Monday, 28 February 2011

No War but Class War - February 2011

This month, the working class of the Arab world have proven that the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt were no blip. The revolts have continued to spread, and we have seen protests spread to Algeria, Bahrain, Morocco, Lebanon, Jordan, Oman, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, and even Saudi Arabia. It is already a cliché to call this a "tidal wave," but there is no other apt description for it.

The unrest in Libya has perhaps been the most violent, protests meeting with a violent response from Gaddafi's regime. More than 200 people were killed at the height of the violence, and this has been the only Arab uprising where the UN has stepped in to issue sanctions. As Adam Ford explains, this is no doubt due to Libya's role in the world oil markets, but nonetheless it is significant. Now, with migrants fleeing to Tunisia to escape the violence, and the opposition seizing territory close to Tripoli, it is clear that events are drawing to a head.

In Egypt, as I noted last time I wrote on the subject, the takeover by the military means that although Mubarak has stepped down, the people there are no closer to freedom. However, despite threats by the army and the effective banning of industrial action, strikes continue. Though the actions initially began as part of the protests against the Mubarak regime, they have now been linked to demands for a national minimum wage and the right to form independent unions.

What is promising not only in Egypt but across North Africa is the class character of the uprisings. Though there have been attempts by some to link these struggles to religious or nationalistic concerns, the economic divide between rulers and ruled remains a paramount concern. If this tendency continues to dominate, then there is far more hope for the region than in any revolution previously.

The other significant struggle this month is that of workers in Wisconsin, protesting against attacks on their right to bargain collectively. In response, workers occupied the State Capitol and its grounds. This became a focal point for rallying and protest, and so the authorities were keen to cut it off and made plans to evict people from the building. However, in an unprecedented move, the police sent in to do this job instead announced their solidarity with the workers and joined the occupation.

Now, the IWW in particular is pushing for a state-wide general strike. Whether or not it happens remains to be seen, but if it does go through this will be a pinnacle of the most significant labour struggle in America for almost a century.

What makes it all the more volatile is that the right-wing Tea Party movement has responded with hostility. As workers across the United States rallied in solidarity with the workers, the forces of reaction staged counter-protests. The Tea Party's star has declined somewhat as working people have woken up to the attacks facing them, and their poor showing in the US mid-term elections seemed to indicate that they had had their moment in the sun, but it remains true that the state will deploy any means necessary when organised labour becomes too significant a threat and it is no great leap to imagine these reactionaries being used to smash picket lines in the same way as fascists were early on in the last century.

Meanwhile, workers in Greece staged their eighth one day general strike since the current government took office. As usual, this saw all sectors of society come out, with public transport and flights severely affected, and protesters fighting back against police violence.

However, that this is the eighth general strike in the country and the IMF-imposed austerity measures which people have been struggling against since last May are continuing says a lot. Though they bring rank-and-file militancy to the streets, these actions are nothing more than extremely grand token gestures by union leaders to appease their membership - this latest one coming the day after parliament passed a deregulation bill.

However, in spite of this inaction by official leadership, there is a growing movement of people refusing to pay the increasing cost of public transport, health care, and toll roads. This is, as MSNBC reports, a reaction to "higher taxes, wage and pension cuts, and price spikes in public services."

If there is hope for the Greek working class to reverse its fortunes, it will be in this kind of popular rebellion, rather than in token gestures by trade union leaders. The same is true in Britain as well. Whilst the working class across the globe is erupting, we are waiting patiently for March 26th and the TUC's grand gesture. But if ever there was a time for workers to come out in open rebellion, it is now.