Workers don’t stand together anymore

It used to be that when one group of workers were being targeted by company owners, other workers would stand in solidarity with them. That doesn’t happen anymore.

It used to be that when one group of workers were being targeted by company owners, other workers would stand in solidarity with them.

If a local of one union would strike, for example, locals of other unions would join them on that picket line or even participate in their own work action.

During the Russian Revolution, dock workers in Western Europe went on strike in solidarity with Russian workers and to discourage their respective states from intervening in the revolution.

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That doesn’t happen anymore.

If a union local goes on strike, that’s it. No support from other locals. No support from non-unionized workers.

If young workers are paid a lower wage than older workers or workers who serve alcohol have lower wages, other workers are silent. Alberta recently debated the implementation of a lower wage for young workers, and there was nothing. Unions were silent. No massive protests in the streets by labour. Nothing.

And it’s not just a local issue. Workers everywhere are affected by labour struggles.

When populist politicians promise nationalist approaches to job creation, they affect jobs globally and domestically.

The economic systems of each country are interconnected. A car built in Canada can be made with parts from all over the world, and those parts can be made from raw materials from even other parts of the world.

If a politician slaps tariffs on Chinese steel, for example, it’s not just affecting the retail price at the local Steel R Us big box store. That steel is integrated into so many so-called “American-made” products, that vast numbers of products are affected. Products that are built by local labour.

Actually, Chinese steel is a good example of the problem. Americans see it as a problem because it’s cheaper, which undercuts the price of American made steel. And it’s cheaper because labour is China is cheaper.

But that’s kind of the point. If you’re worried about Chinese steel undercutting American steel, don’t get mad at Chinese workers, advocate for them. If you’re worried about American companies moving textile jobs to Bangladesh, don’t get mad at Bangladeshi workers, advocate for them. If you’re worried about American call centre jobs moving to the Philippines, don’t get mad at Filipino workers, advocate for them. If you’re worried about American autoworker jobs moving to Mexico, don’t get mad at Mexican workers, advocate for them.

If American (or Canadian) companies are shipping your jobs overseas, it’s because they can pay overseas workers less than they have to pay you. But if they had to pay them as much as they pay you, there’d be no incentive to ship your jobs elsewhere.

Workers aren’t the problem; capitalism is. Capitalism exploits workers. It pays workers the least amount possible and expends them when they become too expensive.

And if you think consumer prices will increase, you might be right. But guess who’s to blame for that? If you guessed “capitalism”, you’re right.

Consumer prices are kept low so they can keep wages low. If the cost of living doesn’t increase, workers won’t demand higher wages. But even if retail prices are kept low, how are corporations still posting profits? There’s only one way to create profit if your revenue doesn’t increase: lowering expenses. And cutting costs virtually always includes labour costs.

But if companies are making profit, then they’re not paying workers enough. Profits are what’s left over after paying for all your expenses, including labour. Nike, for example, posted nearly $2 billion in profit in 2018. That’s enough to pay every employee another $23,000 ever year, more if you don’t include executive or management positions.

Workers aren’t the problem. Capitalism is.

And it’s about time workers everywhere banded together. Because an injury to one is an injury to all.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

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