Afscme Local 444, retired
Back in November 2022, the US House of Representatives followed by the US Senate, at the urging of “Worker Joe” Biden, the most union friendly president ever, intervened in a labor dispute and quickly passed legislation forcing rail workers to accept a contract they had previously rejected. The US Congress, using one of the many weapons at its disposal, denied US workers the right to strike. Were this to have failed, the capitalist states’ other institutions of oppression, the police, the National Guard and even the army would have been called in to help. Note: The NG and the army can be a bit risky and the police would be preferable. In past disputes, private hired thugs like the Pinkertons were the norm.
Yesterday, another legislative body of old lawyers and Judges, a few serial sexual abusers among them according to reports in the media, took similar action. The US Supreme Court voted in an 8 to 1 decision to allow employers to sue unions for economic costs due to strike action. In this case, a group of Teamsters, drivers for a concrete company, went on strike and although they rotated the drums to prevent the concrete from hardening and damaging the trucks, the “company was forced to discard the unused product at a financial loss.” Read more here.
In the first political attack on the rail workers President Biden, formerly the Senator from Dupont Corp., was deeply sorry:
“As a proud pro-labor President,…..”, Biden said no doubt overwhelmed with emotion, “…I am reluctant to override the ratification procedures and the views of those who voted against the agreement,”, Biden explained in his statement, “….but in this case — where the economic impact of a shutdown would hurt millions of other working people and families — I believe Congress must use its powers to adopt this deal.” Politico 11-29-22
Biden said more in his defense of a violent assault on workers’ and our right to strike: “Communities will maintain access to clean drinking water. Farmers and ranchers will continue to be able to bring food to market and feed their livestock. And hundreds of thousands of Americans in a number of industries will keep their jobs,” PBS Newshour 12-1-22
Biden is pulling the old “rope a dope” on us. They do it all the time like when they oppose wage increases or a generalized increase in the minimum wage; it will mean a loss of jobs and will hurt workers, they argue. They make it about a workers’ suffering and loss like losing access to “clean drinking water” that already exists for many people in the US. Ask the people of Flint.
But it’s not about that at all, it’s about profits and capital accumulation and the wealth, lifestyles and political power of a small minority of people in society who do no productive labor. If they cared about workers or the millions of us that don’t live off the profit of capital, we would have mass transit, health care, housing or accommodation that doesn’t consume one third of a renters’ income;* or a guarantee of clean drinking water. We’d have a great education system that didn’t drive a student, (or their parents) in to debt peonage.
Yes, a strike can inconvenience other workers. That is why every strike cannot limit its demands to issues that only affect the workers or union members taking the action; workers as a whole must see that the strike will affect them, directly (more jobs) or indirectly increasing wages and benefits in the community.
As I write, a potentially powerful union, the International
Longshore and Warehouse Union that represents West Coast dockworkers, has been
in contract talks with the port bosses for a year or so and we hear precious
little about it though I
received this report today which is very disappointing. But there is
nothing in the mass media about this significant dispute between capital and
labor, yet this union, in conjunction with other unions, working class
communities and all victims of the so-called free market, could transform the
balance of class forces in society.
Unfortunately the leadership of the ILWU, like all of organized labor, supports the Team Concept, the view that the bosses and the workers have the same interests, are on the same side ultimately. So this ideological trap prevents them from using the potential power they have at their command. Just the opposite, they hold back and suppress that power if it arises for to challenge the rule of capital can only lead to chaos.
For any strike to make real gains today, it can’t be just about the member (it never should have been). Workers on strike live in communities, have kids in schools or at college, care about the environment have friends whose lives are also being disrupted by decisions made in corporate boardrooms and the state and federal legislatures. Organized labor has lots of allies.
After Biden and the other enemies of the US working class in the US Congress stiffed the rail workers, the US Supreme Court doubled down. And why not? The union hierarchy whined a little back then but did basically nothing. The big business press talks of “big Labor” and its power and all that but this is just propaganda. The bosses are not afraid of the trade union hierarchy organizing the potential power of the 14 million members in unions. They have shown time and time again which class they are loyal to when push comes to shove.
After yesterday’s Supreme Court decision, Teamsters General President Sean O'Brien said the Supreme Court had "again voted in favor of corporations over working people." Are we supposed to be surprised about that? Sean O'Brien is part of the “new” leadership of the Teamsters that defeated the Hoffa slate in an election where only 14% participated. A militant new leadership according to Labor Notes and the TDU
Shawn Fain, the new leader of the United Auto Workers (UAW) that has been through a similar change in leadership as the Teamsters, was equally pathetic in his official response to yesterday’s SCOTUS ruling. Included in his statement is the threat that:
“….in the course of fighting against poverty and for a decent standard of living for our members, these companies choose to file suit, we will turn the argument against the greedy enormously profitable companies.”
