On the work of the communists in the labour and trade union movement in Greece and in Europe and the need for its regroupment

Giannis Protoulis Member of the Politburo of the CC of the KKE

In January of 2018 in Davos at the luxurious ski resort of eastern Switzerland, more than 3000 participants met at the World Economic Forum, as they do every year.

There, the following report was published: ‘The future of jobs: Employment, Skills and Workforce Strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution’ which predicted that with the so-called “4th Industrial Revolution that is now just beginning due to progress in Genetics, Artificial Intelligence, Robotics and Nanotechnology, 3D printing, and Biotechnology, more than five million work positions will be lost over the next five years in 15 more or less developed capitalist economies. Months before the president of the World Bank was harsher: 150 million individuals will lose their jobs by 2022, while 300 million first time jobseekers won’t find employment. In 2030, with the advancement of the robots, 800 million positions or, 1/5 of the world labor force will be lost.

The harsh experience of the working class under capitalist exploitation, but also these statements and research done by capitalists as to what the system holds in store reconfirm the necessity of a revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist system and the construction of a socialist communist society. They literally constitute the best verification of Karl Marx 200 years after his birth.

Referring to the historical documents of the KKE that this year marks 100 years of sacrifices and struggles, child of Red October and the necessity of the working class to attain its political vanguard, we read in KKE’s founding program dated 17 November, 1918:

(…) the productive forces of today’s society have increased disproportionately for this society and the private ownership of the means of production is incompatible with the full and planned use and development of these productive means. (…) the transition of production from plutocratic to socialist, carried out within society and for the benefit of the whole of society makes possible large production with the increasing rise in the productivity of social labor, from a source of poverty and enslavement of the popular masses into a source of the greatest prosperity and unending overall refinement. This social transition not only means the emancipation of the proletariat, but also the liberation of all of humanity that is suffering today. However, it can only be carried out by the working class… The workers’ struggle is a necessary one and it is political. The working class cannot realize its economic interests, nor develop its economic organization without political rights. It cannot carry out its historical mission without claiming political power.

The experience from the course of the system confirms that whatever capitalist recovery is precarious and a new capitalist crisis is underway. It cannot eradicate nor absorb the great mass of the unemployed especially in a period when technological changes in production are being accelerated. Capital will become increasingly more aggressive and it is clear that there will be no return to a pre-crisis period in terms of the basic gains and rights of the working class that were won in the 20th century.

Therefore, we should expect a further sharpening of the contradiction between capital – salaried employment and based on this, the sharpening of the totality of social contradictions.

The need and the potential for more planned work by Communists in the ranks of the working class and its movement flow from this basic estimation; so the class struggle that has an anti-capitalist, anti-monopoly line of rallying and alliances as its main content will be strengthened. The action by the CPs at the same time will contribute so that the struggle for a different organization of the economy and society will be strengthened, corresponding to the necessity and the prospect of socialist revolution.

The regroupment of the international communist movement is the most significant determining factor in the struggle for the overthrow of capitalist barbarism and is connected to the capability of the communist parties to be strengthened in a comprehensive way:

Ideologically – Politically, with a revolutionary strategy, overcoming mistaken positions that dominated in the international communist movement in previous decades, in contradiction with the experience of the great October Socialist Revolution.

Organizationally, so that they acquire strong bases in strategically important enterprises and sectors, in sectors with a large concentration of the working class, to intervene decisively in the workers’ – popular movement, in an ongoing effort to raise class, political consciousness.

It is of decisive importance to strengthen our efforts so that the CPs in every country will become mass, strong revolutionary workers’ parties, organizers and leaders of the struggle of millions of oppressed for the overthrow of the rotten capitalist system that brings only poverty, imperialist wars, destruction and refugeeism.

This aim is through a systematic struggle, within which anti-people governmental policies will be opposed and the ongoing intervention confronting the problems that the working class experiences will be consolidated, the necessary preparations will be made so that under conditions where a revolutionary situation breaks out in a given country, each CP can fulfill its historic duty and fight for the overthrow of capitalism, for socialism, at that same time creating an effective mechanism that will provide international support and solidarity. This preparation can and must be accelerated. Our responsibilities are great.

