Statement by the League for the Revolutionary Party
March 8, 2011
The massive protests against union busting and vicious cutbacks in Wisconsin – the occupation of the capitol building, the rallies of up to 100,000, the teacher sick-outs and the student walk-outs – have excited people around the globe. This struggle shows that real potential exists for building mass working-class actions that could actually stop the decades-long assault on workers and oppressed people in the U.S.
Many of the protesters have been inspired by this winter’s uprisings in the Arab world. Scenes of American demonstrators chanting “We are all Egyptians” signify a sense of solidarity and identification with the struggles of the Arab working people and youth. The confrontations in Wisconsin reflect a shift in class consciousness: the “one-sided class war” that labor leaders have been lamenting since the 1970’s is becoming a genuine battle. But as we will show, no credit is due to the national union officials and Democratic Party politicians who rushed to Madison to show their solidarity – and to convince the newly energized class fighters not to go too far.
Across the country, Democratic politicians as well as Republicans are demanding major wage and benefit concessions from public-sector workers, along with horrific cutbacks in social services that will hit all working and poor people. The politicians justify their attacks on the grounds that state budgets have been crimped by the unfolding of the world economic crisis. Indeed, the Great Recession and the threat of an all-out Depression is real, even though Republican and Democratic politicians have worsened the budget deficits by granting tax breaks to the rich and corporations, on top of the huge bailouts to Wall Street. World capitalism has been stagnating for four decades; gains in profit rates have been achieved only by deepening the exploitation of workers in the economically advanced countries like the U.S. as well as expanding the imperialist super-exploitation of workers and peasants in the poor countries.
In Wisconsin, Governor Walker has taken the attack to a new level: he insists on the abrogation of public-sector union rights to negotiate over anything but small variations in wages. In effect, he wants government bosses to be able to dictate job conditions to destroy pensions and benefit packages without even consultation. This is out-and-out union-busting.
The nationwide public-sector austerity attack is a classical divide-and-conquer technique. It aims to convince workers in the private sector, as well as other beleaguered sectors of the population, that public workers, not the capitalist system, are the root of the problems with state and municipal budgets, the quality of education, etc. The capitalist class and its politicians hope to set back public-worker unions and use that precedent to take back more from private-sector workers and other already suffering sectors of the population. Walker & Co. go further: they want to crush unions as defensive organizations of the working class as a step in a longer term effort to further slash the wages and conditions of all workers, union and non-union.
The Democratic (and some Republican) politicians who do not favor all-out union busting at this time are not heroes – they simply understand that the current union labor leadership is totally loyal to the capitalist system and can be depended upon to keep the rank and file upsurge within limits that don’t rock the boat. They want to keep the union leaders in their “seat at the table” in order to protect the image of fairness. They fear the class explosions that could occur and spread under the impact of union-busting.
The strategy of the Democrats and union bureaucrats is clear in Wisconsin. The union officials are taking a strong stand against the attempted abrogation of collective bargaining and other union rights; and rank and file workers are absolutely right to resist angrily and forcefully against this assault on collective bargaining. But at the same time the union leaders and politicians who claim to be on the side of the unions and the workers are conceding to all Walker’s wage and benefit cutbacks without a fight.
On the national level, the austerity attack is joined by Democrats like Governor Cuomo in New York, Governor Brown in California and Los Angeles Mayor Villaraigosa (himself a former union organizer). And the leadership comes from the top: President Obama’s hostility to teachers’ unions (including his Race to the Top campaign, the championing of non-union charter schools and the firings of teachers in Rhode Island) and his freezing of federal workers’ wages are measures that have provided cover for the anti-worker attacks on the state level. Obama’s broken promises of “change we can believe in” led to a feeling of letdown among workers and people of color; many of those who had voted for Obama in 2008 did not participate in the midterm elections, a major factor in the Democrats’ defeat in 2010. The Republican victory encouraged the right wing to go for the kill.
The heightened attacks were encouraged by the belief that the working class would not threaten too much resistance. What enabled the right wing to go for blood was not only the economic crisis but also the refusal of the working-class leaderships – union officials, heads of immigrant rights and other social justice organizations – to mount a mass resistance against the anti-worker attacks, highlighted by Reagan’s smashing of the air traffic controllers’ union, PATCO, in 1981. The decades of sellouts by union leaders over contracts and many other issues has in turn been based on their support of the capitalist system, and in particular their loyalty to the Democratic Party.
In Wisconsin, it was not the union leaders but young protesters, workers and students, who sparked the mass struggle by occupying the capitol building. Since then the local labor leaders have played a more active and leading role in the resistance. But their strategy is dangerously limited: workers need to fight back not just against the abrogation of collective bargaining but also against all the cuts to their contracts and public services that will severely affect the working class and poor as a whole. This is the only way to defend the unions, protect the livelihood of workers and their families, and to reach out to the rest of the working class and poor by championing their needs for quality education, healthcare, and other essential services.
Nor can the struggle rely on the Democratic state senators who have left the state to delay the vote, or in any way count on Democrats as trustworthy friends of the working class. The long record of Democratic Party betrayals of unions, workers and oppressed people tells the real story. (See for example A Dialogue on the Democrats, in Proletarian Revolution No. 70.) Instead, the unions need to take decisive action.
Talk of a general strike has already surfaced: a February 21 resolution by the Wisconsin South Central Federation of Labor favored a general strike. A top South Carolina labor leader, Kenny Riley of the Charleston local of the International Longshoremen’s Association, argued for a nationwide general strike: “I don't see any other way than a general workers strike. I would actually want to have a call for a general strike before the bill is passed.” (www.southcarolinasc.com/2011/03/union-leader-wants-general-strike.html.)
