Four years into the depression, workers everywhere continue to be
devastated by the capitalist austerity drive. But around the globe,
workers and other oppressed peoples are replying with an outburst of
revolts, strikes and protests. They are fighting both starvation and
Last year the long-ruling tyrants of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya were toppled by mass uprisings, and today the people there are pressing demands upon the new regimes. In Syria, the people are fighting to bring down the Assad tyranny. And in Bahrain,
while their uprising was overwhelmed last year by US-supported Saudi
Arabian military intervention, the people are again filling the streets
and demanding democracy. The Arab Spring has been a reaction to both
tyranny and the misery caused by “free market” policies.
Protests and general strikes have wracked Europe. In Greece, Spain, and Portugal,
hundreds of thousands of workers have taken to the streets against cuts
in jobs, wages, pensions, schools, and other social programs. They are
fighting bankers, capitalists, and establishment politicians who aim to
solve the debt crisis by crushing the masses.
In Nigeria, more than a million workers and poor waged
a week-long general strike against rising fuel prices caused by the
removal of subsidies, a removal demanded by the IMF and World Bank. In India,
as many as 100 million workers waged a one-day general strike against
rising prices, privatization, and substandard pay for contract workers
and in favor of a better minimum wage. A million South Africans conducted an anti-austerity general strike.
The Fukushima nuclear disaster spurred thousands to protest in Japan, while construction of the Kundankulam nuclear plant sparked large demonstrations in India.
Here in the US, nation-wide protests demanded justice for the murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida.
These are but a few of the actions brought on by the savage policies of world capitalism in the last few months.
But while the masses are fighting, they’re hamstrung everywhere by
many organizations that speak in their name. The fake “socialist”
parties in Europe, for example, demand austerity just like the
right-wing parties, and have even sent police to put down protests.
Likewise, the dominant trade union bureaucracies, such as that in the
US, routinely give big concessions to the capitalists, and work to
limit the mass actions or outright squash them.
Thus, to beat back the class offensive of the rich -- to say nothing of overthrowing their rule -- the working class is going to have to overcome this treachery by organizing in a way that is independent of the capitalists and all their apologists. In the US, this means opposing all the capitalist politicians, whether Democrat or Republican.
The Republican leaders cheer on the austerity drive. Their motto is
that the capitalists should be free from any restraint, and then there
will be a veritable heaven on earth for all. Hence, taxes and
regulations on the rich, and definitely unions of course, should all
but disappear. Workers should be seen, but not paid, at least not very
As for global warming, they say it’s a hoax, or at least not caused by human activity, and pretend that industrial and corporate activity have nothing to do with the climate.
And the health care crisis? They don’t worry about that. So what if
50 million people are uninsured? Supposedly young people have decided
to “self-insure”, and the free market will take care of everything else.
And women’s rights? The Republicans are backing one more crazy law
after another, from eliminating equal pay provisions in Wisconsin to
opposing abortion rights and limiting the availability of contraception
and birth control.
As for racism? They are eager to expand the police state at the
Mexican border and to harass Latinos with racial-profiling measures in
Arizona, Alabama and elsewhere. And they often don't bother hiding
their anti-black venom.
But the Republicans are first and foremost for slashing social
programs. They blame unemployment on unemployment insurance, and
poverty on anti-poverty programs. They moan about balancing the budget
in order to slash social programs, but their worry about deficits
disappears when it comes to granting millionaires more tax breaks, or
expanding the trillion dollar war-machine.
What, then, is Obama’s alternative?
Social programs? Even before taking office, Obama lined up
Democratic support for Bush’s bank bail out. Then, when he had a large
Congressional majority, he put social programs on the chopping block in
the name of deficit reduction! And he is ravaging public schools,
teachers and students alike, with his “Race to the Top” program.
Tax the rich? No, Obama extended Bush’s tax cuts for the rich. Then
this February, he proposed lowering the tax rate for companies from the
present 35% to 28%, and down to 25% for US manufacturers. His State of
the Union Address preached the Reagan-style trickle-down economics of
cutting regulations and taxes for the business elite.
Jobs? While millions are out of work, Obama has no real jobs
program. Instead he backs measures that would cut hundred of thousands
of postal service jobs. And his bailout of GM and Chrysler may have
revived their profits, but it was at the cost of cutting tens of
thousands of jobs.
Climate change? Beneath Obama’s sweet talk about “green energy”, his program is drill more oil, strip-mine more coal, frack more natural gas and license new nuclear power plants. This year he has boasted of opening up millions of acres of land and offshore for drilling, and of helping develop fracking technologies to extract natural gas from shale rock. Never mind that fracking poisons water resources and produces large carbon emissions just like coal and oil.
Faced with this bipartisan onslaught, one might think the trade
union leaders would be organizing a revolt. Hardly. Rather than
opposing Obama’s pro-capitalist program, the AFL-CIO bureaucrats have
endorsed him for re-election and promise to mobilize tens of thousands
of workers to doorbell for him this fall. The UAW bureaucrats heap
praise on Obama’s auto bailout despite its major job cuts and half
wages for new hires.
Postal workers are under attack, and postal management wants to cut
wages, lay off another 220,000 workers, and tear up union contracts.
