Workers’ struggles intensify across the world
CWI- May Day greetings to workers, youth and oppressed!
Karl Debbaut, CWI, London, 28 April, 2006
The CWI extends socialist and revolutionary greetings on May Day 2006, to all workers and youth and to the oppressed peoples of the world!
This 1 May will see hundreds of thousands of US workers and youth, the majority from an immigrant background, take part in demonstrations, as part of a general strike against a proposed law to clamp down on immigration. A more fitting commemoration of the Chicago 1886 events, when workers were shot down, as they took part in demonstrations to win the 8-hour working day, is hardly imaginable. The killings in Chicago caused outrage amongst workers around the world. The workers’ movement called for 1 May to be an international day of workers’ struggle and solidarity.
As a celebration of working class struggle and solidarity, May Day 2006, will be notable. The re-emergence of the working class struggle, internationally, is impossible to ignore. These are not the nineties, which were marked by an ebb of working class struggle, under pressure from the ideological offensive by the apologists for capitalism. This is 2006, and Europe is living in the aftermath of a victorious struggle by French workers against the ‘CPE’ contract; the biggest civil service strike in Britain since 1926; and a general strike in Greece. In Latin America, the popular uprising against neo-liberal policies is continuing. The indigenous population in Ecuador paralysed the country in protest at the Free Trade Agreement with the US. In Bolivia, Evo Morales, the first president from an indigenous background, was elected on the back of a popular movement demanding the nationalisation of the gas resources of the country. Asia was rocked by a general strike by Indian workers against privatisations and by popular movements in the Philippines and Thailand against corruption. In the last few weeks, the world witnessed a marvellous 18-day general strike by the workers and poor masses in Nepal, against the brutal dictatorship of King Gyanendra: A general strike and protest movement which had many features of a classical revolutionary situation (see: Nepal: half a million people celebrate as the King reinstates parliament 27 April 2006 on socialistworld.net)
These struggles of the working class internationally, and, in particular, demonstrations and strikes in the United States, connect with the real meaning of the international workers’ day. It will blow away the dusty speeches made by representatives of the trade union and labour bureaucracy who, in some countries, celebrate the first of May with a few allusions to workers’ struggle and socialism. But workers and youth marching in the US, the most powerful imperialist nation, illustrates the growing mass opposition against neo-liberalism and the policies of capitalism.
On 10 April, demonstrations in more than 120 US cities took place, involving more than two million people. Nearly one million people protested the previous week in Los Angeles. Hundreds of thousands marched in both Chicago and Dallas. These demonstrations throughout the US involved tens of thousands of immigrants, primarily Latino, and overwhelmingly working class. They called for general strike on the 1 May - a new high in the protest against a Republican-sponsored law that seeks to criminalise the Latino and immigrant community. These sections of the American working class are amongst the most exploited and downtrodden. They are, quite literally, the ones that keep society going, working as low paid cleaners, doormen, refuse collectors or teachers. Many cannot find regular employment and hold down two or three jobs to feed their families. They find themselves, together with the majority of US workers, at the sharp end of the American dream. Penniless, exploited, and holding on to that job that keeps them one step away from absolute poverty and homelessness.
Just like the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina opened the eyes of the world to the deep class divisions, and the deep class and racial segregation in the US, the mass movement against the immigration laws will, to a certain extent, remind the world about the potential power of the US working class
The Bush administration, and the Republican Party, were severely shaken by the mass protests that have developed in California, and other southern US states, over this issue. Support for Bush is sliding away. In the latest of polls his personal approval rating slipped to 32%.
The Iraq nightmare
The masses in the Middle East are enduring the third and bloodiest year of US and British imperialist-led occupation of Iraq. On average, 36 civilian deaths a day take place in Iraq. According to figures released by ‘Iraq Body Count’, more that 35,000 civilians were killed since the occupation began (the British based medical journal, ‘The Lancet’, put the figure at 100,000). The reality is probably even worse. Since after the bombing of the Samara shrine, and the spate of sectarian killings that followed, it has been nearly impossible to keep track of the body count.
The nightmare of the US-led occupation has left parts of the American ruling class demoralised, exasperated and horrified. Retired US military generals recently lined up to criticise the Bush administration’s invasion preparations and its handling of the war. The US ambassador to Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, said the Iraq invasion opened up a "Pandora's Box of sectarian conflict". According to reports in the press, more than one million Iraqis fled the country since the occupation started. For the majority of the Iraqi working class and poor, however, leaving Iraq is not an option. The terrible economic conditions in Iraq - a combination of the destruction brought about by war and the aggressive neo-liberal policies put in place by the first American viceroys - bled the country dry and left the population destitute.
Re-emergence working class struggle
From the revolutionary upheavals and the 18-day general strike, in Nepal, to the brilliant victory won by French workers in repelling the CPE law, all signs are that the working class, internationally, is reclaiming its voice and is steadily moving in defence of its class interests and against the bosses’ offensive.
In Germany, recently, public employees in three states went on strike for more than 8 weeks, while doctors struck for more than 4 weeks! In France, a huge movement of youth and workers, with rallies and demos that exceeded 3 million, forced the government into a major retreat!
These movements are propelled by the increasingly desperate situation the working class, including the European working class, finds itself in. The onslaught of neo-liberal attacks lead to a decline in living standards across the continent. In France, overall unemployment stands at 9.6%, and youth unemployment is at 23%. Yet, in 2005, the top 40 French companies increased their profit with 50%, compared to 2004. The same picture is emerging world wide. As the neo-liberal offensive against the working class and youth continues, the top companies rake in massive profits. For example, Tesco, the British-based supermarket chain, reported 2.2 billion pounds profit, last year.
Socialism as a necessity
The US government spent $ 151.1 billion on the Iraq war – an enormous sum to get direct control the country’s oil. According to NGO reports, an investment of $ 151.1 billion, with the aim to satisfy the basic needs of the world’s poorest, would cut world hunger in half, and pay for HIV/AIDS medicine, childhood immunisation, clean water and sanitation needs, for the developing world, for more than two years. This is a devastating condemnation of capitalism.
Yet, there are still those in the labour movement who believe it is possible to ‘reform’ capitalism, to make it more ‘ethical’. These people, usually found in the plush offices of the trade union leadership, or in the foyers of national parliaments, are, more often than not, holding on to illusions, and putting their personal careers above the interest of the working class. They treat workers with contempt. They have no idea or will to use the immense potential power of workers and youth to change society.
The treacherous nature of this approach was exposed again as recently during the mass mobilisations in France. Trade union leaders said they could not call a general strike, let alone organise one, because it would have had "insurrectionary" consequences. This is a feeble excuse behind which the trade union leaders hide their lack of a political alternative.
Furthermore, the party political expression of these timid union leaders is found in the policies of the French communist and socialist parties (PCF and PS). The policies of the the leaders of the workers’ movement directs a section of workers towards voting for the opposition PS and PCF – parties who, when they were last in power, succeeded in privatising more than the present conservative government!
The Committee for a Workers International (CWI) is engaged in an international struggle to break with capitalism and to start building a socialist society. We fight for a society where the wealth created by millions of workers, all over the world, would be under the democratic control and management of the working class and youth. A society were we can, once and for all, break the spiral of destitution and poverty, put an end to imperialist war and conflict, and build an international community of genuine socialist co-operation. An international socialist federation of countries, that uses the historically-unprecedented level of productive forces to develop a sustainable world economy for the good of the millions not the millionaires.