Steven Colatrella on the global wave of strikes and uprisings which has been the working class response to austerity measures pushed by national governments and global governance bodies like the IMF, G20 and the World Bank.
In Our Hands is Placed a Power
By Steven Colatrella1
With thanks to Silvia Bedulli
In our hands is placed a power, greater than their hoarded gold
Greater than the might of armies, magnified a thousand-fold
We can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old
For union makes us strong.
If the workers took a notion they could stop all speeding trains
Every ship upon the ocean, they could tie with mighty chains.
Every wheel in the creation, every mine and every mill
Fleets and armies of the nations would, at their command, stand still.
Political and economic strikes, mass strikes and partial strikes, demonstrative strikes and
fighting strikes, general strikes of individual branches of industry and general strikes in
individual towns, peaceful wage struggles and street massacres, barricade fighting –
all these run through one another, run side by side, cross one another, flow in and over one
another – it is a ceaselessly moving, changing sea of phenomena. And the law of motion of
these phenomena is clear: it does not lie in the mass strike itself nor in its technical
details, but in the political and social proportions of the forces of the revolution.
The mass strike is merely the form of the revolutionary…It is the living pulse-beat of the
revolution and at the same time its most powerful driving wheel.
Austerity and Global Governance
Austerity has taken on the characteristics of a global political regime. Worldwide, governments have imposed austerity in the form of cuts in programs benefiting working people, lower wages and large scale public layoffs of workers and legislation limiting or weakening organized labor. These austerity programs have had strikingly common characteristics in a wide variety of countries, and governments have typically imposed them at the initiative of global governance organizations, such as the IMF, EU, G20 and WTO. As a common agreement among government leaders, as a program openly in the interests of a narrow sector of society, namely of capitalists in general and more precisely of global finance capital, austerity may in that sense be understood as a regime, as an international order enforced by the collective action of states. Yet this degree of commonality of program and of class interests across governments ranging from Europe to the Middle East, from Asia to America and Africa, bespeaks the importance of Global Governance as a project of unification of the ruling class globally.
Global Governance is a set of institutions and relations among political actors that transforms the relationship between national states and their territorial citizenries, and alters the relations of power between different state agencies. In general the executive and those agencies that are further removed from popular control, such as central banks, are strengthened, and elected legislatures and institutions more easily influenced by popular pressure decline in power and status. The objective is to transform states more effectively into instruments of capital, and of global and finance capital in particular. Global Governance institutions are thus not a new form of state in themselves, and even less a world government. They are instead a means of determining the orientation of national states and their policies by limiting the “thinkable” ideological and policy options available to them to those favorable to capital; of “elite socialization” - influencing the ideological and political orientation of state personnel through interaction with like-minded others such as at Davos, EU summits, the G8 and G20 and through the revolving door whereby individuals rotate between private finance, Global Governance institution such as the IMF, World Bank or WTO, and key national government offices; and of external pressure and even coercion through methods ranging from IMF structural adjustment programs and debt, to WTO trade rules, to UN Security Council Resolutions, to NATO military force.
Global Governance organizations act as Hegel’s “universal authority”, something between an executive committee and a bureaucracy that sets the agenda for and coordinates state policies throughout much of the world. Global Governance institutions are where the real power seems to be politically in the capitalist world today. These institutions embody Arundhati Roy’s crucial insight that it is not national sovereignty that is at risk under globalization, but rather democracy.2 This is especially true if by democracy we mean a democratic content and agency, and not merely procedures for electing leaders or making decisions.
The Global Ruling Class and Capitalism
National states, complex creations that express the complicated class relations and outcome of class struggles historically in each national territory, are, through the imposition and mediation of Global Governance, liberated from the local class struggles that have heretofore shaped them, expanded and/or limited their policy options and structures. They are instead increasingly interrelated globally as instruments of an ever-more coherent global capitalist ruling class, by outlook and by unity in action, that is by consistent purposeful action in the interests of their own class globally and nationally. Thus, a meta-level objective of Global Governance emerges, that of carrying out the project implicitly analyzed in the third volume of Marx’s Capital, where it is defined as the development of a unified single rate of profit, with shares in the value produced system-wide distributed according to the size of capital invested3 . Understood politically, this creation of single rate of profit, once national with some aspects of the economy international, is now a project of globalization. The historical struggle over realizing this project, at least up to the early 19th century is arguably the focus of the second and third volumes of Fernand Braudel’s celebrated Capitalism and Civilization4 .
In such a context, capitalism, which can with justice be described in many ways –as value production, as market relations and so forth, is best understood as both Marx, in Chapter 32 of Volume One of Capital, and Braudel in his monumental work understood it: as the concentration of wealth and centralization of power in the fewest hands, as monopoly5 . To achieve this concentration and centralization, capitalism has in recent decades, as is well documented, carried out a program of expropriation and renewed exploitation, usually termed neoliberalism. We can define the current period as neoliberal however, only if we see the latter as a program of a larger force that is anything but anti-state or liberal in any traditional sense; rather, neoliberalism has been imposed by government policy. But today it is even clearer how crucial Global Governance, and both its transformation and use of the national state and its capitalist class character are to the project concentration and centralization. For since the onset of the world economic crisis in 2008, and even before that in the use of the debt crisis in the global South to impose neoliberal policies, it has been clear that capitalism today is a political and not at core merely an economic project. That project, at all times serving the larger objective of concentration and centralization, and therefore of ruling class unity globally, today goes by the name of austerity.
Austerity intensifies to a much greater degree the project of concentration and centralization, using direct political means to impose greater inequality. Yet in doing so, by exposing the central role of Global Governance institutions in formulating and initiating policies favorable to an ever smaller capitalist elite, and by reducing the social base in virtually every country for the dominant policies, austerity has brought about the preconditions for a political crisis not only of national governments, but of Global Governance itself. That crisis has not been tardy in arriving.
Against Austerity: A Global Strike Wave
Opposing this renewed wave of austerity and neoliberal globalization is a host of movements, organizations and protests, at times uniting in action a diversity of class actors. But increasingly, in the past three years since the financial crisis broke and turned into a global recession, the opposition has been spearheaded by the working class in country after country. Since Spring 2010 increasingly purposeful strike waves have directly opposed the austerity imposed by national governments, and the austerity called for by Global Governance institutions. The past year has seen the rise of an ever greater global wave of mass strikes against the abstract universal of Global Governance. These strike waves, circulating from China and India to South Africa and Egypt, from France and Britain to Jamaica and Cambodia, from Vietnam to Greece, from Bangladesh to Spain, have also challenged austerity as class rule. This planetary strike wave by a world working class, was, until the Winter of 2011, the most direct, and impressive obstacle to realizing the austerity program of global capital in the face of a crisis.
