The situation in France is dominated by the offensive of the bosses and the lack of a real workers’ party.
cwi international conference.
Reports from France (Gauche Revolutionnaire) and Germany (Sozialistische Alternative (SAV)) presented to the 2004 meeting of the International Executive Committee (IEC) of the cwi, held in Belgium, 14 – 20 November.
Bosses’ and government offensives demand powerful fight-back in France and Germany
Urgent need for new socialist mass workers’ party
On the one hand the rightwing Raffarin government is carrying out the biggest neo-liberal policies that the workers have faced for decades. Within two years of taking power, it has been able to put the private sector into majority ownership of the French national telephone service, Air France etc. The bosses’ attacks on welfare, social and medical care, jobs and labour laws have been implemented.
At the same time, the government has the record of being the longest one with such a great level of unpopularity. For a year and a half Raffarin has had a rating of less than 35% of the electorate satisfied with him and has faced two huge electoral defeats in the Spring of 2004.
Raffarin relies on the lack of self-confidence of the working class. While there is tremendous anger, with nobody believing any more in the myth of global capitalism bringing a good standard of leaving to everybody, no struggle since may 2003 (which was very limited) brings that anger onto the political arena. Workers used the Parti Socialiste vote to give a blow to Raffarin but, because of the lack of any alternative, they are still very passive. Some struggles happen here or there but nothing like the scale of national struggle that the French working class has done traditionally.
Clearly, the lack of a genuine workers’ mass party, and even more, that of a mass or semi-mass revolutionary party, is the main problem. The unions’ bureaucracies are not able to be a brake on the struggles, so they are just inert – saying nothing, doing nothing, not even organising a meeting. The semi-bureaucrats – union branch officials or work-place officials – follow the top bureaucracy by saying the working class does not want to struggle, which is completely false if you take the objective situation. The workers are so mistrustful against the union bureaucracy that they do not want to fight if it means a sell-out by the union leaders.
In the central postal delivery centre in Rouen, due to our work, 71 workers on a general assembly of 80 voted, in a hand ballot, against the management proposals. They then followed the proposal of the union of not voting: only 30% voted on the bosses’ proposals.
The far left (LO and the LCR) could play a key role today. From 1995 it could have been possible to launch a new formation, certainly a bit hybrid, that could have played a key role in giving confidence to the workers and centralising the struggles. In no other country have conditions been more favourable for that. The list is long: -‘95 public sector semi general strike, ‘96 ‘sans papiers’ struggles, ‘96 and ‘97 teamsters’ general strike and enterprise occupations (Elf in Pau, CCF -housing bank- in Paris), ‘98 and ‘99 massive school students strikes, 2000 education general strike, 2001 wave of strikes against job redundancies (Lu-Danone, Marks and Spencer etc.), 2002 wave of demos against Le Pen being in the second round, 2003 semi general strike in education and the biggest one day strike in both public and private sector for decades on the 13 of May, 2004 struggle in the national electricity public service against privatisation and the government has not yet been able to launch the selling of these shares.
During these years, 10% of the voters gave support to LO-LCR in the presidential election in 2002, and even a very good 4.8% in the last regional elections. But the union bureaucrats can continue their dirty work with nothing new coming from these organisations. Up to now, ordinary workers still consider favourably the two organisations but a small layer have resigned or is more and more sceptical. Genuine working class activists are rank and file members of these organisations but the leadership has completely failed to understand, to put it in the French situation, the effect that the complete bourgeoisification of the Parti Socialiste has had on the CP and the CGT.
Several struggles have occurred in recent weeks: Perrier was the most interesting in terms of strategy for the working class (you cannot delocalise a natural spring!) but the CGT leadership tried to find a legal way of fighting (a veto on the enterprise’s board) which was very useful to stop the workers going into occupation. It flows directly from the demand (former CP demand, now backed by the LO and LCR) of a law to forbid job redundancies.
It is clear now that the LO and LCR completely lack a strategy and even in terms of day-to-day activities, they are not able to do anything. Claiming 3000 members, the LCR hardly sells 2400 papers a week and have launched a financial campaign to "save the paper". It is not working at all; they get less new subscriptions than the subscriptions that run out.
