Against the world wide attacks of crisis-ridden capitalism: one working class, one class struggle!
For five years the class struggle has continued to develop world wide. Against the simultaneous and ever deeper attacks with which it is confronted the working class is reacting, demonstrating its militancy and asserting its class struggle in both the so-called developed and under-developed countries.
Confirmation of the world wide development of the class struggle
During 2007, workers’ struggles have erupted in many countries.
Egypt. In December 2006 and spring 2007, the 27,000 workers of the Ghazl Al Mahallah factory, some hundred kilometres from Cairo were at the heart of a great wave of struggle. They returned to the fight, in the midst of a powerful wave of struggle, on 23rd September. The government had failed to keep its promise of paying 150 days pay to all the workers, which had put an end to the previous strike. One striker, arrested by the police, declared: “We were promised 150 days pay, we just want to have our rights respected: we are determined to go on to the end“. The workers drew up a list of their demands: a £150 Egyptian bonus (this is worth less than 20 euros, while monthly wages vary between £E200 and £E250); no confidence to the union committee and the company’s CEO; bonuses to be included in the basic wage without being tied to factory output; increase in food bonuses; a housing bonus; a minimum wage indexed on prices; provision of transport for workers obliged to live a long way from the factory; and an improvement in medical services. The workers of other textile factories, like those of Kafr Al Dawar who had already in December 2006 declared that “We are all in the same boat and embarked on the same journey“, once again demonstrated their solidarity and went on strike at the end of September. In the Cairo flour-mills, the workers went on sit-down strike and sent a message of solidarity to support the demands of the textile workers. In the factories of Tanta Linseed and Oil, the workers followed the example of Mahalla by publishing a similar list of demands. These struggles also declared a powerful rejection of the official unions, seen as the faithful bloodhounds of the government and the bosses: “The representative of the official state-controlled union who had come to ask his colleagues to put an end to the strike, is in hospital after being beaten up by angry workers. ‘The union only obeys orders, we want to elect our own representatives‘, explained the workers” (quoted in Libération, 1/10/2007). The government has been forced to offer the workers 120 days bonuses and to promise to sanction the management. But the workers have shown that they no longer trust mere promises; little by little they have gained confidence in their own collective strength and their determination to fight until their demands are satisfied remains intact.
Dubaï. In this Persian Gulf emirate, hundreds of thousands of construction workers, for the most part Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Chinese, are building luxurious hotels and palaces for a hundred euros a month, parked like cattle in sordid lodgings. Struggles had already broken out their in spring 2006, but in October 2007 4,000 of them braved the threat of repression, of losing their jobs and wages, and being expelled from Dubaï for life and took to the street bringing 400,000 other building workers out with them for two days.
Algeria. Faced with growing discontent, the autonomous civil service unions called a national strike of state empployees, especially the teachers, for the 12th and 15th January 2008, against the collapse of purchasing power and the new wage scales for teachers. But the strike also drew in other sectors, including health workers. The town of Tizi Ouzou was completely paralysed and the teachers’ strike was especially solid in the towns of Oran, Constantine, Annaba, Bechar, Adrar and Saïda.
Venezuela. In May 2007 the oil workers had already mobilised against lay-offs in a state enterprise. In September they mobilised again during the labour contract negotiations to demand higher wages. May also saw a mobilisation by students against the regime, demanding improvements in living conditions for the poorest of the population and workers. The students organised in general assemblies open to all, with elected strike committees. Each time, the repression meted out by the government of Chavez, “apostle of the Bolivarian revolution”, left some dead and hundreds wounded.
Peru. In April, an open-ended strike began in a Chinese company and soon spread to coalmines nationwide, for the first time in 20 years. The Sider Peru company at Chimbote was totally paralysed despite attempts by the unions to isolate and sabotage the strike. The miners’ wives demonstrated alongside them, joined by a large part of the local population including peasants and unemployed. Near Lima, the miners of Casapalca sequestrated the mine managers who had threatened them with lay-offs if they left their work. Students from Lima, joined by a part of the population, came to bring food and support for the strikers. In June, a large proportion of the country’s 325,000 teachers were mobilised, equally supported by much of the population, despite the best efforts of the unions. Each time, the government reacted with arrests, threats of redundancies, the use of contract workers to replace striking miners, and by organising vast media campaigns to slander the striking teachers.
Turkey. Faced with the loss of wage and job security as a result of privatisation and the transfer of 10,000 jobs to subcontractors, 26,000 workers of Türk Telecom struck for 44 days at the end of the year – the biggest strike in Turkey since the 1991 miners’ strike. In the midst of a military campaign against the Kurds on the Iraqi frontier, some “leaders” were arrested and accused of sabotage, even of high treason towards the national interest, and threatened with sanctions and redundancy. In the end, they kept their jobs and a 10% wage rise was negotiated.
