In our hands is placed a power, greater than their hoarded gold
Greater than the might of armies, magnified a thousand-fold
We can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old
For union makes us strong.
If the workers took a notion they could stop all speeding trains
Every ship upon the ocean, they could tie with mighty chains.
Every wheel in the creation, every mine and every mill
Fleets and armies of the nations would, at their command, stand still.
— Joe Hill
Political and economic strikes, mass strikes and partial strikes, demonstrative strikes and fighting strikes, general strikes of individual branches of industry and general strikes in individual towns, peaceful wage struggles and street massacres, barricade fighting – all these run through one another, run side by side, cross one another, flow in and over one another – it is a ceaselessly moving, changing sea of phenomena. And the law of motion of these phenomena is clear: it does not lie in the mass strike itself nor in its technical details, but in the political and social proportions of the forces of the revolution.
The mass strike… is the living pulse-beat of the revolution and at the same time its most powerful driving wheel.
— Rosa Luxemburg
Austerity and global governance
Global governance is a project for overcoming the political, economic and cultural differences that divide elites in countries around the world. It seeks to unite them in a common project and outlook. Global governance is therefore best understood as the making of a ruling class, a project fraught with obstacles, contradictions and dangers. For capitalism to fully integrate and incorporate larger areas of the world, and more spheres of human activity into its system, it needs, as Marx showed in Capital, vol. 3, to develop a single, unified average rate of profit. Such an average rate of profit must be generated and re-generated continually as capitalism expands geographically, as it deepens its involvement in larger areas of human life. But since a rate of profit is not a thing, but a measure– an expression of class dominance, exploitation and social control – its determining factors need to be properly understood.Among these are its political framework, which in the past was the nation-state but which now has a global character.
The historical tendency of capitalist accumulation, as Marx indicated in chapter 32 of Capital vol. 1 (one the most powerful passage in his writings), is concentration of wealth and centralization of power into a very few hands. This is happening before our eyes today, and, as Marx, Polanyi, Braudel, and others have led us to expect, is carried out through the identity of capital and state. But the state is not a unified or monolithic agent. It is a set of institutions and functions that are the residue of class struggles of the past, and that are oriented severally toward various class constituencies in society at large. Thus, to carry out the project of concentration and centralization, capital needs to reorganize the state so as to diminish the power of those institutions and functions that are more subject to working-class influence, and to increase and insulate the power of those state agencies that are less exposed to democratic control and are closer in personnel, socialization and function to capitalist interests – which today especially means finance capital and global corporations.
Those state agents whose power is augmented are the executive in general, especially Treasury and Trade ministries, and the increasingly independent central state banks. But to coordinate their activities and policies, to develop greater ideological coherence among them (a new common sense, in Antonio Gramsci’s meaning), and thus to bind them more closely into a class, requires some organizational form and leadership. That form is global governance, in the form of international organizations such as the World Trade Organization, the G20, the IMF, World Bank, the European Commission and other organizations that provide policy initiatives and direction to governments nearly everywhere. But equally important is the informal process of elite socialization that takes place through interaction at the summits and meetings of these institutions and at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.1
Global governance is thus not only a set of organizations, or of international “regimes,” but a process. As such, it includes non-governmental organizations such as the private ratings agencies (e.g. Standard & Poors and Moody’s).2 Ratings agenciesplay a dual role of keeping governments in line and limiting their policy options, through“downgrading” – lowering the credit-rating of governments (say from AA+ to AA) in reaction to unwelcome societal events, election results or policies. A lower rating means a harder time financing government projects, and higher interest rates for their borrowing, raising overall expenditures.What Davos makes less thinkable, Moody’s makes costly, the IMF makes unacceptable, and the WTO and EU Commission make illegal. Behind these, of course, lie the UN Security Council’s permanent members and NATO, backed up by the United States.
Austerity is the key to our whole historical period. For austerity is the policy initiated by global governance, and is a central part of the program of ruling-class unity, needed to overcome the counter-tendencies of democracy and working class power and organization, of resistance to expropriation and exploitation, so as to extend the sphere of the unified average rate of profit and to further concentration and centralization. Austerity is initiated by global governance – by the IMF, by the EU Commission, by the G20’s common agreement, by national central banks everywhere, by ratings agencies, by the punishment of recalcitrant governments by investors using their class power directly, by common agreement among the invited at Davos. Austerity, through its origins in unelected bodies, by its clear and unmistakable class bias in favor of a very small elite, by its destruction of resources – economies, ecologies, livelihoods, and public institutions – in a seemingly irrational way, undermines, perhaps fatally, the legitimacy and social bases of global governance and of governments seen as implementing its policies against the interests of their own populations.These governments thus become politically vulnerable.
Austerity has taken on the characteristics of a global political regime. Worldwide, governments have imposed austerity in the form of cuts in programs benefiting working people, lower wages and large-scale layoffs of public-sector workers, and legislation limiting or weakening organized labor.These austerity measures have had strikingly common characteristics in a wide variety of countries. This commonality of program and of class interests bespeaks the importance of global governance as a project of unification of the ruling class globally.
Global governance institutions are thus not a new form of state in themselves, and even less a world government. They are instead a means of determining the orientation of national states and their policies. They do this in part by limiting the “thinkable” ideological and policy options to those favorable to capital. In this sense they are agents of “elite socialization”3 – influencing the ideological and political orientation of state personnel through interaction with like-minded others and through the revolving door whereby individuals rotate between private finance, Global Governance institutions, and key national government offices. But they do it in part also through external pressure and even coercion, applying methods ranging from IMF structural adjustment programs and debt, to WTO trade rules, to UN Security Council Resolutions, to NATO military force.
Global governance organizations act as Hegel’s “universal authority” – something between an executive committee and a bureaucracy that sets the agenda for and coordinates state policies throughout much of the world. Global governance institutions are where the real power seems to be politically in the capitalist world today. These institutions embody Arundhati Roy’s crucial insight that it is not national sovereignty that is at risk under globalization, but rather democracy.4 This is especially true if by democracy we mean democratic content and agency, and not merely procedures for electing leaders or making decisions.
The global ruling class and capitalism
National states are complex expressions of historic class struggles in each country. Through the imposition and mediation of global governance, however, the resulting structures are superseded. States are instead increasingly interrelated as instruments of an ever-more coherent global capitalist ruling class. Thus, a meta-level objective of global governance emerges, that of carrying out the project implicitly analyzed in Capital vol. 3, where it is defined as the development of a unified single rate of profit, with shares in the value produced system-wide distributed according to the size of capital invested.5 Understood politically, this creation of a single rate of profit, once a primarily national project, is now a project of globalization.6
In such a context, capitalism, which can with justice be described in many ways – as value production, as market relations, etc. – is best understood as both Marx and Braudel understood it: as the concentration of wealth and centralization of power in the fewest hands, as monopoly.7 To achieve this concentration and centralization, capitalism has in recent decades carried out a program of expropriation and renewed exploitation, usually termed neoliberalism. This term applies, however, only if we understand that it is anything but anti-state or liberal in the traditional sense; rather, neoliberalism has been imposed by government policy. For, since the onset of the world economic crisis in 2008, and even before that in the use of the debt crisis to impose neoliberal policies in the global South, it has been clear that capitalism is a political and not merely an economic project. That project, at all times serving the larger objective of concentration and centralization (and hence of global ruling-class unity), today goes by the name of austerity.
