Strikes have continued erupting and spreading throughout the world regardless of the semblance of new normality propagated by the media. There are thousands of strikes and a multitude of local struggles, but a good part of them are a response to the global phenomena of the moment, such as the effects of the covid pandemic on health and education systems. Let’s see some samples of the class response at the global level and the reaction of the unions trying to control them.
Strikes in education and health continue in Europe
Strikes in French high schools and middle schools have kept on breaking out all over the country. The wave of strikes in lycées during the first weeks of November succeeded in forcing concessions from the same French government which had qualified them as indecent and out of place. Hybrid classes were allowed to be held, alternating the on-site with virtual classes, in order to lower student numbers in the high schools. This was followed by a strike in the middle schools that also called for a move to hybrid teaching. But although personnel and material means were obtained in some centers, the government did not give in again.
From that moment on and instead of proceeding with whole center strikes, the unions began to call strike days by specific categories of workers. Not only did this divide efforts, it was nonsense: the centers could function without canteens, but not without educational assistants. These workers are responsible for ensuring that hygiene conditions are met and for guiding large groups of students. A center is forced to close anyway if a majority of the assistants go on strike. But the unions still called for a strike of assistants. In several schools, the teachers realized the nonsense and joined the strike. There were dozens of centers with unanimous adherence in departments such as Côtes d’Armor in Brittany. The strike in the Fouquet high school in Mormant summarizes the situation well. 70% of the staff went on strike and distributed a flyer that said:
The lack of human means jeopardizes the safety of students and staff, our school is under pressure
The parent association agreed and writes:
People are on the verge of exhaustion, they are sick for not being able to organize everything correctly. The technical staff, in charge of setting up the sanitary protocol, is overloaded, and the educational assistants, in charge of enforcing it, do not have enough staff. Sometimes they have to take care of 180 students permanently!
Strikes keep breaking out in isolated centers on the fringes of union calls and more one-day union strikes are planned for January. It remains to be seen how the response of education workers and the state will evolve.
If the big educational strikes succeeded in bowing down the French government by obtaining concessions, the one-day union strikes -in reality small marches and rallies in front of health centers- in French hospitals have not served to improve the situation of overload and lack of means in the hospitals. As the emergency doctors at Doullens hospital said:
The strike was not really useful. We are lacking many things, but the situation is the same in many public hospitals. Recruitment is becoming more and more difficult. We are going to unschedule the activities that can be, in order to increase the human and material means. […] The health crisis has precipitated a problem that has been going on for years, the existence of a serious lack of resources in hospitals.
This situation is similar to the one in the rest of Western Europe. In Spain, the ICU doctors of the Clinical Hospital of Vigo went on symbolic strikes at the end of November to denounce that the agreement they had reached with the regional government had not been fulfilled. According to the promises made by the Galician government, the ICUs should have been reconditioned and improved to face the second wave of the pandemic. In reality, nothing was done and not a single euro was spent on them. And even less was done to solve the lack of personnel.
In Italy, the health workers of the city of Milan ended up staging a demonstration apart from the unions and climbed up on the roof to hang a banner against the administration of the Santi Paolo and Carlo hospitals. In a public letter, the health workers had denounced the lack of material and human resources and the rules of triage that did not allow them to intubate covid patients depending on their medical history. The general manager of the hospitals pressured and ended up dismissing the head of the emergency room because the latter refused to disqualify and contest what the emergency room doctors were reporting. The outburst was immediate. The union gave its support from the outside.
The situation is borderline in many European hospitals. In Switzerland and Germany ICUs are overwhelmed and the German press claims that 50% of those admitted to them die. After the cynicism of the applause show in spring, which was driven by the media and the state in almost all cases, the hospitals have been left at the mercy of the second wave without the promised improvements. They are invisible to the media. A union strike in Italian hospitals is called for December – it has already been postponed once – but it risks becoming a walkout without consequences like strikes in France if it remains under union control.
The class is on the move in Northern Africa
Struggles in Northern Africa have been on the rise since this spring. The movement developed initially in Tunisia but has been increasing also in Algeria where the spread of covid through the educational system has already caused several strikes. In mid-November, 70% of the high schools in Algiers had at least one infected staff member, which, added to the unpaid salaries and the statements of the Minister of Health accusing the teachers and administrative staff of being the source of contagion in the school environment was the trigger of several school strikes. One of the latest strikes, in the region of M’sila, was met with state repression:
The strike movement was initiated by 4 teachers’ unions that have improvised an impressive march of teachers in solidarity with each other, showing a real determination to end these abuses. This determination has earned the respect of the population of M’sila, after some Internet users publicized it on social networks. […] Unexpected violence has characterized the intervention of the forces of law and order. One part of the police was dedicated to requisitioning cell phones while the others were engaged in indiscriminate beatings. Men and women have been injured, including a substitute with a completely dislocated shoulder. Eight teachers have been arrested.