Greece. A general strike on 12th December 2007 against the reform of the “special” pension schemes (the retirement age has already risen to 65 for men and 60 for women) involved 700,000 workers (32% of the working population), and brought together state and private employees from the banks, schools, courts, civil service, post office, electricity and telephone industries, hospitals and public transport (metro, trams, ports and airports). More than 100,000 demonstrated in Athens and Thessalonika and in other major towns.
Finland. The bourgeoisie has already gone a long way to dismantling social protection in Finland, where 70,000 health workers (mostly nurses) went on strike for a month in October to demand a rise in wages of at least 24%; wages are so low (between 400 and 600 euros a month) that many are obliged to find work in neighbouring Sweden. 12,800 nurses threatened to resign collectively if the negotiations between the government and the Tehy union failed to give them satisfaction – the government having only proposed a 12% rise. In some hospitals whole wards are still threatened with closure.
Bulgaria. After a one day symbolic strike on the first day of term, teachers came out on an open-ended strike at the end of September to demand pay increases: 100% for secondary school teachers (who earn on average 174 euros per month) and a 5% increase in the national education budget. The strike has ended for the moment following a government promise to review teachers’ wages in 2008.
Hungary. Rail workers came out on strike to protest at the closure of unprofitable lines and against the government’s reforms of pensions and the health service. On 17th December, the railwaymen also brought out another 32,000 workers from various industries (teachers, health workers, bus drivers, Budapest airport workers). In the end, despite the fact that the Parliament had just voted through the reform, the unions were able to use the mobilisation across industries to stifle the railwaymen’s struggle, and called for a return to work the following day.
Russia. Braving the law which makes all strikes of more than 24 hours illegal, the convictions of strikers systematically handed down by the courts, constant police violence, and the use of gangsters against the most militant workers, since last spring a wave of strikes has swept through the country for the first time in ten years, from Western Siberia to the Caucasus. Numerous branches of industry have been affected: building sites in Chechnya, a sawmill in Novgorod; a hospital in the region of Tchita, building maintenance workers in Saratov, fast-food workers in Irkutsk, the General Motors factory at Togliattigrad and a major engineering factory in Carelia. The movement culminated in November with a three-day strike by dockers at Tuapse on the Black Sea, followed by the dockers at three St Petersburg companies between 13th and 17th November. Postal workers went on strike on 26th October as did power company workers during the same month. Train drivers on the railways threatened to strike for the first time since 1988. The complete blackout maintained by the media concerning this wave of strikes provoked by massive inflation and price rises of 50-70% for basic foodstuffs was broken above all by the strike of the Ford workers at Vsevolojsk in the region of St Petersburg on 20th November. The Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia which openly works hand in glove with the government and is hostile to strikes of any description, proved unable to play the slightest role in controlling the workers’ movement. On the other hand, the management of the major companies, with the help of the Western ruling class, exploited to the hilt the workers’ illusions in the “free” or “class-struggle” unionism, encouraging the emergence of new union structures, such as the Interregional Trade Union of Autoworkers, created at the initiative of the Ford union committee and grouping independent unions from several major companies such as Avto-VAZ-General Motors in Togliattigrad and Renault-Autoframos in Moscow. It is these new “independent unions” which – by isolating the workers in “their” factory and limiting other workers’ expressions of solidarity to messages of sympathy and financial help, led the workers to bitterest defeat. Exhausted and pennyless after a month on strike, they were forced to return to work after winning nothing and on management’s terms: a vague promise of negotiations after the return to work.
Italy. On 23rd November, the rank-and-file unions (Confederazione Unitaria di Base – CUB, Cobas, and various inter-branch “class struggle” unions) launched a one-day general strike followed by two million workers against the agreement signed on 23rd July last between the government and the three main union federations (CGIL/CISL/UIL) legalising attacks on job security, and a drastic reduction in pensions and health spending. Some 400,000 people marched in 25 demonstrations around the country, the biggest being in Rome and Milan. All branches were affected, but especially in transport (railways, airports shut down), engineering (the strike was 90% solid at Fiat’s Pomigliano plant), and the hospitals. Large numbers of those on strike were young people on short-term contracts (of which there are more than 6 million) and non-unionised workers. Anger at declining purchasing power played an important part in the size of this mobilisation.
Britain. For the first time in more than a decade, postal workers, especially in Liverpool and South London, came out spontaneously in series of strikes against falling real wages and threatened job losses; the Communication Workers’ Union (CWU) responded by isolating the workers by restricting their activity to picketing the striking sorting offices. At the same time, the CWU was signing an agreement with management to increase flexibility in jobs and wages.
