Thursday, October 29, 2009

US: Why we need a general strike to win against the massive attacks on students and workers

(a Balance Sheet of the October 24 Mobilizing Conference to Save Education held at UC Berkeley)

The September Day of Mobilization

The reformists and fake-leftists who, are at the moment in charge of the emerging student/workers movement on the California campuses, have a limited perspectives of sporadic one day “strike”, and protests that only exhausts, demoralizes and lead the movement to a dead end. This strategy does not bother the ruling class.

First we need to qualify what is a strike. A strike is a fundamental tool of the working class in the class war. The capitalist class does not give any concessions unless it has to under the pressure of antagonistic forces and power of the working class. A real strike must be enforced by solid uncrossable and if necessary violent picket lines. The picket line is the means of the working class to defend itself. Taking them to their logical conclusions the picket line turns from a defensive tool into offensive tools: from picket lines to defend strikes to workers’ defense guards to defend the overall needs and conquests of the working class, leading ultimately to the struggle for power to overthrow capitalism. The first rule for a strike to win is: it needs powerful picket lines. The second rule is that nobody crosses the picket lines. Without these fundamental rules a strike is not a real strike.

With this in mind the September 24th day of action was not a day of strikes it was a day of protests where many students cut classes and some workers were AWOL. The students and the workers who participated in the walkout did not set up serious picket lines. At UC Berkeley, for example, the picket lines were set periodically in one location and they did not seriously try to stop scabs from going in to work or class. So thousands of students went to classes and ignored the day of protest. During the big rally in the middle of the day, our organization went into the Administration building to see if the workers honored the strike. We found out that the majority of the workers were working all offices were open and doing business while 5,000 were “on strike” just feet away on the steps of the building!

The lessons are that a day of protests a couple of times a year do not work. They do not force the capitalists and their servants at the Board of Regents to stop the relentless attacks. In turn, the ruling class will go on with its plans of raising fees (in reality tuition) in January, and laying off staff and faculty members in the middle of March 2010.

From the very beginning the strategy of the reformists in charge of the movement was to derail it to go nowhere. The type of protests they initiated without real strikes are particularly ineffective especially when the capitalist system is in the deepest crisis since the 1930’s. Right now the capitalists want to destroy the public education system as part of their drive to lower the standard of living of the US working class, to that of the workers in the semi-colonies that US imperialism enslaves. Obama has unleashed education secretary Arne Duncan to privatize, the as of yet not-for-profit frontier of, public education. The threat of educated proletarian youth rising up to stop their plans through united action with workers makes them tremble with remembrance of May ’68. The only way to restore the US capitalists’ profits is through brutal competition against other imperialist rivals to drive down the wage base and expectations of social services in the United States. This is being done right now in conjunction with their attacks on workers wages, security and conditions in semi-colonies. The brutal attack by majority stockholder Warren Buffet on the Kraft food workers in Argentina last month is one of hundreds of such attacks on workers across the semi-colonies.

Any anti-capitalist mass movement must take as its starting point these objective conditions. Since the ruling class is in the middle of brutal attacks against workers and students, the only way to stop it is to use the powerful fist of the mass movement. In order to win we must have mass picket lines shutting down all the colleges, and the universities in the state until the demands are met. This shutdown must be enforced by massive picket lines that prevent anyone from crossing them. If necessary scabs and the thugs of the state must be dealt with by force of the mass pickets. The reformists do not want to take this road because they have no strategy for socialist revolution and have taken to themselves the job of perpetuating illusions in capitalism’s ability to be “tamed”. In turn they have become the tools of the bosses ideology in the movement serving capitalism by channeling the anger of the workers and students into the strategy that the capitalists gladly accept: toothless protests.

The big Betrayal on Oct. 24th

Saturday’s Mobilizing Conference to Save Public Education showed that the vanguard of the working class in California consists of working class youth and young workers who are ready to organize a general strike before the massive tuition hike in January. The young students and workers, many of them are Latinos and black, want to take up the militant traditions of class struggle in the Bay Area. But the reformists CRIMINALLY derailed the Conference to nowhere. Despite claiming, in the agenda, their intention to launch action which can “win” the conference closed without a winning strategy, without demands and with actions too far in the future to have an impact on the looming attacks we face..