Thus, in the single two-day period of October 21 and 22, 2010, while France was still largely paralyzed by massive strikes opposing President Sarkozy’s attempt to change the retirement age,6 and the Acropolis and the Piraeus port in Athens remained closed by workers blockading them,7 Spanish air traffic controllers faced a threat of being fired (shades of Reagan) by their government for striking.8 While firefighters in Ireland,9 and London struck, as did Lancaster taxi drivers, while Sellafield nuclear power plant workers who blocked traffic during a march10 . Elsewhere in the UK Swindon Leisure Center workers struck protesting cuts by the local council, while the National Union of Journalists members voted to strike Newsquest in Hampshire over a 2 year wage freeze.11 In Northern Ireland, a court order demanded an end to a strike at a meat factory. Dutch postal workers planned to strike.12 British unions promised large scale public sector strikes after the government’s announcement of its economic program involving massive service cuts and elimination of 500,000 civil service jobs.13 Over a thousand Romanian Dock workers protested IMF and EU sponsored austerity plans and demanded higher wages.14 In Croatia, unions threatened a general strike after the Constitutional Court rejected a referendum to reform labor laws.15 Outside Europe that same day, Tobago public servants marched in solidarity with their striking colleagues in Trinidad, and the University of the West Indies offered concessions to its striking staff;16 University staff were on strike also in Nigeria;17 Ghanaian teachers and professors were on strike and in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, high school teachers were on strike to start the school year, while in Italy, the university semester’s start was blocked by a months-long strike by ricercatori, the entry-level professors protesting massive cuts and changes in Italian Universities;18 National Water Commission workers, members of Jamaica’s National Workers Union struck in the face of a court order, demanding a 7% pay increase, in the wake of an earlier demand by Jamaican unions to reject IMF policy demands.19 A general strike in that country had only a month earlier been narrowly averted by government concessions that made the IMF demands a dead letter.20
Strikes were at the same time spreading throughout many countries in Africa, in addition to the education sector strikes: In Kenya, 80,000 workers struck tea companies to protest the introduction of tea-picking machines;21 in Swaziland, the logistics and transport company Unitrans fired 43 striking workers and got a court order requiring workers to cease adhering to their own self-set hours of 7 am to 4 pm;22 diamond production workers were on strike in Botswana;23 in Zambia, striking miners were shot at with firearms by their bosses at a Chinese company;24 and in Zimbabwe airline workers struck while public service workers demanded that diamond revenues be used to increase their pay.25 In Benin, unions organized protests that same week against the government’s ban on organized demonstrations.26 Only a few weeks earlier, city workers in Uganda had occupied government offices.27
28 “Labour Shelves Pay Raise Strike” Vanguard (Lagos) May 4, 2010; In Nigeria, oil workers had postponed a strike the previous Spring after a10% pay raise conceded by the government.28 But in the Fall, they struck over a proposed law on oil that oil multinationals had lobbied for, and over local activities by Exxon. Doctors in Lagos were on strike, university staff and lecturers stepped up ongoing strikes, electrical workers threatened an indefinite strike and government workers in that country threatened a strike over a minimum wage.29
Bangladesh, which has seen enormous strikes and clashes with police by workers, especially from the garment industry, was that same day witnessing a massive dock strike that faced military repression, a strike by jute workers and one by garment workers in various parts of the country, all threatening the country’s export revenues.30 Pilots in that country defied government warnings and began a strike on the 23rd.31 Elsewhere, sugar workers in Guyana had just ended a strike when faced with government repression,32 500 workers at Foxconn in India had been arrested for labor activity,33 DHL, the global logistics company faced worldwide labor conflict over its policies.34 Turkish UPS workers, sustained by considerable international solidarity, were involved a struggle over fired colleagues.35 In Chile, 80,000 public workers were on strike as miners at that country’s massive Collahuasi copper mine prepared to vote to strike,36 and hospital construction workers prepared to do likewise.37 Bank workers in Brazil had just ended a strike after winning the largest pay raise in years,38 and auto workers had only weeks before won their highest pay raises ever through striking.39 The conflict over a pay increase and housing allowance that had sparked a massive general strike of public sector workers in South Africa the month before was only finally settled that same week,40 while in Argentina a city wide general strike in Buenos Aires was threatened over the death of a railway worker, as sanitation workers in the city were just returning to work after a 3-day strike.41 In Vietnam, another epicenter of the strike wave of the past three years, along with Bangladesh, Egypt, South Africa and Cambodia, 2,000 workers were on strike at a shoe factory.42 In South Korea the country’s largest union federation was planning for demonstrations against the G20 meeting in that country a few weeks later.43
Egypt had seen a relative quiet compared with the mass strikes of 2006-8, but that calm ended the same day. Workers demonstrated nationwide, just days after having protested government repression of workers’ political activism in Cairo.44 Palestinian workers struck a Green Line Israeli factory over nonpayment of wages, as their co-nationals went on strike against the UN agency handling health services in the refugee camps.45 Staff at the Palestinian colleges and universities held a sit-in at the Education Ministry of the Palestinian Authority.46
In the Czech republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Bulgaria and elsewhere, unions warned, threatened or prepared for new actions over austerity programs, while strikes in Croatia and Serbia had only recently died down over some of the EU’s demands on those countries for austerity as preconditions for membership.47 Ukrainian workers had just won a five-month long strike at a sausage factory, winning a big pay increase.48 In Kazakhstan, Oil workers struck to protest the arrest of a union activist.49
From Strikes to Revolutions: A Global Political Crisis
The list could go on, and this accounts only for the strike news of a 48 hour period. As the Summer and Fall of 2010 went, it was not an atypical day. If the French revolts made it seem exceptional, they themselves might be considered relatively less impressive than other worker actions of the same year, such as the strike wave in China, or the 100 million strong general strike in India in September. Vietnam continued to witness extraordinary worker militancy across nearly every industry, while one estimate was that Russia had seen 93 large, unauthorized strikes in 2010.50
June 13, 2009 Saturday “Expert analyses tendency of strikes, labour disputes in Russia” A new labor federation founded there was a sign of the growing militancy.51 The estimates for strike activity for China were shaky, but already a couple of years before one researcher found 87,000 labor protests involving millions of workers and no one doubted that 2010 had seen an increase in strike activity, the number of workplaces and workers involved and the intensity of strikes and confidence of strikers compared with previously.52 October 22 saw construction workers blocking streets in Dubai, where militancy had been common in recent months,53 while Bahrain54 had also experienced strike activity on a vast scale recently as well. Meanwhile in Iraq, unions continued to block privatization of oil resources and faced government union busting as a result.55
This strike activity was arguably only the peak up to the end of Fall 2010, of a global strike wave dating to 2007 and building in globality, intensity, militancy and geographic presence. It is extraordinary for the simultaneity of large scale strikes in country after country, and its near universal spread – only in the United States was there no strike wave to speak of at all, and the Philippines seemed extraordinary in having seen less labor militancy than in recent years. South Korea had preceded most countries in the early imposition of strong arm anti-union legislation and other government methods to counter the power of workers there that only a few years before had been one of the most militant working classes in the world. Likewise in Mexico, and Honduras, again, only massive repression, including the firing of 40,000 power company workers by the former country’s president, and repression following the military coup in the latter kept labor activity in those countries under control. In Thailand, protest of all kinds was muted after the massacre of the Red Shirts movement of farmers and workers demanding democracy, though to be sure class forces were imprecise on both sides in the conflict there.
Aside from these few exceptions, many of which prove the rule by being so only as a result of severe State repression of workers struggles, much of the world witnessed the use by workers of their traditional weapon of withdrawing their labor over the late months of 2010. Indeed, over the past three years it is difficult to find a part of the world that had not seen significant worker protest or large scale strikes. Finally, in the Winter months of early 2011 the dam burst. First in Tunisia, then as the world watched amazed in Egypt, mass movements became revolutions, demanding changes in economic policy, challenging the widening inequality that had come with neoliberalism, and toppling dictatorships that were widely hated. By mid-March 2011 virtually the whole Arab world was in revolt against their leaders. As the “weakest link” in the chain of neoliberal austerity governments, many of them recently poster children for the policies favored by global governance organizations, these regimes were the first to confront the implications of the directly political nature of austerity. In what were classical revolutionary situations, middle class and professional protests merged with mass workers strikes, leading to direct attempts to seize, or at least to paralyze political power.
