All over the planet, the living standards of the working class are under attack. Whether it’s through redundancies, speed-ups and flexibility at work, the imposition of precarious job contracts, attempts to reduce pensions or put off the retirement age, cuts in funding for health and education, there is no let up. No sector of the working class is spared: young or old, public or private employee, in work or out of work, full time or casual, native or immigrant. And it makes no difference whether the country you live in openly admits some of its economic difficulties (as in much of western Europe), claims that its economy is in good health (as in Britain) or is ‘booming’ (as in China). Whatever the media and politicians tell us, these attacks are the inevitable response of the ruling class to the crisis of its system. They are proof of the bankruptcy of the capitalist social order, its growing inability to provide its slaves with the necessities of life.
The dead-end reached by the present form of economy is also the root cause of all the other ills raining on humanity: the drive to compete over a glutted world market forces the bourgeoisie to cut safety standards, resulting in a mounting list of disasters at sea, in the air, on the railways. It accelerates the destruction of the natural environment in the interests of profit. And it increasingly turns the whole globe into a series of armed camps: militarism and war have become capitalism’s ‘answer’ to its economic contradictions.
But the increasingly severe economic attacks can also have another effect: they can serve to unmask all the lies we are sold about the bright future capitalism can bring us, as long as it made more efficient, more democratic, more environmentally conscious, more global or else more local. And they can push the working class to fight back as a class, to respond to the massive attacks with no less massive struggles. Indeed, after years of being told that the class struggle was over, that the working class no longer existed, the last few months have seen growing signs that the class struggle is once again on the rise. In the summer we saw the solidarity actions at Heathrow and a huge wave of strikes in Argentina. At Christmas we saw the strike in the New York transit system and a spontaneous strike by the SEAT car workers in Spain (see articles in this issue). In the last week we saw unofficial strikes by postal workers in Belfast. These are only a few of many other examples going back to the strike movements in France and Germany in 2003 and 2004. And although the majority of these movements have been short-lived and far from massive, they are nonetheless significant. In all the ones mentioned here, the theme of solidarity has been very strong: solidarity with sacked comrades at Heathrow and SEAT; solidarity with colleagues on strike in Belfast; even solidarity with future generations of workers in the New York strike where pensions was a key issue. This rediscovery of class solidarity is absolutely vital if the working class is to widen and unify its struggles and impose itself as a real social force opposed to capital.
Of no less significance is the number of struggles in which workers have acted spontaneously, outside of the directives of the trade unions and their numbing official procedures. Again, in nearly all cases the unions have regained control of the situation, often by talking tough and posing as the true friends of the workers. But these skirmishes between workers and unions contain the seeds of the future autonomous self-organisation of the working class.
Above all, the reappearance
of the class struggle in numerous countries serves as a reminder that the
working class is an international class, which everywhere faces the same
problems and everywhere has the same interests against the demands of the
exploiting minority. Faced with a world of sharpening imperialist conflict, of
increasingly bloody national, racial and religious divisions, the development
of the class struggle offers an alternative: the unification of the exploited
across all divisions, and the perspective of a world human community.