Beyond Greek Resistance We Need International Solidarity

In Britain the election is over, and to no-one’s surprise the new coalition will “Con-Dem” us to austerity measures which were not mentioned before the vote (see The First Step Forward is to Unite and Fight in this issue). The pattern is the same across the planet.

Amongst the major industrial areas nowhere is worse affected than the Eurozone, the causes of whose woes we analyse in this issue in Financial Crisis Engulfs the Eurozone. As the article explains, Greece is at the centre of the misery and at the same time it is also the scene of the widest resistance. The fact that widespread sectors of the Greek working class have chosen to fight back should be an inspiration for all workers everywhere. Workers are refusing to roll over and become the sacrificial victims for a system that has long outlived its usefulness. Capitalism has only disguised its long crisis in the last few years through financial speculation.

But as we have shown many times, that speculation has its limits. Yet when the banks collapsed it was not they who were asked to pay the price. Nor was it the ratings agencies who accredited fictitious assets, nor the investment banks like Goldman Sachs who fiddled their books to show they were solvent.

The current level of indebtedness of all capitalist states is not because the workers have been living in luxury, it is because the individual states have had to bail out the banks and investment funds. Now that they have been saved these institutions are using their financial clout to start speculating once again against currencies and government bonds. As the article Financial Crisis Engulfs the Eurozone shows, this has only exacerbated government indebtedness which has led to even more draconian attacks on workers.

From Britain and Greece to Hungary, Romania, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Turkey, Italy, Germany, to California in the USA, and many other countries austerity plans are being implemented.

And even in China and India workers are demonstrating not only that they have had enough of sweatshop conditions, but also that they are aware they belong to an internationally exploited workforce. At Hyundai’s factory near Chennai, for example, Indian workers staged a sit-in strike to protest at the sacking of 67 of their comrades. This follows three other strikes in the last two years and comes hard on the heels of a strike in the Hyundai plant in Beijing. In China the government has managed to hide much of the class struggle but the scale and number of recent strikes are beginning to be impossible to ignore (see Chinese Workers Show Their Class in this issue).

Thus, for a variety of motives and with different intensity, workers from India to Ireland are beginning to fight back in a way not seen for many years. In fact, despite the almost total news blackout there is a growing wave of resistance taking place in every continent. In Greece there have been three general strikes this year already and hardly a day goes by without one or other sector of the working class taking strike action.

Romania

They have been followed by public sector workers in Romania, tens of thousands of whom took to the streets of Bucharest on 19 May to protest against plans to cut wages and pensions.

The government has proposed wage cuts of 25% and pension cuts of 15% in order to reduce the country’s budget deficit. According to the BBC, Romania’s economy shrunk more than 7% last year, and it needed an IMF bailout in order to meet its wage bill.

The Government’s new austerity measures came after an attempt to sell government debt failed, and are to make it eligible for the next instalment of the 20bn-euro ($25bn; £17bn) IMF loan. Protesters apparently arrived from all over Romania in what was described as the biggest demonstration seen there since the fall of Ceaucescu in 1989. This is not surprising since one third of all jobs are in the public sector. According to the Wall St Journal

About 40,000 public workers, teachers, doctors and retirees blew whistles and yelled “Down with the lying government!” and “You have pawned our future,” as they protested outside the government offices in Bucharest. The two-hour protest blocked traffic in the city center. … In a sign of the anger, economy minister official Marcel Hoara was booed and pelted with water and stones after he took part in a live televised debate in the middle of the protest. Police escorted him from the area.

== Portugal

On 29 May 300,000 protestors converged on Lisbon to protest against the cuts under the slogan “Those Responsible For The Crisis Should Pay For It”. It is said to be the biggest such demonstration since the overthrow of the dictatorship in 1974. The government claims that its austerity measures will half its deficit of 9.4 percent by 2011. VAT is to rise by 1% as is income tax and pensions will be frozen in until 2012. There will also be job losses in the public sector as well as pay cuts for politicians and top bureaucrats. By 2013 military spending will also have been cut by 40 per cent.

