Karol Modzelewski—a fighter against the Stalinist system

Posted on: August 13th, 2022 by TTE No Comments

Polish workers revolt in Poznan

Karol Modzelewski was an inspiration to anyone fighting for a socialist society where ordinary people are in charge. He always supported workers’ struggles, right up until his death last week. 

Modzelewski played a key role in the ten million-strong Solidarity rebellion that rocked the Stalinist dictatorship in 1980-1. And after it was brought down in 1989, he opposed neoliberal shock therapy. 

The Poznan Workers’ Uprising of June 1956 turned Modzelewski into a revolutionary socialist. For all the Stalinist regime’s rhetoric of socialism and people’s democracy, workers had no control in Russia and the Eastern Bloc. They were state capitalist societies, where the state bureaucracy behaved like bosses in the West. 

In Poznan, western Poland, workers rose up amid attacks on living standards. The Stalinist authorities sent tanks to quell the revolt, killing around 50 workers. But discontent continued to bubble across the country. Rebellious Lechoslaw Gozdzik, the 25 year old workers’ leader at Warsaw’s FSO car plant, asked Modzelewski and other rebellious students to organise discussions with workers. He went every day. 

By October 1956, the Russians were ready to send tanks into Warsaw. Modzelewski joined the occupation of the FSO plant, where workers were armed with a few guns, metal castings and petrol bombs. A new Polish leadership diffused the situation and the tanks turned back, but Modzelewski continued to oppose the dictatorship. 

In 1966 Modzelewski and Jacek Kuron wrote the Open Letter to the Party, a powerful Marxist indictment of the Stalinist system. They argued that state control of industry did not make Poland a socialist state. It was a class society where the bureaucracy’s goal was “production for the sake of production”. This echoed Karl Marx’s words about how profit maximisation and accumulation are central to capitalism. It was published by socialists around the world, including the forerunners of the Socialist Workers Party. 

Modzelewski and Kuron were sentenced to prison for this call for genuine socialism. And Modzelewski received a further prison term for being one of the leaders of the 1968 student revolt in Warsaw.

In the 1970s, Modzelewski devoted his time to academic studies. But when the Solidarity workers’ rebellion began in 1980, he rushed to become involved. The new movement’s power was based on mass strikes, occupations and the formation of inter-workplace strike committees (MKS). 

Modzelewski saw a group of strikers in Gdansk with a banner that said MKS Solidarity. On his suggestion the new independent union was named Solidarity. Modzelewski was no longer a revolutionary, but he was committed to building a strong workers’ movement. He resigned as Solidarity’s official spokesperson in March 1981 after Solidarity leader Lech Walesa called off an indefinite general strike. 

He was interned when the regime introduced martial law in December 1981. Modzelewski was one of the few well-known Solidarity opposition leaders to oppose the neoliberal “transformation” after 1989. 

In the early 1990s he tried unsuccessfully to form a Labour-type party. But he continued to back strikers. Only days before his death he called today’s leadership of Solidarity strike-breakers. They had cut a deal with the right wing government before the massive school and nursery strike took place.

Don’t let right exploit Salman Rushdie stabbing to whip up Islamophobia

Posted on: August 13th, 2022 by TTE No Comments
A picture of Salman Rushdie

Novelist Salman Rushdie (Picture: Wikimedia/Creative Commons)

The appalling stabbing of novelist Salman Rushdie in New York is certain to unleash a renewed tide of Islamophobia, whatever the details of his attacker. This reaction has to be opposed.

Rushdie was attacked on stage at the end of a literary event on Friday. According to his literary agent, on Saturday morning Rushdie was on a ventilator and unable to speak. He added that the author may lose one eye.

Rushdie catapulted to fame with Midnight’s Children in 1981, which went on to sell over one million copies in Britain alone. Rushdie, who had grown up in India and then moved to Britain, was well known for his criticism of colonialism and Western imperialism. And for siding with black and Asian people who faced racism in Britain. 

But his fourth book, published in 1988—The Satanic Verses—saw him go into hiding for fear of his life.

It includes a Prophet Muhammad-like figure who is depicted as lecherous, unscrupulous and a false prophet. Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini called for Rushdie and all those associated with the book to be put to death for blaspheming the Prophet Mohammed. 