What had been a discrete set of strikes, linked primarily by reaction to common policies under neoliberal globalization, had therefore by late 2010 grown increasingly to recognize the political nature of the conditions they were striking against, first as the use of the economic crisis politically by employers, then directly in the form of government policies. From Greece to France to Romania, from Jamaica to India to South Africa striking workers and their unions identified global governance organizations like the IMF and EU as setting the agenda for their national policies in favor of capital and hostile to labor. Now, after the inspiring Egyptian revolution, movements identified to a remarkable degree the struggles in Arab countries, which might have been seen as particular to North Africa and the Gulf, as relevant to their own struggles, as inspirations for their own movements, and even as tactical guides for upping the ante in the struggle against austerity. Thus, in a phenomenon unthinkable after the attacks of September 11, hundreds of thousands of American workers and students, first in Wisconsin, spreading to Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Texas, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey and Montana (!) openly referred to the occupation by thousands of protesters of Cairo’s Tahrir Square, that is to a mass movement in the Arab world, as a model for their own protests. The ongoing and open-ended mass occupations of state capitols drew parallels between undemocratic and anti-working class methods by conservative governors and those of Arab dictators, protesting and explicitly politicizing anti-union and undemocratic legislation that was legitimated by the usual depoliticizing discourse about austerity.
To understand these revolutionary upheavals we need to investigate more closely the global strike wave against austerity that has given birth to them. We need to understand the latter in its context, which is largely unprecedented, and we also need to see it in relation to its precedents, other historical worldwide strike waves. Classes, nationally or globally, are not static structures. They are ever-changing, and always in formation and re-composition, resulting from their struggle with other classes and from the need to address the societal changes, national and global, brought about by the mutual struggle. While never limited to formal organization, class formation and re-composition often requires organizational form to provide guidance, orientation and cohesiveness. This is the context in which to understand the role of Global Governance: not as a world state, but as an institutional means of uniting the ruling class globally – a project that is never fully completed, or at least, which is unlikely to be fully realized. The world’s working class is surely far more diverse than even the capitalist class. Homogeneity, always relative in the case of the working class, is for workers globally not to be found in over-arching organization but in common struggle.
Today, that common struggle faces an increasingly cohesive opponent; that opponent relies less on the diffuse authority of capital in millions of workplaces and more on the use of state policy to impose its class interests; those state policies in turn are formulated, initiated and fostered by global governance; and those policies, by benefiting the narrowest of class forces, limit to an extraordinary degree the social base sustaining governments and the global political order encouraging austerity. The result is that we are witnessing the opening of an unprecedented political crisis, one in which the legitimacy and social basis of the world social order is severely undermined and the authority of global governance and the class interests that it represents are fragile and under challenge.
Major Themes in the Strike Wave
The recent and ongoing strike wave features particular, if widespread, groups of workers. We can get a better idea of who is striking and why from a closer and more precise look at these participants and their characteristics. Several themes present themselves as we examine strikes in recent years and months. One is the highly widespread geographic scope of the strikes – many are in emerging economies where industry on a large scale is a recent development: Brazil, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Vietnam, South Korea, South Africa, India, and above all China, to name a few. That the strike wave has encompassed the Ukraine, Ethiopia, Swaziland, Kenya, Egypt, Bahrain and Kazakhstan, indicates just how global globalization has become, and along with it the revolt of workers. Thus, Brazilian auto works, Ethiopian steel workers, Kenyan tea pickers, Swaziland diamond workers, Egyptian workers in nearly every category imaginable, Ukrainian sausage factory workers, Bangladeshi garment, jute and dock workers, Cambodian garment and textile workers, Vietnamese shoe and garment workers, and Chinese auto workers, textile workers and many others have been on strike on a large scale in recent years, along with nationwide strikes in South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, and several in India, including one that certainly stands as the largest single day general strike in history with 100 million workers participating.
Second, logistics, crucial to the global economy based on commerce56 – the moving of goods and services, and when relevant persons – are a key site of struggle, with workers expressing their often newfound power in strikes at docks, on railway lines, truck routes, shipboards, at customs and border crossings, at post offices, delivery services and on airlines. Dock workers from New Jersey to Romania, and from the Piraeus to Bangladesh, from Nigeria to Marseilles have been on strike in the current strike wave. Railways have been on strike in nearly every country in Europe. And significantly, many of the global logistics companies, DHL, UPS have faced high levels of international worker militancy.
A third major aspect of the strike wave has been strikes by production workers or other workers involved in the production or supply of basic commodities used as raw materials – agricultural products, extractive industries, industrial metal mining, gas and electricity supply, oil in particular. These workers have seen prices for the commodities they produce spike to historic heights in recent years. This was especially the case during the 2007-2008 rise in prices widely attributed (if problematically) to increased demand especially from growing economies in Asia. Accordingly, workers have increasingly struck to demand a greater share of the greater wealth that their work has created. Strikes in this sector, in particular, were initially responding to the price spikes that were likely a combination of increased demand along with another factor – the massive speculation in futures markets for all such commodities. Capital has for some years sought safe havens from worker militancy and from political upheaval. In the wake of the housing market and derivatives collapse in the US that sparked the financial crisis, this capital flow helped fuel the price spikes, and the subsequent strikes that indicated that workers would contest the monopolization of value available in those sectors, in combination with the collapse around the same time of the Doha Round of WTO trade negotiations, were the last straw, turning the financial crisis into a global recession. Capital that had fled mobilized workers in the first place into financial refuges now fled from the formerly safe haven of commodities futures as workers in these industries demonstrated their determination to gain something from the historic increase in wealth flowing to their industries and employers.57 Chilean copper miners, Bolivian tin miners, Namibian diamond miners, jute workers in Bangladesh, sugar workers in Guyana, Mozambique cocoa workers, Nigerian oil workers, Kazakh oil workers, Kenyan tea pickers and many others have struck on a large scale across a large swath of the world economy for the past three years, demanding higher wages.
Fourth, state workers and other groups directly affected by state austerity policies have been major actors in the global strike wave, from France to Benin, from Nigeria to India, from Brazil and Argentina to Egypt, from Greek state workers to British students, from Italian high school students and staff to university ricercatori, from Buenos Aires sanitation workers to Hungarian railway workers, from Kenyan electric power workers to Czech doctors, militancy has been increasingly common among state workers and those immediately involved in state services. Public workers in the US have now launched the largest working class movement seen there in many decades, one with directly political characteristics and relying on mass direct action, occupations and taking as inspiration revolts in Arab countries. These workers and allied groups are on the front lines of the struggle against austerity that is today every bit as global as world trade. For to expand in a context in which even China is proving to be a center for worker militancy, and the FIRE sector still recovering, means an assault on the public sector, a new enclosures meant to privatize the services currently provided by government at all levels. To accomplish that, be it in Africa, Europe or the US means taking on the main organized social force with an interest in defending public services, namely public sector workers and their organizations. Since a much wider part of the working class population broadly defined has a stake in the public sector and its programs and institutions, the possibility for the strikes and struggles of state workers to find a wider solidarity, and become a leading edge of a class wide fight is significant. Elements of just such a class-wide front have appeared already in Greece, Britain, Italy, France and the Midwestern states of the US.
