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
Jan 1, 2024
What follows is the editorial that appeared on the front of all SPARK’s workplace newsletters, during the week of December 17, 2023.
In the last two years, the attacks on the working class escalated as the corporations raised prices much faster than wages. Inflation raged, and it brought down the standard of living of every working person and their families. For more than 40 years, working people have seen their lives steadily worsen.
During most of that time, there were few attempts to fight back. But in 2023, that seemed to change, with a marked increase in strikes. The strike by autoworkers was the most significant, but not the only one. In Michigan, workers at Blue Cross and the Detroit casinos also went out. There were strikes by hospital workers in other states; by hotel workers in Los Angeles and Las Vegas; by the ordinary workers who make the film and TV industry run; by Portland teachers; as well as many other smaller strikes. Workers attempted to organize at Amazon and even Starbucks.
This was not yet a strike wave that really shook capitalist society. But it had the potential to become one, and it showed the desire of many workers to resist. The strikes in 2023 could have been the opening to a new period of working class struggles.
Two big industrial unions, the Teamsters at UPS and the UAW at Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis, had contracts that expired in 2023. Those workers are the very heart of the industrial working class, the part of the economy where workers show the power the working class has. Their struggles always have the potential to pull millions of other workers along with them.
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.
The same is true in auto, where most of the work force works for the parts suppliers. They have lower wages and even worse conditions than the UAW workers at Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis. They had their own reasons to join any serious fight carried out at the major companies.
To put it quite plainly, opportunities were lost. After posturing that they would not extend the strike deadline, the Teamster leadership did not even call a strike. Bragging about wage increases—which did not keep up with inflation—they pushed through a contract letting UPS keep the majority of UPS workers in jobs that are only part-time.
The new leadership in the UAW did call a strike, but one that kept workers in handcuffs. It 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, hiding the losses, bragging about pay raises that did not keep up with what workers lost to inflation. The contract did nothing to address the horrible working conditions that auto workers face.
So, in 2023, opportunities were lost. That doesn’t mean workers can’t find a way to make the fight that is needed, and starting in 2024. But to do that, we will have to break out of the straitjacket that the unions—under “new” leadership or old—have put on the workers.
Today every part of the capitalist class bases their profits on high prices and low wages, on speed-up, and on jobs that are part-time and temporary. These are facts of working class life throughout the whole economy.
The problems will not be addressed by one union at one or a few companies. They won’t be addressed by negotiations or by a limited fight.
The strikes in 2023 were limited. But workers who came through them had an experience that can help them gain a working class perspective.
We don’t have to wait until the next contract expires to begin a fight. We can fight when we are ready. And when we do, we will try to bring other workers with us. And we will try to spread our struggle to other parts of the working class.
That’s where the workers’ power resides—in our whole class.