Over the past year, major workers’ struggles have erupted in the core countries of global capitalism and around the world. This series of strikes began in the UK in the summer of 2022, and workers in many other countries have since taken up the struggle: France, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, the United States, Korea… Everywhere, the working class is raising its head in the face of the considerable deterioration in living and working conditions, the dizzying rise in prices, systematic insecurity and mass unemployment, caused by the accentuation of economic destabilisation, ecological constraints and the intensification of militarism linked to the barbaric war in Ukraine.
A wave of struggle unprecedented for three decades
For three decades, the world has not seen such a wave of simultaneous struggle in so many countries, or over such a long period. The collapse of the Eastern bloc in 1989 and the campaigns about the supposed “death of communism” had provoked a deep ebb in the class struggle at the world level. This major event, the implosion of the Stalinist imperialist bloc and of one of the world’s two greatest powers, the USSR, was the most spectacular expression of capitalism’s entry into a new and even more destructive phase of its decadence, that of its decomposition. The rotting of society on its feet, with its growing violence and chaos at all levels, the nihilistic and desperate atmosphere, the tendency towards social atomisation … all this in turn had a very negative impact on the class struggle. We have thus witnessed a considerable weakening of combativeness compared to the previous period, beginning in 1968. The resignation that hit the working class in Britain for more than three decades, a proletariat with a long experience of struggle, illustrates the reality of this retreat. Faced with attacks from the bourgeoisie, extremely brutal “reforms”, massive de-industrialisation and a considerable fall in living standards, the country’s workers have not seen any significant mobilisation since the stinging defeat inflicted on the miners by Thatcher in 1985.
While the working class has occasionally shown signs of combativeness and tried to reappropriate its weapons of struggle (the fight against the Contrat de Premier Emploi (CPE) in France in 2006, the Indignados movement in Spain in 2011, the first mobilisation against pension reform in France in 2019), proving that it had by no means been taken off the stage of history, its mobilisations have largely remained without a follow up, incapable of re-launching a more global movement. Why was this? Because not only did the workers lose their fighting spirit over the years, they also suffered a profound decline in class consciousness in their ranks, which they had fought so hard to acquire in the 1970s and 1980s. Workers had largely forgotten the lessons of their struggles, their confrontations with the unions, the traps set by the “democratic” state, losing their self-confidence, their ability to unite, to fight en masse… They had even largely forgotten their identity as a class antagonistic to the bourgeoisie and carrying its own revolutionary perspective. In this logic, communism seemed well and truly dead with the horrors of Stalinism, and the working class seemed to no longer exist.
A break in the dynamic of class struggle
And yet, faced with the considerable acceleration of the process of decomposition since the global pandemic of Covid-19, and even more so with the massacres of the war in Ukraine and the chain reactions that this has provoked on the economic, ecological, social and political levels, the working class is raising its head everywhere, taking up the fight and refusing to accept sacrifices in the name of the so-called “common good”. Is this a coincidence? A one-off epidermal reaction to the attacks of the bourgeoisie? No! the slogan “Enough is enough!” in this context of widespread destabilisation of the capitalist system clearly illustrates that a real change of mindset is taking place within the class. All these expressions of combativeness are part of a new situation that is opening up for the class struggle, a new phase that breaks with the passivity, disorientation and despair of the last three decades.
The simultaneous eruption of struggles over the past year did not come out of nowhere. They are the product of a whole process of reflection in the class through a series of previous trial-and-error attempts. Already, during the first mobilisation in France against pension “reform” at the end of 2019, the ICC had identified the expression of a strong need for solidarity between generations and different sectors. This movement had also been accompanied by other workers’ struggles around the world, in the United States as well as in Finland, but had died out in the face of the explosion of the Covid pandemic in March 2020. Similarly, in October 2021, strikes broke out in the United States in various sectors, but the momentum of the struggle was interrupted, this time by the outbreak of war in Ukraine, which initially paralysed workers, particularly in Europe.
