Wapping ’86 and beyond: How have class relations changed

We hosted a discussion meeting with comrades who took part in the Wapping printer dispute. Below you can find the initial blurb, the recording of the meeting and a longer comment from a comrade about how class relations have changed since then.

*** Blurb

Wapping ’86: ‘Picket’ Bulletin and the New Technology Golem

* The defeat of the News International print workers is sometimes talked about as if the outcome was inevitable, due to new printing technology. Is this true? What does it tell us about automation and workers’ power thirty five years on?

* ‘Picket’ was an independent workers’ bulletin that ran to 43 issues during the dispute. It became a key source of information, by and for strikers and supporters. What made it successful early on, and why didn’t it become a focus for organising independently of – and when necessary against – the print unions? What does it take to produce a decent political strike bulletin today?

Two connected themes for a public meeting and discussion, opened by a printer who was involved in the picketing around News International’s Wapping operation, and in publishing ‘Picket’.

Related questions which could be explored:
• Was Wapping a strike, a lockout, an attempted occupation – or a combination of all three?
• How could the strike have ended differently, and what would that have taken? Could the workers have ‘won’? What did they think winning meant?
• News International pulled off a ‘bait-and-switch’ on its workers and the print unions, by which it provoked a strike on its own terms, while transferring production to the new Wapping factory without a hiccup. Did the workers really get taken by surprise? If so, why? • Before the dispute, Fleet Street print workers had a reputation as an ‘aristocracy of labour’ commanding fabulous pay and conditions, and wielding real day-to-day shop floor power. Is this true? Were potential allies put off by their exclusiveness, nepotism and pride in the job? To what extent did other workers and local working class people identify with and support the strike?
• Printworkers were organised into a complex network of well-resourced unions that used closed shops to leverage wages, conditions and access to jobs. How did the unions play to their striking members, and how did they help organise defeat? • What tactics did the strikers and pickets use, and how did they evaluate the effectiveness of those tactics?
• Are tech workers the new printers?

Background reading:

‘Picket’ issues 1-43. If you don’t have time to plough through, check the tone and content of some of the early issues and compare them with the late ones:
http://libcom.org/history/picket-bulletin-wapping-printers-strike-1986-1987

Short timeline of the dispute:
https://libcom.org/history/1986-1987-wapping-printers-strike

‘Paper Boys’ – personal account of the dispute written a year after it ended. The tone and views are fairly typical:
http://marx.libcom.org/history/paper-boys-one-man%E2%80%99s-account-picketing-wapping

*** Recording of the meeting

https://bit.ly/32joqM8

*** Comments after the meeting

I would like to continue the discussion that we opened in the Wapping meeting. A comrade has just posted an article about Heathrow workers fighting each other to save their own jobs. Do the events at Wapping in 1986 have any relevance to the present?

Before coming to the Wapping printers strike just a brief history ‘re-cap’ in very shorthand form.

The 1917 Russian revolution lead to many of the best working class militants around the world leaving the social democratic reformist parties and joining the new communist parties. The subsequent degeneration of the revolution and the communist parties (CPs) gave new life to the reformist parties and most of the communist parties themselves adopted the ‘parliamentary road to socialism’. A growing revolutionary consciousness in the working class was snuffed out.

In Europe at the end of WW2 capital had to rely on both the CPs and reformists to maintain social control but to make this possible welfarism and an acceptance of trade union representation were necessary. In the UK and most of Europe the post war period was marked by the welfare state, full employment and workers gaining rising living standards by regular battles over increased wages and shorter working hours.

My own understanding of the profitability of capital is not great but while this period saw a growth of industrialisation it also saw growing financial crisis with the US dollar – which had emerged from WW2 as the global dominant currency – forced to go off the gold standard in 1971, a real sign that at the heart of the world’s leading economy things were not going well.

In 1973 the UK coal miners began an overtime ban to gain a wage increase. After months of power cuts and a three day week in industry the Tory government of Heath called an election on the basis of ‘who rules the country’ – the miners or the government? Labour came in to pacify the working class while the assault on the union’s power continued to emerge. Thatcher won the leadership of the Tory party saying that Heath should not have taken on the miners without being prepared to see it through to victory. She spent many years, first in opposition and from 1979 as PM, preparing to defeat the miners and break the strength of the unions.

The main changes she made were preparations in the state forces for a war against the working class and legislation that made any kind of trade union solidarity action illegal not so much by jailing strikers but by bankrupting the trade union bureaucracy. Thatcher’s preparations for this war were motivated by the needs of capital to put an end to the post war settlement that had allowed the working class, via its unions, to push for improved conditions. And coupled with this (though again my knowledge is limited) was capital’s need for greater mobility – to be able to go anywhere in the world in search of profit, to pitch cheaper, unorganised labour in one part of the world against workers in the then industrialised countries.

End of historical background.

I worked in factories during this period and took part in the general ‘militancy’ of the 70’s. For example in 1973 I took home £50 a week as a skilled sheet metal worker. By 1983 I was earning £130 a week. Strikes, overtime bans etc were a regular occurance. Working class activity was not limited to actions over wages and conditions. When the first signs of the end of the post war settlement emerged the unions did take united actions. In 1972, when dockers were trying to defend their jobs and conditions against the new use of containerised shipping 5 dockers were jailed for ‘illegal’ picketing (new technology will appear again and again as a way of employers breaking their dependence on unionised labour) . In the aircraft factory where I worked the shop stewards planned a mass meeting to propose all out strike in support of the 5 dockers. Similar meetings were taking place across the country and there would have been a general strike by evening but the government backed down and freed the jailed men.

When the Labour government of the mid 70s tried to bring in laws curtailing the power of the unions it was stopped by a huge protest movement. (This widespread industrial militancy was matched by a radicalisation in every sphere of life – amongst students, in art, in sexual politics and remember this was not long after the huge anti-vietnam war protests and the 68 events in Paris)

However in the 70’s something new began to emerge – employers who would not bargain with the unions and who would get backing from other representatives of capital in a show of ‘class solidarity’. They were helped in this by the end of the period of full employment. The Grunwick strike of 1976 saw a small employer refuse to accept union recognition and getting political, legal and financial support from other bosses. The newspaper owner Eddie Shah did the same in 1983.

So, with growing unemployment a fact of life, Thatcher pushed the miners into their year long strike against pit closures in 1984. This saw both the escalation of working class militancy and also its inadequacies. Thatcher – on behalf of capital and with most of the personifications of capital backing her – had spent years preparing for a showdown, not just with the miners but via them with the whole working class. It was impossible to say this attack came out of the blue and yet the working class, within its trade unions and the union’s political party, Labour, had made zero preparations. On the contrary by 1984 most of the labour and union leaders were ready to tow the line, accept the new laws that more or less made working class solidarity impossible.

While Thatchers’ attack on the miners was clearly an attack on the entire trade union movement the miners were left to fight alone for a whole year. No-one from the miners union, including Scargill, called for solidarity action. Scargill, far more militant than the other union leaders, went into battle enthusiastically but clearly thought that it could be won in the same way that fights had been won over the previous 40 years.

