The boat builder finished up for the day as the sun was coming down over the bay. Renzo, stepped down from his baby, washed as much of the aqua blue paint off with his sweat, put on his trilby, hiked his Bermudas under his belly, and shirtless walked the 39 yards down the red dusty roadway to Charlie Chaplin’s bar, as he did every day. Under the coconut leaf roof, he pulled up a stool, got Polar straight from the freezer without asking, and sucked hard. He let out a gasp, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and looked around the wall-less little bar.
There was a married man with a local girl, young, in the corner; a tight blue mini skirt hugging her jutting-out bum.
Renzo lent with his elbows on the bar and observed; you could balance your Polar on that.
An old couple, a few worker guys with overalls rolled down to their waist, and a street kid in black shorts, working the grill, turning fatty steaks; waving the smoke from his eyes.
At the one corner of the square bar is Osmer-who-looks-out-from-behind-his-hand, who is chatting to himself and, looking now and then, peeking from behind a curtain. He had once been on a Scopolamine trip for fourteen days, but never really fully came back.
Renzo shakes his head.
Shitttttt, who knows what fucking trip that guy got stuck in.
More locals pitch up, it was the end of a working day for some. Young guys on mopeds stopped to chat to school girls supping sumos. A couple of office guys in ties came sweating with briefcases and suckled gratefully from the tit of a Polar bear.
The evening wore on, and people came and conversations went. Another steak was slapped on the grill, another argument rose and wafted away on the back of the Jonron smoke.
Renzo’s friends started to come. Backs were slapped and Polars clinked.
-They laid off 120 at the sugar factory today.
-Yeah, and the bricklayers are laid off again, another half built school.
-Gas is up again.
-I know 100 coin a jar today, a hundred a jar!
– Romeo y Julieta were up again today too. Gonna have to switch brands soon.
-I found a young girl on the ground today, kicked out of home, man it broke my fucking heart.
-So, I took her for food and a few drinks, you know, she was very grateful.
Smiles and Polar clinks all round.
-So Renzo, how is that boat of yours coming along? Seems like you have been building it forever.
A round of giggles all round.
-Yeah Renzo, pull your finger out boy! It’s not as if you have any other work to distract you.
Backs slapped and more laughs.
-Gentlemen, it is not the sailing of the boat that is the destination but the building of the boat that is the thing.
-Words of Polar wisdom.
-The boat will be finished when I am good and ready to finish it.
-Renzo, you know it is just an excuse to get away from Alejandra and the brats.
-My friend you are wrong, Alejandra is the very reason I plane and paint away every spare minute, every spare minute to build for the day we can sail.
-Renzo you are a dreamer.
-Without dreams my friend we are just poodle moths, watching as discovery passes us by.
Again, laughs’ and clinking of glasses.
-To Renzo, the boat builder and philosopher.
-There are no more orders to be had. So, we need to cut numbers and cut wages, and that’s it.
Louis barges his way from the back of the crowd of angry men and stops in front of the manager.
-How can there be no production to be had? Is it because the quarry workers have taken over mining and formed a coop and won’t sell to you at a cheap price?
-The coop has nothing to do with it; the demand for tiles is down…and…
-The demand for is not down. The price on the market is low you mean, and you want to cut production until the price goes up again. But we produce good products here.
-We have to be competitive.
-You have to make a profit for the shareholders you mean.
-We have to run this business as a business.
Louis turns his back on the manager, and faces the crowd.
-And that Ladies and Gentlemen is why he, they, want to cut our money, lay some of us off, not because there is no demand for clay products, no, it is because there is not enough profit to be made at this time.
The manger gets angry.
-Listen I have tried to explain the situation to you, but the bottom line is this, production will be cut, only two shifts from tomorrow morning. Wages will be reduced from the beginning of next month. When, when we need you again we will put a general call out on the radio, and that is it.
He puts his papers into his briefcase and to jeers and scuffles he is lead away by private security guys and other office workers.
The crowd of two hundred mostly men huddle in small groups, they discuss, they argue; no one laughs, they smoke and huff, some sit and hold their heads in their hands.
-So, jobs gone, money cut, just like that.
Renzo puts a fat Romeo in his mouth, sets a flame to it and skilfully puffs until the engine is running, and satisfied lets out a lungful and lets the smoke rollup his face.