Austerity intensifies the project of concentration and centralization, using direct political means to impose greater inequality. Yet in so doing, by exposing the central role of global governance institutions in formulating and initiating policies favorable to an ever smaller capitalist elite, and by reducing the social base for the dominant policies in virtually every country, austerity has brought about the preconditions for a political crisis not only of national governments, but of Global Governance itself. That crisis has not been tardy in arriving.
Against austerity: A global strike wave
Opposing this renewed wave of austerity and neoliberal globalization is a host of movements, organizations and protests, at times uniting in action a diversity of class actors. But increasingly, in the past three years since the financial crisis broke and turned into a global recession, the opposition has been spearheaded by the working class in country after country. Since early 2010, increasingly purposeful strike waves have directly opposed the austerity imposed by national governments and called for by Global Governance institutions. These strike waves, circulating from China and India to South Africa and Egypt, from France and Britain to Jamaica and Cambodia, from Vietnam to Greece, from Bangladesh to Spain, have also challenged austerity as class rule. This planetary strike wave, by a world working class, became the most direct and impressive obstacle to realizing the austerity program of global capital.
Thus, in the single two-day period of October 21-22, 2010, while France was still largely paralyzed by massive strikes opposing President Sarkozy’s attempt to change the retirement age,8 and the Acropolis and the Piraeus port in Athens remained closed by workers blockading them,9 Spanish air traffic controllers faced a threat of being fired by their government for striking (shades of Reagan).10 While firefighters in Ireland11 and London struck, as did Lancaster taxi drivers, Sellafield nuclear power plant workers blocked traffic during a march.12 Elsewhere in the UK, Swindon Leisure Center workers struck protesting cuts by the local council, while the National Union of Journalists voted to strike Newsquest in Hampshire over a 2-year wage freeze.13 In Northern Ireland, a court order demanded an end to a strike at a meat factory. Dutch postal workers planned to strike.14 British unions promised large-scale public sector strikes after the government’s announcement of massive service cuts and elimination of 500,000 civil service jobs.15 Over a thousand Romanian dockworkers protested IMF- and EU-sponsored austerity plans and demanded higher wages.16 In Croatia, unions threatened a general strike after the Constitutional Court rejected a referendum to reform labor laws.17
Outside Europe that same day, Tobago public servants marched in solidarity with their striking colleagues in Trinidad, and the University of the West Indies offered concessions to its striking staff;18 University staff were on strike also in Nigeria;19 Ghanaian teachers and professors were on strike and in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, high school teachers were on strike to start the school year, while In Italy, the university semester’s start was blocked by a months-long strike by ricercatori, the entry-level professors protesting massive cuts and changes in Italian Universities;20 National Water Commission workers, members of Jamaica’s National Workers Union, struck in the face of a court order, demanding a 7% pay increase, in the wake of an earlier demand by Jamaican unions to reject IMF policy demands.21 A general strike in that country had only a month earlier been narrowly averted by government concessions that made the IMF demands a dead letter.22
Strikes were at the same time spreading throughout many countries in Africa, in addition to the education sector strikes: In Kenya, 80,000 workers struck tea companies to protest the introduction of tea-picking machines;23 in Swaziland, the logistics and transport company Unitrans fired 43 striking workers and got a court order requiring workers to cease adhering to their own self-set hours of 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.;24 diamond production workers were on strike in Botswana;25 in Zambia, striking miners were fired on by their bosses at a Chinese company;26 and in Zimbabwe airline workers struck while public service workers demanded that diamond revenues be used to increase their pay.27 In Benin, unions organized protests that same week against the government’s ban on demonstrations.28 Only a few weeks earlier, city workers in Uganda had occupied government offices.29 In Nigeria, oil workers had postponed a strike earlier that year after a 10% pay raise conceded by the government.30 But now they struck over a proposed law on oil that oil multinationals had lobbied for, and over local activities by Exxon.31 Doctors in Lagos were on strike, university staff and lecturers stepped up ongoing strikes, electrical workers threatened an indefinite strike, and government workers in that country threatened a strike over a minimum wage.32
Bangladesh, which has seen enormous strikes and clashes with police by workers, especially from the garment industry, was that same day witnessing a massive dock strike that faced military repression, a strike by jute workers and one by garment workers in various parts of the country, all threatening the country’s export revenues.33 Pilots in that country defied government warnings and began a strike on October 23.34 Elsewhere, sugar workers in Guyana had just ended a strike when faced with government repression;35 500 workers at Foxconn in India had been arrested for labor activity;36 and DHL, the global logistics company, faced worldwide labor conflict over its policies.37 Turkish UPS workers, sustained by considerable international solidarity, were involved in a struggle over fired colleagues.38 In Chile, 80,000 public workers were on strike as miners at that country’s massive Collahuasi copper mine prepared to vote to strike,39 and hospital construction workers prepared to do likewise.40 Bank workers in Brazil had just ended a strike after winning the largest pay raise in years,41 and auto workers had only weeks before won their highest pay raises ever through striking.42 The conflict over a pay increase and housing allowance that had sparked a massive general strike of public sector workers in South Africa the month before was only finally settled that same week,43 while in Argentina a city-wide general strike in Buenos Aires was threatened over the death of a railway worker, as sanitation workers in the city were just returning to work after a 3-day strike.44 In Vietnam, another epicenter of the strike wave of the past three years, along with Bangladesh, Egypt, South Africa and Cambodia, 2,000 workers were on strike at a shoe factory.45 In South Korea the country’s largest union federation was planning for demonstrations against the G20 meeting in that country a few weeks later.46
Egypt had seen relative quiet compared with the mass strikes of 2006-08, but that calm ended the same day. Workers demonstrated nationwide, just days after having protested government repression of workers’ political activism in Cairo.47 Palestinian workers struck a Green Line Israeli factory over nonpayment of wages, as their co-nationals went on strike against the UN agency handling health services in the refugee camps.48 Staff at Palestinian colleges and universities held a sit-in at the Education Ministry of the Palestinian Authority.49
In the Czech republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Bulgaria and elsewhere, unions warned, threatened or prepared for new actions over austerity programs, while strikes in Croatia and Serbia over some of the EU’s demands on those countries for austerity (as preconditions for membership) had only recently died down.50 Ukrainian workers had just won a five-month long strike at a sausage factory, gaining a big pay increase.51 In Kazakhstan, oil workers struck to protest the arrest of a union activist.52
From strikes to revolutions: A global political crisis
The list could go on, and this accounts only for the strike news of a 48-hour period. As the latter half of 2010 went, it was not an atypical day. If the French revolts made it seem exceptional, they themselves might be considered relatively less impressive than other worker actions of the same year, such as the strike wave in China, or the 100 million strong general strike in India in September. Vietnam continued to witness extraordinary worker militancy across nearly every industry, while one estimate was that Russia had seen 93 large, unauthorized strikes in 2010.53 A new labor federation founded there was a sign of the growing militancy.54 The estimates for strike activity for China were shaky, but already a couple of years before, one researcher found 87,000 labor protests involving millions of workers, and no one doubted that 2010 had seen an increase in strike activity, in the number of workplaces and workers involved, and in the intensity of strikes and confidence of strikers.55 That same day saw construction workers blocking streets in Dubai, where militancy had been common in recent months,56 while Bahrain57 had also experienced strike activity on a vast scale recently as well. Meanwhile in Iraq, unions continued to block privatization of oil resources and faced government union-busting as a result.58
This strike activity was arguably only the peak, up to the end of 2010, of a global strike wave dating to 2007 and building in globality, intensity, and militancy. It is extraordinary for the simultaneity of large-scale strikes in country after country, and its near universal spread. Only in the United States was there no strike wave to speak of, and the Philippines seemed extraordinary in having seen less labor militancy than in recent years. South Korea had preceded most countries in the early imposition of strong-arm anti-union measures to counter what only a few years before had been one of the most militant working classes in the world. Likewise in Mexico and Honduras, only massive repression – including the firing of 40,000 power company workers by the former country’s president, and repression following the June 2009 military coup in the latter – kept labor activity under control. In Thailand, protest of all kinds was muted after the massacre of the Red Shirts movement of farmers and workers demanding democracy, though to be sure class forces were imprecise on both sides in the conflict there.