This long process of trial and error and maturation led from the summer of 2022 onwards to a determined reaction by workers on their own class terrain in the face of the attacks arising from the destabilisation of capitalism. The British workers have opened a new period in the international workers’ struggle, in what has been called the “summer of anger”. The slogan “enough is enough” was elevated to the symbol of the entire proletarian struggle in the United Kingdom. This slogan did not express specific demands to be met, but a profound revolt against the conditions of exploitation. It showed that the workers were no longer prepared to swallow pathetic compromises, but were ready to continue the struggle with determination. The British workers’ movement is particularly symbolic in that it is the first time since 1985 that this sector of the working class has taken centre stage. And as inflation and crisis intensified around the world, greatly exacerbated by the Ukrainian conflict and the intensification of the war economy, health workers in Spain and the United States also went on the offensive, followed by a wave of strikes in the Netherlands, a “megastreik” of transport workers in Germany, more than 100 strikes against wage arrears and redundancies in China, a strike and demonstrations after a terrible train crash in Greece, teachers demanding higher wages and better working conditions in Portugal, 100. 000 civil servants demanding higher wages in Canada, and above all, a massive movement of the proletariat in France against pension reform.
The highly significant nature of these mobilisations against capitalist austerity also lies in the fact that, in the long term, they also include opposition to war. Indeed, if the direct mobilisation of workers against the war was illusory, the ICC had already pointed out in February 2022 that the workers’ reaction would manifest itself in resistance to attacks on their purchasing power, which would result from the intensification and interconnection of crises and disasters, and that it would also run counter to campaigns calling for the acceptance of sacrifices to support the “heroic resistance of the Ukrainian people”. This is also what the struggles of the past year bear the seeds of, even if workers are not yet fully aware of it: the refusal to sacrifice more and more for the interests of the ruling class, the refusal to make sacrifices for the national economy and for the war effort, the refusal to accept the logic of this system which is leading humanity towards an increasingly catastrophic situation.
We need to fight united and in solidarity!
In these struggles, the idea that “we’re all in the same boat” began to emerge in the minds of workers. On the picket lines in the UK, strikers told us that they felt they were fighting for something bigger than the corporatist demands of the unions. The banner “For all of us” under which the strike took place in Germany on 27 March is particularly significant of the general feeling developing in the class: “we are all fighting for each other”. But it was in France that the need to fight as one was most clearly expressed. The unions did try to divide and rot the movement in the trap of the “strike by proxy” behind supposedly “strategic” sectors (like energy or rubbish collection) to “bring France to a standstill”. But the workers did not fall into the trap en masse, and remained determined to fight together.
During the thirteen days of mobilisation in France, the ICC distributed over 150,000 leaflets: interest in what was happening in the UK and elsewhere never waned. For some demonstrators, the link with the situation in the UK seemed obvious: “it’s the same everywhere, in every country”. It was no coincidence that the unions at the “Mobilier national” had to take charge of strike action during the (cancelled) visit of Charles III to Paris in the name of “solidarity with British workers”. In spite of the inflexibility of the government in France, in spite of the failures to make the bourgeoisie back down or to really obtain better wages in Great Britain or elsewhere, the greatest victory of the workers is the struggle itself and the awareness, undoubtedly still in its infancy and very confused, that we form a single force, that we are all exploited people who, atomised, each in their own corner, can do nothing against capital but who, united in the struggle, can become the greatest social force in history.
Admittedly, workers have still not regained confidence in their own strength, in their ability to take the struggle into their own hands. The unions everywhere kept control of the movements, speaking a more combative language to better sterilise the need for unity, while maintaining a rigid separation between the different sectors. In Great Britain, workers remained isolated behind the picket lines of their companies, although the unions were forced to organise a few parodies of supposedly “unitary” demonstrations. Similarly, in France, when workers came together in gigantic demonstrations, it was always under the absolute control of the unions, who kept workers huddled behind the banners of their companies and sectors. Overall, corporatist confinement remained a constant in most struggles.
