A grass-roots revolt is in progress within the Teamsters Union over the high-handed manner in which the union’s leadership steamrollered through a compromise deal with UPS management on 23 April – contrary to the rule that the new postal services contract required ratification by all relevant union branches.
The unwelcome concessions in the new deal include worsened pension and healthcare benefits, as well as detrimental changes in the rules on pay and conditions of work.
Branches in Philadelphia, Western Pennsylvania and Louisville overwhelmingly opposed the deal. Given that Louisville, in particular, is home to the largest UPS hub in the USA, handling vast amounts of airmail traffic, the impact of industrial action there could be substantial – were it not for the gutless leadership with which members are saddled.
A spokesman for Local 89, which clocked up a 94 percent ‘No’ vote, described the leadership’s fait accompli as “the greatest display of failed leadership and cowardice”.
One union branch that was prominent in the ‘No’ campaign, Local 804 in New York, has been demonstrating a different kind of leadership. On 26 February, workers walked out of the UPS depot in Maspeth, Queens over the victimisation of a union activist, Jairo Reyes.
When UPS responded by sacking 250 delivery drivers, Local 804 mobilised support from hundreds of local unions and persuaded some UPS customers to put pressure on the company to rehire the sacked drivers. On 9 April, UPS capitulated and agreed to rehire all the sacked workers.
Union-busting in Turkey and India
The Turkish subsidiary of the Swiss-based multinational company Georg Fischer sacked 37 leading members of the union Lastik-Is simply for being in a union. Remaining workers are now being bullied into renouncing union membership, despite the fact that the union is certified by the ministry of labour.
Meanwhile in India, union-busting campaigns have been met with a rash of strikes across the Gurgaon-Manesar-Bawal industrial belt near Delhi.
To take just one example: workers making air conditioning units for Subross Auto Air Condition found themselves under attack by the company when it tried to prevent 600 recently-recruited engineers from joining the union. When all 600 in fact responded by joining, the company began a campaign of harassment, falsely accusing workers of slowing down production. This campaign culminated in the suspension of 29 employees, including the two top union leaders.
The workers in question only discovered their own suspension when the works bus failed to turn up, and those who got to work by alternative means were refused entry to the factory. Over a thousand workers then went on strike in protest, to which the company replied with a lock-out.
Eventually, the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), to which the union is affiliated, negotiated a divisive deal with the company whereby the suspension of 28 out of the 29 was lifted, but the union’s president stayed suspended for 45 days. This compromise did not go down well with more militant workers, who criticised the “second-class management role” played by AITUC.
Maruti Suzuki workers stand up
Workers fighting for the right to organise themselves can take heart however from the brilliant example being set elsewhere in the Gurgaon-Manesar-Bawal industrial belt.
For three years, workers in the automotive complex of Maruti Suzuki have been engaged in the most spirited and bitter struggle for the right to organise themselves in a union and improve their working conditions. In this struggle, they have had to encounter not only the company bosses and their paid thugs but also the machinations and violence of the Haryana state authorities themselves.
Realising that the demand for unionisation could not forever be resisted, the company has tried to box clever, putting up its own puppets for election as union leaders and playing a game of divide and rule between permanent and temporary staff and between different plants. New recruits have been banned from talking to sacked workers, and police helped out by lifting any worker who did so much as hand out an election leaflet for the ‘wrong’ candidate.
However, all these efforts to bully and intimidate the workers blew up magnificently in the company’s face when the union election results were announced on 4 April, with militant representatives forming an overwhelming majority of the leadership, winning 11 out of 12 seats against the management-installed puppet panel – by a margin of 80 percent in most cases.
These results were greeted with scenes of great elation, as the new union body described in its statement: “The evening of 4 April was a spirit of recapturing of the factory for workers, as the street in front erupted with celebrations after two years. Workers from inside the plant came with food from the factory canteen for the terminated workers, saying that it won’t be long before their struggle also is a win and all arrested workers are also released.”
The statement notes that:“Our struggle has entered a new phase with this victory. It’s a validation of our continuing struggle, not only for workers at Maruti Suzuki, but for all workers here and everywhere who struggle every day against exploitation / repression, for their union rights and for collective power and dignity.”
The Central Committee of the CPGB-ML has sent the following message of solidarity:
“Congratulations comrades on this great achievement in the face of years of sustained repression and intimidation. We look forward with confidence to your complete victory.
Donbas miners give proletarian backbone to the antifascist resistance
Miners in Donetsk have been striking in protest at the crack-down by the fascist junta in Kiev. Despite threats of dismissal by the mine owners, several hundred have participated in protest rallies.
It is also reported that miners in Krasnodon in Lugansk region have joined the protests. Striking miners have taken control of the mines, building barricades and demanding the reinstatement of 30 miners sacked for supporting anti-fascist protests.
Mining is central to the Ukraine economy, providing 15 percent of GDP. Some 30 percent of Ukraine’s own energy consumption is accounted for by coal. Also, the Russian defence industry is one of the best customers for Ukraine’s mining and metal industries.
Put all this together and it is plain that a revolt of the proletariat in the heart of the industrialised east – half a million strong in the mining sector alone – could prove devastating for the prospects of the imperialist puppets.
South African miners struggle continues
For the last 15 weeks, at time of writing, workers belonging to breakaway union AMCU (Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union) have been on strike against mineral giants Amplats, Implats and Lonmin in pursuit of substantial wage rises. Whilst Cosatu and the ANC have pressed for the strike to end, branding AMCU as irresponsible, the miners have persevered in their action.
Now, as the South African masses celebrate 20 years of liberation from apartheid by renewing the ANC’s mandate by a large (though somewhat diminished) majority, another, very twisted kind of ‘democracy’ is unfolding in the mining sector. The mining companies are seeking to undermine the union and divide and demoralise the strikers by inviting workers to vote directly by text message, with the option for each worker to settle individually. In an effort to frighten the fainter hearted, the mining bosses threaten mass lay-offs and mechanisation if the strike continues.
Whatever the outcome of this stunt, and whatever the rival merits of the NUM and AMCU union leaderships, the root cause of the crisis in the mining industry remains the same: the failure to date of the ANC to address those clauses in the Freedom Charter that declare the mineral wealth of the country to be the common property of all the people.
As Abayomi Azikiwe pointed out in Workers’ World: “the ownership of these corporations remains in private hands. Any solution to the problems of the mineworkers cannot be viewed outside the question of who actually controls production and the utilisation of profits from the industry.
“The entire capitalist system in South Africa has been based on the profitability of the mining industry for over a century. With the rise of the militant trade-union movement allied with the national-liberation struggle, workers did make advances in salaries and representation through their unions. Nonetheless, until the workers and the government of South Africa seize control of the mines and stop the flight of capital, the burgeoning crisis of a discontented, low-wage workforce seeking better conditions of employment will be met by corporations with greater attacks on workers and their jobs.
“The profits accrued from the mining industry are derived from the production of the workers and consequently belong to them, as do the production centres and the natural resources of the country.”(‘South Africa platinum strike: Mine bosses threaten layoffs’, 5 April 2014)