She pointed to the importance of building labor solidarity with nearly 40,000 workers on strike at Verizon. “I was on their picket line, and a few days ago joined Teamsters in a protest against the threat to cut their pensions in half,” Kennedy said. “Joining these actions is part of building a working-class movement that can defend us as the crisis of the capitalist system spirals downward.”
Kennedy had a back-and-forth exchange with 15 members of the local before their business meeting.
Monroe Energy, a subsidiary of Delta Airlines, bought the refinery in 2012. In the meeting and over pizza afterward, oil workers described the company’s attacks on their union and working conditions — from forcing workers to use vacation days after sick days run out to refusing to settle grievances to forcing injured workers to get quack treatment from the company doctor.
“Profit rates are falling, so the bosses cut wages, speed up work and cut jobs,” Kennedy said. “Underneath the support for candidates who aren’t from the ‘party machine,’ like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, is the deep anger over these conditions and at the bosses and their government. But all the capitalist candidates say the problem is caused by ‘rip-offs’ or the greed of a handful. All of them join in covering up the fact that the problem is the capitalist system itself.”
“Working people need to overturn the rule of the employing class, to take the reins of government ourselves,” she said. “We need a labor party, based on our unions, to lead a fight for power.”
Fight for health care as social right
“What is your solution to the mess of Obamacare?” refinery operator Joe Gustitus asked the SWP candidate.
“We need to mobilize working people to fight for health care from cradle to grave as a social right for all,” Kennedy replied. Through its labor the working class transforms nature and produces all wealth, she said. “But that wealth is appropriated by the capitalist class.”
She pointed to the example of workers’ social power shown in battles by coal miners in the 1960s and ’70s for safety and protections against black lung disease and to strengthen the United Mine Workers union. One result of those struggles was winning health clinics in mining communities where they had never existed before.
After the meeting, Kennedy encouraged the Steelworkers members to come and continue the discussion at the conference the Socialist Workers Party is organizing in Oberlin, Ohio, June 16-18.
Kennedy and other Socialist Workers Party campaigners took part in an April 18 rally outside the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., opposing deportation of immigrant workers. Some 2,000 people joined the action, held as the court heard a challenge to President Barack Obama’s 2014 executive decree ordering a temporary stay on deportations of millions of undocumented workers, while “cracking down on illegal immigration at the border” and stepping up deportation of those deemed criminals.
Kennedy spoke with Jerry Redwine, 26, who came on a bus from Arkansas with 50 others. “I’m from the land of Tyson Foods,” he told her, where the poultry giant’s profits “come before things like getting a paycheck or a bathroom break. It’s a pleasure to meet a candidate who is not bought off.”
‘No deportations, unionize everyone’
“The Socialist Workers Party supports every fight against deportations and victimization of immigrant workers,” Kennedy said. “This is essential if we’re going to unionize everyone. But Obama’s executive order, which is temporary and partial, is not a step forward for working people.
“It’s not in the interest of the working class to have government by presidential decree or court orders, which are arbitrary and undermine constitutional protections against the government that our class needs,” she added. “And we shouldn’t let ourselves be channeled into voting for one of the capitalist candidates because of who they might appoint to the Supreme Court.”
“I have to agree,” said Redwine. “Anything the two parties touch starts with us compromising.” He took copies of the Socialist Workers Party campaign literature to share with friends and discuss inviting an SWP candidate to meet with them in Arkansas.
“What you are doing is very important,” Kennedy told Alba Morales, a cashier who signed up for a subscription to the Militant and sold one to a co-worker during a rally for $15 an hour and a union in Washington April 14. “Look to yourself and your class, not the capitalist candidates,” Kennedy said.
This point is important as union officials push workers to look to one or another of the bourgeois candidates as a savior, however flawed. Verizon strikers marching across the Brooklyn Bridge April 14 show the working-class power that could be unleashed if workers had their own party based on their unions. But union officials directed the march to the Democratic Party primary debate that evening. The same day, organizers of Fight for $15 actions in New York led a march to join an anti-Trump rally, fostering the illusion that electing a Democratic Party candidate would be an advance for working people.
Kennedy and supporters went door to door talking to workers in coal-mining communities near Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, April 15, two weeks after 3,000 coal miners marched to protest attempts by Alpha Natural Resources to tear up its contract with the Mine Workers.
“My brother-in-law was laid-off from a contractor job at a Murray mine, and told he could come back at $8 an hour,” nurse’s aide Juanita Riley told Kennedy. “When he said no, he was denied unemployment.”
“I was a coal miner in Utah, and I know about Murray Energy Corp. Nine people were killed by the profit drive at a Murray mine in Crandall Canyon in 2007,” Kennedy said. “Safety issues and working conditions were a big part of a 10-month strike I was part of at the Co-Op coal mine. Miners there, mostly immigrants making $5 to $7 an hour, set an example of how to reach out for solidarity. The fight for workers control of conditions on the job to enforce safety is part of the fight to transform the unions for the big fights that are coming.”
Socialist Workers Party joins labor struggles, goes for ballot
Reporter’s notebook: SWP candidates on campaign trail
Spring subscription drive, April 2-May 17 (week 2) (chart)
Militant Fighting Fund, April 2-May 17 (week 2) (chart)
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