Archive for August, 2012

Militant gegen den Arbeitskampf

Sunday, August 26th, 2012

The following article appears in Jungle World this week.

Um Sparmaßnahmen und Privatisierungen durchzusetzen, greifen immer mehr als demokratisch geltende Staaten zu Gewalt gegen Gewerkschaften.

Während sich die globale ökonomische Krise verschlimmert, wenden nationale Regierungen immer öfter Gewalt an – sogar militärische –, um gegen Gewerkschaften vorzugehen, die manchmal das einzige Hindernis für die Durchsetzung wirtschaftsliberaler »Reformen« darstellen. Diese Art der Gewaltanwendung unterscheidet sich von früheren Fällen darin, dass es beispielsweise nicht mehr um die Unterdrückung separatistischer Bestrebungen ethnischer Minderheiten geht oder um eine Gewaltanwendung, die in autoritären Regimes erwartbar wäre. Neu ist, dass sie in Ländern vorkommt, von denen man dachte, sie hätten den Übergang zur Demokratie erfolgreich hinter sich gebracht, und die zu engen Verbündeten des Westens gehören. In der Türkei, einem Land, das sich der Welt als leuchtendes Beispiel dafür präsentiert, dass sich Islam und Demokratie vereinbaren lassen, sind Arbeiterinnen und Arbeiter, die ihr Recht auf gewerkschaftliche Organisierung in Anspruch nehmen, vermehrt Angriffen des Staates ausgesetzt. Ende Juni verhaftete die Polizei mehr als 70 Gewerkschaftsführer im ganzen Land. Ziel des Angriffs war die KESK, eine Gewerkschaft im öffentlich Dienst Beschäftigter, die an vorderster Front gegen die Privatisierungspolitik der Regierung Recep Tayyip Erdoğans kämpft. Vorwand für die Razzia war, wie bereits in der Vergangenheit, der Vorwurf, die Gewerkschafter hätten Verbindungen zu einer verbotenen terroristischen Organisation. Beweise gab es dafür nie. Gewerkschaften weltweit fordern die Freilassung der Inhaftierten und weisen alle Anklagepunkte zurück.

Die Verhaftungen folgten einem großen Angriff auf Luftfahrtarbeiter im Mai. Ein führender Politiker aus Erdoğans konservativ-islamischer AKP hatte vorgeschlagen, das türkische Arbeitsrecht zu ändern, um Streiks im Luftfahrtssektor zu verbieten. Das löste einen großen Arbeitskampf bei Turkish Airlines aus. Hunderte Arbeiter wurden entlassen, als sich der Konflikt zuspitzte. Die gewerkschaftsfeindliche Offensive hat in der Türkei dazu geführt, dass Unternehmen wie DHL Versuche ihrer Beschäftigten, Gewerkschaften zu gründen, unterbinden können. In diesem Fall wurden 24 Beschäftigte entlassen. Auf der Website von DHL heißt es: »Wir unterstützen eine Unternehmenskultur, die auf Dialog gründet.« Aber in einem Land wie der Türkei, wo die Regierung offen gewerkschaftsfeindlich ist, hat DHL für eine äußerst dreiste Form der Zerschlagung von Gewerkschaften keine Sanktionen zu erwarten.

Nigeria wird von dem unabhängigen Menschenrechtsinstitut Freedom House als »teilweise frei« bezeichnet. 1999 endete mit den ersten freien Wahlen die Militärdiktatur. Die heutige Regierung geht aber manchmal so brutal wie das Regime von Sana Abacha in den neunziger Jahren vor, vor allem wenn es wirtschaftspolitisch opportun scheint. Die nigerianische Regierung hatte beschlossen, die Elektrizitätsversorgung des Landes komplett zu privatisieren, Beschäftigte im Energiesektor wehrten sich gegen den Ausverkauf. Ende Juli wurden sie daher mit Waffengewalt dazu gezwungen, Reden der Minister für Arbeit und Energie zu lauschen, um sich überzeugen zu lassen. Peter Waldorff, der Generalsekretär des ­internationalen Gewerkschaftsverbands Public Services International, schrieb daher dem ni­gerianischen Präsidenten Goodluck Jonathan: »Wir dachten, die Diktatur sei bereits seit einigen Jahren vorbei (…). Es scheint, als ob Sie mit allen Mitteln, selbst mit militärischen, politische Entscheidungen durchsetzen, die nicht dem öffent­lichen Interesse entsprechen.«

Das Muster wiederholt sich in anderen Ländern – auch in traditionelleren Diktaturen wie Swaziland –, und die Angriffe scheinen sich auszuweiten. Vor allem öffentlich Beschäftigte sind damit konfrontiert, dass Regierungen mit wilder Entschlossenheit Sparmaßnahmen und Privatisierungen durchsetzen. Sollten Gewerkschaften und andere Organisationen es nicht schaffen, diese Regierungen davon zu überzeugen, dass sie für die Verletzung von Arbeiterrechten bezahlen müssen, wird die Gewalt zunehmen.