Many millions of Muslims across the world saw the book as a conscious slur just as the tide of anti-Muslim hatred worldwide was growing.

Rushdie said he wasn’t attacking Muslims and his novel was a work of fiction. That didn’t stop opposition to the book becoming the focus for many Muslims in Britain. They faced mass job losses and brutal racism from a Tory government that had been waging class war for ten years. 

In the absence of a strong and united working class movement after the defeat of the Miners’ Strike of 1984-5, anger at Rushdie became a convenient but misplaced target. 

But it was never enough just to defend Rushdie. The “Rushdie affair” was used by sections of the right and liberals to step up a myth of  irrational and violent Muslims who were a threat to Western “civilisation”. They bayed for them to be repulsed by a battery of new laws in Europe and war abroad.

The offensive against Muslims in 1989 was a foretaste of what would be stepped up even more  during the War on Terror after 9/11. 

The Daily Mail newspaper raged, “Who asked Muslims to run our lives?” The Daily Star’s editorial against the secretary of the Bradford Council of Mosques was headlined, “Clear Off.” The Sun said there was “no place for murderers.” In less strident but equally poisonous tones, The Independent said there were “limits to mutual tolerance”.

That wasn’t what Rushdie wanted. In his last interview before he went into hiding, he told Socialist Worker, “In England, the most reactionary elements within the Asian community have fed stereotypes present in the most reactionary elements within white society.

“So it’s no pleasure to me to be supported by the Sun when it’s referring to Asians as rats. I’m not on the Sun’s side in that. I’d sooner be with the rats.”

Influential sections of the right sympathised with those who wanted to shut Rushdie up. They didn’t like an anti-imperialist, even if he was now targeted by Muslims. 

“We have known in our own religion people doing things which are deeply offensive to some of us. We feel it very much. And that is what is happening to Islam,” said Tory prime minister Margaret Thatcher. She added that “great religions” would “endure long after the names of the people who criticised them have been forgotten”.

Her hatchet man Norman Tebbit said Rushdie’s life was “a record of despicable acts of betrayal to his upbringing, religion, adopted home and nationality”. 

In subsequent years Rushdie was a long way from anti-imperialism. He supported the 1999 Nato bombing of Yugoslavia and the US-led invasion in Afghanistan. However, he didn’t line up with the B52 liberals’ wholehearted backing for the British and US war in Iraq. He later said veils worn by Muslim women “suck” as they were a symbol of the “limitation of women”. Rushdie was certainly safe enough to be knighted in 2007 under the Tony Blair warmongers’ government.

Socialist Worker consistently argued, “No to censorship, no to racism”. In February 1989 its front page defended Rushdie’s right to criticise religion. But it also defended “the right of everyone to practise their religion “ and for Asians to “be defended against sickening racist intolerance”. 

As the right gears up for a wave of Islamophobia, it’s crucial that this socialist message from 1989 rings out clearly again.

Aslef strike builds further for rising arc of struggle against bosses and Tories

Posted on: August 13th, 2022 by Charlie No Comments
Seven Aslef strike pickets at Eusto in T-shirts that  say they were Key workers but are now "a greedy workshy union member"

Aslef strike pickets at Euston (Picture: Guy Smallman)

A huge real terms pay cut pushed 6,000 train drivers in the Aslef union to walk out for a second 24-hour strike on Saturday.

And with inflation at 11.8 percent the strike “is even more important now than when we initially voted”, striking train driver Tom from Oxfordshire told Socialist Worker.

Workers struck at nine train operating companies that are refusing a pay rise. The drivers at these companies have not had an increase for more than three years—since April 2019.

The bosses say the decision now is down to the government and the government says it’s down to the operating companies.

Andy from Manchester Aslef told Socialist Worker, “This is a blatant attack on workers post-Covid. The bosses give contracts to their friends and families and they expect us to pick up the bill.”

He added, “We will fight for every term and condition they want off us.”

“We haven’t had much choice but to strike,” said Tom. “All rail workers have seen multi-million pound deals given to the rail network and bosses being paid handsomely.

“What we are asking for isn’t unreasonable—we’ve seen the money, passenger levels are almost up to pre-pandemic levels. We just want a new pay deal that acknowledges we worked through the pandemic and the high cost of living.”

