Tuesday, November 13, 2012

General Strikes and Demonstrations Against Austerity Tomorrow

Across Europe tomorrow (November 14) there will strikes and demonstrations against the austerity measures being driven by national governments, the European Commission, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank. Below is the call issued by the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) Executive Committee on October 17 calling the mobilisations.

Declaration adopted by the ETUC Executive Committee at their meeting on 17 October 2012

  1. The ETUC Executive Committee meeting on 17 October 2012 call for a day of action and solidarity on 14 November 2012, including strikes, demonstrations, rallies and other actions, mobilising the European trade union Movement behind ETUC policies as set down in the Social Compact for Europe. 
  2. They express their strong opposition to the austerity measures that are dragging Europe into economic stagnation, indeed recession, as well as the continuing dismantling of the European social model. These measures, far from reestablishing confidence, only serve to worsen imbalances and foster injustice.
  3. While supporting the objective of sound accounts, the Executive Committee consider that the recession can only be stopped if budgetary constraints are loosened and imbalances eliminated, with a view to achieving sustainable economic growth, and social cohesion, and respecting the values enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights. 
  4. Fiscal consolidation had a sharper effect than originally estimated by Institutions, including the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Indeed the IMF now admits that they grossly miscalculated the impact austerity measures have on growth. This miscalculation has an unmeasurable impact on the daily life of workers and citizens the ETUC represents, and brings into question the whole basis of austerity policies advanced by the Fiscal Treaty and imposed by the Troika. 
  5. The Executive Committee note mounting opposition among citizens and workers in the countries concerned and reaffirm their support for affiliated unions fighting for decent working and living conditions. This situation results from the lack of coordination of economic policies and the absence of minimum social standards throughout Europe. In the context of free movement of capital, this gave free rein to competition between states, in particular in the field of taxation, labour costs and social conditions. 
  6. They reiterate that social dialogue and collective bargaining are central to the European Social Model. They strongly oppose the frontal attacks on these rights, at national and European level. The ETUC Executive Committee urgently calls for immediate adoption and transposition of the European social partners agreements currently before Council. 
  7. They recall that the Union is treaty-bound to “work for the sustainable development of Europe based on balanced economic growth and price stability, a highly competitive social market economy, aiming at full employment and social progress, and a high level of protection and improvement of the quality of the environment”. They further recall that the ETUC’s support for the Lisbon Treaty was mainly predicated on the full application of those objectives. 
  8. They note that discussions are currently under way among Institutions and governments about the desirability of further treaty changes. A change of direction is necessary and priority should be given to resolving the crisis in line with the three pillars of our proposed Social Compact for Europe, which is gathering increasing support. This is articulated around social dialogue & collective bargaining, economic governance for sustainable growth & employment, and economic, tax & social justice. 
  9. They insist that active solidarity, social progress and democratic accountability must be an integral part of the European project. They consider as essential that a social progress protocol to be included as an integral and operative part of any new treaty. The ETUC will evaluate any new step in European integration on this basis.

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Monday, September 17, 2012

Chicago Teachers: As long as it takes to win a good contract

Elizabeth Schulte and Alan Maass
Socialist Worker
14 September 2012

UPDATE: On Friday afternoon, at a meeting of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) House of Delegates, CTU leaders said they had reached an agreement on what they called the "outlines" of a new contract. The details need to be finalized, they said, but they hope to have a proposal ready for delegates to vote on at a meeting on Sunday. If approved then, the contract would go to the entire membership for ratification, though classes could resume on Monday. The CTU House of Delegates voted on Sunday to not suspend the strike and to give delegates two days to hold discussions with the Union's 26,000 members about the draft agreement between the Union and the Chicago Board of Education.

STRIKING TEACHERS in Chicago walked the picket line for a fourth day on Thursday with raised hopes after leaders of their union said they thought they were closer to an agreement on a new contract.

But as Chicago teachers know full well, you can't trust Mayor Rahm Emanuel or his personally anointed millionaire school board to follow through on any promise unless they're forced to. Negotiations won't be over--or the strike either--until Chicago Teachers Union officials have an agreement in hand that they can share with the union's 26,000 members.

Emanuel has been gunning for the CTU since before his election as mayor in 2011. He thought he could intimidate and abuse the teachers into submission, and then flaunt their concessions to prove he was the new boss in Chicago.

But the teachers stood up to this bully. Last June, nearly 90 percent of all CTU members--and an incredible 98 percent of those who cast a ballot--voted to authorize a strike. When the time to walk came on September 10, teachers hit the picket line and haven't looked back. If union leaders are making headway at the negotiating table, it's because of this determined mobilization.

The CTU's House of Delegates was due to meet for an update on negotiations at 2 p.m. on Friday, and as talks broke up after midnight, there was no news of a deal. So teachers and their supporters will continue with daily pickets--and prepare for a mass rally on Saturday that they hope will show the full scope of support for the union. The demonstration will begin at noon at Union Park, at Ashland and Lake, west of downtown--the site of the very first of the mega-marches for immigrant rights in 2006 that shook American politics.

As one teacher said on a West Side picket line Thursday: "We've achieved more in four days of striking than in 10 months of negotiations. But it ain't over 'til it's over. We're standing strong until we see what's being offered--and not from the anti-union Chicago Tribune, but from our union. It's only by staying strong, continuing to mobilize support, and exposing the injustices in our educational system that we will win."

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THE STRIKE continued Thursday with energetic pickets lines in the morning at schools across the city--and then a demonstration of tens of thousands at a downtown Hyatt hotel.

Protesters focused on the Hyatt because Penny Pritzker, heiress to the Hyatt family fortune, sits on Emanuel's appointed school board--and her company has taken millions in funds from the city's Tax Increment Financing (TIF) system, basically a slush fund for the mayor to funnel taxpayer dollars to his developer pals, rather than give them to schools and poor communities, where the money is desperately needed.

All eyes are on this battle for Chicago's future--here in the city, and around the country--because it is so clearly about more than teachers' wages and benefits, as important as they are, but the future of public education.

Speaking on behalf of big business and the political establishment, the Chicago Tribune published the latest in a series of editorial rants Thursday arguing that Emanuel's war on the teachers was of historic importance: "Chicago Teachers Union officials aren't merely fighting City Hall. They're fighting the inevitability of education reform. They are denying the arc of history."

But teachers know a little something about history, too--and the high stakes in this struggle. On every picket line, they talk about the importance of their fight for themselves, their families and their students, but also for other educators. Donielle Lawson, who teaches special education at York Alternative High School, located inside Cook County Jail, told the Chicago Tribune: "Other schools and strikers around the country can realize we should no longer be bullied."

Lawson said she was looking forward to discussing the lessons of the CTU's struggle with her students inside Cook County. "They're all too familiar with bullying and societal injustices, so it would be a very easy conversation with them," she said. "They're all fighting cases right now."

The city has been cranking up its anti-teacher propaganda machine to full volume--and they have plenty of allies to call on among those connected to the Democratic Party political machine.

For example, a group of religious leaders published an open letter in the Chicago Sun-Times urging teachers to go back to work. "We do not side with the Mayor, the Chicago Public Schools, or your organization," the letter claimed. "We side with the 350,000 students who will be placed in harm's way if you lead Chicago teachers into a strike."

As the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky pointed out, "Of course, by writing this letter, they're very much siding with the mayor. Because if the union calls off the strike, they lose what little leverage they have to force the tough and powerful people who run this city to give them even a fraction of what they want."

This is the new favorite mantra for Emanuel and his supporters on the City Council: The teachers should go back to the classroom while union leaders meet with CPS officials to work everything out.

Only none of the 33 City Council alder-sheep who demanded a return to work in a letter to CTU President Karen Lewis have had anything to say about negotiations between teachers and the city since they began 10 months ago. Their first signs of interest date from the day the teachers went on strike.

That's yet more evidence of the importance of this courageous strike by Chicago teachers. In the last few days, they've done much more to focus attention, not only their own cause, but on the struggle to defend public education in general--for people around Chicago and the country.

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THE SAME goes for the chorus of voices suddently talking about failing schools in Chicago, and expressing concern about the students who attend them. But only now--after the teachers have gone on strike.

If these schools are failing, it's not because of the teachers, but because they've been starved of resources--right under the noses of city officials. As a direct result of supposed "reform" schemes, schools in poor neighborhoods have been underfunded until they are deemed "failing." Then, they are closed or "turned around"--or replaced by a charter or selective-enrollment school.

Last winter, the Board of Education unanimously voted to close or turn around 17 neighborhood schools rather than devote greater resources to them. Six of the schools were slated for takeover by the politically connected charter operator Academy for Urban School Leadership. In other words, they were slated to make a profit.

The schools left to die on the vine are in poor and disproportionately Black and Latino neighborhoods, of course. As thousands of protesters chanted at Wednesday's march at Marshall High School on the West Side, "Hey, Rahm, we're not fools--we won't let you ruin our schools!" Earlean Green, a member of the local school council at Marshall, described the twisted priorities of Emanuel and friends:

Why are the public schools paying for private schools? When our students go to charter schools, and they don't come up to par, the first thing they do is put them out. They send them back to the public schools, but they don't send the money with them. They keep the money. When they come back to the public schools, and they don't come up to par...they put the teachers out.

