Latin America: Class struggle is developing despite state repression and ideological traps
Throughout the world, the living conditions of the working class are under attack, whether by private bosses or the state, whether in the developed countries or the poorest. Attacks on wages, the aggravation of unemployment, lowering of benefits, growing constraints on conditions of work, deepening poverty - such is the price the proletariat pays for the crisis of capitalism. But these attacks are not raining down on a beaten proletariat, ready to passively accept all the sacrifices that are demanded of it.
On the contrary, we are seeing stronger and stronger reactions from the workers to counter these attacks. Despite the enormous black-out operated by the media in the developed countries, this is particularly the case in Latin America at the moment.
Against the violence of the attacks, workers’ militancy is developing
In Honduras in September, major strikes broke out in the transport sector of the capital of the country, Tegucigalpa, which was completely stopped for two days after taxi and bus drivers went on strike to protest against the imposition by the government of an increase in the price of fuel by 19.7%. In Nicaragua, after the violent protests that took place at the beginning of the year in Managua, following an increase in transport prices, we saw the massive strikes of health workers in April, and strikers in the transport sector blocked the capital.
In Chile, in the context of police raids, arrests and brutal repression led by the social democratic government of Michelle Bachelet, a strike broke out at the end of September in the education sector. This was a strike against lamentable teaching conditions and it united teachers, students and school children, the latter having been involved in a very radical struggle since August. One of the themes of the movement was to refuse partial strikes and to engage in the widest possible struggles. This summer, the workers of the copper mine of Escondida went on strike for the first time since the mine opened in 1991, for three weeks in order to claim a 13% wage increase and a bonus. They only obtained a wage increase of 5% and a bonus of less than half their demand. Further, their contracts would last for 40 months instead of 2 years, which is a setback because wages would not be renegotiable for 40 months.
In Bolivia, workers at the tin mines who struggled for several weeks for wage claims and against the prospect of rising job losses, were subjected to ferocious repression by the left government of Evo Morales, the great friend of Fidel Castro.
In Brazil, after the strikes in May in the Volkswagen factory against 5000 job losses, bank workers went on strike in September over wages (see separate article).
In Mexico, several thousand steelworkers stopped work for 5 months between spring and summer in the factories of Sicartsa and Atenco on the Pacific coast. The strikes were repressed by violent police action. And there were also strikes by teachers in the town of Oaxaca, in one of the three poorest states in Mexico, strikes which gave birth to a movement of solidarity among the whole population of the town, from mid-June to today.
Electoral and populist attacks: the case of Mexico
However, numerous traps developed by the bourgeoisie at the ideological level have impeded these movements of the working class of Latin America. These struggles have unfolded in a general atmosphere of electoral and populist propaganda by the left, whose media-friendly champions are Lula and above all Chavez. The recent election of Morales in Bolivia, of Bachelet in Chile, have been saluted by all the press, and by the left and leftists in particular, as a great advance for democracy. In reality this propaganda is designed to pervert and derail the struggle of the working class. It’s the same with the holding of presidential elections in Brazil and the barrage around the re-election of Lula as president.
In Mexico, the massive strike of 70,000 teachers, that began in mid-June in Oaxaca, was diverted into an essentially populist and democratic campaign, despite the militant will of the workers, and despite the fact that the whole population supported and joined this strike. The SNTE (national union of teachers) and the parties of the left managed to displace the focus of the initial strike movement for wages and the conditions of the teachers and children onto support for an individual: the central demand of the forces occupying the town centre since August is the resignation of the State Governor Ulises Ruiz, who had diverted money for the schools (particularly to pay for the children’s food) into his electoral campaign. At the same time the occupation was taken in hand by a Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO), which Trotskyists and other leftists have been presenting as a kind of workers’ Commune or Soviet, a fraudulent claim answered by our comrades in Mexico: “ For another Trotskyist group - Germinal (in Spain) - the APPO is ‘possibly the embryo of a workers’ state, the most developed organism of a soviet nature seen for many decades on the whole planet’ (document of the 13-09-06). This affirmation is not only exaggerated but false. It is not an error made ‘in ignorance’, but a bad-intentioned deformation so that the workers think they are seeing a soviet where there is really an inter-classist front. A soviet or a workers’ council is an organisation that develops in a pre-revolutionary or directly revolutionary period. All workers participate in them. Its assemblies are the life and soul of the insurrection. Their delegates are elected and revocable. In the APPO the well-known ‘leaders’ are close to the existing structures of power, such as Rogelio Pensamiento, known for his relations with the PRI; the ex-deputy of PRD, Flavio Sosa; or the SNTE unionist, Wheel Pacheco, who himself received ‘economic support’ for a long time from the same government of Ulises Ruiz. But in addition, if we look at the composition of the ‘soviet’ we can see that, as the first act of the APPO stated, it is made up of 79 social organisations, 5 unions and 10 representatives of schools and parents. Such an amalgam allows the expression of everything except the independence and autonomy of the proletariat” (‘Is there a revolutionary situation in Mexico?’, ICC Online).
At the end of October, the central state’s repressive forces began a massive offensive aimed at bringing the occupation to an end, no doubt provoking furious anger among the local population. At the time of writing, violent clashes are still taking place, particularly around the occupied university. But the movement had already lost its class dynamic before that happened, and has essentially become part of a more general campaign by the left, the Zapatistas, and other bourgeois forces against the ruling party. Following the most recent presidential elections, there have also been massive demonstrations in the centre of Mexico, demanding a recount after the candidate of ‘the poor’, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, was defeated.
The class struggle has the same enemies in all countries
Violence and repression take on their most spectacular form in the countries of the periphery, notably in Latin America. But it is equally present in the most developed countries, where if it’s not in the shape of truncheons and tear gas, then it’s the blackmail of unemployment and job losses.
As for the mystifications aimed at sabotaging the struggles, at destroying the solidarity and consciousness of the class, they know no frontiers. Everywhere, the unions, the parties of the left and leftist organisations are the principal purveyors. And the ideological themes come together as brothers: they can be summed up as the defence of bourgeois democracy and the defence of the national capital. Everywhere, the electoral mystification is used in massive doses: it is necessary to ‘vote well’, and if you can’t elect ‘the best for the workers’, then it’s necessary to prevent the victory of the ‘worst’ (the parties of the traditional right) by voting for the ‘least bad’ (the established parties of the left).
Similarly, all these bourgeois organisations argue that the workers should mobilise not against capitalism as a whole, whatever its forms, but against ‘neo-liberalism’ and ‘globalisation’. In this sense, the lies used against the workers’ struggle in Latin America are not so different from those used against workers in the central countries. You only have to add some local ingredients, such as ‘indigenism’ (the defence of the rights of Indians) or the populism of Chavez and Morales. The radical ‘anti-imperialist’ discourse of these people, who are the new heroes of a good part of the extreme left in the developed countries, has one basic function: to obscure the fact that exploitation remains the same, whether organised by ‘foreigners’ or ‘compatriots’, or by the national state itself. The chauvinism that these people try to inject into the consciousness of the workers has always been the worst enemy of the proletariat. Mulan 4/11/6 (adapted from Revolution Internationale)