Workers must return to the class struggle

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It is no surprise that the worst impact of the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center and the ensuing ideological campaign would be found in the US, where the events were particularly traumatic for a working class that had not experienced war on its own national territory since the Civil War (1861-65), except for Pearl Harbor – which had occurred in Hawaii, some 2,000 miles from the American mainland. Prior to Pearl Harbor the last significant foreign attack on the US was the British burning of the White House and the Capitol during the War or 1812-15. The success of US imperialism's ideological campaign in the first weeks after the attacks is difficult to exaggerate. Whatever its confusions and disorientations since the revival of class struggle at the end of the 1960s, the proletariat in America has been defiant and distrusting of the state, willing to undertake militant struggle, to confront the police if necessary, and even, at an elementary level, to put the unions into question. The American proletariat, despite its historical and political weaknesses, has consistently echoed the struggles of the international proletariat over the past 33 years. The overnight transformation of this battalion of the world proletariat into a patriotic, flag-waving mass, susceptible to the worst racist attitudes and manipulation by the state was an unnerving phenomenon, and for weeks, made the defense of proletarian internationalist principles in the face of this barbaric ideological onslaught completely against the current.

No matter how sober we must be in our recognition of the success of the ideological campaign in the US, it is clear that the historic course towards decisive class confrontations has not be reversed. For one thing, the historic course is not determined on the basis of the momentary situation in a single country, even if it is the most powerful economic nation on earth. On the contrary, it is determined on a global level, particularly in the main capitalist countries that have the greatest concentration of the proletariat. On this level, it is clear that the situation in other countries in no way paralleled that in the US. Furthermore, even in the US, there is growing evidence that the setback in class consciousness is not permanent, but transitory. There is a clear tendency for workers to return to the proletarian terrain to defend their class interests, and not to be dissuaded from class struggle by the demands of patriotism and the war.

For example, in October, 23,000 public sector workers went on strike in Minnesota, despite criticism from the governor and the media that to strike during a period of such national crisis was unpatriotic, to which the workers responded, "how dare you use these events against us." So strong was sentiment for this strike, that not only did the national union involved directly endorse it , but other unions were obliged to express "solidarity." Other strikes in the post-Twin Towers period include a week long walkout by sanitation workers in Orange County, California; an illegal strike by teachers in Middletown, New Jersey (a suburb of New York) in which 200 teachers were jailed for defying a court injunction to return to work, a strike by teachers at parochial secondary schools in New York; a strike by 4000 machinists at Pratt and Whitney jet engine manufacturing plant in Connecticut; and a one day wildcat strike by several hundred private bus company bus drivers in New York City. The angry response of postal workers to the obvious class bias in the state's handling of the anthrax scare in the US, where Senate and Congressional offices were shutdown for over a month to permit fumigation to destroy the virus, while postal workers at contaminated postal sorting centers were required to continue working, putting their health at risk, was yet another sign that despite the prevailing patriotic climate, workers were capable of seeking their own terrain. These struggles in the US have all ended in varying degrees of defeat, and they occur in difficult circumstances, but more importantly they demonstrate in a very concrete manner that the acceleration of the crisis is pushing workers to reassert themselves as workers, to struggle to regain their confidence in themselves as a class, and to rediscover the power of their unity in struggle.

In other countries, especially in Europe, despite certain success in mobilizing sympathy for the US following September 11, and taking advantage of the situation to introduce measures to strengthen the police and the repressive apparatus, the ideological success of the bourgeoisie has been nowhere comparable to the US. There have been strikes in a number of European countries in the last few months. Meanwhile the global economy has plunged into open recession, which will only heighten the attacks on the working class's standard of living, and build pressure for the workers to return to the class struggle to defend itself.

RP, 30/3/02

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