In the Face of an Impotent «Week of Protest», Appeals for «Social Dialogue» and Delays by Union Leaders, the Proletarians Must Take their Struggle directly into their own Hands! For Class Struggle against all Attacks by the Capitalists and their State!
(«Proletarian»; Nr. 20; Autumn-Winter 2023)
The largest trade union confederation in the Czech Republic, the ČMKOS, after announcing a strike alert on 15 May 2023, a precursor to workers’ protests, is launching a week of protests at the end of June against the government’s austerity measures, which include the so-called pension reform. This is another step to «bring the government to the negotiating table on proposals for measures to get the country’s public finances in shape»…; and the ČMKOS has already drawn up its «own set of measures» for the recovery of the national economy to «mitigate» the impact of the government’s austerity package on workers and their families. However, the trade unions, «instead of open dialogue, which is the only way to find a rational solution», are, in their own words, facing a government that blames everyone else for its bad decisions.
Although the leader of ČMKOS, Středula, has declared that «the purpose of the upcoming protests is to prevent the government from passing these legislative changes», in reality he is making it clear that this is only a means of pressuring the government to restore «social dialogue», to make the government «listen to the workers» (i.e. to their representatives – the largest trade union organizations), so that the impact of austerity measures is not only borne by the workers. The union leaders are just buttering us up – as if the government is not fully aware of what it is doing, as if it is not only serving the interests of the capitalists, and as if social dialogue, i.e. class collaboration, is not always detrimental to the working class! The ČMKOS only wants to be a partner and mediate the attacks of the ruling class on the working and living conditions of the workers by dividing them into small and partial steps that are pushed through gradually. This is the real content of class collaboration, of that social dialogue to which the trade unions commit themselves and by which they deceive the proletariat!
Středula has clearly indicated what the unions will resort to if the government does not listen to them - but don’t expect the preparation of mass and unlimited strikes that would damage the profits of capitalist enterprises and the smooth functioning of the state! «I hope that the voter will remember when the next elections come around – including European, Senate and regional elections – how they are behaving, and that they will give these political entities a fair count», tells us this unsuccessful presidential candidate. Is it possible that by this sentence he means that he will next try for the Senate or the European Parliament?! This would not be an exception: many of his former trade unionist colleagues have found a place in these institutions (Falbr, Štěch, Zavadil…).
It is our duty to demonstrate that only the independent proletarian class struggle is the way forward. In France, in 1995, there were huge struggles of more than two million people who, with hard strikes on the railways and transport in Paris, which lasted three weeks with the occupation of the main stations and the blocking of rail transport, and which also involved other enterprises such as the post office, etc. forced the government to abolish the then so-called Juppé Plan (i.e. abolition of «special pension schemes» previously granted to certain strategic categories of workers of the public sector…); it did not succeed, however, in forcing the bourgeoisie to retreat from its plan to prolong the working life of the proletarians by raising their retirement age. Why? Because the proletarians placed the leadership and organization of their struggles in the hands of the official trade unions, which then, as now, proved to be the guarantors of social peace and saboteurs of the workers’ struggles.
But it is also our duty to point out the myth of the general strike, which is strongly present in the working class. The success of the general strike, like any other strike, depends above all on the orientation and objectives of those who lead it: are they the real and class interests of the proletariat, or the inter-class and national, i.e. democratic, interests and objectives? The example of May and June 1968 in France: it was the most important general strike of the workers’ movement in that country (and in Europe) – 8–10 million strikers, tens of thousands of occupied enterprises, even the smallest ones, a movement that lasted two months... yet its results were minimal, much poorer than the strike movement of May and June 1936, when there were far fewer strikes; the 40-hour work week won in 1936, abolished in the pre-war period, was not restored in 1968; the reforms of health and social security – to the workers’ detriment, of course! – for which the trade unions staged two general strikes in 1967 – were not rejected; the reduction of the retirement age to 60 was not achieved; the wage increases achieved were swallowed up by inflation a few months later. The enormous force that formed against the bosses in the workplaces at that time did not translate into a force to obtain the demands, because the self-proclaimed «representatives of the workers» – the trade union leaders – are in fact, as good reformers, primarily defenders of the interests of French capitalism, not defenders of the workers. Therefore, a future general strike left in the hands of the apparatuses sabotaging the struggles can only be a stillborn child.
In the Czech Republic, too, we have an example of the fact that struggle – an unlimited strike – is the lever to advance workers’ interests. As we wrote in our article Some lessons from the Strike at Nexen Tire: «In any case, what the largest trade union in industry, OS KOVO, has failed to achieve in four years of so-called bargaining, the workers have managed to recover (…) by finally going on an indefinite strike.» So it was only the indefinite strike, the force, that made the bosses listen; the bosses, and by extension their capitalist state, only understand force, not chatter.
