The League for the Revolutionary Party of the United States (LRP), and our comrades internationally in the Communist Organization for the Fourth International (COFI), stand with our fellow workers who are fighting against the FTAA.
The FTAA represents the planned expansion of NAFTA to cover nearly all the nations of the Americas. This means an ominous expansion of the attacks that NAFTA has already signified. Real wages for Mexican workers have fallen over 35% since NAFTA took effect – while the peasantry of Mexico has seen its living standards decimated. Social services like health care and education have been slashed. NAFTA has of course also opened the working class of Canada and the U.S. to increased attack.
"Free trade" agreements aim primarily at intensifying the domination and exploitation of subjugated nations by the big imperialist powers. They aim at knocking down barriers to imperialist ownership and profit making in the already super-exploited nations. They go hand in hand with the work of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, which hold Third World economies, refusing to extend them credit unless pro-imperialist trade laws are established and draconian austerity policies are implemented.
Of course, as their economic interests in the "Third World" grow, so too does the imperialists’ need to guarantee those investments by funding and training local armed forces, propping-up friendly dictatorships, and when all else fails, by direct invasions. Look again at Mexico. As economic interests in Mexico grew, so did the U.S. government’s funding and training of Mexico’s armed forces. Backing of Mexico’s infamously corrupt ruling party, the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional) also intensified. When Mexico’s economic decline under NAFTA produced a political crisis that led to the collapse of PRI rule, the U.S. moved to back the rule of Vicente Fox’s PAN (Partido de Accion Nacional) which has been even more subservient to U.S. domination. Another good example is Colombia. President Bush is continuing Clinton’s support to the Colombian government’s armed struggle against left-wing guerrilla forces, equipping its military with the most advanced weaponry, technology and training.
Canada’s willingness to serve as a loyal junior partner has also been shown in its prominent role in the recent U.S.-led occupation of Haiti by U.N. "peacekeepers".
The imperialists also use "free trade" to intensify their exploitation of workers at home. The threat of unbridled foreign competition is used to force workers to accept harder and more dangerous work, longer hours and lower wages. Of course the specific effects of NAFTA on U.S. and Canadian workers have not been as devastating as in Mexico. But there is no doubt that the North American bosses have used the increased threat of competition between workers internationally to force wages down "at home." The answer has to be a united working class struggle against the FTAA, across national boundaries.
The problem is not even just the effects of "free trade" agreements today, as horrible as they are. The imperialists wield their "free trade" agreements against one another in a way that threatens the working class of all countries. As world profits decline, competition between the major powers intensifies. Carving out spheres of dominance becomes even more essential. As Germany tightens its economic grip in Europe, and Japan extends its power in Asia, the U.S. ups the ante by pushing harder to turn Latin America and the Caribbean into a "free trade" area under its unchallenged domination. These "free trade" agreements like the FTAA are actually a road toward stepped up trade war between the imperialist nations, which will inevitably lead to a third world war if the working class doesn’t intercede beforehand.
Fortunately, the working class has already begun its fight against the imperialists’ "free trade" offensive. In fact there are a number of inspiring struggles we can learn from. Argentina was recently shaken by general strikes against IMF sponsored austerity measures, and more such strikes are being planned. The Bolivian masses have successfully rebelled against the privatization of water services, despite tremendous military repression. And in Ecuador, workers and indigenous peasants have used mass strikes and uprisings to repeatedly topple governments in response to attempts to make the U.S. dollar the national currency to allow greater exploitation by U.S. business. Beyond the Americas, general strikes and riots have similarly broken out in response to IMF and World Bank policies, from Indonesia to Zimbabwe.
For revolutionary socialists, such struggles by the working class and poor are key to defeating imperialist "free trade" attacks and every other aspect of increasing misery under capitalism. Mass struggle can beat back the capitalists’ attacks and even win some temporary reforms and improvements. But capitalism is an economic system based on brutal exploitation and as it lurches deeper into crisis it will only be able to survive by intensifying its exploitation and oppression. An end to such misery cannot be brought about by reforms, but by revolution that overthrows capitalist rule. Only the working class, in alliance with all oppressed peoples, can lead humanity out of the catastrophe capitalism is preparing. The working class alone has the power and organization that comes from being at the heart of capitalist exploitation. And most importantly, only the working class is driven by its economic interests to overthrow capitalism, because it alone has no stake in the system continuing. The working class can overthrow capitalism and build a new society of freedom and plenty. This revolutionary struggle will also attract those students and activists who identify with the interests of our class.
While workers around the world have risen up in explosive struggles against imperialist "free trade" attacks, there hasn’t been such a massive response by workers in North America – yet. Certainly, the class struggle in Canada is more advanced than in the U.S. In fact, it was the pressure from Canadian workers for a general strike that forced the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) to call the Days of Action of 1996-7 against the right-wing government in Ontario. But in that case, the union leaders purposefully avoided calling the type of indefinite provincial strike that was needed to win, calling a series of much weaker one-day strikes instead. Thus they allowed the struggle to be defeated.
Going back further in time, the province-wide general strike in Quebec in 1972 was an even more advanced and critical landmark in working class history. And the recent strikes by Quebec nurses and teachers (against the austerity measures coming down from the PQ provincial government as well as the Liberals in the Federal government) was another strong hint at what our class can do. Under the right leadership, these struggles could have led to a general strike that would not only have beaten back the immediate attacks, but would have also built for a much more powerful mobilization against the FTAA.
Labor struggles in Canada, while far ahead of anything seen recently in the U.S., were still sold out because they remained under the leadership of pro-capitalist reformist bureaucrats. These union leaders accept the limits imposed by capitalism and fear mass action by the workers. This is one good reason why we are fighting to build a revolutionary party leadership internationally. Workers need a revolutionary party which can both lead today’s struggles to victory, and build a struggle toward the ultimate triumph over capitalism. Such revolutionary leadership would certainly advocate united general strikes to defeat the capitalists’ attacks.
