President Joseph Biden frequently insists he is “the most pro-union president leading the most pro-union administration in American history.” Most top labor officials are missing no opportunity to urge unionists to vote more Democrats into office in November, so Biden can get more “pro-union” and “progressive legislation” through Congress.
Unable to even get all Democrats to vote for his agenda, Biden is turning to federal regulations, White House executive orders, and, where he can, sympathetic judges to push through Democrats’ policies. What Biden calls “pro-labor” legislation are measures that tie workers and our unions to the capitalist state, undercutting the power of workers and farmers to organize independently in our millions to fight for our own class interests.
Instead of mounting a popular fight to defend up to 3 million workers and retirees whose pensions are now insolvent, union officials turned to Biden. He snuck a pension “fix” into the 2021 COVID relief bill. In a July 6 speech to union members in Cleveland, Biden claimed he had ensured the pensions would keep coming. Actually, the bill allows pension fund managers to increase investments in riskier stocks.
This makes workers’ pensions even more dependent on the whims of capitalist investors, whose only interests are their own private profit. During the first six months of 2022, the stock market fell more than 20%. Further declines put pensions at risk.
Basing workers’ retirement on Wall Street gains and corporate profits is a disaster for working people. It illustrates the perils of tying the destiny of workers and our families to the capitalist rulers and their parties.
None of what the Biden administration advances has to do with organizing workers to fight for what we need. Our unions need to lead a social movement to win government-guaranteed retirement for the working class as a whole, not fringe benefits for a relative few that depend on employers’ profitability. The pension disaster is just one part of the broader carnage workers face today as the capitalist rulers move to push the deepening crisis of their system onto our backs, including all responsibility for care for children, the elderly and the sick.
Biden appointee Jennifer Abruzzo, general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board, told the press this month she is using the courts to pursue employer violations of labor regulations more aggressively than her Republican predecessor. Workers, she claimed, should know “their government is working for them.”
Both Democrats and Republicans, and the government bureaucrats they appoint, serve the bosses at workers’ expense. Politics isn’t a clash between liberals and conservatives, as the media says. All political questions are at root class questions and it’s not “our” government, as Abruzzo claims, it’s theirs.
“Democrats and Republicans are being torn asunder as the crisis of their capitalist masters deepens. The socialist left is pushing to take over the Democrats, and Trump and his supporters the Republican Party,” Alyson Kennedy, Socialist Workers Party candidate for governor of Texas, told the Militant. “Biden’s popularity has plummeted to just over 30%, as working people see the Democrats’ ‘woke’ politics as contrary to their working-class values and needs.
“Democrats and Republicans alike despise working people, who they view as ‘deplorables,’ as Hillary Clinton famously put it,” Kennedy said. “And increasingly they fear the working class and its potential power.” Support for our unions is growing today — to the highest level in decades.
For years union officials have relied on getting “friends of labor” among capitalist politicians elected to office. This course has gone hand-in-hand with deepening collaboration with the employers on the job, based on the idea that our wages and working conditions are dependent on bosses making profits, not what workers and our unions are strong enough to fight for.
Class struggle vs. class collaboration
After the U.S. rulers emerged as top dog at the end of the second imperialist world war, they reaped two decades of capitalist expansion at the expense of their rivals. Union officials retreated from organizing the kind of mass battles and social movements that built the industrial unions in the 1930s. Workers made some modest gains in real wages without having to wage sharp battles, and our unions got weaker.
When profit rates began to fall and the capitalist economy contracted beginning in the 1970s, unions were unprepared for the assaults unleashed by the employers. These accelerated again after the 2008 financial crash and under the added pressures of the shutdowns imposed by bosses and the government in response to the COVID pandemic.
The real needs of the working class — wages high enough to match inflation, now at 9.1%; federally funded retirement and health care, and above all jobs — will only be secured by mobilizing union ranks to fight the bosses and organizing independently of their twin Democratic and Republican parties.
Confronted by the staunch anti-union owners of Amazon and other bosses, the opposite course has been pursued by some union leaders and Democrats. Rather than building a powerful national effort to organize Amazon, they campaigned to get the Newark, New Jersey, government to prevent the internet sales giant from setting up a hub there that would have created 1,000 much-needed new jobs. City officials conceded to the left, canceling the project July 7.
Changing the wretched conditions that workers face at Amazon, and countless other workplaces, can and will only be organized by workers inside the plants and broader solidarity, not by preventing bosses from hiring. Over the past 18 months, more union members have used unions to stand up to the bosses, mounting strikes that have won some gains and set an example.
“Just as workers need our own unions on the job to fight for better wages and conditions, we also need our own political party, a labor party,” Kennedy said, “to fight for the social needs of the entire working class, and all those oppressed and exploited by capital. Such a party can mobilize working people to contend against capitalist exploitation, oppression and wars. It can lead a fight to take political power out of their hands and establish a workers and farmers government.”