Everywhere, from the developed to the underdeveloped countries, in every branch of industry, capitalism in crisis is imposing; its austerity on the workers. In Europe, the rate of unemployment has reached 11%. Even in countries like Holland, Sweden or Britain where the ‘Welfare State' is a well-established tradition, spending on health and social services has been drastically cut. Everywhere, the proletariat is under attack. And everywhere, it is forced to defend itself: to defend itself as massively as possible, with increasing violence, more and more against governments, police and the sabotage of the struggle by the unions and those left parties without any governmental responsibilities.
Simultaneous Struggles and the Tendency Towards Extension
Faced with the bourgeoisie's attack throughout the class, the workers are reacting in every branch of industry: in the state sector as in private industry, in traditional and high-tech branches, in manufacturing and services and in every country. The simultaneity of the struggles is continuing, especially in Europe, at the heart of the world's greatest concentration of proletarians. And the bourgeoisie wants at all costs to hide this simultaneity from the workers, to try and prevent them:
-- from becoming aware that they are not alone, that at the other end of the country, on the other side of the border, their class brothers are confronting the same problems and are fighting as well;
-- from gaining confidence in their own strength;
-- from unifying their struggles.
The simultaneity of the struggle noses concretely the possibility of its extension. The tendency to extend the struggle has made a vigorous appearance on several occasions, within one industrial branch, but also in a number of large-scale conflicts where several sectors have entered the fray, as in Brazil and Greece. Today's struggles are all the more significant and indicative of the class' present combativity, in that under the difficult conditions of the crisis - the threat of unemployment and increasing state repression, the unions' strategy of division and demobilisation - going on strike is an altogether more difficult decision than in previous periods of struggle. Even if the number of strike-days lost is less than it was at the beginnings of the ‘70s, nonetheless over the last few months millions of workers have been involved in movements of struggle.
The Need for a Mass Struggle
Alongside a strict censorship of news on the social situation, a continuous propaganda campaign is being conducted around the theme of ‘it's useless to struggle'. The images of workers' defeats are spread before us ad nauseam: gloomy ends to strikes, impotence in the face of repression, division amongst the workers, etc. The aim of all this propaganda is to hold back the open expression of discontent, to profit from the growing loss of illusions in the unions, to transform all this into passivity, to induce a feeling; of defeat, of demoralization, of individual atomization.
Just like the supposed ‘passivity' of the workers, the so-called ‘uselessness' of the struggle is a lie. The present level of class struggle does not prevent the growing attacks on the working class' living conditions, but it does limit the ruling class' room for maneuver in its offensive and acts as a brake on the attacks. This is not expressed as such in the results of each conflict; the attack is hampered at the level of the working class as a whole. Even if there are no lasting gains from each conflict, every expression of workers' discontent and resistance is part of the resistance of the whole working class, which has its effect. The more the working class resists the bourgeoisie's attacks, the more it limits the latter's room for maneuver, and the more difficult it makes the planning of these attacks. The very extent of the present campaign to belittle the workers' struggles reveals the anxiety of the ruling class. For the working class, abandoning the struggle would mean leaving the bourgeoisie's hands free to attack still more strongly on the economic level, to keep the class in a state of impotence and isolation.
The Need for Self-Organization, Against and Outside the Unions
On the economic level, the results of the struggle can only be temporary and extremely limited; far more important are its results on the development of the workers' self-confidence and consciousness. The first victory is the struggle itself, the workers' will to hold their heads high against the attacks, the humiliations, and the repression of the bourgeoisie. Anything that demonstrates the workers' will to struggle by their own means, through strikes, meetings or demonstrations, is an encouragement for the whole working class. The proliferation of conflicts breaks down the wall of silence, the feeling of isolation, develops the proletariat's awareness of its own strength, and reinforces the idea that to confront the bourgeoisie, the workers must struggle massively, that to do so the struggle must be spread, and that this is not only necessary but possible.
By fighting back, the workers force the bourgeoisie to show itself, to unveil its weapons, and especially the most dangerous of them all: the unions and the parties of the left, because they are the ones who claim to defend the workers' interests.
In Sweden, France, Greece and Spain, the Socialist Parties in power impose the same austerity measures as the right-wing governments in Britain, Germany or the USA, as the Communist Parties in the Eastern Bloc, or as the French CP between 1981 and 1984.
Everywhere, workers employed and unemployed confront the same attacks, and everywhere the left parties and trade unions, even when they are not in government directly promoting; austerity - when they are in ‘opposition' - are the spear-head of the sabotage of the workers' struggles. Because they claim to belong to the working class, because they act within it and in its name, the unions have been and are the bourgeoisie's 5th column at the heart of the workers' struggles.
During the strikes at Renault in France, in the mines at Limburg in Belgium, the division between unions has been cleverly used to divide the workers, break up their action and bring the strikes to an end. The recent TUC Congress in Britain was a clear demonstration of the organized and coordinated division between different trade unions (in particular in the mines, with the split in the NUM that broke the strike in 1984 and in the engineering industry), in order to struggle more effectively against the tendency amongst the workers towards solidarity and unity.
