Capitalism is in serious economic crisis. While the weakest countries are being discarded by the system as “failed states,” and masses of their peoples face starvation, wealthy imperialist governments such as those of the US, Japan and Italy are mired in deep financial crisis. Some “developing” countries like China maintain growth rates because they offer up masses of low-paid workers for exploitation.
For many years, the system has been sinking. The response from the capitalists was to start erasing the gains workers and poor had made over years of struggle and in relative prosperity. This ugly process has sped up in the wake of the “Great Recession” and the continuing economic mess.
The results for those of us on the ground: work harder and longer (or harder and shorter), for less – if you can even get work. Failing schools? They will get worse: bigger classes with less teaching but more tests. Inadequate healthcare? They are shutting down hospitals and increasing costs. Retirement? Pension plans, for those who have them, are being reduced when not taken away entirely. We live in deteriorating conditions, and capitalism cannot afford to maintain its infrastructure. Detroit and New Orleans, for example, once changed the culture of the world but now lie abandoned in whole sections.
Democrats and Republicans on the Attack
In the US, the major capitalist parties – the Democrats and Republicans – are attacking the workers and poor across the country. The Republicans have put forward the more far-reaching cuts and frontal assaults on workers and unions. Pushed on by their Tea Party wing, they have used “limited government” rhetoric to attack public services – meaning public workers and the poor and oppressed that rely on those services.
But the Democratic Party has supported and in some cases led the attacks. President Obama froze federal workers’ wages several months ago and set up a special commission to recommend future cuts in Social Security and other essential programs. Democratic Governor Cuomo threatened to lay off thousands of state workers to get five-year contracts with three years of no wage hikes, plus furlough days and increased healthcare payments in return for no layoffs…for two years…unless he decides that there’s a fiscal emergency. Nancy Pelosi, Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, says: “It is clear we must enter an era of austerity.” Translation: “You think things are bad now? We’re just getting started.” And that’s what the alleged good cop is saying.
This dual hatchet job is summed up in the recent deal between President Obama and most Democratic and Republican legislators to raise the federal debt ceiling. That agreement will make the working class and poor foot the bill for massive bank bailouts, imperialist wars, tax cuts and interest payments. Hundreds of billions will be cut from social programs needed by workers and oppressed peoples, while the wealthy and corporations continue to enjoy massive tax breaks. The congressional “super committee” set up to work out the details threatens more and worse cuts, backed up by “triggers” that take effect if the committee doesn’t agree.
Resistance is Growing...
But this has been a year not only of stepped-up capitalist attacks, but also of intensified resistance to them. 2011 has gone far to confirming our belief that the workers, poor and all those looking to fight oppression will turn to mass, collective action to win new gains and defend old ones. The workers and poor of Tunisia and Egypt overthrew dictators who had ruled their countries for decades – dictators who ruled with arms and billions of dollars from the United States, including from President Obama. Greek workers responded to vicious cuts mandated by European banks and governments with general strikes and mass, militant demonstrations. Chinese workers have engaged in powerful waves of protests and strikes. Poor and oppressed youth in Britain rose up against a racist cop shooting. In this country, the sit-ins and capital occupation in Wisconsin against Republican Governor Walker’s vicious attacks astonished Walker, and captured the attention and admiration of workers abroad as well as in the U.S.
Workers can fight – and win – but we are painfully aware that the capitalists have been pretty successful thus far with their attacks. With their control over livelihoods and resources, they scare people struggling to eat and pay bills. They use the oppression of peoples – in this country primarily Blacks but increasingly poor immigrants and Muslims – to create scapegoats and foment divisions. And they do this with political parties that despite their squabbling are committed to their class interest.
...But Needs New Leadership
The workers and oppressed, on the other hand, are saddled with an awful leadership that is unable to use the potential strength we have as workers and unwilling to even try. The current crop of union leaders may throw out a few militant phrases, criticize the Republicans, and feel obliged to even criticize a few Democrats like Cuomo. And they hold a few rallies. But in the end, they play the same old game with the anti-worker Democrats – begging separately for crumbs at the bosses’ table. By the same token, some of this leadership may denounce racism, but they accept attacks on the hardest-hit sectors of the working class as part of the arrangement.
