Towards a 24 hour all-European general strike!
The international day of workers’ action, called by the European Trade Union Confederation for 29 September, could be an event of major importance for the working class movement and the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) . The day itself, which will see co-ordinated protests, action and general strikes, has the potential to shake the continent. Europe’s capitalist governments are intent on continuing their brutal war of austerity and attacks against the working class, at the behest of their masters: the international markets. It could play a decisive role in hammering home the power of the international working class and stop their savagery in its tracks. The CWI will work enthusiastically to mobilise workers and youth to take action on the day, under the banner of international struggle and solidarity, against Europe’s axe-wielding governments and the dictatorship of the capitalist markets.
International austerity offensive
As capitalism’s worst crisis since the 1930s continues, the last period has seen governments in Europe and internationally, after throwing trillions of dollars [euros?] at the banks and financial sector to prevent the collapse of their system, move decisively to force the burden of these bail-outs, and of the crisis generally, onto the shoulders of the majority of the population. They have imposed a series of savage budgets and cuts programmes. The “sovereign debt crisis” has its basis in the policies and actions of neo-liberal administrations over a whole period. It was greatly exacerbated by the bank bail-outs and stimuli implemented in country after country to fill the bankers’ begging bowls. This position has now become the defining part of the capitalist mantra, ‘justifying’ huge austerity packages which involve the slashing of social spending and attacks on wages and conditions.
As the CWI has analysed, this crisis comes as the inevitable consequence of the crisis-ridden nature of the capitalist system, whose anarchic, cyclical character leads to the inevitability of crises and the mass economic destruction currently being seen. The CWI has repeatedly explained that despite the talk of “recovery” from the capitalist establishment in a few countries like Germany, the fundamental problems of demand and investment still remain unresolved. They have even been worsened by the austerity policies of capitalist governments, and the continuing development of mass unemployment, with the declining purchasing power of the working class. Any recovery in the European and world economy will at best be weak, temporary and exceptional, with the ever-present threat of a “double dip” recession.
The austerity process was given added impetus by the Greek debt crisis. The contagion which resulted from it saw governments in Spain, Portugal and elsewhere scrambling desperately to escape the wrath of the international credit ratings agencies and other institutions of the speculative vultures of the markets, which had pushed their Greek counterparts to national bankruptcy. This has led to the predatory and sinister role of the international markets becoming increasingly visible to all. It has assumed a dominating role in the discourse of bosses and governments, all demanding harsher, quicker and deeper cuts and attacks to avoid the focus of the bond-holders and debt speculators. The desire to “please” or “keep calm” these predators has apparently become the primary concern of right-wing (including ex-social democratic) rulers from Greece and Spain, to France and Britain.
The attacks implemented across the continent in most cases represent the most brutal austerity programmes implemented in living memory. The devastating ‘slash-and-burn’ policies of the Greek PASOK government, ‘in return’ for its ‘bailout’ from the coffers of the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), has meant dramatic attacks on the already impoverished Greek working class. A real cut of between 30% and 50% in public pensions and public-sector wages slashed by between 25% and 30% have been emulated in Spain and Portugal. The Spanish Zapatero government’s austerity package will see public-sector wages and pensions attacked, as well as a €55 billion public spending cuts programme. In Portugal, where workers receive among the lowest wages in Europe (with a monthly minimum wage of only €475), public sector workers are being hit with a four-year pay freeze and a raising of the retirement age to 67.
However, the last months have shown this onslaught has not been confined to the so-called ‘PIGS’ countries (Portugal, Ireland, Greece, Spain). In Britain, the new “ConDem” coalition government has announced a package which includes attacks on social benefits and savage cuts of up to 25% in every area of public spending. Angela Merkel’s coalition government in Germany is set to slash €80 billion in the next 4 years.
The above facts give but a tiny glimpse of the situation developing in Europe as 29 September approaches, although at a different pace and with different features in various countries: a situation characterised by unprecedented attacks from above, and, crucially, a developing fightback from below.
Struggles brewing – for a fighting strategy!
