May 1 is International Workers’ Day! All around the world we are seeing those who are exploited and oppressed by capitalism and imperialism engaged in resistance struggles. In Aotearoa/New Zealand we need to rebuild a labour movement that can act in solidarity with this global resistance. We need to build unions that are democratic, independent, militant, and internationalist, as 'schools for socialism'!
Workers commemorate past struggles and act in solidarity with present struggles. We remember the historic struggles of the Paris Commune of 1870, the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the heroic colonial revolutions such as the Chinese and Vietnamese. In NZ we celebrate the class battles of 1890, 1912-13 and 1951. These are the major milestones in the making of our class into that revolutionary force that has the power to overthrow capitalism and build socialism.
Workers resistance on the rise
Today the workers movement is weak and defensive. Years of defeat have pushed workers into retreat. But while capitalism can drive back workers struggles it cannot destroy the only class that creates its wealth. Around the world there are signs that workers are once again on the move. Imperialism is in deep crisis and can only survive that crisis by robbing workers and peasants of their resources, driving down their wages and making their lives miserable.
International resistance to imperialist rule is mounting. But the organisation of that resistance is still at a rudimentary level. Because of the weakness of the organised workers movement worldwide, resistance to oppression is taking forms that cut across working class solidarity and hold back the rise of international labour solidarity.
In Palestine and Iraq, the invaders have smashed working class organisations and are forcing workers into the arms of the bosses and Islamic clerics. Young workers are being driven to futile suicidal attacks against high-tech invading armies. Isolated and outgunned these ‘intifada’ can be smashed as in Palestine and Afghanistan.
Al Qaeda, the terrorist organisation funded by wealthy Saudis, is bombing and maiming Western workers to drive imperialism out of the Middle East, not to liberate Muslims but to make rich Arabs bosses even richer.
What we have to learn from all these struggles of oppressed peoples against imperialism is two things: first, the working class is the only class that can unite all the oppressed and defeat imperialism, and second, that the working class must be united internationally and led by a revolutionary party.
Why the working class?
The leadership of the national struggles against imperialism must come from the working class. Only the organised armed workers can turn resistance on the part of peasant and tribal fighters into a victorious defeat of imperialism. All other classes have an interest in doing deals with imperialism for a share of the wealth created by workers and peasants.
Workers, in opposing the system that exploits and oppresses them, have a class interest not only to defeat imperialism. They also have an interest to overthrow the national capitalist class and its hired politicians - including those who pose as friends of the workers like Arafat, Chavez or Lula. And workers have the means to do this as they can strike to close down the economy, arm themselves, win over sections of the military and take state power.
But even where workers are highly organised as they are in Bolivia, they have been cheated of power by class traitors in their own ranks. Armed peasants and miners led by militant trade unions have several times in the last decades been capable of taking power, only to be betrayed by leaders who do deals with imperialism to share the expropriated labour of workers and peasants.
To avoid repeating these defeats, we have to keep alive the lessons of the past as guides to action today. In Russia in 1917, the armed workers were led by a revolutionary party that defeated the treacherous sellout elements in their ranks and helped the struggle for national liberation to become a victorious socialist revolution. The difference between Russia in 1917, and the failed or incomplete revolutions in Germany 1919, Bolivia 1952, Cuba 1959, and Chile 1973, was the existence of a revolutionary party.
The second lesson is, that a victorious national liberation movements against imperialism cannot survive as independent workers’ state without the class solidarity of the workers in the imperialist countries, including their rich client states like New Zealand.
This is because these ‘Western’ workers are the only class that has the strength to shut down the imperialist economies and bring the war machine to a halt.
For example, it was the German workers who went on strike and the soldiers and sailors who mutinied in 1918 stopping the European imperialist powers from overwhelming and smashing the Russian Revolution at its birth. The workers in the imperialist countries are the only force with the power to stop their own bosses from invading, occupying and destroying other countries, by defeating the 'main enemy' at home.
The labour ‘aristocracy’
But there is a problem in building support for liberation struggles in the Western working class. Many workers are ‘bought off’ with high wages and back their bosses in imperialist wars. They are members of the labour ‘aristocracy’ whose wages are partly paid by the cheap labour of the ‘developing’ countries. Their unions are led by bureaucrats that manage labour relations within the law of the bosses’ state. They vote for reformist parties that claim to manage capitalism in the interests of ‘all classes’.
For example in the US, the main union organisation, the AFL-CIO, is proud of its ‘patriotism’ in supporting the ‘war on terror’, including the use of the Patriot Act to attack labor rights at home. Why? Because this war defends the interests of US workers whose jobs and wages depend on the strength of US imperialism. The AFL-CIO calls for votes for the Democratic Party, as the more union-friendly party of the US bosses, to deliver these jobs and wages.
This is why the vast majority of those millions of workers who opposed the invasion of Iraq on March 20, 2003, did little more than demonstrate in the streets or pray for peace. They thought that war was the wrong policy. And their pacifism is catching. When Bush abolished the labour rights of public employees after 9-11, there was no strike in response. Even the West Coast Longshoremen, traditionally one of the most militant US unions, loudly proclaimed their unrivalled patriotism and backed off an industrial dispute last year when Bush threatened to lock them up under the Patriot Act.