-Shit, I never liked that guy, always thought he was better than everyone else when we were kids.
So, what now?
-I’m all for a strike.
-You would be. But what about the others, bet they’re not?
-And so what of it Renzo? What else do you propose we do? But yes actually most of us are behind the idea. For many, it’s the only chance they’ve got.
-Why do you care about what the others can and can’t do? You should be looking out for yourself; you’ve always been a good worker, though always a trouble maker, might not be that easy to get work. Going on strike, you’ll never win. Anyway, what do you hope to get out of striking?
-To keep jobs and money, what else do you think?
-I know you man, you just love to stir up the shit. All that communist bullshit. Why you really for going on strike?
-Fuck man it ain’t rocket science, it’s about getting a better deal for people.
-Why do you care so much about other people man? I’ve never understood you man, look out for yourself first.
-Well, that’s where you and I differ.
-You got that fucking right.
– We set up pickets, and stop anyone going in.
-We should have a ballot, like the union says.
-Fuck the ballot, we are here now let’s vote now, if we go home and listen to our wives, to others, to the union lackeys we will vote to take the cuts. We are all here now; we take a show of hands now.
-But then they will say it’s illegal, that we are not being democratic and all that shit.
-And they will print and say lies about us no matter what we do.
-My friends I will say this. No one has the right to vote another guy employed, no one has the right to vote away another guys job. Not in the safety of his own home. We vote here, and now. Everyone has the right to vote as they see fit, for strike action, or for the loss of jobs and maybe eventual closure. But we do it here now; we do it honestly and democratically. Face to face.
They held the vote.
In favour; the vast majority.
Not in favour; no one held up their hands, the ones not convinced abstained.
It was clear, they wanted to fight.
The men marched to the gates on the Monday, a long procession, they were in good spirits. They gathered in the courtyard of the factory buildings. The men waited five minutes for the Hooter to sound. Then they walked out the gates and stood looking in at the management at the windows.
A delegation came out.
-We want no cuts in wages and no loss of jobs.
-And we have already told you we have to cut jobs and wages, to make ends meet.
-Look, no one is going to work until we get guarantees.
-If you guys don’t come to work we will find others who will.
The management turned and walked back inside
They picketed for a week; the strike was solid.
-So they will bring in other workers then?
-Has to happen.
-So, big pickets from tomorrow.
-It will take them a few days to hire guys and organize to bus them in.
-Where they gonna get workers from, round here?
-No, they know that won’t work, they will bring them in from other towns. What we need to do is stop those buses and talk to the guys.
-They are not gonna let us talk to them.
-Look if we have enough people there we can stop those buses then we can talk to them.
-But the union guys want us to negotiate with the management.
-Fuck the union guys. We are out now, solid, the union are just gonna negotiate a lesser loss, a few less jobs, a little less money. We have the initiative. We picket the scab buses and turn them round.
-And if that don’t work?
-If talk don’t stop them buses, we have to come up with other ways to stop them.
-Violence you mean?
-Picketing, through strength, and numbers, not violence as such.
-But it could end that way?
The picket was large for the next few days.
-There’s three buses been spotted on the edge of town.
-Let’s get to the factory, get word around. We need bodies.
A mob got there just in time, they stopped the buses. A few cop cars rolled up, but kept to the side.
Louise stepped up onto the bus.
-Gentlemen, you know who we are, we are here to ask you to not go inside that gate. We are asking you to help us in our fight. We are asking you to support us in our struggle to keep our jobs, our families, our community ask you. Please don’t cross that picket line.
-We don’t know anything about anything. We were signed up to work for the agency and we have been bought here to work. We just want to work, for our families, for our communities.
-Gentlemen we are asking you nicely to help us in our struggle, we appreciate your position, we know you need work, but that is why we need you to help us so that we can work, and live.
-Seems to me that your problem is with the management, it’s nothing to do with us, you should sort it out with the management.
-I have never crossed a picket line in my life, and I’m not about to do that now.
Ten off the first bus got off, not much arguing and shouting. They went with Louis to the other buses, another twenty men got off.
Louis stood on an old concrete boulder to the side of the buses.
-Gentlemen! If you refuse to support us, then you are basically supporting the bosses, you are saying that you want us to lose our jobs. Gentlemen we ask you again to not cross. If you do then you take the consequences.
