On May Day, the day of international working-class solidarity, it is necessary to take stock of the dire situation faced by working-class, oppressed people and youth in this country and around the world.
Just over eight years have passed since the outbreak of the financial crisis on Wall Street, after which the big banks and corporations that drove the economy into crisis were bailed out at a cost of almost $20 trillion while the working class in this country was abandoned to face home foreclosures and layoffs. Meanwhile the most devastating effects of the “great recession” were felt by the masses of the world’s poorest countries that are dominated and exploited by capitalism’s great imperialist powers.
In the U.S., Trump’s rise to power is a product of this crisis of capitalism that is pushing the world’s ruling classes to rely on more openly dictatorial forms of rule to maintain order, and more openly racist chauvinism to divide and conquer the masses.
The huge protests triggered by Trump’s capture of the White House have shown that millions of people want to take action to stop his right-wing agenda. But the protests have so far failed to halt Trump’s attacks, especially against the millions of oppressed people targeted by his administration’s first and most vicious measures.
In the U.S., undocumented immigrants face vilification and persecution from Trump’s ramped-up campaign of arrests and deportation. And people of color in general face increasing discrimination, harassment and violence from reactionary forces emboldened by Trump, especially police forces that are eager to assert their authority after years of being challenged by Black Lives Matter protests.
And abroad, poverty and desperation are rising across the globe, but nowhere is the suffering greater than in the Middle East. There, the masses face U.S. imperialism’s ever- expanding war-making, along with that of its imperialist rival, Russia’s Putin dictatorship. This carnage is only adding to the region’s misery as its dictatorships take revenge upon the masses who challenged their rule in the wave of popular revolutions that began in 2011, and as armed Islamist forces fight for a share of power and wealth amidst the chaos.
The United States’ position as the world’s dominant superpower means that mass struggles in this country to defeat Trump’s attacks can also make a great contribution to struggles for freedom and justice around the world. Most importantly, they can inspire optimism among the masses of the “Third World” that they can find common cause with the workers and oppressed people in even the richest and most powerfull country. And such struggles are desperately needed.
The Trump administration is proving that the longer it is allowed to survive, the more it will broaden its attacks against the rest of the working class and poor – Blacks and Latinos especially, but whites as well. In his first three months in office Trump has abandoned key populist promises of economic improvements that he made to white working-class people in particular in order to try to win their support for his racist agenda. Instead, he has rushed to satisfy the demands of Wall Street and Big Oil especially.
Breaking his campaign promises that “no one will lose coverage, there will be insurance for everybody” and that he would make sure there were no cuts to Medicaid, Trump’s attempt to overturn ‘Obamacare’ would have added tens of millions to the ranks of those not covered by health insurance and slashed Medicaid. And Trump has done nothing toward creating jobs by rebuilding the country’s infrastructure. But he has wasted no time in tearing up regulations against corporate polluters and is preparing to announce huge tax cuts for the rich that he aims to pay for with equally huge cuts to social services that working-class and poor people rely on.
Trump’s reneging on his promises, along with his administration’s infighting, scandals and multiple political blunders, have led to his growing unpopularity. He has survived one political crisis after another by sacrificing his populist promises and accepting the demands of his fellow billionaires and their representatives in Congress for harsher attacks on the working class. But this means that he is becoming increasingly vulnerable to the challenge of mass struggle.
A united struggle of the working class can defeat Trump’s agenda. But the oppressed people who are his immediate targets, undocumented immigrants especially, cannot afford to wait for broader support before launching determined struggles against the attacks they face. Calls by immigrants’ rights organizations for strikes on May Day and beyond deserve support. Such actions would do more than just challenge Trump’s racist deportation campaign. With the entire working class facing rising poverty and cuts to social services, such struggles could set an example for the rest of the working class to follow and thus help pave the way for the united, powerful working-class action that could defeat all of Trump’s attacks.
An example of the sort of struggle we need to build toward took place in Brazil just days ago. In response to the government’s austerity budget and attacks on workers’ rights there, the working class responded with a massive general strike that brought the country to a halt in a struggle that should continue until the masses’ demands are won.