Before the pandemic, train operators paid out dividends to shareholders worth £262 million. During the pandemic’s first year, they still managed to pay out £38 million.

Avanti West Coast bosses lied to passengers that Aslef strikes were causing disruption on non-strike days. They used this as a cover as they slashed services this week. Aslef general secretary Mark Whelan said, “There is—and has been—no unofficial industrial action on Avanti. 

Big line of Aslef union members in hi-vis yellow jackets and supporters during Aslef strike in Edinburgh

On the picket line during the Aslef strike in Edinburgh

“The truth is that the company does not employ enough drivers to deliver the services it has promised passengers it will run. The company itself has admitted that 400 services each week are dependent on drivers working their rest days.”

Transport minister Grant Shapps fuelled the disinformation adding, “Archaic rules from 1919 mean working on rest days is voluntary.”

Shapps probably doesn’t know that 1919 was the year of a great railway strike which saw members of what was then the National Union of Railwaymen bring the rail network to a complete standstill for nine days.

They were fighting 20 percent pay cuts. The government eventually capitulated and workers won big concessions—although union leaders then backed off as Britain moved towards the brink of revolution.

The only thing “archaic” about the present situation is that bosses and shareholders have trousered hundreds of millions while workers get wage cuts.

Despite attacks from bosses and Tories the strikers received masses of support on around 40 major picket lines. Members of the Unison union joined the picket line at King’s Cross in London, NEU members joined in Derby, the IWW in Oxford, Unite in Hull and Extinction Rebellion in Portsmouth among others.

Tom added, “The support we’ve been getting is really reassuring when the media is not on our side.”

The strike has the potential to escalate with strike ballots closing at Chiltern Railways, Northern Trains and TransPennine Express on 25 August.

Aslef leaders mustn’t delay calling more dates—and these should be in unison with other rail and bus workers who will walk out from Thursday.

The rail workers have started a movement against the Tories and bosses’ low wage, high profit system that needs numbers to spread to more industries.

Not only can the rail workers win on pay but they can tear apart the fragile Tory party and raise larger demands of renationalisation.

  • For pictures from the strike across Britain go to our Twitter here

Post workers say bosses’ scab plans won’t win

Posted on: August 12th, 2022 by Jeandre Coetser No Comments
line up of parked non descript vans that royal mail plan to use for scab workers

Vans for use of agency workers during the strike lined up in Nottingham last week (Picture: @CWUNEWS)

As 115,000 postal workers prepare to walk out for four days for pay in August and September, Royal Mail bosses are doing all they can to limit the strike’s effectiveness. Managers are plotting to train agency workers and build a scab workforce to try and undermine the strike.

It’s an attempt to use the new laws recently passed by the Tories that freed up employers to use agency workers without any restrictions during disputes.

Royal Mail hopes the sight of people going into work and doing strikers’ jobs will demoralise those on the picket line. And the firm may even set up scab centres wholly staffed by agency workers.

The regional secretary for the CWU union in the Midlands, Mark Harper, told Socialist Worker that these tactics are nothing workers “aren’t used to.” And he added that will in no way blunt the strike’s effectiveness.

 “We have over 100,000 workers walking out—there’s no way they will be able to cover all our work,” he said.

“On Monday last week, white rental vans turned up to our mail centre in Nottingham—not using the normal red ones, that would be too recognisable. Rather than give us a pay rise, they want to waste money on agency workers and vans.

“Managers are trained to drive larger vehicles, and agency workers will do only time‑sensitive stuff—it will barely scratch the surface.”

The vans appear to come from Thrifty cars. Unions should campaign to end any contracts with them and turn up at their offices if they continue knowingly to supply the scabbing operation.

Ben, a CWU member in Nottingham said the process will be “chaos” adding that “it shouldn’t be allowed.”

He said that using agency workers now is a glimpse of the future the company wants.

“Royal Mail is no longer a public service. It’s all for the shareholders,” he said.

“Agency workers and zero hour contracts are what the Tories want. We worked through the pandemic. Now they’re doing this to us. It’s all their idea to save costs—to break the structure of the workforce.”

And agency workers aren’t automatically scabs. Mo, a postal worker in Walsall, told Socialist Worker, “Myself and the union reps will still try to educate them when they try to cross the picket line.”

