Two weeks in the past, hundreds of dockworkers within the ports of northern Germany went on strike for the third time in just some weeks. The 48-hour strike for wages that might cowl the actual inflation being felt by these employees was the longest work stoppage within the ports in additional than 40 years — purpose sufficient for the bosses within the port, and past, to tremble with concern for his or her earnings and assault the proper to strike. Some 17 injunctions have been sought in labor courts to cease the strike. Rainer Dulger, president of the Confederation of German Employers’ Associations (BDA), went as far as to name for declaring a “nationwide emergency” to make it simpler to interrupt strikes sooner or later. 

Although the management of the ver.di union denounced these assaults, it in the end accepted an out-of-court settlement in Hamburg that dominated out additional strikes till August 26. This self-gagging was utterly pointless — in spite of everything, the interim injunctions had been shot down in different courts, and within the Hamburg case as properly, and so the authorized avenues had been removed from exhausted. Nevertheless it does elevate a query: What technique is required to truly win the battle within the ports?

The bosses’ assault on the proper to strike, together with the caving of the ver.di management, has been met with super discontent. That is clear from the a number of thousand signature collected on a petition in just some days — many from dockworkers themselves. On prime of this, the employees’ confirmed their willingness to combat with a number of actions. The day after the out-of-court settlement in Hamburg, for instance, 5,000 employees took half in an illustration and had been attacked by the police with pepper spray. A piece slowdown in Hamburg the next weekend, at amenities run by terminal operator Eurogate, stored nearly all ships from being loaded and unloaded, as employees there informed Klasse Gegen Klasse. These preliminary, progressive reactions present the big potential for what might unfold within the dockworkers’ wrestle.

There a number of causes that specify the employees’ willingness to combat, as Jana Kamischke, store steward on the Port of Hamburg, mentioned in an interview:

The work is getting increasingly more intense, and there’s a workers scarcity. The norm is 60 hours of additional time, or extra, per 30 days. Automation is destroying good-paying jobs and creating increasingly more precarious jobs. Along with their everlasting staff, the port operations in Bremerhaven and Hamburg embrace a whole lot of nonpermanent staff — modern-day day laborers. Hourly wages vary general between 14 and 28 euros. It’s been a downward spiral for years. However with inflation, we’re not going to place up with it anymore.

The time period “nonpermanent employees” is a authorized assemble that permits port corporations to make use of a whole lot and even hundreds of employees each day in an ultra-flexible method as short-term employees — or not. Momentary employment has a protracted custom in port work. Till the center of the twentieth century, it was the rule in lots of locations. This type of employment was justified by the seasonal fluctuations in transport and the issue of calculating the arrival of ships. Immediately, these employees are employed by the Gesamthafenbetrieb (GHB), which is nothing aside from a short lived employment company, which lends them out to particular person member corporations every day. These employees have an employment contract with trip advantages and social safety, however no assured working hours. They obtain a assured wage from the GHB after they do work, however whether or not they’re allowed to work is topic to the whims of the bosses.

As if that weren’t sufficient, the bosses are additionally making an attempt to drive a wedge between employees who’re unionized, by introducing wage tiers — as Jana Kamischke additionally defined:

The employers are providing 12.5 p.c over 24 months, which is 6.25 p.c over twelve months — and that’s completely for employees on the container terminals. However there are additionally numerous standard operations and vehicle dealing with there. Wages for the decrease teams would rise solely by 2.78 p.c. That’s unacceptable.

Clearly, such wage will increase are removed from enough. In spite of everything, the final inflation price is already shut to eight p.c, and value will increase for rents, meals, electrical energy and heating are far above that common. Low-income individuals, college students, the unemployed, and welfare recipients are all particularly affected by the wave of value will increase, pressured to spend a very giant proportion of their earnings on meals, vitality, and lease.

