Documents in: Bahasa Indonesia Deutsch Español Français Italiano Japanese Polski Português Russian Chinese Tagalog
International Communist League
Home Spartacist, theoretical and documentary repository of the ICL, incorporating Women & Revolution Workers Vanguard, biweekly organ of the Spartacist League/U.S. Periodicals and directory of the sections of the ICL ICL Declaration of Principles in multiple languages Other literature of the ICL ICL events

Subscribe to Workers Vanguard

View archives

Printable version of this article

Workers Vanguard No. 872

9 June 2006

Miners, Steel Workers Strikes Shake Mexico

Presidential Elections: No Vote to Bourgeois PRI, PAN, PRD!

For a Revolutionary Workers Party!

An ongoing wave of miners and steel workers strikes throughout Mexico was touched off by the February 19 explosion at the Pasta de Conchos mine in the state of Coahuila, which killed 65 miners. As anger and indignation at the miners’ deaths mounted, the federal government of Vicente Fox’s National Action Party (PAN) removed from office the national leader of the SNTMMSRM miners and metal workers union, Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, and is investigating him for “corruption.” The government is also investigating his wife and sons as well as two other union officials.

When the government attempted to install a pliant bureaucrat at the head of the SNTMMSRM, the union launched a series of strikes, demanding that the companies negotiate only with the Gómez Urrutia leadership. On April 20, state and federal police stormed the Sicartsa steel plant occupied by workers in the city of Lázaro Cárdenas (named after the 1930s populist president Lázaro Cárdenas del Río) in Michoacán state, killing two workers. The Fox government has appealed to the international police agency Interpol to find Gómez Urrutia, who has left Mexico. Meanwhile, workers at the giant Cananea copper mine—100 years after the brutal repression of a historic strike there by Mexican troops and Arizona Rangers—have vowed to continue striking until Gómez Urrutia is reinstated.

With July 2 presidential elections looming, the struggles by the miners and steel workers illuminate the role of each of the bourgeois parties—the PAN, the former ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), and the nationalist-populist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). We print below an edited translation of a presentation by Sacramento Talavera, spokesman for the Grupo Espartaquista de México, section of the International Communist League, at a May 12 Mexico City forum.

* * *

Mexican society is extremely volatile. The struggle of the SNTMMSRM, especially the strike underway at the Sicartsa plant in Lázaro Cárdenas, is the most important outbreak of class struggle in at least a decade. Its outcome will mark a signpost for workers struggles in the immediate future. The Grupo Espartaquista de México solidarizes completely with the struggle of the miners and steel workers. We say: Government hands off the miners union! Victory to the strike! We emphatically and bitterly denounce the bloody April 20 cop attack on the Sicartsa workers, which took the lives of two young workers. We solidarize with their relatives, friends and co-workers, and those of the 65 fallen miners in the Pasta de Conchos tragedy, caused by the bloodsucking bosses’ insatiable thirst for profit.

The SNTMMSRM’s struggle occurs in the context of the July 2 presidential election campaign. Until a couple of months ago, the PRD was ranked as the most likely winner of the elections. However, since then the PAN has regrouped, rallying its base and rightist “public opinion” around the “danger” of “ungovernability.” Some polls put the PAN slightly ahead in electoral preferences. We Spartacists don’t take sides in this contest, since none of the candidates represents the interests of the working class. The PAN, PRI and PRD are all bourgeois parties dedicated to the preservation of the brutal system of capitalist exploitation. We fight to build a revolutionary workers party, following the example of the Bolsheviks of Lenin and Trotsky, to fight for proletarian revolution. Explaining these objectives is the purpose of this forum.

It’s no secret that the PAN is the historic party of Catholic reaction, founded by neo-Cristeros [referring to the 1920s reactionary Cristero rebellion] with a firm, openly anti-worker ideology. For its part, the bourgeois PRD poses as a friend of the workers and the oppressed. Today, Mexican society is extremely polarized between, on the one hand, the PAN’s Cristero “neoliberalism” and, on the other, the PRD’s nationalist populism, with the PRI divided between both ideologies. The convulsive struggle of the miners reflects the generalized disgust among workers toward the shamelessly anti-worker starvation economic policies of the last two decades. But “neoliberalism” and populism are nothing more than two alternative ways of running capitalism. Despite their differences, each necessarily and inherently involves exploitation and repression of the masses.

