Two down, six to go: Direct action gets results for tenants, cleaners and electricians

As the class war rages on – and, let’s face it, our rulers generally continue to win it most of the time – a few examples from recent weeks have demonstrated the kind of tactics that can get real results. First of all, there was the impressively fast victory for the newly-reformed Glasgow Solidarity Network at the start of the month, where some anarchist tenants were able to win back several hundred pounds of illegal fees they’d paid to their letting agent by applying a little pressure. And more recently, yesterday the London Industrial Workers of the World Cleaners’ Branch managed to secure a big win at NTT Communications – cleaning contractor Dynamiq had responded to their attempts at organising by trying to fire the entire workforce, but the cleaners stood firm and were able to win both their reinstatement and the London Living Wage. And today saw a major development in the electricians’ ongoing battle against their new contracts, as Balfour Beatty backed down on their attempts to impose the BESNA agreement. Out of the eight employers who first backed the scheme, Balfour Beatty is the second to pull out, following the defeat of MJN Coulson back in September, so while this is a big victory, the fight certainly isn’t over yet: this is the point where things need to be stepped up on the last six employers, so any attempt by Unite to sell this as the final victory should be resisted.
While there are obviously big differences between these three cases, they all have important features in common: above all, they were all fought in whole or in part outside of the traditional official structures of the workers’ movement, and using tactics more radical than most unions are willing to support. This is most obvious in the case of the Glasgow Solidarity Network victory, which took place entirely outside of the workplace and never involved any contact with any official union body, but the London cleaners’ victory comes as part of an ongoing campaign by cleaners in London which has involved a wildcat strike at Senate House and a workplace occupation at the Guildhall, as well as open conflict between the Unite union and militant Latin American cleaners. The fact that these cleaners have chosen the militant IWW as the best vehicle for their struggle is a big vote of confidence in the power of direct action, and it seems to be paying off.
The sparks’ dispute is an altogether more complicated example, as it’s partly taken place through the union and partly outside it: any analysis of what’s going on here has to take into account the fact that Balfour Beatty backed down immediately after losing their court case to prevent official strike action by Unite, but it also needs to reflect the fact that the official strike action was only called to prevent the union totally losing control of the situation after literally months of rank-and-file action, and the fact that when the courts first called the strike off they were met by a wave of unofficial action. So, this certainly isn’t just a case of the union leadership fighting for their members and winning, but it’d also be too simplistic to just chalk it up as a victory for the rank-and-file, since it sounds like the court’s decision was a key factor in Balfour Beatty rolling over, and any working-class victory that depends on the kindness of judges is a very shaky victory indeed. At the
risk of sounding like a broken record, the answer to this is the same as ever: we need to build up unofficial rank-and-file bodies that can deliver action on the scale that scares bosses shitless no matter what the union leadership or the courts say. Ultimately, bosses don’t care that much whether a strike is official or unofficial, legal or illegal: what matters is whether or not it seriously disrupts their profits.
Obviously, there’s been a lot of other stuff going on in the world recently – in particular, the situation in Greece has been going off so much that I’ve not even really been able to keep track of it, and the workfare stuff that’s been happening  is important enough to deserve a post of its own – for anyone who’s not been paying attention, the Void’s coverage of this particular issue has been consistently worth reading. I might do a fuller round-up at some point soon, but in the meantime, here’s a few particularly relevant stories: Canadian postie and IWW member Nick Driedger has been fired, officially for honking his horn, and there’s an appeal going out for people to email his bosses in support of him. In Kazakhstan, independent union leaders are asking for support and solidarity in the face of very real physical danger from the state. And the sparks have called for demos outside every Morrison’s in the country tomorrow in protest at the fact that Morrison’s have a contract with NG Baileys, one of the six remaining employers still trying to push BESNAsee here for the leaflet they want people to print off and give out. In London, that’ll take the form of a drum’n’bass street party outside Chalk Farm Morrison’s at NW1 8AA from mid-day. The short notice might limit participation, but it seems like something UkUncut and similar groups could get involved in very usefully, since they can often mobilise big numbers quickly and they’ve got a lot of experience of pissing shops off. If the people who’ve been relentlessly trolling Tesco online also fancy using their free time to bait Morrison’s about the NG Baileys contract, that’d be good as well. And London cleaners are also continuing the fight for a living wage with a strike going on right now by Eurostar cleaners at St Pancras.

About nothingiseverlost

"The impulse to fight against work and management is immediately collective. As we fight against the conditions of our own lives, we see that other people are doing the same. To get anywhere we have to fight side by side. We begin to break down the divisions between us and prejudices, hierarchies, and nationalisms begin to be undermined. As we build trust and solidarity, we grow more daring and combative. More becomes possible. We get more organized, more confident, more disruptive and more powerful."
This entry was posted in Anarchists, Internet, Protests, Strikes, Stuff that I think is pretty awesome and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.