Aside from these few exceptions, many of which prove the rule by being so only as a result of severe State repression, much of the world in late 2010 witnessed the use by workers of their traditional weapon of withdrawing their labor. Finally, in the early months of 2011 the dam burst. First in Tunisia, then as the world watched amazed in Egypt, mass movements became revolutions, demanding changes in economic policy, challenging the widening inequality that had come with neoliberalism, and toppling widely hated dictatorships. By mid-March 2011 virtually the whole Arab world was in revolt against their leaders. As the “weakest link” in the chain of neoliberal austerity governments, many of them recently poster children for the policies favored by global governance organizations, these regimes were the first to confront the implications of the directly political nature of austerity. As in classical revolutionary situations, middle-class and professional protests merged with mass workers’ strikes, leading to direct challenges to political authority.
What had been a discrete set of strikes, linked primarily by reaction to common policies under neoliberal globalization, had therefore by late 2010 taken on an increasingly political cast. From Greece to France to Romania, from Jamaica to India to South Africa, striking workers and their unions identified global governance organizations like the IMF and EU as setting the agenda for their national policies in favor of capital and hostile to labor. Now, after the inspiring Egyptian revolution, movements in the Global North to a remarkable degree identified the struggles in Arab countries as relevant to their own efforts, as inspirations for their own movements, and even as tactical guides for upping the ante in the battle against austerity. Thus, in a phenomenon unthinkable after the attacks of September 11, hundreds of thousands of American workers and students, first in Wisconsin, spreading to Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Texas, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey and Montana (!) openly referred to the occupation by thousands of protesters of Cairo’s Tahrir Square – that is, to a mass movement in the Arab world – as a model for their own protests. The ongoing and open-ended mass occupations of state capitols drew parallels between undemocratic and anti-working class practices of conservative governors and those of Arab dictators, protesting and explicitly politicizing anti-union and undemocratic legislation that was legitimated by the usual depoliticizing discourse about austerity. Late Spring 2011 saw tens of thousands occupy the center of the Spanish capital Madrid, making decisions by assembly and calling for major changes in the political system as well as an end to austerity. In early June, protesters occupied the Finance Ministry in Athens, Greece.
To understand these revolutionary upheavals we need to investigate more closely the global strike wave against austerity that has given birth to them. We need to understand the latter in its context, which is largely unprecedented, and we also need to see it in relation to its precedents, other historical worldwide strike waves. Classes, nationally or globally, are not static structures. They are ever-changing, and always in formation and re-composition, resulting from their struggle with other classes and from the need to address the societal changes, national and global, brought about by that struggle. While never limited to formal organization, class formation and re-composition often requires organizational form to provide guidance, orientation and cohesiveness. This is the context in which to understand the role of global governance: not as a world state, but as an institutional means of uniting the ruling class globally – a project that is never fully completed, or which at least is unlikely to be fully realized. The world’s working class is surely far more diverse than the capitalist class. Unity, always relative in the case of the working class, is for workers globally to be found not in over-arching organization but in common struggle.
Today, that common struggle faces an increasingly cohesive opponent; that opponent relies less on the diffuse authority of capital in millions of workplaces and more on the use of state policy to impose its class interests. Those state policies in turn are formulated, initiated and fostered by global governance. Benefiting the narrowest of class forces, they limit to an extraordinary degree the social base sustaining governments and the global political order. The result is an unprecedented political crisis, in which the legitimacy and social basis of the world social order are severely undermined and the authority of global governance and the class interests that it represents are fragile and under challenge.
Major themes in the strike wave
The recent and ongoing strike wave features particular, albeit diverse, groups of workers. We can get a better idea of who is striking – and why – from a closer look at these participants. Several themes present themselves as we examine strikes in recent years and months. One is the widespread geographic scope of the strikes – many are in emerging economies where industry on a large scale is a recent development: Brazil, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Vietnam, South Korea, South Africa, India, and above all China, to name a few. That the strike wave has encompassed Ukraine, Ethiopia, Swaziland, Kenya, Egypt, Bahrain and Kazakhstan, indicates just how global the revolt of workers has become. Thus, Brazilian auto workers, Ethiopian steel workers, Kenyan tea pickers, Swaziland diamond miners, Egyptian workers in nearly every category imaginable, Ukrainian sausage factory workers, Bangladeshi garment, jute and dock workers, Cambodian garment and textile workers, Vietnamese shoe and garment workers, and Chinese auto workers, textile workers and many others have been on strike on a large scale in recent years, along with nationwide strikes in South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, and several in India, including the largest single-day general strike in history.
Second, logistics, crucial to the global economy based on commerce (the moving of goods and services, and, when relevant, persons),59 are a key site of struggle, with workers expressing their often newfound power in strikes at docks, on railway lines, truck routes, and shipboards, at customs and border crossings, at post offices, delivery services and on airlines. Dockworkers from New Jersey to Romania, and from the Piraeus to Bangladesh, from Nigeria to Marseille have joined the current strike wave. Railways have been on strike in nearly every country in Europe. And significantly, many of the global logistics companies (DHL, UPS) have faced high levels of international worker militancy.
