Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Workers’ struggles in the Middle Ages

Norah Carlin
The existence of workers' struggles in the Middle Ages is rarely recognised by Marxists. [1] This is a pity, because interesting and often heroic struggles which ought to be part of our tradition have been suppressed. Who now has heard of the Matins of Bruges, the Ciompi, or the workers of Provins who lynched the mayor when he ordered an extension of the working day?

In addition, the suppression of this bit of working-class history has meant theoretical and political distortion of the rise of the bourgeoisie and the theory of permanent revolution. The idea that during a bourgeois revolution the working class must not suspend its own struggles against capitalist exploitation, and may even go on to the first stages of a proletarian revolution, was developed by Marx from 1850 on, despite his initial hesitation in the German revolution of 1848. [2] As early as 1843 he had recognised the germs of proletarian revolution in the Sansculotte movement during the French Revolution of 1789–94. [3]

The crucial importance of the theory of permanent revolution was shown in Russia in 1917, when the working class under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky transformed the half-hearted bourgeois revolution of February into the proletarian revolution of October.

But when a similar situation arose in China in 1925–7, the new Stalinist leadership of the Communist International reversed the theory and insisted that China was ripe only for a bourgeois revolution, pushing the Chinese Communist Party (with their own willing co-operation) into a suicidal alliance with the nationalist Kuomintang. [4] Since then, the situation has arisen again and again, and the same problem posed: in the absence of the material conditions for a socialist society, should the working class support Progressive nationalist' forces (the nationalist bourgeoisie, new bureaucratic parties, army dictatorships, etc.) or should they struggle against capitalism for a socialist revolution? [5]

An examination of the relationship of workers to the rise of the bourgeoisie in medieval western Europe pushes this problem to its extreme. The bourgeoisie had been only partially successful in revolutionising its own existence, taking over only the cities rather than the whole of society. The material conditions for a socialist society were altogether absent, and there was no revolutionary theory save the millenarian fantasies of some popular heretics. [6] Many of the struggles which took place were confused, involving self-appointed popular leaders from the ruling elite, or guild loyalties which had little or nothing to do with the working class as such.

What is remarkable is that even in this situation there emerges a clear tradition of working class, anti-capitalist struggle which on occasion reached revolutionary dimensions. From the birth of capitalism, the working class opposed its own exploitation, whatever the consequences and however remote the possibility of building an alternative society.

I. Capitalist Manufacture in Feudal Society

The very existence of the working class in feudal society is commonly denied or ignored. It was a society based primarily on agriculture, and most non-agricultural production was carried out by independent craftsmen for a local market only. In small towns and villages everywhere there were artisans who owned their own tools, sold their own products direct to the local and familiar consumer, and came together in guilds for their mutual protection. Each artisan served his time as an apprentice, worked for some years as a journeyman (wage-earner), then set up as a master craftsman himself, employing a few journeymen and apprentices.

But from the late eleventh century onwards, certain towns in Flanders (parts of modern Belgium and France) began to specialise in the mass production of woollen cloth for a wider market, and this led to the growth of a system of manufacture in which the workers were no longer independent craftsmen. Though the skilled workers, such as weavers and dyers, sometimes owned their looms or workshops and employed a few journeymen, they were producing piece-work for large employers who supplied the raw materials and controlled absolutely the sale of the finished product. At the same time there were other, less skilled workers – sorters, washers and carders of wool, stretchers and shearers of the finished cloth – who worked in the large employers' sheds and workshops . All these workers were producing surplus value at a high rate for capitalists who invested very little in machinery, but because of their monopoly of the market and control of the town corporations were able to pay subsistence wages to a dependent labour force.

In the Flemish textile towns of the thirteenth century, the corporations of rich drapers regulated wages and working conditions. Church bells rang the hours like modern factory hooters, lunchbreaks included; by-laws obliged clothworkers to work by an open door or window, and the drapers' inspectors patrolled the town in search of idling workers and poor quality work. Workers were supposed to be paid in cash on Saturday evenings, but the truck system and withholding of wages for debt were common. [7]

Where Flanders led, Italy followed, and by the fourteenth century Florence was the major manufacturing town. Weavers there were even more dependent on the merchant clothiers' guild (the Arte della Lana) than their Flemish counterparts. They were often heavily in debt to the employers, and pledged their looms as security for further loans: the famous painter Giotto was among those who invested their wealth in loans to weavers at 120% interest. The Arte della Lana bought up individual craftsmen's workshops till it became the owner of most of the stretching and fulling workshops in the city. Craftsmen to whom work was put out were strictly controlled: the penalty for cheating on the quality of a particularly luxurious dye was a £105 fine or the loss of the dyer's right hand. [8]

Outside Flanders and Italy, the development of capitalist manufacture was less concertrated, though certain English towns in the thirteenth century resembled the Flemish and Italian towns in the intensity of their cloth manufacture and the social conditions in which it was carried out. [9] In many towns throughout Europe, however, the growth of capitalism took a different form: the guilds ceased to be associations of equals, and were divided into a dominant master class and a wage-earning journeyman class. [10]

Independent organisations of the wage-earners were regarded with suspicion by employers everywhere, and often forbidden. The guild organisation allowed for skilled workers in thirteenth-century Flanders was strictly subordinate to the drapers' guilds, though it soon escaped their control in practice. In Italy even skilled workers were usually not allowed to form guilds. In Florence in 1345 Ciuto Brandini, who tried to organise the wool-carders (Ciompi) and held public meetings, was put to death – the law forbade gatherings of more than six clothworkers, even for religious purposes. [11]

Despite legislation against workers' associations and strikes, they happened, and when they happened were all the more likely to lead to violence. In Germany in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries journeymen's associations spread, and inter-city confederations were formed in some trades to fight blacklisting and scabbing. In 1329 the journeymen curriers (leatherdressers) of Breslau resolved to strike for a year for higher wages, and were locked out by the employers. At Douai a series of strikes and combinations from 1245 on led to street-fighting and a social revolution in 1280. At Ypres in 1280 the workers' guilds called in their members from outlying villages and armed them. Inflation produced by royal currency manipulation in France in 1306–7 led to strikes for higher wages combined with rent strikes in Paris. When the mayor of Provins in 1281 tried to split the masters' and workers' opposition to increased taxation by adding an hour to the working day, the workers hanged him and burned his house down. A rise in the price of food in Siena in 1371 led to an illegal combination of weavers for higher wages: they went on to pillage the houses of rich citizens. [12] The public order problem created by capitalism in medieval cities was immense, and undoubtedly one of the reasons why the bourgeoisie began to turn to the absolute monarchy for protection.

