THE once-mighty US economy is facing a wave of strikes by powerful sections of the working class who are determined to drive up their wages that have been savagely cut since the 2008 financial crash.
This mass movement of workers has been met head on by the determination of US capitalists to carry on forcing down wages, in an increasingly desperate attempt to shore up a weak and bankrupt capitalist system, that is plunging deeper into crisis despite all the claims of recovery.
This reality was spelt out this week by the Federal Reserve, which declared in a paper that, although wages in the US have been cut since the economic collapse of 2008, they have not been cut enough. The authors of the report complain, ‘The trouble stems from workers not being willing to take pay cuts.’
It added, ‘Only when market wages drop to a lower level, so that demand once again matches supply, will equilibrium be restored in the labour market.’
Mass unemployment to drive down wages is the only solution to the ever-deepening crisis of US capitalism as far as the Fed is concerned and to the problem of the ‘hesitancy of employers to reduce wages and the reluctance of workers to accept wage cuts, even during recessions’.
This class struggle is erupting on a daily basis in the USA. Dockworkers (members of the ILWU union) on the west coast of America have been in conflict with the employers for six months over new contracts.
At the heart of the dispute is the determination of the employers to stop job protection, cut back on allowances and attack existing working conditions.
In order to smash the resistance of the 20,000 dockworkers involved in the dispute, two weeks ago the employers started a series of lock-outs, closing down the ports completely and sending workers home without pay for a series of days.
This week the employers instituted a total lock-out – a move that is estimated would cost the US economy $2 billion a day!
This is the astronomical sum the bosses are prepared to risk in order to try to break the working class and its unions. On February 1st, more than 5,000 members of the United Steelworkers union working in the oil industry came out on strike in chemical complexes and refineries that account for 13% of the US fuel capacity.
Last Wednesday, the union rejected an offer from the Shell oil company, which is leading the negotiations on behalf of all employers, because their proposal included replacing union workers with non-union contract labour.
With more USW members at other refineries threatening to ignore their union instruction limiting the action to designated refineries the strike is set to escalate massively.
Desperate to force a settlement and prevent any link up between these mass struggles, Obama dispatched his Labour Secretary, Thomas Perez, last Wednesday to the docks to force a settlement on the union under the threat of Obama implementing the notorious Taft-Hartley Act which empowers the president to order an end to strikes that threaten the economic interest of the country.
At the same time that the employers and Obama were preparing for confrontation to crush resistance from the unions in the ports and oil industry, the US’s largest and most ruthless retailer Walmart was forced by a mass strike movement to make wage concessions to its 500,000 strong workforce.
Walmart announced that it was increasing wages to $9 and hour and then $10 an hour in 2016. This not the end of the story. It is just the beginning, since the Walmart workforce is determined to win a basic wage of $15 an hour.
What is clear is that the US working class, from the low-paid army of fast food workers through to the highly unionised sections of workers in the major industries, are on the march, determined to win wage rises or to regain their pay and conditions, that they were robbed of by the crisis.
Their next step must be political – to force their union leaderships to break with the bourgeois Democratic Party and build a Labour Party to fight to put an end to US capitalism and go forward to socialism.