Germany. The railworkers’ “rolling strike” for higher wages lasted 10 months controlled by the train drivers’ union GDL (Gewerkschaft Deutscher Lokführer). The unions played a major role in dividing the workers, some unions keeping to the legal framework, while others appeared more radical in the readiness to break the law. The media organised a huge campaign to slander the “selfish” strikers, who in fact received a good deal of sympathy from “customers” who are largely other workers increasingly ready to identify with those in struggle against the same “social injustice” that they feel themselves. The number of railwaymen has halved in the last 20 years, while working conditions have deteriorated and wages have been blocked for the last 15 years to the railwaymen are now some of the worst paid workers in Germany (monthly wages of only 1500 euros on average). Under the pressure of the railwaymen a new three-day strike in November was authorised by the courts in parallel with the rail strike in France, which had wide popular support in Germany. This led, in January, to a wage increase of 11% (much less than the 31% demanded and already in part eroded); in an attempt to let off steam, the 20,000 train drivers’ working week was reduced from 41 to 40… starting in February 2009.
At the end of 2008 the Finnish mobile phone company Nokia announced the closure of its Bochum plant, laying off 2300 workers and putting another 1700 jobs at risk amongst the subcontractors in the town. The day after the announcement, on 16th January the workers refused to return to work and car workers from the nearby Opel factory, from Mercedes, steelworkers from Hoechst’s Dortmund plant, engineers from Herne, and miners from the region all gathered at the Nokia factory gates to bring support and solidarity to their comrades. The German proletariat at the heart of Europe, by systematically drawing on its experience of solidarity and militant struggle, is once again becoming a beacon for the international class struggle. Remember that in 2004 the workers of Daimler-Benz in Bremen had already come out on strike spontaneously against the management’s attempts to blackmail them into competing with their comrades at Daimler-Benz’ Stuttgart factory threatened with redundancies. A few months later it was the turn of the same Opel workers in Bochum to strike spontaneously against the same kind of management pressure. That is why today the German ruling class has tried to avoid the same expressions of solidarity and mobilisation across branches of industry by focusing attention on this umpteenth case of delocalisation (the Nokia factory is being moved to Cluj in Romania) and orchestrating a huge media campaign (in a united front of government, local and regional deputies, the church and the unions) to accuse the Finnish company of betraying the government after spending all the subsidies it had received to keep the Bochum factory open.
Increasingly, the struggle against redundancies and job losses are being joined by demands for wage rises and against declining buying power, while the working class as a whole is the target of incessant attacks by the ruling class (retirement age raised to 67, redundancy plans, the Agenda 2010 cuts in benefits…). In 2007, the number of strike days lost was the highest since 1993 just after reunification (70% of these were due to the strikes in spring against the contracting out of 50,000 jobs in the telecommunications industry).
France. The potential for the future has been demonstrated above all by the strikes of rail and tram drivers in France during October and November, one year after the struggles in 2006 which forced the government to withdraw the new law (CPE) aimed reducing job security for young people, and where the student youth played a major role. The transport strikes followed on a 5-day strike by Air France cabin crews against the deterioration of their working conditions, indicative of a general rise in militancy and social discontent.
Far from hanging on to a “privileged” pension scheme, the railwaymen demanded a return to retirement after 37½ years of contributions for all. The young workers of the SNCF in particular demonstrated a clear determination to spread the strike and break with the corporatism dividing different categories of railworkers (drivers, mechanics, train crew) which had weighed so heavily on the struggles of 1986-7 and 1995, revealing a strong feeling of solidarity within the working class as a whole.
At the same time, the student movement against the reform of the universities (known as the “Loi Pécresse”), aimed at dividing the universities into a few élite institutions for the bourgeois and “dustbin” universities ending in short-term work contracts for the rest, was a prolongation of the 2006 movement in that its platform of demands included not only the withdrawal of the Loi Pécresse but the rejection of all the government’s attacks. Real ties of solidarity were created between students and railworkers and tram drivers, expressed in however limited a form at the strongest moments of the struggle in presence in each others’ general assemblies, joint action, and meals taken together.
These struggles confront everywhere the sabotage and division encouraged by the trades unions which are more and more revealing their true function in the service of the bourgeois state, as they are forced to the fore in the attacks on the working class. In the rail and tram workers’ struggles of October and November 2007 in France, the unions’ collusion with the government was evident. And every union played its part in dividing and isolating the struggles.
United States. The United Auto Workers’ union sabotaged the strike at General Motors in September, then at Chrysler in October, negotiating with management the transfer of medical and social coverage to the union in return for the “preservation” of jobs and a four-year pay freeze. This is a real swindle, since in keeping the same number of jobs the management plans to replace permanent full-time workers with temporary workers with lower wages, who will still be obliged to join the union.
