Capitalist Crisis, Right to Strike, and Teachings of Lenin
Swadesh Dev Roye
RIGHTS achieved by the working class all over the world are the result of bitter class struggles and sacrifices and not as mercy from any quarter. And this is equally true both for industrial and public services workers. In fact, trade union movement and right to strike are synonymous. It can be said that right to strike is the birthright of workers. The working class cannot forego right to collective bargaining including right to strike, whatever may be the circumstances.
To paraphrase Lenin, strike is the most powerful weapon of democratic trade union movement. In course of united strike action, the working class realises that they are not alone, that unity makes them powerful while the employers are exposed, and that it is the workers and not the employers who are the real masters.
RIGHT TO STRIKE DURING THE CAPITALIST CRISIS OF 1930
Now in the context of the continuing systemic crisis of capitalism, it may be interesting to recall as to how the working class fought the crisis and onslaught during the Great Depression of 1930.
To address the economic devastation caused by the Great Depression of 1930, the Keynesian concept of Welfare State emerged with the main objective to save capitalism. Role of states in economic revival of the crisis-ridden economies of the capitalist countries was put into practice. On the other hand, the demand driven economic policy was devised as the path for crisis management. The role of trade union and their collective bargaining power were conceived as contributing factor for demand management. In that period of so-called ‘golden age of capitalism’, labour started to be regulated in such a way as to protect employment and provide social security to the unemployed in order to rescue capitalism from the crisis of the period.
Now to bring the employers to the bargaining table and arrive at a negotiated settlement, the right to strike was considered an essential enabling step. “This had to be legitimately conceded lest collective bargaining should become ‘collective begging’.” This socio-economic necessity prompted many countries to explicitly incorporate the right to strike in their Constitutions. Started with France in the year 1946, Italy in the year 1948 and in later period in 1970s more countries like Portugal, Spain, Greece followed by Sweden, Switzerland also followed the same path. The working class movement in many countries achieved right to strike as statutory right.
RIGHT TO STRIKE AND ILO INSTRUMENTS
A situation with very serious concern for the international trade union movement has been created by the Employers’ Group in ILO on the question of the right to strike. In December 2013, in the annual meeting of the Group of Experts, the employers’ representatives have come out with an atrocious position that there is no mention of the right to strike in the ILO Convention 87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948).
On the right to strike, ILO’s position should be comprehended in terms of ILO conventions 87, 98, 105,151, 154 and also Recommendation No. 92, both explicit and implicit. There is mention about the right to strike in Convention No.105 (1957) - The Abolition of Forced Labour, prohibiting the use of forced or compulsory labour “as a punishment for having participated in strikes” and Recommendation No. 92 (1951) - Voluntary Conciliation and Arbitration Recommendation, stating that no provision it contains which “may be interpreted in limiting, in any way whatsoever, the right to strike.” Convention 151 meant for Public Services, specifically mandates that “public employees shall have, as other workers, the civil and political rights which are essential for the normal exercise of freedom of association, subject only to the obligation arising from their status and the nature of function.”
Additionally, there are ILO adopted resolutions and also specific observations of Committee on Freedom of Association (since 1952) and the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations (since 1959) established by the ILO Governing Body which have emphasised recognition of the right to strike in member States.
In the context of ILO Convention No. 87 and Convention No. 98, it is observed that without the right to strike, the right to collective bargaining is bound to lose its effectiveness in achieving decent outcome from collective bargaining. An expert has opined, “The right to strike is the logical corollary of the effective realization of the right to collective bargaining. If it does not exist, bargaining… becomes a dead letter.”
ASSERT RIGHT TO STRIKE AND FIGHT
THE SYSTEMIC CRISIS OF CAPITALISM
The working class all over the world is confronting all round capitalist onslaughts on life and livelihood. The real wage is going down, the share of wages in value added to production is sliding, and living standard is going down. Social security measures are dismantled. Labour legislations protecting employment have been replaced by laws that enhance the arbitrary power of employers to fire workers, reduce compensation for firing and hire temporary and casual labour.
Precisely under the policies of Finance Capital-driven globalisation, the working class has been facing barbarous onslaught from the big business, both domestic and overseas. Cases of trade union busting and attack on trade union rights are increasing in the developing countries, which are destination of choice for the MNCs.
The working class is confronting a global challenge and there is an imperative need for united struggles. The ruling class fears that if workers are any more allowed to exercise fundamental rights including the right to strike, the exploitative system of capitalism is bound to face a jolt impacting the capitalist societies. That is why the present onslaught on the right to strike.
In such a situation, the right to freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, supplemented by the right to strike, are very crucial, particularly for the most vulnerable workers. The right to strike must be protected not by rhetoric but by action.