In the current issue of our newspaper, Espartaco [No. 25, Spring 2006], we warned:

“The PRD—nothing more than a new PRI, brandishing the old populist politics of this party—only wants to renegotiate the terms of the subordination of the Mexican economy to the imperialists, for which it needs the support of the working class. This party is an enemy of the working class. As it has already done in the D.F. [Mexico City], if it wins the presidency it will administer brutal capitalist exploitation at a national level and won’t hesitate a second to unleash the repressive force of the state against those who today support the party.”

Little more than a week after our newspaper came off the press, our prediction was borne out in the bloody deeds in Lázaro Cárdenas, where the PRD, PRI and PAN acted jointly in the repression.

The entire bourgeoisie is worried about the threat of social explosions in the face of the growing social polarization on the eve of the elections, and it’s working overtime to get rid of the so-called “red flashpoints.” Barely two weeks after the bloody attack on the Sicartsa workers, the three main parties of the bosses united once again behind the savage repression by at least 3,500 cops of peasants in the town of Atenco, resulting in two youths killed, more than 200 arrested and dozens injured—many critically—as well as revolting cases of rape and humiliation of those arrested by the cops. The purpose of this bloody attack was to destroy once and for all the combative organization of the Atenco peasants, the Peoples Front in Defense of the Land, which came out of the struggle that stopped Fox from stealing their communal land five years ago. The excuse for the attack: a small group of peasants from Texcoco wanted to sell flowers on a public road and the Atenco population came to their aid.

The PRD’s parliamentary faction in the state of Mexico published an ad in La Jornada (4 May) hailing the repression the previous day. Using language worthy of the beast [1970s-’80s Argentine dictator Jorge Rafael] Videla, the ad called the peasants “subversive groups that only want to disrupt the peace and harmony we live in.” The cynicism of the PRD takes on macabre hues. This is the capitalist organization that bases its campaign on the slogan “For the good of all, the poor go first.” In other words, “for the good of all”—the bosses and landowners—the poor will be the first to go to prison or the grave. We call to free all the Atenco detainees now and to drop all the charges. We call on the working class to defend the peasants and the students who support them. The repression in Lázaro Cárdenas and Atenco is a portrait of the true face of capitalist “democracy.”

Miners Play Hardball

Above all else, I want to talk about the struggle of the SNTMMSRM miners and steel workers. The struggle began when the government and bosses, facing the rage of the relatives and co-workers of the deceased miners of Pasta de Conchos, tried to divert attention away from themselves and went after the union, deposing its leader, Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, and installing their own puppet, Elías Morales. The response of the union was to carry out 40 hours of rolling strikes across the country. Afterward, a strike began on April 2 at the Sicartsa and Mittal plants in Lázaro Cárdenas, along with other strikes in Nacozari, Sombrerete, Taxco and other places.

SNTMMSRM Local 271 in Lázaro Cárdenas already has a long history of combativeness. In 2001, for example, the company tried to dissolve the local and form a company union. The workers elected a new executive committee opposed to the one supported by the company and carried out factory occupations. The company sent riot police to expel the workers and, like now, with the help of the local population, the workers sent the cops running. Just last year, this same local went on strike in struggle for its own economic demands and for unionization of their co-workers in Apodaca, Nuevo León, a bastion of PAN company “unionism.”

Lázaro Cárdenas is an industrial port [on the Pacific coast] of some 100,000 residents, centered on the steel plants and the docks, which are mainly connected to these plants. In addition to Sicartsa, there’s another metallurgical plant, Mittal, of Indian ownership, both organized by Local 271. The steel complex Grupo Villacero, centered in Monterrey with plants throughout the country, including one in Tultitlán here in Mexico City, is the most important in Latin America and has the lowest production costs. A worker told us that these plants export various steel products to the U.S., South Korea, Japan and China. Another worker told us that the Villarreals [the family that owns Sicartsa] are just figureheads for [former president Carlos] Salinas. He’s the guy who privatized Sicartsa, giving it to the Villarreals for $170 million. The company takes in $2.5 billion a year. Apparently, the Villarreals haven’t even finished paying for the business.