The police moved in. The crowd start shouting, and moving on the buses, the buses moved slowly, a few rocks are thrown, the buses push the line back, the police drag people away, more police arrive. Fists fly, arms are bent up, people dragged away. The buses pass.
The factory got closed; the workers fought battles with the security guards, the scabs and then the Police.
Heads were opened, arms broken; younger guys torched trucks and threw cocktails at cops.
The manager got attacked and left for dead, in front of his family on a balmy summer evening, near the port.
The management walked away eventually. Left it to wither, cutting their losses, they took their security and files and scabs and moved on. Who needed the hassle? Shut it down and move elsewhere.
Louis and the other guys entered the compound, with no resistance, scratching their heads.
They went through the scattered invoices, and filed them back into the empty drawers of the cabinets.
They set up an assembly of workers, and their families. They realized that they had been producing a lot of waste and that that waste could be re-sold.
Dances were organized and tickets sold. Cakes baked. Prizes given out.
And all the proceeds went to the fund to help families who struggled, to help cloth kids, send them to school with their books.
They guarded the factory and took stock. Other Coops were invited to the assemblies to lend their knowledge.
Inside the factory a kitchen was set up, and donations were collected from friendly farms and shopkeepers. People gathered every day, people got fed, children played, and meetings were held. The men were occupied driving, collecting, up-keeping the factory, preparing for production. Also busy learning from others about cooperation.
-You run it? How, how the hell are you gonna run it? Run it with those imbeciles, and with whose money?
-We can do it together; we run the place anyway, what’s wrong with us doing it ourselves? Everybody chips in, everyone works together. We can work with the other cooperatives if businesses don’t want to.
-You’re living in dreamland my friend. What about management, keeping the books, paying the wages, buying, selling, you guys have no idea how to run things?
-That’s why I am here Renzo, to ask if your wife will come and help us.
-Sure, she does the accounts at the wood mill and works at the town hall.
-And that’s just where she is going to stay.
-But we will be able pay her a wage once we are up and running.
-Really, you can guarantee that can you? You can’t. We need her job; I am telling you she is not interested Louis.
-Can we not ask her opinion about it?
-Louis, I have given you my decision, she stays where she is, and don’t even think about approaching her with your mad schemes.
-You need her job Renzo cus you don’t work; you just scheme and dodge, and booze and build that fucking boat of yours.
-My friend I am working every day, in my way, I put money and food on the table.
-Yeah from where though, from where?
-You work your way Louis and I work mine, just like we always have done. But my friend I don’t have pie in the sky dreams. You were always a do-gooder, trying to help other people, and where did that get you? Fucking nowhere that’s where. I my friend, I live in the real world, I my friend look after mine and my own first and foremost.
Louis kicked the dust and turned.
-Yeah yeah, Renzo, always your way, always the looking after No1.
-But Louis what other way is there, I look after what’s mine
He jumps up on top of the boat and holds up his beer to the sky and yells.
-Sah-Lood! Keep on dreaming Louis; it’s what you do best.
-Alejandra, we need your help, we are in the factory now, we are working, well not properly but stuff is getting done, stuff is being prepared.
-You know I can’t.
-I know Renzo has told you, you can’t.
-And he is my husband, I respect his views.
-His views, but what about your views?
-Look, you know I would love to help, I really would, I believe in what you are doing Louise, I do.
-At least just come and have a quick look at the books, and maybe just give us a few pointers.
-Just a quick look.
-I’m not promising anything.
She looked around at the work being done. She was impressed by the spirit, the community feel.
She looked through the offices and studied the books, shaking her head the more she read.
-Ok, OK, I will do what I can.
-And what about the licenses required by the local council?
-I will talk to Paulo, from the council, he helps some of the other coops in the area, he is a good man.
-Thank you Ala, we need someone with a clear mind to help us here, to get things running.
-It’s not for you, you understand, but I know many of the mothers, and they are worried and a little desperate.
-I know, but I thank you just the same.
-And I can see what you are trying to do here is good.
He stroked the hairs on her forearm, and she smiled and sighed a little.
-I have been listening to the men in some of the discussions and there are many who can help with the ordering, the planning and so on, but you are the best speaker, you will have to do lots of the deals yourself, you know that?
-I can do that, so long as the main decisions are still made in the assembly, I can do that, we can do business with the coops, the quarry and the drivers coop.
