Organize our way out of this crisis!

BY:Bruce Bostick| February 11, 2022
Organize our way out of this crisis!


Never in my entire life have I seen and heard so many good solid people, unionists, progressives of various stripes, activists, and fighters verbalizing feelings of extreme frustration, inadequacy, and complete powerlessness. Between COVID, complete legislative gridlock, a Supreme Court packed with conservatives, and Trump’s continuing influence over large sections of white people influenced by racism, it seems as though the corporate ruling class has done a tremendous job of blocking any way forward. Wide sections of our people are fighting depression growing out of feelings of hopelessness.

It is damn sure a tough time, one that can beat down positive, hopeful feelings by even the most optimistic.

However, as the great John Lewis liked to say, “It’s darkest just before the dawn! We cannot give up hope!”

In previous periods, progressive government economic programs which put money into workers’ pockets, combined with union organizing campaigns, have turned these situations around, funneling funds to workers and helping the entire economy.

Obstacles to progress are formidable.

We cannot afford to tolerate the negative influence of cynicism! It is self-centered, defeatist, isolating, and literally paralyzing if we allow it to capture us. Not only that, it is politically misdirecting, not allowing us to see the real progressive possibilities in front of us.

While our way forward continues to be blocked in the Senate by two corporate Democrats (Manchin-W.Va., Sinema-Ariz.) who’ve allied themselves, at least for now, with Senate Republicans blocking moves to eliminate the Senate filibuster, the Biden administration’s Build Back Better proposal remains blocked. The reactionary Supreme Court, now with a 6-3 right-wing majority, also stands in the way. The danger of fascism is greater than ever, as the GOP works closely with right-wing racist and fascist elements, who only a year ago attempted an armed fascist coup.

Opportunity and responsibility are in front of us.

While many areas of our economy are doing better, the wealth gap, that gap between working people and the super wealthy, has only grown, with literally all growth in the economy accruing to the nation’s most wealthy. Even here, any movement was at the very top, with the wealthiest 1% gaining more than the top 5%, and the tiny group of top 0.1% gaining more than the rest of the population combined. This vast inequality is the result of structural shifts pushed by the GOP, including the $1.5 trillion in tax relief for corporations passed by Congress in 2017.

Correspondingly, the working class gained nothing at all, their wealth and income remaining completely stagnant during this period of “recovery.” This has been true for the past 40 years. A study published by Carter Price and Kathryn Edwards of the RAND Corporation showed that, between 1975 and 2018, income inequality cost workers $47 trillion. That number went even higher by 2020, as reported in a stark Time headline: “The Top 1% Have Taken $50 Trillion from the Bottom 90%.”

Along with this, Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that another 241,000 workers dropped off union rolls this year, continuing organized labor’s decline. This represents around 10% of the U.S. workforce (6% of all manufacturing workers), or 14 million workers (down from 20 million or 11% in 1983). The decline is worse, down from 35% after World War II.

These numbers are devastating, especially a year into the Biden regime. Make no mistake! Unless reversed, they spell total annihilation of organized labor, a truly massive, unprecedented setback to the entire people’s movement.

Biden fired all of Trump’s anti-union appointees within the Labor Department and brought in pro-union replacements. Biden promised to be “our nation’s most pro-union president,” stating that he plans to “rebuild our nation’s labor movement.” What we haven’t seen, as yet, is any really coordinated organizing drive coming from labor itself.

Historic background and outlook

It has been 87 years since President Franklin D. Roosevelt helped pass the Wagner Act, opening an entire new structure that opened legal doors to workers wanting to join unions. That was a key part of Roosevelt’s historic New Deal reform package designed to ease burdens on working folks hard hit by the Great Depression of the 1930s. Then, as now, organized labor was small, and corporations had enriched themselves at the workers’ expense. The economy was mired in a deep depression where, also similar to the present, almost all wealth was going to the wealthy. It resulted in millions organizing into unions, demanding a wide sweep of progressive reforms, and forming new militant activist movements that improved people’s lives.

In today’s political climate, a multiple union organizing push would overlap with, and strongly influence, other movements, like those against racism, for universal health care, for women’s and LGBTQ rights, and for retiree security.

It is here that union organizing could have its biggest influence. This militancy and strength would isolate divisive or splitting forces, and greatly strengthen progressive forces across the board.

In my personal experience as an activist and officer at the 8,000-worker United Steel Workers Local 1104, we saw what it was like when workers were organized. Besides our local, we had an active left, a strong Communist Party club, and an organized rank-and-file movement. Lorain County, Ohio, had two United Auto Worker (UAW) locals with over 2,000 workers each. A huge unionized shipyard was located there, and public workers in the region joined the steelworkers.

It meant most workers had job security, pensions, and health care, and they weren’t dropping into poverty with any setback. Unions got together for Labor Day and held events with over 40,000 at local parks. When one union had an issue, all of us answered, like when the local blood bank decided to go non-union. We all stood united, boycotted them, and a month later the corporate officials backed off. Every day, workers and our families became stronger and carried ourselves with confidence. In politics, we were educated and informed, and we elected folks who were with us.

All that ended, replaced by insecurity, fear, poverty, and corporate rats feeding working people ignorance, hatred, and fear. Voting numbers reflected this, as areas previously voting overwhelmingly Democratic switched overwhelmingly to the right. This model repeated across the entire area that had been “solid D,” switching up immediately to its exact opposite. Instead of our unions’ unifying presence, we now see corporate racist influence, ignorance, and hopelessness.

The way forward

In today’s labor movement, anyone wanting to help can find a place to fit in. If not in a union, you can join or help build a pro-union coalition and pitch in. Polls are showing workers as more pro-union than at any time since polling on the question began.

We can:

  • pass local union or labor federation resolutions calling for setting up organizations to set up multi-union organizing committees.
  • write articles pushing the urgent need for union organizing.
  • put out an informational flyer on “how to” organize unions.
  • ask labor feds to hold classes on organizing.
  • work with local groups to support unions and union-organizing efforts.

We can and we must organize our way out of this crisis.

Image:  SEIU (Facebook).
The opinions of the author do not necessarily reflect the positions of the CPUSA.





    Bruce Bostick is a retired steelworker and labor activist in Ohio.

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