For over a year, since the onset of the coronavirus epidemic and ensuing government lockdowns, U.S. bosses have thrown millions out of work to defend their profits. Neither Democratic nor Republican administrations have done anything to reverse this. The only way forward for workers and our unions is to organize to defend our jobs, wages and working conditions and to wage a class battle for every worker to have a job.
Everywhere workers resist the attacks of the bosses and their government, they win broad support. Striking ATI steelworkers, Marathon oil refinery workers in Minnesota, Warrior Met Coal miners in Alabama, nurses in Worcester, Massachusetts, and others have gotten solidarity from working people whenever the word gets out about their fights.
“No workers should be left to fight the bosses on their own,” Joanne Kuniansky, Socialist Workers Party candidate for New Jersey governor, tells fellow workers as she campaigns around the state. “Workers and our unions need to champion these struggles, spread the word about them and expand the support they get. We can make a difference!”
New jobless claims rose for the second straight week April 8, hitting 744,000. The total number of people depending on state or federal unemployment benefits is 18.2 million.
The number of workers on long-term unemployment is rising. Some 43% of all unemployed workers today have been out of work for over six months, close to an all-time record. Nearly a quarter have been out of work for more than a year. Workers isolated at home without a job can get demoralized and lose their sense of being part of the working class.
The jobs crisis has hit especially hard on women workers, accounting for 55% of U.S. job losses. Millions more women face reduced work hours.
Under capitalism, women bear the most responsibility for caring for children, as well as the elderly. This is greatly exacerbated by the widespread closings of schools and child care centers.
Millions of workers and their families don’t need these statistics to know the crisis they face.
Disruptions in “just in time” supply lines, which profit-hungry bosses use, led General Motors to announce temporary shutdowns and extended existing ones April 8, affecting 10,000 workers. Other auto bosses have done likewise.
McDonald’s bosses announced plans to close hundreds of outlets in Walmart stores April 8. Last year bosses at Dunkin’ Donuts said they were shutting 450 locations by the end of the year. Starbucks said 400 outlets would go by the end of 2021.
‘Cut workweek with no cut in pay’
“Workers and our unions need to fight for a shorter workweek with no cut in pay, to share the available work around,” Kuniansky said. “Our unions need to lead a fight for a federally funded public works program at union-scale pay to put millions back to work building the hospitals, schools, housing and other things working people need.
“All President Joseph Biden and the government discuss is more money for the employers and government bodies, and a little more welfare-like handouts to workers,” she said. “We need jobs, to be shoulder to shoulder with our co-workers and able to fight together.”
As vaccinations spread and government lockdowns are cut back, there has been an uptick in hiring. This is good for the working class. All workers should fight through the red tape and delays to get vaccinated.
In sharp contrast to the devastating impact of the capitalist crisis on working people, the number of newly minted billionaires swelled by 30% last year, Forbes magazine says in its annual survey. And their list doesn’t even count the dominant ruling class families, who conceal their wealth in foundations and trusts, like the Rockefellers. Number one on their 2021 list is Amazon owner Jeff Bezos, who just fought off efforts by workers at the company’s Bessemer, Alabama, warehouse to unionize.
As working people organize to defend ourselves from the assaults of Bezos and his class, we also face the growing impact of inflation, driving down the value of our wages. The government’s official Consumer Price Index — at 2.6% today — masks the reality workers face: steep increases in the cost of food and fuel.
Bouts of inflation are endemic to the cycles of capitalist exploitation. “To protect our wages, workers and our unions need to fight for cost-of-living escalator clauses in every contract to raise wages, retirement pay and Social Security every time prices go up,” Kuniansky said.
As they see signs of revival in their capitalist economy, bosses are looking for ways to intensify the exploitation of working people.
The “long drought in worker productivity” can now be ended, Sarah Chaney Cambon argues in the April 4 Wall Street Journal, “thanks to pandemic-induced technological adoption.” What she means by that mouthful is eliminating “brick and mortar stores” and their workers by expanding e-commerce and reducing hands-on medical care to a minimum. If doctors and nurses work by video conference, she says, they can “move quickly between patient calls.” All steps in that direction are aimed at increasing the bosses’ share of the wealth that workers’ labor creates.
“To strengthen our struggles against bosses’ attacks today and against those they will inflict tomorrow, workers need to build our own party, a labor party,” Kuniansky said. “It would act in the interests of all the exploited and oppressed and organize to lead millions to take political power into our own hands.”