If austerity is today fully globalized, it is because the same policies are increasingly implemented by governments across the world as part of the formation of an increasingly coherent ruling class. Such a global ruling class is in the process of being formed and intellectually trained through Davos’ annual World Economic Forum, and through “elite socialization58 “ resulting from participation in organizations such as the EU, G20, WTO, IMF and informal gatherings like Davos.59 The strike wave, inasmuch as it is a principle challenge to austerity programs, has not only been, until the revolutions in Arab countries, the most impressive obstacle worldwide to the implementation of these programs60 . To the degree that austerity results from initiative taken by or through global governance organizations – the EU, IMF and G20 – the strike wave is oriented against global governance organizations themselves. In this sense these are to a considerable degree political strikes, but with a new angle – that the strikes are directed not only against policies of austerity of national governments but also against global governance, best defined for our purposes as the partial or full transformation of national states through global organization with the objective and practice of insulating governments from their national populations and making them more effective as instruments for imposing global capitalist interests on the rest of society. Ireland’s government was defeated after implementing an EU-IMF-sponsored austerity program.
Already, aside from the strikes and protests, including 40,000 union member participants against the G20 summit in Seoul in November 2010, a number of strikes have specifically targeted global governance organizations and not just their own national states. Irish public workers61 , Jamaican labor unions62 and others have specifically challenged their governments’ agreements with the IMF, while Croatian unions have opposed austerity mandated as required in order to join the EU63 . Thousands of Romanian Finance Ministry workers walked off the job to protest IMF demands,64 Pakistani state workers protested an IMF demand for privatization of electrical power plants65 , and European labor unions united for a one-day protest in Brussels on September 29, 2010 to oppose continent-wide austerity programs.66 In an especially ironic struggle, the staff at the International Labor Organization, tasked with proposing and monitoring the implementation of better labor standards worldwide, held a sit-down strike to prevent a governing board meeting to protest their precarious, short term contracts and their working conditions.67 The presence of global governance in the midst of the austerity policies, and the link of these global organizations and their apparent class bias and policies68 at the center of the globalization process, along with the structural links between workers internationally stemming from the physical connections of logistics and the diffusion of working class experience geographically, mean that international solidarity, at least in sentiment, increasingly in solidarity activity, and even, as the European day of protest indicates, in united action, has become more common recently69 . As we shall see, the strike wave itself, and the class struggle as a whole, are themselves constitutive of the possibilities that these same struggles then confront as challenge and opportunity.
Understanding the Global Strike Wave
Perhaps the most common distinction made between different types of strikes is a traditional one between political and economic strikes. This distinction largely came from the experience, analysis and practice of the parties of the Second International. It reflected the organizational division of labor between unions and parties, where the former were presumably organizations to deal with the economic needs of workers and the latter for addressing the political aspirations. Marx and Engels seem to have treated the categories of economic and political with regard to workers movements as suggestive, but not as hard and fast distinctions. Thus the famous comment in the Communist Manifesto that “every class struggle is a political struggle” seems to mean this as a latent possibility inherent in every struggle, even local ones. Marx drew a distinction years later, writing,
On the other hand, however, every movement in which the working class comes out as a class against the ruling classes and attempts to force them by pressure from without is a political movement. For instance, the attempt in a particular factory or even a particular industry to force a shorter working day out of the capitalists by strikes, etc., is a purely economic movement. On the other hand the movement to force an eight-hour day, etc., law is a political movement. And in this way, out of the separate economic movements of the workers there grows up everywhere a political movement, that is to say a movement of the class, with the object of achieving its interests in a general form, in a form possessing a general social force of compulsion. If these movements presuppose a certain degree of previous organisation, they are themselves equally a means of the development of this organisation.70
Larger, class-wide political movements, then, originate in the separate struggles that are an inevitable part of social life in a capitalist society characterized by the fragmentation of production into many workplaces, a separation that class struggle seeks to overcome as both a means to achieving social change and as a goal in itself. What makes a political movement of the working class political is that it is a movement of the class, that is of a large section of the working population and not just a local struggle or one of a single sector. Yet the political movements are born of the separate economic ones, which are the primordial ooze out of which they take form. The two moments of class struggle are never fully separate in other words.71 And as Marx notes, organization both precedes and is born of the mass struggle itself.
The current strike wave is a response to the effects of neoliberal global capitalism, of the ‘hardness of the times’, the growing inequality in every country, the insecurity of jobs, the cutting of services even as tax burdens on the rich are reduced. Yet this very list shows that the line between immediate economic hardship – wage struggles or price riots – and political mobilization is not a fast and firm one, nor an easily made distinction. The inequality is not merely a result of a neutral globalization process that happens to benefit some more than others, nor is it the result of neutral technological change.72 Rather increasingly many workers attribute inequality and unfairness to political choices, be it trade policies, tax laws, or budget cuts. Now, when many countries directly pass anti-union or anti-strike laws, and at the same time impose large scale cuts in services and privatization programs, the strike wave in opposition to these can be called a political movement both in terms of the wide front of the working class population involved or supportive and in terms of the actions provoking strikes – not the cutting of wages by this or that single employer, but the same in practice by government policy.
The large-scale strikes circling the world in recent years, and with growing intensity in the past year are best understood as political movements. They involve a significant part of the working class and those sectors in a position to fight effectively by striking are often expressing directly the demands or experiences and needs of a larger part of the class or population in general. Thus, the strikes by the Mahallah textile workers, at Egypt’s largest factory, in 2006 and 2008 addressed the general questions of wages and by implication the inequality created during Mubarak’s neoliberal regime, and the issue of the dictatorship itself. Every strike in Vietnam or China addresses by default the inequality and low wages that fuel those countries’ export engines and at the same time the dictatorships and restrictions on strikes by political means that workers must of necessity challenge if they are to act at all. Nearly every strike in South Africa is implicitly a criticism of the governing of that country since Apartheid, of the relation of the trade union federation COSATU and the ruling ANC, and inequality that is now the world’s worst, dwarfing even that of the Apartheid-era itself. The struggles in Wisconsin and other Midwestern US states are ostensibly about pensions, health care and wage agreements, but as the Republican Wisconsin legislature’s passing of only the anti-union parts without the budget cuts in the original bill attached, and as the Michigan bill providing emergency powers to dissolve elected municipal governments testify, any attempt to defend economic interests by workers in such a context directly encounters governmental power, but also expresses a larger sentiment among working people that policies are favorable to Wall Street, banks, global companies and the very wealthy, while defending institutions such as schools, whose constituencies are much larger and potentially massive.73
The Remaking of the Working Class
The imposition of neoliberalism in the Global South resulted in riots, protests, strikes and revolts across a wide swath of the world, usually understood under the heading of “anti-IMF riots.”74 These were largely urban, and “result from a closer integration of the global economy with the international state system coordinating the reorganization through agencies like the IMF.”75 These struggles found an echo in the anti-globalization or alterglobalization movement launched in the global North after the Seattle WTO protests in 1999, through at least those in Genoa against the G8 in 2001. As partly organized in the World Social Forum and partly in a vast and complex milieu of groups outside any overarching structure, the movement against neoliberal capitalism was best identified in the slogan “One No, Many Yeses.”76 In retrospect, the amorphous organizational and ideological nature of much of these movements reflected the fragmentation of previous organizational power by neoliberalism, combined with a reaction to past legacies of Stalinism.
