by Bill Onasch
A Memorable Event
I’m glad I made the effort to attend, along with about 150 others, the Jerry Tucker: The Person, The Mission, The Legacy conference in St Louis this past weekend. It essentially had two components: tribute and remembrances about one of the most remarkable working class leaders of the postwar period and a far-ranging discussion of the current state and prospects of the labor and other movements to which Jerry had committed his life’s work.
The first worked well. Dozens, including family members and activists in various movements spoke about both the personal and organizational sides of Jerry as they knew him. I had only brief, occasional personal contact with Jerry at Labor Party, US Labor Against the War and Labor Notes events. The St Louis gathering gave me a better appreciation of his multi-dimensional intellect, family life, personal friendships, and passion for baseball as well as his strategic contributions to many struggles. Speakers were supplemented by video presentations and stirring music from our Union Maid, and Jerry’s close friend, Anne Feeney. It was educational and inspirational.
While there was some interesting discussion of various local experiences, my review of the second component is not nearly as enthusiastic. The conference organizers posed the question of whether the mostly dormant Center for Labor Renewal that Jerry had helped initiate could be revived as a broad “left labor force” that could help guide and coordinate coming class, social and democratic battles.
The fragmentation of what passes for the left in this country is regrettable and some of it is based on nuance of difference that could be accommodated in more unification instead of the all too many splits that have been the norm. But the fact is there are deal breakers over principled questions that prevent a meaningful “left labor force” at this time, in my opinion.
For example, a large part of those seeking this unified force share the same support of the Democrats and present White House as the mainstream union bureaucracy. Others drawn to St Louis to honor Jerry Tucker consider this to be an impermissible crossing of a class red line and instead advocate the building of a new working class party along the lines of the now defunct Labor Party project. I recognize there are good people in both camps and I have been proud to work with many of them. There can and should be ad hoc unity around specific issues that all the left can rally around. But a unified labor left doesn’t seem to be in the cards.
One disappointment was the failure to structure any discussion about the issue of climate change. The issue was raised from the floor and clearly there is growing concern.
At the end we left on a positive note with all agreeing we should attend the Labor Notes Conference next April in Chicago.
Time For the Be It Resolved
In segments of the WIR over the past month I’ve offered analysis of the forces that have led to both job loss and a declining working class share of society’s income and wealth. I can’t claim much original thought about these matters; I’m a reviewer and agitator, not a scholarly expert. As it’s time to wind up the “where as” introduction and get down to what can be done I likewise turn to our class continuity embodied in the basic program of the 1996 Labor Party project. It’s usefulness survives the demise of that effort and offers a starting point for a labor party movement revival.
Its very first section declares “First and foremost everyone, both in the private and public sectors, needs a guarantee of a right to a job at a living wage–one that pays above poverty-level wages and is indexed to inflation.” In 1996 ten dollars an hour seemed reasonable. With inflation that would be fifteen dollars today–the amount demanded by workers organizing in fast food and retail.
It proposes a Job Destruction Penalty Act to require employers closing workplaces to pay laid off workers two months of severance for every year of service–and also pay 25,000 dollars per laid off worker to the local community to offset social costs of the shutdown.
To share available work and partially compensate for increased worker productivity due to technology, it calls for a new standard 32 hour, four day work week with no loss in pay or benefits, as well as a minimum of twenty vacation days, and all paid Federal holidays–for all workers. All overtime would be voluntary and compensated at double time rate.
Challenging another sacred management right, “The corporate control of workplace design destroys jobs. Corporations implement technologies and designs that make it profitable to replace full-time workers with an army of temporaries. To fight back we call for the creation of a labor-based, publicly-funded Technology Democratization Commission, which will work to ensure that labor plays an important role shaping the development and implementation of technology.”
The program also calls for national funding instead of local property taxes to give all kids access to the same quality resources K-12 and free college or technical school training for all to prepare them for their working life.
It advocates a single-payer health care system that would provide “Universal entitlement for all residents to comprehensive health care benefits including preventive, curative, rehabilitative and long-term care. There must be freedom to choose one’s own doctors and health professionals, and full information provided to enable all to make informed choices on their medical treatment.”
And, even though the threat of climate change did not seem as urgent seventeen years ago it recognized big changes were inevitable “…the Labor Party calls for the creation of a new worker-oriented environmental movement–a Just Transition Movement–that puts forth a fair and just transition program to protect both jobs and the environment. All workers with jobs endangered by steps taken to protect the environment are to be made whole and to receive full income and benefits as they make the difficult transition to alternative work.”
I think all readers would agree that these are fair, reasonable objectives that are doable in the richest country in history. They are in fact urgently needed. They cannot be completely won through traditional collective bargaining through our unions. Some of these goals have been at least partially accomplished in Europe through mass working class parties. That’s what’s needed in America as well.
As mighty as the bosses and bankers may seem, as loud as the cracked tea pots may whistle, their political Establishment is in disarray and no longer has the confidence of the working class majority. A recent Gallup Poll summary says,
“Amid the government shutdown, 60 percent of Americans say the Democratic and Republicans parties do such a poor job of representing the American people that a third major party is needed. That is the highest Gallup has measured in the 10-year history of this question. A new low of 26 percent believe the two major parties adequately represent Americans.”
We have a recent legacy of program and practice of a labor party effort as a precursor. We have majority sentiment that a new party is needed to serve the interests of the people. What more do we need to start educating, agitating and organizing again for a working class party of our own?
Ft Edward Update
The UE is ramping up the public fightback against General Electric’s closing of the Ft Edward, New York capacitor plant and moving its work to Florida. There will be a plant gate rally this Friday, October 18, 2-4PM, including public officials and community residents as well as union members. The plant is located at 381 Broadway in Ft Edward. If you are in the Hudson Valley your solidarity would be appreciated.
That’s all for this week.