Syria: the revolution is alive, but buried under rubble

December 7, 2017

The Syrian revolution is “still there, but it is buried under all this rubble”, the writer Yassin al-Haj Saleh told a London audience on Tuesday.

The situation facing Syrian civil society was formed in layers, Saleh said.

The first layer was the first two years of the revolution (2011-13), when there was an explosion of collective community action against

Protests in Syria on the “day of rage” on 14 October

Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

The second layer was the struggle of regional powers including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey who feared the spread of popular rebellion.

The third layer was the intervention in Syria of American and Russian forces in 2014.

The world had stood by when the Assad regime launched a chemical attack on civilians at Ghouta in 2013: after that, Syrians had felt “isolated and betrayed”, Saleh said.

Those who had participated in the revolution were “exhausted”, he continued. A quarter of the population had been displaced, many of whom were now living outside the country.

The regime was being restored, with the support of the international powers, but none of the economic and social problems that caused the 2011 uprising had been solved. Even Syrians who were not opposed to the regime wanted their lives to change for the better, and no such change is likely.

Outside Syria, Saleh said, groups of activists are working in the field of culture, and on human rights issues.

“We are still in struggle. We are not pessimists”, he said.

Saleh was speaking over skype to a meeting on Tuesday organised by the Syrian Society of students at the School of Oriental and 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 »


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 »


After Grenfell Tower

July 12, 2017

A guest post by CLIFF SLAUGHTER

The number of dead from the Grenfell Tower fire is still unknown. Since the fire, millions of people living in high-rise flats do not know if and when they can be safe.

What is to be done? What can come from the anger of millions of people, especially the victims, and the bitter protests about the fact that it is only ordinary working people who were hit?

One answer came from Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Catholic Archbishop of Westminster:

The thing about anger and its energy is it has to get directed in the right way. It has to get shaped so it becomes a positive source. And I think that what I find most troubling is those who wish to use that anger to deepen divisions in society.

This gentleman of the cloth is telling the surviving victims, and the rest of us, to direct our anger and Read the rest of this entry »