International correspondence: Workers' struggles and workers' politics develop in Mexico
Capitalism is one system. The chronic crisis of capitalism is hitting every country in the world. Everywhere governments with their backs to the wall are resorting to the same policies, the same measures. Everywhere the working class is replying by engaging in the struggle for the defense of its vital interests, and everywhere the struggle is taking on an increasingly massive character. And everywhere the workers find themselves up against an enemy which is refining its strategy: the governments attack head-on, while the 'left', the unions and the leftists have the job of sabotaging struggles from the inside, using a 'radical' language to break the workers' unity, to derail their struggles towards dead-ends and defeats.
Against the ramblings of all those pessimistic and disappointed souls who have such doubts in the combativity of the working class, from those who are scrabbling about on the ‘glacier' - like the modernists of La Banquise - to those like the GCI who spend their time complaining about the ‘passivity' and ‘amorphousness' of the working class, the news arriving from Mexico is a sharp rejoinder and a confirmation of our analysis of the third wave of struggles which is hitting Latin America as well as Europe.
We're publishing here extracts from a communiqué addressed to all the workers and revolutionary groups in the world by the Alptraum Communist Collective on the recent struggles in Mexico. This group is not well known in Europe, so we think it's necessary to give our readers some information on the subject. The ACC was formed at the beginning of the ‘80s as a marxist study and discussion group. It has evolved in a slow and hesitant manner towards becoming a group of political intervention. This slow evolution is not only due to ‘hesitations' faced with the putrid political atmosphere which reigns in Mexico but is also in some way an expression of the seriousness and sense of responsibility of these comrades, who have been trying to ensure a solid theoretical/political foundation before launching into public activity. In this sense, they provide a salutary lesson to many small groups who get carried away by a taste for ‘practical action' alone, and who thus run the risk of having a purely ephemeral life and losing themselves in superficiality and confusion.
In 1986, the ACC - with whom we have been in close contact (see IR 40 and 44) - became a political group in the full sense, regularly publishing its review Comunismo, whose content is as interesting as it is serious. We are sure that our readers will be extremely interested in this communiqué on the situation in Mexico and the workers' struggle developing there. Integrating the situation in Mexico into the international context, the ACC's analysis has the same approach and draws the same conclusions as ours. We salute the ACC, not only for the contents of this communiqué but also because of the concern which guided them to address this for the information of revolutionaries and workers in all countries.
Simultaneously with this communiqué, we received from Mexico the first issue of the review Revolucion Mundial published by the Grupo Proletario Internacionalista (GPI). The GPI was definitively formed in December 1986 by a certain number of elements who have been through a "long and painful process of political decantation." It is a group of militants with a solid political formation. We do not have enough space in this issue to give more detailed information about this new group and its positions; in our next issue we will publish extracts from their theoretical works and statements of political position. For the moment we will restrict ourselves to giving the following extract from the presentation to their review:
"It is in this situation of a historical ‘crossroads' and under the political influence of communist propaganda that the Grupo Proletario Internacionalista has appeared. It's also in this framework that Revolucion Mundial has appeared. This publication is the product of a long and painful process of political decantation, of a period devoted fundamentally to discussion, to clarification, to the attempt to break with all kinds of bourgeois influences and practices."
We can only express our satisfaction at seeing the ranks of the revolutionaries strengthened by the arrival of a new communist group. With the appearance of this group we can see the opening up of a perspective, after the necessary discussions and confrontation of positions, of a process of regroupment of revolutionary forces in Mexico, whose importance and impact will largely transcend the frontiers of this country. Weare convinced of this and will do all we can to help this process reach a positive conclusion. Our warmest communist greetings to the Grupo Proletario Internacionalista.
1. The growing misery of the proletariat has become palpable with the reduction and liquidation of the ‘social programs' of the state, particularly in the central areas of capitalism; with the accelerated growth of the industrial reserve army, especially in Europe; with the increased rates of exploitation in all areas of capitalism, which in the peripheral countries is combined with very high rates in inflation, making the existence of the proletariat even more difficult.
...The Mexican proletariat is no exception to this. The Mexican fraction of the world bourgeoisie has applied the measures needed to maintain the interests of world capital as a whole.