But the shifting of production globally produced not new working classes, for these are best defined by struggle and not merely structurally by job description – most of the participants in anti-IMF riots were certainly proletarians for instance, but rather this shifting globally created new structural power for large sectors of workers that had rarely had such power except perhaps at the strictly national level.77 Now, by their role in the global economy, dock workers, railway workers, workers in textiles and shoe factories, in auto plants and in the extraction and processing of raw materials from Bangladesh, Vietnam and China to Brazil, Swaziland, Kenya and Bahrain were in a position to impact the global economy and the national economy at the same time hitting precisely at the meeting point between local and global ruling classes and their efforts at a greater unity.
In a neoliberal world and global economy, the ability to rupture the link between a national economy and the global one, or between the local and global ruling class, can be decisive. Thus, when the Egyptian revolution reached a high point, and strikes began to break out nationwide, it was the start of strikes by workers at companies on the Suez Canal, and the threat of these spreading to the point of closing the Canal, where 6-7% of all world trade and about a quarter of the world’s oil pass through, that signaled the end for Mubarak, as surely as the oil workers strike in 1979 signaled the end game for the Shah of Iran.78 It is not that workers in newly industrialized countries were not necessarily workers or at least proletarians before, nor that these countries are now capitalist but were not before, but that the new conditions of greater integration into the global capitalist economy, and the simultaneous political attack on living conditions and workers rights by capitalist forces has expanded both the structural and the associational power of workers. This led what had been either desperate anti-IMF riots in the 1980s and 90s, or broader but less coherent movements against capitalist globalization in the late 90s and early 2000s to take a sharper and more homogeneous form at least temporarily as workers used the traditional weapon of the strike on an unprecedented scale in terms of both geography and numbers. This newfound structural power is in itself part of the political crisis, inasmuch as strategic power in the hands of groups that are unrepresented politically, or whose interests are opposed to present policy means a political crisis, at times of epic proportions79 .
The strikes themselves are best seen as a response to and a deepening of the political crisis of national governments and of global governance itself.80 In and of themselves they are so far not revolutionary in the sense intended by Rosa Luxemburg. Nowhere has the working class sought on its own power to take over both the workplace and government in its own name. And so far only rarely have they transcended unions organizationally, though in countries where unions are weak as in the US and France, or where they operate under severe legal restrictions as in Bangladesh, China, or Vietnam, they have taken on the quality of mass movements more readily. But as the Luxemburg quote preceding this article suggests, there is a close and dynamic relationship between strikes and revolution, today every bit as much as in the past.
The strike wave has grown out of both changes in the global economy structurally and out of the mass struggles and movements opposing the effects of neoliberal globalization. In turn, the strike wave has directly confronted the politics of austerity and increasingly politicized opposition, focusing it on austerity as a cutting edge of neoliberalism and one linked first to national government and then to, and originating from global governance. In this way the strike wave has allowed for a greater focus on the class relations internationally. When we find large scale strike activity in a country, we may see it as an indicator of austerity and of the growing class confrontation around it. Finally, the strike wave has prepared the way for the wave of political revolutions currently sweeping the Arab countries in North Africa and the Persian Gulf, providing experience of struggle, putting in question the inevitability of rulers and their policies and providing inspiration and a rallying point for others, including middle class professionals and students to identify with and to then act on their own initiative with their own appropriate tactics. The strike wave, in short, is a factor in class formation, in this case the re-composition through mass struggle of the working class globally. But where the anti-globalization movement sought to work through complex differences in approach, demands and outlooks (some favoring local economies, others demanding universal rights, and so forth) the strike wave provides a certain coherence and focus to the struggle against capitalist globalization and politicizes it.
With revolutions on the agenda in any number of countries (and if the thesis of this article is correct these will not be limited in the end to Arab countries), the complexity that characterized the anti-globalization movement internationally in a sense returns as the relative homogeneity of strike action gives way to national democratic (and so far implicitly, and perhaps further on explicitly anti-capitalist) revolutions. Certainly any polity is more complex and varied than merely two classes or than the simplified accounts of any strictly class analysis can do justice to. But the strike wave contributes to the onset of mass struggle, to the identification of a common opponent in ruling classes benefiting from and imposing austerity as an intensification of the neoliberal campaign, and to the larger class front in which demonstrators of a representative sample of the national population converge on key points, but in which workers as workers and also as part of the larger movement contribute their weight of numbers, their greater class coherence, and their ability to stop production and transport to the overall struggle against political regimes. Further, the strikes not only continue with the fall of dictators or neoliberal governments, but so far as in the cases of Tunisia and Egypt arguably pick up steam as the working class in almost textbook fashion presents itself collectively as one of the forces vying for national prominence, power and influence.
The Making of a Global Political Crisis
In short, a more powerful working class more disaffected from those in power and in rebellion on a quantitatively and qualitatively larger scale globally means a political crisis without precedent in world history. This crisis is a crisis of Global Governance inasmuch as Global Governance is linked to the long historical process of hegemony in international capitalist politics. According to Giovanni Arrighi, successive hegemonic powers in capitalist history have provided protection services for dominant factions of capital, each time constituting a larger political container for a wider sphere of accumulation81 . With the visible decline of the US’ ability to provide this political organization system wide, yet with its military power unassailable in the near future, the search is on for where capital can find a partner for political exchange to carry out the organizational functions needed for capitalism as a whole. It is my contention that the dominant factions of global capital, finance capital in particular, have found, in global governance organizations and their actors, a new class alliance of political exchange that does not sacrifice the political control, nor the military power it historically found in territorial states. That alliance is between finance capital and the bureaucratic rulers of global governance organizations. It strengthens the organizations at the national level of each state with which these organizations have privileged relationships, especially central banks and treasury ministries, transforming these and other agencies into instruments of global governance, that is of the global ruling class, at the national level. It also strengthens the executive in general against the legislature, and favors, under the austerity regime, states of emergency providing broader powers for enforcing policies favorable to capital. This has been seen in the US both in the scare tactics used to pass the TARP bailout of banks in the aftermath of the financial meltdown in 2008, as well as in the Michigan law referred to above.82
Further, this alliance enables capital to overcome three problems that Arrighi identified in today’s crisis of hegemonic power: the US is too military powerful to be overcome in the foreseeable future by any new power otherwise better equipped to reorganize capital on a new profit-making basis; no new territorial power, China included, can continue the historical tendency for the hegemonic power to grow in scale so as to have the available resources needed to exercise a larger hegemony over the capitalist world; finally, there is a growing tendency for each hegemonic power since the virtually purely capitalist state of Venice to follow strictly capitalist logics less than its predecessors, a tendency that though Arrighi does not attribute causes, likely stems from growing working class power, welfare state demands and the imperatives of democracy. Global governance provides for solutions to these problems, but does so by bringing about a considerable and increasing overlap and merger between the two classes of global financial bourgeoisie and global governance bureaucracy. This merging, always incomplete, occurs through the process of “elite socialization” and interpenetration of personnel between the two, leading to the formation of a more homogeneous global ruling class. Such an alliance has several advantages: it provides for an unmatched mobility and flexibility of action and of access to state power in virtually any locale – hence a geographic expansion without a territorial one per se. This access is available wherever the state is a member or integrated into global governance organizations (hence the importance from a revolutionary perspective of state withdrawal from membership in, for instance the IMF, WTO, the Euro or even arguably the EU). Thus, US military power is never of course, subsumed organizationally under the rubric of global governance, something the US right in particular would go ballistic over. But the informal merging of personnel and outlooks softens the landing of US hegemony per se and if military actions remain ambivalent in their relation to global governance, as in the case of the Libya intervention, it is hard to argue that US power is usually deployed for capitalist purposes. Global governance, as we have seen reduces the non-capitalist logics and policies of states, and weakens the influence of non-capitalist constituencies.
