Syndicalist unions and Covid-era resistance: A CIT roundup

The anarcho-syndicalist international, founded in 2018, looks at workplace struggle in its branches worldwide and calls for the building of new forms of solidarity amid the lockdowns.

With the corona crisis, the world has suddenly entered a new phase of intense class struggle. This is impressively documented by a map of (for the most part) wildcat strikes related to corona. The ICL, as a young and very radical trade union international, has responded to the crisis according to the best of its capabilities. At the same time, we see that there are still many gaps in its organization and that very large strikes are taking place far away from its structures and without trade union backing. We send solidarity greetings to all these determined colleagues now. Your struggles show that we must become even faster in supporting them and that there is a lot of work waiting for all syndicalist trade unionists worldwide in the coming months. In the following article, we will take stock of the activities in the ICL sections in the last weeks and now and then lose a few words about the situation in the respective countries.


Argentina

Support for bus drivers and medical staff

In Argentina, the working class continues to face adjustment, even if there have been suspended the increases of the rent and the eviction notice for several months. Another measurement that has been carried out is the extension in the payment of public services, but these accumulate the debt for the workers. Although the government tried to suspend the dismissals, the companies find the legal way of dismissing, of suspending and/or of licensing the workers; this shielding itself in legal forms of response to the decree expressed by the government of the nation. All this with the complicity of the employers’ union, the companies and the State.

The FORA also quickly offered information about labour rights. They supported bus drivers in their struggles for more hygienic working conditions and informed the public about police assaults in connection with the implementation of the quarantine measures.

In a letter, FORA health workers point out that there is currently an epidemic of dengue fever and measles in Argentina, which places a double burden on the health system. For this reason, they asked everyone to use the emergency rooms only in real emergencies and provided information on suitable hygiene measures. Finally, they demand far-reaching support for the workers, the same rights for illegal employment as for normal workers (about half of the population works in the underground economy), support for the medical staff, and a redistribution of company subsidies to support families.


Canada

Rent strikes, sex workers support, strike for safety

IWW Montreal is currently talking about a resurgence of the labor movement in Canada and the US: “After the crisis they’re gonna try to make us pay for it… let’s get ready for that now!”

As in Spain, one of the movements with the greatest social explosive force is currently the rent strike movement. In an extensive interview, details are given about the rental strike organization in Montreal in which the IWW is involved, albeit with reservations. At the end of March, 20% of 3500 members wanted to strike in any case, another 55% still had open questions, but wanted to participate as well. Tim, a long-time activist of the rent strike movement in the USA, criticises that many leftists are currently calling for a rent strike in a campaign mentality without dealing with the necessary basics or organising themselves in tenant unions. At the same time, he considers the rent strike a fact, because thousands simply do not have the financial means to pay their rent. “The fact that there are moratoriums for evictions in many cities shows us that we have the political momentum to demand big concessions from the ruling class.”

Two IWW activists paint a mixed picture of the IWW’s attitude to the rent strike movement. On the one hand it is necessary, on the other hand it is a high risk for all participants with still only a marginal degree of organization and support structures. For this reason, the IWW Montreal is calling for a suspension of rent and mortgage payments, leaves it up to individuals to participate in the strike and calls on all those affected by repression due to participation to contact their union.

In Ontario, the IWW Hamilton organized neighborhood initiatives and food distribution. It supports a rent strike, the opening of prisons and supports the call for a general strike on May 1 coming from the USA. The IWW in Hamilton and Toronto supported the Sex Workers Action Program, who are struggling due to a significant loss of work. The IWW Toronto successfully supported employees of Domino’s Pizza who refused to work under the current protective measures.


Germany

Labor rights information, online meetings and neighborhood help

One of the first steps for local FAU syndicates was to provide a precise overview of the labor law regulations in pandemic times. FAU Jena and FAU Berlin were very quick to provide support here with two comprehensive overviews. This was followed by more detailed guides on ALG II (Germany’s welfare regime) by FAU Magdeburg and translations into Arabic by FAU Marburg-Gießen-Wetzlar.