In my own factory when I put down a resolution to call for the 8,000 London metal workers to come out on strike in support of the miners, union officials came along to argue that the miner’s didn’t want solidarity strike action as this would stop everyone donating to their strike fund. Of course what these officials were scared of was their union funds and offices being seized by the state which would happen if we had gone on solidarity strike which was now illegal. Overnight their salaries, cars etc would have vanished. So while the miners unsuccessfully battled daily with the state forces to try to stop coal movements the rest of the union movement carried on working, just chucking money in the strike fund which did nothing but prolong a hopeless battle.

Previously, in 1973, when the miners had fought the police for several days to try to shut down a coal depot they succeeded when thousands of engineering workers joined their lines and the police gave up. |But now, whipped into line by the new laws, other union bosses worked to prevent similar solidarity action and Scargill refused to challenge them or criticise the Trade Union Congress which refused to back the miners.

The TUC stood by doing nothing, the Labour Party disowned the strike and these bodies were held in such contempt by the mass of miners that they were unable to play their usual role in ending a strike. This time the job fell to the communist party. Kim Howells, a Welsh miners official and CP member (later a Labour MP) argued that the miners should return to work without a deal but with their banners ‘held high’. After a year on strike the miners went back and within a short time the industry had vanished.

The unions no longer had to be consulted by the bosses. At this time I worked in an artificial limb factory with a highly skilled and highly paid workforce. A new international conglomerate bought the factory and in a short space of time had developed new technology to make it possible to produce a limb by people who had received 16 weeks training not the five years that existing craftsmen and women had. It was obvious to some of us that a clash was coming but both the union and most of the workforce said ‘they can’t make limbs without us’. A couple of years down the line the factory was shut and production moved overseas. For six months the workforce picketed an empty factory. Who gave a toss?!!!

This was the background to the Wapping printers dispute, when Rupert Murdoch, owner of the Sun and The Times and other papers around the world, got rid of his Fleet Street printers – one of the most highly unionised group of workers in the country. Again there was no shortage of evidence about what the bosses were, preparing. I was in the Workers Revolutionary Party that had a daily paper printed by traditional methods employing skilled members of the print union. Gerry Healy, the party leader, secretly set up a new print shop, trained party members to use the new computer type setting equipment and others to do offset litho printing and then got rid of the old workforce saving the party thousands of pounds a week. If a two-bit sect leader could do it what was to stop an international tycoon?

Again, like Thatcher, Murdoch prepared for the war, setting up his own fleet of delivery lorries and constructing a new printshop outside of the traditional Fleet Street. He also brought the extreme right wing leader of the electricians union, Frank Chapel, into his plans, offering all the new jobs to his union. Again the workforce was totally outmanouvred and once again there was no significant solidarity action. The lorry drivers and the electricians crossed the picket lines – something that would have been unimaginable 15 years earlier.

So I am trying to describe the end of an era, the end of period of capital’s acceptance of trade union negotiations in any real positive sense. The space that capital had allowed for the reformist union leaders to strut the stage was shut down and their obedience to the state took priority. From there on unions became something that just tried to mitigate the attacks on their members. As they increasingly failed and as more and more production moved overseas, union membership plummeted and their ability to have any impact on the bosses plans became more or less zero.

At the time of these events, as I said, I was in the Trotskyist movement and so saw events through the lens of the Fourth International (FI). Since its creation in 1938 the FI had seen the working class globally as a militant force held back and ‘imprisoned’ by its reformist and stalinist leaders. In both the miners’ and printworkers’ disputes we had been very aware of the preparations of the state and the bosses and the changes within the realm of capital that was pushing them. However we saw the defeats only as the result of betrayals, of rotten leadership. The WRP had seen its role during these events as exposing this rotten leadership and, on paper, changing it. In reality all we did was try (and fail ) to recruit workers to our party who agreed with our analysis of the rotten leaders.

Looking back I think we need to look at what had actually happened to the working class itself during these post war years. Yes, the reformism of the Labour and union leaders did what it had always done, act as the agent of capital within the working class but what about the class itself? When the USSR collapsed I and others thought that this would open up the way for the soviet working class to make itself felt. What we all didn’t even begin to comprehend was what 70 years of brutal anti-working class dictatorship had done to the outlook and consciousness of the soviet workers. I think we made the same mistake in the UK and Europe. What had 40 years of reformism, welfarism and a cascade of commodities done to the outlook of the working class?

In the post war period it appeared that reformism and union militancy worked. Things just slowly got better. The union militancy of the printers, for example, led to conditions and wages no worker could ever have dreamt about in previous eras. Yet this was a militancy that had less and less to do with a fundamental change in society and less and less to do with the class as a whole. In the union movement politics was left to the Labour Party, all talk of socialism was strictly for sunday picnics.

While 40 years of union actions did see more and more commodities being stacked up in workers’ homes it hid an ever growing political complacency and a ever growing fragmentation of the class. For example in Rolls Royce where I worked the panel beaters, the most skilled people, had a premium on their hourly rate compared to other metal workers. To them, keeping this differential was more important than the unity of all workers in the factory. When there were outbursts of large parts of the class, like the protests against Labour’s anti-union laws, this was the dying gasps of a movement trying to retain the status quo and particularly the union bosses trying to hold on to their bargaining powers at the bosses tables. In no way was there any reflection on whether the way union militancy had worked would continue to work.

In our zoom meeting the question was asked if any links were made between the striking printers and the inner city youth who had rioted against Thatcher’s mass unemployment. But these were two different planets. There had been demonstrations in London by black people calling for a boycott of the Sun for its constant racism. For example in 1981, a story that mirrored the Sun’s treatment of the Hillsborough football fire, the Sun alleged that a house fire at a party in Deptford in which 13 young black people were killed was started by people at the party itself. The Sun printers and typeographers were printing this and an almost daily diet of racist shit. I’m not saying this in any ‘shock horror, what awful people’ kind of way but simply to say this is how things were. Again when the inner city riots of the early 80s took place the Sun churned out racist filth.

On one planet was the highly paid, job for life printers and on another the unemployed black youth – one of the parts of society that had never been included in the ‘everything slowly gets better’ . This didn’t rule out them coming together in changed circumstances but you have to acknowledge the existence of these two planets at that time. Neither group would have had the slightest concept of the other as a potential ally, rather as alien beings. The class as a class had ceased to exist.

So the world changed and the forms of struggle and organisation that had helped the working class get good deals ceased to work and there was no reflection or critical thinking about this. And given that a feature of this period was the wholesale destruction of British manufacturing and transference of capital overseas there was no internationalism – that again was left for the fringes to toddle of to Cuba and make glowing reports of how wonderful everything there was.

