Thursday, January 23, 2014

The class struggle at work, where the "rubber meets the road"

The product of the 1%'s war on workers. Fight we must
by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

I was thinking.  I have been retired almost ten years.  I was very fortunate; I landed a good union public sector job.  It has given me a retirement I can live on and even enjoy a few beers here and there and a vacation without fear of being driven in to absolute debt or poverty.

It is my pension as a public sector worker that is supposedly destroying the American way of life. The pressure was on the autoworkers before me, or more acutely, the younger workers at my former workplace who will be denied what I have today if the bosses’ get their way. It is to our shame that we ignored the war against the autoworkers, Those autoworkers, a generation of entire families that worked the sweat shops of Ford and Sloan’s GM and built Detroit in to a world city and made America rich. And look at Detroit now. Patriotism is for the working class, as for the 1%, they don’t care which flag they salute as long as it is the flag of profit.

The attack on the Boeing workers in Seattle is yet another example of the capitalist offensive that intends to drive us down to the conditions that exists for our brothers and sisters in Cambodia and Bangladesh.

But this is not what’s on my mind today. I have been out of the workplace for some time which means I am out of the class struggle, not totally, but where the “Rubber meets the road” as a friend once called it. I could retreat in to that comfortable shell some of us socialists call, “building the revolutionary party”, an alibi for doing nothing for most of them; an alibi for avoiding the day-to-day struggle against the capitalist class on the job. The strange logic for them is that when the workers wake up and realize they need socialism, it is to these educated and theoretically armed cadre we will turn who have refused to fight for our basic needs on the job.  A utopian vision of the world if ever there was one.

A dear friend of mine is in a war with her boss; a rather inconsequential little man who has a chip on his shoulder.  I have some history with this person and, like most of those that worked with him, remember him as a poor worker at best. He never hid the fact that he was a company man through and through and regardless of the politics of those he had to ingratiate himself with to advance; ingratiate himself he would. It has paid off.

This made me think about my co-workers and how much they meant to me in all the years as a rank and file union activist.  Along with a few others, we were quite successful in strengthening the union presence on the job.  We were so successful in fact that our employer, a public utility, eventually shut down our workplace, shipped some of us to one area and others to another area and eventually reopened the place under a different name. This is what happens in the private sector when bosses shut down one business and open it up with the same capital the same bosses but without the pesky interference of unionization.

For years though we had a very tight union environment. Every worker that came in there, black, white, Latino, Asian and women who were a real minority in a blue collar environment, all said that it was the best place to be and had fond memories of it. The three union guys were myself a white worker, a Latino worker and a black worker. There’s no doubt we had a major influence but I like to think that having a leadership that understood the class nature of society and that fought racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination in the job meant that we brought the best out of working class people.  We allowed the collective side of our consciousness to dominate; we allowed that inherent class consciousness and natural distrust of the boss to prevail. The bosses’ ideology is one of division and crude self-promotion; this is not the natural way of the worker.

I am driven to write this account as I thought about the vast majority of the workers we represented. They weren’t like us. They were not so vocal, not so out there; they were not “leaders” in that sense. But this type of class-conscious worker lets the boss know where they are, on which side they stand simply by their behavior, or what they do not do.  They say little, keep a low profile.  But they are not that conduit to the boss that lets them know who is saying or thinking what.  They are not bootlickers or try to curry favor with the boss.  They are just solid workers. I remember one guy at work, one of many.  He hardly ever spoke when we had the bosses’ phony safety or morale/production meetings.  He never hung around the office or spoke about his fellow workers weaknesses so the bosses could hear which would increase his chances of promotion and make him a “good employee”.

In the early days most of my bosses in the public sector were not so bad.  Sure, they represented the other side.  But many of them had close connection to the workers, or came out of our ranks and during our strike in 1985, even before the supervisors got a union, there were some who told scabs to go home. With globalization and the neo-liberal agenda as well as the declining influence of US capitalism on the global stage, (the big picture that drives it all) the role of the present day bosses in the public sector has changed as it has throughout the economy; they are more overseers, watchers of workers.  The proportion of non production workers, overseers and such have vastly increased in proportion to those that do productive labor, all of them paid from the surplus value from those that do the work.

In the workplace there are only two sources of power----the bosses or the organized workers. The capitulation by the heads of organized Labor to the capitalist offensive has seriously weakened the union presence on the job.  This has increased the dog eat dog, every person for themselves attitude.  But it has not destroyed the basic class nature of the worker; it has suppressed it no doubt. There is terror in the workplace. Those folks who make it happen every day, whose labor gets the boss their bonus, although they are not yet willing to step up and fight, who do not see themselves as leaders and even capable of leading, refuse to ingratiate themselves and become yes men. They will return to the traditions that got us what we have today.  The bosses’ are our allies in that sense; they won’t let up in their war against workers.

No comments: