Forging the Fightback:
The Million Worker March Movement Calls for Rank and File Unity in the Struggle for Workers' Rights and an End to the War in Iraq
The San Francisco Million Worker March Committee
1. The Million Worker March Movement emerged from a historic summons to working people by ILWU Local 10, calling upon the rank and file of the labor movement, organized and unorganized, to mobilize in our own name and to challenge the passivity of the AFL-CIO leadership in the face of unrestrained class warfare waged by the captains of capital against the mass of our people.
2. Working people need to have a political expression of our own which is an alternative to the U.S. corporate sector that both the Democrats and the Republicans represent. The timing of the March on Washington was to prepare the beginning of a fight-back precisely because the two political parties, acting as one, were confining political discourse to the corporate agenda of permanent war, destruction of all social services, and a relentless assault upon the union movement itself.
3. It was clear to us that the crisis in a labor movement whose numbers had dwindled to under 12% of the work force in America was linked directly to the business unionism that has done everything possible to stifle rank and file leadership. It is reflected in the wholesale concessionary bargaining that has produced setback after setback and led to the dismantling of the trade union movement. Pension funds go belly-up, workers' rights are eroded and, while all this unfolds, dependence upon the Democratic Party deepens -- a Party whose funding, personnel, track record and program are at the very center of the assault upon our class.
4. Behind a façade of two parties, the captains of industry call the political shots while labor has been put in the position of providing cover for undisguised attacks upon working people.
5. Here is a political party and a candidate who supported the war in Iraq and attacked the Republican administration from the right for "hesitating" to carry out a Guernica-like genocide in Fallujah. Here was a party whose leadership called for increasing the military budget by nearly $800 billion, adding 40,000 troops in Iraq, attacking Iran preemptively, cutting social services and reducing the federal deficit by slashing two million public sector jobs. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, John Kerry stated that his administration would not only protect business but contain any challenge to its rule. He stated that the election was about "a change in CEO," adding: "election day will be a national shareholders' meeting." John Kerry and the Democratic Party were unabashed in parading Kerry's key policy makers before Wall Street and the financial media. His economic policy maker was Warren Buffett, the right-wing Republican billionaire who performed the same function for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. His economic team included Lee Iacocca of Chrysler bail-out fame, David Bonderman of the Texas Pacific Group, who bankrupted Continental and American West airlines, destroying union jobs, while profiteering; Bank of America chairman, Charles Gifford, August A. Busch IV, President of Anheuser-Busch, and Peter Chernin, administrative director of the far-right Rupert Murdoch News, Corporation -- all registered Republicans and key financiers of the 2000 Presidential campaign of George W. Bush.
6. John Kerry's key foreign policy makers featured Rand Beers, who took over FEMA from Oliver North under Ronald Reagan and served on the National Security Council for George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush and William Perry of the Carlyle Group -- the 14 billion dollar arms conglomerate run by a "Who's Who" of the Republican Party.
7. In handing over union funds of well over $100 million to the Democratic Party, labor was put in the position of funding a political campaign waged on behalf of corporate capital. Who was to speak for working people? The Million Worker March undertook to place front and forward the crisis facing working people and the failure of the political parties to address it. We spelled out a working peoples' agenda and looked to the rank and file to mobilize in their own name.
8. The timeliness of the March was related to the absence of choice at a time of election. We said that the real election was the decision of union locals across the country to advance our needs and to call for action concerning universal health care, affordable housing, an end to profiteering and the hegemony of the merchants of death with their program of perpetual war.
9. John Sweeney and the AFL-CIO leadership sought to discourage union endorsements of the March. They called upon unions and labor council to cut off funds. They asserted that the defeat of George Bush took precedence over a national worker mobilization that would address the crisis facing labor.
10. As endorsements by major trade unions grew and the Million Worker March built regional committees across the country, the AFL-CIO leadership issued statements in which they professed to support the aims of the March while objecting to its timing. Unfortunately, these public statements were accompanied by stepped up efforts behind the scenes to prevent locals from organizing buses and sending supporters of the March to other locations. We asked then as we assert now: Who spoke for the needs of working Americans at a time of this election -- the Democratic Party with its corporate agenda or the Million Worker March movement with our demands for universal health care, slashing the military budget, affordable housing for all, a crash program to save our public schools, the reconstruction of our decaying cities and a halt to the mad race to the sweat-shop bottom that pit workers against each other across the world? The Million Worker Movement understood the pressures upon people in the movement for social justice to "dump Bush" and we reached out to all, regardless of their expectations from the elections, to stand up for our needs, to voice our demands and to prepare the terrain within rank and file labor and the community for an ongoing movement for fundamental change in America.