In the meantime, transport corporations are raking in file earnings. Hamburg-based transport line Hapag-Lloyd, for instance, posted 4 billion euros in earnings within the first quarter of 2022 alone. Whereas transporting roughly the identical variety of containers as a 12 months in the past, Hapag-Lloyd doubled its freight price. The Hamburg-based firm HHLA generated 228.2 million euros in earnings in 2021 — a rise of greater than 80 p.c. Notably explosive is the truth that town of Hamburg has a stake in each Hapag-Lloyd and HHLA, by which it holds the vast majority of shares. HHLA was liable for 11 of the 17 injunctions in opposition to the strike. In Bremen, the logistics group BLG is majority-owned by the state. In different phrases, the rising precariousness within the ports and the assaults on the proper to strike specific not solely the revenue motive of particular person capitalists, however state coverage as properly.

The Port as a “Strategic Place”

The rationale for that is apparent: port logistics are central to capitalist revenue — not solely these of the port corporations themselves, but in addition of a giant element of the capitalists as a complete. The extra containers that may be dealt with, the higher the revenue not just for HHLA and others, but in addition for all capitalists, as a result of their intermediate and finish merchandise flow into extra rapidly. Conversely, provide chain bottlenecks, which have elevated considerably for the reason that pandemic and are serving to drive inflation, present what occurs when logistics falter.

Staff on the ports maintain what historian John Womack defines as a strategic place, that’s, one which “permits some employees to find out the manufacturing of many others, whether or not inside an organization or all through the financial system.” Though Womack applies this definition solely to the connection between worker and boss, one thing extra basic may be derived from it: If the working class holds all the essential strategic positions in manufacturing, distribution, and repair, it has huge potential to vary the connection of forces between labor and capital as a complete, and to pose the query of energy within the wrestle in opposition to the capitalists and their state. After all, “strategic positions” can be utilized on a purely financial degree, however they will also be an infinite power in creating employees’ hegemony within the wrestle in opposition to the capitalist system as a complete.

Whether or not this occurs, although, just isn’t a foregone conclusion. As a category, the place of the proletariat within the capitalist manufacturing course of is already a given. Whether or not it makes use of its place — for what program and with what technique — is one other matter.

This brings us to the central level of this text. The strikes within the port are strategically important in a number of respects. They’re getting used to barter who ought to pay the prices of the inflationary disaster: the capitalists or the employees. It’s significantly vital to withstand the bosses’ makes an attempt to divide the employees, and so it will be deadly to simply accept inflation-related compensation just for the higher-wage teams of employees who maintain a very powerful levers on the container terminals, whereas the precarious sectors on the ports get virtually nothing. The purpose is that the dockworkers who can exert essentially the most strain by their strike should not solely putting for themselves in a company sense, however along with the precarious sectors — such because the nonpermanent employees — that capitalism can exchange extra rapidly. However the argument will also be generalized: the dockworkers are confronted with the duty not solely of successful the wrestle for inflation compensation themselves, however of becoming a member of forces with all sectors of the working class which might be already engaged in wrestle or will likely be within the coming months, and of creating a hegemonic program in opposition to inflation, disaster, and struggle.

The place to begin for such a program should be the demand for fast will increase in wages and glued funds, pensions, and advantages above the extent of inflation, and automated wage changes pegged to cost will increase. On the similar time, it should elevate the difficulty of government-imposed value caps, below the management of committees of employees and shoppers, as a part of the combat in opposition to will increase in the price of dwelling. Of necessity, this poses additional the query of opening the books of companies as a method to management the place their earnings go. Firms that elevate costs or announce layoffs and closures whereas making earnings, for instance, should be expropriated with out compensation and nationalized below employees’ management.

The looming winter disaster makes these calls for extra pressing than ever for hundreds of thousands of individuals. A nationalized vitality provide could possibly be deliberate democratically, making it potential to make sure that no households undergo. Such a perspective may be generalized to incorporate the nationalization of all key industries and the banking sector below employees’ management.

