Remember the biggest ever revolt against war

November 6, 2017

On Saturday the UK will mark Armistice Day. An official cult of remembrance requires that this week people in the public eye – politicians, newsreaders, sports personalities and so on – wear the red poppy that commemorates British service personnel.

I am wearing the white poppy, that commemorates all the victims of all wars. It’s a white poppysocialist, anti-militarist tradition that I think should be spread more widely.

The horrible destruction in Syria, unleashed by the regime of Bashar al-Assad to protect his power from a popular uprising and generalised into a multi-sided war, is reason enough to wear the white poppy.

And this year it can also serve as a reminder of the greatest popular anti-military uprising in history – in Russia in the summer of 1917.

The women workers of Petrograd (now St Petersburg) began the 1917 revolution in February, by striking and demonstrating against the first world war (in which Russia was allied with Britain and France) and the hardships it brought.

Soldiers of the Petrograd garrison, by refusing to fire on the protesters and pledging Read the rest of this entry »

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China: collective resistance against iSlavery

October 23, 2017

Review of Goodbye iSlave: a manifesto for digital abolition by Jack Linchuan Qiu (University of Illinois Press, 2016)

When 15 young workers jumped or fell from the upper floors of Foxconn’s factories in China in five months of 2010 – 13 of them to their deaths – it made international headlines. People across the world felt outrage at the oppressive working conditions in which iPhones and other high-tech products are made.

Much less well-publicised were the collective resistance movements that flowered at Foxconn and other big Chinese factories in the years following the “Suicide Express”.

In April 2012, 200 Foxconn employees at Wuhan took pictures of themselves on the factory rooftop, and circulated them on social media, along with threats to jump if the company kept ignoring their demand for a wage increase. The company backed down.

This action “differ[ed] qualitatively from individual acts of suicide. Instead, it became a collective behaviour that successfully pressurised Foxconn to increase wages”, the Hong Kong-based activist and university teacher Jack Linchuan Qiu writes in Goodbye iSlave (p. 134).

Qiu describes a world – our world – in which the latest technological devices are made by workers who are subject to dehumanising super-exploitation, and are also used by those workers in organising collective resistance to their conditions.

The main focus of the book is Foxconn, the world’s largest electronics manufacturer. Its workforce of 1.4 million, mostly in China, make most i-products for Apple – including iPads, Read the rest of this entry »


Moving the trade unions past fossil fuels

August 9, 2017

The Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) has launched a pamphlet, Just Transition and Energy Democracy: a civil service trade union perspective, urging trade union support for the transition away from fossil fuels and restructuring the energy system under public ownership. In this interview SAMANTHA MASON, PCS policy officer and main author of the pamphlet, published in May, talks about combating the pro-fossil-fuel lobby in the unions and the Labour Party, and how to unite social and environmental movements.

Gabriel Levy (GL). Could you describe the PCS’s long engagement with energy and climate policy, which has culminated in the Just Transition pamphlet?

Samantha Mason (SM). We have been engaged with climate change issues, and increasingly with the whole energy debate, for about ten years. This has in large part been due to motions coming to conference from the grassroots membership, and an assistant general secretary, Chris Baugh, leading on

Anti-fracking protesters in Lancashire: the PCS is working with them. Photo from Reclaim the Power

this, which has enabled us to develop our policy and campaigning agenda.We participate in meetings with other industrial and energy unions, mainly through the Trade Unions Sustainable Development Advisory Committee. [Note. This committee was set up as a joint government-union forum after the 1997 Kyoto climate talks, but government participation dried up under the Tories. It is now a meeting place for union policy officers, and latterly, industrial officers.]

Some of the unions there represent workers in the fossil fuel and nuclear sectors, so while we’re supposed to look at sustainable development issues, Read the rest of this entry »


Russia: ‘extremism’ case against environmentalist collapses

August 9, 2017

The prosecution of the ecologist Valery Brinikh for “extremism” collapsed yesterday in the city court at Maykop in the Adygea in southern Russia.

The case was brought against Brinikh in 2014, for exposing bad waste disposal practices at a pig farm founded by Vyacheslav Derev, a member of the Federation Council (the upper house of the Russian parliament).

Brinikh is a biologist, and had worked as a director of the Daur Nature Reserve (1993-99) and

Valery Brinikh (right) with his defence lawyer Andrei Sabinin this week. Photo from Agora/ the Russian Reader

the Caucasus Nature Reserve (1999-2001). In 2012 he started campaigning, with local residents, against the stench and pollution caused by the Kievo-Zhuraki agro-industrial complex in the Teuchezhsk district of Adygea.

The state prosecutor claimed that an article Brinikh wrote in 2014 in a local newspaper, “The Silence of the Lambs”, insulted the dignity of the Adygean people. (Adygea is a Republic, an enclave in the Krasnodar region in the north Caucasus.) Three years of legal persecution followed.

Brinikh was supported by the Agora International Human Rights Group: they argued that the prosecution was an assault on freedom of speech and the freedom of expression.

The case has been covered by the Russian Reader. Yesterday’s verdict reported here; more stuff here.

 

 

 

 


Ukraine: ‘We need new ways of organising’

August 4, 2017

Amid military conflict and industrial collapse in eastern Ukraine, activists are feeling their way towards new models of worker organisation.

Factories, steelworks and mines, whether in government-controlled or separatist-controlled territory, have shut down, gone on short time, or laid workers off on reduced pay. Military violence has hastened the shift from steady employment to precarity. Workplace-based trade unions have struggled to cope.

The Eastern Human Rights Group (EHRG) – a lawyers’ collective that gives support to individuals, workplace collectives and community groups – is working with other activists to set up territorially-based workers’ organisations that will embrace the employed, unemployed and precariously employed.

Some of the largest factories just stopped paying wages, and thousands of workers are owed six months’ back pay or more, Pavel Lisyansky of the EHRG said in an interview. “In these circumstances, people of Read the rest of this entry »


Ukraine: miners strike back against wage arrears

August 4, 2017

Miners in eastern Ukraine have responded to the build-up of wage arrears and steep inflation with strikes and underground protests.

At the Kapustin mine in Lugansk region, 54 miners staged an underground sit in, and forced from their employer, Lisichanskugol’, a promise to cough up wage arrears dating back two years in some cases.

The cash was promised for Wednesday (2 August). But when it came, it was 10% short of the total, and yesterday (3 August) miners again refused to start work.

Vladimir Ivanshin, head of the local Trade Union of Coal Industry Workers (the “official”, government-linked union) said that the 10% shortfall was a “breach of the first point of the agreement” made after the sit-in.

The dispute at Kapustin first erupted on 16 July. A group of face-workers and ancillary underground men refused to leave the pit. The action began Read the rest of this entry »


Here are the voices of Syria’s revolution. Let’s listen

July 27, 2017

Review of We Crossed a Bridge and it Trembled: Voices from Syria, by Wendy Pearlman (Custom House 2017).

The story of this century’s greatest popular uprising, in 2011 against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, is told in this exceptional book by people who participated. They also recount the hurricane of violence unleashed against the revolution and the divide-and-rule methods used by the regime and the “great powers”.

Syrian revolutionaries describe in the book how they became refugees. More than half of the pre-war population of 22 million have been forced from their homes; more than 5 million have fled the country.

We Crossed a Bridge and it Trembled tells these stories through interviews with 87 Syrians, collected in 2012-16 by Wendy Pearlman, a US-based researcher of the Middle East and author of two previous books on Palestine.

Pearlman conducted the interviews mainly among Syrian refugees in Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Germany, Sweden and Denmark. They included Read the rest of this entry »