Shane Clune, Executive Board At-Large and Steward, East Lake Library
As we focus on our local struggles and campaigns, it can be easy to forget what is happening to the labor movement nationwide. After all, when we look at the way things are moving, who wouldn’t want to turn away from the larger fight and focus on what’s in our direct control? Trump is filling the National Labor Relations Board with anti-labor hacks, and the Supreme Court will soon rule on the case of Janus v. AFSCME COUNCIL 31. We can’t change the makeup of a federal labor board, and we can’t change how five Supreme Court Justices feel about workers. But we don’t have to win those fights. We have to win the fights that come after. We will do that the same way we won the fights that came before: through solidarity and building class-consciousness among workers.
Every right that workers have was won illegally. Strikes, walkouts, boycotts, and even unions themselves were once illegal. Striking workers broke the law when they stopped making profit and took to the streets. Nobody who picked up a sign (or a brick) to fight had the legal right to do it. They did it anyway, because they knew that the only way workers get what they need is if the rich get no other choice. They built awareness of the material needs and material conflicts between those who work and those who own. They built solidarity between shops, between industries, and between countries. Once united, workers forced the rich and the powerful to grant them the concessions that we now take for granted.
Solidarity and working-class power will be vital after the Supreme Court rules on Janus. Janus claims that non-union workers shouldn’t have to pay any fees to the union that represents them. Right now, non-members pay a fee for the cost of collective bargaining. After all, everyone benefits from having a contract, and the union represents everyone in negotiations with management. You don’t have to join your union if you don’t like it, but you have to chip in. Janus says that non-members can get something for nothing. Right-to-work, as it’s branded, is the right to freeload, and its job is to choke public employee unions. Neil Gorsuch will side with Janus and cast the fifth vote against unions. It’s a matter of time before right-to-work is federal law. Unions will have less money to operate with, making it harder to deliver good results to members. More people will drop their membership in a death spiral for public unions.
Weak unions can’t protect our rights from capitalists and their toads in government. When Iowa and Wisconsin went right-to-work, AFSCME unions lost collective bar-gaining rights. They have worse benefits, pensions, and wages than they had before, and they have no power to stop state and local governments (i.e. their bosses) from privatiz-ing services. Instead of working for the public good, the wealthy all want us to toil for their profit. The rich and powerful, of both political parties, think of us as nothing more than a re-source to exploit. The only people who can stand for workers are the workers.
So, what is to be done? What we can do is brace for the coming impact, and build our power and visibility through NEOs, MAT Actions, and AFSCME STRONG. But we can’t just defend the status quo, prolonging our death until someone comes along to save us. We must fight for our rights, even if it hurts. Like early strikers, we must build solidarity with the whole working class. Everyone who does work for another person is your brother or sister. The working class must unite, for we are on the same side. The workers who won us our rights had no legal power. They had no land or bread until they took it from the men who were standing on their necks. Fair-share fees didn’t build the rail, coal, or steel strikes. Solidarity did. If we can unite with working people everywhere, our solidarity and shared power can do for us what corporate unionism never could. When the enemy comes to take everything from you, you fight back, for you have nothing to lose but your chains.