The news from Europe this fall is that strikes can still win. It's news that should be quickly spread across the Atlantic to the United States.
First the French truckers slowed and then virtually stopped all commercial traffic. At the end they won substantial pay increases and earlier retirement. And this happened at a time when the right-wing government and the whole French ruling class was trying to stuff austerity measures down the throats of the French working class.
The second bit of good news was from Germany. Last summer the right-wing government cut guaranteed sick pay from 100 percent to 80 percent of regular pay. German capitalists rightly read this as the opening gun of an all-out attack on the substantial benefits German workers had won starting 40 years ago. They decided to cut workers' sick pay to 80 percent even if the union contract read "100 percent."
But the workers refused to give in to this arbitrary cut. Partial strikes and demonstrations involving hundreds of thousands of workers throughout Germany forced cracks in the bosses' alliance, and soon individual companies--including Daimler-Benz--were deciding to honor the 100-percent deal. The whole anti-worker offensive has now stalled.
U.S. capitalists have been on the offensive since President Ronald Reagan used government power to break the air-traffic-controllers' strike in 1981. They've tried to make strikes seem useless, a thing of the past, unwinnable, with an anti-labor government and high unemployment. And they keep pressing the workers for more concessions.
But in two European countries with double-digit unemployment, right-wing governments and a ruling class looking to smash workers' benefits, workers won strikes. The workers were united, the strikes were national, and they found weaknesses in the ruling class and won this round.
No one can suggest a victory in Germany and France automatically translates into one here. And no one can lightly suggest a strike. But the victories abroad show that if workers are ready to defend their interests, if their union leaders are ready to go into combat, if they are ready to mobilize the whole class behind the strike, a victory is possible.
That's the first step, and it's long overdue.
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