Of the currently active FAU syndicates, almost all now offer a special page on their homepages on labor law, and about half of them have already changed their consultation services to online and/or telephone consultation. Likewise, about half of the syndicates are very active in the neighborhood help networks and pickup fences (where food and hygiene articles are hung on the fence for those in need) in their cities. A somewhat smaller part of the syndicates has been accompanying the current situation through intensive media work. The FAU Münster offered a podium event and the FAU Berlin a video on the current situation.

It is especially worth mentioning that internal meetings and consulting services transferred to an online service using the FAU’s own tools within a few days due to the efforts of the FAU IT collective.

In terms of work-related activities, FAU Bonn initiated several support Telegram groups for different sectors. FAU Dresden has collected funds for different employment groups and supports the statements in the cultural and educational sector. The FAU Berlin is currently fighting to improve the corona-related situation in the local universities. Several syndicates are already reporting a significant increase in the number of consultations and cases, and initial disputes have already been taken up, usually about dismissals and short-time work.

The FAU has also offered analyses of the corona crisis, for example from the FAU Jena with their statement “Corona crisis – what can we do, who pays for it?” and the FAU Magdeburg with their text “The virus and the crisis of capitalism“. Ralf Dreis of the FAU Frankfurt am Main also philosophized in the FAU’s Direct Action website this week about the effect of evening clapping and possible critical action here.


Greece

Street protest despite ban and self-management despite government sabotage

Greece, like Italy, has suffered unprecedented privatisation and cuts in the public sector in recent years. The situation of the poor population is further aggravated by the EU-Turkey deal, which has trapped thousands of refugees. The country is highly polarised; a strong but fragmented anarchist movement is contrasted by a strong Stalinist and a strong right-wing movement. Unfortunately, attacks on aid workers such as on Lesbos and political murders are not uncommon.

The Greek ICL section ESE has been trying to support the struggles of hospital workers and to build a bridge between struggles in the health sector and those for decentralised housing for refugees. In the regional district of Ioannina, the trade union federation decided in mid-March to carry out street protests against the refugee camps. In a statement, ESE points out how dangerous it is to have political expression banned now, in view of the imminent mass death in the health system, which has been dismantled by austerity measures, and the risk of thousands of deaths in the camps. Due to safety measures, ESE resorted to “street” protest in Rethymno on Crete. Slogans included: “All lives are worth the same, whether we are homeless, imprisoned, abused, refugees, unemployed or precarious workers.” In addition, ESE set up two national commissions to monitor current changes in labor law and international class struggles and to keep their federation informed.

Vio.Me, a self-managed factory that produces soap, was shut down in Greece with the help of the police. Syndicates from Germany have lodged complaints at consulates and embassies. The workers continue their work with emergency power generators.


Italy

Strikes and protective equipment for health care workers

In Italy, the USI-CIT called for several strikes against companies that continued to bid their workers to work, even though their work was currently considered to be dispensable by society. Among other things, a strike was called at the car manufacturer Ferrari. Two days after the strike was called, the company decided to close the plants.

Apart from this, the USI-CIT is currently fighting – above all with various hospital staff – for more disinfectants and protective clothing and is addressing the reasons for the grave state of the health care system, i.e. the health of the population under capitalist conditions in general and under the policy of austerity in particular. USI-CIT Parma condemned the obligation for employees in the health sector to continue working.

USI Reggio Emilia is participating in food distribution campaigns in the autonomous neighborhoods.


Poland

Conflict with VW and Amazon, 10-point program against the government

In Poland, IP quickly created a site (also in Russian and Ukrainian) with information about the legal situation of workers in the corona crisis as well as a video. In the meantime, the trade union has published six legal guides on individual issues. In addition, the trade union is monitoring the situation, especially in the VW and Amazon sites (where it is the largest trade union). The IP was also the first in the international to develop a comprehensive overview of the situation at its sister unions and sent a detailed list of questions to all international secretariats.

