The present situation cries out for an international worker’s movement
Capitalism is experiencing its worst crisis in years and is being pulled from the swamp by a massive infusion of public funds. But the worst is not over and more layoffs and attacks on workers are ahead. Assisting in this rescue of a corrupt system are the worker's leaders but even their help may not hold back the growing tide of resistance that could develop as consciousness catches up with events.
AFSCME Local 444 retired
The capitalist class is in turmoil. They had hoped that the crisis in the financial sector would remain in the financial sector and they could return to their plunder in a stable environment. In the first half of 2008 "There seemed to be a hoarding of Labor amid the expectation of a rebound in the economy", writes Business Week. But the spreading of the crisis to the rest of the economy is gaining pace and workers have been thrown out on the street in increasing numbers. "Human cost rises as gloom deepens", reports the Financial Times as another half a million US workers lost their jobs in December. (1) Some economists, the report adds, fear that the job losses in December will be greater than the 533,000 lost in November, the biggest drop since 1974.
More layoffs are on the way. The US auto industry will have to close at least 12 of their 53 factories over the next few years according to industry experts, which will mean thousands of jobs lost. (2) Business Week makes the point that the global auto bosses "... indulged in a global orgy of factory-building in recent years... " that has led to an excess of supply over demand of some 34 million vehicles.
An orgy implies an activity of excess and indulgence, so they had an excessive capital expenditure in a particular industry, much like the orgy in the finance sector which has been described in the pages of the big business press as a "sumptuous feast". But for autoworkers here in the US, there has been no sumptuous feast. There has been an excess of a different kind, of job losses and brutal attacks on wages and working conditions; an orgy of insecurity, fear and betrayal. The cause of this retrenchment is overproduction/overcapacity as auto, like all industry in an economy where the dominant means of production are in private hands, produces more cars than can be sold. Workers are paid less in wages than the total value of the goods we produce and at some point this contradiction is felt with a vengeance as production comes to a halt.
In China, overcapacity/overproduction is rampant, but for the meantime industry retrenchment is less severe. This situation exists not because the bosses are more humane as Chinese workers are grossly exploited. It is because, as Business Week explains, it is "much easier to furlough workers and rehire them when things pick up".
It's much easier to do this to workers in China as there are no independent Unions there and the Unions that exist are completely tied in with the state bureaucracy in the form of the Communist Party. But the furloughs in China will also turn in to permanent unemployment as the global crisis deepens and the next wave of Chinese factory closures takes place. The Chinese government estimates the population of internal migrant workers in the country at about 130 million. These poor rural workers, who supplement their meager living as subsistence farmers by working in the country's manufacturing sector, pose a threat to China's relative stability and emergence as a global industrial powerhouse as their jobs in the factories disappear.
Confirmation of a more permanent break from employment, in the form of layoffs, is given by Chinese officials who keep tabs on migration. Chinese migrant workers returning home for the temporary break are ,"not traveling as lightly as normal" says one bureaucrat. "Some are weighed down by television sets or even refrigerators" "Many have been laid off by factories and are taking all their belongings back home... ... they may not return" (4)
The leaders of the state controlled Unions in China and the pro-capitalist US Union leaders are identical in their response to the crisis. "Since most companies are having a tough time at present, we will temporarily stop collective bargaining. It will be resumed depending on the economic situation." This announcement by Kong Xianghong, Vice Chair of the All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) could just as easily have come from the mouth of Ron Gettlefinger, the class collaborationist leader of the UAW or any other US Labor leader for that matter. (5)
As the global crisis worsens, all the existing alliances and agreements between nations have the potential to break down. The changing world relations already in motion but exacerbated by the economic crisis, are revealed clearly within the pages of the serious journals of capitalism and in the tensions building between the powers. This is despite public calls for global cooperation, international institutions, and coordinated global regulation. There is ongoing debate within these journals for a new Bretton Woods, the 1944 agreement between the victors aimed at creating a stable environment for capitalism in the post war period; under the dominance of US imperialism of course.
They can only go so far down this road as in the last analysis the existence of separate nation states within a world economy is a contradiction that cannot be resolved and leads to crisis after crisis. The collapse of the Anglo Saxon model, which is what the recent economic crisis is, has further weakened the role and prestige of US capitalism on the world stage. British capitalism, the US's junior partner is paying for its slavish role as US cheerleader.
In preparation for the upcoming meeting of the G20---- an expanded version of the G8 and itself a consequence of the changed world relations----- both France and Germany have issued strong warnings to the next US administration that things are different and the US will no longer bully the rest of the world in to accepting its agenda. "In the 21st century, there is no longer only one country that says what we should do and think" French President Nicholas Sarkozy told a Paris conference on "Capitalism and Ethics" (a sort of contradiction in terms). German Chancellor Angela Merkel also made it clear that she would "react strongly" if the finance capitalists try to block attempts of the EU to increase regulation, "We must not repeat the mistakes of the past" she told the conference.
Increased tension between nation states is everywhere. A more confident Russian state is increasingly exerting its influence on the rest of Europe. It has had enough of US imperialism's bullying and arrogance, building bases and supporting hostile regimes in its sphere of influence. Its invasion of Georgia was a warning to the US that Russia had reached its limit of tolerance. The US was powerless to do anything about Georgia but whine about sovereignty, a hypocritical stance from the invaders of Iraq.
The Afghan war is continuing and is a war which Imperialism cannot win. US president elect Barak Obama wants to send more troops in to the region which will be a further drain on the US economy. Since the demise of Musharraf in Pakistan the situation there has worsened and Islamic fundamentalists are being more brazen in their suicide missions, not to mention the Mumbai attacks which were coordinated from Pakistan. Tensions between Pakistan and India are on the rise and war between these two nuclear powers cannot be ruled out. In the Middle East Israel continues to destabilize the region with its horrific attacks on the citizens of Gaza. It also cannot be ruled out that the Zionist regime will attack Iran in a pre-emtive strike which will most certainly draw a response from Tehran that would engulf the region in warfare.
