Balloting on Tentative Agreement at UPS: Workers' Mobilizations in the USA are Subordinated to the Exigencies of Crisis and Rearmament

It has been a long time since the unions jettisoned the mass assembly, preferring to militate in the murky waters of the secret ballot. Via the latter, 340,000 workers will accept or reject the tentative agreement between August 3 and August 22. IBT local unions have endorsed it by a vote of 161-1. Our comments regarding the details of the agreement will be circumscribed, but it is apparent “the gains achieved during negotiations”, “larger and more lucrative than any previous Teamsters contract at UPS”,(1) are as underwhelming as they are feted by the union. Package handlers working in major metropolitan areas under “market rate adjustments” do not receive lucrative but paltry wages increases, of $2, $1, ¢50, etc… if starting pay is set at $21 per hour. Adjusted for inflation, tens of thousands will be receiving no more, or less, than they were in real-wages several years ago. Accounting for all the caveats, the IBT breaks bread with management, and intends to prevent the dog from barking, not with a “juicy bone”, but with an illusory one.

If it is true that union-controlled strikes possess a definite utility for the intrigues of blocs, states, and parties, it is also true that strikes are unwieldy; no less so in the volatile environment since February 24, 2022. Counterposed to other metropolitan countries, workers’ combativity in the USA has been low since the pandemic and the 2020 elections. It has been even lower since a high-water mark in 2018-2019. If there is no outburst (i.e., that has emanated from the workers in France, whose ferment has been mastered by the state—but, on whom the government has foisted the costs of rearmament through the pension reforms, and on whom the war has foisted greater privations than have been, as yet, foisted on the workers in the USA…), better not to stir the plebs…

The working class in the USA is still relatively anesthetized from the maneuvers of 2020. If the state has no recourse to workers’ mobilizations in order to confront sections of private capital, or to mediate the contest between different bourgeois parties—or, in order to heed the calls of the radical reformists, and expropriate the interests whose ownership of the railroads is so deleterious to national defense, and so on—then cost-benefit analysis confirms the response of the unions, the bosses, and the state to have been the right one. The Biden administration wanted to avoid a strike; it was in the ear of Sean O’Brien to this end, and the synod of the liberals that is the New York Times says “the [tentative agreement], if ratified, removes a serious threat to the US economy.”(2)

A strike in advance of, or that is not the result of, a “no” vote in balloting on the tentative agreement appears to be outside the realm of possibility. That terms for the beginning of strikes are so handily dictated by the unions is an indication of the continuing organizational inertia of the working class in the USA. We will see how long it continues. Compared to other states, the position of the USA has insulated it against the forward movement of the latest economic crises; and, the elite fissures are still less severe than those that have afflicted a number of countries. But the downgrade by Fitch of the USA’s sovereign credit grade on August 1 was one more small entry in the long tally of signs, that suggests Washington will not always be immune to what rankles Paris (or, to recall the spasmodic movement touched off by clashes between Foxconn workers and police last year: Beijing). We do not say so with bated breath, nor do we count on it; but, the tinder may yet combust. Meanwhile, it continues to accumulate.

The Bosses’ Offensive Since the Pandemic…

In the event the tentative agreement is voted down, it opens up another possibility for a strike. If it occurs, it is critical the strike does not comprise one act in a war of positions between management and IBT functionaries, and is instead undertaken by workers as workers; that is, as members of a class whose living and working conditions are attacked by capitals’ frenzy to a) increase revenues, and b) reconfigure national economies for war. To view a strike as part of ordinary contract negotiations was always an error; the perspective must be one of refusing the extraordinary attacks unleashed by capitalism since February 24, 2022, against the working class…

If “UPS doesn’t want to pay up” (, it is because UPS knows it is harder to resist inflationary reductions in real-wages than it is to resist reductions in money-wages. Between June 2020 and May 2023, food prices climbed ~23%, and inflation in the same period was the steepest since 1972-1974 (

This does not attest to simple “corporate greed” but to a structural crisis of capitalism. Economists that are the orderlies of one or another capitalist faction attribute inflation to an imbalance between supply and demand—whereas, truth be told, lies not spun, etc…, inflation is not caused by supply that lags behind demand, but by the imperative of profit. As investment yields lower returns, and the existing mass of profits does not suffice to expand on the existing mass of capital (plants, machinery, etc…, for capitalist enterprises cannot but continue to alter the technical labor process, in order to compete with rival firms…), it is necessary to attack workers in order to raise profits. One way to raise profits is to dump the cost of capital expansion onto consumers, i.e. onto the working population and the unemployed. Adjoining other techniques within the repertoire of capital, it is the route it has followed from time to time; notably after the 1973 oil shock, and especially since February 24, 2022 (recall the price of gas in the summer of 2022). But in 2022 and 2023, this gave way less to workers’ combativity than to workers’ passivity in the USA.

