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Forum Post: Address ti the European Workers

Posted 2 years ago on Jan. 15, 2012, 6:41 a.m. EST by RedJazz43 (2757)
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14 December 2011 Address to the European Workers

by Jean-Luc Melenchon and Oskar Lafontaine (for other language versions please scroll to the end of the text) With the current leaders of the European Union, we are heading for disaster. For years now they have been conceding more and more power to high finance. The outcome is catastrophic. The environment has been sacrificed and unemployment has literally exploded. Wage earners are being pressurized and impoverished. The real economy has become hostage to the banks. And now, pretexting the crises that they themselves have created, European governments intend to pursue and tighten austerity measures. Under pressure from Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, they have decided to concoct a new treaty which will deny the European people their right to freely decide their budgets and impose tighter regulations throughout Europe. Not one of them plans on asking the people for their opinion on such a fundamental text. This is a headlong rush into a Europe of austerity. Since Europe cannot exist without or against the will of the people, we therefore demand that a referendum be called throughout our different countries concerning this future treaty Sarkozy and Merkel want to extend the disastrous 2010 programme, a programme which has severely deteriorated the situation of German workers, to all of Europe. Their aim is to heighten competition between European wage earners and to level down the rights which have made Europe one of the world’s most socially advanced regions. This strategy deliberately pits European citizens against each other. In fact, Sarkozy and Merkel have not hesitated an instant in fanning the flames of nationalism and xenophobia, at the risk of reopening old wounds. Merkel's entourage speaks of forcing the Greeks to sell their islands. Sarkozy speaks of the new arrivals in the euro zone as poisoned pills. These provocative remarks are aimed at diverting the anger of the people away from the real culprits, the banks, high finance and the political leaders who have relinquished their power to them We call upon you to resist with all your might against the decline of our European civilisation. We urge you not to fall into this trap, a trap that threatens peace across Europe. Together, let us preserve the friendship between our two peoples, the Germans and the French, because sustaining peace throughout Europe depends on it. How can we guarantee peace in Europe? Peace cannot be decreed. It is cultivated through cooperation between peoples, its purpose is to serve all. It is incompatible with the domination of two arrogant heads of government over the rest. It must rely on politics that serve the general European interest. The time has come to take control in order to meet the needs and aspirations of the great mass of the population and therefore of the workers of Europe: the sharing of wealth, the protection and enlargement of the right to a decent retirement, the recovery of public services, the eradication of insecurity, the relentless struggle against poverty and inequality, and ecological transition. We urge the European workers not to give up! Finance can do nothing against a determined people. True wealth is the fruit of human labour. By their mobilization, European workers can put an end to the financial orgies. And start building, at last, a world which is finally human. This address is also available in French, German (soon), Spanish, Portuguese Italian and Greek.

Oskar Lafontaine is former co-chairman of The Left party of Germany, De Linke

Jean-Luc Mélenchon is the co-president of the Left Party of France, Parti de gauche



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[-] 1 points by zymergy (236) 2 years ago

Sounds familiar, doesn't it? "True wealth is the fruit of human labor". What do they mean by wealth that is the fruit of human labor? Is wealth the same as money? Do people produce money, or do people produce goods and services? Many here tell us that money is the same as debt, and we all know that one of Europe's problems is an excess of debt. If that is the case, then the problem may be that Europe has a deficit of goods and services, which could be attributed to a deficit of labor. The debt issue may grow then as people demand and consume more goods and services and themselves return less of the same to the economy. Austerity, if it means demanding and consuming less goods and services, and producing more of the same, makes some sense in this context. Lafontaine and Melenchon seem to be calling for the opposite.

[-] 1 points by RedJazz43 (2757) 2 years ago

You are expecting a major theoretical breakthrough in economics in what is essentially a call to action. It is addressed to the working classes of Europe, who are already, to a considerable degree, in motion, involved in strikes, general strikes, mass demonstrations and the search for alternative models of social organization. It is not addressed to skeptics. It is addressed to people already in motion and those of the same social class who are on the verge of being drawn into motion. In a sense it is not all that different from the messages of people like Chris Hedges and Naomi Klein have delivered to OWS which is to "keep on keeping on" and not to loose heart because of evictions, police attacks or other set backs.

