If UPS workers choose to fight, let the legacy of their victorious 1997 strike be a powerful reminder that workers everywhere can come together in solidarity.
Over 260,000 Teamsters at UPS are set to vote on a new union contract with the shipping giant. This is the biggest private sector contract in the United States, and it is vital to workers everywhere that a good contract is won.
Twenty one years ago this month, UPS workers went on strike and rallied workers across the country with their slogan “part-time America doesn’t work.” The 1997 action exposed the harsh reality of the so-called “new economy” and how millions of American workers were falling behind with low wages and part-time jobs due to the appalling greed of big business. After two weeks of solid picket lines, they won a big victory with improved benefits for all workers and the creation of thousands of new full-time jobs.
But unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to reverse the rapacious attacks of big business as a whole. More recently, mega-corporations like Amazon have been setting the standard for how to make workers’ lives a living hell. Jeff Bezos has made $150 billion off sweatshop-like conditions at fulfillment centers across the country where workers are desperately in need of a strong and fighting union to win good wages, guaranteed full-time work, good benefits, and respect from management.
Not coincidentally, Amazon ships more than 600 million packages a year, and this acts as a giant pressure on UPS to maintain a competitive edge. Wall Street wants to see UPS introduce new labor saving technology, Sunday delivery, and to overcome holiday shipping bottlenecks as cheaply as possible. In the cutthroat world of capitalism, where profits come first and workers come last, this could only mean a shameful attack on the Teamsters and all those who do the back-breaking work of ensuring the delivery of tens of millions of packages each day.
But this corporate shipping Goliath has no leg to stand on when it demands concessions from the workers. UPS has been making record profits and recently received a more-than-generous tax break from the Trump administration. They could easily offer a $15/hour starting wage for all new hires, along with raises well above $15 for current part-timers. Health and pension benefits should be expanded, thousands of full-time jobs should be created at ground delivery wages, the abuse of overtime should come to an immediate end, the pace of work should be slowed down to reduce stress and improve safety, and workers should be treated with the respect they deserve from management every day.
But instead, this greedy company is demanding a historic give-back with the creation of a new tier of second-class full-time drivers who would deliver ground packages on weekends for lower wages. part-time starting wages will be raised to a pitiful $13/hour, and over 5,000 full-time combo jobs (two part-time jobs combined into one full-time job) previously promised at ground wages will now be offered at lower wages. Feeder work will be increasingly outsourced, new technology could be utilized to impose notoriously harsh discipline, drivers could be forced to work to the bone during the holidays with 70 hour work weeks, and the 40 hour work guarantee during the slow months in the summer could be eliminated.
UPS workers know they are getting a bad deal. They also know they have enormous power through their union. So it’s no surprise to us that workers voted by more than 90 percent to authorize strike action earlier this year.
Socialist Alternative and my Seattle City Council Office are in complete solidarity with every single worker at UPS who is fighting to hold the line. We understand why many local Teamster leaders and members say the current contract offer is unacceptable. If UPS workers feel they have no choice but to vote down this offer, we will have their backs and will demand UPS return to the negotiating table as soon as possible to give workers what they deserve.
If the Teamsters back up their strike threat by seriously preparing for a shutdown, like they did in 1997, the entire labor movement needs to support them. If called on, we should be prepared to join mass picket lines to help completely halt UPS deliveries. The AFL-CIO and local Labor Councils across the U.S. should go all out to help raise millions of dollars in strike funds to ensure UPS families make it through any hardship.
If UPS workers are ready to lead the way they did in 1997, then we must be prepared to support them. Their fight is our fight. This is not just about the 260,000 workers and their families. This is about the future of the entire US working class. This is about refusing to accept the idea that workers should have to fall to our knees while corporations make record and obscene profits. This is about building a powerful and united workers movement to take on UPS, Amazon, Bezos, Trump and the entire billionaire class. This is about fighting for a world that works for working people.