Monday, February 14, 2011

The crisis of leadership in organized Labor gets worse and worse as public sector Union officials fight bosses with petitions

It's OK Gerry, you're pay is safe
AFSCME president Gerald McEntee with his friend he endorsed for president.  Maybe he didn't realize those gloves were for boxing workers' ears.

I was an elected delegate from my Local Union to AFSCME International Conventions many times. At the end of each convention, the 3000 or so delegates would march down to a picket line that might be up in that particular location in support of the local workers on strike. One time in Las Vegas I remember it was the hotel and restaurant employees HERE.

AFSCME is one of the largest Unions in the AFL-CIO with about 1.6 million members. We’d waltz on down to the picket line en masse, the “Lean Green Fighting Machine” as we were sometimes called. We’d picket for a while and chant we are the Union the mighty, mighty Union and all the familiar stuff. Then we’d leave, never to be seen again. The employers were aware it was a group of people in town for a conference and weren’t bothered by it in the least.

As Rahn Emmanuel said, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste” and the capitalist class are heeding that advice going after public sector workers and our Unions like never before, including proposing to abolish collective bargaining rights entirely; they are using the economic crisis as an excuse, an economic crisis that they created. We have numerous blogs on this issue (see the public sector label). The leaders of our Unions are responding with the same old tactics that never worked in better times, when the employers were less aggressive.

The Wall Street Journal today talks about the war on public sector workers and what two of the Unions, AFSCME, and AFGE, are planning to do about it. (1) It’s not pretty.

Last week, the journal reports, AFGE had its conference in Washington DC and a few hundred delegates marched down to the Capitol. Did they chain themselves to the fence? No. Did they block the entrance to the place? No. They handed over petitions in an effort to “influence congressional debate.” Good luck.

The Wall Street Journal says that this is a “difficult economy” and that public sector workers are trying to save our “pay, benefits and pensions” negotiated in better times. All workers would want to save our pay benefits and pensions if we all had pensions. But what is this about a “difficult economy”? The employers and the Union leaders say that all the time when workers fight for our rights and living standards. But it’s not a difficult economy. We have numerous blogs on this site showing that it’s not a difficult economy; some are doing extremely well, including AFSCME’s president, Gerald McEntee who made $551,428 in total compensation in 2007. (2) Obama met just recently with CEO’s of corporations that are sitting on more than $2 trillion in cash. But they say were in a difficult economy and have to tighten our belts. There’s the interest on the debt and the $10 billion or so a month the US spends in Afghanistan and Iraq; we have to reject this nonsense that we’re in difficult times.

Imagine if during a Labor strike the media and public figures were saying that the bosses have to tighten their belts, have to take less profits because we are in a “difficult economy.” What is happening now is that the capitalists are on strike. There is a strike of capital; there is no “difficult economy”. When we are on strike they use all means at their disposal to break that strike, to force us to stop withholding our Labor power. They have the police, the judges, the courts and jails and the mass media that they control; they have shot us and deported us for struggling to make a living. We have numbers and we have a special role in production, we make the cogs turn, all the cogs; we have to break their strike like they break ours. That capital is our creation.

The Union leaders are worried because the mass media is blaming public workers for the cuts and tax increases that the capitalists are inflicting on the American people. I have a pension I can live on. This is not good. This is the cause of the crisis and why others have to suffer and do with less the propaganda says. AFGE’s leaders are proposing their members contribute more of the reduced wages they will receive to the Democrats after such a great victory electing the likes of Jerry Brown in California. (see the Jerry Brown label to the right) So the Union leaders answer to this is to fight a media campaign and throw more money down that black hole called the Democratic Party. AFSCME spent $91 million in the mid-terms and the share of Union money going to Democrats rose from 89% in 2008 to 92% 9n 2010.

AFGE President John Gage
“We don’t have a lot of time to try to turn around the American public’s opinion” says AFGE’s president as he asks his members for more money for Obama and the Democrats. He wishes that Obama “would be standing up more for his employees” he tells the Journal. Are we living on the same planet in the same time? And we compete against them in a media war, they own the means of communication.

