State of the Class Struggle
A number of trends within labor’s class struggles are emerging. We may be just past the precipice—on the other side– of a new regime of offensives from the bourgeoisie on the working and living conditions of the proletariat. This emergence has become increasingly apparent through the character of capital’s attacks since the acute crisis of 2007-08.
The capitalists and their agents (politicians, think-tanks, etc.) have been amalgamating their cuts and attacks into a broad offensive which targets the working-class as a whole. In the United States the tip of the spear is the mutually reinforcing passage of anti-union, voter suppression and anti-immigrant legislation; specifically, right-to-work laws, voter ID laws and Arizona SB1070-type bills. A number of other specific attacks which fall under 1 of these 3 categories can be readily identified: so-called paycheck protection laws, restriction or abolition of public employee collective bargaining rights, mandatory E-Verify laws, abolition of same day voter registration, etc.
There has been a growing tendency to combine these attacks along with cuts to social programs (Medicaid, public education) and raising the sales tax rate. As a consequence, such broad attacks by capital directly affect large segments of the working-class and simultaneously affect multiple distinct segments within the class, even if in different ways. It builds on the legacy of attacks on public education and welfare programs since the 1960’s and 1970’s.
The response to these broad attacks is a tendency of growing-over that is manifesting as a fact or a potential in labor’s class struggles. Three particular struggles are representative of this growing-over: the Wisconsin Uprising, the Moral Mondays movement and the Day Without Immigrants protests.
In Wisconsin, trade, industry and sector distinctions between workers in the state visibly melted away in the face of attacks which were aimed primarily at public employee collective bargaining rights. The attacks also included cuts to the state’s low-income BadgerCare health insurance plan and public education system. The struggle in Wisconsin involved one of the largest and most diverse mobilizations of workers as workers in the United States.
However, the mobilization was defeated with the passage of Act 10. Then, with labor in retreat, Governor Walker and his allies moved to pass a strict voter ID law, made Wisconsin the 25th state to enact right-to-work legislation and then imposed anti-immigrant statutes. Governor Walker and his allies have since passed a voter ID law, made Wisconsin the 25th right-to-work state and passed anti-immigrant legislation. Similar attacks were launched against public employee collective bargaining (Ohio, Michigan, etc.), which included the layering and linking of anti-union, voter suppression and anti-immigrant legislation.
In North Carolina, right-to-work legislation was enacted in 1947 in response to the CIO’s “Operation Dixie”. North Carolina’s union membership rate is among the lowest in the United States with less than 3 percent of the workers represented by unions and NC General Statute 95-98 explicitly designates public employee collective bargaining as illegal. The resistance to capital’s broad offensive largely began within the state’s black community. Voter suppression was a major impetus in the inauguration of the protests in 2013. Every Monday, a group of protesters gather at the North Carolina state legislature, enter the building and are arrested in an act of non-violent civil disobedience under the leadership of the NAACP. The protests have gained momentum since they were launched. This traditional Ghandi/Alinsky-type community activism has served as a point of entry for resistance to capital’s broad attacks as labor and immigrant organizations joined these efforts and have begun to coalesce.
Across the country, the massive May Day 2006 immigrant workers’ strike and boycott was one of the largest (in breadth and depth) single concerted actions undertaken in the history of the US; millions of participants nationwide, with up to hundreds of thousands participating in specific local demonstrations around the country. May Day 2006 informed the February 23, 2017 Day Without Immigrants strike and boycott as well as the incipient May Day 2017 demonstrations that will be taking place today.
Each segment of the working-class which is directly confronted by capital’s broad attacks has begun to link these struggles as part of one front. In the words of the organizers of the May Day 2017 action in Washington DC:
“The mission of MLOV is to support low-income immigrants in D.C. who do not speak English as their primary language through community organizing and advocacy. MLOV’s constituency includes many restaurant workers. While the majority of the group’s members living across D.C. are Latino, MLOV is partnering with organizations like the DC Justice for Muslims Coalition and BlackLivesMatter DC to reach diverse audiences.
MLOV’s reasons for mobilizing people on May 1 are manyfold, including fighting what it calls an anti-Muslim federal administration. The group cites calls for Muslim registration and travel bans, suspension of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), mass deportations, privatization of education, anti-worker and anti-union policies, and proposed health care cuts.
Another demand asks for “just cause” firings for all. “We have a member who a few months ago was fired for asking why she wasn’t getting minimum wage,” MLOV Executive Director Sapna Pandya says. The worker was getting $8 an hour instead of $11.50. As we spoke, Pandya shared that other MLOV team members were meeting with a higher-up from Matchbox Food Group in the next room because five former employees of the group say they were fired in retaliation for speaking up about workers’ rights.
Pandya adds that they’re also striking and marching to protect the District’s status as a sanctuary city, asking Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to stay away. “We’re tying to highlight, yes, the hatred and violence of federal administration, but also the quiet compliance of the mayor and city council,” Pandya says. She explains that D.C. has opportunities to pass legislation and better enforce existing laws that would impact immigrant life on a daily basis, such as fully funding the Language Access for Education Amendment Act of 2015 and adopting one standard D.C. identification card and driver’s license.”
In the words of the Moral Mondays organizer in North Carolina:
“Barber says the protests are directed against “the mean-spirited quadruple attack” on working people and the poor by the extremist Republican majority in control of the legislature and the governor’s office. So far this year these right-wingers have cut unemployment benefits, cut Medicaid, raised taxes on the poor so they could give a tax cut to 23 of the state’s wealthiest families. They’re now advancing bills to limit the right to vote, cut public education, and prohibit voluntary payroll dues collection for public sector union members.”
This organic growing-over presents challenges for a largely disorganized revolutionary movement. In each specific manifestation of resistance, the limiting factors inherent to the forms and methods of these struggles inhibit and will continue to inhibit, the struggle for socialism by the working-class. Without an effort to nurture these emerging tendencies and cultivate them further, to expose the interrelated origins and functions of these attacks on the working-class through an explicit affirmation of the socialist program, such tendencies and potentials will remain solely on the terrain of the AFL-CIO, the NAACP and National Council of La Raza, Alinskyism and the Democratic Party.
These points of resistance will again manifest in diverse expressions and degrees of growing-over as different segments of the working-class mobilize this May Day. The question of organization is the definitive question for socialists today; specifically, how we relate to one another in carrying out our role in the class struggle. An organized socialist movement is the only formation that can facilitate this growing-over by promoting intransigent class unity and in doing so generalize and escalate such struggles.
We have to be in the streets, in the union meetings, in the immigrants’ demonstrations and NAACP protests, making the concrete connections that the struggles against anti-union, voter suppression and anti-immigrant laws are parts of what must become coordinated working-class resistance to the broad offensive of capital against the working-class. This is only possible with increasing organization of otherwise dispersed socialist groups and individuals.
(The discussion on practical positions, strategy and tactics in Anti-Capital is ongoing and as such is subject to review and elaboration)