The world in struggle (part one):
Belgium, Spain, Greece, and South Africa

To: Detroit Workers' Voice mailing list
November 22, 2014
RE: Struggles around the world

Below we survey some of the ongoing struggles around the world.

Belgium

On Thursday, November 6, over 100,000 workers demonstrated against austerity measures in Brussels, the capital of Belgium. This huge demonstration was part of a campaign that is supposed to include regional strikes every Monday, starting November 24, and build up to a general strike on Monday, December 15.

The workers are fighting the plans of the center-right government of Prime Minister Charles Michel, whose cabinet was sworn in on October 11, 2014. Michel wants to cut public sector wages, delay cost-of-living adjustments, increase the retirement age, and make a number of other social cuts.

Similar measures were advocated by the previous government, headed by the social-democrat Elio Di Rupo, whose cabinet had been sworn in almost three years earlier, on December 6, 2011. Back then, the workers had met the formation of the Di Rupo government with a national strike on Jan. 30, 2012, on the occasion of a meeting of European Union leaders in Brussels. Thus the main establishment parties, from rightist to social-democratic, have been advocating austerity.

Spain

Spain is suffering not just from economic slowdown, but from vicious austerity measures that squeeze the life out of the working masses while depressing the economy further. About one fourth of the workers are unemployed; this includes over half of young workers. The government has responded by cutting social services, cutting relief, changing the labor code to remove worker rights, and other market fundamentalist measures.

Austerity was brutally imposed by the so-called Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE), which was in power when the depression hit in 2008. And austerity is now being championed by the conservative People’s Party (PP) of Mariano Rajoy, which came to power in November 2011. Thus  both of the main establishment parties back the plan of squeezing the workers and strengthening the capitalists.

This has led to a wave of revulsion with these parties. A new party, Podemos (”We can”), was founded early in 2014. Just a few months later, on May 25, it received about 8% of the votes in the elections of May for the European Parliament. It continued to grow like wildfire, now having over 200,000 members, and opinion polls show it to be more popular than either the PP or PSOE. (One should always take polls with a grain of salt, though.)

Podemos is a left-wing party which calls for many worthy goals. It also has a structure that seeks to break with the bureaucratic practices of other Spanish parties, which are mainly vehicles of corrupt enrichment for their leaders. But does Podemos have an idea of the methods that must be used to achieve its goals? And can it build a structure that is durable and can stand up to the bitter counterattacks that the bourgeois parties will launch against it? It is a major achievement of the Spanish activists and working masses to try to build a party separate from the old parties; it is something that should encourage people elsewhere to make similar attempts. But it will be the first step in this effort, not the last. It will be watched closely by activists elsewhere.

Greece

The European bourgeoisie has shown its utter heartlessness in the suffering it has inflicted on Greek workers. The capitalists and bankers of the European Union and the Greek bourgeoisie have jointly reduced much of the population to despair. As in Spain, both of the main bourgeois parties have backed this austerity. Presently the government of Antonis Samaras of the conservative New Democracy party is imposing this torture on the Greek working people, but previously the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (called the Democratic Party since November 1st) carried it out, whether ruling alone or in coalition with the New Democracy.

There have been many strikes and demonstrations against austerity in Greece. As well, mass disgust with the parties of austerity has led to the growth of the Coalition of the Radical Left (Syriza). Syriza was founded in the early 2000s, but gained increasing support as austerity deepened. It came in second in the parliamentary elections of 2012; it came in first this year among Greek parties in the elections of May 25 for the European parliament. And opinion polls now show it to be the most popular party in Greece. Moreover, there might be new elections in early 2015. (It depends on whether parliament is able to select a new president: if not, there is supposed to be new parliamentary elections.)

Syriza stands for ending austerity and other worthy goals, but has a problem with knowing how to achieve them. Its leader, Alexis Tsipras, puts hope in the idea of renegotiating agreements with the financiers of the European Union, but it’s unlikely that the bankers will have much sympathy for Syriza’s goals. The EU bourgeoisie has been using the crisis to force Greece to cut social programs and squeeze the working class, and it is committed to continuing down this road. But, unfortunately, Syriza does not have definite plans about what to do if it can’t get the deal it wants. Thus, as in Spain, it is a major achievement of the working class that it is seeking to build a mass anti-austerity party separate from the old parties, but Syriza is the first step, not the last, in this effort.

