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On November 27, the trade unions will fight for the bosses, not for the proletarians!
The workers must take the fight into their own hands!
The largest trade union headquarters in the Czech Republic (ČMKOS, ASO) have announced a protest against the government for November 27th, which will take various forms – several unions will strike for an hour, educational unions will strike all day, and a protest demonstration will take place in Prague at midday; it will be the culmination of a “strike alert” – as the trade unions say – against the consequences of the government’s “consolidation package” (which is to consolidate public finances and reduce the structural deficit of the state budget by amending 65 laws), changes in the pension system, non-reduction of the retirement age for labour-intensive professions, increase in energy prices, …
The ČMKOS, which represents 31 unions with around 270,000 members, initially declared the “strike alert” on 15 May 2023 and organised a week of protests at the end of June with the aim of reaching a dialogue with the government to find a rational solution and “prevent the government from approving these legislative changes”. At a demonstration by OS KOVO in Ostrava-Vítkovice on 27 June, which brought together several hundred people, including metalworkers from all over the country (Škoda Mladá Boleslav and Bosch Jihlava), chairman Durčo said, on the issue of raising the retirement age, that “we don’t want to die at work”; however, what bothers him most is “that the government is not conducting social dialogue”. Durčo evaluated the demonstration (with less than a thousand participants, which was the culmination of that week of protests) very positively, as a clear signal to the government, and added that if the government does not conduct social dialogue or somehow modify both the consolidation package and the pension reform, the trade unions are ready to intensify their activities and that they are preparing various protests, while the threat of a general strike is still in place. How did the demonstrators react? They have responded to criticism of the government by union bosses, student representatives and other union leaders by loudly honking, whistling and waving flags; instead of demonstrating a determined will to take up the fight, they have merely expressed their hopes that the union leadership will not prepare the same defeat as in the past…
As for the ASO, which is supposed to represent 200,000 members and whose main demand is that the Czech Republic should have a small and austere state and no debt in the state budget from 2025 onwards, it declares that it “cannot accept the economic and social developments (…) which are drastically reducing the living standards of citizens, increasing the price of electricity, food prices and taxes, and therefore joins (…) and organises (…) an action intended to express civil protest against the current actions of the government”. As far as we know, the ASO has prepared four amendments to be presented in the Chamber of Deputies by some MPs, with the ASO waiting to see how it turns out; and if it turns out badly, the ASO “will have to reflect on it and find some solution (…) so that this situation does not happen again”. ASO President Dufek is clearly referring here to the next election and how to personally benefit from it.
In general, the unified struggle of workers on the basis of an agreement between their individual unions can be seen as a positive step. However, apart from the formal announcement of collaboration between the two largest centres, there has been no preparation for proletarian mobilisation! Nor could it have happened, given the politics of class collaboration that characterises these unions, and given the fact that already at the aforementioned June demonstration of the metalworkers in Ostrava-Vítkovice, the unions’ protest against raising the retirement age was generally limited to a demand for the introduction of a lower retirement age only for the most labour-intensive professions – clear first evidence of the betrayal of the majority of the workers! Moreover, the very first meeting of the centres, held on 10 July, already ended with a mere recommendation on collective bargaining to respond to the government’s measures, with the proviso that, by mutual agreement, unspecified protest actions could take place in the future. But beware! As for pensions, an amendment came into force on 1 October that worsens the valorisation of ordinary and early pensions, disadvantages early pensions and will require 40 years of insurance for early pensions from next year; the official unions, of course, have not reacted.
Apart from the unions’ empty lamentations, the government nevertheless passed the so-called consolidation package in the Chamber of Deputies and sent it to senators for approval. At midnight on 31 October, the ČMKOS announced the end of the nationwide “strike alert” and replaced it with… a day of protests under the slogan “For a better future of the Czech Republic”; there was not a hint of the threat of a general strike declared by Durčo earlier! According to Josef Středula, the leader of the ČMKOS, “it is necessary to speak out and one cannot just stand by”, and in order not to “stand by”, he ran to ask for help from the President of the Republic, Peter Pavel. During the meeting, Středula, the candidate who later withdrew from the presidential election from which Pavel emerged victorious, asked him – although he had already signed the law of the first wave of the attack on pensions – to veto the government’s consolidation package because “it will not have a positive effect”; by doing so, according to Středula, Pavel would send a strong signal to the public that he perceives the situation in the country… However, Pavel, former Chief of the General Staff of the Army of the Czech Republic and former chairman of the NATO military committee, knows that “we are at war”, and therefore proletarians must die for the interests of capital both in war and at work!
