As I drive to union meetings to speak about my campaign for U.S. Senate, the person in the lane next to me is likely in the midst of an hours-long commute because she can’t afford to live in the city where she works. Then, when I get to a meeting of unionized employees at a state mental hospital, I hear how under-staffing led to 355 assaults on their members in one year. And, listening to Boeing engineers, I learn of thousands of jobs lost to outsourcing and moving facilities to cities that offer the biggest tax break.
Add to pressures like these the fact that billionaire-owned politicians are hell-bent to rip away a century of social and economic progress for workers, and life under capitalism looks bleak.
But working folks are not quietly knuckling under. The electrifying strike by West Virginia teachers is being discussed in union meetings across the country. Educators there drew upon the militant labor history of the state’s coal miners, blew right past the resistance of their own union leaders, and walked out until they won what they were after. Teachers in other states with union-busting right-to-work laws are following suit. Strike action is becoming the norm in industries from healthcare to communications.
This tenacity is a hopeful sign, but can that alone resolve the situation for us wage slaves? The difficulties imposed by the profit system are deep, and workers’ issues on their jobs and in their communities are intertwined, even on a global level. The struggle must unite all workers to take on the system. And this means embarking on the road of independent, working-class political action. Otherwise, we are trying to fight with one hand tied behind our backs.
The Democrats? For real?! Labor leaders typically tie their political wagon to the Democratic Party. So how has that turned out?
The Employee Free Choice Act was a modest reform meant to level the playing field when it comes to organizing unions. It came before Congress in 2010, presumably in return for the more than $200 million that unions spent to elect Barack Obama. But the Democrats, even though they had the White House and majorities in both houses of Congress, dropped it like a hot potato.
After the economic crash of 2008, Democratic governors in Washington, California and elsewhere balanced their budgets by going after the wages, healthcare and pensions of public employees.
On the education front, Democrats continue to support charter schools and pro-corporate “reform.” This is an attack on the largest union in the country, the National Education Association, and on the promise of quality public schools for all children.
And how about the Obama administration deporting twice as many immigrants as its Republican predecessor? Or the recent spectacle of Democratic politicians voting for a budget — without a DACA fix — that included more money for the military than the Pentagon was even asking for!
Liberal Democrats promote good things like Medicare for All. But, even with their hearts in the right place, they are providing progressive cover for a party that will always deliver for the corporations and the billionaires, no matter how much pain workers and the poor are suffering.
The power of sticking together. Intrepid strikers, especially teachers, are showing everyone the might of solidarity. Who knew they could take those seemingly invincible Republican governors to the woodshed? Still, capitalism keeps making life miserable for most workers, nearly 90 percent of whom have no union protection.
Already, one of every eight people in the U.S., and one in four children, lives in poverty, thanks in part to the relentless march of automation that has displaced so many workers. Now technological advances are poised to make 300,000 souls in the driving industry superfluous every year, according to Goldman Sachs estimates. And when jobless drivers need the safety net, they will find it in tatters.
It’s time to throw sand into the gears of the whole profit-driven machine. Unfortunately, the right wing has amassed billions in secretive “dark money,” using it to gain the upper hand at the federal and state level. They are passing right-to-work legislation, threatening to gut public services like Medicare and Medicaid to pay for tax giveaways to the rich, and fostering discrimination, bigotry and scapegoating.
This anti-worker juggernaut makes it tougher for ordinary toilers to win some justice. Economic actions like strikes and boycotts are crucial, but alone they are not enough to stop the machine. On the political field, union officials and social movement leaders embrace the Democratic Party. Those of us who go to work every day and create society’s wealth find ourselves in a blind alley, unable to stop the attacks on our standard of living and secure a dignified future.
A party of our own. The only way out of this dark alley is to bring workers together to exercise their power as a class to achieve vital political goals, like protecting our right to organize unions, stopping harassment and discrimination of every sort, and providing healthcare, childcare, jobs, and all the things we need to thrive.
To press for these changes, workers need their own political party. One powered by the sheer numbers and common hopes of union members, unorganized workers, and our allies in every community. In short, an independent labor party. To accomplish this will take a militant and committed rank-and-file shake-up of the current labor bureaucracy which now answers only to the Democratic Party.
For the labor party to make real gains, it means putting forward bold solutions that take on the profit machine. My Senate campaign representing the Freedom Socialist Party provides examples, with a platform that calls for nationalizing the banking and energy industries in order to put workers in charge of key parts of the economy and their own future. It also stands for closure of U.S. military bases around the world and a foreign policy based on workers’ solidarity.
Right now, we are parked on a political freeway controlled by the rich. We need to build our own road, one that will take us to peace, justice, environmental sanity, and a society that meets the needs of all.
Ultimately, this will take upending the whole system. An independent labor party could get us off to a damn good start.
Contact Steve Hoffman and his Senate campaign at VoteSocialism@gmail.com.
Also see: Building solidarity: On the campaign trail with Steve Hoffman