History has proven that periods of crises, of imperialist wars, instability of the political system, an abrupt worsening of the lives of the working people, conditions of a rapid awakening of the popular masses can be created. Not automatically of course, but as the result of the action of the workers’ popular movement, especially of the vanguard, the communist party, over all of the previous period such as today’s. There are decades where nothing happens and then there are weeks in which “decades” occur.

Naturally we know full well that the process of the regroupment and strengthening of the communist movement under counter-revolutionary conditions will not be quick and easy. The danger for deviations and reversals, especially at junctures in developments, such as an imperialist war, are great. However, as Lenin said, “whoever is afraid of the wolves, should not go into the forest.

Today, it is highly important to draw correct conclusions on the formulation of terms that will lead to the creation of the strongest possible bases upon which the regroupment will be supported.

The recent experience is valuable if it is studied carefully and comprehensively in every country:

Already one decade has passed since the onset of the deep and prolonged capitalist economic crisis, in the world, in Europe. Objectively speaking, a new situation has been created.

The strategic design of capital is promoted in a planned, methodical way over time by the centers of capital in the EU in Europe and by the bourgeois governments in every country. The measures that found their quickest and most complete development, especially in Greece, where the crisis was a deep one from 2010 and after, led to dramatic changes in labor relations, in salaries, pensions, and social benefits. These measures had been designed long before the crisis, since 1993 with the Maastricht Treaty, with the “White Paper” that concerned the totality of the countries of the EU and was independent of the cycle of capitalist reproduction.

They were imposed by force during the crisis and had the aim not only of insulating monopoly capital from the crisis, but also the long-term shielding of capitalist profitability from the relatively new conditions of international capitalist competition.

With a common policy to drastically reduce salaries and wages as a counterbalance to the downward trend in the rate of profit and as a means for its increase. Forms of temporary and part-time employment were promoted and fixed daily working hours were abolished with general changes in labor relations, such as working time arrangements, active and inactive working time (Cercas Directive), liberalization of services in the single market (Bolkestein Directive), the “Green Paper” on the “modernization” of labor law in the 21st century and more. Policies that are integrated as well in the adjustment of workers’ salaries and wages to the lowest levels of the international capitalist market, to be on par with conditions in China or India, for example.

With a uniform policy on the reduction of social benefits and, above all, the Social Security System (pensions, Health, Welfare) with the expansion of privatization, downgrading and abolition of insurance rights.

With policies to legitimize “slave offices” and the utilization of immigrants as a cheap source of labor power and as a lever for the total reduction of salaries and wages.

With new legal repressive restrictions such as on the right to strike.

Naturally these measures do not mean that they can eliminate or mitigate the contradictions of the system, the most basic being that between capital and labor. This is quite clear in the EU today, where a new "White Paper" is being promoted to make it more resilient to "future shocks".

They have managed exactly the opposite just like the magician that cannot control the evil forces that he has liberated.

As a consequence of these developments and measures, but also of the economic crisis, we have significant profound changes in the ranks of the working class, in its situation: Unemployment has swelled along with the mass of cheap labor power, the number of half-proletariat is increasing, the ranks of the working class are widening with new sections from the destroyed middle strata of the city and the rural areas.

The stratification within the working class has become more complex, the bourgeois class continues, despite the constraints of the crisis, to strengthen strata of the labor aristocracy which even though they have been reduced, still constitute the social base of the opportunist current in the workers' movement.

The widening of its ranks with inexperienced new sections, but also with petty bourgeois conceptions make more difficult and demanding the work of the Communists for the unity of the working class, the rise of the class movement, the influence of revolutionary ideas.

The economic crisis has shown much more clearly the depth of contradictions and the difficulties of capitalism.

The imperialist centers coordinate, elaborate on and deepen their common line against the working class and its movement on all levels in order to confront these problems and contradictions. A common line which combines an economic war with the manipulation, assimilation and repression of class struggles and uprisings, while at a national level they choose their own path concerning the needs of capitalist development and management.

It’s not accidental that along with an economic war to increase exploitation, a political and ideological war is simultaneously strengthening the division, the manipulation, the disorientation and the entrapment of the workers’ and popular masses within the aims of capital.

In this battle, it was proven once more, how important the role of reformists, of opportunists as useful pillars of the system is in crucial moments. These forces are responsible for the dissolution of the trade union movement, the obstruction of the radicalization of the movement under conditions of protracted crisis.

