Sie sind hier: Startseite Projekte Peter Waterman - Work in Progess Labour at the World Forum of Alternatives Conference, Caracas, October 13-18, 2008

Labour at the World Forum of Alternatives Conference, Caracas, October 13-18, 2008

erstellt von dave — zuletzt verändert: 27.10.2008 09:31
Summary of discussion in the Caracas Labour Group 2008: Towards the Global Emancipation of Labour

The group consisted of about 25 members and decided to stay together and discuss all three questions in plenary

The three questions set by the organisers were as follows:

  • The increasingly 'informalisation' of labour
  • The challenge of global labour solidarity
  • New forms of labour self-organisation

The group touched on the current crisis of capitalist globalisation. That this is bound to hit labour; there will be job losses and greater insecurity of jobs. The serious capitalist economic crisis, whose first expression was in the financial area, will eventually move into the productive area and aggravate the class struggle on a worldwide scale. Big capital plans to make workers around the world pay the costs of this crisis, and to transfer the costs as much as possible from the industrialised countries to those countries on the periphery. The capitalist offensive to impose an authoritarian restructuring of its domination hits the working class in a period when the organisational and ideological level of the workers is low, except in certain nations where advances have been made, for example, in Bolivia and Venezuela.

However the changes in the modes of labour have been happening over a much longer period. In most countries the number of what is called informal labour, far outnumber the formal sector. The main struggles are against retrenchment and job losses. Unemployment, informalisation, casualisation, migration- these are the issues that face labour today. In the last few decades there have been many profound changes in the internal structure of the working class, brought about through the neoliberal offensive, the development of the productive forces and the institutional changes that imposed labor flexibility. Today's working class is composed of industrial workers and public service workers who still have secure jobs and labor rights, together with a massive number of workers in insecure jobs, mainly young people, women, and immigrant workers with and without work papers and "underground" workers (the latter suffer what are near slave worker conditions).

These changes have also meant that there needs to be a re-conceptualisation of work and working class.

The group discussed the need (or not) to redefine the meaning of ‘work’ and 'worker’ . Work is more than just that of the traditional industrial or clerical workplace, and the definition of worker has to be more comprehensive. This includes not only workers in the formal sector, but also labour in the informal sector, for example the case of street traders, poor peasants, call-centre workers, care-givers, etc. These are also the sections which have not been widely unionised. Are they part of the working class or not? Are food- producers part of the working class? This is an important question – the one of definition - which has strategic implications. There was broad consensus that the concept of working class has to be expanded. That the wage relationship is not the only factor that defines the working class. But there were many questions still to be debated at length.

There was a debate on whether ownership of the means of production can be considered as criteria for defining a set of people as being part of the class. The street hawker, the tailor who owns a sewing machine- can he/she be considered to be part of the proletariat? Some felt that the classic definition of the proletariat was important in a strategic way. Others felt that a wider definition was needed.

The question of self-perception is also interesting. It was noted that often even sections of the working class no longer see themselves as part of the class, and instead identify themselves as middle class or merely part of a particular trade or profession. Street vendors even though they are often out of work workers, see themselves as small businesspeople. Call-centre employees do not still see themselves as workers.

There was an exchange of experiences in the different countries: China, India, Philipines, South Africa, various parts of Europe and Africa. Everywhere we see increasing heterogeneity and fragmentation of labour.

But the working class survives, and struggles continue, often using new forms of organisation and struggle. In Germany workers fought against neo-liberal reforms which affect all the people not only workers. In Brussels the trade unions are still organised and strong even if the leadership is not always socialist. In China if there are no huge protests against growing unemployment, and forced migration, it is only because the villages provide family and community support. This is the case in many third world countries. In Brazil and India we see new and effective forms of workers struggle and organisation. In the US immigrant workers have been at the forefront of working class struggles, and have revived the May Day tradition in the USA.

There are important problems in maintaining the independence of the working class to the extent that governments claim they are defenders of the popular interests. The government's goal is to turn the labor movement into a factor to assure social peace when confronted with proposals that threaten the interests of the working class and the people. In their structure and function, many labor confederations have stopped representing the interests of the new working class in all its heterogenity, and now consist of non-representative top-down structures.

In this crisis scenario there must be an amplification and intensification of labor struggle that take the most diverse forms and in this way advance toward a struggle for socialism that will be capable in the 21st century of offering an alternative contrary to the destructive logic of the capitalist system. On the road toward the ideological and organisational reconstruction of the working class, a central aspect is the development of a movement based on workers' democracy - with the direct participation of the workers in taking fundamental decisions. This will raise the level of class consciousness, class unity and capacity for struggle.

We noted that new struggles and forms of organisation evolved; going beyond the organisation of traditional unions to deal with the new forms of labour, and to unify the struggles of the different sections of the working class. This does not however mean that the trade unions are obsolete or even ineffective. In many parts of Europe major sections of the working class are still organised in trade unions and even where the leadership is not socialist, the potential and power of these organisations are still significant and we must not fall into the neo-liberal trap of discounting their importance. The working class should integrate its distinct form of organisation, starting from the traditional kind of workers' unions, to include movements of unemployed, precarious and immigrant and clandestine workers, into united actions of the working class in its broadest definition, in particular in defense of the working class sectors with the least protection.

