IV353EACL - article Part 2

Johannes Schneider Johannes.Schneider at gmx.net
Wed Sep 10 09:37:30 MDT 2003

Continued from part 1

Employers' offensive, workers' counter-offensive
 As was predictable, hardly had the Iraqi war ended when the European
governments went on the offensive on the social front. That goes in
particular for those who cultivated their popularity on the backs of
anti-Americanism. They have had a strategy since the EU summit in Lisbon
(March 2000) and a green light to attack pensions (Barcelona summit, March
2002). The level of European harmonization on the employers' side is
striking. This time the response of the working class has also been
harmonized: Austria, Germany, France (and then Portugal, Spain, Italy, and
Britain, with partial but very tough struggles) have been shaken by general
strikes. The working class has once again occupied the forefront of the
political scene. This combativity has surprised the bourgeoisie, which had
begun to believe its own ideology about the "disappearance" of the world of
labour and the left. A rule has been reestablished - providing the right
conditions are met, workers engage energetically and in great numbers in
struggles of great breadth. It proves that neoliberal policies remain
massively unpopular, even if past defeats have left traces of lassitude and
skepticism. Strikes retain a strong legitimacy among the people, not
withstanding the media hysteria. Moreover, as the struggles of the Italian
metalworkers in Spring 2001 announced and the recent strikes of teachers in
France have confirmed, a new militant generation is being born. This amounts
then to a very significant change, as much in terms of the ideological
climate as the reactivation of the trade union movement and the inter-class
relationship of forces. Nonetheless, this revival remains contradictory. It
is only beginning. It is directly threatened by the brutality of the right
wing governments and the employers who will attempt to strangle it at birth.
The level of activity is higher than ever in the cycle that is beginning.
Austria has been the scene of the biggest general strike (24 hours) since
the war (1 million out of 3 million workers!). In Italy, there has been
strike activity for almost two years; millions of workers have on several
occasions occupied the streets both for political objectives (the war) and
for their own demands. In France, the recent "creeping general strike" with
millions of workers in the street has been in an impressive succession of
"days of action" the biggest action since May 1968. On the other hand, this
enormous activity is not enough to win. In Austria, the right wing
government has momentarily drawn back. It is difficult for a regime that
includes the semi-fascist FPÖ to attack the power of the trade union
bureaucracy. But in France and Italy - where the counter-offensive of the
workers is tough - the Berlusconi and Chirac-Raffarin governments are not
giving way. On the contrary, in the autumn they intend to pursue their
anti-social offensive against the gains built up by the workers throughout
20th century. The goal is clear - to weaken the unions, demoralize the
workers, increase competitivity. A sign that the European bourgeoisies,
supported by the EU, are stepping on the gas; Schröder's "red-green"
government has launched an attack on all fronts (pensions, health,
conditions of hiring and firing, unemployment benefits and so on),
generating the biggest crisis in the German trade union movement since the
end of the Second World War. And Germany had been "lagging behind" on the
European neoliberal timetable. Thus at this time of remobilization we can
also feel the impact of the defeats of the last 20 years on the cohesion of
the workers' and trade union movement. We need to rebuild social resistance
and reorganize an active and democratic trade union movement. We will see in
the months to come what will be the contribution of the movement for global
justice, in particular the European Social Forum (ESF) and the national
social forums, to this sharpening of conflict between employers and workers.

Social democracy's miserable comeback
Social democracy has played an active and unsavoury role in this setback, in
breaking the common base of social rights and reducing the weight of the
trade union movement. It has itself paid a strong price for its heated
support for neoliberal policies, weakening its parliamentary base and
dilapidating its previous political cohesion. If a return to a "classic"
(Keynesianism, public services, social security, standard of living) is
completely excluded, its return to government is not. It is a perverse
situation, but in the absence of a genuinely left political force, kicking
out the right wing implies the return of the neoliberal left, lacking any
trace of an alternative programme: the Olive Tree and the Left Democrats
(DS) in Italy, the PSOE in Spain and the PS in France. It is an unhappy
vista from all viewpoints; first, because the result will be a neoliberal
policy hardly different from its predecessors; then, this neoliberal left
will probably need political support in Italy (PRC), Spain
(IU) and France (PCF+Greens) to form a parliamentary majority. The poverty
of the social democrats could lead to a lamentable confusion in some
Communist Parties. Already the German PDS, as junior partner to the SPD
inside administrations of the Länder of Berlin and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern
have applied a brutal austerity policy, doubtless in the hope of ultimately
serving in the federal government. Decidedly, the disaster of the PCF, after
the plural left government, has not been assimilated, even in the PCF.

