by Gregory A. Butler

Right now the world is being swept by a plague – but coronavirus and COVID 19 are just a symptom for what’s wrong with modern capitalism, especially modern American capitalism.

A few people live very well, despite the fact that they contribute nothing to society – and are so socially unnecessary that they can literally stay home (or hide in their summer homes) with absolutely no impact on material production.

On the other hand, the group that the media have come to openly call THE ESSENTIAL WORKERS literally have to risk death to keep society afloat – a diverse but all socially necessary group; nurses, hospital service workers, sanitation workers, factory workers in various diverse plants (auto workers, garment workers, oil refinery workers, pharmaceutical plant workers, chemical workers, meat packing workers, poultry workers, vegetable canning shed workers, ect.), construction workers, truck drivers, warehouse workers, longshoreman, air freight workers, supermarket clerks, delivery drivers and last and most, farm laborers.

We can clearly see who actually produces and who is parasitic – who is actually ‘essential’ and who is tertiary 

Our society can survive without it’s managerial classes, without it’s bosses, but not without those  who produce it’s value.

Perhaps the class that builds should  be the class that rules?

That’s a quite radical idea – so radical that in many times and places openly saying  that could literally get you executed – but that’s precisely why it’s an idea that needs to be repeated and repeated and repeated until it is made manifest, and those who work actually rule

Unfortunately, this reality has not in any way reflected in our present political climate

Our political spectrum is dominated by two very old parties of the capitalist class – the Democrats, founded in 1828 – once the party of slaveowners, and the Ku Klux Klan, today the party of “liberal” rich people in tech and finance, and urban landlords, and of the professional classes, and of “the Black community” and “the Latino community” and immigrants (but only really representing the business and professional classes off those communities) and the Republicans, founded in 1854 – once the party of abolition of slavery (literally fought a war with the Democrats) but later compromised with the segregationists – the party of high finance, heavy industry, contractors and commercial ranchers, also of small business owners – the party that’s openly White supremacist but also welcomes the small business owners of the Latino and Asian communities 

All politics, from the fascist right to the radical communist left, happens in the framework of those two parties – despite the fact that it is legally possible for all of those forces to found their  own parties, run for office and even to have permanent ballot status depending on state laws. 

The working class – the world’s third largest working class, taking a back seat only to China and India – has no independent political expression – even that most basic form of worker organization the trade union only represents 6% of the workforce. Ninety four percent of American workers have no right that a boss is bound to respect – in every state save Montana a boss can fire a worker on a whim and as long as the boss isn’t openly engaging in racism or sexism it’s perfectly OK. In a country where one’s health insurance depends on employment, losing a job can be a death sentence, one carried out with no appeal or right to counsel 

Thus, in a society with a vast gap between rich and poor, the working class have no tribune, no champion and no spokesperson – and the rich and the upper middle classes have two parties that speak for them, and cater to their whims, prejudices and caprices.

To quote a great man – WHAT IS TO BE DONE?

I have some ideas

I don’t have a crystal ball and I am not the Amazing Kreskin, what I list below are some ideas about how the working class can move forward. Obviously, history will do whatever it wants, but this is a suggestion of what I think needs to be done. Here goes:

First and foremost those of us who subjectively identify as “the far left” – communists, anarchists, socialists, radical liberals, progressives, social democrats, democratic socialists, whatever you identify as – need to finally and irrevocably break with the Democratic Party

To a large degree, the working class and poor already have – especially the working class and poor of the oppressed nationalities, who often live in one party communities, where the Democrats are the only party and elections resemble those in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (except – at least on paper – North Korea has three parties, and we only have two, and their trade unions – on paper – have more representation in their congress than this country’s do on ours)

Consequently, a majority of the working class do not vote – not to mention  those who cannot  vote – from longtime resident immigrants to those with a long ago criminal conviction they’ve long been on parole for. 