A third major aspect of the strike wave has been strikes by production workers or other workers involved in the production or supply of basic commodities used as raw materials – agricultural products, extractive industries, industrial metal mining, gas and electricity supply, and especially oil. These workers have seen prices for the commodities they produce spike to historic heights in recent years. This was especially the case during the 2007-08 rise in prices widely attributed (if problematically) to increased demand especially from growing economies in Asia. Accordingly, workers have increasingly struck to demand a greater share of the increased wealth that their work has created. Strikes in this sector, in particular, were initially responding to the price spikes that were likely a combination of increased demand along with another factor – the massive speculation in futures markets for all such commodities. Capital has for some years sought safe havens from worker militancy and political upheaval. Investment therefore flowed into real estate in the US, UK, Ireland and elsewhere. In the wake of the housing market and derivatives collapse in the US that sparked the financial crisis, capital was redirected into commodity futures of raw materials and agricultural products. This helped fuel the price spikes of 2007-08, when oil and many other commodities – cocoa, copper, tin, gold, diamonds, and many others – hit historic price highs. The subsequent strike wave in these sectors indicated that workers would contest the monopolization by capital of the additional value and wealth they generated. Capital that had initially fled mobilized workers (into financial refuges) now fled from the formerly safe haven of commodities futuresas workers demanded a share of the historic increase in wealth.60
Fourth, state workers and other groups directly affected by state austerity policies have been major actors in the global strike wave. From France to Benin, from Nigeria to India, from Brazil and Argentina to Egypt, from Greek state workers to British students, from Italian high school students and staff to university ricercatori, from Buenos Aires sanitation workers to Hungarian railway workers, from Kenyan electric power workers to Czech doctors, militancy has been increasingly common among state workers and those immediately involved in state services. Public workers in the US have now launched the largest working-class movement seen there in many decades, one with directly political characteristics, drawing inspiration from revolts in Arab countries and relying on mass direct action and occupations. These workers and allied groups are on the front lines of the struggle against austerity that is today every bit as global as world trade.
For capital to expand in a context in which even China is proving to be a center for worker militancy, and in which the FIRE sector (finance, insurance, real estate) is still recovering, it must launch an assault on the public sector, privatizing services currently provided by government at all levels. To accomplish this, be it in Africa, Europe or the US, capital must take on the main organized social force with an interest in defending public services, namely public sector workers. Since the working-class population as a whole has a stake in public-sector services, the struggles of state workers can tap a wider solidarity, becoming the leading edge of a class-wide fight. Elements of just such a class-wide front have appeared already in Greece, Britain, Italy, France and the Midwestern states of the US.
If austerity is today fully globalized, it is because the policies in question reflect the formation of an increasingly coherent global ruling class. The strike wave has not only been, until the revolutions in Arab countries, the most impressive obstacle worldwide to the implementation of austerity programs;61 it has also constituted the strongest challenge to global governance organizations themselves. In this sense the strikes are to a considerable degree political, but with a new angle, in that they are directed against global governance, best defined for our purposes as the partial or full transformation of national states through global organization, whose aim is to insulate governments from their national populations to the benefit of global capitalist interests.
Ireland’s governing party was defeated in elections February 27, 2011,after implementing an EU-IMF-sponsored austerity program. Already, aside from the strikes and protests, including 40,000 union-member participants against the G20 summit in Seoul in November 2010, a number of strikes have specifically targeted global governance organizations and not just their own national states. Irish public workers,62 Jamaican labor unions63 and others have specifically challenged their governments’ agreements with the IMF, while Croatian unions have opposed austerity mandated as required in order to join the EU.64 Thousands of Romanian Finance Ministry workers walked off the job to protest IMF demands,65 Pakistani state workers protested an IMF demand for privatization of electrical power plants,66 and European labor unions united for a one-day protest in Brussels on September 29, 2010 to oppose continent-wide austerity programs.67 In an especially ironic struggle, the staff at the International Labor Organization, tasked with proposing and monitoring the implementation of better labor standards worldwide, held a sit-down strike against a governing board meeting, to protest their precarious short-term contracts and their working conditions.68 The presence of global governance in the midst of the austerity policies,69 along with the structural links between workers internationally stemming from logistical connections and the geographical diffusion of working-class experience, mean that international solidarity has increasingly taken the form of united action.70
Understanding the global strike wave
The traditional distinction between political and economic strikes came largely from the experience, analysis and practice of the parties of the Second International. It reflected the organizational division of labor between unions and parties, where the former were presumably organizations to deal with the economic needs of workers and the latter for addressing their political aspirations. Marx and Engels seem to have treated the categories of economic and political with regard to workers’ movements as suggestive, but not as hard and fast distinctions. Thus, the famous comment in the Communist Manifesto that “every class struggle is a political struggle” seems to mean this as a latent possibility inherent in every struggle, even local ones. Marx drew a distinction years later, writing,
On the other hand, however, every movement in which the working class comes out as a class against the ruling classes and attempts to force them by pressure from without is a political movement. For instance, the attempt in a particular factory or even a particular industry to force a shorter working day out of the capitalists by strikes, etc., is a purely economic movement. On the other hand the movement to force an eight-hour day, etc., law is a political movement. And in this way, out of the separate economic movements of the workers there grows up everywhere a political movement, that is to say a movement of the class, with the object of achieving its interests in a general form, in a form possessing a general social force of compulsion. If these movements presuppose a certain degree of previous organisation, they are themselves equally a means of the development of this organisation.71
Larger, class-wide political movements, then, originate in the separate struggles that are an inevitable part of social life in a capitalist society characterized by the fragmentation of production into many workplaces, a separation that class struggle is meant to overcome both as a means to achieving social change and as a goal in itself. A political movement is a movement of the class, and not just of a single sector or locality. Yet political movements are born of the separate economic ones, which are the primordial ooze out of which they take form; the two are thus never fully separate.72 And as Marx notes, organization both precedes and is born of the mass struggle.
The current strike wave is a response to the effects of neoliberal global capitalism, the ‘hardness of the times,’ the growing inequality in every country, the insecurity of jobs, the cutting of services even as tax burdens on the rich are reduced. Yet this very list shows that the line between immediate economic hardship – wage struggles or price riots – and political mobilization is not easily drawn. The inequality does not arise from a neutral globalization process that just happens to benefit some more than others, nor is it the result of neutral technological change.73 Rather, as workers increasingly see, it results from political choices, be it trade policies, tax laws, or budget cuts. Now, when many countries directly pass anti-union or anti-strike laws, and at the same time impose privatization and cuts in services, the strike wave in opposition to these can be called a political movement, both in terms of what provokes it and in terms of the wide front of the working-class population that responds.