Faced with the unions, who are putting all their energy into keeping the class struggle within the confines of the factory, trade or branch of industry, a growing suspicion is developing within the working class: this is revealed by the tendency towards spontaneous movements that begin without instructions from the unions, towards wildcat strikes: on the railways and the Paris metro in France; on the railways and in the postal services in Belgium; in practically all the more than 200 strikes in Sweden over the last 2 years, including strikes by child-care workers and by cleaning workers at the Borlauge steel factory at the end of 1985.
In all the conflicts that start without any union instructions, the bourgeoisie rapidly puts its emergency measures into action: media campaigns, police repression and intimidation, interplay of political parties to allow the unions to retrieve control of the situation, to lead the workers' mobilization to defeat.
The radicalization of the trade unions, in particular in the form of ‘rank-and-file' or ‘fighting' unionism, which polishes up the union's image by trying to make workers believe in the possibility of a ‘real', ‘good' unionism, plays a very pernicious role. In the Tyneside shipyard strike (Britain, October ‘85), the shop-stewards supported by the leftists, diverted a strike that began spontaneously into a struggle for ‘union democracy'. In the Limburg mining industry, the leftists diverted solidarity and extension into the idea that all the mines should come out on strike before seeking solidarity in other sectors; they matched words with action by physically preventing the ICC from intervening in the strike.
The proletariat is confronting the ruling class' most sophisticated mystifications, the unions in particular. Against this, suspicion is not enough; the working class must adopt the methods necessary to control its own struggle, to take charge of itself, to break down its isolation, and through the extension of the struggle create a real balance of forces in its favor against the bourgeoisie.
The awareness of the necessity for self-organization in order to achieve a real extension of the struggle is ripening within the proletariat; revolutionary organizations must take an active part in this. In these conditions, how is the struggle to be conducted? Here again, the workers' struggles in recent months have already provided the beginnings of a reply:
-- in every factory, every workplace, impose the principal of the sovereign mass assembly, whose sole representative is the strike committee with delegates responsible to the assembly and constantly recallable by it;
-- keep the coordination between the different workplaces, different struggles, entirely in the hands of revocable committees of delegates
-- refuse to delegate decisions and actions to the unions.
The development of the class struggle is only at the beginning of an international wave; it is slow and coming up against the crucial question of the role of trade-unionism. The deteriorating economic situation will increasingly push the working class to give expression to its potential combativity. The outcome of the proletariat's struggle to emancipate itself from the barbarism of capital will depend on its ability to struggle on its own terrain, to gain confidence in itself, not to give in to the massive doses of the bourgeoisie's propaganda campaigns, and to overcome the obstacle of trade unionism.
If the deepening crisis pushes the working class to struggle, it also thrusts the bourgeoisie towards its ‘solution': generalized world war. The Reagan-Gorbachev meeting at the end of 1985 bears witness to this.
The arms race: The lie of a ‘peaceful' capitalism
This meeting provided the opportunity for an intense ideological barrage on both sides of the ‘iron curtain', which claimed to show that both Russia and the USA are ‘responsible' imperialist powers, that ‘want peace', and that the Geneva summit was a step forward ‘towards peace'.
After the invasion of Afghanistan in 1980, the two great powers returned to the threatening diatribes of the cold war: in menacing speeches, Reagan denounced the opposing Russian bloc as the ‘Evil Empire', while no sooner did Gorbachev come to power than he announced that "the tension has never been so great since the 1930s". After these successive war-mongering, aggressive campaigns, marking the return of the fear of war to the heart of the capitalist system, justifying the accelerating race towards ever more perfect instruments of death and destruction, it is hardly surprising that the words of ‘peace' of the two leaders, over a cup of coffee, broadcast by the media of the entire world, should find a favorable echo amongst populations alarmed by the Damoclean sword of nuclear holocaust hanging over their heads.
For decades, history has demonstrated that when the bourgeoisie starts preaching peace, it is only the better to prepare war. There is no shortage of examples: the 1938 Munich agreements which preceded the outbreak of WW2; the 1939 Russo-German pact, broken 2 years later by the German army's invasion of the Ukraine; the 1945 Yalta agreements, which have been followed by 40 years of rivalry between the imperialist blocs and constant war on the capitalist periphery; closer to home are the 1975 Helsinki agreements on ‘human rights' whose inanity is plain to see, and the Carter-Brezhnev summit, which was followed by the Russian invasion of Afghanistan.
