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Workers Must Rely on their Own
Power, Not Capitalist Parties
Break with the Democrats – We Need A Revolutionary Workers Party
For A Class-Struggle Fight Against Poverty Wages!
On July 24, a rally was held in Union Square in Manhattan to demand an increase to the legal minimum wage to $8.50 an hour (in New York it is currently $7.25) and to index the wage to inflation. The coalition of labor unions and non-profit organizations “United NY” branded the event a “Workers Rising Day of Action,” along with rallies in a number of cities around the country. The stated purpose was to pressure Congress and state legislatures, while the organizers used it as an election-year event to build support for the Democrats.
Over 100,000 workers in New York City earn the minimum wage or less. Even at $8.50 an hour, they would still be way below the poverty level. Statewide, 1.6 million New York workers earn less than $10 an hour, which has been billed as a “living wage.” It isn’t. Do the math: just to get above the poverty line ($26,000 a year for a family of four), a full-time worker would have to make $12.50 an hour. And that doesn’t begin to cover the cost of living in a city where the median rent works out to $14,000 a year. To even begin to get out of poverty, they would have to more than double the minimum wage. And that’s just for starters.
Yes, working people in this country need a whopping big raise … and free quality health care, education and childcare, decent pensions and all the rest. But no amount of begging the multimillionaires in Congress is going to get it. They and the bankers and corporate execs they represent grow obscenely rich off of the misery of millions of wage slaves. It is way past time for those who create all the wealth to use our collective power as a class to rip it out of the hands of the capitalists who profit from our labor. Without the daily toil of millions of low wage workers, there would be no food to eat, no clothes to wear, children, infants and the elderly would be abandoned, and cities like New York would collapse into a crisis of sanitation and public health.
Many of the workers who are paid under $10 per hour are classified as “part time.” This is an accounting trick for the benefit of the employers, since low-wage workers must often hold down two or three such jobs. Instead of one boss having to pay benefits and overtime, the low-wage worker must spend her own money rushing from one job to the next to put in a workweek of anything from 40 to 80 hours. Moreover, 60% of low-wage workers in New York are women, two-thirds are immigrants and four-fifths are Hispanic, black or Asian. This struggle goes way beyond dollars and cents, it’s against brutal exploitation and social oppression.
Low-wage workers together with the rest of the working class have the power to shake the foundations of the capitalist edifice. But to do so, we have to raise a program and prepare for the kind of struggle that will take. A union movement that really is “ready to rumble” would not only demand that the minimum wage be more than doubled, it would organize huge mass pickets of hundreds and thousands to surround and shut down any company that pays less until the workers have a union contract and are paid a decent union wage and benefits.
Working people and the poor should be mobilized in massive protests and strike actions to demand real measures against unemployment: a 30-hour week for 40 hours pay, free 24-hour quality childcare available to all, abolition of tuition, open admissions and living stipends for college students. Plus full citizenship rights for all immigrants so that the workers cannot be blackmailed and divided into “legal” and “illegal.” And repeal all the anti-drug laws and empty the prisons of all those jailed under those racist measures.
Rally organizers focused their attention on five “bad employers,” who certainly deserve the infamy. The Golden Farm supermarket in Kensington, Brooklyn, owned by Sonny Kim, pays workers as little as $4.86 hour. Local 338 of the RWSDU/UFCW is attempting to organize workers at some of the smaller independent grocers and supermarkets, and joined the rally. But the labor bureaucrats are not about to wage a real fight against low wages. In fact, they help the bosses to enforce them. A few months ago, the same union leaders from Local 338 and other UFCW locals (1500 and 342 in NYC) strong-armed a sellout contract on their own members at A&P supermarkets (Pathmark, Waldbaum’s, Food Emporium, etc.) that lets the company hire part-timers at minimum wage, with no raises for any union workers for five years!
The UFCW bureaucrats not only gave A&P and its Wall Street owners five years of super-exploited labor with a union label, they gave Christian Haub, the ex-chairman of the board of this low-wage empire a “human rights award” in 2008 from the “Jewish Labor Committee” (a pro-Israel lobby headed by RWDSU president Stuart Appelbaum), and another award from the UFCW’s Northeast Political Action Committee for purchasing the Pathmark chain! Meanwhile, as a loyal operative of U.S. imperialism, Applebaum is globetrotting on behalf of the “AFL-CIA’s” international operations, making sure Tunisian unions don’t get out of line.
SEIU 32BJ’s political director, Camille Rivera, is the executive director of United NY, the coalition sponsoring the July 24 rally. Yet late last year, the 32BJ leadership negotiated a new contract between the biggest NYC real estate owners and its 22,000 commercial building service workers in the region. This contract, celebrated by the real estate bosses as “most favorable economic terms that the industry has negotiated in at least the past 40 years” lowered wages for new hires and undermined workers’ health benefits and job protections. Now these “labor statesmen,” who have negotiating giveback contracts for years, want to raise the minimum wage only to a level that is still a poverty wage.
The July 24 rally was really all about politics and getting out the vote in November. The unions either openly support the Democratic Party or do so through the “Working Families Party” (a ballot line for the Democrats). The WFP endorsed NY governor Andrew Cuomo even after he declared war on public-sector unions, their pensions and seniority rights. One of the “Dirty Five” employers is Con Edison, which has a top Cuomo advisor on its board. Protest organizers highlighted the fact that Toys-R-Us, another of their “Dirty Five,” is linked to Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital. They were sending the message that the labor fakers would go all-out campaigning for Barack Obama, the war criminal and union buster who in the 2008 election got more money from Wall Street than any presidential candidate in history.
Poverty in the U.S. has risen to levels not seen since the early 1960s, along with unemployment, hunger and homelessness. Workers from New York to Madrid and Athens are facing devastating attacks on pensions, health care and wages in the name of “austerity” while bank and corporate profits are at record levels. This is the normal workings of capitalism, in which the means of production are privately owned and operated for profit, requiring every capitalist owner to constantly seek to squeeze more out of the workers. This will not end until the workers expropriate capital internationally and establish the basis of a socialized, planned economy. Then we can finally get rid of poverty wages.
We need to oust the bureaucrats, break with the Democrats and all capitalist parties, and build a revolutionary workers party that emblazons on its banners not “$8.50 an hour, maybe” but “For a workers government to abolish the wages system.”
We in the Internationalist Group U.S. section of the League for the Fourth International, seek to build such a party. Join us! ■