The political character of the movement is ubiquitous. Thus, the strikes by the Mahallah textile workers, at Egypt’s largest factory, in 2006 and 2008 addressed the general questions of wages and by implication the inequality created during Mubarak’s neoliberal regime and, with it, the issue of the dictatorship. Every strike in Vietnam or China addresses by default the inequality and low wages that fuel those countries’ export engines and at the same time the dictatorships and governmental restrictions on strikes that workers must challenge if they are to act at all. Nearly every strike in South Africa is implicitly a criticism of the governing of that country since Apartheid, of the relation of the trade union federation COSATU and the ruling ANC, and of inequality that is now the world’s worst, dwarfing even that of the Apartheid era itself. The struggles in Wisconsin and other Midwestern US states are ostensibly about pensions, health care and wage agreements, but as the Republican Wisconsin legislature’s passing of only the anti-union parts without the budget cuts in the original bill attached, and as the Michigan bill providing emergency powers to dissolve elected municipal governments testify, any attempt to defend economic interests by workers in such a context directly encounters governmental power. At the same time, it expresses a larger recognition among working people that policies are favorable to Wall Street, banks, global companies and the very wealthy, whereas their own task is to defend institutions such as schools, whose constituencies are much larger and potentially massive.74
The remaking of the working class
The imposition of neoliberalism in the Global South resulted in riots, protests, strikes and revolts across a wide swath of the world, usually dubbed “anti-IMF riots.”75 These were largely urban, and “result[ed] from a closer integration of the global economy with the international state system coordinating the reorganization through agencies like the IMF.”76 Such struggles found an echo in the anti-globalization or alterglobalization movement launched in the Global North after the Seattle WTO protests in 1999, and continued in the Genoa protests against the G8 in 2001. As partly organized in the World Social Forum and partly in a vast and complex milieu of groups outside any overarching structure, the movement against neoliberal capitalism was best identified in the slogan “One No, Many Yeses.”77 In retrospect, the amorphous organizational and ideological nature of much of that movement reflected in part the fragmentation of previous organizational power by neoliberalism, and in part a reaction to past legacies of Stalinism.
But the shifting of production globally created new structural power for large sectors of workers that had rarely had such power except perhaps at the strictly national level.78 Now, by their role in the global economy, dockworkers, railway workers, workers in textiles and shoe factories, in auto plants and in the extraction and processing of raw materials from Bangladesh, Vietnam and China to Brazil, Swaziland, Kenya and Bahrain were in a position to impact the global economy and the national economy at the same time, hitting precisely at the meeting-point between local and global ruling classes. In the neoliberal global economy, the ability to rupture the link between a national economy and the global one, or between the local and global ruling class, can be decisive. Thus, when the Egyptian revolution reached a high point, and strikes began to break out nationwide, it was the start of strikes by workers on the Suez Canal, and the threat of these spreading to the point of closing the Canal (through which 6-7% of all world trade and about a quarter of the world’s oil is shipped), that signaled the end for Mubarak, as surely as the oil workers’ strike in 1979 foretold the end for the Shah of Iran.79
Whatever the previous class-position of workers in newly industrialized countries, their new conditions of greater integration into the global capitalist economy – and the simultaneous political attack on living conditions and workers’ rights – have expanded their structural and associational power. As a result, there has been at least a temporary shift from the desperate anti-IMF riots of the 1980s and 90s, and from the somewhat amorphousmovements against capitalist globalization of the late 90s and early 2000s, to a sharper and more homogeneous form of engagement, as workers have used the traditional weapon of the strike on an unprecedented scale. This newfound structural power in the hands of oppositional groups lacking formal representation is itself part of the political crisis.80
The strikes are best seen as a response to and a deepening of the crisis of national governments and of global governance itself.81 In and of themselves they are so far not revolutionary in the sense intended by Rosa Luxemburg. Nowhere has the working class sought to take over both the workplace and government in its own name. And so far, only rarely have they transcended unions organizationally, though in countries where unions are weak as in the US and France, or where they operate under severe legal restrictions as in Bangladesh, China, or Vietnam, they have more readily taken on the quality of mass movements. But as the Luxemburg quote preceding this article suggests, there is a close and dynamic relationship between strikes and revolution, today every bit as much as in the past.
The strike wave has grown out of both structural changes in the global economy and the mass struggles against the effects of those changes. In turn, it has directly confronted the politics of austerity as a cutting edge of neoliberalism. In this way the strike wave has allowed for a greater focus on class relations internationally. In so doing, it prepared the way for the political revolutions currently sweeping the Arab countries in North Africa and the Persian Gulf, providing experience of struggle, calling into question the inevitability of rulers and their policies, and providing inspiration and a rallying point for others – including middle-class professionals and students – to identify with and then emulate with their own appropriate tactics. The strike wave, in short, is a factor in class formation, in this case the re-composition of the working class globally. But where the anti-globalization movement sought to work through complex differences in approach, demands and outlooks (some favoring local economies, others demanding universal rights, etc.), the strike wave politicizes the struggle against capitalist globalization, giving it a certain coherence and focus.
With revolutions on the agenda in any number of countries (not just in the Arab world), the complexity that characterized the anti-globalization movement in a sense returns, as the relative homogeneity of strike action gives way to national-democratic (and perhaps eventually anti-capitalist) revolutions. Certainly any polity is more complex and varied than the simplified accounts of any strictly class analysis suggest. But the strike wave contributes to the onset of mass struggle, to the identification of a common opponent in ruling classes benefiting from and imposing austerity, and to the larger class front in which demonstrators representing a cross-section of the national population converge on key points. Workers as such contribute their weight of numbers, their greater class coherence, and their ability to stop production and transport, to the overall struggle against political regimes. Further, the strikes not only continue with the fall of dictators or neoliberal governments, but so far, as in the cases of Tunisia and Egypt, arguably pick up steam as the working class in almost textbook fashion presents itself collectively as one of the forces vying for national prominence, power and influence.
The making of a global political crisis
In short, a more powerful working class more disaffected from those in power – and in rebellion on a quantitatively and qualitatively larger scale globally – means a political crisis without precedent in world history. This is a crisis of Global Governance inasmuch as Global Governance is linked to the long historical process of hegemony in international capitalist politics. According to Giovanni Arrighi, successive hegemonic powers in capitalist history have provided protection services for dominant factions of capital, each time constituting a larger political container for a wider sphere of accumulation.82 With the visible decline of the US’s ability to provide this political organization system-wide, yet with its military power unassailable in the near future, the search is on for where capital can find a partner to carry out the organizational functions on which it relies. I believe that the dominant factions of global capital have found this partner in the bureaucratic rulers of global governance organizations. Their alliance strengthens the organizations at the national level of each state with which they have privileged relationships (especially central banks and treasury ministries), transforming them into instruments of global governance – i.e., of the global ruling class – at the national level. It also strengthens the executive in general against the legislature, and favors, under the austerity regime, states of emergency providing broader powers for enforcing policies favorable to capital. This has been seen in the US both in the scare tactics used to pass the bank-bailout in the aftermath of the financial meltdown in 2008, and in the Michigan law referred to above.83
Global governance brings about an increasing overlap and merger between the global financial bourgeoisie and the global governance bureaucracy. This merging, always incomplete, occurs through “elite socialization” and through interpenetration of personnel between the two, leading to the formation of a more homogeneous global ruling class. Such an alliance has several advantages: it provides for unmatched mobility and flexibility of action and of access to state power in virtually any locale – hence a geographic expansion without a territorial one. This access is available wherever the state is a member of or integrated into global governance organizations (hence the importance from a revolutionary perspective of state withdrawal from membership in, for instance, the IMF, WTO, the Euro, or even arguably the EU). Thus, US military power is never, of course, subsumed organizationally under the rubric of global governance, something the US Right in particular would go ballistic over. But the informal merging of personnel and outlooks softens the landings of US hegemony per se, and if military actions remain ambivalent in their relation to global governance, as in the case of the Libya intervention, it is hard to deny that US power is usually deployed for capitalist purposes. Global governance, as we have seen, reduces the non-capitalist logics and policies of states, and weakens the influence of non-capitalist constituencies.