Here in New York, the leaders of two unions representing over half of NY state public workers (CSEA and PEF) readily caved in to Cuomo’s demands. Similar passive surrenders have come from leaders of the United Auto Workers and the heads of the Chicago Teachers Union. When the Wisconsin struggle erupted, union leaders flew in from all over the country – not to spread the struggle, but to pat the fighting workers on the back, stop any strikes, and agree to all the cuts in services, wages and increased healthcare payments. Then they sent the workers home to prepare for new Wisconsin state elections, asking them to vote for Democratic politicians whose contribution to the struggle was to flee the state.
With workers everywhere under attack, any union would find it difficult to mount a successful fight, but the strategy of the union leaders ties our hands and guarantees failure. Union leaders fail to wage genuinely united and militant struggles, and then in the face of determined bosses throw their hands up (“what can we do?”) and count on the ranks and file being too discouraged and worried about jobs to prevent the betrayal.
Union leaders neglect or even sabotage that potential because they serve the capitalists instead of defending workers’ interests. Union bureaucrats keep their cushy union jobs and privileged positions as brokers between workers and capitalists, hobnobbing with the great and powerful. Though they are obliged to put up some kind of defense of the unions, their loyalty is to the capitalist profit system.
In the distant past, when the system was doing better and workers saw the possibilities of fighting for better lives and work, the bureaucrats felt compelled to lead limited fights for wages and benefits while trading away power on the work-floor. But in the wake of the long capitalist offensive, they have basically rolled over to the bosses’ demands for wage and benefit cuts, automation, speed-ups and lay-offs. These union bureaucrats may hope that in some vague future, the employers will survive and thrive, allowing workers to improve their lot. At best they are a little creative in how they pretend to put up a fight.
Needed: Mass Mobilization Against Capitalist Attacks
The scale of the crisis and the attacks means that just to defend past gains requires far more centralized and united action. We need mass political demonstrations of union and non-union workers, of Black and other oppressed peoples and of youth in order to defend our living and working standards against further attacks, as well as to demand that the government start to address our needs for jobs, protection of social programs and cleaner and better places to live and work. Workers can see their strength in such numbers. Such demonstrations, which those in Wisconsin only hinted at, are very possible right now, given the will to carry them out.
Another important weapon that will come to the fore is the use of general strikes. By this we primarily mean united job actions by workers from different unions and employers, and including unorganized workers, documented and undocumented immigrant workers, rebellious youth and oppressed peoples. Such strikes, even if begun as defensive measures against specific attacks of the bosses, will be expected to take up demands for the jobs, social services and rights of workers and poor that require political action.
We can wage a serious defense and win some gains this way, growing more confident and better prepared to take on the bosses and their state and gaining a greater feeling of how a state of our class would run the economy and meet people’s needs. Such a state, revolutionists point out, is necessary for the completion of the demands for our interests and those of a better world. This defense starts with demanding that the union leaders that haven’t fought for us start to do so. They control our organizations, the only current mass organizations of the working class, and should be held accountable.
For Workers' Revolution
The interests of the capitalists and the workers are opposed: a gain for one is a loss for the other. So while the world’s workers could together produce more than enough for all, private ownership and private profit leave factories idle and workers jobless. We don’t need the bosses – they need us. But they control the cops, the media and the army, while our own leaders keep us divided and tell us to accept the system.
Workers united in struggle can win gains. We need pickets, marches that shut down the streets and, eventually, strike action – indeed, general strikes – or photo-ops and glad-handing. A big step forward would be mass protests to demand what workers need: an end to the cuts and layoffs and a public works program to provide jobs for all.
But in the end, from Egypt to the United States, the only solution is for the workers and all those fighting oppression to overthrow the capitalist state that defends the profit system and to build our own state to direct the economy – socialist revolution. A workers’ state would take over the banks and productive enterprises, putting people to work to produce what we need: houses, school, better mass transit, a shorter work week – and the list goes on.
To get there, workers, youth and oppressed people who see the need for socialist revolution must work together today to start building the working-class party of revolution. Guided by Marxist theory, that party can show the way forward in today’s struggles while working toward the overthrow of the whole system. The League for the Revolutionary Party is dedicated to organizing revolutionary-minded workers and youth as political leaders of our class. We urge all those interested to contact us to discuss these issues and more as we fight together for a better life.
