The issues facing the Gary, Indiana, unionized public school custodians struggling against layoffs and privatization are similar to those facing working families across our nation. These issues cannot be addressed by an electoral struggle or an economic struggle alone.
A multi-dimensional, complex struggle is daily underway to limit exploitation by expanding working class power and which, simply because of the logic of the struggle, can only be resolved by winning socialism.
Custodians are fighting for adequate staffing to do their jobs, cleaning supplies, substitutes when one of the permanent workers is out sick or on vacation, and equipment. The struggle includes demonstrations, lobby days, food distributions to laid off custodians, supporting elected officials, fighting grievances against arbitrary and inequitable treatment, building internal unity in support of united action around these issues and in support of the union, and more.
The challenge for these custodians and our union is to address these issues while understanding that the public school district is being purposefully starved of funds as a way to encourage privatization and punish political independence. Big industry in NW Indiana, steel and oil, have seen their taxes cut dramatically to approximately 20% of what they used to pay a few years ago, starving the area for funds. In response, local government raised residential property taxes to an unsustainable level, driving working families into foreclosure or forcing them to sell their homes and move. The Indiana governor is pushing for caps on residential and commercial property taxes which guarantees to accelerate this systemic destruction of the community and further undermine the ability of local government to provide needed services while pleasing those who don’t want to pay taxes, and in particular business interests. Republicans dominate the State legislature, contributing to the racist and anti-working class ideological and power dynamics underpinning the social and economic conflict.
With schools starved of funds, it is not a question of whether or not the union will engage in political struggle; all that is left is to wage a fierce and consistently class conscious battle for working class power in the face of the brutal attack on our community. Without funds for public schools, we can enforce seniority rules and the like but we can’t stop the ongoing loss of students which results in job loss and less money allocated for our schools. Nor will business play a positive role in the community as long as they are relieved of taxation.
In order to address the interconnected and systemic economic and social dynamic which is destroying the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in this small but very important community — the community whose vote moved Indiana from being a red state to a blue state in 2008 – the whole set of interconnected political and economic interests has to be unraveled, which requires conscious class struggle for working class power, which is the struggle for socialism. In materialist terms, socialism is very much on the local agenda in the USA today. In internationalist terms, socialism is on the people’s agenda as well in Cuba, China, Venezuela, Greece, and many other parts of the world.
The custodians here do not find themselves fighting for unity around President Obama’s agenda or around an all-people’s labor lead coalition that does not exist here. The unity that the custodians are struggling to maintain is working class unity in the face of management threats, degrading and disrespectful working conditions, layoffs, ongoing and arbitrary use of work rules to attack the workers jobs, and the systemic attack that is being waged against us on a variety of fronts – federal initiatives that attack teachers and public schools in the guise of striving for "excellence", state initiatives that attack public school funding and result in large layoffs of required school personnel, and local dynamics that result in population migration and loss of the student population.
Even if the word socialism is not used, the material struggle is for working class power in response to the multi-dimensional political and economic attack taking place today; a struggle whose only logical resolution is in socialism. Our "communist plus" helps to bring clarity to the struggle and counter the despair and individualization of the problems that can decimate people psychologically and materially. It points the way toward a solution of what otherwise appears to be an intractable and overwhelming natural force: capitalism.
The struggle for socialism surrounds us; we operate inside the boundaries of this struggle daily. What Marx, Lenin, and other Marxist economists and historians describe in philosophical and economic terms is not dogmatic or inappropriate to the current day. Instead, these early socialist economists and philosophers provided the language and analysis of underlying dynamics that illuminates the current struggles and provides useful guidance on how to proceed.
Worker alliances with sectors of the exploiting class can be useful in certain limited circumstances. I see our Party’s support for the Obama "agenda" Â the agenda of the "fierce advocates" of a "fundamentally business friendly agenda" Â as tactical and limited, and operating on just one plane of the multidimensional struggle that must be waged for working class power. However, there is no resolution of the underlying systemic contradictions impacting us today that can be achieved without resolute class struggle against all forms of exploitation and for socialism; a struggle that can’t wait until tomorrow.
March 9, 2010