For a Fighting Workers Party!

Bureaucrats, Democrats Knife L.A. Transit Workers

Victory to UFCW Supermarket Strike!

Letter Appended

Reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 814, 21 November 2003.

LOS ANGELES, November 18—Only ten days after his membership voted by a resounding 93 percent to reject the L.A. transit bosses’ insulting “last, best, final” offer, Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1277 president Neil Silver yesterday instructed 2,000 striking mechanics and maintenance workers to dismantle their picket lines and go back to work. Standing with Silver as he announced this betrayal on TV was Democratic county supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, head of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) board, and Democratic city councilman Antonio Villaraigosa (as well as L.A. mayor Jim Hahn), key architects of the sellout deal. After five bitter weeks on the picket lines, ATU members are being told to go back to work before they have even had a chance to vote on the MTA’s rotten new contract and with the central issue of the strike—the future of their union health benefits—left in the hands of a pro-company “mediation” committee.

As ATU members meet tomorrow morning for a ratification vote, they should throw this sellout back in the faces of the ATU misleaders and their Democratic Party patrons and demand a mass meeting of all transit unions to hammer out a strategy to continue, extend and win the strike. The bus and train drivers in the United Transportation Union (UTU) and clerks and custodians in the Transportation Communications International Union (TCU) are now left hanging high and dry, ordered back to work without a contract. As we wrote at the start of the current strikes (“L.A. Strike City,” WV No. 812, 24 October):

“No one should go back to work until everyone has a contract! All UTU drivers, Teamster transit workers and TCU members should be out on the picket lines alongside the ATU. All the regional buses and Metrolink rail lines which bring in the suburban business commuters should be shut down. What’s needed is a single industrial transit union from Santa Monica to Foothill, San Fernando Valley to Long Beach.”

But instead of fighting, Silver had earlier proposed to take down the picket lines and commit the workers to “binding arbitration” (a scheme rejected by the MTA), following the lead of Villaraigosa and fellow Democrat Martin Ludlow. Silver also trumpeted a court decision allowing Villaraigosa, Ludlow, Hahn and another Democrat to participate in the negotiations. Showing mistaken illusions in the Democrats as “friends of labor,” many workers applauded this announcement. In fact, Villaraigosa and Ludlow are members of the MTA board, i.e., on the bosses’ side of the strike. The Democratic Party is a capitalist party, no less an enemy of working people than the Republican Party.

The central lesson workers must understand to win this and future class battles is the need for a policy of class struggle based on unconditional independence from the bosses’ state and political parties. This is critical not least for the fate of the 70,000 members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) who have been pitted in battle for five weeks against three giant supermarket chains—Albertsons, Ralphs (owned by Kroger) and Vons (owned by Safeway). UFCW leaders have turned strike support rallies into platforms for Democratic Party politicians feigning sympathy for the supermarket workers only in order to stab them in the back.

On November 10, 4,000 UFCW strikers and other trade unionists, including longshoremen, Teamsters and teachers, joined in a spirited strike support rally in San Pedro. Instead of simply turning out for rallies, the Teamsters union should instruct all its members to stop deliveries to the markets and to shut down the distribution centers operated by UFCW and Teamster members, which is the key to victory. With thousands of UFCW members already on strike in Kentucky, West Virginia and Ohio and thousands more working without a contract in Arizona and Indiana, the supermarket strike should be extended within California and against the struck supermarket chains nationally.

Writing at the advent of the modern labor movement more than 150 years ago, Karl Marx said in Wage Labour and Capital (1849): “The interests of capital and the interests of wage labour are diametrically opposed to each other.” The labor bureaucrats, from the national AFL-CIO tops on down, reject this elementary understanding. Wedded to the capitalist system, the labor tops are driven to increasingly subordinate the unions to the capitalist state—whether through binding arbitration, support to the bosses’ parties or acquiescence to direct government intervention. Their entire strategy rests on a program of class collaboration, a purely electoral and legalistic strategy of lobbying for pro-labor legislation and voting Democrat.

The bureaucrats’ reliance on “binding arbitration” or government “mediation” is premised on the lie that the capitalist state is a neutral arbiter rather than an apparatus of repression aimed at defending the power and profits of the exploiting class against the working class and oppressed minorities. Strikes are won or lost on the picket lines. When picket lines are taken down, the union throws away its main weapon, the ability to withhold labor. Echoed by Yaroslavsky, the L.A. bourgeoisie’s mouthpiece, the Los Angeles Times (18 November), now demands that this sellout lay the basis for effectively stripping transit workers of the right to strike ever again, insisting: “Now the trick is to extend the arbitration deal to head off future strikes.”

The only road to victory lies in mobilizing labor’s power independently of and in opposition to the Democratic and Republican parties. The working people need a party that fights for their class interests, a workers party committed to overturning this whole system of capitalist exploitation and racist oppression.

Full Citizenship Rights for All Immigrants!

A labor victory in historically anti-union L.A. would inspire workers around the country. A defeat would embolden the forces of anti-immigrant racism and anti-union reaction everywhere.

