In recent weeks, large numbers of workers in the U.S. have gotten vaccinated and government lockdown orders have eased, leading to an increase in job offers and hiring, especially in low-paying jobs in the restaurant and hospitality industries. This has drawn many long-term unemployed workers back into the labor pool, and many workers — more confident with expanded hiring — are looking for higher-paying employment with better working conditions.
Official unemployment figures have barely fallen, dropping from 6.3% in January to 5.9% in June. At the same time, bosses are looking to expand production and profits by intensifying the pace of work and holding down wages, while prices rise.
More than 40 million workers were let go by bosses in the first 10 weeks of the pandemic last year. Many have gone back to work, but over 7 million more workers do not have jobs today than before the pandemic.
The bosses are looking to boost profits and strengthen their position against dog-eat-dog competitors at home and abroad. This means stepped-up attacks on our wages and working conditions. In their fight against workers, bosses have provoked strikes at ATI steel, Volvo Trucks, Warrior Met Coal and the Frito-Lay plant in Topeka, Kansas; and locked out workers at Marathon Petroleum and ExxonMobil refineries.
“Workers and our unions cannot let a layer of the working class stay out of work. This strengthens the bosses’ hands, dividing our class,” Malcolm Jarrett, Socialist Workers Party candidate for Pittsburgh mayor, told the Militant.
“SWP-endorsed candidates say we need to back fellow workers on the picket line today. We need to unify employed and unemployed workers, to fight for a government-funded public works program to put millions back into jobs, at union-scale pay and under workers control, to build the houses, hospitals and other things workers need.
“Our unions need to fight for 30 hours work at 40 hours pay, to share work around and prevent layoffs,” Jarrett said. “And for cost-of-living clauses in all contracts to ensure wages go up to cover all price increases.”
Some employers are complaining they can’t fill vacancies quickly enough. Denny’s now offers anyone filling out an application free pancakes. McDonald’s says if you work for them they might help with your tuition costs. Despite these bribes, the quit rate for restaurant and hotel workers hit the highest level in two decades in May.
“We quit,” eight workers at a Lincoln, Nebraska, Burger King wrote in big letters on the restaurant’s outside sign July 10. Two of the workers told KLKN News they were fed up with dangerous working conditions at the restaurant and a grueling workweek of up to 60 hours. Jobs for a “crew member” there start at $10.97 an hour.
For Burger King workers, like millions at Amazon, Walmart and elsewhere, organizing and building unions is crucial. We can use them to fight to protect ourselves and our class from the rapacious attacks of the bosses that lie ahead.
Goldman Sachs says “productivity per hour” — that is, speedup and exploitation of workers — has nearly doubled across the U.S. capitalist economy, celebrating what they call the pandemic’s “silver lining.”
The Robotic Industries Association gloated over a 64% jump in bosses’ purchase of robots across North America, including to food processors and other manufacturers, as they seek to increase the rate of exploitation of their workers.
The scourge of rising prices
The blight of continuing high unemployment is compounded today by rising prices, especially of necessities for workers and farmers like food and gas. Yearly inflation hit 5.4% in June, while prices for meat, poultry, fish and eggs shot up 2.5% in that month alone.
In some parts of the country workers face soaring rents as landlords look to make a killing. Phoenix is one of a dozen cities where rents have risen over 10% in the past year. Lauren Campos told the Washington Post she got a note from the landlord of her two-bedroom apartment there saying she must fork out an extra $400 a month or get out.
Workers need to find a course forward to take on the profit-driven class of bosses, bankers and landlords.
“The SWP campaign says working people need to break from the Democrats and Republicans — the twin parties of capitalist rule — and chart a course to take political power into their own hands,” Jarrett said. “A workers and farmers government would reorganize society in the interests of the vast majority, not for the profits of the few. It would unleash the mighty potential of workers and farmers to rid humanity of exploitation and oppression once and for all.”