CPGB-ML » Posts for tag 'trade-unionism'

[Statement] Capitalist Crisis: Which way forward for the British working class?

As capitalism descends deeper into crisis, the ruling class are getting more aggressive in their efforts to push the burdens of the slump onto workers’ backs. In these circumstances, the working class needs to be hard-headed about (a) just what they are fighting for, and (b) what grounds there are for confidence that their struggles will meet with success.

It would be comforting simply to hail the militancy of the striking construction workers, whose recent bold initiative in taking unofficial action over jobs has put the bosses and the government on the back foot, as winning a decisive victory for the British working class – comforting, but wrong.

It would be comforting to pretend that the battle lines coincided neatly with the struggle of labour against capital, and that the strikers and unions involved were free from the taint of “British jobs for British workers” chauvinism – comforting, but wrong.

It would be comforting to nod along with the New Communist Party’s line in the New Worker of 13th February 2009, under a headline blaring “Victory in Lindsey dispute”. How cosy it would be to nod sagely as Derek Simpson of Unite tells us that the Lindsey deal “establishes the principle of fair access for UK workers”, as the first stage in the battle against “employers who are excluding UK workers from even applying for work on construction projects”. How comforting it would be to pretend that the crucial issue confronting workers is not the failure of capitalism to guarantee employment to all workers but the failure of government to reserve a quota of the dwindling jobs pool for British workers.

In short, it would be far more comfortable all round to believe that workers really do now have the opportunity to unite behind the existing trade union leadership, guided by the political perspectives offered by the “left” of the Labour party and their sundry hangers-on, and that the only racist blot on the horizon is the fascist posturing of the British Nationalist Party (BNP) on the far fringes of “respectable” political life. Such illusions must indeed be comforting – but are completely false.

The BNP feeds off the racial prejudice sown amongst workers over a very long period by a labour aristocracy which has been specially groomed for this task by their imperialist masters. The natural habitat of this privileged layer of workers has throughout been the Labour party and the TUC which that party dominates. The emergence of “New” Labour has simply exposed the essentially bourgeois orientation of the party, now largely stripped of the protective colouration once provided by its proletarian membership.

The purpose of sowing racism amongst workers has been to divide and weaken organised labour. In the 19th century the scapegoat was the “Irish navvy”. In the 1930s it was primarily the “wandering Jew”, in the 1960s it was the West Indian and in the 1980s it was the “Paki”. Right now the scapegoats include migrant workers from Eastern Europe (their former socialist homelands now enduring capitalist meltdown), refugees from underdevelopment and war (both a consequence of imperialism), and just about anyone who is, or might conceivably be mistaken for, a Muslim.

This divide-and-rule use of racism is not just some random tactic happened upon by imperialism. By keeping the labour movement tied to the neo-colonial oppression meted out by the ruling class, the imperialist Labour party stands on guard on the exploiters’ behalf, ever ready to undermine the anti-capitalist efforts of the proletariat.

In the course of the latest “British Jobs for British Workers” furore, the bourgeois propaganda campaign has continued to play out through a very familiar division of labour. Whilst the angry victims of unemployment are persuaded to wrap themselves in the Union Jack and demand a “fair deal for Brits”, the “great and good” of the “left” Labour establishment present themselves as the guard dogs of “respectable” politics. On the one hand these gentry strive to pen the “wildcats” back within the legal pale, on the other they pretend to identify the BNP as the sole chauvinist threat.

By posturing as defenders of democracy against the BNP, apologists for the Labour party seek in practice to bind workers yet tighter to social democracy – the real pimp for fascism. Job done, these hypocrites can wash their own hands of any responsibility for the chauvinist panic they have helped to unleash, leaving it to the hysterical tabloids to cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s in this cautionary tale of “dirty foreigners stealing our jobs”.

Meanwhile, of course, the Labour party in government is free to go on building concentration camps for asylum seekers and their children, implementing racist immigration controls, criminalising trade union resistance and stacking ever higher the “anti-terror” legislation – purportedly against “Muslim terrorists”, but in reality a gun aimed at the working class if and when it decides to kick off. BNP, eat your heart out! With social democratic friends like this, who needs fascist enemies?