If anything the very ‘success’ of the trade union push and shove to get a better deal in the post war period led not to a strengthening of the working class – as a class fighting for the class as a whole – but to its fragmentation and degeneration. Could the miners and printers have ‘won’ – yes they could but this would have required the class to begin to act as a class. For me at the time this was prevented by the rotten leaders but if this was the only problem then why was there no signs anywhere of people pushing back against these rotten leaders? Where did workers disregard their union bosses and take solidarity action? Nowhere. In my factory we only won 25% of votes for strike in support of the miners and ever day down the line that percentage would have been less and less. Every defeat, and there were many, convinced people that a fight against the bosses was pointless and of course, in a sense, they were right. If production can be moved to China whats the point of going on strike in the old way to defend your jobs.

Its instructive that the only serious defeat inflicted on Thatcher came when the working class took to the streets not organised by the unions or the labour party but in the poll tax riot. And in some ways that defeat was the beginning of the end of Thatcher but not Thatcherism which was continued by Tony Blair and the Labour Party who rode in to fill the void when the Tory party began to implode at that point.

Now its 20 years or more since all of these events and yet when we discussed the Tower Hamlets strike someone said ‘what can you do if the workers are not really up for a fight?’. A Heathrow worker sends the reports of workers fighting each other for jobs. Do those defeats of the 1980’s still carry weight? Haven’t new generations of workers taken the place of the people who suffered those defeats?

What those defeats made possible was the move of industrial capital out of the UK. And they broke a certain continuity of ideas and organisation. For example in my work I would often be training an apprentice. They would start work and complain about having to go to the union meeting. But they had to go or lose their job. Slowly they would get to see the point of us all sticking together and so on. That continuity of class organisation was broken by the destruction of manufacturing. That sense of solidarity has gone. But then it wasn’t really the defeats that ended it, rather it was a form working class activity that itself degraded these ideas, that couldn’t sustain itself when faced with a new form of ruling class attack.

Of course there are many factors behind the present ‘passivity’ but what’s for sure we cannot go back to the old militancy which many old lefts dream of and reminisce about. The whole of the Corbyn ‘dream’ was based on this illusion. The world has changed. And it leaves today’s militants with a great problem. Capital is no longer able or willing, on any sustained, permanent, basis to make concessions as it did. Anything that it has to concede in the face of a fight it will immediately seek to take away again. Its ability to move to any part of the globe undermines any long term fight that is not internationalists in forms of organisation.

So we cannot simply ‘rebuild’ the trade union movement. The workers movement has to rebuild its class consciousness and class consciousness today has to start with a recognition of the world as it is – globalised, destroying the conditions for life and totally incapable of being reformed.

Questions for comrades in the US – from Wildcat and friends

The movement which has developed after George Floyd‘s murder seems very important to us. Our comrades in Germany published a longer article in the last issue of their magazine Wildcat. We have tried to follow what’s been happening from the start, but it is not so easy to understand what’s really going on, and how to analyse it. We hope your answers to our questions can bring some clarity to our view from far away, and maybe this exchange can be a step towards a common discussion and action. Please send your answers to:

angryworkersworld@gmail.com

1. What do you think explains the explosive character of this uprising? Was it just a continuation of the previous struggles against police violence (Ferguson) or have other factors/social groups come into the picture?

2. To what extent have previous strikes (e.g. at General Motors) and the covid crisis, both in terms of atmosphere and struggles, played a part, and how?

3. The current movement seems just as important as the March on Washington in 1963 – but to be honest, we’re not even sure what to call it. Is it a movement (even it has not really developed its own structures)? Is it an uprising? (but it seems to have ups and downs). Are the riots the most important aspect (even though there’s more happening than just riots…)? For a clearer assessment of this it might be useful to know what people are actually doing now – do people ‘just’ go and march once a week and that’s it? Or is stuff going on inbetween the demonstrations e.g. in more local areas? If so, what kind of things? Are discussions being held to reflect and organise how to forge ahead? If so, are new people getting involved, or is it the usual suspects? If new people, who are they?

4. The March on Washington‘s slogan, ‘Jobs and Freedom’, was an important step for the Civil Rights Movement. The current movement has already developed a more radical critique of the state, but perhaps not a clearer articulation of the role of social justice in gaining racial justice. Does Covid and the loss of jobs and income, the threat of evictions and so on, impose this question onto the movement, and if so, how?

5. Many of the texts we’ve read suggest that in the first week (and maybe on a few other later occasions), the most radical things happened, and then nothing more was possible, like in a now-or-never-situation. The reason given is mostly that the large demonstrations and NGOs watered down any radicality to liberal anti-racism. To us this seems like a lack of trust in the movement’s ability to act ‘beyond the moment’ and address wider social issues. What do you think?

6. How do you see the party political landscape in relation to the movement? Why is it that the Democrats have more difficulties this time round to co-opt the movement? BTW, will you vote in the coming election?

7. Comrades write about the role of the black middle class in the movement and compare it to the middle class of the civil rights movement, e.g. lawyers and priests. Who is this middle class today, how has it changed? Is the black middle class the movement‘s main political problem in terms of its ability to remain ‘radical?’ Or can we ignore this strata because it is in a deep crisis? Does the middle class primarily have an ideological stronghold or do they provide material resources that black proletarians depend on? If so, what and how?

8. Many say a civil war is the trump card (excuse the pun!) of the Trump regime. Will the left shut up, cease to take action and vote democratic because of this threat? How strong are the rightwing militas anyway? How do you see the state’s ability to quell the movement through repressive measures, e.g. there were critical voices within the lower ranks of the army apparatus of being deployed against the movement.

9. We mostly hear about poor black people in unsteady/criminalised jobs in the inner-cities on the one hand, and the black middle or professional class on the other. What about black workers, e.g. in the public sector or industries? Are more or less black workers employed, how did the skill structure and ‘racial composition’ change in the main industries? How do black workers relate to the movement, as well as the black middle class?

10. If you like, we‘d be interested to hear about your own experiences and activities in the past six months!

Lockdown interview – Elderly people charity volunteer worker

The state relies more and more on the low paid or volunteer work of charities in order to organise care work. This tendency tends to aggravate in times of crisis and emergencies. In this process there are two tendencies: a) the state manages to ‘make us pay for the crisis’ by working harder and for less or even no pay and b) by helping and caring for each other we develop new relationships of solidarity independently from the state which can help us in future struggles. These tendencies are never neatly separated. We spoke to a friend about her experiences working in volunteer care. Thoughts on the wider background of this interview series can be found here: https://letsgetrooted.wordpress.com/2020/07/07/interview-series-workers-power-during-the-lockdown/

“In our charity we organise social meetings, games, health talks, arts and crafts for elderly people in our area, who are mainly from a working class and migrant background. We use public spaces like libraries and community centres to do that – in this regard we depend on the (Labour) council to provide us with these spaces. With the covid lockdown these spaces were closed, only our office space remained open. Many of the elderly people are without family, or their families live further away, so we started phoning them regularly. We started going shopping for them or getting their medication. Their mental health was affected by being isolated. The council had sent most of its workforce to work at home, so there were not many official council workers on the ground. What the council did do was transferring people to us who needed support, as most other local charities, for example mental health charities, were also closed. So we dealt with an extra 30 people who needed help. We also cared for five, six elderly people in residential care who had been more or less left alone in the care home. During that time the private online shopping deliveries of companies like Tesco or Ocado were overwhelmed and people couldn’t get any delivery slots for one, two weeks.

