Raise the Stakes – Unify the Strikes!

by Christian Gebhardt

The corona epidemic has the United States in its grip. Daily we hear about a rising number of infected individuals and sadly the number of deaths is also steadily rising. After ignoring the problem, underestimating the problem and calling it a hoax, even Trump has had to acknowledge what the US is heading towards. Not enough respirators, testing, personal protective equipment (PPE) for our healthcare workers shows us the immediate needs for fighting this crisis, but the bigger question is who can solve this crisis and whose interests need to be kept in focus?

It comes to no surprise that Trump, as well as all the others in the political class, came running to help out the economy first. A $2 trillion (!!) emergency package was put together quickly to help the most in need in their eyes: the companies and billionaires. After all, if we don’t have companies to work for, what other purpose could there be for us to live? It is fair to say, that some measurements for the people where interspersed into the package. However, the workers’ interests were, unsurprisingly, not the main focus of the bailout. Given this lack of attention to the needs of the front-line “essential” workers, all around the country, as well as around the world, they are starting to show a recognition of their own interests in an impressive manner. Those interests were morphed together in a trending hashtag #notdyingforwallstreet. And in real life, those interests were shown by an increasing willingness to walk off the job in strikes, either sanctioned by their unions or in unsanctioned “wildcat” actions.

Workers in various sectors of the economy, are starting to spontaneously walk-off their jobs. After several small wildcat-strikes, now bigger mobilizations are coming together. This past Monday 30th of March, the workers of Instacart called for a nationwide strike not only claiming to be provided with protective equipment to do their jobs, but also raising economic demands: higher pay, a change in “tip policy”, as well as the need for a “hazard bonus”. Another very impressive activity took place on the same day in an amazon warehouse in Staten Island. The workers are demanding a total shut-down of the warehouse until it gets sanitized and disinfected after workers being reportedly tested positive for Covid-19. The response from Amazon? Instead of dealing with the demands of the workers that do not want to endanger the health of themselves, their colleagues and families, and potentially their customers, Amazon fired Chris Smalls; the organizer of the strike.

Besides activities to demand safe working environments and safety regulations that actually keep the workers safe, workers of General Electric took their demands up a notch and walked off their work to demand that GE make ventilators. Ventilators that hospitals all around the US and the world need to save lives.

These examples are just a few, describing spontaneous and empowering activities the working class is taking for itself. Instead of continuing to work quietly obeying the bosses, both on the shop floor and in the halls of the legislatures, workers have decided to use their most precious weapon and strike in service of themselves and society at large. Directly confronting their bosses’ obsession with profit above everything and everybody else, workers are laying-off work in order to put pressure on their bosses and the government to deal with their needs and not just with the needs of big businesses and banks.

What way forward?

Building on those highly motivating actions, what could the US working class do to support, defend and enlarge these spontaneous reactions from US workers? As we have written in several articles in regard to the powerful teachers’ strikes, now it is the time to organize our activities not only on a local level, but also organize ourselves on a nationally. As workers in Italy showed us, in a time of massive turmoil and state repression, the working class is able to organize general strikes to fight for their demands and not only on a local level. Such national mobilizations do more than protect us from aggression from our bosses and the authorities, they also help us to build solidarity and support within our class and also within society at large, Especially in a time in which the bourgeoisie and its authorities are playing the “patriotic”- and “we are all in this together”-card, strike actions like this can put pressure on the ruling elite to actually take actions that benefit the rest of us and not just the wealthy and powerful.

As revolutionary socialists, we also call on the existing organizations of the working class and those that claim to work in their interest to support this struggle. The trade unions as well as the structures like the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and Labor Notes should be at the forefront to build up such a movement, to organize debates on a local, regional and national level and to work out an action-program to solve the Covid-19 crisis. This action-program than should be used as a guideline for the struggles in every region of the country and also beyond. As the Covid-19 crisis shows us daily, only an international approach to solve the crisis can be the answer that the world needs.

Lastly, we should not fool ourselves and think that the existing leadership of the trade unions, the DSA, or even Labor Notes will actively engage in building such a movement. Nevertheless, it is their duty and we should demand it from them. If they do not want to lead our organizations in an effective way for everybody, they should be replaced with representatives that will. All of our steps should be guided by the principal: “With them when possible, without them whenever necessary!”

Such a movement based on regional action-committees and solidarity-committees organizing strike action, could be a stable ground to build an even bigger and equally important structure on top of that. A new movement against the imminent economic crisis and recession the US is quickly approaching. The historic rise of claims of unemployment benefits as well as the observed nose-dive of every stock market in the world, speaks loud and clear. The next major crisis is on the horizon and rushing toward us like a runaway freight train and the working class needs a functioning structure to lead the coming battles: a worker’s party in which we, as revolutionary socialists, will fight and argue for a revolutionary way out of this crisis.