From Episodic Resistance to Global Class War?

We are dedicating the bulk of this issue of RP to “green shoots”. No, not of the mythical, much spotted capitalist recovery, but of the revival of working class resistance around the planet, much of which is going unreported.

Chinese Steel Strikes

Whilst the capitalist press is full of stories and pictures about ethnic or environmental conflict in China (see leftcom.org they tell us less about workers’ struggles. There have been literally thousands of strikes and protests in China over the last year where at least 20 million have recently lost their jobs. In the last few weeks workers in the old state run industries have not only launched a series of strikes but have even killed a manager who tried to enforce wage cuts. This came about because the Chinese Communist Party is trying to privatise them. In Henan 3000 steelworkers at the Linzhou Steel Corporation launched a strike which led to a fortnight of violent clashes with police at the factory gates. The workers were supported by thousands of others from the locality. This solidarity was critical in forcing the state to withdraw the privatisation plan but we all know they will be back when conditions allow. This strike followed another at Tonghua Iron and Steel where the factory had already been sold to private industry. This not only led to the usual wage cuts (which were reduced to 1090 yuan or about £160 a year) but workers had remained unpaid for months. The murder of a particularly arrogant boss is only one indicator of the growing class tension and no doubt contributed to the suspension of the privatisation programme at Linzhou.

“...the Chinese regime is worried by the social ferment throughout the country. The crisis is creating ever more bitter social tensions and some officials are beginning to fear that they could explode and are beginning to demand compensation and union policies to keep the workers quiet. Last year, after years of growth, China suffered a fall in employment and a strong economic crisis. In January alone there was a 21% fall in inward investment and the government is worried about the possibility of a working class explosion throughout the country.” (Translated from leftcom.org )

Rising Resistance?

From China to Korea (see article on Ssangyong on p. 4) across Africa (see p. 2) to Europe the resistance to the attacks on workers is mounting. These attacks are not new, as the article in this issue, “The Cost of the Crisis So Far” shows. Wages as a share of GDP have declined in the capitalist heartlands since the end of the post-war boom in 1973. Whilst the G20 meets to plot the next stage of the scheme for saving the world bourgeoisie (as we go to press) the working class is beginning to resist. Naturally this incipient response is episodic and largely involves only the workers who are immediately threatened. Indeed, as at Visteon or in the last strikes at the Lindsey Oil Refinery, workers are only demanding that the capitalists do not renege on existing agreements. Some of these firms’ tricks to deny workers pay, pensions or redundancy rights (see for example Nortel in Belfast where the firm filed for bankruptcy and sacked 87 workers without the 90 day notice) have been so outrageous that even the state’s judicial system has been slow to act against the workers (as in the evictions of Visteon and Vestas workers or in the toleration of the several bossknapping incidents in France when workers took managers of firms which intended to move plant elsewhere hostage).

All these signs of resistance after years of relative class quiet are heartening but, as the weight of the attacks is building up, they will have to develop into a bigger movement with wider goals. Today the idea that if we all work hard for the firm we will all benefit is now just a joke. Everyone can see that the profits we have created for the system enrich the few (whether financiers or the bosses of big companies) and that our share of the wealth is declining. The political system is manipulated by those who control the real wealth (see article on Power in this issue). As Lenin argued there can be no democracy without equality. And by this he meant economic equality and not some universal right to vote every four years or so.

At the same time the bloody wars going around the planet, from Afghanistan to Africa, are not about defending us from terrorism but defending the economic and strategic interest of our rulers. These are no sideshows but the material consequences of a system which provokes such conflicts that take so many innocent lives. The only way that this can be stopped is if those who create the wealth (i.e. the world working class) begin to fight not only the immediate attacks of the capitalists but for a different world. This is as yet some way off and there are many obstacles to be overcome. We have already seen this year how the capitalist press distort strike demands into those that the bourgeoisie can understand (as in the “British jobs for British workers” headlines).

The Vestas Occupation

In some ways Vestas is a tale of our time. When the Danish owners of this plant producing wind turbines decided to shift production to the US claiming it was unprofitable in theUK (in reality their UK state subsidy had run out!)it meant the loss of 600 jobs. A couple of dozen young workers decided to take action themselves.

They had never been in a union but decided on a sit-in and hastily erected barriers to defend the factory. Against much harassment from the police and the company they held out for 19 days before the company finally got an order to evict them on 7 August. The sit-in got much favourable media coverage but instead of a struggle for the workers it became for “green capitalism” (a nonsense in itself). The struggle was widely supported but not by workers in other factories. One reason was that the occupiers were persuaded to sign up to the RMT union which said that the case could be won by embarrassing the Labour Government into living up to its “green credentials” by nationalising the plant and carrying on production. This line was enthusiastically supported by the TUC, the Campaign against Climate Change (i.e. middle class greens whose agenda is to make the cost of climate change be carried by workers everywhere) and the various Trotskyist left such as the Alliance for Workers Liberty and the SWP. The occupiers soon found that the RMT left them in the dark as to what was going on and started to speak for them. All solidarity action amounted to were token days (more like minutes) of action organised by trades unions who were hostile to real solidarity. There was no attempt to link up with striking posties, railworkers (who are also in the RMT!) or others involved in strike action at the time. Apparently the resin works next door is also earmarked for closure but once the RMT had taken over there was no attempt to unite with them. The other big question mark is the passivity of so many of the other workers who accepted the feeble redundancy terms of the company. Needless to say the Labour Party decided that

“We are not going to nationalise because we are sticking to our principles.” (Joan Ruddock, Climate Change Minister)

Presumably these principles mean only handing out big pensions to bankers? Thus the whole affair ended up as a circus. The last 6 occupiers were evicted and are now still campaigning outside the factory gates but the whole episode underlines the need for workers to recognise their own agenda is not that of these various capitalist interests as embodied by the groups above. Ultimately workers everywhere will have to recognise that the only permanent way to ensure their living standards is when they take over the running of society themselves.

Revolutionary Perspectives

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Revolutionary Perspectives #51

Global Capitalism is Turning the Screw - We Have No Choice But to Fight

Series 3, No. 51, Autumn 2009

  • From Episodic Resistance to Global Class War
  • South Africa’s Class Struggle Explodes
  • Ssangyong Occupation in Korea
  • The Cost of the Crisis So Far
  • British Capitalism and the Miners’ Strike 1984-5
  • Harry Patch “The Last Fighting Tommy” Has Died but Warmongering Live on
  • Iranian elections: The Working Class Must Fight for its Own Agenda
  • Power - The Fundamental Question of the State in Capitalist Society