THE 1980s were characterised by the dominance of Thatcher and Reagan, rabid supporters of the market. Workers were hit by recessions and a ruling class eager to ram through attacks on union organisation. There were important struggles in the 1980s-in Poland the Solidarity movement sparked a wave of protests in Eastern Europe that shook the regimes to the core.
In 1989 the students and workers who occupied Tiananmen Square in China to protest at the ruling order provided a symbol of hope. The tanks that crushed them provoked anger worldwide. That year ordinary people in Germany tore down the Berlin Wall and with it the legacy of Stalinism.
The year long Great Miners' Strike of 1984-5 in Britain inspired solidarity from workers across the country. Margaret Thatcher, who managed to hang on to power during that strike, was broken by the rebellion against the poll tax in 1990. The demonstration and riot in Trafalgar Square in March of that year hammered the final nail in her coffin.
The balance really began to shift in the 1990s as Labour-type parties were swept into government across Europe. Workers in Britain voted for New Labour in their millions in 1997. They had expectations that the victory would see an end to Tory policies. But the government has continued to introduce more privatisation. It has scapegoated refugees and single parents. The whole establishment was exposed by the revelations of racism in the police during the inquiry into the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence.
The economic collapse that started in the Far East spread to hit Russia and threatened major economies in the West. In France workers' struggles that had produced strike waves and tens of thousands on the streets of Paris in 1995 surged again in 1999. The hope for the future is that the mood of millions to challenge capitalism can grow.