The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

New Contract, Worn-Out History

Aug 12, 2023

“Teamsters win historic UPS contract.” Those were the words Teamster President Sean O’Brien used, when he announced his union had negotiated a new contract—and without a strike.

Before negotiations started, the union said it would strike if the company didn’t answer three demands. First, wages should catch up with what had been lost to inflation. Second, workers who want full-time jobs should not have to work part-time. Third, there should be no two-tier pay scales.

The new contract fell short, way short. The wage increase doesn’t catch up with what workers lost to inflation in the five years since the last contract. It will not protect against inflation during the next five years. Part-time workers still will be over half the workforce. They still will earn less than 65% of a full-time hourly wage.

So what happened? Was the talk about strike just a bluff?

Those problems are not unique to UPS. They run through the whole capitalist system. Every company, big and little, pays wages that don’t keep up with inflation. That’s how companies make their profits go up faster than the rate of inflation. Almost every big company has lowered its wage bill by bringing in new hires at lower wages—two-tier or part-time or temp or contract workers. It’s another way companies increase profit. And each company increases the speed of work, worsening conditions, trying to dig still more profit from the workers’ hide.

Problems like these are not going to be overcome in one contract, affecting workers at only one company, even as big a company as UPS—or at one industry, even one as important as auto.

This is the heart of the problem. To take on these problems requires a different perspective—a revolutionary perspective, completely different than the one union bureaucrats have fastened on the working class for the better part of a century.

The problems are system wide—the fight against them has to be based on that fact. Simply “reforming” the system—as some union leaders claim they want to do—isn’t enough. Aiming to get a “fair share” for the workers is a pipe dream.

This system isn’t “fair.” It is built on exploitation of the working class, for the great benefit of the capitalist class.

So, if the problems are system wide, what does that mean? What can any group of workers in one workplace—or even one company or one industry do? How does one part of the working class take on the whole system?

For decades, unions have threatened strikes, sometimes called them, but those strikes always stayed within the boundaries of what the system allows. Workers fought company by company, fought at different times, isolated from each other. One part of the working class won’t solve the problem. Workers at one industry can’t overcome the whole system. That’s a fact.

But workers at even one company could start a fight that will. And that’s also a fact! They can be the spearhead of the fight that spreads to other parts of the work force—if their fight, starting in their company, aims to bring in workers from other companies and workers from other industries.

For that to happen, there have to be at least small groups of fighters within a number of companies who understand that the system can’t be reformed. There have to be workers whose goal is revolution—the fight only the working class can carry on. There have to be workers whose goal is a new society that only the working class can build.

So what happens next? UPS workers themselves haven’t finished voting on the contract. Maybe they will vote it down—there seemed to be a lot of complaints about the new contract. But even if workers vote a contract down, nothing will change—not so long as workers wait on a union bureaucrat to negotiate something for them.

The working class holds the future in its own hands. But for that future to be realized there at least have to be small groups of workers in a number of workplaces with a revolutionary perspective. And that’s true, even for workers just to defend themselves within this system today.