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
Apr 3, 2023
What follows is the editorial that appeared on the front of all SPARK’s workplace newsletters during the week of March 27, 2023.
Last week, support workers in the Los Angeles unified school system went out on a limited three-day strike, drawing attention to their abominable situation. They have been working for three years without a new contract, that is, without a wage increase during this period of god-awful inflation. There are 30,000 of them: school bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians, teacher aides, parent liaisons, gardeners. They are “essential"—so the politicians call them. But the politicians pay them so little money that many fall below the government’s official poverty level.
The 25,000 teachers in the L.A. system honored the picket lines and didn’t go in. And even if the closing of schools created problems for many parents, most of them expressed support. Most have the same reality. They work for their living.
No matter what job we have, we share many of the same problems: wages that don’t keep up, medical coverage which is pared down even for those jobs where it still exists, working conditions made impossible by the employers’ push to extort more work out of fewer people.
This is true not only in the school system of L.A.; it’s true in every part of the country, in every kind of job. In one way or another, we are all disregarded and disrespected by the capitalist class who believe they own this country, and by its politicians who run it for them.
There are other strikes going on today: musicians at Carnegie Hall in New York City; roofers in Portland, Oregon; cement workers in Hannibal, Missouri; city workers in Bakersfield, California; university graduate workers in Philadelphia; coffee shop and fast-food counter workers in many places. These are small strikes, a few hundred, at most a few thousand, sometimes only a few dozen strikers. But there can be many more. Workers all over are fed up.
When we fight, we should not fight alone. Striking at one workplace against one employer isolates us, gives all the advantage to the other side.
Not only should we honor each other’s picket lines. We should join them. Strikes can start at one employer, but they can become social movements, engaging large numbers of workers all at once, regardless of the contract.
When we are on strike, why can’t we go to other workplaces, asking other workers to join us? Why can’t we strike together? Why can’t we go out in the streets together, demonstrate together, make our numbers count?
The politicians, the courts, even most of today’s union leaders will tell us, "You can’t do that. It’s against the law."
Well, of course, it’s “against the law"! The law was written to serve the capitalist class. Even when it recognizes the right of unions to collect dues from its members, it doesn’t recognize the right of union members to spread their fights. Even when it recognizes the right of workers to strike, it does so only under very limited conditions.
Contracts at the beginning were only for six months, and workers struck to solve problems during the contract term. But restrictions were added, and the time between contracts increased to a year, then two years, then three, then four or even five. Caterpillar just signed a contract for six years.
Today, almost all strikes during a contract term are “against the law.”
When the unions were formed in the 1930s, unions themselves were “against the law.” If our grandparents and great-grandparents (even great- great-grandparents) had respected “the law,” they never could have formed their unions.
The “law” today says we cannot bring our strikes together. If we accept it, then we will continue to have wages that don’t keep up, working conditions that put us in an early grave, and disrespect from a capitalist class that spits on us.
The “law” is nothing but a set of handcuffs aimed at shackling our spirit. But when we bring our forces together, what is this “law” worth? Only the piece of paper it is written on.
Pieces of paper are torn up all the time.