So, first and foremost, we need to create a party for the majority – the 80% of America – the working class and the poor – who produce all, who  make up a four fifths majority of the population, but who have no voice that speaks for them

We can use existing parties like the Green Party – which already has ballot status in New York State – or we can federate America’s many socialist, communist and anarchist organizations, or we can build a new party – call it Labor Party, or Workers Party, or Socialist Party but make it a part of the working class, not a party of the rich and the upper middle classes (they already have two parties)

This party would challenge the other two parties – by running candidates, first and foremost in dark red and dark blue districts that are under one party rule by one corporate party uncontested by the other corporate party (districts like the one I live in – like most of my city, NYC, to be honest)

The party would also have another task – jumpstarting the labor movement, the most basic form of working class organization, the labor union, a form that’s almost dead in the United States

Ninety four percent of workers do  not have a union. 

About half of the union membership remaining in this country is concentrated in public employment (the two most heavily unionized jobs in America are public school teacher and police officer, both at 80% union density) – in many states, these workers legally cannot go on strike. 

At the other extreme, in the industries that are at the industrial  core of the economy – the industries where American trade unionism was born in the 19th century – unions have all but disappeared. This is not  because “America is deindustrialized” and these jobs don’t exist, but that these industries have been systematically de unionized and the unions that exist are weak, often corrupt and led by leaders who believe in capitalism as the only way to run a society.

In manufacturing, at the heart of the economy where all profits are ultimately created, we have 14 million factory workers in this country – more industrial workers than any country in the world except for China – but barely 10% of them are union. In America’s largest manufacturing industry, the auto and auto parts industry, there are 1 million workers and barely 150,000 are unionized (in contrast to the auto industry of 1980, with 800,000 workers, 700,000 of whom were union) – in the garment and textile industry, almost all of the 700,000 workers in that industry are non union (all of the  unions in that industry have literally disbanded), and the  same sorry state exists throughout the industrial sector.

In construction, one of the earliest industries to unionize, union membership has declined from 80% of the construction workforce in 1970 to barely 10% today – in cities like New York, where at one time not  long ago almost all construction was union the industry is overwhelmingly non union. Of the 10 million workers in the trades, barely a million are union, and lots of them “put their  cards in their shoes” and have to work non union – many union jobs are “open shop” with union and non union workers working side by side

In agriculture, always a sector with weak unions, only a handful of farm workers work union  and almost  all of the nation’s 2.4 million farm workers work non union

In trucking, once a sector where 450,000 of the nation’s 500,000 truck drivers drove union in 1970, today barely 100,000 of the nation’s 2 million truck drivers work under a union contract – 

In warehousing, once a sector where almost all warehouse workers were union, today 85% of the nation’s 1.2 million warehouse workers are non union

In sea freight transport, most of the nation’s 75,000 longshoremen work under union contract, but almost all of the merchant sailors who operate the cargo ships they unload are non union, as are almost all of the truck drivers who haul the freight away from  the docks

Most of the nation’s 145,000 oil and gas workers and 50,000 coal miners are non union today – and those  are industries that were once almost entirely union. 

The railroads and airlines are among the last bastions of unionism in  the industrial sector – even there we have airlines and railroads that are entirely non union.

Now, some might point out that the service sector has grown much larger than the industrial  workforce – it’s a commonplace for labor researchers to  say that we live in a ‘service economy’

Unfortunately, unions have not organized these sectors as they expand. 

Most of the nation’s 2.4 million  janitors are non union, as are most  of the nation’s 18 million hospital and health care workers, as are most  of the country’s 29 million retail store workers and most of the 13.5 million restaurant workers in this country (in the last case, that sector is 99% non  union)

UNITE-HERE the union with nominal jurisdiction over restaurant workers – and garment and textile workers, for that matter – has basically turned it’s back on the 700,000 apparel and textile workers and the 13.5 million hospitality workers.