The proletarians are, in fact, experiencing a deterioration of their existential conditions. The transfer of various goods between the new levels of consolidated taxes, the reintroduction of a levy on workers’ sickness insurance, the abolition of certain tax exemptions, the 65.2% increase in the price of the motorway vignette, changes to the previous tax reliefs for companies on employee benefits, rising rents, rising energy prices (in the case of electricity, the reintroduction of renewable energy charges, an increase in the charge for the regulated component and the rise in electricity prices predicted by some experts following the abolition of capping and because of the international situation), the fall in the purchasing power of wages and salaries (September 2023 was the seventeenth month in a row that retail sales have fallen in real terms), including the attendant effects of the changes in the indexation of pensions – all of these measures, which dramatically worsen the living standards of the proletarians, would require an all-out struggle against the government, against the bourgeois ruling class, which, for the sake of its profits, plays with the lives of the wageworkers, whether employed or unemployed.
As far as pensions are concerned, the unions have done nothing against the latest disadvantageous changes. They have already resorted to grotesque protests at best: for example, in the case of the extension of the insurance period from 25 to 35 years in 2008, they declared that they were “ready to organise demonstrations and strikes, but provided that there is a chance, confirmed by the unions, that the actions will be truly mass” and provided that “people’s anger will be greater than fear and indifference”. There is only one reason why these demonstrations and strikes should not be seriously prepared and organised, and that is to prevent them from happening in the first place. With the same arguments, the traitorous socialists of the Second International did not prepare and organise strikes against the war, even though they declared so at their congresses in Stuttgart in 1907 and Basel in 1912; on the contrary, on 14 August 1914 they voted for war credits supporting the entry of their countries into the first imperialist world war, on the justification that the workers… wanted war!
In the same vein, today the unions are in favour of modernising the administration of the capitalist system, and therefore the “pension system”! All the changes in pensions, the whole liberalisation of the labour market, night work that goes against health, physically exhausting work, shift work, etc., promote exclusively the interests of the employers, and the collaborationist unions are fulfilling the task of subjugating the proletarians to the needs of capital and diverting the proletarians from the struggle for the basic demands, i.e. the increase in wages and the shortening of the working day, to the support of bourgeois interests. The president of the ECHO union himself admitted that “in the past, when negotiating collective agreements, we have tried to focus on the benefits part and not push so hard on wages”; what will be left of benefits in retirement, with damaged health? The OS KOVO itself says that it has called on its base organisations to communicate with the management of the companies, saying that the protests are not directed against them, but basically in support of them; they do not want to “primarily harm any employer, the protests are really directed against the government”; as if the government were an entity in any way disconnected from the class conflict between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat! The real reason for the current trade union action is: the struggle for greater competitiveness of Czech enterprises because the adoption of the consolidation package will “increase the production costs of enterprises” due to the reintroduction of charges for renewable sources of energy, its distribution and transmission. For them, this is merely an action to push the government to “put forward proposals for pro-growth measures”, i.e. to support entrepreneurs, when the government meets with trade unions and employers on 4 December. Period.
The unions’ appeal is part of the pre-election fight ahead of the next elections, when the electorate should get even with the political parties and coalitions going into the elections; that does not mean that there will be two opposing programmes and two opposing blocs. After all, back in 2017, when the government of the Social Democrats (now SOCDEM), ANO (Action of Dissatisfied Citizens) and the People’s Party capped the retirement age at 65 – ANO was initially against this capping, but then backed down – the law already contained options for revising the cap if, according to statistics, people born between 1966 and 1995 lived more than a quarter of their lives in retirement! All bourgeois parties are in favour of extending the period of exploitation of wage labour and drastically reducing the cost of pensions to the state so that these funds can be redirected to support national enterprises; they only differ on how to achieve the same result.