The relationship with the council was pretty much a one way street, as they would ask us to take over cases, but when we asked for PPE they never responded. It’s hard to get any material support from them. They did set up a website where people could volunteer work or donations. I personally worked longer hours at the charity during lockdown, from 11am to 4pm from Monday to Friday, as a volunteer. It was good to see that people really appreciated our work and that the relationships between staff and volunteers of the organisation grew closer during the crisis. We had to figure most of the things out ourselves, as there was no official protocol. This is not surprising, as the government itself didn’t really know what it was doing. In the meantime things are getting harder at home, too, as one of my sons got first furloughed from his food service job and then made redundant with half of his work-mates.”

Local groups – Leeds

Partly inspired by the Angry Workers project in west London in the last few years, a small group of us have been trying to organise in our neighbourhood; giving out newsletters, talking to people, doing door to door leafleting, and generally getting to know what’s going on here. This project has stalled and is currently dormant, but a small number of us are engaged with the LGR project and are thinking through what our next steps for organising should be in Leeds, and possibly the wider Yorkshire area. Please get in touch with us if this sounds like something you’d like to be a part of.

Here is a summary of some local mapping we have done so far:

Leeds has a long history of workers’ struggle and organisation. It’s part of the ‘Luddite Triangle’ and as well as sabotage of new equipment which was undermining the work of the skilled craftsmen, the 19th century saw strikes and the development of the Yorkshire Trade Union and later the Yeadon and Guisely Factory Workers’ Union. The city also has a strong antifascist history and the Battle of Holbeck Moor in 1936 saw some 30,000 people seeing off Oswald Mosely’s blackshirts.

Leeds currently has a population of around 800,000, and is one of the most diverse economies of all the UK’s main employment centres and has seen the fastest rate of private-sector jobs growth of any UK city. It is also the largest financial centre of the UK outside of London. It is also the UK’s third-largest manufacturing centre with around 1,800 firms and 39,000 employees, and manufacturing firms in the city account for 8.8% of total employment here and are worth over £7 billion to the local economy. The largest sub-sectors in the city are engineering, printing and publishing, food and drink, and chemicals and medical technology.

Companies with more than 1,000 employees based in Leeds include Asda Group, First Direct, Centrica, Ventura, BT, Direct Line Group and Yorkshire Bank. Like many places in other parts of the country the NHS is also a big employer, with two large hospitals in the city, as well as NHS England and NHS Improvements based in the city centre. There are a number of food production companies based in Leeds including Arla and Northern Foods, and there are a number of call centres employing a lot of staff including Sky, BT, and Capita.

Internationalism – Turkey

This report is part of our internationalism series:

https://letsgetrooted.wordpress.com/2020/09/05/working-class-internationalism-series/

I was living in Berlin when the Gezi Park movement began in Istanbul at the end of May 2013. I first became aware of what was happening from bits and pieces in the news, but then a meeting was called by comrades from Turkey, which I went along to to find out more. I remember it being a packed event, standing room only in the back room of some sweaty Kreuzberg bar, as we got a first-hand account of the exciting developments happening there. What had started as a small occupation against the development plans for the park in the middle of the city, had quickly turned ugly as protestors were forceably and violently evicted by the cops. As more protestors joined in, the violence from the state continued to escalate, and this event became the spark that ignited a massive movement that engulfed large parts of the country. Three million people took to the streets over a three week period, angry about state violence, and the generally authoritarian tendencies of the regime of the President Tayyip Erdogan.

In 2013, the ‘street protest’ phenomenon had been in full swing for a couple of years. Starting from Tunisia in December 2010, and spreading to Egypt, Syria, Libya and Yemen in 2011, this seemed like another such ‘middle-eastern moment’ where the masses were rising up and attempting to topple their shitty governments. However, at this stage, after we had seen the waves of state violence and repression that had crushed and killed so many in these countries, along with new government faces but not necessarily any systemic changes, the limitations of such movements was glaringly apparent. But this was all too easy for us to say, looking in from the outside. The comrades from Turkey were explicitly asking that comrades from different countries come and join them in their protests. What better chance to see what was happening from the inside?

The Turkish comrades chose their audience well. Not only is Germany home to many people of Turkish origin, Kreuzberg is full of Turkish people and leftists, who, it seemed to me, didn’t have much connection to each other, at least in the ‘doing’ of their day-to-day politics. This was a chance to make some more direct links with people in Turkey, perhaps bring us closer to our Turkish/German neighbours in Berlin, and actually offer some practical, international solidarity at the barricades.

The Turkish comrades’ enthusiasm for what was happening in their country filled the room. It was pretty infectious and I remember feeling quite excited at the possibility that it would actually be quite easy for us to go there – the Berlin crowd has a larger share of freedom in the sense that many of us didn’t have 9-5 jobs or family ties. It was near enough to jump on a plane, and not as ‘unknown’ or ‘dangerous’ as countries like Egypt. I think people finally felt that they had the opportunity to be part of a real ‘street movement’, a part of history even, despite the obvious feeling that we were a bit like ‘protest tourists’ or something. These Turkish comrades, who could speak English, had offered us a ‘way-in,’ through their open invitation and offer of assistance once we were there.

On its own though, this wouldn’t have been enough to make me go. What clinched it was the fact that at the time, I was involved in the labournet.tv project [1], which offered a more productive ‘way in’. This is a free, online film archive centred around the theme of labour struggles. If you haven’t come across it already, I recommend you take a look. As well as giving you free access, often with English, German and French subtitles, to many worker-oriented films and documentaries from the past to the present, the collective (it was three women at the time) sometimes makes their own films. [2] We were interested in if and how the labour movement, or workers in general, were related to these kinds of ‘street movements’. We thought this had been a neglected question in the reporting and analysis of much of the previous square/street movements, focused as many of it was on riot porn and insurrection. This invitation gave us the impetus to go to Turkey with this express question in mind, with the idea of interviewing workers there in a series of short films.

So with this focus in mind, and armed with a camera and microphone, we set off for Istanbul. We managed to find ourselves an interpreter through a friend of a friend, and headed off towards Taksim Square. My first impression was disappointment. Upon arriving in Gezi Park, it seemed like a students’ music festival. People were lolling around, having a good time, sharing food and drink and the vibe was convivial. This obviously isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but rather showed that my ‘movement tourist’ expectations of a ‘confrontation with the state’ were not being fulfilled in the way I had envisaged. It all felt a bit tame. However, over the next days, once we we were able to talk to various groups of workers in the square via the translator, and meet up with some other comrades, we developed more insights into the struggle taking place. I’m glad we had a clear aim in mind (to find out the ‘workers’ content of this movement) because otherwise, it would have been easy to just join in with the nice atmosphere during the daytime, go on some demonstrations in the evening, and then run away when things became more scary with the police as night fell. This wouldn’t have told us much about the content of the movement.

