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Radicalising the US workers’ movement

Extract from Workers Power US conference document www.workerspower.net

Beginning in late September with only a few dozen activists in New York City (NYC), the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement changed the mood dramatically. Tens of thousands demonstrated, marched, protested, and occupied public and private spaces against the bank bailouts, joblessness and worsening poverty for millions – taking its cue from the Arab Spring occupations.

One of the central popular slogans of OWS is “We are the 99 per cent”. Like in other countries, the main US political parties of big capital were making the 99 per cent pay for the crisis, while the organised labour movement (such as the AFL-CIO) did not stand up to the gauntlet through down by the capitalists. Because there was no mass political party ready at hand to take up their demands and fight for their needs, the masses had to mobilise in the form of spontaneous mass action to make their voices heard.

Occupations sprang up city after city. From NYC and Chicago to Los Angeles and beyond. The high point (so far) came on 15 October, when a global day of action rocked the world’s capitals and lifted the fighting capacity and spirit of millions suffering at the hands of the 1 per cent. The strength and widespread nature of these actions and widespread character gives hope that a new global anti-capitalist movement is on the rise.

Despite the subsequent repression by the police, this new movement is a positive and progressive development, which can potentially radicalise a new layer of people and launch a generalised fight back against austerity. This is particularly the case if the dynamism of the youth and student struggles can fuse with the trade unionists and working class communities – as we saw in Wisconsin earlier in the year. This interaction could promote the radicalisation of the unions themselves. In this sense, if we can link the anticapitalists with the rank and file of the unions have the potential to reinforce and develop the struggles of the other to a higher level.

US in the global economy
The G20’s failure to agree plans to arrest the economic volatility plaguing Europe at its recent meeting in France and the relative irrelevance of the US’s participation underscored the fact that the US is losing its primacy in world politics.

Since the beginning of 2011, dramatic changes in the world situation have put US imperialism on the defensive. In the Middle East and North Africa, regimes in the service of US banks and multinationals have fallen one after another as a result of mass democratic revolutions and uprisings. In the oil-rich Gulf, long-standing clients of US imperialism’s “War on Terror” – Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Bahrain – have also witnessed militant protests and demonstrations.
It was the size, intensity, growth, and spread of the mass revolutionary democratic movements that compelled the US to shift policy. Championing the revolutions and struggles, and supporting them materially and politically, became absolutely requisite in ensuring that whatever governmental entity emerged once the uprisings were over would be beholden to the US, seek out favourable trade deals, and continue the already established relationship.

In Central Asia, the US has damaged its relationship with Pakistan, one of its long-time strategic allies. The recent actions of the CIA – particularly in killing Osama Bin Laden without notifying the Pakistan government – have prompted Pakistan to move closer to China.

Afghanistan continues to remain a pressing concern. The military occupation to repress the Islamist-led national resistance to US imperialism’s puppet regime is forced to continue and shows no signs of ending, despite plans to withdraw US troops by 2014.

The US’ sabre-rattling against Iran and its supposed nuclear-weapons programme has flared up again, and this time has received greater support from other Western nations. This appears to be nothing more than a devised distraction from the problems associated with the global economy.

Its foreign policy must be put in the context of the 2012 elections. Obama, the Democrats and Republicans are gearing up for the upcoming presidential campaign, which will have to address the realities of the American situation: economically, politically and militarily.

The US workers’ movement
After the mass mobilisations, Wisconsin’s recall election expressed the deeply divided character of the state and country: split almost 50-50 between support for the workers’ organisations and for Governor Scott Walker’s reactionary anti-union agenda. The results proved just how important it was to take the struggle forward to a general strike and to not rely on a passive election campaign to empower ‘labour-friendly’ Democrats.

The balance of class forces since then has shifted in the proletariat’s favour with the advent and growth of the Occupy Movement. On the West Coast, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) joined up with Occupy Oakland in resistance to police violence, racism and the 1 per cent. Unions all across the US have expressed solidarity with the occupations, as rank and file members got involved.

Now there needs to be a militant, national working class response to the bosses’ attacks, organised by the unions and in coordination with OWS and the masses of working people. We need to build a strong working class response to the ‘bi-partisan’ super-austerity committee’s plans to slash $1.5 trillion (additional) in social welfare over the next 10 years. This will likely include historic attacks on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

The social attacks from the bosses have, in reality, just begun. And the fact that they have already provoked such mass mobilisations, demonstrations, and economic strikes of workers and youth in over a generation is testament to the possibility that we’ve only just witnessed the beginnings of a new mass movement against capitalism.

Recent struggles have shown, however, the unwillingness of labour leaders to advance the courageous resistance to austerity. Wisconsin showed that when the door is shut to them, they are left with no choice but to fight – principally to defend their own caste privileges, power and prestige. The bureaucracy is, however, still fundamentally opposed to leading the unions and working class in a more sustained and militant defence of workers’ needs and demands.

Nevertheless, these conditions present opportunities for revolutionaries. We need to exacerbate the political and economic antagonisms at work for the purposes of coalescing those forces that see the need for independent working class political representation.

Stagnation and the Elections
Aside from the fleeting success of some sectors – e.g. durable goods manufacturing – the US economy has been unable to pull itself out of a prolonged GDP slump. The housing market remains weak and unstable.
Millions remain out of work, are semi-employed but live below the poverty line, or have dropped entirely off the government’s radar. Official government figures put the unemployment rate at about 9 per cent, but only about 5 per cent of the unemployed are accounted for in these statistics. The real figure is probably 20-25 per cent, and much higher for African Americans and ethnic minorities.

Poverty levels have hit an all-time high – over 15.1 per cent. The US Census Bureau reported that there are roughly 46 million people in the US living in poverty. It is quite probable that, like unemployment, such statistics do not reflect the reality that confronts us.

Neither party has been able to resolve the economic impasse. The Republicans’ plans come down to little more than sweeping spending cuts, tax breaks for the rich and fewer environmental and labour regulations. Yet, this staunch neoliberal agenda is woefully short sighted. By resorting to such measures to restore conditions for profitable accumulation, the most right-wing sections of the American political elite sow the seeds for harsher, long-lasting slowdowns in the future.

Due to their financial and political connections – and their reliance on winning the support of US finance capital in the forthcoming elections – the Democrats have been unable to come up with a programmatic alternative to the jobs and economic crisis beyond what is commonly referred to as “austerity lite” or “Republican junior”. Hopes that the Obama administration would implement a new “New Deal” went out the window after his party’s routing during the mid-terms. Recognising that his job was in jeopardy, Obama swung rightwards to appease and win over the middle ground and big businesses, which are both so crucial to winning elections in the US today.

It is apparent that the current situation cannot go on indefinitely. From the rise of the Tea Party to the previous mass working class and youth mobilisations in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan, to the emergence of the Occupy movement, the ground is beginning to quake.

For socialists in the US, it is a pivotal time to be arguing for our politics. We must reach out and win over those radicalised sections of the working class and youth who realise that there is no way out in the present circumstances other than class war and revolution. We need to provide battle tactics and a coherent strategy that can overcome the crisis of leadership and propel the working class movement forward by building, deepening, and connecting militant struggles. We need to found a revolutionary party that will lead the masses in social revolution, put an end to the crisis-ridden system of capitalism, and begin the construction of a new socialist world.

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