Public Right Yes, Monopoly Right No!
International Support for Wisconsin Struggle
March 12 saw the largest demonstration yet in Madison, Wisconsin, estimated at more than 150,000. For the 27th day, workers, youth, teachers and seniors took the streets, surrounded the Capitol building and occupied it. The demonstration also included a sizeable contingent of dairy farmers from across the state. Riding in on their tractors they made clear that Wisconsin’s dairy farmers stand are one in the struggle to defend rights. Despite passage of the hated anti-worker bill of Governor Scott Walker, the demonstration was spirited and firm in making clear that the fight is far from over.
The farmers, like many of the workers, targeted capitalism and the current direction to the dictatorial rule of monopoly right. The political representatives of owners of monopoly capital are using the power of the state to attack the rights of workers to organize legally in collectives of their peers and to have a say in their working conditions and claims on the wealth produced by the workers class. This attack is taking place in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and elsewhere, where executive power is being increased and authority given to the Governor to eliminate contracts, pensions, healthcare benefits and unions. In opposition, the demonstrators are defending the right of workers to organize legally into collectives of their peers without interference from the owners of capital, and to bargain in good faith their working conditions and claim on the wealth produced. The farmers added their voice to the fight, condemning the capitalists for “sucking” off all the wealth produced.
Workers and their allies in Wisconsin are discussing how to break new ground and move their battle forward. They are contending with the reactionary political forces in Wisconsin, as well as those at the federal level, all using “budget deficits” to justify massive attacks on the people while paying the rich even more of the public treasury and handing over the pension funds of public workers. The tactics of class struggle are being hotly discussed, as various forces of the rich strive to take initiative from the workers and restrict the struggle to voting in the next election for a “more friendly” representative of the rich. Workers and their allies are discussing potential use of rotating strikes from one sector to the next, a general strike, more occupations, various legal and electoral actions, and more.
What is coming to the fore is the need to together break new ground, with the struggle in Wisconsin is a key front in this struggle. This battle is already engaged and one that workers everywhere are joining to move forward. Demonstrations in state after state after state are being organized on a weekly basis as part of these efforts. Workers and youth together are fighting hard to keep initiative in their own hands and keep the fight for the rights of all in the forefront. Experience is showing that breaking new ground demands independent working class thinking and organizing that rejects monopoly right and politics of the rich and leads to t the mass mobilization of workers, youth, teachers, farmers and seniors for public right and the rights of all.
Workers, youth, farmers, seniors, together in the fight for the rights of all!
International Support for Wisconsin
The Wisconsin working class is in a battle to defend its rights and break new ground for the U.S. working class movement. On Saturday March 12, for the 27th straight day, demonstrations shook the capital of Madison and other cities throughout the state. The biggest force to date of more than 150,000 workers, seniors and youth surrounded the Capitol building and occupied it.
Representatives of owners of monopoly capital are using Wisconsin state political power to attack the rights of workers to organize legally in collectives of their peers and to have a say in their working conditions and claims on the wealth produced by the Wisconsin working class. In opposition, the demonstrators are defending the right of workers to organize legally into collectives of their peers without interference from the owners of capital, and to bargain in good faith their working conditions and claim on the wealth produced by the Wisconsin working class.
Breaking New Ground in the Struggle for the Rights of All
Workers' rights are theirs by virtue of being human and the producers of all wealth and providers of all services. In the context of the dictatorship of monopoly capital, workers' rights are only won in class struggle in defense of the rights of all. They are only won when the initiative is kept in the hands of workers organized through their own efforts and guided by their own thinking in opposition to the control and thinking of the owners of capital.
In this context, workers and their allies in Wisconsin are discussing how to break new ground and move their battle forward. They are looking at the experience of others and assessing their tactics in light of the reactionary political power they face from the organized collectives of owners of capital such as the Republican Party in power in Madison, the Democratic Party in power in the White House and other anti-worker anti-social forces.
