RAY O. LIGHT Newsletter
May-June 2009
Number 54
Publication of the Revolutionary Organization of Labor, USA

The Global Capitalist Collapse and the Awakening of the World’s Workers

Over the past few months, the world capitalist economic crisis has deepened everywhere. From China and India to Poland and Latvia, tens of millions of workers have lost their jobs and their livelihoods. In most of the countries of Eastern Europe, the numbers and percentages of unemployed have already reached staggering proportions. In the USA, November and December each saw over five hundred thousand new unemployed workers; and over six hundred thousand lost their jobs in each of the first three months of 2009. When the large number of self-employed and the underemployed are included, an estimated five million workers in the USA alone have been drastically impacted.

The initial response of the imperialist and other reactionary governments to the crisis has been to provide multi-billion dollar (euro, pound, yen) bailout giveaways to the wealthiest, greediest and most guilty ruling class bankers and businessmen, the very people most responsible for the depth of the crisis. This boondoggle has been squeezed out of the sweat and blood of the working class in every country. Indeed, the amount of dollars, euro, etc. involved in the bailouts will still be coming out of the children and grandchildren of those of us in today’s working class, if we allow the system of monopoly capitalism and imperialism to survive.

In this setting, the international working class is being jolted into action – as if shaken out of slumber.*
*In the first half of the twentieth century, the international communist movement, under Lenin-Stalin Bolshevik leadership, had been the pathfinder, trailblazer, organizer and leader of the most advanced class in the struggle for world progress – the international working class. For most of the past fifty years, the international communist and workers movement has been led by collaborators with imperialism, headed by U.S. imperialism.

Within the USA itself, for sixty years U.S. imperialism’s post World War II hegemony in the capitalist world allowed for a situation to develop in which the organized labor movement has been almost totally subservient to U.S. imperialism, and the U.S. working class has been loyal to the U.S. imperialist ruling class as it became almost completely caught up in the consumer culture. For about twenty-five years after World War II (approximately 1947-1972), the organized section of the U.S. working class was able to win wage increases (and material gains) without the bitter and bloody struggles normally associated with such working class advance. This fact of life was precisely in accordance with Lenin’s teachings on the imperialist bribery of “its own” working class by major imperialist powers.

For the past thirty-five years or so, since then, the real wages of U.S. workers have not increased. Yet working people here have continued to experience significant material gains. This has been largely due to the inflation bubble and especially inflation in the housing sector on which most working class family wealth is based. In recent years the consumer spending of U.S. working people, largely on the basis of the proceeds from housing inflation, has been the engine driving much of the world capitalist system’s economic production.

It is no wonder, then, that, over these sixty years, the U.S. working class and its labor movement have been almost completely won over to the “virtues” of capitalism, U.S. imperialism style.

Now this is no longer the case! The subprime mortgage crisis in the USA has led to a housing crisis which has led to a U.S. financial crisis, to a world financial crisis, and finally to a world capitalist economic crisis. The subsequent massive job loss and the wiping out of private pensions, along with the U.S. government bailout of the rich ruling class financial criminal organizations like Bank of America, Citigroup and Goldman Sachs is awakening the U.S. working class to the fact that the system is rotten. Certainly, if we don’t yet know it, we feel it in our bones.

In the USA, the growing mass disaffection with the system of monopoly capitalism and imperialism is a fundamentally new condition that dramatically impacts every clash between labor and capital, between the oppressed and the oppressor, between the police and the oppressed nationalities, between the workers and the opportunists leading the U.S. labor movement.

This has already been evidenced by the victorious union election at the giant Smithfield hog slaughtering plant in rural Tarheel, North Carolina after a sixteen year campaign. It was shown by the UE union-led victory of the Republic Windows workers in Chicago after a six day sit-down strike at the factory, a militant workers’ tactic unseen in the U.S. labor movement since the 1930’s.

