viernes, 3 de mayo de 2019

A dose of strategic realism? Or how a strike-fund can be effective

Jon Las Heras (@jonlhc) & Lluís Rodríguez (@lluisraeco), political economists and members of the Institute of Economics and Self-Management.

Is capitalism built through class oppression? Of course. Although it seems that as we keep talking about how things are so bad, even, about how worse they are getting with the rise of proto-fascist governments across the world – despite all these (new?) phenomena – it is obvious that nothing is really changing, or at least in our favor. To such pessimist answer, we should dare to make a provocative extension and state the following: yes, capitalism is disgustingly built by putting us against each other but WITH OUR INVOLVEMENT, with us being necessary accomplices of its hegemony and of its ugly transformation.

To our mind, we need to start changing our object of attention and acknowledge that capitalism is ALSO the expression of labor’s incapacity to organize and strike back effectively. We should be more self-critical, which does not mean self-destructive and start trying new things. Don’t you feel we have had enough of compassion and that it is already the time for a recalcitrant dose of strategic realism? But when we talk about new “things”, new “methods”, we are not talking about “original” or “utterly new” forms of class struggle – as some may prefer to believe they do exist outside history –, but instead we conceive them as basic forms of class organization and solidarity that perhaps, in the right context and dose, can unfold a set of new events that surface underlying contradictions. To our mind, as it stands now, right-wing class movements are making “goals” while the radical-left remains in a sort of state of confusion, an impasse, in which the time is running against us. 

In such apparently gloomy landscape, and after seeing how European workers and class organizations have not managed to build effective transnational solidarity structures and discourses to counter-fight austerity and neoliberal regulation since 2008, a little country – Euskal Herria – in the Spanish state has provided us with renewed hopes. But these are not hopes of the kind in which the world is going to change to the much better very soon, but more realistically, that from the standpoint of an average Basque worker, there are some few things that one can do in order to make a step forward, no matter how small, but still, a step forward. A sort of successful incursion in a context of guerrilla-warfare perhaps?

More concretely, Euskal Langileen Alkartasuna (ELA), the largest and most representative trade union in the Basque Country, is a class organisation that, and from a position of ‘counter-power’, has sought to build organisational strength vis-à-vis the employers, the government and conservative unions, through the empowerment of its rank-and-file, predominantly, in collective bargaining and industrial conflict processes. Since the mid-1990s it opted to leave aside the historical turn that the rest of social-democratic unions were taking across the western world: to change from a position that seeks greater working conditions to that of conformism and micro-corporatism. A corporatist logic makes us think that the worse is to come and yet that it is better not to trigger the conflict, so we buy-into the enemy’s discourse and believe that by lowering the standards may be the explosion will put off. Ironically, such very strategy undermines all the conditions that once were gained and, at the same time, makes such actors to the eyes of the rest as accomplices of the course of history.

ELA has bet on gaining both political and financial autonomy (around 93% of its expenditures are self-covered) in order to be capable of setting some ‘red-lines’ that the rest of big unions are currently incapable of setting: not signing dual-wage-scales, not signing working-time and workload increases, not fostering calendar flexibility, not signing vacuous sector agreements that are not likely to be implemented at the workplace, and establishing new alliances with more confrontational unions and social organisations among other things. Or put it differently, this union has gained political and organizational autonomy and strength by rejecting social dialogue with the government and other conservative unions in order to establish a ‘counter-power’ strategy that seeks to protect and organize the whole Basque working class in and through their organization.

ELA has 100.000 members but it organizes just less than 10% of all the strikes taking place within the Spanish state (60 out of 600-800 per year approx.), and in the last years it has managed to organize, overall, more strikes than the second largest social-democratic trade union in Spain (Union General de Trabajadores, UGT) which has 10 times more affiliates than ELA. Moreover, the scope of action of the Basque union is smaller, i.e. the Basque Country only represents less than a 5% of the Spanish workforce, and this union only represents one-third of all Basque unionized workers. In other words, this union is the main force behind the fact that the Basque Country hosted 36% of all the strikes taking place in Spain between 2000-2017. This concretizes also in the statistical fact that a worker engaging in a strike organised by ELA loses at least 7 days more for every day lost by a strike organized by UGT. Therefore, and taking into consideration that Spain is already supposed to be one of the most conflictive countries in Europe, this Basque union is playing very tough.