Oct 17, 2021
More than 10,000 workers at John Deere walked out October 14. It was the largest walkout since the autoworkers’ strike at GM in 2019. Fourteen plants are involved, half in Iowa; the rest in Illinois, Kansas, Colorado and Georgia.
It follows on a series of strikes that rolled through different industries this fall. Thousands of workers at Frito Lay, then at Nabisco and then at Kellogg’s hit picket lines in states running from Pennsylvania, through Michigan and Ohio, all the way out to Colorado and down to Georgia. Nurses and other medical workers in Buffalo, New York went out on strike; so did building engineers at Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco and carpenters in Washington state. Over 1,000 coal miners in Alabama, along with 1,100 steel workers in Pennsylvania and 2,000 nurses in Massachusetts, have been engaged in long, bitter strikes for more than six months now.
Other workers voted to set strike dates: 24,000 nurses and other medical care workers at a number of Kaiser Permanente facilities in California and Oregon; over 7,000 maintenance workers at those same facilities; over 60,000 production workers who, among other things, build sets for films and TV shows at Hollywood studios.
Maybe it’s a resumption of the push to strike that the pandemic lockdown of 2020 interrupted. In 2019, almost half a million people—auto workers, truck drivers, teachers, and utility company workers—went on strike, with nearly that many during the year before.
Whatever specific problems pushed all these different workers to strike—in 2018/2019, as well as today—they faced common problems. Workers hired in today will never make a decent wage or have the possibility for a real retirement. Not enough people are hired to staff the workplaces. Too much work, too fast a pace of work and too many hours of work crushes the life out of those left on the job. And everywhere—running from a teaching job at a private school to an assembly line in Kansas to a skilled line job at a utility company to the nursing floor to a retail check-out counter—workers speak of facing the same denigrating lack of simple human respect.
The problems we face don’t come from the shitty attitude of a few unreasonable bosses. They come from the irrational way capitalist society is organized. We are all pushed to work too hard—those of us with a job—at the same time there are too many who never get the chance for a job. It’s obvious that if enough nurses were hired, if enough teachers were hired, if enough auto assembly line workers were hired, if enough construction workers were hired, our work lives could be made tolerable. And the vast pool of the permanently unemployed could be put to work.
But no boss is willing to do that. No boss wants to be the only one offering a decent wage. Every boss competes with every other boss to make as much profit as he can—and profit comes from squeezing as much work as possible out of as few workers as possible, paying as little as possible.
These are problems that run all through capitalist society. To answer them requires struggles that run all through this society. It requires struggles that extend as far as possible.
If the problems are bigger than just our own workplace, or our own company or our own industry, doesn’t it make sense that we should make a common fight, face our class enemy together?
But—someone always says—we can’t do that. We can’t all strike at the same time. The way contracts are structured and the way laws are written prohibit that.
But why should we go on respecting laws and contracts that are written to hem us in? Why should we continue to go out, one group of workers at a time, depriving us of the forces we need?
During the pandemic, we heard that workers are “essential.” That’s true. All of us. We are essential, and our numbers make us the biggest force in society. But we have to use those numbers, bring them together, mobilize together for a common fight to solve our common problems.