Riley and others who advocate a general strike are right, but this talk needs to be made concrete. The LRP advocates a general strike to stop all of Walker’s attacks: “For a General Strike to Stop Union Busting and Cutbacks – Kill the Bill!”
A general strike in Wisconsin would likely be started by public workers, but it would be essential to reach out to the private sector. There is truth to the argument that public-sector workers get pensions and benefits that others don’t have. The private sector unions have been decimated – Obama, for example, dealt a crippling blow to the UAW, once the forerunner in winning gains for workers on the U.S. scene. Many non-unionized workers, especially immigrants, get few if any benefits on top of their sub-standard pay. Workers striking to stop union-busting must make clear that they are fighting for the interests of all.
The answer is not to lower the living standards and rights of public workers but to fight together to raise everyone up. A general strike in Wisconsin would invariably inspire further struggle in other states and cause other governors and legislatures to think twice about pursuing the copycat actions that are now taking place in Ohio, Indiana and elsewhere.
That is, a general strike could decisively shift the balance of forces between the capitalists and their politicians on the one side, and the workers and oppressed on the other. However, if the resistance is left on the level of legislative lobbying, even when done massively, it will be defeated – a result that will not only cause great suffering to the working people of Wisconsin but will be used as a precedent against workers across the country.
We note that some police organizations have endorsed the protests. We warn our fellow workers that cops are not workers – they are agents of the capitalist state. The temporary support that some of them display must not be allowed to fool anyone. When push comes to shove, they will be ready with tear gas and worse. Any kind of alliance with or reliance on the cops or correction officers could literally be a death trap for the workers and youth. Cops out of the workers' movement!
The union officials (and in Wisconsin, many of the protesters) have been hailing the role of the Democratic politicians in backing the mass protest. Their “heroism” comes at the cost of their capitulation to the governor’s economic demands. The Democrats are amply demonstrating their loyalty to the dictates of capitalism, a system which says the working class must pay for the crisis. Soon they will tell the mobilized workers to let up on the struggle for now and instead organize for the next elections. This has already happened in Ohio, where the union leaders refused to carry out the kind of mobilization that would have been necessary to stop Governor Kasich from signing a bill with major attacks on union rights. Instead they are telling workers to focus on gathering signatures to get the bill repealed through a referendum in November.
Revolutionary socialists have always held that the working class needs to organize its own class party, independent of and in confrontation with the pro-capitalist Republicans and Democrats. We in the LRP believe that that party must be a revolutionary party, that workers' socialist revolution is the only solution. It is not just spineless or greedy politicians but the operation of the capitalist system as a whole that demands deeper exploitation of the working class.
One demand that some union officials, liberal politicians, and leading activists are raising is “tax the rich.” At first glance, this slogan seems to make sense, since the top capitalists and bankers have been bailed out hand over fist and have gotten outrageous tax breaks, contributing to the budget deficits for which the workers are now being asked to pay. As the very rich have been handed further tax cuts recently, the slogan “cancel the tax cuts for millionaires” is understandably popular. But this will not solve the crisis. The small taxes on the wealthy that are under discussion would decrease but not resolve the immediate budget problems – if they were ever seriously enforced, which is highly unlikely. The capitalists have always found loopholes to avoid too much taxation in the past. Further, a modified tax plan would not come close to addressing the vast economic and social disasters that capitalism is delivering.
The real solution can only begin to be fought for through a massive social upheaval where workers come to see that we have the power to demand what we really need, including quality education and nationalized healthcare for all, a national universal pension plan, equal rights for all immigrant workers, and a major jobs program providing good wages and benefits and the right to unionize. The tax cuts being considered are a drop in the bucket compared to the trillions of dollars of bank bailouts handed to Wall Street or to the public spending that these needs demand.
The way to get what is needed is to nationalize the banks without compensation, in order to put finances at the disposal of society to benefit the masses, not a few private owners of wealth. As well, rather than accepting the idea that government budgets should be balanced on the backs of workers, the real answer for the working class is to reject further payments of the debts to Wall Street altogether. Workers should fight for their unions to take up the demand to “Repudiate the Debts to the Banks!” With the working class in every city and state facing budget cuts, the big struggles ahead need to denounce the federal government’s policy of handing trillions to Wall Street in bailout money, and continually paying massive interest rates on loans, instead demanding “Nationalize the Banks!”
We revolutionary socialists say further that the economic assault on workers and the poor will continue for as long as the capitalist state rules our society. Only a workers' state created by the overthrow of capitalism can be counted on to act in the interest of the working class and oppressed people. It would overcome the crises and miseries of capitalism by seizing the banks and key industries from their profiteering owners. It would end the imperialist wars. And it would start a massive public works program to carry out the vitally necessary work that capitalism neglects – rebuilding the decaying infrastructure, rescuing the environment, building and staffing the housing, schools, hospitals, etc. that people need – and ending the racist treatment suffered by Blacks, Latinos and immigrants.
The deepening and spreading of the movement that has opened up in Wisconsin could be the start of something really big. Through intensified struggle, we expect that more workers and youth will come to understand that revolutionary goals are necessary, and that creating a society without union-busting, unemployment, racism, imperialist wars and all the other miseries of life today is impossible within the system of capitalism. Those workers and youth who already see the need for socialist revolution to end capitalism have to join together to build the revolutionary working-class party that can lead the working class in the upheavals ahead and advance its consciousness to make such a revolution possible.