A NICE TEST OF STRENGTH BY THE NEW YORK BUILDING WORKERS
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A nice test of strength by the New York building workers
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New York, where the contradictions of capital are most stark, and where huge profits are reflected in a corresponding level of oppression of the workers, finds expression in the figure of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. This well-known defender of ruling class interests has distinguished himself by his reactionary campaigns of «law and Order». Needless to say, these include harsh repressions of any protests or strike which threatens the «Social Peace» - that most fertile of terrains for proletarian exploitation.
And it is right here, in the middle of Manhattan, that the building workers are getting organised. After two years limbering up with picketing and localised demonstrations against firms which employ non-unionised (and therefore low-paid) workers, they have gone back out on strike, this time with a demonstration right in the centre of «The Big Apple». On June 30, around 40,000 demonstrators (police figures) jammed up a hundred or so streets, making it the biggest strike in New York in the last eight years. From Queens to Brooklyn, from the Bronx to Staten Island, including Manhattan, organisations of building workers have formed the so-called Roy Kay Task Force, with twenty different union groups composing the organising committee. The usual profiteers of union politicking are in the driving seat.
During the strike on June 30th, the demonstrators headed for the offices of the Metropolitan Transport Authority and towards Ninth Avenue, where the building yard of Roy Kay Inc. is situated. There were major clashes with the police, causing the latter to put up barricades to protect themselves. The workers exploded into uncontrollable anger and the final body count was 20 wounded and 40 arrested. The most severe injury being sustained by a worker who was trampled by a police horse.
The newspapers reported that the union had immediately apologised to the Mayor for not having managed to control the strikers, and promised it wouldn't happen again.
The public contract, worth $32.6 million, for the construction of a centre of operations for the Metropolitan Transport Authority has been won, as tends to happen quite often nowadays, by Roy Kay Inc., the non-unionised builders (i.e. if you're in a union they don't employ you). The firms who came second and third in the bidding for the contract were also non-unionised, and had asked for around $2 million less than the bidder in the fourth place.
The recovery in production and the boom in the building industry has been paid for by the workers, with immigrant workers, without work permits, willing to sell their labour at any price, with an increase in work related accidents, and with no safeguards in place to protect health or even life. itself.
The unions, as ever firmly entrenched in their position of 'defence of the firm', have denounced, along with their bosses, non-unionised companies for 'unfair competition'. The struggle by the workers,. and their resolute demonstration of strength in defence of their class interests, has thus been exploited in the mafia game of winning contracts. We hope that the American building workers don't fall into the trap laid by the unions of the so-called 'community of interests between workers and employers', and that they aim instead to link up with and organise their less fortunate brothers forced into the twilight world of underpaid clandestine work. Only by taking this road, of resisting competition amongst proletarians, will everybody's conditions be prevented from being reduced to that of the worst treated.
If the New York builders look into their class sub-conscious, they might rediscover the courageous directives which the IWW upheld in the pages of their press organ, «Industrial Worker»:
«The working class and the employing class have nothing in common! There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found. among millions of working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life. Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organise as a class, take possession of the earth and the machinery of production, and abolish the wages system».
Source: «Communist Left», No. 12/13, Summer 1999 (translated from «Il Partito Comunista», No. 260)
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