File spoon-archives/marxism-international.archive/marxism-international_1997/97-01-29.113, message 81

Subject: RE: M-I: Social Movements and Class
Date: Wed, 29 Jan 1997 11:46:10 -0000

Yoshie asked how easy is it / has it been to win white male
workers to fight against sexism, racism, homophobia, etc ?

This is quite a complex subject. However, I think it is necessary
to start by pointing out how wrong the stereotyped view of
white male workers put forward by Feminists, Black Nationalists,
or Queer theorists is. While it is of course true that workers
do have backward ideas, it is also true that the most implacable
opposition to these ideas has come from precisely these groups
of workers. The so called Labour aristocracy, the Engineers across
Europe, were at the centre of the opposition to WWI. During the
60's, there was an opinion poll in Detroit which asked "Does
the Black Panther Party represent your interests ?". A significant
proportion of the WHITE population answered "yes" ( I can look 
up the figures if anyone wants ). Recently the Liverpool dockers
welcomed environmental protestors onto the demonstrations. Etc.

In general, I would argue that workers tend to accept the prevailing
ideas in society more when they have been beaten and are
demoralised. On the other hand, during a period when workers are
winning victories, and there appears to be a real hope that society
can be changed, workers ideas tend to move towards feelings
of solidarity and opposition to oppression. Within this overall
pattern, the role of explicit socialist ideas and parties can in
certain circumstances make a significant difference both to
the outcome of the class battles and to the ideological balance
of forces.

In Britain, the example of the dockers illustrates this. In 1968,
they went on strike in support of Enoch Powell's anti immigration
speech. Earlier on in the Labour government, they had been taken
on and beaten by the employers. From 1969 onwards, British workers
moved on to the offensive. In 1972, the dockers picketed out the
newspaper workers in Fleet St to free four people dockers imprisoned
under the Tory anti trade union laws of the time. After this, the dockers
introduced a rule that any docker even seen talking to a member of
the Nazi National Front would be kicked out of the union and therefore
sacked under the closed shop arrangements. In general, the National
Front began to grow again only after this succession of victories in the
early 1970's turned into a succession of defeats under the next Labour
government from 1974 - 1979. 

A similar pattern can be seen in Russia before 1917 : before 1905,
progroms. In 1905, a Jew, Trotsky, elected to the head of the Petersburg
Soviet. Between 1905 and 1917, more pogroms. During 1917, Trotsky
was reelected head of the Soviet, and the mass of Russian workers
are led by the Bolshevik party, 8 out of 10 of whose central committee
were Jews.

Miners in Britain were seen as completely homophobic ( probably
unfairly ). Yet during their year long strike in 1984 - 5, the support
they received from gay groups and from Black people in Brixton,
meant that they changed the way they thought about these issues
( and others - for example, Nothern Ireland ) A group of Yorkshire
miners led off the gay pride march in 1985 in London.

I'm sure that the defeat of the workers movement during and after
the McCarthy era in the US helps explain the opposition of some
southern workers to the civil rights movement.

This post is long enough. I have deliberately ignored the difference
socialists can make. But the confidence of workers in their own power
is the key to the ideological battle. The tactics, organisation, and arguments
of socialists can and have made a big difference - but that's another post,
I think.


Adam Rose



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