Gezi park had become a central meeting point for all disaffected people across Turkey. Anyone with an existing struggle came there, in the hope of gaining extra support for their cause. While some strikes had happened in the run up to the movement e.g fireman, railway workers and Turkish Airlines, they quickly became isolated due to strong ties between the management and the government. But unionised and non-unionised striking workers used the occupation of Gezi Park to have a presence and make their struggles more public (we spoke to workers from Turkish Airlines and textile workers who had been on strike for over a year), gave them a base and contact with lots of people, which was a way to break through this isolation.

I won’t go into all the ins-and-outs of what we learned while we were there, [3] but you can see the short interviews we made with workers online [4]. As this is a series about ‘internationalism’ and what it could mean, I would just make the following points:

  1. The risk of going there as ‘movement tourists’ was high. We didn’t speak the language, nor did we have prior existing contacts there. We had to make a special effort to make sure we got an interpreter and reach out to people we wanted to speak to once we were there. We made contact with some smaller unions, as well as met up with some comrades from the ICC to get their take on what was happening (they later left the organisation and we weren’t able to publish their interview in the end because of their fear of victimisation). Being pro-active in this way made it a bit more likely that we weren’t just buffeted along on someone else’s agenda or propaganda mission.
  2. As ‘westerners’, we felt relatively safe from Turkish state surveillance and even violence, which was a luxury that most people in Turkey did not have, and which we were conscious of. However, instead of feeling guilty about this, we saw it as a chance to use our position (with access to an international film platform) to amplify workers’ voices you wouldn’t normally hear outside of Turkey. When we were interviewing people, there were some other comrades from Berlin with us who were critical of what we were doing, seeing us as somehow ‘profiting’ from the situation to make our short films. What made us less like ‘tourists’ than them though, I could never quite figure out…
  3. ‘Their’ struggle didn’t really feel like ‘our’ struggle. Thrown into the situation, we had to navigate Kurdish freedom fighters, Stalinists, liberals, Ultras…The composition of the movement was varied and we definitely didn’t feel like we knew enough to have a totally critical view on what was going on. This is probably why we felt better in the ‘investigative’ role, interviewing workers in their own words. Not that this isn’t subjective, but it gave us a ‘way into’ the movement, and we could relate to these workers better than unofficial spokespeople of the movement.
  4. Having said that, it’s important to recognise that the comrades we meet up with overseas do tend to be a certain ‘type’. They are usually English speakers, more often than not working in academia in the larger towns and cities. They have the ‘social’ or ‘cultural capital’ to meet people from overseas, unlike let’s say, a regular worker in some smaller town. However, even maintaining links with these comrades is tough. We did manage to meet up with a few ex-ICC comrades from Turkey a few years later at an international summercamp meeting, but they went on to face severe repression within their universities (this was just after an alleged ‘coup’ in the country in 2016) and they seem to have dropped off the radar…
  5. Same with the workers we met while we were there. While we felt like we gave some isolated workers a voice through the video interviews at the time, and we maintained contact with some of them afterwards (on facebook), this eventually petered out for lack of any more practical solidarity we could give each other.
  6. We didn’t just go to the main Taksim Square and talk to the usual suspects. We deliberately went into a working class area of Istanbul, called Gazi, where we had heard that more militant stand-offs were occurring every night with police, and there was a more explicit class dimension to the protests there. We tried to talk to as many different people as we could, but as ‘outsiders with cameras’, it was quite difficult to get past the local Stalinist leaders. Still, it’s worth making the effort to go beyond talking to the ‘usual suspects.’

All in all, it was a productive, time-limited experience, despite the limitations that affect all ‘internationalist’ efforts in a time when there is no real communist international! I would never say that people shouldn’t go to other countries because of this though. Any internationalist encounter will, by its nature in these times, be limited in its scope. But knowing the language (or having an interpreter), making local contacts, and some idea of what you want to get out of it are probably the basics to either not feel like a voyeur, or that you’re somehow exploiting the situation for your own ends.

[1] www.labournet.tv
[2] https://en.labournet.tv/ditching-fear-0
https://en.labournet.tv/air-breathe
[3] We also spoke to spokespeople from the more ‘radical’ union movement who shed light on the context of this uprising. We learnt that this movement did not really come out of the blue, but had social roots in a huge strike of tobacco workers at the Tekel factory a couple of years before. Ten thousand workers had marched to Ankara and stayed in in slums for 3 months to fight against a new law that would change their status to contract workers and lower their wages and working conditions, as the state-owned factories were being sold off to private companies. Although it was a defeat for the workers, it was seen as a wider working class movement that sought to extend the struggle to other groups of workers who were in next in line for such contract changes. This was also the point at which the working class support base of the ruling AKP party was starting to be lost. Thousands of workers had joined in protests across ethnic and religious lines, and there was more open criticism of the trade unions. At the time, severe state violence had quelled the protests. The ‘spontaneous’ upsurge in anger during the Gezi Park movement had its roots in these previous developments.
[4] https://en.labournet.tv/6767/gezi-park-movement-2013
https://en.labournet.tv/video/6570/role-workers-struggles-gezi-park-movement

Local groups – Croydon

Here is a summary of some local mapping of Croydon we’ve done so far:

Geographically, Croydon is located on the outskirts of London, formerly as the business and administrative hub of Surrey, but now undoubtedly a large suburb of Greater London. The area is a major transport hub, with West Croydon, East Croydon (in the top 20 busiest train stations in UK), the Tramlink and various bus services. It is also the main entry point to East Sussex on the M25 and nearby to Gatwick Airport, Britain’s second busiest airport. This has shaped Croydon’s economic development towards logistics, wholesalers and warehousing.

Rents and property prices are relatively cheap compared to that of inner London boroughs. Nonetheless, affordable housing remains hard to come by, as Croydon launches Box Parks and eyes up new high end shopping centres. In a TimeOut article last year, Croydon was described as the ‘new Brixton’. Given the amount of people that have been displaced from Brixton over the past two decades, this should serve as a sign of the conflicts and pressures to come.

The area is a large logistics, warehousing and pharmaceuticals hub, with thousands of workers clumped together, mostly in medium sized workplaces employing a few hundred people, but with a few spots that have over a thousand workers. This is split across three main sites – the Beddington Lane area, the Willow Lane Industrial Park in Mitcham and the clump around the southern part of Purley Way where we find Amazon.