At this time, the tactics of class struggle are being hotly discussed. The TML correspondent in Wisconsin reports that the leaders and activists of worker collectives, seniors and youth are wary of letting the initiative slip out of their hands and into the hands of those who would betray the struggle. They are acutely aware they need to break new ground within the conditions of neoliberal globalization.
The Canadian working class has much experience in the organization of "big events" that are well attended but instead of breaking new ground and leading to a greater mass mobilization and sustained opposition of the working class, seniors and youth, the "big event" is turned against the movement and used to "let off steam" and demobilize the people with calls to go home and elect this or that "more friendly" representative of the political parties of the owners of capital.
Our correspondent reports that the head of the firefighters' union spoke of plans for a general strike. Quoted in the mass media he said, "Well, a strike is the trump card as Jim Cavanaugh from the South Federation of Labor said. We've got to work on it, put everything into place, make sure emergency operations are in place. It takes a lot of coordination. The general strikes that happened in Ontario, that's similar to what happened here in Wisconsin. And so we have got to take those lessons learned back from the '70s in Ontario, 1935 in Minneapolis and San Francisco that created the National Labor Relations Act. We've got a lot of education and learning to do and if we do put this into place we have got to make sure it is effective and I think our people are ready."
Lessons Learned from the '70s and '90s
The necessity to have actions with analysis, break new ground and not allow the initiative to slip out of the hands of activists was learned from the October 14, 1976 National General Strike and Demonstrations Against Trudeau's Wage and Price Controls and the 1995-98 Ontario Days of Action Against the Harris anti-social cutbacks and privatizations.
The October 14, 1976 one day national general strike acted as an escape valve for the boiling steam of working class opposition that was churning against the Trudeau Liberals' unilateral ripping up of the post-war social contract. Many consider Trudeau's treachery of wage controls and the one day general strike as the end of the social contract and the beginning of a long decline of the organized trade union movement, social programs and public services that broke new ground in the conditions of the post-war period. The 1976 general strike effectively demobilized the masses of workers who were eager to organize and fight to defend the rights of all. The demobilization of the working class movement set the stage for the advent of Brian Mulroney onto the national stage with his neoliberal global free trade agenda and the even greater attacks on social programs and the rights of workers by Chretien, Bourassa, Rae, Harris, Martin, Campbell, Charest, Harper and other political representatives of monopoly capital.
Working class tactics are the lifeblood of the movement. They must be broadly and consciously discussed by all involved and seen as markers in the overall advance of the working class movement to break new ground in the struggle for new political and economic arrangements. Wrong tactics can strangle the working class movement from above and lead to demobilization and collapse such as what happened after October 14, 1976 and the 1995-98 Ontario Days of Action.
The conditions of neoliberal globalization demand the breaking of new ground. The tactics of today are found in a concrete analysis of concrete conditions and not in looking back in nostalgia or envy at what others have done or are doing. Breaking new ground demands independent working class thinking and organizing that leads to the mass mobilization of workers, seniors and youth for public right and the rights of all in opposition to monopoly right, neoliberal globalization and the politics of monopoly capital.
Let us together, Canadian, Quebec and U.S. workers break new ground in the struggle to defend the rights of all!
Victory to the Wisconsin working class, seniors and youth!
(TML Daily is the on line newspaper of the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist), cpcml.ca)
The right to association, including organizing unions and other organizations of the workers is recognized as a basic human right around the world. With politicians in the United States attacking this right, in Wisconsin, Michigan and elsewhere, working people worldwide are responding with strong expressions of support. U.S. workers are receiving support from all corners of the world, from Japan to Kenya to Mexico and Turkey.
Several major international workers’ organizations and labor federations in more than 20 countries have spoken out against the assault on U.S. workers by governments at all levels.
The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), which represents 176 million workers in 301 federations in 151 countries, is standing behind U.S. workers. They have emphasized that the rights to organize and bargain collectively for fair wages and conditions are cornerstones of any democracy, and removing these rights means democracy itself is under attack.
The International Labor Organization (ILO) has rejected the anti-worker legislation in Wisconsin and elsewhere. The attack on workers’ rights that it contains is outlawed by the ILO’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.
