Farmworkers strike in Sumas, Washington, August 2017 More pictures on the blog: icwpweb.wordpress.com
SEATTLE (USA)—In August, temperatures here soared over 90° Fahrenheit (32° C). The humidity made it feel like almost 125°F (50° C). Life-threatening accidents spiked at Boeing’s fabrication division. The company called stand-down meetings throughout the factories. These consisted of 10-minute management presentations to every crew. The talks were short on facts and big on declarations of the company’s safety commitment. But one manager let slip a statistic that was not supposed to be presented. When the temperature rises over 85°F, accidents are 2 to 3 times more likely.
At one stand-down, workers responded by demanding easy access to water. We know that as dehydration sets in, both alertness and co-ordination suffer. This year the bosses decided not to maintain the coolers with bottled water that usually dot the factory floor.
The bosses said it “wasn’t hot enough” on day shift. When second-shift workers stood up for their day-shift comrades, the bosses cut their water as well. When the big boss was confronted, one worker described his response as “let them eat cake.”
Communism would never let this go on. The party would organize workers to deliver water to every work station. We would collectively struggle with everyone to drink plenty. If we had to keep a factory open during a heat wave because of an emergency, we would get help from others who don’t usually work there. Nobody would be forced to overdo it. The boss at this particular crew meeting made a concession. Workers could leave their work areas to get water in other parts of the factory anytime. We did, spreading the word to other crews as we traveled the plant. What the boss didn’t say was, “Take it easy, don’t overdo it, take frequent rest stops, and drink all the time.” Capitalism won’t even give lip-service to such basic commitments. At another meeting, a friend said, “You know how the company spells safety? S-C-H-E-D-U-L-E!” Get more parts out so the company can make more profits. Communism will never put our lives at risk for profit. In communism there won’t be any profits – or any money.
One accident was mentioned. A worker fell from an 8-foot ladder. We didn’t get the whole story.
But another worker filled in the details. His coworker had complained to a supervisor ten minutes earlier. The ladder was uncertified. The injured young worker shouldn’t have been on it with no training. When the boss refused to do anything, the coworker went to the safety monitor. Same story!## Communism will put our safety in the hands of workers, not a boss or some made-for-show safety monitor.
Lasting Effects of Communist Debates
As we fanned out in search of water, the debates about communism spread also.
Many recalled the death of farmworker Silva Ibarra last August. Quite a few drew parallels. The farm bosses forced Silva to continue working even as he got sicker during similar weather. His fellow workers wildcatted. Red Flag (Volume 8 # 10) described our communist response. Friends in the plant helped build support.
Not coincidentally, the question of communist healthcare came up, as it had last summer. Once again, we talked about barefoot doctors in China after their revolution. This time we concentrated on what they did in the factories during the Cultural Revolution.
Barefoot doctors received formal medical training part of the year. The rest of the time they worked on the line with everyone else. They focused on mobilizing workers to guarantee preventive medicine. No made for- show safety monitors and vacuous safety stand-down meetings.
Close party friends agreed this was the best system. But they worried they couldn’t win others to this position. One guy lamented, “I can’t understand why workers would vote against their own best interests.” He was referring to “Medicare for All.” He knew communist healthcare was the solution, not Medicare for All. “But, we aren’t there yet,” was his final argument. We’d be a lot closer if he joined the party.
Soon smoke from nearby forest fires swept in. It ruined the air but lowered the temperature. The actions slowed down as they often do.
The many discussions about communism and the potential to win others, sparked by this struggle, will contribute to lasting change: growing communist consciousness and commitment among Boeing workers.