14th International Meeting of Communist and Workers Parties
Beirut, 23-25 November 2012
“Strengthen the struggles against escalating imperialist aggressiveness, for satisfying peoples' socio-economic-democratic rights and aspirations, for socialism”
The workers' struggle at Ford Genk and the Europe-wide general strikes and actions: the way forward against the aggressiveness of capitalism in crisis, for satisfying the people's demands and for propagating socialism
Workers' Party of Belgium (PTB)
Two weeks ago, on Sunday, November 11, more than 20,000 people took to the streets of the small Belgian city of Genk to protest against the closure of the Ford automotive plant there. The case of Ford Genk illustrates very well both the necessity and the opportunity to strengthen the workers' struggles against the aggressiveness of capitalism, today more than ever.
On October 24, the European management of Ford Motor Company announced the closure of its plant in Genk, where currently 4300 workers are employed. Almost ten years ago, in 2003, already 3000 jobs were lost in Ford Genk. And two years ago, the Ford workers were already forced to accept a 12% decrease in their salary in exchange for... long-term job security. If you take into account that in the province of Limburg, at least another 6000 jobs will be lost in related industries, you can understand the despair and the rage of the victimized workers, their families and their communities.
But the closure of Ford was no exception: over the past couple of months, a total of 20,000 job cuts were announced in Belgium, in different branches of the economy. This goes to show the depth and the width of the continuing and structural capitalist crisis of overproduction, with sluggish sales, a diminishing purchasing power and more and more companies that shut down plants and eliminate jobs with just one stroke. Elsewhere in Europe, the same phenomenon wreaks havoc on the jobs, the income and the very lives of the workers; Peugeot in Aulnay, France; Opel in Bochum, Germany; Arcelor-Mittal in Liège, Belgium and Florange, France; Ford in the UK;... This is of course nothing but the wreckless destruction of means of production in an attempt to solve the crisis of overproduction and overaccumulation and restart the capitalist cycle.
The contradiction between capital and labour also expresses itself in a more indirect way: that of the bourgeois governments imposing harsh austerity measures on the workers and the people, prodded by the transnational corporations, the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, etc.: all have already gotten their part of this comprehensive bourgeois attack on the working class and the people, in consecutive waves of 'memorandums', 'packages' or 'plans' that contain measures to cut wages, salaries, unemployment benefits and pensions; to increase the retirement age; to slash funding for social services; to privatize public services and so on. It hardly matters which colours of bourgeois parties are in power. In many of the countries mentioned, including Belgium, it are actually the social-democratic parties that are eagerly implementing the anti-worker policies, in coalition with rightist parties.
Just a few recent examples from Belgium. In government and employers' circles there is much talk about 'reforming' the system of automatic adjustment of salaries and social allowances to the cost of living (the 'index'). An increase of the VAT on consumer goods is also an option under consideration. And in the upcoming wage negotiations between employers and trade unions, the former want to impose a stop on wage increases. An austerity measure already implemented starting this month is the cut in employment benefits: 130,000 unemployed will see their monthly allowance decreased by 12 to 42%. All these measures negatively affect the workers' purchasing power, thus rendering the crisis of overproduction even deeper.
In our agitation and propaganda against the closure of Ford Genk our party tries to render the political message as clearly anti-capitalist as possible, starting from the actual level of consciousness of the workers and their families, by advancing the following ideas, demands and slogans:
- “We don't take this any longer! This system is inhuman.”
- “What has happened to democracy, if one family – the Fords - can singlehandedly decide about the fate of thousands of families?”
- “Ford belongs to us. We want Ford Genk to remain open.”
- “For the maintenance of all Ford plants, with a spread of production over the different plants.”
- “Seizure of the Ford Genk plant and other Ford assets in Belgium by the authorities. Reimbursement of all State subsidies received by Ford Genk.”
- “Stop the attack on wages. No downward wage spiral. Don't touch the 'index'.”
- “The crisis has been created by big bankers, shareholders and millionnaires. Let us make them pay for it.”
- “Politicians are not powerless, they are accountable. By giving subsidies to the industry without any guarantee. By attacking the people's purchasing power. By providing banks with billions of euros. By acting as the political representatives of big capital.”
In this struggle we support all actions of the trade unions, as the main fighting organization of the working class. At Ford Genk, we are with the trade union militants and secretaries at the picket lines and meetings, at the demonstrations and actions. This does, of course, not mean that we accept hook, line and sinker anything the trade unions say and do, at Ford no less than for the Belgian working class as a whole. Reformism – and sometimes outright resignation in the face of employers' and governement attacks - remains the dominant trend in both major trade union federations in Belgium, a trend we try to confront with that of militant trade unionism. At Ford, the first fight to wage in the trade unions is the one that opposes the political line of accepting a social plan and higher dismissal payments for the workers, to that of “Ford belongs to us, don't touch our jobs”.
It is in this spirit that on November 7, 200 trade unionists from Ford Genk went to protest at Ford's European works council meeting in Köln. They were faced with 350 policemen. The most militant trade union delegate, who is a member of our party, was arrested and held in prison for 24 hours. German police treated him as a terrorist – while back at the Ford Genk factory gate, he received a hero's welcome. This is yet another political lesson from the fight at Ford, about the class character of the police and justice system.