The worsening of the financial disaster stems from the imperialist escalation in Ukraine and the prospect of additional crises and new wars. Standing idly by or limiting the combat solely to wages is inadequate. The organizations of the working class should take the lead within the wrestle in opposition to the struggle machine, selling unbiased mobilization in opposition to the rearmament plans, the deployment of arms and troops overseas, the financial struggle being waged with sanctions, and the reactionary asylum coverage that leaves refugees subjected to violence and deprivation. Right here, too, the dockworkers maintain a strategic place, since they will instantly disrupt the logistics of struggle, placing themselves on the forefront of the wrestle in opposition to the militaristic escalation that’s placing the lives of hundreds of thousands of individuals in danger. There’s already a petition circulating to carry a referendum in opposition to the transport and dealing with of arms by the port of Hamburg. The present labor dispute might present a possibility to broaden this initiative.

The place to begin for that is promising, for the reason that strikes within the port are a part of a extra basic development of strikes and different industrial motion in opposition to inflation and the disaster unfolding in lots of European international locations. That is creating erratically, although, significantly in Germany. Right here, wage strikes have to date been stifled by the paperwork, with offers under the speed of inflation — as occurred within the metal trade. However, there’s a rising consciousness that an offensive wrestle for increased wages is required, as is clear within the Lufthansa strike — a part of a wave of strikes in air transport all through Europe — and within the upcoming spherical of collective bargaining by the IG Metall union, and prospectively within the negotiations for civil servant salaries (TVöD) slated for the winter.

A Technique Centered in Class Wrestle that Challenges Reformist Mediation

If these early traits towards higher working-class activism and wrestle are to be generalized, and if we’re to beat their gagging by the bureaucrats who management the union apparatuses, the dialogue of technique should be raised once more, with full power.

The ver.di paperwork responded to the assault on the proper to strike within the ports — an assault we’ve seen elsewhere, together with the try by college clinics within the state of North Rhine-Westphalia to get a courtroom ban on strikes — by agreeing to an out-of-court settlement with none session with the employees or the bargaining committee. This ties the arms of the dockworkers till August 26, as negotiations proceed to happen. Thus there’s a very important threat {that a} deal will likely be struck that doesn’t mirror the actual relationship of forces.

For that reason alone, it’s essential to concentrate on a technique of self-organization of the employees that goes past a negotiated resolution by the union paperwork. To counter negotiations behind closed doorways, with none rank-and-file affect, what’s wanted is to arrange open assemblies of all of the dockworkers who’re engaged within the wrestle — unionized and unorganized, everlasting and nonpermanent — to determine on the strategies of wrestle, what comes out of the negotiations, and whether or not to proceed the strike. This contains discussing various types of strikes, corresponding to slowdowns, the problem to the out-of-court settlement, and the necessity to unite the biggest potential forces in a serious organizing and combating marketing campaign in opposition to inflation and the general results of the disaster. At situation right here just isn’t solely a victory on the ports, however how the wrestle on the ports can grow to be a beacon for the whole working class in Germany and all through the world.

The strategic activity at hand just isn’t just for the dockworkers to free themselves from the grip of the apparatuses. What’s posed is a call about route for the whole commerce union motion and Left. On the one hand, there may be submission to the technique of the union bureaucracies and the reformist events, which is geared toward negotiated settlements with out main struggles, “concerted motion” in partnership with the federal government, and isolating any actual fights. On the opposite, there may be pushing employees’ self-organization within the wrestle for a hegemonic program to make the capitalists pay for the disaster, beginning with uniting the whole union motion and Left in a grand Coordinating Committee geared toward combining the port wrestle and each different combat in lively solidarity, whereas imposing on the commerce union bureaucracies a unity of motion for these calls for.

The duty of selling such coordination falls specifically to the Community for Preventing Commerce Unions (VKG), which is holding a convention in early October on commerce union methods in opposition to wage cuts, social cutbacks, and rearmament, in Frankfurt. Even when help for the port strike can’t wait till then, it should play a central function on the convention.