Within this context we can conclude that the pre-dominance of reformism in the trade union movement to be a primary obstacle to the advance of the class struggle.

The line of adaptation and submission to the strategies of the EU and class collaboration, the defense of competitiveness and capitalist profitability was the dominant one in the trade union movement for many years. Reformist forces and labor aristocracy have caused lasting damage as they hold key positions in sectors of strategic importance, large industries and other enterprises (in the sectors of transport, banks, ports, energy, telecommunication), in state services, and Universities.

This caused great damage to workers’ consciousness, especially in the organized section of the working class.

The concept of "social dialogue" officially appeared in the EU (then the EEC) in 1985, and in Greece made its presence more obvious in 1997, resulting in the so-called "Confidence Pact on the way to the year 2000", in which the bourgeois state, the employers, and governmental trade-unionism agreed upon the framework of anti-labor and anti-popular measures that were ahead. The KKE had condemned the "dialogue" from the very beginning and the Communists in the unions organized mobilizations. In contrast, the forces of the bourgeois parties, social democracy and opportunism of SYRIZA (SYNASPISMOS at that time, which was a small party of 3%) chose to and supported participation in the "social dialogue". The then Social Democratic government of PASOK used "social dialogue" to legitimize anti-people interventions. The first "children" of the social dialogue are the laws for the enshrinement of flexible forms of employment, of job rotation, of the generalization of part-time work.

Corresponding mechanisms of “social partnership“ have been established across Europe. Thus, the measures of the Schröder 2000 Agenda in Germany, which were decisively promoted by the IG-METALL labor union, the corresponding Zospen measures in France, Prodi-D'Alema in Italy, were all imposed.

On the opposite bank, the KKE along with the class-oriented forces in the labor movement in Greece, answered back with the founding of the All-Workers’ Militant Front (3 April 1999), fundamentally contributing with a line of separation and rupture with employer and government-led trade unionism. Today the 19 years of rich action of PAME as an alliance of trade union organizations that struggle in an anti-monopoly – anti-capitalist direction confirm the great significance of its founding for the trade union movement. This significance was evident at the 4th National Conference of PAME in November 2016 where 536 trade unions: 12 Federations, 15 Labor Centers, 457 Unions, 52 Struggle Committees took part. PAME is the second leading force in the trade union movement in Greece today. A corresponding effort has not been documented in another country of the EU despite some efforts at coordination. “Social Partnership”, class reconciliation prevailed in the large European capitalist countries, unfortunately with the decisive role of the CPs that were mutated by Eurocommunism, and within the workers’ trade union movement became forces of class collaboration, undermining the subsequent course of the powerful unions that these parties led.

The logic of the end of social conflicts, of ‘social polarization’, the logic of submission has been promoted with ample funds, by institutes ( e.g. Friedrich Ebert ) with the creation of academies in the European trade unions as well as “institutional” organs for consultation in big workplaces, the “workers’ councils’ that replaced the trade unions and undermined the class struggle.

With small differences from country to country, the extent of organization of the working class has shrunk. In Greece, from 41% in the decade of the ‘80s, it had reached 23% before the crisis broke out, and naturally the real percentage of organized workers is much smaller than that which is shown by official statistics that are tampered with. Reformists and opportunists blame the changes in labor relations that affected the possibility of organizing for this, hiding the fact that these overturns were achieved through their traitorous role in reinforcing profits, the competitiveness of capitalist enterprises and the prevalence of a line which disarmed the working class.

This was the situation of the labor movement in Europe when the capitalist crisis broke out. The communist movement was disrupted, in a profound crisis regarding revolutionary strategy, and the labor movement was totally assimilated, with the line of anti-capitalist struggle, rupture and overthrow, in the basic sectors of strategic importance having a very small influence.

