By ANDREW POLLACK
With the economic crisis worsening, how can labor fight back? There are some small but significant examples of struggles waged recently, or coming soon, that hold out hope for the kind of wider fightback needed in such a crisis.
* An opposition slate in the Chicago Teachers Union turned out the old guard as members rebelled against their support for anti-teacher, anti-student “reforms” in the city’s system–reforms which its former head, Arne Duncan, is now carrying out on a national level as Obama’s Education Secretary.
* A high-school student walkout in New York stopped the transit authority from taking away their free transit cards.
* The refusal of Bay Area dockworkers on June 20 to handle a Zim Lines ship sailing under the Israeli flag is the first ever action by U.S. workers against the Zionist regime, and breaks open a debate on Palestine largely shut down until now. This is a crucial development against Washington’s hitherto successful pitting of U.S. workers against Arab and Muslim workers.
* On June 10, some 12,000 members of the Minnesota Nurses Association carried out the biggest nursing strike in U.S. history. Their main demand was higher nurse-to-patient ratios. They are scheduled to begin an open-ended strike on July 6.
The nurse-patient ratio demand is exactly the kind of demand–linking the rights of workers on the job, and the need for more such jobs, with the needs of workers receiving their services–that can be emulated by other public workers under attack, such as teachers. And such industry-specific demands must be generalized into a program calling for public works jobs for the entire working class until every worker who wants a job has one, and every worker needing a service gets it.
In the same vein, the AFL-CIO mobilization against Peter Peterson’s “America Speaks” hearings (aimed at gutting Social Security and Medicare) must be repeated and deepened against all such events–including especially those of Obama’s own commission. Such mobilizations can also be opportunities to talk about how to win for the first time in this country a real, comprehensive old-age security system.
* Labor also has an opportunity to mobilize in defense of the sector of the class hardest hit by the crisis. Mainstream Black civil rights leaders have proposed a mobilization on Aug. 28 against right-wing pundit Glenn Beck’s usurpation of the Washington Memorial on the anniversary of the historic 1963 March on Washington. These same leaders are promoting an Oct. 2 national march for jobs and justice in DC–initiated by New York’s SEIU Local 1199 and the national NAACP and endorsed by the AFL-CIO–as a follow up to the Aug. 28 protest.
Said NAACP President Ben Jealous in making the link: “We will be fighting Glenn Beck on Aug. 28 and we will be using that to leverage the second march…. Our people are dying right now, literally, from lack of access to jobs.”
* At the United National Antiwar Conference, to be held in Albany July 23-25, a draft Action Program offers several opportunities for labor to link its concerns with those of antiwar activists. The proposal includes putting antiwar resolutions before city councils and town meetings, and initiating voter referendums, that would link war spending to denial of public services. Projected local protests from Oct. 6 to 16, bi-coastal mass spring mobilizations on April 9, 2011, and a series of national tours of prominent speakers are all projected to link demands for immediate troop withdrawals to increased funding of social programs.
On the question of war, as in the fight to save public sector jobs or Social Security, labor must start not from what’s “feasible” for the system, but what working people need.
One proposal being pushed by a variety of antiwar groups calls for a 25 percent cut in the military budget. Yet this would still leave spending at astronomic Cold War levels, both in absolute terms and as a percent of GDP.
Instead, we say: Not one penny for weapons to kill those resisting imperialist domination! And not one more death, whether of US, Iraqi or Afghan soldiers or civilians!
Rather than specify a dollar amount to be redirected away from the military budget, we demand that the government allocate every last dollar needed to secure a decent standard of living, including for conversion away from a mode of production that is killing the planet. The money must come from those who have profited from this system, bankrupted our economy, and launched wars to protect their profits.
And it’s not just a question of redirecting money; even more so, it’s a question of power. Labor’s ability to fight for itself at home is strengthened to the extent that it can stop its masters’ adventures on behalf of profit abroad–and is weakened to the extent it ignores that duty.
One of the best explanations of this linkage came in a recent column in the newspaper of the United Electrical Workers (UE), focusing on the crimes here and abroad of oil giant BP. Editor Al Hart noted that BP has not only repeatedly caused the deaths of workers in unsafe plants and savaged the environment in the U.S. Its very origins and power depended primarily on military adventures abroad to secure its ability to steal resources and exploit foreign workforces.
The most flagrant abuse of such power was the 1953 U.S.-organized coup ousting Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh, carried out in retaliation for his having nationalized BP (then called the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company) in 1951.
Hart concludes: “Perhaps it is time for us to do what Prime Minister Mossadegh and the Iranian people did in 1951, and declare that BP is unfit to control our resources–and that our oil, our environment, and our government should belong to us.”
That’s the spirit we need to fight the crisis, in the United States, and throughout the world!