Rahm Emanuel and his friends aren't fighting for the schools our children deserve. They're fighting for an agenda of privatization, charter schools, high-stakes testing and busting teachers' unions, where the ultimate aim is to destroy public education.

Working-class Chicago is showing what side they're on. The latest in a series of polls, conducted by a generally Republican pollster no less, shows the CTU with far greater support than Emanuel and CPS--55.5 percent of people said they generally supported the decision of the CTU to go on strike.

Teachers--not politicians and for-profit schools pushers--are the best equipped to decide what public education needs to thrive. And in Chicago, teachers are taking a stand to make that a reality.

They need all the support we can give them--on the picket lines for as long as the strike continues, at the Saturday mass rally in Union Park, and in the weeks and months to come.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Europe: Facing the “crisis of our time”

Henri Wilno
International Viewpoint
August 2012

During the 1930s, US president Herbert Hoover liked to say that recovery was “just around the corner”. During the current crisis and most especially in Europe it would be difficult to count the number of statements by leaders (Nicolas Sarkozy was a specialist at this) periodically announcing either the end of the crisis, or more prudently, for example after a European summit, that we are now on the right road.

The situation in June and July 2012 shows, if it were necessary, that nothing of the sort is true. After so many European summits presented as decisive, the Spanish bank crisis combined with the situation in Greece marks a new stage of the financial crisis in Europe.

At almost any time, there could be an acceleration of events in the Euro zone leading to a serious undermining of the single currency and a banking crisis. In this context, it is especially interesting to consider the possible trajectories of European construction.

The economic crisis cannot be reduced to the European crisis
An erroneous vision of the situation tends to be advanced by some economists and journalists: the current phase of the crisis would be linked to the financial difficulties of the Euro zone and this latter would imperil the whole of the world economy. Some leaders, notably those in the United Kingdom and US President Barack Obama, find it useful to project onto Europe the responsibility for the bad conjuncture in their countries. Thus the British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne told the “Sunday Telegraph” on June 10: “our recovery – already facing powerful headwinds from high oil prices and the debt burden left behind by the boom years – is being killed off by the crisis on our doorstep.”
There is no doubt that the situation in the Euro zone amplifies the crisis but the latter is far from being summed up thus. In fact, as Alex Callinicos puts it in an article entitled “The crisis of our times” [1], there are three dimensions to the current situation:


  • the weakness of US and European growth, showing that the initial causes of the crisis have not been surmounted: the accumulated weight of debt, uncertainties about the bank balance sheets, compression of wage demand;
  • the paralysis of the main dominant classes of the Western countries torn by their divisions: ultra neoliberal Republicans vs. Democrats in the USA, divisions between countries in Europe;
  • the end of the illusion that the emergent economies and notably China could come to the aid of the OECD economies.

The uncertainties about world growth have been confirmed by the new projections of the IMF published in mid July, 2012 which note that the recovery of the world economy is showing new signs of weakness.

The economic crisis cannot then be reduced to the European crisis. However, Europe certainly appears as the weak link in the current configuration of capitalism. The Euro zone is indeed experiencing the most calamitous growth of all the big economic zones (-0.3% in 2012, +0.7% in 2013 according to the IMF projections) and its recession in 2012, through the slowing up of its imports, weakens world trade and thus the activity of other countries. It could be added that its financial crisis (the situation of the banks, public debt) increases world uncertainty.

A structural crisis of the Euro zone
Michel Husson’s study "Political economy of the Euro system” analyses the current crisis of the Euro zone with regard to its structural contradictions. At the risk of being schematic, his reasoning can be summed up in three points:

  1. The countries of Southern Europe have lost competitiveness because of high inflation of a structural nature. The latter stems from the process of catch-up (more rapid growth), the mode of training of employees in services and what he characterises in his text as a “distribution conflict” linked to income inequality.
  2. The early years of the Euro allowed the countries of Southern Europe to benefit from lower real interest rates (that is, taking inflation into account) than the countries of the North and the possibility of “risk free” trade deficits. The situation changed with:
    • the policy of wage squeeze in Germany introduced by the Schroeder government (with the Hartz reforms) which improved German competitiveness and thus strongly reduced that of its partners.
    • the crisis and the policies implemented to deal with it, which have increased public deficits and the rate of indebtedness of states and seen the reappearance of external constraints through the interest rates the states have to pay to refinance themselves.
  3. Resolving the debt problem would not deal with the structural difficulties resulting from the heterogeneity of the countries of the zone and the absence of sufficiently serious resources for a convergence policy (weakness of the community budget and so on).
These three elements are especially pertinent. We see now the consequences of the neoliberal turn of European construction. The European Union has always been in its very conception a project of capitalist integration but its development has involved a passage from “Keynesian” economic policies to a neoliberal mode of economic regulation. We can date this turn from the Single European Act, signed in 1986 and entering into force in 1987.

What potential trajectory?
There is however room for discussion around the conclusions that Husson draws from this analysis and concerning the potential trajectory of the EU. One senses some hesitations in reading the text. Husson specifies in his first paragraph that “there are only two responses adapted to the structural nature of the European crisis: either the breakup of the Euro system, or its radical refoundation. The others confine themselves to staggering the contradictions over time or programming a socially unacceptable regression”. At the end of the text he specifies: “the only coherent road is that of cooperative harmonisation. This would rest on a European budget based on a unified tax on capital incomes which would finance the necessary transfers (a harmonisation fund) and socially and ecologically useful investment”. He recalls correctly that the “sweet” variant of the dominant policies (in the manner of Hollande) prolongs the current situation and leads to decades of adjustment imposed on the peoples of Europe. And finally puts forward a variant based on a national but non-nationalist rupture with neoliberal capitalism (with a reference to the programme advanced by Syriza during the Greek elections of 2012).

The debate here goes back to those of nearly a century ago. Leon Trotsky examined thus the possible outcomes of the First World War: “ In the case of an “undecided” issue of the war, Liszt thinks the indispensability of an economic and military understanding of the European Great Powers would come to the fore against weak and backward peoples, but above all, of course, against their own working masses. We pointed out above the colossal hindrances that lie in the way of realizing this program. The even partial overcoming of these hindrances would mean the establishment of an imperialist Trust of European States, a predatory share-holding association. The proletariat will in this case have to fight not for the return to “autonomous” national states, but for the conversion of the imperialist state trust into a Republican European Federation.” [2]

We can discuss the concrete relevance of Trotsky’s analyses of the time. But the concerns which underlie them remain pertinent. Certainly, as has been said above, the European Union is a capitalist project, and that has been strengthened with the Single Act and the Euro. But this does not reduce the illusory, indeed dangerous character of national inflections.

In fact, the question is: how can Europe, and more particularly the Euro zone, survive the crisis? This crisis is a “big crisis”, “the crisis of our time” as Callinicos puts it. We could specify the different potential trajectories as follows, trying not to mix the possible with the desirable:
  • the realist scenario today implemented in the “German” manner is that of an adjustment based on “social savagery” and Hollande’s scenario is only a variant of it
  • these hard line scenarios have a rationality (contrary to what many critical economist think) and they can succeed;
  • but they can also founder on national and/or social contradictions and end up with a redrawing or complete breakup of the Euro zone.
  • the capitalist “cooperative and European" scenario is unlikely;
  • the most probable progressive scenarios are seemingly national ones, but they are not without risk.

The dominant scenario risks break-up
Economists of a progressive Keynesian inspiration tend to stress the limits and illusions of the austerity remedies summed up today by the macro-economic policies advocated by the European Union, for which the Troika (ECB, European Commission, IMF) now constitutes the strong arm. It is indeed perfectly correct that austerity weighs down on activity and public income and thus makes deficit reduction more difficult. But leaving it at this would be a superficial analysis. The economist Costas Lapavitsas has tried to shed light on the rational core of the German policy: “By insisting that everyone must “become German” they [the German leaders] are basically saying that countries with deficits should accept permanent austerity while applying permanent pressure on their workers. They are probably hoping that this would lead to a new equilibrium at a lower level of income across Europe, and perhaps after several years there might be renewed conditions for general growth, somehow”. [3]

In fact, as Yves Salesse has pointed out, the EU is without any doubt a capitalist Europe but it is not “the Europe of capital” in the sense that the big European companies are not the motor force of its construction. Big European capital, financial but also industrial, is globalising and alliances between firms are based on this logic. Rapprochements sometimes take place between European firms, not seeking to constitute “European champions” but above all with regard to the state of the world market. Generally, the links of these firms with national territories grow more distant. A significant part of their profits are realised on non-European markets and their nationality only becomes important in periods of crisis: to obtain aid; to have their interests supported in international trade negotiations; to see their sales facilitated by a President or Prime Minster transformed into a commercial traveller. The recent decision by Airbus to set up an assembly site in the USA (in Mobile, Alabama) is emblematic in this respect. It is about limiting the risks of losses linked to variations in the exchange rate of the dollar, and easier access to Pentagon contracts thanks to the jobs created. Also, Alabama is a state where trade union organisation is rendered difficult by local legislation [4]. Yet initially Airbus was a typical case of a European project initiated in 1969 by the French and German governments (after the British withdrawal).
From this viewpoint, the idea of imposing a budgetary straitjacket on the peoples of Europe and the challenge to their social model is rational. A first experience has been had in Germany with the Hartz reforms mentioned above which have strongly improved industrial competitiveness at the price of significant social costs and increased inequality.

