Unions to Supreme Court: Billionaire hacks can’t stop our right to strike!

In a brazen act of class war, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a ruling on June 1 allowing Glacier Northwest Inc., a concrete company in Washington state, to sue the Teamsters union in state court for alleged financial damages — spoiled concrete — following a strike in August 2017.

Local 174 on strike at Glacier Northwest/CalPortland, February 2022. PHOTO: Teamsters Local 174

The court timed its decision — which overruled previous decisions for the union at both the National Labor Relations Board and the Washington Supreme Court — to hit 61 days before the Teamsters have vowed to shut down national operations of United Parcel Service (UPS), the largest global package-delivery corporation, if an acceptable new contract is not reached before its current agreement expires July 31. (Workers World, April 10)

Many commentators and journalists in the corporate media noted, some gleefully, some incredulously, that the Supreme Court’s 8-to-1 majority ruling, overturning nearly 90 years of labor law and precedent first codified in the 1935 National Labor Relations Act, was a “bipartisan” decision by “conservatives and liberals” alike. 

Previously, the NLRB’s authority for ruling on strike issues in the private sector was considered primary under federal law, with appeals of NLRB decisions going later to state courts. NLRB and state court precedent has generally precluded corporations from suing unions for financial damages during strikes, because the workers were engaged in “legally protected concerted activity” under the NLRA. 

The Supreme Court’s June 1 ruling, throwing out decades of precedent and the NLRB’s authority over such cases, essentially hands another weapon to corporations’ already massive union-busting arsenal.

Teamsters shoot back

Within minutes of the Supreme Court bombshell, Teamsters International President Sean O’Brien, representing 1.3 million workers, shot back: “The political hacks at the Supreme Court have again voted in favor of corporations over working people. These corruptible justices should be ashamed of themselves for throwing out long-standing precedent and legislating from the bench. 

“The ability to strike has been on the books for nearly 100 years, and it’s no coincidence that this ruling is coming at a time when workers across the country are fed up and exercising their rights more and more. Make no mistake — this ruling has everything to do with giving companies more power to hobble workers if any attempt is made to fight back against a growing system of corruption.

“The Supreme Court is not upholding the law, nor is it advancing the American people. Supreme Court justices are ruling on behalf of billionaires alone — the very ones they socialize with at cocktail parties and who they owe their jobs to in the first place. American workers must remember that their right to strike has not been taken away. All workers, union and nonunion alike, will forever have the right to withhold their labor.

“The Teamsters will strike any employer when necessary, no matter their size or the depth of their pockets. Unions will never be broken by this court or any other. Today’s shameful ruling is simply one more reminder that the American people cannot rely on their government or their courts to protect them. They cannot rely on their employers. We must rely on each other. We must engage in organized, collective action. We can only rely on the protections inherent in the power of our unions.” (Teamsters.org, June 1)

Glacier Northwest/CalPortland driver Mark Hislop, Teamsters Local 174, was among those whose 2017 strike led to the June 1 ruling. Hislop said this about the ruling: “Six years ago, this company forced us out on strike by refusing to bargain in good faith, and they’ve been coming after us in court ever since. As far as I’m concerned, today’s decision changes nothing for us Teamsters, and it will not stop us from fighting as hard as we can for strong contracts.”

Teamsters Local 174 Secretary-Treasurer Rick Hicks added: “Teamsters Local 174 has never shied away from taking our fight to the street, when corporations refuse to do right by the people who work for them. Our members have never backed down, and nothing will ever take that fight out of us.” (teamsters174.net)

The newly elected president of the 400,000-strong United Auto Workers (UAW), Shawn Fain, the first directly elected by the rank and file, quickly joined the fight: “While Corporate America cheers on another Supreme Court attack on workers’ rights, this ruling achieves nothing that would undermine the fundamental right to strike. Our members’ fight for justice, on and off the job, won’t be slowed by a court ruling or by corporate greed. 

“While we’re disappointed to see the U.S. Supreme Court once again try to legislate away the rights of working-class Americans, the UAW remains ready to take action, when necessary, to raise the standard for workers everywhere.” (uaw.org, June 1)

At a virtual town hall the night before the court’s anticipated ruling, the UAW leadership vowed to utilize all means necessary, including a national strike, when bargaining for overdue wage and benefit increases and an end to onerous two-tier wage scales from the profitable Big 3 auto companies, as contract expirations loom on Sept. 14. 

“We will go the distance to win what we deserve,” said UAW Secretary-Treasurer Margaret Mock, “even if it means staying out.” (The Detroit News, May 31) Mock is the first African American woman Secretary-Treasurer of the UAW.

‘Workers are not indentured servants’

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first and only Black woman in the Supreme Court’s 235-year history, was the lone dissenter. With the heightened class war, from Amazon to Starbucks to Hollywood, reverberating inside the court’s ruling class-only clubhouse, Brown Jackson ridiculed the majority’s pre-Civil War “states’ rights” mindset and demolished their corporate-bought arguments in every aspect.

“Workers are not indentured servants, bound to continue laboring until any planned work stoppage would be as painless as possible for their master,” wrote Brown Jackson in her dissent, a sentence that went viral on social media. “They are employees, whose collective and peaceful decision to withhold their labor is protected by the NLRA, even if economic injury results.”

The SCOTUS ruling against the Teamsters was meant to be like a missile launched at the increasingly class-conscious labor movement — now in motion, on the offensive and angry after three years of pandemic sacrifices, and now facing capitalist recessionary attacks. It was meant to intimidate, threaten and dissuade workers from exercising their right to withhold their labor, their main weapon. It is time for all working-class forces to redouble our preparations for the imminent strikes and struggles, including raising the demand, “Abolish SCOTUS!”

Steve Gillis is a 37-year member and an elected leader of the Boston School Bus Drivers Union, United Steelworkers Local 8751, now working for the members and retired from driving.

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