Balance sheet of the work of Gauche Revolutionnaire
Three years ago we agreed to re-launch an independent organisation affiliated to the CWI. It is a long time ago now. Up to February of this year it was a constant battle to consolidate it. Few new members, political confusion, disappointments were the day-to-day reality. The organisation correctly faced several key issues – 2002 with Le Pen, 2003 strike etc. – but was completely overwhelmed by the size and the attractiveness of LO and LCR. We were forced to maintain activity in Rouen that was mainly organised and done by the cadres. A part of the contacts and new members were lost very quickly.
But the political analysis and orientation allowed us to consolidate the members. Most of the members came from a very enthusiastic period. When we were re-building our numbers we made a point of quoting our international membership and successes.
Our analysis became very sharp and useful when, in the beginning of 2004, the political situation became more polarised. Student contacts decided to join and new contacts turned up. Because of the correctness of our positions, the organisation was becoming more self-confident than ever.
Membership has grown from being based in just two cities (Rouen and Nanterre) to now being in these two plus Paris, Le Havre, Caen, Amiens, Lille, Evreux and Marseilles. It is still very hard to escape the day-to-day class struggle and life pressures but most of the members are active.
In a period of struggle we are able to sell more papers than when there is a lull, but we are also doing well with sales in the newspaper kiosks.
17 comrades wrote in the last issue (110) of the paper, 11 contributed to the production of it. This does not mean it is easy. It is a permanent effort – regular discussions and following all political developments – that takes an incredible amount of time and means some sometimes the positions are not clear enough. Sometimes cadres have difficulties organising such work, but it is educating for everybody.
We are now able to organise our first congress, on 11/12 December. We will be able to elect an NC, and will have a central discussion on our political project of what kind of organisation we want to build. This congress is the second major step forward for our organisation after consolidating Rouen. The key task will be to have real branches in all the other cities. A new generation is now building the Gauche Revolutionnaire.
Attack and counter-attack
German society has been dominated by the attacks of the Schröder government on the social security system and by the attacks of the bosses on wages and working hours.
Since the first mass demonstration against Schröder’s ‚Agenda 2010’ on November 1 2003 (initiated by us) there has been a series of mass mobilisations of the working class – mass warning strikes in defence of collective bargaining in November and December 2003, mass warning strikes in the metal industry wage round in February, three trade union mass demonstrations of half a million workers on April 3, strikes of 60,000 Daimler Chrysler workers against the lengthening of working hours, the movement of Monday demonstrations against cuts in unemployment benefits in August and September and the national demonstration on that issue on October 2, with 70,000 present, and the seven-day wildcat strike of the workers at Opel Bochum against redundancies and factory closure. Apart from these big mobilisations and strikes there has been a general increase in industrial conflicts.
On the political front, the main development is the coming into existence of a new political formation which could be a pre-formation of a new workers’ party called the Electoral Alternative for Jobs and Social Justice (see Socialism Today October 2004). This formation has not yet contested elections. In several federal state and local elections the neo-fascists were able to make big increases in their votes.
Our general campaign work during the year was around the question of social cuts, the protest movement and industrial disputes. Politically we were putting forward a strategy of strikes and a one-day-general strike against the government’s plans. We organised successful interventions into the big national demonstrations which took place. On a local level we were able to initiate a number of demonstrations – most importantly, in Rostock a first demonstration against social cuts in February which drew more than 2,000 people to it and then the Monday demonstrations there and in other cities.
We were able to win three councillors in Aachen, Cologne and Rostock. In Rostock we stood under the name "SAV/list against social cuts", which means it was an open party list with non-members standing. Here we reached 2.4 percent and narrowly missed a second seat. In Aachen and Cologne we achieved below our expectations but we still got a council seat. It has become clear already that these council positions open up new possibilities for us. Especially in Rostock, our councillor has developed a high profile and has been the only speaker on Monday demonstrations who was greeted with applause by the demonstrators. We plan to stand her as a candidate for the mayoral elections in Spring next year, hopefully not just as an SAV candidate but also supported by the local alliance against social cuts and the electoral alternative.