LENIN ON STRIKE
Lenin wrote an article on strike at the end of 1899 analysing the significance of strikes in the working-class movement. The timing of his article was historically significant. It was the period just five years prior to the revolution of 1905. Russia was reeling under all engulfing strike struggles and the participation of the factory workers was conspicuous. Lenin wrote, “There is no longer a single industrial gubernia in which there have not occurred several strikes. And in the big cities strikes never cease.”
Outlining the fact that strike by the working class is an acknowledged necessity, Lenin wrote, “The necessity for strikes in capitalist society has been recognized to such an extent by everybody in the European countries that the law in those countries does not forbid the organization of strikes.”
Regarding the ferocious attack of the employers in collusion with the state machineries on the striking workers and also about the opportunist elements within the rank of workers who join hands with the employers, Lenin noted, “Every strike means many privations for the working people, terrible privations that can be compared only to the calamities of war – hungry families, loss of wages, often arrests, banishment from the towns where they have their homes and their employment. Despite all these sufferings, the workers despite those who desert their fellow workers and make deals with the employers, despite all these sufferings brought on by strikes, the workers of neighbouring factories gain renewed courage when they see that their comrades have engaged themselves in struggles.”
The lesson and the tasks emerges from the above teachings of Lenin is that in course of the preparatory campaigns and of course propaganda for mobilising workers in strike action, it is an essential political organisational task to instill class consciousness, militant conviction and strong determination amongst the workers to carry on the struggles by fighting the atrocities let loose by the employers with the ulterior motive to force the striking workers to abandon the struggle. Without arming the striking workers with class consciousness, trade union movement cannot carry forward the struggle to achieve even the short term objectives, let alone long term objectives.
Lenin said, “strike teaches workers to understand what the strength of the employers and what the strength of the workers consists in; it teaches them not to think of their own employer alone and not of their own immediate workmates alone, but of all the employers, the whole class of capitalists and the whole class of workers. It becomes quite clear to the workers that the capitalist class as a whole is the enemy of the whole working class […] a strike, moreover, opens the eyes of the workers to the nature, not only of the capitalists, but of the government and the laws as well.”
Lenin continued to say, “strikes, which arise out of the very nature of capitalist society, signify the beginning of the working class struggle against the system of society […] Every strike brings thoughts of socialism very forcibly to the workers’ mind, thoughts of the struggle of the entire working class for emancipation from the oppression of capital…”
Therefore, the success of a strike struggle must not be measured only in terms of achievement of immediate demands. It is also necessary to assess how far the strike struggle has heightened the level of class consciousness, and deepened class hatred. Achievement in changing correlation forces in favour of class struggles and re-dedication to achieve the ultimate objective of overthrow of capitalism and establishment of socialism.
Pre-requisites for a strike to be successful politically, according to Lenin, “strike can only be successful where workers are sufficiently class-conscious, where they are able to select an opportune moment for striking, where they know how to put forward their demands and where they have connections with socialists […]”
STRIKE STRUGGLES AGAINST
NEO-LIBERALISM IN INDIA
The working class in our country magnificently participated in as many as 16 All India General Strikes since 1991 against the neo-liberal policies. Now the historic success of the 16th strike on 2nd September, 2015 has bestowed a bigger responsibility on the trade union movement of the country. The All-in-One Unity Forum of Trade Unions must be mindful that the next course of movement must at least be able to touch the expectation of the workers, particularly the worst victims of neo-liberalism. The movement must come out of the ring of repetitive protest oriented activities. Qualitative innovation in form, contents and direction in the forthcoming struggles must be duly decided and put into action. Extreme alertness must be in place to protect the fighting workers getting into a state of frustration.
In the meantime, the Left Trade Union Organisations committed to the doctrine of class struggles must undertake comprehensive review of the struggles conducted against neo-liberalism since 1991 and objectively ascertain how far the political tasks in the light of the teachings of Lenin has been accomplished in course of the two decade long battle by the working class.
It will be revealing if we review as to how we carry out the two very essential tasks - propaganda and agitation. The question is while conducting our campaign for mobilising the workers in various struggles including strikes, do we play the role of propagandist or only agitationist or both? Actually both the tasks are integral. In the absence of effective propaganda activities in course of strike campaign, the strike cannot attain success as defined by Lenin. According to Lenin, “Propaganda comprises constant and continuous, unceasing efforts to educate the working class in the spirit of scientific socialism and its revolutionary responsibilities. On the other hand agitation unaccompanied by propaganda fails to turn the awakening generated by trade union struggles into socialist consciousness.” At every level of our organisation this point must be examined as to how far this ideological-political task is carried out.
To conclude on an optimistic note, let the success of the 2nd September strike generate tremendous ideological and political motivation amongst the leaders and cadres of the Left wing constituents of the Unity Forum of All TUs to reorient their activities strictly guided by the aforementioned teachings of Lenin. (END)