So what does “victory” look like in these times of crisis, and what does “defeat” look like? “Victory” may be claimed when a deal is cut with management whereby the workforce agrees to stomach a wage cut or short-time working in exchange for a promise of no more redundancies – yet. Or “victory” may be a deal cut with management to guarantee a quota of “British” jobs. However, jobs “defended” by such means can only demoralise the work force, pit one group of workers against another – and in any case pave the way for further retrenchment and defeats. To trumpet such deals as “victories” can bring only false comfort to workers in struggle, ill preparing them for yet tougher battles still to come.

The TUC and “left” Labour riposte runs as follows:

1. The recession is inevitable. If it’s anybody’s fault it’s the bankers, so we need a few heads to roll and a bit more regulation.

2. The best “we” can all do is sit it out and share the pain out a bit more “fairly”, helped along by a dose of Keynesian anaesthesia.

3. Anyway better times are round the corner, and it’s probably time we stopped “our” spendthrift ways and welcome a brave new world of virtuous austerity, ushering in a “greener” Britain.

By this logic, workers need to demand a “fair” distribution of wage cuts (you shave off a percentage of your fat cat bonus and we’ll swallow deteriorating pay and conditions) and a “fair” distribution of the rapidly diminishing jobs supply (with first place in the queue reserved for white British – otherwise the BNP will get in!).

The crisis is indeed inevitable – that much they have got right. But the scale of the crisis is at least on a par with the two great crises of the 20th century, each of which convulsed world society, spawning wars and revolutions. What workers need to be hearing is not soothing advice on how to collaborate with capitalism so that “we British” can weather the storm together. What workers need to hear is the truth: that their class interests are in open and direct contradiction with those of the exploiters; that organisation is the only weapon the proletariat possesses in its fight against capitalism; that everything which disunites workers also blunts that weapon of organisation; that complicity with oppression abroad and racism at home are the single most potent threat to the unity of the working class; and that the single most important task with which imperialism entrusts its social democratic gendarmes is to enforce that complicity upon the British working class.

So what does “victory” or “defeat” look like in these crisis days? To trample over the union-bashing laws, say “sod the ballot” and walk off the job – that is a most welcome proof of the continued fighting spirit of the working class. But to walk off the job and into the arms of the chauvinist TUC and Labour party – that is to court the most dangerous political setbacks for the whole class.

Victory must increasingly be measured in terms of the political gains workers win for themselves. Victory must be measured by how far workers can get out from under the disorganising influence of social democracy, how far workers can draw on their reserves of class militancy to challenge capitalism itself. Along this path, many tactics and many forms of organisation may present themselves. The workers in Waterford and elsewhere have refreshed memories on the potential of the occupation and work-in as tactics in the class war. Sooner than accept the capitalist’s plaint – “the order book is empty chaps, what can I do about it?” – the workers can demonstrate that it is the commodity market that is satiated, not the consumption needs of those who labour.

Attempts to rebuild militant organisation within the unions through initiatives like the National Shop Stewards Network – itself a logical development of the RMT’s own organisational break with Labour – will only thrive to the degree that they are able to cut loose from the false comfort offered by the “old hands” of “left” Labour and get serious about uniting the class to challenge the whole system of wage slavery.

As the working class learns to break the link with the Labour party, there are excellent reasons for anticipating a victorious outcome for its struggles. It is this message, not the false comfort offered by the “left” Labour swamp, which should command the attention of class-conscious workers.

Appeal: Konstantina Kouneva

Via the KOE.

Athens, 29 January 2009

An Appeal for Solidarity

Dear Friends and Comrades,

We urge you to read the following information and to express your solidarity:
Konstantina Kouneva, today 44 years old, is a Bulgarian immigrant living and working in Greece in order to support her family. She worked for many years as a janitor-employee of the private firm “OIKOMET”, which rents its employees in public sector’s enterprises. This firm is owned by Mr. Ikonomakis, old cadre of the social-democratic opposition party PASOK, and its legal councillor is Mr. Tzanis, former vice-minister of Interior Affairs (when PASOK was in power). The last years, Konstantina was cleaning the installations of the “Athens Piraeus Electric Railways (ISAP)”. The sector of janitors is one of the most exploited, as many employees are immigrants and subject of blackmailing by their bosses, while the state services and the trade-union bureaucrats do nothing in order to apply even the most basic and insufficient labour legislation.

