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International Solidarity Commission Monthly Update Bulletin -- December 2008

Greetings from the International Solidarity Commission (ISC) of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and welcome to the sixth digest of our monthly international news letter.

The purpose of this newsletter is to keep our allies around the world informed of our activities, solidarity campaigns, and relevant international labor struggles. It is our hope that this newsletter will contribute to building worker-to-worker solidarity through strengthened communications and exchanges of information.

If you would like to contribute story ideas or news for the bulletin, or wish to contact the ISC, you can email solidarity@iww.org.

Saludos de la Comisión de Solidaridad Internacional (ISC) de los Trabajadores Industriales del Mundo (IWW) y bienvenidos a nuestro boletín internacional mensual.

El propósito de este boletín es mantener a nuestros aliados alrededor del mundo informados de nuestras actividades, campañas de solidaridad, y luchas obreras relevantes. Esperamos que este boletín contribuya a construir solidaridad entre trabajadores reforzando las comunicaciones e intercambios de información.

Para contribuir con ideas o noticias al boletín, o para contactar a la ISC por favor escribir a solidarity@iww.org. Para la versión en español, hacer clic aquí.

In this digest:

1. IWW News

- Minneapolis: Another Starbucks Shop goes Union
- Sheffield: Showroom Cinema Update

2. ISC Action and Events
- Athenian (Red and Black) Democracy – Report by ISC Chair Saku Pinta
- ISC premieres Haiti documentary at Wobbly Art Show in Baltimore

3. Solidarity Statements and Appeals
- Speaking out against the pending execution of Farzad Kamangar
- No to Union Busting at Telefonica
- Solidarity with Tokyo Hotel Workers Occupation
- Demanding an end to the Occupation of Haiti
- Solidarity with arrested Japanese protesters

1. IWW News

Minneapolis: Another Starbucks Shop goes Union
(with files from iww.org)

Baristas from the Starbucks Coffee located at the intersection of Nicollet and Franklin Avenues in Minneapolis joined locations in New York City, Chicago, and Grand Rapids as a public, IWW affiliated union shop in November. The Starbucks declared their affiliation to the Starbucks Workers Union becoming the second in Minnesota to go union.

The workers at the Nicollet and Franklin location had repeatedly expressed concerns for their safety, given a string of robberies in the area, which received no productive response from the store's management. "We hoped management would recognize the need to discuss these concerns with us, but when they refused to even hold a meeting, we knew more action was needed," said Aaron Kocher, a current store employee. "We can't work when we are constantly being harassed, threatened, and intimidated, or trying to protect our customers from the same mistreatment," he said.

Showroom Cinema Update
(with files from the Leicestershire Wobbly and iww.org.uk)

Following the day of action to defend Chris Lockwood, an IWW member fired for union organizing on August 21st, there has been both good and bad news with regards to the situation at Showroom Cinema in Sheffield, U.K. The good news is that the firing of Lockwood effectively radicalized the workforce at the cinema, swelling union membership numbers in the front of house and bar staff. Outraged by the situation and the worsening conditions in the workplace workers have turned to the IWW to fight back. Showroom Cinema workers got very good coverage in the local press of the picket, much support from local people and labour organisations and emails of solidarity from across the globe. The bad news is that management is now doing all that it can to make it difficult for the union to organise. Vocal members have been targeted and threatened with dismissal, management refuses to recognise the union (despite a 51% membership rate), has sent out bulletins attempting to undermine the IWW and arranged a meeting with the regional Trade Union Congress (TUC) representative to try and set up a sweetheart deal with the Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematography and Theatre Union (BECTU). The latter was a source of real concern for the job branch, but our Fellow Worker's did us proud and made it clear in this meeting that this was an IWW workplace and that interference was not welcome. This proved to be a real show of strength for the union and management was forced to concede at the meeting that the union was having a real impact on the workplace. Fortunately, subsequent communication with BECTU has suggested that despite the promises of the bureaucratic hack from the TUC they are reluctant to undermine fellow trade unionists.

2. ISC Action and Events

Athenian (Red and Black) Democracy
Report by Saku Pinta, Chair, International Solidarity Commission

Between October 23rd and 25th 2008, I traveled to Athens, Greece to attend the Red and Black Coordination's biannual meeting on behalf of the British Isles Regional Organizing Committee (BIROC) of the Industrial Workers of the World and the International Solidarity Commission (ISC).

