After Dr. King
The global class struggle today
Published Jan 27, 2011 10:10 PM
Larry Holmes at Jan. 17 march
for Band of
WW photo: Monica Moorehead
Following are excerpts from a talk given by Larry Holmes, Workers
World Party secretariat member, at a Jan. 14 forum in New York City. The
podcast of the entire talk can be watched on www.workers.org.
It is important for revolutionaries to study [Martin Luther] King because he
plays a unique role in the struggle against racism.
It is quite easy to reference King at the beginning of 2011 in the wake of
everything we are going through. Quite profoundly, in a way, you can analyze
King’s struggle since the 1963 march and the famous “I have a
dream” speech. When he died, he was in Memphis fighting for public
workers — predominantly Black men — fighting for union rights.
The first thing that he was fighting for was to end Jim Crow. What was the
King was constantly begging the capitalist ruling class to reform the system
before it is too late. Do you want to save capitalism? Do you want to make it
relevant? Do you want to avoid being hated by the workers and oppressed around
the planet — from Asia to Africa to the Middle East to right here in the
belly of the beast?
[King urged the capitalists to] give the workers and oppressed a break; give
them something to believe in; raise them up; give them some rights. He died for
this in many ways.
And almost 43 years since his murder — the capitalist economy is that
much more technologically advanced, so much more wealth is created, and the
productive forces of society are so much greater. What have we learned?
Workers — and all sorts of well-meaning people — have been trying
to reform capitalism for the better part of 150 years: [by fighting for] the
eight-hour day, getting unions, any rights they could get, any recognition, the
Much of the past 150 years since [Karl] Marx wrote “Capital,”
people have been trying to reform it and here we are in 2011. We have the
answer — you can’t reform it.
It is not just that capitalism doesn’t meet the needs of the workers and
doesn’t meet their social needs — it is taking everything away that
the workers have won. Not just here — everywhere.
In many respects, that is what 2011 is going to be about. We don’t know
what the next phase of this endless capitalist crisis will be or rather what
will be the catalyst for the next phase of it.
Some things we know. The efforts to divide the working class will continue.
Actually Forbes New Year’s edition listed 11 or 12 things that could be
the catalyst for the next crisis. High up there is contagion from the European
debt crisis [and] housing, which is still a big crisis for the banks and mostly
for the millions of people who have lost their homes — that’s many
millions of people, families. There is also the U.S. federal, state and
municipal debt crisis. Or a bank could fail like Lehman Brothers a few years
We don’t know which one of these things it will be or when it will come.
What we do know is that it is all intertwined. And as important as the catalyst
is, you don’t get it unless you connect it to the overall world
capitalist crisis of overproduction. That is underneath it.
I watched the memorial service in Tucson, and it was difficult because it was
hypocritical. It was striking to me that on the first anniversary of this
terrible event in Haiti — that no one, not even Obama, would mention it.
One would have thought that would be common sense.
There is the fascism, the neofascism and the violence they inevitably create in
Arizona, the epicenter of all this. The other question is how the ruling class
— particularly Obama but a wider section of the ruling class — is
There is a sense that it has favored the Democrats and pushed back the most
reactionary elements. That is true on a certain level. But there is something
This is about the capitalist crisis and what is coming [and] the ruling class
and whether they will succeed. Or if [the ruling class effort] will fall apart
next week is another question. The contradictions are there in terms of unity
in the ruling class.
I saw Obama with others in the ruling class using Arizona as an opportunity to
remind [the entire ruling class] of something they knew all too well in 2008.
And that was: Remember why you supported me. Not the people, the ruling class.
Remember why you wanted me in office because you knew what you were going to
have to do to the workers.
Before you got all nuts with the Tea Party, you wanted me to put a nice face on
repression and the attacks and the program that we have to carry out against
the workers. And what is that program?
Unions, budget cuts & gov’t restructuring
That program is many-fold. But I can give you the big picture. [The
capitalists’ program is:] Crush the labor movement. They have been trying
to do it, but this year they are going to accelerate it. Not just public
workers; the whole labor movement. Public workers are the largest segment of
the organized labor movement, more than 50 percent. They are the strongest
pillar. The other parts of the economy are outsourced. They are done in India
or someplace else.
It is the public workers and to some extent the service workers who have been
able to organize. But the public workers are politically stronger. Their unions
are older and they have won more. They are the strongest pillar of the entire
labor movement, private sector and public sector. You have the transit workers,
[the Service Employees union], hospital workers; the Teamsters even have public
workers. I don’t know how large the American Federation of Government
Take the American Federation of Teachers, the [National] Education Association
and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and you
have more than 6 million of the 14 million organized workers. Those unions are
the ones they are after; almost half of the organized labor force is considered
the most politically powerful.