The struggle of the miners and steel workers is a good example of why we communists base our perspective on the working class; it’s an example of the constant antagonism between the interests of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat and the social power of the latter. The steel industry is one of the most strategic in the country, along with oil and basic services like electricity and transport. The miners union’s rolling strikes carried out in March, which mobilized some 270,000 workers, caused losses estimated at $17 million. At the time of the cop attack against the Sicartsa workers, losses for the strike at that company were estimated at some $80 million. Seventy-five percent of industry in the country is related to the steel sector. Students and poor peasants are very combative, but it is clear that they simply don’t have social power. The working class’s position as the force that sets all branches of capitalist economy in motion also gives it the power to paralyze the economy.

But the working class has another characteristic, derived from its central role in production, that makes it unique. When the workers struggle, they do so not to obtain a machine or a piece of one, nor to redistribute the tools. They struggle collectively for better wages and working conditions. In order to survive, the working class is compelled to sell its labor power to the capitalist exploiters. Objectively, the working class has no interest in private property or in preserving the system of capitalist exploitation. It’s because of these characteristics that the proletariat is the only class capable of reorganizing the entire economy, collectivizing the means of production to put it in the service of the people, not to generate profits for a handful of capitalists. The way to reach this goal is through socialist revolution.

Combatting Illusions in Populist Nationalism

We made two trips to Lázaro Cárdenas last month. The first was a week before the cop attack. We immediately discovered many illusions in the bourgeois PRD. Even so, the workers were very open and interested in our newspaper, of which we distributed dozens of copies along with hundreds of copies of our March 11 statement, “Government Hands Off the Miners Union!” (reprinted in “Protest Cop Killing of Steel Workers,” WV No. 869, 28 April).

One of the workers told us that if there were repression against the strike, it would come from the federal government, because Cárdenas Batel [PRD governor of Michoacán] had promised not to send the police. PRD presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador [AMLO] had recently been campaigning in the port and, in fact, the union local’s journal covered the event with flattering photos and in a totally uncritical manner. AMLO declared in favor of “union autonomy” in his speech, something many workers mentioned to us in discussions. The workers seemed surprised when we quoted AMLO’s declaration immediately after the Pasta de Conchos tragedy, where all he did was criticize the union leaders as simply “contract traffickers,” evidently in support of Fox’s anti-union attack.

As we explained in Espartaco, “For these bourgeois politicians—the biggest Mafiosi and crooks—to rant and rave against the union leadership requires more than just shamelessness.” The workers were also surprised to hear about AMLO’s constant attacks against the SUTGDF [Mexico City government workers union] and the Metro [Mexico City subway] union under the pretext of “fighting mob influence,” and about the fact that López Obrador has made sure that workers at his pejeprepas [high schools that he founded] have no union representation or benefits.

We returned to Lázaro Cárdenas a few days after the cop attack. The area around Sicartsa resembled a battlefield, with burned-out cars blocking the streets. The workers told us about the attack. At least 800 members of various police entities, including that of the state and the PFP [federal police], arrived on Thursday, April 20, at approximately 7:15 a.m., after the pickets’ shift change, so they would face fewer workers. With firearms, tear gas and clubs, they managed to dislodge the workers.

But, during this struggle, everyone notified everyone else and a couple of hours later, all the workers (including from Mittal), together with an important part of the local population, massed at the plant’s main gate with trucks full of rocks. Some workers mounted the various huge mining implements—bulldozers, steam shovels and steamrollers—to defend themselves against the cop attack. They also obtained ball bearings used to grind the ore when it leaves the mine, which were four centimeters in diameter [1.5 inches] and weighed 200 grams [half a pound], and used them to battle the cops, hurling them with slingshots, catapults and by hand. After a few hours of field battle, they managed to repel the cops and regain control of the plant. However, army and navy units remain inside the plant, supposedly guarding the blast furnaces and the plant’s gates to the sea.

