RAY O’ LIGHT NEWSLETTER
Publication of the Revolutionary Organization of Labor, USA
For revolutionaries, freedom fighters and justice loving people all over the world, the popular struggles being waged by the Arab masses against their autocratic rulers over the past ten weeks, beginning in Tunisia and rapidly breaking out and spreading throughout the entire Middle East, have been a tremendous source of inspiration. Quite dramatic has been the popular uprising and workers’ strike wave, spreading across to the European side of the Mediterranean --- to Italy, Greece, and Albania, shaking these reactionary regimes, and even spreading across the Atlantic Ocean all the way to the USA, where U.S. workers have consciously taken a more militant stance against the reactionary state governments of Wisconsin, Indiana and other states in the Midwest.
THE U.S. EMPIRE STRIKES BACK
As the month of March 2011 begins, U.S. imperialist President Barack Obama has ordered Moumar Gadhafi, the forty-two year leader of the country of Libya to leave his country so as to allow a regime acceptable to U.S. imperialism to take control of this oil rich sparsely populated land. On Friday, February 25th, Obama signed an executive order calling for the seizure of all assets controlled by Colonel Gadhafi and four of his children. According to U.S. Treasury officials, some of these assets belong to Libya’s central bank and its sovereign wealth fund, the Libyan Investment Authority. The U.S. government justified its freezing of these assets on the basis that they were directly controlled by the Gadhafi family and insisting that the assets would be turned over to a new Libyan government. According to the Treasury’s acting undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, David Cohen, this was the largest such seizure in U.S. history, more than thirty billion dollars worth!
On Saturday, February 26th, the day after Obama’s executive order, the United Nations (UN) Security Council followed suit, passing its own sanctions resolution on Libya. And on Monday, February 28th, the European Union (EU) voted to impose its own sanctions regime against the Gadhafi family and its coterie of senior Libyan officials.
Simultaneously, U.S. imperialism began moving warships toward Libya and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made it clear that “all options are on the table.” This includes a U.S. enforced “no fly zone” over Libya which, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates explained, would require the USA to unilaterally attack Libya and destroy its defense capabilities. This would inflict massive damage to Libyan lives and property and would be comparable to the unilateral attack which U.S. imperialism launched against Iraq with its 2003 “shock and awe” bombing campaign which began the still ongoing U.S. war and occupation in Iraq.
U.S. imperialism has taken these drastic actions on the basis of the flimsiest of pretexts. It is using media “reports” from Libya, Egypt and elsewhere packaged by the National Front for the Salvation of Libya (NFSL), established in 1981 and trained and financed by the U.S. CIA ever since. The NFSL and other such organizations are being used to “document” that the Gadhafi government is killing Libyan protesters, allegedly in greater numbers than the U.S. client governments all over the rest of the Middle East are doing.
The U.S. imperialist government is responsible for virtually all of the secular military dictatorships and Muslim monarchies in the Middle East that have kept their people repressed with the most barbaric police state methods and are currently in danger of being overthrown by the aroused Arab masses. The U.S. imperialist-led invasion and occupation of Iraq has resulted in over one million civilian deaths. Yet this same shameless U.S. imperialist state apparatus now claims to be “concerned” about the killings of people in Libya by the Gadhafi government only. And the Libyan military situation is marked by the fact that a number of military units have joined the Libyan rebels and that the rebels are using powerful modern weapons of war against the Gadhafi regime in what has become a civil war based on tribal loyalties and U.S. imperialist machinations.
Moreover, in his excellent “Reflections by Comrade Fidel – NATO’s Inevitable War,” Cuba’s Fidel Castro observes that “Libya occupies the first spot on the Human Development Index for Africa and it has the highest life expectancy on the continent.” He also praises Libya’s focus on education and health and its high cultural level. Finally, he points out that Libya has “provided jobs for hundreds of thousands of workers from Egypt, Tunisia, China and other countries ... to carry out its ambitious plans for production and social development.” (This is the reason why there are so many Egyptians and Tunisians currently fleeing suddenly war-torn Libya to return home.)
In line with Fidel’s observations, the first reported street protests in Libya occurred on February 14th, a few days after Mubarak’s ouster, not a month earlier when other neighbors of Tunisia (Egypt and Algeria with their oppressed and downtrodden masses) experienced their first street protests following the ouster of Ben Ali. Also, from the first day of Libyan protest, alleged representatives of the Libyan “protesters” (NFSL, the Libyan Revolutionary Council et al.) unlike protesters in any of the other Arab countries, called on the “international community” to intervene against Gadhafi.
In fact, there are sincere Libyan protesters who have legitimate grievances against the Gadhafi Regime, as Fidel implies. And these real protesters are opposed to open military intervention by U.S. imperialism and the other imperialist powers, especially after seeing the fate of Iraq, still occupied by the U.S. military. These protesters are currently providing a political problem for the Obama Regime interventionists.
Finally, as Filipino revolutionary leader Jose Maria Sison points out: “To stave off attacks against Libya similar to those against Iraq, he [Gadhafi] has made compromises with the imperialist powers and allowed them increased investment privileges in Libya. He opened the door to foreign banks and corporations. He submitted to IMF demands for ‘structural adjustment.’ He privatized state-owned enterprises and cut state subsidies on necessities like food and fuel.” (“ILPS Condemns US and NATO Preparations for Military Intervention against Libya,” 3/4/11)
And Fidel Castro observes: “It is an irrefutable fact that relations between the United States and its NATO allies [and Libya] in recent years were excellent until the rebellion in Egypt and in Tunisia arose.”