We have to make some good propaganda about this. Have a picture of the bankers
— Citibank, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs — rich white men on one
side and on the other side predominantly African Americans and women. That is
who the public workers are: workers who make an average of $40,000 to $45,000 a
year, nearing retirement after being at their jobs for 30 or 40 years. What is
the average pension they are taking away? $19,000. These are the workers who
are being demonized.
Why is the ruling class doing this?
It is not just about the budget cuts. Yes, the federal government and the
states and the cities have huge budget deficits. As soon as possible they want
to cut the federal workforce by 10 percent. Goldman Sachs recently released
something that said states and municipalities had to be cut by 20 percent
— 1.6 million workers.
But it is not just how much they can cut in 2011. It is more political and
strategic than that. They want to smash the unions because they have a bigger
project in mind. They want to restructure government, which is part and parcel
of the capitalist economy. Long ago it became a business. If you are not making
money in the stock market, the rich go in the bond market. These days they make
money by cutting if they can’t invest or find new markets. It is about
downsizing; it is about privatizing in the long term. It is about privatizing
public education — taking it away as a right.
It is about hitting Social Security hard — everything else we have won
and especially those pensions that are worth trillions of dollars. The
capitalists want it back. But they can’t do it without crushing the labor
It is the reason why some of the states are trying to revoke collective
bargaining rights for public workers. Some states are trying to revoke the
[unions’] dues check-off, which means that public workers can’t
What will the fightback look like? Organized labor appears very weak and very
demoralized. It is not used to fighting. It is used to going into a room and
making a deal and getting the best deal they can get with a bourgeois
politician. That is becoming harder and harder because the Democrats are
betraying them like [New York Gov. Andrew] Cuomo and [California Gov. Jerry]
The unions seem demoralized. But in an uneven way they will begin to fight. We
as communists must agitate for a classwide, militant response to this attack.
It doesn’t matter whether it is not going to happen next week or unlikely
that it will happen in a few months. What are we if we don’t advocate for
it? Organized labor, community, students and all the oppressed must come out
Usually these struggles against budget cuts develop locally. Our job is to
agitate for a broader reaction to it that is both national and even
At this stage of the capitalist crisis, which is fully global, fully
centralized, our class enemy is global, conscious and against us. How can we
just think locally? It is OK for a while, but ultimately it won’t work.
It won’t raise the political or class-consciousness level of our class,
[which] won’t be able to fight back.
Generalize the struggle
We will face another problem that is all too prevalent — fragmentation.
The ruling class wants to have a thousand guerilla battles with the workers.
They want every struggle to be separate, to be localized, because, with some
exceptions, they can chew you up and digest you. They know that the more
national and international [the struggle] becomes, even if it is only symbolic
in the early stages, the harder it is [to divide and conquer].
As communists, it is incumbent upon us to find ways to struggle against that.
We want to be with the workers everywhere. We are not against local struggles.
We have an obligation to generalize and synthesize the class struggle to a
higher level, especially now with the unique character of this global crisis.
We have to be concerned with the entire working class.
The students in this country are trying to organize a fightback from California
to New York and everywhere else. We are fortunate that our comrades in FIST
(Fight Imperialism, Stand Together) have some influence there. They have called
the month of March a month of student protest against the cuts and tuition
hikes. Some of them are talking about a strike. And we should see if there is a
basis for building support around them that can last beyond their activities
— sort of a student-worker-community alliance.
We have International Women’s Day — the 100th anniversary of the
Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. Women are meeting on how to make defense of public
workers — predominantly women and people of color — central [in
There is April 9, a big, important anti-war demonstration also in solidarity
against repression of Muslims here and the oppressed. What relationship will
that have to the class struggle?
There is May Day, International Workers Day, which, most notably in this
country, has become over the past five years central to the struggle with
immigrant rights. And it will remain so and necessarily so.
I want to harken back to our party’s conference last November, where we
discussed the need, wisdom and timeliness of opening up an ideological struggle
on the need to abolish capitalism. All these struggles, whatever happens, need
We could help [the overall struggle by] drafting a declaration calling for the
abolition of capitalism, get it around and get support for it. Maybe at some
point tie it to an event that has the objective of unifying forces. This is to
bring it to our entire class so that their perspective will have an
anti-capitalist, pro-socialist current pushing it forward.
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