The crisis is changing politics


If the recent budget highlighted anything, it was the fact that the working class in Ireland is under severe attack.  Services, too numerous to mention here, are being cut or removed entirely, while the real living standards of many of us are being driven down and down.  Meanwhile the banker-thieves and investment-gamblers still live the highlife. 

It’s not that different in many other countries across the world now.  In Spain, in Italy and in Greece, of course, the same bleak reality is staring people in the face.  Except for this: in many places the fightback is much more pronounced.  We know about Greece, but in countries like Portugal and even in Britain (and in Northern Ireland) huge strikes have taken place.  If nothing else, these show that resistance to cuts and austerity has not gone away.

But important differences are emerging too.  A significant one is in the USA while the other is in Spain.  First we turn to the USA:


Despite the hot air that is often talked about ‘living standards’ in the US, the gap between the rich and the poor is at a level not seen since before the Great Depression in 1929 (and that was bad).  As significant though is the ongoing and sustained attack on workers’ wages and working conditions.  In particular, trade union conditions have been targeted – as in Wisconsin - and many workers have been coerced into accepting new and worse conditions.

But the Occupy Movement (OM) in the USA has challenged this and offered a new way forward – one that has struck a real chord with union and non-union workers alike.  The OM and its various offshoots are proactive about who the problem is – the very wealthy – but also fundamentally the OM is about ‘self-organising’ – or what we sometimes call over here ‘grassroots organising’.   

A core idea of the OM is this: if you want help or solidarity from other workers or citizens, go to them directly and ask them yourself; explain your position and ask for support.  In doing this the OM has chosen to side-step an important barrier to building a movement or winning a struggle.  This barrier is the layer of union officials and ‘left’ politicians who sometimes control unions and political movements but actually do nothing worthwhile.

In the US this new mood of self-organising and direct action has already paid dividends.  In November a one day blockade of  the Oakland, San Francisco port – one of the largest in the that country - was supported by dock works and was a major success.  The port action cost the bosses huge losses and happened in solidarity with the Occupy Oakland movement which was under attack from the police and under threat of eviction.   This example at Oakland and the manner in which it was achieved has spurred a further round of grassroots solidarity organising in December, which aimed to build more links between OM protestors and union activists; this was also a huge success.  For example, in Los Angles, where unionised port workers are under attack, they have spoken about their admiration for direct action methods of the OM.  These same dockworkers have condemned their own union officials who are afraid to sanction any strike action against the port bosses in case it lead to the union ‘being sued’.  Where have we heard that before?  

A second and different example of the changing climate of struggle lies in Spain.  Last year saw a  groundswell of anger there over the economic crisis and the cuts.  People took to the streets and occupied central areas of Madrid and Barcelona proclaiming that ‘the system’ was broken.  As it was.

In November, Spain was offered its usual round of parliamentary elections.  Just like here the electorate was told ‘now is your chance to choose’.  But for huge numbers of ordinary Spaniards this offer of parliamentary election was condemned for the sham that it was.  ‘There is no choice’ proclaimed many voters.  In Spain the ‘Socialists’ had implemented massive cuts.  The alternative at election time was the PP party who were also promising massive cuts.  So?

The Indignados – the grassroots movement in Spain – advocated that people either spoil their votes, abstain or vote for smaller left wing and regional parties in the elections.   As a result the number of spoiled votes or abstentions actually doubled from the previous election and numbered almost 11 million! Much more than the number that voted for the PP who were declared ‘winners’ in the election.

To summarise.  There is no doubt now that the crisis is deep and getting deeper.  But there is also clear evidence that this is changing politics too.  Many of us are beginning to rediscover that our real strength lies in our own organising capabilities and in our own abilities to build solidarity among our own ranks.  This is what anarchists have always argued for, and it’s how big struggles have always been won over the generations.  It’s time to push on, nurture these new methods and spread the word.   

This article is from Workers Solidarity 125, Jan/Feb 2012