All the main logistics firms operate here, like TNT, DPD, Royal Mail, Amazon, UPS, DHL, Argos, XPO, Keugne and Nagel. There are large retail and food delivery warehouses and superstores for Argos, Sainsbury, Asda, Morrisons. Tesco has one of it’s main online warehouses here, employing 1,400 people in normal times and many more during the pandemic. Down the road in Coulsdon there’s a similar size Waitrose distribution centre. We also have a £205million ‘state of the art’ incinerator, which came into operation in late 2018, and in 2019 was investigated by the Environment Agency following a serious fire that took 8 hours to get under control. Local anti-pollution campaigners aren’t happy. Near to there is the Beddington Lane sewage works, which produces its own funky smells. Other notable bits of industry nearby include a chemical plant, several concrete plants, food production and processing factories and some light manufacturing shops.

Croydon is also a major transport hub, with the Overground running north to Highbury and Islington, a very busy station at East Croydon, and multiple tram lines zigzagging across the area. The depots for buses and trams are located around the main industrial areas, while a train depot lies slightly North of Croydon in Selhurst.

Then there are the various businesses in the centre of Croydon, where large office blocks house the operations of multinationals. Croydon is also a large financial centre in the South East, separate to London. Notable companies here include Deloitte and PWC.
Croydon also houses a regional HMRC hub and a large UK Border Agency offices at Lunar House, where for several years various concotions of the far-right marched and assembled protected by the police from local residents and anti-fascist groups. However, Lunar House remains as a location where non-British nationals are often instructed to attend to face immigration officials and discover the outcome of applications, often with life changing outcomes. The result of this is that Croydon has a diverse population, consisting of recent arrivals to the UK and more entrenched communities, from eastern Europeans, to Africans, and those from the Middle East. There is also a sizable white British population, especially in surrounding areas like New Addington.

For its part, the Council has been trying to attract new investments and become more ‘business friendly’ as part of its ‘regeneration’ plan. But everything has gone to shit for them since the pandemic hit, and the council now has a £62m budget hole and has just announced 400 job cuts. This brings us on to the question of unrest and resistance in this area. Starting with the council, the unions are making noises and apparently organised a protest outside the town hall in August, but we haven’t yet heard anything more concrete in terms of industrial action. When we spoke to council workers in July, people were clearly afraid across the board and they spoke of no information from the council. Some told us the unions were doing something, but were unable to say what. Others didn’t know. The economic impact of the pandemic/lockdown is only just starting to reverberate elsewhere. We are hearing grumblings amongst refuse workers, both in Croydon and across the administrative border in Merton, which may lead to larger action. We know that there was local media focus on the question of schools reopening earlier in the pandemic, and it’s a fair bet that there has been action happening on a grassroots level.

The major pandemic era dispute we’ve been involved with was with a group of around 50 Pizza Hut workers from a franchise of 6 stores in Croydon in nearby. These stores were run by a cowboy owner who closed them at the start of the pandemic without furloughing staff or paying them their final month’s wages. These workers were pissed as hell and together we organised several pickets and a social media campaign that eventually got them thousands of pounds in owed pay and some furlough money. It wasn’t all they were owed by any stretch, but it was something. Full report is here

https://croydonkickoff.wordpress.com/2020/07/10/the-pizza-hut-workers-siege/

Elsewhere, the pandemic-driven expansion of logistics activity is piling the pressure on logistics workers. This is particularly the case in Amazon, where the company is squeezing more and more from drivers by reducing the number of available shifts whilst massively increasing the workloads per shift. This is leading to a huge turnover in staff and grumblings about strikes both in Croydon and elsewhere. This something that is set to intensify locally, with a second Amazon warehouse currently being constructed in the area. Further reports can be found here:

https://letsgetrooted.wordpress.com/2020/08/28/flyering-at-croydon-amazon-depot/

Royal Mail has been undergoing its own turmoil during the pandemic, though at a national level, with the removal of an unpopular CEO, followed by the announcement of thousands of manager job cuts. Frontline jobs are expected to follow and this will be a dispute we hope to stay plugged into. Further information can be found here:

https://letsgetrooted.wordpress.com/2020/07/20/from-tower-hamlets-to-croydon-spread-the-resistance-of-public-sector-and-allied-workers/

Going further back, other notable disputes in the area include the tram drivers strike in 2019 and the UCU college teachers strike, also in 2019.

We’ve also been linking in with local groups, organisations and just generally trying to get an idea of what’s what in Croydon. This has included taking a critical eye to social reproduction in Croydon, specifically looking at mutual aid groups. More at this link:

https://croydonkickoff.wordpress.com/2020/07/25/mutual-aid-social-reproduction-and-crisis-in-south-london/

In the coming few months we will be focusing on Amazon and Tesco. We’ve made some inroads in both workplaces, two of the group having worked in Tesco for a time, and a wider workers’ movement present in Amazon locations across the world. However, we want to keep a close eye on the council workers and also have the second edition of our newsletter to distribute from the beginning of October. So we need people willing to leaflet and/or research and write. We aim to do at least one leafleting session per week, and meet as a group fortnightly. Get in touch.

Local groups – Bristol

Bristol is the largest city in the South West of England, and is the key economic area for the whole region. Despite the centre of the city being focused on financial services, tourism and other middle class jobs, the City also contains the Western end of the “M4 corridor”, connecting our city with Heathrow at its Eastern end as the UK’s main airport and the busiest international cargo hub in the world.

What we have identified is that the large industrial strip along the M49, Avonmouth and Severn Beach is a key economic area for the entirety of the South West and a main circulation point for much of the materials used in the aerospace manufacturing hotbeds in Filton.

Over the next year, we plan to be focusing our time and organising energies on the large workplaces in the logistics sector, mainly based around this area, which acts as a bottleneck for the entire economy of the South West and beyond. Some of us are looking at getting jobs in the larger workplaces, whether that be Amazon, Tesco Distribution Centre, DHL Supply Chain or Culina, in order to properly get rooted and make inroads with the wider workforce in the area.

As we mention above, there is an extremely heavy concentration of aerospace manufacture in North Bristol that focuses its output on the arms industry. Another angle of any of our efforts would be to attempt to build bridges between workers in that industry to discuss the nature of their bosses productive outputs, highlighting the destructive nature of what they are forced to produce in contrast to what they have the capacity to produce. This will be essential work as working class militant internationalists, as building a consciousness of the way that the current conditions of production deploys working class people of one area to contribute to the murder of their own class in other regions, whilst there are so many possibilities for alternatives to such forms of production.

We are looking for other working class militants to join us on a local level with visiting, leafleting and working in these workplaces with an eye to building broad class solidarity in everything we do. In the next few months, we want to be looking towards building a “solidarity network” in the area, and produce some kind of area newsletter to distribute to workers that focuses on class struggle in the area and how companies are antagonising the workers.

If you want to learn more or get involved with other working class militants in Bristol, email at: letsgetrooted@protonmail.com

Local groups – Heathrow

Let’s Get Rooted…at Heathrow!

Heathrow’s a huge workplace with big problems. Covid-19 has grounded fleets of planes, with all the predictable consequences for the airlines and their suppliers. With the same level of predictability, companies like British Airways, Gate Gourmet and Alpha LSG (airline caterers) are using the opportunity to slash staff numbers and hours, and attack remaining workers’ contracts.

