By Dov Winter, U.S. Sympathizer of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency, 23 May 2018, www.thecommunists.net
If there is any place on earth that symbolizes the future of the class struggle without a revolutionary leadership, it is the USA. While some important strikes did take place in the US in the last 5 year, the overall numbers of strikes have been plummeting. According to Bloomberg “The number of major work stoppages involving 1,000 or more strikers dropped to seven last year from 15 in 2016 -- the second lowest in Labor Department data going back to 1947. The total number of workers hitting the picket lines dropped to 25,000 last year, accounting for total of 440,000 idle days.” (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-02-09/major-u-s-labor-strikes-second-lowest-on-record-in-2017 ). This is not a statistic flux. While worldwide working class strikes and struggles are not nearly as sluggish as they are in the US, they are not massive enough to generate solidarity and strikes in the US.
When it comes to class consciousness, workers in the US remain the most backward in the imperialist countries. But this is by no means a uniform process. There have been big labor struggles in the US in recent years. Communication workers in Verizon as well as workers at AT&T went on strike in 2016. But these strikes resulted in defeats and capitulation by the unions’ bureaucracy. In the Verizon strike, the union agree that the workers accept a major cut in their healthcare benefits and accept a freeze of their pension benefits. The union also allows the company to seek more cheap labor overseas. As a result, the non-union wireless division in Verizon grew by 7 percent.
Decline of Number of Strikes
But the news is not all bleak. There have been big strikes in the South, which historically has been a bastion for unions busting and not-unions labor. Notable is the teachers strike in the South that is accompanied by other teachers’ strikes in the US. The unions’ membership has been rising in the public sector. But in the industrial sectors, which are key for production and therefore for powerful strikes, the unions are in decline as they accept major concessions. For example, a major strike by United Auto Workers against Nissan was defeated, and the march in Mississippi against Nissan, led by Bernie Sanders and Danny Glover did not change this. Yet despite this, one cannot ignore the rise of workers’ militancy in the South which is historically a place for brutal racism and not workers solidarity.
The capitalists do not necessarily want to totally bust the unions. They need the unions’ bureaucracy to control working class rebellion. They are happy to choke the unions and reduce their ranks gradually, allowing the bureaucracy to control the workers on behalf of the capitalists. This resulted in significant reduction of the standard of living for the working class that has been declining steadily in the last few decades.
Historically, the unions are really at the lowest point. Just compare the strikers after Second World War that reached 2.7 million in 1952, to the number of strikers in 2009 (the lowest since the end of the war) that was merely 13,000. But there is still the glimmer of hope. In 2015 47,000 workers went on strike, a low number but is better than 13,000. (The Nation, April 15, 2016).
While spikes in strikes numbers can happen, the general trend is down. The results can be seen in Detroit. Detroit was the center for the rise of the United Auto Workers (UAW) in the 1930th, whereby armed workers fought the cops and army as they successfully won the right to unionize the auto workers. Today the situation is starkly different. The union bureaucracy accepted (by not waging mass struggles to stop it) the “right” of workers not to belong to the union. While these workers still have to pay the unions standard membership dues, such lack of solidarity means that non-union workers could become scabs when the union goes on strike.
One of the unions’ reaction to the decline of the unions is the fight for a $15 minimum wage. This is certainly an improvement for the poor non-union workers. But with the terrible decline in the standard of living a $15 an hour is barely enough to pay for the increasing rent (gains for rent control over the years have been chopped), and basic necessities in the big cities such as New York and San Francisco.
Political Class Struggle
On the political front, the news is more encouraging. The capitalists cannot squeeze the working class to a breaking point without a rising anger and a rise in class consciousness. A rising number of workers see through the rottenness of capitalism. About 50% is open to the idea that socialism is the best solution to their exploitation and oppression in the capitalist system. While in Europe 50% support for socialism, or more accurately Social Democracy, is normal, in the US it is a big deal. The reasons for such a change is encouraging. It is taking place partially because Russia is no longer a workers’ state, thus the anti-communist propaganda stopped. But the most important reason is that the workers have begun to see the rottenness and limitation of capitalism as their exploitation and oppression worsen.
This rise in class consciousness is expressed by the rise of militancy of Black workers and the unemployed. Police killing of unarmed black people is on the rise. Most black workers understand that racism in the US is institutional. In fact, Trotsky understanding how important the Black Question is clearly valid today. The reaction of Black people to the police killing prompted the rise of Black Lives Matter that organized many demonstrations against the police in the major cities. Marchers in Chicago occupied City Hall in 2016. Black Lives Matter protesters shut down major bridges in New York City that left the city and the cops paralyzed. As they shut down bridges and the railroad system their main slogan was “Shut it Down”. (We shall come back on the limitation of the leadership for Occupy and Black Lives Matter in another article). The youth and young workers from these protests know that without shutting down the capitalist system they cannot win.
