Current Affairs - April 10, 2021
Many of the important events in leftist history are crushing defeats. The Pullman strike of 1894 ended with the dissolution of the American Railway Union. The conclusion of the Homestead strike was similarly depressing. Ronald Reagan destroyed the air traffic controllers’ union. Sacco and Vanzetti were put to death and so were the Haymarket martyrs. Fred Hampton was killed and the Black Panthers were infiltrated and destroyed. The wave of revolutionary sentiment during the 1960s collapsed. The Iraq war protesters failed to stop a bloodbath. The 2011 Wisconsin protests in defense of public sector workers did not halt the effort to destroy their unions.
Of course, we also have inspiring victories. The Flint sit-down strike of 1936 to ’37 unionized the auto industry. Martin Luther King was killed while supporting striking Black sanitation workers, but those workers did win their fight. Socialists in the U.K. built a great national healthcare system that endures to this day. Kickstarter successfully unionized and many media workers have done the same. Often it seems like it’s one step forward, two steps back: the antiwar movement succeeded in forcing Lyndon Johnson into retirement, but then the country got Richard Nixon. Bernie Sanders nearly won the Democratic nomination in 2016, but then we got Donald Trump.
A unionization fight has been going on at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, and Amazon looks to have prevailed. The Bessemer union campaign has been inspiring in recent weeks—in a bleak environment for the labor movement, workers were taking on one of the most powerful and aggressively anti-union companies in the United States, and trying to fight back against the exploitative practices of the richest man in the world, Jeff Bezos. Many people had gotten their hopes up, especially because support for the union had come from some unexpected places—even Marco Rubio suggested he was on the side of the workers. The failure of the campaign is deeply depressing, then, and of course Amazon will gloat and insist that we now have clear proof that Amazon workers are happy and love their jobs just the way they are, pee bottles and all. Bezos will have a big smirk on his face and it will be unbearable. Plenty of people who are not directly impacted by this union vote will feel defeated and frustrated.
But when you’re on the left, it’s important to get used to not winning, because it’s going to be the default state of things. This is for a very obvious reason: the powerful are powerful, and the powerless are powerless. The richest man in the world is a difficult person to beat. We will probably try and fail many times before we succeed. ...
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