Industrial and trade union work
We intensified our orientation to industrial and trade union work. On a local level we intervened in several industrial disputes. Most importantly we managed to have a very good intervention into the seven-day long wildcat strike by the Opel workers despite the fact that we did not have comrades in the area. We distributed three different leaflets in the days of the strike and the day after the strike was finished and were able to make first contacts with some of the activists.
We have begun to build a position in one Volkswagen factory with two young workers who have joined us. In a hospital in Stuttgart, where one comrade is the leader of the works’ council, we were able to strengthen our position. One of our comrades was sacked from his job because of his political activity and we are organising a solidarity campaign for him at the moment.
We still lead the "Network for a fighting and democratic Ver.di" (broad left opposition grouping in the public sector and service union). This has considerable authority with a layer of activists. We were not able to establish many local branches of the network but in Kassel, Stuttgart and Hamburg initiatives are planned to re-establish groups. The national meetings of the network are attended by around 30 union members but there are many more who we are in touch with. We do not have a worker comrade who is taking a major responsibility for this field of work. We will try to change this.
We immediately intervened into the process of the formation of the "Electoral Alternative" (WASG). (See socialistworld.net site map for reports, including the one published on 13 December)
This is not yet a clear working-class formation and it has not attracted many people from the new layers of the working class and the youth. So far our intervention has been limited and we have made sure that we maintained our independent character and profile. This and the amount of other activities and responsibilities (like the election campaigns) led to a situation where we were a bit late in some areas with an energetic intervention into the new formation. This is certainly necessary now as it has become clear that, despite its shortfalls, the Electoral Alternative will be the main expression of the new class polarisation on a political and electoral level.
Politically we have intervened with the proposal that the new party should become a workers’ party which is open, democratic, combative and socialist. We are the only current who argues for a socialist programme. Others, especially the IST in Germany, are openly campaigning against this. We produced a programmatical statement and put this forward as an alternative to the leadership’s right-wing Keynesian programme. We also campaigned for democratic structures, platform rights and for a basic position of the new party to fight: "Against any form of social cuts, privatisation and job losses". We have comrades in two federal state executive committees of the formation and delegates to the national conference. There we will stand one of our councillors for the national committee
We are aiming to get in a position where comrades can get elected on the new party’s slate into the federal state parliament in North Rhine-Westphalia in May, 2005 and into the national parliament in 2006.
The objective situation has obviously improved and we should be able to grow quicker. At the same time, the political challenges have also grown and there are extremely many areas of work. We were not able to develop a new layer of cadres to bring the party into a position to meet all these new challenges and have the capacity to put enough emphasis on recruitment. It is quite interesting that we are recruiting a layer of older socialists who were with other current in the past.
We have set ourselves the target of a proletarianisation of the party. We have certainly begun to do that. There are more working-class people in the party, many of them unemployed workers but also a layer of workers and some new trade union activists.
Publications. The paper is monthly. We have a website with new postings every day or every second day. We are planning to produce a four- to six-monthly magazine with the material we are producing for the website. This also aims to carry more historical and theoretical material as this is a deficit at the moment.
We have produced a special pamphlet for the Monday demonstrations and a special pamphlet for the Electoral Alternative. We continue to reproduce most of the paper’s centre-page articles as small pamphlets. We are planning to produce a new "Transitional programme /what we stand for" pamphlet and a pamphlet on industrial battles and the trade unions.
Women in the party. The protest movement and industrial battles this year were dominated by men as is the Electoral Alternative. This led to a situation where a majority of our new members and contacts are men and the gender balance in the organisation is shifting in a wrong direction. We have discussed countering that by taking more initiatives on women’s questions.
East Germany. We succeeded in building a new branch in Leipzig and have the target to build a city organisation with more than one branch in Leipzig and re-build our branch in Dresden next year.
Socialism Days. The Socialism Days in 2004 was again a very successful event with almost 400 participants. They are established now as an important socialist gathering. The target for next year is 600 participants.
Objectives. The main priorities of the organisation will be to intensify our intervention and participation in industrial battles on the basis of a better use of our transitional programme, recruitment, building the party in East Germany and developing anti-fascist work again.