by Alan Jones, Shop Steward, IUOE
A growing number of workers’ organizations are building for a mass workers’ demonstration in Washington, D.C. on October 17 to protest the government’s anti-labor policies, the occupation of Iraq, the attack on civil liberties, and the budget cuts to desperately needed social programs while Wall Street and the super-rich get tax breaks.
The organizers of the Million Worker March (MWM) model their campaign after the Poor People’s March organized by the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King Jr. 36 years ago, to inaugurate a “war on poverty at home.” King declared that the vast arsenal of death unleashed by the Pentagon on the people of Vietnam was in reality a war on working people at home and abroad.
His words echo even more true today, with U.S. imperialism occupying Iraq and the vast majority of working Americans under attack by big business. Today, the urgency to reignite a vast movement of working people to fight for fundamental social change is greater than ever.
Between 1973 and 2000, the average real income of the bottom 90% of the U.S. population declined while the income of the top 1% increased 123%, and of the top 0.01% rose 600% (New York Times, 12/18/03). Social services and funding for schools, libraries, affordable housing, and healthcare have been slashed.
Decent-paying jobs are disappearing through outsourcing and privatization, while new jobs that are created pay half what the lost jobs did. In the U.S. and across the globe, sweatshop conditions and starvation wages are proliferating.
The MWM mission statement declares: “The time has come to mobilize working people for our own agenda. Let us end subservience to the power of the privileged few and their monopoly of the political process in America…Let us forge together a social, economic, and political movement for working people. We are the many .The secretive and corrupt who control our lives are the rapacious few.”
The call for the MWM was initiated by Local 10 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), striking a responsive cord among progressive workers across the country. The National Education Association, representing 2.7 million teachers and educational support staff, voted to endorse the rally at its national convention of 12,000 delegates. The March has also been endorsed by all ILWU locals on the West Coast, the South Carolina AFL-CIO, the National Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, a rapidly growing list of union locals and labor councils across the country, and anti-war and immigrant rights organizations.
This comes against the background of AFSCME and SEIU, the two largest AFL-CIO unions representing three million public and service sector workers, each passing resolutions at their national conventions calling for an immediate end to the occupation of Iraq and to bring all U.S. troops home.
Union Leaders Oppose March
Incredibly, instead of supporting this campaign, the AFL-CIO leadership sent a memo to all affiliated bodies urging them “not to sponsor or devote resources to the demonstration in Washington, D.C., but instead to remain focused on the election…We think it is absolutely crucial that we commit the efforts of our labor movement to removing George W. Bush from office.”
While the AFL-CIO leadership has been largely silent or passive in the face of big business’s war on workers and occupation of Iraq, it has now managed to find the will to campaign against the idea of a Million Worker March!
Their opposition to the MWM is the logical outcome of the “Anybody But Bush” alliance with John Kerry. This alliance is based on the labor movement subordinating itself to the policies and strategy of the big business Democratic Party. Any serious labor mobilization like the MWM will embarrass our “friends” Kerry and the Democrats by raising issues they completely oppose, and must be stopped, according to the logic of lesser-evilism.
But history shows that all the gains we have won – from the 40-hour workweek to the right to vote – were due to the independent mobilization of working people bringing the maximum pressure to bear on big business.
While no resources will be put towards the MWM, the AFL-CIO will spend over $160 million to help Kerry and the Democrats. This money would go much further in advancing the interests of workers if it went to building the MWM and to launch a massive campaign to unionize Wal-Mart, for example.
All of this highlights the need for the union movement to break with the Democratic Party and begin to organize independently to defend our interests through mass protests, industrial actions, and building a new political party to represent the interests of workers.
The ILWU and the unions that are participating in the Million Worker March have endorsed Kerry for the November elections – a serious mistake. But the fact that they are already starting to organize to put pressure on the political establishment with a radical program is an indication of the direction things are headed after the election, when Bush or Kerry will seek to impose an austerity program to make workers pay for the cost of war and the crisis of the capitalist system.
The new administration will most likely not only face a serious defeat in Iraq but also a rising tide of working-class opposition at home. The MWM can play an important role in starting to organize all those who want to fight against the corporate-dominated system, the Wal-Martization of the economy, and against war abroad and at home.
Given the paralysis of most of the official labor movement, a mass demonstration in Washington, followed by conferences at the local level to bring together all those forces that want to fight back on a common platform, would represent a real step forward for the labor and anti-war movements.
What We’re Fighting For:
- Universal single-payer healthcare Jobs for all
- Cancellation of NAFTA & FTAA
- An end to privatization, contracting out, deregulation and the pitting of workers against each other across national boundaries in a mad race to the bottom
- Funding for public education and housing
- Increased taxes on the rich and corporations
- An end to environmental destruction
- Rebuilding our decaying inner cities
- Amnesty for all undocumented workers
- Repeal of the Patriot Act and the anti-union Taft Hartley Act
- Slashing the military budget and recovering trillions of dollars stolen by the corporations that profit from war