“The unions are important not just for pay but for safety,” Pete Batteast told a memorial meeting in honor of his father, a steelworker who was killed on the job in March.
The number of workers killed or injured on the job — from steel and construction to mining and oil refining — is rising, a direct consequence of the bosses drive for profits.
All work can be performed safely. It won’t happen by relying on the bosses or their government. Workers need control over production and job conditions. Above all this means using the collective power of the union ranks to enforce safe conditions.
In the late 1960s and 1970s coal miners organized to carry through a revolution in their union and to force the coal bosses to accept safety committees in the mines with the power to shut down production over unsafe conditions, including coal dust. Black lung declined more than 90 percent from the 1970s to the mid-1990s.
The bosses never accepted this incursion on their power to put productivity and profit before all else, and succeeded in pushing the union back. By 2015 only 21 percent of miners worked in union mines. Without union protection, black lung returned with a vengeance — the rate among miners with 25 years on the job today is double what it was in 1999.
The stronger and more militant the unions are, the safer conditions will be, not just for the workers on the job, but for society as a whole.
The bosses try to divide working people — employed against unemployed, Black against Caucasian, immigrant against native born, old against young, women against men. The unions need to be at the forefront of fights to unify the working class and win allies among farmers, ranchers and all who face the wrath of the propertied rulers. Champion the fight for amnesty for immigrant workers, against police brutality, for women’s right to choose abortion, for a government-funded public works program to put millions to work at union wages.
Workers are willing to fight, but all too often union officials divert our struggles into support for one or the other of the capitalist rulers’ parties — the Democrats and Republicans.
Workers need our own independent working-class political party and course of action to fight the rulers’ assaults.
Through struggle, we can transform ourselves — as workers and farmers did in Cuba when they overthrew the Fulgencio Batista dictatorship in 1959 and took control of their own destiny. We can take political power and reorganize production to satisfy human needs, not capitalist profits. This is the road to a society based on human solidarity where no worker has to die on the job. This is the road of the Socialist Workers Party. Join us in this struggle!