Labor Advocate Online

Counting Down 2004

Tiocfaidh ár Lá–Maybe In 2005?
by Bill Onasch

Belief in this Gaelic motto, that translates into "our day will come," has long kept the flame of Irish Republicans burning through all manner of repression by rulers, wavering by supporters, and misadventures by leaders. As we count down to the end of 2004 American workers need to embrace the same faith that we too will have a shot at overcoming all the formidable obstacles confronting us today, an opportunity to mobilize our mighty potential power to make this world a better place for all humanity.

This may seem far-fetched. Corporate America today, aided by its hand-picked bipartisan political establishment, and its superpower military machine, is clearly the wealthiest, most powerful ruling class in history. They exude hubris. They threaten to kick the ass of the working class up and down the line, at home and abroad.

By contrast, organized labor is on the decline in size, on the retreat in bargaining, and politically impotent. How can we have the faintest hope, much less optimism for the future?

The fact is the present omnipotence of Wall Street/Washington is temporary, tentative, even largely illusory.

The American economy–the indispensable central component of the global economy–is a short step away from major crisis on several fronts. Debt–both consumer and government–is unsustainably high and going higher. Savings are at record lows. The dollar’s value in currency exchange is plummeting. Wages are stagnating. The question of global depression is not a matter of if--but only when and how severe.

The "invincible" military machine is hopelessly bogged down in Iraq.

The bizarre 2004 election, complete with new vote fraud scandals, is clinical confirmation of advancing terminal degeneration of stable two party authority.

The potential power of the working class, on the other hand, is intrinsical. We do all the work. We create all wealth. "Without our brain and muscle not a single wheel can turn!" As a class, we may suffer or prosper but–unlike the parasites running the show today–we cannot be dismissed or ignored.

Given this tremendous social/economic weight, given that it is in our material interest to improve the collective human condition–not just enriching our present masters–clearly there is a realistic basis for hope, if not optimism.

As a matter of fact even in these darkest dog days of 2004 sections of the working class have found ways to challenge the haughty power of America’s rulers.

One of the most oppressed and exploited layers of our class are those working for agribusiness in the fields under the "guest worker" program. These Mexican laborers have historically been treated as indentured servants. After years of work both patient and courageous the Farm Labor Organizing Committee broke new ground with a contract covering 8,000 such workers in North Carolina–complete with a union hiring hall in Mexico.

As the Democrats "reexamine" their stand on abortion we have not forgotten that just a few months ago we witnessed the biggest political demonstration in American history–1.125 million strong--to defend a woman’s right to choose.

Despite all the cynical hypocrisy of flag waving and "support our troops," a bottom up movement around US Labor Against the War is winning growing support within our unions. A recent poll shows 56 percent of Americans now think the Iraq war was a mistake.

A unique, unprecedented discussion about where organized labor needs to head has been opened and sanctioned by a section of top union officials–and many are jumping into it.

There’s an old adage among union organizers: unions don’t organize workers, bosses do. If bosses treated workers fairly they would never need or want unions. But the drive of corporate greed inevitably leads employers to either screw their workers–or go out of business. (Of course some do both.)

What is true for employers in the workplace carries over into their political rule as well. Workers don’t create labor parties, the boss politicians do. The fiasco of the 2004 election will create new interest, new opportunities in and for the Labor Party.

Whether our day will come in 2005 remains to be seen–but it will certainly come in the not too distant future. The question is will we be ready when that day comes? We have a lot of work to do.

This Spring the KC Labor web site will observe our fifth anniversary. We are proud to have observed and participated in working class struggles over these past five years. This year we want to do more than just celebrate over cake and punch. We are in the preliminary stages of organizing a conference in Kansas City around the theme of The Future of American Labor. We hope to announce details soon.

For now I will close by wishing all of you–without regard to your religion or lack thereof, regardless of the calendar by which you reckon the passage of time–a very happy holiday season.

Tiocfaidh ár Lá!