During the strikes, the bourgeoisie, particularly its left-wing factions, continued to pour out their ideological campaigns around ecology, anti-racism, the defence of democracy and so on, designed to keep anger and indignation on the illusory terrain of bourgeois “rights” and to divide the exploited between whites people and people of colour, men and women, young and old… In France, in the midst of the movement against pension reform, we saw the development of both environmentalist campaigns around the development of “mega-pools” and democratic campaigns against police repression. Although the majority of workers’ struggles have remained on a class terrain, i.e. the defence of workers’ material conditions in the face of inflation, redundancies, government austerity measures, etc., the danger posed by these ideologies to the working class remains considerable.
Preparing for tomorrow’s struggles
Struggles have diminished in several countries at the moment, but this does not mean that workers are discouraged or defeated. The wave of strikes in the UK continued for a whole year, while the demonstrations in France lasted for five months, despite the fact that the vast majority of workers were aware from the start that the bourgeoisie would not give in to their demands immediately. Week after week in the Netherlands, month after month in France and for a whole year in the UK, workers refused to throw in the towel. These workers’ mobilisations have clearly shown that workers are determined not to accept any further deterioration in their living conditions. Despite all the lies of the ruling class, the crisis is not going to stop: the cost of housing, heating and food is not going to stop rising, redundancies and insecure contracts are going to continue to abound, governments will continue their attacks…
Unquestionably, this new dynamic of struggle is only at its very beginning and, for the working class, “All its historical difficulties persist, its capacity to organise its own struggles and even more so to become aware of its revolutionary project are still very far away, but the growing combativity in the face of the brutal blows dealt by the bourgeoisie to living and working conditions is the fertile ground on which the proletariat can rediscover its class identity, become aware again of what it is, of its strength when it struggles, when it shows solidarity and develops its unity. It’s a process, a struggle that is resuming after years of passivity, a potential that the current strikes suggest.”. No one knows where or when significant new struggles will arise. But it is certain that the working class will have to continue to fight everywhere!
Millions of us fighting, feeling the collective strength of our class as we stand shoulder to shoulder in the streets – that’s essential, but it’s by no means enough. The French government backed down in 2006, during the struggle against the CPE, not because there were more students and young people on precarious contracts in the streets, but because they had taken control of the movement from the unions, through sovereign, massive general assemblies, open to all. These assemblies were not places where workers were confined to their own sector or company, but places from which massive delegations set off for the nearest companies in order to actively seek solidarity. Today, the inability of the working class to take the struggle actively in hand by seeking to extend it to all sectors is the reason why the bourgeoisie has not retreated. However, reclaiming its identity has enabled the working class to begin to reclaim its past. In the marches in France, references to May ’68 and to the 2006 struggle against the CPE have multiplied. What happened in ’68? How did we get the government to back down in 2006? In a minority of the class, a process of reflection is underway, which is an essential means of learning the lessons of the past year’s movements and preparing for future struggles that will have to go even further than those of 1968 in France or those of 1980 in Poland.
Just as the recent struggles are the product of a process of the subterranean maturation that has been developing for some time, so the efforts of a minority to learn the lessons of the recent struggles will bear fruit in the wider struggles that lie ahead. Workers will recognise that the separation of struggles imposed by the unions can only be overcome if they rediscover autonomous forms of organisation such as general assemblies and elected strike committees, and if they take the initiative to extend the struggle beyond all corporatist divisions.
A & D, 13 August 2023
 Cf. “Theses on decomposition”; (May 1990)”, International Review n°107 (2001).
 See “Update of the Theses on Decomposition (2023)“, International Review n°170 (2023).
 “Report on class struggle for the 25th ICC congress”, International Review n°170 (2023).