Trade unions are once again at the center of global social change, for better and worse. If you are a union member, or care about the future of progressive movements — it’s time now to pay attention to what labor is doing, and what is happening to labor.
Trade unionists are a powerful, but only recently visible, force propelling change in the Middle East. In Egypt and Tunisia, strikes and union protests over the past year were critical in laying the ground for popular uprisings. And in the transitions of power, labor is the main democratic alternative to the old guards and the socially conservative religious movements. There have been 30 to 60 strikes per day in Egypt since the fall of Mubarak, an Egyptian labor lawyer told “Democracy Now!”. The illegal strikes include 15,000 workers at Egypt’s largest factory, MSIR Spinning and Weaving, demanding the removal of corrupt management.
In Europe it was labor, not the social democratic or Green parties, that has been fighting back against the austerity programs. Only months ago in France (how quickly our faster-than-a-speeding-bullet media moves on) general strikes against pension cuts brought millions into the streets three times in one month, with three million marching on one day in late October. Refinery workers closed gasoline production for a month.
In England, the TUC has been meeting to plan coordinated strikes against public sector cuts by the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition, and they are planning a massive March 26 day of action which may be the largest mobilization ever in Britain’s rich labor history. Organizing for the action began four months ago, even before students began their direct actions against education cuts.
Two weeks ago in Hamilton, Ontario, 10,000 people braved a cold, Canadian winter to rally in support of locked out U.S. Steelworkers, fighting to defend pensions.
But today, labor activists in this country are gripped by the incredible drama playing out very close to our borders in Wisconsin. Public sector strikes have closed schools and over 30,000 people took over the capital buildings for five days. Feb. 19, up to 80,000 people rallied in Madison. Read more…
February 22, 2011