The Conference was attended by between 700 and 1000 delegates from different state universities, colleges, as well as over 100 K-12 educators. Dozens of different unions’ members attended. The self appointed leadership (who call themselves facilitators) was composed primarily of an organization called LA VOZ de los trabajadores. It is a reformist organization that is centered in Latin America around the International Workers League, and it is known for its Spanish name the LIT. The LIT is responsible for many betrayals of the working class in Latin America (for an extensive expose see HWRS website ).

As we explained in our flyer for the Oct. 24th Conference the LIT “creates and perpetuates illusions in capitalism’s ability to deliver by calling for an elected Board of Regents instead of fighting for student/worker/teaching faculty control of the university system. Their faith in reform is made apparent in a banner headline in their press, La VOZ de los Trabajadores, asking: ‘OBAMA ARE YOU LISTENING? WE’RE FIGHTING BACK!’ As if, this ‘bought and paid for,’ pretty boy of Wall Street, whose job it is to impose the cuts, will turn his back on big capital and put the interests of the working class”.

The LIT’s method of derailing the Conference was re-enforced and supported by other left organizations such as the reformist fake Trotskyists of Socialist Action (Usec), International Socialist Organization (ISO), Socialist Organizer and The Revolutionary Workers Group. We joined the militant youth in a battle against the reformists from the very beginning of the conference, our speaker called on the conference, to organize an indefinite extended general strike by the students, union workers and the oppressed based on a transitional program (a bridge between the present consciousness of the working class and the Socialist Revolution), to loud applause. The only political speech the LIT member gave was by a cadre, whose only politics was to say that the Conference’s purpose was to build . . .a big movement against the attacks. The rest of the LIT’s interventions were about logistics to destroy the democracy and derail the Conference.

This was not an accident. The reformists came prepared and the various fake socialists joined forces, to prevent ANY POLITICAL DISCUSSION in the Conference. They came prepared to prevent any discussion of the demands of the movement and they accomplished their task. They explained this shamelessly in Agenda itself: “The conference will not be voting on top demands or voting on the specific demands of the statewide action. Why? The process of collectively discussing and deciding on top demands is a very long process and there is simply not enough time at today’s conference to adequately and democratically do this.” (from the agenda of the conference).

So the self-appointed administrators of the conference, not elected by the conference participants, bureaucratically decided in advance that the conference will not come out with demands. It should go without saying that the agenda should have been decided upon by the students and workers at the conference. Only a democratic voted agenda can decide or not decide what are the tasks of the conference. It should not have been up to conference’s jailers (self-appointed administrators) to decide this in advance! This is not only a complete abuse and betrayal of workers democracy, but it even below the standard of corrupt formal bourgeois democracy. And secondly, how can the mass movement take any “actions” against the capitalists and their attacks without demands and a program to fight for? The only answer these reformists led by the LIT had was . . . in a later conference!

The LIT and their few supporters in the podium deliberately stopped all political discussions by giving each person one minute to speak, although their own agenda (that was never voted on by the people) suggested 2 minutes a person. Instead of a political discussion about demands and program these rascals stated that people should put their suggested demands in a . . .box to be dealt with later. The well known class traitor, sporting his AFL-CIO jacket, Alan Benjamin of the mis-named Socialist Organizer group became the enforcer for this policy by opposing a proposal in the K-12 workshop session to call on the conference to address demands in the afternoon session, Benjamin argued we must follow the conference agenda as if it was written in stone and even though it was never voted on by the conference participants.

The second part of the Conference was broken to smaller groups for “discussion” and suggested resolutions by each group. HWRS participated in two workshops. One of these workshop consists of a proletarian group of the community colleges (which are a two years colleges for working class youth working for associate degrees with hopes of moving to the state university but most likely find themselves on a trajectory to gain a trade skills or more likely end up unemployed), the other was a teacher K-12 workshop. There were two hundred plus strong working class youth in the community colleges workshop. And once again the LIT and Revolutionary Workers Group members appointed themselves as administrators. But against all their maneuvering HWRS put forward a resolution for an indefinite general strike to be prepared and coordinated in the universities, colleges, the unions and the oppressed communities. Despite the reformists efforts to stop it, it passed by a clear majority. Then a student’s resolution to start an indefinite general strikes in the universities starting March 4th also passed.

