Resistance grows as crisis deepens
Suddenly, as if from nowhere, a wave of opposition is engulfing Europe. Workers are joining a wave of action which threatens to bring the continent to a standstill as they try to resist being made to bear the costs of the deepening global crisis.
Today in Greece more than three million public and private sector workers embark on a 24-hour walkout in response to the latest austerity measures announced by the PASOK government. Employees in government ministries, municipal offices, hospitals, schools, universities, banks, courts and factory workers are among those set to strike. Rail, road, sea and air transport across the country will be affected. With journalists expected to join the strike, a virtual news blackout is expected.
Yesterday, Spain’s debt-laden Socialist government faced the first mass protests by unions in its six years in power as anger over a plan to raise the retirement age spilled into the streets. The country's two largest unions, the UGT and the CCOO, called demonstrations in several major cities, including Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia. Further protests are planned in the rest of the country up until March 6 against the plan announced last month by the government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero to raise the legal retirement age from 65 to 67.
Greeks and Spaniards are joining action by airline staff from Air-France-KLM, Lufthansa, and British Airways, French refinery workers and air-traffic controllers, pilots in the Welsh oil port of Milford Haven, IT staff contracted to the BBC, and gallery attendants at the National Gallery in London to name just a few.
After years of declining membership, the question for trades unionists is this: what can they hope to achieve using the methods available to them? Certainly they remain strong and effective in some key industries, but how can they expect to resist the inevitable dive into recession?
The global economy is entering a period of capital destruction. The effects of the financial stimulus packages, unprecedented outside of war, are fading and all hopes of recovery are slipping away.
The private sector assault on jobs, wages and pensions is accelerating. The deepening global crisis is co-ordinating the actions of the hedge fund managers, currency speculators, and market traders. Together with the International Monetary Fund, the Bank for International Settlements and other global agencies they are launching an assault on capitalist governments, forcing them to introduce austerity programs which will see public services dismantled and benefits eliminated in the attempt to avoid payment defaults on mounting debt leading to state bankruptcy.
The capitalist system of production is in a mortal crisis. The measures needed for its survival, to enable it to continue extracting value from the workers employed by for-profit corporations, are driving the transnational capitalist class into open confrontation.
Workers in trade unions must work together with those who are yet to be organised. They must forge and strengthen international connections. Preparations must be made to strengthen defensive strategies comprising strikes, demonstrations and occupations.
These alone will, however, be insufficient to protect living conditions in the months ahead as employers and governments turn to the forces of the state to protect the interests of private property, capital accumulation and the law-governed right and necessity to turn a profit.
This sudden burst of strikes and protests marks a qualitative change presaging revolutionary confrontations. In our draft Manifesto of Revolutionary Solutions we offer a vision of an alternative, democratically-run, not-for profit society, and an outline of the kind of organisation needed to bring it about.
24 February 2010