Events in France

Recipe for Revolution: Independence, Democracy, Solidarity and the Will to Win!

By Bonnie Weinstein

In an October 26, 2010 New York Times article by Steven Erlanger, titled, “French Senate Passes Pension Bill,” described the massive French strikes against the latest attack on the living standards of workers—increasing the age of retirement. The article revealed the true essence of the French workers’ rage:

“Others said that the government should further tax the wealthy instead and warned, like Grégory Tobeilem, 33, a professor of history and a member of the C.G.T. union, that Mr. Sarkozy had ‘already planned further attacks on the system, like for social security.’ A goal of many protestors, he said, is ‘to show that we’re fed up with the fact that they want us to pay for the crisis of their system.’ … Sophie Frebillot, 19, a philosophy student, said that student assemblies over the past few weeks were ‘increasingly being fed by an outcry that’s growing more and more generalized,’ and then cited ‘tons of problems in society in general, and this movement against the pension reforms allows us to express that discontent, too. She said she would continue to protest, citing a previous government’s bow to student pressure in 2006 to abandon a law on youth unemployment. ‘That means that everything a government does, the street can undo,’ she said.”1

Not just French workers, but workers across the globe—no matter how they may identify themselves politically—understand that they are being forced to pay for the bailout of the same wealthy elite that caused this world capitalist economic crisis.

The French strikes are not just about the assault on pensions, they’re about all the cuts in social services that were won through past workers’ struggles. The workers of France have put their foot down—as a class—whose interests are diametrically opposed to the interests of the capitalist ruling class.

French workers are demanding that the money to fund what rightfully belongs to all workers come from the wealthy who have been bailed out, and who have caused this crisis in the first place by transferring huge sums of the wealth these workers produce to their own private coffers.

French workers have also experienced what all workers across the globe are experiencing who are still working, i.e., increased production and productivity and no increase in pay. Fewer workers are working harder and faster, producing more for the boss, but earning the same or less than they did in the past. And now they face new and deeper assaults on their living standards with no end in sight.

The working class of France is taking this knowledge to the next step. They are taking action—en masse—to reverse these economic attacks against them. They have acted as a united working class to stop production and profits to demand that the wealthy pay. They are demanding that taxes for the rich be increased; that profits be confiscated to pay back the money stolen from workers. They have made the profound distinction that they, as a class—the working class—stand on one side of a clear line of self-interest. And that the boss and the government henchmen hired by the boss—the capitalist class as a whole—stands squarely on the opposite side of that line. That’s why the line is called, “the class line”—a clear line demarcating the interests of the bosses on one side and the interests of working people and their allies on the other.

That is the form these strikes in France are taking. And they have a dynamic of their own. Once the consciousness of the diametrically opposed interests between the working class and the capitalist class are absorbed by the majority of working people, the solutions to all kinds of problems workers face in everyday life become not only clear, but within reach. These are the conclusions the French working class are coming to.

“…everything a government does, the street can undo.”

The quote from Sophie Frebillot from the New York Times article above, “…everything a government does, the street can undo,” is a very profound concept. It is the foundation of working class power and control. The difference between working people in France and working people in the U.S., however, is that the French workers are expressing their outrage against these economic assaults independently of the ruling, bourgeois parties.

While working people in the U.S. also understand that they are being forced to pay for the bailout of the wealthy elite, they do not recognize the Democratic and Republican parties as exclusively representative of the capitalist class. They remain under the illusion that either or both of those parties can, somehow, represent all the people of the United States—including working people. Or, that there can be a party that represents the interests of both the bosses and the workers.

Dispelling this illusion is crucial to the defense of working people. It is all about knowing who are your enemies and who are your friends.

The problem with the U.S. labor movement

In another article that appeared in the New York Times on October 29, 2010 by Richard Pérez-Peña titled, “Program by New Jersey Union Grooms Candidates:”

“Ballots cast throughout New Jersey on Tuesday will list hundreds of candidates, their parties and the offices they seek. But for 53 candidates, the ballots will not say one of the most important things they have in common: union-approved. These people running for town councilman, mayor, county freeholder and other posts are graduates of a state A.F.L.-C.I.O. program to recruit, train and support candidates for public office who are union members or who support pro-union policies. The program, which costs the union about $250,000 a year to run, has groomed more than 160 current officeholders—the overwhelming majority of them Democrats—including eight members of the Legislature, 12 county freeholders, 18 mayors and a county clerk.”

