Fighting Back in the Global Class War

There’s class warfare, all right but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.

Warren Buffett the investment guru told the New York Times in 2006. He was not wrong. In the US wages in the late 1960s were equal to 51% of GDP. By the time Buffett was speaking it was 45% and they have declined further to 42% today. It’s the same in all the advanced capitalist countries. Ever since the post-war boom ended in the early 1970s workers have been getting a smaller portion of ‘national income’.

The Retreat of the World Working Class

For decades the capitalists have done their best to boost profits by extracting more for less from the working class. In the 1970s workers massively resisted the first cuts in living standards. However the capitalists responded by dramatically transferring production to low wage economies. We now know this as globalisation. Add to this the microprocessor revolution from the 1980s on and you have the destruction of the old industrial working class bastions. Whereas in the 1960s a single (usually male) wage could keep a family, today two wages can hardly do the same job (or, as in the UK, they cannot and low wages have to be subsidised by working tax credit).

The working class around the world has been in such a retreat that rumours of its disappearance have been widely circulated. These rumours can now be firmly rejected.

The collapse of the speculative bubble in 2007-8 was a turning point. Even in the capitalist media this gave rise to the notion that “Marx was back”. More significantly it led to the Occupy and Indignados movement. These were not working class movements per se (the 99% also includes capitalist managers etc) but they did have a working class element to which we could relate. Above all they questioned the sanity of the continued existence of capitalism. “Anti-capitalism” was previously only the preserve of the endangered species known as communist revolutionaries. Now no-one thinks you are mad for using the word. At the same time and in similar vein we got the Arab Spring which has not lived up to the hopes of its inspirers. Again it was an all-class movement which lacked a real focus. After 800 people had died in Egypt Mubarak remained in office. It was only when textile workers again went on strike (as they had done in 2007, inspiring the young bloggers of the Arab Spring) that the Army saw the real threat and removed the old dictator.

Nothing else has changed much in Egypt but it illustrates the fact that, despite the need for street protests, they can only gain real force when they are linked to workers strikes in the place where we can hit capitalism where it hurts – at the point of production. Since 2011 the resistance to capital has only been growing slowly but the signs are that this is beginning to change.

China: Workers’ Strikes Rising

China became the engine of world economic growth founded on international capital (initially) and a workforce ready to escape the unrelenting drudgery of the fields for the paid drudgery of Foxconn etc, making stuff for Apple, Samsung and all the other giants of the world consumer economy. Indeed cheaper Chinese products have enabled capitalists in the richer countries to lower wages in the old capitalist centres. However this workforce, once ready to accept being crammed in barracks without civil rights or decent wages, have increasingly had enough. For some years resistance has been growing as the following table from the Financial Times shows.


Now the Chinese state has stepped in arresting leading militants and threatening them with 5 years in gaol. The number of strikes involving hundreds of thousands of workers in massive workplaces is increasing so they have set up courts to settle workers’ grievances (the unions are widely discredited as they are part of the state).

Still, the modern Chinese proletariat is only one generation old and has to deal with the confusing history of being in a supposed “communist” country (which it has never been). Besides, no section of the working class, however numerous, can be left to fight alone.

Fighting modern capitalism is not easy. Aside from the shipping of jobs to Asia etc, workers in the capital-rich countries also face ruthless job practices. These include zero hour contracts, agency working, the imposition of fake “self-employment” contracts etc. The aim is simple: Reduce each worker to a mere individual against the firm. This not only creates insecurity but makes collective resistance almost impossible to organise – or so they thought. However, after years of being forced to accept a precarious existence, workers are beginning to find ways to fight back. A classic example is in Spain.

Telefonica Strikes in Spain

After the Spanish state sold off it telecoms giant in 1996 the workforce was cut by 75%. Many of the remaining workers were told to become self-employed. One worker tells us what this meant:

What is a pseudo self-employed worker? It is a worker who was mainly staff on a contract and when the contract ran out he was dismissed because there was no work, but they came up with the brilliant idea of ​​telling the worker if s/he invested their dole money, plus a small settlement but not one that was fair, and bought tools, he or she could continue working as their own boss, taking orders as the staff did but without holiday pay, sick leave, obligations, i.e. zero cost and high profit. The perfect business, labour at zero cost and below the minimum you need in order to survive.

Many will recognise this description amongst the myriad ways bosses are using to force more unpaid labour from the working class. Some have had to become “sub-contract” workers on so-called “loop contracts”. These are contracts which can continually be altered (for the worse) by the company. After years of this the Telefonica workers have had enough. Despite the difficulties of uniting people on different work contracts, they have created assemblies (which meet every fortnight) and strike committees, particularly in Madrid and Barcelona, to organise themselves. This is no ritual strike just to improve the image of this or that union. It is real, indefinite and all-out and has lasted 2 months so far. The traditional unions (the CCOO and UGT) have done everything they can to sabotage the strikes. The strength of the workers lies in their solidarity and self-activity despite their different situations. In addition widespread support from other workers in the form of food, money and other material necessities has helped them maintain an all-out strike. There is more yet to come.

Turkish Metalworkers

The reactionary nature of the traditional unions has been obvious to Turkish metalworkers in the motor industry for a long time. 15,000 of them in three plants, including one owned by Renault, went on strike on 14 May for a 60% pay rise, no victimisations and the removal of the union Türk-Metal from their factories alongside the right to choose their own representatives.

Türk-Metal, like many unions throughout the world (but particularly India, Latin America), are gangsters who control the labour force and don’t defend it. There are numerous insistences of attacks by union goons on workers trying to fight independently. They are so much in league with the bosses that if you leave the union you lose your job. No wonder one slogan of the strikers was “We don’t need unions. We have set up workers councils.” These are not soviets but coordinating strike committees which connect the various plants. This solidarity action was successful and the companies did a deal with them. However, as we go to press, the strikes have re-started due to the victimisation of two strikers.

What’s different about these strikes is that they are serious. They are not one day or half day or three hour tokens organised by unions as part of their traditional bargaining ploys. These are episodes of class war.

It is equally heartening to see that real struggle is now taking place in areas where organising a fight back is not easy and was previously thought to be impossible. In the last couple of years we have seen strikes in Amazon warehouses in Germany, amongst logistical workers in places like IKEA in Italy, and amongst fast food workers in the UK and USA. The fact is that sooner or later the contradictions of the system force workers to take a stand. This is what is happening now at Tata Steel in the UK where around 80% of the workforce of 17,000 have voted to strike indefinitely over loss of pension rights. The company is hinting it could pull out of the UK altogether but it has not intimidated the workers. Between losing your job and losing your pension there is little to choose. More and more workers are arriving at this point as they realise this long drawn out crisis is not going away.

As the class struggle revives the tasks of revolutionaries are clear. First, as we have done here, is to break the media blackout about strikes around the world to undermine the propaganda that workers everywhere are passively accepting a declining existence. There is much more about these struggles on our website but we need to do more. Second, we have to keep stressing that there can be no meaningful reform of a system in such a position (see accompanying article in this issue). We are not in 1945 with a post-war boom in the offing. We are in the declining phase of the cycle of accumulation and capitalism’s only solutions are more exploitation, more war and more misery. Its continued existence is at odds with ours. This message needs to be taken into every strike, every struggle against austerity, against homelessness, against environmental disaster in order to create an international and internationalist political organisation capable of linking up workers everywhere. If you would like to help us contribute to this its your call.

From Aurora 35 June 2015

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Aurora (en)

Aurora is the broadsheet of the ICT for the interventions amongst the working class. It is published and distributed in several countries and languages. So far it has been distributed in UK, France, Italy, Canada, USA, Colombia.