In the U.S., the "Battle in Seattle" in 1999 against the World Trade Organization (WTO) provided a lot of inspiration to the movement. But attempts to repeat this success in other cities – such as Washington D.C., Windsor, Prague, and Nice – have failed to measure up. The power of the Seattle protests came from the fact that student activists were joined by a massive mobilization of workers. Union leaders had mobilized tens of thousands of their members with the aim of only having a passive protest. But many of the workers wanted a real fightback, not just a passive display. So when they saw the opportunity to break from the assigned route of the march to join protesters blocking the streets around the WTO conference, they seized the chance. The union bureaucrats lost control and the repressive apparatus of the state was taken by surprise. Workers and students joined together and succeeded in shutting the meeting down. (See "Battle Over Seattle" in Proletarian Revolution No. 60.)
Since then, the state has learned its lesson, and is no longer taken by surprise. The fences and jails prepared for us in Quebec testify to the escalation in use of repressive force. And the union tops, have also learned their lesson. They avoid mobilizing masses of workers and try to separate the organized working class from the youth, when in fact a worker-led alliance is needed.
This time the CLC, Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ) and Centrale des syndicats du Québec (CSQ) leaders have made a better showing than they did for Windsor, or than the AFL-CIO did for Washington. But their reason for taking action isn’t a commitment to defend the working class against the bosses’ attacks. Rather, they fear that their members will throw them out of office if they don’t at least make a show of mobilizing.
But their plan for opposing the FTAA is one piece of evidence that their fear of mobilizing a serious struggle is the operative factor. To try to restrain the protests against the FTAA, the union march was organized for the end of the summit – instead of to unite with the earlier efforts of "direct actionists" to shut down the proceedings. Had the unions called out all the workers to demonstrate on Friday we almost certainly would have had the forces to shut the summit down.
Those who want to oppose capitalism must oppose the role of the pro-capitalist leaders of the unions. Revolutionaries push for working class mass action to defeat the capitalist attacks. But they must always warn their fellow workers of the union tops’ treacherous role and seek to expose the connection between their betrayals and their pro-capitalist politics. If we want to oppose capitalism, we must expose the current leaders who do so much to keep the system in place. We must consistently fight for international workers’ solidarity and oppose the reactionary protectionism and national chauvinism that the bureaucrats promote.
Unfortunately, all the major supposedly "anti-capitalist" forces involved in today’s protest fail to challenge the union bureaucracy. On the one hand, while some socialist groups from the Stalinist Communist Party to the supposedly Trotskyist International Socialists have participated in the official, union-led coalitions, they have done so without raising the demand on the union leaders to mobilize to shut the summit down. Thus they tacitly accept the union bureaucrats’ aims of avoiding a real struggle.
The direct actionists in the Comite d'accueil du Sommet des Ameriques (CASA) and Convergence des luttes anti-capitalistiques (CLAC) have also let the union tops off the hook by refusing to challenge them to join the actions to shut the summit down. By-passing the established leaders of the working class leads only to weak parodies of mass action. Students alone do not have the power that the working class does. At the current time only the unions have the resources to organize the type of powerful action that is needed to counter the attacks from the state. And failing to challenge the politics of pro-capitalist misleaders again leads to their continued domination of the struggle.
Profits are falling around the world. The capitalists need to intensify their exploitation of the masses if the system is to survive. The union bureaucrats compromise and sell out struggles not because they are incompetent or cowardly, but because they support the capitalist system, enjoying privileged positions as brokers between the capitalists and the workers.
The only leadership that can lead workers’ current struggles all the way to victory is one that has no stake in preserving the system because it is dedicated to its overthrow – a revolutionary socialist leadership.
There is no need for hunger, homelessness and all the other shortages that are used to force workers and poor of different countries to fight one another like dogs. International capitalism has built up a world economy of such capacity that there is no need for the scarcity of jobs, goods and social services anywhere. If the world economy was liberated from the shackles of producing for private profit, and instead directed toward producing for what people need, there would be an abundance for all. This goal can be reached through international socialist revolution. A classless, cooperative socialist world cleansed of all oppression can be built.
But the capitalists and their lackeys will not give up without a fight. Their practically military response to simple protests like this one makes that obvious. No, capitalist rule will have to be overthrown by revolutions that smash the capitalist state and put the working class in power. The most politically advanced and militant workers in each country must join together to build revolutionary parties as sections of a world revolutionary party, a re-created Trotskyist Fourth International. Only with such a disciplined, united leadership will the vanguard workers of the world be able to lead the struggle for world socialist revolution to victory.
Thus the essential link between victory in today’s struggles, and the overthrow of capitalism, is the building of a revolutionary socialist party that combines offering effective leadership to their fellow workers’ immediate struggles, with politically recruiting and training the most politically advanced workers as leaders of the class struggle.
Such a revolutionary party must be internationalist. This means it would defend the right of oppressed nations, such as Quebec and Puerto Rico, to self-determination. It would fight all forms of racism and national chauvinism which divide the working class. It would work for the united action of the working class, across all borders, against every capitalist and imperialist attack.
Importantly, a genuinely revolutionary party will have nothing in common with the false "socialism" of the now-collapsed Soviet Union, or those Stalinist states that linger on today like Cuba, China and Vietnam. In those countries, bureaucratic ruling classes administer statified capitalist economies on behalf of world imperialism. In China and Vietnam, such "socialism" even includes super-exploitation in sweatshop hell-holes for corporations like Nike!
If you agree with these ideas, or would just like to talk about them, contact us. We have a world to win, and not a moment to waste!