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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people                              
Vol. 80/No. 18      May 9, 2016



1992-2016 Militant Index
Now Available Online
(lead article)

‘Workers, unions need to control job safety’

Militant/Tony Lane
Socialist Workers Party presidential candidate Alyson Kennedy, right, discussed need for labor party based on unions with Verizon strikers at April 25 rally in Trenton, New Jersey.
“My job at Verizon has gotten more dangerous. I’ve been electrocuted twice on the job, once while they made me work by myself,” John Hopper, a 25-year outside field technician from Rockland County, New York, told Socialist Workers Party presidential candidate Alyson Kennedy and campaign supporter Tony Lane as they joined a strike rally in Trenton, New Jersey, April 25. “You put your life on the line but the company is ungrateful.”

“The working class has to take control over safety conditions on the job,” Kennedy said. “I worked as a coal miner, and our union waged big battles in the 1960s and ’70s over safety. We were able to win the right to refuse to work when things were unsafe. The union safety committees controlled the situation in the mine. That’s eroded, and most mining is nonunion today.”

“Since the early 1970s, the bosses’ rate of profit has been declining. They’ve stopped putting money into production and new machinery because they don’t get a big enough return,” Kennedy said. “Instead, they squeeze the workers, jack up productivity and things get more unsafe.”

“That’s for sure at Verizon,” said Hopper, a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. “There it’s all about profit.”

“The working class produces all the wealth,” Kennedy said. “But the employing class appropriates it for their private profit. Whichever capitalist politician gets elected, their class controls the government.

“We’re a revolutionary party. We say workers need to fight for our own government that can use the wealth we produce to take on the problems working people face, here and worldwide,” she said.

“I kind of like some of the things Bernie Sanders says,” Hopper said. “And I like what you’re saying.”

He got a copy of the Militant. “I’m going to take it to the union hall and get the local to get a subscription,” he said.

“There are a number of politicians speaking at the rally here today,” Communications Workers of America member Dina Bazley told Kennedy. “I’m glad for the support, but they don’t ever seem to do anything.”

“We need our own political party, a labor party, based on our unions,” Kennedy said. “That way we can use our own party to build solidarity with struggles like you’re in at Verizon.

“Pulling a lever for a Democratic or Republican politician who sounds better than the last one doesn’t get the working class anywhere,” the Socialist Workers Party candidate said. “The only way we win anything is through struggle. Your strike is an example of what we need more of. And a labor party built from these experiences can help point the way toward fighting for political power.”

Bazley works in Newark, New Jersey, near where Lane works at Walmart. They made arrangements to meet again on the Verizon picket line later in the week.

Elections rattle union officials

The grinding depression conditions facing working people as capital’s crisis of production and trade deepens worldwide generate a thirst for a new perspective for what can be done to change things. It finds reflection in growing interest in the SWP, as well as in frictions and fissures in the Democratic and Republican parties.

This is creating political difficulties for the union officialdom, who seek to tie labor’s fate to capitalist “friends of labor,” mostly through the Democratic Party machine. Today there’s widespread working-class interest in the “outsider” campaigns of Donald Trump and Sanders. And hysteria over the Trump campaign will only grow after April 26, when he swept the primaries in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

“Donald Trump’s Working-Class Appeal Is Starting to Freak Out Labor Unions,” ran a headline article in Huffington Post online several weeks ago.

“We hear the same refrains all the time,” Karen Nussbaum, head of the AFL-CIO-affiliated Working America, told the Post. “That people are fed up and they’re hurting. That their families have not recovered from the recession. … And then a guy comes on the stage and says, ‘I’m your guy who will blow the whole thing up.’”

Jobs is one big factor. “My country is going to hell,” Brian Sepe, a Massachusetts utility worker and member of the United Steelworkers, told International Business Times in March. “You look back at all the different trade agreements over the past 30 years. It’s always been to move jobs out of the country. … We don’t have good jobs left.”

Trump’s declaration he will “bring back American jobs” echoes the protectionist, American nationalism long promoted by the labor tops.

Union officials fear support for Trump will undercut their relations with Democratic Party bosses. “I am deeply concerned about what is stirring, even in our membership,” Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, said in January, “where our members are responding to Trump’s message.”

Sanders’ rhetoric about a “political revolution” and complaints about the “1 percent” get a similar response. A number of union locals and a few national unions have backed Sanders, including the Communications Workers of America, American Postal Workers and International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

Many workers who back Sanders or Trump say they see similarities in the two candidates. Sanders told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that he is courting Trump supporters who are “working-class people” with “legitimate” angers and fears because of decreasing wages.

Sanders, Trump and company all aim to convince workers that “we Americans” have a common interest against other workers around the world and that we should fight for “our” jobs at their expense. But there is no “we.” The interests of the working class are diametrically opposed to those of the boss class, whose profits and privileges are based on exploitation of workers, here and around the world.

Tony Lane contributed to this article.

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