Friday, May 29, 2009

Workers' Fightback: Update 4

Workers at the Swansea Linamar car parts plant have voted for an all-out indefinite strike, in support of their sacked union convenor Rob Williams. Williams was originally sacked one month ago, after an “irretrievable breakdown of trust” with management – i.e. he actually tried to stand up for his fellow workers. Indeed in April he visited all three Visteon occupations (like Linamar, Visteon are strongly linked to Ford).

Turnout for the vote was 88%, with 139 voting 'yes' in support of the strike, and 19 voting 'no' against it. With a historic downturn – coupled with massive ‘downsizing’ (redundancies) – in the car industry, Linamar employees clearly see this strike as a vital defensive measure. They will need your support! Please visit here and join the support group, and watch a video of a pre-ballot rally here.

Students at Sussex University have been holding a protest camp outside management offices for more than a week now, in protest against the proposed closure of the Linguistics Department (see here). On Thursday, the management handed out letters to seven presumed ‘leaders’, threatening students with “disciplinary proceedings” if they did not end their camp by 5pm on Friday (see the letter at UK Indymedia). The seven face potential victimisation very similar to that of Rob Williams. Whether in a factory or a faculty, a cut is a cut, so more solidarity is needed!

Meanwhile, Upside Down World has a very interesting article on the situation in Argentina, looking back at the wave of occupations that took place in that country in response to their millennial financial crisis, and how surviving co-operatives are trying to ride out the current turmoil. According to reporter Marie Trigona:
“Many of the 200 worker controlled businesses and factories in Argentina are being affected by the crisis. But unlike their capitalist counterparts, the worker cooperatives are taking any measure possible to avoid laying off workers, something which they are opposed to doing.”

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Workers' Fightback: Update 3

The big news this time is the end of the Visteon occupation in Belfast, and pickets in Basildon and Enfield, after seven weeks of protest and direct action, which has seen sacked workers win a much improved redundancy package. Their bank accounts are expected to credited with tens of thousands of pounds over the next few days.

There have been unofficial (‘wildcat’) strikes taken around the country at liquefied natural gas terminals. Like the dispute based at the Lindsey oil refinery back in February, there is a nationalist element to the walkouts. However, it’s still unclear how important ‘British jobs for British workers’ is for the workers at South Hook in Pembrokeshire and around the country. Certainly, that’s the angle that the corporate media are taking (e.g. The Independent).

Those who were following the Greek uprising over the winter may be interested in this update on LibCom. It’s certainly not gone quiet over there, what with cleaners marching, lawyers (physically) attacking the ‘Justice’ Minister over proposed anti-anarchist laws, and doctors striking for the hiring of more doctors!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Meet The New Boss: The United Auto Workers Union

What do you call a ‘union’ where the people at the top will directly profit from increasing the exploitation of their ‘membership’? Well, if Barack Obama gets his way, you can call it the United Auto Workers.

Yes, in return for a government rescue package, Chrysler executives and UAW bureaucrats have agreed a deal which has important implications for the class struggle worldwide, and marks a new stage in the liquidation of official trade unions.

Read more at The Commune...

Friday, May 15, 2009

Synecdoche, New York (15)

Written and directed by Charlie Kaufman
Screening at FACT from 15th May 2009


According to Wiktionary, a synecdoche is ‘A figure of speech by which an inclusive term stands for something included, or vice versa’. Examples include ‘fifty head of cattle’ and ‘a fleet of ships, fifty sail deep’. So basically, the title is a fancy way of saying the Schenectady, New York-set film is meant to represent the whole of humanity. But although there’s much to admire, it doesn’t quite succeed on that level.

When we meet Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman), he is a middle-aged man being woken by his alarm clock on the first day of autumn. By the time he’s finished breakfast with his artist wife Adele (Catherine Keener) and daughter, Hallowe’en has been and gone. Yes, this is one of those pictures (that was a synecdoche right there).

Cotard is a small-time theatre director whose artistic ambition extends to casting unusually young actors for parts in Death of a Salesman. But as Adele flees for the relative glamour of Berlin, a strange disease apparently begins attacking his bodily functions, and he decides he wants to do something “important”, while he’s still alive. “That would be the time to do it”, chimes his psychiatrist.

Forty years then fly by, as Cotard wins a massive grant, decides to put on a massive, sprawling production in an ever-expanding warehouse, finds a new wife (Michelle Williams), has a kid with her, secretly longs for yet another woman (Samantha Morton), cries a lot, bodily and emotionally breaks down more and more, philosophises quite a bit, apologises to his daughter (who is now a tattooed stripper on her deathbed) for something he’s probably never done, meets a man who’s been following him for twenty years, and never, ever, gets his play ready for an audience. That’s just scratching the surface of the stuff that happens within dreamlike/nightmarish logic.