But for all these advantages, global governance has the potentially decisive disadvantage of detaching decision-makers from their social bases nationally and of exposing the capitalist face of global organizations and their allies in national states. That is to say, it undermines its own legitimacy, and that of any national government that implements austerity against the interests of the vast majority of the national population. National governments using states of emergency, in either soft or hard versions, and imposing austerity in the interests of global finance, are unlikely to be much loved. Mubarak, Ben Ali, Qaddafi84 are only extremes, weak links in a continuum that extends far and wide. Never has capital found such a universal and potentially powerful political ally as it has in global governance. And yet never has its social basis worldwide been so thin and fragile. Starting in Tunisia and Egypt, that social basis has shattered in political upheaval. From Greece to Wisconsin, it is challenged.
Conclusion: The political crisis of global governance
Global governance and revolution: these are the implications of austerity, of the political uses of the economic crisis to further the concentration of wealth and centralization of power. This project takes place, however, in a context in which workers in many parts of the world hitherto excluded from the mainstream of production and from political influence now hold logistically strategic positions in transport and communications, in export industries, and in state services. From these positions, they are able to paralyze part of the state’s own working; they can thus play a central role in resisting privatization of the public sector. A class holding newfound positions of power while defending old ones not yet wholly dismantled, yet less represented politically than previously, in itself constitutes a form of political crisis, similar to that embodied in the French bourgeoisie in 1789. One class, seeking a monopoly on power, policies, and the benefits of social wealth, and another, productive of wealth worldwide – be it as middle-class professionals or as blue collar production and logistics workers – these are the elements of a social explosion. Growing inequality and hardship are the kindling, and are found nearly everywhere. Austerity is the spark to ignite the kindling. Global governance, an unrepresentative political force, acting in the interests of a few to the detriment of the many, is the fuel to the fire. When I was young, and active in protests and occupations of land and housing in Tompkins Square on New York’s Lower East Side, we chanted “Tompkins Square is everywhere!” Soon, Tahrir Square may really be.
*With thanks to Silvia Bedulli. Many of the citations on strike activity in this article came from the indispensable website www.labourstart.org.
1. To give an idea of the centrality of the Davos conference and its transformative impact on participants, consider the following passage from Nelson Mandela’s published diary extracts: “The decisive moment was when I attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where I… met the major industrial leaders of the world… who made it a point to express their views very candidly on the question of nationalization, and I realized…that if we want investments we will have to review nationalization…we had to remove the fear of business that… their assets will be nationalized.” Nelson Mandela, Conversations with Myself, London: MacMillan, 2010, 381.
2. See Timothy J. Sinclair’s excellent study, The New Masters of Capital: American Bond Rating Agencies and the Politics of Creditworthiness, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2005.
3. See Ernst Haas, The Uniting of Europe: Political, Social, and Economic Forces 1950-57, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1968. Haas originally referred to an increasingly “European” outlook resulting from working with one’s counterparts in the European Economic Community. I have extended the meaning here to suggest a process of international, arguably global, class formation.
4. Arundhati Roy, “Confronting Empire,” Speech Given at the World Social Forum, Porto Alegre, Brazil, Jan. 27, 2003.
5. Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. 3, London/New York: Penguin, 1991, 254-301. Marx makes clear that this process of the equalization or formation of a general rate of profit is a political process of concentration and of ruling-class political unity: “… each individual capitalist, just like the totality of all capitalists in each particular sphere of production, participates in the exploitation of the entire working class by capital as a whole, and in the level of this exploitation; not just in terms of a general class sympathy, but in a direct economic sense” (298f).
6. The historical struggle over realizing this project, at least up to the early 19th century, is arguably the focus of the second and third volumes of Fernand Braudel, Capitalism and Civilization:Vol. 2, The Wheels of Commerce, New York: Harper & Row, 1979; Vol. 3, The Perspective of the World, London: Phoenix Press, 1984.
7. Karl Marx, Capital Vol. 1, London/New York: Penguin, 1976, chapter 32, “The Historical Tendency of Capitalist Accumulation,” 929; Braudel, The Perspective of the World, 622, 629, and passim.
8. “French Protesters Block Marseilles Airport” Associated Press Oct. 21, 2010; “French Leader Vows to Punish Violent Protesters” New York Times Oct. 22, 2010.
9. “Acropolis Closed, Riot Police Protecting Entrance,” Associated Press Oct. 19, 2010.
10. “AENA is Ready to Fire Those Air Controllers Who Strike Tomorrow,” Avio News Oct. 21, 2010.
11. “Firefighters Vote for Strike Action,” Tullamore Tribune Oct. 14, 201.
12. “UK Workplace News Roundup,” from www.libcom.org, Oct 21, 2010.
13. “Workers at Newsquest Hampshire Vote Overwhelmingly for Action,” National Union of Journalists, www.nuj.org.uk/innerPagenuj.html?docid=1779.
14. “Court Injunction Halts Tyrone Meat Plant Strike,” BBC Oct. 21, 2010.
15. “Public Sector Cuts Make Strikes Inevitable, Warn Unions,” Guardian Oct. 21, 2010.
16. “1,000 dock yards workers march in protest in Romania requesting higher wages,” Associated Press, 23 October 2010.
17. “Unions Threaten with General Strike,” Croatian Times Oct. 22, 2010.
18. “PSA Planning Massive Protest,” Trinidad and Tobago’s Newsday, Sept. 21, 2010; “Lecturers in Pay Protest at UWI,” Trinidad Express, Oct. 16, 2010; “Workers Also March in Tobago” Guardian (Trinidad and Tobago), Oct. 20, 2010; “UWI Increases Wage Offer to Staff” Guardian (Trinidad and Tobago) Oct. 21, 2010.
19. “NIEPA Workers Protest Non-Payment of New Wage,” NEXT (Nigeria), Oct. 21, 2010.
20. “Strike Jump Starts Year End Revision” Hawkes Bay Today (New Zealand) Oct. 21, 2010; “PNC in Solidarity with POTAG,” The Accra Mail, Oct. 21, 2010; “Italy: Strikes Delay Start of Academic Year,” University World News, Oct. 17, 2010.
21. “NWC Customers Warned to Brace for Problems from Threatened Strike,” Jamaica Observer, Oct. 20, 2010; “Unions to Government: Renegotiate IMF Agreement,” Sunday Jamaica Observer, Sept. 12, 2010.
22. “Government Happy General Strike Called Off” Jamaica Observer Sept. 17, 2010.
23. “Kenya: Union Warns Tea Firms Not to Replace Striking Workers,” Business Daily (Nairobi), Oct. 20, 2010; “Tea Plantation Workers Set to Strike,” The Standard (Nairobi), Oct. 20, 2010; “80,000 Workers Strike Over New Technology,” Reuters, Oct. 18, 2010; “More Than Just a Gathering Storm in Kenya’s Tea Cup,” The Standard (Nairobi), Oct. 18, 2010.
