|Statement of the International Workers’ Committee:
Stop the ‘free trade’ rape of Latin America!
For international workers’ actions to fight the FTAA!The protests this weekend in Windsor and Detroit reflect much of the anger, resentment and mistrust that has grown among our class over the past decade.The end of the Cold War brought the beginning of “globalization.” This period has been defined by the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the birth of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
It has also been defined by strikes and labor actions from Canada to South Korea.
As the bosses and their allies in government have pushed through measure after measure aimed at our sisters and brothers across the globe, the capitalists have also been intensifying their repressive arms — the military, the cops, courts and prisons.
The mass workers’ protests in Seattle last December, and in Washington, D.C., this past April, were the beginnings of a movement by workers to roll back the attacks that we have all faced.
This continues as we demonstrate alongside our brothers and sisters on the other side of the Detroit River.
Even though we have our disagreements — some of which we will address below — we believe that it is important for working people to organize to roll back and defeat the bosses’ plans.
Media hype and the bosses’ “democracy”
In the weeks prior to the protests, the capitalist media on both sides of the border have been spreading disinformation about the demonstrations and why those of us protesting today are here.
In the U.S., the television media has been taking their cue directly from the agents of the FBI’s “psychological operations” department, much like they took their cues from the CIA during the 1999 war against Yugoslavia.
Evening news reports have been filled with lies about protesters wanting to “destroy the downtown area” and “burn the city.”
But why would we want to do this? In our opinion, the cities and everything in them are the rightful property of those who built them — the working class. We want to take them back, not destroy them.
As well, the capitalists and their friends have been billing the protests as some kind of “anti-American” event, and have called the participants “outside agitators.”
These are the typical tricks of the bosses’ media. They used them in Seattle and Washington.
The fact is that these kinds of accusations are meant to scare us and keep us from voicing our opposition. A quick look at these two points will suffice.
“An ‘anti-American’ event?” The media and the government are using this to try and scare workers.
The reality is that the protests against the OAS are aimed directly at that thin layer of capitalist bosses and government officials who aim to destroy our trade unions, our living standards and our rights.
They are no more “anti-American” than they are “anti-Canadian” or “anti-Mexican.”
This is an international struggle by our brothers and sisters throughout the hemisphere against those that seek to throw all of us into poverty and prison.
“Outside agitators?” This is an old trick used by the bosses’ media. They like to claim that opposition to their anti-worker, anti-labor policies come from “somewhere else.”
The fact is that the protests on both sides of the border represent the discontent of workers and working-class youth here and across the country.
In Windsor, the District Labour Council is sponsoring the central rally.
In Detroit, local unions and unionists, along with working class and community activists, have put this demonstration together.
We have all seen the effect of the bosses’ cuts in social services, their so-called “empowerment zones” and their strikebreaking (especially during the Detroit newspaper strike). Workers on both sides of the River have had their fill.
The issue of “outside agitators” also extends to the two previous protests in Seattle and Washington, where the media has portrayed the situation as one of “riots” by protesters (a lie they are also spreading around these protests).
The reality is that the police — the paid servants of the bosses — provoked every confrontation.
The only “riots” that took place in Seattle and Washington were the ones started by the cops!
But the real question is: Why do the bosses feel the need to lie about the reality of the situation?
The answer is that they cannot afford to allow our class to assert its rights and interests.
It is a question of what is to be allowed under the bosses’ “democracy.”
In the last decade, hand-in-hand with the so-called “globalization,” the capitalists have sought to further restrict our rights as workers to speak out and to organize in defense of our interests.
Whether this meant something as basic as organizing a trade union at a worksite or holding a rally for workers’ rights, we workers have faced growing obstacles.
Our democratic rights — the right to a decent job, union representation, safe working and living conditions, and the right to speak our minds when these basic needs are attacked — are trampled daily by the boss, their cops and their government, and touted as “prosperity” by their media.
At the same time, international capitalist bodies like the OAS, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and WTO are allowed the unfettered “democratic right” to destroy our brothers’ and sisters’ livelihoods around the world.
What the FTAA means for workers in North and South America
A good example of what is in store for workers in the Western Hemisphere has been taking place in Argentina, where workers are locked in a decisive struggle for their very existence.
At the end of last April, Argentina’s government passed a new labor code, dictated to them by the IMF as part of that country’s compliance with the provisions of the WTO.
This new code effectively destroys the right of our brothers and sisters to bargain collectively.
Under the new code, the trade unions are no longer allowed to bargain collectively on an industry-wide basis; the unions can only sign agreements on a plant-by-plant or worksite-by-worksite basis.
As well, the government has now mandated a six- to 12-month mandatory probation period for all new hires, during which time they are employed “at will.”
Most importantly, the passage of the new code nullified all current contracts, meaning that the unions will go virtually bankrupt trying to arrange contract negotiations at all the workplaces throughout that country.
The response of the unions in Argentina has been mixed. The industrial unions have been the most active in their response.
So far, two one-day general strikes have been called that have shut the country down.
The head of the industrial unions has been attacked by the bosses and their media in Argentina as a “terrorist” for asserting the workers’ right to strike in defense of their unions (sound familiar?).