Why? If it is not so easy to resist reductions in real-wages, it is because doing so means no longer abiding by sectoral divides and union corporatism; stratagems that cordon off worker from worker, and moreover, that cordon off workers from the consciousness they are a class whose political cause is totally at odds with capitalism and all capitalist factions.

Workers’ Mobilizations, Caged by the Unions and Manipulated by the State…

The unions are the only mass organizations purported to be on the side of the working class; therein, they are one component in the three card trick of capitalist society, where the workers are the mark. The unions are organizations that derive their mandate from the capitalist state. They are organizations whose purpose is to play shop floor police. They oppose the generalization of strikes, or else act in league with the capitalist state, enforcing constraints imposed upon workers’ action by the National Board of Labor Relations and other government bodies; thus, they are corporatist, subordinating class struggle to the laws that dismember the working class along corporate and sectoral lines.

Union expressions of “solidarity” veil the reality that workers in different firms and sectors are confined to separate cages, where words of solidarity abound but deeds of solidarity are forbidden. The unions are joined at the hip with capitalist political parties; in the USA, with the Democratic Party, and to a smaller degree with the so-called socialist groups, that participate in the elections and aspire to stand at the levers of state power.

The unions fight, in order to participate in the administration of capitalist enterprises, and are always guided by respect for the state, the bottom-line, and wage-labor. They allocate power over and above the masses of workers to functionaries and politicians, i.e. union presidents and shop stewards. They achieved legal recognition in the last century, as instruments to regulate workers’ combativity: they are a safety valve. They “win” wage increases, pack everyone back into the workplace, stifle workers’ combativity; in the meantime wages are further watered down by the steady advance of the crisis, and the accompanying, five-decades old decline in real-wages. All these traits are and will be exhibited by the IBT under Sean O’Brien, as much as they were under his predecessors.

This is the confidence trick of capitalist society. As the master of a factory once said, “We see around us monarchical governments more frightened than ours before the workers’ movement… Let us therefore be sensible and philosophic. A wave threatens to submerge us; let us not try to prevent its advancing, that is impossible. Let us analyze it, let us build dams.”(3) The unions are the dams. To quote the interwar president of General Electric, Gerard Swopes—to whom the New Deal and the creation of the National Labor Board owed so much—they are what the most prescient of capitalists formerly sought as “organization[s] with which we could work on a businesslike basis”, and their strategy is a strategy of defeat for the working class. The antidote is workers’ autonomy, workers’ combativity; workers’ self-organization.

Once upon a time, the advent of crisis did not give way to passivity, and workers’ horizons were not hemmed in by the logic of unionism. Fifty years ago, 200,000 postal workers wrested control of the struggle from presidents and union stewards. They defied their representatives and struck illegally, for eight days, against the state. The avatar of the strike was an effigy of the national union president, hanging from a rope. The postal workers won. By attacking the state, the state that administers the exploitation of labor by capital in the USA, their victory was a reference point for a class whose strength is in its numbers and creativity. Then as now, self-organization is the watchword.

The situation today is more dire than in 1970. And unions have since dedicated themselves to one more objective: securing workers’ adhesion to rearmament and war. It is not minor news that states are hastening to reconfigure defense production lines. Military expenditures are the largest in history. The AFL-CIO federation of unions says “working people deserve a voice and a seat at the table in every step of the process, and when we have one, we will build a more competitive America.” ( The AFL-CIO is indeed helping to build a more competitive America—and in the increasingly volatile international situation, competition between states is mediated through military confrontation.