The Red and Black Coordination is an informal grouping of European syndicalist and libertarian labour organizations formed in 2007 for the purpose of coordinating common projects. The meeting in Athens was hosted by the Greek Ελευθεριακή Συνδικαλιστική Ένωση (ESE; Libertarian Syndicalist Union) and attended by delegates from the Spanish Confederación General del Trabajo (CGT; General Confederation of Labour), the French Confédération nationale du travail (CNT-F; National Confederation of Labour), the Unione Sindacale Italiana (USI; Italian Syndicalist Union), and a Polish delegate from Lewicowa Alternatywa (LA; Left Alternative), a left libertarian observer organization of the Coordination closely connected to the Inicjatywa Pracownicza union (IP; Workers Initiative). Absent from the meeting was the Sveriges Arbetares Centralorganisation (SAC; Central Organization of the Workers of Sweden). Together, these unions represent between 80 000 to 100 000 workers in Europe.

Over the last year, the IWW as an observer organization, has built up good relationships with the Red and Black Coordination and its member organizations. The CNT-F, for example, has consistently backed the IWW Starbucks campaign and organized demonstrations in support of fellow workers in trouble, the most recent example being a protest in support of FW Alexandra Svoboda from Providence IWW. The IWW, BIROC, and the ISC have also organized demonstrations and sent letters of solidarity over the past year supporting the struggles of the CGT, CNT-F, Workers Initiative, and SAC.

During the Athens meeting, our discussions were primarily focused around a joint campaign directed against precarious labour conditions in Europe under the slogan “We are not Merchandise.” To these ends, the Coordination will again produce a common poster; a pamphlet in multiple languages outlining the different forms and consequences of precarity throughout Europe (the informal economy, lack job security, erosion of health and safety standards etc.); and on a local level, work to organize events and campaigns around these issues.

As a part of the events during the weekend in Athens, the host ESE union organized a public event and discussion around the theme of “The Experience of Social and Labour Struggles in Europe.” The event was held on October 24th at the National Technical University of Athens (also known as the Athens Polytechnic), which I found out afterward was the location of the student uprising on November 17th, 1973 – a profound event in Greek political life marking the beginning of the end of the then ruling right-wing military dictatorship.

The talk was well attended, with approximately 150-200 people present. Each union gave a presentation of their history and current issues in their respective regions. These talks were simultaneously translated into Greek – impressive, given the range of languages: Spanish, French, Italian, and English. My talk on the IWW focused primarily on three topics: the history and development of the ideas of the IWW, specifically revolutionary industrial unionism; contemporary IWW campaigns in the United States and the British Isles; and the work of the International Solidarity Commission.

Overall, I was very impressed by the member organizations of the Red and Black Coordination and the host ESE union. They are serious and committed labour organizations, and moreover, strong allies of the IWW. It is my hope that we will continue to foster good relations with the unions of the Coordination, in addition to other revolutionary unions and working class organizations around Europe and the world, as a basic part of our commitment to building class solidarity across borders.

ISC premieres Haiti documentary at Wobbly Art Show in Baltimore

The ISC gave a three-hour series of presentations and discussions at the Wobbly Art Show in Baltimore, Maryland on October 25. Although the overall event focused on an IWW art exhibit, the day was packed with presentations and discussions on a number of topics.

The ISC segment began with an “International Solidarity 101” workshop led by ISC representative Mike Pesa. The workshop included a thought-provoking conversation about the meaning of solidarity. Fellow Worker Pesa also explained the work of the ISC, highlighting several examples with a PowerPoint presentation. Following this workshop, IWW filmmaker and former ISC delegate Diane Krauthamer spoke about her experience serving on the ISC’s delegation to Japan this past summer. Using photos and video footage, Fellow Worker Krauthamer captured the spirit of the delegation and the anti-G8 mobilization that it was part of.

The highlight of the day, from the ISC’s perspective, was the world premiere of “Haiti’s Tourniquet”, the ISC-produced documentary about our delegation to Haiti in April and May. In addition to FW Krauthamer, who co-produced the film, ISC delegates to Haiti Nathaniel Miller and Justin Vitiello were on hand to explain the documentary and answer questions. The film was well received and provoked an interesting discussion about the issues facing Haiti.

All in all the event was a great success, drawing in visitors from New York City, Philadelphia, Upstate New York, Virginia, Vermont and other locations.

In related news, the ISC approved the transfer of well over $1000 from the ISC Haiti Fund to the CTH lab our union for the purpose of hurricane relief. Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, was ravaged by multiple storms recently.

3. Solidarity Statements and Appeals

Speaking out against the pending execution of Farzad Kamangar

The ISC wrote a letter of protest to President Ahmadinejad of Iran urging the government to save the life of teacher, activist, and unionist Farzad Kamangar. Kamangar is being held in Evin Prison facing the death penalty after a biased and unfair trial, falling well outside of Iranian and international standards, found him guilty of “endangering national security” and “enmity against God” as an alleged member of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). In addition to Kamangar's ethnicity, the ISC views this case as punishment for labour organizing and grassroots political action, the repression of which is increasing in Iran at an alarming rate especially amongst unionists. The letter pledged to continue monitoring and publicizing Kamangar's case, while taking appropriate action to ensure that his basic human rights are upheld.