And it continues to control the vast majority of the world oil supply and reserves, still the very lifeblood of the global capitalist economy. But the Arab masses are threatening to liberate their countries and seize control of the oil in their own national territory. This in turn would render U.S. imperialism a second or third rate power. Thus the need for U.S. imperialism to establish a military beachhead in Libya and a smokescreen behind which to increase its military protection for U.S. possession of the Middle East’s vast oil wealth. And U.S. imperialism, having bullied Gadhafi into cooperation with international capital with its “shock and awe” campaign against Iraq in 2003 thought Libya would be “easy pickings;” all the more so after seven years of Gadhafi’s compromised stand in relation to international imperialism, including his repression of the Libyan people at the insistence of the International Monetary Fund.
As Comrade Fidel asserts: “the fundamental concern of the United States and NATO is not Libya, but the revolutionary wave unleashed in the Arab world, which they wish to prevent at all costs.”(ibid.)
THE ARAB PEOPLE ARE MAKING HISTORY
Beginning on December 18, 2010, with the tragic self immolation of a twenty-six year old unemployed youth, the Tunisian masses, experiencing rising food prices and shortages and massive joblessness (deepened by the worldwide capitalist economic crisis), and clearly recognizing the corrupt character of the Ben Ali regime, quickly built up a strong protest movement.
Under the strong pressure from his U.S. imperialist sponsors, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali tried first to attack then to compromise with the protesters. But neither “the carrot nor the stick” slowed down their growing demonstrations adamantly demanding his ouster. The General Union of Tunisian Workers, a key organizer of the protests, led a workers’ general strike on January 14, 2011. On that day Ben Ali hastily departed for neighboring Saudi Arabia, ending his twenty-three year kleptocratic reign.
The toppling of such a wealthy, corrupt and long standing dictator
as Ben Ali, immediately inspired the Arab masses in the neighboring
countries of Egypt, Algeria, Jordan and Yemen to swing into street
action. The Egyptian people, in particular, suffering under the thirty
year repressive U.S. sponsored military dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak,
consciously emulated their Tunisian brothers and sisters. From January
25th for eighteen days, through Mubarak promises not to run again and
not to have his son run when his term was scheduled to expire in
September to having the national police beating the protesters in
Tahrir Square, the Egyptian masses remained in the streets adamantly
demanding Mubarak’s immediate resignation. “We want to topple the
leader,” the slogan of the Tunisian rebellion, became the slogan of the
Egyptian people as well. (“Ben Ali, tell Mubarak he’s next.”)
Mubarak’s final act of desperation, lifting the curfew and allowing the economy to get back to work, an attempt to get things back to “normal,” was met by a massive and growing working class strike wave. Unlike the Tunisian workers, the Egyptian working class had to strike against the opposition of the “legal” Egyptian Trade Union Federation, as an arm of Mubarak’s repressive state, as well as against the national police, the army, etc. It was this Egyptian independent union and wildcat strike wave that convinced U.S. imperialism and Mubarak’s military colleagues to push him out on February 11th.
In this situation, Obama/Clinton and U.S. imperialism were really worried. They had already tried and failed to keep Ben Ali and especially Mubarak at the helm by paying lip service to sympathy for the protesters, while counseling the despots to keep their repressive apparatus from spilling too much blood and offering their peoples some limited sops. Nevertheless, both Ben Ali and Mubarak were now gone.
As the Wall Street Journal reported on February 14th, Mubarak’s fall boosted the momentum of the mass movements in countries where their rulers had already tried to defuse the protests by granting some concessions.“Yemen, Algeria, Bahrain and Jordan all were sites of new protests and clashes. The Palestinian Authority leadership in the West Bank ordered the dismissal of its cabinet … [and announced] … they would hold long-stalled parliamentary and presidential elections by September, after the resignation of Mr. Mubarak, the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s strongest regional supporter.” (Note: Mubarak was also the strongest regional supporter of the settler state of Israel!)
In Yemen, the poorest country in the region, President Ali Abdullah Saleh, a close U.S. imperialist ally in the so-called “war on terror,” had already canceled a trip to the USA and promised not to run again in 2013. But massive economic impoverishment has kept the mass movement of the Yemeni people at a high pitch. In Iran, long-quiet opposition leaders stated their support for protests that already had the backing of labor unions and student activist groups. In Jordan, whose long-serving late king, Hussein, had been exposed decades ago as a paid CIA agent, mass protests emerged as King Abdullah II met with U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen.
Meanwhile, in Algeria, the government of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika deployed thousands of security forces to disperse crowds mobilized by a coalition of opposition leaders, trade unionists and human rights activists. Similar to the Tunisian and Egyptian demands, the Algerian protesters shouted “Power Out” and “$155 billion and we’re still poor,” the latter a reference to the major oil producing country’s estimated foreign exchange reserve.
The protests also spread to the city-state of Djibouti, across the Gulf of Aden from Yemen. Djibouti hosts the only U.S. base on the African continent and the client U.S. President Ismail Omar Guelleh whose second term expires in April is part of the family that has been in power for more than three decades.
Even more important, is the emergence of a widespread protest movement in U.S.-occupied Iraq. Influenced by the strong role of the working class in Egypt and Tunisia, more workers in Iraq are engaging in political activism. There have been strikes in a large textile factory, oil companies, the leather industry, electric utility and others. (At the textile factory in Kut, U.S. occupation troops came directly to the factory and surrounded it!) Unemployed workers and students have demonstrated in Kut, Baghdad, Basra and Nasiriyah demanding jobs, and for freedom of expression and an end to repression.
