The Spark

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

Trade Union Work, Elections, and the Bigger Picture

Mar 4, 2019

The following is the text of a speech given by Gary Walkowicz at a SPARK public meeting in January 2019.

Last fall, many of you heard me speak for the Working Class Party, the election campaign that myself and others took part in. And going back a few years, you have heard me speak about the fights against concessions that I and other union militants have organized among autoworkers. Tonight, I am going to speak about the bigger picture.

Every Decision Based on Profit

We live in a capitalist society. We can all see that the bosses run things for profit. The auto companies aren’t in the business of making cars and trucks. They are in the business of making money. And the same is true for every company, whether it is mining coal, manufacturing drugs, or operating nursing homes – every decision the bosses make is based on making a profit.

And that means that the basic problems of this society – jobs, wages, racism – these problems cannot be fixed within the confines of the way this society is currently organized, that is, within the confines of capitalism.

In this society, there are never enough meaningful jobs for all those who want to work. No matter whether the government says the unemployment rate is higher or lower, there has never been a time when there have been enough good jobs for everyone. Never. That’s because every company tries to make bigger profits by spending less money, which means hiring as few people as possible. The companies always try to get more work out of fewer people through speed-up and job eliminations. Decisions are made, not based on how many jobs are needed; decisions are made based on how to make bigger profits.

In this society, the wages that people are paid are never enough for everyone to have a decent standard of living. That’s again because every company tries to increase their profits by paying the workers as little as possible. That’s why we have been in a so-called economic recovery for the past 10 years and yet wages have not gone up. And, in fact, when you figure in inflation, wages have gone down.

The capitalists don’t stop with just making all the money they can in their own companies; they also turn to the government and take for themselves the tax money that should be used for education and roads and clean water. That’s why people in Flint are poisoned by the water; that’s why the roads are crumbling; that’s why schools for working class children are overcrowded and deteriorating. In this society, for our children, their education and their hopes for the future are crushed by a system that enriches the 1%, to the detriment of everyone else.

Capitalism – Born Out of Slavery

In this society, a large share of the working class lives in poverty or near poverty.

And the institutional racism and discrimination in this society means that the worst effects of this poverty rest upon black people. There are historical reasons for this.

Much of the first capital accumulation that built this country came from the trading and selling of human beings, most of them from Africa. The first economic development came in the 1600's and slavery was already here. Slavery existed legally for another 250 years. The legal institution of slavery determined the whole of the slaves’ lives – what they would eat, where they would live, what work they would do, whether they would be given an education. Legal slavery existed for a period of time much longer than the time that slavery has been illegal. And you don’t get rid of this institutional racism by just legal changes.

Capitalism was born out of slavery and it shouldn’t be a surprise that racism is deeply ingrained within this society.

All of these things show us that it is not enough to fight against this problem or against that problem of the society. We live in a system that requires racism, requires low wages; requires not enough jobs; requires poverty.

That’s why the working class needs to get rid of this society, run by a class of parasites who exploit the labor of working people; and replace it with a society where all of humanity can benefit. In other words, throw out the old society and replace it with a society organized by working people.

The Working Class Can Build a New Society

I will tell you that the working class can do this. The working class has the power, has the capacity to fight for and build a new society, where none of these ills exist. The working class can lead a revolution.

Revolution? So how can we talk about making a revolution when people today aren’t even fighting for a tiny pay increase?

Today the working class is not nearly ready to make that kind of fight. We have lived through a period of a few decades where the working class has been quiet. The few fights that workers have made have not spread; they have been isolated. A revolution means, not just a fight by some workers, but a fight that spreads everywhere.

You and I and the people in this room can’t change that situation by ourselves. We can’t start a fight or force a fight. That will happen only when enough workers decide to act. But history has shown us that this will happen one day. And history has also shown us that, when it starts, a fight can spread very quickly, and even take us by surprise.

If you have followed what has been happening in France with the “yellow vests,” there were some people who protested when the gasoline tax was raised by a few cents and, within a few weeks, there were protests across much of the country against, not just the tax increase, but against economic injustice.

I look at what happened in 1941 at Ford, where I work. By 1941, autoworkers had already organized unions at the other auto companies. But Henry Ford said it would never happen at his company. A few years earlier, Dearborn Police and Ford Security goons had killed five workers who dared to protest against Ford. But then that day in 1941, tens of thousands of Ford workers walked off the job and surrounded the Rouge Complex, holding hostage Henry Ford’s empire. And within days, Ford surrendered, and the workers won what they wanted.

We see what happened here in Detroit in 1967 when the black population went into the streets and forced the capitalist class to take an enormous step backwards.

When all of these things happened, in 1941, in 1967 and in France today, they seemed to jump off out of nowhere. But that’s not true. They were the result of accumulated suffering and then things finally exploded.

I think it was best said in a poem written by Langston Hughes.

When the working people start to move, things can change very quickly. Things can explode.

That’s why it is important to understand that any fight the workers make must also have the perspective to spread that fight to other workplaces. For the workers to move forward, any fight that is started will have to spread.

It is in fights such as these, where the fight spreads across different companies, different workplaces, across many sections of the working class; it is in fights such as these that the working class can use its real power.

Prepare for the Day Workers Move

Just because nothing is happening today doesn’t mean that things can’t change tomorrow, especially in a time when many people are suffering the effects of living in a society where profits come before human needs.

So for those individuals who want to see something different, I tell you we can prepare for that day. We don’t have to wait.

Most of us work somewhere, big or small, union or non-union. We are active in our workplaces, whether that means collecting money for a co-worker or making fun of a hated boss. It’s those little things that allow us, when the opportunity arises, to organize a fight, at whatever level, so that workers can gain confidence in their own ability to make a fight. If there is no union, we may try to build a union, knowing that the workers need to be organized to stand up to the bosses. If we are in a workplace with a union, we can fight to make that union the strongest that it can be, knowing that the workers standing together have the power to fight the bosses. It is in fights such as these, that the working class will gain the experience that will enable it to change the society and run the society.

We also all know that fighting is not enough. Many of us here today understand that the working class needs its own political party. The interests of the working class and the capitalist class are opposed to each other.

In this country, both major parties – the Republicans and the Democrats – act on behalf of the capitalist class. The working class cannot count on the political parties of our class enemies to express our desires, our needs, our hopes.

The working class needs its own political voice. That’s why I and others helped to get the Working Class Party on the ballot in Michigan. It is only a beginning step because a real working class party will be a mass party across the country, but we have to start building it. With the Working Class Party, we were at least able to say what had to be said; we were able to say that the working class needs its own party, independent of the other classes.

We Need to See the Bigger Picture

It is important to remember this – whether we are fighting in our workplaces and our unions, or whether we are campaigning in an election – it is important to remember that unions and elections are not enough. Even as we fight to defend ourselves and even as we speak out, the capitalists still control the society, and they run it to benefit only themselves. The capitalists impoverish the working class in order to enrich themselves. That reality doesn’t change, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. That’s why we need to see the bigger picture, we need to have a revolutionary perspective.

The working class has the power to throw out the capitalist class. The working class has the power to build a new society where all people will be able to live decent and fulfilling lives.

That’s why I say that, while the revolution may not be here today; today we can see everything that people are going through; today we can see how many people are getting fed up; today we know that revolution can be our future.

We know when it happens, the working class can finally show itself as a class that can build a society in the interests of all humanity.