One Nation Rally

Labor’s “One Nation” March: Let’s Not Wait Another 29 Years!

One Nation RallyOn October 2nd, some 175,000 union members, activists, students and others converged on the National Mall in Washington, DC to demand jobs, funding for health care, education and public services. The One Nation rally was the first national demonstration organized by the AFL-CIO union federation since 1981. The unions focused their mobilizing efforts and resources on an 8-hour travel zone centered around D.C. for the rally, but thousands of workers took union buses from across the country despite long distances. This mass demonstration, a long time in coming, showed that the US working class is more than willing to hit the streets if the class’ leadership takes the step to mobilize the rank and file.

For two years now, the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression has gripped the country, and despite promises of “hope and change,” the ruling Democratic party has been unable to deliver the one thing working people need most: Jobs. Across the board, cuts in public spending are being forced through, threatening public workers especially, who make up most of the AFL-CIO’s membership. Pressure has been building in the unions, with the rank and file demanding that the leadership take some kind of action. The October 2nd rally was organized in large part due to this pressure.

One Nation was also organized by the AFL-CIO leaders when it was — exactly one month before the mid-term elections — with the idea of building support for the Democrats. But the mood of the union members and others at the rally was not exactly positive towards the Democrats. This marks a definite change from just two years ago, when there were scenes of people literally crying for joy when Obama was first elected. Interestingly, one of the points of One Nation’s program that resonated the most was “we want what we voted for in 2008.” This is a bit of a double-edged slogan, in that it can be taken two ways. For the workers at the rally, this was clearly meant as a criticism of the Democrats, while it could also be “spun” to the media as a statement of support for Obama (which was the leaders’ intention).

One the one hand, the workers who came to DC for this rally were clearly satisfied that their leaders had finally taken some kind of action. On the other hand, enthusiasm for Obama and the Democrats has turned into disappointment, and the union leaders have been forced to react to that pressure by rhetorically “turning left” and also by organizing the One Nation rally.

Leon Trotsky pointed out long ago that key contradiction facing the working class is the crisis of its own leadership. Despite two years of mass unemployment, the foreclosure crisis, the state and federal budget crisis, and threats of deeper austerity, there has been seemingly little response from the working class. This is because of the failure of the class’ leadership to lead the movement onto the offensive. So while the new “left turn” in the union leaders’ statements and speeches is a good thing, these words have to be backed up by action.

But what is probably most significant about the October 2nd rally is that the leaders were forced to break the log-jam of inaction and organize the rally in the first place. As explained elsewhere in this issue of Socialist Appeal, the mid-term elections will solve nothing for either the capitalist class or the working class. The pressure put on the leaders to mobilize the movement to stop the coming austerity measures will only increase in the months and years ahead. So we can confidently predict that we won’t have to wait another 29 years for the unions to organize more mass actions.


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