The AFL-CIO supports the Inflation Reduction Act and CHIPS Act, that relocate semiconductor manufacturing from Taiwan to the USA and Europe, and that raises the level of war preparedness in anticipation of a future conflict with Chinese capitalism. The radical unionist activists campaign for sectors of the economy like railroads to be absorbed by the state, i.e. by the most predatory capitalist monopoly, whose defense of private and statified property is staked not only on scabs but on machine guns: the capitalist state, whose acquisitions of private enterprises are supposed to order what NATO officials call “a wartime economy” (

By getting workers “a seat at the table”, the unions will link them to the state via choreographed “strikes”, the gains of which will be quickly eroded by the economic situation, while serving to reinforce national illusions in the working class and incorporate it into the war drive. As offices of the state—modern tribunus plebis, the officials of Rome that were anointed to represent and control the plebs—the unions have a definite role to play in mobilizing workers behind rearmament, “securing the workers' support for the organization of a war economy under the double sign of social legislation and mobilization for a general war”;(4) mobilization for a war in which the working class will be the cannon fodder.

For the workerists and the radical reformists—the political invertebrates, whose credulity leads them to simply, singularly, and automatically applaud any mobilization in which workers participate, regardless of the real implications for the balance of class forces—their stupefaction at the fact that strikes led by bourgeois parties constitute, on the one hand, an intrigue against the working class, and on the other, events that do not start out on a class basis but on the terrain of war preparations, is appreciable. We do not deny that activists of the Democratic Socialists of America or of another socialist franchise may “build” and lead strikes, just as we do not deny the fascist, socialist, Stalinist, and radical-bourgeois parties orchestrated many strikes in the prelude to the last world war.

A local leader, a Fascist M.P., led [the marble workers at the Italian city of Carrara] in a struggle which lasted 47 days. Half a dozen of the biggest marble merchants stubbornly refused to yield. In the end the Fascist [guilds] were driven to proclaim a general strike in the Carrara district, extending to public services—truly a singular outcome for the adherents of a party whose advent to power was favored by promises that public service strikes would be finally exterminated.(5)

If strikes are not conducted on a class basis, but represent maneuvers in the leftists’ campaign to elevate themselves and their economic program; if they are instrumentalized by the state, and raise demands that coincide with the agenda of rearmament; if they are dominated by the parties of capitalism and the offices of the state, and are therefore asphyxiated, even under the cover of ephemeral economic victories, it emphasizes the truth that there are no “pure” movements. A mobilization can be sociologically 100% proletarian and 100% counterrevolutionary. It emphasizes the insight that accrued to our forerunners at the end of the interwar years, regarding strikes in France that were instrumentalized by the Popular Front government to secure workers’ adhesion to rearmament (and that, incidentally, clinched an economic “victory” that was watered down completely within a year):

The line of demarcation, the confines preserving the life and development of the working class, are found solely in the resistance of the proletariat to the enemy's attempts to link it to the fundamental organ of bourgeois domination: the capitalist state. Only the antagonism between the proletariat and the state can politically and historically express the antagonism between wages and profits. On the other hand, the increase in wages at the… [temporary] expense of… capital [in a given enterprise or sector], but reflected in a strengthening of the state's grip on workers' organizations, leads, with the claimed "victory" of demands, to the political pulverization of the proletariat.(6)

The grip of the state over the erstwhile workers’ organization has been strengthened many times over since, and their integration into the capitalist order is an accomplished and irreversible fact. It goes without saying that in the case of strikes dominated by the state—and, by the exigencies of the proverbial game in which all states are players (imperialism)—we do not abscond from the struggle, satisfied only that we have deduced the “correct” analysis. We enter into it with that much more vigor, to disconnect the tendrils that suffocate the workers’ initiative from within and without, thereby aiming to place the struggle on bases other than those dictated by the capitalist organizations. In doing so, we have no illusions about conquering these offices of the state that are the unions. And while identifying the union as a site in which the mass of workers in a couple of sectors are gathered—and thus, in which revolutionaries intervene, “to extract the most conscious and most active section of the workers from the influence of corporative reformism”(7) and “business unionism” alike—we refuse to enter even the lowest rungs of the union apparatus, under the illusion the union is an ambiguous organism that can still metamorphose into a transmission belt between the class and the revolutionary party; a grave illusion, that put into practice metastasizes into a peculiar form of the disease classically known as “opportunism”.

