By Becky Crocker
Around 200 workers, students and activists gathered for the fifth annual No Sweat conference at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London on Saturday 26 November. Speakers covered international and UK-based campaigns, from the Bolivian Solidarity Campaign to a TGWU cleaner activist and a session on the Arcadia Group which runs Top Shop. The sessions shared the theme of exposing global exploitation and building the global fight against it.
Opening the day, Columbian Coke Worker Euripredes Yance set the tone of international workers’ solidarity. He gave a worker’s viewpoint, in which multinational companies are not a benevolent source of “growth”; they frustrate human potential and repress trade union rights. Mick Duncan, No Sweat national secretary, voiced his solidarity with workers around the world. He put workers’ rights into the Make Poverty History equation, saying that in the fight against poverty, the bosses and the G8 itself should be our targets.
Further inspiring talks followed, including Jose Sagez from the Bolivian Solidarity Campaign on the Bolivian Gas Wars. Speakers from Tescopoly and War on Want talked about the practices of supermarket chains Walmart and Tesco, with differences of approach apparent between the ethical-consumerism of Tescopoly and the trade union/workers’ approach advocated from the floor and echoed by War on Want.
One particularly well-attended debate, “Chavez, friend or foe of Venezuelan workers?” was between Rob Sewell of the broadly pro-Chavez Hands Off Venezuela campaign and the more critical Paul Hampton of No Sweat. The debate’s focus was who would bring about a socialist revolution in Venezuela: an independently organised working class or Chavez as their leader?
Extracts of Naomi Klein’s new film The Take showed fantastic footage of workers taking control of their factories for themselves and their communities. The film was uplifting, but was followed by a serious debate on the problem of illegal worker-occupation and “expropriation”. Many expropriated factories are forced to become co-operatives to avert the threat of eviction, but this status raises its own set of problems.
The film and the speaker from the Argentina Solidarity campaign focused on the Zanon factory, which has registered as a co-operative but continues to fight for full expropriation rights as a challenge to private property and a mark of the heightened political and class consciousness of the workers. It has made links with factories across the country, and is fighting in solidarity with other workers, not in isolation.
The day included sessions that were a springboard to action: an organising session for the campus week of action in February and a discussion on “where now after the G8?”. A meeting about the sweatshop practices of the Arcadia group (Topshop, BHS, Dorothy Perkins, etc.), planned for the national day of action against Arcadia on 10 December.
The day closed with Saudi and Iraqi trade unionists reaffirming the importance of international workers’ solidarity. It reminded us that what we had learnt during the day was part of a real, living, international workers’ struggle, to which we can contribute in our local No Sweat and trade union campaigns.