Why American unions support Obama – and why they’re right to do so

Saturday, August 25th, 2012

This article appears in the latest edition of Solidarity. Please post any comments you may have to the discussion there.

Every four years, an odd little debate occurs on the Left.

Here is what happens: An American presidential campaign begins. Someone on the American Left will write an article saying that there is no real choice between Democrats and Republicans and that workers need their own party.

Then left-wing papers around the world will reprint the article, or quote it, and agree with the comrade that workers have no real choice in America and need a class party, a labour party.

Some of those who make the case here in Britain will go further and say that British workers face the same predicament, that the Labour Party hasn’t really represented them for decades and is “Labour” in name only. They will call on those workers to create or support alternative parties such as the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC).

But there are also those on the British Left who say that Marxists belong in the Labour Party as a pressure group, and must be active where the workers and their unions actually are, not in some tiny, marginalized group with no influence.

They acknowledge that for decades that party has not been the kind of Labour Party we’d like, that its leaders no longer question capitalism, support privatisation and cutbacks in public services, won’t support strikes, and so on.

But it’s the only game in town, and that’s why of course we revolutionary socialists must support it, be involved in it, and pressure it to change.

The exact same arguments were made more than a generation ago by Max Shachtman and his small band of third camp socialists regarding the Democratic Party.

When Shachtman first made the case for the strategy known as “realignment”, many unions were not particularly interested in national politics. The AFL-CIO maintained a formal position of neutrality — one which stretched back to the days of Samuel Gompers, who insisted that unions would support their friends and reward their enemies, regardless of party affiliation.

That meant that some unions sometimes supported Republic candidates. The Teamsters were, a generation ago, rather chummy with Richard Nixon (and other unsavoury characters).

To be fair, a generation ago there were such things as “liberal Republicans” in the US who were not particularly anti-union or even anti-welfare state.

And 40 years ago, the AFL-CIO — for the last time — took a position of neutrality in a presidential election, not willing to back the liberal Democrat George McGovern against Nixon.

But over the last three or four decades, there’s been a seismic shift in the American labour movement and unions have become the backbone of the Democratic Party.

In November, it will be union members in their hundreds of thousands providing the bulk of the volunteers in the Obama campaign.

Unions will give many millions of dollars to support that campaign, and the campaigns of Democrats across the country in the hope that their party will win control of both houses of Congress.

And union members will vote overwhelmingly Democratic — even though their counterparts in the working class who are not union members will tend to vote Republican.

The Right in America is acutely aware of this and regularly accuse the Democrats of being in the pocket of “special interests”. (For them, unions representing millions of workers are special interests, but oil companies are not.)

The American Right has declared war on public sector workers and their unions, and has attempted to pass anti-union legislation, with varying degrees of success, in a number of states.

One of the reasons for this ferocious attack on those unions is their ongoing support for the Democrats.

As the Republican reasoning goes, if you can weaken the public sector unions, you weaken your political opponents.

The Democrats are far from being the kind of social democratic party that American workers need. But in that sense, they don’t differ all that much from moderate social democratic parties anywhere else in the world.

Obama didn’t pass the labour law reform that American unions demanded and so desperately need. But the Blair/Brown government didn’t repeal Thatcher’s labour laws either.

If we can understand the importance for revolutionary socialists to engage with the Labour Party in this country, with all its flaws, surely we can understand why the vast majority of America’s socialists have long been active inside the Democratic Party there.

They’re in that party for the same reason we are in Labour here: because they’re serious political people who want to work in the real world.

Egypt’s Unfinished Revolution: The Case of Kamal Abbas

Saturday, August 25th, 2012

An edited version of this article appears in In These Times.

More than twenty years before the fall of the Mubarak regime, Egyptian workers were in revolt. One of the young rebels, Kamal Abbas, a welder at a large steelworks south of Cairo, was arrested as a ringleader of an “illegal” strike involving 17,000 workers. It was the beginning of a long career leading workers in struggles that finally ended with Mubarak’s departure from power.

Abbas headed up the Center for Trade Union and Workers Services (CTUWS), founded just after that strike, which for years maintained a precarious existence, sometimes tolerated, sometimes banned by the regime.

By 2010, Abbas and the CTUWS were recognized by the AFL-CIO and given their Meany-Kirkland award at a ceremony in Cairo. I attended the event, one of a few international guests at a CTUWS conference that we were warned could be broken up at any moment by the police.

