A struggle is under way. It is the struggle for the hearts and minds of the US working class. Actually, that struggle has been here all along, but the Covid-19 crisis is bringing it out into the open. While that battle is being played out in conversations at every work place, it can also be seen in social media like Facebook.
“Yes sir. We go to work sick hurt, with disabilities, diseased, fucking cancer, that’s how we support our families and when our bodies are broken and we can’t do this job no more we are tossed to the waste side,” wrote one carpenter. “Just business. So let’s make as much money for as long as we can so our children our loved ones don’t have to. It’s a choice we all have to make and it’s a no brainer for me. I accept my fate and I know the concequences for my action, there are concequences or reward for every action we do.”
When he received some pushback, he responded with bravado. “If your scared stay home. Tired of new generation of bitches. We work or we don’t get paid. Don’t take it personal business is business and more people die in car accidents daily then this virus will kill in a year. So scared bitches stay home.”
Workers in middle
In the middle, is the majority, as expressed by this carpenter: “I am/was a big advocate of still going to work if your healthy. We gotta keep the world from caving in. We need to make money and feed our families. Today we were told to stay home bc there were 2 confirmed cases of Corona at my job. Both good dudes in my local, but different shop. My wife is 18 weeks pregnant, and we have a 4yo and 1yo at home, now that it has hit so close to home, it is an eye opener. I dont want to get my family sick. We are a 1 income family. I got bills and mortgage to pay, and mouths to feed. But now I’m not sure about going back to work. This shit is so fucked up. What are you doing about it brothers and sisters?”
At the other end is the view of this union millwright: “I have seen more goddamn knuckleheaded “get your ass to work”, bootsucking scabby rat fucks on this [Facebook] page with the most insensitive and inhumanly stupid takes than I’ve seen in quite a while.
“You fucking vampires are what makes union weak and shitty today.
Unions are about SOLIDARITY and COMPASSION and COMMUNITY. But some of you don’t get that. Some of you think that book [journeyperson union “book”] you bought or stole is about the money you can pocket to buy your big truck or boat or bike. That is what YOU are about. Not what UNION is about. Unions have a fucking history that you don’t even know. Unions were radical. Unions were about compassion and community health and defense. Unions were LEFTISTS. Yep. Surprise mother fuckers. Those people that worked hard for the rights we enjoy…..they were communists, socialists, and anarchists.
“There were no bootlicking boss companyman pieces of shit then. If they found one they’d beat em with ax handles and boot em outta the union.
“Remember that you rat fuck, next time you tell people to “pay their bills”. You are no union person. Not one bit. You’re a rat with a book. Big deal.
Go pay your bills and good luck. Hope ya make it till fall when the second wave hits…”
When the carpenters were called out for their anti-union attitudes like this brother did, they were silent, and that says a lot. It says a lot because on the surface that struggle for the hearts and minds seems like such an unequal battle. There is a 75 year history to the ideas expressed by that company man who accepts everything that the boss hands down. Central to that history is the role of the union leadership. They have been spreading an infection that is every bit as deadly as the worst virus. It is an infection of ideas and it kills the mind, body and soul:
Union leadership: “We are slaves to the financiers”
“The 21st century UAW knows that the only true path to job security is by producing the best quality product, the safest product and the longest lasting product, at the best price. … Simply put, our highest priority is to join with our employers…. The 21st century UAW views management not as our adversaries or enemies, but as partners… ” Bob King, former president of the UAW speaking to the Detroit Area Chamber of Commerce in 2011.
“We are marketing a strong product.” Douglas McCarron, president, Carpenters Union in an interview with the LA Times 3/10/2002
“We believe that a construction project is only effective when employers and contractors are truly partners.” Northern California Regional Council of Carpenters
“We always want to offer an olive branch and a high road approach to employers of conscience…”, David Rolf, Vice President, SEIU, in explaining why those employers who had signed a union contract were exempted from having to pay a $15/hour minimum wage.
“Yes, we are slaves to the financiers.” Andreas Cluver, former head of the Alameda County Building and Construction Trades Council.
Actions, too, help spread this disease. You have the example of “Chef Jeff” being brought in to a meeting of UFCW stewards to lecture them about how they have to set the example of working hard and fast, or UFCW Local 8 giving “Union Person of the Year” award to Bob Piccinini, chairman and majority stockholder of Save Mart Stores.
These speeches to the Chamber of Commerce and union awards to bosses were a very visible expression of how the union bureaucracy ran the unions on a daily basis. If workers had a problem on a job, the union representatives were just as liable to side with the employer as with the member. When contract time came around, the leadership would sell the cheapest contract they thought they could get away with. Sometimes, as with the New York City carpenters contract of July, 2019, they didn’t even bother worrying about members acceptance; they simply denied the members the right to vote on the contract.
Is it any wonder, then, that the poisonous ideas of the bosses have infected the minds of millions of workers?
It seems like the battle for hearts and minds is so unequal because the workers who see the need to fight, who see the need for solidarity, seem to have only themselves and their co workers to rely upon. But we also have something else: Facts and history. In the past, we used to have fighting unions, and in other countries we had working class political parties, but now we almost have to start all over again.
One place to start is to bring together those fellow workers we know we can rely on – the ones and twos, the threes and fours in our work place. Get them together – practicing social distancing! – to discuss the situation in your work place. Form a team to influence that great majority in the middle.
We need some clear goals – a program. If you are not working on an essential job – whether it be selling groceries or building a new hospital – then the job really should be shut down. Shutting it down after somebody turns up sick is useless since that person has been infectious for two or three weeks before then. Demand that the job be shut down so that workers can receive immediate unemployment benefits.
Unemployment benefits are not enough, so we need to start the fight for full pay while off work. Here’s something you can do: Everybody get in their cars and hold a protest at the nearest major bank or stock exchange or federal office building. Clog up the streets and shut everything down. Or, you can actually march there as long as you keep your six foot distance.
If you are on a job that you-all decide is essential, insist that certain safety precautions be followed. Demand masks and gloves for all workers. In a supermarket, demand that only a limited number of customers be allowed into the store at a time. If the employer won’t agree, then you workers can take matters into your own hands. You, yourselves, can impose those limits. You would also need to institute an orderly line outside so customers aren’t breaking the social distancing.
Those are a few suggestions for how to get started, but there is more, much more. Where workers are organized, they can and should send delegations to those work places where workers aren’t yet organized. They would also need to link up with the community.
And then there’s something else: The workers movement has always been an international movement. Just like with global warming, this pandemic cannot be combated on a national basis. For starters, we need to demand that Trump immediately end all sanctions against the people of Venezuela and Iran. Simple working class solidarity dictates that. This has nothing to do with support for those governments, but the sanctions will lead to the deaths of many, many thousands of people there.
The main point is this: For 75 years, this sickness of the ideas of capitalism have been spread. While a few within the working class have opposed those ideas, a few who have stood up for the best traditions of the working class, on the whole it’s been a one-sided battle for all that time. They – the capitalists and their mouthpieces in the union leadership – have held the working class in a spell. What was required to break the spell was a crisis, something that would totally shake things up. Who ever thought that the crisis would come in this form? Nobody. But it’s here. Time to go on the attack.