Spain

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said on Wednesday Madrid would slash civil service pay by 5 percent this year, freeze it in 2011, cut investment spending and pensions and axe 13,000 public sector jobs (unemployment is already 20%) to meet EU deficit targets. Public sector workers face a 5% wage cut. In response 75% of Spain’s 2.3 million civil servants went on strike on 8 June and further protests are planned.

France

In 2009 France had a deficit of over seven per cent as a per cent of GDP .

In an effort to keep a lid on the budget deficit, the Sarkozy Government will freeze all spending, except pensions and interest payments on government debt, between 2011-2013 and cut state operating costs by 10 per cent over the same period. In the last week in May tens of thousands of workers marched to defend the retirement age, which the government wants to raise eventually to age 70, and pensions, which the Government wants to cut.

Space forbids us from extending this survey. We have selected these countries where some resistance is already taking place (although it is far from exhaustive (see, for example, internationalism.org for the fight of the Tekel workers in Turkey against sackings). As far as the cuts go the same story goes for Iceland, Ireland, the Baltic states, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and just about anywhere else. There are variations in the programmes with some including populist measures (pay cuts for politicians) to try to make it appear as though “we are all in it together”. In other words they are playing the “national interest” card. But “workers have no country” and the “national interest” is the capitalists’ interest. Some of the cuts, in Britain and Italy particularly, will be through cutting local government services so that protests will be more diffused (if not defused!), and therefore harder to oppose. These could actually be the most damaging of all.

The Way Forward

As we already noted, Greek workers have not taken the cuts lying down, but there have been some worrying developments in these struggles, both in Greece and in some of the other countries mentioned above. In all cases the protests have largely been under the control of certain unions. In some countries where unions are directly linked to “socialist” governments the unions have, openly or covertly, opposed the protests (this can be seen in Greece, Spain and Portugal) but there are other unions (usually under the control of the local Communist Parties) which are attempting to control the demonstrations for their own agenda, often to increase the electoral support of the political party to which they are linked. This is dangerous for the development of the struggle as a whole. A further problem is that, at the moment, too many workers are being taken in by the “one nation” argument, and even in Greece some are saying that they should accept sacrifices because they benefited from government corruption! This kind of subjective consciousness though is transient, and can change, especially as the cuts go from proposals to reality.

Resistance thus has to be built but there is a danger that the long drawn out campaign led by the unions will exhaust some workers before other workers are ready to join the fray. The rolling 24 hour strikes of one section of workers after another won’t threaten the system but an all out strike of the entire workforce (and not just for 24 hours) would change everything. Such a strike however cannot be left to the unions but must actively involve the bulk of the workforce. The only way this can be done is via workers’ assemblies or mass meetings, electing recallable strike committees whose task is to spread solidarity and coordination. They have to go beyond the sectional mentality of trades unionism. They should also not be confined to national boundaries but should seek to achieve solidarity across them to link up workers who are all exploited by global capitalism.

Our greatest weapon is our collective strength but it has to find the right organisational instruments to realise that strength.

This is also a challenge to revolutionary political organisations of the class. As we clearly say in our articles, The First Step Forward is to Unite and Fight and Financial Crisis Engulfs the Eurozone, this is not just a crisis of greedy speculators. as the unions and the capitalist left (like Michael Moore - see review on p.27) keep saying, but of the system itself. Ultimately resistance has to go beyond “anti-capitalism” to pose the question of a new society, and a new way of producing, which does not involve exploitation and misery.

The challenge for today’s political organisation’s is to participate in the struggle not only against austerity, but also against all the false programmes of those who believe capitalism’s worst instincts can be tamed. This means seeking cooperation in the struggle, discussing the real and the imagined differences, and taking a further step towards building a world working class party, not as a government in waiting but as an indispensable instrument of revolution.

Editorial of Revolutionary Perspectives 54

Revolutionary Perspectives

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Revolutionary Perspectives #54

Series 3, No. 54, Summer 2010

  • Editorial
  • The Only Way Forward is to Unite and Fight
  • Class War at BA: Solidarity not Legality
  • Financial Crisis Engulfs the Eurozone
  • Chinese Workers SHow Their Class
  • BP’s Deepwater Horizon: Capitalism is the Disaster
  • The Bolshevik Left and Worker’s Power
  • The Armenian Genocide 1915
  • Review: Capitalism - A Love Story
  • Life of the Organisation