Class Battles Loom
President Samuelsen talks more militant than most union leaders. But when the MTA laid off almost 1,000 Surface and Station workers in 2010, Samuelsen and the rest of the union leadership did not mobilize serious union protest demonstrations. They relied on the courts and Democratic politicians, as usual, and lost. Or look at Wisconsin – Local 100 flew in Samuelsen and a handful of other Local 100 officers to cheer the struggles. But he did not point out that the union leaderships’ strategy of accepting the cuts, stopping the strikes and turning to the election shell game meant defeat.
Samuelsen says that transit workers won’t take a contract like those in the CSEA and PEF, but says nothing against the union leaders who push them on their members. By criticizing the attacks but not mobilizing the ranks against them, he serves as a friend of the capitalists, distracting and dividing any potential resistance.
With our contract expiring in January 2012, President Samuelsen has talked about winning a good contract. He has even made noises about striking – with no measures to prepare the members for such a serious step.
The “strategy” apparently depends on action against the MTA’s egregious safety violations. Safety enforcement, though necessary, can’t substitute for a sustained mass fight-back. In this case, it comes across as isolated from other public sector unions which also face big attacks. And that’s not to mention the poor, more oppressed workers who face higher fees and fares and reduced public services.
Samuelsen promises a “multi-faceted campaign that will engage Local 100 members and build support among riders, community organizations, elected officials and other unions.” (Transport Workers e-alert, July 22). Would this be the same kind of “multi-faceted” campaign that failed to prevent a single layoff in 2010? If Local 100 stood up for the interests of riders and worked with other unions and organizations to wage a real fight for all our interests, that would be one thing, but we saw what this meant in 2010: photo-ops with Democratic Party politicians, all of whom have voted for attacks on union workers and the poor. In recent months, Samuelsen has barely mentioned the name of Gov. Cuomo, a leader in the drumbeat of attacks in NY on public sector unions and public services.
If Samuelsen were serious about fighting the attacks on us and everyone else, he could say, “Every union leader in this country – from the head of the national federations down to every shop steward – should campaign for no cuts, no concessions and no layoffs and organize a march for jobs and against all these attacks – Billions for bankers, layoffs for workers? Hell no!”
Wisconsin showed that workers and youth are ready and willing to fight. Only our mass action can stop these attacks. Local 100 can still play a key role in standing up for ourselves and for the rest of this city’s workers and poor but only with a hard course change. All union leaders – by virtue of the position – are responsible for defending the interests of their members and the working class as a whole. Every union officer, everyone that aspires to a union position, must be held accountable: What are you doing to fight these attacks? What is your strategy? How are you encouraging our collective action? What are you doing to stand up to the sell-outs of other union leaders?
In a victory for workers everywhere, Mansour Osanloo, a former bus driver and the president of Tehran’s bus workers union, was freed on June 2 after almost four years in an Iranian jail. For years, Osanloo and others have faced brutal repression from the Iranian government for organizing bus workers and forming the Vahed Syndicate, a free trade union representing Tehran’s bus workers. Unions are illegal in Iran, and Osanloo and others have bravely organized workers, and led protests and work actions in order to fight for workers’ rights and for better wages and working conditions. Osanloo was beaten and imprisoned in 2005 and 2006. After his release, he traveled to a meeting of trade unionists in Brussels in 2007. When he returned, he was arrested and sentenced to five years imprisonment on charges of “acting against national security” and “propaganda against the state”; in 2010 another year was added to his sentence.
His freedom was won, in part, because of an international workers’ movement that supported him and demanded his release: David Cockroft, the general secretary of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), said, “He is free because trade unionists worldwide demanded justice.” Revolutionary Transit Worker supporters were among the first to raise Osanloo’s case in Local 100, demanding that the Local 100 leadership pass a motion to support Osanloo, demand his release and publicize his case. After continued pressure from RTW and other Local militants, the Local 100 leadership did so.
Unfortunately, even as Osanloo was released, a number of his comrades are still incarcerated for the same “crime” of wanting to join and organize a trade union. They include Mansour’s colleagues, Reza Shahabi and Ebrahim Madadi. Osanloo’s release is a victory – but the fight is not over. Local 100 must step up and join the international trade union movement and publicize our support for our union brothers and sisters being brutally oppressed in Iran. We must not stand by in silence.