The same is true in Europe today though on a much more massive scale. It is also the case that in many instances it has been moderate social democratic parties and moderate parties of the left in Europe that have taken charge of the austerity programs insisted upon by the IMF and the World Bank. This is largely because the working class sees these parties as "their" parties and put them in office on that basis, whereupon these formations, who are ultimately committed to the efficacy of the capitalist state end up turning on the very people who put them in office.

It is widely acknowledged that there is a great and increasing discrepancy between the rich and everyone else in the United States. This is essentially a wealth transfer based on specific policies that facilitate that. The same is true in Europe. And the whole point of austerity is not about an absence of wealth in the culture, it is about transferring wealth and the responsibility for debt from the ruling classes to the working class. You do not have to agree with this evaluation and I am not especially interested in debating it. My only point in explaining it was to demonstrate how Lafointaine is thinking about the problem when he addresses the European working class on the issue.

Among other things the Left Parties of Europe are moderately sized formations that are both radical and democratic. Part of their reason for putting forward such a statement is to express their solidarity with existing working class struggles and also to offer the leadership of their organizations in the more effective coordination of such struggles.

This is all not so different from the Declaration of the Occupation of New York City, really the only political document produced by OWS, which is available on this web site and elsewhere on the web. The Declaration is not addressed to any state or government entity. It is addressed to the people of the world.

[-] 1 points by zymergy (236) 2 years ago

Thanks for your detailed response. Since today is a work holiday, I will trouble you with a few more comments and questions:

indeed Lafontaine and Melenchon's letter is a "call for action" for people who are searching for "alternative models of social organization". One question is why are they searching? Is it because people do not like austerity? Of course that is a dumb question, because of course people do not like austerity. But logically that is a solution to the debt problem. A second question is what alternatives models of social organization stand a good chance of improving their situation? Why would people who are already in motion not want to have answers to this last question? It is like saying go and keep going without knowing to where and why?

Your third paragraph raises the issue of wealth transfer, the creation of debt, and the attempts by the wealthy to impose that debt on labor (people who are actually working). I agree that those issues are problems. But, a clearer understanding of the economic mechanisms of these issues might help us to come up with some viable solutions. We may not need a major theoretical breakthrough in economics, just some more consistent definitions and more reasonable flow charts to see what is contributing to what. For example, much of the "wealth transfer" is not the accumulation of goods and services by the wealthy, but rather the increase in their bank ledger balances relative to the rest of us. Indeed this money represents debt, in part government debt, but also debt created and traded among themselves as credit default swaps. Much of this second debt would disappear in an instant should any of the large financial institutions go bankrupt, taking with it a sizable percentage of the bank ledger balances. But wealth, defined as the available reservoir of goods and services, and indirectly as the potential of the population to produce, would not be affected.

National debts, accumulated as a result of inadequate taxation, clearly obligate all taxpayers for interest (and principal) payments back to debt holders. That is pretty nice if one is a debt holder, but impoverishing if one had not benefitted initially from the government's deficit spending. The solution to this problem is rather straightforward: ensure that the benefits of government spending are broadly distributed, and ensure that the taxes needed to cover that spending are broadly collected. For effective coordination of such struggles, the leadership must have a solid grasp of the problems and good reasons to believe that actions for which they call will result in solutions.

[-] 1 points by RedJazz43 (2757) 2 years ago

It seems to me that there are two kinds of people to whom the address is directed: those elements of the European working class already in motion and those elements likely to go into motion. I think it is also useful to OWS in terms of thinking about its own strategic approach and its relationship to organized labor.

From the subtext of you posting I would gather that you are at the very least skeptical of all this if not downright hostile, which is to say that you are not the audience for the address or for that matter for this tread. I do think that there might be some utility on this tread for a discussion within OWS in terms of how the address relates to strategic approaches for OWS and its relationship to organized labor. I do not think there is much utility in this tread for debating its premises, That is not the point of the thread. I really don't see the point of debating any of this with someone who, it would seem to me, is unlikely to be convinced of anything, much less be inspired or mobilized by the content of the message,

Please forgive me if I am misunderstanding you or mischaracterizing you, but that is my initial impression,

The implication of the address is clearly toward some kind of post capitalist solution which clearly you find impossible to comprehend (there is no sin in that as a post capitalist solution is to a considerable degree difficult even for people who are for it to comprehend--but that's another story).

