There is a deep irony evident in the circumstances that surround the political life of the European working class, presiding in the vast difference between north and south and more acutely in the profound alternate existence the Greek working class finds itself to that of the German. While in Germany organised labor advances strongly with unprecedented industrial action in the country’s post war history, in Greece after an indecisive attempt in 2013 it has withdrawn under a sentiment of defeatism and impotence. It is an irony that exists between two sections of the European working class which underlines the fundamental issues that concern the essence of class struggle in Europe, displaying on the one hand the backwardness of the working class culturally today, and on the other the politically evolutionary process modern trade unionism is undergoing.
The nature of this unevenness lies in the working class’ deep attachment to the economic developments of capitalism. The problem that socialist philosophy face today is not that a worker is economically exploited by the proprietors and financiers of the world but that he/she accepts this economic characteristic as a fact of life; in doing so the worker will accept the capitalist tendency to go into crisis as a natural extension of everyday life, and thus proceed to accept all the repercussions from such development in the face of economic and political degeneration; an unconscious political degeneration, since the worker receives the actions of the bourgeoisie not as an attack to him/her as a member of a class opposed to the conditions of his/her reality, but as an individual member of bourgeois society and state with a petty bourgeois culture and political perspective of the nature of capitalism and general state of things; and thus, individual sections of the working class will accept the sacrifices needed to be made on the altar of capitalist sustainability and as a consequence the deprival of the most vulnerable and defenseless workers and sections of the working class.
Under these circumstances the political nature of organised action and trade unionism is transformed as directly affected by the petty bourgeois cultural/political perspective the working class has assimilated. Trade unions become in essence political caves in which organised sections of the working class crawl into, driven by a strong sense of economic protection, hoping that the ones left outside will be enough to satisfy the beast’s hunger, hoping that another section will be chosen for the sacrifice. And so capitalist crisis, in the absence of class politics and culture in the working class’ representation in bourgeois politics, provide the best elements for class alienation, since the struggle for economic survival either that be in the nature of an individual or a section will be the main characteristic of the working class’ social existence. The ones that will cry for help are left alone to fight for themselves and the ones that watch will pray that this is the end of it and they are not next. When it is all over the working class will stand more divided than ever. It is this that has been the story so far in the South and in particular in Greece. (read Greece – Chronicle of a union’s defeat)
Yet the fact that in Germany organised labour advances is not a case of a renewal of class struggle, rather the other side of the coin of economism and attachment to the bourgeois state. After years of passivity and collaboration with the German proprietors and financiers helping them to gain economic ground internationally and more specifically within Europe, the time has come to emerge from their political caves and claim their prize. Thus they move not as a class politically conscious of the national and international injustice workers face, but as branches of capitalist society and the German bourgeois state that have survived the difficult times, hungry to pursue a bigger slice of the capitalist pie that they helped create within the German state, in line with petty bourgeois culture/ideology. While such movement will inevitably arouse other sections of the organised working class to move industrially, it will be done while sustaining the political walls that exist between each other and in an opportunistic manner, lucking a sense of social awareness and internationalism having shed the ideas of brotherhood and the political elevation such a simple notion provides in the consciousness of the worker, becoming ever more detested by anything political; expressing the attempt not to push bourgeois state to its limits politically, but explore the limitations of capitalist relations within it.
The politically evolutionary period German trade unionism is undergoing expresses precisely the above described cultural existence of the European working class, with Germany being merely the starting point of this development rather than the exception, soon to spread undoubtedly to the rest of the continent. The emergence of craft/specialist unions trying to break away politically and organisationally from the general unions they belong institutionally is the basic characteristic of this development that sets to alter industrial relations within the bourgeois state. What is significant once again however is, the political/cultural parameters under which such development takes place; the social perception and instincts through which organised labor makes such political stance, with this being not an attempt to break away from the bureaucratic stranglehold organised labour is experiencing in the last thirty to forty years, from a class perspective deeply related to the daily problems organised labour faces because of this relationship, but from a petty bourgeois perspective of being able to acquire further economic concessions from the bourgeoisie which would had otherwise been impossible under the leadership of the bureaucracies that have been representing them. Similarly the opposition of the big union leaderships against this development is not because it would weaken the working class politically as a class nationally and internationally, but that it would weaken their own position of importance within the bourgeois state as the pacifiers and regulators of organised labour.
In the absence of class politics within bourgeois democracy and the surrendering of social democratic parties to petty bourgeois capitalist apologists, the trade union movement is injected solely with opportunism descending ever more to economism and sectarianism. The fundamental flaw of Marxism today is its failure to understand that the existence of class struggle is not depended on the economic relations the working class faces daily, but on the political constitution through which these economic relations are made possible, with the bourgeois state being the pinnacle aspect of that political constitution. Without this political exposure of the class struggle from within bourgeois democracy, thus allowing the political elevation of the economic relations facing the working class directly into the heart of the bourgeois political system, and this in turn constituting the ability of the working class to politically push the bourgeois state to its limits politically rather than economically, hence facilitating the emergence of the need for a revolutionary social transformation, something as basic as the right to strike is deprived of its political nature and weight, to exist only as a mere bargaining tool. In the former situation the worker is equipped with a political vision, always in mind of the general being of other workers and what constitutes them as a class. This awareness can stretch pass his/her workplace, cross cities, towns, states and reach international levels, being able to empathize with the conditions of other workers thousands of miles away not simply out of basic humanism, but from a working class perspective thus being able to piece his/her own personal conditions to the global puzzle of class struggle. In the latter the worker accepts his/her place within the capitalist state and capitalist relations as the natural state of things. The bourgeoisie are not a class in opposition to his/her social existence but the regulators of his/her economic prosperity.