The federal and state governments said the cops were not armed. After being forced to admit that they were armed, the government then stated that the police had orders to fire “only at the feet.” Even this grotesque mockery was refuted by the bloody evidence. The fallen workers were shot in the head. The workers told us they filled a 19-liter [five-gallon] bucket with shells. The union local’s journal has a photo of several shotgun, handgun and assault rifle shells. One worker showed us the stitched-up entry and exit wounds made by a projectile on his right arm.

There was a perceptible change in the workers’ opinion of the PRD. In the area around the plant, there was graffiti with slogans against Cárdenas Batel, one of which called him a “Nazi.” The majority of the workers with whom we spoke no longer defended the PRD against our Marxist opposition to it, but intently listened to what we had to say. Many agreed with us. After explaining the necessity of socialist revolution, one responded: “Yes, the bourgeoisie only understands chingadazos [blows].”

The brutal repression carried out by the PRD and the PAN shook workers’ illusions in the PRD, but it would be pollyannish to think it destroyed them. The consciousness of most of the workers clearly remains within the bourgeois framework of populism. Some workers defend López Obrador, maintaining that Cárdenas Batel is a traitor; AMLO, they say, is different. We had several intense discussions with some workers who defended the policies of [military general and 1930s populist president] Lázaro Cárdenas del Río as policies genuinely in the interests of the working class and poor. One of the slogans painted on the wall of the plant summed up the illusions. It read: “If the general were alive, he’d die of shame.”

Nationalist Populism: Deadly Trap for the Workers

As I said earlier, nationalist populism is just another way of running brutal capitalist exploitation. The events in Atenco and Lázaro Cárdenas have shown that illusions in these kinds of bourgeois politicians are literally suicidal. After decades of brutal “neoliberalism,” there’s been an about-face in recent years throughout Latin America back to the old nationalist populism that was once represented prominently in Mexico by the PRI and its predecessor, the PRM [Party of the Mexican Revolution] founded by Lázaro Cárdenas del Río, or in Argentina by Peronism.

This about-face is not anti-capitalist but, on the contrary, reinforces the ties that bind the working class to its exploiters. In the face of the convulsive struggles we have witnessed, today it’s clearer than ever that the fundamental role of the PRD is to channel the struggles of the masses into the sterile framework of electoralism. The PRD’s purpose is to stabilize the manifestly volatile Mexican capitalist regime and renegotiate the terms of its subordination to imperialism, trying to get a few more crumbs from their masters’ table at the White House.

Due to the weakness of the lackey Mexican bourgeoisie in relation to both its imperialist masters and to the working class, the wing of the bourgeoisie represented by the PRD and in part by the PRI needs the support of the working class to achieve its objectives, and thus tries to occasionally present itself as a friend of the workers, granting them a few concessions. The recent events show clearly what the old PRI tactic of the carrot and the stick consists of: concessions on the one hand and savage repression on the other if the workers and peasants try to go too far.

In spite of differences in their rhetoric, AMLO, Hugo Chávez [of Venezuela] and Evo Morales [of Bolivia] are basically the same and pursue the same goal: to rope in the masses. Thus, Chávez babbles on about Bolivarian “socialism”—which doesn’t infringe on private property! And what’s most pathetic is that a lot of supposedly Marxist organizations promote him and his policies as socialist. In Bolivia, where the working class has been decimated, Morales has also tried to placate the demands of the masses through a timid “nationalization” of hydrocarbons. This concretely means that the Bolivian state now has 51 percent of the shares of the oil and gas companies and that these companies can continue to get their profits, though even this has raised the ire of the Spanish and Brazilian oil companies and of the U.S. imperialists. These measures are in no way “anti-capitalist,” but, in the end, actually benefit the national bourgeoisies, not only at an economic level but mainly at a political level, by tying the masses ideologically to their own national exploiters.