“We are all hurtling toward death”, Cotard tells us. “Yet here we are, for the moment, alive. Each of us knowing we will die; each of us secretly believing we won't." But this isn’t a ‘seize the day’ film; that would be far too simple, and the script is weighed down by too much cynicism. Instead, we are presented with dramatic cinematography, highly skilled performers often creating a deep emotional impact, and…nothingness. To give an example, Cotard is well named, because ‘Cotard’s syndrome’ is a rare psychological disorder whereby the person is convinced they are either dead or decaying, like the main character here. And indeed decay is everywhere in the film, decay that inevitably results in utter death, and annihilation.

Synecdoche is Charlie Kaufman’s debut as a director, having already written scripts for Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – films that are similarly difficult to grasp. In all of his work, desires are frustrated not by rivals or unfortunate material circumstances, but by ‘random’ events, by a cruel ‘god in the machine’ that could never be understood. In this universe of constrictive contortions, happiness is almost entirely elusive, or could only ever last a single night, making the anguish of loss sharper than the dull pain of loneliness. Despite apparently trying to say something about what it is to be human, Kaufman is just like Cotard – lost in his introspection and grand delusions.

There is a sense in which Synecdoche may well be the extreme culmination of a process that has been going on for four decades, but must now end. As the basic workings of western society have been obscured by seemingly endless credit, the decline of heavy industry and worship of the commodity, there has been a trend for insulated and isolated creatives to disengage with the world, and instead look for truth deep inside of themselves. But individual psychologies are the products of interactions with their environments, and change is the only constant.

Here is the line in the sand. This far, and no further, down the cul-de-sac of our own minds. It is 2009. The global economy is plunging into a historic crisis. Only the wealthiest will not feel the coming storm, and its implications. It is time for talented people to take a long, hard, look at the world, and make art that truly says something about the whole.

Workers' Fightback: Update 2

Time for the second update on the struggle against the chaotic profit system, in the UK and around the world.

Sacked Visteon workers are still hanging in there, and still waiting for their money to come in. The deal is still uncertain though, and there have been rumours that Ford/Visteon might insist the Belfast occupation is ended before it is handed over. More news when it happens here.

Trade union convenor Rob Williams was sacked by Linamar bosses in Swansea last week, ultimately because of his record as thorn in their side. There was a rally in support of Rob yesterday, which was due to be addressed by Tony Woodley, joint general secretary of Unite. Woodley had earlier met Gordon Brown. While this is all very cosy, only strong and united rank and file action could get Rob Williams his job back. Anyway, more details here.

On Monday evening, students at London Metropolitan University occupied part of the Commercial Road campus, in response to proposed cuts. Due to some seemingly dodgy dealings by the university bosses, the government has decided that they must slash its budget by £15 million per year. Under the plans, one in four members of staff are being made redundant, all but libraries are to be closed, the nursery will be closed, and many modules and courses are being closed. As campaigner Louise Nunn puts it: "In short, those who are not responsible for the financial problems are being punished for them - the staff and students."

But according to Nunn: "At 4pm [yesterday] management issued us with a court order to end the occupation of the building. Since we are trying as hard as possible to work with the management co-operatively and constructively (something that they have not been doing with us), we had to vacate the premises."

Still, "What we DO need right now and more than ever is for you guys to join our campaign and to invite more and more people to join this group so that we can spread our message, take down our appalling management and save our university!"

If things are kicking off in the UK, have a look at what's been happening in Bangladesh this past week. According to LibCom:
"On Sunday night (May 10) at the Rupashi Sweater factory in Narayanganj...bosses were attacked by a group of workers demanding their unpaid wages. When they turned up for work on Monday morning, workers found themselves locked out of the factory. The workers then marched to other factories - shouting slogans for higher wages - and brought out thousands of other workers. The violence quickly spread - 15,000 workers came out on to the streets and around 14 factories were attacked and vandalised. 15 vehicles were damaged as two main inter-city highways were blocked for 4 hours; the roads became a battleground between police and paramilitary forces (including the recently mutinous Bangladeshi Rifles) and enraged workers. Huge numbers of security forces used teargas and baton charges to finally disperse the workers by 1pm."

Enough Rope

Enough Rope is ten minutes of near chaos. Everything is a blur. Too much happens for the mind to fully take it all in. This is a very good thing, because it perfectly captures the rush of taking action for a cause you believe in, as history seems to speed up all around you.