In response to the mass upsurge, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki offered to give up half his pay and called for a two term limit to be placed on his office. But bringing down the Maliki government, installed at the point of U.S. bayonets, is actually part and parcel of driving U.S. imperialism out of Iraq. And the Iraqi protest wave, especially its working class upsurge, is leading in this direction.
The Arab peoples’ mass motion has even penetrated the rich principalities in the Persian Gulf region. The first place the protest movement hit there was in the tiny kingdom of Bahrain, separated from Saudi Arabia by a causeway. Not surprisingly, the Gulf Cooperation Council, made up of the six Arab states circling the Gulf (the Sunni Muslim sheiks, kings and other royals heading up the oil-laden states of Saudi Arabia, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, etc.), strongly supported the initial repressive policies of the Khalifa royal family. However, this tactic backfired as the repression only strengthened the resolve of the Bahraini masses. They have become more steadfast in their insistence that the Khalifa reign be ended. Since then, under U.S. imperialist guidance, Bahrain’s ruling family has ordered the army off the streets, trying to “wait out” or exhaust the protesters. On February 28th, U.S. President Obama again called for dialogue in Bahrain. But, so far, the mostly Shiite protesters have insisted, they will participate in no dialogue until the 200 year old Sunni dynasty of the Khalifa family is gone.
Impressively, after King Hamad bin Isa Khalifa had pledged to ease media restrictions, had released 250 political prisoners, and promised each Bahraini family a special grant of about $2650, the Shiite majority-led protests against the minority Sunni Muslim rulers intensified. The protests in Bahrain are extremely significant for several reasons: Bahrain sits in a strategic position in the Persian Gulf, through which a fifth of the world’s oil supply passes. Accordingly, the U.S. 5th Fleet is based there, standing guard for U.S. imperialism over the largest concentration of the world’s oil. It includes a base that is home to 3,000 military personnel who oversee the 30 naval ships and some 30,000 sailors that patrol the Persian Gulf and Arabian and Red seas. Bahrain is also the banking and commercial center for the vast oil business in the Persian Gulf.
Indeed, protests against the Persian Gulf rulers have widened in recent days. Oman shares with Iran the strategic oil tanker route through the Strait of Hormouz, through which about 40% of the world’s tanker traffic passes. Sultan Qaboos bin Said has already tried to quell the unrest in Oman by replacing six Cabinet members, providing higher student grants and boosting the minimum wage by more than 40 percent! The Sultan has also ordered the government to create 50,000 new jobs. But even with the concessions, opposition forces continue to show great resolve in challenging the absolute rule of the Sultan of Oman.
Meanwhile, demonstrations were scheduled for March 8th in Kuwait, a rare Gulf state kingdom with an elected parliament and organized political opposition.
Finally, in Saudi Arabia, the most important oil producing country in the world, King Abdullah has ordered an action plan to “help” lower and middle-income people among the 18 million Saudi nationals. The $36 billion plan of concessionary measures includes: pay raises to offset inflation, unemployment benefits, affordable housing and interest free loans for marriage expenses, starting a business or buying furniture. On February 27th, King Abdullah ordered that government sector workers employed under temporary contracts be offered permanent jobs with benefits. But the king announced no political reforms, and Saudi Arabia continues to have no elected parliament or parties and allows little public dissent. A key test for the Saudi ruling family will come on March 11 when protest rallies have been called for there.
TUNISIAN MASSES RISE UP AND INSPIRE THE ARAB PEOPLE EVERYWHERE
On December 18, 2010, 26 year old Mohamed Bouazizi was living in the Tunisian provincial town of Sidi Bouzid. He had a university degree but no job and had begun to sell fruit and vegetables in the street without a license. Mohamed Bouazizi was stopped by authorities who confiscated his produce. He was so angry that he set himself on fire and perished. Masses of youth rioted; and security forces sealed off the town. Less than a week later, another jobless young man in Sidi Bouzid climbed an electricity pole, shouted “no to misery, no to unemployment,” then touched the wires and electrocuted himself. (See the Guardian, 12-28-10)
Two days later, in another Tunisian town, rioters set fire to police cars, a railway locomotive, the local headquarters of the ruling party and a police station. The next day the protests reached Tunis, the capital. The pent up anger of the Tunisian people was due to two main factors: (1) In the course of twenty-three years as dictator of Tunisia, the corruption of the Ben Ali ruling family had allowed each of the family members to amass a huge fortune and this was widely known among the Tunisian masses. (2) Tunisian youth, even those with advanced education, were suffering from a lack of decent jobs and high unemployment deepened by the worldwide economic crisis. Popular indignation was burning ever hotter under the pressure of the global economic crisis, with rising food prices and chronic unemployment.
In this light, the plight of Mohamed Bouazizi resonated with the masses of Tunisian youth and they took action. As the youth began to take on the Ben Ali Regime, the working class whose lack of rights had facilitated the super-exploitation that resulted in the amassing of the Ben Ali fortunes, were emboldened to take up the struggle. A just and widespread popular uprising engulfed this North African country of 10 million people. Sparking the rebellion along with the massive unemployment, rising food prices and shortages, were the banning of all political dissent and extensive government corruption including the self enrichment of the ruling families.