Mark added, “We have casual and agency staff in the CWU— some are using their days off on strike days. It means Royal Mail is fishing in a small pond for these workers.”

One agency worker, David tweeted, “I’ll be blocking the days out, so I don’t get shifts on the strike days.”

Large numbers, mass pickets and solidarity, are the postal workers’ strengths, and no agency workers will break that.  If bosses set up scab centres, the union should call mass pickets at them for strikers and their supporters.

NHS activists say mood to fight is strong as unions announce ballots

Posted on: August 12th, 2022 by Jeandre Coetser No Comments
picture of Unison union balloon at big march fopr workers rights

Can unions keep up the momentum? (Picture:Flickr/Nick Efford)

Unions are asking hundreds of thousands of health workers if they are prepared to strike over pay. If the answer is a big enough yes, it could electrify the fight over the cost of living crisis.

On Friday unions in Scotland announced the results of consultative ballots that all saw a massive rejection of the 5 percent offer from the Scottish government. Unison members voted 91 percent to reject, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) 90 percent, the GMB 97 percent and Unite 89 percent. Unison has announced it will move to a formal strike ballot.

In England activists say the mood to fight is strong, but union foot-dragging risks dissipating the anger and reducing the voting turnout to below the crucial 50 percent level under Tory anti-union laws.

The Unite union, representing laboratory staff and others, has begun a five-week consultative ballot. The RCN will ballot for strikes from 15 September. And the Unison union is balloting for strikes—but not until 3 October in Scotland and 27 October in England and Wales.

But Janet Maiden, a nurse and Unison activist, worries that separate and drawn out plans for industrial action will weaken the battle for pay.

“It’s exciting to see so many workers on strike. And it’s even better now that different health workers are being balloted to fight for better pay,” she told Socialist Worker.

“But it would be even better to see Unison collaborating and getting itself in gear sooner.” Janet added that the cost of living crisis, plunging many workers and nurses into poverty, has to be stopped now rather than later.

“The issues we face—rising bills, poverty and being unable to afford food—aren’t going anywhere. And it’s only going to get hard if we don’t strike now.

Bills are going up again in winter and already nurses around me are in distress about how they’ll make ends meet.” In her workplace last week younger nurses who are in the RCN union were discussing going on strike and asked questions about how it works.

“They were talking about not giving notice and being ready to just walk out,” Janet said. “If we all came out on the same day that would be a real show of strength.”

But, “Unison really knows how to pop the bubble of anger and enthusiasm. The reality is members are being stirred up now. They want to fight.

“And the £1,400 pay rise we’ve been offered will start going into people’s accounts while balloting is going on. For some people that is a lot more than what they’re getting now.

“There is a need for urgency to get on with it quicker. Otherwise, we could be having arguments about fighting for the difference between what we want and what we’ve been given.”

Unison instead is “too busy” trying to follow anti-union laws that stifle momentum. Janet explained, “Bureaucrats are scratching their heads, wondering how they can get higher than the 25 percent turnout we had last year.

“They’re always behind the membership. And they make you feel like you can’t fight properly in any union.”

Janet added it was important that a meeting of the health executive team was called as soon as the ballot plans were announced.

“But now we need to re-examine the timetable for the ballot. If nurses who are new to trade unionism and action are ready for strikes, that must be happening in little pockets everywhere.”

Janet said the task for activists in Unison now is to “look out for potential new activists while fighting this pay battle.” And to fight for the future of the NHS, with low staffing numbers a constant issue while on shift.

“It means we can find out who’s out there,” she said. “Situations like this always throw up amazing people in corners you didn’t expect to find them.

“We also have to argue with people who say that we’re paid better in comparison to others. People say it’s not okay for us to leave our patients. But they’re suffering now anyway.

“We’re demoralised, so patients will continue to suffer more as more nurses quit. A number of colleagues say they’d earn more in Costa. We’re talking about the future of the service here.”

Striking while the momentum is building is vital for successful strikes to win pay. But it’s also crucial to build workers’ confidence to inflict the changes across society that are desperately needed.