II. Democracy in the Cities

In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the urban communities of Flanders and Italy, and to some extent France, were fighting for freedom from control by feudal lords and bishops. This was a popular struggle, in which all classes of towns people were frequently involved. The result, however, was not a popular democracy but control by a narrow elite of the merchant and employing class. The various electoral systems of these cities in the thirteenth century have been described as 'a very complicated machine for a very simple result': the maintenance of a few families in permanent power. [13]

In Flanders, it was usually the drapers who came to power as a result of struggles involving all the guilds. In Florence it was the popolo grasso (the fat, the rich) who benefited from the struggle against the urbanised nobility in the thirteenth century, while among the popolo minuto (the 'little men') the lesser guilds enjoyed only a small share in power and the unorganised workers were left out in the cold altogether.

There was thus plenty of scope for democratic agitation against the ruling elite of the bourgeoisie. Such agitation involved the traditional artisans' guilds – since local crafts still existed along side the capitalist manufactures – as well as the dependent workers. Though not sharing the class position or economic interests of the textile workers, the artisans were for the most part anti-capitalist. They resented political control by manufacturers profiting from the international market they did not share, and were alarmed by the increasing gulf between rich and poor. Most of the occasions for democratic revolt had a class content: corruption in city government, inequitable taxation (the rich manufacturers preferring indirect taxation, which hit the poor, to any kind of income tax) and food shortages in which the rich were accused of hoarding and of refusing to use their wealth to save their fellow-citizens from starvation.

In France and England in the fourteenth century, changing economic conditions in agriculture fanned the flames of peasant revolt, and there was a link-up between workers' struggles, peasant rebellion and criticism of royal government by sections of the bourgeoisie and nobility. In the English Peasants' Revolt of 1381 there was a strong element of protest by both urban and rural workers against the royal policy of wage regulation which had attempted to keep down wages since the Black Death in mid-century. [14]

But it was in Flanders and Italy that the democratic struggle led most clearly to workers' revolt, and it is to these that we must turn.

III. Workers' Revolution in Flanders and Italy

(i) Flanders
The democratic struggle in Flanders from the early thirteenth century was dominated by the clothworkers. At Valenciennes in 1225, the weavers and fullers took the opportunity of the confusion surrounding the appearance of the supposedly resurrected Count Baldwin to depose the town council, seize the wealth of the rich and declare a commune. There were outbreaks of revolt against town elites at Liege in 1253, Dinant in 1255 and Huy in 1299. A conspiracy of weavers and fullers against the sheriffs of Ghent in 1274 led to severe repression and the flight of many workers into neighbouring Brabant. In 1280 democratic revolts broke out in almost all the Flemish towns: at Douai the occasion was the imposition of a new and unpopular tax, at Ypres and Bruges the demands were publication of city accounts and a share in the magistrature for craftsmen and clothworkers. [15]

Some of these democratic revolts had called on the Count of Flanders for help, though in the event this did them no good and they were not saved from further repression following 1280. The response of the Flemish bourgeoisie was to call in on their side the King of France, who invaded Flanders in 1300. Resistance to the French invaders was led by the workers of Bruges under their leader 'King Peter', a weaver. Following a massacre of French troops in Bruges by the workers (the 'Matins of Bruges').The revolt spread to other towns and at the Battle of Courtrai an army of clothworkers and artisans armed with pikes defeated the cream of the French feudal nobility. [16] The success of the clothworkers against the French gained recognition for their guilds in city government, but they continued to fight against economic domination by the drapers as well. In the course of the fourteenth century the weavers came to power in most Flemish textile towns and increasingly took over the organisation of their own production through the guild mechanism. Their victory was unfortunately dissipated in conflicts with other guilds such as the fullers', in inter-city rivalry and in involvement with ambitious leaders taking advantage of the political situation resulting from the Hundred Years' War. But the guilds in this period seem to have been genuine workers' associations, concerned for their journeymen members' wage rates and providing social benefits. [17]

By the fifteenth century, however, the master craftsmen in the Flemish guilds had taken over the drapers' former role – they had themselves become employers, restricting the rights of journeymen members and raising the price of apprenticeship. The struggle for 'workers' control' in the only form medieval workers could conceive it – individual artisan rights and guild power – had resulted in the growth of a new employing class from their own ranks, as had happened in so many other guilds elsewhere. The drapers, meanwhile, had discovered that unorganised rural labour was cheaper in conditions of increased competition with the English cloth trade, and had moved their activities out of the towns. [18]

(ii) Florence
In Florence, the defeat of the workers' attempts to organise in the 1340s was followed by a period of comparative quiescence, during which the popolo minuto gave their support to a power-sharing regime in which the leaders of the lesser guilds participated. But by 1378 a series of plagues, famines, wars and trading difficulties had undermined the regime, and an outbreak of factional conflict among the magnates threatened all classes.

The revolution which broke out in June 1378 was at first led by the lesser guildsmen, who burned down the palaces of the most objectionable magnates and set up a new government. But the Ciompi (wool-carders and other unskilled workers) eagerly joined in, and their leader, Michele di Lando, played a prominent part in the revolutionary regime. The cloth-workers wanted above all to be freed from their old enemy, the Arte delta Lana. 'They were,' one of them confessed under torture, 'badly treated by the officials of the guild, who punished them for trifles, and by the employers who paid them badly. For a piece of cloth worth twelve soldi they give eight.' (An indication of the rate of surplus value?)

Three new guilds were created for the unorganised workers and given a place in city government, and reforms were made in the electoral and financial systems. But during July and August the new leaders showed their conservatism: the basic social structure was not changed, the new leaders took on old titles, and Michele di Lando was accused of having sold himself to the rich for a few hundred florins and a suit of noble armour.

The aspirations of the Ciompi grew more radical and egalitarian. 'We will turn the city upside down; we will kill and despoil the rich men who have despised us; we shall become masters of the city; we shall govern it as we like and we shall be rich,' are among their recorded remarks.

On 31 August the disappointed Ciompi rose up against the new regime they had helped to establish, and in a terrible day of bloodshed were driven through the streets of Florence by magnates, bourgeois and lesser guildsmen, with the notoriously savage butchers' guild in the lead.

In the Tumult of the Ciompi, the working class had broken with the democratic revolution, and been bitterly defeated. In the next century, the Italian Renaissance was built up in Florence by an increasingly conservative bourgeoisie who had glimpsed proletarian revolution and preferred oligarchy, the rule of the Medici, and even a flight from trade and manufacture, to that fate. [19]

IV. The Hussites and Historical Necessity

The last great revolution of the Middle Ages in which workers played a leading role was the Hussite rising in Bohemia, which was at one and the same time a religious movement foreshadowing Protestantism, a nationalist revolt of the Czechs against the ruling German minority, and a movement of social protest.

