June 22, 2000: On the Significance of the Opel-Strike

Comment by Stefan Engel, chairperson of the MLPD

The two days lasting, self-organized Opel-strike was conducted offensively and with a high level of political consciousness. This marks its high quality. It draw conclusions which will be of fundamental significance for the future.

General Motors as the biggest industrial corporation in the world will not put up with this crushing defeat and will pursue its plans for the reorganization of its international production. We have to draw lessons how the forms of struggle can be developed further. This is of importance not only to the Opel-workers. There is an overcapacity in the entire automotive industry. Attacks against the workers similar to those at Opel will become the rule. For this reason it is necessary within the entire automotive industry, within the entire working class to understand this signal of the Opel-workers.

In addition, a new tactical starting point is emerging. Those in power did not succeed in stabilizing the government in Berlin with the federal state elections in North Rhine Westphalia. It has come under pressure to push through rigorously the program of crisis management of the monopolies during the election-free period until the end of the year. On the other hand there is a growing political consciousness - especially among the working class. 

Independent struggles are on the increase. Since the end of April there were 13 independent strikes and militant actions only in the automotive industry prior to the Opel-strike.

The members of ÖTV (union of transport and public service workers), DAG (German union of employees), GEW (union of education and science) and GdP (union of the police) rejected with their vote for a strike ballot and for strike the negatively orientated policy of class collaboration. They in particular attached great importance to the workers’ unity in East and West in the collective bargaining. Thus taking the class standpoint as the starting point must be valued highly.

The growing political consciousness is also reflected in the election results. In the federal state elections in North Rhine Westphalia there was the lowest turnout in the history of the elections for this state parliament. This expresses the continuation of the process in which the masses are detaching themselves from the bourgeois parties, from bourgeois parliamentarism and its institutions.

The mass movements are becoming more independent and are severing their ties with the bourgeois parties. We can observe this in the environmental movement, in the protests in the educational system and in the health service or in the revival of the students’ movement. One environmental and peace initiative after the other is dissociating itself from the Greens. The educators or the employees in the health service are opposing the policy of the SPD/Green-government. According to opinion polls conducted by the opinion research institute Forsa the SPD would now get only 36 per cent of the votes in national elections, and the Greens 6 per cent. The federal government did not succeed in consolidating its mass basis. This reveals its weakness.

The signal which the Opel-workers gave lies in the fact that they took the road of the militant opposition in this situation. They went on strike independently and in an offensive way, with no regard for the Schröder/Fischer-government or the "alliance for jobs". They attacked the policy of the monopolies itself and emphasized their class independence.

This strike must be evaluated thoroughly and discussed everywhere. In this strike important weaknesses as well came to light, which all participants have to overcome jointly. The MLPD played an excellent part concerning the support for this struggle. The weaknesses of this struggle are also the weaknesses in the party building of the MLPD.

 

Developing the cooperation at corporation level

The Opel-strike had international significance, as, from the very beginning, it was directed against the consequences  out of  the reorganization of the production of General Motors and Fiat on the European level.

In this situation it would have been necessary to coordinate the workers’ solidarity in the Fiat- and GM-plants: it would have been necessary to propose and organize solidarity strikes, rallies and demonstrations at all locations. Before plants are closed down by the executive committee for lack of components the workers themselves have to take the initiative in calling solidarity strikes. This class solidarity was already practiced in Bochum. There, the workers of plant I who were not immediately affected by the plans of the management, went on strike as well. The cooperation at corporation level is a significant method for the transition to the working class offensive. Part of this is to inform the workforces of every plant regularly by means of official bulletins of a strike leadership. This is a means of providing information on the respective demands as well as on the stages of the struggle. This will also make it possible to relate the initiatives in other plants to it.

 

The significance of organizing solidarity actively

The significance of the active organization aroused the sympathy of broad sections of the population. At the same time the workers were mostly locked in the plant, and the company security did not allow the press to enter the premises. However, a strike at Opel concerns the whole population in the Ruhr district. Demonstrations and actions outside the plant as some workers proposed are necessary to actively win the solidarity of the population and to involve other workforces with their delegations in the struggle.

In order to achieve the unity of the workers and the masses of the population from the start it is necessary to build up simultaneously solidarity committees at the beginning of every strike. They are a necessary platform for organizing the solidarity among the community population, the workers in different enterprises and the families of the strikers. With these people an independent public relations and solidarity work can be developed.

The bourgeois press mainly covered the Opel-strike with current reports. Of course, it is not interested in self-organized strikes of the workers even though the "Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung" (WAZ) could not conceal its effectiveness. The workers have to take the initiative also with respect to an independent press work.

 

Developing the culture of debate

The development of the culture of debate is also important. In this respect there were important initiatives like the transfer from shift to shift, the organization of the strike in the shift work, and various other activities. In future there must be added to this:

  • the drawing of banners,
  • regular meetings for information and discussions,
  • democratic voting on all essential issues of the strikers,
  • organizing of food-supply,
  • setting up an information system by which all striking workers of all plants can be reached at any time,
  • the inclusion of trainees in the struggle and many more things.

Such a culture of debate can only be developed with the support of the masses of strikers. If everybody is assigned a clear set of tasks, this will also strengthen the strike and the fighting spirit.

 

Building up the culture of strike

In a self-organized strike it is absolutely necessary to elect an independent strike leadership. According to the Workplace Labor Relations Law the works council is not allowed to conduct an unofficial strike. The election of such a strike leadership is a conscious step in the process of dissociating oneself from the Workplace Labor Relations Law with the aim of maintaining the independence of such a strike. This will also guarantee the freedom of decision-making regarding the way of struggle at any time.

 

Consciously consolidating the unity of economic and political struggle

From the beginning there were mainly political concerns which were combined with the economic concerns, the struggle against wage cuts, job cuts etc., underlying the Opel-strike. Therefore, it would have been necessary to conduct the strike consciously as a political struggle. A political counter-offensive is the right answer to the attempt of the management to suppress the strike politically. The Opel-workers were not intimidated by these threats and displayed a highly developed political consciousness. A counter-offensive, however, is important and is a fundamental question to further develop the class struggle. In such a counter-offensive the workers fight for their right to strike and encourage all other workers to fight for their rights and liberties. The combination of the economic and the political struggle, the transformation of the economic struggle to the political struggle are essential features of an independent struggle.

 

A clear set of demands is necessary

The slogan "One company - one workforce!" expressed the fact that the Opel-workers made great political demands. They gave the management important odds. Nevertheless, it would have been important to put forward a clear set of demands and extend it continuously. This not only includes the immediate demands of the workforce, but also those that are important in the working class movement in general. This comprises the demand for a full legal right to strike in all matters, the demand for the 30-hour workweek with full wage compensation and the employment of trainees in the company after having completed their training. The trainees at Opel e.g. have to sign a new contract with a new period of probation, instead of being taken on without restrictions and permanently as Opel-workers.

A clear, adopted program of demands will give the independent strike a clear direction.

 

The tasks of the Marxist-Leninists

Many workers appreciated the role of the MLPD in the strike, the only party that was on the side of the fighting workers unconditionally.

It worked actively to raise to a higher level the forms of struggle and organization as well as the class consciousness. It was not by chance that the members and sympathizers of the MLPD played a driving role in the strike.

The MLPD considers itself to be the party with the necessary know-how for developing the workers’ struggles into the class struggle in the strict sense.

For this reason one of the most important conclusions is that the class-conscious workers, employees and trainees who were active in the strike draw their consequences and organize themselves in the MLPD.

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