There is more international solidarity involved in the struggle at Ford. With our German comrades of the DKP (German Communist Party), we produced a common leaflet to distribute at the Ford factory gates in Genk and Köln. Ford workers and trade unionists from Germany, the United Kingdom and Spain participated in the November 11 rally in Genk. Which brings us to the issue of Europe-wide workers action and resistance, as exemplified by the European day of action and solidarity of last November 14, with successful general strikes in a number of countries (Spain, Portugal, Greece, Italy, Cyprus, Malta) and partial strikes, work stoppages and mass actions in many other countries.
At a time when the bourgeosie is largely united in its attacks on the working class and on the peoples and nations of the South, it is urgent and crucial for the latter to unite as well on an international level. Just imagine what the European Ford management would have been faced with if there hadn't been action just at the Ford plant in Genk, but a simultaneous strike and joint occupations of Ford plants throughout Europe, and beyond. And imagine what the impact of the European day of action could have been if communists and militant trade unionists from all over Europe could have given it a more revolutionary orientation. We propose to reflect together on the possibilities of putting forward common demands at the European level, such as a 'millionnaires' tax' (an extra tax on huge fortunes), the generalization of the linkage of salaries to the price of consumer goods, a decent minimum wage or a law to prohibit lay-offs in companies that make profit.
Any efficient fight against capitalism implies a political struggle against the bourgeosie and its political parties. Of course, the main form of struggle for communist and workers' parties remains the class struggle in streets and factories, in offices and schools. Today's conditions of capitalist crisis are favourable for the development of the people's struggle for their social, economic and democratic rights and aspirations. These can be further advanced and reinforced by electoral and parliamentary struggle, in a two-way approach of what we call “street-council-street”: from the streets to the (municipal, provincial or national) council or parliament, and back to the streets.
At the October 14 municipal and provincial elections in Belgium, the Workers' Party of Belgium (PTB) made significant progress. We more than tripled the number of our elected councilors from 15 in 8 city districts and municipalities, to 52 in 20 city districts and municipalities. In a few worker municipalities we have become the second party, while we got our first councilor in major cities as Antwerp, Liège and Brussels (municipalities of Molenbeek and Schaerbeek). It is notable that we won 5 seats in Seraing, where the steel plant of Arcelor-Mittal is located, and 3 in Genk, where the Ford plant is located. A good number of our 52 councilors are workers and trade unionists.
Part of the reason for these favourable results is to be found in the preparatory work our party did, questioning thousands of people about their concrete needs and demands as the basis for our party's local election programme. Housing, mobility, health care, education, local taxes, jobs and pollution were the most popular issues. These are the issues that our elected representatives, together with the Party units in each locality, will take up in the coming months and years. For it is through their role in the daily struggles of the people that communists win their confidence, by proving that they are the best defenders of the people's rights and aspirations. These small but concrete struggles also form the basis for the build-up of a more favourable correlation of forces in preparation for bigger victories to come and for the ultimate fight against the monopolies and the bourgeoisie.
Neither our mass-based approach of the election campaign nor the greater openness toward our party in the mass media during and after elections would have been possible without the renewal put in motion by our 8th Party Congress, held in 2008. There we adopted the orientation to become a genuine workers' party and reach out to a much broader audience by applying flexible tactics, while maintaining our basic Marxist-Leninist principles.
Actually, we are now preparing our 9th Party Congress that will tackle the issue of socialism. In the current context of electoral progress of our party and of intensifying class struggle against factory closures and austerity measures, we have a golden opportunity to put forward our vision of what a society would look like that puts people first, not profit. Today, more and more people recognize the 'system error' of capitalism and look for a structural alternative, that only socialism can offer. For if private corporate owners can singlehandedly decide to close shop, is it not time to think about bringing the major means of production under collective ownership? And if bourgeois governments and parliaments can decide to bleed the large majority of the population while a tiny minority keeps getting richer, is it not time to think about a society where not the bourgeoisie but the working class and the people hold the reins of power?
But as the class struggle, the rejection of capitalism and the influence of our party are mounting, so is the ideological offensive of the Right. In the Northern part of Belgium (Flanders), the Rigthist nationalist party N-VA has won the elections. Their agenda is to split the country in order to better serve the interests of the Flemish bourgeoisie, patterned after the German model. This Rightist current viciously attacks the workers in the South of the country (Wallonia), the migrant workers, the trade unions and, of course, our Party. Lately we have been accused of advocating and using violence and of constituting a danger for democracy. We have been labelled extremists, supporters of North Korea and Bashir Al Assad, anti-Semites. We have also been accused of... participating in international gatherings of communist parties. Interestingly, we get the same accusations from the right wing of the social-democratic party (PS).
This reminds us of the fact that the bourgeoisie still has the option of an even more reactionary alternative to the policies they are implementing right now: narrow nationalism, separatism and even fascism, in a strategy to divide and rule, to split and submit the working class. It is of the utmost importance that communist and workers' parties and organizations counter all tendencies towards nationalism and communalism, and consciously build the unity of the workers and the people on a class basis and on an internationalist basis.