The aftermath of the crisis of 2007-09 is bringing in its wake a revival of workers’ struggles in many areas of the world. Last year, we saw a wave of demonstrations in Europe centering first in Greece and then in France, Portugal and Spain. In these countries, public-sector workers staged demonstrations and strikes supported by industrial and other workers as well as students who are facing massive cutbacks in education.
Then, starting in January, mass demonstrations beginning in Tunis against unemployment, soaring food prices and police-state rule quickly spread to other Arab countries under the rule of imperialist-supported monarchies and dictatorships. These demonstrations have now spread to U.S.-occupied Iraq.
Monetary Keynesianism and high world food prices
In the Arab world and other countries that are nationally oppressed by imperialism, the demand for governments to do something about the skyrocketing price of food has become an increasingly important issue. Rising food prices can be traced back to the “Keynesian monetary” policies that the U.S. Federal Reserve System has followed since the last global economic crisis entered its most intense phase in the fall of 2008.
Under the prevailing dollar-centered international monetary system, any devaluation of the U.S. dollar forces even greater devaluations in the currencies of most nationally oppressed countries. The result of the devaluations is skyrocketing food prices in terms of local currencies. The rise in food prices is being fueled by speculators who are purchasing agricultural commodities as a hedge against still further devaluations of the dollar and its local satellite currencies.
Fight spreads to the USA
And now the struggle of the workers and their allies has suddenly flared up in the U.S. itself, beginning with the state of Wisconsin.
In the November 2010 Wisconsin elections, Republican candidate for governor Scott Walker was victorious. The Republicans also won control of both houses of the state legislature. The Republican sweep in Wisconsin was rooted in the failure of the Obama administration and the Democrat-controlled U.S. Congress elected in 2008 to launch the “new New Deal” that U.S. progressives had expected.
As a result, many progressive voters stayed home on election day and some workers voted Republican as a protest against the failure of either the Obama administration or the Democrat-controlled Congress to launch an effective attack against the massive unemployment crisis that was created by the economic crisis of 2007-09.
Republican governor Scott Walker, however, not only put forward a massive program of cuts in state services combined with cuts in wages and jobs for state workers. He and the Republican majority in the state legislature planned to pass a bill that would take away the right to collective bargaining from state workers.
This goes beyond mere job and wage cuts and other austerity measures. The right of workers to bargain collectively over their conditions of employment is a basic (bourgeois) democratic right. Walker had assumed that the state workers and the trade unions would limit themselves to a few ineffectual complaints.
Instead, unions throughout Wisconsin, including unions in the private sector, along with students who are seeing their chances of getting a decent education vanish, seized the state capitol building, in effect preventing the legislature from meeting and passing the anti-union, anti-democratic legislation.