Using unions, building solidarity vital to defending working-class interests

By Terry Evans
September 27, 2021
Fighting for safe staffing levels for themselves and patients, nurses picket St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts, Aug. 16. Six-month strike is longest nurses strike in 15 years.
Boston Herald/Chris ChristoFighting for safe staffing levels for themselves and patients, nurses picket St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts, Aug. 16. Six-month strike is longest nurses strike in 15 years.

“Organizing to support unionists on strike to defend their wages and working conditions today is crucial for expanding and strengthening the labor movement,” Dennis Richter, Socialist Workers Party candidate for California governor, told the Militant. “Spread the word about struggles at Warrior Met Coal in Alabama, ExxonMobil in Texas, and Nabisco all across the country! Win solidarity from your union, family, friends and co-workers.”

These union struggles are taking place during a protracted economic and social crisis, as workers look for ways to push back boss attempts to hold down wages, impose multiple wage tiers to divide workers, speed up production and extend the working day. An example was set by members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers union at Frito-Lay in Kansas, who pushed back bosses’ use of “suicide shift schedules” during their recently concluded strike.

Some of these struggles have lasted for months. The strike by hundreds of nurses at St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts, who have been fighting for safer nurse/patient ratios and better pay, became the longest strike in the state’s history Aug. 31. The hospital, part of the large Tenet Healthcare system, is trying to break the union by replacing nurses with strikebreakers.

“Big corporations are just trying to run wild these days. The little man doesn’t matter,” Christopher Edwards, one of the locked-out oil workers at ExxonMobil, told 12NewsNow-TV.

Food catering workers at five United Airline hubs — Denver, Houston, Cleveland, Honolulu and Newark — voted to unionize in 2018. At the end of July, United bosses announced they were shutting down these operations and contracting their jobs out to Gate Gourmet. Two of those kitchens, in Cleveland and Houston, will now be run nonunion.

What’s driving the bosses’ attacks is their dog-eat-dog fight against their competitors for market share. They seek the advantage by increasing productivity and cutting costs at our expense. Pressure on bosses to intensify these attacks is mounting during today’s pandemic-exacerbated crisis of supply lines, production and trade. Tesla CEO Elon Musk emailed all the company’s autoworkers Sept. 8, instructing them to “go super hardcore” to hit production quotas bosses demand, to help the company recoup earlier profit losses.

There are some winners among the bosses today, including the biggest online retailers like Amazon, which has faced organizing efforts while intensifying the pace of labor at its expanding empire of distribution centers. UPS bosses announced their second-quarter profits jumped almost 50% from a year ago, to $3.3 billion.

The pace of hiring plummeted last month, especially in restaurants and hospitality. Plans to reopen long-shuttered businesses are being put off, auto bosses are scaling back production and forecasts about the rapid revival of the capitalist economy are being cast aside. The monthly “Consumer Confidence Index” fell in August to its lowest level since February amid persistent inflation.

For decades, capitalists have been throwing money into speculative binges on the stock exchange and elsewhere, because they don’t see high enough profit margins in production. Net inflow into the stock market hit an all-time high in July. Markets for new species of digital currencies and speculation on just about anything are more lucrative to capitalist high-rollers than making things working people need.

Vaccination in interest of all workers

Organizing, strengthening and using our unions is crucial for fighting for protection against employers’ attacks and to advance the interests of all working people.

“Our unions should organize and run vaccination programs in plants, cities, towns and rural areas everywhere,” Richter said. “And campaign to convince as many as possible why it is in all workers’ interests to get vaccinated, so more of us can get back to work to stand up and fight against the brutal effects of the capitalist crisis.”

The opposite course, using government compulsion, is advanced by President Joseph Biden, who shows nothing but disdain for workers who haven’t yet been vaccinated. His Democratic Party administration has ordered mandatory vaccination programs by the bosses for all federal workers and for workers at private companies with more then 100 employees.

Biden’s move is “a major expansion of employers’ power over their workers,” noted the pro-business journal Barron’s.

Knowing he can’t get a majority to pass the mandate in Congress, Biden is trying to impose it through a temporary emergency regulation enforced by the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The White House calls this unconstitutional move a “workaround.” Some 100 million workers are affected by the ruling.

“Our patience is wearing thin,” Biden complained, pointing his finger at the millions of us Hillary Clinton famously called “deplorables.” He says workers who are unvaccinated are dangerous, and have “cost all of us.”

The well-remunerated editors at the New York Times doubled down on this anti-working-class rancor Sept. 10, saying there is “growing rage at those recalcitrant Americans unwilling to do their small part to end this pestilence. The anger is justified.”

The government vaccination mandate has nothing to do with organizing working people to lead the production, distribution and application of vaccines to minimize deaths from the virus.

“It’s a class question,” Richter said. “We shouldn’t cheer the capitalist government’s ability to ‘mandate’ us to do things — a power it will use against us and our struggles in the future.”

The simple fact is millions of working people don’t trust the capitalist rulers and their government, and for good reason. “That’s why our unions need to mobilize to convince fellow workers we need to get vaccinated,” Richter said.

“As we use our unions to defend ourselves we begin to recognize our self-worth, deepen class consciousness, strengthen our fighting capacities and attract allies,” Richter said. “Workers begin to see that we can be the makers of history, not the objects of policies foisted on us by the Democratic and Republican parties to serve the bosses’ drive for profits.”