Back fights to defend wages, jobs, working conditions!

By Roy Landersen
June 15, 2020
From left, Rahman Brooks, Darnell Harris, Jamal Taylor and Earnest Taylor in ongoing walkout by “hoppers” at contractor for New Orleans sanitation system.
JASON KERZINSKIFrom left, Rahman Brooks, Darnell Harris, Jamal Taylor and Earnest Taylor in ongoing walkout by “hoppers” at contractor for New Orleans sanitation system.

Workers are increasingly taking action today to defend their wages, working conditions and dignity: from thousands of autoworkers on strike at Nissan in Spain and Renault in France over having jobs eliminated; to fruit packers out for better pay and conditions in Yakima Valley, Washington; to successful shop floor skirmishes at Walmart and other retail outlets over job combination and speedup.

These actions take place as the capitalist rulers worldwide are pushing to cut back on the anti-working-class shutdowns they’ve imposed for over two months, desperate to ramp up production and trade to compete with their rivals at home and abroad. And as tens of thousands are in the streets protesting killings by cops in Minnesota and Louisville, and by vigilantes in Georgia.

This resistance by working people will inevitably deepen in response to stepped-up boss assaults as depression conditions, financial crises, and trade and military conflicts mount. The only way out for working people is to come together on a class-struggle road to defend ourselves and all those oppressed and exploited by capitalism.

One of the central questions facing workers is jobs. Many big employers — from Boeing to General Electric — throw more and more workers out of a job, seeking to carve out a return to profitability on the backs of those who are still working. The bosses want to pit workers with jobs against those without, to lower wages and worsen conditions for all. They aim to saddle working people with the burden of the social and economic crisis of their system.

Official jobless claims in the U.S. over the last few months totaled 40.8 million, and this undercounts the actual number of those unemployed. The estimated real figure of 23.9% is closing in on the Great Depression peak of 25.6%. Many of these job losses, especially among small businesses, half of which are not expected to reopen, will be permanent. The unemployment rate in Detroit, where over three-quarters of the population is African American, has jumped to 48% from 11% before the lockdowns.

Hundreds of millions more have lost jobs across the world. While the Chinese government admits unemployment is a serious problem, it claims a jobless rate of only 6%. But one Chinese banking company estimates that in April it was actually 20.5%, which means 70 million workers out of work.

Everywhere the bosses and their government continue to tell us, “We are all in this together.” Whenever they say this, whether in times of war or of depression conditions, this lie means they’re coming after working people. The United States — like all capitalist countries — is a deeply class-divided society. Their claim to “feel our pain” is also a lie.

The only “we” for the wage and debt slaves under capitalism is our working-class brothers and sisters here and around the world. Our interests are directly opposed to the exploiting class.

Workers stand up and say No!

Sanitation workers in New Orleans have been on strike since May 5, demanding a wage raise, safer working conditions and respect. “Every day beginning at 4 a.m. we picket for our jobs back,” Darnell Harris told the Militant in a phone interview May 30. Harris is one of 14 hoppers, who jump off and on garbage trucks to fill them with trash.

“We want $15 an hour,” Harris said. “I’ve worked the same job for different agencies for nearly 10 years, but I’m still only making $10.25. I have to work 70 hours a week to support my family.”

Inspired by pictures of Memphis sanitation workers going on strike in 1968, a fight that was backed by Martin Luther King Jr., the hoppers’ picket signs say, “I am a man.”

Company bosses initially responded to the strike by saying those who walked out were fired, Harris said. They reversed themselves because they feared legal action. So far they have refused to negotiate with the workers, who have organized as the City Waste Union.

The strike at Hood River Distillers in Oregon “is still going strong,” Michael Beranbaum, secretary treasurer of Teamsters Local 670, told the press June 2. The 25 workers walked off the job May 6 after bosses imposed their own “final offer,” including a worse health care plan with higher costs put on the workers and a wage increase that didn’t come near to meeting workers’ demands.

The bosses try to keep production going using strikebreakers, but they have problems. The plant’s air conditioning broke down, and HVAC repair crews refuse to cross the strikers’ picket line.

Contributions to the strikers can be sent to Teamsters Local 670, P.O. Box 3048, Salem, Oregon 97302.

Retail giants like Walmart and Target have benefited greatly from the recent shutdowns, unlike their smaller competitors who face bankruptcy. Grocery sales skyrocketed 74% at Walmart over the last three months. The billionaire Walton family recently announced the company is making record-breaking profits, buoyed by online orders.

A May 1 memo by Walmart CEO Doug McMillon noted the profit boost was aided by “robust adoption of online pickup and delivery.”

What is really “robust” is the bosses’ moves to speed up the exploitation of the workers who pack and load the orders.

Samir Hazboun, Socialist Workers Party candidate for U.S. Congress from Kentucky, works at a Walmart store in Louisville loading groceries into customers’ cars. He told the Militant how he and his co-workers were able to score a victory by standing up against moves by the bosses to speed up the work over the past couple months.

A year ago, “we were expected to complete 20 orders in a day,” he said. “By January, a busy day was 40 orders.” Now bosses are pushing them “to complete as many as 105 orders with about the same number of workers as before. We’re still getting the same size paychecks.”

Workers in the department decided they had to do something about it. They organized together to tell the bosses they needed more workers or the work just couldn’t get done. After some back-and-forth the bosses agreed to send more workers to help.

This victory was consolidated later that week when the bosses said two workers instead of one would be assigned to load groceries into cars.

Co-worker Trinity Bostic explained what a difference this has made. “It’s just too much work for one person,” she said, explaining it’s a lot safer now. Two people can work together to lift the 40-packs of bottled water. “You can quote me on all of that. It’s the truth and it needs to be told.”

Hazboun said the bosses never let up in looking for ways to boost their profits, and workers need to be ready to answer. “As long as everything from production to distribution remains under the control of the bosses, the constructive capacities of human labor will be twisted to serve profits, not human needs. Fighting for improved job conditions helps increase our confidence and class consciousness.”

Working people are beginning to awaken, to stand up and act against the brutalities and exploitation of the capitalist system. Fighting for jobs, against speedup, and against moves by the bosses to cut our pay and cast aside regard for our safety is the road forward to deepen the unity and fighting capacities of the working class.