Head-on attacks herald the unification of the workers’ struggles

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The formidable class combats that shook Belgium last April/May - the most important since Poland 1980, and since the end of the ‘60s in western Europe - have revealed the poverty of the bourgeois speeches about the "working class' realism in the face of the crisis", its "understanding of the need to make sacrifices" and other such nonsense aimed at demoralizing the workers, at preventing them from seeing the force that they represent when they struggle and unite against capitalism. These combats have highlighted the fact that the bourgeoisie's hands are not free to deal out the brutal blows against the working class that the increasing collapse of its economy demands. And this is true not only in Belgium, but throughout the countries of Western Europe, which are already, or soon will be, in the same situation. But there is more to this movement. Just as the struggles in the state sector in September 1983 - in Belgium once again - gave the signal for a powerful renewal of the workers' struggle in the major capitalist metropoles after the retreat that had followed the proletar­iat's defeat in Poland 1981, so the combats of spring ‘86 are the proof that the struggle of the world proletariat has entered a new phase in its development. Whereas in 1985, the bourgeoisie in the central countries succeeded .in splitting up the signs combativity, and succeeded in dispersing the workers' fight-back by keeping its attacks separate in both time and space, the workers' struggles in Belgium have highlighted the limits of this kind of policy. The imminence of a new recession, far deeper than that of 1982-83 (see the article ‘The Dead End' in this issue), is increasingly forcing the bourgeoisie to give up its dispersed attacks in favor of massive, head-on ones. As in Belgium in April/May 1986, the workers' struggles against these attacks will more and more tend to be massive and unified across branch and regional divisions.

This is the crux of the article ‘From Dispersal, Towards Unification' in the previous issue of the Review, and of the resolution adopted by our organization in June 1986, which we are publish­ing in this issue. Since the resolution was adopted, events have clearly confirmed its analysis. Whereas the holiday break discouraged the development of widespread movements on the part of the working class, the bourgeoisie on the contrary seized the opportunity to unleash anti-working class attacks of unprecedented brutality. As we shall see ...

Unprecedented attacks

During the summer, the most spectacular blows have been dealt in Holland - a country famed for its high living standards and social ‘pro­tection'. A few months after its Belgian neighbor, the Dutch bourgeoisie announced attacks comparable in every way to those that, in Belgium, had provoked the massive movements in the spring. No sooner had it come into office on July 14th, than the centre-right government that emerged from the May elections announced the need to reduce drastically the budget for 1987: 12 billion florins were to be saved (the equivalent of $360 per person!). The government declared that 1987 would be "tough", but that things would improve afterwards, and that in 1990, wages would return to the level of 1986. We know what this kind of promise is worth. In the mean­ time, the planned measures need no comment:

-- disappearance of 40,000 out of a total of170,000 jobs in the state sector, and of more than 100,000 jobs among regional and council employees;

-- setting up a ‘self-contribution' scheme for health care (eg: payment for the first day of a stay in hospital);

-- a 5%Q increase in social security contributions which corresponds to a 2% fall in wages;

-- reduction by 25% of the sum made available for council housing (which hits above all the unemployed and the poorest workers);

-- reduction of the number of state-built houses from 41,000 to 30,000 a year (in a country which suffers from a permanent housing crisis): these last two measures will lead to the loss of 30,000 jobs in the building industry;

-- massive reduction in unemployment benefit to 60% of wages (whereas previously it stood at 85%, during the first six months, 70% for the next 18, then 60%);

-- in the private sector, limitation of wage in  creases to 1.3%, with inflation at 2.3% for 1985, and rising;

-- again in the private sector, reduction of the working week to 37,5 hours, without compensation.

All in all, these measures mean a 10% fall in wages for the working class, and a 15% increase in the number of unemployed. As in Belgium, every sector of the working class (the private and state sectors, as well as the unemployed), and every element of working class income (whether it be direct or ‘social' wages) is coming under heavy attack.

Although to a less spectacular degree, the same kind of measures has hit workers in many other countries over the last few months:

-- job cuts amongst state employees in Spain and France (30,000 for 1987 in the latter country);

-- massive job cuts or redundancies in state- owned companies (50,000 in Spain's INI, 20,000 at Renault and 9,000 on the railways in France);

-- continued and intensified lay-offs and factory closures in the ‘lame duck' sectors like steel (job cuts Of 10,000 in west Germany, 5,000 in Spain, 3,000 in France, the shutdown of USX steelworks in 7 states of the US), shipbuilding (again, 10,000 job losses in Germany, 5,000 in Spain, and the closure of 3 Normed shipyards in France with 6,000 lay-offs as a result), or coal mining (example, 8,000 lay-offs in the German Ruhr.);

-- wage freezes or cuts (state employees' wages and old age pensions frozen in France, widespread wage cuts in the US, etc, );

-- rising social security contributions (0.7% tax surcharge for pension contributions, plus a 0.4% ‘exceptional' tax on all wages in France, similar measures in Spain, etc);

-- dismantling of ‘social insurance' (new reduction in the list of medicines paid for by the health service and suppression of the 100% repayment of health expenses by cooperative health schemes in France, similar but far more brutal measures in most US companies);

-- reductions in unemployment benefit (eg: elimination of special food, clothing and housing benefits in Britain).

