ESF: For a class perspective on job insecurity

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Where the big meetings at the ESF considered how government policies could be changed, the fringe events 'Beyond the ESF' had proposals for action. Typically they put a positive spin on all sorts of activities that have nothing to do with the struggle of the working class. For example, a Class War meeting on the issue of precarity (job insecurity), extolled the virtues of the black economy, and saw petty trafficking (e.g. in contraband cigarettes) as an expression of the class struggle, just because those who engage in it are hassled by the police. At other meetings there were calls for individuals to shoplift, fare dodge and squat empty buildings.

A pamphlet on sale during the ESF, Days of dissent: reflections on summit mobilisations, summed up the attitude of this wing of the anticapitalist movement. It's full of pictures and accounts of demonstrations but with no attempt to place these events in a historic or international framework. That's what happens when you reject marxism and the experience of the working class. They prefer people who are prepared to 'fight back', whoever that might be, and whatever they do. Many groups declare that they are part of a 'new' movement free of the old ideologies of the 20th century. But denying the acquisitions of the workers' movement means searching for an alternative to the revolution of the working class and the destruction of the capitalist state. The slogans of 'solidarity - autonomy - direct action' are meaningless when they're part of the 'radical' wing of an 'anticapitalist' movement that is not only no challenge to capital but an obstacle to the development of class consciousness.

Real problems, false answers

When capitalism insists that workers are flexible and put up with short term contract work, with inevitable periods of unemployment, in increasingly insecure patterns of working, it's a very real problem.

Attacks on social security have increased throughout Europe in the last ten years with the British state leading the way. Recent struggles in France and Italy over the question of pensions have mobilised hundreds of thousands of workers. Workers who lose their jobs are often forced, alongside migrant workers, into low paid, insecure, work or government schemes aimed at hiding the real unemployment figures. The idea of a 'job for life' has gone and, as the pensions crisis deepens, capitalism clearly offers no perspective for the future for the majority of workers.

This is the stark reality of the situation; what is problematic is how to respond to these measures. The only revolutionary class in capitalism, the working class, employed or unemployed, organises to defend its interests. The development of this struggle leads to a confrontation with capitalism and the bourgeois state. This is a fundamental understanding of the workers movement.

But many of those at the meetings on precarious work posed 'dole resistance' as a response to the state's attacks. This can mean anything from tobacco smuggling, squatting, 'liberating' property & food from multinationals and attacking job centre workers. Such actions tend to be the responses of desperate individuals trying to survive; as proposals for struggle they're not part of the combat of a revolutionary class that poses the possibility of a future society.

For example, a leaflet distributed by the French group, Action Chomage (AC), From wage earners (salariat) to precarious workers (precariat), ends up calling for a united front (of whom?) to confront the latest attacks, alongside a call for the 'rethinking' of the welfare system and a demand for the unions to strengthen themselves for the defence of all. This is plain old leftist reformism sowing the illusion that the capitalist system, and its supporters the unions, can be altered for the benefit of the exploited and dispossessed. A video was shown of AC activists staging pointless occupations of expensive shops and restaurants in Paris; it didn't mention why they hadn't involved the undoubtedly poorly paid workers of these businesses in their activities. So much for a united struggle!

A German group ACT seemed to advocate more radical action. In their leaflet, From protest to rebellion, they reject the welfare state and parliament. They hope to "appropriate, expropriate and be rebellious" ... through anti fascism, environmentalism and anti-globalisation, to cite a few of the 'struggles' they are involved in. Their radicalism is just another veneer for the familiar slogans of the more conventional left.

For discussion and clarification

The weight of the bourgeoisie's campaigns around the 'death of communism' has meant that any mention of the working class, marxism or communism is met by incomprehension or even hostility from younger generations of workers like some of those present at 'Beyond the ESF'. The lie that marxism=Stalinism has been repeated so often that it is often accepted without a second thought.

Workers are disarmed if they don't challenge that lie. With the proliferation of wars and the growing attacks on working and living standards we live in difficult and dangerous times. Humanity faces the alternative of socialism or barbarism. The working class, the only force that can overthrow capitalism, needs to rediscover its identity. It needs to reclaim the acquisitions and clarity of the historic workers' movement.

At the heart of this process is a commitment to discussion and clarification. This wasn't on offer at the ESF. Those who want to be part of the struggle for the only possible 'alternative world', communism, will need to look beyond the ESF, towards the clarity of the communist left.

William 29/10/04

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