My name is Erek Slater. I am a ten-year veteran Chicago public bus driver. My coworkers have elected me to be their union shop-steward and executive board member of the Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 241. International Courier has asked me to write some lines on the workers’ situation in the United States. I do not speak on behalf of any organization here but for myself.
I was illegally fired from my job as a city bus driver in February for my union and political activity. I want to share with you some good news: our union recently won a victory returning me back to work.
In addition to the support of hundreds of workers and unionists in the United States, I want to particularly thank everyone who sent letters and solidarity, from Korea to Brazil and France.
Recently, I was privileged to participate in the mass-mobilization of hundreds of thousands here in Seoul. The working people of Korea are showing the world how to organize and fight!
A few words about my coworkers:
About 100 maintenance workers and 600 bus operators work at my bus garage in Chicago. Along with about 7,000 transit workers, we safely move 1.5 million people every day. Each of us is leader of our families and leaders in our communities.
However, we are under constant attack by the city rulers and their appointed managers. We are disrespected, harassed and forced into extremely dangerous working conditions. Some of our main concerns are [in no particular order]:
- Lack of respect, especially from management, for the hard, complex and important work we do.
2. Making us pay more for retirement.
3. Forcing us to pay more for less health care.
4. Dangerous sleeping and work schedules. Not enough time or safe locations to use the washroom.
5. Two-tiered working conditions: part-time vs. full-time workers doing the same work with dramatically different working conditions and pay (similar to irregular vs. regular work in Korea).
6. Violence from the legitimate anger of the passengers, the too-high bus fair and a massive cut in government services for people with mental and physical disabilities, the homeless, and the poor.
7. Repetitive stress injuries and a criminalization of workers who try to take time off work to heal or help our family.
8. Massive surveillance of our work alongside punitive and excessive discipline policies.
We are currently working under a contract that expired in 2015. Our last contract saw significant increases in our health care costs. Now the bosses want to extract more concessions from us as they try to smash our unions.
We must mobilize to lead our working-class communities to turn back these attacks while fighting for a massive expansion of public transportation (and other social needs) where thousands of unemployed workers are hired for front-line jobs at union-scale pay and benefits.
I want to say a few words about the current situation in the United States. However, first, it is important to briefly discuss the modern history of the U.S. workers movement.
The workers’ movement rose in strength during the aftermath of the great depression to the point where the bosses were afraid the workers would take control of the country. The bosses used their state (courts, cops, media, and military) to jail union leaders and revolutionists. World War Two was used as a pretext for this and other anti-democratic measures against workers. What was left of the leadership of the union movement charted a course of worker submission to the bosses: binding workers to legal frameworks that weakened our ability to use our collective power. The United States’ main competitors’ industrial production was largely destroyed from the war and the U.S. bosses made huge profits. They were able to temporarily buy off a generation of workers with relatively better pay. Since that time, our working and living conditions have been systematically lowered with relatively little effective resistance by organized labor. During this period, the workers’ movement has forgotten many of the lessons learned when it openly fought the bosses’ power over us (with important exceptions, such as the civil rights movement). This is why U.S. workers have so much to learn from Korean workers and our shared struggle.
A few words about the current situation in the U.S:
The global attack on working and living conditions, labor-protections and democratic rights is also going on in the United States. Our public needs, such as housing, healthcare, and public transportation are being cut. Our work is made harder and more dangerous. Our real take-home pay has been lowered for generations.
Resistance to these attacks has developed into national struggles such as the fight against police violence and mass-incarceration, the fight against racism and immigrant-hatred and the struggle for a living-social-wage.
I was asked to say a few words about the “Fight for 15 and a Union” struggle:
About 9 of 10 workers in the U.S. do not have a union. Millions of U.S. workers have been forced into temporary, part-time or “irregular” employment. Fast-food and other lower-paid workers have been assisted by the Service Employees International Union to struggle for US$15 an hour, regular full-time work-schedules and a union. A number of cities and states have raised the minimum wage to $15, although in most cases this is delayed over several years and many categories of workers have been excluded. Union recognition has been harder to win.
Since the great sit-down strikes of the 1940s and 1950s, unions have shrunk in size and power as boss-friendly union officials have refused to mobilize the ranks and told workers we cannot do anything ourselves other than vote for boss-politicians. The fight for a higher minimum wage as well as the fight for similar working conditions across the working-class helps to unite working people; however, the current official labor leaders in the United States are currently not willing to organize and unleash the self-activity and militancy of the working class. This tension between the ineffective strategies of labor officials and the burning needs of workers has created a crisis within the labor movement that has partly burst out in the Fight for 15.
A few words about U.S. politics:
Donald Trump is the new elected U.S. President. When given two poor choices, many workers voted for Trump. The great majority did not do so because they support his anti-woman, anti-black, anti-immigrant or anti-Muslim attacks. The majority of workers voted for Trump despite this rhetoric. The Clinton campaign, the Democratic Party and the union-officialdom that supported them offered very little to us but more of the same attacks on our living and working conditions. Many of the US rulers preferred an Obama-type of candidate to project a false image of enlightenment to cover their hypocrisy and imperial aggression internationally. Now the gloves are off.
The recent demonstrations of thousands in many U.S. cities protesting the election of Trump are a warning to the ruling class: if you try to attack us there will be resistance.
Now all branches of the U.S. government (House, Senate, Presidency and soon the Supreme Court) are controlled by the Republican Party section of the boss-class. The Republican party represents nearly identical class-interests as does the Democratic Party, however, it often pushes a more direct and open confrontation with the working class.
The super-wealthy rulers of United States do not want to do what the crises of capitalism forces them to do: attack the working class and provoke our resistance, organization and reopen the potential of building an alternative to their unjust rule over us.
Currently, in the United States, there is no third party of the masses. Both parties of the bosses are in crisis. There is no pro-capitalist labor or “socialist” party to let off the steam of the class-battle. Bernie Sanders is a reflection of this. Both Sander’s and Trump’s “anti-establishment” rhetoric show there is a huge opening for working-class mass-action politics towards building a government in the United States of, by and for working people. If we do not, there is a real danger the rulers will return to fascism or world-war to try to save their system and their unjust rule.
About the link between the workers in the U.S. and the workers of the world:
Recently, in Seoul, I had the privilege of participating of a great demonstration organized by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions. It was impressive. They show by their disciplined struggle that working people are able to lead Korea!
However, the United States governments do not respect the rights of the Korean people nor many others peoples around the world. They support dictatorships, the invade countries and set military bases all over the world. Even when in many countries there are elected governments, most of them serve to keep the domain of the international corporations and the rich families of their countries.
The working class of the United States, together with workers across the world, can force the removal of these military bases in the world and prevent new invasions. The U.S. working class can make the political price so high that bloodying your legitimate government may be prevented. We have done it before: in 1945 when US troops and their families back home said, “No!” to attacking China. We did it in the 1970s alongside the military victory of the people of Vietnam: U.S. soldiers revolted as did many in the United States.
It is vital that working people in the United States understand the struggle of the peoples of the world and that we take an active role in our mutual emancipation. The organizations of working people in the world and in the United States urgently need to develop direct ties of communication, education and shared struggle.
For several generations, the United States has been a center of imperialist domination. The US rulers have recently made a turn towards renewed economic, diplomatic and military domination of the peoples of East Asia and the Pacific. These provocations endanger the whole world. The working class of the United States has no objective interest in this domination of other working people. Ultimately, our future is the same as yours: we must link arms internationally to overcome the epoch of capital and build a new world society.
Originally published @ International Courier #16.