Reclaiming Our Class Identity
"A struggle is going on in the nations of the civilized world between the oppressors and the oppressed of all countries, a struggle between capital and labor, which must grow in intensity from year to year and work disastrous results to the toiling millions of all nations if not combined for mutual protection and benefit. This history of the wage-workers of all countries is but the history of constant struggle and misery engendered by ignorance and disunion; whereas the history of the non-producers of all ages proves that a minority, thoroughly organized, may work wonders for good or evil. Conforming to the old adage, 'In union there is strength,' the formation of a Federation embracing every trade and labor organization in North America, a union founded upon a basis as broad as the land we live in, is our only hope."
Thatís right, thatís not a quote from the Communist Manifesto. Itís from the preamble adopted at the founding convention of the American Federation of Laboróthe lineal ancestor of the present AFL-CIOóin 1886. These pioneers of American trade unionism clearly understood the adversarial class relationship between worker and boss.
During the times of relative prosperity for unionized workers, in the 1950s-70s, we got sold a bill of goods that ran something like this:
"The days of class struggle are over, no longer necessary. A great middle class has been created. If labor and management cooperate we can assure peace and prosperity for all. Those who try to stir up old class divisions are either agents or dupes of evil Russian communism."
Thatís the scam spoon fed to now several generations in school, church, televisionóand, sadly, too often in our union halls as well. This theft of our class identity, our class pride, is the single biggest factor contributing to the crisis of American working people today.
Lack of class consciousness enables the empire builders of Big Business to wrap themselves up in the Flag and march us off to war. Lack of class consciousness causes us to look at government as an instrument of the people instead of the tool of the ruling rich it truly is. Lack of class consciousness fools us into thinking that we can influence the Democrats and Republicans to work fairly for all instead of recognizing them for the con men and women for the bosses nearly all of them are. Lack of class consciousness allows the boss to pit us in competition with workers in other lands, workers in other states, workers at other companiesóeven workers at other plants within the same company.
They have made us feel and appear helpless. They get us to embrace the lesser evil, to beg for half-a-loaf.
The reality is that we donít have to be helpless. We do all the work in the richest country in history. As the old song tells us, "without our brain and muscle not a single wheel can turn!"
Letís make this Labor Day the occasion when we reclaim our class identity, when we proudly proclaim we are the working class. Letís revive and spread the spirit of An Injury To One Is An Injury To All!ónot merely "as broad as the land we live in" but, in this global economy, throughout the entire world. Letís reassert the independence of our unions as advocates for our class interests, not partners with our exploiters. Letís dump the phony bosses politicians and build a working class party of our ownóa Labor Party.
Making such shifts in our perspective will not guarantee instant salvation. Much hard work and sacrifice will be necessary. But Iím convinced that only by starting back down this original road again, after our long detour, can we find our way out of the crisis closing in on all sides. If we begin the journey today we will surely have more to celebrate next Labor Day.
Labor Day Special TOC Labor Advocate Online Main Page KC Labor Home Page