NZ workers sign up for imperialism
In NZ the CTU official stand on the ‘war on terror’ was to endorse the UN resolutions. While the Auckland CTU leadership took a more principled stand against a UN invasion of Iraq, the union movement in NZ has not taken any industrial action against the SAS being sent to Afghanistan or the Engineers to Iraq. NZ workers too are dominated by a union bureaucracy that banks its career paths on 'lesser evil' Labour governments or an alternative future Alliance/Green coalition managing a 'peaceful and just' capitalism.
Why? Because in NZ the most privileged workers in unions affiliated to the Labour Party and the 'left' parties, benefit from NZ’s military alliance with Australian and US imperialism. For example the Maritime Union 'cabotage' campaign appeals to NZ bosses to join forces with Australian imperialist bosses to keep ‘foreign’ workers on lower wages off local ships. And the EPMU is begging the Aussie military to contract out maintenance on its frigates to the Whangarei shipyard that helped to build these ANZAC frigates to police the Pacific on behalf of US and Australian imperialism’s interests.
Pacifism means sucking up to bosses
Thus the most privileged layers of Western workers depend for their jobs and incomes on direct or indirect benefits from imperialist military expenditure. Or on wars for oil, gas, copper, diamonds, fish etc whose proceeds trickle down into their jobs and pay packets. These unions are bureaucratic, pacifist, dependent on the state and form racist national fronts with their bosses to protect their jobs from migrants or foreigners.
The most these workers will do against war is to argue that imperialism does not need to fight wars to defend their jobs and high wages, and that the UN should manage invasions like in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq. This is why the official labour movement in the imperialist countries will never go beyond pacifist posturing and never take organised strike action to stop war. For example, even when train drivers went on strike against Britain’s role in the Iraq war, they acted as individuals and not as members of their union.
Build unions of the most oppressed!
But all is not lost. While the union bureaucrats in the imperialist countries serve the interests of the bosses and the labour aristocracies, they do not represent the vast layers of other workers who are highly exploited and oppressed.
These are the migrant workers and/or low paid service workers who are mainly women, ethnic minorities and youth. They are typically casualised workers, not unionised and on the worst pay and conditions. They do not benefit from imperialism and form an oppressed layer of cheap labour in the imperialist heartlands. They have the class interest to form strong links with other workers across borders in the oppressed world and take direct action against their own military machine.
It is to these workers that we must look to form new class struggle unions based on rank and file democracy. They can be organised independently of the state, reformist parties and the bosses. Like the Latino janitors unionised in Los Angeles, they can take militant strike action to fight for better wages and conditions in the heart of the imperialist machine. They can act in international solidarity with the anti-imperialist resistance around the world.
Organise the casualised worker!
In NZ, the large majority of workers in the casualised mainly private service sector are not unionised. They are predominantly young, female, migrant workers. They work for multinational hotels like Sheraton, fast food outlets like Burger King, petrol stations like Mobil, and supermarkets, multinational call centres and commercial cleaners.
They need to be unionised so they can join forces with the workers who are employed by these same global corporates in other countries to fight together to win rights and better pay and conditions.
They can also link up globally with unionised workers in oil companies like Shell, banks like Citigroup, and military contractors like Halliburton, and other war profiteers, to blockade these companies and demand that they get off 'corporate welfare' and free up billions for health, education and housing for the poor.
The can unite with unionised workers in the export industries such as fishing and forestry to oppose anti-worker practices and the destruction of fish and timber stocks. They can fight to keep the foreshore and seabed from being sold-off to the expanding multinational aquaculture corporations. They can demand the nationalisation of all these companies under workers’ control with no compensation to the bosses!
For Rank-and-file control of unions
To be effective these unions must be run by their rank and file members. They must struggle to be independent of any political bureaucracy, of the reformist parties who suck them into parliament and the bosses’ state, and able to unite with other unions in militant strike action.
With this organisational strength, these unions can be what Leon Trotsky called ‘schools for revolution’. They can take up the fight for the most immediate bread and butter demands, and when the bosses refuse to meet them, they can take the fight all the way to win workers’ control of industry and state power.
They can take action on wages which become stands on war. They can defend their jobs yet refuse to build or repair frigates. They can demand that the CTU takes strike action against NZ’s military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. When the CTU refuses they can replace it with their own rank and file leadership.
They can impose boycotts and bans on Israel. They can mount solidarity campaigns in defence of migrant workers, so-called illegal workers, refugees like the jailed Algerian Ahmed Zaoui. They can fight for the rights of foreign workers in NZ ships, and build support for the independent trades unions and women’s’ organisations of Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan.
These unions must be democratic, independent, militant and internationalist! They can train and empower the working class fighters who will unite with workers globally and create a new political leadership that can bring an end to capitalism and build a world socialist society!
Workers have no country!
No to cabotage, frigates and theft of the foreshore!
Strike to stop imperialist war at home!
Support the resistance in Iraq and Palestine!
Support the workers and peasants revolution in Bolivia!
No to the treacherous leaders of the WSF - Lula, Chavez and Castro!
For a new World Party of Revolution!
From Class Struggle 55 April-May 2004