Workers and community members across the country began the new year in emergency actions to fight a vicious anti-union, anti-people Wall Street offensive at the state and federal levels.
Attacks on poor and working people have escalated sharply in recent years under both Democratic and Republican administrations. But the rich and their political servants are now further emboldened by the racist, anti-union Trump administration. Some of the largest attacks in decades are planned to eviscerate worker protections and social safety nets.
The attacks are sparking both increased resistance from traditional sectors, such as organized labor, and also from new formations such as the Appalachian Workers Alliance, the Kentucky Workers League and the Southern Workers Assembly, which are employing tactics and strategies beyond protest.
These organizations are joined by poor and working people who have participated in numerous battles in recent years in such states as Wisconsin, Michigan, West Virginia and Indiana. They have learned many hard-won practical and ideological lessons about the capitalist state. The lessons will be sorely needed during this period of capitalism at a dead end.
‘People’s lives are at stake’
In a swift and cowardly attack, both houses of the Kentucky Legislature met Jan. 7 and rammed through House Bill 1, which bans requiring a worker to join a union or pay union dues, as a condition of employment. This “right-to-work” (for less!) law is rooted in racist opposition to equal pay for Black workers during the Jim Crow era of Southern segregation. If signed by the governor, the current bill will make Kentucky the 27th right-to-work-for-less state in the U.S.
Not done with anti-worker attacks, the Kentucky Legislature also passed House Bill 3, repealing a law that requires union-scale “prevailing wage” rates be paid to construction workers on state and local construction projects, including schools and university buildings. The Legislature also voted for Senate Bill 6, prohibiting employers from deducting union dues from workers’ paychecks without a worker’s written permission.
Also passed were two anti-women measures: House Bill 2 requires a woman seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound prior to the procedure, and Senate Bill 5 prohibits abortion after a woman reaches the 20th week of pregnancy, with no exceptions for cases of rape, incest or mental health issues.
Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin has declared his intent to sign all these bills into law. And more reactionary legislation is in the works.
But so is the people’s resistance. Hundreds of union and community members, many traveling great distances, protested inside and outside the state Capitol in subfreezing weather during the Jan. 7 vote. The Kentucky AFL-CIO received solidarity messages from across the country, including from the Wisconsin AFL-CIO.
“The labor movement is needed in Kentucky now, more than ever,” said Kentucky AFL-CIO President Bill Londrigan in a statement. He added that the state AFL-CIO’s purpose is “to improve the lives of working families and bring fairness and dignity to the workplace. No laws written by corporate CEOs, ALEC, the billionaire Koch Brothers, or extreme right-wing politicians will change our mission or weaken our resolve.” ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, is a “pay-to-play” organization for corporations to buy a place at the table to influence legislation. (ky.aflcio.org)
Besides the Kentucky AFL-CIO, other organizations also mobilized their members statewide for the Frankfort protests. Ashley Kelley, from the Lexington-based Kentucky Workers League, helped organize a delegation. Kelley told Workers World: “People’s lives are at stake. It’s nice to say RTW will create jobs, but you have to be a bit of a psychopath to ignore the fact that RTW drives down wages and helps create low-paying jobs.”
Federal workers fight back
Almost immediately upon being sworn in on Jan. 5, the new Republican-majority U.S. Congress declared war on federal workers by announcing plans for the Promote Accountability and Government Efficiency (PAGE) Act. If passed, this racist austerity act would wipe out decades of hard-won gains by federal workers and their communities, affecting people of color, women and LGBTQ people the most severely.
In an email to all members, the American Federation of Government Employees wrote:
• The bill completely changes the federal pay system, and prohibits all pay raises — including annual pay raises — unless you get a 4 or 5 out of 5 performance rating.
• The bill would make all new federal workers “at will,” meaning you can be fired without explanation.
• It would allow immediate suspension for current workers for performance or conduct and only ten days for appeal.
• It would eliminate official time, so that union representatives can no longer work to protect your pay, your benefits or your job during the work day.
• It would allow an agency inspector general to haunt you even after you’ve retired. (afge.org)
AFGE and other unions immediately began plans to fight and defeat this proposed act. The Jan. 5 Metro Washington Council AFL-CIO email newsletter details a series of labor protests Jan. 13 to Jan. 21 and states: “Local labor activists, staffers and allies gathered Jan. 4 to discuss the upcoming inaugural events and labor’s mobilization plans. A primary focus was how to bring working people and unions together and how to use these upcoming events to engage and motivate union and community members, with a goal of building labor’s ability to mobilize after the inauguration.” (dclabor.org)