A union movement should have the capacity of coordinating with other social sectors in concrete struggle that concern each of these sectors, including the movement against war. In the struggle for democracy - using its broadest political, economic and social meaning - the working class must try to coordinate with other social sectors, without losing its class identity or independence.

There was a discussion on what can be called the hierarchy of class consciousness. Some felt that the struggles of the indigenous people, and small and marginal farmers for land and natural resources have been the most revolutionary struggles in recent history and terming them as petty-bourgeois somehow seems to relegate them to second place; it does not help in order to fully understand and analyse the huge potential and impact of these struggles, e.g. in Bolivia.

New forms of organisation can be seen in the struggles of the unemployed, informal, migrants etc. Existing trade unions, too, are forced to adopt new methods to organise or relate to these sectors. Often however these movements are outside of the formal trade union framework, and they are more like social movements, community organisations or NGOs. These struggles include those around unemployment, privatisation, public transport, environmental justice, housing, local economic activities, cooperatives, etc. There is a new kind of social movement unionism that goes beyond the workplace that seems to have become effective in conditions where workers are thrown out of work, or where they forge a wider unity in the community. Also where workers organise themselves as citizens to deal with more than the problems of the workplace. The struggles against unemployment provide a rich source of information and inspiration, e.g. the piquetero movement in Argentina, the marches in Europe, and struggles in various part of the world.

There were different views on the centrality of struggle of the working class. For some in the struggle for the destruction/replacement of capitalism, the new working class, now heterogenous and fragmented, has a central role, because it creates all weath, and builds links of solidarity, collective organisation, and because it is conscious of its potential for radically transforming society. It must find a way to coordinate with other popular sectors and social movements, respecting their diversity, but searching for forms of united struggle against capitalism. The conditions of gender, ethnic group, age, nationality also have a class character that makes the construction of unity through struggle possible. For others any centrality is out of the question.

The struggles around the reduction of hours of work at the workplace are important in the current scenario. Not only because of the crisis and the need for workers to respond to it in the more advanced capitalist countries but because it can also help to humanise the life of the worker. This is also a project in Venezuela. Here less hours at the workplace does not mean less hours of work- it merely means different kinds of work: education, care-giving, etc, which are also work which has social value.

The working-class movement needs to know about and be inspired by the new developments in various parts of the world, e.g. Venezuela, Bolivia, where there have been experiences inspired by ideas and practices of a post-capitalist or socialist project. In Venezuela workers are being organised in communal councils, which provide for representation of informal workers who may not be organised in traditional unions. These councils have been linked to those in occupied factories. Also there are discussions around the shortening of the hours of work in the workplace but spending the rest of the hours in community work, skills and education, care-giving, etc.

Increasing importance of global solidarity: This becomes ever more crucial under capitalist globalisation. This does not mean that it is easy. Its forms too are disputed.

There have been experiences of successful global strike actions coordinated over more than one country.

Where workers see themselves and are organised as human-beings and citizens the possibilities of solidarity are considerably enhanced. Common campaigns include those around peace and security, global warming, democracy, privatisation, trade, global financial architecture, global social wage, etc.

The working class should work in a united way nationally and internationally to prevent the capitalists from passing the costs of the crisis onto the workers' backs. To do this we propose the following concrete demands:

Moratorium on the external debt to finance the budgets aimed at providing the basic necessities of the population and the subsidies for access to products of primary necessity.

Moratorium on payment of mortgages and rents and suspension of evictions with the goal of guaranteeing the right to housing.

Price controls and other means to avoid letting inflation reduce the buying power of workers and retired people.

Control of changing and circulation of capital to avoid letting the industrialised countries seize the wealth of the countries in the periphery.

There are many different understandings about the meaning of solidarity. There can be tension between class solidarity and anti-imperialist solidarity. Thus, there was a debate on whether solidarity actions may be inopportune because they reinforce the game and the agenda of imperialism, or from another perspective anti-worker and anti-people regimes are excused on the basis that they are anti-imperialist. In any case we have to be aware that imperialist forces may well be conspiring against these regimes. These issues need to be further discussed more extensively.

There is a need to unify working-class struggles and to have more coordination and exchanges between the different countries. It's important to note that the churches have sometimes had more success in uniting workers than the left has had. The current institutions like the ILO are failing to do this. There was criticism of the Decent Work campaign initiated by the ILO - the feeling being that it tries to restore a past utopia of labour-capital relations that neo-liberal globalisation has put into profound question. There were suggestions about necessity of a global charter for migrant workers or even a Global Charter for Workers more generally.

There is a need to link working-class issues with those of ecology, and other issues to make the struggles more universal, effective and relevant.

The issue of migration was seen as one of the most critical issues facing workers today, in every part of the globe. This includes not only cross-border but also internal displacement. There is a need for a methodology and a machinery to deal with this issue.

(0) Kommentare