Saturday, June 27, 2009

Total Workers Win!

(via Lenin's Tomb) I just saw that the workers of Total (a French-owned oil refining company from England) won their dispute with ownership after initiating a wildcat strike. (I also see, via HistoMat, that Ford-Visteon workers also won a huge victory in the U.K. recently).

Reuters reports:
"A dispute involving hundreds of workers who were sacked last week for going on unofficial strike at a French-owned oil refinery in eastern England has been settled, French oil firm Total said on Friday.
The oil firm had said the dispute with some 650 construction workers at the Lindsey refinery, who were sacked for taking the unofficial industrial action, had put major investment into the building of its HDS-3 desulphurisation unit at risk."
Apparently, the capitalists were starting to lose out big (to the tune of 100m euros) because of the strike and decided to cave in to save their investments. They reinstated a ton of workers they'd previously been trying to lay off. And had it not been for solidarity efforts (workers in other industries walked out of their jobs in support), courage, and ambition of the workers, we can be sure that Total would have broken the strike and not thought twice about laying even more workers off due to their militancy.

We need to see more of this in the United States. The victory in Chicago at Republic Windows and Doors was inspiring, and these actions have always (historically speaking) tended to snowball and build on each other.

What's crazy is that in the United States, wildcat strikes (like the ones deployed by Total workers) are illegal. They were made illegal in 1935 by the National Labor Relations Act (the 'Wagner' Act), which just goes to show you how much of the New Deal labor policy was shaped by a fear of uncontrolled labor militancy. Of course wildcat strikes and a flash of widespread sitdown strikes in the early 1930s had made the Wagner Act itself politically possible, which is interesting given that in this way it tried to proscribe the conditions of its own possibility. But despite the many great things the Act did do, we musn't forget that the Act was not written by a working-class party or the workers themselves; its content represents the power dynamics involved in its passage (of which worker militancy was only one competing force among many).

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