“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx
Aug 16, 2021
AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, publicly viewed as one of the more militant leaders of the union movement, has died.
Trumka was the son and grandson of coal miners. Trumka himself worked for 7 years as a miner, while he was also going to college to become a lawyer.
Trumka worked enough years in the mines to be eligible to run for union office in the United Mine Workers (UMW). In 1982 Trumka ran for UMW president as a “reform” candidate and beat the incumbent.
Trumka was the UMW president when UMW miners went on strike against Pittston Coal Company in 1989 because the company had eliminated retiree health care benefits. It was a militant fight by the miners and after a 10-month strike the company backed down. Unlike other union leaders then and now, he did not oppose the strike.
Trumka was still UMW president when miners went on strike against Peabody Coal in 1993. When the company threatened to bring scabs across the picket line, Trumka issued his own threat against the company.
Trumka became secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO and then was elected president in 2009. During his early years as president, Trumka emphasized organizing. He also took some stands different than other union leaders, for example, funding labor groups that were representing undocumented immigrant workers.
Later, Trumka’s primary focus became supporting the Democratic Party, especially the presidential election campaigns of Barack Obama and Joe Biden. He told workers that putting the Democrats in office would bring about positive changes for workers—despite all evidence to the contrary!
Trumka was similar to most union leaders in that his perspectives and policies kept workers within the bounds of this capitalist system. While personally militant, he believed that workers have to accept what this capitalist system will give them. He, among many others, fastened an acceptance of capitalism on the working class, while what was needed was to go further, to use the collective power of the working class to get rid of capitalism.
There was a period of time following World War II when the capitalists in this country, flush with profits from exploiting workers from around the entire world, were willing to give U.S. workers a little more—if the workers made a militant fight and demanded it. But those days ended decades ago, and, in fact, these gains made were not for everyone, but for a small section of the working class.
Now, as before, the capitalists are increasing their exploitation of the working class, year after year. The standard of living of the working class has steadily declined for the past 50 years.
The only way forward for the working class today is to disregard the rules set by the capitalists; to use their full power to make a fight to throw out the capitalist system and replace it with a new system of their own, run by and for the working class.