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Blue Collar Recession — Construction Workers Hit Hardest

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Job losses related to the current recession continue to increase in Massachusetts. The state unemployment rate in April was 8 percent, up from 4.8 percent just a year ago. Over 12,000 Massachusetts jobs were lost in April alone.

The workers facing the heaviest job losses are in the traditional blue collar industries. Between the beginning of 2008 and March of this year, over 60 percent of job losses across New England have been from these workplaces. Suzanne Bump, the state’s secretary of labor and workforce development, recently told the Boston Herald that “This is definitely a blue collar recession. Only 3.5 percent of folks who are unemployed came from business and finance.” The domination of big business and their banks created this mess, and blue collar workers are forced to pay for it.

The building trades have been hit the hardest by the economic meltdown. The national unemployment rate for construction workers is just under 20 percent. Massachusetts, construction jobs are down 13 percent from one year ago, more than twice the rate of decline in any other sector. One out of every five people collecting unemployment in Massachusetts is from the construction industry.

In addition to these staggering job losses, building trades workers fortunate enough to have jobs are under increased pressure to make concessions to the bosses. Capitalists seldom miss an opportunity to squeeze every last drop of profit out of the working class. They will use this recession as an excuse to seek major concessions from the unionized building trades just as they have done with the United Auto Workers and the unions representing Boston Globe employees.

Instead of negotiating away the gains of past struggles, workers in the building trades need to be campaigning for a massive increase in public spending to fund jobs programs. These programs should include building affordable housing, expanding public transportation, clean energy production, as well as other community facilities and infrastructure. Funding for these projects should come from taxes on the rich and by ending the wars and military occupations around the world.

Unionized building trades that have a high number of unemployed members also need to launch organizing drives within the non-union sector. Worker-to-worker organizing at non-union companies can win more jobs and also help to halt corporate greed’s attempt to get working people to “race to the bottom” of low wages and poor conditions.

To make organizing easier, building trades unions should be building rallies to demand passage of the Employees Free Choice Act (EFCA). EFCA would make it easier for workers to join unions. Unions have spent millions on lobbying and backing “pro-labor” politicians, but EFCA appears to be stalled in congress despite a Democratic majority. Unions must mobilize the power of the rank-and-file members in the streets if we want to get EFCA passed.

Sooner or later, organized labor is going to have to accept the fact that the Democrats are a party of big business. Millions of dollars and decades of support for Democratic politicians have gotten unions nowhere. The capitalists have two parties, and workers don’t have one of our own. We need a workers party than can run candidates representing the interests of the workers and youth while fighting in the workplaces and streets for a democratic socialist future and against the dictatorship of big business.

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