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

Next Year, Workers Can Use Their Power

Dec 11, 2023

In the last two years, the attacks on the working class escalated as the corporations raised prices much faster than wages. This raging inflation brought down the standard of living of every working person and their families. For more than 40 years now, the working class in this country has seen their lives steadily worsen.

For too many years, there has been little resistance from the working class. But in 2023 more workers began to fight back, with a marked increase in strikes. The strike by UAW autoworkers was the most significant, but not the only one. In Michigan, there were also strikes at Blue Cross and the Detroit casinos. Around the country, there were strikes by hospital workers; by hotel workers in Los Angeles and Las Vegas; by SAG-AFTRA, the ordinary workers who make the film and TV industry run; by Portland teachers; as well as many other smaller strikes. There were organizing attempts and fights by workers at Amazon and even Starbucks.

Certainly, there have been bigger strike waves in the past. But the half million workers who went on strike in 2023 were four times as many as in 2022 and eight times as many as in 2021. This could be the opening to a new period of working class struggles.

Nonetheless, the strikes that did happen show that an opportunity was lost. Two big industrial unions, the Teamsters at UPS and the UAW at Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis, had contracts that expired this year. A fight by those workers together had the potential to bring even more workers into a struggle that could really push back the bosses. That did not happen.

A fight by the Teamsters at UPS could have opened the door for a fight by millions of other workers who work in delivery and transportation—workers who also face low wages and also have jobs that are often only temporary or part-time. But after posturing that they would not extend the strike deadline, the Teamster leadership backed down. They pushed UPS workers to accept a contract that had some pay raises, but allowed UPS to continue to leave the majority of the UPS workers with jobs that are only part-time.

The new leadership in the UAW also promised a stronger stand against the auto bosses. The leaders did call a strike, but the strike was limited to a few plants and less than one third of the workers. When the strike was settled, the new UAW leadership acted just like the old UAW leadership, trying to sell the contract to the workers. They called this contract a “record” contract, even though the pay raises did not nearly give workers what they had lost to inflation. And the contract did nothing to address the horrible working conditions that auto workers face.

The way this strike was organized, there was no way for workers to get what they really needed—not unless, that is, they broke out of the straitjacket that the unions under this “new” leadership put on the strike. To fight for raises that keep up with inflation, to fight for decent working conditions, to fight for full-time jobs—all this would take a fight against the capitalist class. Today every part of that class bases their profits on high prices and low wages, on speed-up, and on jobs that are part-time and temporary. In other words, what is needed is the power of the whole working class.

Shawn Fain, the new president of the UAW, may have said that the working class is in this together. But he didn’t call on other workers to join the fight. Actions, not words, count.

Most of the workers in the auto industry today work for the parts suppliers. They work for even lower wages and have worse conditions than the UAW workers at Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis. Those workers had their owns reason to come out and join a fight together. The problems will not be addressed by one union at one or a few companies. Every worker is involved. Spreading the fight is what the working class needs to do.

That is the perspective and the attitude that the working class needs going forward. The strikes this year may have been limited. But workers who came through them have an experience that can help them gain a wider perspective. There is no reason they have to wait until the next contract to begin their next fight.