Extract of the intervention made by the WFTU General Secretary G. Mavrikos at the International Conference in Strasbourg, France on 13 September 2011 : ”Trade unions, International Law and imperialist wars”
The struggle against militarism and imperialist wars has always been an integral part of the struggle of the trade union movement; the criterion for the separation of coherent class-oriented forces from the reformists. The position that the imperialist war is a continuation of the imperialist policy by military means, that it is the other side of the policy of the capital that hits the conquests of working class, must be a fundamental basisin the leading of our actions. The experience of the First and Second World Warsis rich and useful.
Nowadays, the outbreak of the global economic crisis of capitalism leads to a sharpening of inter-imperialist rivalries, as each bourgeoisie is trying to emerge from the crisis and recover previous levels of profitability, not only at the expense of the workers they are exploitingbut also at the expense of other capitalist competitors. An example of such rivalries are the various war scenarios and diplomatic maneuvers that imperialist centers are carrying out against the people of Palestine, Iran, Lebanon, Syria and Sudan, Latin America, the battles for sources of oil and natural gas and their respective pipelines; but also the open, brutal imperialist intervention (Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan). Their aim is to burnout capitalist competitors, cutting them off from sources of raw materials and markets, but also the destruction of labor and popular movements in these countries.
All this is the living reality of capitalism, which does not hesitate at anything to get out of its crisis. Without the pioneering and active intervention of the labor movement against these plans, without changing the correlation of forces in each country and globally, imperialism will continue to threaten the planet every momentwith new rivers of blood, massacres even more brutal than the “limited” wars of nowadays; it will change the borders of the countries, it will divide countries to shape its “puppet” states.
20 years after the reactionary changes in the Soviet Union and other socialist countries, life itself proved false,in a resounding way,the arguments of those who defendedthat these changes were “positive developments” that opened the door to a world of “peace and prosperity”.
The International law known by the people in the period of active presence and action of the socialist system in international affairs, no longer exists. It has been trampled across the length and breadth of the planet by the imperialist boot.It has been fully substituted by the imperialist doctrine of “pre-emptive attack”,the “anti-terrorist” campaign. International intergovernmental organizations have been transformed into a ‘fig leaf’ for promoting the interests of the U.S., NATO and other imperialist forces on the one side and, on the other, into a field of controversies and temporary compromises between the major imperialist powers.
Military expenditure is continuously increasing. According to published data, 2008 was a new absolute record on war spending that reached worldwide nearly $1.5 trillion! The increase in military spending over the last 10 years was 45%. The U.S., under the pretext of “fighting” terrorism have carried out large military invasions and occupations of countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan, and they are already planning new ruthless adventures against new countries and nations such as Iran or People’s Republic of Korea. NATO is expandingand keeps being adjusted and it is already being used in bloody, criminal plans against the peoples in numerous corners of the globe.
The EU for its part cannot under any circumstances constitute a peace prop for the people. As an alliance of capitalist states, through the Common Foreign and Security Policy, it constitutes the so-called ‘European army’ and opens its own round of imperialist interventions, in cooperation with NATO.
Within this environment of sharpened aggression of imperialism, the labor union movement and the peoples of the world have to be extremely carefulwith a series of voices that speak about the need for “new” international relations and international intergovernmental organizations, “global governance”, about a “new architecture”of the international system that would supposedly prevent conflicts without harming the foundations of the capitalist system. Nice words, and beautiful speeches hide imperialist aggression. They hide that imperialism is the highest stage of capitalism, which means that the dominant element in the stage of imperialism is also economy.
For example, the ruling circles of Russia today, are consistently seeking a “new architecture” in Europe, where a role would be given to Russia and its regional agreements. To achieve this goal they are trying to take advantage of the contradictions within the EU and NATO in terms of the competition for energy sources and other business plans.
Moscow is seeking to increase its role in European affairs, strengthening and deepening its ties with NATO, the EU or at least with some of the leading forces of these coalitions.
