As hiring steps up, workers gain new fighting spirit and self-confidence

By Terry Evans
May 24, 2021
Members of United Steelworkers Local 13-243 picket outside ExxonMobil in Beaumont, Texas, after being locked out by bosses May 1 in attack on seniority rights, safety and job security.
12News/KBMTMembers of United Steelworkers Local 13-243 picket outside ExxonMobil in Beaumont, Texas, after being locked out by bosses May 1 in attack on seniority rights, safety and job security.

Hiring is edging up as government coronavirus lockdowns are lifted and growing numbers of vaccinated workers rejoin the workforce. Better conditions are being created for workers to come together on the job to beat back attempts by the bosses to defend their competitive position against rivals at home and abroad and boost profits at the expense of our wages, safety and working conditions. 

More workers are organizing side by side in union struggles. Safety for workers in oil refineries and for nearby communities is at the heart of fights by workers at ExxonMobil in Texas and at a Marathon Petroleum refinery in Minnesota who are picketing against boss lockouts. 

“These attacks by the bosses have stakes for all working people and solidarity is crucial,” Joel Britton, Socialist Workers Party candidate for California State Assembly, told the Militant. “Bosses at both plants are determined to keep production going with scab labor. Working people and our unions need to build the widest possible support for these labor struggles.” 

Workers confront attacks from employers and their governments across North America. This includes steelworkers at ATI, coal miners at Warrior Met in Alabama, nurses in Worcester, Massachusetts, and packinghouse workers at Olymel in Quebec. 

Port workers in Quebec walked out over intolerable and dangerous work schedules, but were ordered back to work by the federal government. Using anti-labor laws, Ottawa ended the strike, claiming the unionists’ fight for safety was disrupting “essential” work, including distribution of medical supplies. But it is the Canadian government itself that is responsible for the crisis in medical care and vaccination there. They admit only 2.68% of Canada’s population has been fully vaccinated as of May 7. 

Bosses, gov’t look to squeeze workers

All of these fights deserve widespread publicity and support.

Even with a spurt in hiring, the unemployment rate in the U.S. actually rose last month to 6.1%, after falling since the beginning of the year. 

Since these figures came out, the bourgeois press has been full of articles with headlines like the Wall Street Journal’s “Millions Are Unemployed. Why Can’t Companies Find Workers?” 

The fact is, workers see that many of the jobs available today — at McDonald’s or Walmart and the like — are low paying. They feel capable of waiting for something that pays more. This makes bosses furious. Their idea is that wages and conditions everywhere should be more like Walmart — and without troublesome unions.

The Chamber of Commerce and some politicians say the problem is unemployment pays too well, especially with pandemic-motivated extra payouts and longer terms. These measures were adopted both by Joseph Biden and Donald Trump. A growing number of state governments are canceling the extra $300-a-week federal payouts. 

Some liberal commentators worry that leaving workers in the lurch without jobs or a handout may make them rebellious. Throwing money at people who “have been left out and are most distrustful” is necessary, New York Times  columnist David Brooks wrote May 6, in order to “reduce the sense of menace and threat” from millions who have “seceded from the cultural, political and social institutions of national life.” Brooks sees handouts as essential to controlling working people he loathes and considers dangerous. 

President Biden has climbed on the bandwagon of those insisting workers take whatever job they’re offered or suffer the consequences. “The law is clear: if you’re receiving unemployment benefits and you’re offered a suitable job, you can’t refuse that job and just keep getting the unemployment benefits,” he said May 10. “No one should be allowed to game the system.” 

Biden used April’s rise in unemployment to claim his trillions-dollar “American Jobs Plan” infrastructure scheme is needed. This is built around bailouts for state governments and spreading largesse to construction and other bosses, in hopes they’ll hire. The plan itself doesn’t actually provide a single job. 

“The Socialist Workers Party says we need to fight for a government-funded public works program to create millions of jobs at union-scale pay building schools, hospitals, day care centers, housing and other things workers need,” Britton said. “The program should be run under workers control, to make sure what is built is done safely.

Government chart shows jump in inflation.
U.S. Labor DepartmentGovernment chart shows jump in inflation.

“Our unions need to fight to cut the workweek with no cut in pay, to share the work available around,” he said. Fighting for these steps would unite employed and unemployed workers in common struggle.” Alongside persistent unemployment, workers face a 4.2% rise in inflation over the past 12 months, the biggest hike since 2008. Gas prices have risen 22% over the past year.  

“Tied to fighting for jobs, our unions need to organize workers to struggle for cost-of-living adjustments in every contract, and in unemployment and retirement benefits,” Britton added. “Every time prices rise so must our wages.”