“Workers joining together to fight — that’s a union,” explained Alyson Kennedy, Socialist Workers Party presidential candidate in a discussion April 22 with Otis Bullock at a Pennsylvania Walmart store parking lot where he works.
“Yes, workers need a foundation of solidarity to get what we need,” said Bullock. “Society looks down on people who work with their hands. But we have common sense.” He described how bosses had fired a number of workers at the store.
“They can pick you off when you’re on your own,” Kennedy said, explaining how SWP members look out for opportunities to work together with co-workers to resist the bosses’ attacks on the job. Kennedy and Malcolm Jarrett, the party’s vice presidential candidate, are touring across the country discussing how workers can organize to stand up to the bosses and chart a road forward to end the exploitation we face.
Bullock said he thought President Donald Trump had “bought the election” and is the “biggest problem.”
“No matter which Democratic or Republican candidate wins the election, they all defend the capitalist system,” Kennedy said. “What working people need is to fight together and build a movement that can replace their rule and take power into our own hands.”
Outside another Walmart store Jarrett spoke to auto mechanic Jose Santiago, who is originally from Puerto Rico. He told Jarrett that the capitalist politicians “act just the same” in both the U.S. and Puerto Rico, a U.S. colony. “They treat us like we’re not worth anything, like we’re disposable.”
Jarrett explained that’s why working people need to organize independently of the capitalist parties and build their own party, a labor party. Looking to learn more, Santiago subscribed to the Militant.
Kennedy and Jarrett are using their tour to boost the six-week international drive to expand the readership of the Militant and books by SWP and other revolutionary leaders and to raise $115,000 for the Militant Fighting Fund. The paper relies on contributions from its readers who value the indispensable coverage of working-class struggles and the road forward it presents to workers and our allies. The drive ends May 19.
“A lot of workers agree that the two capitalist parties, the Democrats and Republicans, don’t represent working people,” Kennedy told the Militant by phone April 28. A labor party, she explained, “would organize and give voice to the fights of millions of working people — for better wages and working conditions to the fight against police brutality, for amnesty for undocumented immigrants and defending women’s right to choose abortion.”
SWP congressional candidate Osborne Hart, Kennedy and Jarrett spoke with farmers Gerald and Tina Carlin in Meshoppen, Pennsylvania, at the couple’s 4 Seasons Farm Market on their farm. The Carlins used to be dairy farmers but couldn’t make ends meet. Now they farm vegetables, which they sell at the store, and slaughter some beef cattle. They have been active in fights to defend the interests of working farmers.
Farm crisis began before the virus
“The politicians say a lot of farmers are going out of business just because of the coronavirus, but this has been going on for years,” Gerald Carlin said. “In this area, Auburn Township, there were 65 dairy farmers in 1970. Today there are four. For the last several years the prices farmers get for milk, beef and grain are way down and farm debt is staggering.”
Both Carlins voted for President Trump and sell “Make America Great Again” hats in the market. “Don’t hold that against us,” Gerald Carlin said, laughing. “Socialists, conservatives and liberals do have things we can discuss and fight around.”
“Our starting point is not who you voted for in the last election, although we think both the Democratic and Republican parties are an obstacle to working people,” Kennedy said. “I used to be a coal miner and was involved in miners strikes for wages, safer conditions. Our strikes were stronger because of the aid of farmers.”
“Farmers as debt slaves and workers as wage slaves must fight together to win our struggles,” Jarrett added.
The party’s 2020 platform calls for a halt to farm foreclosures and for nationalizing the land. This would allow farmers to work the land without worry that the banks and landlords will take it away from them. It also demands the government guarantee farmers their costs of production, including their living expenses and urges support for farmworkers’ efforts to organize unions.
‘We’re not all in this together’
“I like what you say about the necessity of a national jobs program at union wages and the unions should lead the effort. But the unions are very weak today,” Tory Brunkow told Socialist Workers Party campaigners Dean Hazlewood and Dan Fein in Beloit, Wisconsin. Brunkow works in a cement plant and is a member of Laborers International Union Local 464.
“The biggest reason the unions are weak is their continued support to the capitalist parties,” Fein replied. He explained why workers need to build a labor party and what it would fight for.
“The two major parties do not represent us, that’s for sure,” Brunkow said. To learn more he subscribed to the Militant and purchased Tribunesof the People and the Trade Unions, which features articles by Karl Marx, V.I. Lenin, Leon Trotsky, Farrell Dobbs and Jack Barnes, national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party. It’s one of several books on special for subscribers (see ad on page 7).
Members of Communist Leagues in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the U.K. are also participating in the six-week drive.
“There is no money coming in,” subscriber Nureni Adebiyi told Communist League members Catharina Tirsén and Dag Tirsén in London. Adebiyi, who worked replacing rails for the public transit system, was furloughed because the bosses claimed they could not organize work “to keep social distance.”
“The bosses are using the virus to go after workers and solve the social crisis by making workers pay,” Catharina Tirsén said. If workers had control of production, she pointed out, they would organize to make sure all work is done safely.
Adebiyi looked at a Militant article describing the fight of laid-off garment workers in Bangladesh for back wages and another piece about the massive working-class struggles that took place in the U.S. and around the world during the 1918 “Spanish flu” epidemic. He decided he needed to renew his subscription.
Communist League member Katy LeRougetel and Amélie Lanteigne, a laid-off truck driver and longtime Militant subscriber, met up in Longueuil, Quebec, with Julie Therrien, a unionized nurse, at the end of April.
“This isn’t a virus crisis, it’s a monetary crisis,” Therrien said. “It started a long time ago.”
“That’s why it’s so important to build solidarity with workers who are standing up for their rights,” said LeRougetel. “Like the Montreal transit mechanics who walked off the job for several hours last week after their union president was suspended.”
“We can only rely on ourselves, not the bosses or the government,” Lanteigne said.
Therrien renewed her subscription, bought Socialism on Trial in French by James P. Cannon, a founding leader of the SWP, and contributed to the Militant Fighting Fund.