A Simple Union “Victory” is a Workers’ Defeat…

Class struggle is a political struggle, between the workers and capital. If there is a strike at UPS, it will be acted out in the strike. The IBT will seek to discipline the strike, and confine it to the union pen. After a union “victory”, the workers will languish in that pen, as the gains obtained by the strike are sapped by the economic situation—if the seeds of an “autonomous” direction, as it has sometimes been called, are not planted.

If union control is contested, a strike of 340,000 represents a possible, partial exit from the thoroughfare that places workers in tow of the state and leads to inter-imperialist war. The essential dimension of the struggle is that it not be a sectoral affair, but a reply to the immiseration of the working class, as a class; a class that menaces the capitalist order, and a class, the oppositional character of which the state tries to extinguish with well-laid schemes of integration into national war projects.

In any case, reject the advances of all institutional parties, that seek to subordinate workers’ initiative to the structure charged with administering workers’ exploitation: the capitalist state, whose preparations to sacrifice workers in the coming imperialist war are well underway… To fight means to strike without delay, and to give the strike a class perspective; thereby confirming the struggle in defense of wages and working conditions to also be inseparable from the struggle against unfolding war preparations.

Upset the well-laid schemes of capitalist factions, and the activist-functionaries charged with securing workers’ adhesion to them. Transform any strike from a union affair into a class affair where at all possible.

Unfettered meetings and dialogue between preloaders and drivers, whose interests are the same and transcend all corporatist divides; at pickets and meetings of workers, confirm union stewards to have no rights in excess of those of any other worker; delegations to appeal to workers at other firms, to refuse the union quarantine of workers in one unit from workers in another; in the event of a strike, these are the steps that could plant the seeds of a real struggle.

Regarding the consciousness of working class political objectives, that may be attained in struggle: this will point to, at last, the construction of a class political organization, i.e., not an institutional party, but an insurgent party. It is a party that is not married to electoralist maneuvers and that does not vye for the administration of the capitalist state; a party whose prerogative is to clear the air of all union functionaries and aspirant politicians, and insist on open confrontation with the capitalist state; a party that neither delegates to itself the status of a privileged minority, nor manipulates workers to acquire political power.

This is a party that fights for the political independence of the working class, in the struggle for the maintenance of wage levels and other economic objectives, and that fights for destruction of the capitalist state and the acquisition of political power by the proletarians. If a strike does not leap union controls and break out onto an “autonomous” track, if events in North America and at large continue to unfold in the absence of an “autonomous” workers’ combativity, it does not detract from but emphasizes the importance of such an organism. It is the ledger on which the lessons of today will be inscribed, to be disseminated and “read” tomorrow by the manifold layers of the class to whom this implement, even in gestation, addresses itself—the class political party; the international party of the proletariat.

An immediate organization of all workers on an economic basis cannot take on political—that is revolutionary—tasks since the separate and localized professional groups feel impelled to satisfy only the partial demands that arise as a direct consequence of capitalist exploitation. Only with the direct intervention at the head of the working-class of a political party, defined by the political adherence of its members, do we find the progressive synthesis of these particular impulses into a common vision and activity, whereby individuals and groups are enabled to go beyond all particularism and accept difficulties and sacrifices for the final and general triumph of the working-class cause. The definition of the party as class party of the working class has a final and historical value for Marx and Lenin—not a vulgarly statistical and constitutional one.(8)

We are for the party. Therefore we are not the party. But, consonant with the programmatic bases and perspectives of the Internationalist Communist Tendency, our activity is oriented to the elaboration, in practice (because, even in the absence of a dynamic movement, we do not think the revolutionary organization can only be ensconced behind a word processor, consequently resigning itself to the status of a monastic order), of the link between the workers’ transient struggles and the indispensable political organ of the working class.

So, on the eve of balloting by 340,000 workers: To pick up the thread of struggle of even fifty years ago, that begins during the now-distant advent of capitalism’s global, structural crisis; to seize the initiative, as workers; to proceed blow by blow, class against class… That is the way.

Internationalist Workers’ Group
affiliate in the USA of the Internationalist Communist Tendency
August 13, 2023




(3) Zelden, Theodore, France 1848-1945, Vol. I, “Ambition, Love and Politics”, pp. 261


(5) From Our Italian Correspondent: Luigi Einaudi’s Articles in the Economist, 1908-1946, Vol II, pp. 334




Saturday, August 19, 2023