International news round ups from Black Flag in 2002.
South Africa: SMI/LPM/internationals march on $andton!
About 20,000 protestors (1) from the Social Movements Indaba, the Landless Peoples Movement and other sub-national and international social justice organisations of the poor marched under blazing skies on the World Summit on sustainable Development on August 31st.
Thousands of residents of the poor township of Alexandra turned out to cheer on the marchers with revolutionary songs from South Africa's anti-apartheid struggle - now directed against the ANC-Inkatha Freedom Party neoliberal regime.
Hot weather, transport problems and an attempt by ANC marshalls to divert 20 buses of SMI/LPM supporters to their own sham "non- governmental" march lead to a lower than expected turnout.
But spirits were high and the mood of international solidarity was fantastic, with protestors from Palestine to Tibet (both fighting occupation), from Bolivia (where last year, anti-privatisation protests beat back multinational Bechtel) to Pakistan, and just about anywhere else you care to mention.
As water poured off fake waterfalls at Sandton City, near the convention centre, thirsty marchers who were not allowed by police to even buy water from nearby shops were forced to drink from a mud-hole in the pavement where a water main had burst.
Despite the attempts of some international media crews to drum up a scare story when they encountered a few anarchists, some of whom were masked up to prevent identification by police, the protest – anarchists included - was entirely peaceful and included children, one in a wheelchair, and pregnant women.
But the message to the ruling elite when we got to Sandton was uncompromising: the SMI told the world's media that if the ANC did not stop riding rough-shod over the poor, they would remove them from power in the same way they removed the apartheid regime.
Global arch-terrorist George Bush junior came in for a solid verbal drubbing as did the Israeli neo-apartheid regime - and all the fat-cats of the WSSD, some of whom peeked at the protestors from behind the "ring of steel" (as the local media likes to call police cordons).
In the end, the boys in blue never got to swing their nightsticks, the army vehicles with their turret-mounted machine-guns were impotent displays of testosterone and the police warhorses merely fertilised the streets of what before we arrived was the most sterile suburb in the country.
The movement surges forward!
Michael (Bikisha Media)
(1) Which means we fielded 10 times the numbers that the so-called "non-governmental" ANC-backed march did! The United Social Movement is now a bigger presence on the streets of South Africa than the neoliberal ANC-SACP-Cosatu troika!
The street is mightier than Le Pen
Tens of thousands of French people took to the streets when the news spread that fascist candidate Le Pen had made it into the second round of the Presidential elections. The anti-Le Pen opposition quickly gathered force, became bigger, more violent and more organised.
More than 10,000 people vented their rage at the results in Paris demonstrations on Sunday and Monday night at the Place de la Bastille, Place de la Republique and Place de la Concorde - traditional rallying points since the French Revolution. Each time, police were forced to fire tear-gas grenades to disperse the crowds after a small hard core of militants clashed with them. Some protestors threw Molotov cocktails, while others broke windows and telephone cabins and damaged parked vehicles. Thirteen police officers were slightly injured and 14 youths were arrested.
In the rest of France, similar disturbances erupted without warning. On the Monday, a total of 100,000 people marched through Lyon, Lille, Marseille, Bordeaux and other towns and cities. In Tours, anti-globalisation militant Jose Bove marched at the head of a 12,000-strong crowd. More militant protests were swelling early on Tuesday in the towns of Le Havre, Rouen, and even in the southern Le Pen stronghold of Toulon.
Most were started by high school and university students, who streamed out of classes to parade past startled police. They soon gathered force as others stepped into line. A climax was reached on May 1, when millions of protesters took to the streets across France. In Paris, a flood of humanity showed how small Le Pen's support actually is. The election results simply confirmed this wave of popular revolt.
General Strike shuts down Spain
The Spanish general strike over "reforms" of the labour law was great success. Timed to coincide with the EU summit in Seville, the reformist unions claimed 84% backing. The government claimed support was "very slight," a claim belied by the facts!