It was a time of increasing labor unrest in Egypt, involving not only strikes in giant, sprawling factories but also huge street protests and sit-ins.

During that twenty-year-long struggle, Abbas and the CTUWS were a thorn in the side of the official, state-controlled unions, the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF). As rthe Mubarak government pursued its neo-liberal agenda of privatizations, the ETUF’s role was to discipline the workforce, to ensure industrial peace during a time of change. When the Mubarak regime was tottering, the ETUF brought in its thugs to Tahrir Square to try to break up the protests.

The collapse of the Mubarak regime in 2011 did not bring an end to the ETUF. Among other things, its leaders continued to go on expensive overseas junkets, including participating in the annual International Labor Conference in Geneva.

In 2011, Ismael Fahmy, a Mubarak loyalist still holding down a job as an ETUF leader, was addressing the conference when he was heckled by Abbas — who was attending as the invited guest of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).

It was a minor incident, hardly worthy of note, except that several months later a court in Cairo convicted Abbas in absentia of “insulting a public officer”. Abbas was sentenced to six months in prison, but is currently free as his lawyers appeal the decision.

The case of Kamal Abbas tells us much about what has been happening in Egypt, and what needs to happen next.

When I interviewed Abbas in London last year, he said that “the Egyptian revolution succeeded in removing the dictatorship — but we are only half-way to a democratic state and in transition to building independent unions which are a basis of a more socially just and democratic system.”

Independent, democratic trade unions, free of state control, are at the heart of Abbas’ vision for Egypt, and this remains as true today as it was under the Mubarak regime.

The international trade union movement has understood this, and the ITUC launched an international campaign demanding an end to the persecution of Abbas earlier this year, run through the LabourStart website.

Meanwhile, the courts continue to delay ruling on his appeal, and the case continues.

Munich and the Left, 1972: The American SWP’s turn to anti-Semitism

Thursday, August 2nd, 2012

This article also appears in Solidarity – please add any comments there.

This may be news to some, but what is today commonplace was once quite rare. I’m referring to anti-Semitism on the far Left — and am reminded of what some of us saw as a turning point back in 1972.

For a quarter of a century following the defeat of Nazi Germany, anti-Semites everywhere were laying low — especially in the West. The Soviet leadership was growing increasingly anti-Jewish and anti-Israel, and anti-Semitism was rife in the Arab world, but in countries like the USA, it was quite rare for Jew-hatred to be expressed openly. And certainly not on the Left.

So while there were various degrees of criticism of Israel — especially of Israel’s brand-new occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, Sinai and the Golan Heights — these took place at a time when anti-Semitism remained taboo.

That’s why the Munich massacre of that year — and particularly the reaction of America’s largest far Left group to it — was such a shock.

The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) was then still riding on a wave of support following its successful leadership of a large part of the anti-war movement during the Vietnam years — a war that was still raging. Its youth section, the Young Socialist Alliance, was strong on many college campuses. And it was still at that time pretty much an orthodox Trotskyist organization, though was later to drift.

When 11 Israeli athletes were killed following the attack by Black September terrorists, most political activists either grieved or denounced the terrorists. Some would have criticized the botched German government attempt to rescue them.

But not the SWP.

In its weekly newspaper “The Militant”, the SWP ran an article on the “real victims of the Munich massacre”. And the real victims, in their eyes, were not the 11 innocent Israelis, but … the Palestinians.

An editorial in “The Militant” following the Munich massacre labelled the world outcry as a “hypocritical roar of indignation” whose purpose really was “to make the criminal look like the victim” and said the massacre itself was merely a mistake in tactics.

Those of us who were in the Socialist Party, at that time still under the ideological leadership of Max Shachtman, were shocked at the SWP’s stance.

Our youth section, the Young Peoples Socialist League (YPSL) produced a flyer for distribution at SWP and YSA events where we bluntly accused our former comrades of having crossed the line from criticism of Israel to hatred of the Jewish state — and of Jews.

The SWP was shocked at the allegation and responded by publishing a series of articles in “The Militant” defending their record in the fight against anti-Semitism, going back to the Second World War.

Looking back at that today, it strikes me what an innocent time that was.

Today, if a group on the Left is accused of anti-Semitism it rarely goes to the lengths that the SWP of 1972 went to defend themselves.

Accusations of Jew-hatred are today greeted with a shrug.

What was so shocking 40 years ago — that a socialist organisation would identify somehow with a brutal terrorist attack on innocent people if those people happen to be Jewish — is commonplace now.

In the decades that followed the Munich massacre, the SWP drifted away from Trotskyism and lost nearly all of its members, leaving only a tiny organisation left, bereft of all influence.

But the poisonous legacy of anti-Semitism remains.