Militant, mass demonstrations hit London and other European cities protesting the G20 meetings while the big imperialist powers bickered about how to handle the capitalist economic meltdown. There was also a demonstration attacked by the cops in Strasbourg, France, during NATO’s 60th Anniversary meeting where the European rulers decided to send a very limited amount of extra troops to aid the U.S. war over oil-gas pipelines in Afghanistan.
Workers are angry. A common chant in many of their protests — from Dublin to Paris, from Rome to Athens — is, “We won’t pay for their crisis!” Workers in the U.S. and elsewhere should follow their example in upping the ante of class struggle against the capitalist attacks. However, the anger and class hatred of these workers are being misled by union hacks, fake leftists and ruling-class politicians who build nationalism and illusions that voting for a “lesser evil” capitalist is the solution.
Nationalism and racism hold back these struggles. GM workers in Germany and Sweden limited their demands to to keeping their plants open since they are “more efficient” than others, which weakens and divides international workers’ solidarity. Meanwhile, racism against immigrants and non-white citizen workers is growing throughout the continent. Anti-racism is vital to these fight-backs.
General Strike in Greece
On April 2, a massive general strike in all industries shut down Greece, with huge marches in Athens and nationwide, protesting G20 policies and their own right-wing government of Prime Minister Karamanlis. Most schools, ports and department stores in most big cities closed down. TV, radio and newspapers were affected.
In Athens there were three marches by different union groups, including heavy contingents of workers — mostly women — from the United Textile company whose 14 factories are suffering mass layoffs. The Finance Minister is demanding United Textiles fire 950 of the 1200 workers at these plants before approving a “survival plan” for the company. Hacks of two unions are accusing each other of betraying this struggle, but neither are supporting workers’ occupation of the plants. This is no surprise, since these sellouts also refused to support the mass rebellions of young workers and students that hit Greece last year when the cops killed a young student.
France: Caterpillar Workers Seize Bosses, Continental Workers Burn Tires in Paris
Striking Caterpillar (CAT) workers at the Grenoble and Echirolles plants held five bosses in their offices after management refused to discuss a 733 jobs-cut in a workforce of 2,800. After netting a $3.5-billion profit in 2008, CAT announced it would eliminate 22,000 jobs worldwide based on an estimated 55% drop in orders.
CAT, the world’s largest manufacturer of construction equipment, produces much of that large machinery in France and provides armored vehicles for the British army and several other countries. It also makes the D9 armored bulldozers with which the Israeli army razed Palestinian housing. CAT CEO James Owens was Bush’s nominee to a trade advisory board and is now on Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board.
The “CAT-napping” is just the latest in a series of similar actions throughout France:
• March, 2009 — The boss of Sony France was forcibly held at the Pontons-sur-Adour plant.
• Workers seized the industrial manager of the 3M factory at Pithiviers near Orléans.
• Riot police had to rescue the billionaire chief executive of the retail and luxury group PPR after workers protesting 1,200 job cuts blocked his taxi for over an hour as he left a meeting.
• Union delegates at the FCI plant near Paris held two directors in the meeting room until police intervened. They were supported by striking workers who have been picketing around the clock for six weeks against layoffs and plant closings.
On March 25, workers from the German-owned Continental Tire factory in Clairoix converged on Paris to burn tires on the city’s main boulevard, demanding the government bail out the company. Continental is moving its work to Timisoara, Romania where the average monthly wage is 280-420 Euros ($375-$500). In Clairoix it’s 1,700 Euros (over $2,000). Continental is closing two plants in France and another in Germany. It broke its promise to keep work at the Clairoix factory through 2012 after workers had made big concessions in 2006.
On March 16, angry workers burst into a board meeting and pelted the bosses with eggs and shoes. The bosses held their next meeting, under strict security, 600 miles away in Nice.
These bold actions are good but demanding to “save our jobs” without international solidarity with workers in Romania is a dead-end for the working class.
Visteon Workers Occupy Factories from London to Belfast
“They’ve treated us like dogs….But the workers in Ireland occupied so we thought now it’s our turn to do something,” declared a British Visteon worker as he and 100 of his co-workers occupied the Enfield factory in north London. Another added, “While [British Prime Minister] Gordon Brown was living it up with the G-20, we were losing our jobs. Brown says he has a big plan to save the world, but how about…our jobs?”
The plant’s 200 workers built parts for Jaguar and Land Rover. On April 1, they were fired ten minutes before the end of their shift, and told they would have to ask the government for their last seven days’ pay and would not collect any benefits.
Workers also occupied two Visteon plants in Basildon and Belfast Ireland. Over 50 workers slept inside the Basildon plant and many more were on the road outside. About 100 workers protested outside the Visteon Customer and Technology Centre. Showing solidarity, the office staff there walked out to join them.
Visteon was spun off by Ford in 2000; the majority are ex-Ford workers. One who worked for both companies for 25 years warned, “We know that if we’re going to get anything we’ll have to fight for it. Over the years we’ve given a lot of ground, maybe too much. We’ve even bought our own tools on occasion, just to help the company. And this is how they repay us.” Another declared, “A lot of us are in danger of losing our homes. We’re determined to stay because we have nothing to lose.”
All workers, students and youth should send messages of support to the Visteon workers to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Huge March Against Fascist Berlusconi
On April 3, hundreds of thousands of workers protested the economic policies of Silvio Berlusconi’s fascist government. (His ruling party recently fused with remnants of Mussolini’s old fascist movement.) The huge march in Rome started from five different points and converged on the Coliseum.
The marchers opposed government plans for mass cutbacks in education and public services and demanded an improved policy towards immigrants — super-exploited and persecuted because of racism. But the CGIL union federation leading the march, and the different politicians addressing the rally, just want to replace Berlusconi with their own brand of capitalist rule. They have no real solutions to the deep crisis of Italian capitalism hit hard by the worldwide financial meltdown.
The bosses and their pundits parroted nonsense about the “end of history” — meaning the end of class struggle — after the implosion of the Soviet Union, but workers never stop fighting as the system bails out billionaires’ while millions lose their jobs. But to turn that fight into the beginning of the end of capitalism, the main ingredient needed is a revolutionary communist leadership. May Day 2009 is the day to raise the red flag of communist revolution worldwide. That is the lesson CHALLENGE and PLP bring to the world’s workers. Join us in making it possible!