This was made clear when six skinheads screaming “Heil Hitler!” and racist slurs against blacks and Latinos attacked a UFCW picket line with baseball bats outside an Albertsons supermarket in Laguna Niguel, Orange County on November 9. One picket, Michael Gallagher, was left bleeding and suffering a concussion. If a security guard had not shot a gun into the air, Gallagher and other picketers might have been killed. It is an indictment of the policies of the labor misleadership that the only thing standing between these workers and a deadly fascist assault was a security guard, a hired thug for the company whose job is to protect the bosses’ property and attack strikers. The unions should have immediately mobilized thousands of workers to the Laguna Niguel picket line. If there is to be no more workers’ blood on the pavement, it is urgently necessary to organize picket defense guards, drawing in all of Southern California labor and the minorities and immigrants who bear the brunt of fascist terror.

This ominous attack on a picket line underscores the commonality of interests of the multiracial labor movement and the black, Latino and immigrant minorities. Orange County has been a hotbed of fascist threats and terror against black people and Latinos for years. Earlier that week, the Nazi punks had tried to run over pickets at Laguna Niguel with a truck and shouted “White power!” at the workers. Yet the UFCW tops have done nothing. In the face of similar fascist provocations over the years from San Francisco to Atlanta to Washington, D.C. and New York, the Spartacist League and its affiliated legal and social defense organization, the Partisan Defense Committee, have initiated mass labor/black mobilizations—drawing on the social power of the trade unions—to stop the KKK/Nazis.

This is what a fighting labor movement led by a class-struggle workers party would do, championing the cause of all the oppressed, combatting every manifestation of anti-black racism and demanding full citizenship rights for all immigrants. The recent roundups of undocumented immigrant workers at the giant non-union Wal-Mart chain underscored that the defense of immigrant rights is also critical to revitalizing the labor movement through organizing the unorganized.

The labor movement must oppose the “national unity” barrage pushed by the bosses and echoed by their labor lieutenants, which is used to justify the imperialist rape and occupation of Iraq abroad and a domestic “war on terror” that is in fact a war against immigrants, black people and all of labor. The same ruling class that is slaughtering Iraqis is also bent on destroying the hard-won gains of working people and minorities in America.

For Class Unity in Struggle!

Another leftist group besides the Spartacist League and Spartacus Youth Club that has been active in supporting the transit and supermarket strikes is the Progressive Labor Party (PLP), which publishes Challenge. PLP has promoted rank-and-file rallies outside MTA headquarters, which have drawn upwards of a hundred workers. In an undated leaflet to transit strikers titled, “Rely on Rulers’ Laws or on Workers’ Power?” PLP rightly attacked Silver’s call for binding arbitration and declared: “We are not alone! Thousands of supermarket workers are also on strike. They and millions of other workers, millions of students and soldiers who have everything to lose and nothing to gain in a war for oil profits and a capitalist war economy, make up a potential army against the bosses’ attacks.”

Yet only a few lines above, this same PLP leaflet moaned, “Even if we don’t win this current battle, it’s because the correlation of forces doesn’t seem to favor us now.” As PLP itself makes clear, the correlation of forces is potentially very much in favor of the strikers. Yet PLP accepted in advance that the labor bureaucracy’s losing strategy could not be overcome and would lead to defeat, and proposed nothing more than to mount “wildcat strikes” behind the backs of the bureaucrats after the strike loses. PLP talks a fine line about storming the citadel of the American imperialist state, but the truth is it can’t even offer a perspective for a political struggle against the sellout policies of the capitalists’ lieutenants within the labor movement.

Much rides on a victory in these strikes. Defense of health benefits, a key issue in both the transit and supermarket strikes, has been a central question facing all of labor in recent years as the bourgeoisie seeks to shift the soaring cost of health care onto the working class. We Marxists say: Free, quality health care for all!

We fight for a workers party built in the crucible of big class battles out of which will emerge a new, class-struggle leadership of the unions. Such a leadership must be based on a program of militant struggle against the entire capitalist system of exploitation and oppression. Break with the Democrats—For a workers party that fights for a socialist revolution to expropriate the bourgeoisie and place the workers in power!

Letter: On ILWU Support for UFCW Strike

Reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 815, 5 December 2003

New York City
21 November 2003

Dear Workers Vanguard,

The article "Bureaucrats, Democrats Knife L.A. Transit Workers" (WV No. 814, 21 November) refers to a November 10 rally of 4,000 trade unionists held in San Pedro in solidarity with the UFCW strike against three Southern California supermarket chains and notes the participation in the rally of longshoremen, Teamsters and teachers. In reporting on this, the article failed to mention an important aspect of the event: longshoremen organized in ILWU Local 13 called a stop work meeting (using a provision in their contract) in order to join this rally. Some 3,000 longshoremen joined a UFCW picket of locked-out UFCW members outside an Albertsons market, shutting it down for an hour, and then marched on to the rally. The ILWU stop work meeting meant that the entire Port of Los Angeles/Long Beach was effectively shut down for the whole eight-hour swing shift and that longshoremen forfeited their pay. This act of labor solidarity with the UFCW strike by one of the most powerful unions in Los Angeles, interrupting the normal course of shipping at the port, was a good example of what WV has been arguing for since the inception of the strike—the need to broaden and extend class struggle actions and build mass pickets in defense of striking supermarket workers. It should be a starting point for wider and more militant labor actions in solidarity with the UFCW strikers.

George Foster

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