This is not just a Heathrow problem. Globally as many as 400,000 aviation workers have either been sacked, furloughed or told they are probably going to lose their jobs. Over the last two decades workers at Heathrow have been through two other major crises. The 9/11 terror attack and 2008 financial crash both took a toll on working conditions, but the crisis caused by Covid-19 threatens to be much worse. What with the climate catastrophe also looming, now is the time for a rank-and-file voice to challenge the notion that workers have to choose between (worsening) jobs, and their health and the future of the planet.

Workers themselves need to lead the discussion about the future of their livelihoods and the planet. This is why we want to set up a Let’sGetRooted project here. The aims of the group, which is part of a wider national project (Leeds, Bristol, Manchester, Birmingham, Croydon etc.) are to help develop and broaden the power of working class people. It should be a focal point for militant workers to get together and discuss their situation, devise strategies best suited to them, and then act. Through honest reflection of what’s happening on the ground, our victories and defeats, we can acquire the capabilities we need to build the genuine, bottom-up power in our workplaces and communities and retain the historic memory to sustain them.

With a Heathrow-focused solidarity network, we can link our workplaces with our homes and communities. By creating our own Heathrow newspaper we can share our experiences and ideas, and try and break down some of the barriers between different groups of workers. We should produce educational groups guided by the participants toward mutual aid. It can be a home where individuals can grow and feel safe. While working within mass movements and unions we will seek to enable the development of an autonomous class consciousness. If you want to be involved in this initiative, read on!

Some background…

Heathrow Airport is the UK’s largest on-site employer. 76,000 people work at the airport and it supports 114,000 jobs locally. The strategic importance of such a massive site of economic activity, and its’ increasing importance in the climate change debate, means we cannot afford to ignore it, or let the unions be the main spokespeople for the workers there.

Because of this strategic and economic importance, workers in and around Heathrow (compared to much of the country over this period), have at least attempted to resist the bosses advances. They’ve threatened, and sometimes gone on strike to protect wages and conditions. Even in times such as these, when workers’ collective resistance is hard to come by, Heathrow workers have remained, at least partially aware, of their enhanced bargaining power. As well as (in “normal” times) 80m passengers, Heathrow handles 1.7m tonnes of cargo worth approx. £133b a year. It’s the busiest airport in Europe and the sixth in the world. 30% of non-EU exports go through this one port. Disruption here, can cause major repercussions. But even with Heathrow’s relative level of militancy, unions have been unable or unwilling to stop the general downward trend of wages and working conditions.

In the UK and in airports around the world, the “job for life” model associated with employment in the aviation industry has been replaced by a more and more precarious and low-paid one. This is obviously caused by competition and the capitalist imperatives to expand profits and market share. It’s facilitated by companies’ aggressive outsourcing and subcontracting efforts, which have set up illusory divisions between worker’s that should be organising together. It’s also further enabled by the established union’s lack of strength, dynamism and most times, desire or inclination to break down these divisions. This in turn is an outgrowth of their bureaucratic top down structure and organising model. Instead of attempting to unite workers, only separated by pieces of paper, too often reps and branch officials protect their own little fiefdom.

A high-profile example is the union response to the mass redundancy and fire and rehire agenda embarked upon by British Airways. Rather than helping to organise workers to come up with a unified response that protects departments with comparatively less bargaining power, the unions have constructed a PR campaign designed to convince Tory MP’s to “save” the workers. As things stand, different departments are now negotiating bespoke deals ostensibly to their benefit, but in reality, to the detriment of all.

Although the opportunity of a well-paid job for life is being granted to fewer and fewer people, to a large section of the workforce, this has always been denied. The situation has been exacerbated recently, with engineering and production capabilities that used to support aviation either off-shored or made unnecessary by technological advance. But unions have historically been far too focused on protecting the hard won contracts of “skilled workers” whilst neglecting, the always large, but rapidly increasing mass of disparagingly designated “unskilled” workers. An Airports Commission study found Heathrow employee skills were mainly on what is considered the lower spectrum, with 75% of those employed in skill level 1 and 2. By definition meaning they are chronically underpaid. Local authorities surrounding Heathrow (with the exception of Hillingdon) have a higher percentage of “non-skilled“ workers than the national average. This particular separation of work roles always tends to, conveniently, effect woman the most. This false division between skilled and unskilled is another barrier to working class unity we need to dismantle. We hope to do this through setting up a regular LetsGetRooted presence in and around Heathrow. The newspaper will be a forum for different workers’ experiences to be heard and shared, commonalities can be forged. We hope that the solidarity network can also help forge practical support between different groups of workers.

Climate vs. Jobs trap

The major unions are also guilty of neglecting probably the most important and contradictory aspects of working at Heathrow: air pollution and climate breakdown. Air quality readings taken from March-May 2019 outside Cherry Lane school in West Drayton show nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels of 44.1 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m3). The governments own legal limit is 40µg/m3. The reading taken in the same period in 2020 after lockdown was 23.9µg/m3. The first reading is at “normal” capacity, the cost of a third runway (which the union’s fully support) to the local communities health is difficult to quantify. This is also totally a class issue. The top 10% of high earners in the UK make seven times as many flights as the bottom 10%. Drilling down further we see that 1% of English residents make 20% of all flights. Our children choke so rich folk can get another selfie in front a landmark they know jack-shit about. All this is to say nothing of the massive harm already being caused by a warming planet to people (usually black and brown) all over the world.

High rents, dodgy landlords, overcrowding and house prices surrounding the airport are also a familiar problem to local workers. A problem that compounds the climate situation by causing workers to move further away from their workplaces, forcing them to make long, expensive, polluting journeys in. Workers have to be talking about and finding solutions to, these issues. The issues of low pay, job insecurity, dodgy landlords, high rents, racism, sexism and climate change are all interconnected and workers can take them head on. We just need to create some spaces in which these discussions can take place and these divisions can be broken down. In our experience, the unions rarely give spaces for such discussions, so we need to start creating our own!

If you want to be involved in setting up this initiative, we’d love to hear from you! If you’re interested in any of the following: workers’ self-organisation; pushing a radical line inside the unions; environmental issues; making contacts with more Heathrow workers; handing out newspapers; supporting workers with solidarity network cases, then email us at:

letsgetrooted@protonmail.com

There are various levels of engagement. On a basic level, we need some people who can commit to a regular presence at Heathrow so people who live in west London would be a bonus. So too are Punjabi, Hindi and Romanian speakers. Even if you don’t live nearby, you can help us remotely through design/IT/written translation skills. We plan to kick-start this with a first edition of a Heathrow newsletter at the end of October and solidarity network meetings starting from November. Get in touch and we can discuss next steps!

Lockdown interviews – Royal Mail worker

We spoke to comrades working for the Royal Mail about their experiences during the lockdown, a postal delivery worker in Central London and a comrade who works at the depot in Hillingdon.