Greece has recently been the epicentre of developments in Europe. However, as well as the near collapse of its state finances, it is the tidal wave of struggle – with six general strikes in 2010 – that has put it at the centre of developments. This has aroused the fighting instincts of workers around the continent. The situation in Greece represents an anticipation of events to come in a number of countries, as the seething anger at the effects of the crisis and attacks approaches boiling point. Massive strikes and demonstrations have been seen in France where two million took to the streets to defend pensions. Italy, where a general strike against the government took place in July, is braced for a significant national demonstration on 16 October organised by the FIOM – metal workers’ union – which has led the way in putting forward a militant strategy in fighting attacks on wages and conditions.
Spain saw over two million participate in a general strike of the public sector in June, following on from mass demonstrations in February which forced the government to retreat on its plan to raise the retirement age. It is now close to a break in the situation as the chorus from below for trade union leaders to take decisive and militant action has become deafening. On 29 September, Spain will be shaken by its first full general strike in response to the devastating crisis that has left over 4 million unemployed and to the anti-working class reaction of its government.
However, in most countries, the cowardly role of the majority of trade union “leaders”, in refusing to organise an effective struggle, means they still stand as a brake on the development of a decisive response by the working class to capitalism’s austerity offensive. In Britain, the TUC leadership, confronted with the most savage attacks, has disgracefully refused even to call a national demonstration this year, to give expression to the overwhelming opposition amongst workers to the new government’s attacks. However, as in Germany, the trade union tops were pushed to call for regional demonstrations, which must now be used to build and prepare for a generalised, national response. It is likely that in some countries – such as Germany, Ireland and Britain – the role and character of these “leaders” will mean that 29 September will see only limited or symbolic action taking place.
The forces of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) in these countries struggle uncompromisingly against the ineffective strategy of the conservative right-wing trade union officialdom to meet the attacks faced by the working class and youth. They are seeking to build
an opposition to these leaders which can counterpose a programme of militant action. In Britain, CWI members in the leadership of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union work to push the Trades Union Congress (TUC) leaders to take effective action. However, in the face of a TUC leadership unwilling to lead a serious fight, CWI members help take measures to build movements from below, which can mobilise workers and trade union activists, going over the heads of obstructive union leaderships.
While undoubtedly, in some countries, an immediate general strike is not yet posed by the situation, further preliminary steps and preparation are required. The working-class movement should build for mass demonstrations (which, in some countries could obviously be held on adjacent weekends in order to maximise their size and impact). This could give a glimpse of the potential power of mass action, as the first step towards further militant action, including public sector strikes and general strikes.
Translate working class solidarity into action! For a plan of international action towards a 24-hour all-Europe general strike!
In a number of countries, working class militants have already made crystal clear their desire to escalate the fightback with general strikes. In Portugal, a wave of strikes and mass demonstrations, including one of over 300,000 on 29 May, have indicated the ripeness of the situation for a general strike to force back the Socrates government from its austerity offensive of massive cuts and privatisations. An enthusiastic call for Portuguese workers to join their Spanish brothers and sisters in a mighty Iberian general strike, would undoubtedly be met with a massive response, an
d represent a momentous step forward, uniting workers across borders in militant action. Working-class militants in Greece, including the comrades of Xekinima (CWI in Greece), also demand that trade unions announce their joining up with the Spanish workers in battle on 29 September. A similar mood exists in France; after two union-organised ‘days of action’ this year, a massive day of strikes and protests is set to take place on 7 September. A real general strike of the public and private sector represents the next step forward for the struggle against the Sarkozy government’s anti-working class reforms.
The CWI has a proud record of fighting for international solidarity and struggle. The current conjuncture, with the international character of both the crisis and its attacks, and also the faceless vultures of the financial markets and speculators who have demanded the misery of billions around the world to pay for the crisis of their system, demonstrates the burning need for international resistance. An international alternative is implicitly posed in the situation. Joe Higgins, MEP for the Socialist Party (CWI in Ireland), raised the question of an international week of action between 21 and 26 June. This was supported by the GUE (United Left) group in the European Parliament and played a key role in raising the question of co-ordinated international action in the workers’ movement and the left.
