Friday, October 1, 2010

Austerity: What is to Be Done?

Joint statement on austerity and the September 29th general strike in Europe from the SP-CVA, the Richmond IWW, and the VCU SDS.

By Brennan S. Chambre

austerity - an economic policy in which nations reduce living standards and development projects, and shift revenue out of the economy, in order to satisfy the demands of outside creditors

On September 29th, 2010, Europe’s finance ministers met in Brussels, Belgium, to discuss fiscal policy for the European Union in response to the global financial crisis.

On that same day, so did workers all over Spain, and all over Europe, to discuss fiscal policy of another sort. In response to austerity measures passed by the Spanish state which chip away at the hard fought rights of working people, no surprise being touted as “labor reform,” workers all-over the country are calling for a general strike to oppose these attacks and fight for true labor reform.

Since May of this year, in several European countries, most notably and inspiringly in Greece, workers have been organizing and taking to the streets to take back their lives directly from the capitalists in charge who seek to balance national budgets on the backs of the working class.

We in the United States are no strangers to this situation, and ought to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Europe, and elsewhere. For how many years has the government forsaken working people in America in order to enrich themselves and the bosses? How many factories here have we seen closed or safety measures ignored in order to make a few extra bucks? How many cuts to social programs and education are handed down every year, while corporations get tax breaks and military spending rises like the national debt? And then of course there are the ironically titled “right to work” laws which do everything they can to impede just that right. All of these measures are presented, both in Europe and in America, as “necessities” in order to recover the country and prevent any further slide into economic collapse. Yet, all they actually serve to do is to rescue the elites from their own mess and leave common people out to fend for themselves, a situation which has appropriately been called “socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor.”

What we do seem to be strangers to, however, is the response with which our European comrades meet these measures.

While they march through their streets, we write letters to our out-for-your-vote Congresspeople. While they occupy buildings, we file grievance forms. While they are forming community self-help programs, we are asking for help from the very monster that put us in this mess in the first place. In short, while they strike, all we do is vote. While they demand, we ask.

Of course, this is not at all to trash-talk the labor movement in America. Certainly we have fought long and hard for everything we have gained, and there is much to be commended. But the general attitude toward social progress among a great many of Americans indeed seems to be top-down, that all that we have gained has been mercifully bestowed upon us by a kind and benevolent state. The logical conclusion of this mindset is that any ills we see in society can be easily fixed by merely voting out the “bad guys” and voting in the “good guys.” If voting is the extent of democracy, then there is no hope for any of us.

The English peasant revolutionary John Ball once made a speech to his comrades in which he said, “Let us go to see King Richard. He is young, and we will show him our miserable slavery, we will tell him it must be changed, or else we will provide the remedy ourselves. When the King sees us, either he will listen to us, or we will help ourselves.”

It is time to tell our kings and queens, as well as each other, that either they will provide for the needs of working people everywhere, or we will provide the remedy ourselves.

It is time to start demanding, and stop asking.