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Vol. 75/No. 47      December 26, 2011

Union power key to
defend life and limb
(feature article, editorial)

Recent issues of this paper reflect an uptick in labor resistance against the bosses’ assaults on our wages, working conditions, unity and dignity. Several articles this week point to the need to use union power to preserve life and limb. This will be posed ever sharper as the bosses’ competition becomes increasingly cutthroat in response to the deepening economic and social crisis of capitalism.

More than 4,500 workers were reportedly killed on the job last year. Based on “official” figures, nearly 4 million were injured or contracted job-related illnesses. And every worker knows what statistics don’t show: that the bosses’ relentless drive for profit at the expense of safety is matched by their campaign to conceal the inevitable results.

In Findlay, Ohio, 1,050 Steelworkers, already scarred by Cooper Tires’ injurious piece-rate system, are standing up to company demands to ramp it up as a way of “making us work harder for less pay,” as one worker put it.

The government’s top mine safety bureaucrats finally released their report on the April 2010 callous murder for profit of 29 workers at Massey’s Upper Big Branch Mine. The bosses’ government then sold those lives and immunity from prosecution.

Massey was allowed to intimidate workers into risking their lives and to cook their books to cover it up. But the problem is not a few bad bosses. It’s the course of the propertied owners, who take calculated risks on workers’ lives and limbs. On any particular day at any one place maybe no one gets hurt. But this is repeated over and over, day after day, in workplace after workplace, inevitably leading to major unpredicted “accidents.”

Karl Marx, a founder of the modern communist movement, explained in talks he gave in 1865, contained in a pamphlet titled Value, Price and Profit, that there are two standard ways capitalists extract more surplus value from our labor. One is to make us work longer, the other is to intensify our work—to have us produce more during the same amount of time.

This is what’s reflected in recent government figures on “productivity”—the capitalists are producing as much, if not more, with less workers working longer and harder. At the same time unemployment remains high, providing the bosses with a lever to increase competition among workers, which we must answer with spreading working-class solidarity.

At Willow Lake Mine in southern Illinois, workers have been fighting for seven months, and are still fighting, to make the bosses recognize their democratically elected union so they can press for better conditions and have their own safety committee. This is exactly what is needed. Only workers’ collective power can protect our health and very lives under capitalism. And this is essential in order to be able to effectively fight the bosses multifront assault.
Related articles:
Locked-out tire workers in Ohio build support rally
Rally slams Manitowoc Cranes’ union busting
Striker: ‘If we don’t stop it here, it will spread’
1,700 McGill Univ. strikers win, now ‘together, stronger’
Illinois miners win court ruling in fight for union
Bosses get off easy in 2010 death of 29 W.Va. miners
Minn. tank trailer workers strike against ‘outsourcing’
Licorice workers in fight ‘for long haul’
Striking limestone workers receive solidarity
Pa. Steelworkers return to jobs with heads held high
‘Keep covering our struggles’  
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