Subversion look at class struggle in the UK and internationally as the recession of the early 1990s bites, and suggests ways for workers to fight back.
No longer, in Britain, is it a case of a wage cut OR redundancies, a wage rise BUT with worse conditions. Today we are faced with a massive onslaught on our class, involving wage cuts, worsening conditions AND compulsory redundancies. Neither is this onslaught restricted to one economic sector or area of the country. It covers everything from Local Authorities, Health Services and Public Transport, through the engineering sector (Govan shipbuilders, GEC, Fords, IBM, ICI, etc) to the services sector (Barclays Bank, Woolworths, Marks and Spencer, etc) and from north to south.
WORLD WIDE RECESSION
Labour politicians would have us believe this is all the fault of the wicked Tories. But although Britain's economy may be more fragile than some others, this cannot hide the fact that the whole world economy is in a state of disintegration.
The economies of the so-called Third World and Eastern Europe are in a state of near collapse. The motor industry, whose health generally reflects the state of modern industry, is suffering a major crisis right across the globe, involving plant closures and redundancies on a huge scale. Hi-tech computer industries have now also been caught up in the downward spiral of recession. Germany, the power-house of central European capitalism, is heavily burdened with the costs of reunification and even Japan is showing the first signs of economic decline, despite its competitive lead. The GATT talks on trade continue to flounder as each nation desperately tries to stop itself sinking at the expense of others. The whole world, not excepting the USA, is burdened with historic levels of public and private debt.
Our bosses and politicians from left to right are orchestrating a fierce attack designed to make us pay for their crisis ridden economy.
WORKERS FIGHT BACK
Our class has not sat idly by and accepted all this shit!
There has been a wave of strikes involving miners, textile and transport workers and many others right across the USSR and Eastern Europe and more recently in that last Stalinist stronghold of Albania. East German workers have long since forgotten the false euphoria over re-unification and are fighting back against redundancies and the withdrawal of social services.
There have been militant strikes of bus, railway and newspaper workers in the USA. Major strikes and demonstrations have taken place in Brazil and other South American states racked by hyper-inflation, IMF imposed austerity measures and government corruption.
There have been a number of lengthy strikes amongst textile and other workers in India that have been sustained by a high level of 'community' support.
In the midst of the war in the Gulf, militant Turkish miners and their supporters threatened the stability of the Turkish government.
Examples abound of the world wide nature of working class resistance to the bosses' attacks.
Here in Britain the beginnings of a fight back have been evident amongst Liverpool Council workers, Massey Ferguson, Post Office, Tube and other workers.
POTENTIALITIES AND PROBLEMS
There exists the potential for a widespread, militant and unified response from our class that could at least temporarily push back the effects of the crisis and lay the basis for an offensive against the whole rotten economic system.
Unfortunately there are still many obstacles in the way of our class taking the first essential steps towards such a unified response.
Two such major obstacles are NATIONALISM and the UNIONS.
In the USSR and Eastern Europe, where the old rigid Stalinist regimes have recently crumbled, local ruling class factions are flexing their muscles in a desperate bid to avoid being dragged under with the rest of their former compatriots.
They are using the resentment of workers at decades of central bureaucratic control and suppression of local languages and culture to bolster their own positions of power in a wave of petty nationalism. The struggle of workers is being diverted from their common class interests towards futile programmes of decentralisation and new nationhood dressed up in the language of "freedom" and "democracy".
On the Indian sub-continent a whole plethora of nationalisms, ethnic and religious divisions is fostered in a similar attempt by local ruling class factions to wrest some degree of power and influence from an economic situation out of the control of the bloated bureaucracies of central governments.
In the 'middle' east and elsewhere, both major and minor imperialist powers cynically use national and religious rivalries in their own ends in total disregard to the suffering of that land's shifting refugee crisis. The sheer immensity of suffering amongst the people of this area has so far almost totally smothered earlier glimmerings of independent working class action.
