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Solidarity sweeps USA as workers dare to fight

The action of workers and young people in the US has been an inspiration. A series of mass protests, occupations and strikes have shaken the states of Wisconisn, Ohio and Indiana.

Battling a huge programme of spending cuts and attacks on the unions, their struggle shows what can be achieved even in historically right wing countries like the US.

Just like the Con Dems in Britain, the Republicans are on the warpath, demanding that the $14 trillion government debt, nearly as big as US GDP, is reduced by sweeping austerity.

The situation is particularly bad in the twenty states where they have full control of the state government machinery. Wisconsin’s governor, Scott Walker, has led the way by cutting corporate taxes, while also trying to balance the state budget with massive cuts.

The shortfall is to be met by effectively banning collective bargaining by public sector workers, while massively hiking their payments into pension and healthcare funds. The AFSCME public sector union summed it up. “This is about trying to abolish the unions, pure and simple”. The response of workers and youth to his attacks has been magnificent.

The explosion of protest by workers and students has stunned the US political class. Workers of all ages and ethnic backgrounds marched on the state house in their tens of thousands, despite bitterly cold weather. Teachers and students occupied the State Capitol building – for over two weeks.

Even though Walker exempted the firefighters from the cuts, they turned out in solidarity, staying in the occupation to help guard it. Thousands of protesters in Indiana and Ohio followed suit, surrounding and crowding into the state houses. The illegal teachers’ strike and the call by the South Central Federation of Labor of Wisconsin endorsing a general strike if the Walker law is signed show the way forward to to break the Republican offensive.

The Wisconsin revolt shows the potential strength of the US working class, despite its very low levels of unionisation (11.9 per cent of workers). However, it has also showed a major weakness: the pro-Democrat, well-paid bureaucracy that veers away from outright confrontation with the bosses.

Democratic legislators and union leaders originally offered to meet Walker “halfway”, accepting the cuts if union rights remained. Walker refused, determined to be the hero spearheading the Republican charge. Only his intransigence forced the union leadership to fight.

Rank and file control of the struggle can ensure that the key demand in these situations, the general strike, is brought to bear as the most effective weapon to smash the Republican cuts.

The Wisconsin workers’ militancy, and the national scale of solidarity with them, as thousands upon thousands of trade unionists from other states joined the protests, illustrate the potential in the current situation. The message from Wisconsin is clear: we can fight back, recruit millions to the unions, kick out the bureaucrats and reverse the decline of the unions in a wave of militancy.

Mass resistance
The danger now is that the union leaders focus on legal challenges to the bill instead of mass resistance. After it was passed through undemocratic rigging of the senate by the Republicans, Judge Maryann Sumi issued a temporary restraining order preventing the bill from coming into effect, because rules may have been breached when it was passed.

This judgement is to be welcomed and will give confidence to US workers. But legal challenges cannot become an alternative to mass protest and strikes.

Only such a mass resistance will deliver victory. The Supreme Court judges are certainly no friend of American workers and their intepretation of the constitution can be very ‘flexible’.

It’s extra-parliamentary action that can win. Even if it is implemented our motto should be ‘what the parliament does the street can undo!’

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