...During the course of the last three years, the state has closed enterprises in steel, transport and communications, docks, automobiles, manure, sugar, as well as in the central sector of administration. State subsidies for basic foodstuffs have been suspended and expenditure on education and health greatly reduced.
The general policy of the state has been to maintain wage increases for all workers below the level of inflation and to ensure that the wage rates fixed by the collective labor contracts are each time closer to the legal minimum wage.
To give a general idea of the situation of the proletariat in Mexico, we will provide a few figures from the bourgeoisie's statistics:
-- 6 million unemployed, or 19% of the active population;
-- 4 million ‘under-employed';
-- the legal minimum for wages has been reduced from $120 a month in ‘85 to $87 in ‘86;
-- in 1986 more than 50% of wage earners received the legal minimum wage.
...In 1987, given the acceleration of devaluation and of the growth in the rate of inflation (now 115% annually), the deterioration of wage levels has also gathered pace, as have the numbers of unemployed.
2. The reduction in the living standards of the proletariat in Mexico over the past three years thus reached an extreme point in 1987. The wage situation of the electricity workers illustrates what is happening in the public sector. Whereas in 1982 they were getting wages up to 11.5 times the legal minimum, in 1987 they have been getting only 4 times the legal minimum.
Since last year there has been increasing disquiet amongst public sector workers. Between January and April, the great majority of unions obtained revisions of the collective contracts. The growing pressure on them from the workers to negotiate higher wages proved to the public sector unions that there was a possibility of workers mobilizing outside of their control. In February the state informed the workers that it "didn't have the funds" to cover the demands for emergency wage increases, which the unions had fixed at 23% (in Mexico the annual rate of inflation is, as we have seen, more than 110%).
It was in this context that the electricity workers came out on strike, despite the hard blows received by the workers at Dina, Renault and Fundidora in Monterrey (Fimosa) in 1986, and immediately after the end of the students' strike in Mexico City - a typical conflict of the middle classes through which the bourgeoisie and the petty bourgeoisie had tried to give the proletariat a ‘lesson' about the bounties of bourgeois democracy. The strike also took place in the midst of the most acute economic crisis for the federal district and the four surrounding departments. Focused on the most important industrial zone and working class concentration in the country, it was a blow to the nerve centre of the productive apparatus.
...The strike only lasted five days and the workers went back without winning anything. But in this brief lapse of time we saw in clear outline the development of the tendencies which are appearing in many proletarian movements today, especially in Europe, and which were already there in embryo in the strike at Fimosa. In the electricians' strike we saw the tendency towards massive workers' struggles with strong possibilities of extension to other sectors of the class, as manifested recently in Belgium, France and Spain. Also this strike had the characteristic of being of shorter duration, in contrast to the one at Fimosa which lasted nearly two months. The particulars of the strike were as follows.
Unlike what happened at Dina, Renault and Fomosa last year, where the conflicts lasted longer, the electricians' strike immediately took on a political character. Two hours before the outbreak of the strike, the state, through a presidential order, requisitioned the installations of the electricity company "to safeguard the national interest." Certain installations for producing electrical energy were occupied and guarded by the public forces. The army was prepared for an immediate intervention.
Faced with the evidently political character acquired by the strike, the union, aided by the left wing of capital, pounded the workers' heads with the idea that the movement was a "national affair in defense of rights, of legality, of the constitution, of national sovereignty," etc ...By continuously insisting that "the only way to prevent the strike being declared illegal is to condemn any act of violence on the part of the workers", the union in most instances managed to prevent the workers from forming pickets and calling on the non-unionized workers or those from other categories (transformed by decree into ‘scabs') to join the strike.
...The union showed a great deal of flexibility in adapting to the conditions imposed on it by the movement of workers, in order to recapture and dominate this movement.
When the unions are more openly tied to the state apparatus, they run a greater risk of losing credibility in front of the workers, especially when they act as brutally as they did at Fimosa (14,000 direct lay-offs and40,000 indirect). In these conditions it becomes necessary for the left of capital and the leftists to enter the arena in order to maintain order and lead the mobilization back along the road to social peace.