A movement for reform of the Church in Bohemia developed from the 1390s around the figures of Jan Hus and a number of Prague radical preachers. After the execution of Hus by the Catholic Council of Constance in 1415, the university and the burghers of Prague were frightened back into the 'moderate' camp and the strongest supporters of reform became the poor of the working-class parishes, where 40% of the population were classified as 'indigent'.

In 1419–20 the radical preachers led their persecuted followers out of Prague and other towns, together with peasant pilgrims from the surrounding countryside, to found a new society which they called Mount Tabor. Their ideas were chiliastic – they expected the coming of the Kingdom of God on earth, and they expected that kingdom to be a society without private property and exploitation. Private property was abolished among the Taborites and a 'common chest' set up.

But the fight of the Taborites against the combined German and Czech supporters of King Sigismund led to the rise of military leaders in their midst, and the triumph of those few craftsmen, burghers and petty nobles who had joined them. Private property was restored, and within a few years tribute was being demanded from the surrounding peasantry who had at first hoped to be relieved of feudal burdens.

The Taborites' most famous military leader was Jan Zizka, the son of a small Bohemian squire, ex-brigand and former courtier. He crowned his success with the elimination of the most radical groups within Tabor: the followers of Martin Huska, who adhered to the ideal of apostolic poverty; and the Adamites, who set up a revolutionary commune outside Tabor (where their enemies say they renounced clothing and practised free love) and were massacred by Zizka's troops. [20]

Zizka became, and has remained, a Czech national hero. He has been celebrated as such by Czech historians especially since the 'revolution' of 1948, who in trying to combine nationalism with lip-service to Marxism have called upon the concept of 'historical necessity'. Their use of this concept brings us back to the problem of Marxism and the permanent revolution, for it has been used by 'Marxists' of the Stalinist school to justify what others might call historic betrayals, as in China in 1927.

According to these historians, Zizka was right to murder the Taborite radicals because the time was ripe for bourgeois nationalist, and not for proletarian socialist revolution. The historic role of the Taborites was to create the conditions for bourgeois revolution, to 'shed their blood in the political and class interests of the burghers and lesser nobility'. The radicals 'had no idea of the social process and they anticipated history by hundreds of years.' Zizka's action against the revolutionary poor was 'unavoidable ... He kept in mind the interests of the whole revolutionary movement.' [21] Huska and the Adamites failed to appreciate that: 'The solution to the problem – the political party – could only be realised after the overthrow of feudal society.' [22]

The contortions of 'Marxist' historians on the Hussites are paralleled by their gyrations around the history of the German Peasants' Revolt a hundred years later. [23] The fact that bourgeois revolutions had yet to occur in Bohemia or Germany for a few hundred years after these events is a minor worry but not a serious obstacle to such analyses. The first thinker to suggest that if the German bourgeoisie could not bring itself to make its own revolution then the working class must go ahead and make an anti-capitalist revolution, was Marx in 1850.

It can hardly be denied that the material conditions for the realisation of a socialist society did not exist in fifteenth-century Bohemia or sixteenth-century Germany. But is it valid to distort and deny the struggles of workers and peasants against their exploiters in the name of historical necessity? The concept appears useful only to those who wish to bludgeon present-day workers into giving up their own struggles.

V. From Manufacture to Modern Capitalism

Medieval manufacture was different in important ways from the capitalist mode of production which emerged during the industrial revolution. Medieval capitalists increased the rate of surplus value they extracted from workers, not by transforming methods of production and introducing new machinery so as to reduce the socially necessary labour time, but simply by using their position of power in the towns to increase the hours and intensity of labour and to drive wages down to the minimum subsistence level.

The expansion of capitalism was also limited in this period by the fact that the towns were as yet only enclaves in feudal society, and depended on feudal agriculture for raw materials, the supply of labour, and markets for their products. There had to be at least the beginning of a breakthrough into capitalist agriculture before capitalism could dominate society as a whole. [24]

But it is clear that the expansion of capitalist manufacture was also limited by the resistance of the workers. The intensity of workers' struggles in the middle ages drove the bourgeoisie almost to despair. In the sixteenth century many prosperous townsmen sought other outlets for their wealth and energies: landownership in its traditional feudal form, office-holding in the service of absolute monarchies, and the purchase of titles of nobility. [25] The high profits to be made from 'international trade, plantation slavery in the colonies, and investment in government stocks and bonds in the seventeenth century were other ways of avoiding head-on confrontation with the working class in the struggle for surplus value.

In many places, manufacture moved out of the towns into the countryside, where the employers recruited unemployed and underemployed agricultural labour into the production of textiles, metalwares and other goods. This was easier and cheaper because rural workers often had access to plots of land and common rights which provided them with a partial subsistence, and rural conditions made workers' organisation more difficult.

But in England, where rural manufacture was most widespread and successful, there was also a strong tradition of resistance to capitalism and wage-slavery. The mass of literary evidence for such attitudes has been taken as proof that the working class, as a class, did not exist in England before the late eighteenth century. [26] But the political evidence, from journeymen Levellers in the revolution of 1649 to the Corresponding Societies of the 1790s, suggests that traditional 'artisan' attitudes were a response by workers themselves to encroaching capitalism. [27]

It was in eighteenth-century England that the capitalist class turned to a new method of increasing surplus value, the revolution in technology. Recent inventions were taken up, new ones stimulated, and the workers driven out of domestic production into the factories – where labour discipline could also be intensified at the same time.

The traditional 'artisan' resistance to capitalism continued for a time to overlap with the new trade union movement, but the material basis for a new working-class consciousness had been laid. Collective production in the factories made it possible to conceive of collective production under workers' control and the socialist transformation of society. The old conviction of the medieval heretics that private property – i.e. class society – was only a passing phase in the history of humanity now became more than a dream, it became a material possibility.