In western Europe, nationalism doesn't have quite the same force, but it is still at work, particularly through expressions of racism against North Africans in France, Turkish workers in Germany and Asians in Britain.
Here in Britain, politicians of all varieties try to present the economic ills we are suffering as a peculiarly British phenomenon. They invite us to take part in THEIR democratic debates as to the best solutions - in or out of the EEC, Tory or Labour managers for UK plc, etc. In Scotland and Wales the nationalists and their partners in the Green Party add colour to this dull discussion by promoting their own petty nationalist concerns. As if an 'independent' Wales or Scotland would be any less affected by the world slump or being sacked by a Welsh or Scottish boss was more agreeable.
UNIONS AGAINST THE WORKING CLASS
If nationalism is not enough on its own to derail our struggle, the Bosses rely on the Unions to assist them.
Whatever the benefits of the Unions in the last century, it is clear that today they are totally integrated into the structure of capitalism.
Not only are the Unions major capitalist investors in their own right, but their structure reflects the hierarchical organisation of the capitalist state and big business as well. They are junior partners in the management of the economy with special responsibility for controlling the workforce. This job is all the more effectively carried out precisely because they maintain a FORMAL independence from the corridors of power. This is a lesson well learnt by the failure of the old Stalinist Unions in the USSR and Eastern Europe. That they can do a better job for the bosses by being 'independent' is well illustrated by the history of SOLIDARITY in Poland. It was SOLIDARITY, not the old unions which brought the escalating struggle of the workers there under control and which helped enforce subsequent austerity measures.
In Britain, the Unions are even more experienced at heading off trouble on 'the shop floor'.
These are just some of their tactics against us:
- Holding separate ballots amongst different Unions in the same workplace.
- Holding open ended ballots which don't commit them to any particular line of action.
- Continually re-balloting every time the bosses make a slight alteration to their offer.
- Keeping strikes and strikers isolated from each other by monopolising the means of communication.
- Bringing different groups of workers out on strike at different times when their interests are the same and they would have more impact by striking together (viz Tube, Bus and Railway workers in recent disputes).
- Doing behind the scenes deals with the bosses.
- Calling for militant action prematurely, then referring back to failed actions when workers are really keen to go on the offensive.
- Calling campaigns on side issues (like the engineers' 35 hour campaign) when workers need to fight for jobs and wages.
- Splitting workers between 'profitable' and 'non-profitable' firms (like the arguments of the power and BT unions at present).
- Arguing that we "shouldn't rock the boat" in the run up to a parliamentary election and lying that the Labour Party will solve our problems.
- Threatening withdrawal of strike pay (OUR money) if we don't agree to their deals with the bosses.
- Arguing for "lawful action" when the law is DELIBERATELY designed to defeat us.
The list is endless and no doubt you could add a few more from your own experience.
Of course the Unions don't always get their way. Recently, Massey Ferguson workers in Coventry responded to the announcement of 60 day lay offs by holding a mass meeting and going on IMMEDIATE all out strike - without waiting for ballots.
There is a long and honourable history of wildcat strikes amongst workers, but only rarely have these completely broken from the trade unionist framework on any scale.
It is vital now that workers everywhere begin to take matters into their own hands.
This means opposing the diversionary tactics of the Unions by uniting our struggles across Union and other sectional boundaries.
Strikes need to be organised through mass assemblies open to ALL those involved and with directly elected strike committees. Strikes over basic issues like redundancies and wage cuts need to be spread as widely as possible by sending large delegations directly to other workers facing the same threats. Efforts must be made to involve the unemployed and other unwaged workers.
To deal with the unions' monopoly on communications, networks of militant workers in different areas and industries need to be built up to spread information and agitate for joint action. Groups of militant workers need to meet also to discuss the POLITICAL implications of the struggles going on. Increasingly solidarity action across national boundaries will become both necessary and possible.
The experience of all this kind of organised action will help develop a new independent community of resistance. We can begin to develop the confidence and practical understanding necessary to challenge the whole economy of wage labour and production for profit.