Report from a Participant in the Labor Notes 2022 ConferencE
By Bill Leumer
This year’s Labor Notes conference was the biggest ever: 4,000 participants, not to mention the hundreds more who followed the proceedings online.
It was a powerful gathering that expressed the deepening fightback sentiment in the labor movement. Featured at the conference were the organizing drives and contract fights at Amazon, Starbucks, Apple in Baltimore, REI, John Deere, among so many others. There is a resurgence in the labor movement, and it is growing — largely (but not exclusively) outside the structures of the AFL-CIO.
Also noteworthy was the presence of top labor officials at the conference. Nothing like this has happened before on this scale. Union presidents Sara Nelson of the Flight Attendants (CWA), Carl Rosen of United Electrical workers (UE), Sean M. O’Brien (Teamsters), and Robert J. Martinez, Jr. of the International Association of Machinists (IAM) were among the top officials at the conference. Their presentations were well received.
Absence from the conference — at least from the plenary and workshop speakers – was any reference to the U.S. role in provoking and now fueling the war in Ukraine. Tens of billions of dollars are being siphoned from social services and jobs into the pockets of the merchants of death as the U.S. increases its role, day by day, in this war. Unionists at the bargaining table are being told to tighten their belts and make concessions.
How can the issue of the war budget and the increasing danger of a new world war not be at the top of the labor movement’s agenda?
Also missing was any organized critique of the labor movement’s subordination to the Democratic Party — perhaps the most crucial issue of all. This subordination is the main obstacle facing U.S. workers and oppressed people.
Labor – the main organized expression of the working class – simply cannot champion the workers’ hard-pressed demands when it is tied at the hip to our class enemy, the capitalist class. It cannot fight to slash the war budget to meet human needs when Biden is dutifully performing his role, required by Wall Street, as Warmonger-In-Chief. The Democrats, like the Republicans, represent the interests of the capitalists.
In that sense, it was most unfortunate to see Bernie Sanders giving a keynote speech at the Labor Notes conference. Sanders has been a strong supporter of the recent organizing drives at Starbucks and Amazon. His support has been greatly appreciated. But Sanders remains a capitalist politician. I would define capitalist politicians as those who support or defend the capitalist system and oppose the collective ownership of the means of production by the working class.
Sanders does not hide his political orientation. A few years back, he stated proudly,
“[T]he next time you hear me attacked as a socialist, remember this, I don’t believe the government should own the means of production, but I do believe that the middle class and the working families who produce the wealth of America deserve a fair deal. I believe in private companies that thrive and invest and grow in America instead of shipping jobs and profits overseas.” (https://www.vox.com/2015/11/19/9762028/bernie-sanders-democratic-socialism)
Sanders’ main task, as he himself has avowed, is to steer this labor insurgency firmly into the Democratic Party. Sanders has announced publicly that he will not run for president in 2024 and that working people and all the oppressed must get behind Biden in 2024. Sanders opposes the independent political organization of the working class into its own party.
More and more workers are not buying this Democratic Party line. They are beginning to see more clearly the entire institutional framework of the two-party system that promotes the interests of the capitalists, while working people are hurting more and more.
That is why the efforts undertaken by Labor and Community for an Independent Party (LCIP) are more important than ever. There is no time to lose. [For more on LCIP, go to its website at www.lcipcommittee.org.]
(Bill Leumer is a supporter of LCIP living in San Francisco, California)