Workers Are Standing Up

Mark Dimondstein

November 23, 2021

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(This article first appeared in the November/December issue of the American Postal Worker magazine)

Greetings postal heroes!

Postal workers, nurses and medical personnel, meatpackers, farmworkers, transit workers, truck and delivery drivers, cashiers, EMS and firefighters, sanitation, warehouse, utility and manufacturing workers, and so many others, have been dedicated essential workers throughout this ongoing and tragic pandemic. Frontline workers face extreme stress, danger, sickness and too often death.

As a result of the pandemic-driven economic crisis, millions of other U.S. workers found themselves without jobs and health insurance, saw the largest increase in poverty in fifty years and faced the challenges with school-aged children at home. Yet, the billionaire class increased their ill-gotten wealth during the pandemic by $1.8 trillion – and laughed all the way to the bank! Thus, the pandemic has underscored that: 1) society cannot function without the working class; 2) workers should be proud of what we produce and the services we provide, and 3) unmistakably, we are in a struggle – “Bosses vs. Workers,” Wall Street vs. Main Street, Capital vs. Labor. Another fundamental lesson has not been lost that workers deserve better.

While the billionaires are playing as astronauts, workers around the country are standing up and fighting back to make a better life here on earth. As I write this article, 10,000 John Deere United Auto Worker (UAW) members at 14 manufacturing plants across the country withheld their labor and went on strike. Workers are fighting to reclaim wages and retirement benefits lost during years of concessionary contracts, an end to a two-tier structure and for a fair share of the company’s record profits.

This battle with John Deere is taking place amid a wave of recent strikes of unionized workers including at Frito- Lay, Nabisco, Kellogg, Kaiser Permanente, Volvo Trucks, Warrior Met Coal and Tenet hospitals. As with the Great Postal Strike of 1970, a number of these strikes resulted in victory for the workers. In other struggles, such as of 60,000 Hollywood film production workers, the real threat of a strike compelled companies to negotiate fair contracts. In the protracted AL mineworkers and MA nurses strikes to defend their unions, workers are hanging tough – “Union Strong, All Day Long!”

This new rise in worker militancy is resisting management concessionary demands at the bargaining table. Moreover, these are fights to restore worker givebacks from previous decades, eliminate unfair and divisive two-tier wage and benefit structures, address pandemic era health and safety concerns, reduce forced overtime and shift pandemic-driven massive corporate profits to the workers who create the wealth.

It’s not just unionized workers who are fed-up. Amazon workers are stirring. Individual workers in the millions are “voting with their feet” and refusing to return to lowwage jobs with few benefits. Over four million quit jobs just in August. This resistance has forced many companies to raise wages and improve benefits.

“Pro-business” pundits and news outlets claim that “lazy” workers are staying home because of “generous” government benefits and that rising wages will cause inflation. In response, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich hit the nail on the head:

Corporate America wants to frame this as a ‘labor shortage.’ Wrong. What’s going on is more accurately described as a living wage shortage, a hazard pay shortage, a childcare shortage, and paid sick leave shortage, and a healthcare shortage… American workers are now flexing their muscles for the first time in decades. You might say workers have declared a national general strike until they get better pay and improved working conditions. No one calls it a general strike. But in its own disorganized way it’s related to the organized strikes breaking out across the land.

Let's do our part to help propel this wave of militancy forward: Practice solidarity with striking workers; Assist workers who want to organize into unions; Proudly promote the benefits of collective worker union power – better job security, workplace safety, standards of living and quality of life! Empowered workers, rising wages, safer workplaces and building unions will uplift all workers, including unionized postal workers.

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