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Labor in the Age of Trump

If not now, when?

The Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 prevents federal employees from striking. Unions had a rally in DC on Thursday, Jan 10th. Some coverage. Mostly ignored. Not surprising.

On to the Democrats. They are being quite sheepish in this. Strong words of dissatisfaction to Trump’s national address. Strong Ma and Pa Kettle sternness! (A Catholic and a Jew, so WASPy!) Disapproval over a temper tantrum.

Painful question: Can unions be any more controlled by the Democratic Party, or is the leadership so embedded into the capitalist system that the leadership is so neutered in its response?

Without going into the long history of how the Democratic Party slowly co-opted union leadership (with some exceptions), the labor movement is at an existential crossroad. If it stays the course, protesting, rallies, lobbying their congress member, backing the Clintonites and not the Sanders’s disciples in elections, it will soon die as quickly as President Reagan busted PATCO. What is happening now with the shutdown is the crucible of life and death for labor in America.

800,000 workers are furloughed or working without pay. We see on the news the individual horror stories of these workers. Their future isn’t just uncertain, it has been forever changed. So many others have yet to fall into the abyss that awaits them, even with a quick settlement at this point. This is not the time to show one’s outrage by singing from the same psalm books. Joe Hill would not have it. Nor Mother Jones or E.V. Debs! Where are they today? They were the mythical heroes of the past; leaders who inspired us to do what? We don’t sing in our taverns great leftist labor songs. Very few prominent, stirring movies. Matewan, Norma Rae. Some others, yes, but it just isn’t our culture. And it has brought us to today.

What is needed is a general strike, led by government employees who know they’re violating the Taft-Hartley Act and their respective state employee counterparts. With unity, they could put the pressure on Congress to rescind these laws, retroactively. It would be necessary for all unions, and in particular state employee unions, to stand with them and shut down. If the AFT and NEA were to tell its members to strike, in solidarity, they too would be threatened by the State but their numbers are enormous. No sitting representative would dare to challenge them, especially if it’s a national movement. We don’t have a gilets jaunes movement now but when we did, when we were jailed and killed in the auto plants and minefields, we were a threat to be respected and reckoned with. Our labor comrades’ sacrifices have lived on. We are dishonoring them by acquiescing to a system that keeps us worthless, ineffective, near-powerless by waiting. “Waiting, waiting, waiting. I’ll never get out of here. I’ll die in Casablanca.” Is that the labor movement’s fate, or does it have a future?

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