Not since 1929 has an economic crisis struck with such violence against the world proletariat. Everywhere, unemployment and poverty are exploding. This dramatic situation can only provoke a strong feeling of anger among workers. But to transform this anger into combativity is very difficult today. What do you do when your factory closes? How do you fight back? What type of strikes or actions do you undertake? And for those that still have a job, how do you resist wage cuts, unpaid supplementary hours and the increases in productivity and flexibility when the boss uses the odious blackmail of "There's the door, if you don't like it there's millions more to take your place"? The brutality of this recession is a source of terrible, sometimes paralysing anxiety for workers' families.
However, in these last months important strikes have broken out:
- - In Narayanganj, Bangladesh, last May, 20,000 workers who had not been paid for months, exploded in anger, ransacked dozens of textile factories and went on to put their lives in danger by confronting the army.
- - In China, in the towns of Daqing and Liaoyang, at the heart of the industrial basin of Manchuria, tens of thousands of workers who had recently lost their jobs came onto the streets from March 1st to demand payment of their unemployment pay and the maintenance of their social security. This wave of struggle is representative of the general growth of the combativity of the proletariat in this region of the world. According to surveillance agencies based in Hong Kong, 58,000 "mass incidents" (strikes, demonstrations) happened in China during the course of the first three months of this year. "If this tendency continues throughout the year, 2009 will beat all preceding records with more than 230,000 of these ‘mass incidents', compared to 120,000 in 2008 and 97,000 in 2006".
- - In Spain at the end of April, metal workers at Vigo took up their struggle again. After undertaking an exemplary strike in 2006 by organising general assemblies in the street so as to draw in the working population of the town, these workers this time faced a more prepared trade union with weapons sharpened: empty general assemblies with no debate, sterile actions such as blocking a cruise ship... If the strikers were unable to thwart all these traps, the consciousness of the necessity of the struggle broke new ground with this phrase of one of the striking workers: "It's going very badly. We fight or we die."
But it's in Britain that the clearest advance of consciousness within the working class has been expressed. At the beginning of the year, workers at the Lindsey refinery were at the heart of a wave of wildcat strikes. This struggle, at its beginning, was held back by the weight of nationalism, symbolised by the slogan "British jobs for British workers". The ruling class used these nationalist ideas to the full by presenting this strike as being against Italian and Portuguese workers employed on the site. However, the bourgeoisie suddenly put an end to this strike when banners begun to appear calling on Portuguese and Italian workers to join the struggle, affirming "Workers of the World, Unite!", and when construction workers from Poland joined in wildcat strikes in Plymouth. Instead of a workers' defeat, with growing tensions between workers of different countries, the workers at Lindsey obtained the creation of 101 supplementary jobs (the Italian and Portuguese workers keeping theirs), gained assurances that no worker would be sacked and, above all, returned to work united. When, in June, Total announced the sacking of 51 then of 640 employees, the workers based their reaction on this recent experience. The new wave of struggle broke out straightaway on a much clearer basis: solidarity with the sacked workers. And quickly, wildcat strikes broke out throughout the country. "Workers from power stations, refineries, factories in Cheshire, Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, Oxford, South Wales and Teesside stopped work to show their solidarity". "There were also signs that the strike was spreading to the nuclear industry; then EDF Energy said that the contractors at the nuclear reactor of Hinckley Point in Somerset had stopped work". The oldest fraction of the world proletariat showed on this occasion that the strength of the working class above all resides in its capacity for unity and solidarity.
All these struggles can seem little in comparison with the gravity of the situation. And, effectively, the future of humanity will necessarily demand proletarian combats of quite another breadth and scale. But if the present economic crisis has left the proletariat somewhat stupefied up to now, it nevertheless remains the most fertile ground for the future development of workers' combativity and consciousness. In this sense, these examples of struggles, that carry within them the germ of unity, solidarity and human dignity, are promises for the future.
. The Independent, June 20th.
. The Times.