Loosely based on events at the 2003 G8 protests in Switzerland, Enough Rope tells the story of Iris (Vicky McClure), a brave and determined young activist who tries to stop delegates reaching a summit by hanging a rope over a bridge, with a protester at each end. There are hopes that it could be made into a feature length film.

I asked writer/director Lynne Harwood about the ideas behind the film, getting the idea onto screen, and Liverpool-based production company First Take's plans for the future:

How did the idea for Enough Rope come about?

We were shortlisted for North West Vision and Media's Digital Departures Feature Film Scheme with the political action thriller Looking for Iris and, although we got down to the last twelve, we didn't get through as the budget was too high for the scheme. By this time we had Vicky McClure interested in playing the lead role of Iris. Vicky played Lol in the BAFTA award-winning This Is England as well as in Madonna's directorial debut film Filth and Wisdom so it was great to have her attached. We were advised to create a short film with the same lead character using Vicky and approached her with this proposition. She loved the character of Iris - a driven political activist - and agreed to be in the short. [I] wrote 'Enough Rope' drawing from a true story that happened on the Aubonne Bridge action during the G8 summit in 2003.

Could you briefly describe the process in getting from the idea to the finished short?

The treatment for the film was accepted by Northwest Vision and Media as one of the fourteen films to be developed working with the Script Factory. After months of development the films were shortlisted into four that would be produced. Enough Rope was one of the films chosen. In pre-production the agony was finding a bridge that we could close for about a week. The total budget was £12,000 so there was no way we could afford to spend much on location - this meant England was out of the question. Finally we managed to get a bridge in France so it meant taking the cast and crew over there. Auditions took place in Claremont Ferrand for some of the cast, also London and Liverpool. The crew was made up of the six members of First Take (we didn't want to leave anyone behind and it was great staff training!) but we had to recruit other members and were looking to get them all from the North West - which we did. The shooting took place over six days on location near Ambert. Post-production took place over several months with lots of work in sound design.

Are there any particular challenges in producing a ten minute film? What are they?

There are challenges producing any short film, each film is different. This short isn't intended to be part of the feature as such. It isn't a moment from the feature. It is a separate event entirely but it is something the main character in the feature could have experienced. The challenges in creating it was to get the world of the activist right. This was really helped by Jane Farley of First Take having been an activist and through her being able to directly contact the activists involved in the action.

What else has First Take been involved in?

First Take has worked on a co-production with a Norwegian Company, Sydvest Film, to produce a documentary series for broadcast. This project was one of the Liverpool Commissions in Liverpool 08. First Take is presently working on a project with the LGBT community of LIverpool entitled Pink: Past and Present. We are also producing eight films as part of our talent development scheme aimed at people under-represented in the film industry, which is supported by Northwest Vision and Media. One of the films from last year has been nominated for Femme Fantastic at the London Short Film Festival.

What are your hopes for Enough Rope? What's happening to it at the moment?

Enough Rope was made to introduce the main character (and of course Vicky McClure playing her) as well as the world of the activists - in order to create interest in the feature film and therefore help us to raise funding for development and then production. We are hoping Enough Rope will do this. Already it has been selected as one of the films to play at a special screening at BAFTA as one of the Best in the Northwest and has had interest from a producer. It is playing at Cannes Short Film Corner this month...so fingers crossed.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Mersey May Day Solidarity Raises £300 For Sacked Visteon Workers

£300 was raised on Merseyside this May Day weekend, in solidarity with sacked Visteon car parts makers who have now been taking direct action at three UK sites for more than a month.

Recent weeks have also seen a workers’ cooperative take over running of the Dundee Prisme packaging factory, parents on the roofs of threatened primary schools in Lewisham and Glasgow, and various actions around the world. These are the first green shoots of a new workers’ movement, which is emerging from the decay of the union bureaucracy and other ‘representative’ organisations, as a historic economic crisis unfolds.

On Friday - May Day itself - activists hosted a film and discussion evening at Next To Nowhere, Liverpool’s social centre. Money was raised from donations and payment for the vegan food prepared by the social centre kitchen collective. A video journalist from the Reel News group presented a few of their DVD documentaries (see Birmingham report here), which were filmed within the Visteon, Prisme and Waterford Crystal occupations, amongst other places. The sights and sounds of working class people winning major concessions from their former employers brought the sense of excitement and newfound optimism to life.

In a particularly revealing scene, regional bureaucrats from the Unite union tried to frighten the occupiers out of the Enfield Visteon factory, with stories of riot police and prison sentences. One suit helpfully reminded workers that cops had killed Ian Tomlinson at the G20 protests just days earlier. A majority agreed to end their occupation, but they decided to maintain a picket at the gates, and quickly turned against Unite officials once they accepted an insulting deal behind the workers’ backs. This was rejected by the rank-and-file, the picket is still in place, and a much-improved offer has now been accepted.