The Trade Union Advisory Committee (TUAC) to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) issued a statement saying it stands in solidarity with the Wisconsin workers and all those in other states facing legislation to curtail workers’ rights and eliminate collective bargaining rights for public sector unions.
Workers and unions from many countries, including those in Egypt, have sent letters of support, organized rallies, and joined the call-ins to pizza parlors in Wisconsin, paying for pizzas which were then distributed free to demonstrators occupying the Capitol. Among the many unions worldwide sending letters of support are:
Australia: Australian Community and Public Sector Union and State Public Services Federation
Kenya: Kenya Union of Commercial Food and Allied Workers
Pakistan: Pakistan Public Sector Employees Federation
Europe: Brighton and Hove District Trades Council, Brighton, England, Public Services International of France; German Trade Union of Municipal Employees - Arts, Media, Sports and the Professions; Public Service Executive Union in Ireland; Public Sector Union of the Netherlands; Norway - Electrician and IT Workers Union, Confederation of Vocational Unions in Norway; Polish Trade Union NSZZ; Swedish Public Sector Unions; Turkish Trade Union of Public Employees in Health and Social Services;
Grenada: Grenada Public Workers' Union
Canada: Canadian Union of Postal Workers; Canadian Union of Public Employees; Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions; Canadian National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE); Ontario Federation of Labor; Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation; Teaching Support Staff Union, Simon Fraser University; Alliance of Canadian Cinema Television and Radio Artists.
(For a full listing see Wisconsin State AFL-CIO, wisaflcio.org).
The International Commission for Labor Rights (ICLR) sent a notice to the Wisconsin Legislature, explaining that its attempt to strip collective bargaining rights from public workers is illegal.
Anyone who has watched the events unfolding in Wisconsin and other states that are trying to remove collective bargaining rights from public workers has heard people protesting the loss of their “rights.” The ICLR explained to the legislature exactly what these rights are and why trying to take them away is illegal.
The ICLR is a New York-based nongovernmental organization that coordinates a pro bono network of labor lawyers and experts throughout the world. It investigates labor rights violations and issues reports and amicus briefs on issues of labor law.
The ICLR identified the right of “freedom of association” as a fundamental right and affirmed that the right to collective bargaining is an essential element of freedom of association. These rights, which have been recognized worldwide, provide a brake on unchecked corporate or state power.
In 1935, when Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act (also known as the NLRA, or the Wagner Act), it recognized the direct relationship between the inequality of bargaining power of workers and corporations and the recurrent business depressions. That is, by depressing wage rates and the purchasing power of wage earners, the economy fell into depression. The law therefore recognized as policy of the United States the encouragement of collective bargaining.
While the NLRA covered US employees in private employment, the law protecting collective bargaining in both the public and private sectors has developed since 1935 to cover all workers “without distinction.”
The opening paragraph of the ICLR statement reads:
As workers in the thousands and hundreds of thousands in Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio and around the country demonstrate to protect the right of public sector workers to collective bargaining, the political battle has overshadowed any reference to the legal rights to collective bargaining. The political battle to prevent the loss of collective bargaining is reinforced by the fact that stripping any collective bargaining rights is blatantly illegal. Courts and agencies around the world have uniformly held the right of collective bargaining in the public sector is an essential element of the right of Freedom of Association, which is a fundamental right under both International law and the United States Constitution.
The ICLR statement summarizes the development of this law from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights through the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) conventions on freedom of association (that is, the right to form and join unions) and collective bargaining. It cites court cases from the United States and around the world. All embrace freedom of association as a fundamental right and recognize the right to collective bargaining as an essential element of freedom of association.
Some anti-union voices argue that since federal employees presently do not have the right to bargain collectively, neither should state workers. In fact, the argument should go the other way. The law cited in the ICLR statement means that denying federal employees collective bargaining rights – which they have had over the years when presidents have recognized them by executive order – is just as illegal as denying collective bargaining rights to state public employees. President Obama should take this opportunity to reinstate the rights of federal employees to collective bargaining.