With the Vestas and Ssangyong occupations now a couple of weeks behind us, it’s time to look at the prospects for future workplace struggles, both in the UK – where industrial capitalism began – and China – where it had been booming over recent decades until the economic collapse. In both cases, tensions have been building up for a long time, and look set to erupt on the surface in the very near future.
The next big dispute in the UK could well be in the postal service. In 2007, Royal Mail bosses forced through an attack on pay and conditions, with the direct support of Communication Workers Union bureaucrats. The union now admits this has led to managers “unilaterally imposing route revisions, shift changes, driving up workloads and slashing jobs”. This is part of the government’s ‘modernisation’ agenda, aimed at making Royal Mail attractive to private sector buyers.
For their part, the union bureaucrats fully accept the principle of ‘modernisation’. Their only quibble with the government and Royal Mail is their desire to be part of talks on how it should be implemented. Deputy General Secretary Dave Ward has offered management a three month moratorium on strikes, in return for a seat at the bargaining table.
However, local depots have been pressurising the bureaucracy for a chance to strike. The union’s response has been to bring in ‘unit by unit’ ballots, meaning in the event of a strike the amount of disruption to Royal Mail is kept at a minimum. Finally, a national strike ballot has been conceded, to take place next month.
In the meantime, local ballots have been suspended, and local managers are clearly taking advantage, which has led to illegal wildcat strikes in a couple of areas. Postal workers struck in Wallasey, and the CWU were actively engaged in trying to end the action, which lasted four days. There were similar happenings in Stoke.
With the bureaucracy keen to reach more deals with Royal Mail, and posties already working flat out and being pushed around by management, the potential for widespread conflict between rank-and-file workers and ‘their’ union definitely seems to be there.
The ‘I Support the Postal Workers!’ Facebook group is here.
On the other side of the planet, there are signs of social tensions which may lead to a far more explosive worker uprising, against the fake ‘Communists’ who rule capitalism’s biggest sweatshop – China. A month ago, iron and steel workers beat an executive to death in the north-east of the country, when he announced mass redundancies.
Last week, workers at the state-owned Linzhou Steel plant in Henan province rioted against the privatisation of the corporation. Communist Party chiefs were then involved in mediation, which ended in the suspension of the sell-off process.
More generally in China, the economic crisis has meant international demands for its products has been slashed. Officials are concerned that not only will existing industrialised proletarians be forced into unemployment, so will the rural poor, who are being forced off the land in huge numbers, and many students.
A report by the China Labour Bulletin – ‘Going It Alone: The Workers’ Movement in China‘ – shows that workers have been increasingly taking matters into their own hands over the last two years, instead of consulting Party bureaucrats. “Strikes ignited other protests in the same region, industry or company subsidiaries”, and “Workers’ demands became broader and more sophisticated.”
A sizeable and co-ordinated worker rebellion in China would have enormous implications for the global class struggle.