Take the example of Lázaro Cárdenas del Río. Through his support of the formation of unions in the 1930s—a policy that at times put him in conflict with the bosses, especially in Monterrey—and reforms such as the nationalization of oil and the railroads and land redistribution, he won the support of the working class and peasants. The result was not national emancipation, nor a qualitative improvement of the masses’ living conditions, but more than a half-century of the so-called “perfect dictatorship” of the PRI and its brutal corporatist stranglehold on the unions. Some Sicartsa workers we spoke with were also surprised to learn that Cárdenas del Río himself broke strikes. For example, he sent the army to savagely break the 1940 Azcapotzalco refinery strike.

For Permanent Revolution!

We base our program on the perspective of permanent revolution, as formulated by Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky. In the epoch of imperialism, there is no “progressive” wing of the bourgeoisie. The capitalist rulers of industrially backward countries such as Mexico are completely subordinated to their imperialist masters and are incapable of winning even basic bourgeois demands like national emancipation. Raising itself up as the leader of all the oppressed, the working class is the only class capable of shattering the imperialist yoke, leading the peasants out of the abyss of ignorance and misery they find themselves in, laying the foundations for the emancipation of women, granting full rights for gays, etc. The way to achieve this is socialist revolution: destruction of the bourgeois state and the construction of a workers state based on collectivized ownership of the means of production and economic planning.

This understanding was exemplified by the great Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917, which laid the basis for lifting backward Russia out of misery and ignorance, and for its transformation into an industrial and scientific powerhouse that was able to serve as a military counterweight to the rapacious U.S. imperialists. Stalin betrayed the October Revolution, and his heirs surrendered the Soviet degenerated workers state to capitalist counterrevolution in 1991-92. Since then, the U.S. imperialists in particular have perceived few obstacles to carrying out their wars and other depredations. We say: Down with the colonial occupation of Iraq! Imperialist troops out of Afghanistan! Hands off Iran! We say that in the context of imperialist threats, Iran needs nuclear weapons to defend itself and deter an imperialist attack. Only new Octobers can stop bloody imperialist plunder once and for all.

It’s clear that neither the Mexican proletariat nor any other can achieve socialist liberation on its own. In fact, it was the poverty of Russia and the isolation of the Bolshevik Revolution following the defeat of revolutionary opportunities in Europe that laid the material basis for the emergence and consolidation of the Stalinist bureaucratic caste in the USSR. The Stalinist bureaucracy’s nationalist dogma of building “socialism in one country” meant opposition to the perspective of workers revolution internationally and accommodation to imperialism. Imperialism is a global system of exploitation and domination. A workers revolution in Mexico would need to spread to the advanced capitalist countries, especially the U.S., to destroy the threat of capitalist counterrevolution and put the immense material resources of the advanced countries at the service of all humanity. The true friends of the Mexican working class are the workers of the entire world. That’s why it’s necessary to uncompromisingly fight the harmful and almost omnipresent reactionary ideology of bourgeois nationalism—the myth of “national unity” between the exploited and their exploiters.

Many workers in this country have the idea that there is no class struggle north of the Río Bravo, nor in imperialist countries in general. Nothing could be more wrong. To give just two recent and very important examples, French workers took to the streets in March along with students to stop the “First Employment Contract” that robbed young workers of any kind of employment security. Last December, subway and bus workers in New York City carried out a three-day strike that crippled the financial center of world imperialism, fighting the same attacks on pensions and retirement plans that the Mexican bosses have been pushing, until now successfully, in this country.

By going on strike, the combative transit workers defied the reactionary anti-worker Taylor Law that bans strikes in the public sector. Their fight was very popular among the impoverished black and Latino masses in the city. In response, the spiteful capitalist rulers sentenced the union’s leader to ten days in jail, slapped the union with a multimillion dollar fine, fined individual strikers and are threatening to suspend the dues checkoff in an attempt to bankrupt the union. Workers solidarity knows no borders. We call on Mexican workers to protest these attacks against their U.S. class brothers.