Today’s Russia is a big capitalist country, having vast natural reserves, nuclear arsenal, infrastructure inherited from the Soviet Union and skilled manpower. And it is trying to upgrade in the international imperialist system.
It must be clear for the side of the working class: inter-imperialist rivalries will became more exacerbated and they will emerge for raw materials, energy and its transport routes, for market shares. The monopolistic competition is leading to local or generalized military interventions and wars, as the forces of imperialism use every available means to promote the interests of their own monopolies.
International intergovernmental agreements in each level are justreflecting the correlation of forces of the moment; the agreement of the different forces each time to share the loot. They can never be permanent, fixed, inviolable, because the correlation of forces will always changedue to the uneven development of capitalism. Moreover, there will always appear new causes for new agreements. They can never be peace loving, because no matter how many or what imperialist powers have every time the leading role in international organizations, the military means, the rivalries and the exploitation of workers will always be the bread-and-butter of the capital.
The labor movement cannot face today the UN, the ILO and the International Law with the same measures and the same standards we used when the USSR and the socialist system were there. And this is because in the past there was a possibility of restraint and inhibition of some anti-popular projects. The invocation today of positive decisions of the past will objectively lose weight as they will not be applied and as long as next to them will appear new, overtly aggressive decisions, such as the one that surrendered to NATO the right to intervene in Libya or occupy Afghanistan;the sanctions against DPR Korea or Iran for their nuclear program; decisions regarding the disarmament of the Lebanese resistance; also all the new decisions of the ILO that in the name of modernization entitle transnational corporations to abolish labor rights in labor relations, social security and wage rights.
We should not forget that the positive decisions taken by the UN in the past could be a reference point for the people, they couldhave facilitated their struggle. However, it does not mean that they were always implemented, that they were applied by the imperialists. We know for example that the fair decisions of the UN Security Council on Cyprus, Palestine, etc. remained on paper and they were not implemented because they conflict with the interests of the U.S. or other major imperialist powers. But no positive decision of the UN,nor the existence of the USSR could alter by themselves, without radical developments within the various countries, the grid of dependence and interdependence that characterized and still characterizes the world imperialist system.
The integration of the former socialist countries (land, raw materials and labor force), which for decades had been cut off from the world capitalist economy, in the world imperialist system increased the inter-imperialist rivalries and, of course, made infinitely worse the situation for the labor movement worldwide. That is why international law has radically changed for the worse over the past 20 years.As long as international law is formed only by capitalist states and NOT as a correlation between capitalist and socialist countries, it can only be worse for the working class and the people. The example of the ILO is also characteristic. The current monopoly that exists within the ILO reflects the current correlations.
Today the labor movement cannot ignore these changes and remaintrapped in demands for “democratization” of the UN or the International Law. These demands are mainly used by bourgeois forces to support the upgrading of their global position and to consciously mislead the popular forces with the idea that they can supposedly guarantee a peaceful world without harming the foundations of capitalist society. The persistence in past forms that do not reflect the current reality, in aninstitutional obsession for international organizations, not only does not help the development of the class struggle today, but also undermines it.
It is also false the position of certain forces that characterize imperialism as just the “autocracy” of the U.S. and see the strengthening of the EU as a counterweight! Such views ignore that the EU, since its foundation, was designed and built as a union of capitalist countries. It serves the strategic class interests of European monopolies in their competition with the other imperialist powers; the need for an iron fist against the movements of the working class and the popular strata. Internally, in each country, it crushes systematically and planned all the conquests and basic rights of the working class.
The reactionary, imperialist character of the EU cannot be changed no matter how many countriesjoin it, or what political makeup wears. Thepeople worldwide have nothing good to expect from the EU, as revealed by its position on all international issues all these years (Iraq, Afghanistan, sanctions against Cuba, etc.).
