Labor is the Way Forward

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Today organizers with the Amazon Labor Union and Starbucks Workers United met with Joe Biden. And Amazon Labor Union leader Chris Smalls testified to the Senate, sparring with the likes of Lindsey Graham and making the case that workers make it all (corporate America) happen. Later organizers had the opportunity to meet with Joe Biden, showing a rare olive branch to labor from an otherwise corporate Democratic Party (though it’s worth noting they’re still handing Amazon massive government contracts.) The labor movement has made gargantuan gains and this is likely a symbol of more to come.

There is much to say about recent developments in the labor movement. There is necessary context to add, such as the fact that labor union density is still at historic lows, but that context must not outweigh the triumph given just how fundamental the labor movement is to the future of the left. Current organizing at places like Amazon and Starbucks shows the way forward and charts a path that is not dependent on electoral politics or big name politicians like Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. 

Labor is the New (Old) Center of Organizing

That’s not to say elections and those figures aren’t important, in fact they played a fundamental role in revitalizing the left over the last decade. Particularly Bernie Sanders and his primary runs in 2016 and 2020. Bernie brought a coherent ideology to the left and a unifying force to organize around. In the years following 2016 and once again today, it seems as though the left is somewhat lost in the wilderness without that unifying force. That’s where the labor movement and labor organizing come in. 

Labor organizing is more important to the left than its role in lifting the material conditions of workers. That is incredibly important and the main reason it can be an effective tool of political engagement for the left. It’s also not tied to any election or politician and is instead tied to the institutions that workers themselves create and depend on every single day. Meaning in short labor organizing can happen with gusto 7 days a week 365 days a year. This creates an opening for the left to both build those institutions and make the case that a broader political project spilling into basically every facet of society is just as valuable and important as the narrower political project of labor organizing, and the benefits work in tandem with those of labor to create the livable society socialists imagine. 

Again that effort is well underway. Starbucks Workers United has unionized 48 stores and counting, winning election after election in state after state. The Amazon Labor Union won the first union for Amazon at a Staten Island Warehouse. In total 2,654 Amazon workers voted for the union and 2,131 against. In a second vote at a Staten Island sorting center the union was defeated by a vote of 618 against to 380 votes in favor. However, regardless of that set back, the first victory is hopefully the first of many and represents a hugely significant moment in labor history and for the left. It’s also important to note that the effort to unionize Amazon is just beginning and there are warehouses and sorting centers in every state waiting to be unionized. 

The Left Must Win Unions Over

Again that project isn’t just one for the workers who can demand better contracts, wages, and benefits, it’s a project for the left too. Showing people that organizing makes their lives better spills over to the entire left project and every goal of the left is best served with an organized working class. The political consciousness required to make the jump from “organizing won me material benefits” to “political action wins material benefits” is basically entirely created by the labor movement. There is a reason that the socialist movement peaked in the United States along with union density. It might be obvious but it’s fundamentally important that the left support the growing labor movement with their time, resources, and energy. 

It’s also important because it doesn’t go without saying that unions will support all the same causes as the left. Larger labor unions don’t support medicare for all, they don’t support many other policies on the left and often champion candidates who are less than friendly to labor. The idea that the conflict between labor and bosses is similar to the conflict between normal people and capital has to be fostered and furthered in the working class through the hard work of organizing and propagandizing. The good thing though is that history shows this consciousness can be built and the argument is pretty intuitive to most people. 

The labor movement and the left have some momentum and something to build on. It’s important to keep that going. It’s the left’s job to radicalize workers, to organize workers, and to build politically savvy unions that represent the material needs of the entire working class and not just those workers in their particular company. It has been done before and it can be done again and the good news is the beginnings are underway right now. Labor is the way forward.

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