Labor Must Fight for a Public Works Program

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Photo by Mat McDermott.

Strikes and job actions throughout Los Angeles and nationally have pointed to an uptick in labor’s actions to regain concessions that have reduced workers’ buying power, benefits, safety on the job, pensions and a decreasing percentage of U.S. labor organized into unions. It is apparent that America faces depression-like conditions with mounting job cuts and the scourge of a “for profit” health care in a pandemic. Conditions in the Los Angeles Harbor Area are no different.

One of the most significant mobilizations was the work stoppage at 29 ports by the International Longshore and Warehouse union over police brutality and its Oakland march in June. Many thousands attended.

With the outbreak of the pandemic and the inability and refusal of the federal government to supply necessary personal protection equipment, nurses’ unions staged militant demonstrations throughout Southern California and nationally. At the same time, workers in scores of factories, meatpacking plants, Amazon, Google and other sites staged walkouts demanding safety on the job.

Ensuing stay-at-home orders to slow the pandemic’s spread and the shutdown of thousands of restaurants and work centers resulted in millions of unemployed unable to pay rent and food. Yet Big Pharma, groceries and Amazon continued to profit.

The brunt of this pandemic has been disproportionately born by working people of color (native peoples were hit especially hard). This has increased polarization in the country with anti-science, anti-vaccine, anti-mask advocates mobilizing to denounce health and safety measures to protect the majority of the population.

Memorial Day weekend saw the brutal killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis that resulted in an uprising of protests against police brutality and racism (removal of Confederate statues, renaming of sports teams, protests by major sporting leagues, etc.). The Washington Post estimated there were 15 to 26 million people participating, making these the largest protest actions in the history of this country.  Despite the ebb and flow of these demonstrations, they have been viciously attacked by the cops in Los Angeles, Minneapolis,  Portland, Ore., Denver, Colo. and now Kenosha, Wis. The cause of the violence has been the police abuse, tear-gassing and beating peaceful protesters, not the demonstrators, as claimed by the Donald Trump administration. Daniel Miskinis, the Kenosha, Wis.  police chief has gone so far as to say the demonstrators brought it on themselves. Groups of right wing gun carrying vigilantes have attacked the peaceful protesters, urged on by the police and the President.

Nearly 30 million workers are now drawing on unemployment programs. At least 4 million workers who are still on the job have had their pay cut, and countless more face lower incomes with their hours slashed. Evictions and foreclosures are rising. Thousands of restaurants and other small businesses have been wiped out altogether.

In the midst of this crisis neither Democrat nor Republican aid packages provide enough relief nor propose any job creation to put people back to work, as the government was forced to do during the depression of the 1930s.

Our unions must take the lead and demand immediate, emergency relief for the working class, farmers, small shop owners and workers.

Workers need a union movement in every workplace, for workers’ control of production and to fend off daily attacks by the bosses. We need to build a powerful working-class movement to fight for a government-funded public works program to create jobs at union pay for all those thrown out of work, building medical centers, day care centers and low-cost housing.

This kind of fighting labor movement would be the basis for workers to organize their own political party, a labor party, to strengthen their struggles and fight to take political power into their own hands.

Neither of the two parties have any solution to the devastation working people confront — homelessness, speedup on the job, dangerous work conditions, police violence, drug addiction, low wages and housing shortages.

Democrats: ‘It’s Trump!’

At their convention, the Democrats promoted one central theme — the problem is Trump. They call on progressives, Republican Never-Trumpers, and democratic socialists to unite to drive him out of the White House. Once in office, Joe Biden promised, his administration will “rebuild our economy.” But he offered no proposals to reverse the ruinous impact of unemployment today and he spoke out against “violence” without naming the police as the instigators.

The Democrats’ anti-Trump theme, glosses over deepening divisions in their ranks. The democratic socialist wing of the Democrats would like to take over the party — something the ruling capitalist families the party serves will prevent. These forces will have to form a party of their own, equally loyal to defending capitalism but with a more radical and socialist “face.”

The Trump campaign has made his management of the capitalist economy a central issue in his reelection campaign, never discussing the pandemic nor police killings. At the Republican convention Trump said he had produced “the most successful economy in the history of our country.” 

Vice President Mike Pence, highlighted another major theme, “Law and order is on the ballot.” They violence bait the nation-wide protests against the cop killings by cops, while knowing that the disruptions are caused by a small group of anarchists, undercover cops and rightists encouraged to attack peaceful protests. This is what has happened at some LA protests when adventurists and opportunists seize control of the marches, in the absence of organized, disciplined actions — a failure of the Black Lives Matter official leaders. This provides an opening for those intent on confrontations. 

Where are our unions that have experienced bosses trying to break our picket lines and strikes? They should be providing leadership — but fail to get involved. Instead they propose voting as the solution.

What is needed is a national convention of thousands of anti-police brutality activists, black, white, Latinx, Asian … to develop demands and strategy to successfully jail the killer cops.

The Republican Party has been changed by Trump’s presidency. He was elected in 2016 not as a Republican, but as an outsider campaigning against the “swamp” in Washington. His term in office has been marked by his politics, not those of traditional Republicanism. 

For the next few months labor mis-leaders, liberal organizations will demand we support Biden and contribute tens of millions of union dues hoping to elect “labor friendly” politicians.

But doesn’t history show us that regardless of which capitalist party is in power, workers heads are on the chopping block? Our standard of living and job safety are attacked, our wages don’t keep up with inflation, medical co-pays increase, Social Security and the U.S. Post office are under the gun, voting rights are gutted, abortion rights are assaulted and they use anti-immigrant racist and sexist sloganeering and scapegoating to divide us. Further, they take us to war around the world to defend the interests of the oil companies and other corporations. They blockade Cuba, whichthat has chosen a socialist economy, or Venezuela, which it won’t submit.

Imagine how much more powerful and successful labor would be if we had our own party, a Labor Party, based on the trade unions that would elect workers to public office putting the weight of millions of unionized and nonunion workers, blacks, Latinx, immigrants and youth into the political arena for our benefit … our party, not theirs.

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