The working class is still fighting!

Printer-friendly version

Governments are raining down attacks on the working class. Big cuts are being made to state benefits, such as for the unemployed and pensioners, and unemployment is on the rise. Public services are lacking the necessary resources and there is a general lack of support for both the public and private sectors with a shortage of medicines in places. Millions of working class families, even those still "lucky" enough to have jobs, are struggling to make ends meet. Many are having to go hungry because of the increased cost of food, heating, rents, mortgages and petrol for cars. The gas and electricity bills are soaring too. More and more people are having to rely on the charity of Food Banks. And what image could be more damning than that of many hundreds of homeless individuals forced to sleep on the streets of Europe's major capitals and across the major towns and cities of the world’s most developed countries, some even freezing to death.

In the last four years, we have witnessed a succession of dramatic events: the Covid pandemic, the war in Ukraine, the massacres in Gaza, the climate catastrophe... This whirlwind of catastrophes has deepened the capitalist crisis and fueled chaos on a global scale[1].  The future that capitalism has in store for us could not be clearer: the worsening economic crisis will only accelerate the threat to humanity. But the economic crisis can provide some benefits too, since it provides the platform and stimulus for working class to develop its fightback and take forward a struggle that can lead to the overthrow of this  bankrupt system!

The proletariat will not succumb to the attacks on its living standards

Faced with such high stakes and with the inexorable and terrifying collapse of bourgeois society, the working class is not resigned to accept a future of pauperisation. For almost two years now, despite the wars and the war-mongering, the struggles of the working class have been widespread and on a massive scale. In many countries, these struggles have often been considered to be "historic" in terms of the number of strikers and demonstrators, but also in terms of the determination of workers to fight for their dignity and living conditions. This is a real turn around after decades of passivity and resignation[2]

In the summer of 2022, the proletariat in Britain began its fightback against the crisis. Month after month, workers went on strike and demonstrated in the streets, demanding better wages and more dignified working conditions, something not seen for three decades! At the beginning of 2023, with strikes spreading in different corners of the world, the proletariat in France mobilised en masse against the government's proposed pension reform. Millions of people, across all sectors and generations, took to the streets determined to fight back together. Then, in the autumn, workers in the United States embarked on one of the most large-scale wave of strikes in that country's history, notably in the automobile sector, which was followed by a public sector movement in Quebec, also described as historic.

More recently, in a country presented as a "social model", the workers at the Tesla factories in Sweden went on strike, followed by actions of solidarity by postal workers who blocked all mail bound for the workshops of the company run by billionaire clown Elon Musk. Dockers in turn blocked four ports and electricians refused to carry out maintenance work on electric vehicle charging points.

In Northern Ireland in January, the largest workers' strike in the region's history also brought together hundreds of thousands of workers, particularly in the public sector, demanding payment of the wages they were owed.

An unbroken fighting spirit

Even today, while war is still raging in Ukraine and Gaza, workers' strikes and demonstrations are continuing to spread around the world, particularly in Europe.

In Germany, Europe's largest economy, railway workers launched a massive historic week-long strike at the end of January. This is the latest in a long series of strikes against extended working hours and for higher wages. In the coming months, the rail network could be affected by indefinite strikes. In the country renowned for "social dialogue", strikes have been unfolding for months in many sectors: strikes in the steel industry, the civil service, transport, health, refuse collection, etc. On January 30, a national rally of 5,000 doctors took place in Hanover. On February 1st, eleven of the country's airports were affected by a strike by security staff, while 90,000 bus, tram and metro drivers also stopped work. 10,000 retail workers were also on strike in mid-February and Lufthansa ground staff were called out on strike on 20 February...

This strike movement, in terms of its broad scale and duration, is also unprecedented in a country renowned for the enormous administrative obstacles erected in the face of every social movement, and the cordon of steel imposed by trade unions that has long enabled the bourgeoisie to impose austerity plans and "reforms" without the working class really reacting. Despite the difficulties in breaking free from the corporatist straitjacket and mobilising "all together", the struggles in Germany are of immense importance and symbolic significance. They are taking place in the heart of a major industrial geographical region, in the country that was the epicentre of the revolutionary wave of the 1920s and the tragic theatre of a long period of counter-revolution. The current movement is clearly part of the international revival of the class struggle.

However, this workers' combativity is not confined to Germany. In Finland, a country with little tradition of industrial strike action, a "historic strike" took place for 48 hours at the beginning of February. Even more recently, dockers paralysed port activity in this country for four days between February 18 and 21. Up to 300,000 people were on strike to oppose the law to “reform workers' rights”. In Turkey, tens of thousands of steelworkers mobilised for months to demand pay rises at a time of rocketing prices. In Belgium, it was the non-commercial sector that went on strike and demonstrated in Brussels on January 31. In Spain, the United Kingdom, France and Greece, strikes continue in many sectors. The bourgeoisie is maintaining a deafening media blackout on these struggles, because it is well aware of the growing discontent among workers and the danger posed by broadcasting reports of such mobilisations.