Coming back to Mexico: Workers’ persistent illusions in nationalist populism show that trade-union consciousness, as combative as it may be, is still bourgeois consciousness. Trade unionism as such does not put the rule of private property in question, but limits itself in the best of cases to struggles against individual bosses to renegotiate the terms of exploitation of the workers. The essential tool to make a socialist revolution is a Leninist-Trotskyist vanguard party, like that of the Bolsheviks. Fusing declassed intellectuals ready to fight for the cause of the proletariat with the most advanced workers, this party must consist of professional revolutionaries that bring revolutionary consciousness to the working class; it should act as the proletariat’s historic memory, bringing it the lessons of the history of the international class struggle. The party needs to be built by combatting all kinds of bourgeois ideological influence in the working class, fighting especially for the political independence of the working class.

I’d like to talk a bit about the Zapatistas. Many workers in Lázaro Cárdenas and here in Mexico City are hostile to the EZLN [Zapatista Army of National Liberation], but for the wrong reasons: because the EZLN criticizes the PRD during election time. Some workers informed us with well-deserved scorn that “delegado zero” [Zapatista leader “Subcomandante” Marcos] conspicuously avoided coming through Lázaro Cárdenas during his “other campaign” tour, only visiting nearby indigenous communities, which certainly gives some idea of Marcos’ disdain for the working class (see “Zapatista ‘Sixth Declaration’: Petty-Bourgeois Populism,” page 12).

We Spartacists solidarize with the indigenous peasants’ struggles and defend the EZLN against state and paramilitary repression. But we certainly don’t solidarize with the Zapatista program, which in reality is a petty-bourgeois variant of nationalist populism that does not challenge private property or the capitalist state. Instead, it calls for a “civil and peaceful movement” that will achieve its demands through drawing up a new constitution.

If recent events have shown anything, it’s that the capitalist state can’t be reformed, not through a constitution nor any other way. The bourgeois state consists at its core of armed detachments—the cops and army as well as prisons and courts—that keep the bourgeoisie in power. The state can’t be reformed to serve the interests of the exploited and oppressed masses. Can anyone imagine the blood-drenched federal police defending the peasants against the landowners, the workers against the bosses? The capitalist state has to be destroyed through a proletarian revolution that replaces it with a new state, a workers state, that defends the rule of the proletariat.

As Lenin explained in “Revision of the Agrarian Programme of the Workers’ Party” in 1906, Marxists solidarize with the peasant movement, “but we have to remember that it is the movement of another class, not the one which can and will bring about the socialist revolution.”

Marxism and the Trade Unions

In the imperialist epoch, trade unions are increasingly linked closer to the state, and tend to function as organizations to subordinate and discipline the working class, serving as an auxiliary instrument of capitalism. Writing in 1940, shortly before his assassination by one of Stalin’s henchmen, Trotsky explained this phenomenon in “Trade Unions in the Epoch of Imperialist Decay”:

“Inasmuch as imperialist capitalism creates both in colonies and semicolonies a stratum of labor aristocracy and bureaucracy, the latter requires the support of colonial and semicolonial governments as protectors, patrons, and sometimes as arbitrators. This constitutes the most important social basis for the Bonapartist and semi-Bonapartist character of governments in the colonies and in backward countries generally. This likewise constitutes the basis for the dependence of reformist unions upon the state.”

The struggle for internal democracy and for the independence of the unions from the state can’t be separated from the struggle for revolutionary leadership—forging a vanguard party. As Trotsky himself explained: “In the epoch of imperialist decay the trade unions can be really independent only to the extent that they are conscious of being, in action, the organs of proletarian revolution.”

Unions today are without exception led by pro-capitalist bureaucracies. Since the era of Lázaro Cárdenas del Río, a large part of the unions in Mexico has been affiliated with the PRI and headed by extremely repressive bureaucracies that are submissive to the state. The leaders of the PRI-affiliated CTM [Mexican Labor Federation] and CT [Congress of Labor] have supported Fox in the attack against the miners union and backed the scab Elías Morales. The current struggle of the SNTMMSRM has sharpened the crisis of corporatism. Union leaders get their privileges from their position at the head of workers organizations, and today they see this position being threatened by the government. Thus for the first time, this May Day the so-called “independent” unions marched with a number of PRI-affiliated unions, including the SNTMMSRM.

