or incompetent to back members when they want to fight. Whether the numbers are large or small you can still win. Members given confidence are willing to go on strike. Members will strike because they can’t afford to keep getting poorer; and they strike precisely because they care deeply about the vulnerable people they work with and won’t allow them to be sacrificed. Good organisation will overcome any of the practical problems involved.

This is the lesson that the union leaders need to take from victories like St Mungos Broadway and others. But most importantly, the members need to join together and have courage – make your union back your strike and if they won’t, either force the ‘leaders’ out of the way or join a union that will support you.”

(See Suz speaking at the rally yesterday,with a few of us getting emotional..)

There will be a fuller report on HOW this campaign developed, why it has been successful so far and what happens next in terms of the agreements at the branch on Tuesday 11th Nov. We’d encourage a discussion on this in each workplace. We will also be further developing the campaign for Sector Standards as a sector wide response to the race to the bottom which the campaign responded to industrially and politically.


Interpreters on the picket line

via Interpreters on the picket line | SocialistWorker.org.

Alex Kueny reports from San Diego on a 12-hour strike by sign language interpreters.

May 14, 2014

asl strike“CUTTING OUR health care is a sick idea!” read the signs carried by strikers on a picket line outside Purple Communications in San Diego, where American Sign Language (ASL) video relay service (VRS) interpreters staged a one-day Unfair Labor Practice work stoppage on May 5.

Workers say they walked out to pressure management to address their demand for a contract, and to register their anger at proposed health care cuts and continued workload increases.

The determination of the strikers, who are members of Pacific Media Workers Guild, TNG-CWA Local 39521, was on display for an inspiring 12 hours, as they were joined by local activists and community supporters from the start of Purple’s workday at 6 a.m. until its close at 6 p.m.

Throughout the day, passing drivers honked their horns in support of the action–most notably San Diego Unified School District and the Metropolitan Transit System bus drivers, who may be pushed to stage a strike of their own later this year.

The San Diego strikers were joined by their fellow interpreters on picket lines at Purple locations in Oakland, Phoenix and Denver. Purple Communications provides video interpretation services in phone calls between ASL users on one side and English or Spanish speakers on the other.

The strike represents the latest step in a process that began with a unionization drive in November 2012, although the four worksites that participated in the work stoppage remain Purple’s only unionized worksites.

The effort to unionize was ultimately driven by management’s desire to increase the pace of work while simultaneously decreasing interpreters’ break time. This has led to higher rates of workplace repetitive motion injuries (RMI) as the interpreters’ arms, wrists and fingers suffer from the increased signing workloads.

This makes management’s intention to cut health care benefits all the more egregious. A former video interpreter said:

Interpreters (much more patient than I) are fighting and don’t want to give up on VRS because it’s so necessary for deaf people. I was working far into burnout mode–way too much work for way too little pay, and no one gave a crap about the quality of my interpreting. [We] would be led on about bonus incentives that would quietly just get swept under the rug. Now they’re threatening health care. All of the work that has been put into determining healthy work conditions for interpreters in the community doesn’t seem to stand in VRS from my experience.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

IN ADDITION to addressing these issues, the strikers are hoping that the work stoppage will compel management to grant them a contract–something no VRS interpreters from any VRS company have had before.

The tactical goal of the one-day strike was to threaten the subsidy Purple Communications receives from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in exchange for providing interpreting services free-of-charge for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing (DHH) and hearing callers who require it. The company only receives its FCC subsidy if 80 percent of the incoming calls’ average wait time to connect to an interpreter is one minute or less.

By stopping work for 12 hours at four different worksites, the overall wait-time of callers was increased, thus putting the subsidy in jeopardy. In this way, the interpreters were able to seriously threaten one of the company’s main revenue sources while limiting the length of the stoppage (and thus the amount of lost wages workers have to endure) to a single workday.

The interpreters say they are hopeful that the threat to Purple’s bottom line will be enough to convince management to decrease workloads, to shy away from the proposed health benefit cuts and‹significantly‹to award 144 video interpreters their first contract.

At stake is not only the quality of their livelihoods, but the quality of the interpretation services which both hearing and deaf consumers are dependent on to communicate with friends and family.

Because of the FCC subsidies received by Purple, these services are ultimately paid for by American taxpayers. The uniquely capitalist absurdity of this situation is that the very workers who actually provide VRS have been forced to sacrifice a day’s worth of pay in order to make sure that taxpayer (read: working class) money from the FCC which is intended for that service actually goes to it.

Meanwhile, the managers who exercise control over that money and the interpreters’ livelihoods are perfectly content to divert those funds away from a necessary and valuable social service and the people who provide it, and into the company’s own private coffers instead.

Unfortunately, this situation is far from unique. But fortunately, neither is the courage of the Purple interpreters.

Norma Villegas contributed to this article.


On this day in 1887, more than 10,000 sugar cane… | Socialism Art Nature

via On this day in 1887, more than 10,000 sugar cane… | Socialism Art Nature.

On this day in 1887, more than 10,000 sugar cane laborers went on strike on plantations across Louisiana. The mostly black workers (including nearly 1,000 whites), organized with the Knights of Labor, demanded wage increases of $1.25 a day in biweekly payments of currency rather than company’s script for their back-breaking labor. They planned the strike to coincide with the beginning of the critical “grinding” period – which threatened the entire year’s harvest.

Three weeks into the strike, state Judge Taylor Beattie declared martial law, and organized a white vigilante mob which ruthlessly gunned down strikers and their families in what came to be known as the Thibodaux Massacre. One black newspaper described the scene,

” ‘Six killed and five wounded’ is what the daily papers here say, but from an eye witness to the whole transaction we learn that no less than thirty-five Negroes were killed outright. Lame men and blind women shot; children and hoary-headed grandsires ruthlessly swept down! The Negroes offered no resistance; they could not, as the killing was unexpected. Those of them not killed took to the woods.”


Steve Bell on fat cats and firefighters – cartoon | Comment is free | The Guardian

25/09/13 Steve Bell on strikesSteve Bell on fat cats and firefighters – cartoon | Comment is free | The Guardian.

A Hundred Arrested Protesting Walmart Firings |… | Socialism Art Nature

A Hundred Arrested Protesting Walmart Firings |… | Socialism Art Nature.

La lutte continue

A Hundred Arrested Protesting Walmart Firings | Labor Notes

September 06, 2013 / Alexandra Bradbury

They didn’t strike this time—but Walmart workers and their allies marched, rallied, danced, blew horns, and took arrests in a coordinated day of action in 15 cities yesterday. They were protesting the company’s recent crackdown on worker activists.

Walmart fired 20 members of the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart)—and disciplined 50 others—for taking part in a week-long strike in June. The company claimed the workers were “no-call, no-shows,” though they made it clear they were striking. “We don’t recognize strikers,” one supervisor told a fired employee in Baker, Louisiana.

Thousands of people participated in Thursday’s protests, according to OUR Walmart, and 100 were arrested—including in Dallas, Chicago, Seattle, Maryland, Orlando, Los Angeles, and New York.