>On the basis of current news reports, Once Upon a Time in the West believes that leftists in the European Union and neo-Soviet Russia appear to be staging coordinated strike actions against the pro-Soviet faux rightist regimes of French President Nicholas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as well as the crypto-communist/faux rightist Putinist regime in the Kremlin. The timing of the strikes, especially in Russia, is suspect in view of the State Duma elections less than two weeks away. Some Russian and foreign political analysts, as well as the Russian communists themselves, predict that the Communist Party of the Russian Federation will be the only opposition party to obtain seats and that President Vladimir Putin has actually facilitated this arrangement through his electoral reforms that otherwise benefit United Russia.
The independent Moscow Times reports that the Ford plant in St. Petersburg has locked out its employees to prevent an occupation: “Riot police prevented hundreds of workers from entering the plant early Tuesday morning, a source close to the union said.” This move will be a badge of shame for Putin in the eyes of Russian leftists who are blaming the Kremlin for Russia’s soaring food prices and galloping inflation.
Ford Shuts Strikers Out of Its Plant
Wednesday, November 21, 2007. Page 7.
By Anna Smolchenko Staff Writer
Workers protesting outside Ford’s plant on Tuesday. The top sign reads “Striking is not extremism, it’s our right.”
Workers at Ford’s plant near St. Petersburg began an indefinite strike Tuesday, as a dispute worsened between management and the plant’s union over pay and conditions.
In a tough response to the strike, the U.S. carmaker denied strikers access to the plant in a possible bid to prevent a workers’ occupation, as happened in a strike earlier this year, and insisted that no talks would be held with the union until the strike was over.
Riot police prevented hundreds of workers from entering the plant early Tuesday morning, a source close to the union said.
Tuesday’s stoppage came after workers downed tools in a one-day warning strike Nov. 7. The union is demanding a 30 percent increase in pay to 28,000 rubles ($1,100) per month and other conditions.
Ford general director Theo Streit rejected the union’s pay claim Tuesday and declined to say when the workers would be allowed back into the plant.
“They started the strike and it’s for them to call it off,” he said by telephone.
Union leader Alexei Etmanov said the union would stick to its plan and continue the strike.
“We’ve stopped the plant,” he said by telephone. “The management pushed people to strike.”
The industrial action at Ford comes as inflation looks likely to top 11 percent by year end, eating into salary raises.
Etmanov said Ford could afford to raise wages as its cars are selling well in the country and it is on track to use more locally produced, cheaper parts.
In the first ten months of this year, Ford sold more than 136,000 cars in the country, a 70 percent increase over the same period last year, according to the Association of European Businesses. The Ford Focus, produced at the Leningrad region plant, is the country’s best-selling foreign model, with more than 77,400 units sold from January through October.
“As of today, the economic situation at the plant demonstrates that it’s absolutely possible to fulfill the workers’ demands by way of constructive negotiations,” Etmanov said in a statement posted on the union’s web site Monday.
Ford spokeswoman Yekaterina Kulinenko said the 950 workers who had not taken part in the strike would receive two-thirds of their normal wages. She put the number of strikers at 700.
The strikers spent Tuesday picketing outside the plant and some of them played volleyball, Kulinenko said. Etmanov said the workers played football.
Kirill Chuiko, an automotive analyst with UralSib, said the company should negotiate, as the strike would cost it an estimated $4 million per day.
Streit said Ford had enough cars to supply its customers in Russia, but Kulinenko said some orders could possibly come late. She added that additional cars could come from Europe, if need be.
The management and workers were scheduled to hold talks on a new collective agreement next Monday, Kulinenko said, adding that management would not hold talks with the union during the strike.
Etmanov on Tuesday denied that the union and the management had agreed to hold talks.
In February, about 1,500 workers occupied the plant in a one-day strike, winning concessions.
Although joint strikes are apparently illegal in Russia, Communist.ru, citing Moscow Business News, reports that railway, post office, and port workers intend to lend support to their comrades at the Ford plant by striking at the end of November, only days before the State Duma election. Should these mass strikes proceed, Gennady Zyuganov and the CPRF leadership will definitely use the inevitable political and economic fallout to leverage their electoral prospects.
Trains Will Stop And Workers Will Fight Against Capitalists
In St. Petersburg spokesman of Russian locomotive crews’ trade union promised to conduct an All-Russian strike of railway men. Post office, port and Ford’s plant promise to go on strike at the end of November.