Oppression of Black People and Migrants
All this militancy emerged after the capitalist state rolled back many of the gains from the mass struggles in the 1960th and 1970th. For example, Republicans have changed voting rules to make it more difficult for a black person to vote – such as the requirement to have a picture ID when voting. Many Black people do not have picture IDs. The Black people, who are lucky not to be in the prison system that swelled dramatically in recent years, still face police brutality on a daily basis. For example, after the disaster from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the police shot Black people for being “looters”. Hence, Michael Brown’s desperate last words before he was killed “My hands are up, don’t shoot” have become very widespread in Blacks’ protests.
There are increasing numbers of marches against police brutality as the number of racist incidents and racist killing increase. These protests go hand in hand with increase police brutality. I just like to mention a typical example that was not received enough coverage in the capitalist press. Four people were brutally murdered in a home in Chino Hills, CA in 1983. While all eye-witnesses said that they saw three white attackers, the police ignored the eye-witnesses. They did not even bother to test overalls of the victims’ blood that included hair from the attackers. They threw the overalls away! Instead they arrested a Black man, Cooper, who was later convicted for murder, and he is now in the death row, waiting for his barbaric execution. Governor Jerry Brown, the so called liberal Democrat, refused to allow advanced DNA testing that would have found Cooper not guilty. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated example. There are many such examples, like the case of Mumia Abu Jamal.
The state of undocumented workers who get caught while entering the US is of anything worse than the state of Black people. The state put them in the worse prisons, often run by private companies for profit. There they exist with no rights and are subjected to brutality by the racist guards. The lucky immigrants’ children, who managed to receive a legal status under Obama’s DACA rule, are often separated from their family in Mexico and Latin America if the parents are deported. The undocumented workers, who managed to get into the US, are always running and hiding from ICE (Immigration and Custom Enforcement). They stand from 6 in the mornings at street corners, waiting to be picked up by small employers to do hard work in the building industry or gardening for very little money. But instead, many times, they are arrested by ICE that put them in the worst prisons before sending them back to Mexico and other countries.
Reactionary Trump Administration
With Trump in power, many are worried that the US could become a fascist dictatorship. It is true that some of Trump remarks were sympathetic to pro-fascists’ groups. For example, Trump tweeted his favorite Mussolini quote (http://www.cc.com/video-clips/2jigsm/the-daily-show-with-trevor-noah-donald-trump-s-fascist-week). Trump sympathy to fascists is not a surprise. It is a fact as the Nation writes: “That Trump was looking at a fascist Twitter feed is horrifying enough—though not at all surprising, given that he has previously paraphrased Hitler in a public speech and during the election campaign tweeted out Mussolini quotes.” (https://www.thenation.com/article/trump-is-now-openly-supporting-fascists/ ).
The US has a president who is openly racist and is sympathetic to fascism. This is, of course, extremely dangerous. If the US economy collapses, the rising fascists’ groups could become a mass brown shirts movement. In such a case Trump could become the fascist moment symbolic head. But fascism is the last resort for capitalism. It rises when the system is in a serious economic and political crisis; and when the state cannot stop the militancy of the working class by the standard means of repression. It is the last resort of capitalism that the capitalists generally don’t like because it comes with a very heavy price. The fascists take control away from the capitalist class and its typical politicians as fascism serves capitalism ultimate interests in times of unresolved political and economic crisis. But the US has not reached such a stage. Thus, Trumps’ sympathy for fascism is not allowed to go beyond rhetoric for the time being. That does not mean that it could not change in the future. World capitalism is headed toward another economic crisis. This is combined with increasing climate change that forces thousands to flee from Africa to Europe. The result is a rising racism and increasing membership in fascist groups in Europe. The similar process is taking place in the US.
In the 1990th there was big momentum for a Labor Party in the unions that I was part of. The movement is not dead, and it could revive as the working class tries to stop the bleeding from attacks against it. The contradictions of American capitalism will inevitably revive the drive for a workers’ party as millions of workers are losing whatever little illusions they have in the Democratic Party. The unions’ bureaucracy drive to keep the workers tied to the Democrats is failing. For decades the bureaucracy told the workers that the Democrats are the lesser evil in comparison to the Republicans, and that supporting the Democrats is the only realistic solution. But this rotten logic is not received well within the advanced sector of the working class.
Yet the experience of the 1990th shows that the Labor Party cannot be built solo with meetings organized by the bureaucracy and unions’ militants. A political labor party based on the unions and the oppressed can only be built with massive class struggle and a rising class consciousness. The collapse of the efforts in the 1990th was a negative illustration that meetings alone are not enough. Hopefully a positive illustration of building a Labor Party with a massive class struggle will develop in the coming years. If such developments will take place, the American working class will learn quickly and could go beyond the construction of a reformist party. As the class struggle explodes, it will open the door for the Socialist Revolution. As Trotsky pointed out: when the American workers enter mass struggles they learn fast!
For the RCIT’s analysis and perspectives of the class struggle in North America, we refer readers to our articles and documents which can be accessed at a special section of our website: https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/north-america/
In particular, we would like to draw attention to the pamphlet of Michael Pröbsting: The Meaning, Consequences and Lessons of Trump‘s Victory. On the Lessons of the US Presidential Election Outcome and the Perspectives for the Domestic and International Class Struggle, 24.11.2016, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/meaning-of-trump/