This debilitating affliction of the labor aristocracy’s all-out support to the Democratic Party was starkly evident at the massive October 2 “One Nation Working Together” rally in Washington, DC for “Jobs, Justice and Education for All.”

In order to be clear about the nature of this event I have quoted from the official website for One Nation Working Together, the organization that was responsible for the event.

Here’s the official statement from the One Nation Working Together website published on the day of the rally:

“One Nation Working Together Official March Release

“October 2, 2010

“One Nation Working Together Program Focuses on Issues, Mobilization and Everyday People

“Unfamiliar faces and familiar leaders unite in rallies from Lincoln Memorial to cities and towns across America for jobs, justice and public education

“Washington, (October 2)—As of 3:00 P.M., an estimated 175,000-plus people from across America—representing all 50 states and our country’s great diversity—joined together at the Lincoln memorial to re-claim the American dream and raise their voices for jobs, justice and public education. One Nation Working Together released the following statement:

“’It’s inspiring to look out and see so many people—even more than we even expected—from so many different places coming together as one nation in support of jobs, justice and public education,’ said Leah Daughtry, national campaign director of One Nation Working Together. ‘This is an important moment in the progressive movement. As each person returns home and continues to rally others as we head to the ballot box on November 2, we re-commit ourselves to our common future.

“’This is true democracy and good old-fashioned organizing at work.’”

Clearly, the purpose of this action and the intention of this organization are unambiguous, i.e., to get out the vote for the Democrats on November 2, 2010 as the means to insure Jobs, Justice and Education for All. They took the handle, “Jobs, Justice and Education for All” because they know that is what working people want. They also want an end to the wars, but that was left out.

In fact, they say nothing whatsoever about the U.S. wars and occupations; Obama’s continued use of torture, renditions, secret prisons, arrests and even assassination of U.S. citizens. It says nothing about Obama’s expanding prison industrial complex; nor Obama’s ongoing FBI raids and grand jury subpoenas against antiwar and social justice activists.

It is also true that most of those who attended the October 2 action were there to fight for Jobs, Justice and Education for All, not to be channeled into Democratic Party politics. But, they became a captive audience, captured by the Democratic Party and by their own labor leadership who are beholden to the Democratic Party.

Antiwar intervention

Bringing the antiwar and anti-corporate bailout messages, and how they impact the lives and welfare of working people here and across the globe, would become the responsibility of the antiwar and social justice movements attending the October 2 rally.

The good news is, the crowd was enthusiastically receptive to antiwar and social justice messages and cool to the constant barrage from the official platform to get out the vote for Democratic Party candidates on November 2.

You could hear this plainly during Harry Belefonte’s speech. When he spoke against the wars he got cheering ovations. When he pleaded with the audience to vote Democrat—there was audible and visible evidence of a much less enthusiastic response from the crowd.

Those who were opposed to the wars—who recognized the connection between the costs of the wars and their own economic hardships—took the antiwar signs. The antiwar and social justice movements brought slogans that resonated with the people—the soaring costs of war; the huge transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich; the trashing of all our social services and our infrastructure; the loss of our civil liberties and civil rights; the huge prison industrial complex that funnels children from overcrowded schools to prisons.

These issues resonated with those at the rally because that is the reality of their experience in life. And as their children are coming of age, workers see that they have been doomed to a second or third-tier life!

In fact, one of the most progressive aspects of the French workers’ revolt is the cross-generational unity—from grade school to college students—in support of the French workers’ demands that the rich should pay for the crisis they caused.

In a sense, the labor aristocracy has forced workers in the U.S. to, so to speak, throw their own kids under the bus by adopting two and three-tier contracts that doom working class youth to poverty wages and pre-union conditions.

By going there with antiwar banners, posters and flyers opposing the wars and connecting the costs of the wars with their economic impact here, the antiwar and social justice movements became the independent, working-class voice among a sea of pro-Democratic Party rhetoric from their “labor leaders.”

The politicians, the labor leaders and the NAACP were at the top of their game spouting the same rhetoric of getting out the vote for the Democrats November 2 and not even mentioning the wars. Their message: electing Democrats is your only hope, and best chance of getting any crumbs to trickle down to working people.

But it was a difficult sell since under Obama, the crumbs have not been trickling down and the war spending and corporate profit-grabbing has been soaring.

