Posted on April 13, 2006
Filed Under Uncategorized |
Editor’s Note: Below are Dave Stratman’s prepared remarks for the Solidarity Now national meeting in Kokomo, IN from April 7-9, 2006. Due to a flight cancellation, Dave was unfortunately unable to attend the meeting. But because words are very powerful and thought provoking, I have chosen to reproduce them below for further thought and discussion.
The Role of Solidarity Now in the Working Class Movement
By Dave Stratman
Kokomo, IN 4/8/06
To figure out what our role should be, we have to look at the situation of workers in the US.
What is that situation?
• Working people are under the sharpest, most coordinated attacks by corporate America in history. In every area of life–wages, pensions, health care, the pace of work, the hours of work needed to support a family, the dehumanized sexuality, competitiveness, and commercialism of popular culture, the permanent war-making of the government, the slashing of government programs and support for people, the levels of taxation, the costs and dehumanized nature of education, the levels of personal, psychological, and economic insecurity–in virtually every way you can imagine, the ruling capitalist class is making life worse for us.
• The institutions that working people have traditionally depended on–the unions and the Democratic Party–have been full partners in these attacks. The attacks on workers have succeeded not because of the great power of the corporations but because the unions have cooperated in the attacks, from PATCO to Hormel to Staley and Caterpillar, from Detroit News to Accuride and now to Delphi, the unions have been full partners with the companies, delivering their members into the hands of the class enemy. The problem with the unions is not that they have been weak but that they are on the wrong side.
• The Democratic Party has played an insidious role in this history, backing every war, every tax break for the rich, every measure to out-source jobs overseas, every attempt to cut government support of working people. The true role of Democrat politicians has been to demobilize workers. They say, “Don’t take action in your own hands. Depend on me! I’ll take care of you! Trust me!”
• There is one other element of the situation that is very important for us, and that is that the logic of capitalism is playing itself out and is being exposed for all to see. American workers are being told that, to keep their jobs, they have to compete with Chinese workers making a dollar a day. This is the logic of capitalism! This is the inevitable nature of a society and an economy based on competition. You can’t have your pension because Delphi needs it to compete. You have to end your days in poverty and insecurity, otherwise GM shareholders won’t be able to grow rich off your labor. The life of the corporation means the death of the workers.
What does this situation call for? What is the role of Solidarity Now in this situation? There are four key things that seem called for.
1. We need to learn and spread the lessons of our history–the history of the last thirty years and back further, to the founding of the union movements and beyond. Every union struggle of the past thirty years has repeated essentially the same mistakes: reliance on the Internationals, begging the leaders to lead, confining their struggle and the ideas they address to their contract rather than addressing the larger context in which their struggle is taking place. Not one of these struggles, from PATCO to Delphi, no matter how valiant and committed the participants, has made the obvious and necessary point, that the attack their members are under is a function of the capitalist system and that it will take the overthrow of capitalism to end the attacks. Not one of them, including the struggle at Delphi, has consciously sought to build a movement of all working people against the capitalist system. We mustn’t keep repeating the same mistakes and pushing the same illusions.
2. We need to think beyond the unions and unionism. Unions have demobilized large sectors of the working class with contractual arrangements. They have attacked solidarity relationships among workers within union locals, isolated local from local and trade from trade, and isolated union workers from non-union and from the unemployed. They have systematically trained their members in class-collaboration, joining the Company Team, competitiveness, etc. They have steered their members into the arms of the capitalist parties, and encouraged workers to abandon self-activity and direct action to rely instead on politicians and courts. They have acted as agents of capitalism abroad (AIFLD) and at home. They have colluded with capital in some of the most ferocious assaults on the working class: UAW/Delphi, wage-tiers, NCLB, etc.
The biggest sin of the unions is that they have tricked the working class into believing that their power comes from the union, when in fact it comes form each other–from their solidarity. The net effect of the unions has been to undermine the collective power of workers. We need to create a new kind of movement, not focused on the contract or on representation by union officials or on benefits for a comparative few who happen to be members of a local but on a movement of the whole working class.
3. We need to think beyond capitalism. Capitalism has a particular logic to it. That logic is based on competition: pitting people against each other. Its logic is riches for the few and poverty for the many. It puts wealth and power in the hands of the few. It sends young men and women out to kill for the Empire. It turns democracy into an empty show. The demands of Delphi and GM and other companies for pay cuts and “legacy relief” are not merely the fault of an evil Steve Miller or an incompetent Board of Directors. They are part of the logic of capitalism. Attacks like this on workers will not be stopped until we get rid of capitalism. Any movement that does not make these points is short-sighted and misleading.
Global capitalism not only means our-sourcing millions of jobs overseas and eliminating millions of others through automation. It also means that the expectations and self-confidence and beautiful minds of our children and grandchildren must be lowered and distorted and crushed so that they will never question their place in a society that is growing more and more unequal and undemocratic, so that if they end up with boring or low-paying jobs or no jobs at all, they will blame themselves instead of the economic system. The long and short of it is that there is no viable future for working people in this system.
4. Solidarity Now must put revolution at the center of its focus. We agreed on Five Principles for Solidarity Now. I agree with all these principles, but it’s important that we not think of number five, that we “fight to revolutionize society and create a true democracy based on equality and solidarity,” as just a kind of add-on in a laundry-list of demands. In fact this commitment to revolution is the principle on which all the other principles are based. No organization is going to be truly controlled by its members unless it is revolutionary. No organization is going to “build solidarity in the workplace, across industries, across races and genders, across employed and unemployed, across generations, across borders” unless it is revolutionary. No organization is going to “be independent of union officialdom” unless it is revolutionary. No organization is going to “take action to support the values and struggles of working people” unless it is revolutionary.
Spreading an idea of democratic revolution based on equality and solidarity is the most important thing we can do, without which nothing else that we do will matter much.
We are trying to start an organization of a new type. We have had a very rough time of it so far, and it isn’t clear whether we are going to survive beyond this weekend. Can we build an organization that reflects our declared ideals? Do we really believe in solidarity with one another? Do we truly believe in friendship?
If we can build an organization that reflects our declared ideals, one based on solidarity and equality and democracy, then I know we can succeed. There is a whole world of people out there who know that the society is headed in a desperate direction and are searching for an organization and a movement to be part of.
“Build it and they will come.”