For the past 15 years all the propaganda of the ruling class has been trying to tell us that the working class is dead, a thing of the past. But reality is showing that the proletariat is very much alive and that all over the world it has no choice but to develop its struggle.
Over the summer we saw a clear expression of working class solidarity in the Heathrow strike (see WR 288 or our website). Fear of a wider movement within the working class has also obliged the Blair government to withdraw part of its plans to force public sector workers to carry on working until they are 65 instead of 60 as it its today. Even so, according to the agreement reached with the unions, from 2006 onwards new recruits in the health, education, and other sectors will still be subjected to this attack. After the national strike on 4 October in France, which saw the unions call over a million workers on the streets in order to siphon off growing social discontent, the ‘Socialist’ FGTB union in Belgium brought large segments of the economy to a halt. Again the aim was to keep the lid on mounting protest against the government, which is launching a new attack on social security and raising the pensionable age from 58 to 60. On 28 October both the big union federations of the country organised a second general mobilisation, the first time they have acted together this way for 12 years.
In the USA, the strike by 18,500 engineering workers at Boeing, called after an 86% vote in favour by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers lasted from 2 to 29 September (the previous strike by Boeing workers in 1995 dragged on for 69 days before ending in a heavy defeat). The workers have once again rejected the contract offered by the bosses, which includes an attempt to lower pensions at a time when contributions for social benefits have tripled since 1995, and when the bosses are avoiding giving any guarantees about job security. The workers’ anger was all the stronger given that the firm’s profits have also tripled over the last 3 years. The enterprise also wants to get a cut in payment of medical costs, in particular by getting rid of any medical cover for retired workers. The workers rejected this whole manoeuvre of division between ‘new’ and ‘old’ workers. They also opposed another attempt by the management to set workers against each other by introducing different measures for workers between the three production factories (the one in Wichita in Kansas was to be put in a less favourable position than the ones in Seattle Washington or Portland Oregon). The workers demanded the same conditions for all the firm’s engineering workers. In the end, the bosses agreed to give exceptional bonuses and for the moment to keep their hands off medical cover and pensions, but, on the other hand, the workers will still see a reduction in wage increases and increased welfare contributions. However the most striking fact about all this has been the almost total blackout surrounding this strike, notably in Europe. The aim of this is to prevent the working class recognising that there is an exploited working class in the USA and that there too it is fighting to defend its interests.
Again, the strikes which swept through Argentina between June and August have had no publicity in Europe, in contrast to the noise made about the social revolt of 2001, which was dominated by inter-classism (see International Review 109, 117 and 119). The struggles of last summer are the most important wave of strikes there for 15 years, especially in the industrial region of Cordoba. On page 4 of this issue we have an in-depth article that shows workers’ search for solidarity, the brutal reaction of the bourgeoisie, the denigrations by the media and the attempts by the leftist piqueteros to drag workers into commando actions. Faced with all these manoeuvres and the preparations for the coming electoral circus, the strike wave retreated. But it has confirmed that the everywhere the proletariat is raising its head and affirming itself as a class in struggle. In the last issue of this paper we pointed as well to the strikes of the Honda workers in India. There is also the example of China, whose economic ‘success story’ is the subject of a gigantic campaign of deception and lies. An NGO in Hong Kong has counted no less than 57,000 labour conflicts in 2004, involving 3 million wage workers, involving the private sector as well as the state factories.
Despite all the limits of these struggles, despite all the union manoeuvres against them, these are not movements that belong to a forgotten past. The working class is not dead! It has no choice but to fight for its interests and to take its struggles forward. More than ever the working class carries within its struggle the only future for humanity. ICC 28/10/5