Except for the United States and Canada, every May 1st the world celebrates the international day of the working class. Massive rallies and marches are organized and they raise the most heartfelt demands. Imperialist capitalism only offers us more inequality and misery, wars and environmental disaster heading towards barbarism. For that reason, from the ISL we reaffirm the need to build revolutionary political alternatives to bury this inhumane system and pave the way for socialism.
By Pablo Vasco
On May 1st, 1886, Chicago saw the beginning of a huge strike for the eight-hour work day. For several days the workers confronted the police. Eight leaders were prosecuted and sentenced: three to prison and five to death. Louis Lingg commited suicide in his cell to avoid being executed, while on November 11, 1887, George Engel, Adolf Fischer, Albert Parsons and August Spies were hanged. Before dying Spies yelled at his executioners: “The day will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today.”
In 1889, the congress of the Second Socialist International, held in Paris, established May 1st as a tribute to the “Chicago Martyrs” and an international day of struggle for workers’ rights. Since then, through strikes and mobilizations, the eight-hour day was achieved in more and more countries and May 1st established as a paid day off. In short, it is a date that has been imposed on the world calendar by the working class, one day less of capitalist exploitation.
The world of labor today
Out of a world population of some 7.9 billion people, according to the latest ILO data, almost 3.4 billion people work. Most of them do so in exchange for a salary, since there are still niches of slave or semi-slave labor. If we add to this 43% the millions of unemployed workers, the millions of retired workers and the millions who make up their families, it becomes clear that the vast majority of us who inhabit this planet are part of the working class, the only one that produces all goods and services with their labor.
Already, among other divisions, real or encouraged by the bourgeoisie, this class is fragmented by precariousness, with more than half in conditions of informality. This affects women, who make up more than 40% of the world’s labor force, the most. But none of these weaknesses invalidates the overwhelming fact that, far from the neoliberal campaign of a supposed “reduction” of the working class and its role, it exists, it is massive, it is growing and, what is decisive: everywhere it continues to defend tooth and nail its rights attacked by this increasingly exploitative and predatory capitalism in systemic crisis.
Under imperialist capitalism in its current stage of decadence and social polarization, not only there is no longer any genuine welfare state, but it has long been transformed into a misery state for the workers, the young and the poor, that expresses itself in struggles, rebellions and insurrections.
A global overview of workers’ struggles
This article does not intend to cover all the conflicts in the world, but only to outline some examples in the different continents. The year 2022 began with a popular uprising in Kazakhstan, the working people of Ukraine have been resisting the Russian invasion for more than a year, an unprecedented popular semi-insurrection in Sri Lanka overthrew the austerity government and the year ended with strong strikes in Western Europe.
The massive strikes and mobilizations in the imperialist countries deserve special mention, because these are the most powerful bastions of the world working class due to their social prowess. In Europe the strike wave in Great Britain took off, showing the recovery of its working class since its defeat by Margaret Thatcher in 1985. There were also strikes in Italy, Germany, Spain, Portugal and general strikes in Belgium, Greece and Cyprus. At the varguard are the workers’ movement and the youth of France against Macron’s pension reform, with twelve general strikes and demonstrations of a magnitude not seen in decades, in a process of struggle that is still open and questioning the bourgeois government.
In the United States, there were strikes in education -especially at the university level- railroad workers, Amazon warehouse workers -a measure that was extended to 30 countries- Starbucks, coal miners, nurses and other unions. In Latin America, the piqueteros, tire workers, resident doctors, drivers and teachers in Argentina, the telephone workers in Mexico, teachers in Bolivia, state workers, subway workers and teachers in Brazil, dock workers and truck drivers in Chile, an indigenous uprising in Ecuador, a popular rebellion in Haiti, strong strikes in Panama and another popular rebellion in Peru, which still persists despite the bloody repression.
As for Asia and Africa, there were strong strikes in Egypt (optical fiber workers, steel workers and carpet manufacturers), in South Africa (health workers, dock workers, railway workers), in Iran after the great rebellion triggered by the assassination of Mahsa Amini (oil, gas, petrochemicals, refineries, power plants and steel mills) and in Indonesia (foundries and others). China witnessed several protests against confinement measures and massive strikes at the iPhone mega-factories. In India, 200 million workers went on a 48-hour general strike for a wage increase and against privatizations. In Australia there were strikes at Pfizer, Apple Store and other companies. At the same time, the resistance of the Palestinian, Saharawi and Kurdish peoples is growing stronger.
As we can see, there is practically no region in the world where the working class is not resisting and fighting against the capitalists, their governments and their austerity plans.
Building revolutionary alternatives
The main engine of these struggles all around the world is the demand for wages that are steadily deteriorating in the face of inflation and working conditions, also for the right to unionize or against layoffs and closures of companies.
In general, the union bureaucracy has not yet been overtaken by a new leadership and/or rank and file organizations of democratic self-determination, but in the heat of the struggles a young and militant vanguard is emerging and organizing from below. With inequalities and singularities according to each country, a new generation of activists plays an outstanding role in the struggles, seeks forms of coordination, advances in its experience with the old bureaucratic leaderships, becomes radicalized, engages in debates and is open to political dialogue with the revolutionary left.
As is well expressed in the Document on the world situation approved at the 2nd world congress of the ISL held last March in Barcelona: “The capitalists today do not have sufficient strength to inflict historic defeats on the struggles that are developing and although the problems of leadership of our class and the popular sectors do not allow them to resolve the capitalist crisis in their favor, the struggle against the attacks on living standards and the growing authoritarianism will continue. That is why the perspective we visualize is towards a deepening of the upswing, with more strikes, mobilizations and recurrent rebellions.
“Our challenge is to take advantage of this new stage in each country to train our younger cadres, to structure ourselves socially and politically in the working class and the most dynamic sectors of the mass movement and to take leaps in our construction, being aware that we are only at the beginning of a process that will tend to deepen and will give us multiple opportunities to advance.
“Only if we advance in the construction of strong revolutionary socialist organizations and manage to lead sectors of our class in this stage, will we be able to become an objective factor that can counteract the weaknesses of the processes, help the workers’ movement play the strategic role that is needed and to contest power in the coming rebellions and revolutions that will take place. Only this way can the pre-revolutionary situation we are in not end up retreating, become revolutionary and allow us to change history.” [i]
This May 1st, from the International Socialist League, we greet you and send all of our solidarity to the workers who fight relentlessly, sometimes in very harsh conditions, for their rights across the entire world: In France against the pension reform; in Ukraine against the invasion of Putin’s troops and at the same time against the government of Zelensky; the labor activists of Belarus that face the persecution of the dictator Lukashenko; the workers of Kenya and all Africa who wage a war against hunger and neocolonial exploitation; those of Nicaragua, who organize for their social and democratic rights. To all of you, from Pakistan to Lebanon and from the US to Argentina, we give you our class and revolutionary embrace. The working class is one, and has no borders!