In 1946 the French Marxist Daniel Guerin published his interpretation of the popular movement in the French Revolution during the years 1792–1795, in which he argued that the germs of working-class revolution existed within the sans-culotte movement in Paris, in opposition to the pro-capitalist government of the Jacobins. Much of the opposition to his theory has been based on evidence that the working class in Paris fought alongside petty-bourgeois artisans and shopkeepers, and that their social ideas were of a traditional artisan kind – the limitation but not abolition of private property, a society of small producers, and so on. [28]

All the evidence of earlier workers' struggles cited in this article should suggest that Guerin was right, that the germs of permanent revolution did exist within the French bourgeois revolution, and that this is not a new development but the culmination of a long tradition of anti-capitalist struggle by the pre-industrial working class. Before working-class consciousness in its modern, socialist form was possible, the 'artisan' aim of individual worker's control was the commonest expression of the workers' opposition to capitalism. From its birth in the middle ages, capitalism has carried within it the seeds of its own destruction, and to deny the permanent revolution is to deny our history as well as our theory.


1. P. Anderson, Lineages of the Absolutist State (London 1974), p. 155 (one sentence); B. Hindess and P.Q. Hirst, Pre-Capitalist Modes of Production (London 1975), no references. R. Brenner, The Origins of Capitalist Development: a Critique of Neo-Smithian Marxism, New Left Review 104 (1977) pp. 25–92, discusses manufacture but not the working class.

2. Karl Marx, The Revolutions of 1848, Political Writings, vol. 1 (Penguin Books 1973) ed. D. Fernbach, pp. 33–48

3. D. Guerin. La Lutte de Classes sous la Premiere Republique (2nd edn., Paris 1968) pp. 13–22.

4. H. Isaacs, The Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution (2nd revised edn., Stanford 1961).

5. T. Cliff, Permanent Revolution, International Socialism 12 and 61.

6. N. Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millenium (Paladin edn., 1970) pp. 53–88, 187–197. An unsympathetic treatment – Cohn argues Marxism is a form of collective delusion like medieval millenarianism. Many of the connections he makes between weavers and heresy are now disputed, but the thesis is valuable and the treatment could be turned on its head – there was a lot more sense in medieval heresy than Cohn allows.

7. H. Pirenne, Histoire de Belgique (3rd edn., Brussels 1909–22), vol. I, pp. 267–275. E. Carus-Wilson, The Woollen Industry, Cambridge Economic History of Europe, vol. li, pp. 372–387.

8. Ibid., pp. 387–398.

9. E. Carus-Wilson, Medieval Merchant Venturers (2nd edn., London 1967), pp. 211–238.

10. M. Mollat and P. Wolff, The Popular Revolutions of the Late Middle Ages (London 1973), pp. 47–249.

11. G.A. Brucker, Florentine Politics and Society 1343–1378, pp. 110–111.

12. Mollat & Wolff, op. cit., pp. 247–250, 93–94,47, 136–7. Pirenne, op. cit., vol. I, pp. 377, 380.

13. J. Lestocquoy, Les Villes de Flandres et d'ltalie sous le Gouvernement des Patriciens (Paris 1952), p. 70.

14. Mollat & Wolff, op. cit., pp. 165–208.

15. Pirenne, op.cit., vol. I, pp. 368–385. Mollat & Wolff, op. cit., pp. 44–46.

16. Pirenne, op. cit., vol. I, pp. 405–415, Mollatt & Wolff, op. cit., pp. 58–59.

17. Pirenne, op. cit., vol. II, pp. 55–74.

18. Ibid., pp. 416–450.

19. Mollat & Wolff, op. cit., pp. 142–161. G.A. Brucker, op. cit., pp. 363–396 – but this account breaks off before the events of August.

20. H. Kaminsky, A History of the Hussite Revolution (California 1967); J. Macek, The Hussite Movement in Bohemia (2nd edn., Prague 1958); E. Werner, Popular Ideologies in Late Medieval Europe: Taborite Chiliasm and its Antecedents, Comparative Studies in Society and History, II, pp. 344–363; N. Cohn, op. cit., pp. 205–222.

21. Macek, op. cit., pp. 52, 95.

22. Werner, op. cit., p. 363.

23. See A. Friesen, Reformation and Utopia (Wiesbaden 1974), pp. 181–205.

24. R. Brenner, op. cit.

25. F. Braudel, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II (London 1973), vol. II, pp. 725–734 – the celebrated 'defection of the bourgeoisie.'

26. C. Hill, Change and Continuity in Seventeenth-Century England, pp. 219–238.

27. M. James, Social Problems and Policy during the Puritan Revolution (London 1930) pp. 193–240. E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (London 1965), p. 262.

28. A. Soboul. The Parisian Sans-Culottes and the French Revolution, 1793–4 (Cambridge 1964), G. Rude, The Crowd in the French Revolution (Oxford 1959).

From International Socialism, 2:1, July 1978, pp. 43–54.
Transcribed by Christian Hogsbjerg.
Marked up by Einde O'Callaghan for ETOL.

International Socialism, July 1978

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Labor must relearn its own history.

Union Membership Grows Despite "Right-to-Work"

Written by Tom Trottier, NYC CMPL
Tuesday, 28 February 2012

 In their relentless quest for profits, big business must continue to drive down workers' wages, benefits, and conditions—and unions are in their way! Recently, the Indiana state legislature and governor made it the first industrial state in the Northeast/Midwest to adopt so-called "right to work" legislation. This law is intended to weaken and destroy the unions. This is a warning to the labor movement!

Despite these attacks, millions of workers would like to join unions. This is because workers bargaining collectively against the boss have more strength than workers bargaining in isolation against the bosses' armies of lawyers, human resources departments, management, and security. On average, union workers make higher wages, work in safer conditions, and receive better benefits than their nonunion counterparts. No wonder so many people would like to join a union.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) announced on Friday, January 27, 2012 that union membership grew by 48,000 to 14.76 million, from 2010 to 2011. However, the rate of union membership as a percent of the labor force dropped from 11.9% to 11.8%. This can be explained by the fact that the working age population has grown more quickly than the unions. But we must ask: why haven't unions kept up? The vicious attacks on organized labor and the slashing of millions of union jobs in the last few years is one obvious reason. However, the fundamental reason labor has not been able to bridge the gap is due to the policy of "partnership with the bosses" adopted by the union leadership, both in the workplace and the polling booths.

The BLS reported that 37% of public sector workers are in unions while only 6.9% of the private sector workers are unionized. This is in contrast to the early 1950s when more than 35% of private sector employees were in unions. Workers in unions are more likely to have health care benefits and pensions in addition to protection from being fired for reasons other than cause. In fact, big business has mostly ended pensions for nonunion private sector workers. You must now work until the very end!

The latest statistics show that labor has been unable to organize massive numbers of new workers in unions. This is in spite of the fact that polls show that workers would prefer to belong to unions rather than deal with the terror of the boss at work. If this is the case why aren't more workers joining unions?

