Book Review

Bargaining With the Devil

Anti-austerity reforms “in one country” will not succeed; the movement must be unified worldwide, and anti-capitalist

By Bonnie Weinstein

From the burgeoning struggle here in the U.S. for the $15.00 minimum wage (which is just barely enough to stave off starvation) to the Syriza party’s election victory January 25, 2015, in Greece and the Podemos movement in Spain, (see the extensive International section in this issue of Socialist Viewpoint) the anti-austerity movement is growing across the globe. The fight against austerity measures that are squeezing the life out of the world’s working class could become a grand, unifying movement powerful enough to be victorious over the world’s capitalist class—the unified enforcers of austerity everywhere.

But this can happen only if we form a workers’ movement, international in scope, anti-capitalist and pro-socialist.

We must ensure that our organizations are democratically organized, on a mass scale, and totally independent of the capitalist class.

In every country, in every community, and in every workplace, we must form the kind of organizations that can actually exercise the power necessary to make real changes. We can begin by democratizing existing unions, and organizing the unemployed and underemployed into them.

We can partner with community organizations formed to fight police violence, defend human rights and improve social and human services and the infrastructure.

Here in the U.S. we must demand free education and healthcare from cradle to grave. And these victories, won in the past in other countries, and which are currently being dismantled, must be defended, preserved and expanded upon. We must begin a massive, cooperative effort across all borders and in defense of all workers, everywhere.

That means there can be no “partnership” between workers and the capitalist class because the interests of workers are diametrically opposed to the interests of the capitalist class. The capitalists reap the profits and the working class gets paid as little as possible—as little as the capitalists can get away with.

In order to win victories at the bargaining table—for better working conditions or higher pay—workers must come to the table unified, democratically organized and wholly independent of the capitalist bosses.

Neither the struggle for the $15.00 minimum wage here in the U.S., nor the struggle of the Greek working class against austerity can succeed as long as the workers’ movements continue in “partnership” with the bosses because the system of capitalism, by it’s very nature, is designed to exploit and economically enslave all workers.

The only way out of the slavery of capitalism is to fight for our rights together; to support each other in struggle; to stand as a unified force capable of defeating the capitalist system itself. And we will need our own independent organizations to carry this out. Instead of forming a partnership with the bosses, workers should partner with other workers across the globe in opposition to the capitalists, their wars and their tyranny.

Such powerful democratic workers organizations will be a first step toward the formation of an alternative economic system diametrically opposed to capitalism, i.e., a democratic, socialist economic system where workers, who are the majority, rule.

Pitfalls of “partnerships” with the bourgeoisie

Here are two examples of the impact of austerity, and the pitfalls of the “partnership” between workers and bosses—one here in the U.S., the other in Greece.

U.S. and the fight for the $15.00 minimum wage

The fight for the $15.00 minimum wage has spread like wildfire across the country—especially among service workers, traditionally the lowest paid workers. It’s almost double the current federal minimum wage of $7.25-an-hour. But, so far, most service workers are not earning $15.00-an-hour. They have won gains due to their organizing efforts, but even $15.00-an-hour is a far cry from a real, living wage. To achieve that, they must organize a much bigger and truly independent fight for a living wage—a fight that will have to challenge the capitalist system itself.

According to an Oakland Local February 19, 2015 article titled “RE: The Living Wage Ordinance,” by Ann Nomura and the Oakland Local Editorial team,

“On February 10, 2015 Oakland City Council’s committee for economic development voted unanimously to waive the Living Wage Ordinance for the Walgreen’s being built at the corner of Seminary and Bancroft avenues. If the decision is approved by the city council, Walgreen’s, or another large retail company, will be allowed to pay employees the city’s $12.25 minimum wage instead of the $14.10 living wage.”

So Walgreens—a for-profit, multi-billion-dollar-company—can get away with as little as a $12.25 minimum wage.

As it turned out, according to an article dated February 13, 2015 by the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy that appeared in Equal Voice,

“Just weeks before a new minimum wage starts in Oakland, California, grassroots advocates are celebrating a Wednesday decision by Walgreens to pay its workers at a new store in the city $14.10-per-hour, which is required by an ordinance, the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE) reported.”

So Walgreens magnanimously gets away with paying $14.10-an-hour in one of the most expensive parts of the country to live. So, what happened to the $15.00 minimum wage?