As Lapavitsas says, this scenario could well lead to a break-up of the Euro zone, even if the German bourgeoisie profits from its existence. If we make an analogy with the USA, at the end of the Second World War, the latter spent significant sums (through the Marshall Plan) building an international architecture which politically, militarily and economically suited them. One could imagine the bourgeoisie and the German state making a similar choice in Europe. That would suppose a little less austerity and more flexible rules for the functioning of the ECB and more so-called “stability” funds. That would limit, but not suppress (for the structural reasons given by Michel Husson), the risks of a redrawing or a break-up of the zone.

No European New Deal
The configuration of this possible rupture of the Euro zone would depend fundamentally on social resistance in the countries subject to enforced austerity policies. It is impossible to specify the modalities of this and the consequences which could be devastating for the zone as a whole. But for now, in line with the wishes of the dominant sectors of industry and finance, it is the hard line which prevails.

A European progressive “New Deal” which Michel Husson characterises as “cooperative harmonisation” appears to say the least improbable, as he says himself. There is for now no essential sector of the bourgeoisie which supports it and there is no effective pressure from the European labour movement in this direction. Certainly for the first time the European Trade Union Confederation has opposed a European treaty, rejecting the budgetary Treaty, characterised as a “permanent austerity treaty”. After the European summit of June 28-29, 2012, its general secretary Bernadette Ségol said: “The banks will perhaps be saved, but we see nothing which will save wage earners. The pact for growth envisages nothing new”. but there is a gap between such statements, more radical than in the past, and the preparation of movements of European employees as a whole. Movements which would go beyond days of action or demonstration tending to substitute for strikes and faced with which the governments are not ready to make the slightest concession (as has been shown in Spain and Portugal).

Thus to the great chagrin of those who see it as the sole rational solution, there will be no New Deal at the European level, without unexpected developments. And the radical opponents of neo-liberalism and capitalism are too weak and too uncoordinated at the European level to press radical solutions. The global justice movement is no longer capable of demonstrations like that in Genoa in 2001 which brought together youth and workers (and was subject to strong police repression). The movement of the indignant has for the moment serious difficulties in accumulating enough forces to regain the offensive.

Towards national crises?
There remains then the hypothesis of “big national crises” which lead, in some states, to a situation where those who rule can no longer govern as before and those they rule can no longer bear being oppressed as before. Among the European bourgeoisies there will be winners and losers from austerity policies and globalisation: the winners in the most internationalised sectors, the losers, for example, in the small and medium enterprises, some liberal professions and the state or regional bureaucracies. The challenge to social gains, the dismantling of the right to work, will weigh on all. Greece gives of a foretaste of what such a crisis could look like.

In such a situation several camps would face each other, as in Greece today: those ready to continue to play the card of austerity in the context of the EU, nationalists and anti-capitalists (with of course at the political level many intermediary nuances). The anti-capitalists should be in a position to exert weight and rally a social and political front, both through their radicalism and their ability to provide a solution in terms of political power and the management of society. For Europe, they should make themselves the bearers, as Michel Husson puts it, of “a unilateral rupture with the actually existing Europe in the name of another project for Europe”. That would suppose unilateral measures, in contradiction with the European treaties, both to improve living conditions and set up the bases of a social and ecological development, but simultaneously with the will to aid mobilisation in other countries, broadening the process begun in one state. All this without falling to quote Trotsky’s “Programme for Peace” again, into social patriotism: “it must not be forgotten that in social patriotism there is active, besides the most vulgar reformism, a national revolutionary messianism, which regards its national state as chosen for introducing to humanity “socialism” or “democracy,” be it on the ground of its industrial or of its democratic form and revolutionary conquests”. Because it is certainly another kind of Europe that needs to be built.

* Henri Wilno is a member of the Nouveau parti anticapitaliste (NPA, France) and the Fourth International.
NOTES
[1] Which can be found on the site of the South African magazine Amandla!”: http://www.amandlapublis...
[2] 6. Leon Trotsky, “The Program for Peace” http://www.marxists.org/archive/tro...
[3] “Interview: Working people have no interest in saving the euro” http://www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id...
[4] “I think it’s extremely unfortunate that a company that has been as successful as Airbus with a fully unionized workforce is choosing to go to a ’right-to-work’ state to build that plant. It doesn’t make sense”, said Paul Shearon, Secretary-Treasurer of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers [[ http://www.reuters.com/article/2012...

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Front National: Predictable progress, a danger to fight

Yvan Lemaître
May 2012
International Viewpoint

In number of votes, the far right is growing. It is one of the dangers of the time. To counter it, moral pieties are not enough, when the concrete policy of the left in power is to put itself at the service of the power of money and capital. That is why we need an anti-capitalist party, and a workers’ movement capable of opposing austerity wherever it comes from.

Marine le Pen did not make it to the second round, but she won 6.4 million votes and 17.90 % of the poll. This has a significant impact on the relationship of political forces emerging from April 22 and May 6, and will weigh on the subsequent parliamentary elections.

In 2002, Le Pen and Megret scored 19.20 % or 5.48 million votes, while the CPNT (the “hunters and fishers party”), a part of whose electorate is close to the far right, scored 4.23%. Marine Le Pen thus lost 1.3% but with a higher rate of participation she gained 900,000 votes.

Behind the figures, there are notable developments. The FN vote fell sharply in the big cities and the working class suburbs, where it was often behind the Front de gauche. It fell by more than 5% in Lyon, Toulouse, Montpellier and Nice, and 4% in Lille, Paris and Marseille. In ten big cities out of fifteen, the FdG beat the FN. In five city suburbs in the most deprived neighbourhoods (Grigny, Vaulx-en-Velin, Saint-Denis, la Courneuve and Aubervilliers), the far right went from 20.63% in 2002 to 11.88 %. The FN did not really progress in its eastern bastions stretching from the Gard to the Moselle, on the contrary it went from 10 to 15% in the rural departments of the west (Dordogne, Cantal, Landes, Charente and so on).

Sarkozy lost 1.69 million votes in relation to 2007, while benefiting from some of the 3.5 million voters lost by Bayrou. Le Pen’s gains came mainly from this electorate of the right. Her strategy, seeking to break the ostracism to which her party has been subjected, worked. And this at a time when the defeat of Sarkozy and his politics of flattering far right prejudices while playing footsy with Bayrou has left the right weakened and divided.

Left capitulation, right demagogy

The political mechanisms which have led to this situation emerge from the capitulation and impotence of the left as well as the populist demagogy of the right, amplified by the pressures of the crisis. These are the essential components of a latent political crisis, which rapidly wears out the ruling teams, sharpens the contradictions between deeds and words, and strips bare the lies of the politicians, resented as so many contemptuous aggressions by the workers and the popular classes.

This logic was established in the first presidential term of François Mitterrand, when the right and the left cohabited in the management of affairs. It continued before the crisis came to put left and right policies back to back, both subjecting, through Europe, the interests of the people to the defence of the interests of the financial and industrial groups. The demoralisation of the world of work, struck full on by flexibility, unemployment, the degradation of living and working conditions, generalised social insecurity, has created the terrain on which reactionary prejudices have blossomed. All the more so in that the right tries to maintain its influence over a part of its electorate by playing the same sinister demagogic music, thus aiding the FN.

The left has remained incapable of reacting or offering a perspective, because it is subject to the established order, to the will of the powerful. Its victory does not reverse this evolution because it results from the rejection of Sarkozy, not from a politics rallying the popular classes in a perspective of challenging the dictatorship of finance. It left the field free to Marine Le Pen and her politics which divert social discontent onto the terrain of nationalism, chauvinism and racism.

That said, given the evolution of the FN’s results, the left dynamic expressed above all around the Front de gauche, but also witnessed in the campaigns of Philippe Poutou and Nathalie Arthaud, illustrates the instability of the situation and what is at stake in the coming social and political struggles. Nothing is settled. Certainly, the political developments these elections bear witness to are also taking place in numerous other European countries, with the emergence of far right populist parties or even genuinely fascist formations, using physical violence against the workers’ movement. But there is nothing automatic about this. What happens depends on the capacity of the workers’ movement, both trade union and political wings, to retake the initiative by affirming itself as a force of opposition to austerity policies, including those of the left.

“La chef de l’opposition, c’est moi”

Marine Le Pen wants to create a new party of which she will be the axis, a party of the far right, nationalist and chauvinist, anti-immigrant, hostile to Europe and relying on its collapse, bringing together the FN and a part of the UMP. On May 1 she evoked the beginning of a “historic combat” for “the great party of national coming together”. The next stage will be the parliamentary elections in June, during which she wants to see “a massive entry into the national assembly of the ‘Rassemblement bleu marine’.”