The labor movement went from roughly 3,000,000 members in 1934, to more than 8,000,000 by 1940. Those six years were characterized by the Teamsters and United Auto Workers organizing in the Midwest, citywide general strikes in several cities, and the colossal rise of the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations), including in the South. Although the current leaders may not like to admit it, the unions were originally built and organized by the left: communists, socialists, and Marxists. On what basis did they build these unions? What are the principals of class struggle trade unionism?

  •     Workers and bosses have interests that are diametrically opposed. An increase in wages for workers represents a loss in profits for the boss. Workers should therefore not cooperate with the boss or seek his or her sympathy.
  •     The workers, if they are organized and understand their collective power, can win higher wages and better benefits.
  •     In order to win, the workers can only rely on their own strength and support from other workers; they must put no trust in "impartial" mediators or government agencies.
  •     If workers want a winning strategy, they cannot simply follow federal and state labor laws. Such an approach will not lead to victory, as these laws are written for the bosses.

The main reason for the defeat of so many organizing campaigns today is that the bosses terrorize the workers, fire the leaders, and threaten them with loss of their jobs, while the unions "play by the rules" and patiently wait for NLRB elections. A new strategy is needed!

When unions meet up with new workers who want to organize at their work place, they should not just get them to sign up members and passively prepare for a representation election. They should train these workers in the class struggle unionism that led to victory in the 1930s. They must explain that the power of unions is the power of workers organized and united to withhold their labor from the bosses if necessary. They should educate them in labor history and examine the lessons, the victories and the defeats, from the great battles of the past.

For example, if a union wants to organize a bank, they should not try a "branch-by-branch" strategy. Organizing a larger campaign would be much more effective. The union's goal should be to get the bank to recognize the union's right to represent its members wherever they work, and regardless of whether they make up a majority in a particular branch. This should not just include workers at bank branches but also those in call centers and offices. If the union were to win recognition and improve wages, working conditions, and benefits for its members, nonunion workers would be inspired to join in the fight.

By coordinating with unions in other countries who cover call centers and operations of the same banking corporation, the union could fight on a global scale to prevent the attempts of the companies to pay for these increases by attacks on our brothers and sisters overseas. It would also try to unite all the workers together, so the company will not be able to ship some operations to other countries or regions as a way to avoid dealing with the newly organized workers. Ultimately, all the company's workers should be paid the same high wages and benefits wherever they live!

Just one major victory would electrify workers and young people around the country and also the world, as did the 1997 Teamsters strike at UPS. In order to achieve the first major victory, it would be necessary to recruit workers who are willing to be leaders in the struggle, and the union must connect this movement with the rest of labor. Other unions must be asked to show their solidarity and support such for a campaign in specific ways. This is particularly important in other unions connected to the banks, such as electricians who fix their elevators, truck drivers who deliver paper and supplies, and communications workers who provide telephone lines and internet service. These appeals to other unions must be explained: if labor is strengthened by this organizing victory, it will help the workers in other sectors and industries, including those currently not in unions.

Sooner or later, labor must relearn its own history. Recent statistics are evidence that the present strategy is not working. When labor leaders say "we must be practical! Just look at the anti-labor laws!" we must reply by pointing out that it was never easy to organize unions as the law is always on the bosses' side.

The attacks in Indiana are just the beginning. "Right to work" legislation is in the pipeline in several other states. But we cannot effectively fight this legislation only on a state-by-state basis. It is the federal government's Taft-Hartley law which permits states to become "right-to-work." As part of the struggle to organize new members, we must fight to get Taft-Hartley repealed. But labor cannot expect to effectively fight the bosses on the picket line, if we then vote for the bosses' parties at election time!

Mobilize union and nonunion workers in Indiana and around the country to defeat "right-to-work!" For independent labor candidates in Indiana to repeal this law! For independent labor candidates for federal elections to repeal Taft-Harley! Build the Campaign for a Mass Party of Labor in the unions!

Staughton Lynd: A Letter To Other Occupiers

I think he is saying occupy needs to occupy, and not get bogged down in massive outlays of energy and resources for one-off events which accrue little to the movement as a whole.
But when he says the cop riot at the Democratic Convention in 1968 lead to Nixon's election, do readers think he is also saying the anti-G20 demo in Chicago this year, if "violent", might cause Obama to lose?
Let me know your thoughts. Please feel free to post them in the comments section below.

On the Need to Think Long and Hard about the Upcoming G8/NATO Events in Chicago

February 28, 2012

Greetings. I write from Niles, Ohio, near Youngstown. I take part in Occupy Youngstown (OY). I was asked to make some "keynote" remarks on the occasion of OY's first public meeting on October 15, 2011. I am a member of the legal team that filed suit after our tent and burn barrel were confiscated on November 10-11. I am helping to create the OY Free University where working groups explore a variety of future projects.

I do not write to comment on recent events in Oakland. Our younger daughter lived for a few years in a co-operative house situated on the border between Berkeley and Oakland. For part of that time Martha worked at a public school in Oakland where most of the children were Hispanic. A can company wanted to take the school's recreation yard. In protest, parents courageously kept their children out of school, causing the school's public funding to drop precipitously. As I understand it, in the end the parents prevailed and got a new rec yard.

That was many years ago. It sticks in my mind as an example of the sort of activity, reaching out to the communities in which we live, that I hope Occupiers are undertaking all over the country.


Every local Occupy movement of which I am aware has begun to explore the terrain beyond the downtown public square, asking, what is to be done next?

This is as it should be and we need to be gentle with ourselves and one another, recognizing the special difficulties of this task. The European middle class, before taking state power from feudal governments, built a network of new institutions within the shell of the old society: free cities, guilds, Protestant congregations, banks and corporations, and finally, parliaments. It appears to be much more difficult to construct such prefigurative enclaves within capitalism, a more tightly-knit social fabric.

I sense that, because of this difficulty in building long-term institutions, in much of the Occupy universe there is now an emphasis on protests, marches, "days" for this or that, symbolic but temporary occupations, and other tactics of the moment, rather than on a strategy of building ongoing new institutions and dual power.

I have a particular concern about the impending confrontation in Chicago in May between the forces of Occupy and capitalist globalization. My fears are rooted in a history that may seem to many of you irrelevant. If so, stroke my fevered brow and assure me that you have no intention of letting Occupy crash and burn in the way that both the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) did at the end of the Sixties.


Here, in brief, is the history that I pray we will not repeat.

