. The first half of 1998 was notable for several major strikes on different continents. Although labor bureaucrats held them back, these strikes are a sign that the strict anti-labor laws proliferating around the world and the threat of international competition will not hold down the struggle forever. Detroit Workers' Voice #19 (May 27, 1998) reported on some of these strikes and on the fall of Suharto's fascist dictatorship in Indonesia. It also addressed itself to local postal workers, discussing what faces them in the upcoming national contract negations. DWV is produced by the Detroit Marxist-Leninist Study Group, and this issue was distributed at Detroit workplaces and at the May 27 protest against privatization by postal workers that was held in Royal Oak, Michigan.
. The following three articles are from DWV, and they are followed by a update from Communist
Voice issue #18 (August 1. 1998) on the Australian dockworkers strike. Major articles with more
information on the Indonesian democratic uprising and the South Korean strike movement can be
found elsewhere in CV #18.
. The threat of privatization is often held over the heads of postal workers. There has already been some privatization and it should be opposed. But the threat of privatization is also used as part of management's drive to impose sweat-shop conditions on those working for the USPS.Serious opposition to privatization should include standing up to the present management bullying and productivity drives.
. Yet, even when the leaders of the clerks' union, the APWU, call a token 1-day protest on May 27 against privatization, they downplay the already-existing productivity drives and concession-ridden contracts that have been converting the postal service to sweatshop status. The official appeals for the May 27 action ignore that base wages have been virtually frozen, that huge workload increases have been imposed and that workers are bombarded with disciplinary measures. Instead they promote the fairy tale that until recent outsourcing, postal jobs were safe and secure. The union officials evidently have "forgotten" about the numerous workers driven from their jobs by injuries, stress, harassment and arbitrary firings. By pretending that "postal workers have not fared badly in recent years" the leaders of the postal unions show that for them, fighting privatization means offering no serious resistance to USPS slave-driving of its own workforce.
. In order to resist the attacks of USPS management and to achieve a decent contract, we cannot
rely on the trade union bureaucrats. The rank and file must rely on its own initiative and
organization. Get together with your co-workers and develop collective resistance to
management's productivity drive and harassment. As for the upcoming contracts, the union
leaders traditionally offer the "alternative" of caving in to management demands or allowing an
arbitrator to determine our fate. This is a sure-fire way for the workers' needs to be ignored.Postal
workers deserve a major wage increase that makes up for several years of wage freezes.They
deserve more breaks, longer (and paid) lunches and other measures to lessen the effects of the
productivity drives. End multi-tier wages and rights for those doing the same job. In this
situation, the only way that a decent contract can be won is if the rank and file workers make
themselves felt as an independent, militant force. Now is the time to start organizing toward this
Denmark: General strike
. On April 27, about half a million Danish workers (10% of the entire population!) went on strike. The workers' main demands included another week of paid vacation, a 6% wage hike and a 6-hour day for shift workers. The strike virtually shut down heavy industry, transportation, construction and even newspapers. The employers tried to turn public opinion against the strikers by closing supermarkets and some services that weren't hit by the strike, but strikers kept vital services going on their own. The struggle thus gave a small glimpse of how the workers can run society without the capitalists. As a shop steward said: "You see, it is the employers who want to shut down Denmark, not us. They cannot run the country without the workers, but we can run the country without the employers."
. The business owners were being hit hard and the government at first did not intervene. But the top trade union officials were already caving in. They did not want the strike in the first place -- it only occurred because workers rejected a previous sell-out deal negotiated by the labor traitors.Now the trade union officials advised the workers that their demands were unrealistic and rejected rank-and-file calls for an all-out general strike including public sector workers.
. On May 7, the social-democratic-led coalition which governs Denmark pushed through legislation ending the strike, which was just what the trade union officials needed to abandon the struggle. Most workers were forced to return to work. The legislation granted 2-3 days more paid vacation, but this was financed by lowering taxes and pension contribution on the employers.The social-democrats (who are roughly like the phony "pro-labor" Democrats here) showed their true pro-business colors. Workers who had seen them as an alternative to the conservative government which tried to smash a similar struggle in 1985, had their eyes opened.
Australia: Dockworkers' struggle
. In early April, dockworkers in Australia set up mass picket blockades which stopped shipping at a number of ports. This action came in response to the Patrick shipping company firing its entire 1,400-member unionized workforce, forcibly removing them from the docks with private goon squads. Dockworkers and their supporters militantly defended their pickets against police assaults and defied court orders to end their blockades.
. For several years, the Australian government has been collaborating with the dock-side companies to crush the dockworkers' union, the Maritime Union of Australia. Top government officials have helped the company work out strategies to circumvent labor laws that allegedly protect companies from removing unions, going so far as to help prepare a scab workforce to replace the unionized workers.
. In the midst of the struggle a series of court rulings seemingly reinstated the workers, but also allowed Patrick a series of loopholes to avoid reinstatement of many workers. The MUA leadership promoted faith in the courts and agreed to end the blockades under humiliating terms, offering to have returning workers labor without pay for weeks. All along, they have been offering to accept a certain amount of layoffs and other concessions, but not enough to satisfy the company. Presently, Patrick has allowed only part of the unionized workers to return.Dockworkers in the U.S. and other countries have refused to unload Australian ships loaded by scab labor. However, the MUA is leaving the workers' fate to the capitalist courts, not the mass struggle.
. Major worker unrest is spreading through several other countries. In South Korea, the Asian economic crisis and IMF-imposed austerity measures have led to soaring unemployment and measures making it easier to layoff workers. In early April, workers of the Kia monopoly clashed with police in a protest against layoffs. Workers and students took to the streets in powerful May Day demonstrations. Meanwhile, Hyundai just announced it's laying off over 25% of its workforce. The apologists of capitalism have been crowing about the "Asian miracle" for years, but the Asian crisis has shown how this system continues to ravage the masses. A general strike is scheduled for May 27.