In the US as in all countries there is an increased protectionist trend. What is the auto bailout but a protectionist measure? The hypocrisy of the US capitalists is blatant in instituting policies it condemned and actually prevented other weaker nations from instituting. It also shows how they are captives of economic laws.
In the absence of an alternative, many workers will fall prey to this idea that we need to buy American as a means of saving our jobs and our futures. But this is a mistake and is really nothing more than the continuation of the Team Concept. Firstly, we live in a world economy and no nation or industry can function without the world market. And the world economy today is more integrated than ever before, protectionism will have devastating consequences and the capitalist class knows this. They remember Smoot Hawley, the protectionist measures introduces during the great depression that exacerbated the crisis that eventually led to a world war.
But under threat of ruin, the US employers will promote the "Buy American" view and elicit our help in saving their profits no matter how dire the consequences. They all want to drive their rivals from the market and want our help in doing so. But the German bosses will make the same appeal, so will the Japanese and the French and the rest of them. There are increased calls for buying Chinese in that country. While they know the dangers that lie in this strategy, the capitalist class is dragged in this direction by forces beyond their control. The Bush administration's huge government intervention in the economy is an example of how the system works behind their backs.
At the root of the crisis is private ownership of the means of production and the overproduction/overcapacity that flows from this. Both free trade and protectionism are two capitalist solutions to this inherent and insoluble contradiction of their system.
While it appears to be a solution it is not, and for workers to fall prey to this trend and get suckered in to it will mean disaster. It pits workers internationally against each other. It forces workers to unite with their bosses in order to drive other workers in to ruin. It might just as well be workers in Wisconsin undermining workers in Florida. The same competition occurs between states. I live in California. There is a "buy Californian" trend too. We cannot build solidarity this way.
Protectionism divides workers. It pits us against one another for the right to a job and a decent life dragging us all downwards. We cannot build international solidarity and strengthen our forces in the struggle against the capitalist offensive if we adopt the policies of our enemies and refuse to challenge the market and the system of social organization we call capitalism.
The Chinese workers are our class brothers and sisters and are indispensable allies in this struggle. Due to the extreme censuring of the US media many US workers are unaware of the thousands of protests that take place in China on a regular basis; under a dictatorship. The strategists of capital watch this, they are afraid of it. "Chinese workers have learned that collective protest is effective" says Jerome Cohen and academic who is considered a China expert. (6)
There is a global auto or transportation industry. Most major industries are global, employing workers of many nationalities. The power of the international working class is immense and solidarity and unity in action throughout the world is absolutely crucial if we are to protect all our jobs and all our futures and the future of our children. I will go even further, the future of humanity and the planet itself.
The official leaders of the workers' organizations will not use their power to build an international working class movement as they are wedded to the market and the capitalist economy; they are an obstacle to our freedom and will not move in our direction without massive pressure from below. Even when they are forced to do so, without a socialist alternative they will act to temper and soften any movement of the working class that threatens the rule of capital.
The alternative to competition, plunder and the anarchy of the market is the transfer of ownership of the productive forces from a small group of individuals to the workers ourselves. Oppositionists within the US auto industry and UAW should attempt to build links with non Union autoworkers in the US (as some of them are doing) as well as auto workers throughout the world. Committees of autoworkers should be formed within the auto plants and the plants should be occupied in order to keep them open. Such a development within the US and Canada would be an inspiration to workers throughout the world.
A global conference of auto workers should be called that can plan and initiate such an offensive with the goal of taking under public ownership the auto industry and the production of transportation. This strategy should be raised as a means of transforming all the dominant industries in to industries for the production of society's needs as opposed to the production of profit for a handful of individuals. In the course of such activity the building of a mass workers party is an important component.
There is no doubt this is a daunting task and there is no guarantee of success. The success of anything depends on the strength of our forces, the militancy of our action and the validity of our ideas.
The capitalist class rules society. They control the manufacture of the necessities of life. They also control the manufacture of ideas, and one prominent idea they manufacture and distribute is that capitalism is the only way society can be structured; they are the rightful and only force that can govern.
But in the last analysis, ideas have a material base. Our consciousness is a product of our existence not the other way round. And we should consider something. In our family and our personal lives when we have occasion to be presented with a situation where we have three children in our care and only two items that they desire, pieces of candy say. What do we do? We cut the two pieces in to three equal parts or we don't bring them out because we know it will cause division and strife. To do the opposite is the method of the capitalist class, it's how they rule by dividing an opponent with the power to crush them.
So we make the right decisions every day in our personal lives. We have an incredibly powerful instinct to be fair and to exhibit kindness to others; we are predominantly collective creatures as we have learned that this is the way to survive and prosper. But we are also capable of great cruelty. Human nature is not a static thing and is determined by objective conditions. Capitalism rewards individualism and selfish self-worship and punishes kindness and class solidarity.
Nothing is easy and nothing is guaranteed. But one important step in the right direction is recognizing that the so-called free market is not the end of civilization and that the capitalist class has forfeited its right to rule. Workers are the majority in society, it is workers that make, build and distribute the necessities of life. If we are to survive we have to overcome the belief in our own minds that we cannot collectively control that process and change the way the world works. The only thing constant is change. But no ruling class yields its position in society voluntarily. We have to step to the plate-----the future of the planet depends on it.
(2) Business Week, 1-12-09
(4) Daunting Departure: Financial Times, 1-08-09
contribute to this article
add comment to discussion