The problem with funneling workers into the Democratic Party is that it pulls the rug out from under them. Instead of workers organizing themselves independently to fight for
our common interests, which inevitably leads working people to oppose war, and injustice—including economic injustice—it leads them, instead, to rely on the bosses’ politicians to do the fighting for them. It’s asking the slaveholder to fight for the freedom of their slaves.

The disconnect between the Democratic Party pep rally atmosphere and the extreme economic hardship felt by the workers attending the rally was palpable in Washington, DC October 2. And this is where the rally fell far short of a real, independent workers protest.

October 2 was not a democratically organized protest

The reason the antiwar and anti-corporate bailout demands were not brought forward from the official stage of the rally is because workers were not democratically involved in the organizing of this action. This action was organized by the labor aristocracy and the NAACP in cooperation with the Democratic Party for the express purpose of funneling workers’ righteous dissent back into the Democratic Party and steering them clear of independent action and organization.

Any independent movement of the working class, if it hopes to win victories against ongoing capitalist assault, must be democratically run. And must represent the will of the majority and have the power to carry out that will.

The massive, independent demonstrations in France supported overwhelmingly by the French working class and their allies is a quintessential expression of democracy in action. It is a dramatic expression of a majority “voting with their feet” through unified mass action in its most powerful form—in the streets while withholding their labor, thereby threatening and challenging the accumulation of private profits of the wealthy ruling elite.

Its logical conclusion is the ultimate showdown between the working class, its natural allies, and the class that enslaves them, the capitalist class. The current revolt in France is the embryonic stage of the ultimate showdown certain to come.

That means, the leadership of this movement must come from the ranks of the working class based upon how well they are able to defend the interests of and carry out the decisions of the majority of working people after full, free, open and democratic discussions and votes.

This process is beginning in France. These massive demonstrations in the streets are not only independent of the capitalist parties, but their organizers have roots in anti-capitalist parties; revolutionary, socialist and communist parties that are independent of, and in opposition to, the French capitalist parties—including some capitalist parties who even call themselves socialist while also claiming to represent the interests of “all”, i.e., the bosses as well as the workers. This is a formula that benefits only the capitalists and is designed to disarm the working class.

The lesson, “…everything a government does, the street can undo” is now ingrained as an indelible truth among the French working class and is bound to impact the consciousness of workers across the globe, including in the United States. It is a battle cry for the unity and solidarity of all workers and their natural allies to stand on their own side of that class line in defense of the weakest among us. It is the battle cry of an injury to one is an injury to all and we are only as strong as our weakest link. This is the unified battle cry of the workers movement that cuts across all the superficial differences that the capitalist class would have us fight about instead of fighting them. Most importantly, it extinguishes the power of the capitalist class. It exposes its fundamental and profound weakness—that it represents the interests of the wealthy elite—a tiny minority—at the expense of the rest of humanity, the overwhelming majority of whom are workers. Democracy is that which represents the interests of the slaves over the slaveholders.

What next?

The French workers have made the most progress toward a real workers’ movement for fundamental social change. It’s only natural that with the experience of having “voted with their feet” in the streets and the massive strikes and student actions that have and still are being carried out, that discussions are sure to be taking place among French workers in their homes, in their communities and on their jobs if they are working or when they return to work.

As powerful as the actions in France have been, they still have a ways to go. It’s a good beginning. They have organized across industry, across ethnic and religious grounds with the inclusion in the general workers protests of the Roma, undocumented immigrants living in France who are being deported and demonized by the French government and who recognize that they will not benefit from any retirement program since they are deemed “illegal” and are at the mercy of the streets for survival as are undocumented workers here in the U.S.

The strikes and demonstrations have garnered the overwhelming support of the majority of the people of France—workers, small business operators, immigrants and students, the poor and the outcasts.

But the challenge for this movement now is whether it will evolve into a consciously, anti-capitalist, pro-socialist revolutionary workers’ controlled and democratically run movement, designed to wrest state power away from the capitalist class, and take it into their own hands.

In order for this movement to grow and be victorious it must evolve into an international movement with a clear class line—one that cuts across all borders in an unbroken line of defense of the interest of the world’s working-class majority and in opposition to the interests of world capitalism.

This kind of democratically structured worker’s organization that can take up the common cause of workers everywhere is the entire basis upon which workers will gain the power to change the world and to structure a new world. It is the only effective means of launching a true revolutionary struggle of working people that can actually lead, once and for all time, to victory over slavery.