-I know that, but someone has got to go out and sell your stuff, you need someone to contact the buyers. You are a good talker, a trustworthy man, you should do it.
-I don’t think I could face those bastards. I’m no capitalist.
– I think you can, Louis, really, and we need others too, others who will keep their head, and get a good deal.
-You know what I said? And you have been working with these guys, for nothing.
-I know but things have changed now, things have moved on.
-I don’t want you involved with a load of communists.
-They are not communists they ar…
He raises his hand, but she leans her check into him the muscles on her neck straining.
-Go on then!
He flicks her arm and walks away.
-Don’t you ever hit me, ever, do you understand me?
-You should shut your mouth and do as I say.
-Fuck me, fuck me? You see, you hang out with a bunch of fucking Trots and you get all fucking mouthy. Fucking Louis man, fucking Louis.
-What the hell has Louis got to do with it?
She walks over picks up a fresh Arepa and slices avocado to go inside, she leans back against the wooden table, stabs a lone slice of cheese and bites into the Arepa and chewing, waves the long knife at Renzo.
-You raised your hand to me once before do you remember? And I warned you then. Another time and…
-And you’ll what? You should remember your fucking place woman, and not another word of shit about the fucking factory out of your mouth.
Renzo grabs a bottle and a brush goes out the door and climbs onto his boat.
Ala raises the knife and places the cheese into her mouth, watching him through the window.
-So, why are you giving us this information?
-I fell it’s my civic duty.
–And you want nothing in return for this favour.
-What’s your interest in this meeting, why are you so interested in these groups and what they get up to?
-Like I said civic duty.
The officer grinned and puffed on his cigar.
-No personal interest at all?
-Well…there’s a guy and…
-I knew it!
The moustached sergeant lent back on his chair crossed his leather boots and grinned at his men standing round him.
-I bet there’s a woman involved somewhere right?
Renzo frowned and looked away.
-I knew it, always a woman. We thank you brother for the information you have given us, some people will be most interested in it.
Renzo slowly crept to the door and slinked out into the shadows.
The meeting was held in an old Indian village 5 miles from the city, in an old clearing was a meeting hut used by the tribes for ceremonies. Alejandra and Louis had contacted unions, coops, tribal groups and activists from down South. They were meeting to coordinate work between the coops and to bring people together so they could act in solidarity.
The hall was packed; people had come by buses, wagons, pick –ups; even donkeys, the groups from remote villages had walked.
They elected a committee which were seated behind a mish-mash of tables; these were only elected to help the meeting get along with business.
Shhhhhhhhhhoe…Through the window came a grenade. It bounced on the floor and swivelled round, everyone seemed to stop for a second, then Phoof! The tear gas exploded. Then came more through the windows. Chaos broke out as everyone ran for the exits. Outside there were lines of men, armed with clubs and sticks and some had drawn firearms. These thugs had been hired by the local business community and some Police and army joined them, though not in uniform. They ran at the running men, smacking and batting heads and bodies. The people ran, there was no way to organize a defence, no time; that would have to wait till the next time but for now heads were cracked.
Louis walked with his two friends along the sand not far from their homes.
-We will meet again, they can’t stop us, we just need to be careful who we let know next time, we need to be more organized about the whole thing.
-It’s true that word got around very easily and quickly, it wasn’t hard for the police and others to find out.
– But someone tipped them off.
As they came to the wooden wharf nearer home they saw a big gulf of smoke and people running. They ran too.
There on the floor on his knees in the dirt road was Renzo sobbing. In front of him in flames was his boat going from Aqua blue to singed brown quickly. He didn’t even try to stop the flames.
Alejandra came through the crowd and stood near Louis, she squeezed his hand and he smiled and leaned into her and smelt the gasoline.
Nick Gerrard is originally from Birmingham but now living in Olomouc where he writes, proof-reads and edits, and in between looking after his son Joe, edits and designs Jotters United Lit-zine. Nick has been at one time or another a Chef, activist, union organiser, punk rocker, teacher, traveller and Eco-lodge owner in Malawi and Czech. Short stories, flash and poetry have appeared in various magazines in print and online including Etherbooks, Roadside fiction, The Siren, Minor Literature and Bluehour magazine. Nick has three books published available on Amazon. His latest Punk Novelette is all about a group of friends growing up with punk in 70s in the UK and the effect the movement had on their lives.