Our future will depend on our collective fights

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9 May 2018

It is exactly fifty years since the European wave of protests reached its peak in France in May 1968.
    If today's media are to be believed, what happened at the time was just a gigantic, rave party, with  French students and youth setting up barricades for fun and burning lots of cars to their heart's content.  According to them, this was all there was to it... or that is what they would like us to believe.
    Except that May 15th 1968 saw the beginning of the largest general strike ever seen in Europe.  Between 8 and 10 million workers went on indefinite strike.  Many occupied their plants and offices.  In every town, protests filled the streets, day after day, bringing together striking workers and enthusiastic youth.
    The riot police, whose brutality against the youth had caused so much indignation among workers, disappeared from the streets.  The general strike turned into a festival of freedom and democracy.  Above all, it was an unquestionable demonstration of the colossal power of the working class when it uses its collective strength.

Working class power...

Whether the establishment's  media like it or not, this is what really happened in May-June of 1968.  And, while the stranglehold of the capitalist class was never really under threat during this general strike, the working class did give the exploiting class a bloody nose.
    Companies which, for years, had been keeping wages and conditions down, were suddenly forced to make significant concessions.  While the minimum wage got a 35% boost, all wages were increased by at least 10% - and around half of the strike days were paid for.  This fell short of the strikers demands, but it was the first time in decades that the bosses had been forced to concede so much ground.  And all this was thanks to the workers' massive mobilisation.
    The irony was, that up to May 1968, it had been increasingly fashionable among the media and politicians to dismiss any possibility of a mass, militant, mobilisation taking place among the workers of the industrialised countries.
    The champions of the capitalist system believed that the working class had been bought off, once and for all, by what they called the "consumer society".  As far as they were concerned, class consciousness and solidarity were gone forever and what’s more, the capacity of the working class to act collectively, as a class, was a thing of the past.
    Well, almost overnight, they were proved wrong.  The general strike demonstrated, with a vengeance, that all the capitalists' attempts to con workers into believing that they had a stake in their profit system had failed!  And this illustrates another strength of the working class - the ability to see through the lies of our exploiters, because we know that  exploitation means exploitation and nothing else!

... That we will have to use ourselves

It is precisely this demonstration of working class strength that the capitalists and their politicians would like us to forget - once and for all.  But we shouldn't and we won't.
    Today it has become common for bosses, politicians - and some union leaders - to dismiss collective action as a thing of the past, just as their predecessors did in the run-up to 1968.  They hope that decades of attacks against our conditions and reams of anti-strike legislation are enough to make us forget our own history and the power we can wield by using our numerical strength.
    But they will be proved wrong.  Nothing would function in this society without our labour - and there's nothing they can do to change that reality.  As to our fighting potential, it remains intact, if only because it has never been used in a real fight back against those who were attacking us, whether bosses or governments.  And we are going to need this fighting potential in the near future.
    With Brexit closing in, the anti-working class, anti-foreigner, racist agenda of its promoters in Westminster, is becoming increasingly open.  The abhorrent treatment of so many migrant workers, the criminal neglect which threatens the NHS with complete collapse, the vicious policy which is pushing more and more of us into casual jobs in order to boost company profits - all this is part of a general offensive against the working class.  And this is even before Brexit is underway.
    After Brexit, this offensive is bound to become far more aggressive.  Whichever government is in office will try to get us to pay for the losses incurred by British capital.
    At this point, like in France fifty years ago, we will need to mobilise all our forces in an all-out fight back.  And then we will show the apologists of capitalism that, far from being a spent force, the working class is the force of the future!