Fain gets even more militant to show the auto bosses he means business:
“We have to shift public opinion at the criminality of the gross inequity of the wealthy few at the expense of the masses, the Supreme Court should be more concerned with the fact that 26 individuals have as much wealth as half of humanity, that is where lawsuits should be filed and laws should be changed.”
Has brother Fain bean living in isolation? You don’t have to convince the public to “shift opinion”, you have to provide the leadership and the vehicle for change. Ever since 2008 in particular, the anger and outright hatred of the system has increased to the point that in 2016 almost one million people opted out of the electoral process. The problem is that the heads of organized labor have refused to tap in to that anger for fear of where it may lead.
It’s interesting to note that President Fain’s statement on the UAW website is considerably shorter than the one sent to me. Here is what I received.
“While the conservative supreme courts ruling is disappointing and I totally disagree with it, no threat of lawsuit from the wealthy class should deter our mission to deliver for the membership. We are demanding our fair share and if in the course of fighting against poverty and for a decent standard of living for our members, these companies choose to file suit, we will turn the argument against the greedy enormously profitable companies. Our fight is lifting up the standard for all, and I’ll gladly fight that battle in public, everyday of my life, law or no law. We have to shift public opinion at the criminality of the gross inequity of the wealthy few at the expense of the masses, the Supreme Court should be more concerned with the fact that 26 individuals have as much wealth as half of humanity, that is where lawsuits should be filed and laws should be changed. If labor doesn’t strike and lead the fight, no one will. Our founders laid down their lives for a better future and I’m willing to do the same!”
Well that will scare the auto bosses.
The right wing is not so cautious. Right wing forces are not afraid to skirt the law, anger the establishment and also tap in to the anger that lies beneath the surface of US society. They were not afraid to storm the US capital and their supporters sent money to help them with the lawsuits that followed; I would hazard a guess that many of them were working class. Let’s be honest, as socialists, we consider such an action to be a necessity and would welcome it if the forces involved were different than the overwhelmingly petit bourgeois right wingers and their working class allies that did so on Jan 6th 2021.
As I commented earlier, we have immense potential power. If we stop work, society and profit taking comes to a halt. We have the power. If you read any labor history at all, include the writings about the 1919 Seattle General strike and others. Particularly the minutes of the committee that ran that strike as it shows how self-organization arises during great class battles. Self-organization by working class people emerges every time at some point; it did during the Katrina events and it has to be suppressed and with violence if need be. This is who we are dealing with.
As workers whether organized or not, we have a problem. That problem is the leadership of our class and in the case discussed here, the heads of organized labor. Do we really think the comments above from these labor leaders when their corporate friends and their politicians shaft us are simply a moral failure?
Of course not; they are lying to put it bluntly. Consciously or not they are the agents of Wall Street, the Banks and big business inside our organizations and the daunting task is removing them and replacing class collaborationist policies with a program that responds to our needs and the needs of our children and grandchildren. We have to reject the dominant ideology in society in order to do this, the ideology that claims this is the end of civilization. That this is how it always has been and always will be and it’s the best form of social organization humanity can create. We have to overcome the stop in our own minds as the great English historian Christopher hill put it.
It action it means reaching out to all communities that suffer under the dictatorship of capital. And in the last analysis, workers, especially the organized working class, must take up the burning issue of the looming climate catastrophe that threatens humanity with extinction.
The present obsession with identity politics is a sideshow in this scenario and aimed at negating the class issue and rendering us weak and divided. In the most advanced periods of our history and class struggle there have been strong tendencies to unite and overcome the divisions our enemies use to keep us divided, racism, women’s oppression, xenophobia and so on. That is why we must combat them.
The right wing, and indeed, extremely right-wing forces are opportunistically tapping in to the mood that exists among working class people. They are sounding like the defenders of free speech. The defenders of culture and women’s oppression and so on. We must not be fooled by this. We must not forget that Hitler and the NAZI’s came to power through the electoral process and then banned elections. They defend the right to free speech in order to win power and deny us the right to free speech.
We have the power
We have the numbers
Rely on our own strength, the courts are not our friends.
Build our own party
Build International solidarity in ideas and action.
We had to break the law to build unions and defend our living standards
Slavery was legal
Racist Apartheid was legal in the US South
Win leadership of your local union and go on from there. If you fight for workers, for your class, as hard as the bosses’ politicians fight for theirs you’ll have a positive affect.
* When Moody’s started tracking housing affordability more than 20 years ago, the average household spent about 23% of its income on rent. A decade ago it was 26%. And at the end of last year is when that average hit 30%. Marketplace 1-20-23