To be sure, such united working-class action is not going to take place in this country tomorrow. Not only must racial divisions be overcome, but the working class has been largely kept passive for decades while living standards have fallen and exploitation intensified. The resulting demoralization and disorganization cannot be overcome instantaneously. But massive protests could lead, more quickly than most imagine, toward more powerful action like what Brazilian workers are doing – if the working class found a political leadership determined to encourage it.
Opposition to Trump, however, is still dominated by the Democratic Party and its allies in positions of leadership of working-class and poor people – the privileged bureaucrats who control the unions, civil rights organizations and NGOs. Despite their claims to be friends of labor and the oppressed, the Democrats are committed to the stability and profitability of U.S. capitalism above all else and will oppose any struggle that threatens the system. Their strategy is to support protests just enough to maintain their base – while mainly encouraging people to place their hopes in the prospects of electing Democrats in the future. But waiting for elections only paves the way for worsening attacks. Rather, working- class and oppressed people need to fight for and organize mass struggles of growing power and determination.
In the course of this fight, the most politically conscious and revolutionary minded layers among the working class and oppressed will have to come together to build a new political party to represent their interests and lead their struggles. That party will need to be prepared to challenge the capitalists’ political parties at the ballot box and most importantly in the streets and workplaces. It will need to lead struggles that challenge the capitalists’ profit-making, as well as the state apparatus of cops, courts and soldiers that exist to maintain the capitalists’ order. And as we will explain, that party will need to recognize that the only way to put an end to the worsening problems of oppression, exploitation and war will be for the working class to lead revolutions that overthrow capitalism and build a socialist society of abundance and freedom for all.
The massive uprising of struggle by undocumented immigrants in 2006 forced the government to abandon its worst plans at that time to criminalize undocumented immigrants. But the Obama administration continued with its policies of detaining and deporting immigrants through lower profile operations. Those tactics saw Obama earn the title of “Deporter in Chief” as he oversaw a record-breaking three million deportations! And they paved the way for Trump’s current onslaught.
Trump began his reign by targeting immigrants and refugees with his “Muslim travel ban” and stepped-up ICE raids. His mass round-ups and deportations, unlike Obama’s, were proclaimed loudly and aggressively, to rally the support of racists. This aim will require much more false criminalization of undocumented workers as “criminals,” to justify more punitive actions against the undocumented in the name of law and order, like the threat of a mandatory five- year jail sentence for repeated border-crossing.
From the start, many anti-Trump protesters recognized that immigrants and refugees would be in the front line of attacks. People chanted “No hate! No fear! Immigrants are welcome here!” Thousands flocked to airports to protest the Muslim ban. High school walkouts and college protests demanded that their administrations promise sanctuary to immigrants. But these great examples will have to be massively built upon.
Trump has a long history of anti-Black racism, from joining his landlord father in discriminating against Black tenants, to campaigning against the “Central Park Five” in New York who were framed for a rape they did not commit, to championing the racist “birther” campaign against the country’s first Black president. And yet while propelling his campaign for the White House with racist denunciations of Mexicans as “rapists and criminals” and Muslims as “terrorists,” Trump avoided making explicit racist attacks on Black Americans. He had several reasons for doing this.
For one thing, the long history of struggle by Black people in this country means that such racism would have triggered a massive response. The success of those past struggles mean that Black people today have even greater potential than in the past to deal blows to the ruling class. And those past struggles also won the respect and sympathy of significant numbers of whites, as many showed by joining Black Lives Matter protests.
At the same time, the Democratic Party’s long history of betraying their image as opponents of racism has led to falling support for the Democratic Party among Blacks. Trump recognized that this was particularly the case for Hillary Clinton, who had denounced Black youth as “super- predators” while campaigning for Bill Clinton’s “tough-on- crime” laws that led to the mass incarceration of people of color. So rather than increase Black support for Clinton by making explicit attacks on Blacks, Trump posed as a friend of “the African-Americans” and highlighted the betrayals of Clinton and the Democrats in order to discourage Black people from voting.
