Libcom Study Group - Strike! Discussion

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Hieronymous's picture
Hieronymous
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Oct 28 2012 03:09
devoration1 wrote:
What kind of contemporary (1968-present seems like a good starting point) events, strikes, organizations, etc. do you think would make up the kind of list Brecher uses for historical class warfare, strikes and self-organization, but written to engage and interest people today (in a way that saying, "well they did it like this in 1877. . ." doesn't)?

I'd look to countries/regions going through more recent industrialization. One example would be the cycle of struggles by workers against the Hyundai chaebol in South Korea. From the nationwide general strike, as part of the 1987 Great Struggle, Hyundai workers had near-continuous strikes that crossed sectoral boundaries within the corporation -- becoming "a solidarity struggle at the group level" until 1990 (from Hagen Koo's Korean Workers:The Culture and Politics of Class Formation [2001]).

At the end of 1988 there was a 128-day strike at Hyundai Heavy Industries, which was the longest in South Korean history. Strikes there again in 1989 became intensely violent and a 109-day strike was broken by a 15,000 cops in a military assault from land, sea, and sky (Ulsan is a coastal city on the Sea of Japan). This drew in thousands of workers from Hyundai Motors and Hyundai Mipo Shipyards, turning the company town of Ulsan into a "war zone." The class war on the streets lasted 10 days, but also led to agitation on the shopfloor and workers formed spontaneous strike committees. These struggles were driven forward by an inspiring degree of class consciousness.

The third -- and last -- phase of the cycle of struggle began with the occupation of the massive Goliat (as in "Goliath") Crane at Hyundai Heavy Industries in Ulsan in 1990. But the struggle exposed the rivalry between revolutionaries calling for militant class-wide action and reformists wanting to limit the struggle to pragmatic and moderate demands only at the firm-level. Yet the former's ideas were confirmed in the solidarity struggles that became a general strike, drawing in 120,000 workers nationwide, from over 146 different different enterprises. The cross-sectoral strike was unable to link the various work stoppages and soon faded, as did the pitched street battles. The Goliat occupation ended in isolation, as 51 "lonely wolves" climbed down from the 82 meter crane in defeat. Despite it's end, it demonstrated how struggles can expand like wildfire when they're driven by class consciousness.

While never again reaching the same level of class-wide action, the Hyundai struggles set the tone for subsequent ones where "it was relatively common for workers to visit other neighborhood plants in order to assist fellow workers' strikes and demonstrations," and do other class-conscious actions like "protest visits, joining street demonstrations, collecting strike funds, and engaging in sympathy strikes" -- as part of "interfirm solidarity struggles."

For a detailed account of this amazing cycle of class war, working class self-organization, and mass strikes, read pages 165-175 in the chapter titled "The Great Labor Offensive" in the aforementioned Korean Workers by Hagen Koo. [There was also a now-lost Korean-language documentary DVD of the 1987-1990 strike wave that I showed to some European comrades while in France in 2008; if anyone has a copy, please PM me as I'd like to get another copy]

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Chilli Sauce
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Oct 28 2012 12:32

Yeah, but I think just as temporal distance can make struggles seems out of touch, so too can geographic distance. I don't think it's a bad idea but I don't think anything replaces the power of relating to co-workers materially about small grievances on the job and then uses the space opened up by those (hopefully) escalating struggles to discuss deeper political issues of class and capitalism. Of course, maybe that's where such an introduction may very well be useful

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devoration1
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Oct 29 2012 20:48

It's been a problem lately specifically related to my conversations with co-workers. A few have been pretty interested in talking about work related issues as well as militant/revolutionary politics. We're just now going through the first round of state budget cuts, which resulted in an internal e-mail from the top boss, a letter from the top boss and HR department outlining why they are going to disregard the long standing payscale (for increment raises based on years of employment) with vague promises to 'revisit the issue' when the political and economic landscape changes, etc. Examples drawn from labor history books (like Strike! and Dynamite) are non-starters; "1908; the plants ironworkers spontaneously walked out and struck after learning of a 10% paycut" doesn't really help motor the conversation about doing anything. Trying to tie together labor history and tactics with a young and inexperienced workforce (in a non-productive, public sector environment) is difficult at times (despite the interest shown by some of my co-workers).

Quote:
I'd look to countries/regions going through more recent industrialization.

Indeed, what do you think are the best resources for finding such examples? Aside from stuff posted on Libcom, there doesn't seem to be many places (outside M-L type sites like Kasama) about the struggles in the developing world in English.

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Hieronymous
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Oct 30 2012 11:58
devoration1 wrote:
Indeed, what do you think are the best resources for finding such examples? Aside from stuff posted on Libcom, there doesn't seem to be many places (outside M-L type sites like Kasama) about the struggles in the developing world in English.

I'd look to Mouvement Communiste and their accounts of class struggles in China, like the 2010 Nonhai Honda Strike, the class struggle aspects of the uprising in Tunisia in 2011 that launched the Arab Spring, the ensuing movement in Egypt, and the Maruti Suzuki Strike in India in 2011.

Also, for excellent ongoing coverage of workers' struggles in India check out Gurgaon Workers News.

As for libcom, there is always great coverage of class struggle in Bangladesh. Just follow the Bangladesh posts here on libcom by Red Marriot and others. And some of us are South Korea watchers, so we post coverage when struggles are occurring -- like the 77-day Ssangyong Factory Occupation and Strike in 2009.

petey
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Oct 30 2012 21:41
Hieronymous wrote:
Also, for excellent ongoing coverage of workers' struggles in India check out Gurgaon Workers News.

hadn't heard of that, thanks for the link

as to brecher's Strike, i read about 100 pages and had to stop. in the face of state/capital's ability and willingness and even enthusiasm to summon violence there is a need for truly mass action, action so big it can't be beaten or shot down.

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sabot
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May 1 2014 05:48

Looks like PM Press is putting out an expanded edition of Strike! with a new chapter called "Beyond One-Sided Class War." None of the bookstores in my area are carrying it yet though. Despite the shortcomings of the last edition, I would still be interested on his take with workers struggles from where the last book finished till now. If it’s worth the read, let me know.