What has determined the ‘peace' propaganda around the Reagan-Gorbachev meeting? On the Russian side, it was essentially the changes in the ruling group. Paralyzed by the succession crisis, the Russian bourgeoisie's foreign policy had been remarkable for its passivity and an uneasy turning in on itself. The Gorbachev team's arrival in power revealed a greater dynamism in Russian policy towards the west, trying to break the isolation in which it has been kept by the pressure of the western bloc. Faced with Gorbachev's repeated ‘propositions for disarmament', American propaganda could not remain indifferent, at the risk of appearing the warmonger. Reagan's belligerent campaigns denouncing the ‘Evil Empire' were the ideological cover for a western military offensive, characterized by the launching of a gigantic arms program (whose orientation had been decided under Carter), which has swallowed up increasingly fabulous sums of money (US military budget: $230 billion in 1985; $300 billion forecast in 1986) , and by the increasingly frequent foreign interventions of western troops. This process is now under way.
Another aspect of propaganda is now being set in motion, based on the words of ‘peace'. To mobilize workers for the war effort, to gain their adherence to the military defense of the national capital, it is essential that they should not consider their own government as responsible for the thrust towards war. It is necessary that ‘the other side' should appear in the role of aggressor. All the fine words of Reagan and Gorbachev today have no other aim than to make them seem ‘peace-loving', to lull the suspicion of ‘their' workers, to make the other bloc appear as the aggressor.
In capitalism, peace is a lie. War is prevented, not by the responsibility of heads of state, but by the proletariat's refusal to go to war.
To make war, the ruling class does not only need weapons; war is waged with men; men must produce its instruments of destruction. The only real barrier to war is not the ‘balance of terror' which each bloc is trying to disrupt in a never-ending arms race (the most recent example being the US ‘Star Wars' program). It is the proletariat's ability to resist the austerity programs imposed by the needs of the war economy and arms production.
The struggle of the workers in Poland from 1980 to 1981, which for months disrupted the entire Russian military apparatus, has demonstrated that without the commitment of the population, and especially of the working; class, to the defense of national capital, it cannot be enrolled for war. What bars the bourgeoisie's road to war is the proletariat's refusal to accept sacrifices in its living conditions. Even if the present level of class struggle does not prevent the increase in imperialist tensions, it does not leave the bourgeoisie's hands free to impose its ‘solution' to the crisis: the destruction of humanity.
The working class must spread, generalize and unite the combats that it has undertaken, and which are still held back by the left and the unions, towards an open political confrontation with the bourgeoisie.
The workers' struggles throughout the world: Some examples
BRAZIL: Since the installation of the ‘new democracy', more than 400 strikes against the austerity program; October I985, the transport system is paralyzed by a general strike; in November, 500,000 workers in Sao Paulo strike for higher wages.
GREECE: Following the SP's electoral victory, on November 6th 100,000 state and private industry workers strike against a 2-year wage freeze; the 14th November, 1.5 million workers take part in a ‘day of action' called by the left-wing of the Greek unions; a general atmosphere of social instability, confrontations and riots erupting around the university of Athens.
JAPAN: November ‘85, rail strike against threatened layoffs.
SWEDEN: Against the austerity imposed by a newly re-elected Social-Democratic government, strikes in the abattoirs, in railway yards throughout the country, with mass assemblies, the tendency towards self-organization and extension culminates in a movement of childcare workers, the 23rd November, several thousand workers take part in some 150 demonstrations throughout the country, openly directed against the state and the unions.
HOLLAND: Walk-outs in several Philips factories, against wage reductions; October 1985, strike by Amsterdam train drivers and firemen, 23rd October, wildcat stoppages in the port of Rotterdam; the dockers protest against the recently signed union/management agreement on work speeds and wage reductions.
FRANCE: September 1985, strikes in the shipyards; at Dunkirk, the workers continue the strike against the advice of the unions; 30th September, 2 days after a very meager participation in a union ‘day of action', a wildcat walk out on the railways spreads throughout the network in 48 hours; November, strikes at the AFP press agency and at the Banque de France; 22 November, virtually all the miners of Lorraine are out on strike against announced redundancies.
BELGIUM: On the railways, 11,000 jobs have been cut in 3 years; in October 1985, the bourgeoisie tries to impose new taxes on night-work bonuses, to be applied retroactively from 1982; faced with the speed and determination of a strike throughout the rail network, the measures are put off for later. The unions present this as a victory, to prevent the workers profiting from the balance of forces in their favor to gain their complete withdrawal, and above all to prevent the strike spreading to other sectors as in September ‘83. In this context, 3,500 workers in Limburg came out on strike against the threat of 4,000 redundancies within a week they had been joined by 18,000 miners. It needed the contribution of the leftist rank-and-file unionists to exhaust the most determined workers and prevent the search for solidarity in other sectors.
UNITED STATES: Autumn ‘85, a three-month strike paralyses the steel industry in Wheeling; Pittsburgh; in the automobile industry, a 6-day wage strike at Chrysler; on the construction site of the Seabrooke nuclear power station near Boston, 2,500 workers of all trades strike together in spite of the inter-trade barriers set up by the unions; at the country's largest food-storage centre, at Watsonville, California, workers' combativity appears in the refusal of mass assemblies to accept the agreement signed by the unions.