Nevertheless, Trump’s campaign against undocumented immigrants and refugees was enough to embolden racists everywhere. The dramatic rise in assaults on people of color that Trump inspired has targeted immigrants and claimed many Black victims as well. And Trump’s unleashing of immigration police on undocumented immigrants has already led to increasing racist police terror against Black and Latino citizens. Trump’s characterizations of Black neighborhoods as nothing but crime-ridden war-zones, his denunciation of the Black Lives Matter movement for inspiring attacks on police, and his vow to restore “law and order” all mean even worse attacks are to come.
Likewise, Trump’s phony claim that he won the presidency despite massive “voter fraud” targets not just Latinos and immigrants but Black voters especially. Campaigns of racist voter suppression by Republican state governments – onerous “voter ID” laws, closing polling locations in Black neighborhoods, limiting voting hours and purging electoral rolls of registered voters with common Black and Latino names – were essential to Trump’s victory. His continued complaints about imaginary voter fraud indicate that Trump and the Republican Congress plan to try to ensure future electoral victories by spreading similar racist tactics nationwide.
For decades the leaders of this country’s unions have generally discouraged workers from striking, arguing that it was safer to support the election of Democratic politicians and then lobby them to support pro-worker policies. The result has been a period of almost uninterrupted defeats and betrayals, with union membership shrinking to the point where few working-class people imagine that unions can defend their rights and economic interests.
Despite this, unions still offer a means for workers to collectively organize struggle. That is why one of Trump’s and Congress’s priorities is to deal a devastating blow to the unions by having the Supreme Court ratify a Republican bill that will deny unions the right to win compulsory unionization of companies’ workforces and collect dues on this basis. And that is why the union bureaucrats’ holding back struggles is a significant factor in preventing the sort of mass action that working-class and oppressed people need.
The primary concern of the union bureaucrats is to preserve their privileged position as negotiators between their members and the bosses and politicians; this explains their long history of selling out their members. This treachery has hit new lows in the offers of union leaders to cooperate with Trump in the hope that he will spare them from his attacks. One of the most obscene examples is the role played by AFL- CIO President Trumka, who praised Trump’s February speech to Congress as “one of his finest moments” – despite the fact that it featured his continued racist demonization of undocumented “criminals” as well as rallying support for the U.S. military’s murderous “war on terror.” Trumka even offered to “partner with [Trump] to try to rewrite the immigration rules” in order to supposedly “decrease the imbalance between corporate America and workers.”
This shameful posture not only sets up immigrant workers for worse attacks; it also leaves “native” workers disarmed for the attacks that are coming. If the unions are to defend themselves against the Republicans’ anti-labor moves, they will have to win the support of broader sections of the working class by mobilizing to oppose all of Trump’s attacks. They had an opportunity to do so when Trump attempted to pass his widely unpopular bill to overturn the Affordable Care Act and kill Medicaid in March. Had they mobilized a mass march on Washington to defend the ACA and begin a struggle for government-funded healthcare for all, they could have won massive support. Instead, they allowed the opportunity to pass by. They may get another chance when Trump submits a new bill, but don’t count on them raising a finger to do so unless their members are organized to pressure them for action.
Despite the long-term absence of major struggles by the unions, talk of “strikes” and “general strikes” is spreading, especially in socialist and activist circles. Yet there has been little understanding of what those words mean. These “strike” calls have not referred to the collective action of workers refusing to do their jobs, where the aim is to cut off the bosses’ profit-making. Nor are the calls serious about a “general strike,” in which many unions call out the ranks of workers simultaneously, normally in order to force political concessions from the government.
Celebrating small and isolated marches and protests as strikes or even general strikes downplays the massive scale and broad character of the actions needed. And it avoids recognizing that the main barrier to such action that must be overcome is the current leadership of the unions.