The union, born of a series of mergers of dying unions and with a name so cumbersome and long –  (Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Workers – Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union) – that it’s always written as an acronym – is only interested in casino workers these days. They will only organize a restaurant that’s part of a casino and won’t organize a garment shop or textile mill at all. Even in the casino  sector most of the 750,000 workers at the nation’s 1,000 gambling halls are non union (especially at the majority of those properties that are owned by indigenous tribes)

As a whole, of the 160 million workers in this country, barely 12 million are unionized.

They are divided into over 100 unions in two rival federations – the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations and Change 2 Win (the latter the product of a split in the early 2000s) and within those federations the unions are constantly fighting and bickering with each other – it’s common for unions to raid each other for members, even in a country where most workers have no union at all. There is no central authority that leads the struggles of labor

There was a time when union leaders were public figures in this country, as widely known as popular actors and ballplayers

John L. Lewis, leader of the coal miners from 1920 to 1960, was known by Americans far from the coal fields – but who other than the dwindling number of United Mineworkers members knows who Cecil Roberts is?

Cesar Chavez of the United Farmworkers was widely known and is still a hero to millions of Mexican Americans – but Arturo Rodriguez is all but unknown 

The same goes for Jimmy Hoffa of the Teamsters and his far less well known son Jim Hoffa, Red Mike Quill of the Transport Workers and John Samuelson, Walter Reuther of the United Auto Workers and Rory Gamble, Phil Murray of the United Steel Workers and Tom Conway and I could go on. 

That earlier  generation  of union leaders led millions of workers into strikes that caused the powerful  to tremble and the Dow Jones to fall – while the current generation of labor  leaders have  done nothing to  fight  a 50 year long anti labor offensive against American workers.

The reason that earlier generations of labor leaders  struggled and fought was because the American far left – this country’s handful of anarchists, socialists and communists – organized among workers and developed and encouraged rank and file leadership among workers to stand up and fight, and union leaders had no choice but to join in and lead those fights.

That’s what is lacking today – there is no far left among blue collar and service workers, organizing them to fight and struggle, on an industrywide and economy wide basis, to force the capitalists and the politicians to concede to our class of producers what we need, and to fight for power for our class 

The far left such as it is is largely confined to academia and almost entirely within the confines of the Democratic Party, totally divorced from the working class and our burning unmet needs – this is even more jarring in these days of plague and quarantine, where workers are either risking their lives to go to work or sitting home broke, jobless and confined 

This unified working class party I spoke of above needs to go out into the workforce – particularly the manufacturing, construction, trucking, warehouse, sea freight, railroad, airline, mining, oil and gas and agricultural workforce at the industrial core of the economy – and help those workers self organize and rise up in struggle 

Considering the present state of decay of the dying labor movement, and the sorry state of the labor leadership, it might be wise to build a new labor federation in place of the old

It should  be unified, one central national federation, not an alliance of warring union fiefdoms like the present AFL-CIO or Change 2 Win

There absolutely should be different unions for different sectors, but far less than the number of  unions we have today and far more unified and industrial in scope.

I would propose industrial unions for workers in Manufacturing, Food and Agriculture, Trucking and Warehousing,  Construction and Building Service, Railroads, Airlines, Sea Freight, Mining and Energy, Wholesale and Retail, Hotels and Restaurants, Healthcare, Office and Professional, Education, Public Safety and Public Employees – but all working together, not fighting each other over members and dues

These unions would be led by elected leaders, who make the same money the workers do, have term limits and can be recalled from office. They would be oriented towards leading  struggles of workers and would be anti capitalist – they wouldn’t  be in the insurance business, or the trade school business, or the employment agency business, or  the real estate business as the labor movement is today.

If the left doesn’t fight to build these type of unions, we’re going to end up with a workforce that’s almost entirely non union.

If the left doesn’t fight for working class power, we’re going to end with a capitalist class who’s empire is dying leading this country into the ground.

We have to do something


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.