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defensive battles of workers in china & elsewhere

by | 7 August 2009 | One Comment | Last modified: 3 Oct 1:30 am

Update 2 (August 17): Loren Goldner has posted a full report on the Ssangyong struggle here: “Ssangyong Motors Strike in South Korea Ends in Defeat and Heavy Repression

Update: another radio interview with Loren Goldner after the Ssangyong strike/occupation ended is here.

Among workers’ resistance to lay-offs justified by the economic crisis, three of the most prominent & interesting in the past few weeks have been the cases of Tonghua Iron & Steel Group in Jilin (China, state-owned), the Ssangyong auto plant in Pyeongtaek (South Korea, recently bought out by Chinese capital), & the Vestas wind turbine plant on the Isle of Wight (UK, owned by Danish capital). Comparing these three cases, one is tempted to draw one or both of the following conclusions: (1) violence pays, & (2) the Chinese government is more merciful, at least on its remaining state-sector workers, than the Korean & UK governments.

Actually, it was only yesterday that the British court ordered the Vestas workers to evacuate the plant they’ve been occupying for two weeks, so in a sense the struggle there has only just begun. But it doesn’t seem promising, since only 6 of about 600 laid-off workers remain at the plant (many others are participating in support activities outside), & their much lower level of militancy can be gleaned from worker Mark Smith’s comment, “If the bailiffs come and try to take me away, I will go peacefully with them but I will not walk out of here on my own” (FT, “Vestas workers defiant after court ruling“).

Compare that with the workers of Tonghua, who, only two days after learning their company had been sold to the privately-owned Jianlong Heavy Industry Group & that 25,000 of the 30,000 employees might be laid off, completely shut down the factory, blocked all roads & the rail line leading to it, clashed with 1,000 police & paramilitary, smashed police cars & finally killed a manager - going so far as to form a barricade against ambulances attempting to save him (WSWS, “Protesting Chinese steel workers kill manager“).

Obviously we’re dealing with a major difference in numbers - perhaps if 25,000 jobs were at stake in the Vestas closure, those workers would be more militant as well. (In fact the situation is more complex - for example, the Vestas workers were appealing to the government & civil society in the name of environmental protection, & they hoped playing this card would make militant resistance unnecessary.) But I find it an interesting coincidence that the number of workers laid off at Visteon’s UK auto plants a few months ago was also about 600, as was the number of workers at the core of the Ssangyong strike/occupation (among 976 workers sheduled for termination). Both of these struggles were also militant & managed to win concessions, although not as much as the Tonghua incident. All may serve as inspirations to proles around the world, but they also highlight the defensive situation of the working class today, & the immense hurdles & painful struggle necessary to maintain even a fraction of yesterday’s power. Will these defensive struggles ever combine & turn into an offensive force?

To learn about the 77-day Ssangyong strike/occupation, listen to Loren Goldner’s interview on Beneath the Surface (starts at 35:00), & read the reports (& see photos & videos) on http://libcom.org/tags/ssangyong-occupation.

To support the Vestas Isle of Wight workers, if you happen to be in the UK, show up at the plant before noon tomorrow (when the eviction is scheduled). Otherwise, contact UK Climate Change and Energy Secretary Ed Miliband ([email protected]) & “tell him to step in to save wind turbine blade production at Vestas, IoW, for the sake of renewable energy, green jobs and his credibility as a politician. His phone number in his Doncaster constituency is 01302 875 462, and at Westminster, 020 7219 4778. And on Twitter http://twitter.com/edmilibandMP.” For more info see http://workersclimateaction.wordpress.com.

Meanwhile, there seems to be some disagreement about whether the crisis is abating or getting worse regarding its effects on Chinese migrant workers (& their threat to “social stability”): The WSJ exuberantly declares “Fears Of Migrant Unrest In China Have Faded” & “China Says Migrants are Employed Again,” whereas, according to China Daily, ‘China’s jobless situation is “very grave”, with more than 16.5 million people out of work due to the global crisis, a senior labor official said yesterday‘: ‘Among those unemployed are about 9 million urban residents, 3 million college graduates and 4.5 million rural migrant workers.[...] “The global financial crisis has yet to bottom out,” the official said; “A lot of companies in China are having a difficult time and there is still a great risk of unemployment.” How to explain the discrepancy? It looks like WSJ is just trying to put a positive spin on the same report by official Wang Yadong. Both note that “Less than 3% of migrant workers who have returned to cities in recent months are still looking for jobs” among the 95% of last year’s migrants who chose to return to the cities after Chinese New Year. That - 4.5 million migrants - is certainly an improvement over the 20 to 30 million who lost their jobs last year, but it is still a lot, especially when added to 9 million urban unemployed & 3 million college graduates who can’t find jobs - & especially since “the global financial crisis has yet to bottom out” as Wang acknowledges. Wang also acknowledges that, among those workers who have held onto their jobs or found new ones,” the quality of their work environment has worsened, with less pay and longer working hours.”

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