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Unions are Critical

"Over the last 100 years the middle class was built on the back of organized labor. Without their weight, heft and their insistence starting in the early 1900s we wouldn't have the middle class we have now, in my view. So I think labor getting a fair share of the pie is part of it." --Vice President Joe Biden, Jan. 30, 2009, talking to CNN

me in machine shop

This is me blowing chips away from a part I'm milling

“Trade unions have been an essential force for social progress, without which a semblance of a decent and humane society is impossible under capitalism.” --Pope Francis

When the Socialist Workers Party decided, in 1976, that all serious revolutionaries should join unions, they were basically right, even though they carried their goal out in a draconian, forced way that seriously weakened them, and even though they didn’t amend their knee-jerk anti-leadership politics enough to be effective in the union movement. They were still right. The union movement is the main force for the progressive movement in America and its greatest hope for change.

After they decided that working in unions was the best tactic, they quickly decided that it was the only tactic, and they started using every kind of persuasion they could think of to get their student activist members to join unions. A lot of it was pure hype and stretched way beyond the facts. But the best argument I heard came from the National Chairman of SWP, Jack Barnes, who explained why we needed to join the unions: "Because we can."

The red baiting that reached fanatical proportions from around 1947 to the 70s had abated somewhat. Activists who claimed to put the working class first needed to start getting their hands dirty on the job.

I started to pull myself away from community issues, anti-war work, the women’s movement,the environmental movement,  the civil rights movement, etc, and work more directly with organizations and issues directly related to the working class. I gave up a college teaching job and started on the graveyard shift in a factory that made oil field equipment. I was a Steelworker.

By way of clear advice, the best thing I learned during that period was from an older, kind of disheveled looking older woman in faded blue jeans who was first introduced to me in the SWP as a wise “regional organizer.” She wasn’t one of the college students. Later on, she was just as discredited as anybody and ended up, like me, working in the print shop. But her advice on how to evaluate every political issue, the first time I met her, remains clarion clear in my mind and in everything I do: “Think of the class!”


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