The unions’ appeal for the next election is necessary to preserve the passivity of the working class and prevent any independent action; it is a support for democratic mobilisation, which allows the proletariat to be bombarded with slogans about delegating the struggle to these treacherous experts of the collaborationist unions and bourgeois parties, even if they are “left” parties, and to defend the bourgeois order, the collaboration between the classes, and to call on the proletariat to sacrifice its health, its old age, its life, for the prosperity of the enterprises and the national economy: the interests of preserving the profits of the capitalists in the first place!
Are we against the protests? Let’s be serious: in France, millions of people took part in the recent protests against the pension reform, yet the government adopted the changes anyway. The problem is not the protests themselves, but whether they are a toothless spectacle, and whether the struggle is left in the hands of the apparatuses sabotaging the struggles themselves because despite the huge number of protesters, such a struggle is rather a stillborn child. And it is from these struggles that the correct classist lesson needs to be drawn, both regarding the recent protests in France and regarding the myth of the general strike, whose impact, like that of any strike, depends above all on the orientation and objectives of those who lead it: are the interests at stake genuinely proletarian and classist, or are the interests and objectives inter-class and national, i.e. democratic?
Are we opposed to the participation of workers in the protests of these trade union centres? To expect these trade unions to play even a small positive role without at the same time representing a bigger ball on the foot of the workers themselves in the future is a great illusion. For example, the strike at Nexen Tire, by which the workers forced the bosses to listen to their demands after four years of unsuccessful union negotiations, ended with the local OS KOVO committing to actively participate in the further development of the company, to restore its image and to act so that the workers work conscientiously and without absenteeism because “the company and its employees are no different and have the same goal”. Today’s trade union centres, in order to carry out their task as servants of capital, must prove that they can channel the proletariat’s impulses to struggle; therefore, the protests they organise, the threats of strikes or the strikes of a few hours that they announce, if they cannot avoid them due to the pressure exerted by the workers’ base, systematically aim at being mere valves to relieve the pressure of the workers so as not to obstruct the capitalist economic machine, not to endanger economic growth. For us, to participate in these protests, in these strikes, means to bring to them class orientation, experience of the classist struggles of the past, lessons of previous struggles; it means to propagate in them the means and methods of the class struggle against trade unionist and political collaborationism, with which the opportunist forces paralyse and deflect the workers’ struggles; it means to show the proletarians that there is another way of struggle, one of classist character, that is, the proletarian struggle independent of the forces of social conservation and opposed to the positions of inter-class collaboration and waged exclusively in defence of the class interests of the proletariat.
Today, classist workers’ militants can only enter the workplace union activities largely from outside, yet they cannot abandon or renounce their propaganda and efforts to organise the workers in independent union organisms, whether for the sake of establishing and strengthening workers’ unity – that is, to fight against competition among the proletarians because it is one of the most insidious and effective weapons that bourgeoisie has used since its rise in history to control and subordinate the masses of the proletariat to its demands – as well as to combat the sabotaging influence of the union leaders who act as agents of the bourgeoisie within the ranks of workers. On the other hand, an effective defence of the living and working conditions of the working class is not possible without striking the economic system of the enterprises and their organisation of work, exclusively aimed at the exploitation of the wage-labourers, which is the basis of the capitalist mode of production.
The effective and permanent defence of proletarian class interests in the immediate as in the wider, political, field consists in the recognition that the interests of the proletarians are incompatible with those of the capitalists, and in the mobilisation of proletarian forces for exclusively proletarian objectives, which means fighting by classist means and methods (indefinite strikes in support of economic and immediate demands, bargaining under conditions of active and uninterrupted struggle, pickets against scabs, solidarity demonstrations by workers in other factories, mass strikes in factories of the same industry, etc.); the means and methods which only class, i.e. non-collaborationist, organisations can put into practice in the preparation for, conduct and termination of the struggle.
It is clear to us that the rebirth of the powerful classist movement will need the constant and unyielding work of the most militant proletarians, the most concerned by the fate of their class, who will have to take up the task of forming the backbone of a new independent proletarian organisational network; this task will not be able to materialize on the only basis of workers spontaneity: it needs and will need the constant and unyielding work of genuine revolutionary communists, both as bearers of class consciousness organised in the Party and as defenders of the future of the revolutionary class movement in the struggles of the present day.
To this task we, the International Communist Party, contribute with our work.
November, 13th 2023
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