Location USA USA

A country that is more divided than ever

by Alan Benjamin

On Friday, January 20th and Saturday, January 21st 2017, several millions of the US citizens came out to demonstrate in the streets of hundreds of cities across the United States. The media turned its spotlight on the massive demonstrations of January 21, called by women’s rights activists. But the mass mobilizations had already begun on Thursday, January 19th, in defense of public education, and then they continued on the 20th, the day of Trump’s inauguration.

These millions took to the streets to demand women’s rights and to signal their determination to resist any and all attempts to turn the clock back to the days of back-alley abortions, Jim Crow segregation, the KKK, banned unions, mass deportations, and the rest of the reactionary agenda announced by the incoming Trump administration.

The media did not fail to emphasize the fact that the new president is taking the helm of a country that is more divided than ever. On January 21st, there were 500,000 demonstrators in New York City, and just as many in Washington, DC, and in Los Angeles. Demonstrations were held throughout the country. In Madison, Wisconsin, more than 75,000 turned out — about the same numbers that turned out at the height of the Occupy the Capitol movement in 2011. In some smaller cities and towns in the Midwest or in the hinterlands of the coastal states, close to onefourth of the towns’ populations turned out in the streets.

The actions brought together broad sectors of the working class and the oppressed. Among the demonstrators there were those who, last November, were on strike in 300 cities to demand a minimum wage of $15 dollars an hour. There were on both January 20th and January 21st a great many young people. There were large numbers of Black activists who have been mobilizing for many months now around the cry of “Black Lives Matter.” Also present were undocumented immigrant workers from Mexico and Central America, all of whom Trump has promised to deport.

In these demonstrations, some speakers explained that building the “resistance” means voting for the Democratic Party in the midterm elections in 2018 – despite the fact that a near-record percentage of voters abstained in the presidential election, refusing to vote for Hillary Clinton, “Wall Street’s candidate”. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party leaders have been urging people to give Trump a chance and “respect the voters’ choice.” But all these pleas and maneuvers have not prevailed.

What has prevailed is “Resist now!” The prevailing sentiment is that we are the majority, this is not our president, and we will not accept his attacks on our rights, his turning back the march of history. The New York Times understood this very well when it spoke of a message being expressed, and not only on women’s rights, of “a determination to protect the rights that the demonstrators believe are threatened by Mr. Trump”.

The powerful U.S. trade union movement, which claims 13 million workers, was there… but its leaders were not. Thousands of unionized workers and trade union activists were there, on both January 20th and the 21st but, with just a few exceptions, they were not there in distinct union contingents because their leaders (beginning with the leaders of the AFL-CIO) did not call to support these demonstrations.

Yet there is no doubt that if they had, hundreds of thousands of workers, of unionists, would have been present behind their union banners. Their absence, however, should come as no surprise. Only a few months ago, in conformity with its decades-old policy of supporting the “lesser evil”, the leadership of the AFL-CIO had poured millions of dollars of union dues into the election campaigns of Hillary Clinton and the Democrats. These politics of “lesser evilism” largely contributed to Trump’s victory.

And then, last January 13th, Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, met with Trump and was pleased to announce a “first discussion that was honest and productive”. In both cases, the leaders of the AFL-CIO deliberately turned their backs on the independent expression of the labor movement.

In opposition to this policy of subordinating the trade union movement to the capitalist class and its parties, what was being expressed – although confusedly – on January 20 an 21 was the fact that working people and the oppressed across the United States are seeking every means possible to stand up against Trump and his reactionary, antilabor program. That America of the exploited and the oppressed, more than ever needs a political expression. This expression could take the form of independent labor and community candidates, presented by working class organizations, as was shown by the Black working class candidacy of Nnamdi Scott for City Council in Baltimore. That would be a first step towards a genuine independent workers’ political representation, a Labor Party based on the trade unions.

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