DIRECTOR’S REPORT | What is Labor?

Labor produces marvels for the rich, but it produces deprivation for the worker.

–Karl Marx

People think power is a limited resource, but using power builds power. Once workers get a taste of our power, we will not settle for a bad deal. And we won’t stand by while someone else gets screwed, either.

–Sara Nelson, President of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA

Labor Day is the time of year for union picnics and friendly parades. It was originally declared a federal holiday by President Grover Cleveland to placate labor even as he was smashing the Pullman railway worker strike. The ploy didn’t work, and he lost the working-class vote in his unsuccessful bid for reelection. Socialists still enjoy our time off with labor siblings in September, but we didn’t fall for this attempt to distance the official labor movement from the Left and have taken to the streets instead on May Day, International Workers’ Day.

In the name of Eugene V. Debs, jailed during the Pullman strike and subsequently inspired to become an early organizer for socialism in the United States, let us remember Labor Day’s more radical roots. For example, on September 5, 1882, twelve years before it became a national holiday, socialists and early unions organized 10,000 people to march in New York City for safer working conditions, shorter hours, higher pay, and a labor holiday.

We are part of that long tradition. From Warrior Met Coal miners to Amazon warehouse workers, Kaiser nurses to Trader Joe’s workers, we keep the economy humming and take care of our communities.

Schools are back in session, and we face a severe teacher shortage because charter school profiteers and the politicians they pay for have systematically defunded public schools and busted teachers unions. From Ohio to California teachers are showing renewed militancy. Over the summer, UPS drivers delivered packages in sweltering conditions brought on by climate change. Their trucks don’t have air conditioning, and many workers were sickened by heat illness. Two died. Meanwhile, UPS profits last year were $3.9 billion, and their CEO made $27 million. UPS workers are building a strike-ready campaign in preparation for next summer’s Teamsters contract expiration.

Starbucks is retaliating against workers forming unions, with deepening repression at their stores, so DSA members and chapters are talking to co-workers and hitting the picket line, including in our nationwide Solidarity Is Brewing work as well as more local, worksite specific organizing at other employers.

Everywhere, workers are organizing. After all, what is our labor? It is our bargaining power. Without it, the world grinds to a halt. Instead of working ourselves to the bone so the rich may play, we can work together to create marvels for ourselves–from renewable energy to universal healthcare and public education–once we recognize we don’t need the owning class.