Workers Vanguard No. 996
17 February 2012
Serving the Democrats, Selling Out the Workers
Down With Labor Tops China Bashing!
On the heels of President Obama’s January 24 State of the Union address, a coalition of union officials, rust-belt Democratic Party politicians and trade advocacy groups is promising a campaign against China’s supposedly nefarious trade policies, with particular focus on the auto industry. Once again, the labor bureaucrats espouse not the weapons of class struggle but the poison of anti-China protectionism—at a time when General Motors has resumed its status as the world’s leading maker of cars and Ford, Chrysler and leading U.S. auto parts manufacturers are well in the black. Hoping to pressure Obama to take up their plight in his February 14 Washington meeting with Chinese president-in-waiting Xi Jinping, the union leaders were gaga over the State of the Union, in which the president vowed to stand tough against competitors who “don’t play by the rules,” specifically indicting China.
In a statement the day after Obama’s address, United Auto Workers (UAW) president Bob King crowed, “The recovery of the American automotive industry is one of our country’s greatest economic success stories.” Attributing this salvation to Obama’s “bet on U.S. workers,” King proceeded to pledge to “work to re-elect President Barack Obama in November.” King’s greatest “success” to date has been to deliver Ford the same massive concessions that were granted to bankrupt GM and Chrysler as part of the 2009 bailout overseen by the White House. Then UAW head Ron Gettelfinger, King & Co. worked hand in glove with Obama to achieve the layoffs, wage/benefits slashing, no-strike pledge and second-class union membership demanded by the industry’s bosses.
The America first and foremost chauvinists at the top of the UAW, the United Steelworkers (USW) and other unions are especially exercised over China’s recent imposition of steep tariffs of $4.9 billion a year on imports of sport utility vehicles and large cars from the U.S., as well as its supposedly illegal restrictions on the export of rare earth metals, 97 percent of which are mined in China. Helping lead the charge against China is the Alliance for American Manufacturing, formed by the USW and the steel bosses. This class-collaborationist combine projects a virtual Armageddon for American automakers, claiming that 1.6 million jobs in the industry are at risk and that the “global domination” of auto parts manufacture by China looms in the near future.
If this doomsday scenario smells a little like “weapons of mass destruction” hype, it’s because it’s no less ridiculous and similarly designed to mask reality. To be forgotten is that the massacre of jobs and social benefits and the grinding poverty that now stalks this land are in the purest sense “made in America” by its rapacious ruling class, which is driven to exploit and oppress in the quest for profits, the motive force of the capitalist system. One must forget, too, that these rulers are not only unscathed by this carnage but are rolling in dough, their well-being aided and abetted by the policies of their government and the imperialist Commander-in-Chief, Barack Obama. Most importantly from the standpoint of the trade-union tops, the workers are to forget that in the face of the attacks, not least the accelerating decimation of the unions, these types have refused to mobilize labor’s power, including for the crucial fight to organize the roughly 90 percent of workers who are non-union. They have also openly collaborated with the bosses in packaging and selling to the union rank and file such savageries as the corporation heads demand.
The stock in trade of these “labor lieutenants of capital,” who in this country are largely a constituent part of the Democrats, one of the dual parties of the bourgeoisie, is the holy union of the bosses and the proletariat against the foreign “enemy.” This poison is dished out through protectionism and its ultimate extension, working-class support for the wars of the U.S. imperialist rulers. Under Republicans and especially Democrats, the U.S. since World War II has engaged in a virtually unending series of military actions and all-out wars with millions upon millions of corpses left in their wake. The victimization of working and poor people here is but the domestic counterpart of the conflagrations abroad in the service of this decaying imperialist order.
Defend the Gains of the Chinese Revolution!
The current China-bashing is intended in part to establish which candidate for the presidency will be the most resolute in advancing the claims of the U.S. against its “enemies.” And from the standpoint of the U.S. imperialists, China is not just any enemy. It is the largest and strongest of the remaining societies in which capitalist rule was overthrown and private ownership of the means of production was replaced by nationalized planning.
Such societies owe their existence to the 1917 October Revolution in Russia and the working-class state power, the USSR, which issued from it. Although that power was vitiated by the bureaucratic usurpation of proletarian political rule, the historically progressive social content of the Soviet Union prevailed, with the result that amid the worldwide Great Depression of the 1930s the Soviet workers experienced no unemployment and the economy continued to grow. As a military and industrial power, the Soviet workers state also acted as a counterweight to the rapacious imperialists. However, decades of imperialist military and economic pressure, combined with Stalinist bureaucratic mismanagement and betrayals of revolutionary opportunities around the world, prepared the fall of the Soviet workers state to capitalist counterrevolution in 1991-92.
The post-World War II revolutions in China, Vietnam, North Korea, Laos and Cuba were deformed by bureaucratic rule from their inceptions, but nevertheless, the overthrow of their respective capitalist masters set the stage for advances not seen in similarly backward circumstances in Asia, Africa or Latin America. It is not fundamentally the growing economic power of China that infuriates America’s rulers but the continued existence of its social revolution, which the imperialists are dead set on overturning.