The slogan of the march was “This is no longer about salaries, but about dignity”, and everything points to the fact that the struggles in Algeria will continue to grow. In Tunisia, the situation remains very tense, as the Tunisian president indicated a few days ago, calling the proliferation of strikes a chaos. The covid, unpaid salaries and the bad state of the public and sanitary infrastructures are causing the anger of the workers. A few days ago, a young doctor died when he fell through the shaft of a broken elevator in his hospital after a 24-hour shift. The protest broke out immediately:
We can’t take it anymore! We have been mobilizing for years, denouncing this situation in vain. And there has been a disaster again. With the Covid-19 health crisis, we have redoubled our alerts on the state of our hospitals and our working conditions, why has nothing been done?
Last month a local general strike was declared at Enfidha for similar reasons, after a young worker was swept away by floods on her way home from work. An accident actually caused by the disastrous state of the local infrastructure. The state of general malaise is portrayed in a video that went viral in early December, in which a figure was seen hurling itself off the roof of a luxury hotel in the heart of the Tunisian capital. It was a doll launched by the striking workers of the El Hana hotel, who announced on their banners Today it is a doll, tomorrow it will be an employee.
Victories and union tricks in Canada and USA
In Canada and the U.S., strikes in schools have been growing in the last couple of months. Canadian schools are still going on strike denouncing the lack of resources and security in the face of the pandemic or salary problems. The range of strikes ranges from non-union strikes in isolated schools to union strikes in entire regions of Quebec.
The shameful behavior of the medical union in Alberta in late October is still present, when the rank and file – even carrying the union’s banners – went into spontaneous wildcat strike in several hospitals in the region due to the bad situation of the hospitals facing covid and the union was quick to say that they had not initiated the action themselves and to call on the workers to return to work. The hospital situation in Alberta, it goes without saying, has not improved to date.
Something similar has happened with the teachers’ strike in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. This strike had been announced for some time and the district threatened workers to take away their health coverage if they carried on. On Wednesday, December 3, the strike was to begin, but the workers were shocked to discover that the union had canceled it at the last minute, making a bad deal for the workers on its own.
While details of the new agreement have not been publicly released, a previous tentative agreement—which was voted down by the CHTU membership in late September—included a hike in healthcare premiums from 6 percent to 15 percent on top of new co-pays and deductibles. According to the CHTU, the increase in premiums would cost between $3,000 and $5,000 for many teachers. […] The fact that many teachers moved to set up pickets outside of schools on Wednesday in the face of frigid temperatures and attempted intimidation by the district was a clear sign that teachers wanted to carry out a fight against austerity and unsafe working conditions. However, the union sabotaged these efforts, collaborating with the superintendent and board of education to quickly prevent the strike from taking place, instead attempting to force through a concessions contract.
However, not everything is bad news. On the same day there was another teachers’ strike in South Carolina, at Lexington-Richland. Here the strike did occur and three schools were closed, forcing the local education board to accept the teachers’ demands and implement hybrid teaching to reduce the size of student groups.
In short, in North America union sabotage has blocked strikes and mobilizations, but combativeness remains high and there have been some isolated victories. In addition, health workers continue to fight for an improvement in the situation in hospitals after the applause has ended.
In Argentina only in this week we have registered more than thirty strikes. The interesting thing is that the struggles are moving towards sectors with an increasing concentration of workers, critical sectors for Argentine capital.
An example is provided by the workers of the mines where the stone is obtained to elaborate Portland cement, fundamental for construction. Activity that has been recovering from the crisis. If the strike continues, in six days there will be a shortage of cement. Another one is that of the oil workers and grain receivers. There was no agreement between unions and companies and the conflict is still dragging on other sectors. This conflict causes the bourgeoisie to lose 100 million dollars a day in exports, which gives the workers negotiating power over the national capital and the government, given the dependence of national capital as a whole on the export sector. In addition, with dollar reserves at a minimum, the national industry has problems because there are no dollars to import essential components… so they are also interested parties in resolving the conflict.
That is, not only is a class response developing in response to the attacks of these months of pandemic and those that are coming as adjustment but by the very structure of Argentine capital, the forces tend to concentrate.