The U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Janus v. AFSCME is a direct assault by the ruling class on the U.S. labor movement. It is an attack led by corporations and right-wing foundations, such as the National Right to Work Foundation and the Bradley Foundation, and fully supported by the Trump administration. While this particular assault, the Janus decision, is focused on public sector unions, make no mistake, the effects will be felt across the labor movement and by the entire working class.
The public sector is unionized at a rate five times that of the private sector. The high unionization rates and stronger unions of the public sector have helped sustain private sector unions and workers by setting higher standards for pay, benefits and working conditions.
Also of note is the role that public sector unions play in politics. Since the time of the President Reagan administration, corporate-America has been waging a war on our unions, and to a degree, the money spent blunting some of the worst right-wing attacks has been money well spent. That said, there is a problem: both the major political parties represent the interests of big business, and many politicians are far more interested in spending our dues money than they are in pursuing a pro-labor agenda. But that is a discussion that workers need to have inside our unions – and we reject the idea that government or the bosses should decide it for us.
Young labor leaders on the rise
Despite the setbacks, we must acknowledge and celebrate our victories. The number of union members in the U.S. increased in 2017. Three-quarters of new union members are under the age of 34. Young people ages 18 to 29 are the most likely to have a positive view of unions of any age group. They are stepping into union leadership roles with more radical ideas about strengthening the labor movement. This generational shift is due to economic conditions faced by younger workers. It shows an openness to bolder, more radical ideas, because the status quo has failed younger workers.
The Janus ruling means increasing racist discrimination, inequality for women
Many public sector unions were fought for and won through struggles waged by Black workers during the Civil Rights Movement. Today, oppressed nationalities and women still remain strongly represented in the public sector. Without a doubt, this attack is one that will be particularly felt by women and oppressed nationality workers. Since public sector unions also led the way in defending and advocating for services such as public education, public health and public nutrition programs, the quality of life for those receiving these services will diminish due to continued right-wing attacks. These services are squarely in the sights of corporations that want to make a profit from privatization. Without public-sector unions standing in the way, privatization will become much easier to achieve.
Build the labor movement
The labor movement has faced more difficult conditions in the past. We have overcome barriers by organizing workers even when it was illegal to do so. We have beaten back the bosses by engaging in militant struggle despite violent repression by the ruling class. We can learn from the past successes of our movement. We should follow the lead of teachers, who have recently made material gains despite the lack of support of their union leadership and the illegality of their work stoppages.
Ultimately, working people should not wait for politicians to change laws; we must recognize that electing Democrats is simply not enough. And we need to vote against the minions of Trump in the upcoming elections. Workers must also recognize that business, or service-model unionism is not the way forward – that model is moribund. Organizing a militant class struggle labor movement is how the working class builds political power. Our unions must become fighting unions. People will join militant unions and organize not just on moral principle, but because strong unions materially improve the economic conditions of the working class. Unions need to lead their members in bold workplace actions to survive and thrive under Janus. FRSO calls for the building of strategic alliances to create a new social movement and to transform our unions into centers of class struggle.