The workers’ revolt at Amazon keeps spreading

Posted on: August 11th, 2022 by Jeandre Coetser No Comments
Amazon workers stage sit in Bristol fulfillment centre on Thursday morning in a series of wildcat strikes

Bristol Amazon workers added to the wave of wildcat strikes on Thursday (Picture: Twitter/@walkout20201)

The revolt at Amazon goes on—workers struck and held a sit-in at the Bristol BRS1 centre on Thursday morning. Workers also walked out on Thursday at the BHX1 Site in Rugeley.

Wildcat walkouts, slowdowns and strikes at Amazon fulfilment centres have continued in several areas despite intimidation from managers and bosses. Dave*, who works at the BHX4 fulfilment centre in Coventry, told Socialist Worker, “Managers were telling us if we do protest, we won’t be paid from the minute we leave our work areas.” 

He added that managers are even trying to use “divide and rule” tactics, to ensure that workers don’t take action.

“Managers are telling some workers they’ll be rewarded if they keep working. Some are also being given easier jobs than others. Of course, people are getting rattled by this. 

“I feel like the managers are trying to get us to go against each other instead of the issue of pay.”

But despite all this, Dave said that workers still want to fight as conditions worsen at Amazon. 

“People are still angry,” he said. “The British arm of Amazon made £20 billion between January and June this year. 

“Things have got a lot worse since Jeff Bezos decided he wants to play astronaut. The new CEO has no idea what goes on in the warehouses. And this lack of care plays out in our fulfilment centre in Coventry. 

“On Wednesday a staff member had to be taken away in an ambulance, but the board didn’t count it as an incident. 

“This job is slowly becoming a rapid descent into hell, but most of us can’t afford to leave,” he added. 

Workers at the Coventry and Tilbury deports sparked a wave of sit-ins and walkouts last week after hearing they would not receive a pay rise of more than 35p or 50p an hour.

In several depots, workers have now been told they won’t receive a pay rise at all. Anger at this news quickly spread to other fulfilment centres, from Bristol to Leicester, and turned into action.  More than 200 workers at the depot in Swindon struck and protested in the canteen on Monday of this week. 

One worker said, “The management has announced they won’t approve the pay rise or change their decision and say they can’t help us.

“Amazon is a very profitable company, and we deserve fair pay. Just 35p is next to nothing in a situation like this. That works out to £700 a year, which will cover maybe two months of energy bills.

“It’s worrying me because mortgage rates have gone up, as has the price of fuel, groceries and energy. We have families—how will we pay the bills?

At fulfilment centres in Dartford, Tilbury,  Belvedere, Hemel Hempstead, Chesterfield and Rugeley, workers took part in “slowdowns” this week. 

This means that they picked only one package an hour.

Dave said he expects a new wave of anger in Coventry and elsewhere when the new “pay rise” comes into operation next month. 

“Hopefully once September comes and we actually see how badly we’ve been screwed with the “raise”. That’s when it really starts,” he added. 

Dave and other Amazon workers are making it clear that they won’t allow this corporate giant to get away with paying them pennies anymore. Workers must keep putting pressure on Amazon, escalate strikes and call for staff in more fulfilment centres to join them. 

Amazon workers joining a coordinated strike of bus drivers, rail workers, BT workers and Royal Mail workers, who all have mandates to strike, would send a strong message to the bosses and the Tories.

  • Dave is a pseudonym

After Amazon in the US—fighting to set up a union at Trader Joe’s

Posted on: August 11th, 2022 by Jeandre Coetser No Comments
Image of a family holding placards in support of Trader Joe unite, a new union in America

Trader Joe’s Unite support rally in Minneapolis, 6 August (Picture: Twitter/@TraderJoesUnite)

It’s not just in Britain that workers who are seen seen as “unorganisable” are showing they can resist the bosses and unionise.

From Amazon to Starbucks, workers across the US are building unions and taking action. Now workers at supermarket giant Trader Joe’s are getting organised. 

Sarah Beth is a Trader Joe’s worker in Minneapolis. She told Socialist Worker that workers at her store are “excited” to hold a collective vote on whether to set up a recognised union later this month. “There are three main reasons why we are unionising. The first is pay. The second is benefits including healthcare and also safety on the job.” 

