The frontlines of the fight to defend jobs, wages and working conditions today are union picket lines of miners at Warrior Met Coal in Alabama, Nabisco bakery workers on strike in five states, nurses at St. Vincent Hospital in Massachusetts and locked-out Texas oil refinery workers at ExxonMobil.
These workers are fighting to win back gains they were pressured to give up in the past and stand up to new attacks from the bosses. They’re setting an example for millions of fellow workers of how we can unite, strengthen our unions and defend ourselves.
“All workers have a stake in the outcome of these labor battles,” Henry Dennison, a railroad switchman, member of SMART-Transportation Division Local 324 and Socialist Workers Party candidate for Seattle mayor, told the Militant. “We need to help get the word out about these fights. They’ll strike a chord with fellow workers and help build solidarity and working-class consciousness.”
Dennison, a former coal miner, was written up in his national union newspaper for organizing union solidarity with the striking miners at Warrior Met. “Workers in many industries face attacks by the bosses,” the paper quoted Dennison. “My co-workers agree we have to stand together and use our unions to strengthen each other.”
Today’s strikes are examples of exactly what is needed in the face of employers stepping up their drive for profits off our backs. Bosses across the country are seeking to boost production, deal blows to competitors and raise profits. They’re out to cut costs through job combinations, speedup and holding down wages. As their rivalries sharpen, attacks on workers will deepen.
They hope that millions thrown out of work over the last year who are looking to get back into the workforce will raise competition among workers and hinder working-class solidarity.
One sign the bosses are moving to tighten their squeeze on workers is a Labor Department report stating that worker productivity grew by 4.3% between January and March, the highest increase in many years. Bosses are putting in more automation and setting higher production quotas to get out more goods with fewer workers. Amazon is notorious for this.
Many bosses are pushing more pay tiers, to play newly hired workers against those with more experience who often do the same job. The bosses want to employ a greater percentage of contract workers to cut wages and weaken our unions.
Unions must lead fight for jobs
Our unions need to lead a fight to get the millions of workers still out of work back on the job. Employers threaten strikers with replacement workers drawn from the ranks of the unemployed, to try to weaken our struggles.
President Joseph Biden claimed Aug. 19 that he is “delivering real results for American workers” by creating more jobs than any other president. The fact is 18 months into the pandemic, 5.7 million fewer workers have jobs than before it began. Biden has no jobs program, relying instead on handing billions to the bosses, who only hire workers when they can turn a profit, and at the lowest wages they can impose.
“Our unions must lead a fight for jobs,” Dennison said. “They should mobilize their members to fight for a federally funded public works program to put millions back to work at union-scale wages to build houses, hospitals, day care centers and other things workers need. We cannot allow a section of our class to be driven out of the workforce, isolated from fellow workers and demoralized.”
“Our unions need to take control of the organization of mass vaccination against COVID and all its variants,” Dennison said. “Every worker needs to be vaccinated. And the unions should fight to force the government to share patents and vaccines with toilers worldwide. These steps are the only way to stop the ravages of the disease. As on all social questions, the unions have to lead.”
Our unions need to fight for a 30-hour workweek at 40 hours pay. Whenever the boss wants to cut back work, our hours must be reduced with no cut in pay to prevent layoffs while protecting our standard of living.
Alongside the effects of widespread unemployment, the bosses’ media claim there is nothing we can do about rising prices. Both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times ran headlines Aug. 18 that told readers “don’t panic about inflation.” Price rises that the Federal Reserve insisted were only “transitory” have continued to grow. Prices at the supermarket and gas pump are at their highest rates in decades.
The crisis of capitalist production and trade today is making all this worse. The price of thermal coal shipped out of Newcastle, Australia, used to generate electricity across Asia, has risen 106% this year. Freight rates for container shipping worldwide rose to their highest level ever in August — signs inflation is likely to continue.
“The capitalist ruling families are unwilling and unable to hold down prices,” Dennison said. “Workers need to fight for cost-of-living clauses in every contract and for retirees, so that when prices rise, our wages go up to match them 100%.”
Fighting for what workers need to protect ourselves from the impact of the crisis requires organizing unions, using union power on the job and building a party that serves the class interests workers share, not those of the capitalists, as the Democratic and Republican parties have always done.
“Workers need to break from the bosses’ parties and build a labor party,” Dennison said. “This is the road to build a fighting working-class party that can take political power out of the hands of the capitalist class, form a workers and farmers government and wield it in the interests of all those who are exploited and oppressed by capital. This is a socialist revolution.”