It is demonstrated by the deepening struggle of health care, hospital and home care workers in California in opposition to the dictatorial, sell-out leadership of Andy Stern and the Washington D.C.-based Service Employees International Union (SEIU) leadership. Stern had attempted to dismember the democratically run, San Francisco-based 150,000 member United Health Care local of SEIU led by its progressive President, Sal Roselli. But the membership and leadership of SEIU local #250 mobilized and defended its rank and file-led union and its decent contracts. In late January, after Stern trusteed the local, more than a hundred union staffers led by Roselli, in consultation with 5,000 local union stewards, resigned from the SEIU and launched the formation of the new National Union of Health Care Workers (NUHW). Thus far, while the workers in bargaining units representing almost one hundred thousand workers have indicated a majority commitment to NUHW, the U.S. Labor Department, influenced by Stern and his Democratic Party political connections, have delayed and denied most rank and file attempts to hold votes on union affiliation at this time. But, with dedicated unionists volunteering their time, the struggle continues.

The protracted and mass struggle for union democracy being carried out by NUHW, occurring in this period of economic crisis and nascent working class ferment, has the potential for helping to pave the way for class struggle-oriented, democratically-run, rank and file-led unions, capable of leading a crusade of working class organization and struggle against capital such as were born and thrived in the last Great Depression with the rise of the Congress of Industrial Organization (CIO). NUHW needs and deserves our support.

In the past few months, the working class of the French colonies of Guadeloupe and Martinique have waged powerful workers strike struggles organized through their trade unions, spearheading their islands’ masses in their demand for economic relief from this global capitalist crisis. The general strikes on both these Caribbean islands, with overwhelming popular support, have succeeded in winning their immediate wage and price demands and have raised the fundamental question of political power, including the question of national sovereignty vis-à-vis French imperialism. Their struggle has inspired a similar struggle with similar demands in the French island colony of La Réunion in the Indian Ocean on the other side of the world.

No doubt, too, the strong uprisings of the exploited and oppressed masses of Guadeloupe and Martinique have helped provide backbone to the increasingly independent stands of Latin American countries such as Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador in opposition to U.S. imperialism. More dramatically, the defeat of the Arena Party government in the March 2009 election in El Salvador represents a resurgence of mass anti-imperialist sentiment among the workers in this Central American country, a former center of revolutionary activity. For more than two decades, prior to this victory, the Salvadoran working people had been living under the Arena party-led state of terror.

At the same time, the French working class, inspired at least in part by their class brothers and sisters in Guadeloupe and Martinique, has undertaken massive and militant demonstrations within that important imperialist country itself, resisting the efforts of the French ruling class to put the burden of the crisis on their shoulders. Likewise, the working people of Greece, along with the students, have been staging massive protests against police brutality and in defense of popular education, also fueled by the economic crisis. The street demonstrations of the Greek masses have shaken the roots of the reactionary regime there.

The working class militancy being exhibited in oppressed colonies and neo-colonies and major imperialist countries, as well as countries in between, is a reflection of the mass disaffection with the world system of monopoly capitalism and imperialism. Even without the existence of a viable alternative socialist camp at this time, the toiling masses’ fascination with global capitalism has been broken.

Workers of Guadeloupe and Martinique Stand Up to World Capitalism in Crisis

Among the most powerful expressions of mass working class disaffection with the world capitalist system in this new crisis period have been the victorious general strikes of the working class in Guadeloupe and Martinique.

Sparked by the devastating impact of the current world economic crisis on rising costs of living and fueled by centuries of oppression at the hands of French colonialism and the local ruling elite, a 44 day general strike was launched in Guadeloupe on January 20th, followed, on February 5th, by a 38 day general strike in the neighboring island of Martinique.

The tourism bureau of Martinique beckons tourists to “The Caribbean Island with French Flair” and calls it one of the most alluring and enchanting destinations in the world. Visitors to Guadeloupe are promised a “tropical Garden of Eden” and “an island of beautiful waters.” Both Caribbean islands are tourist-dependent for much of their economy. For the holiday tourist looking for the enjoyment of boating, diving, idyllic beaches, luxury resorts and French cooking, these islands are a taste of paradise on earth.

They are also a “paradise” for the ruling elite. One percent of the population of Martinique, descended directly from the colonial white French settlers, controls over ninety percent of the wealth, most of the land and all the levers of business and government. This ruling class lords over the vast majority of the 400,000 plus inhabitants of each island who are descendants of African slaves, imported through brutal force to labor on the sugarcane and other plantations of the French Empire.