But for all these advantages, global governance has the potentially decisive disadvantage of detaching decision-makers from their social bases nationally and of exposing the capitalist face of global organizations and their allies in national states. That is to say, it undermines the legitimacy of global governance itself, and of any national government that implements austerity in the interests of narrow finance capitalist interests as against those of the vast majority of the national population. National governments using states of emergency, in either soft or hard versions, and imposing austerity in the interests of global finance are unlikely to be much loved. Mubarak, Ben Ali, Qaddafi83 are only extremes, weak links in a continuum that extends far and wide today. Never has capital found such a universal and potentially powerful political ally as it has in global governance. Never has its social basis worldwide been so thin and fragile. Starting in Tunisia and Egypt that social basis has shattered in political upheaval. From Greece to Wisconsin, it is challenged.
Conclusions: The Political Crisis of Global Governance
Global governance and revolution: these are the implications of austerity, of the political uses of the economic crisis to further the concentration of wealth and centralization of power. This project however takes place in a context in which workers in many parts of the world hitherto excluded from the mainstream of production and global economy and from political influence now hold structural positions in logistics, export industries and state services. A class holding newfound positions of power, and defending old ones not yet wholly dismantled, yet less represented politically than previously, in itself constitutes a form of political crisis, no less than did the position of the bourgeoisie in France in 1789. One class, seeking a monopoly on power, policies and the benefits of social wealth, and another, productive of wealth worldwide, be it as middle class professionals or as blue collar production and logistics workers – these are the elements of a social explosion. Growing inequality and hardship are the kindling, and are found nearly everywhere. Austerity is the spark to ignite the kindling. Global governance, an unrepresentative political force, acting in the interests of a few to the detriment of the many, is the fuel to the fire. When I was young, and active in protests and occupations of land and housing in Tompkins Square on New York’s Lower East Side, we chanted “Tompkins Square is everywhere!” Soon, Tahrir Square may really be.
Steven Colatrella, has taught at Bard, the New School, and served as Chair of the Department of Political and Social Sciences at John Cabot University in Rome, and as President of the Iowa Sociological Association. He is author of Workers of the World: African and Asian Migrants in Italy in the 1990s (Trenton and Asmara: Africa World Press 2001) and has participated as a member of the Midnight Notes collective for 30 years. He lives in Padua, Italy.
Wildcat 90, Summer 2011
- 1 Many of the citations on strike activity that follow in this article came from the indispensable website www.labourstart.org.
- 2 Arundhati Roy, “Confronting Empire: Speech Given at the World Social Forum”, January 27, 2003 Porto Alegre, Brazil
- 3 Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. 3 London and New York: Penguin, 1991, pp.254-301. Marx makes clear that this process of the equalization or formation of a general rate of profit is a political process of concentration and of ruling class political unity: “…each individual capitalist, just like the totality of all capitalists in each particular sphere of production, participates in the exploitation of the entire working class by capital as a whole, and in the level of this exploitation not just in terms of a general class sympathy but in a direct economic sense” (p.298-9).
- 4 Fernand Braudel, Capitalism and Civilization, Vol. 2 The Wheels of Commerce New York: Harper and Row 1979 ; Vol. 3 The Perspective of the World London: Phoenix Press 1984.
- 5 Karl Marx, Capital Vol. 1, London and New York: Penguin, chapter 32, “The Historical Tendency of Capitalist Accumulation,” p. 929; Fernand Braudel, The Perspective of the World op. cit. p.622, p.629 and passim.
- 6 “French Protesters Block Marseilles Airport” Associated Press Oct. 21, 2010; “French Leader Vows to Punish Violent Protesters” New York Times Oct. 22, 2010;
- 7 “Acropolis Closed, Riot Police Protecting Entrance” Associated Press Oct. 19, 2010;
- 8 “AENA is Ready to Fire Those Air Controllers Who Strike Tomorrow” Avio News Oct. 21, 2010
- 9 “Firefighters Vote for Strike Action” Tullamore Tribune Oct. 14, 201.
- 10 “UK Workplace News Roundup” from www.libcom.org Oct 21, 2010.
- 11 Workers at Newsquest Hampshire Vote Overwhelmingly for Action” National Union of Journalists h://www.nuj.org.uk/innerPagenuj.html?docid=1779.
- 12 “Court Injunction Halts Tyrone Meat Plant Strike” BBC Oct. 21, 2010
- 13 “Public Sector Cuts Make Strikes Inevitable, Warn Unions” The Guardian Oct. 21, 2010
- 14 “1,000 dock yards workers march in protest in Romania requesting higher wages” The Associated Press (CP) –?23 October 2010
- 15 “Unions Threaten with General Strike” Croatian Times Oct. 22, 2010
- 16 “PSA Planning Massive Protest” Trinidad and Tobago’s Newsday Sept. 21, 2010; “Lecturers in Pay Protest at UWI” Trinidad Express Oct. 16, 2010; “Workers Also March in Tobago” Guardian (Trinidad and Tobago) Oct. 20, 2010; “UWI Increases Wage Offer to Staff” The Guardian (Trinidad and Tobago) Oct. 21, 2010.
- 17 “NIEPA Workers Protest Non-Payment of New Wage” NEXT (Nigeria) Oct. 21, 2010.
- 18 “Strike Jump Starts Year End Revision” Hawkes Bay Today (New Zealand) Oct. 21, 2010; “PNC in Solidarity with POTAG” The Accra Mail Oct. 21, 2010; “Italy: Strikes Delay Start of Academic Year” University World News Oct. 17, 2010.
- 19 “NWC Customers Warned to Brace for Problems from Threatened Strike” Jamaica Observer Oct. 20, 2010; “Unions to Government: Renegotiate IMF Agreement” Sunday Jamaica Observer Sept. 12, 2010.
- 20 “Government Happy General Strike Called Off” Jamaica Observer Sept. 17, 2010.
- 21 “Kenya: Union Warns Tea Firms Not to Replace Striking Workers” Business Daily (Nairobi) Oct. 20, 2010; “Tea Plantation Workers Set to Strike” The Standard (Nairobi) Oct. 20, 2010; “80,000 Workers Strike Over New Technology” Reuters Oct. 18, 2010; “More Than Just a Gathering Storm in Kenya’s Tea Cup” The Standard (Nairobi) Oct. 18, 2010.
- 22 “Stay 200 Meters Away From Unitrans Premises” Times of Swaziland Oct. 21, 2010.
- 23 “Striking Union Workers: DTCB Compromising Diamond Security” The Israeli Diamond Industry Diamond News Oct. 20, 2010.
- 24 “Chinese Bosses Fire on Angry Zambian Miners” Daily Telegraph (Canada) Oct. 19, 2010.