In a statement, IP criticised in detail the Polish government’s handling of the corona crisis. It calls assistance for the self-employed and casual worker completely inadequate (in Poland, there is only a temporary, very low level of unemployment benefit). The trade union also complains that the lack of access to health insurance and sick pay forces at least 2.5 million workers to go to work sick. It also complains about a reduction of workers’ rights, a redistribution of tax money to companies, the lack of measures to support the unemployed, pensioners and tenants.

As an alternative to the so-called “crisis shield”, the following actions were demanded, among others:

  • Increase of unemployment benefits and abolition of restrictive regulations according to which less than 20% of the unemployed are entitled to benefits.
  • Universal access to health care.
  • Elimination of precarious forms of employment such as temporary work or bogus self-employment. 4) Provision of free access to basic services (electricity, gas, running water, heating) for all.

At Volkswagen and Danfoss, IP tried to close the plants with 100% wage compensation to protect their colleagues. In the Volkswagen plant in Poznan with about 11,000 employees, these demands were met promptly. At the heating and cooling technology manufacturer Danfoss, the organisation of work was changed slightly due to pressure, but real success has yet to be achieved.

There were minor successes at the logistics companies Amazon and Avon. Here, too, IP exerted pressure, mainly through secret videos from everyday work at the plant or graphic representations of how closely the colleagues there must work together. The revelations, which in part fundamentally contradicted the public statements of the companies, were accompanied by large-scale social media campaigns. The companies have reacted mainly with bonus payments to the employees. However, IP continues to fight for the closure of the sites.

In the universities, IP has been particularly active in ensuring the safety of service employees, including various reductions in opening hours and staffing levels.


Spain

Arrests, rent strike, digital culture strike

The CNT is not addressing labor rights in its statements, but also the protection of basic rights and the right of assembly. There were more than 2,800 arrests and 330,000 fines for violations of the state of emergency in Spain until last week. In addition to a central document with 15 demands, the regional federations of the CNT published a variety of assessments of the situation.

This also included the production of a whole series of guidelines for different sectors. In addition, the syndicates of the CNT submitted many complaints to health authorities and trade inspectorates about the lack of protective measures; the companies complained of were in very many cases hospitals and nursing homes.

The CNT gives the same advice, over and over: If you still have to work, demand disinfectant and soap; if your industry is not vital, fight to stay at home. The performing arts section of the CNT Madrid demanded the introduction of a basic income retroactively to March. Comrades from the CNT Valladolid who work in an institution for mentally disabled people denounced the complete lack of protective measures for the 140 residents and staff. They published photos of themselves in protective clothing improvised with garbage bags. At Rivamadrid, the CNT workplace group together with other unions in the companies were able to force the implementation of a catalog of measures to protect the employees.

The bogus self-employed workers in a meat factory, some of whom lived in camps before the corona epidemic and have now been on strike with the CNT Valencia for 40 days, have been particularly hard hit. However, the CNT Regional Committee Levante has already announced that it will hold out during the period of the state of emergency and then resume its momentum with a wave of new actions. Support for the strike funds will be necessary here in the next weeks.

The social workers’ sections of various CNT syndicates in Vallès Oriental, Terassa, L’Hospitalet and Sabadell, among other places, have called attention to the lack of measures in the Residential Center for Educational Action (Centros residenciales de acción educativa (CRAE)) for youth. Within a few days, the social education workers of the CNT working there developed a guideline for action, an intensive media campaign against the responsible ministry, including photo protests and the hashtag #EmergenciaCRAE.

In some places, the bosses have already used the current crisis to get rid of union members: At Construcciones Maygar S.L. in Pedrera, Andalusia, for example, there was a strike in November. Now the entire former CNT strike leaders have been dismissed with reference to the economic problems caused by the corona crisis. The CNT is currently in the process of defending itself against such anti-union attacks in many places.

The Sección Sector Musical CNT Madrid has joined other musicians’ unions to announce a culture strike on the Internet for 10 and 11 April: “We propose to mobilize the entire sector in such a way that all cultural online channels are temporarily closed, that no cultural content is broadcast in streaming, on networks or websites, that culture is plunged into a total digital blackout.”

Finally, CNT unions throughout Spain have sewed masks, participated in neighbourhood networks and donated food.