On Saturday, 2nd May, it was time for the annual ritual of the Merseyside TUC May Day event, with a march from Seacombe Ferry to Central Park. Against the backdrop of a mounting crisis engulfing thousands on Merseyside and millions around the world, there was something almost tragicomic about the inadequacy of the event. Of perhaps one hundred people in the field when sacked NHS whistleblower Karen Reissmann and others made their speeches, only a handful were interested in listening. The majority were far from the stage, and were either drinking in the sunshine, enjoying the funfair, or watching a Punch and Judy show. At a time when many more working class people are struggling to cover their basic expenses, the refreshments on sale were priced astronomically high.

The steep prices are no doubt one part of the explanation for the extremely low turnout. Another is that hardly any publicity had gone out. But more importantly, this is symptomatic of an event organised by a bureaucracy that has significant resources, yet few surviving links with working class communities, and even less credibility within them.

Activists from the new Workers’ Fightback group distributed information on the Visteon struggle, and collected donations. They received abuse from some, but also money and encouragement from others who had not come to the park for politics. One woman, who used to work at the Ford’s factory in Halewood, expressed particular interest, as Visteon is effectively a Ford company, and disappointment that “it hasn’t been on the news”.

Back at Next To Nowhere, activists unwound after holding stalls on Bold Street, and watched some more inspirational videos, this time of Argentinean workers who occupied their factories in 2001, as well as the Visteon footage again. The similarities between the two situations seemed very strong, although the current crisis is much more widespread than the relatively localised Argentine collapse.

After this, a succession of musicians kept people entertained until midnight, with styles ranging from ska to ultra-fast heavy metal buskers to…well, some kind of dance music.

May Day was born out of international working class solidarity, and forceful demands for an improvement to intolerable conditions. Today, unions conduct empty rituals, whilst offering no perspective for an improvement in our conditions. This is not down to the personalities of individuals; it can only be explained by looking at social structures.

Unions oppose workers’ control of their jobs and struggles, and they are tied to nationalism at a time of a globalised economy. They can’t, therefore, be used by workers to fight back against attacks on living standards.

In fact, Barack Obama is trying to put the United Auto Workers union in charge of imposing cuts at Chrysler in the United States. Union tops will directly profit from increasing the rate of exploitation of their own ‘members’! This is an extreme example, but it is a taste of what is to come as the economic crisis deepens. Ford are getting a taste of a tactic that workers will increasingly adopt in their own defence.

For more information on Workers' Fightback, email workersfightback@riseup.net, or join the Facebook group.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Workers' Fightback: Update 1

This is the first update for the Workers’ Fightback group. I intend to make them once a week or thereabouts, bringing you the latest from the class struggle frontline, in the UK and elsewhere.

As many of you will know, Visteon workers in Enfield, Basildon and Belfast have voted to accept an improved redundancy offer, after they were sacked a month ago. However, they are maintaining their English pickets and Northern Irish occupation until the money is in the bank. Much about the deal is still shrouded in mystery, and of course things will still be difficult for the workers, who now face signing on, after there has been no deal on lost pensions. Read a critical analysis from a communist perspective here. And of course join the support group here.

Last week, Socialist Party member and trade union convenor Rob Williams was sacked by Linamar in Swansea, after what the company described as an “irretrievable breakdown of trust”. Linamar is strongly linked to Ford, and indeed the Swansea plant used to be owned by Visteon, which of course used to be part of Ford, so this is very much connected to the occupation/pickets. Williams was temporarily reinstated after mass opposition from workers, but he had his sacking confirmed on Wednesday. The Socialist Party report that:
“Massive intimidation of the workforce took place - including foremen going around the shop floor threatening workers with the sack if they dared walk out in support of Rob. The bosses even went to the ludicrous lengths of removing the door from Rob’s trade union office.”
Messages of protest can be sent to hasenfratzls@linamar.ca, while Rob would surely be glad to hear from you at robbo@redwills.freeserve.co.uk. And the group is here.

The car industry is definitely where it’s at currently, with the ‘Big Three’ bargaining with Obama and the United Auto Workers union. Obama is trying to force through massive cuts to jobs, pay and conditions, and he’s getting the support of UAW tops, because they stand to directly profit from the increased rates of exploitation. A rank-and-file movement is clearly needed, and this group could be part of it.

STOP PRESS!
New school occupation in Greenwich, London

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