For the working class, the oppressed masses, the paradise ends at the glossy photos of the Tourist Bureaus and Cruise Line advertisements. “Official” unemployment runs at 23-25% with actual levels estimated at close to 40%, the highest unemployment in the European Union. (Both islands remain direct colonies of imperialist France, categorized as “overseas departments,” and are thus part of the European Union.) There are few jobs for the youth with official unemployment at 50% for the 15-24 age group (for those not in school). Prices of basic commodities and food staples are 30-60% higher than in France while wages on the islands are lower. Escalating fuel and food prices, aggravated by the economic crisis with its epicenter on Wall Street, have led to a further and rapid deterioration of living standards.

In response, the toiling populations of these two small islands have stood up!

The strike in Guadeloupe was called and led by the LKP (“Collective Against Exploitation” or “Unity Against Exploitation”). The LKP is a united front of some 49 organizations representing trade unions, political parties, environmental and community groups, farmers and peasants and nationalist and cultural associations. The leadership core of the coalition is the General Union of the Workers of Guadeloupe (UGTC), the trade union of choice of the majority of Guadeloupe working class. LKP’s main leader and spokesperson is Elie Demoto, the General-Secretary of the UGTC. The UGTC was itself born of struggle as part of a popular nationalist upsurge in the aftermath of the murderous suppression of the movement for wage hikes in 1967 during which over 80 people were killed by the French police.

Led by the working class, the LKP issued a platform representing the aspirations of the broad masses of the people. At the intersection of class struggle and national liberation, LKP demands included: a substantial raise of the minimum wage and trade union rights, lower taxes and the reduction of prices on necessities and transportation and more jobs for young workers, as well as land reform, promotion of the majority peoples’ Creole language and culture, government jobs for the local population and an end to colonial economic relations. In an interview in Le Figaro, Demoto stated, “But we Blacks, the island’s majority people, still live as in the time of slavery, under the same social structure and the same cultural and economic domination.” Clearly the general strike sparked by immediate economic issues rapidly developed into a political strike, a general uprising!

With the rallying cry of “Guadeloupe is Ours!”, the imagination and energy of the people of Guadeloupe was unleashed. The general strike/rebellion shut down businesses, roads, transportation, gas stations, schools, banks, government and the tourist industry. The popular masses held firm. An indication of the popular support for the general strike and the determination of the people in the face of the growing repressive response of the French state was a demonstration of 100,000 participants in support of the strike demands held on February 18th. (To give some perspective, this is the equivalent of a demonstration of some five million people in the New York City metropolitan area!)

Day after day, the general strike was a well-organized, determined but peaceful action. Violence flared up only in response to the violent aggression and provocations (tear gassing, beatings and arrests) of the special police/security forces. They were rushed in by the Sarkozy-led French government to subdue the strike on behalf of the employers and to keep the “contagion” of mass militant fight-back against the world economic crisis from spreading to other French possessions and the French mainland. (The strike struggle has already spread to La Réunion in the Indian Ocean.) The major French bourgeois newspaper Le Monde of February 10th commented that the general strike in Guadeloupe and Martinique “aroused the most strongly felt anxiety at the top of the state ... the government dreads that the measures in favor of purchasing power which might be agreed in the islands could be used, in metropolitan France, as a reference point by the trade unions.”*
*French President Sarkozy is a strong ally of U.S. imperialism and its wars of terror against the peoples of Iraq and Afghanistan and, as Interior Minister in 2005, advocated a bill that required textbooks to teach the “positive role” of colonialism.
Inspired by, and in coordination with, the militant struggle of the LKP-led Guadeloupe uprisings, the toilers of the island of Martinique launched a general strike on February 5th. This strike struggle was led by the “February 5th Collective,” another broad coalition headed by the trade unions. Its demands on the French and local governments and business organizations mirrored the just and broad demands of the LKP movement in Guadeloupe.

