We are devoting our editorial space this week to a statement by Workers World Party.
Workers World Party stands in steadfast solidarity with the May 15 global fast food workers protest. We strongly urge all forces in the political movement to speak, write and especially act in similar solidarity.
The May 15 action promises to be the most significant response up until now to what can only be described as “capitalism at a dead end” — the deepening, intractable, global capitalist crisis that first exploded in 2008 and has been aggravated by austerity.
This crisis led to the bailout of some of the most powerful banks and other financial institutions — concentrated largely on Wall Street — costing close to $1 trillion. This was the largest criminal theft of workers’ wages to safeguard profits on a global scale in human history.
Until last December, workers in the fast food industries had suffered mostly in silence from poverty and below-poverty wages for the benefit of restaurants like McDonald’s, Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), Wendy’s, Subway, Taco Bell, Domino’s Pizza and others, inside and outside the U.S. The vast majority of these workers are Black, Brown and women. Many are single mothers.
The traditional U.S. labor movement had virtually written off this burgeoning sector of workers. It couldn’t imagine bringing them into the unions to infuse an already weakened labor movement with a new wave of rainbow militancy, very similar to what millions of immigrant workers did on May Day 2006 with an historic one-day general strike inside the U.S.
But that hesitancy is about to change with another qualitative leap on May 15. Low-wage workers on six continents, in more than 30 countries and in 150 U.S. cities, are preparing to protest in one united global action against a major sector of the multi-millionaire and -billionaire ruling class. The 1% has every reason to suffer sleepless nights over May 15.
This protest — which will manifest itself as demonstrations, walkouts, sit-ins, flash mobs and more — is forcing the U.S. labor movement, whose leadership is still deeply beholden to the Democratic Party, to embrace this new working class, notwithstanding its ambivalent attitude toward it.
While the Service Employees is the primary union embracing low-wage workers, Fast Food Forward, Laundry Worker Center in New York, and other nontraditional workers’ organizations are trying to fill a huge vacuum by helping to organize the fight for a $15-an-hour minimum wage and the right to unionize low-wage workers in the U.S.
Reviving a revolutionary left pole
What should be a critical question for all revolutionary socialists and communists is where is the political left, as a whole, in relation to the growing upsurge in this new working-class movement led by low-wage workers? Right now it appears to be missing in action.
The political left is supposed to be the most class-conscious forces — the most staunch anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist grouping — that understands both the need for and shortcomings of the trade unions.
Karl Marx wrote in “Trade Unions, Their Past, Present and Future” almost 150 years ago: “Apart from their original purposes, [trade unions] must now learn to act deliberately as organizing centers of the working class in the broad interest of its complete emancipation. They must aid every social and political movement tending in that direction.
“Considering themselves and acting as the champions and representative of the whole working class, they cannot fail to enlist the nonsociety [unorganized] men [and women] into their ranks. They must look carefully after the interests of the worst-paid trades, such as the agricultural laborers, rendered powerless by exceptional circumstances. They must convince the world at large that their efforts, far from being narrow and selfish, aim at the emancipation of the downtrodden millions.”
What Marx wrote then holds even more true today in this current phase of global high tech and low pay. In light of the political weaknesses of the trade unions, especially in the imperialist countries like the U.S., it is crucial that the left forces fulfill their duty and fill the huge gap of political solidarity with the struggle of low-wage workers, which has been left empty by the narrow approach of the trade unions.
Just think of how the intervention of revolutionary forces in the low-wage workers’ struggle can help develop class consciousness on other important fronts in the class struggle. One of these fronts includes the U.S./NATO-backed, right-wing coup in Ukraine, whose workers are facing low wages and other forms of extreme austerity from the same fast food chains. Another front opposes the U.S.-backed right-wing oligarchy that wants to impose low wages on Venezuelan workers, who have won many social gains through the ongoing Bolivarian Revolution.
These kinds of political connections will inevitably be embraced by many workers suffering low wages. The first step in this process on the part of socialists and communists everywhere will be to extend a genuine hand of solidarity to these workers, including right here in the belly of the imperialist beast — the U.S. Will this be done? Workers World Party says yes, but the place must be here and the time must be now, starting on May 15.