However, unions like OS KOVO want the strike to be seen as «always as the ultimate tool in the enforcement of the rights of employees» because, as they themselves endlessly repeat, they are the defenders of social peace! To expect these unions to prepare massive and unlimited strikes and to be a lever of power for the workers is a great illusion! These unions – which we call class collaborationist for the reasons they themselves profess, and whose aim is to inculcate in the proletarians that they and the enterprises, the national economy, have the same goal, to tie the workers to the success of «their» enterprise in the struggle with the competition in the market – exercise their power by imposing in every agreement the maximum subordination of the workers to the demands of the enterprise, rationalizing the work operations, diverting even the smallest protest activity and reaction of the workers towards negotiations and compromises through the labyrinths of state organs, lawyers, thus rendering the workers completely defenseless and defeated from the beginning. It is therefore not surprising that OS KOVO downplayed the Nexen Tire strike as if it were merely a «misunderstanding between the parties», and moreover, in a joint statement with the management of Nexen Tire, committed itself to «mutual cooperation so that the company, the workplace of all employees, becomes a stable and respected company (... ), to restore the honor and name of the company» and that «trade union and the company will actively participate in the ongoing second phase of the expansion and will do everything possible to stabilize it», as well as that the OS KOVO will «encourage employees to comply with regulations and to work conscientiously without absenteeism» because «the company and its employees are no different and share the same goal».
There was a time when workers in their immediate defensive organizations had to face treacherous union leadership in their struggle to defend working and living conditions; today’s unions, however, have for decades fully embraced their role as managers of the workforce, guarantors of social peace, and advocates of inter-class collaboration. In fact, the ČMKOS is the heir to the pre-November 1989 trade union regime, a regime that, while pretending to be «socialist», was no different from capitalist regimes in the West. There is not a single union organization in the Czech Republic today that can even remotely be described as combative, one that uses the methods and means of classist struggle, i.e. the struggle that exclusively promotes the immediate and economic interests of the workers.
The Czech workers’ movement, which lacks historical tradition, direct experience of a real class struggle, must start from scratch; and it must overcome a certain kind of defeatism which has its roots also in the long series of defeats and unsuccessful protests through which the workers have passed under the leadership of the collaborationist trade unions. The strike must be a weapon of the workers’ struggle, not just its last tool to be used, and moreover according to rules imposed from above!
The effective and lasting defense of proletarian interests, even on the immediate terrain, consists in recognizing the incompatibility of the interests of the proletariat, of the class without reserves, and those of the capitalists, and in mobilizing proletarian forces for exclusively proletarian objectives, which means struggling by classist means and methods (indefinite strikes in support of economic and immediate demands, bargaining under conditions of active and continuous struggle, picketing against scabs, solidarity demonstrations by workers from other enterprises, wildcat strikes without prior notice and without fixing an expiration date, etc. ); by means and methods which can only be put into practice by class, i.e. non-collaborationist organisms in the preparation of the struggle, its conduct and its conclusion. The defense of this struggle, the establishment of a class pole and the attempt to influence the workers at least partially, if possible even within the framework of today’s unions, in this way, has always been our position; with the perspective of uniting all the workers in a united classist defensive economic struggle – not fragmenting the working class and separating the most combative workers from those indecisive and still under the influence of inter-class collaborationism.
The strong class movement will not be able to emerge only on the basis of workers’ spontaneity, but needs and will need the constant and continuous work of genuine revolutionary communists, both as bearers of class consciousness organized in the party and as defenders of the future of the class and revolutionary movement. It will also need the constant and unremitting work of the most combative and most sensitive proletarians to the goals of their class, who will have to take on the task of forming the backbone of a new independent proletarian organizational network capable of uniting in the struggle against the bosses, their state and capital in the most homogeneous way proletarians from different sectors, different categories, different ages and nationalities.
- Against the pension «reform» and against every bourgeois attack, for the class orientation in the struggle, breaking with the defeatist orientation of the organizations of collaborationism!
- Unity in struggle of all proletarians, in public and private sectors, employed and unemployed, active and retired, men and women, young and old, Czechs and «immigrants»!
- Drastic reduction of working hours and lowering the retirement age!
- General increases in wages, unemployment benefits, pensions and all social minima!
- Against all discrimination, equal pay for equal work!
- For a revolutionary struggle against capitalism, against its war preparations and imperialist domination, in unity with the proletarians of the whole world!
June, 24th 2023
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