As we observed in a January 23, 2011 statement: “Though brutally and repeatedly attacked by the police, leaving over 100 demonstrators killed, the uprisings continued and were victorious in toppling the tyrannical government of Ben Ali after 23 years of power. He fled, with the people at his heels, into the reactionary arms of the Saudi Arabian government. The hated Ben Ali government was supported by the United States for his maintaining ‘political stability’ and as an ‘ally and partner’ in the fight against ‘terrorism.’ The Obama government’s words of ‘support’ for the ‘new’ Tunisian coalition government are an effort to co-opt and stop the movement in its tracks, limiting it to a change of government faces and players and minor reforms.
“However, there are a number of positive developments that give hope that this initial peoples’ rebellion has the potential to lead to deeper and more fundamental changes in Tunisia and beyond:
“The General Union of Tunisian Workers was a key organizer of the anti-regime protests, so the organized working class played a leading role in the general peoples’ revolt. The day Ben Ali fled the country the union had led a successful general strike! Yet, even after the leadership of the union (and other opposition parties) supported the ‘new’ interim coalition (which still contained many leaders of Ben Ali’s party, the RCD), protests continued in the streets demanding a thorough ousting of the RCD government. The people wanted no part of a ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing.’
“The union leadership had to reverse its decision and withdraw its support for the ‘new’ coalition government when, at a meeting of union workers, the members voted to overturn their leaders’ political decision! The workers are more politically advanced and determined than their union officers!” (“Tunisian Masses Rising Up,” Statement of the Revolutionary Organization of Labor, USA, 1-23-11)
On January 14th, as former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali hastily departed for neighboring Saudi Arabia, the Tunisian working class was engaged in their General Strike.
Since then, the Tunisian parliament has provided government
emergency powers to interim President Fouad Mebazaa. In response, there
is great popular pressure from the Tunisian people, protesting in the
streets for the dissolution of the Tunisian Parliament, currently
dominated by Ben Ali’s Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD) Party. The
Tunisian people are demanding an early presidential and legislative
election, at a minimum. As February has given way to March, Tunisian
Prime Minister Gannochi, a Ben Ali appointee, has just been ousted and
the Tunisian people are still in the streets.
EGYPTIAN MASSES TOPPLE THE DICTATOR ─ BUT THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES!
“With the assassination of Sadat, U.S. imperialism had finally consolidated its consensus policy begun in 1970, i.e. a consensus among the major Arab countries (particularly Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia) who would now work either directly or indirectly with the settler state of Israel to defend the interests of U.S. imperialism in the Middle East.” (“The Israeli Settler Military Occupation of Lebanon: Victory or Defeat for the Palestinian People?” Ray O. Light Newsletter #12, September 1982)
Egypt is the most populous country in the Arab world. Its more than 80 million people are fully half of the entire population of Arabia. It has the most developed working class. Hence, there is great strategic importance of Egypt for the revolution in Arabia.
After living under one of the harshest and most repressive regimes in the world for the past thirty years, the Egyptian people through a powerful and growing street protest movement over an eighteen day period from January 25th until February 12th, forced President Hosni Mubarak from power. The Mubarak Regime has been one of the closest and strongest allies of U.S. imperialism, the hegemonic imperialist power, during this entire period. Toppling this brutal dictator was itself a major achievement.
Ever since Mubarak’s predecessor, Anwar Sadat, signed a peace treaty with the settler state of Israel in 1979, the Arab world has made no attempt to topple the Israeli regime by force. In collaboration with this Israeli apartheid regime, and under U.S. imperialism’s military baton, Mubarak’s reactionary regime in Egypt has protected the flow of oil for U.S. imperialism in the Middle East, a cornerstone of U.S. imperialism’s power vis-à-vis its imperialist partner-rivals. In addition, the Mubarak Regime has ensured critical Suez Canal and over-flight access for U.S. military operations.
Accordingly, over these three decades, Mubarak’s Egypt has been second only to Israel as a recipient of U.S. “aid.” Since 1979, Egypt has received approximately $2 billion per year in economic and military aid of which more than $1.3 billion each year has been direct military aid. Mubarak himself came to power in Egypt from his leadership position in the Egyptian Air Force. It is this U.S. imperialist-financed Mubarak-led military dictatorship that has terrorized the people of Egypt these many years.
In the first days of the massive street protests, Mubarak first tried to get the protesters to leave Tahrir (Liberation) Square and disband the protest by promising that he would not run for another term in September and he seemed to make a step in that direction by appointing a Vice President. The new Vice President was none other than Egypt’s “torturer in chief,” Omar Suleiman, chief of Egypt’s General Intelligence Service since 1993. Indeed, Mubarak knew that by appointing Suleiman, “the CIA’s man in Cairo,” and an Israeli favorite as well, he was placing himself in the best possible position to remain in power. At the same time, if the Egyptian masses were unwilling to cease their protest, Suleiman, under U.S. imperialist direction, would be strong enough to push Mubarak out of power.
When these maneuvers failed to disperse the people, Mubarak tried to drive the protesters out of Tahrir Square through beatings by the fearsome National Police dressed in civilian clothes – with the Egyptian military “looking the other way.” Even the New York Times admitted that more than 300 protesters were killed during the eighteen days of protests (which ultimately spread throughout Egypt) and many more were injured.
Throughout this period, top U.S. officials were in constant contact with top officials of the Mubarak Regime, virtually all military men. U.S. Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Clinton consulted with Vice President Suleiman while U.S. Secretary of Defense Gates communicated with Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and Joint Chiefs chairman Admiral Mullen dealt with top military official, Lt. General Sami Anan. (Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq is also a former Air Force chief.) As the Wall Street Journal observed, “The strongest ties between the U.S. and Egypt run through the countries’ militaries, a relationship that could be pivotal in building a new government in Cairo.” (“Military Ties Are Key,” 2-7-11) Indeed, more than one U.S. pundit has observed that the extent to which U.S. foreign policy has been directed from the Pentagon during the crisis in Egypt is unprecedented.
