There are a number of manifestations of the significant growth of the class struggle in the United States, which pose fundamental questions of perspective for the working class.
At Columbia University, 3,000 graduate students are fighting “COVID-19 austerity” and demanding living wages, health benefits and child care. In Worcester, Massachusetts, more than 700 caregivers have been on strike for more than four weeks to speak out against the dangerous understaffing during the coronavirus pandemic. Last week, large sections of industrial workers joined the ongoing strikes, including 1,300 workers at steelmaker ATI in the northeastern United States and 1,100 miners at the Warrior Met coal company in Alabama.
These struggles are part of a growing movement of workers internationally, including a one-day general strike against the cap on wage increases in Belgium, a four-day strike of 2,000 Amazon workers in Germany, a strike of 2,000 coal miners in Bosnia and Herzegovina for unpaid wages, and a planned walkout of primary teachers against the reopening of schools in the face of the rise of the pandemic in France.
This is just a first manifestation of the enormous growth of social antagonisms around the world following the ruling class response to the pandemic. The subordination of public health to the profits of the rich has led to more than 2.8 million deaths worldwide, including more than 560,000 in the United States alone. At the same time, the pandemic was used to orchestrate an unprecedented bailout of the rich, followed by a massive restructuring of class relations to force workers to bear the cost.
Every struggle of the working class directly raises the question of the reactionary role of corporate unions like the AFL-CIO in the United States, which serve to suppress the class struggle and which, when they cannot avoid a strike, isolate it. to beat her. The “unions” intervene not in favor of the workers they falsely claim to represent but in favor of the employers against the workers.
At Columbia University, the United Auto Workers union, which covers graduate students, is working to isolate the strike by New York University (NYU) graduate students, a few miles south, which part of the same local union. Last month, the president of the local union UAW revealed that she planned to end the strike before a strike vote in NYU. The UAW is doing nothing to mobilize autoworkers behind the graduate students and everything to keep them from knowing about the strike.
Meanwhile, the UAW is starving graduate students on the picket line with meager weekly strike pay of $ 275, while it controls a $ 790 million strike fund.
The Massachusetts Caregivers Association (MNA) – the largest statewide organization of the National Nurses United – with 123,000 members, isolates the 700 caregivers in Worcester while paying them no compensation. strike. Instead, the MNA forces them to beg for support: it operates a Venmo account to receive donations from the public to pay for the living expenses of caregivers.
As for workers at ATI and Warrior Met, the USW (Steelworkers) and UMW (Miners) unions use the so-called “unfair labor practice” strike tactic to avoid raising concrete demands. It also allows the union to end the strike as soon as possible on the pretext that management is “negotiating in good faith”.
During the past year, the managers who direct and control the AFL-CIO have played an absolutely essential role in the implementation of the policy of homicide of the ruling elites. Teachers’ unions – the American Federation of Teachers and the National Association of Educators – helped force schools to reopen against overwhelming opposition from teachers and parents. Local teachers’ unions have imposed reopening agreements forcing teachers to vote on a fait accompli like in Chicago and Los Angeles or not allowing them to vote at all, like in Philadelphia and Detroit.
The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and its affiliate, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), have kept meat industry workers at work as more than 50,000 of them became infected and at least 286 died. In the auto industry, the UAW not only keeps workers at work but still forces them to work 50, 60 and even 80 hours a week, while withholding any information on the extent of infections and deaths.
The word “union” evokes the image of an organization which defends workers against attacks by companies or at least of an organization whose fate is in some way linked to its ability and will to defend the standard of living. workers. However, this has nothing to do with the current unions. They operate like yellow unions, controlled by well-heeled civil servants whose incomes are inversely proportional to the fate of the workers.
In every large national AFL-CIO organization, there are literally dozens if not hundreds of bureaucrats at the national and local level who earn more than $ 100,000 a year, many times what the workers who are members of it earn. . The top echelons have incomes that place them in the top 5 percent or even the top one percent of earnings in the United States.
Stuart Appelbaum, chairman of the relatively small RWDSU, which campaigns for union recognition at Amazon, earned $ 344,464 last year; Secretary-Treasurer Jack Wurm won $ 324,022. At the RWDSU national office, 29 people “earned” over $ 100,000 last year and the union spent over $ 6 million on salaries for the national office alone.
Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers received $ 564,236 in total compensation for the fiscal year ended June 2019, according to AFT tax returns. The national office received more than $ 253 million in revenue and spent more than $ 238 million, including $ 43.75 million in wages and zero dollars in strike pay last year. A total of 234 people from the AFT national office earned more than $ 100,000 in the union’s last reporting period and 28 earned more than $ 200,000.
The “Teamsters” (Truck Union) have on their payroll more than 200 officials earning more than 100,000 dollars a year and ten earning more than 200,000 dollars including President James Hoffa (387,000 dollars).
As union dues have steadily declined due to their betrayals, union leaders have come to control strike funds, pension funds and even become owners of company shares in order to expand and to supplement their income. This directly links the financial status of these organizations and the executives who control them to the profitability of American companies and the performance of the stock market. They fear a movement of the working class, in particular because it would threaten their own financial interests.
The union bureaucracy participated in the Wall Street looting operation during the pandemic. According to the latest UAW financial documents, for example, its assets increased by $ 31 million last year; the union has spent tens of thousands of dollars on trips to resorts and casinos for its top officials, hundreds of whom earn more than $ 150,000 a year. In recent years, the UAW has been exposed in court as an organization run by corrupt gangsters who steal workers’ dues and accept bribes from companies in exchange for contracts that undermine wages and terms. employment of workers.
The trade unions appear more and more as a crucial instrument of the politics of the bourgeoisie. The unprecedented intervention of Biden and the Democrats, and even of the right-wing Republican Marco Rubio, in the unionization campaign at Amazon in favor of the RWDSU union reflects the intense fear in ruling circles of the rise of class struggles. Their calculation is that this can be stifled by putting workers under the umbrella of the AFL-CIO and convoluted US labor laws.
Amid a growing trade and military conflict between the United States and its rivals China and Russia, unions are seen as a way to bind the working class to the capitalist state and its preparations for war.
This year marks the fortieth anniversary of the AFL-CIO’s betrayal of PATCO air traffic controllers that President Reagan sacked through willful provocation. On the eve of the attack on them, an agreement was reached with the AFL-CIO that the latter would oppose any broader mobilization of the working class to defend them. This was followed by a whole series of workers’ struggles, which were systematically isolated and defeated with the collaboration of the unions. It was a key turning point in the United States and around the world in the full integration of unions into the management structure of companies.
The extension and unification of the struggles of the working class requires the formation of grassroots committees in factories and other workplaces, totally independent of the pro-capitalist unions. These committees are the form through which workers can advance their demands like emergency measures to stop the coronavirus pandemic, an end to the dangerous reopening of schools and workplaces, and full compensation for workers and workers. small enterprises.
The World Socialist Web Site and the Socialist Equality Parties will do everything in their power to promote and assist the creation of independent workers’ organizations, linking the rise of the class struggle to a perspective and agenda based on a socialist policy. We invite workers interested in creating such committees to contact us today.
(Article first published in English on April 3, 2021)