Workers need a union in every workplace!

Jobs crisis is biggest threat facing working people today

By Seth Galinsky
September 28, 2020

More workers face rising hardship and uncertainty about the future today as high unemployment persists. The capitalist governments on all levels — federal, state and local — have taken few steps to alleviate, much less reverse, these conditions.

The Socialist Workers Party 2020 campaign urges unions to mobilize working people to wage a fight for a government-funded jobs program to get millions back to work at union-scale wages to build hospitals, schools, day care centers and other things working people urgently require.

Nearly 1.7 million people filed new claims to collect state unemployment or federal “Pandemic Unemployment” benefits the first week of September, slightly higher than the week before. The latest figure is way over the 200,000 weekly applications before the pandemic began. Many workers have not been able to get their benefits approved and millions, including immigrant workers without papers and part-time workers, are not eligible for the programs.

Spirit Aerosystems recently announced that the company would no longer be making ventilators it had started to assemble in April, laying off 1,000 workers. Airline and Amtrak bosses say they will lay off thousands more over the next several months.

New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority is threatening to cut 7,400 jobs and cut commuter service on Metro North and the Long Island Rail Road by up to 50% if it doesn’t get $12 billion in federal aid.

The only bosses increasing profits and hiring more workers are those who have the scale to carry out a massive online and for pickup sales operation like Amazon, Walmart and Target. Amazon says it is hiring 100,000 permanent workers in the U.S. and Canada over the next several months at $15 an hour — and opening 100 fulfillment, delivery and sorting centers this month alone. Many of the jobs will just be part time, which means no benefits. More than 100,000 small businesses have been driven out of business over the last few months.

Amazon is notorious for tracking workers’ every move and using robots to speed up production. Those who fail to meet high quotas are shown the door.

When asked why the on-the-job-injury rate at Amazon, which is nonunion, is more than double the national average for the warehouse industry, Amazon bosses told the press that it was because the company does a better job recording injuries.

It is unclear whether there will be any significant uptick in the capitalist economy soon. What is clear is that there is more trouble for working people on the horizon.

Take subprime auto loans, which charge double-digit interest rates. With the $600 “enhanced” federal unemployment payment ended many lenders are granting temporary deferrals — while the interest payments owed by workers keep piling up — instead of trying to repossess the cars and sell them at auctions. This allows the lender to maintain the fiction that the loans are still good and keep repackaging and selling them as “Asset-Backed Securities.” Until they can’t. And it keeps working people locked into a stranglehold of ever-more onerous debt.

A similar situation exists with credit card debt. In mid-August more than 420,000 renters in Washington state were keeping a roof over their heads primarily by going into debt with exorbitant payday loans or their credit cards.

Meanwhile, the official inflation rate according to the Consumer Price Index is just 1.3% a year. However the Bureau of Labor Statistics admits that prices for food, a much larger proportion of what working people spend each week, are rising at an annual rate of 4.1%, even as millions face lower income due to wage cuts, fewer hours worked or layoffs. All the methods the government uses to track inflation undercount price rises for basic necessities that working people face.

The combination of high unemployment, inflation and lockdowns are exacerbating the social crisis that has festered for years.

Deaths from drug overdoses, already on the rise, increased 42% in May alone. While no current figures exist for suicides nationally, many areas report big spikes. Suicides were up 70% in June in Fresno, California, compared to the year before. Cook County, Illinois, reports a spike of 13%.

SWP campaign presents program

Neither of the capitalist rulers two main candidates for president — Republican incumbent Donald Trump or Democratic challenger Joe Biden — have a program to deal with the sharp economic and social crisis facing workers and farmers.

The SWP candidates — Alyson Kennedy for president and Malcolm Jarrett for vice president — are campaigning for workers to use their unions to fight back. We need a union in every workplace!

Our unions must champion a fight for both a government-funded public works program to put millions to work at union-scale wages and for a shorter workweek with no cut in weekly take-home pay to prevent further layoffs. We also need escalator clauses that raise pay whenever prices go up in all union contracts, as well as for pensions and government programs like unemployment.

“Those demands along with fighting to ensure that everyone who is without a job gets unemployment pay for as long as they are without work, are demands that working people can organize around today,” Kennedy told the Militant  Sept. 15. “Fighting for this will help prevent the bosses from pitting those with jobs against those without, and put us in a better position to stand together.”