The people of North Africa, the people of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Algeria, will soon realize that the so called “Arab spring” was neither revolution nor was spring. They will find out step by step that the EU, the USA and their allies, having used dictatorships for decades to plunder the natural resources, oil, gas etc., now they are adjusting their strategy and tactics by supporting new leaders, but who have same policies. In Egypt, for example, the regime changed clothes, but it remains in the same strategy. The same happened in Tunisia. And unfortunately there are unions that support the capitalist modernization of the system, while the right thing would be to continue their struggle for democracy and freedom, combined with the objective to overthrow the capitalist system, to change the strategic direction of their countries. The W.F.T.U. supported all the popular uprisings in North Africa, against dictatorships and called upon workers not to get trapped in the maneuvers of imperialists.
In conclusion, the labor movement has to say NO to imperialist centers regardless of their geographical location and to continue the struggle for the immediate interests and needs of workers without losing perspective, which is the need of overcoming-overthrow capitalism, the abolition of exploitation of man by man. This is the only way that can prospectively allow the development of interstate relations and alliances for the benefit of the people.
History offersrich positive and negative experienceson the position of class-oriented trade union forces against imperialist wars to be used. It is known that with the beginning of World War I (1914-1918), many reformist trade union leaders betrayed the working class and allied with the capitalists of their country to fight against the Working Class of other countries. Opportunist leaders like Friedrich Ebert and Philipp Scheidemann in Germany, Victor Adler in Austria, P. Renodel, J. Gent, M. Saba in France, others in England, Sweden, G. Plekhanov in Russia, etc. All of them together with big unions supported the war spending in their countries with money coming from workers. In certain countries they participated with ministers in governments thatmade war against other peoples. With such wrong position, the reformist trade union leadershipstrapped, captured workers in the plans of the bourgeoisie in their countries. They pushed workers to kill workers from other countries so that themonopolies in their countries wouldgain new markets, new spheres and new colonies.
And more recently there are many similar examples. For instance, the position of the British union TUC that supported the war of England against Argentina in April-May 1982 for the sovereignty of the Malvinas Islands,so that the British capitalists could earn more profits from the exploitation of the resources in the area of the Malvinas. The same happened with the NATO war against Libya in our days. The reformist trade union bureaucracies of England, Italy, France, Germany, Sweden, Holland etc. allied with the governments of their countries and supported the NATO bombing against the people of Libya, aimed at helping the bourgeoisie of their countries to plunder the oil, gas and rich subsoil of Libya. On the pretext of “democracy for the Libyans”they alliedand supported the imperialist war.
Same examples exist from the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Georgia (August 2008) and elsewhere. Israeli trade union Histadrut keeps the same anti-labor positions years now by supporting the war machine of Israel against Arabs, against the Palestinian people, to the detriment of peace and friendship among peoples.
In all cases, the positions of bureaucratic trade union leaders betrayed the true interests of the Working Class, their country and the world Working Class, which is a single class.
The class labor movement in such cases has the duty to see all workers of all countries as brothers, as a single class with the slogan “Proletarians of all countries, unite”; to turn the imperialist war into a struggle for workers’ power.
Under this general umbrella, class-oriented trade union movement of workers, must uncover the war plans and aggressiveness of imperialists. To struggle for peace, for international security, friendship and cooperation among peoples. The WFTU has moved in this line steadily from the very first moment. It expressed its position and acted against the NATO war against Yugoslavia, the imperialist war against Iraq and Afghanistan, the Israeli war against Lebanon,the USA, NATO and EU war against the people of Libya. This position of the WFTU and all class-oriented unions was Internationalist, working-class and class-oriented. Unlike the ITUC and opportunists that with different “excuses” every time supported the imperialist wars, supported NATO and the USA in all the above cases. It is a very old tactic of opportunists to use “particularities” as an excuse for either ally themselves, either support, either tolerate imperialists’ plans. Militants and class-oriented unions must take into account “particularities”, “correlations” but to relate those facts with the GENERAL interest and the STRATEGIC target of working class and its allies. Not forgetting that imperialists are the monopolies and transnational corporations and that anti-imperialist struggle means a struggle against bourgeoisie and capitalist exploitation.