Greece Demo

How to Fight Austerity and Win

Editorial for Socialist Appeal Number 87

Greece DemoIn a world bleak with news of ISIS, Boko Haram, and the never-ending murders of unarmed black men by the police, Europe offers more than a glimmer of excitement and genuine hope. The election of Syriza in Greece has electrified the world. Podemos in Spain is shaking up politics as usual in the eurozone’s fourth-largest economy. By taking the global struggle against austerity to the next level, Greek and Spanish workers are showing the way forward. However, these political parties didn’t arise in a vacuum. They are the result of a protracted process of crisis and class struggle, of wave after wave of strikes and social movements, the testing of traditional leaders and organizations, of trial and error, small victories and big defeats. In short, they are the result of life experience itself.

The workers have learned that mass mobilizations and strikes and even general strikes that merely “let off steam” are not enough. These forms of struggle must also be combined with political action, and the European workers are taking the first steps in this direction. But even that will not suffice. As the Troika’s treatment of the Syriza government clearly shows, there can be no compromise with capitalism. Unless and until we break with this system and set ourselves the task of building socialism, the crisis will drag on and drag down humanity. In the absence of a strong Marxist tendency, this process of growing political awareness and class confidence will be prolonged, extending for years and even decades. There will be ebbs and flows, periods of disorientation combined with leaps forward in understanding. In the heat of these momentous events, in the good times and the bad, the forces of the IMT are patiently participating and preparing for the even greater events of the future.

Here in the US, we are at an even earlier stage of the process of transforming consciousness. But this doesn’t mean things can’t catch up with a bang. Similar conditions lead to similar results, and the grinding crisis gripping American workers will sooner or later force them to draw similar conclusions. Way back in 1887, Frederick Engels explained, “That the laboring masses should feel the community of grievances and of interests, their solidarity as a class in opposition to all other classes; that in order to give expression and effect to this feeling, they should set in motion the political machinery provided for that purpose in every free country—that is the first step only. The next step is to find the common remedy for these common grievances, and to embody it in the platform of the new Labor Party. And this—the most important and the most difficult step in the movement—has yet to be taken in America . . . It will proclaim, as the ultimate end, the conquest of political supremacy by the working class, in order to effect the direct appropriation of all means of production—land, railways, mines, machinery, etc.—by society at large, to be worked in common by all for the account and benefit of all.”

Many events have cut across the process, and working-class consciousness today has in many ways been thrown backwards. But this will not last forever. The cold, hard facts of life under capitalism will do the heavy lifting when it comes to convincing American workers of the need for real change. In 2014, there were just 11 major work stoppages involving 1,000 or more workers, the second-lowest level since statistics began in 1947 (up from a low of 5 in 2009). In the last six years, there have only been 80 major strikes or lockouts, with over 70% of them in the health care and social assistance, education, construction, and manufacturing sectors. The reason is clear: with an organic army of the unemployed languishing on the sidelines of the labor market, those with jobs are afraid to lose what little they have. The lack of a fighting union leadership that challenges the bosses doesn’t help either. Despite a slight uptick in employment in recent months, the sink hole left by the crisis remains. The labor participation rate is mired near historic lows, at less than 63%. This means that 37% of the working age population cannot be employed by the capitalist market. This is a staggering waste of human potential.

According to the EDC: “To get a sense of what this means, if participation was back to its pre-crisis average, the current unemployment rate would not be 5.7 per cent, but way up into the double-digits at 10.2 per cent. Put more starkly, there are over 7.5 million would-be-employees in America who are currently sidelined. Granted, the aging of the population means that a lot of these are older workers who simply will not come back into the ranks. But a fair number are recent graduates, unable to get work right away.”

Right to WorkSo-called “Right to Work” legislation has now been passed in Wisconsin, the 25th state to do so, marking a potential tipping point in the bosses’ onslaught against the workers. The Department of Labor estimates that average wages across all industries in RTW states were $4 per hour lower than in other states. One study concluded that as a result of the new law, Wisconsin workers would suffer a net loss of income between $3.89 and $4.82 billion each and every year. This is not chump change. Due to the inaction and passivity of the labor leaders, this battle has been lost, but the war over budget cuts and austerity rages on. Not only in Wisconsin, but in every state, city, and municipality in the country. The capitalists say there “is not enough to go around.” In the same breath, they arrogantly flaunt the fact that profits are at their highest level in at least 85 years, while the share of revenues going to the workers is at its lowest level since records began 65 years ago. In 2013, after-tax profits reached $1.7 trillion, a full 10% of GDP, the highest level ever recorded. Is there any doubt that these statistics are related? Under capitalism, lower wages means higher profits—and vice versa. There’s no two ways about it.

Long gone are the days when wage and benefit increases were possible through the threat of a strike alone. The “bad old days” are back, and with them, merciless squeezing and a driving down of living standards. But the workers have the power to fight back and win. Our aim should not be simply to “send a message.” As an example, talk of a general strike has again emerged in Wisconsin. A generalized work stoppage would paralyze production, hitting the bosses where it hurts—in their pocketbooks. More than that, in a country like the US, it would pose the question, “who really has the political and economic power in society?” It should not be treated as an empty or romantic phrase. Such a development would be be something serious, and would have to be painstakingly prepared in advance, drawing in the broader working class and youth, raising their political consciousness, and, ultimately, aiming at the socialist transformation of society. For this, a farsighted revolutionary leadership with deep roots in the class is required, and the bitter truth of that matter is that such a leadership does not yet exist. But it can and will be built. This is the task the IMT has set itself.


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