No to Union Busting at Telefonica

The IWW’s International Solidarity Commission (ISC) wrote a letter to Spanish telecommunications company Telefonica, expressing alarm that the company has fired or suspended 9 shop stewards and/or members of the works council of four unions (including the Confederación General del Trabajo - CGT). The workers in question were disciplined (5 workers were fired and 4 sanctioned with 45 days with no work or salary) by the company following a demonstration during the final round of contract negotiations. The agreement proposed by management would entail a 30-40 percent wage reduction for newly hired staff. During this demonstration, members of the strike committee tried to deliver a written letter of protest opposing the draft agreement but were prevented from doing so by company security guards. 9 workers were then disciplined on the grounds that they acted as "provocateurs."

In its letter, the ISC condemned these management maneuvers as attempts at union busting and disciplinary procedures directed at those unions which refuse to accept a contract that includes discriminatory practices against newly hired workers.

The ISC echoed Telefonica workers’ demands for a union contract that insures equal pay for equal work and full reinstatement with back pay for the nine workers who were fired or suspended.

Solidarity with Tokyo Hotel Workers Occupation

The ISC sent a letter to the Tokyo Union and the workers of Keihin Hotel in Tokyo, Japan, declaring support for their struggle to save their jobs by occupying part of the hotel. The ISC condemned current owner and his new partners (organized under the guise of 'LC Hotels') for firing the entire staff of the hotel.

Management of the hotel was recently turned over to a new body created by the current owner together with a subsidiary fund of the now notorious US-financial firm Lehman Brothers. This buyer will manage the closure and sale of the hotel to cover the personal debts of current management. At the same time, all Keihin Hotel workers stand to lose their jobs.

In the letter, the ISC applauded the actions of the Tokyo Union (TU) in taking the new fund to Japan’s labor relations board for refusing negotiations with workers and other labor rights violations.

The ISC declared its full support the workers’ occupation of parts of the hotel, which began on October 20. The letter closed by insisting that the actions of Keihin Hotel's owners are a blatant attack on worker's rights, made possible by current, global mechanisms of financial speculation. The struggle of Keihin Hotels worker's is vital, in their, and our all interests. The ISC stands in solidarity with Keihin Hotels workers and looks forward to providing any kind of support that is within our means.

Demanding an end to the Occupation of Haiti

The ISC endorsed a letter written by Haitian labor organization Batay Ouvriye and other grassroots Haitian organizations calling for an end to the UN occupation of Haiti. The original letter, written in both English and Creole, focused on the complicity of Haiti’s Latin American neighbors in supplying the ground troops for the MINUSTAH “peacekeeping” force which for over four years has acted as an occupying army, crushing all dissent and enforcing the neoliberal agenda of the West. The letter states in part:

“The true goal of the occupation in Haiti is to settle that the people here can’t independently debate and emerge with the solutions necessary to solve our own problems. Accordingly, force and repression are necessarily integral parts of such a policy: countless denunciations of assassinations, rapes, blatant violations of our democratic rights have been registered against the occupation forces in the country - all being the direct consequences of military occupation.”

To this letter, the ISC added its own statement calling out the governments of the United States, Canada and France, the real masterminds of this unjust occupation. The ISC called for an immediate withdrawal of international troops, supervised and monitored closely by international civil society, including reputable human rights organizations as well as Haitian, Caribbean and Latin American labor unions and community organizations.

Solidarity with arrested Japanese protesters

The ISC pledged its solidarity with three Reality Tour activists who were unjustly arrested by plainclothes police as they peacefully walked down a public sidewalk in Tokyo October 26th. The activists were on their way toward the mansion of Prime Minister Tarou Asou, where they planned to lawfully express their freedom of speech and highlight the growing gap between the rich and poor in Japan. Many of the participants in the publicly announced march were precarious workers and members of independent labor unions such as the General Freeters Union.

As independent video footage demonstrates, the demonstrators were not breaking any laws and the police action was violent, unnecessary, and entirely unprovoked. The ISC condemns that action of the police and demands the immediate release and exoneration of the three arrestees, as well as a full apology from the police accompanied by appropriate compensation. Freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are universal rights that all people are entitled to. The ISC urged the government of Japan to take serious steps to ensure that citizens' rights are protected, citing widespread abuses of police power that took place during this year's anti-G8 demonstrations in Japan.

Shortly after sending our letter, the ISC confirmed that all three activists had been released and our steadfast in their commitment to continue the struggle for justice.