The Egyptian Working Class Rises Up
By the 16th day of the protest, the Mubarak Regime attempted to restore normalcy by eliminating the night curfew and having businesses reopen. The result was a powerful strike wave of the Egyptian working class all across the country. The New York Times reported: “Labor strikes and worker protests that flared across Egypt on Wednesday affected post offices, textile factories and even the government’s flagship newspaper, as protesters recaptured the initiative in their battle for the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.” (“Protesters in Egypt Regain Initiative as Workers Strike,” 2-9-11) While workers had individually participated in the protests during the first two weeks, now the collective power of the working class sealed Mubarak’s fate.
A 2/10/11 Democracy Now Interview with Joel Beinin, Professor of Middle East history at Stanford and former director of Middle East Studies at the American University in Cairo, focused on the topic, “Striking Egyptian Workers Fuel the Uprising After 10 Years of Labor Organizing.”
Beinin pointed out: “This is huge, because there has been for the last 10 years an enormous wave of labor protests in Egypt that’s included over two million people participating in perhaps 3,300 strikes, sit-ins and other forms of protest. So that has been the background to this whole revolutionary upsurge of the last several weeks. ... But in the last few days what you’ve seen is tens of thousands of workers linking their economic demands to the political demand that the Mubarak regime step aside.”
Beinin continued: “The workers in Suez, and the city of Suez in particular, have probably been the most militant in confronting the Mubarak regime since this revolutionary upsurge began on January 25th. On January 25th there were two deaths in Suez. The protests were extremely militant there, attacking the local headquarters of the National Democratic Party, attacking the police station. ... The fact that the Suez Canal workers are going on strike means that one of the most important economic institutions of the country is being idled … but there are also Suez steelworkers at Suez Canal who have gone on strike and ship repair workers and textile workers around the city of Suez, because there is a special industrial zone there. So, Suez, in particular, has emerged as one of the militant sites of confrontation in this last period.”
Beinin explains that, “The Egyptian Trade Union Federation was established in 1957 under the Nasser regime, and since then it has been essentially an arm of the state. And it has not participated at all in the labor upsurge of the last decade. In fact, most often it’s acted in opposition to it. So, over the last 10 years or more, workers have – when they have gone on strike or otherwise taken collective action, they have either elected strike committees ... or local union committees have split and some members of them have supported insurgent workers. … But in no case have strikes or sit-ins or any other kind of collective action over the last decade been led by the official trade union structures.”*
* The AFL-CIO Solidarity Center historically has supported the Egyptian Trade Union Federation, living up to its nickname throughout much of the world, AFL-CIA.
Beinin reported that in a few cases where workers’ struggles had been especially strong over the years, independent trade unions had been formed. On January 30th, just a few days after the initial demonstration of January 25th, two independent trade unions and worker representatives from about a dozen major industrial areas came together and announced in a press conference that they are organizing an Independent Trade Union Federation. Beinin pointed out that this was illegal and therefore a revolutionary act. For Egyptian law under Mubarak has required that every union be affiliated with the Egyptian Trade Union Federation via the appropriate national sector union. Thus, the working class was set to take up its vital role in the overthrow of Mubarak.*
* The centrality of the Egyptian working class to the entire popular uprising is reflected in the fact that the April 6th Movement, widely credited with sparking the street protest movement, was itself named for the attempted strike in 2008 at the largest textile mill in Egypt where a strike of its twenty-two thousand workers for a substantial raise in the national minimum wage was being prepared for April 6th in coordination with youth and others, with the use of the internet. The Mubarak Regime dispatched a massive national police presence to the factory, a few days ahead, to suppress the workers revolt before it could be unleashed.
Especially from February 9th on, each new day saw thousands of workers in hundreds of workplaces swing into strike action with an increasingly focused political demand for the ouster of Mubarak. On February 11th, after Mubarak had refused to step down the previous day, Suleiman and the military chiefs, backed by the Obama Regime in the USA, pushed Mubarak out of power.
The Post-Mubarak Situation in Egypt
Since Mubarak’s ouster, a military council, selected by Vice President Suleiman (and U.S. imperialism), has been in power. It is composed of virtually all the top officials of the Mubarak Regime except Mubarak and is led by Field Marshall Tantawi, the minister of defense and military production. This military clique has closed down the parliament and dispersed the National Democratic Party, Mubarak’s political party, in partial response to the demands of the protesters. The Military Council has promised to restructure the country’s constitution, including the laws governing elections. The Council has also promised “fair” elections within the next six months.
But protesters want the army to dissolve the caretaker government headed by Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, which was appointed by Mubarak in his final weeks and contains many of his stalwarts. They also want the lifting of emergency laws that give police nearly unlimited powers of arrest and they are demanding the release of thousands of political prisoners. The military government has acceded to none of these demands. Under the aegis of U.S. imperialism, Tantawi and the military council are attempting to concede to the minimum extent possible that will allow them to persuade the protest movement to disperse and allow them to remain in power.
Toward this aim, the Obama regime has tried to keep the Egyptian masses focused on “national celebration” of their ouster of Mubarak, rather than on finishing the rebellion that they have begun. But the Egyptian working class, in particular, has thus far kept its eye on the prize.