The CNT-affiliated Instituto de Ciencias Económicas y de la Autogestión (Institute of Economic and Self-Management Science) published a series of analyses of the situation. The Biblioteca Libertaria Bilbao of the CNT has made many films, audio books, podcasts and ebooks available in order to make good use of the time during the lockdown.


USA

Wildcat strikes, unions gathering momentum, sick outs

The IWW emphasizes that it is preparing for rapid membership growth and tough disputes. The logical reaction on the part of capital: On 1 April trade union law was tightened.

The IWW quickly provided all members with an overview of their rights and various recommendations for action for workers in different sectors. Various webinars were also offered. At the end of March, the IWW Environmental Unionist Caucus proposed the creation of a special relief fund for members who are facing problems due to the current crisis. It is currently working on a survey to better estimate the impact on membership. The Caucus also advocated support for the rental strike movement.

In Portland, after mass layoffs were announced, employees of a doughnut chain formed their own IWW company union to fight back. Rallies have already taken place despite the lockdown. Also in Portland, the IWW helped student workers win severance pay for the shifts lost due to campus closures. In Chicago, it was enough for IWW members to petition a grocery store to achieve a hazard pay of $2 an hour for workers there.

IWW members of the CapTel Workers Union in Wisconsin were able to achieve bonus payments in a call center through mass sick out. The workers are considered indispensable in the current pandemic but receive only a fraction of the wages of other workers at this level.

The IWW’s Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee Oakland is currently reporting on the situation in various prisons and has, among other things, carried out phonezaps against individual prison telephone numbers at prisons where guards tested positive for COVID-19. The demand: #LetThemGo.

The IWW Oklahoma is asking people to call local restaurants every morning and ask the bosses if the staff has paid sick days because their visit would depend on it. The IWW has also raised funds for workers in various cities or started petitions for hazard pay for the employees of popular restaurants and other necessary services.

Together with other organizations, the IWW Mid-Valley called with for a car demonstration on April 3 titled “Horrible Bosses, Terrible Landlords Beware!”, taking to the street in unconventional fashion.

The IWW local groups Fairbanks, Phoenix, Connecticut, Burlington, Providence and North Texas are currently informing about the possibilities of a rent strike or are calling directly for it.

In Detroit and Chicago, “Wobbly Kitchens” have distributed food among the working class in parks. IWW Southern Maine supports homeless people who have been assaulted by police. The IWW in Albuquerque and New York are actively involved in the various neighborhood networks.


More news

Sri Lanka, Northern Syria, Myanmar

Stuck and bankrupt: The feminist textile workers’ organization Dabindu Collective, with which the ICL organized a conference of garment workers in February, turned to the ICL for help at the end of March. In Katunayake, Sri Lanka, 20,000 textile workers (they produce for Zara, H&M, among others) had to continue working until March 19. After March 20, they were subject to curfew, so that they had to stay away from their villages and cities, sometimes with a hundred colleagues. In the meantime, they were able to leave Katunayake, but many of them are facing economic ruin and need further worldwide solidarity. Information and contact can be found in this article.

In Myanmar currently more than 500 workers at the Myan Mode Factory are on strike who are to be dismissed for their union activities in the wake of the corona crisis. Their union, the Federation of Garment Workers Union-Myanmar (FGWM), who also participated at the garment workers conference, is in close contact with the ICL, which has already organized solidarity actions in various countries. This factory supplies the Zara, Mango and C&A brands, among others.

In the Democratic Federation of Northern and Eastern Syria, the situation remains precarious between war, corona and embargo: the democratically administered region, also known as Rojava (and supported by the ICL), is still confronted with an international embargo and an ongoing, albeit slowed, war of aggression by Turkey against its territory. Furthermore, there are large-scale bombings against the civilian population by Turkey and regular bomb attacks by the Islamic State (Daesh). In addition, there are thousands of Daesh prisoners of war and more than a hundred thousand refugees from all over Syria in various camps within the small region. Against this background, the health system is dependent on volunteers and donations. Interested parties should contact the Kurdish Red Crescent.


This article first appeared at the ICL-CIT website