The pressing need for working class internationalism is also posed by capitalism’s attempts to stoke up nationalist and divisive sentiments. They serve the purpose of attempting to distract attention away from their brutal attacks. Recently, we have seen the attempts of the Sarkozy government to divert the developing movement against its attacks by whipping up a racist campaign against immigrants, especially the Roma community. The fact that Sarkozy has decided to attempt to force a new package of anti-immigrant reforms through parliament on 7 September, the same date as the next day of action by the trade unions against the attacks of his government, is clearly not a coincidence in this regard. Capitalist politicians in Spain have, in a similar manner, sought to stigmatise the Muslim population. The Catalan regional government has introduced – for ‘reasons of security’! – a ban on the wearing of the burqa, a garment worn by a relative handful of people, in a vain attempt to cut across the coming explosive response of the Spanish working class.
The fallout from the Greek debt crisis, which showed the limits of capitalist European integration, also saw a ferocious nationalist campaign being launched by sections of German capitalism against the Greek people. This has been combined with attempts by Southern European elites, in Greece and Spain for example, to pass off the blame onto “foreign speculators”, to try to avoid responsibility for their willing servility in carrying out the diktats of the IMF and the predatory markets. The workers and youth of Europe, under the axe of both capitalist national governments and their international markets and institutions, have infinitely more in common with their counterparts in other countries, in struggle against the same onslaught, than with their “native” band of crony capitalists; whose reckless speculation and profiteering crashed Europe’s economies.
Build for action
29 September has the potential to give a powerful indication of the strength of the organised working class, in struggle across national boundaries, and must be a first step in the development of an international plan of action. The ETUC has been forced to call this day of action due to the pressure from rank-and-file trade unionists for international solidarity action. However, some trade union leaders will also see the day as an opportunity to further ‘let off steam’, organising token, ineffective action. Working-class militants should fight to ensure that 29 September is not relegated to the character of a one-off parade in Brussels, but becomes a day of active struggle. Demonstrations, where they are called, should have an active character, and contribute to the building of a genuine mass movement.
The CWI calls for the organisation of assemblies in workplaces, universities, schools and communities in order to discuss the struggle and prepare the next steps. In the Basque country, which saw a successful general strike on 29 June, such assemblies were held in all towns and cities to prepare for the mobilisation of workers and youth for the strike. As the movement develops in every country, such examples should be built upon and developed into democratic organisations and committees of struggle.
Strikes and protests on 29 September should be undertaken with the perspective of further developing such action and with the objective of building for a 24-hour all-Europe general strike. Such a strike would shake the foundations of European capitalism and immeasurably strengthen the confidence and determination of workers and youth in the fight against the austerity offensive, posing concretely the alternative of international solidarity and struggle to the misery on offer by European capitalism in crisis.
No to cuts and austerity! Defend public services and pensions! Make the bosses pay for their crisis!
For massive strikes and protests on/around 29 September! For a plan of action towards a 24-hour all-Europe general strike!
For a fighting working-class movement! For militant and democratic trade unions, and combative workers’ political parties!
No to the dictatorship of the market! Down with the credit ratings agencies and the IMF! No to payment of the capitalists’ foreign debt! Take the wealth out of the hands of the super-rich speculators! Nationalise the banks and financial sector under the democratic control and management of working people!
No to mass unemployment! For a shorter working week, to share out the work with no loss of pay! Demand massive public works’ programmes to provide socially useful work for millions!
No to the EU of the bosses and the markets! For a democratic socialist Europe!
We stand for the building of an international movement against the bosses’ system, which has led society, in Europe and beyond, to rack and ruin with the implosion of the profit-driven capitalist economy. We oppose the imposition of the cost of the crisis onto the backs of the working class and youth, and demand the non-payment of the capitalist-generated debt, in the name of which untold suffering will be imposed on the majority, in Greece and elsewhere, in the next period. The nationalisation of the banks and financial sector under democratic working-class control, breaking the power of the stock market vultures, linked to the development of a democratic socialist plan of production, based on the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy, to provide a decent life for all, represents the only viable way out of the current nightmare of capitalist crisis and attacks.
We oppose the capitalist European Union, the limitations of which have become clear. We stand for a democratic socialist Europe – a free and equal federation between nations – to genuinely and democratically plan and integrate the European economies, and to take society forward and eliminate mankind’s fundamental problems, as part of establishing a socialist world.