On February 19th, the Egyptian independent trade unionists’ declaration was presented under the title, “Revolution – Freedom – Social Justice.” Among the excellent just and democratic demands of the Egyptian workers are: raising the national minimum wage, narrowing the gap between the poorest and richest wage, decent unemployment compensation, freedom to organize trade unions and protection for the unions and their leaders, making the huge number of temporary contract workers in factory, field, office and professional jobs, permanent and abolishing temporary contracts, stopping the privatization program and undertaking renationalization of all privatized enterprises, removal of corrupt managers, establishing price controls on necessities so as not to burden the poor and the right of Egyptian workers to strike, organize sit-ins, other provisions that will lead toward “the fair distribution of wealth,” decent health care, and for the dissolution and seizure of financial assets and documents and seizure of the assets of the corrupt and repressive Egyptian Trade Union Federation.
These are excellent demands for the independent mass working class organization to have as its platform; and together they constitute a large part of a national democratic revolutionary program under current Egyptian conditions. These demands will not, indeed cannot, be met by the U.S. imperialist-dominated military council government now in power in Egypt. For the Egyptian military elite represents its own comprador interests, including its vast corporate holdings of close to half the Egyptian economy, as well as those of its sponsor, U.S. imperialism.
For these working class demands to be met, at a minimum, the Egyptian national democratic revolution against the Egyptian comprador bourgeoisie and imperialism, headed by U.S. imperialism, must be won through a working class-led national liberation front that unites all the toiling masses of the urban and rural areas and all the patriotic classes of Egypt.
Clearly, the mass upsurge of the Arab people against all the Arab reactionary secular and religious regimes allied with U.S. imperialism threatens the U.S. domination of the Middle East and world oil supply and therefore threatens the already weakened hegemony of U.S. imperialism in the world capitalist economy.
Right from the beginning of the political protests in Tunisia, taking advantage of the global bourgeois democratic illusions about U.S. President Obama, in particular, U.S. imperialist leaders including Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Clinton and Secretary of Defense Gates as well as Obama himself have given much lip service to being pro-democracy and pro-peaceful protest. All this rhetoric has been aimed at providing the viciously anti-democratic monarchies and secular military dictatorships time and opportunity to disarm, demobilize and disperse their aroused peoples on the basis of little or no fundamental change.
But as February has given way to March, the Tunisian and Egyptian people are still in the streets and so are the Arab masses in more and more countries of the Middle East. And this is the most hopeful sign for Arab liberation and the world proletarian revolution thus far. It is a most alarming sign for U.S. imperialism.
In 1982, we wrote the following:
“It is clear that the road to Arab sovereignty in Amman, Beirut, Riyadh, Cairo, and Damascus, etc. lies through armed struggle with Tel Aviv. Given the refusal of the reactionary Arab regimes to wage war against Israel in response to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and their indissoluble links with U.S. imperialism, the overthrow of the reactionary Arab regimes and the establishment of anti-imperialist regimes that will provide a revolutionary base area for Palestinian liberation is on the order of the day.” (“The Israeli Settler Military Occupation of Lebanon: Victory or Defeat for the Palestinian People?” Ray O. Light Newsletter #12, September 1982)
In the almost thirty years since then, the settler state of Israel has not only continued to occupy Palestine but has made increasingly genocidal attacks on the Palestinian nation, while the reactionary Arab regimes have collaborated with Israel and its master, U.S. imperialism. Meanwhile, these reactionary Arab regimes have become more parasitic and oppressive toward their own peoples as they have provided the critical support for the continuing hegemony of U.S. imperialism in the very center of the world’s oil riches. The evolution of these reactionary Arab regimes gives the lie to the classless concepts of “third world,” “non-aligned,” etc.
The current popular uprising of the Arab people throughout the Middle East is the most hopeful development to arise in all these years. But the Arab masses need to break out of the trickbag of U.S. imperialism’s two-pillar policy in the Middle East, the U.S. policy of playing the state of Israel on the one hand and the reactionary Arab regimes on the other off of each other and thereby keeping Israel, the reactionary Arab regimes and, most of all, U.S. imperialism on top of the Arab masses and their oil.
Today, the Arab masses, and the Arab proletariat in particular need to recognize that thus far the largely peaceful and spontaneous street protests have spread the courage of fighting for justice against what had seemed an all powerful foe. And these protests have led to the ouster of Tunisia’s Ben Ali and Egypt’s Mubarak, two of the most corrupt and tyrannical of the reactionary Arab rulers. They have also led to a few reforms in different countries. However, in none of these countries has peaceful and spontaneous protest brought the national democratic revolution close to being crowned with victory. And in none of these countries are the people armed yet with a Marxist-Leninist understanding of the relationship between the reactionary Arab regimes and their master U.S. imperialism.
And now, a Democratic U.S. president, elected in no small measure on the basis of his opposition to the U.S. military attack on Iraq (as an Illinois state senator in 2003) is threatening to invade Libya, after ordering the head of the Libyan government to leave the country and confiscating (stealing) Libyan national assets. (Is U.S. imperialism going to use the thirty billion dollars worth of Libyan assets stolen by the Obama Regime to pay China a bit of the vast bill the bankrupt USA owes to that country?!)
In almost a carbon copy of the actions of the brutal and arrogant George W. Bush toward Saddam Hussein and Iraq in 2002 and 2003, U.S. President Obama is busy trying to dictate the conditions under which the Arab people will live. Revolutionaries around the world should call on the people of the USA and internationally to rally in opposition to the Obama Regime’s new criminal aggression against Libya and the Arab people.