On April 22 the FN scored more than 12.5% of those registered to vote – the threshold for going through to the second round of the parliamentary elections – in 353 circumscriptions out of 577. Even if its vote falls, it has a great nuisance capacity for the UMP. Obtaining deputies is another affair. However, the situation created after the presidential election constitutes a serious warning. It is clear that the influence of the far right, its ability to find a place in the institutional game and in the life of the county, represents a terrible danger for workers. It reflects a degradation of the relationship of forces in favour of the dominant classes.

A necessary counter-offensive

These elections constitute a warning; The left in power will bend to the needs of the markets, and the banks. François Hollande has undertaken to honour the illegitimate and unjust debt. His “humanist” speeches, like those on equality and justice, will in no way prevent him from defending national identity and counter-posing it to immigration.

In this social and political battle which is opening, what matters is not to abandon the terrain to the far right, but to build against it, but also against the neoliberal government , a left opposition force; a force which fights for the world of labour and of youth, to defend their rights, to fight for solidarity among all the exploited whatever their origin in the daily life of the neighbourhoods and workplaces, to combat racism; a force which situates its combat at the level of all Europe, against all nationalist and chauvinist reflexes. The task is to unite the world of labour and its organisations against any policy of austerity, to put an end to the dictatorship of the financial and industrial groups.

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Yvan Lemaître is a member of the NPA Executive Committee. He was formerly a member of the LCR leadership.

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Front de gauche: and now?

François Sabado
May 2012
International Viewpoint

One of the striking events of the 2012 French presidential election was the campaign of the Front de Gauche (FdG) and Jean-Luc Mélenchon: tens of thousands of participants at its meetings, a significant place in the political debate and 11.01% of the vote in the first round, a notable score.

Certainly the FdG leaders had hoped for a result of more than 15% and above all third place ahead of Front National (FN) leader Marine Le Pen. But going from the 5% which had been predicted for them in the polls at the beginning of the campaign to 11%, they have succeed in dominating the space of the “radical left” and marginalising the revolutionary left.

A real dynamic

During this campaign a left reformist political force of mass influence has been reconstructed. This is the result of several factors:  
  • A situation, marked by social defeats, which favours the aspiration and the illusion that “what is blocked by struggle can be unblocked by the election”.  
  • The remobilisation of the forces of the Communist parties (also seen in Portugal, Spain and Greece), resting on the fact that they have not been in government for some years and that they have preserved positions in the apparatuses of the institutions or trade union organisations.  
  • A good campaign by Mélenchon. Defending radical objectives, such as a minimum wage of 1,700 euros or the defence of public services, his speeches invoked the revolutionary imagination of the texts of Victor Hugo and the most glorious moments of the workers’ movement. This alchemy unleashed a political dynamic beyond the parties of the Front de gauche. A campaign which was all the more noteworthy in that it came as a counterpoint to that of François Hollande which was especially dull (to put it mildly).

Ambiguities and contradictions

Mélenchon’s impressive campaign was however heavy with ambiguities and contradictions which justified the NPA’s independent campaign. The NPA and the FdG shared common positions on such themes as social issues (wages, employment, defence of public services) or democratic demands (proportional representation or defence of the rights of immigrants). The two organisations are united in their opposition to the FN. On the other hand, other issues divide them sharply: on nuclear energy, there is a major disagreement between the NPA and the PCF leadership, attached by numerous links to the French nuclear industry.

We share then overall common objectives, and the dynamic around the Front de gauche campaign opens new political possibilities, for their realisation. However, in terms of engaging in a serious struggle and obtaining the implementation of our demands, the PCF and Jean -Luc Mélenchon reject confrontation with the power of the capitalists. They denounce finance, not capitalist ownership. They demand a public banking sector but reject the expropriation of the banks and their nationalisation under social control, preferring to see the private and public banking sectors compete. They denounce the scandal of the debt but reject its cancellation. Mélenchon proposes a repayment of the debt over several years, balancing off the sacrifices between the capitalists and the masses. Here again, it is necessary to be consistent. If we participate in a campaign for a citizen’s audit, it is to prepare the ground for the cancellation of the debt, and not its progressive repayment. The leader of the FdG evokes “ecological planning” without indicating the strategic resources necessary to this planning, in particular, the socialisation of the key sectors of the economy, transport, and energy.

On the political and historic level, the reformist orientation of the leadership of the FdG goes hand in hand with the “republican” positions of Mélenchon. Not those of the Communards, who opposed the social republic to the bourgeois classes, but those of republicans who in their defence of the republic merge the terms “nation”, “republic” and “state”. This conception subordinates the “citizen’s revolution” or “revolution by the ballot box” to respect for the institutions of the state of the dominant classes. Mélenchon freely evokes US imperialism, but not French imperialism. During the presidential campaign he reaffirmed “that in the current situation, the nuclear deterrent remains the key element of our strategy of protection”.

Far from being questions of detail, these conceptions are key elements in Mélenchon’s politics – he will do all he can to channel, subordinate, and render compatible the mass movements and the institutions of the republic. These questions also become decisive in discussing strategy and party or political movement.

What policy towards the Front de gauche?

In relating politically to the FdG, we need to take into account these elements: the dynamic, but also the project; the mobilisation, but also the overall political programme; the renewal of activism but also the policies of the leadership.

Tens of thousands of activists and hundreds of thousands of voters have given a radical, social, democratic content to their vote or participation in the initiatives of the FdG. For them, it is about rejecting the austerity of the right but also the austerity of the left by mobilising together around vital demands like the 1,700 euros, a ban on layoffs, the defence of public services, a regular status for precarious workers in the public sector, the defence of undocumented persons. For our part, we believe it is necessary to go much further than punctual unity of action. Faced with the austerity that a Hollande government prepares for us, we offer the Front de gauche, as well as the others (LO or the alternatives) the construction of a unitary opposition to the government. The NPA is ready for it. And the FdG? This battle is decisive so as not to allow the FN to take up the banner of the opposition. It is this which must lead us to dialogue, in common action, with the activists and sympathisers of the FdG.

At the same time it should not be forgotten that the FdG is a political construction, led by the PCF and Mélenchon and not a simple united front. This is not a party, is already a political movement. That means all is not decided, questions remain open. It seems at this stage that the leaders of the FdG do not wish to participate in the government. Targeting “the taking of power, all power, within ten years”, Mélenchon rules out participation in a government that he does not lead. The constraints of the crisis are such that the PCF seem to choose a formula of "support without participation", already used in the past. Tensions could surge between the leadership of the PCF and Mélenchon. Pierre Laurent, national secretary of the PCF, sets as the objective at the parliamentary elections “the election of a left majority in the National Assembly, with the maximum of Front de gauche deputies”. A left majority with the PS? What would the FdG deputies do when the budget of the Hollande government was voted on? What the regional counsellors of the FdG have already done in nearly all regions, aligning with the PS? These questions remain open. To allow common action, an appropriate tactical policy is needed on our part.

None of the hypotheses envisaged by the FdG at this stage challenge its reformist project. Thus, at a time when calls are made to join the FdG, including from inside the NPA, we think on the contrary that the organisation of anti-capitalists cannot depend on the tactical evolution of the FdG. To join the Front de gauche is to accept the leadership of the PCF and Mélenchon. To have weight on the political scene, stimulate unitary action and keep all the possibilities of criticism demands an NPA independent of the FdG. The independent organisation of anti-capitalists is not a tactical choice. It is a strategic option which maintains the historic continuity of the revolutionary current. A dual challenge is now posed to the NPA: to resume its construction and set out a unitary policy, in particular in relation to the FdG.

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François Sabado is a member of the Executive Bureau of the Fourth International and an activist in the New Anticapitalist Party (NPA) in France. He was a long-time member of the National Leadership of the Revolutionary Communist League (LCR).

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Sunday, May 6, 2012

France: Jean-Luc Melenchon and the Left Front, a dynamic, but to where?

With the second round of French presidential elections occurring and much of the discussion of the elections by the Anglophone left focusing on the performance of Jean-Luc Melenchon and the Front de Gauche I thought it would be helpful to air the views of the French far-left most particularly the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste. Below is a rough translation of an article that appearred in the the NPA's Tout est à nous! in April in the wake of the first round of the presidential elections. I will be posting a translation of an article on the NPA's election campaign soon.

Jean-Luc Melenchon and the Left Front, a dynamic, but to where?
Manu Bichindaritz
Tout est à nous!
26 April 2012

With 11.11% of the votes, the candidate of the Front de Gauche registered a clearly improved result compared to the Parti Communiste Francais (PCF) results in previous presidential elections. It contributes to embodying the will for real change. However, the contradictions of the work of political regroupment have not disappeared and could even increase after a mixed result achieved by the militants of the FG.

Jean-Luc Melenchon final ballot result was below the result that had been predicted in polls for several weeks, between 12 to 15%. Moreover, the Left Front has failed to "put behind him" the far-right candidate, as its representatives had raised in the last weeks of campaigning. Yet the score is far from being a failure. Mélenchon surpassed by a factor of six the result achieved by Marie-George Buffet, the PCF candidate, in 2007. He managed to gather about his candidacy a large proportion of the votes of the radical left to occupy the space to the left of the Parti Socialiste (PS).  