Mass demonstrations occurred across Spain during the strike, involving millions of people. Many cities, including Vigo, Seville, Madrid and Barcelona saw over 100,000 marching.
The syndicalist unions took an active part. Not happy with just striking, they also tried to shut down workplaces which were still open. Such pickets were active in the whole country.
Madrid saw all the syndicalist unions working together in calling for a strike, picketing and demonstrating together. They denounced the practice of the reformist unions and argued that the General Strike should be "a starting point and not a cul-de-sac." They argued that workers need to "build another type" of unionism, "based on class demands and struggle, through the participation and decisions of workers through assemblies." This was the "only mechanism to face the aggressions of the European Union and capitalist Globalisation."
Some 15,000 demonstrated as part of the Syndical Coordinating Committee, which unites all the syndicalist unions (the CNT, CGT and Solidaridad Obrera). Slogans included "Syndical Unity? Yes, but to fight!", "Apply the Foreigners' Law to the Monarchy" and "The Solution? Revolution!"
The joint red-and-black demo is encouraging as it is the largest so far in Madrid and shows that the syndicalist organisations in Spain are learning to fight together.
Immigrants Occupation in Seville
The two hundred and seventy immigrants who were occupying the Universidad Pablo de Olavide in Seville were evicted by riot police on the eighth of August. They had been occupying the University demanding papers for over two months. One hundred and twenty eight of them were taken into custody and are now in a detention centre in Ceuta, segregated from other inmates. The others remain in Spain but are at risk from intensive police checks in the area.
Spanish immigration law was, until recently, comparatively open because of the need for cheap agricultural workers. However now Spain is part of the European -wide immigration crackdown. The occupation came about after immigrants from the Magreb, who had been employed in the strawberry harvest in Huelva, Andalucia, were replaced by Polish immigrants brought in on temporary work permits. The previous mainly Algerian and Morrocan workers had begun to organise and get higher wages so the employers were trying to substitute workers who were ignorant of local labour conditions and unlikely to attract support from other workers locally.
There have been lots of occupations throughout Spain in the last few years of churches, public squares, government buildings and universities by groups of immigrants demanding regularisation and many have been successful. This latest occupation, initially involving over four hundred people, mainly Algerians, coincided with the EU summit in Seville in June. In this case the state tried to divide the occupiers by offering papers to a limited number, and attacking as outside agitators the support groups who were raising money for food. (Four hundred people eat a lot.)
The situation in Huelva shows the danger of different groups of immigrants being played off against each other to compete for who can work for the lowest wages. The situation of the Polish workers is an example of a method of exploitation the EU wants to increase. As they only have work permits for a defined short term contract, they can be employed for a specific job and then must leave or become illegal. This is exactly what the state wants: cheap taxpaying labourers that will not be able to stay and use any public services, who can be called and returned on demand.
Strike Paralyses Toronto
The end of June saw the start of the largest strike by city workers in Canadian history, with a walkout by 23,500 municipal workers paralysing Toronto. After 10 days, piles of rotting rubbish lined the streets and public services were suspended.
City employees who handle rubbish and other outdoor services were joined nine days later by Toronto's indoor municipal workers. This meant that city-run museums, galleries and day-care centres were closed, building and parking permits were unavailable and restaurants did not undergo health inspections.
The workers said they were striking over job security, not money. They're afraid of losing their livelihoods if the city privatises public services. Toronto guarantees lifetime employment to any full- time, permanent, unionised city worker with at least 10 years on the job. City employees want that guarantee to begin after six years. "City politicians seem determined to go down the road of contracting out and privatisation of dozens of services in this city" said one union's national president.
After 16 days, the strikers returned to their jobs. This was after the Ontario legislature passed back-to-work legislation forcing workers to return to their jobs (using "public health" as the justification). It should be noted that it was the left-wing socialist New Democratic Party which ensured the end of the strike.