The League for the Revolutionary Party (LRP) advocates placing demands on the leaders of all organizations that claim to represent working-class and oppressed people to organize a united mass action against Trump’s attacks – for example, a march on Washington against the proposed cuts in healthcare and social services. These organizations include the trade unions, the national and community organizations that base themselves on the support of people under attack including civil rights groups like the NAACP and the National Council of La Raza, and NGOs, as well as groups with fewer resources but more militant reputations like Black Lives Matter.
Such a mobilization – championing the demands of people of color, women, and LGBT people as well as demands in the interest of the entire working class – would have a far greater impact than anything we have seen so far. It could match the size of the “Women’s March” of January 21 in Washington, D.C., the largest protest against Trump so far but which was dominated by middle-class supporters of Hillary Clinton and was not representative of the working class and the oppressed, despite its leaders’ token attempts to be “inclusive.” Such a centralized and focused mass mobilization can be prepared by local demonstrations and should put an end to the all-too- common problem of multiple anti-Trump rallies competing with one another in the same city. Most importantly, such a massive demonstration could embolden the struggle and thus build toward even more powerful action.
In Europe and Latin America there are often one- or two- day general strikes used by the labor bureaucracies to let workers blow off steam without accomplishing much. But in the U.S., one-day general strikes are not part of the political culture; even a basic strike experience is rare. For this reason even a one-day general strike, accompanied by a concentrated mass mobilization, would have a huge impact.
The fact that the idea of a general strike is being raised more, even in a confused way, is helpful in opening the door to the mass action that is needed. But it is vitally important to explain that collective working-class action is at the core of any real strike and is essential to realizing hopes of defeating Trump’s attacks. And it is just as necessary to explain that the working class will have to overcome the resistance of misleaders who try to hold back such struggles.
That’s why the LRP, despite our small size, devotes much of our energy to working in unions like New York City’s Transport Workers Union (TWU Local 100), in addition to our active involvement in struggles elsewhere. In Local 100 we push for action to defend workers’ interests as well as those of the riding public, and at the same time we work to build a new leadership for the union with our efforts organized around our newsletter, Revolutionary Transit Worker. RTW is the voice of an openly and proudly revolutionary socialist grouping of workers – possibly the only such organization in a trade union in the country, since those socialists who even bother to work in unions typically conceal their views behind vague claims to represent the cause of “rank-and-file democracy” (see www.lrp-cofi.org/TWU100/RTW/ to learn more).
At present the immigrant rights movement is the one that speaks most directly to the most oppressed workers, as it did in 2006. The partial mobilizations this May Day can’t duplicate what happened in 2006, but are still very positive. Some unions are planning to participate, although not yet on a national level. Most encouraging are the reports about the involvement of a key section of the California Service Employees International Union, the United Service Workers West, representing janitors and other service categories. Also involved are organizations representing non-union food workers on the West Coast and elsewhere. And the sponsorship of the Chicago May Day protest by the Chicago Labor Federation as well as the Chicago Teachers’ Union are positive developments. This can serve as an example to push other unions into action, as well as to point to the potential for long-overdue united action by union and non-union workers.
As revolutionary socialists, we believe that to finally put an end to the misery of exploitation, oppression and war, the struggles of working-class and oppressed people will ultimately have to culminate in revolutions that overthrow society’s ruling class of capitalists and the state of courts, cops and soldiers that exist to maintain their order. The fact that Democratic Party’s betrayals of the working class and oppressed led to the rise of Trump shows that we need a party of our class, growing out of our mass struggles and dedicated to the construction of a socialist society of freedom and abundance for all. A state run by the working class would guarantee that the economy works for human needs, not the profits of a few. It would wipe out the gross inequality that oppresses and outrages us and would unlock the potential of modern science to save the planet from environmental destruction.
The tasks of revolutionaries today are to further the mass struggles and help give them direction, while working to build a revolutionary leadership that fights to overthrow capitalist rule. We encourage our fellow workers and youth to sort through all the different claimants to socialism and find the authentic revolutionary socialism that is worth fighting for. Trump’s brutality is only a foretaste of what the capitalist system and its politicians will have in store if the working class does not win.