In August 1964, rank-and-file African Americans in the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), staff of SNCC, and many summer volunteers, traveled to the convention of the national Democratic Party in Atlantic City to demand that the inter-racial delegates of the MFDP should be seated in place of the all-white delegates from the "regular," segregationist Mississippi Democrats. It was an apocalyptic moment, made especially riveting by the televised testimony of Fannie Lou Hamer.

But politically speaking, many who made the trip from the Deep South never found their way back there. A variety of causes were at work but one was that it seemed tedious to return from the mountaintop experience up North to the apparently more humdrum day-to-day movement work in Mississippi. The so-called Congressional Challenge that followed the traumatic events in Atlantic City caused many activists to continue to spend time away from local communities in which they had been living and working.

Bear with me if I continue this ancient Movement history.

In November 1965, there was a gathering in Washington DC of representatives from a myriad of ad hoc student groups formed to oppose the Vietnam war. During the weeks before this occasion several friends warned me that different Left groups were preparing to do battle for control of the new antiwar movement. I assured them that their fears were needless: that kind of thing might have happened in the 1930s, but we were a new Left, committed to listening to one another and to learning from our collective experience.

I was wrong. From the opening gavel, both Communists and Trotskyists sought to take control of the new activist network. In the process they seriously disillusioned many young persons who, perhaps involved in their first political protest, had come long distances in the hope of creating a common front against the war.

Paul Booth of SDS called this meeting "the crazy convention." I remember sleeping on the floor of somebody's apartment next to Dave Dellinger as the two of us sought to refocus attention on what was happening in Vietnam. I recall pleading near the end of the occasion with members of the Young Socialist Alliance (YSA) to be allowed into a locked hotel room where, apparently having lost on the convention floor, they were forming a new national organization.

SDS faced the identical problem at the end of the 1960s with the Progressive Labor party (PL). Essentially what PL did was to caucus beforehand, to adopt tactics for promoting its line within a larger and more diffuse organization, and then, without any interest in what others might have to say, ramming through its predecided resolutions. After a season of hateful harangues and organizational division, very little remained. 

Some Occupiers may respond, "But we're not trying to take over anything! We only want to be able to follow our own consciences!" Sadly, though, the impact of Marxist-Leninist vanguardism and unrestrained individualism on a larger body of variegated protesters may be pretty much the same. In each case there may be a fixed belief that one knows the Truth and has correctly determined What Is To Be Done, which makes it an unnecessary waste of time to Listen To The Experience Of Others. Those who hold these attitudes are likely to act in a way that will wound or even destroy the larger Movement that gives them a platform.

In the period between Seattle in 1999 and September 11, 2001, many activists were into a pattern of behavior that might unkindly be described as summit-hopping. Two young men from Chicago who had been in Seattle stayed in our basement for a night on their way to the next encounter with globalization in Quebec. I was struck by the fact that, as they explained themselves, when they came back to Chicago from Seattle they had been somewhat at a loss about what to do next. As each successive summit (Quebec, Genoa, Cancun) presented itself, they expected to be off to confront the Powers That Be in a new location, leaving in suspended state whatever beginnings they were nurturing in their local communities. So far as an outsider like myself could discern, there did not seem to be a long-term strategy directed toward creating an "otro mundo," a qualitatively new society.

This brings me to the forthcoming confrontation in Chicago in May. My wife Alice and I were living in Chicago in 1968. I was arrested and briefly jailed. Although many in the Movement considered the Chicago events to be a great victory, I believe it is the consensus of historians that the national perception of what happened in Chicago contributed to Nixon's victory in the November 1968 election. More important, as some of us foresaw these predominantly Northern activists like their SNCC predecessors appeared to have great difficulty in picking up again the slow work of "accompanying" in local communities.

I dread the possibility of a re-run of this sequence of events in 2012.


It may seem to some readers that "Staughton is once again pushing his nonviolence rap." However, although I am concerned that small groups in the Occupy Movement may contribute to unnecessary violence in Chicago, it is not violence as such that most worries me.

While I have all my life been personally committed to nonviolence, I have never attempted to impose this personal belief on movements in which I took part. Perhaps this is because as an historian I perceive certain situations for which I have not been able to imagine a nonviolent resolution.

The most challenging of these is slavery. At the time of the American Revolution there were about 600,000 slaves in the British colonies that became the United States. In the Civil War, more than 600,000 Union and Confederate soldiers were killed. It was literally true that, as President Lincoln put it in his Second Inaugural Address, every drop of blood drawn by the lash had to be "sunk" (repaid) by a drop of blood drawn by the sword.

Similarly, I cannot imagine telling Zapatistas that they should not be prepared to defend themselves if attacked by the Mexican army or paramilitaries. I believe that self-defense in these circumstances meets the criteria for a "just" use of violence set out by Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador in his Pastoral Letters.

My fundamental concern is that the rhetoric of the Occupy Movement includes two propositions in tension with each other. We appear to say, on the one hand, that we must seek consensus, but on the other hand, that once a General Assembly is over individuals and grouplets are free to do their own thing.

A careful distinction is required. In general I endorse the idea of individuals or small groups carrying out actions that the group as a whole has not, or has not yet, endorsed. I believe that such actions are like experiments. Everyone involved, those who act and those who closely observe, learns from experiences of this kind. Indeed I have compared what happens in such episodes to the parable of the Sower in the New Testament. We are the seeds. We may be cast onto stony soil, on earth that lends itself only to thistles, or into fertile ground. Whatever our separate experiences, we must lay aside the impulse to defend our prowess as organizers and periodically pool our new knowledge, bad as well as good, so as to learn from each other and better shape a common strategy.

The danger I see is that rather than conceptualizing small group actions as a learning process, in the manner I have tried to describe, we might drift into the premature conclusion that nonviolence and consensus-seeking are for the General Assembly, but once we are out on the street sterner methods are required.

We have a little more than two months before Chicago in May. Unlike Seattle, the folks on the other side will not be unprepared. On January 18, the Chicago City Council

overwhelmingly passed two ordinances pushed by [Mayor Rahm] Emanuel that restrict protest rules and expand the mayor's power to police the summits. Among other things, they increase fines for violating parade rules, allow the city to deputize police officers from outside Chicago for temporary duty and change the requirements for obtaining protest permits. Large signs and banners must now be approved, sidewalk protests require a permit, and permission for "large parades" will only be granted to those with a $1 million liability insurance policy. These are permanent changes in city law.

"Managing Dissent in Chicago," In These Times, March 2012, p. 7. It would be tragic if we failed to make good use of the precious period of time before all this must be confronted.


So what do I recommend? I am eighty-two and no longer able to practice some of what I preach, but for what they may be worth, here are some responses to that question.