Forty-four days of organized rebellion through general strike action in Guadeloupe ended with a far reaching victory that reflected the deep unity of the people behind that militant action, forged under the leadership of the organized working class:  A “Jacques Bino Accord” (named after a union activist murdered during the strike) was signed between the main trade union federations, the government and a number of employer organizations. With a Preamble that set the tone with the statements: “Considering that the economic and social conditions in Guadeloupe are a result of the persistence of the plantation economy model; considering that this economy is based on monopoly profits and the abuse of a dominant position, which generates injustice...” the Accord included:

Meanwhile, on the Island of Martinique, the 38 day general strike concluded on March 14th with a victory no less stunning. A protocol agreement was reached between the government and the February 5 Collective. It contained similar provisions to the Jacques Bino Accord in Guadeloupe and met the key demands of the Martinique people including an agreement with business owners for a 20% reduction in the cost of 400 basic necessities and an increase in the minimum wage by $250/month for 47,000 low wage workers. At the victory celebration 25,000 demonstrators chanted, “Martinique Stand Up!” in the local Creole language, reflecting the national aspirations for respect and dignity.

While both general strikes ended in decisive victories, the movements remain rightly vigilant. Leaders of the respective united front coalitions have warned the French government and islands’ business community that if there is any hesitation in the implementation of the agreements, the general strikes will resume. In fact, in Guadeloupe, targeted strikes have continued against businesses that have refused to sign and/or implement the Accord.

In the 1970’s the rising national liberation struggles of the oppressed Portuguese colonies of Angola, Mozambique and Guinea Bissau on the continent of Africa inspired the working class of the oppressor Portuguese nation to throw off the yoke of the decades-long fascist government of the Salazar-Caetano dictatorship. Likewise, today, the struggle of the oppressed people of Martinique and Guadeloupe are undoubtedly helping to inspire and arouse the working class of France.

While the initial response of the official trade union movement of France to a principled call of the LKP for international working class solidarity was apparently limited to general resolutions with few teeth or coordinated actions with the unions of Guadeloupe and Martinique, strong support has come from the powerful immigrant rights movement in France, San Papiers (Without Papers). By February 21st, it was reported that tens of thousands of trade unionists joined in a solidarity march in support of the struggling people of the Islands. On March 19th, a one day general strike in France brought 3 million people into the streets in response to the economic crisis and to the French government’s bailout of the bankers and monopoly corporations. Of course, little had been done for the well-being of the workers. The English Guardian newspaper reported, “The [French] government is concerned about the increasingly radical nature of the protesters with Sony factory workers holding a chief executive hostage over redundancies last week. Some French protesters are looking to the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe where a six-week general strike and one death eventually forced the government to back down and raise wages.”

We, the workers and oppressed nationalities within the United States as well as all over the world, should indeed look to the people of these two small French imperialist-controlled islands whose struggle helps us all chart the path of militant resistance to the rising and rapidly deepening economic crisis. While the people of Martinique and Guadeloupe have thus far stopped short of freeing their islands from imperialist control, they won a broad array of immediate demands for wage increases, jobs and housing rights while at the same time lowering the costs of basic necessities.* All sectors of the society, the young, the old, the infirm, the workers, the peasants and fisherfolks all benefited, reflecting the broad United Front movement, under the leadership of the working class, which represents the most organized and disciplined sector of the exploited and oppressed.
*Successful national and social liberation of the small Caribbean nations will likely take the path of the kind of Caribbean unity displayed by the peoples of Martinique and Guadeloupe on a much broader scale, in particular with the long suffering people of Haiti. This former French colony is now in the clutches of a U.S./U.N. military occupation used to suppress the Aristide-led peoples freedom movement. While no one small island of the Caribbean can sustain full national development on its own, together, the colonized and neo-colonized people of the Caribbean can rise as a powerful and free “nation” that can successfully fight for and win national liberation and socialism in unity with the workers and oppressed peoples of the entire Caribbean region.
The people of Guadeloupe and Martinique, in opposition to French imperialism, are living proof that, if we get organized, “Yes We Can!” We can fight Wall Street and the world capitalist economic crisis. We can win wage increases and price reductions. We can stop home foreclosures and evictions. We can unite broad sectors of the exploited in society, under the leadership of the working class. United we can fight back against the Wall Street Rich and their economic system and win, on the road to national liberation and workers’ power, on the road to socialism.
 “For the proletariat needs the truth and there is nothing so harmful to its cause as plausible, respectable petty-bourgeois lies.”
– V.I. Lenin,
Selected Works, Vol. X, p. 41

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