Afghanistan’s Coca-Cola strike
The following are two of the leaflets issued by Afghanistan’s Coca-Cola Workers’ Clandestine Committee during the January 2019 strike in Kabul.
Strike: the workers’ real power
The driving engine of capitalist profitability are machines that produce commodities in the production process. These commodities combine two forces: the production machine and the physical and mental strength of the workers. The machine cannot produce a commodity by itself, but it is control by the worker that makes the machine usable for production. Capitalists and their agents always assume that the workers are in the service of the machine, whereas it is the machine that cannot produce anything without the control of the worker.
A strike is like an iron bar that knocks the wheel of the production process and stops it moving. In fact, a strike is a lever used by workers to exert pressure, against the capitalist’s lever that is exerting pressure (like pay cuts, increased working hours, applying various restrictions, etc). Hence, an understanding of the concept of strike and identifying the right time to organise a strike, is the most fundamental and important issue that every worker should be familiar with.
When should a strike be called?
The best time to start a strike is when the production process reaches its peak. Usually at such times, the capitalist is accumulating his wealth. He is not happy with, or is afraid of, any stoppage in production, because any cessation of the production process, even for a short period, will result in a great loss of the capitalist’s profits. Therefore, he is willing to negotiate to stop strike action, even before starting, or as soon as it starts. For example, in [Afghanistan’s] Coca-Cola factory (2019), the optimal time to strike was deemed to be from the second month of Spring into the heat of Summer, when production and sale of soft drinks reaches the highest level. In this period, the capitalist is under pressure to increase production and any stoppage will cause extreme financial loss. As a result, he is forced to agree to the workers’ demands. Striking in Winter, when levels of production are low, would not have been beneficial to workers, possibly resulting in job losses. The capitalist takes this opportunity to fire the strike organisers and employ new workers that can be trained and get ready for the peak period.
How should a strike be organised?
In responding to this question, we might examine different factors and the general atmosphere of the factory. In factories with small numbers of workers and low production levels, the possibility of organising and then winning a strike is very low. Usually in these factories, workers are considered as ‘relatives and friends’ of the owner, and the possibility of their independent action is low. If the pressure on workers in such factories is intolerable, they should seek to unite with workers in other factories, or trade unions or working-class tendencies. However, the possibility of organising a victorious strike in a large factory with plenty of workers is more likely. Numerous and scattered grievances in such factories cultivate a high potential for such an action. Another significant factor in organising a strike is the level of freedom in the factory; such as whether workers are able to gather and discuss issues without fear of losing their job or being arrested. Usually, the possibility of meeting is more possible in state-owned factories, as opposed to private plants. Though in both cases, formation of an organising cell is vital, this cell is like a catalyst that can accelerate the organising process.
How long should a strike last?
Usually going on strike at a critical time forces the capitalist into a quick reaction. The first reaction of the capitalist is to attempt to break the workers’ unity. The capitalist or his foremen, try to exploit weaknesses and gaps in the workers’ ranks. First, they attempt to dissuade strike leaders from continuing the strike by making false promises, with the hope of identifying the organisers and firing them at a convenient time. The second reaction of the bosses would be making false promises providing a series of temporary benefits to workers. They retreat, in order to prevent any interruption to the production process, but as soon as the opportunity arises, they will drop all concessions and strip away whatever they have promised. For example, according to the experience of the strike for bonus rates for Fridays in this Coca-Cola factory, the bosses promised to determine bonus pay whilst they were under pressure. At the beginning they paid the money, but after a month or two when the need for production diminished, they revoked the concessions granted. Therefore, leaders and organisers should not accept any promises to cease strike action until all their demands are fully met. Of course, it is always possible that the bosses may break their promises. In response workers have no other choice than to maintain their unity. Even when conditions are not in favour of workers and they are forced to take action, their unity and continued strike action and even expansion into widespread protests and demonstrations (if needed), plus a strong belief in victory, are the only trump card that can protect workers in their class struggle.
Lessons of the Coca-Cola strike
On January 19th 2019 the workers of the Habib Golzar Coca-Cola factory [in Afghanistan], showed just a small part of their power to the investors.
Workers and toilers everywhere have always been exploited in various ways. One of the smallest examples of exploitation is the imposition of unpaid labour on workers, which the workers at Coca-Cola are dealing with presently. It should be mentioned, however, that the hardship of the workers does not end here. There are many more instances that show the excessive cruelty of the employer, including: employing daily casual workers with the lowest possible wage (five thousand Afghanis); low and unfair rates for permanent workers; lack of insurance for workers and their families; lumbering the work of many on a single worker; lack of proper nutrition and dozens of other issues that workers suffer from.
Today, a section of the Coca-Cola factory workers bravely stood up to one of these unjust treatments and raised their voices and made it clear to the investors that they are human beings and their requests should be listened to and heard by the investors. There is no doubt that the strikers will face serious problems during this struggle, which will require intelligent solutions.
One of the tactics always being used by investors and bosses to break strikes, is to cut deals with the strike leaders that give one or a few workers a pay rise. The striking workers must identify such individuals and not give them any chance to sell-out the strike. Workers must not back down. Any form of retreat makes them appear powerless and inferior to the investors. Capitalism exploits the weakness of workers for further oppression.
The second tactic employed by capitalists to nip in the bud any movement through false promises and offers, in order to temporarily ‘calm down’ the workers and ultimately to shut down the just movements of workers.
The third tactic used is to break up the strikers’ unity and prevent others from joining the strike, as well as planting the employer’s agents amongst the workers to discourage them and compromise their unity. Workers should not be deceived by these tactics and should never retreat from their position under any circumstances.
This strike had valuable lessons for the workers as well as warning lessons for the investors. Eventually production was stopped and the employer was forced to surrender to the demands of the workers.
This action caused the management to realise that production without the presence of workers is impossible and when there is no production there would not be any profit: a simple fact that discredits the management before their investors.
The workers also realised that their unity in the struggle for the attainment of their rights is considered a necessity. In fact, any separate and individual move could lead to a layoff, but a unified action may not be defeated, as the investors cannot fire all of the workers, which may cause the whole factory to go bankrupt, which the investors can never accept as a risk.
The struggle does not end here. In fact, today’s strike will be the beginning of a long confrontation between workers and investors. Nevertheless, the employer may decide to fire one or more workers, so that the others will be scared and give up. This is the critical stage of the struggle. If it is likely that one of the striking workers will be fired, the other workers must support him/her and unite to prevent such an incident. Only then can we predict the potential effectiveness of the strike action.
The participation of more workers in the movement creates a strong power. Undoubtedly the more workers take part the more the bosses will be forced to respond and accept the workers’ demands.
Long live workers’ unity
Down with class oppression.
Translation: Reza Sepehr.