Leaders of the independent trade unions of St. Petersburg gave a press conference, on which they had planned to announce some joint action. But this did not happen, as correspondent of “Delovoy Peterburg” reports. “Joint strikes are prohibited by law”,- Alexei Etmanow, leader of trade union of Ford’s plant in Vsevolozhsk, explained. Nevertheless, the end of November may become a hard period for many employers of St. Petersburg. “Pochta Rossii”, Ford and several other companies may go on strike.
All-Russian strike of railway men may become the biggest large-scale action. Vitaliy Zheltyakov, spokesman of Russian locomotive crews’ trade union announced that the strike is planned on November 28. He said that last large-scale strike of railway men was conducted in 1998. Also he did not reveal details of action, but noted that most likely goods traffic will stop, unlike passenger traffic.
“Passengers must not suffer”,- Zheltyakov thinks. He says that the task of the strike is to do maximal economic damage to the company. Source: Moscow buisness news.
Meanwhile, German railway workers are considering a government package that would resolve their grievances and prevent a repeat of that country’s “biggest rail strike” after train drivers staged a 62-hour walkout. The article below observes that “Europe’s economy faces growing headwinds from strikes in Germany and France just when it least needs an extra brake on activity.” Indeed, this is the long-time plan of the Left: advance socialism by purposely ruining capitalism. Reuters reports:
Stakes in Franco-German strikes run high
Wed Nov 21, 2007 10:47am EST
By Swaha Pattanaik – Analysis
PARIS (Reuters) – Europe’s economy faces growing headwinds from strikes in Germany and France just when it least needs an extra brake on activity, but quick settlements on any terms may not be the answer given the long-term economic stakes.
Germany suffered the biggest rail strike in its history last week after drivers staged a 62-hour walkout over pay that snarled goods transport and gave Europe’s biggest economy a taste of what could follow if negotiations stall.
Meanwhile, a transport strike that is now in its eighth day in France over plans to do away with special pension privileges is costing the euro zone’s second biggest economy up to 400 million euros a day, according to Finance Ministry estimates.
Analysts say it is too early to say if strikes in countries that account for nearly half of the euro zone economy will shave tenths of percentage points off national and regional growth.
Still, they add that how the industrial disputes are resolved could be even more important than how soon they wind up since chunky German pay settlements risk a wage spiral and a French government climbdown over pensions would jeopardize other reforms that would have yielded productivity gains.
“The economy is already slowing down into the fourth quarter and strikes won’t help but there are also longer-term issues,” said Laurence Boone, economist at Barclays Capital in Paris.
“In Germany, the risk is that wage growth will get out of control. What’s also important is that France is the only big European economy where there is a huge reform agenda and it is really important that this pension reform goes through since any boost to European productivity can only come from France.
GERMAN BARGAINING MODEL IN BALANCE?
In Germany, the GDL train drivers’ union’s decision to push for a wage contract separate from other train workers could turn into a decisive moment for wage bargaining in the country.
“Some fear that if the GDL union is successful, it could be the end of the collective wage bargaining system we have known in Germany,” said Dirk Schumacher at Goldman Sachs in Frankfurt.
“The size of the wage agreement is less important than the question of whether management can rely on the fact that they have struck one wage accord and that all the unions will stick to it. Any competition between unions could lead to more extreme behavior and could mean more extreme wage demands.”
This is also the view of Claudia Kemfert, transport specialist at the DIW economic institute in Berlin, who estimates the strikes on freight routes cost 50 million euros a day and strikes on passenger routes cost 10 million euros a day.
“If they win now and they get a special wage increase, far above what has already had been agreed with other unions at Deutsche Bahn, then other unions will follow – this will be held as an example for other companies as well,” she said.
This would just compound the headache for the European Central Bank, which is responsible for keeping prices in check and has already sounded the alarm about inflation risks arising from record high oil prices and the soaring cost of food prices.
FRENCH REFORM CROSSROADS
In France, the stakes are different but just as crucial, say analysts.
The standoff between the government and transport workers’ unions over pension reform is the first big test of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s ability to implement the sweeping reforms he promised before his May election.
The head of business lobby MEDEF said this week the strikes were inflicting “incalculable” damage, not just because of lost business and delays to freight but also because it dealt a blow to France’s image for potential foreign direct investors.
Still, Laurence Parisot equally emphasised the need for change: “We have for a long time had a masochistic taste for conflict. We must get out of this.”
Analysts agreed the economic reforms were at an important crossroads.
“The problem is that very often in the past the unions and the street have been able to maintain the status quo and the big question is whether we will see a shift to a different social equilibrium,” said Pierre Cailleteau, chief international economist at Moody’s in London.
“If this happens, you can argue that there will have been a short-term cost but the long-term benefits of having the balance of power (between unions and firms and the government) clarified compensates for that.”
