First Published: Revolution, Vol. 3, No. 3, December 1977.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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At its founding convention, the National United Workers Organization (NUWO) voted to take up, as its first major campaign, the fight initiated by the Unemployed Workers Organizing Committee (UWOC) to expose and beat back the present offensive the bourgeoisie is mounting on unemployment insurance and around unemployment in general. As part of this fight, the NUWO and UWOC held regional building demonstrations on October 29 in Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago and New York to get the word out about this attack and build for a national demonstration in Washington, D.C. at the time of Carter’s State of the Union address. In November, at the first meeting of the National Steering Committee (NSC) of the NUWO since the organization’s formation, the question of how to further build this campaign was one of the main topics of discussion.
The NSC united that, faced with a major crisis, the capitalists and their government with Carter as President are developing policies in regard to unemployment that are an attempt to divide the working class, employed from unemployed, in order to lower wages and break unions and worsen working conditions and the standard of living in general.
The NSC summed up that at this point most workers do not yet perceive that a general attack is being launched on them by the capitalists. For example many people think that Carter stinks, but often they feel that he is simply inept or too new at the office and that he hasn’t done enough or had the time to. In this situation the NSC set out as one of the tasks of the campaign the broad exposure of Carter’s policies, his offensive on unemployment. They agreed that it is not that Carter has done too little or that he is inept or new in office, but that he is, behind this cover, acting swiftly and purposefully to implement policies in the interests of the capitalists in order to drive down wages and thereby to increase their profits at the expense of the working class. Through the campaign the general nature of this offensive must be brought out.
The Steering Committee discussed the need to build a center of opposition to the general attack coming down, and emphasized the need to focus this on Carter’s particular policies at this time: 1) cuts in unemployment benefits and 2) workfare plans for welfare recipients and the unemployed.
Carter, since coming into office, has already cut unemployment benefits by 26 weeks to the present maximum of 39 weeks (although in most states the most that can presently be drawn is 26 weeks). Although there are no specific plans to cut benefits further. Secretary of Labor Marshall has been campaigning for only 16 weeks of unemployment benefits. Also most states are moving to further restrict and attack unemployment compensation. The policies Carter is implementing represent a systematic attempt by the bourgeoisie to dismantle the unemployment insurance system. The demand “Stop All Attacks on the Unemployment Insurance System” hits at this aspect of their attack.
Carter’s “welfare reform” bill hasn’t been passed yet, and even if it is passed won’t be implemented until 1981. But in essence this is the same policy which Carter and Congress wrote into law last March as part of the bill cutting unemployment benefits. This provision forces the unemployed to accept any job offered them that pays more than what they are making on unemployment or lose their benefits. The heart of these “reforms” is to make welfare recipients and the unemployed work for their checks at minimum wages. This policy will give employers in both the public and private sectors the option of replacing union workers earning union wages with nonunion unemployed and welfare recipients forced to work at nonunion wages.
The second demand of the campaign puts forward the demand of the masses for jobs, but exposes the way the bourgeoisie is trying to twist this in their favor, “We Demand Jobs–Union Jobs at Union Wages.”
In relation to this campaign, the second major point discussed by the Steering Committee was around gearing up for the Washington, D.C. demonstration on January 21. As the discussion brought out, the campaign against Carter’s offensive needs to be a protracted struggle, but within this struggle there are particular focal points, and in January, Carter’s State of the Union address is a sharp focus.
The whole purpose of the State of the Union message will be for Carter to sum up his first year in office and to map out his programs for the coming year. He will be laying out what has been achieved and what hasn’t, trying to mask his attacks on the masses of people behind the image that he is a friend of working people. Also at this time, George Meany and his like will be playing the role of loyal opposition, and while claiming to speak for workers, criticize Carter for “not doing enough” and urging him to do more, despite the fact the AFL-CIO refused, for example, to oppose Carter’s unemployment bill last March. As the discussion brought out, a national demonstration around this speech presents a big opportunity to expose what Carter’s actual program has been, rip the-cover off the AFL-CIO leadership’s phony “opposition,” while mobilizing real opposition to his plans.
The NSC united around the position that the campaign must be directed against the “two-headed monster” – the capitalist class represented by Carter and the top union officials who handcuff the struggle of the rank and file. With respect to the AFL-CIO Executive Board, the campaign and demonstration should bring out how they objectively side with the capitalists in their attack and help cover for them. A general resolution to be taken up and discussed in union meetings was adopted containing three general points: 1) that the local go on record against Carter’s offensive; 2) that the local vote to support and build for the January 21 demonstration; and 3) that the local take a stand against and fight the AFL-CIO hierarchy on this question.
The entire NSC united in emphasizing the importance of making the unions an important arena of struggle in this campaign. But within this it stressed that its goal in taking the struggle into the unions should not just be to get a resolution passed at a local meeting (although this is important). The goal of getting the resolution passed is not to have the local go on “record,” but to use this resolution to mainly further mobilize the rank and file and to generate more interest and activity around the campaign.
To highlight the importance of this demonstration and campaign, the NSC decided to put out a national poster and button with Washington, D.C. as the focus. It also decided that every chapter of the NUWO should take up this campaign as an important battle in the coming period.
At the present time with people’s perception of Carter as a “do nothing” growing as his popularity sinks, this campaign by the UWOC and NUWO can be an important step in exposing what Carter’s specific policies have been and helping workers make breakthroughs in their understanding of the class interests that Carter serves.
In contrast, the campaign by the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist) (CP[ML]) and the National Fight Back Organization, which is planning a march in Washington in February for “Jobs or Income” will serve the capitalists by further covering over what their specific policies for unemployment are. The demand of the masses for jobs should and must be taken up and built as well as the demand for income for all periods of unemployment. But just to raise the demand “Jobs or Income” in the present situation while failing to draw the line on what the capitalists are trying to do around unemployment can only lead people unarmed into their ambush.
The bourgeoisie is trying to twist the demand of the masses for jobs into its opposite, into an attack on the masses. Carter says he is for jobs, even calling his welfare reform bill “Better Jobs and Income,” exactly so he can promote his forced slave labor programs. This is why the present focus of the struggle around unemployment must be “Stop the Attacks on Unemployment Insurance!” and “We Demand Jobs–Union Jobs at Union Wages!”