The city's Mayor predictably argued that he could not afford the deal workers want. "The real world doesn't get jobs for life," he said. "Where are we going to get the money?" At the same time, Canada held the G8 summit in Kananskis, Alberta, its biggest internal peace-time military operation ever. While being unable to find money for city employees, money was found for the G8's security costs (estimated to be $300,000 million and included anti-aircraft tanks plus 4,500 soldiers as well as police from across Canada).
Class struggle in China
March saw the class war in China heat-up.
Mid-March saw tens of thousands of sacked workers surrounding the main office at China's largest oilfield in protest against cuts in their lay-off benefits. Up to 50,000 protesters gathered every day at the Daqing oil field in north-eastern Heilongjiang province for nearly two weeks. The workers were protesting against cuts in severance pay and heating subsidies promised them when they were sacked three years ago, and an increase in unemployment insurance premiums.
The end of March saw large-scale labour unrest shaking two cities in northern China's industrial zone. Unpaid and laid off workers protested, massing 10,000-strong to face off with military police.
In Liaoyang, an industrial centre in the Liaoning province, columns of military police protected the city government office (on Democracy Road). The crisis erupted when 600 workers blocked the main highway to the provincial capital Shenyang. Reports stated that hundreds of armed police moved in at midnight to clear the highway and dozens of people were injured. Undeterred, more than 1,000 factory workers besieged the city hall, demanding unpaid wages and the release of four detained labour leaders.
In Daqing, an oil town in northern China's Heilongjiang province, up to 50,000 workers demonstrated. There have also been smaller demonstrations in the capital Beijing and in the south-western province of Sichuan.
Such demonstrations, which have been growing in the region since early March, are unusual in China, where the government keeps a tight rein on protests and uses threats and force to discourage any anti-government activism. However, the government has also acknowledged that workers are suffering from widespread closures of inefficient and outdated state firms. Farmers have joined in to protest not being paid by bankrupt factories that were built on their lands.
RESISTANCE IN ITALY
March 27th saw the Italian working class once again demonstrating that it will not allow itself to be walked all over by the Berlusconi's vicious attacks on their social conditions. Three million people demonstrated in Rome bringing it to a standstill - and this despite the state's clear message that it is prepared to return to the 'strategy of tension' of earlier years, if these protests continue. The target of this demo was the labour reforms that will make it easier for bosses to fire workers, then re-hire them at lowered wages.
General Strike in Italy
April 16th saw Italy grind to a halt as the first general strike in 20 years took place. More than two million people took to the streets in demonstrations all over Italy as twenty million workers went on strike across the country. The strike was called to protest against proposed new labour laws.
In many cases COBAS - grassroots trade unions - held independent demos, sometimes outnumbering the official ones. Anarchists and anti- capitalist groups supported these grass root union demonstrations.
Direct actions targeted temporary employment agencies. Several were occupied, while many others had their entrances 'sealed' with glue. The office of an Italian employment agency in Milan was 'raided' and covered with shit (the real thing). In Rome, main roads leading into the city were blocked by small groups.
Genoa's message, "you G8 we 6 billions" starts to become a reality!
No Borders in Strasbourg
The Strasbourg No Border camp during the last week of July was one of a series of protest camps organised on important international borders.
Strasbourg was chosen because of the Shengen Information System computer which is located there, which contains information on all the known immigrants and asylum seekers in Europe. The camp brought together three thousand participants from all over Europe, especially France and Germany. Some people had travelled from Latin America, and there was a big presence of immigrants mainly from North Africa. The purpose of the camp was to bring people together for discussion and action. Every day there were a series of discussions and a demonstration or action in the town.
On Wednesday the demonstration was attacked by the police with gas, charges and rubber bullets. They broke the leg of one protester and arrested thirty people, one of whom was later sent down for eight months. The next day the police declared all demonstrations in Strasbourg illegal, and criminalised any group of more than five people in the street and anyone with a flag or banner and any handing out of leaflets. After this announcement an atmosphere of fear and panic took over in the camp for a short while. An immenent police attack was feared which, given the large numbers of small children and sans papiers (undocumented people) in the camp, would have been disastrous.
