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Vol. 78/No. 35      October 6, 2014

Defense of land, labor
falls to working class

The following is an excerpt from a statement adopted by the 2007 convention of the Socialist Workers Party. It is published in issue no. 14 of New International, a magazine of Marxist politics and theory, under the title “The Stewardship of Nature Also Falls to the Working Class: In Defense of Land and Labor.”

Despite efforts to persuade us otherwise by the employing class and the government and political parties of the bourgeoisie (to whom the union officialdom tethers itself), job safety, consumer protection, and environmental protection are inextricably tied together. The fight in the mines, factories, fields, and other workplaces to protect life and limb of the working classes and broader public is the germ of struggles for workers control of industry and for independent working-class political action. It is the germ of advances in labor solidarity leading the way toward a workers and farmers government and a giant leap in human solidarity.

The bosses try to convince us that we should not be in favor of rigorous regulation and enforcement of consumer and environmental protections because they decrease the “competitiveness” of “our” industries and “our” companies and cost workers jobs. The bourgeois figures and professionals who lead established consumer and environmental groups reinforce the prejudice that these are “middle-class” issues by placing much of the blame for abuses on the working class—both what we do on the job, and what we buy at the gas pump or cash register. But the bourgeois politics of NIMBY — “not in my backyard” — channels the wastes of industrial and agricultural production into the skies, streams, rivers, and soil where workers, farmers, Blacks, immigrants, and other exploited and oppressed layers of the productive population live.

Our fight for safety on the job is inseparable from social and political struggles by vanguard workers and the union movement to combat the exploiters’ contamination of the food we eat, shoddy and dangerous manufacture of goods we need, and fouling of the earth, waters, and skies. Through organizing to impose workers control over the industries where we create wealth expropriated from us by the ruling capitalist families, we can fight not only for our unions to exercise veto power over safety, health, and the pace of work on the job. We can simultaneously demand that employers open their books, so working people can lift the veil from the “business secrets” behind which capital covers up its profiteering and its outrages against labor and nature.

“If we translate everything commonly thought of as an environmental issue into how to advance the protection of the working class, and how the working class can extend that protection to all,” to recall the guideline cited earlier, “then we can hardly ever go wrong.”1

Nearly a century and a half ago, Marx wrote in Capital — a book he prepared as a handbook for revolutionary-minded workers — that in the future, from “the standpoint of a higher socioeconomic formation, the private property of particular individuals in the earth will appear just as absurd as the private property of one man in other men. Even an entire society, a nation, or all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not the owners of the earth. They are simply its possessors, its beneficiaries, and have to bequeath it in an improved state to succeeding generations.”2

But labor cannot “bequeath” the earth “in an improved state to succeeding generations” so long as the capitalists hold state power, own and control the means of production, and allot society’s human and natural resources on the basis of a cutthroat rivalry to maximize profits. Under those conditions, labor’s conflict with nature will increasingly, and at some point catastrophically, prevail over its capacity to symbiotically transform nature. Just as the proletariat is the only social force that can stop imperialism’s inexorable march toward fascism and war, the stewardship of nature also falls to the working class.

It took a massive revolutionary war in the United States to overcome the bloody resistance of the slavocracy, and a post-Civil War revolutionary social movement of reconstruction to eradicate the system of “private property of one man in other men.” And it will take a socialist revolution to overturn the destructive social order that dominates this country and the earth today — a social order that will be defended by the ruling capitalist families ultimately utilizing the most brutal methods at their command. It is this revolutionary working-class program and strategy that the communist movement puts into practice.

1. Jack Barnes, Capitalismís World Disorder, p. 301.
2. Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 3 (1894), (London: Penguin, 1981), p. 911.
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