The debate in labor

After the elections the labor movement emerged bruised but unbowed. A mood of stubborn determination and resistance is settling into union halls and central labor councils.

Labor gave its all to defeat George W. Bush and ultra-right Republicans in Congress. Not since the CIO organizing days has labor been so united, energized and in the streets as in these elections. Labor carried its weight nobly. With African Americans, Latinos, women and youth, labor anchored an incredibly broad and progressive all people’s coalition that fought like hell. Still it was not enough.

Ruthless corporate downsizing, attacks on labor rights and the export of capital to low-wage countries have decimated union strength. Declining membership, especially in the private and manufacturing sectors, is taking its toll, despite incredible efforts in organizing, political action and coalition building over the last 10 years. Labor faces a hostile administration intent on more union busting and driving down workers’ living standards. So it is no wonder that a critical debate is reopening in labor over direction and program.

The AFL-CIO is taking steps to organize, broaden and deepen the debate, to make it the property of rank-and-file union members. And they are opening it up to friends of labor and coalition partners.

But progressive change requires that the debate unify, not divide or split the labor movement. Real change requires the debate be conducted in the midst of united action to defend unions and working families — campaigns around national health care and the great pension rip-offs come to mind.

Militant, class-struggle trade unionism, unionism that clearly sees global corporate power and the reactionary politics that serve it, is the key to building a bigger, more powerful labor movement that can win victories.With the mighty efforts of the elections at its back, and the fight of a lifetime in front, a basic discussion of labor’s direction and program can bring about vital and historic change.

* * * * * *

Profit system worsens AIDS crisis

World AIDS Day, Dec. 1, shined a spotlight on an epidemic threatening the lives of millions of people.

While there is still no cure, new medicines and technologies have been developed that can greatly lengthen the life expectancy of those infected and control its spread. At the same time, for millions of people around the world — especially in sub-Saharan Africa, but also in other countries, including the United States — HIV-AIDS is a death sentence, because they cannot afford needed medicines. In some parts of Africa, average life expectancy is only 33, with 1 in 3 people infected.

The United Nations projects that money needed to adequately fight AIDS — including medicine, support for AIDS orphans, education, counseling — will go from $12 billion in 2005 to $20 billion by 2007. These figures are not likely to be met. However, the Bush administration is cutting the amount the U.S. will spend on the global fight against AIDS from $540 million to $200 million per year.

This puts the entire health-for-profit system — where health care is administered based on profits, and not on human needs — on trial. While some infected with AIDS — those who have the money to pay for needed antiretroviral and other drugs — can prolong their lives indefinitely, whole sectors of the world will be wiped out. Big corporations profit off of the AIDS crisis by keeping drug prices high and fighting tooth-and-nail to stop poor nations from manufacturing their own generic versions of AIDS drugs.

Whatever happened to promoting “inalienable rights” of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”? These aren’t limited to the rich, powerful and corporations. They are also rights for the sick, poor, oppressed and exploited.

While we wear our red ribbons for AIDS awareness, we must recommit to fight the policies of the Bush administration, and the health-for-profit system as a whole.