This attitude of the union, accepting worse treatment for future hires, is a long way from the determination shown by the New York subway workers in 2005, who struck at great cost to themselves against a proposed deal that would have penalised future generations while leaving today’s workers relatively untouched, and who explicitly declared their solidarity not only for their fellow workers but for workers as yet unborn.
The main characteristics of the struggles today
Increasingly, the bourgeoisie is obliged to adopt counter-measures faced with the discredit of the union apparatus. This is why we are seeing the appearance, depending on the country, of rank-and-file unions, or more “radical” unions, or unions claiming to be “free and independent” in order to control the struggles, to hold back the workers’ ability to take control of the struggle themselves and above all to prevent any process of reflection, discussion, and rise in consciousness taking place among the workers themselves.
The development of these struggles also confronts a vast hate campaign orchestrated by the ruling class, and an increase in repressive measures. In France, not only was a great campaign organised to play “customers” off against the striking transport workers, to divide the workers amongst themselves and break the impulse towards solidarity, there is a growing attempt to “criminalise” the strikers. On 21st November, at the end of the strike, a whole campaign was mounted around acts of sabotage of rail tracks and overhead catenaries in order to make the workers appear as “irresponsible” or even “terrorists”. The same “criminalisation” was directed against the students picketing the universities described as “Khmer rouges” or “delinquants”. The same students were the object of violent repression by the police when they cleared the pickets and “unblocked” the occupied universities. Dozens of students were hurt or arrested and summarily sentenced to long prison terms.
These recent struggles entirely confirm the characteristics which we highlighted in the resolution on the international situation adopted by the ICC’s 17th Congress in May 2007:
- “…they are more and more incorporating the question of solidarity. This is vitally important because it constitutes par excellence the antidote to the “every man for himself” attitude typical of social decomposition, and above all because it is at the heart of the world proletariat’s capacity not only to develop its present struggles but also to overthrow capitalism“. Despite all the bourgeoisie’s effort to keep the struggles apart, in the struggles in France during October-November the aspiration to solidarity was in the air.
- The struggles express a disillusionment in the future that capitalism offers us: “nearly four decades of open crisis and attacks on working class living conditions, notably the rise of unemployment and precarious work, have swept aside illusions that ‘tomorrow things will be better’: the older generations of workers as well as the new ones are much more conscious of the fact that ‘tomorrow things will be even worse’“.
- “Today it is not the possibility of revolution which is the main food for the process of reflection but, in view of the catastrophic perspectives which capitalism has in store for us, its necessity“. The reflection on the dead-end of capitalism is more and more a determining element in the ripening of class consciousness.
- “In 1968, the movement of the students and the movement of the workers, while succeeding each other in time, and while they had sympathy for each other, expressed two different realities with regard to capitalism’s entry into its open crisis: for the students, a revolt of the intellectual petty bourgeoisie faced with the perspective of a deterioration of its status in society; for the workers, an economic struggle against the beginning of the degradation of their living standards. In 2006, the movement of the students was a movement of the working class“. Today, a majority of students are integrated into the working class: most have to work in order to pay for their studies or their lodging, they are constanting confronted with precarious working conditions, unemployment, or dead-end jobs. The two-speed university system under preparation by the government will bring them closer to the proletariat. In this sense, the French students’ mobilisation in 2007 confirms that of 2006, which was clearly on a working class terrain and used working class methods: sovereign mass meetings open to all workers.
Today, the process of development in the class struggle is also marked by the development of discussion within the working class, by a need for collective reflection, the politicisation of searching elements which can be seen in the appearance or reactivation of proletarian groups and discussion circles confronted with important events (the outbreak of imperialist conflicts) or after strikes. Throughout the world, there exists a tendency to move towards internastionalist positions. We find a characteristic example in Turkey, where the comrades of the EKS group defend an internationalist position against the war in Iraq and Turkey’s intervention there, defending the class positions of the Communist Left there.
Revolutionary minorities have also appeared in less developed countries such as the Philippines and Peru, or in highly industrialised countries where the tradition of the workers’ movement is less developed such as Korea and Japan. In this context, the ICC has assumed its responsibilities as can be seen in our recent interventions where we have taken part in, encouraged, or organised public meetings in places as different as Peru, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Japan or South Korea.
“It is the responsibility of revolutionary organisations, and the ICC in particular, to be an active part in the process of reflection that is already going on within the class, not only by intervening actively in the struggles when they start to develop but also in stimulating the development of the groups and elements who are seeking to join the struggle“. Within these minorities, the growing echo of the propaganda and positions of the Communist Left will be an essential factor in the politicisation of the working class towards the overthrow of capitalism.
W (19th January 2008)
 For more information on the unions’ sabotage, see the articles published in our French press during November and December 2007 some of which are available in English in World Revolution n°310
 See International Review n°130, 3rd quarter 2007.
 See their leaflet published in World Revolution n°309
International Review no.132 – 1st quarter 2008