24. “Stay 200 Meters Away from Unitrans Premises,” Times of Swaziland, Oct. 21, 2010.
25. “Striking Union Workers: DTCB Compromising Diamond Security,” The Israeli Diamond Industry Diamond News, Oct. 20, 2010.
26. “Chinese Bosses Fire on Angry Zambian Miners,” Daily Telegraph (Canada), Oct. 19, 2010.
27. “Civil Servants in Protest March to Demand Higher Pay,” SW Radio Africa News, Sept. 17, 2010.
28. “Benin Trade Unions Slam Government Over Ban on Protests,” Africa News, Oct. 13, 2010.
29. “KCC Employees on Strike,” Daily Monitor (Kampala), Sept. 21, 2010.
30. “Labour Shelves Pay Raise Strike” Vanguard (Lagos) May 4, 2010;
31. “Nigerian Oil Union Calls Strike at Exxon’s Local Unit,” Bloomberg, Oct. 12, 2010.
32. “Union Intensifies Strike,” Nigerian Observer, Oct. 22, 2010; “Electricity Workers Threaten Indefinite Strike,” www.AllAfrica.com Oct. 4, 2010; “Nigerian Oil Unions Threaten Strike over PIB Implementation,” www.icem.org, Oct. 4, 2010; “New Minimum Wage: Workers Threaten to Go on Strike Oct. 1,” Nigerian Tribune,Sept. 23, 2010.
33. “CTG Dock Workers Attack Private Berth Operators, 15 Hurt,” Daily Star (Dhaka), Oct. 13, 2010; “Bangladesh Deploys Army As Port Strike Hits Garment Exports,” AFP, Oct. 15, 2010; “Jute Export Hampered as Bailing Workers Continue Strike,” Daily Star (Dhaka), Oct. 21, 2010.
34. “Pilots Defy Warning, Begin Protest against Service Benefit Slash,” Daily Star (Dhaka), Oct. 23, 2010
35. “Sugar Workers Strike for Pay Hike,” Stabroek News (Georgetown, Guyana), Oct. 19, 2010.
36. “Foxconn’s Global Empire Reflects a New Breed of Sweatshop,” In These Times, Oct. 19, 2010; “Protesting Workers at Foxconn Arrested,” Express News Service, Sept. 25, 2010.
37. “DHL Faces Worldwide Unrest,” Transport and Logistics News, Oct. 14, 2010;
38. “World Action Day Tomorrow Backs Fired Turkish UPS Workers,” International Transport Workers www.itf.global.org, Aug. 21, 2010;
39. “Chilean Public Employees on Strike,” Latin American Herald Tribune (Caracas), Oct. 22, 2010; “Chile Collahuasi Union Set to Strike as Vote Nears,” Reuters, Oct. 21, 2010.
40. “ACT NOW! Solidarity Campaign – Labour Conflict in Chile,” Building and Wood Workers International www.bwint.org, Oct. 20, 2010.
41. “Brazil Bank Workers Keep Strike After 6.5% Raise Offer. They Want 11%,” Brazil Magazine, Oct. 20, 2010; “Bank Workers End 15-Day Strike,” Wall Street Journal, Oct. 14, 2010.
42. “Unions Secure Record Wage Increases in Brazilian Auto Sector,” International Metalworkers Federation www.imfmetal.org, Sept. 22, 201.
43. “COSATU: Strike Over But Still No Deal,” Mail and Guardian (Pretoria), Oct. 13, 2010;
44. “Argentina Protest Over Labour Activist Killing,” BBC News, Oct. 21, 2010; “Tension Mounts as Demonstrators March to Protest Death in Earlier Clashes, CTA Umbrella Union Calls for General Strike Today,” Buenos Aires Herald, Oct. 21, 2010; “Garbage Collection Returns to Normal After 3-Day Conflict,” Buenos Aires Herald Oct. 20, 2010.
45. “Workers at Vietnam Footwear Factory on Strike,” www.monstersandcritics.com/news/business/news/article_1593271.php/Workers-at-Vietnam-footwear-factory-on-strike, Oct. 22, 2010.
46. “Police Alert Over Anti-G20 Rallies,” Korean Herald, Oct. 15, 2010.
47. “Labourers Stage Protests Nationwide to Demand Better Salaries,” Al Masry Al Youm, Oct. 20, 2010; “Workers Protests Put Forcibly Down,” Al Masry Al Youm, Oct. 19, 2010.
48. “Palestinian Authority Workers Still on Wages Strike at Sol-Or Factory,” Jerusalem Post, Oct. 21, 2010; “Public Health Risk as UNRWA Goes On Strike,” Ma’an News Agency, Oct. 21, 2010.
49. “Workers in Governmental Universities and Colleges hold a sit-in in front of the Council of Ministers asking the PA to meet their demands,” Democracy and Workers Rights Center Palestine, www.dwrc.org Oct. 22, 2010
50. “Demonstration in Belgrade Rejects European Austerity Plans,” Building and Wood Workers International www.bwint.org, Oct. 1, 2010; “Bulgarian Police Officers Start Protests,” FOCUS News Agency, Oct. 17, 2010; “Czech Unions May Go on Strike if Further Talks with Government Fail,” Prague Monitor, Sept. 17, 2010; “Protest Over Pay Cuts,” Prague Post, Sept. 22, 2010; “Meeting Between PM and Union Shows No Progress on Wage Issue,” Prague Monitor, Oct. 1, 2010; “Romanian Finance Ministry Workers Protest Pay Cut,” Reuters, Oct. 14, 2010; “Romanian Teachers Strike Over IMF-Driven Pay Cuts,” www.laboureducator.org, April 24, 2010; “Poland: Trade Unions to Protest Wage Freeze,” www.TheNews.PL, Sept. 22, 2010; “Croatian Workers Protest Against Shipyard Sale Decided by Government as Part of Effort to Join EU,” Canadian Press, Sept. 22, 2010; “Vegrad Workers On Strike,” Slovenian Press Agency, Sept. 20, 2010;
51. “Long Struggle Ends in Victory for Ukraine Belkozin Workers,” International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco, and Allied Workers Associations, www.iuf.org, Oct. 15, 201.
52. “Kazakh Oil Workers Strike over Activist Arrest,” Radio Free Europe, Oct. 23, 2010
53. “Expert analyses tendency of strikes, labour disputes in Russia,” BBC, June 13, 2009.
54. “New Trade Union Association Created in Russia,” Itar-Tass, Sept. 20, 2010.
55. Ching Kwan Lee, Against the Law: Labor Protests in China’s Rustbelt, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007, 5
56. “Building Workers Block Traffic in Protest Over Wages,” The National (Dubai), Oct. 22, 2010; “Capital’s Taxi Drivers Refuse to Sign New Contracts,” The National (Dubai), May 13, 2010; “1,474 Labourers in Mass Salary Delay Protest,” www.ArabianBusiness.com, January 5, 2010.