. In Bolivia, a powerful strike wave was launched on April 1 demanding a raise in the minimum wage. Peasants joined the struggle protesting cuts in government aid to them and students also participated with demands against education budget cuts.
. World capitalism has given rise to a new wave of revolt. Despite the restrictions imposed by the
reformist leaders of the movement, the struggle is showing the workers' potential might. The
development of independent class organization is needed to strengthen the workers' cause.<>
. The explosive growth of capitalism during the Asian "economic miracle" has not led to happiness for all, but outbursts of the masses against the exploiters and tyrants. The beginning of the end came for Suharto when the Indonesian economy went into a tailspin at the end of 1997.The Asian financial crisis hit Indonesia particularly hard. In the last half of the year Indonesia's currency, the rupiah, lost 70% of its value. Banks and manufacturing companies were unable to meet their debt payments to overseas lenders. Immediately they began laying off employees, and soon there were millions of unemployed. Poor workers were also hit hard by galloping inflation, as prices of basic necessities soared.
. Suharto appealed to the International Monetary Fund for a bailout. The IMF agreed to help Suharto to the tune of $43 billion, but only on condition that he carry out economic reforms.Some of these measures were aimed at breaking up monopolies belonging to Suharto's family and friends. Other measures were aimed directly at the working poor, such as removing subsidies from basic necessities. Suharto at first balked. Not only did he want to maintain his personal economic empire, but he knew that the IMF austerity measures were bound to kick off a new upsurge of struggle against his hated regime. As for the IMF, they too cared not a wit about the masses, but saw an opportunity to open up sectors of the Indonesian economy to the major capitalist powers who control the IMF. As it turned out, IMF greed wound up inadvertently hastening the demise of the very regime it sought to prop up. Suharto grew ever more desperate for help from the IMF as the Indonesian economy continued to nose-dive in February and March.
. Finally, in early May, Suharto agreed to all of the IMF's conditions. Government subsidies on food, gasoline and cooking oil were removed, and prices of these goods skyrocketed. This was the match setting off mass protests and riots. University students began an unending series of demonstrations. Poor workers in the cities of Indonesia began rioting. The riots culminated on the night of May 14th, when $1 billion worth of damage was done to the capital city of Jakarta.A few days later Suharto rescinded the economic "reforms" that raised prices on basic necessities. But the protesters were unimpressed. "Too little, too late" they said. Meanwhile thousands of students had invaded the country's parliament building and taken it over. They demanded that legislators act against Suharto. Faced by the mass sentiment, legislators began giving speeches calling for Suharto to resign or be impeached.
. On May 20th Suharto offered to form a special reform committee to re-work his government.But again it was too late; Suharto couldn't get anyone to actually serve on his proposed committee. So finally on May 21st he announced his resignation, and stepped down in favor of his vice-president, B.J. Habibie.
. As Suharto fell, the Clinton administration posed as a champion of "reform" in Indonesia. What a farce! U.S. imperialism had always backed the Suharto regime even as it massacred its opponents over the years. Clinton stood with Suharto to the end and provided aid to the Indonesian military. After all, Suharto's tyranny had made Indonesia a seemingly secure slave-wage haven for the multinationals.
. The downfall of Suharto has been a great accomplishment of the masses. But the struggle is far from over. Suharto is removed, but the generals still call the shots. Habibie, Suharto's close friend, at first said he would serve out Suharto's term as president. Under pressure, he said he'll hold elections in a year, but Suharto promised that too and the people are only too aware of the type elections that have been held under the supervision of Suharto and his cronies. Sure enough, while seeking to pacify the people with promises, the new regime showed its fangs by forcing demonstrators out of the parliament building. Nevertheless, Habibie's days may well be numbered. He is widely regarded as a front man for the hated Suharto; the old system is starting to crack; the economy is still a wreck; and Habibie must still deal with the IMF demands. The genie of mass struggle is out of the bottle, and it won't be so easy for Habibie, the IMF, or the Indonesian army to get it back in again.
. For decades, the Suharto regime bludgeoned the masses into submission as they were raped by growing capitalism and political dictatorship. The tottering of the dictatorship is a welcome event for the Indonesian workers, whose ranks have grown so rapidly in the last decades. For them, obtaining political rights is a crucial step in the struggle to get organized to defend their living conditions and to eventually overthrow capitalist oppression. The bourgeois opposition parties have no desire for anything but a liberalized capitalism, and they have been timid in the struggle even for this. For the workers, the greatest benefit of overthrowing the tyranny will be that it pushes closer the day when they organize a mass political force that will stand up for their class struggle.
, This deal is a shameful betrayal. The mass pickets set up by dockworkers and thousands of other workers and activists supporting them had been very effective in shutting down the movement of cargo. The company was taking heavy losses. Dockworkers in some other countries refused to unload scab cargo. At the same time, the government's secret collaboration with Patrick became a major scandal which weakened its efforts to do propaganda against the workers. But with the struggle gaining momentum, the MUA dismantled it. They agreed with the company's offer to take back some workers under humiliating conditions while the other workers were demobilized and kept in the dark. In short, the MUA leaders snatched defeat from the jaws of victory!
, The MUA agreement is not just a setback for the Patrick workers. It will establish a new pattern for the entire industry. Moreover, the development of the dockworkers' struggle could have presented a big challenge to recent laws in Australia aimed at restricting workers' mass actions.
. As we go to press, dockworkers are voting on the settlement. But regardless of the outcome,
their future fate depends on their ability to develop their own fighting organization independent
of the MUA bureaucrats. <>
Last changed on October 16, 2001.