11. We know that many in USLAW supported the March and we were gratified that Gene Bruskin spoke at the Lincoln Memorial, even though a formal endorsement by USLAW, despite support for it, did not occur. We regretted this at the time, but, today, as Fallujah is devastated and a relentless war of subjugation is unleashed in Iraq, the applause of the leadership of the Democratic Party and deafening silence of the leadership of the AFL-CIO speak to us with no less compelling urgency. A hallmark of the Million Worker Movement has been the clear emergence of Black working class leadership -- through ILWU Local 10, The teamsters National Black Caucus, District Council 1707 of AFSCME, the Transport Workers Union in New York -- in conjunction with union activists in every sector of the labor movement, the immigrant rights movement and broad sectors of the anti-war movement, notably in the International Action Center and ANSWER. Even as the Million Worker March on October 17 was a reflection of the real composition of rank and file working people in America -- both in terms of rank and file activism and the involvement of the most exploited sectors of the work force -- the March was called to provide a vehicle for real change and to end our political dependence upon our exploiters.
12. Today, working people face even greater assaults. Every indicator of the U.S. economy reveals the crisis in which the system of private ownership of the means of production now finds itself. The deficit financing required to sustain imperial reach is matched by the instability of the dollar as corporate and banking capital siphon off trillions of dollars in profit.
13. The international nature of corporate rule and the exploitation it imposes upon working people is manifested most clearly by the outsourcing of jobs to the sweatshops of the world. To pit workers against each other in this way requires breaking the will of working people in every country and, above all, to prevent a unified workers' fight-back across national frontiers.
14. That is the significance of the presence at the Lincoln Memorial of representatives and messages of support from international trade union federations representing 47.7 million organized workers.
15. The Million Worker March movement is not centered in the United States alone. It can be found in the Railway Workers of Japan who battle privatization. It is present in the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions as it prepares a General Strike against the corporate attempt to end full-time employment. It is manifested in the support from the trade union federations of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Venezuela, Brazil, Philippines and Spain.
16. When Dora Chiba, the Japanese Railway Workers Union, organized demonstrations against privatization and union-busting in Tokyo, the Million Worker March was there. We joined a delegation to the Tokyo offices of the company that owned the hotels locking out hotel workers in the U.S.
17. The Million Worker March followed up in San Francisco. Together with the San Francisco Labor Council and Hotel Workers Local 2, we co-sponsored a unity rally on November 20 and led rank and file members of unions across the Bay Area to join the picket lines at five major hotels.
18. The lock-out was ended that day -- a strong indication that a unified struggle of working people -- nationally and internationally -- is the way to win strikes, beat back scabs and regain the offensive for working people.
19. The international fightback initiated by the Million Worker March Movement takes note of the weakness of the U.S. dollar that occurs at a moment when the U.S. Government Accountability Office has calculated a "fiscal gap" -- the amount necessary to pay off U.S. indebtedness -- at $72 trillion. Much of the debt paper is held by overseas investors whose incentive to remain in dollar holdings diminishes daily.
20. The one percent of the population that now owns more than the combined wealth of 95% of the population is compelled to intensify drastically the exploitation of our labor in order to sustain what is increasingly shown to be precarious rule.
21. Andrew Stern and the leadership of SEIU have called for organizational changes within the structure of the AFL-CIO to address the malaise afflicting the labor movement in America. Clearly, labor is in urgent need of a new strategy and a vision that can galvanize working people.
22. The Million Worker March movement poses the necessity for labor to answer the crisis facing working people in America through a declaration of political independence. If working people are to confront and to redress a system in terminal decay, we shall need to build a political vehicle and party that fights for our program and is answerable at every level to the rank and file, whose expression it must be.
23. Never has there been a more opportune moment for rank and file working people to forge a mass movement for fundamental change. Rarely has the importance of unity in struggle been more compelling along an axis of class independence. We need unity in action based upon the mobilization of the rank and file. We have the opportunity to wage this struggle not only in the United States but in conjunction with the ongoing fight-back of labor in many countries.
24. Now is the time for the Million Worker Movement, U.S. Labor Against the War, the Labor Party, and organizations committed to a rank and file fightback to act in unison.
25. We call for organized discussion to prepare joint action against the war in Iraq and the policies of permanent war.
26. We urge the opening of discussions with ANSWER, the International Action Center, Veterans for Peace, Iraqi Veterans Against the War, and Gulf War Veterans for common action on March 19 in New York around a unified call for an immediate end to the war in Iraq and withdrawal of all occupation forces.
27. We call upon U.S. Labor Against the War, the Labor Party, Black Workers For Justice to join the Million Worker March Movement in reclaiming May Day as the day of the international workers' movement and to call an international action around the list of demands set forth by the Million Worker March.
28. In forging a unified rank and file movement to resist the wars of subjugation of U.S. rulers we defend the working class at home and abroad. In acting together for independent political action, we can emancipate working people from the deadly embrace of a leadership that has abandoned the struggle and forge a political expression of our own.
29. In identifying the class nature of the oppression afflicting us, we can prepare the way for a workers' agenda for the transformation of our society and for the democratic control by the working class of the levers of governance in every society.
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Contents copyright © 2005 by The San Francisco Million Worker March Committee.
Format copyright © 2005 by Cultural Logic, ISSN 1097-3087.