During the crisis, the class enemy managed to spread widely in workers’ and popular consciousness the belief that the crisis is the result of bad management by the neo-liberal and social democratic parties, a consequence of the provisions made by the capitalists to the working class due to the development of class struggles under other correlations of forces and with a large increase in the percentage of the GDP. That is, it is a deviation from a supposedly healthy capitalist system and consequently, with a better mix of policies, the system and the EU can be corrected

Within these difficulties the KKE laid new groundwork for contact and communication with the working class and the popular masses. Our Party has pioneered great struggles, opening up vast ideological and political fronts and new paths. The position of the KKE, for example, for the non-participation in bourgeois governments proved to be a powerful weapon in the emancipation of the working class in Greece; it constituted a shield to protect the working class movement from submission and compromise with bourgeois manipulations. The SYRIZA government in a short time period, sowed mass disappointment in broad sections of the working class and the other popular strata, passing measures that other parties didn’t dare to do, such as the restriction of the right to strike; this government was chosen for the dirty work in the wider region of the eastern Mediterranean.

Objectively there are crucially urgent tasks for the regroupment of the labor movement, which mean the preparation and development of a labor movement capable of decisively and effectively confronting, in alliance with the popular strata of the self-employed and farmers, the unified elaborated strategy of capital and capitalist power.

These tasks include a series of ideological-political and organizational measures that mean:

Elaboration of a class line and struggle demands (on all issues: salary, social security, health-care, working hours etc.) and the choice of forms of organization and alliance with popular forces.

Adequate knowledge of the working class’s structure, of the fragmentation that characterizes it, of the new mechanisms and the methods to manipulate the working class used by the bourgeois class that never resigns from trying to assimilate the labor movement.

Accurate and objective assessment of the correlation of forces, of the mood of the masses, of the employers’ tactics and the political forces that act in the trade union movement.

Daily attention and training is needed, as well as concern and care by the leading organs in order to enhance the initiatives, the daily activity of the communists, especially of the youth.

Work at a collective and individual level is required for the formation of solid, day to day bonds with the working class - even in periods when there are no visible results -, bonds which, under specific circumstances, would be converted into an increase in the prestige and influence of the communists.

We must also have the capability to convincingly reveal - through the ideological confrontation that will develop within the small or large-scale struggles - the mechanisms of exploitation and especially the conditions for their abolition.

We refer to a plan for struggle and gathering forces that will have an anti-capitalist content and integrate specific demands. This plan should be based above all on strong Party Organizations in factories, enterprises, in sectors of strategic importance and dialectically create the conditions for their increase.

We can focus specifically on the issue of elaborating struggle objectives, demands that can contribute to a rise in the demands of the working class, the rallying of new forces and the strengthening of the militant movement.

During the crisis, labor’s demands were defensive, with the aim of blocking the passage of sweeping overturns coming in waves, destroying the gains of decades.

The reformists and the labor aristocracy praised the past by cultivating illusions of a return to it, to "normality” as they say. That capitalist development can also provide rights, benefits, and gains, that the working class can continually improve its position, without conflicts, but through changes in the balance of forces between parliamentary parties. This reformist perception proved to be very powerful.

Life itself has proven that whatever workers’ gains, even the very big ones are only temporary in the unceasing class war if the working class does not take the struggle to its end.

The experience of the class movement, of PAME, is important and for many years it insisted on the highlighting of the contemporary needs of workers’ popular families, with an increase in the demands of the working masses. This experience is very useful today where

An increase in demands to cover people’s needs based on the potentials of the contemporary period can become a way to connect daily struggles with the content of the anti-capitalist struggle overall.

The struggle for contemporary needs also involves the formulation of demands for the reduction of working hours, the increase of leisure time, of vacation and recreation time. Workers fought for 8 hours of work, 8 hours of rest and 8 hours of leisure and social time a century and a half ago and today we have returned to a work program from sunrise to sunset with a 10 or 12-hour workday.

The reduction in daily work time was a long-standing demand of the labor movement. Marx considered it a fundamental precondition for the emancipation of the working class. In the struggle to reduce daily working hours, the struggle for the 8-hour working day had special importance. Let us consider that the demand for eight hours of work was first documented in England in 1829 by the “National Association for the Protection of Labor” and was implemented in the colony of Victoria on April 21, 1856. After the American Civil War (1861-1865) the fight for the eight hour workday took on explosive dimensions.

The demand for the eight hour workday along with other demands such as the prohibition of child labor, under age 18, the prohibition of night work, etc. was taken up by the International Workingmen’s Association (First International) at its Geneva congress in September 1866(!) where it took the "decision to limit the working day" with the signature of K. Marx himself:

(...) A fundamental prerequisite, without which all further efforts for improvement and emancipation will prove futile, is the limitation of the working day.