Konstantina is an immigrant; a woman; a janitor. But she is much more than that: she is also a conscious unionized worker, and she became one of the most active leaders of the All-Attica Union of Janitors. This Union is one of the most combative, despite the fact that the trade-union bureaucrats (most of them belonging to PASOK and to the actual government right-wing party) do nothing to assist them in their hard struggle for the respect of the most elementary rights of their members and of the janitors as a whole. Konstantina soon became the soul of the Union: she was always in the first line of the struggle, unionizing her colleagues and demanding the respect of the labour legislation, despite the increasing threats and discrimination against her.

Konstantina is an example to us all. She is a model unionist, a personification of workers’ dignity and of belief in the rights of the working class. Konstantina is “stubborn”: she did not yield to the bosses’ threats. She was characterized as “the epitome of cheekiness” by her employee: “How can SHE, an IMMIGRANT single mother, a JANITOR, dare to challenge the system?” The initial blackmail and the transfer to night shift (so she could not take proper care of her child) did not intimidate her. She kept on fighting. So, anonymous death threats followed. She still did not yield. Until…

On midnight of 22 December 2008, while she returned from work to her home in a poor neighborhood of Athens, Konstantina Kouneva became the victim of murderous attempt. The goons of the bosses immobilized her and threw vitriol on her face. Then, they opened her mouth and threw the acid down her throat. Since that night, Konstantina fights for her life in the Intensive Care Unit in Athens. She has lost one eye and her face is burned; but the worst is that her digestive system does not exist anymore, burned by the acid. The doctors are struggling to save her life and her condition remains very critical. Her mother and her son Emmanuel (who suffers from cardiac decompensation) survive and take courage thanks to the active solidarity of hundreds of workers.

The “justice” and the police did nothing until today in order to find the perpetrators of this murderous attack against this valiant and genuine representative of the workers. The bourgeois Media did not find time and space to report her case. But her colleagues, all the honest workers, and the Radical Left organizations, did not let this crime to be covered by the guilty alliance of government, bosses, Media and “justice”. Today, despite the imposed silence of the mainstream Media, the whole Greece knows the case of Konstantina Kouneva. Many mobilizations of solidarity with Konstantina and with the militant trade-union movement took place since 22 December, including attacks against the ISAP installations and marches with the participation of thousands of people. The militant spirit of December’s Revolt gives life to this extraordinary flow of solidarity.

The Communist Organization of Greece is active part of this movement of solidarity, which moves under the slogan “Konstantina you are not alone”. We address an appeal to all the progressive forces to express their solidarity with Konstantina Kouneva, with the All-Attica Union of Janitors, with all those most exploited and “anonymous” militant workers who save the honor of the trade-union movement and continue its best militant traditions, bravely facing the attacks of the bosses and the hostility of the state and of the “official” trade-union leaderships.

The Union of the Working People, which is active in the movement of solidarity with Konstantina, would welcome your support and the support of trade-unions from your country. Please send solidarity messages to the Union of the Working People, which will transfer it to Konstantina and to her Union: enosiergazomenon@gmail.com This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it (please send a copy to our email too). Also, consider the possibility to address the trade-unions and other workers’ organizations in your country and ask them to contribute financially in the fund-raising organized by the Union of the Working People for Konstantina. The details of the bank account opened by the Union of Working People for Konstantina are the following:

Bank Account Number (IBAN): GR3401106640000066474762649

Bank International Code - BIC: ETHNGRAA

Bank Branch: National Bank of Greece, Branch 664

Branch Address: Spyrou Patsi 2, GR-10441 Athens, Greece

Branch Phone Nr: +30-210-5224016

Account Holder: Papageorgiou Marriana (Union of the Working People representative)

In case you participate in the fund-raising, please inform the Union of the Working People and/or KOE.

We thank you in advance for any action you may undertake in order to express your solidarity and to condemn the murderous crime against the militant worker and unionist Konstantina Kouneva, who is always fighting for her life and for the rights of the most oppressed and exploited workers!

In solidarity,

Communist Organization of Greece (KOE), International Relations Department