While the misnamed “independent” unions are in fact more democratic, their bureaucrats are almost always loyal to the PRD, tying the working class to the bosses above all through nationalist ideology and illusions in the “democratic” reform of the capitalist state. Revolutionary Marxists strive for the working class to replace all these bureaucratic and pro-capitalist leaderships with leaderships based on a program of proletarian political independence and opposition to all bourgeois parties.

We are opposed to any intrusion of the state into the unions, even the most bureaucratic. The interest of the capitalists and their state is in shackling, weakening and if possible destroying the unions outright. This is the only objective the bourgeois state seeks when it interferes in union life. The working class should clean its own house. As part of our struggle for the complete independence of the unions from the state, we also oppose all legislation that ties the unions to the state: binding arbitration, “taking of note” [mandatory government approval of union leaders], control of union dues by the government. We call for government hands off the miners union! Drop the charges against Napoleón Gómez Urrutia! Free [jailed SNTMMSRM leader] Indalecio Pérez Morones now! Drop the charges against all the striking workers!

In a recent class of the Juventud Espartaquista [youth group of the GEM], one of the attendees argued against our position, saying that one should take advantage of the government’s campaign against Gómez Urrutia to get rid of him and replace the leadership. The struggle for a revolutionary leadership in the unions must have as its premise the defense of the union against the bourgeois state. Nothing good can come of a leadership that takes power in coordination with the attacks of the bosses and their state.

I’d like to digress a bit to explain a classic Marxist analogy that Trotsky made referring to the trade unions and the Soviet bureaucratically degenerated workers state. As Trotsky wrote more than a half century ago: “In the last analysis a workers’ state is a trade union which has conquered power” (In Defense of Marxism, 1939).

Trotskyists always understood the class nature of the USSR as a workers state, and as such we defended it against imperialism and capitalist counterrevolution in spite of the reactionary policies of the Stalinist bureaucracy in power. Today we defend the remaining deformed workers states: Cuba, China, Vietnam and North Korea. Defense of these states is a duty of the world proletariat, and the future of China in particular is of utmost importance for the future of the class struggle at a global level. In the same way, we defend the unions against the bosses in spite of the pro-capitalist bureaucracies that lead them. And just as we fight for a class-struggle, anti-capitalist leadership in the trade unions, we fight for workers political revolution in the deformed workers states to oust the Stalinist bureaucrats and replace them with regimes based on workers democracy and revolutionary internationalism.

In fact, you don’t have to be a Marxist to defend the unions against the state. You only need to have basic class consciousness. Nevertheless, this basic line has earned us loud reproaches from the Internationalist Group (IG), which like “delegado zero” reflects and seeks to exploit the petty-bourgeois, anti-union prejudices prevailing in the student and very misnamed “anti-capitalist” milieus. According to the IG, the PRI unions, including the SNTMMSRM, are not workers organizations but the “class enemy” (El Internacionalista/Edición México No. 1, May 2001). The IG also maintains that “the fact is that the PRI’s corporatist federations are not workers’ unions any more than are the company unions (sindicatos blancos) sponsored by the right-wing PAN (National Action Party); rather, they are apparatuses for bourgeois control of the workers” (Internationalist, Summer 2001).

Thus, the IG dismisses with a wave of the hand powerful unions like the miners and steel workers union or the oil workers, identifying the base with the leadership, and refuses to defend these unions against state attack. The class struggle has hit the IG in the face, and they haven’t been able to come out of their stupor.