The list of economic concessions sought by the full spectrum of American manufacturers and financiers reflects their aspiration to return China to something akin to its former colonial status. Efforts to strengthen the military vise around China—e.g., the shift of U.S. armed forces to the Pacific Rim, the recent strengthening of military alliances with Japan, Australia and the Philippines and the continued arming of capitalist Taiwan—are another prong of that attack, along with the promotion of counterrevolutionary forces inside China. Just as workers in the U.S. must defend their unions against the bosses despite the sellout labor leadership, it is the duty of the international working class, especially in the U.S., to defend China against imperialism and internal counterrevolution.
When the U.S. rulers launched the Cold War against the Soviet Union in the aftermath of WWII, anti-Communist hysteria swept the nation, and reds and other militants were purged from the unions that they had played a crucial role in building. The U.S. labor bureaucracy picked up the cudgels for the imperialists, particularly by wielding the banner of “free trade unions.” One of its notorious instruments was the American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD), a front for the CIA that helped engineer right-wing coups throughout Latin America. Among the AIFLD’s godfathers was Irving Brown, an American Federation of Labor operative for the CIA who planted agents, bought union officials and hired goon squads to crush left-led unions in Europe and elsewhere. In the 1980s, the AFL-CIO hierarchy funneled millions of dollars in CIA money to Polish Solidarność—a reactionary movement masquerading as a trade union that was in the forefront of the drive for capitalist restoration in East Europe. (For more on Solidarność, see the article on page 6.)
Far from a pot of gold for American workers, the alliance of the trade-union tops with their imperialist masters is responsible for the current desperate straits of organized labor. As regards China, it sets workers here against the increasingly militant Chinese proletariat. In recent months, workers in China have engaged in a renewed strike wave to improve their economic well-being and organizational strength, in the process squaring off with police forces deployed by the Stalinist Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The current wave of class struggle points to the need for unions independent of bureaucratic domination and devoted to the defense of the gains of the revolution.
In recent years China has helped fuel its continued growth by emerging as an infrastructure powerhouse, even fabricating key sections of the new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. The U.S. labor bureaucracy’s protectionist campaign is its reactionary response to the fact that steel and auto parts production in China is increasingly integral to the U.S. auto industry. Where the pro-capitalist labor bureaucrats scream about a threat to American workers, Marxists see in the Chinese proletariat a potentially powerful international ally of the U.S. working class.
The Chinese bureaucracy is responsible for introducing virtually untrammeled capitalist exploitation in sections of the economy. Xi Jinping, who has held posts in four provinces, is all but certain to ascend to the presidency as a reward for his successes in attracting foreign investment and expanding government support for model entrepreneurs. He is the first “princeling” (the contemptuous term for the sons and daughters of old party leaders whose connections have greased their access to wealth and power) to be tapped to rule the country. His meeting with Obama is seen as a test of his mettle in standing up to this leader of bullying U.S. imperialism. Insofar as he does so, it is a good thing.
But whatever transpires, it will mark a continuation of the CCP’s longstanding conciliation of imperialism based on the Stalinist dogma of “socialism in one country” and its corollary, “peaceful coexistence.” Its many ties to the capitalist exploiters, as well as the increasing corruption that permeates the top levels of the party regime, ultimately pose the threat of the overturn of the 1949 Revolution. The answer is a working-class political revolution that ousts this parasitic caste and replaces it with organs of proletarian political power, workers and peasants councils modeled after the soviets that played an instrumental role in the October Revolution.
In the 1930s, revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky frequently pointed to the similarity between reformist trade unions in capitalist countries and the bureaucratically degenerated workers state in the USSR—that is, to their contradictory nature. Insofar as the bureaucracy’s rule in the deformed workers states is threatened by counterrevolution, it may act to defend the gains of the revolution. In a like manner, the trade-union tops in capitalist countries are occasionally capable of resisting by strike action the bosses’ attacks on the membership whose dues pay their exorbitant salaries. Fundamentally, however, both these bureaucratic strata seek to prosper and maintain their status by accommodation to the imperialist world order.
For decades, the union bureaucrats in this country have prostrated themselves to almost each and every demand of the bosses. Today, some public employee unions, which together make up the largest remaining unionized sector of the working class, are on the verge of extinction. In the case of those unions stripped of any role in contract negotiations, many of their members are simply failing to pay their dues. In this demoralized atmosphere, not a few workers question the value of unions.
The preference of the Republican Party is to crush the unions outright, while that of the Democrats is to maintain them as stockyards for voting cattle, at least as long as they remain prostrate before capital. The very capacity of the working class to resist any of the depredations of the capitalist system requires revitalizing the unions based on the understanding that the working class shares no common cause with its capitalist exploiters. Fundamental to this perspective is the fight to break labor from the parties of the bourgeoisie.
The wrenching, grinding worldwide economic crisis starkly illuminates Trotsky’s statement in the 1938 Transitional Program, the founding document of the Fourth International: “The question is one of guarding the proletariat from decay, demoralization and ruin…. If capitalism is incapable of satisfying the demands inevitably arising from the calamities generated by itself, then let it perish.” It is urgently necessary to reforge the Fourth International, world party of socialist revolution, to weld together the vanguard forces of the proletariat from the U.S. to China in the fight for a world socialist order.