“I work for Royal Mail in central London, sorting and delivering them. We primarily deliver to offices , which meant that the work load came down during the lockdown due to closed offices. This contrasted with residential deliveries, which saw Chrismas-kind increases due to more parcels from online orders.

Initially there was no supply of PPE and people were worried, they brought in their own masks. We got our first hand sanitisers two, three weeks after the official government lockdown. Workers complained to the union about this, but it also took the union in my office a week to get active. There were union endorsed wildcat actions at other offices due to lack of health and safety, but I am not to informed about the ins and outs of these actions – they tend to be localised. In my office employing about 300 to 400 workers the average age is high, perhaps even over 50 years old.

Due to the lack of reaction from above many people voted with their feet, sick-rates went up to 15 to 20% durng the period of the lockdown. This meant that many walks could not be done and work was piling up. There was a lack of drivers. Management offered overtime, but not many workers took it up. Most people just wanted to get their job done and go home – and due to the lack of traffic people managed to finish quick. This aggravates a general probem: some workers come in early and don’t take their breaks in order to finish early. Many workers have second jobs in the afternoon. The union reminds people that they should take their break, otherwise management will use the situation to reduce staff, as they can see that work can be completed quicker.

The wildcat strikes had a knock-on effect. In our office management and union became pretty cautious about health and safety, but in a very contradictory manner. While inside many people still work without masks and only some sorting-frames have been removed to guarantee social distancing, the big changes happened in terms of the vans. Normally the delivery post man (‘walkman’, ‘walkwoman’) go out with the van drivers once sorting is finished. We tend to have to wait for the van drivers. Now management said that we cannot go in a van together. They told us that we have to either walk to our patch – which in my case can be an extra 45 minutes each way – or take public transport. Public transport became very crowded as time went on, which puts you in an absurd situation. But management insists on continuing the measure, probably also because work can be done quicker! Instead of having to wait for the van drivers we start our round earlier and only few walkmen wait till the final sorting work is done. The union also defends this measure, saying that it would save jobs! Management threatened anyone who would share vans with immediate dismissal.

All this comes during a time when a lot of changes in Royal Mail were announced, in particular by the old boss Rico, who left during the pandemic. There were job cuts announced for central London, also by reducing delivery to a Monday to Friday schedule. Figures of 40,000 to 45,000 job cuts were circulating. With less workers needed to cover the rest days of other colleagues people would have to move between offices. Management wanted to introduce more flexibility in this regard. There was an uproar when management announced this and they retreated by saying that all this is voluntary for the moment. When they asked people to shift to other offices during the lockdown – in particular to residential deliveries – some workers took time off sick.

During the beginning of the lockdown the CWU leadership called off industrial action against the management plans of re-structuring, saying that we are needed during these times of national emergency. At least temporarily this might have worked out for them. Management is now cautious to attack workers, who have just been declared heroes. We have to see how this turns out in the long run. The CWU is pretty top down, the decision to call off action was not discussed. Our reps only inform us rarely of what is happening. There were two general leaflets during the pandemic, one on the threats of job cuts, one general one on Black Lives Matters.

We don’t know how we come out of this pandemic crisis. Management won’t announce job cuts when more workers are needed for delivering online orders. Not many people have been furloughed. Management might think that they can get rid of people through retirement and not replacing them. In my office hardly anyone has been hired in recent years. Drivers have been hired, but on part-time contracts, although they work full-time.

Workers are cynical in general. They don’t believe management. Only 10 or 15 out of 300 of my workmates took part in a management survey about workers’ job satisfaction. They are also cynical when it comes to politics. They say this government was slow to react, but Labour would have been the same.

There are some grassroots forums, such as the Royal Mail Chat on Facebook. More people took part in them during the lockdown, but it hasn’t translated into more practical coordinations.”

————–

“I work in Hillingdon. There was a bit of verbal disagreement and management may have enforced H&S for fear of a walkout (which did nearly happen at one point when we thought someone had been infected), but this was too haphazard to be pushed by the workforce. Otherwise not much happening.”

Working class internationalism – Series

As you might have guessed from the name, the ‘Let’sGet Rooted’ network sees ‘local roots’ as one of the most significant preconditions for the rebuilding of an independent, revolutionary, working class organisation. At the same time we emphasise the central importance of working class internationalism. But what does that actually mean beyond well- meaning slogans?

We see various historical and current material reasons for why ‘internationalism’ is essential for the hope of working class emanicpation:

* There is a revolutionary humanist aspect in the sense that no one can be truly free if others are shackled.
* With the development of the global market that has created material interdependence between regions, fundamental social change becomes necessarily international or will be starved and defeated nationally. There is now no part of the world that is not under the control of capital.
* Politically, we can see the result for workers once their so-called leaders (the ‘Labour parties’, the trade unions) tie their fate to the nation state in the form of the massacres of the World Wars. The Russian Revolution in a very backward country was strangled because the efforts of communists to spread the revolution to the industrially advanced countries were opposed by the European social democratic parties and trade unions before Stalin himself abandoned the idea of world revolution.
* Since then, the left has often conflated ‘solidarity with national liberation movements’ and working class internationalism, which leads them to support anti-worker proto-states, such as the Vietcong or the ANC.
* As workers we can be inspired by and learn from struggles overseas  – this is particularly important in the old industrial countries like UK where reformism and welfarism have undermined class consciousness. Everything must be done to encourage the working class in the UK to support in practical ways any part of the global class taking action.
* With the further globalisation of the economy, practical workers’ internationalism becomes a necessity for struggles to be successful in the medium and long-term. ‘Local’ struggles can easily be undermind by capital’s global nature: work can be relocated, local workers can be replaced by new migrant workers.
* The fight for internationalism is also the fight against prejudice and racism here at home. Capitalism is destroying the very conditions for life in many parts of the world and people will have to move in vast numbers. We have to develop a working class movement which supports refugees and turns its anger at the shortage of resources – jobs, housing etc – against capital.
* The global nature of the crisis, in particular the climate crisis, requires a fundamental global change in the way we produce – which can only be brought about by an international class movement. Capitalist globalisation sharpens its own contradictions, e.g. we now have something denied to all previous class uprisings – a means of instant global communication between struggles.

To these ends we want to support the practical international coordinations of workers, e.g. in the form of Amazon workers’ meetings or joint campaigns of Deliveroo or Uber Eats delivery riders. Our local groups aim to help circulate information about relevant struggles worldwide, e.g. amongst Heathrow workers about the global crisis and strikes in aviation.

We also want to build closer ties to comrades and groups who share our political outlook of working class self-emancipation and who are also looking for ways to turn our theoretical understandings of the global nature of the working class into a new political practice.

This is the general background for a new series of articles that we want to write or you to send us. The articles will consist of short reflections of concrete efforts to build ‘international ties’, either in the form of workers’ practical solidarity or political collaboration between comrades – or exploring the tension between both.  

Watch this space!


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