Tragically, the Arab communist movement was largely wiped out some thirty to forty years ago by the very same U.S. sponsored reactionary Arab regimes, backed by Russian and Chinese revisionism. Fortunately, the Arab people and the Arab working class in particular are today awake and aroused, confident and active. It is a good thing that especially the Egyptian working class is acquiring a rich experience in struggle in a very short period of time.
One thing the Arab people do not need in this critical historical moment, are cheerleaders in the USA and elsewhere emphasizing the “victory” that has been won thus far. Brian Becker, the National Coordinator of the ANSWER Coalition, for example, in a February 11th column, entitled, “Saluting the Egyptian People,” celebrates the victory of the “genuinely spontaneous uprising.” Becker never warns about the extremely limited scope of the victory achieved thus far. More importantly, he never warns about the bestial character of “his own” imperialists who will not, who cannot, allow any revolutionary victory to be achieved in the Middle East without the most bitter and terrible and merciless struggle against the Arab people.
Becker and most of the U.S. left “sympathetic” to the Arab masses, have been and remain content with the prevailing anarchist, individualist and liberal identity politics approach to the “third world” Arab leadership. They refuse to raise with our Arab comrades the urgent need for the establishment of Marxist-Leninist vanguard parties of the Arab working class to lead the oppressed Arab masses through their own very rich current experience to the banner of Arab national democratic revolution leading to socialism and communism. And, of course, they are silent about the great need for the establishment of a new Communist International capable of helping to facilitate the unity of the Arab communists and the Arab masses and their unity with the rest of the international working class and oppressed peoples in the struggle against international capital, headed by U.S. imperialism.
With the leadership of such a proletarian vanguard party or parties, the Arab masses can indeed meet and defeat U.S.-led imperialism and all reaction in the difficult days ahead and make their full contribution to the world proletarian revolution.
As the international working class experience of the twentieth century demonstrated: With Leninism, in spite of an unfavorable objective situation – victories. Without Leninism, in spite of a favorable objective situation – defeats.
Long Live Leninism!
Victory to the Arab Revolution!
U.S. Imperialism: Hands Off Libya!
On the Occasion of the 100th Anniversary of International Women’s Day
Statement of the Revolutionary Organization of Labor, USA
The Revolutionary Organization of Labor, USA salutes the militant
women all over the world who are actively engaged today in the struggle
for social justice against international capitalism, headed by United
States imperialism. These brave and often heroic women are fighting
against the systematic ripping apart of their families through the
compulsory migration of women workers from the oppressed nations of
Asia, Africa and Latin America to the oppressor countries, including
the USA, where they are often subjected to most brutal and humiliating
treatment. They are struggling for national liberation against
imperialist wars and brutal national oppression in Iraq, Afghanistan,
Pakistan, Colombia, the Philippines, throughout the Indian subcontinent
and many other countries. They are in the front ranks of the Arab
masses today fighting for national sovereignty and democratic and labor
rights and jobs in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, Yemen, Saudi Arabia
and throughout the Middle East.
Working women are waging struggle here in the USA, too. Along with many Latina and Afro-American women struggling against super-exploitation and the casualization (“temps”) of their labor based on national oppression, militant women workers of all nationalities make up the majority of the public sector workers fighting today in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and elsewhere in defense of their union rights, including their right to have a collective voice in their workplaces. The “Republicrat” politicians, doing the bidding of Wall Street finance capital, would render these women workers isolated individuals up against the dictatorial non-union workplaces that are found in capitalist USA. U.S. imperialism strives to place them and their families at the mercy of the bosses.
The hostility of monopoly capitalism and imperialism to the needs of women is dramatically underscored by the following: Despite the fact that U.S. imperialism has been the hegemonic imperialist power in the world for the past sixty years, and, despite all the Democratic and Republican Party political rhetoric about “family values,” the USA is “decades behind other countries in ensuring the well-being of working families,” according to the women’s rights division of Human Rights Watch. In a just-released report, “Failing its Families,” Human Rights Watch observes that at least 178 countries have national laws guaranteeing paid leave to new mothers. The USA is one of a handful of exceptions, along with some of the poorest countries on earth. The U.S. labor movement has been so weak in defense of women’s rights that it trumpeted the passage of the 1993 Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) as a major peoples’ victory. FMLA, allows workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for a new child or a seriously ill family member. But FMLA covers only about half the work force, and many covered workers cannot afford to take unpaid leave.
Working class and peasant women all across the globe are experiencing the pain and suffering of the acute world capitalist economic crisis and need each other’s solidarity and the solidarity of all the toiling masses in the struggle against international capitalism.
In this situation the celebration of the one hundredth anniversary of the first International Working Women’s Day in March 2011 is an occasion to look back and draw lessons from the past for the struggles ahead.
***The first international women’s day (IWD) came out of the mass movement of women.
In 1908, 15,000 working class women marched in New York City demanding
shorter hours, better pay and voting rights. In 1909, the Socialist
Party of America initiated the first National Woman’s Day.
***The initiative for the first IWD came from a proletarian revolutionary, Clara Zetkin, a leading German Communist who was in charge of her Party’s women’s work. At an international women’s conference held in Denmark in 1910, she proposed that every year and in every country on the same day there should be a celebration of a women’s day to press their demands. The 100 women from 17 countries, representing unions, socialist parties, working women’s clubs and the first three women elected to the Finnish Parliament, unanimously approved the proposal.
