car culture

Worker protests in China's automotive sector

Employees at Hubei Meiyang Automobile Industry Co., Ltd. staged a demonstration on July 25 to protest "illegal dismissals, wage arrears and compensation payments." Meiyang Auto, a "new energy" start-up based in the central city of Xiangyang, had been in production for less than two years before halting operations. One day earlier, workers at Eastone Automotive in Shanghai's Pudong district staged a protest claiming they were owed around 40 million yuan in wages in arrears stretching back to the beginning of the year. Employees claimed they were being forced to leave without any compensation, and appealed to the local government for help. And on July 23, workers staged a protest demanding the payment of wages in arrears from a Cadillac dealership in Taizhou, Zhejiang, that had suddenly closed down without warning. So far this year, China Labour Bulletin's Strike Map has recorded 25 collective protests by workers in the automotive sector, up from just five in the same period last year. The protests, mostly related to layoffs and wage arrears, have occurred in car plants, components factories, dealerships and service centers, and even car rental agencies.

NYC: outrage over automotive terror —at last

Hundreds of bicyclists staged a "die-in" in New York's Washington Square Park July 9, expressing outrage over the spate of killings of cyclists on the city's streets. Three deaths came in a one-week period, finally prompting demands for public action: Robyn Hightman, a 20-year-old bicycle messenger and track racer, was killed by a truck driver in Manhattan. Ernest Askew, 57, riding an e-bike in Brooklyn, was hit and killed by a teen driver. And Devra Freelander, 28, an artist, was killed by a cement truck driver, also in Brooklyn.  (Bicycling, July 10) Hundreds of people gathered at 6th Avenue and West 23rd Street after the slaying of Hightman there on June 24. Hightman was the 12th cyclist killed on New York City streets in 2019; 10 were killed in all of 2018. (Gothamist, June 25) 

Oil and unrest in Zimbabwe, Mexico

World oil prices remain depressed, now hovering at around $60 per barrel, although they did experience an uptick this month, probably driven by the escalating crisis in Venezuela and fears of a US-China trade war. (Xinhua, Jan. 27; OilPrice, Jan. 18) Yet this month also saw Zimbabwe explode into angry protests over fuel prices. A three-day nationwide strike was declared by the trade unions, and the government responded with bullets and a total Internet shut-down. At least 12 were killed and hundreds arbitrarily arrested. The unrest was sparked when the government doubled fuel prices, making gasoline sold in Zimbabwe the most expensive in the world. President Emmerson Mnangagwa said the price rise was aimed at tackling shortages caused by an increase in fuel use and "rampant" illegal trading. (FT, Jan. 18; Amnesty International, Jan. 15; BBC News, OilPrice, Jan. 14)

Car industry behind Hungary's 'slave law'

In the biggest demonstrations since the fall of communism, thousands have repeatedly taken to the streets in Hungary to oppose Prime Minister Viktor Orban''s controversial "slave law." The square outside the parliament building in Budapest was massively occupied Dec. 12 as the law was approved. It was subsequently signed by President Janos Ader. Orban said the law scraps "silly rules," and will help those who want to earn more by working more. He dismissed the opposition to the law as "hysterical shouting" by people "whose lies have no limits." In fact, the law will allow employers to demand workers put in up to 400 extra hours per year of overtime, compared with the current limit of 250. Meanwhile, payment for this overtime may be delayed by up to three years. Local media in Hungary report that Orban pushed through the law in a bid to lure German auto-maker BMW to invest a billion euros in a new plant in Debrecen, Hungary's second city, situated in the poorest region of the country, the northeast. The move is portrayed as intended to undercut labor costs in Slovakia, where BMW was initially considering investment.

The Yellow Vests and the carbon wars

The Yellow Vest movement in France scored a victory, as the government of President Emmanuel Macron agreed to suspend a controversial fuel tax after weeks of increasingly violent protests. This may be concretely a win for the working class, but the fact that Macron imposed the tax in the name of reducing carbon emissions has provided fodder for anti-environmental content to the protest movement. Exploiting this moment, Donald Trump blamed the uprising on the Paris climate accordtweeting: "The Paris Agreement isn't working out so well for Paris. Protests and riots all over France. People do not want to pay large sums of money, much to third world countries (that are questionably run), in order to maybe protect the environment. Chanting 'We Want Trump!' Love France."

Global revolt against automotive terror

Bangladesh has seen huge demonstrations over the past week, as tens of thousands of university students and schoolchildren protest lax traffic enforcement after two young students were killed by a speeding bus July 29. The driver was apparently racing another bus to pick up passengers. The protests have for days paralyzed Dhaka, with roadblocks erected on major thoroughfares. In one case, protesters stopped a police SUV carrying a deputy inspector general, only to find that the vehicle had no registration, and its driver didn’t have a license. Rubber bullets and tear-gas have failed to break the roadblocks. (GlobalNews, BBC)

Podcast: Politics of the Second Amendment

In Episode Four of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg makes the case that the Second Amendment is a non-grammatical muddle of obfuscation—because the issue was just as contentious in 1789 as it is today, and the Framers fudged it. That's why both the "gun control" and "gun rights" advocates can claim they have the correct interpretation—as they each advocate solutions that, in their own way, escalate the police state. In the wake of the latest school massacre, youth activists are pressing the issue, and this is long overdue. But the discussion that needs to be had would explore the social and cultural roots of this peculiarly American pathology. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.

Charlottesville and Barcelona: fearful symmetry

Trump's disparate reactions to the similar attacks in Charlottesville and Barcelona provide an obvious but inevitable study not only in double standards, but (worse) the president's actual embrace of racist terror. Whether opportunistically or not, ISIS has claimed responsibility for the Barcelona attack, in which a motorist ploughed into pedestrians on Las Ramblas, a pedestrian thoroughfare packed with tourists, killing 13 and wounding scores. Just five days earlier, a neo-Nazi did the same thing to a crowd of antifa counter-protesters in Virginia, killing one and wounding  19. Mother Jones is among those to provide a sampling of the presidential statements and tweets in response to the two like attacks, just days apart. Regarding Charlottesville, Trump blamed "many sides" for the violence, and said there were "fine people" on the side that was flying the Nazi flag and committed an act of terror. He's also been waxing maudlin about the "beautiful" statues of Confederate generals now coming down around the country. This of course squanders all credibility to tweet that he "condemns the terror attack in Barcelona." But it gets much, much worse...

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