The repression achieved its object to some extent as we had to devote a lot of time and energy on how to demonstrate without endangering the camp and how to leave the camp at the end ensuring everyone's safety. We had up till that point been touring the banlieus (estates) every day with a bus and music making links with the poor communities of Strasbourg. After the criminalisation we were asked not to come as the people feared police repression, so one of the most important aspects of the camp was stopped. However we continued to demonstrate in Strasbourg city centre every day with music, street theatre and banner drops.
Arrests happened continuously and so did solidarity demos; there were pickets of hundreds of people outside the court and police station. The support we received from the Strasbourgois on these was very welcome as people cheered us and abused the police as we were arrested or forcibly bussed back to the camp. On the last day there were two demonstrations, one in the centre of Strasbourg and one which tried to go to the Shengen computer. This march made it perhaps two hundred yards down the road before being blocked by lines of riot police, and so detoured into Germany, and went from there to the other demo by train via the jail. The crowd was again attacked by the police with gas but there was not the carnage we had been scared of.
The daily life of the camp - cooking, toilet digging, security - was organised around a series of barrios with communal kitchens and a daily meeting. At times the functioning of the camp was in danger of taking over from all other activity as the amount of work needed was immense. Political discussions, which had to be translated into five languages, often started at midnight as people arrived late from the demos and then had to eat, by which time most people were drunk.
However the experience of collective living and decision making, experimenting with structures and methods, was inspiring. It was very different from an action like Genoa where it felt to many people that all the crucial decisions had been made beforehand and we were passive consumers of an event. Self-organised immigrant groups like MIB (Immigrants Movement in the Banlieus) from France or Voice from Germany had been involved in the organising from the start and the human interaction in the camp was a great experience. Learning and shouting chants in different languages on the demos made international solidarity feel like something real instead of a leftie cliché (although the Black Flag contingent did walk around Germany for hours shouting 'short people are illegal' due to an unfortunate pronunciation error). If we are searching for a new tactic for international actions, this looks like the way to go.
MACHETE POWER BEATS STATE
Nine months of direct action and community solidarity by peasant farmers have stopped the government plan to build the new Mexico City airport on their land. This is an incredible victory for people power over big business and the state.
The struggle culminated in July with a virtual insurrection in Atenco and 3 other towns. Over 4 days thousands of peasants and supporters blockaded highways and used machetes and molotovs to defy over 10,000 police. The insurgents captured and held 19 government officials and police hostage, in a successful bid to free their own prisoners. The price of victory was high however - police violence killed local man Enrique Espinoza Juarez, who died from injuries sustained on 11th July.
On 7th August president Fox issued a decree cancelling the previous government decrees expropriating the peasants' land. A week later, machetes aloft, the peasants marched victoriously through Mexico City. Chanting 'Atenco lives, the struggle continues", they demanded that all charges and arrest warrants be dropped against those facing legal action from the struggle, and declared that they would fight on against the Plan Puebla Panama and in solidarity with all just causes of the people in Mexico.
Ever since October 2001 the peasant farmers and inhabitants of the area around San Salvador Atenco and Texcoco have been resisting the government’s efforts to compulsorily purchase 10,000 acres of their land for the new airport. All attempts by the state to even start preliminary work for the airport have been stopped by community direct action. The machetes of the peasants - carried proudly aloft on all their demos and actions - have become a symbol of resistance. Solidarity has been developed with striking students and workers, Zapatista supporters and many other groups.
The struggle erupted on 11 July 2002. At least 1000 riot police attacked a 100-strong peasants' march. 30 peasants were injured and 19 disappeared, possibly arrested.
Clashes escalated as the community mobilised itself. Hundreds, then thousands, took to the streets and blockaded the roads. The towns of San Salvador Atenco, Acuexcomac, Magdalena Panoaya and Tocuila were in revolt, with around 3,500 locals on the streets.