In France tensions between the Sarkozy regime and the state rail operator SNCF and the Paris public transport operator RATP have been exacerbated by reports of sabotage along that country’s high-speed TGV rail network. President Sarkozy is demanding that saboteurs be punished with “extreme severity.” Prime Minister Francois Fillon, who is a member of Sarkozy’s center-right Union for a Popular Movement, specifically blamed militant unionists for the “criminal acts.” In response, Bernard Thibault, the communist chief of the powerful General Labor Confederation (CGT) railway union, insinuated that the sabotage was designed to discredit the strike movement. The CGT leadership is predicting protracted negotiations. Of course. That’s the whole idea. The BBC News story below reports: “The week of strikes has caused havoc for millions of commuters across France. Businesses have started complaining that the strikes are hurting their operations.” The French Left’s strategy is identical to that of the German Left’s: hurt business in order to advance socialist revolution.
Sarkozy vows to punish saboteurs
November 21, 2007
The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, has called for those who sabotaged his country’s high-speed TGV rail network to be punished with “extreme severity”.
Mr Sarkozy asked the justice minister to carry out all necessary inquiries into what the state rail operator, SNCF, called a “concerted campaign”.
Arsonists burnt tracks and signals, causing delays to services already hit by an eighth day of transport strikes.
Earlier, talks were held to try to end the dispute over economic reforms.
Managers from SNCF and the Paris public transport operator, RATP, held lengthy meetings with union and government representatives in the capital to try to reach a compromise.
There has been no word of a breakthrough, however, and workers are due to vote on Thursday on whether to continue a strike which the government says is costing France millions of euros a day.
The government has vowed not to back down on its core proposal to reform the “special” pension system.
In a statement issued on Wednesday morning, the SNCF said there had been “several acts” occurring “at the same time” overnight on lines running north, west, east and south-east out of Paris.
It said they included a “very large” fire on the TGV’s Atlantic branch that damaged signals affecting 30km (18 miles) of track.
At a cabinet meeting, President Sarkozy asked the police to “make sure the perpetrators were punished with the most extreme severity”, the secretary of state in charge of transport, Dominique Bussereau, told France 2 TV.
Prime Minister Francois Fillon later blamed militant unionists for the “criminal acts”.
“The matter has been referred to the judicial authorities. Inquiries are under way, and penalties will be very severe,” he told reporters.
Mr Fillon said the perpetrators of the sabotage had “no doubt” thought they could interrupt negotiations and the resumption of rail services by the SNCF, which he said was “under way”.
“Well, let me tell them that they have made a big mistake because, on the contrary, this irresponsible strategy makes negotiations and an end to the strike, which is under way, even more necessary,” he added.
The prime minister finished by saying it was “high time for these strikes to stop” and for transport networks to resume.
Union officials also deplored the attacks as acts of vandalism by “cowards”, warning that they put people’s safety at risk.
Bernard Thibault, chief of the powerful CGT railway union, suggested the acts could have been aimed to discredit the strike movement.
The unions later held three-way talks with the management of the SNCF and RATP and government representatives in Paris.
After the meeting, the head of the CGT’s branch at the RATP, Gerard Leboeuf, called on transport workers to “take account of public opinion and preserve their forces to have a bearing on the talks if necessary”.
Nevertheless, Mr Leboeuf said union leaders would not call for an end to the strike, saying workers would be allowed to vote on whether to continue on Thursday.
“We’re not going to play the role of fire fighters for this pyromaniac government and it’s the workers themselves who are going to decide the next step,” he added.
The next round of talks with the RATP is scheduled for Monday.
President Sarkozy has urged protesters to go back to work, saying the strike had “already cost users – and strikers – so dear”.
The government has said there could be incentives of salary rises and a top-up scheme for pensions.
But it has stressed that there will be no budging on the core issue of eliminating special pensions which allow 500,000 transport and utility workers to retire early.
Didier Le Rester of France’s General Labour Confederation has predicted that the negotiations could last up to a month.
Before the latest incidents, the SNCF had estimated there would be slightly improved rail services on Wednesday as the number of strikers steadily declined.
The SNCF claimed that only 22.8% of its staff remained on strike, while the RATP said 16.4% were still refusing to work.
The week of strikes has caused havoc for millions of commuters across France.
Businesses have started complaining that the strikes are hurting their operations.
The president of the Medef employers’ association has described the strike as a “catastrophe” of “probably gigantic” cost to the economy.
Finance Minister Christine Lagarde has meanwhile said the dispute is costing France up to 400m euros (£290m) a day in lost business.
Source: BBC News