Walton Pantland

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Workers and supporters at the Maruti Suzuki car factory started a sit in and hunger strike last week in support of 147 jailed union leaders. Manesar is an industrial city 25 miles from New Dehli in India. Maruti Suzuki India, a subsidiary of Suzuki, is India’s largest auto manufacturer, and makes cars for the India, South East Asian and Southern African markets. In an attempt to break the Maruti Suzuki Workers Union (MSWU), 2,400 workers were fired last year, and last year police raided workers homes and arrested and jailed 147 union leaders.

The MSWU is demanding that the government release all workers and activists, and reinstates those who were dismissed.

You can sign the petition here.

We reported on Friday about the bankruptcy of the city of Detroit. Once a thriving city with thousands of well paid, highly skilled union jobs, Detroit is now in decline, with a falling population. The decline started when the major employers in the city’s auto industry, lead by GM, pioneered outsourcing and shifted production from the city.

Detroit now owes $18 billion, and is filing for bankruptcy. $3.5 billion of that debt is owed to current and retired city workers in the form of pensions. Kevyn D. Orr, the city’s emergency manager, wants to make “significant cuts” to people’s pensions, and to break union contracts with the city. The state of Michigan has a track record in fighting unions: in December last year, the state passed Right to Work legislation after a campaign funded by the right wing billionaire Koch brothers. Right to Work is a euphemism – it’s a US law that undermines unions’ abilities to collect dues for collective agreements.

GM has its headquarters in downtown Detroit. In January 2009, GM, Chrysler and Ford received a $24.9 billion bailout from the US Government. Isn’t it interesting how there are always bailouts for banks and corporations, but never for people?

In California, thousands of prisoners are now on day 15 of a hunger strike. 30,000 prisoners in 33 jails started the strike on 8 July, and several thousand are still refusing to eat. The prison authorities are attempting to break the strike by using air conditioning to lower the temperature in the jails, and by banning visits from lawyers.  The strikers have a number of demands, but the main one is an end to California’s use of solitary confinement. Thousands of prisoners are kept in solitary confinement unless they inform on fellow prisoners; many of them stay in solitary for 10 or more years.

Also in the US, there is uproar at the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the shooting of a young black man, Trayvon Martin.

All these stories from the US highlight an underlying racial tension: Detroit is an 85% black city, and prisoners in US jails are disproportionately black.

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Walton Pantland

South African trade unionist living in Glasgow. Loves whisky, wine, running and the great outdoors. Walton did an MA in Industrial Relations at Ruskin, Oxford, and is interested in how trade unions use new technology to organise.

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