This coordination is not only about tactical help for this or that strike, however is a central strategic activity, as turns into clear from two elements of the present scenario. First, the union paperwork’s management over the wrestle, and its cooptation to the pursuits of capital, is big — particularly in sectors strategic for capital accumulation corresponding to heavy trade and the ports. The truth that we haven’t seen port strikes like these at the moment for 40 years is testomony to the truth that the union paperwork has pushed by a long time of backroom negotiations with the bosses with out lively struggles by the employees themselves. In actual fact, one of many present negotiators for the port capitalists is Torben Seebold, former head of ver.di’s personal nationwide maritime trade group. It’s crucial to arrange rank-and-file dockworkers in opposition to the paperwork, that’s, to construct an anti-bureaucratic fraction inside ver.di that may problem the paperwork and in the end toss it out.

This additionally requires a break with the prevailing Left technique targeted on successful elections and grabbing parliamentary seats in an effort to assist handle capitalist distress and make it extra bearable from atop the bourgeois state. After all, that is what the Social Democratic Occasion (SPD) is making an attempt to do at the moment, on the head of the “Dare Extra Progress” coalition: mitigate the consequences of inflation with reformist guarantees. On the similar time, it’s implementing the largest rearmament bundle in a long time and making Germany a first-rank imperialist navy energy able to subjugating Jap Europe and different areas not solely economically but in addition militarily.

This characterization additionally applies to the Left Occasion and the organizations of the extra-parliamentary Left which might be linked with it both instantly or not directly.. Whereas all through Europe we’re seeing the start of a development towards heightened class wrestle, DIE LINKE is within the deepest disaster in its historical past and performs no function in any respect within the present struggles. As a substitute, it wobbles from one electoral defeat to the following. Whereas Bernd Riexinger, the previous get together chairman, in addition to some native models of its official youth group linksjugend [‘solid], supported the dockworkers amassing signatures in protection of their proper to strike, no seen coverage has but emerged from the get together. What’s extra, DIE LINKE can at all times be discovered on the opposite aspect of the barricades. To take however one instance, the get together was a part of the Berlin Senate, in opposition to which the strikes by hospital employees in that metropolis had been in the end directed. And the Left Occasion can be a part of the federal government in Bremen, the place town is almost all proprietor of the logistics firm BLG — in opposition to which the dockworkers’ actions are directed.

On the time of DIE LINKE’s federal get together convention in June, Klasse Gegen Klasse appealed to the militant wings of the get together and organizations of the far Left to carry a socialist convention to debate a steadiness sheet of the get together convention. Following the instance of the port strikes, we are actually placing this proposal in additional concrete phrases, and coming collectively to debate inflation, the combat in opposition to it, and a class-struggle perspective for the Left.

The place to begin for any class-struggle perspective should be selling the self-organization of employees independently of and in wrestle in opposition to the bureaucracies of their very own mass organizations — the commerce unions — and in opposition to the state. That is potential solely by breaking with the reformist technique of specializing in elections and integration into the bourgeois state.

Leon Trotsky spelled out the choice in The Classes of October: “By technique, we perceive the artwork of conquest, i.e., the seizure of energy.” He was all about combining all the weather to take the lead and win. That’s, it’s about gathering forces that permit us to unite all of them on the proper second to show them in opposition to the ruling class, to interrupt its will and impose the need of the exploited.

Immediately, the ruling class desires to make us pay for the prices of the pandemic, the financial disaster, and the struggle in Ukraine. The wrestle for wage will increase on this or that manufacturing facility is inseparable from this strategic perspective of implementing the need of the exploited in opposition to the need of the ruling class. Which means that the wrestle on the ports is, on the one hand, a wrestle in opposition to the consequences of inflation (i.e., for increased wages) and, however, a wrestle for the dockworkers to take issues into their very own arms and impose a hegemonic various for the exploited and oppressed as a complete.

That’s potential solely if dockworkers overcome the bounds imposed on them by the union paperwork. That, in flip, depends upon whether or not the (revolutionary) Left will overcome the lesser-evilism of pacts with the union leaderships and co-management of the capitalist state, and as a substitute situate its strategic middle within the class wrestle, got down to occupy the strategic positions, and use them within the combat in opposition to the bosses and the federal government.

First printed in German on July 27 in Klasse Gegen Klasse.

Translation by Scott Cooper

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