Subversion #13

Issue of Subversion from late 1993 with articles about the unions, teachers' struggles, the Timex dispute, Bosnia, prisoners and more.

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Burnsall strike: with friends like these, who needs racists?

Subversion criticise the Burnsall strike support group for making the dispute into a racial issue as opposed to a class issue. The article is an example of 'anti-racism' and 'anti-nationalism' turning into a refusal to discuss racial divisions within the working class at all, which we strongly disagree with but reproduce for reference. See our archive on the Burnsall strike.

For over a year the strikers at Burnsall Ltd in Smethwick, where the conditions workers have to bear are appalling even by capitalist standards, have had to contend with the double enemy of the boss and the unions.

The GMB, to which the strikers "belong", has been sabotaging their strike in the time-honoured fashion. It has now plunged the dagger deep into the workers backs and called off the strike.

Despite this, and despite serious intimidation by the GMB to make the strikers comply, it seems they are determined to continue their fight.

What they need is support from other workers.

The only way forward for workers in struggle is to link up, and gain the active support of more and more workers. The bosses and unions, despite their charades, are in the last analysis united against the working class and we must be united against them, and not be taken in by the unions pretence at being on our side. This is true in all strikes and all struggles.

The case of the Burnsall strike, however, reveals another false friend of the workers - left-wing groupings with their own political agenda to superimpose on the strike.

DIVIDE AND RULE

The Manchester Burnsall Strikers' Support Group has produced several leaflets which have been portraying this strike as a black issue (most of the strikers being Asian women) rather than a workers' issue. For instance their leaflets have slogans such as "Black Workers Fighting Back" and "Black Workers Demand JUSTICE" (sic); one of the leaflets relates that on one occasion "the strikers were attacked by three white scab workers from the factory". An approach such as this "support group" is taking is practically calculated to strengthen "racial" divisions and hatred between workers.

If it needs saying, let us say it again - the working class can only free itself from present day slavery by uniting as a class, all workers together, black and white, male and female, whatever the divisions our rulers use to keep us weak. The dead end of "racial" or national identity will only lead workers to perdition, as it has always done in the past (e.g. the anti-colonial movements which have given the workers nothing but more of the same). Only realising our identity as workers with a common interest world-wide, against all capitalist factions, will lead us to victory.

Groups like the Manchester Burnsall Strikers "Support" Group should be roundly condemned. Their politics are a lethal poison for workers, and for the cause of liberation of the whole working class.

Timex strike: time for a change - Subversion

Subversion look at the Timex workers' illusions in their trade union, regular mass pickets and the need for solidarity strikes in their dispute in summer 1993.

The courageous resistance of 343 Timex strikers in Dundee to massive cuts in their wages and conditions and the subsequent threat to close the factory has been well documented else where.

They, along with other smaller groups of workers such as those at “Burnsalls” and “Middlebrook Mushrooms” have demonstrated a long overdue militant determination to stand up against the bosses ever increasing demands for cuts in our standard of living and the preservation of their profits.

But courage and militancy on their own aren’t enough to win this kind of dispute in the current world economic crisis. If they were, then much stronger groups such as the printers, seafarers and miners would not be in the disarray they are today.

Although Timex strikers rejected the attempts of national union ‘leaders’ to negotiate shabby deals with their bosses, they were content, initially, to leave the wider struggle, away from the workplace and the locality, to what they felt was ‘their’ union.

The support for regular mass pickets from workers in Dundee and elsewhere in Scotland and England was indeed impressive and achieved some notable, if passing, victories. But those of us with longer memories couldn’t help but listen to the echoes of previous failed disputes, like Grunwicks in London, which relied heavily on picketing as a solution. The calls for “consumers” to boycott Timex products, however valid, also has worrying echoes in the Seamen’s Unions efforts to derail the Channel Ferry strikes.

Timex workers recognised the need for ‘solidarity’, as other workers recognised the important knock on effect of a victory for the Timex workers on their own disputes. Support in the form of union resolutions, donations, demonstrations and attendance at pickets has been forthcoming.

What has been missing is the active solidarity involved in spreading the strike, not only to other workers in the multi-national of which Timex is just part, but across both industrial and geographical boundaries. The development of common actions, with common demands, directly under the control of those involved.

This isn’t just the responsibility of Timex workers but something which we all need to take on board.

In the current situation ‘isolation’ means defeat and leaving things in the hands of the union, much less the political parties of all hues means isolation.

Timex workers have begun to organise themselves to seek active solidarity from others both in the multinational and locally. This may prove to be too little, too late, but the fight certainly isn’t over yet.

Whatever the outcome we should take heart from the determination and courage of our class brothers and sisters at Timex and learn both from the positive and negative lessons of this strike in the struggles to come.

Subversion, No. 13 (Summer 1993)
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