(A message to a Left Forum panel about working class organizing)
I’ve been working full time in the blue collar sector for over 30 years. I have over 20 years in the transportation industry and another 6 on a factory floor, with a few other jobs during my first few years in the labor force.
From early on I started to hear and experience the same grievances and issues coming from coworkers and most other working people I would encounter. It became a recurring theme: low/stagnant wages, forced overtime, not enough time off, unsafe working conditions, and the inability to work and retire with dignity. And I’ve experienced these as well.
On top of that, I’ve watched companies and lawmakers systematically take back what working people have fought so hard for in the past
In the mid-‘90s I became a member of Teamsters and quickly learned I could do something to help. Even if small, it was something. I learned that the fight was still on. That awareness has never left me, and it’s why I continue to do what I can to fight for working class interests.
If anyone is here as a protester or activist for the sake of being a protester or activist, or to gain some notoriety, or to make yourself feel good, we don’t need you!! If you came here to have your picture taken with Michael Moore….go home!! We have no use for anyone who’s here to make a name for themselves or rub elbows with someone they may think has fame. This is real. Our struggle as working people is real and we’re losing ground every day. We need help…. real help to stop the bleeding and reverse the tide.
It seems that many people have given up on the idea that we, the working class, will lead this struggle to end our exploitation. If not the working class, then who? Protesters? Activists? Academics? We can use all the help we can get, but none of the above are facing the kind of exploitation that working people are facing today. We’re still here and we’re losing ground rapidly. 100+ years of struggle and we’re moving backwards! How can that be?
Many of today’s working people are growing frustrated with the state of the unions, corrupt leadership, dwindling membership, lack of participation and the general loss of power that we once fought so hard for. That’s not to say that the labor unions don’t have their place. I’m a union member and still believe we play an important role on the road to emancipation. But many working people are seeking an alternative, some way to go beyond what today’s unions are able to accomplish. There must be an alternative, otherwise we stagnate in our current state… working hard and getting nowhere!
About a year and a half ago I was involved with trying to organize a terminal at Con-way Freight. This move was inspired by a single terminal in Laredo, TX who blindsided the company and voted for union representation.
Over the course of the next several months two other terminals voted for representation. The threat of a large scale organizing movement had corporate running scared. They issued a video to each terminal practically begging for another chance. They claimed that they now heard us, and they were willing to address our issues – as long as we stopped our organizing campaign.
We received substantial raises, changes to our disciplinary policies, and local management were instructed to back off. It was quite an achievement for just a threat. Unfortunately, even though some organizing efforts continue, for the most part they have come to a halt. Many of the workers decided to give the company another chance, and within a year Con-way Freight was sold to XPO Logistics, the second largest LTL carrier in the country.
But this experience convinced me that if we are able to make such drastic changes from a mere threat, imagine what we could do if truly organized!! We can go far beyond winning a few temporary concessions from one company or another. That’s why it’s so important that we as a class, the working class, must organize together on a large scale. By organizing, and remaining militant, and autonomous, not letting anyone use us for some other agenda, we can achieve the power necessary to free ourselves from the exploitation we face every day. Only we, the working people, can do this for ourselves.
I want to say something about why I prefer the phrase “working people” instead of “workers.” To me the word “worker” has a similar feel as the word “slave.” A “good worker” is an obedient wage slave. It’s a condition we want to free ourselves from. In most cases, the one who achieves the “good worker” status is usually the person who out-preforms their coworkers. The ones who conform, and blindly do what they’re told. The ones whose loyalty favors the company rather than their coworkers. The sad part is many working people buy into this and wear it a badge of honor. This is how companies divide their work force. By pitting us against each other: you didn’t stay an extra 3 hours so somehow you must be weak or not dedicated.
I do good work but I’m rarely called a “good worker,” for which I’m glad. I’m usually considered more of a troublemaker. There was a time workers were feared. That needs to be restored!!! WE are the ones generating 100s of millions even billions of dollars for a chosen few. A company can operate without a CEO or COO, but it cannot operate without a work force!! We hold all the cards!!!