In France, the massive struggles of young students and workers – of the new generation of the working class – forced the government to withdraw its new ‘employment’ law, the CPE. The organisation of the struggle through general assemblies, the capacity of the students to discuss collectively and avoid many of the traps laid by the ruling class, their understanding of the necessity for the movement to spread to the wage earners, all these are signs that we are entering a new period of confrontation between the classes.
General assembly in France: an example for the working class
This is shown not only by the movement in France, but also by the fact that this was only one of a whole series of movements by the working class against capitalism’s growing assault on its living standards. In Britain, the strike called by local government unions on 28 March was taken up by 1.5 million workers, concerned to resist new inroads into their pensions. In Germany, tens of thousands of state employees and engineering workers have been involved in strikes against wage cuts and increases in the working week. In Spain the SEAT workers came out spontaneously against sackings agreed between bosses and unions. In the USA, workers in the New York transport system and Boeing workers also struck in defence of their pension benefits. In the summer of 2005 Argentina was hit by its biggest wave of strikes for 15 years. In India, Mexico, South Africa, Dubai, China and Vietnam, the working class has been showing in its actions that, contrary to all the propaganda of our exploiters, it has not disappeared from the social scene. On the contrary, it remains the class which keeps the wheels of capitalist production turning and which creates the vast bulk of social wealth. These movements are becoming more widespread, more simultaneous, and more determined.
A central theme in nearly all these movements has been that old proletarian principle of solidarity. We saw it in France not only in the exemplary way students from different universities supported each other, but also in the active mobilisation of a growing number of wage earners in the movement, and in the unity between different generations. We saw it in Spain when workers came out in defence of sacked comrades. We saw it in Belfast when postal workers, on strike against the advice of their union, openly crossed the sectarian divide by marching together through Catholic and Protestant areas of the city. We saw it in New York where the transit workers explained that they were fighting not just for themselves but for the next generation of workers. In India, striking Honda workers in Delhi were joined by masses of workers from other factories, especially after clashes with the forces of repression.
The principle of solidarity – and workers’ increasing willingness to defend it in action – is central to the very nature of the working class. This is a class which can only defend its interests in a collective manner, by spreading its struggles as widely as possible, by overcoming all the divisions imposed by capitalist society: divisions into nations, races, religions, professions or trade unions. The search for solidarity thus contains the seeds of massive social movements which have the capacity to paralyse the workings of the capitalist system. We had a definite glimpse of this in France this spring. We are still only at the beginning, but the present resurgence of workers’ struggles is paving the way to the mass strikes of the future.
And beyond the mass strike lies the perspective not only of bringing capital to a halt, but of reorganising the very basis of production, of creating a society where social solidarity is the norm, not a principle of opposition to the existing order, which is founded on ruthless competition between human beings.
This perspective is contained in the present struggles of the working class. It is not merely a hope for a better future, but a necessity imposed by the bankruptcy of the capitalist social system. The recent class movements have been provoked by continuing and growing attacks on workers’ living standards – on wages, hours, pensions, job security. But these attacks are not something the rulers and their state could dispense with in favour of some other policy. They are obliged to reduce workers’ living standards because they have no choice, because they cannot escape from the pressure of the capitalist economic crisis and the deadly war for survival on the world market. This is true whatever political party is in power, whatever group of bureaucrats manage the state.
Neither does the bourgeoisie have any choice when the breakdown of the economy pushes it towards militarism and war. The generalisation of war across the planet – currently manifesting itself most strongly in the ‘war against terrorism’ and the threat to launch a new military front against Iran - expresses capitalism’s inexorable drive towards self-destruction.
The exploiting class and the class of wage workers have nothing in common. They have no choice but to try to drive us into the ground. We have no choice but to resist. And it is in resisting that we will discover the confidence and strength to raise the prospect of abolishing exploitation once and for all.