A series of powerful strikes and social protests have erupted across the United States against intolerable social conditions and breathtaking levels of social inequality.
Spurred by the soaring cost of living, the struggles are breaking down the false barriers erected by the ruling class to divide and weaken working people. They involve workers of all races and ethnicities in all parts of the country, in urban and rural settings. They include workers from many different industries and at many different rates of pay.
In Racine, Wis., and Burlington, Iowa, 1,200 workers at agricultural and construction equipment company CNH have been on strike for three weeks, with workers telling the WSWS they are demanding a pay rise. at least 50% of wages to overcome soaring inflation and years of stagnant wages.
In Richmond, California, 500 oil workers at a Chevron refinery have been on strike since March 21. Richmond is located in the San Francisco Bay Area, one of the most expensive areas in the country, and workers have reported to the WSWS that they are barely able to afford to fill up on gas in their car, which they or they refine, in order to drive to work.
About 5,000 nurses at Stanford Hospital in California went on strike earlier in May to demand big pay rises and adequate staffing. Strikes have taken place in recent weeks at hospitals across California, including Sutter Health hospitals in upstate and Cedar Sinai in Los Angeles.
Nearly 3,500 Arconic aluminum workers in Iowa, Indiana, New York and Tennessee voted unanimously for strike last week. Like their siblings elsewhere, Arconic workers are furious at being dubbed “essential” just for the company to make massive profits while trying to force paltry pay increases that amount to pay cuts with inflation.
Also last week, 1,300 autoworkers at Detroit Diesel in Redford, Michigan, which makes engines for military vehicles, overwhelmingly rejected a contract that would have raised wages only 8% after six years, a period during which inflation will have increased 45 percent if it remains close to the current rate.
Contracts for 15,000 nurses in Minnesota’s Twin Cities and Twin Ports expire next month, and nurses plan to rally at hospitals across the metro area on June 1 to demand big pay raises, staffing adequate and safe working conditions. Additionally, 400 mental health nurses in Iowa and Minnesota are scheduled to go on a one-day strike on May 24.
An estimated 10,000 nurses protested in Washington DC earlier this month over wages, staff and the for-profit healthcare system. Hundreds of nurses demonstrated the next day outside the Tennessee courthouse where framed nurse RaDonda Vaught was sentenced to probation for a medical error that was ultimately the product of understaffing and other failures of the hospital system.
The intensification of the class struggle in the United States constitutes an essential element of an emerging global movement of the working class. In every country, workers are being driven to struggle by the burning pokers of economic hardship, exacerbated by the US-NATO proxy war against Russia and the ongoing pandemic.
The cockpit of global imperialist reaction is no exception. In the United States, the price of gas rose 18.3% in just one month, from February to March, driven by the war in Ukraine, as well as war profits by oil and gas companies. Food prices rose 10% from a year earlier, the biggest increase since 1981, while the price of electricity rose 32% annually.
The average rent has increased by 11% over the same period. Rent for the 22 million US mobile home residents is set to rise 70% in coming months as mobile home parks are bought up by Wall Street investors, who then squeeze residents for profit .
In the land of credit card debt, interest rate hikes are pushing borrowing rates to levels not seen in decades. the the wall street journal reported on Friday that delinquencies on subprime auto and home loans “hit a record high in February.”
According to Log, the rise in loan defaults is the product of the government allowing social programs adopted at the start of the coronavirus pandemic to expire, meaning millions of people are now unable to stay on top of the ‘water. Both capitalist parties have found $40 billion virtually overnight to arm fascist battalions in Ukraine, but say there is not enough money to avert unprecedented social hardship in the country.
Pantry demand has never been higher, with a Florida pantry operator telling a Tampa Bay television station: “We see different types of families coming through our lines, we see families for the first time, middle-class families, some families on social security.
The Biden administration’s “all guns and no butter” policy is having devastating consequences. Although two-thirds of U.S. food banks are experiencing rapidly increasing demand, they are also seeing “a 45% decline in food provided by the federal government,” CNN reported earlier this month. An executive from the non-profit organization Feeding America told the outlet, “We are in danger of running out of food. We are doing everything we can to avoid a serious hunger crisis.
Millions of workers in “the richest country in the world” are forced to sell their blood to survive. Thursday, the Washington Post featured a 41-year-old teacher on a $50,000 salary who sells plasma twice a week to get by. “I never thought I would be in a position where I had to sell my plasma to feed my children,” said Christina Seal of Slidell, Louisiana. “I applied for every government program I can think of. I don’t qualify for food stamps, I don’t qualify for any programs. ” The To post explained that plasma donations “have quadrupled since 2006.”
For the global financial elite, the relentless pursuit of profit justifies even more social suffering.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell pledged future rate hikes to reduce wage pressure and said, “It could be painful.” Michael Tran, managing director of global energy strategy at RBC Capital Markets, said that as the war in Ukraine drags on, “summer is going to be expensive.” IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva told G-7 central bank governors on Thursday: “I think what we need to start feeling more comfortable with is that it can’t be – not be the last shock.”
Claim that workers need to ‘feel more comfortable’ with economic desperation comes after two years in which workers have had to ‘live with’ a coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than a million people in the USA.
As they have done throughout the pandemic, business and government are counting on unions to isolate these struggles, rein in workers’ demands and keep production going.
At Arconic, the USW defied the workers’ unanimous strike vote and is instead seeking to push through a deal with below-inflation raises, sparking worker outrage. Similarly, in Detroit Diesel, the United Auto Workers (UAW) ignored the strike vote of 98% of workers and is forcing them to vote again on virtually the same contract they had already rejected. At CNH, the strike was sparked in part by anger that the latest contract was brokered by former UAW vice president Norwood Jewell, who was jailed for taking bribes -wine.
United Steel Workers (USW) President Tom Conway promised Joe Biden that his union would help keep wage increases below inflation. Nurses unions have done nothing to address staffing issues anywhere. Teacher unions have forced teachers back to school with each wave of the pandemic. Unions have been so critical to implementing government policies that the Biden administration is actively promoting the creation of unions at companies like Amazon in the name of maintaining labor discipline and managing supply lines.
But workers have gone through significant experiences in the past year, including strikes by 3,000 workers at Virginia Volvo and 10,000 workers at John Deere, and the contract struggle of 3,000 auto parts workers at Dana. In each case, the workers were able to establish rank-and-file committees and began to assert their strength against the corporations and the corporatist unions.
Workers face not individual bosses or corporations, but powerful global financial institutions backed by governments, police and armies around the world.
But workers can unleash their immense potential power by recognizing that their strength stems from their class. unitytheir independence unions and capitalist parties, and the international character of their struggles.
Around the world, workers are beginning to draw important political conclusions from their experiences. As an Iowa CNH worker recently told the WSWS:
Now more people’s eyes are open. When you look at Volvo and John Deere, and all that those workers went through, and how stuff was forced on them by the UAW, a lot of people saw that. And now it’s really coming out because it’s important to people. We are all working for real change, not just for ourselves, but for everyone. This strike is not just about our work, it’s about capitalism. And what this war really means, the high prices, it’s crazy, it all fits together. All over the world they want to keep us in capitalism and bring us down.