With our bid and that of Nathalie Arthaud for Lutte Ouvrière (LO), this space results in 13, 23%. Roughly the same level as in 2002 but almost four points higher than in 2007. There is a little push to the left of the PS, but also a political shift towards anti-liberal forces of the FG. 

You can see clearly from the dynamics that they were able to embody the left of the PS, thus expressing a real distrust [in the politics of the PS ]if not a distrust of the socialist candidate. But we must also appreciate the programmatic limits, even in retrospect, of this transfer of votes from the extreme left to the PCF and the Parti de Gauche. Beyond an often radical discourse, Mélenchon was located in a permanent ambiguity with respect to institutions. In particular, references to the nation or the sovereignty of the Republic, its rejection of any denunciation of French imperialism have accompanied its advancement of proposals such as measures like increasing the after tax minimum wage to 1,700 euros. 

The Left Front has worked during the campaign to avoid the thorny question of the relationship with the Socialist Party, especially in view of a return of it to power. On this issue, the campaign needs to be judged both on the statements of the candidate "I will not go into a government that I don't chair myself ..." and the more direct statements of the PCF leadership, including most recently by Pierre Laurent, PCF National Secretary, setting the objective to mobilize the Left Front for legislative elections "to elect a leftist majority in the National Assembly, with the maximum of deputies of the Left Front." 

One thing is certain: more or less clearly stated, the candidate Mélenchon and various spokespersons, at the end of the presidential election campaign the Left Front is not positioned, in the way they wanted,  to have ministers in a future government. They had sought to force Francois Hollande to the left under the pressure of a high score of Mélenchon, and in the near future for a possible parliamentary majority including all or part of the FG. 

It is now quite possible that the lower election result,  the leaders and activists of the Left Front would have liked at least around 15%, will reopen the debate about the direction and strategy of political regroupment, particularly in relation to the Socialist Party and institutions. The NPA’s call to the FG, as to LO and all of the social left is that is time to build a united response to the austerity and prepare a left opposition to Hollande. Is the FG ready?

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Sunday, April 1, 2012

France: Thousands rally in support of Mélenchon and Front de Gauche

Lisbeth Latham

On March 18 more than 120,000 people joined in the rally for a Sixth republic called by the Front de Gauche (FdG) in support of its presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon. The rally was held in the Place de la Bastille and marked the 141st anniversary of the Paris Commune.



The FdG is an electoral alliance that draws together the majority of the parties to the left of the Parti Socialiste (PS), whose candidate Francois Hallande is expected to win the presidence.

Leading into the March 18 protest, Mélenchon had been polling at 11%, however in the immediate wake he polled as high as 13%. Both massive election rally and high polls demonstrates that the FdG has established significant momentum that it may be able to carry into the National Assembly elections in June and increase the Front's representation.



The Nouveau Parti Anticapaliste (NPA), which is standing it's own presidential candidate Philippe Poutou, has argued that the growing success of Mélenchon will increasingly open up contradictions both within Mélenchon position and between the organisations that make up the FdG.

Mélenchon has repeatedly called for "citizen's revolutions" which he sees as being achieved through the elections. While such a call could be seen as an aspirational hope of winning government outright, it is important to note that Mélenchon has endorsed the course pursued by Die Linke in Germany, which has entered government with the social democrats at the local level. There is also strong expectation that Parti Communiste Francais, which is by far the largest component of the FdG, and hold more than 90% of the FdG's current seats in the National Assembly, will push to enter government with the PS should it win government. When the PCF entered PS governments in the early 1980s and between 1997 and 2002, the PCF ministers participated in significant liberalisation of the French economy.



M

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

France: NPA Confirm Presidential Candidate

Lisbeth Latham

The Neaveau Parti Anticatiliste (NPA) announced March 13 that they had completed the final administrative step in nominating Philippe Poutou for the April 22 Presidential election. Poutou is a Confédération générale du travail (CGT) militant at Ford’s Bordeaux plant.

Under France’s undemocratic electoral system presidential candidates require the endorsement of 500 of a list of 45, 000 elected officials, the majority of which are municipal mayors. Presidential nomination is a simple process for larger parties as they can rely on the endorsement from their own members. For smaller parties the process requires that they convince officials from the larger parties to endorse their candidate, which means it is possible for the larger parties to actively exclude smaller parties from the elections and rob people of the opportunity to vote for their preferred candidate.

This is precisely what has occurred to the NPA and other parties to the left of the Parti Socialiste (PS), with the PS leadership sending a letter to its elected officials directing them to not endorse the presidential candidates of other parties. Despite this obstacle, after more than eight months work of talking to elected officials across France, NPA activists were able to obtain endorsement from 520 officials.

Official nomination will help to secure a greater public profile for Poutou’s candidacy. It remains to this increased exposure enable Poutou to lift his current support of 0.5-1% in opinion polls.


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Friday, March 9, 2012

The NPA and French Politics

Below is the contribution I have submitted as part of thediscussion of Dick Nichol's presentation to the 2012 Socialist Alliance Conference that has been published by Links. I should have a longer piece finished in a few days.

Lisbeth Latham

I’ve been meaning to comment on this thread for a while, but have not had a chance as I have been busy writing an article that deals with issues but over a longer time frame than either Dick’s report or Jason Stanley’s articles go into. While the most significant point of discussion is the question of the NPA’s orientation to the Left Front (FG), I also want to touch on the question of the “Veil” and it’s impact on the NPA as I think the question of the “veil” has been a factor that has undermined the ability of the NPA’s membership to be united in action.

Inside or outside the left front
I agree with Nathan that Dick’s contributions over simplify the question of what attitude the NPA should have taken towards the FG. While on one level the question of the NPA’s participation in the FG has been posed several times and the balances of forces and other social factors such as the state of the class struggle in France has changed over this time period. Which factors that needed to be considered over this time period.

I agree with Nathan regarding the NPA also being concerned regarding the participation of the PCF in the 1997-2002 PS government, and at the municipal level. It is also important to note that PS municipal government’s invoked the new essential services laws to end strikes by municipal workers during the 2010 campaign in defence of pensions. By May 2011 the PS had already dropped some of its promises to repeal the changes to the pension laws pushed through by the Fillon government.

The dispute over relationship to the FG at the NPA’s founding congress was on the question of whether to link up with the FG prior to any discussion with the Front regarding relationship with the PS (which was the position of approximately 15% of the delegates – with some 3.5% of the membership departing to form Gauche Unitaire). Or alternatively to enter into a discussion with the Front make a decision as to whether to join based on this. While I agree with Nathan’s is correct to point out that in the European elections the question of government was not posed, I think there were some other factors at play in the NPA majority’s thinking. First the LCR and subsequently had cohered a base of support over the period between the 2002 elections and 2009 based on independence of social liberal left – at the time of the decision the NPA was polling around 10%. Secondly there was probably a concern that once they entered the Front without agreement on independence it would be difficult to exit later on when government was posed – a point I will return to later.

In assessing the European Election results I think there are a number of things to take into account. The NPA substantially improved on the performance of the LCR/LO ticket in 2004– almost doubling the vote - and was higher than Olivier Besancenot’s percentage in the 2007 presidential elections. This compared favourably with the FG only improved on the PCF’s vote by around 0.5%. However the NPA’s result was not as high as they had hoped for and the NPA unlike the FG fell short of the threshold to elect MEPs. At the time Francois Sabato argued that the lower than expected result reflected the down swing in the mass movement against the austerity between the NPA’s founding and the European elections, linked to this would have been the high rate of abstentionism amongst young voters where the NPA had a much higher level of support.

In the 2010 regional elections the NPA was able to negotiate electoral coalitions with the Left Party (PG). These were generally in areas where the PCF ran joint tickets with the PS rather than with the FG. These joint NPA/PG tickets performed as well or better than the FG tickets did.

The 2011 Congress debate occurred within the context of the NPA’s electoral fortunes not being as strong as had been hoped, but also following a significant defeat of the anti-pensions movement. By the tail end of that movement, the more conservative union confederations, the PCF and the PS made it clear that the only way to save people’s pensions was through parliament. The more radical unions were unable to get agreement in the Intersyndicale to continue mobilisations once the laws were passed – which isolated and ended the defiance of more militant sectors of the movement such as the oil workers. In this situation the debate was essentially between three positions regarding the best way forward to build the party – whether it lay with entry in the FG (a little over a quarter of the delegates); an attempt to continue to build a consistent anti-capitalist electoral pole (the largest minority with a little over 40% of delegates) and third position (again around a quarter of delegates) that argued for a greater orientation to the social movements. There was also a fourth tiny platform that argued to embed the party in the proletariat.

By the time the July conference occurred the situation had changed – the attempt to construct broader support around the NPA’s candidate had been unsuccessful. The new balance of forces within the NPA a round three positions. A new narrow majority (50.4%) position that made it clear that their would be an NPA presidential campaign rather than continue at that point to regroup anti-capitalist forces around that position. A large minority (40% of delegates) advocating a greater attempt to engage with the FG that also argued that the majority was retreating from the NPA’s original project and was articulating a sectarian position. Finally there was a small platform (5.8% of delegates) which argued that the NPA majority perspective was not revolutionary enough.