Yet the leaders of the postal unions refuse to organize serious
protests. They haven’t yet even asked for support from Occupy, and
instead lobby politicians, sometimes first supporting a politician, and
then having to oppose the same one.
The AFL-CIO leaders denounce the Republicans, but even here they try
to please the capitalists. They have organized rallies and a recall
campaign against Republican Governor of Wisconsin Scott Walker who
wants to effectively end negotiating rights for public sector unions.
But this was only after Walker failed to accept big contract
concessions offered by the bulk of the union hierarchy.
Far from organizing a serious fight, the present pro-capitalist AFL-CIO and CTW leaders subvert it. For example, when Occupy activists successfully organized port blockades on the West Coast in solidarity with longshore workers and truckers battling anti-union measures, ILWU longshore union officials denounced them and even physically assaulted an Occupy planning meeting.
While the sellout union leaders promote Obama as the savior, he is
brutal toward the undocumented immigrant workers. He has deported more
immigrants than Bush or any other president. Yes, he condemns Romney,
whose advisor on immigration helped craft the racial-profiling laws in
Arizona and Alabama. But Obama's raids on immigrants at workplaces and
communities are racial profiling on a grand scale: last year alone some
46,000 immigrants with children who are US citizens were swept up.
Obama sheds tears about families torn apart by ICE raids and
deportations, but the raids continue. He keeps repeating his old
promise of “comprehensive immigration reform”, but his proposals offer
hope only for a few, while stepping up oppression of the majority of
The real concern of politicians of both parties is to fatten
business profits by driving undocumented workers into the shadows
through the threat of deportation. This hinders them from organizing
and subjects them to severe exploitation. It makes them into a hunted,
second-class labor force.
The denial of rights to one part of the working class makes it easier to deny rights to all workers. And it breaks up class solidarity among workers. This is then used to drive down the conditions of all workers. Demanding full rights for all immigrants—no matter what their legal status—is therefore in the vital interest of every worker.
The wide spread of the Occupy movement shows the burning desire for
resistance to the capitalist onslaught. It could only take place
outside the bounds set by the mainstream union leaders and
establishment groups. The ruling class has tried to divert Occupy into
mild establishment-approved activities, and, failing that, has
unleashed brutal police attacks, many by Democratic or liberal mayors.
These blows have had some success, but they have also increased the
determination of many activists to persevere.
For example, Occupy held dramatic protests in several West Coast
cities. 15,000 people marched on the Port of Oakland last Nov. in
response to police attacks. In Dec., protests in solidarity with
longshore workers and truckers shut down port operation in Portland,
Oakland and Seattle in spite of opposition by ILWU officials.
The coming of new people into struggle and the militant mass actions
have been inspiring. The spirit to fight capitalism itself has also
been spreading. But Occupy is merely an initial step in the struggle.
There are many trends in Occupy, with competing views of what to do.
Some of these trends are opposed to militant action or even back the
Democrats and the union officials. The future of Occupy as an active
movement of struggle that brings new sections of workers and oppressed
around it depends on whether it stays independent of the Democrats,
establishment politicians, and no-struggle union leaders.
So there are many controversies over orientation in the Occupy
movement. One is whether to go along with the trade union bureaucrats
or to take militant action despite them. Some activists rightly despise
the main union leaders and their ties to the Democrats. They are
willing to defy the do-nothing trade union leaders, and that has been
important for carrying out militant Occupy actions such as solidarity
with longshore workers. Another issue is that some activists think that
unions in general are bad. But there is a difference between the
present pro-concession union leaders, and union activity in general.
Unions aren't the only form of workplace organizing, but they are a
major part of it. To spread the struggle widely among workers, it’s
important to have as much contact with workplace issues and both
organized and unorganized workers as possible. One must fight the
pro-establishment union leaders from within as well as without the
unions, and deal with workplace issues despite the obstruction of the
present union bureaucrats.
There is also a growing interest in Marxism. Marx showed that the
capitalists aren’t simply bad individuals, but squeeze the masses as
part of the inherent nature of the drive for profits. Marxism also
shows that workers have a vital interest in the liberation struggles of
oppressed peoples. It also shows the need to overthrow capitalism
altogether if we ever are going to end exploitation and oppression.
A critical part of Marxist theory is exposing how the tyrannical Stalinist USSR, or Cuba or China today, are not socialist, but a new form of state capitalism. These false “communists” revised real communist theory beyond recognition. The refutation of their “revisionism” is essential if Marxism is to be a theory of liberation, and not an apology for oppressive regimes.
The great movement for an 8-hour day, culminating in the general strike of May 1, 1886, showed the power of the working class, while the hanged Chicago martyrs of that struggle showed its heroism. Today’s crisis demands the same heroism. As we fight against economic austerity, persecution of immigrants, resurgent racism, the assault on women’s rights, and destruction of the environment, let’s be inspired by the working-class heroes who defiantly battled the capitalists over a century ago. Let’s use May 1st to rally more workers into the battle. Let’s make true the historic words:
“We have nothing to lose but our chains! We have a world to win!” <>
(DWV #103, May 1, 2012, with one sentence corrected.)
Back to main page, how to order CV, write us!
Last changed on May 31,