Our Gdańsk moment may not be in shipyards but below the skies. Now is the chance for the right to stand with American workers.
(By Felipe Sanchez/Shutterstock)
Our nation has lately drawn not a few apt comparisons with the Soviet regime, what with the national securitization of dissent, the pervasive censorship, the ongoing war against America’s own history, the creepy ideologies sweeping classrooms from kindergarten to college, all cheered on by a Pravda-like corporate press. Oh, and let’s not forget the pointless war in Afghanistan, though in that case the Soviets come out looking better, having exited in orderly fashion.
Well, now we may perhaps be witnessing the first glimmers of our own Gdańsk shipyard strike, the labor uprising that prepared the way for regime collapse in Communist Poland: a transport workers’ rebellion, still of indeterminate size, against corporate-enforced Covid-19 vaccine mandates.
Southwest Airlines was forced to cancel more than 1,800 flights over the weekend. Saturday’s cancellation of some 800 flights represented about a quarter of its total operations, according to the Wall Street Journal, citing the industry site FlightAware, while Sunday’s cancellation of more than 1,000 flights amounted to nearly a third of total operations.
The airline blamed compounded delays caused by weather and air-traffic-control problems, while the Federal Aviation Administration cited “severe weather, military training and limited staffing in one area of the Jacksonville, Fla., air-traffic-control facility that oversees airspace in the region,” per the Journal. Yet online, rumors spread of mass walkouts among Southwest pilots and/or FAA air-traffic controllers in response to the vax mandates.
Many passengers stranded at Southwest gates and forced to sleep on airport floors tweeted in anger against the airline—and few seemed to be buying the weather excuse.
“Why lie about the issues of canceled flights?” one passenger quoted by the Daily Mail tweeted. “It’s not due to weather and [air-traffic-control] issues! People are not getting vaccinated so your employees are walking off the job!! Thankfully my husband and I got another flight to our destination.” Another wrote: “Strange how the [air-traffic-control] issues and weather are still only affecting your airline at [Orlando International Airport]. Must be some crazy storms if they’re only targeting your planes.”
The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association echoed the firm’s denials that vaccines and walkouts caused the weekend crisis. But even stipulating that weather was to blame, it’s notable that the union is suing the airline to stop the airline’s vax mandate on the grounds that the issue needs to be negotiated over, rather than merely handed down by federal and company diktat. The union has threatened disruptions if the mandate goes ahead and reluctant pilots are sacked en masse.
Similar rumblings have shaken Washington State Ferries, Amtrak (a pair of trains canceled over “unforeseen staffing issues” over the weekend), as well as hospitals, police and emergency-services departments and schools. Something is going on with America’s essential-worker class, though I’m more reluctant than others to assume that all of these incidents trace back to an anti-mandate rebellion.
The difficulty in obtaining reliable information on what’s afoot is itself a symptom of a Soviet-esque regime: All of the elements of state, corporate, and media power speak so univocally, with Big Tech duly labeling verboten news and views, that they almost invite paranoia and suspicion: There is no workers’ resistance to the mandates, it’s just bad weather—but if there were, it would be totally illegitimate and contemptible and deserving of repression!
For me, the substance of the workers’ discontent is almost irrelevant. For what it’s worth, I got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine back in May, and I’m convinced the jabs provide a decent margin of protection against serious Covid illness and death. But the point is that at least some share of the American working class—again, the size of the movement is as yet unclear—has had it with the medico-corporate regime.
This is the same medico-corporate regime that shut down houses of worship and strictly proscribed anti-lockdown protests—only to turn around and treat the 2020 race riots as perfectly salutary from a public-health standpoint; attendance was almost mandatory. This is the same medico-corporate regime that lay waste to some 40 percent of small businesses, while allowing big-box stores and, of course, Amazon to rake in megaprofits. This is the same medico-corporate regime that demands that service workers mask permanently, even after the advent of vaccines, while blue politicians and celebs get to show their pretty faces.
Some workers are prepared to counterpunch.
For those of us on the right who want to see the GOP remade as a workers’ party, this is where the rubber meets the road. This is where commitment matters. And we don’t get to tell workers what to get worked up about, though we should certainly seek to widen our policy and political backing beyond the current vaccine question.
You can be sure that if a more visible and cohesive workers’ movement were to emerge—it would have to overcome the internal opposition of managerialized labor leaders, a tall order—it would not receive a scintilla of support from most of the organized left. On the contrary, the official left would be the first to call the workers bigots and boobs; some no doubt would call on Big Tech to suppress its communiques and the national-security apparatus to subject its leadership to extraordinary rendition, post-9/11 style.
The left is the management, and the management is the left. It’s up to other social forces to guide our Gdańsk moment to victory.