US workers on the march – unions must break with Democrats and form a Labor Party

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THE strike actions of US workers are growing apace and are achieving big successes as the working class begins to use its power.

One week after Walmart, the US’s largest private employer, said it would raise hourly wages to $9, after a series of mass strike actions, the owners of US retailers TJ Maxx and Marshalls have announced that they will also raise the hourly pay of their workers to $9 (£5.80) in June – $1.75 above the country’s minimum wage.

Like Walmart, TJ Maxx and Marshalls said they also plan to increase the rate to $10 in 2016.

Workers, however, are demanding a minimum wage of $15 an hour, so the mass actions of US retail and fast food workers have only just begun.

The US federal minimum wage is currently $7.25 per hour, although several US states and cities have already passed measures increasing the minimum wage, while in 23 US states and Washington DC it is set to rise in the period immediately ahead!

Meanwhile, FairPoint workers in New England have won and ratified a new contract, ending the longest telecom strike in US history. The action began on October 17.

The union’s key goals were to curtail work transfers – FairPoint’s practice of moving work around among three states, which has often forced workers to move or quit – and subcontracting.

The company’s final offer – now ditched – imposed at the end of August, had no protection against subcontracting or work transfers. It also created a two-tier wage system for new hires, eliminated new-hire pensions, froze current workers’ pensions, and increased health care costs.

The USW-led oil refineries strike is still growing as workers dig in, in their battle for health and safety at 15 facilities, including 12 oil refineries now on strike.

Meanwhile, the battle on the West Coast between the PMA West Coast employers and the ILWU has ended, for the moment, with a five-year deal proposed, after the union defied a series of lockouts causing panic in the US government and amongst international big business.

The settlement was called ‘a huge relief’ for the economy, businesses and workers by the White House.

President Obama urged the parties ‘to work together to clear out the backlogs and congestion in the West Coast ports as they finalise their agreement’.

The 20,000 dockworkers have been without a contract since July. The bosses have been suspending loading and unloading of cargo vessels for night shifts, holidays and weekends at the five busiest ports.

Obama had come under mounting political pressure to intervene in a conflict that was costing the US economy billions of dollars.

The situation was so serious that leaders from both sides were told that unless they came to terms swiftly they would be ‘summoned to Washington to continue their negotiations at the White House’.

A tentative deal was announced on Friday, subject to ratification by the union rank-and-file.

The lock-outs saw cargo, that would normally take a few days to clear the ports, face lag times of two weeks or more, as dozens of inbound freighters stacked up at anchor along the coast, waiting for berths to open. Japan’s Honda Motor Co. threatened to slow production at its three North American plants.

Obama now breathes again, for the moment, with the settlement, if accepted, averting a full-scale, extended shutdown of the ports, which the retail and manufacturing industries have projected would cost the US economy some $2 billion a day!

The US working class has begun to use its power. However, while the US trade union leaders continue to support Obama and the Democratic party it is fighting with one hand tied behind its back.

The unions must be made, by their membership, to break with the Democrats and to form a Labor Party that will fight for a socialist USA, including the nationalisation of the ports.

In this way, the economic strength of the US workers will be mobilised for winning a permanent victory over US capital by expropriating the bosses and bankers and going forward to socialism.

A section of the International Committee of the Fourth International must be built in the USA to fight for this perspective and for the American socialist revolution.