The protests at Wall Street have tapped into the widespread sense of injustice. Through layoffs, foreclosures and cutbacks, working-class and poor people are being made to pay the price for the economic crisis and for Washington’s bailout of banks and corporations. A fightback is long overdue. Wall Street is a fitting target, the home of a dominant sector of the capitalist ruling class that played a criminal role in bringing the world to the edge of another Great Depression.
The initiative of the “Occupy Wall Street” (OWS) protesters in starting the protests, and their courage in keeping up the fight in the face of police repression, have created the potential for an even bigger and more powerful struggle. The first OWS actions certainly had their political problems. For example, the protesters initially refused to raise specific demands on the government and against Wall Street, preferring to take a stand as leftish moral witnesses to the country’s financial corruption. This attitude was largely symptomatic of the fact that those first protesters tended to be better off than most working-class people. They also were overwhelmingly white, even though the most devastating effects of the economic crisis are disproportionately hitting Blacks, Latinos and immigrants.
But all that is beginning to change. There is a growing wave of working-class support for the protests around the country as similar actions spread to other cities. People everywhere want to protest against Wall Street and are glad to see that some are finally doing it!
In particular, the actions have exposed the fact that the people with the power and responsibility to build a mass movement of protest have avoided doing so until now. The Wall Street protests have literally shamed the trade union and community leaders to start mobilizing their members and supporters in struggle. Workers need to take advantage of every step their leaders make toward struggle, pushing for and demanding the greatest possible mobilization.
At the same time, workers and young people need to be aware that the union leaders have so far sabotaged every attempt to fightback against the capitalist bosses’ and politicians’ efforts to make the working class pay for the economic crisis. They prefer to channel struggles into deal-making with political “friends” in the halls of power – resulting in deals which leave the working class betrayed every time. It would be a tragedy if the potential of this protest movement were allowed to be similarly ruined. Fighting for the biggest possible ongoing mobilizations of protest, with clear demands in defense of all working-class, poor and young people against layoffs and cutbacks, is essential.
It hardly needs to be pointed out that President Obama joined Bush in supporting the multi-trillion dollar bailouts while abandoning the true victims who were losing their jobs and homes. Now Congress and the president are upping the attacks, adopting an unprecedented ten-year plan of massive cutbacks in a whole range of vital services. In New York, Democratic Governor Cuomo is also imposing major cutbacks and layoffs. For all their squabbling, the Democrats agree with the Republicans that the workers, youth and poor should pay for the crisis.
Although Obama supports the idea of heavy cutbacks, he is now actively in election mode, trying to disguise his pro-austerity policies with rhetoric about taxing the rich and reducing joblessness. He even has the nerve to posture as a “class warrior for the working class” against the Republicans. While Obama is at best a moderate, some more liberal Democratic politicians often opportunistically latch onto protest movements in order to ultimately collect votes for the party machine. Such Democrats have a long and treacherous history of involvement in popular movements, from anti-war movements to civil rights struggles to union campaigns, to keep them in a passive electoral mode and prevent them from challenging the capitalist system.
Richard Trumka, president of the nation's largest union federation, the AFL-CIO, exemplifies the union leaders’ commitment to the Democratic Party. He feigns support for mass action: “I think being in the streets and calling attention to issues is sometime the only recourse you have because ... you can go to the Hill, and you can talk to a lot of people and see nothing ever happen.” Actually, history proves that taking to the streets and the picket lines is always the recourse working-class people have if they don’t want to get screwed. Just recall the powerful protest movement against Republican union-busting in Wisconsin earlier this year. It raised the possibility of a general strike – only to see Trumka and his fellow union leaders call off the protests, occupations and pickets and instead concentrate on a Democratic Party electoral strategy that led straight to defeat.
In the face of the recent state and municipal budget cuts and Washington’s huge deficit and cutback plans, union leaders have refused to wage a class-wide battle that could unite public-sector workers and the working-class public who use and rely on public services. They also ignore the racist nature of the service cuts and fail to draw attention to the disproportionate amount of pain imposed on Black and Latino people.
The Occupy Wall Street protesters especially welcomed the support of Transport Workers Union Local 100, and the media gave it a lot of play. The subway and bus workers’ union has shown its power to shut down the financial capital of the world, and its majority Black and Latino membership reflects the working class of New York City. Its support is important, but as the League for the Revolutionary Party’s supporters among transit workers have documented in their Revolutionary Transit Worker newsletter, Local 100’s leadership has played the same games as the rest of the union bureaucrats in limiting struggles.
The Wall Street action could be an opportunity to bring more working-class people into struggle. A strong working-class movement is needed, one that can attract everyone who is facing the crisis of the capitalist system. Let’s not allow the union officials just to offer paper support and a few more marchers. Let’s demand that the unions, and other organizations that claim to represent workers and oppressed people, mobilize a mass Solidarity Day in New York, including a serious reach-out to non-union workers. That could bring out hundreds of thousands.
In this era of crisis, we will win only if working-class and young people unite to fight on the broadest possible basis: union and non-union, employed and unemployed, documented and undocumented. Militant struggles can win important victories in beating back the worst capitalist attacks for a time. But the crisis affects the whole society, and only a society-wide solution can work. This means making demands on government, especially Washington. We need, for example, a massive program of public works to provide jobs for all – not just tax incentives for the corporations to hire a fraction of the millions of workers they’ve laid off, as in Obama’s American Jobs Act.
Fighting for such demands, we believe, will help convince many that the only way to ensure a decent life with jobs, health care, and all the other necessities for all people is to take the power to run society out of the hands of the capitalist bosses and their politicians. Working-class and poor people are finally starting to fight back. The revolutionary uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, where workers’ strikes played decisive roles in toppling dictators there, are significant signs that in response to the bosses’ attacks there will be a surge in uprisings around the world.
The most politically conscious workers and youth will come to see, by way of struggles today as well as the study of Marxism and the history of past struggles, that the working class can stop the capitalist economy and the capitalists’ profiteering. It is workers who make society run. More will begin to see the need to overthrow capitalist rule and seize power ourselves. But workers need a new political leadership – a revolutionary working-class party – that fights for building the best possible defense today while aiming to convince our fellow workers of the need to overthrow the capitalists. That means replacing their rule with a working-class state power dedicated to building a society of abundance, freedom and justice for all.
The League for the Revolutionary Party is a working-class revolutionary socialist organization that includes transit workers, CUNY workers and students and others. We fight for united struggle against the capitalist attacks while working to convince fellow workers and youth of revolutionary goals. We defend and develop Marxist theory as a guide to action – a scientific analysis of this society and its crisis shows that socialist revolution is the only solution to our problems. We believe that to get to that revolution and to lead our struggles today, we need to build a revolutionary party based on the working class. We hope that revolutionary-minded workers and youth will join us in this and look forward to discussing these ideas as we fight for a better life for all.