300 peasants stormed the sub office of the Attorney General in Texcoco and took 7 employees hostage, including the Assistant Attorney General. Soon the peasants held 19 officials, including at least 3 police. They demanded their own prisoners be set free in exchange for the officials being released.
By the afternoon of 11th July 10,000 police, including military police, were surrounding the area as the peasants fortified their defences. 3 police cars were burnt and 3 Coca Cola tractor trailers seized to be used along with police vehicles in the barricades. As night fell the locals were digging trenches around the occupied areas.
Over the next 4 days the revolt continued as resisters blockaded highways in the area, and were joined by supporters from around Mexico.
On 14 July the government released the 11 jailed peasants, and the following day the government officials and police were released unharmed. The government conceded that plans for the airport may have to be modified or even cancelled.
The government defeat was complete when an announcement by President Fox on 1st August was confirmed on 7th August by the official cancellation of the decrees to expropriate the peasants' land.
The peasants' victory march through Mexico City on 14th August showed their determination to continue the fight. We will maintain a constant struggle for the absolute liberty of the peasants facing charges and we demand an end to the legal threats against the members of the Front of Peoples in Defence of the Land, they declared. They demanded compensation for the family of Enrique Espinoza Juarez, murdered by the police.
The peasants see their battle as part of a bigger picture. They declared their opposition to the Plan Puebla Panama, and the drive towards a Free Trade Agreement for all the Americas. The Plan Puebla Panama, backed by the Mexican, US and Central American governments, aims to "develop" the area from Puebla in south central Mexico down to Panama, forcing peasants off the land into sweatshops, plundering natural resources and exploiting the indigenous and other poor local people.
The inspiring message from the courageous peasant people who have defeated the might of the Mexican state is "Let us be clear that the Front of Peoples in Defence of the Land will act in solidarity with all just causes which defend the dignity of the people of Mexico. There is no doubt that our struggle will be unbreakable in the face of all aggression against our rights."
Argentina: The struggle continues
The process of working class self-organisation continues.
Links are being made across the country and across organisations. For example, more than eight hundred delegates attended the First National Conference of Plants and Factories Occupied and In Struggle on Saturday, August 24 organised by the Bloque Piquetero Nacional (National Picketeers' Bloc) and the Movimiento Independiente de Jubilados y Desocupados (Independent Movement of Pensioners and
Unemployed). The delegates came from factories, trade unions, shop steward committees and popular assemblies and met in the plant of the Grissinópoli company, occupied by its workers.
The Conference approved a resolution on the expropriation of the machinery, buildings and capital of the companies and their handing over to their workers. Self-management is already being practised in a wide range of workplaces (including supermarkets, mines, clinics, transport, metal works, printshops), all across the country. Some have occupied their workplaces and ran them for more than 10 months. A national march in support of the occupied factories was agreed for
September 10, as was the active participation in the roadblocks of the Picketeers. It was also agreed that delegates from the occupied factories attend the next National Assembly of employed and unemployed workers.
As we argued in the last issue of Black Flag, the need to co-ordinate struggles and solidarity was an essential next step. This has started. As one group of workers put it, "We share the motto: if they attack one, they attack all of us." Equally as important, the Argentine workers are showing a healthy distrust of hierarchy. Delegates are returning to their factories to discuss in assemblies the proposals for the Second National Meeting. Self-management is replacing government.
As predicted, the call for occupying workplaces and placing them under workers' self-management has been raised and put into practice.
Elsewhere, the neighbourhood assemblies have been developing collective solutions to the crisis in housing in the form of "assemblies okupas." The assemblies have taken the initiative, reclaiming unused but habitable spaces. By guaranteeing the right to the ceiling, it replaces property rights with use rights, putting it at the service of the community. The occupations are run collectively. When the police ask the squatters who is in charge, the assembly invariably answers "we are all people in charge."
The popular assemblies are also collectively resisting attempts at evictions, be it housing or factories.
Slowly but surely, the people of Argentina are creating an alternative to the State and capitalism.