- 25 “Civil Servants in Protest March to Demand Higher Pay” SW Radio Africa News Sept. 17, 2010.
- 26 “Benin Trade Unions Slam Government Over Ban on Protests” Africa News Oct. 13, 2010.
- 27 “KCC Employees On Strike” Daily Monitor (Kampala) Sept. 21, 2010.
- 28 “Nigerian Oil Union Calls Strike at Exxon’s Local Unit” Bloomberg Oct. 12, 2010.
- 29 30 “Union Intensifies Strike” Nigerian Observer Oct. 22, 2010; “Electricity Workers Threaten Indefinite Strike” AllAfrica.com Oct. 4, 2010; “Nigerian Oil Unions Threaten Strike over PIB Implementation” www.icem.org Oct. 4, 2010; “New Minimum Wage: Workers Threaten to Go On Strike Oct. 1” Nigerian Tribune Sept. 23, 2010.
- 30 “CTG Dock Workers Attack Private Berth Operators, 15 Hurt” The Daily Star (Dhaka) Oct. 13, 2010; “Bangladesh Deploys Army As Port Strike Hits Garment Exports” AFP Oct. 15, 2010; “Jute Export Hampered as Bailing Workers Continue Strike” The Daily Star (Dhaka) Oct. 21, 2010.
- 31 “Pilots Defy Warning, Begin Protest against Service Benefit Slash” Daily Star (Dhaka) Oct. 23, 2010
- 32 “Sugar Workers Strike for Pay Hike” Stabroek News (Georgetown, Guyana) Oct. 19, 2010.
- 33 “Foxconn’s Global Empire Reflects a New Breed of Sweatshop” In These Times Oct. 19, 2010; “Protesting Workers at Foxconn Arrested” Express News Service Sept. 25, 2010.
- 34 “DHL Faces Worldwide Unrest” Transport and Logistics News Oct. 14, 2010;
- 35 “World Action Day Tomorrow Backs Fired Turkish UPS Workers” International Transport Workers www.itf.global.org Aug. 21, 2010;
- 36 “Chilean Public Employees on Strike” Latin American Herald Tribune (Caracas) Oct. 22, 2010; “Chile Collahuasi Union Set to Strike as Vote Near” Reuters Oct. 21, 2010.
- 37 “ACT NOW! Solidarity Campaign – Labour Conflict in Chile” Building and Wood Workers International bwint.org Oct. 20, 2010.
- 38 “Brazil Bank Workers Keep Strike After 6.5% Raise Offer. They Want 11%” Brazzil Magazine Oct. 20, 2010; “Bank Workers End 15-Day Strike” Wall Street Journal Oct. 14, 2010.
- 39 “Unions Secure Record Wage Increases in Brazilian Auto Sector” International Metalworkers Federation www.imfmetal.org Sept. 22, 201.
- 40 “COSATU: Strike Over But Still No Deal” Mail and Guardian (Pretoria) Oct. 13, 2010;
- 41 “Argentina Protest Over Labour Activist Killing” BBC News Oct. 21, 2010; “Tension Mounts as Demonstrators March to Protest Death in Earlier Clashes, CTA Umbrella Union Calls for General Strike Today” Buenos Aires Herald Oct. 21, 2010; “Garbage Collection Returns to Normal After 3-Day Conflict” Buenos Aires Herald Oct. 20, 2010.
- 42 43 “Workers at Vietnam Footwear Factory on Strike” http://www.monstersandcritics.com/news/business/news/article_1593271.php/Workers-at-Vietnam-footwear-factory-on-strike Oct. 22, 2010
- 43 “Police Alert Over Anti-G20 Rallies” Korean Herald Oct. 15, 2010.
- 44 “Labourers Stage Protests Nationwide to Demand Better Salaries” Al Masry Al Youm Oct. 20, 2010; “Workers Protests Put Forcibly Down” Al Masry Al Youm Oct. 19, 2010.
- 45 “Palestinian Authority Workers Still on Wages Strike at Sol-Or Factory” Jerusalem Post Oct. 21, 2010; “Public Health Risk as UNRWA Goes On Strike” Ma’an News Agency Oct. 21, 2010.
- 46 “Workers in Governmental Universities and Colleges hold a sit-in in front of the Council of Ministers asking the PA to meet their demands” Democracy and Workers Rights Center Palestine www.dwrc.org Oct. 22, 2010
- 47 “Demonstration in Belgrade Rejects European Austerity Plans” Building and Wood Workers International bwint.org Oct. 1, 2010; “Bulgarian Police Officers Start Protests” FOCUS News Agency Oct. 17, 2010; “Czech Unions May Go On Strike if Further Talks with Government Fail” Prague Monitor Sept. 17, 2010; “Protest Over Pay Cuts” Prague Post Sept. 22, 2010; “Meeting Between PM and Union Shows No Progress on Wage Issue” Prague Daily Monitor Oct. 1, 2010; “Romanian Finance Ministry Workers Protest Pay Cut” Reuters Oct. 14, 2010; “Romanian Teachers Strike Over IMF-Driven Pay Cuts” www.laboureducator.org April 24, 2010; “Poland: Trade Unions to Protest Wage Freeze” The News.PL Sept. 22, 2010; “Croatian Workers Protest Against Shipyard Sale Decided by Government as Part of Effort to Join EU” Canadian Press Sept. 22, 2010; “Vegrad Workers On Strike” Slovenian Press Agency Sept. 20, 2010;
- 48 “Long Struggle Ends in Victory for Ukraine Belkozin Workers” International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco, and Allied Workers Associations www.iuf.org Oct. 15, 201.
- 49 “Kazakh Oil Workers Strike over Activist Arrest” Radio Free Europe Oct. 23, 2010
- 50 BBC Monitoring Former Soviet Union – Political Supplied by BBC Worldwide Monitoring
- 51 “New Trade Union Association Created in Russia” Itar-Tass Sept. 20, 2010.
- 52 Ching Kwan Lee, Against the Law: Labor Protests in China’s Rustbelt . of California Press 2007, p.5
- 53 “Building Workers Block Traffic in Protest Over Wages” The National (Dubai) Oct. 22, 2010; “Capital’s Taxi Drivers Refuse to Sign New Contracts” The National (Dubai) May 13, 2010; “1,474 Labourers in Mass Salary Delay Protest” ArabianBusiness.com January 5, 2010.
- 54 “Al Hamad Workers Strike in Bahrain” Constructionweekonline.com Nov. 16, 2009; “Hundreds of Oil Workers Protest in Bahrain” Business.Maktoob.com Feb. 12, 2010; “Bahrain Port Workers Call Off Protest” Business.Maktoob.com Nov. 9, 2009; “Strike Plan by Bahrain Company Workers” Trade Arabia.com Jan. 21, 2010; “DHL Trade Union in Bahrain Strike Talks” ArabianBusiness.com July 12, 2010;
- 55 Sherwood Ross, “Union Busting in Iraq” Counterpunch.org Oct.19, 2010.
- 56 As brilliantly demonstrated in the pioneering study, Edna Bonacich and Jake B. Wilson, Getting the Goods: Ports, Labor and the Logistics Revolution Ithaca: Cornell University Press 2008.
