BY ANNE PARKER
WHITING, Ind. — “The oil refinery strike is the first national strike in a long time and has the potential of strengthening not only the United Steelworkers, but other union fights and all working people,” Dan Fein, Socialist Workers Party candidate for mayor of Chicago, told union members picketing at the BP oil refinery here Feb. 21. Strikers are demanding changes in unsafe working conditions that have led to explosions, deaths and injuries at a number of refineries.
Strikers told Fein that workers at three refineries and a chemical plant co-owned by Shell Oil Co. were joining the strike. That expands the shutdown to 15 facilities across the country. More than 1,100 workers are on strike here and workers said most had turned out for a union meeting the day before to get an update on negotiations and developments in the strike.
“The expansion of the strike is good news, it strengthens the hand of USW members fighting for more control over working conditions and for cuts in 12-hour shifts and forced overtime that leave refinery workers plagued by fatigue,” Fein said. “The strength of the labor movement lies in our numbers and using our collective power.”
That afternoon Fein and supporters campaigned door to door in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago. “Before the austerity attacks in Greece, education was free, including college. All of this is gone,” George Xerikos, a retired AT&T worker originally from Greece, told Fein. “I am neither for the far right or the far left, I favor something in the middle.”
“I don’t see politics in terms of left and right, but of working class and capitalist class. The rulers in Greece have a debt to their stronger imperialist rivals in Europe and the U.S.,” Fein said. “It is not a debt of the workers and farmers. But as long as capital rules, workers and farmers will bear the brunt regardless of whether the new government renegotiates the loans.”
Xerikos wasn’t sure Greece could survive without the loans.
”Working people in Greece need to chart a course to overthrow the rule of capital, to take political power into their own hands, like they did in Cuba in 1959,” Fein said. “A revolutionary government in Greece could use the resources and the wealth that the toilers produce to eliminate unemployment, putting people to work building schools, housing, hospitals, child care centers and other crucial necessities.
“Such a society will not be based on the profit system, but on workers and farmers using their own political power to set priorities and mobilize to meet the needs of working people,” he said. “And joining in the worldwide struggle for socialism. This is the same perspective the SWP campaign raises for working people in the U.S.”
Fein told home health care worker Chelsey Anderson, 26, by her apartment, that he just came from the Steelworkers picket line in Whiting and urges all working people to support their strike.
“Did you hear about the longshoremen’s settlement on the West Coast?” Anderson asked.
“The International Longshore and Warehouse Union has been fighting for a contract since mid-summer. Like the refinery workers, they are an example of the growing resistance to attacks by the bosses,” Fein said. “The Obama administration sent its secretary of labor to press for a settlement. The big factory owners, agribusiness, retail giants like Walmart and transportation bosses want an end to the disruption of trade. Government intervention like this is never neutral, they take the side of the bosses.”
“It’s good to know that there is a campaign that represents workers,” Anderson said.
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