European and US Working Class Politics: Right, Left and Neutered
The deepening economic crises in Europe and the
In contrast, in Northern and
In the case of the
Rather than solidarity, the economic crisis highlights working class fragmentation, disunity and internal polarization.
The Right/Left Polarizations
One of the key reasons for the growth of right wing appeals to Northern European workers is the demise of working class-based ideology, parties and leaders. The Labor and Social Democratic Parties have initiated and administered neoliberal programs while promoting multi-national corporation-led export strategies. They have embraced regressive tax ‘breaks’ for big business; they have participated in imperialist wars of aggression (Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya); they have embraced the so-called “war on terror” mostly against Moslem countries while tolerating the growth of the neo-fascist, far-right Islamophobes who practice “direct action” to expel immigrants in Europe. The European governing parties of the center-left (social democratic and labor) and the center-right(Sarkozy, Cameron and Merkle) have been outspoken in their assault on “multiculturalism” code-word for Moslim immigrant rights. Their tolerance and exploitation of Islamophobia serves as a cheap vote getter among their xenophobic electorate and as a justification for their involvement in US-Israeli wars of aggression in the Middle East and
The trade unions have lost membership due especially to the growth of ‘contingent or temporary workers’ who are especially susceptible to far-right appeals. Equally important, trade unions no longer engage in political education aimed at strengthening class solidarity among all workers. While in
In contrast, in Southern Europe the profound economic crisis, due in large part to the harsh conditions imposed by Northern and Western European bankers and their local center-left and right-wing politicians, has strengthened and sharpened class consciousness and politics. Right-wing appeals to anti-immigrant and anti-Moslem politics has little resonance among Southern European workers in the face of skyrocketing unemployment and brutal wage and pension cuts.
Northern European workers have allied with the right, and their own politicians and bankers, in demanding the imposition of greater austerity measures against Southern European countries, buying into the racist ideology that Mediterranean workers are lazy, irresponsible and on permanent vacation. In fact, Greek, Portuguese and Spanish workers work a more days per year, enjoy less vacation time and much less secure pensions. The same racist sentiments pitting Northern workers against immigrants also promote chauvinist stereotypes against militant Southern European workers and fuel right-wing sympathies.
Creditor Northern European bankers and political leaders squeeze their own working and middle class taxpayers in order to bail-out their counterparts among the Southern European debtor elites, who, in turn, agree to squeeze their workers and public employees to meet the debt payment demands of the North. The Northern workers in the imperial countries have been convinced that their living standards are threatened by the irresponsible and indebted South, and not by the speculative activity and irresponsible lending of their own bankers. In the South, the workers have to shoulder the double exploitation of the Northern European creditors as well as their own local elites; hence they have greater class awareness of the in
To the degree that Northern workers make common cause with their own creditor ruling class and shift their resentments toward workers abroad and immigrants below, they become vulnerable to right wing appeals. They openly express resentment against striking Greek, Spanish or Portuguese workers’, whose militant struggles might disrupt their planned vacations to the Mediterranean islands and seashore resorts. The ideological battle which should pit the workers of
International workers’ solidarity has been severely weakened and replaced, in some cases, by the proliferation of international far-right networks propagating virulent anti- immigrant (and anti-socialist) propaganda and, as in the case of the massacre of almost 70 left-wing youth, mostly teenage, activists of the Norwegian Labor Party, poses a direct murderous threat to progressive supporters of immigrant rights. The extreme-right began its assault on immigrants and Moslems and has now moved against the local left and progressive movements which support them. This has taken on an even more complex dimension with the marriage of rabid pro-Israel, Zionist ideologues (mostly based in the US) and the neo-fascist Islamophobes attacking supporters of Palestinian rights, an issue repeatedly stressed by the Norwegian fascist mass murderer, Anders Behring Breivik. The problem is that the ‘respectable’ liberal, social democratic and conservative parties, in their electioneering, have pandered to the anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim appeals of the far-right in order to attract workers rather than embarking on far-reaching class reforms which would lessen inequalities, financing them via increases in progressive taxes and greater public investments to unify all workers (local and immigrant) against capital.
Lacking working class solidarity, the sons and daughters of immigrants, especially the disproportionately unemployed young workers, engage in forms of direct action such as the pillage of local business, confrontations with the police and general mayhem, as was evident in the nationwide riots in
Moreover, their assault on debt financing and public expenditures has led to conflicts with sectors of the capitalist class, who are dependent on the State. In the course of the recent Congressional ‘debate’ over raising the debt ceiling, Wall Street joined in a selective struggle against the far-right: calling for “compromise” involving social cuts and tax reforms while supporting their anti-public union offensive.
Unlike in Europe, the mass of the
The Tea Party, unlike its Northern European counterparts, does not attract many workers because of their virulent attacks on popular public programs, like Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment insurance and especially Social Security – all of programs most likely to benefit American workers and their families. On the other hand, the economic crisis in the
So far the
While the electoral right is capitalizing on the disenchantment with the center-left in
 According to a study of workers support for far right wing parties in
 While some of the motivations of the workers vary, the far-right wing parties are the beneficiaries.