- 57 An argument I develop more fully in my forthcoming book, The Working Class and the Making of the Global Crisis. The last straw that broke the camel’s back, however, was not the strike wave of urban workers, but the failure of the global elite’s last gasp at avoiding the need to turn to a crisis to overcome worker resistance – namely the attempt to finish the Doha round of WTO talks on world trade, which instead capsized on resistance by emerging economies like China and India who in turn were reacting to the gigantic wave of revolt each has seen across the countryside of their national territories. In facing such revolt, agreeing to lift tariffs and subsidies and expose their largely subsistence farmers to the competition of global agribusiness would have been like pouring gasoline on a very large fire already barely kept under control.
- 58 Haas originally referred to the increasingly European outlook and cooperation beyond the immediate issues at hand resulting from working with one’s government counterparts in the European Economic Community, Ernst Haas, The Uniting of Europe: Political, Social, and Economic Forces 1950-57 Stanford: Stanford University Press 1968. I have extended the meaning here to suggest a process of international, arguably global class formation.
- 59 To give an idea how central to our times is this process, and how formative or transformative participation in such organizations and events, including Davos, can be be, consider the following passage from Nelson Mandela’s published diary extracts: “The decisive moment..was when I attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where I …met the major industrial leaders of the world…who made it a point to express their views very candidly on the question of nationalization, and I realized…that if we want investments we will have to review nationalization…we had to remove the fear of business that…their assets will be nationalized.” Nelson Mandela, Conversations with Myself London: MacMillan 2010 p. 381.
- 60 On the Arab revolts as anti-IMF, anti-neoliberal movements, see, among others, “Egypt takes a step back away from IMF ways” Inter Press Service, Feb. 20, 2011; Nomi Prins, “The Egyptian Uprising is a Direct Response to Ruthless Global Capitalism” Alternet.org Feb. 4, 2011; On the Egyptian revolution as a working class movement and on its basis in the preceding strike movements, see, among many: Mohammad Fadel, “Labor and the Future of the Egyptian Revolution” Foreign Policy March 14, 2011; “Cairo unrest has its roots in actions of Mahallah’s workers” Los Angeles Times Feb. 8, 2011; “Labor unions boost Egypt’s protest” Al Jazeera Feb. 9, 2011.
- 61 “Public servants face pay cuts as IMF moves in” The Independent (Ireland) Nov.19, 2010
- 62 “Unions to Gov’t: Renegotiate IMF Agreement” Jamaica Observer Sept.12, 2010
- 63 “Croatia’s United Unions Threaten General Strike Dec. 10” Bloomberg Nov. 17, 2010
- 64 “Romanian Finance Ministry Workers Protest Pay Cuts” Reuters Oct. 14, 2010
- 65 “Privatization of Power Sector in Pakistan: Appeal for Solidarity with WAPDA Workers” (statement by Divisional Chairman & Zonal Secretary WAPDA Hydro Union) from website www.marxist.com Oct. 28, 2010
- 66 “Unions Rally to Fight European Austerity Measures” tribunemagazine.co.uk Sept. 17, 2010
- 67 “ILO Staff Protest Halts Board Meeting” Swiss Info www.swissinfo.ch. Nov. 10, 2010
- 68 See for instance the call by the IMF for Ireland to reduce its minimum wage, which has no relation to budget cutting or debt whatever, as a part of the austerity program needed to obtain an EU-IMF loan: “EU Urges Feuding Ireland not to Delay Budget” Reuters November. 23, 2010.
- 69 For instance the widespread acts of solidarity with the UPS workers’ struggle in Turkey, the recognition of the struggles of Greek workers as a predecessor to their own fight against austerity on the part of French unions, the aforementioned protest in Brussels by united European unions, the support of international unions for the strikes by Chittagong, Bangladesh dock workers, and the protests against the G20, among others that could be cited.
- 70Karl Marx letter to Friedrich Bolte Nov. 23, 1871 in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Correspondence Moscow: Progress Publishers 1955 p. 269-70, also available online at http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1871/letters/71_11_23.htm.
- 71Indeed, in commenting on what he identified as “the first definitive working-class political organization formed in Britain”, the London Corresponding Society, EP Thompson noted “the intermingling of economic and political themes – the ‘hardness of the times’ and Parliamentary Reform” as among the “features which help us to define…the nature of a ‘working-class organization.” EP Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class New York: Vintage 1966, p.21
- 72See Paul Krugman, “Graduates versus Oligarchs” New York Times Feb. 27, 2006.
- 73This is one form of what Silver calls “associational power” ranging from mere union organization and solidarity to such wider class movements based on common interests and causes and inspiration by struggles spreading more widely. Beverly Silver, Forces of Labor: Workers Movements and Globalization Since 1870 Cambridge and New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2003, p.13.
- 74The best overall study of these remains John Walton and David Seddon, Free Markets and Food Riots Cambridge, Massachusetts and Oxford, UK: Blackwell 1994.
- 75 Walton and Sedden, p.50.
- 76See the interesting analysis, especially regarding the World Social Forum in relation to the three Internationals in Samir Amin, The World We Wish to See New York: Monthly Review Press 2008; see also Midnight Notes, “One No, Many Yeses”
- 77Silver, op.cit., calls this “structural power”, p.13.
- 78“Five Suez Canal companies workers go on strike, no major disruptions witnessed yet” Ahram Online Feb. 8, 2011.
- 79Interestingly, of two important works that foresee a global revolutionary political crisis, Adam Webb, “The Calm Before the Storm? Revolutionary Pressures and Global Governance” in International Political Science Review, Vol. 27, No.1 (Jan.2006), pp.73-92, p.83, and Martin Shaw, Theory of the Global State: Globality as an Unifinished Revolution CambridgeUniversity Press Cambridge 2000, the more fully developed analysis, that of Shaw which develops an entire, plausible and intelligent alternative political framework for understanding globalization, does not tie his concept of global revolution to the struggles against Structural Adjustment or neoliberalism, let alone austerity and global governance, but rather to an extension of liberal globalist values. Webb, in noting that the majority of the world’s people do not believe that globalization has addressed their needs or improved their conditions, is closer to the mark here, but fails to see any structural power in the hands of the disaffected that might make the global revolution more than a utopian possibility. Webb thus relies on Iraq-like inter-state conflict and the spread of Political Islam to identify agents capable of carrying out the global revolt he presciently senses on the horizon.
- 80For Shorter and Tilly, political crisis is “a prime factor in bringing a large number of men together for collective action” but “political crises do not ‘cause’ strike waves to happen.” Edward Shorter and Charles Tilly, Strikes in France 1830-1968 London and New York: Cambridge Univ. Press 1974, p.104.
- 81Giovanni Arrighi, The Long Twentieth Century: Money, Power and the Origins of Our Times London New York: Verso 1994; Giovanni Arrighi, Adam Smith in Beijing: Lineages of the Twenty-First Century London New York: Verso 2007.
- 82The most influential work on states of emergency is Giorgio Agamben State of Exception, Chicago: Univ. of Chicago 2005; for my critique of Agamben for neglecting class relations and failing to see the relationship between the imposition of neoliberal policies and states of emergency, see Steven Colatrella, Nothing Exceptional: Against Agamben Journal of Critical Education and Policy Studies 9 (1) March-April 2011; The most important work linking states of emergency to neoliberalism remains Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine London and New York: Penguin 2007.
- 83For the neoliberal nature of Qaddafi’s regime since the 1980s see Vijay Prashad, “The Libyan Labyrinth” Counterpunch Feb. 22, 2011 available at http://www.counterpunch.org/prashad02222011.html.