Intermediary stage, new battles
The situation today is paradoxical; there is an obvious gap between the
enormity of the historic intervention of the masses on the political and
social terrain on the world scale on the one hand, and on the other it has
not yet, at this stage, affected strongly the institutional structures and
the political and social organizations. The traditional bureaucracies (trade
union and party political) have known an unprecedented setback and lost the
monopoly on the big mobilizations and political initiatives, including at
the international level. But we are only at the beginning of an alternative
force. The rise of the movement for global justice has overthrown the
tendency of profound retreat of 20 years (1980-1999), spectacularly,
creating through truly historic events, a new spirit of emancipation,
self-activity, and hope. This movement is very legitimate, but still not
deeply rooted. The new social movement has stimulated and inspired that of
the workers (the trade union movement in particular) but it has only helped
to awaken this latter, not to strengthen its militant structures. The trade
union movement, depending on the country, has led strong, significant
battles, in contrast with the preceding periods, but it seems that this is
only the beginning of a true revival of trades unionism, especially in the
workplaces. The anti-war movement - originating directly from the movement
for global justice - has been extraordinary for its impact on society and
the big traditional mass organizations, but this very political fact has
only played a secondary role even in the most "pacifist" countries. The
"new" organizations have not been significantly strengthened in terms of
membership. The most significant lag is certainly that between social
activity and political commitment (electoral and party political). This is a
fact which is explicable, and undoubtedly transient, but real. There is
nothing in common, from this viewpoint, with May 1968, when thousands of
youth organized themselves in revolutionary parties. That leads for the
moment, to the relative weakness of the alternative "new" forces (social,
political) to the left of social democracy. For the European anti-capitalist
left, there are two things at stake - to be in the social battles and to
participate in the main electoral contests. It has solid convictions and
many tactical experiences, which should allow it to contribute to the stage
which is opening. This new situation also poses questions for the CPs. Given
a certain weakness of the alternative left, an extremely anti-democratic
electoral system, and the difficulty of "beating the right" certain tactical
maneuvers can be justified. The danger is to pass from maneuver to political
engagement; governmental participation with a social democracy more than
ever bogged down in neoliberalism, would mean the end of a cycle of
radicalism and would leave the Party in tatters. Nobody should forget the
sad experience of the Parti Communiste Français. The European
Anti-capitalist Left, at its Athens Conference, took the decision to
constitute ourselves as a specific current (by history, tradition, political
sympathies), according to the terminology used by the EU to designate
organizations, "a European Party of the Anti-capitalist Left". It is an
important step, not anodyne. It is an appeal, everywhere in Europe, to
advance in this direction; regroupment, in each country, and on the European
continent, of the maximum of radical, pluralist, representative,
non-sectarian forces. But we do not confuse the setting up of such a
formation with the political battle at the European elections of June 2004.
We act also to fight against social liberal policies and constitute a broad
and unified electoral bloc, capable of dialogue with the social forces. July
10, 2003

* François Vercammen is a member of the executive bureau of the Fourth
1. The Conferences of the European Anti-capitalist Left involves parties,
movements or coalitions who share a clearly anti-capitalist,
internationalist, anti-racist and feminist orientation, as well as the
objective of a democratic and socialist society. Initiated in March 2000
(first conference in Lisbon) by the Red-Green Alliance (Denmark), the Left
Bloc (Portugal), the Scottish Socialist Party and the Ligue communiste
révolutionnaire (France), their objective is to unite the radical left on
the European scale on the basis of debate, pluralism and cooperation, so as
to build a European political alternative to the parties of neoliberal
social democracy. At the sixth conference, held in Athens on June 9-10,
2003, present were: the Red-Green Alliance from Denmark, the Left Bloc from
Portugal, the Scottish Socialist Party, the Ligue communiste révolutionnaire
from France, the Socialist Alliance and Socialist Workers Party of England
and Wales, Espacio Alternativo from the Spanish state, the Party of
Communist Refoundation (PRC) of Italy, SolidaritéS from Switzerland, the
Party of Freedom and Solidarity (ÖDP) from Turkey, as well as observes from
the Socialist Party (Britain) and the Socialist Party (Ireland). Moreover,
Synaspismos (Greece), Esquerra unida i alternativa (Spanish state) and the
DKP (Germany) participated as guests. Other organizations who had
participated in at least one of the preceding conferences - the Red
Electoral Alliance of Norway, the Socialist Party of Holland, La Gauche of
Luxembourg, Izquierda Unida from the Spanish state, le Mouvement pour le
socialisme from Switzerland - were not able to attend in Athens. The
conference adopted a declaration that we reproduce on the following pages.

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