On Saturday, workers and young people around the world will celebrate May Day – a festival of resistance which traces its origins back to the struggle for the eight hour day, and the state murder of the ‘Haymarket martyrs‘ in 1880s Chicago.
Saturday is also one year since the first Workers’ Fightback bulletin, which opened with news on the Visteon car workers’ factory occupation, resistance to the sacking of Linamar union convenor Rob Williams, and the emergence of direct action parent power in Greenwich, London.
Since then, the UK has witnessed more occupations in schools and universities, as well as the Vestas wind turbine plant on the Isle Of Wight. Large-scale strikes in civil service, post and air travel have won support from other workers, but provoked the mass media’s wrath, and have ultimately been restrained by a trade union bureaucracy which makes a living by cutting and enforcing deals with bosses and governments.
The continuing economic crisis has seen this level of resistance matched and surpassed in many countries. But without a doubt, international financiers and class struggle activists alike are focusing their attention on Greece, which is increasingly being seen as a test case for imposing massive structural spending cuts (or resisting them, depending on your perspective).
The Greek economy was amongst the worst hit by the first wave of the crisis, and nominally centre-left Prime Minister Giorgios Papandreou has formally requested loans running into the tens of billions of dollars from the European Union and International Monetary Fund. In return, both institutions are demanding even deeper cuts than Papandreou passed just six weeks ago.
Even then, his agenda forced union leaders to call general strikes, and there were many violent clashes with police. But those single day actions failed to prevent the March cuts, and such a strategy would surely fail this time round. An April 22nd public sector general strike saw tens of thousands of workers demonstrate, chanting slogans such as “No more illusions – war against the rich”.
There have been victories over the last year – we can look at the Lewisham Bridge parents’ triumph in saving their children’s school, for example. But these highs have been few and far between, and the defeats keep coming faster, with greater intensity.
Amidst all this gloom, perhaps some brick workers in the Kurdish part of Turkey can shed light on the path ahead. Having worked on a fixed wage for four years (despite inflation running at around 10%), the Diyarbakir workers were offered 7.5%, amounting to an effective 2.5% pay cut for 2010, even if 2006-09 inflation is not considered. They took a two week unofficial ‘wildcat’ strike action, and delegated fellow workers to put their demands forward. The result was a 28% pay increase.
Illusions in the profit system, politicians and the top-down trade union structure are rapidly being shed by millions upon millions of people. In the period to come, nothing less than the formation of a new, international working class movement is required, a movement organised on a rank-and-file basis, a movement that is directly controlled by its own membership. This movement must reject both capitalism and the division of the planet into rival nation states, and demand working class control of the global economy.