This list could be lengthened much further without fully accounting for the terrible attack the working class is undergoing today in every country in the world. And although such attacks may make it possible for each national ruling class to escape suffocation at the hands of its competitors in the trade war that all are en­gaged in, in no way can they prevent the overall collapse of the world economy; they will inevitably be followed by further, still more brutal, massive and head-on attacks. The worst is yet to come.

The class struggle

Announced, for the most part, during the summer holiday period, these anti-working class measures have not yet provoked any significant response in the large industrial concentrations of Western Europe. This impression, however, is deceptive: everywhere, workers discontent is explosive, all the more so because these blows have been dealt in such an underhand way, behind the workers' backs, at a time when they could not defend themselves. The bourgeoisie moreover, is well aware of the situation: everywhere, it has entrusted its unions and left parties to            prepare the ground. The same phenomenon can be seen in every country: the unions are adopting a more and more ‘radical', or even ‘extremist' language. The Swedish union L0, for example, despite being controlled by the social democrat­ic party at present in power, has adopted an unprecedented tone of ‘combativity' and ‘intransigence'. The French CGT, controlled by the CP, has adopted a language and behavior that it would have denounced as ‘leftist' and ‘irrespons­ible' only a short time ago. It declares loudly that "struggle pays"; it calls for a "massive and unified counter-attack everywhere" against   the government's "heavy blows"; it denounces vigorously the policies of the previous govern­ment (which it had nonetheless supported for 3 years); it is not afraid of organizing actions            that are illegal (eg: blocking railway lines or   motorways, or violent confrontations with the police) . If the trade unions are everywhere adopting a ‘tougher' line, it is for one very simple reason: they must keep one step ahead of the movements that are brewing, to be able to        sabotage and divide them.

But whereas in Western Europe it is essentially through the maneuvers of the bourgeoisie that we can gauge the class' potential for struggle, in the US - the world's major power - the workers themselves have proven their combativity and their developing consciousness of the need for unity. In a country subjected to a deafening            propaganda on the economic ‘success' of liberal ‘Reagonomics' and the ‘recovery', there have been no holidays for the class struggle:

-- in the telephone industry, 155,000 AT&T workers were out on strike for 26 days during June; 66,000 workers from other companies came out during August;

-- in the steel industry, LTV (the USA's second largest producer) was strike-bound in July; 22,000 USX workers were on strike on July 1st for the first time since 1959;

-- several other movements broke out or contin­ued, in the airlines, the paper industry (7,500 workers), the food industry (the Hormel meat packing plant in Minnesota and the Watsonville canning factories in California); .

-- in the state sectors, 32,000 municipal workers struck in Detroit and Philadelphia (two of the biggest industrial metropoles in the East) during July/August, in particular the transport and health workers, and the dustmen.

In these last two strikes, acts of solidarity were frequent among the workers, and to some extent defused the maneuvers of div­ision conducted together by management and unions (separate agreements being signed for each category of workers). And whereas in Philadelphia the workers' combativity and solidarity was finally defeated by lay-off threats from the law-courts after a three week strike, in Detroit they were strong enough to prevent the ruling class from resorting to such measures, and to force it to abandon one of its main objectives: making wage rises dependent on the municipality's ‘financial health' for three years to come.

In a country where the bourgeoisie has always been renowned for the cynicism and brutality of its attitude towards the working class (eg: the sacking of 12,000 air traffic controllers in August ‘81), this retreat before the Detroit strikers is a new illustration of the resolution published below:

"(The struggle) ‘pays', and ... it ‘pays' all the more when it is widespread, united, and fought with solidarity ... the stronger the working class that the bourgeoisie confronts, the more it will be obliged to dampen and put off the attacks that it intends to carry out."[1]

These workers' struggles in the US, and the extreme tension prevailing in western Europe, demonstrate that this is no time for the whining about ‘the passivity of the working class', or it being ‘under the control of the trade unions' that so many revolutionary groups still like to indulge in. In the near future, the working class is going to engage in combats of great importance, where revolutionaries will be confronted with their responsibilities: either they will take part in these combats in order to push them forward, which presupposes that they are aware of what is at stake and of the role that they must play, or else they will be mercilessly swept aside by history.

FM September 7, I986

[1] This is not contradicted by the fact that, after a brief retreat in the face of the spring strikes, the Belgian government has finally decided to apply all the proposed budget cuts. This only shows: the skill of the bourgeoisie, whose government announced the measures just before the holidays, so as to confirm them once the workers had demobilized; the continued ability of the unions to sabotage the workers' struggles, and therefore the necessity for the workers not merely to insult them as they did in Belgium, but to confront them, not to leave them the initiative, constantly pushing forward the search for unity, and in so doing to take their struggle in their own hands and to organize it themselves.