Spring has arrived. The sun is shining, the leaves on the trees are turning green, the flowers are blooming... but more important than that, the working class is mobilising. As the plants and animals awaken after their winter hibernation, so too it seems the working class is getting ready for a hot spring.
We have long argued that the future of Europe could be seen in the extraordinary events in Latin America. While we can't say that the degree of mobilisations and actions on the part of the working class in Europe is at the same level as say Venezuela, Mexico or other Latin American countries, we can point to the awakening of the working class.
After a period during which the working class in Europe suffered attack after attack on working conditions, wages, and living standards, as well as the destruction of the welfare state, it would seem that the workers are standing up and saying "Enough is enough".
The bourgeois continually tell us that we are in a boom. According to the books this is a record setting boom - in terms of the profits of the multinationals and the enormous, and frankly disgusting, salaries of their respective CEOs and board members. But this is a peculiar boom in that it has meant nothing for the working class. An economic boom generally means that the bourgeois can afford more reforms for the working class - improved wages, working conditions, as well as improved provisions from the welfare state. But what has this boom meant? It has meant, as mentioned above, wage cuts, mass sackings, "downsizing", etc. This is a boom erected on the backs of the working class - on the squeezing and application of more pressure on the workers.
Even as this boom appears to be nearing its ignominious end, the working class is mobilising. As the exact nature, i.e. the depth and duration of the coming "correction" cannot be known in advance, neither can the response of the working class be known. A serious slump could take the wind out of the sails of the working class. However, on the other hand, after years of attacks, a serious slump may be just the thing that sets off an explosion of the class - the momentum is certainly there.
Aside from the remarkable mobilisations in France and Denmark over the last few years, and the massive public sector strike in the UK (which would appear to be the first signs of the spring thaw), this momentum has picked up on the continent over the past few months. Even a cursory glance at the headlines will show this. There is no space or time to go into any of these movements in any depth, but let's have a quick look at these extraordinary events of the last few months.
The German economy has been limping along with abysmal growth rates for years. To recover profits and keep the whole thing afloat, the German bourgeois has taken to squeezing the working class even further. The German bourgeois is now, almost step by step, following the plan laid out by the British ruling class in the 80s and 90s. In response there has been a wave of strikes in Germany, in the public sector and of the transport workers in Berlin. The closing of a Nokia plant also sparked off a wave of protest. There is general economic uneasiness and political instability, expressed above all in the growing support for Die Linke (the Left Party). The stage is being set for a major showdown in Germany. This is extremely important for the European working class. As the most powerful working class in Europe in the most powerful economy of the EU, the mobilisations of the German working class will be extremely important for the rest of Europe, and could set the precedent for the years to come.
Greece has long been one of the weakest links in the chain of European capitalism, and has witnessed a near continuous state of mobilisations for the better part of two years. In 2007 there were the massive student demonstrations and mobilisations against the privatisation of the universities. This was followed this year by a series of general strikes against cuts to pensions and social security. There was a general strike in December 2007, followed by a three-week struggle of public sector and municipal workers, culminating in the massive general strike at the end of March this year.
Portugal, another of the weak links and sick men of Europe, has also seen a series of mobilisations on the part of the working class - the biggest in 20 years. Portugal has been in economic crisis going on seven years or more. GDP growth is low, even negative in certain years. To "correct" the situation, the bourgeois has mercilessly attacked the working class and its conditions. The story is the same here as everywhere in Europe - attacks on trade union rights, "flexibility", attacks on pensions and an increase in the retirement age, and attacks on social security. There was a massive demonstration in April of last year during the European summit, followed by a general strike in May of the same year. And this year in March, there was a massive mobilisation of teachers, followed by a massive Communist demonstration a few weeks later - reflecting the growing radicalisation of the working class. A left wing is now crystallising in the Socialist Party, which could prove to an important development in the future.
In Spain, there has been a continuous series of strikes. There have been student mobilisations, smaller factory strikes, and the mobilisations of the Barcelona and Madrid transport workers. Even Switzerland, the so-called model of economic success and social peace, has seen the militant strike action of the railway workers in Tocino.
Slovenia has also seen a series of massive mobilisations over the last few years. In November of last year there was a mobilisation of some 70,000 workers against wage cuts and attacks on conditions, etc. The Slovenian workers were promised that joining the EU would mean improvements, but it has only meant attacks and a general deterioration in conditions. This mobilisation was followed by the massive demonstration and work stoppage in March of this year, involving some 145,000 workers (remember that Slovenia only has a population of about 2 million!).
These actions in Slovenia were followed up by the European Trade Union Confederation demonstration held in Ljubljana in April, during an EU finance minister's summit, calling for improved wages and conditions for European workers.
This demonstration revealed something rather important - the complete vacuum on the left. There were no left parties visible on the demonstration. And how could they be present? In most cases, it is the "left" parties, the Socialist, Social Democratic, and Labour Parties which are carrying out these attacks on the working class (while at the same time, as mentioned above, conflict is growing in these parties as a left wing is crystallising in some countries). This marks important opportunities for the Marxist tendency. With the virtual collapse of the left, the Marxists stand to make important gains, and can significantly increase their support amongst the working class. The reformist parties can effectively offer no way out of the situation.
Spring is upon us, and by all accounts the working class is waking up from a long slumber. There is, essentially, nothing that capitalism can do, nothing that it can offer, to solve the problems of the working class. Economic conditions demand that these attacks be carried out. In fact, economic conditions demand that they be deepened and extended. There is no end in sight on the basis of capitalism - the workers must find a way back to the ideas of socialism. Yet, at the same time, these same economic conditions demand that the working class fight back. The interests of the ruling class and the working class are irreconcilable. The bourgeois scream "more cuts, more cuts" and the workers shout "Enough is enough". The stage has been set for a "Hot Spring" in Europe.