South Africa

The end of apartheid in 1994 was a new dawn for South Africa. One of the most notorious racist systems in the world was abolished. The politics of the new South Africa would be dominated by the so-called Tripartite Alliance of Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC), the South Africa Communist Party (SACP), and the Congress of South Africa Trade Unions (COSATU), three organizations intimately involved in the overthrow of apartheid.

But the end of apartheid has not brought the masses out of poverty. The ANC-led government has taken part in world neo-liberalism; many ANC and COSATU leaders have become fabulously rich; and South Africa is now one of the most unequal societies in the world. There have been a number of bitter strikes by miners and other workers. In 2012, a protracted strike by miners was met by violent suppression by the government, acting in the interests of the mining capitalists. At Marikana, on August 16, 2012, 34 workers were shot down in cold blood by the police.

But the horrendous Marikana massacre didn’t cow down the workers of South Africa. Since then, there has been one strike after another in major industries. In 2013 there were, among other actions, major strikes in auto and mining. Then in the first half of 2014, platinum miners struck for five months; this was the longest strike ever in South Africa. Later in the year, 220,000 members of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) carried out a giant strike against 12,000 firms.

The strike wave is a sign that the ANC and the ANC-affiliated leadership of COSATU are losing control over South African workers. The metalworkers union NUMSA, for example, is the largest union in South Africa with a third of a million workers; it was an important part of the struggle against apartheid; and today it is backing the strikes and other struggles by impoverished workers. It has increasingly found itself in conflict with the ANC-led government and the SACP. Finally, at the NUMSA Special Congress of December 2013, it declared that it will no longer back the ANC and ANC-led government. It called for the development of a united front in support of workers’ struggle, and for the development of a new socialist party, since the ANC and SACP did not deserve support.

In retaliation, two weeks ago, on November 8, the COSATU leadership expelled NUMSA. The COSATU leadership was especially anxious to do this prior to the holding of a special COSATU national congress where disagreements could be aired before all the unions. But if the COSATU leadership thought this expulsion would end the matter, it was sadly mistaken. Two days later, on November 10, seven unions withdrew their representatives from COSATU executive bodies and demanded the convening of the special national congress.

This struggle has a significance that goes far beyond South Africa. It speaks to what’s happened in many countries that have emerged from colonial rule or other forms of tyranny. As the General Secretary of NUMSA put it, in his presentation of November 7 to the Central Executive Committee of COSATU:

"The treatment of labour as a junior partner within the Alliance is not uniquely a South African phenomenon. In many post-colonial and post-revolutionary situations, liberation and revolutionary movements have turned on labour movements that fought alongside them, suppressed them, marginalised them, split them, robbed them of their independence or denied them any meaningful role in politics and policy-making." (http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/NUMSA.html)

The workers of South Africa are standing up to say “no” to this situation. The fate of their struggle will affect developments around the world.

An important feature common to many struggles

Even in this short survey, we see that many parties that call themselves “socialist” or “communist” have been among those on the other side of the barricades: not just the conservatives and the liberals, but the “socialist” PSOE and PASOK are for austerity; and the ANC-led government, with the support of the “communist” SACP, shot down miners at Marikana and is enriching itself at the expense of the majority of the black masses. The struggles in Belgium, Spain, Greece, and South Africa show that workers not only need to strike and demonstrate, but to develop parties that will really represent them and are committed to struggle against the capitalists, rather than active in getting into bed with the capitalists.

This also shows the need to uphold what we at the Communist Voice Organization call anti-revisionism: if there is to be a consistent class struggle, activists need to denounce fake socialism and build up a movement that really stands for revolutionary socialism and the class struggle. We must not judge groups by sentimental attachment to old names that include the words “socialism” or “communism”, but by whether groups really support the liberation of the working class.

We will continue this survey in part 2.

-- Joseph Green, editor, Communist Voice

(Some typos corrected.)


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