There was a “partnership” between labor (the Service Employees International Union) and the government (the Oakland City Council) in the guise of taking up the cause of Oakland’s minimum-wage workers. But the Oakland City Council’s primary job is to protect the interests of business!

The outcome for all such “partnerships,” if it’s not a total defeat, is certainly a compromise. A compromise simply means that workers compromise their demands to the bosses—hence the $14.10-per-hour instead of $15.00 or more.

A living wage varies according to the cost of living where you happen to live, and how many people you house and feed. A minimum wage should be one a family can actually live on.

So, the good cops—the SEIU and the City Council—negotiate with the bad cops—the corporate bosses like Walgreens—to come up with a “compromise” that puts workers at a disadvantage every time!

Greece and the fight against austerity

In Greece, there has been a massive uprising against harsh austerity measures inflicted upon the Greek working class. According to a February 21, 2015 New York Times article by Andrew Higgins titled, “A Deal That Preserves Greece’s Place in Eurozone, and Fiscal Restraints,”

“Greece’s economic suffering…includes a catastrophic 25 percent contraction of the economy since 2010, along with unemployment of 26 percent over all, and above 50 percent for youths.”

These are intolerable conditions and the Greek workers are fed up. That was proven by the victory of the Syriza Party and their anti-austerity promises. They have promised some very progressive reforms. But they are still reforms of capitalism—not a plan to replace capitalism by establishing a workers’ socialist democracy.

According to a February 22, 2015 Reuters article by David Stamp titled, “Greece Readies Reform Promises,”

“Greece’s government prepared reform measures1 on Sunday to secure a financial lifeline from the euro zone, but was attacked for selling “illusions” to voters after failing to keep a promise to extract the country from its international bailout. Leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has insisted Greece achieved a negotiating success when euro zone finance ministers agreed to extend the bailout deal for four months, provided it came up with a list of reforms by Monday….Tsipras did much of the negotiating for the deal rather than Greece’s Eurogroup representative, Varoufakis. But sources close to the government said this reflected Tsipras’s need to win backing from Syriza’s left wing and his right-wing coalition partner, the Independent Greeks party.”

Further, according to a February 24, 2015 New York Times article by James Kantner and Niki Kitsantonis titled, “Eurozone Approves Greece Bailout Overhaul Plan,”

“The reworking of the bailout program by the new Greek government included pledges to take a disciplined approach to budgets, spending and tax collection, while remaining committed to easing the ‘humanitarian crisis’ caused by years of economic hardship and high unemployment.

“In trying to achieve that delicate balance—to meet the demands of its European creditors in order to keep the loan money flowing, but without reneging on the anti-austerity campaign promises on which it was elected—the government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras may find a difficult road ahead, even with the backing of the Eurozone finance ministers[Emphasis added]

Again, as in the U.S., Greece is trying to preserve, “…that delicate balance” between the workers and their enemy, the capitalists.

This means Greek workers will see only the most minimum reforms. However, if the Greek workers organize together, independently from and against the capitalist class they can realize as much as they are willing to organize and fight for!

The fight against austerity is worldwide

These are only two examples from the U.S. and Greece that can be multiplied in every part of the world and in every industry. The capitalists are squeezing workers as hard as they can get away with and will continue as long as we let them. We can’t depend upon their help to end their economic enslavement over us.

Growing resistance to austerity

We are seeing growing resistance to austerity emerging across the globe. “Partnering” with the enemy capitalist class—class collaboration—must be consciously opposed. Workers must organize independently, democratically and in opposition to the capitalists and their economic system of class slavery in its entirety. We must organize and fight for socialism, for workers’ democratic control—and create a society in our own interests and for the benefit of all.

With all the different shades of austerity, oppression, exploitation, war and carnage carried out by the world’s commanders of capital—with the U.S. at the helm—the reality is that they stand as a tiny minority who depend upon our believing that there is no better way. They want us to believe that without them in power the world would be in chaos. Well, the world is in chaos—and it’s their making! They specialize in pitting us against each other so we don’t unite against them. Their goal is to divide and conquer—because they know that together, we can conquer them!

The only solution is a worldwide, democratic, working-class, socialist revolution!

1 “Greek Plan Submitted to Eurogroup Finance Ministers” (PDF)