The larger minority grouping has now constituted itself as an organisation, Gauche anticapitaliste, that is functioning both inside and outside the NPA. GA is attempting to rally anticapitalist activists to save the NPA project and is pushing for the NPA to participate in the FG to engage with both PG and PCF members who oppose entering into a PS government.

The GA has called on the NPA to abandon their presidential campaign based on its low poll results and arguing the NPA is simply contesting with LO for 1-2% support in the elections. The GA argue that the NPA’s campaign is becoming indistinguishable from that of LO. The GA has called for the NPA’s March national leadership meeting to discuss and adopt the GA’s perspective.

In response to the emergence of the GA, the NPA majority is attempting to accommodate the GA. IT is looking to both pursuing its own election campaign in both Presidential and National Assembly elections, and at the same time saying that the GA can pursue the possibility of alliances with the FG for the National Assembly elections where agreement can be reached. As part of this the majority is exploring what resources can be made available to support any joint campaigns.

Its unclear where this discussion will go. It’s also difficult to know exactly what the prospects are like inside the FG compared to an electoral campaign outside. It is however possible to make a couple of observations about the character of the positions. I think that there is a real danger that the NPA majority is developing a position that not only is a sell out by the FG leadership, and particularly the PCF, inevitable, but that the crisis experienced by the USFI sections inside both the PRC in Italy and the PT in Brazil is also inevitable. As a consequence they seem to be avoiding question of the possible gains that could be made by leading fight inside the FG for a principled position in the wake of the National Assembly elections. It’s also difficult to get a read on exactly how the GA is relating FG and the extent they are turning engagement with the FG into a principle and thus making the NPA majority’s concerns justified.

Finally on the question of the NPA’s tactical orientation, I want to address what I see as fundamentally problematic with Dick’s analysis, that is attempting to judge what is the question of what os correct orientation for the NPA to adopt based solely on the prospects on the electoral front. Particularly the extent to which the NPA or the left in general will hold up following 2007 elections. It may be the case that due to the shifting state of the social movements unlike 2007 the NPA is not going to the elections having had its presidential candidate play a key role in a successful national campaign (i.e. Olivier Besancenot’s role in the “no” campaign on the European constitution). It may be possible that the NPA’s capacity to effectively build support in the social movements may be better in the long term outside of the FG, but that’s something you can’t get a clear view of outside of direct intimate experience of the French situation. I think it is significant that NPA has been able to successfully build joint mobilisations with both the Solidaires and the FSU education union around solidarity with the Greek movement against austerity.

On the “veil”
While I agree with Nathan in pointing out that the PG has taken a pretty hardline stance on around the “veil”, most of the French left have pretty awful positions based both on supposed advocacy of women’s rights and defence of laïcité. I mean this so as not to excuse the problems with the NPA but to give context to those who are not aware. In response to Ilham Moussaid candidacy for the NPA, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, “You can’t call yourself a feminist while showing off a sign of submission to the patriarchy.” Others examples include:

  • In the vote the National Assembly around the law on secularity and conspicuous religious symbols in schools, only 36 deputies voted against the law; 
  • In 2004, Arlette Laguiller the long term spokesperson of LO, marched alongside Nicole Guedj, a secretary of state in the justice ministry, in a march against the Hijab;
  • In the vote to ban the Burqa, the PG’s two senators voted in favour of the ban, with Agnes Marie La Barre, explaining in an article on the Party’s website on September 16 that “nobody is fooled by the xenophobic context in which the law is passed. However our senators felt that the struggle for women’s rights requires the passing of the law”.

I think that the NPA have been affected by this issue more than other forces on the French. This effect was due to a number of reasons. I was the NPA that had the mass media controversy in response to having a “veiled candidate”. It is also important to remember that the LCR had a history of attempting to engage with marginalised émigré communities many of whom come from Muslim backgrounds. This is reflected in the work of LCR/NPA militants such as Catherine Samary in fighting against the law on secularity and conspicuous religious symbols and working for the inclusion of women who wear the hijab into feminist mobilisations and the LCR’s public defence and solidarity with youth who rioted across France following the deaths of two boys fleeing police on October 27.

This work meant that that the LCR and subsequently the NPA were able recruit and build networks in these communities. The debate in the NPA, which was sparked by Ilham’s candidacy, undoubtedly damaged this work – I can’t see how having a public debate about whether believers are welcome in the party could not damage this work irrespective that the outcome was that yes they can be members. In my opinion this component of the debate meant that it was not possible for the NPA to put having at least of the debate the 2011 Congress. Another major impact was that it divided the party, and while it’s true that the divisions did not correspond to the divisions around the NPA’s electoral and movement perspectives, this division impacted the ability to intervene around other issues. An example of this was the Law banning women from wearing the Burqa and Niqab in public, where the NPA only endorsed a mobilisation against the ban the night prior to the protest. Another important element of divisive character of the debate is that it raised questions of individuals’ feminist credentials based on how they choose to express their religion, and implications this has for the rights of women to control their own bodies.

While only a small number of individuals who obviously left the NPA over the issue of Ilham’s candidacy. This included Ilham and a group of militants around her, and a group angered by Ilham’s candidacy, some of which like Fabien Engelmann joined National Front over the issue. It undoubtedly had a negative impact on the NPA’s internal unity.

Finally I think that the situation that has confronted the NPA has been extremely complex, and has occurred within a political situation that has become more difficult for political action outside the electoral sphere – which is a major factor that differentiates the NPA from both the PCF and the PG. While I think we should be attempting to learn from the NPA experience I think it is problematic for us to suggest that there are simple answers to the challenges faced by the NPA.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Greece: Social explosion, a question of months?

By Tassos Anastassiadis and Andreas Sartzekis
International Viewpoint
February 2012

“Kali phtochia chronia!” (“happy new year of poverty!”) instead of “Kali proto chronia!” (“happy new year!”): that was the ironic wish that the workers on the big daily newspaper “Eleftherotypia”, unpaid since the summer and on a rolling strike for a week, published during a message requesting support for their struggle. This humour is today indispensable, partly not to fall into despair before the situation of poverty which grows daily, and partly to maintain the flame of resistance, which in appearance has not weakened for a year and a half, but which obviously flickers from seeing a considerable, but disunited force held back by the union of the bourgeoisie and its international bodies.


Parallels between ancient Greece and current Greece are not lacking in recent times, and the “Greek tragedy” has been served up in all journalistic sauces. In the country which invented democracy to put an end to debt slavery, the European bourgeoisie imposes its reactionary approach: even if the institution of slavery is not (yet) re-established, the poverty into which the Greek people have been plunged at a growing speed greatly resembles a modern slavery. In the new situation where the government of the technocrat Loukas Papadimos has no legitimacy originating from the parliamentary elections of 2009, it is clear that the popular response, to be effective, should link economic programme and reappropriation and extension of democratic processes. Every day, 2,400 new workers are thrown into unemployment, which has officially reached 17.7% (12.4% a year ago), with 21.5 % of women affected and 35.3% of youth. 50% of the unemployed have been out of work for more than one year. 30,000 civil servants were awaiting dismissal on December 31, and the haemorrhage will continue in 2012 with the aim of dismissing 150,000 civil servants by 2015 (in a country with just over 11 million inhabitants), education and the army being alone officially “preserved”. Second tier pensions above 150 Euros should fall by 30% minimum and the wages in the public sector should continue to fall (an employee of the Agricultural Development Ministry with a seniority of between 5 and 7 years should see their wage cut from 1 600 to 1 225 Euros). All taxes have been increased (budget 2012).

Paul Tomsen — the best known personality of the troika (IMF, EU and ECB), today de facto in charge of the country’s affairs —says on the one hand that the imposition over the last six months of the fiscal burden on a part of the population which can no longer pay is an error, and on the other demands two measures: the suspension of collective agreements (to impose flexibility and the alignment of wages with productivity) and the closure of a certain number of public enterprises (which in his view have ceased to fulfil the function for which they were created). Obviously, no question of asking the people for a democratic opinion on the utility of these enterprises!

In the centre of Athens, the official figure for homelessness is 20,000. All the social indices are catastrophic and get worse at dizzying speed. For example, the suicide rate, traditionally quite low in Greece, around 2.8 per 100,000 inhabitants, more than doubled in 2011, climbing to 6! Six people out of 10 reduced their overall food intake in 2011, whereas 1 in 11 has been fed by the soup kitchens distributed by various networks (town halls, churches, NGOs and so on). According to Médecins du Monde, if the urgency of the “humanitarian crisis” was until now in Uganda, now it is in Greece. Not to forget the explosion of AIDS, above all among drug addicts: in one year a terrifying increase (around 1,500 % or a 16 fold increase), because of the destruction of all services of shelter and treatment for marginalised youth.

Thus the urgency of a democratic reappropriation of its choices by the Greek people depends of course to the state of the left forces and their proposals, which we deal with below. But it also depends on the recent developments and choices made by the parties who have formed a “national unity” government. It amounts in fact to one of the last cards of the Greek bourgeoisie facing a still growing rise of popular resistance. This is the reason for the haste with which the Socialist prime minister, Giorgos Papandreou, called in late October for the organisation of a referendum, taking (nearly) all his European partners by surprise. In fact, this question of a referendum on the measures to deal with the debt has come up at three times since the establishment of the austerity measures.