We need to act within a wide strategic context, and engage in more than tactical exercises.

We need to invite local people to join our ranks and institutions. We cannot hope to win the trust of others, especially others different from ourselves in class background, cultural preferences, race, or gender, unless we stay long enough to win that trust one day at a time. We must be prepared to spend years in communities where there may not be many fellow radicals.

In thinking about our own lives, and how we can contribute over what Nicaraguans call a "long trajectory," we need to acquire skills that poor and oppressed persons perceive to be needed.

We should understand consensus and nonviolence not as rigid rules, or as boundaries never to be crossed, but as a core or center from which our common actions radiate. Consensus is not just a style of conducting meetings. It seeks to avoid the common human tendency to say, after an action that runs into trouble, "I told you so." The practice of consensus envisions that discussion should continue until every one in the circle is prepared to proceed with a group decision. Perhaps different ones of us have varying degrees of enthusiasm or even serious apprehensions. Anyone who has such misgivings should voice his or her concern because it may be an issue that needs to be addressed. But we must talk things out to a point where as a group we can say, "We are doing this together."

Likewise nonviolence is under some circumstances the most promising way of challenging authority. Trotsky describes in his history of the Russian Revolution how, on International Women's Day, 1917, hundreds of women in St. Petersburg left their work in textile factories demanding Peace and Bread. The women confronted the Cossacks, the policemen on horseback, in the streets. Unarmed, the women approached the riders, saying in effect: "We have the same interests you do. Our husbands and sons are no different from yourselves. Don't ride us down!" And the Cossacks repeatedly refused to charge.

After all, policemen and correctional officers are also part of the 99 percent. When I visit prisoners at the supermaximum security prison in Youngstown, more than one officer has called out, "Remember me, Staughton? I used to be your client." When they could not find other work in our depressed city, which has the highest rate of poverty in the United States, many former steelworkers and truck drivers took prison jobs.

Nelson Mandela befriended a guard at Robben Island whose particular assignment was to watch over him. The officer, James Gregory, has written a book about it sub-titled Nelson Mandela: My Prisoner, My Friend. Mr. Gregory had a seat near the front at Mr. Mandela's inauguration.

The same logic applies to soldiers in a volunteer army. Thus one Occupier has written, "A thoughtful soldier, a soldier with a conscience, is the 1%'s worst nightmare." The Occupy Wall Street Journal, Nov. 2011, p. 2.

In the end, I think, consensus decision-making and nonviolence both have to do with building a community of trust. One of my most chilling memories is to have heard a national officer of SDS talk to a large public meeting in Chicago about "icing" and "offing" persons with whom one disagreed. Actual murder of political comrades apparently took place in El Salvador, the United States, and, so I am told, Ireland.

Everything depends on whether two persons who differ about what should next be done nevertheless trust each other to proceed within the invisible boundaries of their common commitment.

A principal lesson of the 1960s is that maintenance and nurturing of that kind of trust becomes more difficult as a movement or organization grows larger. Here the Zapatistas have something to teach us. They do have a form of representative government in that delegates from different villages are elected to attend coordinating assemblies. But all governing is done within the cultural context of the ancient Mayan practice of "mandar obediciendo," that is, governing in obedience to those who are represented. Thus, after the uprising of January 1, 1994 negotiations began with emissaries from the national government. If a question arose as to which the Zapatista delegates were not instructed, they informed their counterparts that they had to go back to the villages for direction

All this lies down the road. For the moment, let's remind ourselves of the sentiment attributed by Charles Payne to residents working with SNCC in the Mississippi Delta half a century ago: they understood that "maintaining a sense of community was itself an act of resistance."

Staughton Lynd

International Women’s Day 2012

Newsletter from the Political Information Bureau (February 28, 2012)

A Call to Working-Class Women: Join the Revolutionary Struggle! 

Capitalism is the main organizer and profiteer from women's oppression. It feeds, maintains and perpetuates the old oppressive social relations as it enforces discrimination, sexism and wage inequality. Capitalism uses working women as a reserve army for part-time, temporary or low paid jobs. The aim of the class of owners of the means of production is profit, regardless of the havoc it causes and without regard to women's needs, nor those of the entire population.

We demand the right to live in dignity, to participate fully in the organization of an egalitarian and classless society, without discrimination, without racism, without sexism, without exploitation of our bodies for sexual purposes and without degrading advertising. Our male comrades must fight with us to transform society so that women are respected and listened to.

We want a society that takes into account the interests of the vast majority of women, and therefore works for the betterment of everyone, not the enrichment of a few.

In oppressed countries like Nepal, Philippines, India, Bangladesh, as in the imperialist countries like Italy or Canada, women participate in large numbers in fighting and revolutionary movements. They do this not only to free themselves from oppression and the old patriarchal traditions, but also to make revolution and throw out the imperialist exploiters and the puppet governments. Their courage and determination should serve as an example.

Join the growing leagues of women fighting exploitation by Canadian mining companies!

(NB: The next four paragraphs have been slightly adapted from a communiqué issued by Women of Diverse Origins.)

Women play a crucial role in Canada and around the world to resist the aggressive development and the growing exploitation perpetrated by Canadian mining.

The actions from Canadian giant mining companies and the governments at various levels who bow to their demands, are part of an economic plan whose objective is to keep the profits for the business community. While the bourgeois state is actively courting First Nations, governments bestow mining companies with subsidies and tax exemptions, seeking by all means a way to circumvent or ignore the territorial rights of indigenous peoples and rural communities. This is what is happening right now, both on Mohawk land around Montréal, in more remote areas of northern Canada, in Ecuador, Colombia, Guatemala, the Philippines, Congo, India and other parts of the world.

Women are very active on the ground with their communities to resist these attacks. They are often criminalized, and even killed to pave the way for bulldozers and trucks. Many members of our communities came to Canada as migrant workers due to the destruction and displacement caused in their home countries by Canadian mining companies.

Join us on Sunday, March 4 at 9am and on March 8 at 6pm to celebrate our struggles and the International Women's Day!

The Proletarian and Revolutionary Feminist Front calls for support of International Women's Day 2012 and participation in these two events in Montréal, organized by the Women of Diverse Origins collective (FDO-WDO):

The first event will be held on March 4: a day of seminars, workshops and cultural activities will run from 9am to 4:30pm at 6767 Côte-des-Neiges. The event will focus on women migrant workers and women whose communities have been destroyed by capitalism. Translation and child care will be available on site. For more information:

The annual March 8 demonstration will kick off at 6 pm at the Norman-Bethune Place at Guy-Concordia Metro. The demonstration will condemn women's exploitation, especially by mining capitalists. The Proletarian and Revolutionary Feminist Front will have a contingent present.