It is necessary to enable the restoration of the health and physical power of the working class, that is to say, the great body of each nation, as well as to ensure the capacity for intellectual development, social relations, social and political action(...)

Thus, the demand for the eight hour workday became a demand of the world proletariat however, it required great struggle and bloodshed to turn this demand into reality. The representatives of the capitalist countries signed an international agreement for the implementation of the 8-hour workday only in 1919 and they did so to stem the revolutionary tide of the times caused by the influence of the October Revolution and the struggle of the world labor movement. The debate about contemporary needs must be decisively reopened. PAME places the demand for 7 hours - 5 days - 35 hours, the abolition of flexible labor relations among many others, of course, naturally leading the struggle for all the problems of the working popular family.

Contemporary needs concern living standards of the 21st century in their entirety such as the quality and quantity of nutritional needs, housing and employment conditions, the role of physical education and exercise, health-care with the basic element of the struggle being an emphasis on prevention, the tackling of environmental problems and occupational illnesses, the increase in life expectancy, culture etc. They also involve the necessary infrastructure and means for their satisfaction.

Objectively today, the satisfaction of contemporary popular needs is possible in every country that has well-established development potential (technological means, a skilled workforce, and modern methods of organizing production) and natural advantages.

In all of this, in a unified way, lies the essence of our conception of people’s contemporary needs, knowing full well that even though they must constitute an issue for struggle, their full satisfaction cannot be achieved within the framework of capitalism, but presupposes the socialization of the concentrated means of production and their inclusion in the scientific central plan of production.

An issue of special importance is the struggle against imperialist wars and plans, against imperialist alliances, against nationalism and fascism and this is a key element in our struggle and in the activity of the class-oriented trade unions.

The WFTU campaigns both internationally and in Greece by trade unions that rally with PAME against NATO, for the closure of American bases, solidarity towards all struggling peoples, the support of refugees, are a key element in our struggle.

At the same time, we place weight on daily political-ideological work for the assimilation of the position that in the event of an imperialist war the labor movement must not fight under a false flag, i.e. the flag of the bourgeois class and its participation in imperialist missions abroad. While in the event of foreign invasion or a struggle for territorial integrity it must be combined with the assigning of responsibility and confrontation with the bourgeois class and the government, which drag people into war, with the appropriate choice of slogans, at the right time, with the aim of preparing the working class and the popular forces for the overthrow of the bourgeois power, which as long it exists brings both war and peace with a gun held at the people’s head.

Without such a struggle, without conflict and unceasing struggle against capital and its power, the situation of the working class will grow worse day by day. The decimation of salaries, the overall assault against labor rights, is not a temporary phenomenon, but will escalate and will extend into all aspects of workers’ lives, taking take on permanent and deeper characteristics.

Without class conflicts in an anti-monopoly- anti-capitalist direction, with the vanguard contribution of the communist parties and the creation of terms of good organization of the working class, the creation of bases in workplaces and sectors, the issue of regroupment cannot go forward, so that the labor movement becomes more capable of struggling decisively, with a strong mass base against capitalist exploitation, for its overthrow.

The statement of the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises that “a return to pre-crisis labor regulations is an ahistorical utopia”, is characteristic. It is not a whim of domestic industrialists. Capital does not desire, nor does it intend to give back whatever it seized from the workers during the crisis years. The pursuit of the greatest possible profit means that the attack on the price of labor power and as a whole, on the rights and the lives of the working people, will escalate.

A capitalist upturn will not lead to even a partial recovery of the great losses of the broad masses during the period of the crisis, but in fact, will worsen the situation for the people. At the same time, the social-democratic proclamations for an efficient state conceal the fact that the bourgeois state functions for the benefit of capital and by extension, the adaptations that occur within it serve to increase the effectiveness of its action in favor of this.

Thus, life itself and harsh reality inevitably respond to the historical dilemma: reform or revolution? and assign communists the task of the necessary preparation.

The totality of developments experienced by the working class shatters the illusion relative to the possibility of a people-friendly management of capitalism, with the argument that an increase in profits of capital will go hand in hand with the prosperity of the salaried workers, the self-employed. It is clear that ‘within the walls’ of the power of capital, the EU, of NATO, pro-people policies cannot exist.