***In March 1911, International Women’s Day was observed for the first time and promoted such broad democratic rights for women as the right to vote. For women possessed this fundamental right in only a few countries in the world. IWD was observed in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland with more than one million women and men attending IWD rallies campaigning for women’s rights to work, vote, run for public office and to end discrimination. Less than a week later, in New York City, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire claimed the lives of 140 working women, most of them young Jewish and Italian immigrants. This tragic event helped to focus subsequent IWD events on working conditions, labor legislation and other working class women’s issues.
***In 1913, Russian women held their first observances of IWD, focusing on a campaign for peace on the eve of World War I.
In 1914, women across Europe held rallies to campaign against the war
and express their international solidarity. The theme of opposing
imperialist war has been one of the most important for IWD ever since.
***In 1917, on March 8, with 2 million Russian soldiers dead in World War I, Russian women rose up again for “bread and peace.” Four days later the Czar was forced to abdicate; and the provisional government granted women the right to vote. Russia had been the most repressive regime in Europe. Through revolution, the women of Russia won the right to vote three years before the women of arguably the freest democratic republic on earth, the USA, won that right.
***In the many years since, International Women’s Day has been weakened by being co-opted by the powers that be and thus divorced from the class struggle. The Charter of the United Nations (UNO) produced by the Soviet-led victorious peoples in the war against fascism in 1945 was the first international agreement to proclaim gender equality as a fundamental human right. Nevertheless, international women’s day has become weaker in the intervening years precisely because it became divorced from the struggle against international capital.
In the famous 1920 interview between V.I. Lenin, the outstanding
leader of the Great October Socialist Revolution and then the head of
the largest country on earth and the outstanding German Communist
leader, Clara Zetkin, who had initiated the first International Women’s
Day, Lenin placed great emphasis on “the unbreakable connection between
woman’s human and social position and the private ownership of the
means of production.” He added, “This will draw a strong, ineradicable
line against the bourgeois movement for the ‘emancipation of women.’
This will also give us a basis for examining the woman question as part
of the social, working class question, and to bind it firmly with the
proletarian class struggle and the revolution. The communist women’s
movement itself must be a mass movement, a part of the general mass
movements; and not only of the proletarians, but of all the exploited
and oppressed, of all victims of capitalism or of the dominant class.”
Even in the context of U.S. imperialist domination of the world
capitalist economy over these decades, the working people of the USA
have still been able to produce a few of the outstanding women fighters
for justice who have become symbols of the struggle for the
emancipation of women on a global
scale. Fanny Lou Hamer in Mississippi in the 1960’s rising
Afro-American national liberation movement, Crystal Lee Sutton (the
real “Norma Rae”) in North Carolina in the 1970’s in an otherwise
largely dormant organized labor movement, and Cindy Sheehan, as the
consistent internationalist conscience of the inconsistent U.S.
anti-war movement in the 2000’s, did not focus narrowly on
the rights of women. Their focus was more generous and more collective.
Through the collective struggle against imperialist exploitation and
oppression: against the oppression of the Afro-American people, the
exploitation of the working class, and the mobilization of U.S. working
class youth for imperialist war and oppression of the peoples of other
lands, respectively, each of these wonderful women came into her own as
a fighter for herself, for all women and for all humanity.
Inspired by such heroic women as Clara Zetkin, Fanny Lou Hamer, Crystal Lee Sutton and Cindy Sheehan, let us wage the struggle for women’s rights today in the fight for national liberation, workers’ power and socialism.
Coalition of Immokalee Workers Wins Historic Gain…
So What’s a Penny Worth?
To most of us, not much anymore. It’s just a penny. Many wouldn’t pick one up lying on the sidewalk.
But to the deeply exploited and impoverished mostly Central American, Mexican and Haitian immigrant tomato farm workers of Florida, “One Penny more a Pound” for harvested tomatoes is a resounding victory after a fifteen year struggle.
Tomato crops represent a $1.3 billion industry in the U.S. with Florida leading the country producing $520 million worth. Maximum profits are gained on the super-exploitation of the farm workers.
The 33,000 tomato farm workers of Florida average $10,000 a year in pay, according to New York Times articles. On top of this extreme poverty, they have faced many instances of modern day slavery and forced child labor. Fifteen years ago, the now 4000 strong Coalition of Immokalee Workers was built to address the dire concerns of the workers and their families and empower the workers into action.
An agreement has just been finalized this month (January) between the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, growers and buyers, that increases the workers’ pay by a penny a pound as well as guarantees minimum wages and protects against forced labor and child labor. The penny a pound agreement will potentially raise income from $10,000/year to an estimated $17,000/year and will apply to all workers whether they belong to the Coalition or not, a good example of organized workers successfully fighting to uplift all workers.
Since these farm workers were facing three-pronged exploitation by the labor contractors, the growers (and their powerful growers association) and the buyers at large restaurants (such as Taco Bell and McDonalds) and supermarket chains, the coalition resorted to many tactics including hunger strikes, marches and boycotts. The key to success proved to be the creative tactic of successfully pressuring many large buyers to agree to a penny per pound surcharge on their purchases.
So what’s a penny worth? It all depends. For the farm workers of the Immokalee Florida area it represents a large increase in their wages, more dignity, respect, worker safety, and less chance of peonage (modern day slavery) and child labor.Worker victories, including limited ones such as this one, and lessons of struggle help give us the experience and confidence to successfully win workers’ power. The Revolutionary Organization of Labor, USA salutes the fighting spirit, new gains and continuing struggle of the workers of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.
“For the proletariat needs the truth
and there is nothing so harmful to
its cause as plausible, respectable
Selected Works, Vol. X, p. 41
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