* * *

Toward A Revolutionary Proletarian Feminism

In the lead up to International Women's Day, the next Revolutionary Student Movement (RSM) Communist Night School* will discuss issues of gender and class. Specifically, what does feminism mean to proletarian and working-class women? We will read about various strands of feminist thought —from radical feminism, socialist feminism, liberal feminism, to anarcho-feminism— and critique each strand. Finally, we will explore what proletarian feminism means in order to develop a revolutionary proletarian feminist politics.

Considering that proletarian feminist movements worldwide are geared toward women liberating themselves from the material oppressions of capitalist/imperialist systems, what is our role, in an imperialist and oppressor country, in helping to create a proletarian women's movement that will address the concrete, material struggles of proletarian women?

Wednesday, February 29th at 6:30pm
Charlie's Bike Shop, 242.5 Queen Street East, 1 block east of Sherbourne, Toronto.

–> Readings available at

Hope to see you there!

* The Communist Night School series are hosted by a bunch of students who don't really have time to do all the readings they're supposed to do for school or more interesting stuff. We have engaged topics such as sexuality, people's wars, youth movements, etc. in past night school series. Visit us on

* * *

"Women Hold Up Half the Sky"

In response to a recognized need to combat patriarchy within its own ranks, the campus more generally and society at large, the University of Ottawa Marxist Students' Association has launched a new campaign called Women Hold Up Half the Sky, named after a campaign of the same name launched in China during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.

Designed to encourage participation beyond cis-normative men as well as develop members; theoretical sophistication and practical capacities, this campaign will include postering, a line of specially-developed pamphlets featuring the works of historical revolutionaries like Rosa Luxemburg and Alexandra Kollontai, general agitation and a weekly women- and trans- discussion group wherein the interconnections between the class struggle and struggles against patriarchy, heterosexism and cis-sexism are elaborated and a revolutionary proletarian feminist line will be articulated.

The need for such a campaign was recognized when it was noted that, during the organization's public tabling roughly half of the people who expressed interest in the group were women, but the numbers who actually ended up participating were significantly skewed toward men. This presented both a challenge and an opportunity to develop some new method of rectifying what is, by and large, a systemic problem on the left in Canada.

An experimental venture, this campaign's development and success will be closely watched and, we hope, will be worthy of serving as a model for other such campaigns both in Ottawa and in the revolutionary movement more generally. To this campaign we extend our heartiest well wishes for empowerment and liberation.

* * *

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Jobless "recovery" continues

Mass layoffs expose myth of US economic "recovery"

28 February 2012

The recent announcements of mass layoffs have upended claims that the United States is in the midst of an "economic recovery." In fact, the US economy remains mired in mass unemployment, with falling real wages and growing poverty a fact of life for millions of people. Small and medium businesses, facing immense pressures to cut costs, are collapsing by the tens of thousands.

The worst of the recent job cuts was conducted by the government itself: the US Postal Service announced last week that it would wipe out 35,000 jobs by the end of September, part of a longer-term plan to eliminate 150,000 jobs.

One well-known corporate name after another has joined the procession of bankruptcies and layoffs, eliminating tens of thousands of jobs combined: Sears, Procter & Gamble, American Airlines, Kodak, Fuller Brush Company (which filed bankruptcy last week), Archer Daniels Midland, IBM.

When last month's jobs figures were announced, they were greeted by the government and media as a major improvement and a sign of economic recovery. The White House stated on its blog that the report "provides further evidence that the economy is continuing to heal."

The reality is completely different. In 2011, the US economy created 1.5 million jobs, but the population grew by 2.2 million, and a roughly equivalent number of young people entered the work force. The employment-population ratio, meanwhile, remains at record lows after having dropped by about 5 percentage points between 2008 and 2010.

Mass unemployment remains at staggering levels. According to official figures, 12.8 million people are unemployed, of whom 5.5 million have been out of work for more than six months and 4 million have been unemployed for over a year. The number of "underemployed" people—combining the jobless with those working only part-time when they want and need full-time work—stands at 24 million.

The continued prevalence of mass unemployment has led to the growth of poverty unseen for decades. The number of US households living on $2 per day per person has more than doubled since 1996, from 636,000 to some 1.46 million today, according to a brief released by the National Poverty Center on Saturday. The study showed that about 4 million people in the United States are living on less than $60 per month.

Yet, under these conditions, both parties are intent on cutting assistance to the poor and unemployed still further. This month the Obama Administration and Republicans reached a deal to cut the maximum duration of unemployment benefits from 99 weeks to 73 week in the hardest-hit states, and from 79 weeks to 63 weeks in most states.

The bill also includes provisions requiring the unemployed to submit proof that they are looking for work, as well as allowing states to subject applicants to drug tests as part of the application process. Big-business politicians have defended these demeaning and punitive actions by claiming that the "recovery" means that only laziness or drug addiction can explain the failure of the unemployed to find jobs.

But even the small number of jobs that have been created since the crash—about a quarter of those lost—have been added on the basis of significantly reduced wages and benefits.

The Obama administration set the model for this whole process during the restructuring of the auto industry, where the administration demanded an expansion of super-exploited new hires making $14 per hour as a condition for bailing out the Big Three.

This points to the fundamental nature of the economic crisis, which has been utilized by the ruling class to lower wages and slash social spending throughout the economy, with the aim of boosting corporate profits and the incomes of the super-rich.

Nearly three years after the official end of the recession in June 2009, it is becoming increasingly clear that the crisis of 2008 was not merely another recession, but a transition to a "new normal" where high unemployment is a permanent fixture, real wages are perpetually falling, and third-world poverty a reality for millions of people.

This is because the present downturn is not merely the operation of the normal business cycle, but a general crisis of world capitalism. It reflects the breakdown of the postwar economic order and the historical decline of American capitalism in particular.

The ruling class has responded to the crisis with single-minded determination to destroy the incomes and living standards of working people.

The working class must respond to the crisis with equal determination. The Socialist Equality Party has entered the 2012 presidential election, running independent candidates, Jerry White and Phyllis Scherrer, on a program based on the political mobilization of the working class against corporate America. We call for a counteroffensive of working people to defend their social rights against the capitalists, on the basis of a socialist program.

The only way to guarantee the basic rights of all people is a drastic reorganization of society to meet social need, not the interests of billionaires. We call on all workers and young people to support the campaign of Jerry White and Phyllis Scherrer.

Andre Damon