On the other hand, the head of the service unions is hoping for “negotiations” and relying on the “good nature” of the bosses to “reform” the new labor code.
At the same time, he has opposed the actions of the industrial unions, echoing the sentiments of the bosses.
What this traitor does not realize is that the bosses have no interest in “negotiating” this code.
The same is true for the bosses that run the OAS, and are using it to push through the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA).
Seven years ago, workers organized against the passage of NAFTA. In the U.S. and Canada, this was done under the false assumption that the bosses and their government would be willing to “reform” it.
And what was the result? There were no “reforms,” only paper commitments and crocodile tears.
And the same holds true for the FTAA. The bosses have no interest in protecting the rights of workers. This was made abundantly clear when they pushed through NAFTA and formed the WTO.
Appealing to the “sensibilities” of those who wrote these agreements is an exercise in futility.
An internationalist, working-class perspective
Our “leaders” in the AFL-CIO and CLC think that we can fight bodies like the WTO and agreements like the FTAA by building higher walls (proverbial or otherwise) along the national borders.
They believe that the interests of “their” workers end at the Detroit River, Niagara Falls, the Rio Grande, etc.
In doing so, they consciously lead us into the trap of narrow economic nationalism and protectionism.
And, in that trap are far-right demagogues and anti-worker national chauvinists like Pat Buchanan and Preston Manning.
These “leaders” claim that people like Buchanan and Manning, because of their populist, “for the little guy” rhetoric, actually stand up for the rights of workers.
The reality is quite different.
For these two (and those like them), their definition of “the little guy” does not really include us.
These two, and those like them, speak for the small capitalist, the petty businessman and the yuppie professional.
Any noise they make about “the working man” is a smokescreen for their policies that seek to destroy the power of the unions (remember as well that Buchanan often attracts Nazis and Ku Klux Klansmen to his electoral campaigns).
This is a battle against international exploitation and oppression of the working class. We workers have to fight fire with fire.
The bosses are attacking us on an international level. We must fight them on an international level.
We need to take the slogan “the world is our picket line” from the realm of abstract speechifying and make it very real.
The first step in doing this is the organization of real international industrial unions, that count as their members every one of our brothers and sisters that does what we do, regardless of the country in which they live.
Today, large capitalist companies like General Motors, Microsoft and BP Amoco employ workers from North America to the Middle East to South Asia.
These workers need to be organized into one union, with the same contract, the same wages and benefits, safe working conditions, and — most importantly — the same expiration date and strike deadline.
Such agreements should not be multi-tiered, with certain sections being paid less or working under worse conditions.
No. These international contracts should raise the standards of living for all workers covered under them.
The capitalists throughout the world want to impose their own “pattern agreement” of slashed wages and benefits, unsafe working conditions and weak unions.
This is why, if we accept the bosses’ attacks on workers in other countries, we pave the way for the same attacks here.
We workers need to fight for our own international Master Agreements that protect workers from Indonesia to Indiana.
By fighting alongside our brothers and sisters in other countries, we are also defending our rights and livelihoods.
The bosses are able to most effectively operate when they can divide workers along the lines of race, nationality, gender, sexuality and age.
If we organize and unite as a class, across national boundaries, we can hand the most decisive defeats to the bosses and their capitalist system.
A working-class Marxist alternative
Our stand against the OAS and its FTAA is only one battle in a long fight for our future. This is not a one-time shot.
The experiences of NAFTA, Seattle and Washington are proof of this.
We have a long fight ahead. And it is a fight that we must win for our very survival!
In order for us as a class to move forward, we need to build lasting, powerful organizations that can challenge the capitalists at every turn.
These organizations need to be built by, led by and fight in the interests of us — the working class.
This perspective is fundamentally different from the view held by some of those who are protesting alongside us.
For some of these people, the movement against capitalism in the form of the OAS, the WTO, NAFTA, the FTAA, etc., is an attempt to rebuild the “New Left” movement of the 1960s … with a little better guerrilla theater and a plethora of Internet Websites.
We oppose this viewpoint. It didn’t work then, and it certainly will not work now.
The emerging movement against capitalism must have an overwhelming working-class composition, character and leadership.
We workers, organized in trade unions and workers’ political organizations, have the social power to shut down production and, thus, bring the country to a halt.
No amount of university student protests, left forums or “teach-ins” can substitute for this.
No individualist, anarchist “direct action” can affect the direction of this country like a one-day mass general strike by the trade unions against agreements like the FTAA.
But leadership and organization are the keys here. The last thing we need now are more “leaders” like those of the AFL-CIO and the CLC, that appeal to the “good nature” of the bosses and their government to “fix” agreements like NAFTA and the FTAA.
What we need now are leaders who understand the nature of these agreements and why no amount of “reform” to them can be beneficial to us.
This leadership must be built from the ranks of the working class itself.
To lead our struggle today, it will have to be at once the memory and embodiment of lessons learned through past struggles, and a galvanizing force for future struggles.
This means that it must be armed with an understanding of why does what it does, and able to relate those concepts to our daily lives on the job, to bring us forward.
In other words, what we need is an organized, working class Marxist leadership.
Such principles of leadership are Marxist to their very core — and it is this that we of the International Workers’ Committee seek to build.
June 3, 2000