We are starting a new section: a weekly news report that puts into perspective the short term and its relationship with the interests and mobilizations of workers around the world.
The front pages of the global press and news broadcasts are increasingly full of distracting noise. Today, despite the media pressure up to the very last moment, we are supposed to be experiencing a “global climate general strike”. This obviously turned into a failure, because the workers did not stop anywhere where they were not forced by a cool-looking employer-directed lockout. But that doesn’t subtract an iota of poison from a “movement” in which a good part of the world bourgeoisie, from Obama to Merkel have invested part of their strategies. Another electoral circus has already begun in Spain. In Canada as well. There, the campaign is focused on a new Trudeau scandal: when he was young, he got into blackface for a costume party… In summary: empty noise, noise and noise. The week we do care about hasn’t gone that way.
There is no single month in which there are no further cuts in economic growth prospects, i.e. in the results of accumulation. This week the OECD made a general pruning of expectations. It turned into the lowest global growth forecast in a decade.
It is this growing difficulty in finding markets in which to sell production and destinations in which to place capital that drives trade warfare and imperialist tensions. Not the other way around. That is why the same powers in conflict do not expect any political change to generate a change in the economic trends. The real cause of the conflict between the two powers is not political but systemic and can be summed up in one word: imperialism. There is no possible “solution” within the system, only truces.
As we can see in the table above, the OECD added to its forecasts a calculation of the direct effects of Brexit on accumulation in Britain itself and in the EU. Brexit is actually a two-track circus.
The main track is a battle between two factions of the British bourgeoisie: the one that does not want to renounce the continental market as the main centre of its activity and the one that wants to align itself with the US in the perspective of forming an “Anglo-Saxon bloc” like the one that is already emerging in the space war.
On the second track, the EU, especially Germany and France, is trying to maximise “compensation”. And the main “compensation” is called: Ulster. In the form of a new, anguished race against the clock, the spectacle of a sadistic imperialist game develops. The European objective is to keep Ulster within the European market with an autonomous government, only formally British, under the tutelage of Ireland and with a “hard” border between the two great British islands. If the London government wants to keep the border open on the island of Ireland and at the same time avoid customs between the two islands it can only keep the whole country within the customs union. That is to say, in practice, to leave the decision-making bodies of the EU while abiding by all its decisions and trade alliances.
What is the only possible solution for the philo-American interests represented by Johnson? Accept the EU’s ability to impose conditions and place the border between the two islands. If this strategy is delayed it may lose control on the first track definitively and the brexiters would lose the internal battle. That’s why the’re so insistent on not asking for a new extension after October 31. And that’s why Juncker says the solution is getting closer and closer: the Irish unionists themselves seem to accept that the battle to maintain the British presence in Ulster will come after a break-up in the Irish institutions themselves.
Brexit is not, however, the most pressing inter-imperialist point of friction of the moment. From Egypt to Iraq, imperialist tensions are on the verge of bursting. Following the bombing of the network of Saudi refineries last Saturday, we are at a critical moment, surely the closest in a long time to an open war. Both Saudi Arabia and Iran are at the same time very much alike – in military projection and weapons capability – and one step away from gaining a “decisive” advantage. For those who are left behind, the temptation to launch an attack before losing the possibility of a strategic victory is great. The contradictory nature of alliances can “accidentally” hasten a large-scale war… but also drastic U.S. twists and turns with diplomacy and conciliatory gestures. In reality Israel and Saudi Arabia have already begun military reprisals against Iran.
In fact what we see all over the world, including under weaker capitalisms like Cuba, where a new “special period” began this week, is a capitalism in which it is increasingly difficult for national capitals to maintain accumulation. The inevitable result is a growing tendency to clash violently with their competitors and to multiply the efforts to harden the conditions of exploitation of workers in each country. There is no clearer possible example of the frontal clash between capitalism as a system -producing war, precariousness and impoverishment- and human needs.
Humanity cannot exist as an emancipated conscious collective subject under a class society. However, capitalism produces a very particular class, a universal class that is the only one that can raise and realize its overcoming: the modern worker, the proletariat. We are a universal class not only because the global expansion of capitalism extended wage labor all over the world under the same institutions -the generalization of wage work-, but because our demands do not seek any privilege or obtain anything at anyone’s expense. We as a class simply demand generic, universal needs.
That’s what we’ve seen in the two big mobilizations this week: Chubut in Argentina and General Motors in the United States. If in Argentina the fundamental demand was the most fundamental possible – to receive already insufficient overdue wages – in GM it faced precariousness and impoverishment by affirming the old slogan of “equal work, equal pay”; that is, the workers affirmed their unity as a class, what we Marxists call centralism. In both cases and predictably enough, the development of the struggles clashed with the unions and their logic.
The union that called for the strikes in GM raised the struggle affirming that “We stood up for GM when they needed us”. Their argument is that now that the company has better results it can “compensate” part of the calamities imposed on its workers during the crisis that the union itself approved. That is to say, the union starts by assuming from the outset that all workers’ demands must be subordinated to capital making a profit. But in a capitalism such as the one we have just portrayed, subordinating demands to the good results of capital – dividends – cannot mean anything other than collecting more and more “sacrifices” from the workers. It is impossible to progress and fight successfully under that premise.
In Argentina, the teacher unions of Chubut have already disguised twice the unification and extension of the struggles in the region, which occurs spontaneously, leading the strikes to a national sectional strike. This is no surprise. We know of no case in which a union doubted even when it had to choose between the development of the struggles and the maintenance of its control over the workers.
In both GM and Chubut the same lesson emerges. In order to advance in the struggles, to impose general human needs on the hunger for dividends from an increasingly violent and anti-human capital, it is necessary to get rid of union tutelage, organize assemblies, elect strike committees, take the struggle into our own hands and extend it by the same means, that is, unifying from company to company, assembly to assembly, without making differences of sectors, unionization, type of contract, with or without documents, subcontracts.