Over the past two years, the SYRIZA - ANEL governments in Greece, and the general experience of social democratic management in other countries, show it to be more effective for the bourgeoisie, but also for its main international allies, and for this reason it is promoted by the forces of capital.

What the bourgeois class and its foreign allies recognize is not only the anti-people legislative decisiveness of the Tsipras government in its support of capitalist profit (a feature common to all bourgeois parties), but its ability to manipulate. In other words, they recognize its capability to blunt popular resistance, to assimilate it into the system and massively deceive the popular strata.

A brief overview of the working conditions prevailing in the member states of the European Union that are imposed either by social-democrats or by neoliberals, either together by both in governmental coalitions, will confirm this.

In Germany work positions of full-time employment accounted for 82.5% in 1997 while today they have fallen to 57%. Over the same period, new forms of occupation (fixed time contracts, part-time work, temporary work, etc.) increased, reaching 43% today from 17.5% in 1997.

A widespread form of flexible employment is the so-called ‘mini jobs’ or ‘marginal employment’ which employs around seven million workers. In addition, there is ‘On-call work’ (Arbeit auf Abfuf) with monthly wages ranging from 100 to 300 euros.

In France, the government passed measures to facilitate firings and to open stores on Sundays.

Part-time employment has reached 18%, while measures are being imposed that allow employers to employ young people from ages 16 to 25, for up to 3 years, with apprenticeship contracts where they are paid from 25% to 78% of the minimum wage!

In Great Britain, official statistics present the self-employed as being at 4.5 million, but 2/3 of these are essentially workers in the form of self-employed workers providing services. More than 8 million work under terms of flexible labor forms. The number of unemployed, poor workers and pensioners with low pensions– about 913,000 in 2014 – that are forced to turn to the so-called foodbanks and public food provision in order to survive has increased.

A common phenomenon are the so-called “zero hour” contracts which do not specify work hours and around 5 million workers work in this way! In practice, the totality of these workers’ lives depend completely on the needs of capital.

From the above, it’s clear that the only way forward for the working class in every country is the coordinated and organized struggle for the defense and expansion of workers’ rights, the creation of the prerequisites for radical political and social changes with the working class in the forefront.

We refer to a plan for struggle and gathering forces that will have an anti-capitalist content and integrate the particular demands. This plan should be based above all on strong Party Organizations in factories, enterprises, in sectors of strategic importance and dialectically create the conditions for their increase.

The building of strong and mass organizations in industrial and commercial zones is a major conclusion drawn from the entire previous period and is a fundamental necessity. Without this, the regroupment of the labor movement cannot proceed and the class struggle cannot be upgraded. But, this task cannot be acted upon outside of persistent and specialized ideological, political, organizational and mass struggle for the organization of the working class and the younger generations and the unemployed, for their participation in class struggles. In this direction, we are elaborating on the experience we have gained with a view to achieving a unified concept of regroupment and its content, in order for the labor and people’s movement to move into a phase of counter-attack.

Based on the above, the KKE highlights its decisions and its action as an integral part in this regroupment, the strengthening of organized trade-union action.

With specific goals such as:

Improvement in the degree of organization of the working class with mass building of the unions and finding ways and forms to facilitate the participation of workers. The unions have to deal with all aspects of the lives of working people.

Strengthening of the World Federation of Trade Union at the international and European level, the strengthening of the sectoral organizations of the WFTU with the inclusion of new trade unions and federations, the strengthening of initiatives and coordinated struggle, the practical solidarity with the struggles of the working people, the peoples who struggle against imperialist interventions and wars.

Systematic efforts to change the balance of forces in favor of the class forces in every mass workers’ organization in enterprises, sectors, areas.

Strengthening of the solidarity, the mutual aid and class support of the working class family and each worker. History has proven that the strengthening of this element, especially in crucial situations, crises, mass poverty, unemployment, wars, can be a key element for the activity and rallying of new masses.

Now is the time to concentrate forces and organize the struggle against the enterprise monopoly groups, against capitalists and their governments according to a plan that will be based above all on strong organizations within the working class.

In this way the KKE chose to honor the 100 years of its heroic course: to become stronger within the working class and its movement, to strengthen internationalist solidarity for the revolutionary regroupment of the international communist movement.

For socialism – communism! Until the final victory!