In this case, and in contrast to what happened at Fimosa where the workers were beaten down by a union which they clearly identified as being part of the state structure, the Mexican Electricians' Union (SME) is a ‘democratic' union which acts as a bridge between official trade unionism and the base or "class" unionism animated by the left and the leftists. Because of this, from the very first minute of the strike the union was able to pummel the workers with the idea that "union organization is in danger" and that for this reason it was necessary to apply the decisions of the union's central committee. This allowed the SME to maneuver from right to left and back again, radicalizing its language while framing its directives in the purest nationalist ideology. The workers literally allowed themselves to be conducted by the SME's decisions. The great majority of them left their workplaces and concentrated near the union building ... immobilized the whole time in order to "avoid violence"... and allowed the union to look for ‘solidarity' ‑ from other unions.
The SME did exactly the same thing as the car workers' and miners' unions at Dina, Renault and Fimosa, shutting the workers up in corporatism, isolating them from other workers and maintaining the conflict within strict local limits.
In addition the SME, as one of the main animators of the ‘concerted union table' - a veritable ‘council' gathering together the whole gamut of ‘democratic' unions and base unionists with a view to fabricating caricatures of ‘days of solidarity' - took charge of filling the pages of the bourgeois press with paper declarations of solidarity, while the other unions kept ‘their' workers quiet.
For its part, the left of capital, through its political groups and parties and its trade union representatives, took on the task of bombarding the electricians with the idea that they had to defend the SME as a ‘bastion of democracy' and that the fight had to be in favor of ‘national sovereignty' and ‘against the payment of foreign debt', etc, etc...
...The only march the electricians managed to hold was attended by hundreds of thousands of people in Mexico City and concentrated large contingents of electricians from the four departments of the central zone. The march was joined by many workers from the public sector (metro, foreign exchange bank, telephones, trams, workers from the exchange offices, the universities, etc...) and from industry (clothing) as well as small nuclei of workers from medium sized enterprises (the Monteczuma brewery, Ecatepec steel). The march was also joined by groups of residents from the marginal neighborhoods and high school students. Faced with this very visible possibility of a massive extension of strikes to other sectors, the Labor Tribunal declared, two days after the march that the strike was ‘non-existent', calling on the workers to return to work immediately or face massive sackings. The union obliged the workers to go back, saying that "we respect the law". When the union informed the workers' assemblies of this, many strikers showed their discontent.
There were cries of ‘traitors' against the union leaders. But all this anger was diluted with frustration and resignation. Only a minority of workers were able to react against the union...
...While the state was hitting out at the electricians the other unions were sabotaging any attempt at mobilization in the other sectors. On three occasions they prevented strikes from breaking out in key sectors like the telephones, airlines and city trams. They also demoralized the workers from the universities, the cinemas and the primary schools. In sector after sector the unions manipulated the workers into accepting the state's decision not to grant any general emergency wage rises.
After the electricians' strike was ended it was clear that the telephone workers would go on strike. The unions tried to put it off for as long as possible, ‘postponing' it again and again. But in the union assemblies the workers showed a firm determination to come out on strike. The state then applied the same tactic it had used with the electricians: two hours before the outbreak of the strike it requisitioned the enterprise, and the union straight away sent the workers back to work...Finally, it became more evident that the unions in all their varieties are an obstacle to the proletariat's struggle for immediate demands. Far from expressing the interests of this struggle they are the incarnation of national bourgeois interests, of the state.
The bourgeois state imposed its wage policy with the help of the unions, who acted to break the workers' resistance and held back the tendencies towards massivity, simultaneity and extension.
Despite all its limitations like corporatism, the workers' surviving confidence in the unions and a lack of confidence in their own strength, despite isolation and the weight of bourgeois nationalist ideology, the electricians' movement of resistance against capital's wage policies was very important, because it showed the workers that the struggle for economic demands is inevitably transformed into a political movement, since there is no way of avoiding a confrontation with the bourgeois state. It also showed that there is a tendency towards the mass strike where the potential for extending the movement to other sectors becomes increasingly obvious.
...It's in these movements that we see the necessity to forge the political instrument of the proletariat to give it the elements of its identity as a class, in other words the international communist party, which in each moment of the struggle embodies the perspective of the communist program.
Comunismo, Mexico, April 1987.