“Trader Joe’s hires people on ‘competitive wages’ but doesn’t raise the pay of those already working there. This means someone who has worked there for two or three years earns less than someone who has just started. We want a fixed rate of pay that is livable, and so that people don’t feel like they are living pay cheque to pay cheque.” 

“Trader Joe’s was for some time known as a good company with a higher standard that treated workers better than other grocery stores. But over the years, good health care and benefits have been eroded. 

“Also we sometimes don’t feel safe on the job. We have asked time and time again for the proper safety training to deal with dangerous situations in store, but we’ve been refused. 

Sarah Beth added that the disintegration of conditions and pay started to happen during and after the pandemic hit. She added that this is not unusual and that workers across the US realise they need to fight for better

“In general there’s a lot of inequality but also discontent in the US,” she said. “After Covid, things were broken. It really changed the way people viewed labour. 

“Of course, trade union membership in the US is very low and has been even more eroded by the union-busting of big companies. But people now see being part of the union as a solution. So there’s a resurgence of people taking ownership and organising.” 

Sarah Beth also added that the radicalism seen during the uprising in Minneapolis after the murder of George Floyd has spilled over into trade union struggle. 

“One thing that has helped us in our store is we have radical young people, who have no loyalty to corporations. They truly question the system and want to change it. We will vote on whether to unionise later this month, and I’m very confident we will win.” 

Only a small number of Trader Joe’s branches are currently pushing to unionise, but Sarah Beth said there is real potential for it to spread. Some stores have elected to be part of the Trader Joe’s United union. Others have decided to be part of larger supermarket unions. 

Already workers at Trader Joe’s in Hadley, Massachusetts, voted to unionise into Trader Joe’s United, voting by 45-31 to join the union. 

This is only a beginning for Trader Joe’s workers in the US, but workers are clear that union busting and anti-trade union laws won’t stop them anymore. 

Grangemouth oil refinery workers stage solid wildcat strike

Posted on: August 10th, 2022 by Jeandre Coetser No Comments

Solid picket lines at Grangemouth oil refinery in Scotland

Hundreds of oil refinery workers in Grangemouth, Scotland, have downed tools and stormed out on unofficial strike demanding a pay increase.

Around 250 workers joined a picket line outside the Grangemouth refinery, a petrochemical plant owned by a joint venture between PetroChina and billionaire Jim Ratcliffe’s Ineos Group.

The workers from five different contractors stood across the A904 road, temporarily blocking tankers from accessing the industrial site. The action was in response to the Engineering Construction Industry Association’s (ECIA) “refusal to recognise the cost of living crisis”.

The picket line developed into a protest with marching workers carrying a banner reading, “ECIA let’s talk.”

Grangemouth refinery supplies over 60 percent of the petrol and diesel for forecourts in Scotland. Last year Ineos Group recorded gross profits of £2.95 billion.

But workers for contractors at the plant have received just a 2.5 percent pay rise back in January and are set to receive another meagre 2.5 percent pay rise next year. With inflation at 11.8 percent and set to rise up to 15 percent next year, workers will suffer a big real terms pay cut.

The strikers have vowed to return to picket lines every two weeks until a new pay deal is accepted.

The Grangemouth action was part of a protest at around 20 sites across Britain over pay for engineering construction workers covered by the National Agreement for the Engineering Construction Industry (NAECI). Workers came out in particularly big numbers at Humber Refinery in North Lincolnshire, owned by energy group Phillips 66, and at the Valero refinery in Milford Haven.

The Graqngemouth workers distributed a leaflet that read, “Some of us worked throughout the pandemic to keep the country running, some of us were made redundant. We accepted changes to the agreement and took a pay freeze to help the employers and to keep the industry moving during lockdown.

“Now we are asking the ECIA to come back to the negotiating table because of these once in a lifetime events. So far, they have point blank refused. We cannot allow this cavalier attitude to continue.”

The Grangemouth workers have a history of militancy. Having suffered a terrible defeat in 2013 it’s great to see the workers once more making a stand.

Ineos threatened to close the plant and cut 800 jobs. The Unite union accepted some cuts.  Workers lost their final salary pension scheme, and bosses imposed a three-year pay freeze and worse contracts. Others fared worse and lost their jobs. 

Unite also accepted not to strike for at least three years. The spirit at the plant, which has been rebuilt by actions since 2013, now is great to see.