57. “Al Hamad Workers Strike in Bahrain,” www.Constructionweekonline.com, Nov. 16, 2009; “Hundreds of Oil Workers Protest in Bahrain,” www.Business.Maktoob.com, Feb. 12, 2010; “Bahrain Port Workers Call Off Protest,” www.Business.Maktoob.com, Nov. 9, 2009; “Strike Plan by Bahrain Company Workers,” www.TradeArabia.com, Jan. 21, 2010; “DHL Trade Union in Bahrain Strike Talks,” www.ArabianBusiness.com, July 12, 2010;
58. Sherwood Ross, “Union Busting in Iraq,” www.Counterpunch.org, Oct.19, 2010.
59. As brilliantly demonstrated in Edna Bonacich and Jake B. Wilson, Getting the Goods: Ports, Labor and the Logistics Revolution, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008.
60. I develop this argument more fully in my forthcoming book, Global Governance and World Revolution. The final straw for capital was not the strike wave of urban workers, but the failure of the global elite to finish the Doha round of WTO talks on world trade (November 2001), which instead were stymied by China and India, who in turn were reacting to gigantic waves of revolt across their national territories. In facing such revolt, agreeing to lift tariffs and subsidies and expose their largely subsistence farmers to the competition of global agribusiness would have been like pouring gasoline on a very large fire already barely kept under control.
61. On the Arab revolts as anti-IMF, anti-neoliberal movements, see, among others, “Egypt takes a step back away from IMF ways” Inter Press Service, Feb. 20, 2011; Nomi Prins, “The Egyptian Uprising is a Direct Response to Ruthless Global Capitalism,” www.Alternet.org, Feb. 4, 2011. On the Egyptian revolution as a working-class movement and on its basis in the preceding strike movements, see, among many: Mohammad Fadel, “Labor and the Future of the Egyptian Revolution,” Foreign Policy, March 14, 2011; “Cairo unrest has its roots in actions of Mahallah’s workers,” Los Angeles Times, Feb. 8, 2011; “Labor unions boost Egypt’s protest,” Al Jazeera, Feb. 9, 2011.
62. “Public servants face pay cuts as IMF moves in,” The Independent (Ireland), Nov.19, 2010.
63. “Unions to Gov’t: Renegotiate IMF Agreement,” Jamaica Observer, Sept.12, 2010.
64. “Croatia’s United Unions Threaten General Strike Dec. 10,” Bloomberg Nov. 17, 2010.
65. “Romanian Finance Ministry Workers Protest Pay Cuts,” Reuters Oct. 14, 2010.
66. “Privatization of Power Sector in Pakistan: Appeal for Solidarity with WAPDA Workers” (statement by Divisional Chairman & Zonal Secretary WAPDA Hydro Union) from website www.marxist.com, Oct. 28, 2010.
67. “Unions Rally to Fight European Austerity Measures”
www.tribunemagazine.co.uk, Sept. 17, 2010.
68. “ILO Staff Protest Halts Board Meeting” Swiss Info www.swissinfo.ch, Nov. 10, 2010.
69. See for instance the call by the IMF for Ireland to reduce its minimum wage (which has no relation whatever to budget cutting or debt), as a part of the austerity program needed to obtain an EU-IMF loan: “EU Urges Feuding Ireland not to Delay Budget,” Reuters, Nov. 23, 2010.
70. For instance, the widespread acts of solidarity with the UPS workers’ struggle in Turkey, the recognition of the struggles of Greek workers as a predecessor to their own fight against austerity on the part of French unions, the aforementioned protest in Brussels by united European unions, the support of international unions for the strikes by Chittagong, Bangladesh dock workers, and the protests against the G20.
71. Karl Marx letter to Friedrich Bolte, Nov. 23, 1871, in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Correspondence Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1955, 269f.
72. Indeed, in commenting on what he identified as “the first definitive working-class political organization formed in Britain,” namely the London Corresponding Society, E.P. Thompson noted “the intermingling of economic and political themes – the ‘hardness of the times’ and Parliamentary Reform” as among the “features which help us to define…the nature of a ‘working-class organization.’” E.P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class, New York: Vintage, 1966, 21.
73. See Paul Krugman, “Graduates versus Oligarchs,” New York Times, Feb. 27, 2006.
74. This is one form of what Beverly Silver calls “associational power,” ranging from mere union organization and solidarity to wider class movements (Forces of Labor: Workers’ Movements and Globalization since 1870, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003, 13).
75. The best overall study of these is John Walton and David Seddon, Free Markets and Food Riots, Oxford: Blackwell, 1994.
76. Ibid., 50.
77. See the interesting analysis, especially regarding the World Social Forum in relation to the three Internationals, in Samir Amin, The World We Wish to See, New York: Monthly Review Press 2008; see also Midnight Notes, “One No, Many Yeses,” Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, 1998.
78. Silver calls this “structural power.” Forces of Labor, 13.
79. “Five Suez Canal companies’ workers go on strike, no major disruptions witnessed yet,” Ahram Online, Feb. 8, 2011.
81. Interestingly, of two important works that foresee a global revolutionary political crisis – Adam Webb, “The Calm Before the Storm? Revolutionary Pressures and Global Governance” in International Political Science Review, Vol. 27, No.1 (Jan. 2006), 73-92, and Martin Shaw, Theory of the Global State: Globality as an Unfinished Revolution, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000 – the more fully developed analysis, that of Shaw, which formulates an intelligent alternative political framework for understanding globalization, does not tie his concept of global revolution to the struggles against Structural Adjustment or neoliberalism, let alone austerity and global governance, but rather to an extension of liberal globalist values. Webb, in noting that the majority of the world’s people do not believe that globalization improved their conditions, is closer to the mark, but fails to see any structural power in the hands of the disaffected that might make the global revolution more than a utopian possibility. Webb, in order to identify agents, capable of carrying out the global revolt he presciently senses on the horizon, thus points to inter-state conflicts like the Iraq War and movements such as the spread of Political Islam.
81. For Shorter and Tilly, political crisis is “a prime factor in bringing a large number of men together for collective action” but “political crises do not ‘cause’ strike waves to happen.” Edward Shorter and Charles Tilly, Strikes in France 1830-1968,New York: Cambridge University Press, 1974, 104.
82. Giovanni Arrighi, The Long Twentieth Century: Money, Power and the Origins of Our Times, London: Verso, 1994; Giovanni Arrighi, Adam Smith in Beijing: Lineages of the Twenty-First Century, London: Verso, 2007.
83. The most influential work on states of emergency is Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005. I have criticized Agamben for neglecting class relations and failing to see the relationship between the imposition of neoliberal policies and states of emergency. Steven Colatrella, “Nothing Exceptional: Against Agamben,” Journal of Critical Education and Policy Studies 9 (1), March-April 2011. The most important work linking states of emergency to neoliberalism remains Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine, New York: Penguin, 2007.
84. For the neoliberal nature of Qaddafi’s regime since the 1980s, see Vijay Prashad, “The Libyan Labyrinth,” Counterpunch Feb. 22, 2011 available at