Yet, when the general assembly re-convened the LIT and their backer on the podium deliberately ignored the agenda and the democratically voted resolutions for a general strike. According to the agenda there was supposed to be “open discussion of proposals and voting” between 2:30 and 4:00.. But the self-appointed bureaucrats went straight to the vote without any discussions. When we objected, to the deliberately ignored and the democratically voted upon resolutions for a general strike, we created an up -roar in the hall. We received loud support particularly from Students from San Francisco state University and UC Santa Cruz who are clearly in the vanguard of the student movement. We raised objections to the reformist concept of having “actions” and “strikes” without a program or demands.

The LIT and their supporters answered that this could be dealt with in the . . . next Conference. The LIT (and their supporters on the podium) wickedly maneuvered, proposing to vote as one bloc dozens of proposals (in which one of them was about the general strike), thus totally diluting and preventing a vote on specific actions such as an extended general strike. Then they destroyed the whole purpose of the conference by proposing that each school will decide separately what actions . . .they (each school) want to do. Jeff Mackler of Socialist Action played a big role in this particular diversion. To add insult to injury the reformists passed a resolution for a “a day of actions and strikes on March 4th, with another general assembly sometimes in February”.

This was a massive betrayal because on January first the state will impose a significant hike in fees. Thus the “action” will take place two months after the fee hike, and many students will likely feel betrayed and demoralized. And in the middle of March there planned layoffs of faculty and staff (this was the reason for an indefinite strike in the universities starting March 4th that one of the students raised.). Obviously one day of protests two weeks before the layoffs is not a winning strategy despite the agenda promising to forge one.

Ten minutes before the end of general assembly (after most people already left) the reformists allowed a “discussion” on program, which was originally allocated one and half hour. In this miserable 10 minutes, each speaker was allowed only 30 seconds, and the laundry lists of demands was deferred to the conference in February. This was such a colossal betrayal of revolutionary politics and basic concepts of workers’ democracy that we can even say that it is a betrayal of . . . the LIT’s own reformist politics. They no longer practice the classic reformist concept that, “the movement is everything and the program is secondary.” Now the LIT’s politics is that the program is nothing, the movement is secondary, and the movement’s logistic is everything! Oct. 24th was an illustration that the bourgeoisie does not necessarily need Social Democracy and Stalinism to stop the mobilization of the masses. All the fake Trotskyists have lined up for the job formally done by the Stalinists and the Social Democrats and they are doing a fine job for the capitalists.

The fake Trotskyist left led by the LIT destroyed the conference’s potential to spark militant joint worker and student actions across the state and nation. They defused the potential to organize and launch an indefinite general strike in the universities and potentially in coordination with key unions in the heat of battle today. The Richmond teachers, the San Francisco Hotel workers, the furloughed state workers and the Palo Alto city employees; all have voted strike authorizations and are strike legal today, and would gain strength from an immediate and indefinite strike call coming out of the conference. But the conference lost the possibility of being the spark to unite these struggles.

Despite being sabotaged the potential to launch a winning fight is not lost. The Oct 24th conference illustrates that a mass movement is beginning to heat up in the US, and that there is a strong proletarian vanguard in the movement. We will do everything we can to energize and support this vanguard with revolutionary theory, actions and spirit. The students want an indefinite general strike before the tuition’s hike in January. We will work with the students from San Francisco State and other colleges who are working to organize an emergency conference to build for such a general strike. We know from history that when the working class and the oppressed in the US start fighting back they move very fast. We also know from history that a leadership and revolutionary program is critical for a successful upsurge. This is why our group the HWRS is joined in the middle of the fight with the rising vanguard of the youth, the students, workers and the oppressed.

Humanist Workers for Revolutionary Socialism, October 27, 2009

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