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Is a global wave of wildcat strikes underway?

2022-08-19 | Global News
Is a global wave of wildcat strikes underway?

After the wildcat strike on British North Sea oil rigs in May, the number of wildcat strikes in the UK has skyrocketed in late July and August. In the midst of union strikes on the railroads and with inflation running rampant, wildcat strikes have been launched at 8 Amazon warehouses, a couple of chemical plants and a couple of refineries plus a food processing plant. But wildcat strikes this month are not limited to Britain, strikes are breaking out in Mexico as well as a successful wildcat strike at a couple of Turkish factories.

Wave of wildcat strikes in British industry

ECIA strikers' fact sheet

Factsheet from subcontracted ECIA refinery workers, subject to the NAECI agreement, now on wildcat strike

In the midst of the global crisis in the petrochemical sector, subcontracted workers at the Scottish refinery in Grangemouth, as well as at the Humber refinery in Lincolnshire, began a wildcat strike outside the unions. Between 250 and 500 workers have been blocking the roads and they promise to repeat the strike as many times as necessary, their slogans are directly related to the effects of inflation: their wages have gone up by only 2.5%... when inflation is expected to rise to at least 13%.

No worker should have to go to work and worry about whether he or she will have to choose between having to eat or turn on the heating. Strike action is the only thing we can do.

In addition to the refineries, there have been wildcat strikes at two Teesside chemical plants against effective wage cuts through inflation.

A wildcat strike has also broken out at a Manchester food processing plant against appalling working conditions, as reported in the media:

A sign of the company's exploitative practices is that it labels these breaks, which are not in workers' contracts, as "comfort breaks."

Due to the production targets that workers must meet, it is common for breaks to exceed 10 minutes in order to recover. They were extended to 15 minutes with the company's agreement. One worker told the Manchester Evening News:

"Many feel that, because of the targets they need to meet, during that break time they need to rest, have a coffee. There are usually marshals in the canteen now and they get you back on the line."

Another said, "People are tired, exhausted, and just want to take proper breaks: drink, rest. If you want to go to the bathroom you can go, if you want a sip of water you have it, but there's no proper break."

Wildcat strike at UK Amazon sites

Striking workers gather in the canteen at Amazon Coventry

Striking workers gather in the canteen at Amazon Coventry

The scenario is similar everywhere, wildcat strikes erupt against poor conditions, inflation and wage rises well below it. In Amazon's case over a meager 3% rise. Strikes started at Tilbury warehouse and quickly spread to 8 warehouses. Workers have slowed the pace and are processing the minimum number of packages per hour to put pressure on the company.

The strikes spread among workers via social media and mobile messaging services, the workers themselves taking control of their own strike and, unsurprisingly, the union only took action after the fact when the workers themselves had moved ahead:

We only planned to go on strike two hours before it actually happened. We had seen the Tilbury and Rugeley distribution center strikes on TikTok during our break, and that inspired us to go on strike. We watched those videos at 11 a.m. and started spreading the strike idea through word of mouth in the warehouse. By 1 p.m., we already had more than 300 people who had walked out and stopped working. At the beginning, we didn't get help from any union to do the strike. We organized everything ourselves. However, after the strike, GMB contacted us for union membership and advice.

When we left again on Thursday, the general manager came into the canteen, where those of us who refused to work had gathered. The general manager told us that we had 30 minutes to state our reasons for refusing to work and to send someone to discuss the strike with them. We refused to send just one person, as we all agreed that we wanted to go as one team.

We told the general manager that we demanded a better pay rise, asked questions about our pay and how they had come up with that 50 pence an hour increase. We were then told that they would "take it back and try to get an answer". After this, the managers said they would not pay us unless we went back to work. But everyone stayed, refusing to go back to work.

Friday morning, again about 100 associates came out and protested outside.

Wildcat strikes in Turkey and Mexico

In early August, a wildcat strike broke out at two plants of the Standard Profil auto parts company in Turkey, under threats of repression by the ruling party, whose mayor threatened workers that they would "lose all their legal rights under the law". After two thousand workers joined the wildcat strike, the strike won and the company raised wages by 28%.

Meanwhile, at the Ingenio Plan de Ayala de Ciudad Valles in San Luis Potosí, Mexico, the workers "revolted against the company and the union", because both parties -union and company- had not formalized the necessary agreement for the repair companies to hire the workers to repair the machinery when there is no harvest.

It is cheaper and "safer" for the company to fire everyone and hire new workers for maintenance work. This makes even clearer the role of the trade union as an institution that is part of the state framework for organizing the workforce, committed to the company's results at the expense of the very workers it represents.

The workers argued that according to the union statutes, the companies that serve the sugar mill in times of repair, when the milling ends and the waiting period for the new harvest begins, have the obligation to hire them, but the companies do not comply with this condition and their union representatives ignore this conflict.

There is no strike with a real possibility of victory that is not a wildcat strike

Every time strikes are managed by the unions the balance always ends up being similar: they will never go one step beyond that which allows the capital invested in the company or the sector to obtain the return it demands; they will never put the needs, however basic they may be, of the workers above the results of the company.

And if the strikes are organized on the basis of trade union structures... they themselves will take care of dismantling them, leaving us with the helplessness of discovering that their tools and forms do not serve to overcome the artificial ceiling of the company's interest. In fact, if we try to take refuge in "radical unionism", all we will achieve will be to radicalize our powerlessness.

However, when the assemblies are the ones that organize and take control of the strike, growing with their own tools - elected and revocable committees of their own - the tables of power turn immediately.

No matter how humble the assembly, the entire state apparatus of framing the workers is called into question. Unions, investors and politicians realize that the forces moving towards the extension and generalization of the struggles have lost their main containment dike.

That is why, after the obligatory attempts to intimidate the workers, the trade union itself and, if necessary, the politicians, offer to "mediate". They feel a real threat, a real class struggle forming and know that they no longer control it.

The committees or factory councils democratically elected by the workers in the workplaces, whose members, under immediate and constant control by the assembled workers, are revocable at any moment. Such committees are obviously a direct emanation of the will of the masses in movement and facilitate their evolution. That is why, as soon as they appear, even in the provisional form of strike committees, they come into conflict both with the trade union leaders, whose power they threaten, and with the bosses. Both feel equally threatened, and in the same way, so much so that generally the union leaders intercede between bosses and workers to stop the strike.

I am convinced that no worker who has participated in a strike committee will contradict me, especially with regard to the strikes of recent years. For the rest, it is normal that this should happen. For the strike committees represent a new organism of struggle, the most democratic that can be conceived. It tends, consciously or not, to replace the union, which then defends its acquired privileges by trying to restrict the powers granted to it through the strike committee. Imagine then the hostility of the unions to a permanent committee, called upon by the very logic of things to subordinate and supplant the unions!

G.Munis, "The factory committees, engine of the social revolution" in "The trade unions against the revolution", 1960

That is what we are living these days from Turkey to Mexico passing through Great Britain. That is the road, the only road of struggle that can stand up to the accelerated and massive impoverishment of the workers that accompanies the road to war.