World Politics

Growing with the Flow

By Bonnie Weinstein

There is a sweeping tide driving worker’s protests across the globe. The demand not only for democracy and the toppling of dictators but for economic justice is at the root of these struggles. Class collaboration—the idea that workers and capitalists can be in an equally beneficial relationship—is the fundamental stumbling block to workers’ victory in this struggle.

In Egypt, according to a Democracy Now!1 interview with Khaled Ali, a labor lawyer with the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, “The average number of strikes taking place from February 12th until the present is between 30 and 60 strikes per day” protesting wage disparities and corruption; demanding increases in the minimum wage; calling for the removal of corrupt officials in institutions and companies; and the right to have their own, independent labor organizations.

In the U.S., in addition to wage cutbacks and freezes and increased workloads, labor’s right to collective bargaining is being challenged. And, while in Egypt and elsewhere, the very right to form independent unions is against the law; in the U.S., the unions are rendered powerless by labor laws such as the Taft-Hartley Act that prohibits sympathy strikes and mass picket lines.

And Wisconsin’s State Assembly has passed a bill forcing workers to accept great cuts in their standard of living, and to give up collective bargaining. (It has yet to be passed in the Wisconsin Senate and the battle against it continues.) Similar attempts are being made in states across the country. In Ohio, Senate leaders agreed to allow state workers the right to negotiate wages, but would now bar public employees from striking. In Oklahoma, the House is considering legislation to ban collective bargaining with municipal unions; and in Tennessee, lawmakers have introduced legislation to prevent collective bargaining between teachers’ unions and local school boards.2

Workers everywhere are in a similar predicament. Not only are they blamed for causing the economic collapse because they are “living too high on the hog.” They are being made to pay for corporate bailouts while corporate profits soar; pay the trillions spent on wars—not only with their tax dollars but as cannon fodder in these wars—while they have no say about whether or not to wage these wars. Meanwhile the gap between the wealthy and the poor grows ever wider.

Yet, workers are still under the illusion that only by allying with the “liberal wing” of the ruling classes of their respective countries will they be able to win some economic and/or democratic gains. They are still under the illusion that bourgeois democracy—based upon paid-for electoral, politics—can represent the interests of workers. They are told to vote for the most liberal in hopes that the cutbacks and assaults on workers will not be too great. The alternative of democratic worker’s control of government and the workplace is not mentioned as an option although it’s the only solution to the economic crisis brought on by world capitalist rule.

Labor bureaucrats and government unions

In Egypt the unions are run by the government—at least, that’s the way it has been—although today, some Egyptian workers have a different idea and are forming independent unions. In the U.S., bureaucrats in alliance with the Democratic Party—a wholly capitalist party—run the unions.

The purpose of this alliance is to lead workers to rely on lesser-evil politics—voting for one rich politician over another based upon personality and public relations—as the only means to improve their lot in life. But this alliance has achieved nothing of the sort and has, in fact, led to an all out assault upon living standards and working conditions.

The struggle of the working class is centered at this moment on whether or not they will take matters into their own hands or continue to rely on “progressive capitalist rulers” to offer them a handout to appease their protest, i.e., will workers settle for another massive sell-out?

The power of mass action in the streets

The good news is that there are problems with the class-collaborationist, sell-out plans being conjured up by capitalists and bureaucrats behind closed doors. First, the economic system of capitalism is no longer capable of granting meaningful concessions to workers—not here or anywhere in the world. Instead, the most liberal of capitalists are offering workers only massive cutbacks!

Second, too many workers are getting to the end of their economic rope. They are fast coming to the point of having nothing else to lose and everything to gain by fighting back. That’s what prompted the massive upsurge we see today.

Third, the working masses have tasted victory through the power of mass action, unity and solidarity in the streets—mass democracy in action—they have succeeded in expelling dictators; changing forever the very perception of the relationship of forces between workers and capitalists.