The title of the Wall Street Journal’s piece is Public-Worker Unions “Steel” for Budget Fights. “Steel?” Let’s see what this “Steel” approach consists of as far as AFSCME’s strategists, are concerned, what little gems they have in store for the employers. They will “focus on meeting with lawmakers” says the Journal.  That should scare them.  And AFSCME is initiating a “public relations campaign to showcase the value of government workers.” Wow! This is downright un-American. Are they communists these people?

McEntee, AFSCME’s millionaire president the WSJ says, “pressed Democratic allies to speed or extend contract settlements before the ‘bad people’'" took office. Bad people? What is Jerry Brown or Andrew Cuomo. And despite McEntee’s plea, Wisconsin’s Democratic controlled state legislature voted down a contract for state workers. Some clout the likes of McEntee and the public sector Unions have with the Democrats. With allies like these, who needs enemies? The Wisconsin state AFL-CIO’s response has been to launch an ad campaign aimed at the public asking them to call their legislators to “stop this radical move.” How about fighting for the public. How about fighting foreclosures, job losses and the cuts in public services.

Like Mubarak and the cronies that are quivering in the Middle East, the hierarchy atop organized Labor is completely out of touch with reality. They will not be exempt from falling like rotten apples from a tree when confronted with a brisk breeze. There will be a revolt within organized Labor at some point. It is insane that the Labor leaders are asking members for more money for Democrats as Democrats are savaging their member’s and all workers living standards.

Those leaders and activists in the locals who are closer to the ranks and face the wrath of the employers in a real way every day have to recognize that they have no alternative but to wage an open campaign among the ranks against these disastrous polices of the bureaucracy. If they claim to want to fight for workers’ interests then they will come in to conflict with the AFL-CIO hierarchy; it is unavoidable. If this path is not taken then you become part of the problem, you become an obstacle to a fightback.

It means rejecting the employers’ and Union bureaucracy’s arguments that we are in a difficult economy and that workers have to go back to conditions that existed before the great rise of the CIO in the 1930’s. As public sector workers we have work and we have relatively good benefits and wages by most worker’s standards; it is harder to fire us and lay us off usually although it has gotten easier during this crisis. I have a retirement I can live on and I am not ashamed of it. Instead of trying to appeal to others of our class who have lost homes, jobs, and livelihoods we must go on the offensive. If we want people to stand with us we have to have something to fight with them for, we have to show them a reason to become involved with us other than we’re good guys and deserve what we get, we have to fight with them to get what we have and more.

One AFGE member marching on the Capitol expressed the level of the present consciousness that exists among many unionized workers and the low expectations some of us have due to the role the Labor leaders play, when he tells the WSJ, “We don’t want to be whining federal employees, but we want to ensure these decisions aren’t made too hastily”. The idea that the money is there, that we can fight and win, doesn’t enter his head after years of defeats, inactivity and collaboration on the part of the Union heads.

Workers and youth in dictatorships from Egypt to Iran are showing us what has to be done. We have a lot of allies if we reach out to them, together we can inflict some economic terrorism on the bosses instead of the other way round. We can build an opposition if we fight for demands like these:

• No concessions
• For a $15 national minimum wage or $5 an hour wage increase whichever is greater
• For a massive program of infrastructure spending to create jobs
• A 30- hour workweek with no cut in pay
• End the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq—bring the troops home
• Free public education at all levels
• No foreclosures
• No support for Democrats or Republicans, build an independent mass working people’s party

(1) AFSCME is the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and AFGE is the American Federation of Government Employees with 2 million members between them.
(2) Across Many Unions, Bloated Salaries Limit Organizing Budgets, Leave Members Cynical. Monthly Review, Feb 2007


Anonymous said...

why is there no byline on this article? The writer makes good points so why not identify him/her?

Richard said...

The author is identified at the bottom. Richard. If you came to this article through Indymedia Milwaukee, I think it was supposed to say Facts For Working People and it ended up saying anonymous. That was me that put it up there and I don't like using the term anonymous.

By the way, you make a good point here so why not identify yourself. If it is dangerous for you to do so, like you might lose your job or some other valid reason, contact me at and let me know who you are. I guarantee anonymity.

We would love submissions from people about their workplace or bosses and we would have to be trusted to ask for that.