In Spring 2010, it was the radical left Syriza which during the first workers’ mobilisations (halted after the death of three bank employees during a fire due to Molotov cocktails launched by mysterious hooded figures, never identified), campaigned for a referendum for or against the measures. The response given then by the anti-capitalist left was that the referendum was taking place in the street and the objective was a rolling general strike.

This point then re-emerged in the spring of this year, when Papandreou did not miss an opportunity to publicly declare his wish for a referendum… once a maximum of austerity measures had been taken! Not one left or right force followed him on this terrain, and the workers’ movement continued its mobilisations, forcing its national union leaderships, dominated by PASOK, to organise general strikes: in the Athens demonstration of October 19, involving at least 300,000 workers and youths, the feeling emerged, all the more admirable after a year of unprecedented attacks against living standards, that basically power was in the street and that it was possible and in any event necessary to go further than this immense demonstration. Even if the day after the mobilisations were less massive, this popular force inspires fear in high places, with dissent apparent among the cadres of PASOK, in particular at the trade union level (the resignation of the leader of the Public Federation ADEDY was understood as a rejection of the policies of his party).

In this context, the announcement of a referendum on the policy of the government, the day after the demonstrations of October 28, had a dual effect: surprise at the haste of the prime minister, but also indifference before a reheated dish. Even Syriza did not applaud and continued to request, like the KKE (Communist Party), the holding of immediate parliamentary elections.

Even if the referendum was abandoned on the “diktat of Merkozy”, this question merits some comments. First, the anger of Sarkozy is to be compared with the moderate reaction of Germany: according to some sources, Papandreou discussed this “coup” with the German finance minister, the final objective being to force the leader of the Greek right, Antonis Samaras, to accept the formation of a national government and to abandon his demagogic posture of condemnation of austerity measures to better win the elections tomorrow!

A question little posed on the Greek left: even in this context, would it be necessary to take up the challenge and demand the referendum? To pose the question is to answer it: the KKE like Syriza wants parliamentary elections above all and the anti-capitalist left has no desire to lose time in discussions on Papandreou’s manoeuvre. We are not in the French situation of 2005, where a unitary framework for the left “no2 was possible. Such a framework is not unhappily in the traditions of the Greek left and to build on this opportunity would have taken a lot of time, whereas the referendum would have taken place in mid December.

What is more, the question imposed would not have been as simple as “for or against the austerity measures?” but would have concerned staying in the Euro zone and thus in the EU and one can count on the climate of fear that the Greek bourgeoisie would create through its parties, media and perhaps its provocations. The reappropriation of a democratic process does not then pass by the political coup of the referendum, but rests on a more favourable terrain, that of the resistance struggles.


An extremist government, deprived of credibility
The “referendum” episode concluded then on what was sought by Papandreou, the EU and the IMF for several months: a national unity government. Let us be clear – while the propaganda presents it as a measure of good sense, stressing the technocratic character of the prime minister, it should be designated for what it is — a dangerous extremist government. First because it is made up of dangerous fanatics of the “only road possible”, that of the markets, that the government has the prime if not the only task of “reassuring”. What of the interests of the people? Not a word during the formation of this government of so called national unity! Its leader, Papadimos, has been quite correctly presented as a key element of the policy of massaging of the Greek accounts to enter into the euro. This fanaticism would be all the stronger in that the government has no popular legitimacy: the majority vote in autumn 2009, was for a PASOK government whose (minimum!) programme included social measures.

We now have in Greece the full political dictatorship of the markets. The introduction in this government, 37 years after the fall of the military dictatorship, of adorers of that junta, incarnated in the ministers and secretaries of state (three in total) of LAOS is repugnant. LAOS could be compared to the French Front national, its leader Karatzaféris trying like Marine Le Pen to play the card of respectability, then of credibility as final card for the bourgeoisie. The extremism of this government has already been shown in the draft budget. E. Venizelos, the PASOK minister of the economy, boasts that there are no new austerity measures, but the draft budget in fact envisages 3.6 billion Euros of various supplementary taxes.

The viability of this government poses a basic question: what form of regime comes after it, knowing that the bourgeoisie has exhausted nearly all its traditional forces of power. Papadimos responds saying that there are no limits of time to his government, and says the future elections will not be held before April, which leaves time to get the murderous measures passed.

The leader of New Democracy (ND), Antonis Samaras, demanded elections on February 19 and explained without fear of ridicule that in any case this is not a national unity government (its party has six ministers and secretaries of state!). There is a crisis in the ranks of the ND, between the declared centrists and the populist line. Implosion is possible (a former “centrist” minister has been excluded). As for LAOS, to play the card of the “higher interest of the country” as its caudillo has done and thus participate directly in the austerity measures could deprive this party of the popular base it has won in the previous elections. That is verified already in an anonymous appeal from the cadres and activists of this party that it leave this government, which has already obliged the caudillo to insinuate that if the government is no longer effective, it will withdraw its ministers. The risk in case of visible disaffection for LAOS is that the recourse to the far right passes by the openly neo Nazi movements like the Golden Dawn (Chryssi Avgi), who have made a breakthrough in the Athens municipal elections.

As to PASOK, its survival could be at stake. It can be seen on several fronts: disputes in the leadership between Papandreou and his “internal troika”, growing disillusionment among cadres and base. In the future elections the polls give PASOK only 15-20 %. The main thing is the condemnation by the PASOK rank and file of the anti-social policy of their party, accentuated by a manifest anger at the entry of the far right into the government (which was only rejected by two deputies out of 153!). A question which is now important is that of the perspectives to offer to these thousand of former supports and hundreds of activists and cadres of PASOK. In the end it will be the ability to develop victorious struggles which will be determinant in the coming months.
 

A workers’ resistance to support at the European level
The workers’ resistance as reflected in the national strike days called by the union leaderships linked to PASOK constitute an astonishing, not to say admirable, phenomenon. An example was the immense demonstration of October 19, which swept aside sectarianism (isolation of the KKE) and gave the massive feeling that it was possible to go further The contradiction is all the more flagrant. On the one hand, this radicalism, and on the feeling that the international bourgeois coalition is stronger, and the integration of a feeling of defeat, more evident undoubtedly in the local struggles. That highlights the importance of a European strike day called by the European unions, which could have a stimulating effect on the mobilisations in Greece.

The mobilisations by sector or enterprise are numerous and sometimes allow partial victories over the employer or the state. Numerous strikes have taken place in transport, a strike has broken out against the neoliberal university reform, and the taxis are on strike against the “opening” (to the big companies) of the profession and so on. One of the most significant struggles currently concerns the audiovisual and press sector (press, television, radio, magazines, and internet). It is a model on the one hand by the cruelty of the employers attack and on the other by the dynamic of resistance. Massive layoffs, brutal pay cuts have affected every company in the sector. Tens of thousands of workers are no longer paid or in any case not paid on time with most companies paying wages months late. The television channel “Alter” has not paid its 700 employees for a year, and the big Athens newspaper “Eleyfhterotypia” stopped paying its 840 employees this summer. This “fashion” of not paying wages extends across all sectors.

However, there is resistance to this daily violence in the workplaces. After months of working for free, the workers at “Alter” decided to occupy the head office of the television and turn it into a centre of solidarity (collecting food to organise their own survival) and being to broadcast programmes (rudimentary for the moment) which have become a centre of popularisation of the struggle of several sectors and factors. Similar projects are now being discussed by the workers at “Eleftherotypia”.

The most emblematic struggle currently is at the steel factory of Halivourgia in Aspropyrgos, in the Athenian suburbs, against redundancies and wage cuts. This struggle is led by workers linked to the pro-KKE union current PAME and is characterised not only by its combativity, but also by the very broad support it has from the near and distant population, demonstrations, broad union and political support. For example, the intervention of our comrade Yannis Felekis, historic leader of the Greek section of the Fourth International, OKDE-Spartakos, was warmly received by the strikers!
 

On the left: internationalist solutions
Obviously the developments inside a mass party like PASOK should be observed by the left. The latter should be able to offer them a framework, but without concession. It isn’t about offering former bureaucrats a chance to “redden” a little and reforge their careers, but to open as much as possible perspectives which can only be 100% left, taking account of the urgency resulting from the political impasses of the bourgeoisie. Indeed, from this viewpoint, the Greek left (to the left of PASOK), marked by its profound history, is lagging in relation to the blows borne by the workers, and in its responses in terms of alternative power. Whereas the intense mobilisations of all these months should have led to a permanent coordination of the sectors in struggle and on the road of self organisation, the rank and file unions, linked to the radical and anti-capitalist left, are still not in a position to offer an immediate extension to the general strikes of 24 or 48 hours. It is not enough to demand the rolling general strike for it to be credible. This goes back of course to the division on the ground, with the trade union structure of the KKE (PAME). But in the last instance that relates to the reformist character of the KKE and Synaspismos, the central party of the radical coalition Syriza.

