How the workers fared during the 80's

(The Workers' Advocate, January 1, 1990, p. 5)


. The rich are remembering the 1980's as a time of fun and frolic -- luxurious homes, fancy cars, and high living. But for the working masses this has been a time of hardship.

. The decade began with a depression. And the capitalist class, Democrats and Republicans alike, united around a recovery program based on slashing the standard of living of the masses. The Chrysler bailout in 1979 began an offensive of job elimination and concessions that quickly spread through every industry. Racial discrimination and a flag-waving crusade against foreign workers filled the air. Strike breaking and union busting -- spurred on by Reagan's firing of the striking air traffic controllers -- became the all too common answer to the workers' resistance.

. This united, bipartisan offensive of the capitalists discouraged the workers, disorganized them and set back their struggle. But as the years have gone by, resistance has broken out here and there. And elements have been growing for a wider struggle by the working class.

Growing gap between the workers
and the union leaders

. Fierce strikes and other struggles broke out at a number of factories during the decade, and threatened to spread into wider struggles. But everywhere, the union bureaucracy sabotaged strikes, split up workers, and undermined attempts at resistance.

. Almost universally, the union bureaucrats sided with the capitalists' hysteria over "foreign competition," and imposed concessions contracts on workers with the lie that these would "save jobs." Many times workers voted down contracts, only to have the union heads demand they vote again. And frequently, union leaders stuffed ballot boxes or imposed takebacks without even allowing the workers to vote. The union leaders split up national contract bargaining in the steel, telephone, auto and other industries. In the coal fields and elsewhere, union bureaucrats limited workers to "selective strikes" at individual companies or work places, where they could be isolated and defeated. And local unions of rebellious strikers, such as at Hormel meatpacking, were taken over by the international leaders and the strikes suppressed.

. Meanwhile, a section of mainly local union bureaucrats or bureaucrats out of office formed loyal oppositions, such as the New Directions Movement in auto. While posturing that they sided with the rank and file, these bureaucrats agreed with the top hacks' trade war campaigns, suppressed mass struggles, and diverted the workers' resistance back, into the usual, restrictive channels of the union bureaucracy.

. While the union leaders were able to hold back the strike movement, down to a record low in 1988, they also alienated the workers. This is sowing the seeds for a rank-and-file revolt.

. In 1988, the growing gap between the rank and file and the union heads was manifested in big votes by truck drivers, rubber workers, Chrysler workers, and others against contracts sponsored by the union leaders. The union leaders imposed the contracts over protests of the rank and file. In 1989, nearly 60,000 coal miners refused to listen to their leaders and launched a wildcat strike lasting several weeks. At National Steel, rebellious workers took over their local union meeting and temporarily halted a sellout deal cooked up by union leaders. The strike of 58,000 workers at Boeing was unleashed because of the initiative of rank-and-file workers who marched through the plant calling for a no-vote, despite the vacillations of the union bosses.

. These and other outbursts of initiative by the rank and file helped spur on the strike movement. Strikes by telephone workers, airline employees, hospital workers, grocery workers, and others broke out this year and gave new impulse for working class solidarity. Rallies of thousands of workers from different strikes and industries were held in most major cities this year. And calls have grown for a one-day general strike to support Pittston miners, Eastern Airline workers, and other hard pressed strikers.

Class struggle in the 90's

. Other elements of a renewed working class struggle have been building up in the 1980's.

. Immigrants have been savagely attacked under the Simpson-Rodino law, which aims to keep them without rights and super-exploited in low-wage sweatshops. But in recent years organizing drives and strikes have broken out more and more frequently against the slave driving of immigrants in meatpacking, food processing, apparel, restaurants, and other shops.

. As more and more workers have been driven into homelessness, a movement has begun to emerge for decent housing. In October, some 100,000 people marched on Washington D.C. demanding housing now. And in most major cities, homeless people with support of other workers have stage sit-ins, occupied abandoned buildings, resisted police evictions, and waged other protests for housing, jobs and unemployment relief. Along with this, demonstrations, pickets, and job actions continue to break out against plant closings and layoffs. These actions are laying the basis for the outbreak of an unemployed movement as the U.S. economy teeters and job cuts grow.

. As well, working women have come more and more into the struggle during the 1980's. The number of women working has grown through the 80's to some 55 million women in 1989, 45% of all working people. They have been the backbone for the strikes such as at the Watsonville Cannery and in the hospitals. And they are in the center of new organizing drives among clerical, restaurant, clothing, food processing and other workers. Their growing numbers and militancy have pushed forward struggles for particular issues like equal pay, child care, and health care. The capitalists' offensive against women -- such as for workfare, the crusade against abortions, and attacks on other women's rights -- aim to keep working class women specially oppressed and super- exploited. But the growing proletarianization of women is providing a base of militancy to fight back.

. The 1980's have been a time of all around attack on the working masses and setback for the working class movement. But within this onslaught, the elements have been growing for renewed struggle and the spread of a class-wide battle against the capitalist exploiters. <>

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Last changed on December 20, 2008.