Part of the problem has to do with the very narrow conceptualization of politics in America, Basically, in America we have two political parties a conservative, pro-captialist party (the Democrats) and an even more conservative pro-capitalist party (the Republicans). It is virtually impossible for most Americans to think outside that binary, which is why OWS is incomprehensible to many people (including many of its erstwhile supporters). Within such a framework the notion of "the Left" looses all meaning, Only in America, for example, would someone like Nancy Pelosi be considered a leftist, In Europe the social democratic parties and labor parties, which unlike the Democratic Party in America, really are working class parties, have taken it upon themselves to save the capitalist state, basically victimizing the very social forces that put them in power in the first place though the so-called austerity programs. In response to this some of the more militant labor unions, smaller radical parties and other working class formations have mobilized and are leading strikes, general strikes, demonstrations, work place take overs and similiar manifestations in direct challenge to the protection of the capitalist state, It is very clearly to those tendencies and to that movement that the address is directing itself and you are either for it or against it. Class lines have been drawn. There is no point in standing on the wall observing both sides and being objective about this, In the midst of an active class struggle standing on walls can be a very dangerous practice,

[-] 1 points by zymergy (236) 2 years ago

A skeptic is by nature hostile to nonsense, though most skeptics that get consistent attention are better at masking hostility than am I. The content of Lafontaine and Melenchon in your original post I would characterize as mostly nonsense because it calls for unspecified action for an unspecified reason “We call upon you to resist with all your might against the decline of our European civilization”. I see OWS a little differently. OWS purpose is to generate awareness of corporate misdeeds: “We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known.” (from the OWS Declaration of 09/29/2011). While the Declaration is not specific on solutions, it does call for people to assemble and come up with some. This Forum is an electronic assembly. Within this Forum can be found suggestions on what to do to reverse these misdeeds: vote out of office those who deregulated banking and restore the Glass-Steagall Act for example.

Appreciate now that you were originally interested in bringing to OWS attention the potential of organized labor, and that my questions and comments were a distraction to this purpose. Therefore, I won’t press you further in this thread.

A fence is definitely not a very comfortable place to sit. We do have three choices, however. Jump left, jump right, tear the fence down.

[-] 1 points by RedJazz43 (2757) 2 years ago

Lafontaine and Melenchon's audience knows who they are and to them the address it not nonsense as it very clearly comes out in support of what the very workers they are addressing are already doing. Of course it appears as nonsense to anyone who is hostile to the working class militancy sweeping Europe in opposition to the austerity drives. That is to be expected. There is no middle ground here, no neutral territory. Several outcomes are possible. One is the defeat of the labor movement as an independent force which would lead toward at least semi-authoritarian regimes in Europe, Another is a stand off, which is really what every collective bargaining agreement in the United States is all about. The third would be the growth and ultimate victory of the militant wing of the European labor movement, which would lead to some kind of post corporate society, the outlines of which we can barely discern,

To me a careful reading of the Declaration of the Occupation goes well beyond a mere critique of the misdeeds of corporate America and is very clearly an indictment of the whole system internationally in both its economic and political manifestations. Why else address it to the people of the world? I will grant you that there are many erstwhile supporters of OWS who do not share these views, but they are essentially supporters as the result of a misunderstanding either willfully or because they don't bother to read the few political statements OWS has made (besides the Declaration there are a few off hand comments here and there which tend to be a much more comprehensive critique of the system as a whole than what you suggest). Notice, for example that it uses the plural, governments, It is not addressed to any single individual state, least of all the United States, it is addressed to the people of the world. It clearly sees the crisis as a world crisis, not one that can be resolved by any individual nation state,

This forum is frankly horse shit for kibbitzers. I have yet to see a single thing initiated on this forum adopted by a single GA anywhere in the world. I am a part time occupier, largely because I live at some distance from the nearest occupation, and I have some work and health issues, but I actively participate in an occupation and its related GA as often as I can. About half the people on this list claim to be supporters of OWS but seem to know very little about it. To them I highly recommend that the attend at least one GA and/or spend at least one full day at an occupation, After that if they live too far from the closest GA or occupation to participate regularly I highly recommend that they start a GA in their own community and if they have difficulty in doing this to appeal for aid to the closest GA or occupation. Aside from the relative handful of people who are severly disabled or who live hundreds of miles from the nearest population center, I would consider anything less completely unserious and unworthy of serious consideration,

We tried tearing literal fences down at Zuccotti (and they are all literal) and the cops beat the shit out of us, which is precisely my point, Standing on fences or tearing them down is extremely dangerous in the midst of an active class struggle,