By ERWIN FREED
The annual Labor Notes conference began on Friday, June 17, at the Hyatt Regency Hotel and Conference Center in Rosemont, Ill. Labor Notes is an organization and publication covering union struggles around the country. The conference is a much-anticipated gathering of left-wing and international trade unionists and supporters coming together to discuss their struggles, the politics of the union movement, and how to build a pole of “class-struggle unionism” based on solidarity and militancy.
The conference comes at a time when the working class in the United States is on the rise, expanding the scope of organizing new shops and rediscovering the weapon of the strike. These developments are being reflected in both the size and subjects present at Labor Notes. At Friday’s main session, Labor Notes’ editor and the Master of Ceremonies of the session, Alexandra Bradbury, stated that this year’s attendance of over 4000 people is far and away the largest in its over 30-year history.
The topics of panels also indicate the multiple fronts on which labor is fighting and the desire to connect struggles. The cornerstone of the Labor Notes conference are presentations from workers who have recently gone on strike, organized new shops, or generally been in motion. These are presented by speakers who won strikes in manufacturing, health care, education, construction, and the service sector—to name a few.
There are also a number of sessions on the role workers play in fighting for social change on and off the shop floor. These include multiple discussions on organizing against attacks on Queer rights, the centrality to the labor movement of fighting white supremacy, building a climate movement focused on taking profit out of energy production, and many more connections between social struggles and organized labor. There are also many useful “nuts and bolts” organizer trainings.
Taken together, the conference is providing a space to discuss how the working class can fight and win against the ongoing attacks on labor—including two-tier job structures—as well as the ruling-class drive against reproductive rights and the LGBTQIA+, Black, Indigenous, immigrant, and other communities.
The first day ended with a panel featuring Michelle Eisen of Starbucks Workers United-Buffalo, recently elected Teamster President Sean O’Brien, Amazon Labor Union President Chris Smalls, Chicago Teachers Union President Stacy Davis Gates, rank-and-file John Deere striker and Unite All Workers for Democracy member Nolan Tabb, and musician Dilson Hernandez. The assembly opened with the crowd of over 1000 chanting “Fora Bolsonaro” [“Bolsonaro Out!”] at the initiative of international guests and CSP-Conlutas/International Workers’ League members from Brazil.
The theme of the evening was the need for labor to continue to be bold in the face of capitalist austerity, pandemic, police brutality, war, and climate change. Sean O’Brien committed to supporting a militant fight at UPS during their contract fight next year with “no concessions,” intending to put the company “on its knees.” The Teamsters’ collective agreement with UPS represents the largest private-sector union contract in an industry central to the economic functioning of U.S. capitalism. At the same time, O’Brien showed his own blind spots by using the common rhetoric of union bureaucrats that the U.S. was “built by the middle class.” In fact, the United States economy is fundamentally based on the hyper-exploitation of Black and immigrant workers, ongoing theft of Native land, and imperialist domination of large portions of the world.
Workers’ Voice members have been busy attending and learning from panels and other participants, selling the new edition of Workers’ Action newspaper, and being inspired by all of the examples of class struggle!
If you are attending the Labor Notes conference, please look for us. We are excited to talk to other activists! You can also call or text Evan at 203-707-1157 to schedule a meet-up!
Photos: (Top) Members of Brazilian CSP-Conlutas union federation on the floor of the Labor Notes conference. (Below) Workers’ Voice supporters outside the conference center. (Photos by Workers’ Voice)