Shutdown Highlights Need for Militance, Independent Political Action

January 25, 2019

The following statement was adopted by UE's General Executive Board on Friday, January 25, 2019

The current federal shutdown, the longest in U.S. history, is an unconscionable attack on federal workers and all who depend on federal government services for safety and sustenance, from airline workers to food stamp recipients. It is also a sign of deeper problems in our economy and society, and the failure of political “leaders” from both parties to address them. Only a working-class movement, rooted in unions willing to stand up and take militant actions for the entire working class, can move us forward.

President Trump was elected in no small part because he claimed he would improve life for working people who have been battered by decades of plant closings, union busting, privatization and budget cuts. Instead he is holding hostage 800,000 federal workers, and thousands more contract workers, in order to extort from Congress funding for a border wall we don’t need and Americans don’t want, because he can’t get it through democratic means — persuading a majority of Congress to vote for it.

In a particularly cruel move the Trump administration is also attempting to prevent states from enacting rules or legislation which allow federal workers forced to work without pay to receive unemployment benefits. We applaud newly elected California Governor Gavin Newsom for offering these workers unemployment coverage in California, despite the Trump administration’s opposition, and urge other governors to do the same.

Instead of promoting policies which would actually help working people — infrastructure investment, protecting workers’ rights, or Medicare for All single-payer healthcare — Trump gave tax cuts to corporations and the wealthy and now seeks to focus working-class anger on families and workers south of the border and elsewhere. He portrays people fleeing the economic and social chaos caused by decades of U.S. intervention in Latin America in a brutally demeaning and racist manner, while continuing the very corporate trade and military policies which force families to flee their homelands in the first place. Trump’s formal recognition this week of the unelected, pro-business Juan Guaidó as the “president” of Venezuela will only create more tension, violence and economic instability in a country already suffering from U.S. economic sanctions and support for violent anti-government forces.

Working-class people have good reason to be angry. General Motors announced in November that they intend to shutter five facilities in the US and Canada, laying off over 14 thousand workers with good-paying union jobs and moving the work to non-union low-wage workplaces in Mexico. This is just the latest corporate insult to the communities that made them profitable, and should serve as an indictment of an economic and political system that puts shareholder profits ahead of stable and sustainable union employment in working-class communities.

We also face a looming environmental crisis. The recent reports from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the National Climate Assessment (NCA) makes it clear that we must make the transition from fossil fuels to renewables quickly or our very survival will be compromised.

A Green New Deal, combining massive investment with worker protections, provides the best hope of addressing both our economic and environmental problems. A Green New Deal would expand the renewable sector, create new industries, occupations, and job opportunities, and provide a fair and just transition to a sustainable future. Just as we did during World War II, we can transform our economy to meet our most urgent challenges while providing fair and equitable employment.

We also welcome the increased support, across the political spectrum, for Medicare for All single-payer healthcare. Not since Social Security or Medicare has such a program promised more hope and benefit for the American people. This renewed energy is due in no small part to the 2016 Sanders presidential primary campaign and the continued leadership of the National Nurses United and other long time single-payer forces in our communities. The forces arrayed against this effort are formidable and it will take militant action in the workplace, the community, and the political arena to secure its implementation. It is alarming that since Trump’s election, seven million more people are without health insurance.

The wave of teacher strikes, from the 2012 Chicago Teachers’ Union strike through the statewide strikes in West Virginia and other states in 2018 to the recent strike waged by teachers in Los Angeles, point the way forward. These strikes were about not only improved compensation for teachers, but also smaller class sizes, nurses in every school, and overall funding for public education. By waging strikes in defense of the public good, teachers, nurses, and other workers have used bold and militant action to enforce broad working-class demands that benefit all working people. In this vein, we applaud Association of Flight Attendants President Sara Nelson’s recent call for the labor movement to discuss a general strike to defend federal workers and end the Trump administration’s shutdown.

All of these issues resonate with our union. The Trump administration’s program of dividing the working class have only served to increase inequality and strengthen the rule of oligarchs, with 26 families now owning more wealth than 50% of the world’s population. The national Republican Party has become a racist, intolerant, climate change denying, anti-union machine. Corporate Democrats offer only the weakest resistance to Trump’s agenda, and no positive vision of their own. Independent political action by working-class organizations is necessary more than ever. We are encouraged by new formations that are building permanent working-class political organization outside of the Democratic Party structure, such as Our Revolution, United Working Families in Illinois, and UNITE PAC in greater Pittsburgh.

The upcoming presidential primary will see one of the largest most diverse group of candidates in the history of the Democratic Party. We applaud that development and, at the same time, recognize that there will likely be no one who supports UE’s program in as full a measure as has Senator Bernie Sanders. That is why UE took the unique step of endorsing him during the 2016 Democratic primary. This was the first time that UE made an endorsement in a presidential primary, and it followed extensive discussion with members at all levels of our union. We urge other US trade unions to approach the upcoming primaries by having deep discussions with their members on the issues facing the country, and to refrain from endorsing any candidate before their members have had an opportunity to weigh in on their union’s position.

Two years into the Trump administration, it is clear that neither Trump or the corporate Democrats have any kind of program to address the challenges facing working people, our country and our world. The working class, through strikes, other militant activities, and independent political action, must define the future we want and fight for it ourselves.