In their most recent publication (special supplement to El Internacionalista, May 2006), the most they can say is that the government’s removal of Gómez Urrutia from office “is a settling of accounts within the regime”—that is, a conflict within the bourgeoisie—which in an extraordinary way “affects the workers, thus we must mobilize to reject this violent blow of the government.” Think about it a bit. After the horrendous death of 65 miners, the bourgeois state deposed the union leader and installed a scab in his place, froze the bank accounts of the entire union, trying to bankrupt it and defeat the striking workers through starvation. It jailed one of the union leaders who initiated the strike in the Caridad mine in Nacozari, Indalecio Pérez Morones, who faces a possible sentence of up to 45 years. It sent out arrest orders for the entire committee of that mine, 27 union members in all. It tried to break the Sicartsa strike, killing two workers. But according to the IG, this is “a settling of accounts within the regime.”

I’d like them to go to Lázaro Cárdenas and tell the workers that their struggle is nothing more than a conflict within the bourgeoisie and that their union is basically a company union. Buy health insurance before the trip and wear a hard hat. And the IG should start with trying to explain how a “company union” is carrying out what the IG itself confesses is the “biggest strike movement the country has experienced in the past decade.”

The cited publication of the IG includes two articles on the miners union, in which the IG gives an inventory of the betrayals of the PRI bureaucracy for the last half-century and stupidly puts an equal sign between the company and the government on the one hand and the union on the other. While it raises pompous slogans such as “National strike against the assassin government!”, conspicuously absent in ten two-column pages is any basic slogan demanding that the state take its hands off the miners union, any call for victory to the miners strikes, any demand to drop the charges not only against Gómez Urrutia but also against the dozens of strikers and leaders wanted by the state, a call to free Indalecio Pérez Morones, one single demand to unfreeze the union’s bank accounts. If the IG were honest, it would openly say that it does not defend the union or its strikes. It goes without saying that such would be a union-busting position not worthy of those calling themselves “Marxists” or even any decent union member.

We’ve had this debate with the IG for almost ten years. But reality is as stubborn as the miners, and today the question is posed pointblank. As Trotsky explained in “Trade Unions in the Epoch of Imperialist Decay”:

“The matter at issue is essentially the struggle for influence over the working class. Every organization, every party, every faction which permits itself an ultimatistic position in relation to the trade union, i.e., in essence turns its back upon the working class, merely because of displeasure with its organization, every such organization is destined to perish. And it must be said it deserves to perish.”

As I said before, the present conflict is the biggest outburst of class struggle in this country in several years. The outcome will mark a signpost for workers struggles in the coming period. The class line is sharply drawn with workers’ blood. And the IG, by refusing to come out clearly in defense of the embattled union, is on the wrong side.

The workers have shown tremendous social power and will to fight, having repelled the murderous April 20 cop attack and held out in their strike. However, they have illusions in nationalist populism, most clearly represented in Mexico by the PRD. The working class needs its own party to fight for proletarian revolution because this is the only solution to the problems of the exploited, impoverished, oppressed masses. There are no shortcuts. We Spartacists base ourselves on the key fundamental experience in the entire history of the class struggle: the October Revolution. And our objective is new October Revolutions around the world. So, we invite you to study our press and the classics of Marxism and discuss them with us. If you agree with this perspective, join us in struggle for the emancipation of the working class, which means the emancipation of all humanity.


Workers Vanguard No. 872

WV 872

9 June 2006


U.S. Out of Iraq, Afghanistan Now!

U.S. Imperialism's Massacre in Haditha


Miners, Steel Workers Strikes Shake Mexico

Presidential Elections: No Vote to Bourgeois PRI, PAN, PRD!

For a Revolutionary Workers Party!


Exchange on NYC Transit Strike



On Bible-Thumping Bigots



1905: Dress Rehearsal for October Revolution

(Quote of the Week)


Israel Out of the Occupied Territories!

Imperialists, Zionists Starve Palestinians


For a Class-Struggle Fight to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal!


Campaign Update


Cops, Corruption and the Imperial Presidency

"War on Terror" Hits Congress


Korean War Document Confirms:

Massacre at No Gun Ri Was Official U.S. Policy


The Russian Revolution of 1905


Zapatista "Sixth Declaration": Petty-Bourgeois Populism

Army Out of Chiapas!

Down With Paramilitary Terror!


Wildcat Strike Shuts Down Toronto Transit