As for the KKE, the mystery remains: how has this party, which was drained of its youth in the 1990s, and adopted a caricatured and openly Stalinist “Marxist” discourse, continued to organise combative workers and radicalised youth? In fact, more than a theoretical response, the true objective is to know how to offer unitary perspectives of struggle to these activists. Indeed it is not always thus in the daily practices of the radical or anti-capitalist left: the extra-parliamentary left has fallen into the trap of the KKE leadership in ignoring this party. Indeed, this is a crucial issue, not only in terms of activist forces but still more in terms of political perspectives. It is flagrant that on these two terrains, the KKE leadership has no working class response to the situation. Its trade union positioning, despite the leftist accents, reflects a sentiment of defeat, which excludes any great working class battle. Hence the importance of centralisation of the struggles and the perspective of a workers’ Europe, faced with a slogan of exit from the EU which represents a nationalist reflex to the Stalinist history of this party, valuing a “good” national bourgeoisie against the monopolies! At the political level, the sole slogan advanced by the KKE is that of popular power… around the KKE. Which amounts to having as sole perspective its own electoral strengthening! Faced with this impasse common struggles at the base and the advancing of unitary slogans for victory are the sole instrument which would allow advance.

As for Syriza, the regroupment of Synaspismos with the forces of the revolutionary left, the internal relation of forces remains unchanged. To speak of Syriza is above all to speak of the reformist party Synaspismos and its leader, Alexis Tsipras. The main force to its left, the KOE, has been absent in Syriza, even if it remains officially a member. The efforts of different currents or independent members — like the veteran anti-Nazi Manolis Glezos — do not change the situations. The debates inside Synaspismos dominate the orientation of Syriza. Advancing the idea of a left government, Syriza certainly provides a perspective for disoriented PASOK voters and the polls give around 30% for forces to the left of PASOK. But this political response is hardly credible today faced with the sectarianism of the KKE but also faced with divergences — Synaspismos is favourable to the renegotiation of a part of the debt. It is both too vague (what left forces?) and too precise (Synaspismos retains the perspective of a government of the parliamentary left!) to respond to current needs. At the rank and file level Syriza activists are involved in numerous resistance struggles and this common work allows discussions between all the forces of the anti-capitalist left.

Nonetheless things advance at the rhythms of the crisis and struggles and social mobilisations. For example convergences have begun on the revolutionary left, first through the process of construction of the Anti-capitalist left, Antarsya. Its congress attracted 900 delegates, representing 3,000 members. It examined notably a new question for most of the revolutionary left forces: that of real unitary fronts of struggle, which might seem obvious but is not always so in Greece! Rapprochements could thus take place with the revolutionary forces inside Syriza, thanks to a common work on the ground as in the committees against the closure of the electricity meters of those who can’t pay their bills.

In the daily struggles links are made and political cleavages are approached from an open angle, to the point that strategic questions are now posed in a new fashion. For example, the idea of “poor Greece attacked by international capital and various imperialisms “ has gained in credibility, to the point that cleavages on the left take place inside the current around Synaspismos, traditionally tempted by the idea that the EU was “progressive” in itself! But at the same time, the fact that the crisis in Greece is only the vanguard of a crisis and a brutal capitalist policy which extends from one country to another, shows that the overall response can only come by attacking the social roots, namely capitalism, which has no frontiers. In terms of demands the possible implosion of the EU or the euro zone imply new discussions on “exit from the euro” as transitional demands or necessary implication of a situation where a single country, like Greece, tries to free itself from the yoke of capitalist finance. That requires the stressing of the necessary self-organisation of struggles, and the coordination of these struggles not only at the national level, but at the same time at the international level, with a political dynamic which can only be that which overthrows the logic of war and the poverty of capitalism.





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-Tassos Anastassiadis is a member of the leadership of OKDE-Spartakos, Greek section of the Fourth International, which is part of the coalition of the anti-capitalist Left, Antarsya.

-Andreas Sartzekis is a member of the leadership of OKDE-Spartakos, Greek section of the Fourth International, which is part of the coalition of the anti-capitalist Left, Antarsya.

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Monday, February 13, 2012

Workers in Greece battle bosses’ austerity with two general strikes

G. Dunkel
Workers World
February 12, 2012

For the big-business media like the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and CNN television, the big news from Greece involves what is going to happen to Greek bonds, the euro, the European economy and the world economy. For these media and their owners, the hundreds of billions, even trillions of dollars at stake explain this emphasis.

But the true essence of the events in Greece is the heroic struggle of the Greek working class, in this small country of 11 million people, to defeat the cruel, draconian austerity being imposed by the European big banks.


This struggle is vitally important for workers and the poor throughout the world and deserves solidarity and support worldwide.

Economists predict that given the recent vicious cuts imposed by the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and accepted by the Greek government, the Greek economy — already in five years of recession — won't come out of its spiraling downturn until at least 2015.

Four right-wing cabinet ministers and two socialists resigned from the coalition regime because they refused to identify themselves with this new round of austerity. For its own ultra-nationalist reasons, the Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS), a small, near-fascist party, left the cabinet.

The coalition cabinet still managed to patch itself back together, and the Greek parliament voted Feb. 12 to accept this austerity plan.

Meanwhile, 25,000 union-organized protesters were demonstrating outside Parliament, which was protected by 3,000 police, who used tear gas against the demonstrators. On the edges of the protest, youth battled police, some throwing firebombs, and parts of Athens were on fire.

Vicious austerity cutbacks

What people now call the Troika — the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund — is demanding the following vicious cuts in return for a bank bailout:

• Cutting the minimum wage for private sector workers by 22 percent and for those newly hired at the minimum by 32 percent; workers at the minimum have already lost 45 percent of their 2009 wages;

• Collective bargaining agreements between the unions and companies in a particular sector of the economy are abolished;

• Cuts in supplementary pensions, soon to be followed by cuts to basic pensions;

• 15,000 public sector employees will lose their jobs this year followed by 150,000 two years after this, in an economy where unemployment is officially over 20 percent;

• Cuts in social services; those in health care will place human lives in danger;

• Stepped up tax enforcement against self-employed workers and small businesses in order to support the tax exemptions of big capital.

Since the minimum wage is the benchmark for most union/company agreements in Greece, lowering it will lower all private sector wages.

Workers fight back

In a working-class response to this latest wave of austerity, the three main unions in Greece called for a general strike on Feb. 7, which was widely followed. The strike stopped train and ferry services nationwide, while many schools and banks were closed and state hospitals worked with skeleton staff.

The steelworkers union, which had been on strike for 100 days, led a march on Parliament. There were some scattered sharp skirmishes between protesters and cops on the edges of the crowd, which drew a lot of press attention — more attention than did the tens of thousands who were protesting.

Some demonstrators burned a German flag, reflecting popular anger at the German government's role in imposing this new round of austerity. According to the website of the Greek Communist Party, there were protests and demonstrations in 62 cities around the country. (inter.kke.gr)

The E.U. finance ministers then called for “implementation before disbursement” (additional cuts), for the Greek Parliament to endorse the measures on Feb. 12, and for the Greek parties in the coalition government to sign promises to maintain this agreement even after the upcoming election.

All three Greek unions reacted by calling another general strike, this time for 48 hours on Feb. 10 and 11. The strike protested the depth and extent of the cuts being imposed, as well as the deadlines the Greek government had to meet.

PAME, the union confederation associated with the Greek Communist Party (KKE), broke the ground for the general strike by leading a large march through Athens in a driving rain storm the night of Feb 9. Ilias Stamelos, a leader of PAME, condemned the new austerity measures as barbaric and called on the working class not only to drive out the parties in government but also to overthrow the class which is in power. (inter.kke.gr)

Feb. 10 strike even stronger

The strike on Feb. 10 was even more solid than the earlier one. Two major unions – GSEE, which represents workers in the private sector, and ADEDY, representing civil servants – marched on Syntagma Square, while PAME marched to the Ministry of Labor.

PAME workers occupied that building, and others hung a big banner on the outside of the ministry, reading: “No to the new massacre of the people, Down with the government, The Troika must go, Disengagement from the EU.”

There were also large rallies in Thessaloníki, Piraeus and other major cities throughout Greece.

The next day, Feb. 12, the unions held a big demonstration in Athens' main Syntagma Square that encircled the Parliament building to try to prevent members from entering and approving the austerity plan.

Aleka Papariga, the general secretary of the Greek Communist Party, released this statement: “Even if the workers give their own flesh to pay off the debt, the savage bankruptcy will not be averted. Consequently, there is one solution: Disengagement from the EU and unilateral cancellation of the debt. This is the solution; anything else will constitute a tragedy for the workers.” (inter.kee.gr)

The two parties in the coalition government — PASOK and the New Democracy — have formally agreed to uphold this austerity plan after the upcoming elections, which could come as early as April. There is no guarantee they will win the election, according to some polls.

According to the Kathimerini newspaper, there is a sharp rise in support for left parties. Its early February polls show 12 percent supporting the Democratic Left, 12.5 percent supporting the Greek Communist Party and another 12 percent supporting the Coalition of the Radical Left. Greece's Green party might also enter parliament for the first time, Later polls showed an even bigger leftward movement.

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Revitalising Labour attempts to reflect on efforts to rebuild the labour movement internationally, emphasising the role that left-wing political currents can play in this process. It welcomes contributions on union struggles, internal renewal processes within the labour movement and the struggle against capitalism and imperialism.

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