The old mole is still burrowing

But the breakthrough we are witnessing is not only linked to the massive and simultaneous nature of the mobilisations. The proletariat is beginning to recognise itself again as a social force and to rediscover its identity. Despite all the illusions and confusion, on placards and in discussions, statements that "we are workers" and "we are all in the same boat" could be seen being expressed ..... These were by no means empty words! Because behind these words, solidarity is very real: solidarity between generations, first of all, as we saw very clearly in France when pensioners took to the streets en masse to support "the young"; then between sectors, as in the United States with the honking car horns outside the striking factories or in Scandinavia in defence of Tesla workers.

There were even embryonic expressions of international solidarity. The Mobilier National in France went on strike in solidarity with the cultural workers on strike in Great Britain. Refineries in Belgium went on strike in support of the mobilisation in France, while small demonstrations multiplied around the world to denounce the ferocious repression of the French state. In Italy, while many sectors have been mobilising for several months, bus, tram and metro drivers went on strike on 24 January: in the wake of the movement against pension reform in France, the workers said they wanted to carry out mobilisations "just like in France", demonstrating the links that workers are beginning to recognise across borders and the desire to learn the lessons of previous movements.

The proletariat is also starting to reappropriate its experience of struggles. In Britain, the so-called "summer of anger" explicitly referred to the major strikes of the "winter of discontent" in 1978-1979. In the French demonstrations, references to May '68 and the fight against the CPE in 2006 featured on placards at the same time as the beginnings of a reflection on these movements. And all this at a time when the state is imposing restrictions and continuing to legitimise and justify the war.

Of course, we are still a long way from a massive and profound return of class consciousness. Of course, all these expressions of solidarity and reflection are riddled with confusion and illusions, easily subverted by the bourgeoisie's complementary bodies, the unions and the left-wing parties. But do the revolutionaries who are watching all this from the balcony, scratching their heads[3] , appreciate the shift that is taking place compared to previous decades, decades of silence, resignation, rejection of the very idea of the working class and complete obliviousness of that experience?

The bourgeoisie is still able to take advantage of the immense weaknesses of the working class

While these struggles clearly demonstrate that the working class is not defeated and remains the only social force capable of confronting the bourgeoisie, its fight is far from over. It still suffers from immense weaknesses and illusions, which are cruelly illustrated by the current movements. Until now, the unions have succeeded in controlling the struggles as a whole, keeping them within a very corporatist framework, as can be seen today in France and Germany, while favouring, when necessary, a semblance of unity and radicalism, like the "Common Front" of Canadian unions or the movement in Finland.

During the movement against pension reform in France, many workers, wary of the endless days of mobilisation by the unions, began to ask themselves questions about how to fight, how to unite, how to get the government to back down... but nowhere was the class able to challenge the unions for the leadership of the struggle through sovereign general assemblies, nor was it able to break with the corporatist logic imposed by the unions.

The bourgeoisie is also deploying all its ideological weaponry to undermine the consciousness that is beginning to mature in the heads of the workers. While it remains silent about the massive strikes by the working class, it has of course been very outspoken about the farmers' movement. In Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Poland, Spain, etc., the bourgeoisie has once again been able to count on its left-wing parties to extol the merits of methods of struggle that are the antithesis of those of the proletariat and to explain that "the workers' movement must profit from this opportunity"[4]. At a time when the proletariat is timidly beginning to rediscover its class identity, the bourgeoisie is ideologically exploiting the farmers' struggle with a media offensive designed to sabotage the process of the continuing reflection and so deflect attention away from the many workers' strikes.

Nor does it spare any effort to try hitching the working class to the bandwagon of bourgeois democracy. In Europe as in America, the putrefication of its system is giving rise to political aberrations such as Trump in the United States, Milei in Argentina, the Rassemblement National in France, Alternative für Deutschland, Fratelli d'Italia and others.  In response, the bourgeoisie, or at least its factions least corrupted by capitalist decomposition, while seeking to limit the influence of the far-right parties,  are eager to exploit the influence they have over and against the working class. In Germany, in particular, more than a million people took to the streets in various cities, in response to calls from parties on the left and the right, to protest against the far right. Their aim, once more, is to maintain  democratic illusions and prevent the proletariat from waging its historic struggle against the bourgeois state.

One thing is certain, however, is that in the heat of current and future struggles, the working class will gradually find the political weaponry to defend itself against the traps set by the bourgeoisie which will therefore allow it eventually to open the course towards the communist revolution.


EG, 20 February 2024




Strikes around the world