The overwhelming majority of people in the streets from Egypt to Wisconsin are workers. And that is where the balance of power lies only if workers organize themselves into independent, democratically run, action-oriented organizations that can consciously and overwhelmingly challenge the power of the capitalist minority.

In order to be truly independent, workers must come to the understanding that no organization can represent the interests of both workers and capitalists. The interests of the two are diametrically opposed to one another. Whether they are liberal or conservative, the capitalist makes bank off the exploitation and subjugation of workers.

Corporations are not democratic organizations. They are ruled by who owns them; not by who works for them. The only bargaining power workers have depends upon the solidarity they can achieve among their fellow workers to stand firmly in support of their common interests in direct opposition to the employer.

Worldwide working-class consciousness

The similarities of struggle between workers around the globe have been made transparent through modern technology. Former land-based peasants are being funneled onto the garbage heaps of modern capitalist cities where there are cell phones, the Internet, TV and worldwide news agencies. No country on the globe is free of modern, industrial capitalist media and communication devices.

The bourgeoisie have always taken advantage of their ability to transcend borders as long as there is something for sale behind them.

But, the world’s working class has also transcended borders. That has been proven in Wisconsin when a worker’s hand-made sign reads, “Yesterday I was in Wisconsin. Today I’m in Egypt!”

The victory in Egypt taught a lesson to the workers in Wisconsin. Victory in Wisconsin can inspire workers throughout the world.

Class collaboration: the recipe for a sell-out

But that victory is not assured. Right now the labor bureaucracy in allegiance with the Democratic Party is demanding that workers give up on all their economic demands in order to retain collective bargaining, and hopefully, keep their jobs. In other words, workers can have collective bargaining as long as they don’t ask for anything and accept the cuts they have been “offered.” Just as the workers in Egypt have been “offered democracy” as long as the army remains in control!

There can be no alliance between the capitalist class and the working class because the capitalist class profits from the enslavement of workers. That’s what capitalist governments do whether they are dictatorships or capitalist democracies, which are not democratic at all.

Neither the Democratic nor Republican parties are democratically run. Their leadership is based upon wealth and power, not rule by the majority. The majority gets to vote for one capitalist or another. Whoever spends the most money wins the race. Whoever contributes the most money determines who that big-spender and ultimate winner will be.

Workers do not get to vote on whether or not to go to war; to bail out corporate thieves; whether to dump polluted wastes into the oceans and streams; whether to drill for oil off-shore; whether to spend money on schools, healthcare, housing.

There is no room in capitalist “democracy” for worker’s democracy even though workers are the overwhelming majority and they do all the work!

Mass actions in the streets, such as is happening from Egypt to Wisconsin, Ohio and beyond, are a good beginning. In effect, they are like strikes. Business cannot go on as usual when tens-of-thousands are marching in the streets for jobs, food and justice during work hours.

The rebellions taking place today have a momentum of their own. When masses of people experience the power of solidarity and democratic action in the streets; when they experience victory; they lose fear and they gain trust in their numbers!

The next step is for workers to organize on their jobs and in their own communities. To form democratically functioning workers organizations that can act against these assaults on their lives and living standards.

With modern technology, the commonality of the struggle reveals that workers have the know-how, tools and ability to govern themselves—to democratically figure out what is needed and fulfill those needs without the interference of the capitalist class. Workers must empower themselves with the ability to organize society for the benefit of all, without the need for war, slavery and weapons of mass destruction and the private accumulation of capital.

Through these kinds of organizations, workers will have the power to carry out majority decisions about what goes on at their jobs, in their communities, in their schools. Such independent, working-class-based organizations will be able to challenge the power of the capitalist class; disarm them; depose them and finally replace that despotic, capitalist minority with the democratic dictatorship of the majority of humanity—the working class—acting in the ultimate interest of all the inhabitants of our planet.

1 Democracy Now!, February 18, 2011

2 “Standoffs, Protests and a Prank Call,” By KATE ZERNIKE and SUSAN SAULNY, February 24, 2011