Sunday, April 22, 2012

Policies of Union leaders and their Democratic allies don't inspire ranks

Occupy Oakland/Labor rally at Oakland CA Post Office
I was at a dismal rally last week called by a the leadership of a local APWU (Postal workers)  branch and Occupy Oakland, at least, I was told that was who called it.  There were a few Labor officials there who get paid for going to these things, some of them I've known for a long time.  One of them was a delegate as I was to one of the higher AFL-CIO bodies back in the 1980's and 90's.  She was a "good" delegate, never opened her mouth in opposition as the top dogs at the helm of organized Labor did nothing as strikes were crushed by the bosses and workers' livings standards savaged.  She has her reward now as a regional director for one of the major Unions. It's a bit like being a CEO, you can get paid without producing favorable results and some are in these jobs for life.

By the time I left there were maybe a half dozen paid officials and a few leftists there along with maybe 30 Occupy people serving some very tasty food. There were one or two but almost no rank and file postal workers.  I could only imagine what rank and file workers must have thought as they viewed this motley crew from inside the post office.  Some of them had to come outside to empty some mail containers that were stacked outside but few if any of the people at the rally bothered to talk to them, least of all the staffers.  I was there for over an hour, I don't know if thousand turned up after I left.

Anyway, I also got in to a brief discussion with another full timer from a different Union.  I was handing out the flier I had put together and she first commented that it was anti-Union.  This is a common accusation from this layer of the bureaucracy as they see themselves as "the Union". The ranks on the other hand are this nebulous "backward" mass whose fault it is that things are the way they are.  If there is one thing that generally unites these officials who are normally engaged in fierce competition for the dues money new member's bring in, it is crushing a genuine opposition that might arise within the ranks that threaten their privileged positions and their relation they have built with the employers over the years based on cooperation and Labor peace.

"They won't come out" she said to me referring to the members and the workers inside this particular branch.

"Why should they?" I responded, "What is the Union leadership offering that will inspire them to come out?"

We all know the answer to that question but the Labor officials and their army of full-time staff have to blame some force in our movement in for their own failures.

I also raised the issue of the Labor leadership's continued support for the Democratic Party.  Not only do they support the Team Concept on the job which leads to them making all sorts of economic and workplace rights concessions to the employers.  But their support for the Team Concept in politics is at the root of their continued support of Democrats wasting billions of dollars over the years in cash and kind with disastrous consequences for their members and the working class as a whole.

As usual she agreed with me as no Labor official can openly claim that supporting the Democratic Party is the way forward.  Then she dragged in the worn out argument that if we don't elect a Democrat then Romney will win and the world will end.  It's the lesser of two evils argument, a damage control philosophy that leads us all to the gallows a little slower. It assures that we never build a movement that can actually take us forward.

Post office rally: Good intentions alone don't inspire workers.
What spurred me to blog about this is I see that Pat Quinn, the Democratic Governor of Illinois is pushing an increase in the retirement age of state workers and increasing their pension contribution in order to cover what he terms a pension crisis.  He also proposes limiting COLA raises to 3% or half the CPI which is smaller.  The Illinois constitution bars reduction in government retirement benefits so he's figured out a two tier alternative to get around that.

Well, aren't we lucky to have the Democrats fighting for us.  I cannot see why workers don't stream to the polls by the millions to vote for Democrats and participate in an electoral process that will keep us at work longer and lower our standard of living.  Maybe the Labor hierarchy is right, workers are just stupid and don't care. "Don't they realize they'll live a week or two longer if the Democrats are in power?" 

The arguments the Labor officials put forward that we can't run our own candidates, build our own independent mass workers political party on a program that meets our needs and not the needs of the 1% are bogus.  "We are weak."  "A third party can't win in the US political system." (Brazil has the same system and the PT won there).  "US workers don't care" and many others.  They are simply a smoke screen, an attempt to shift the blame in the same way they blame their own members for not being involved in our Unions when all the leadership offers is involvement on the basis of concessions and helping the boss and saving their precious market.  If workers become involved in order to change this scenario, the full force of the full time apparatus is what they come up against.

This powerful  combination of the employers and our own leadership has been very successful in crushing attempts from below to drive back the capitalist offensive.  As we have mentioned many times before on this blog, the attacks on public sector workers and the services we provide come fresh on the heels of successful attacks on the auto workers.  This was a major defeat for all workers as these workers and their living standards won over decades of rich heroic struggle were a benchmark for all of us.  Public sector workers, over 30% unionized and with relatively secure and humane work environments are the new evil.

Think of this small example of the governor of Illinois and ask yourself why workers would involve themselves in the electoral process when this is the best choice on offer.  There is no doubt that workers, including the rank and file of Unions have a responsibility to step forward and confront our enemies and their offensive against us, including their allies in our organizations and we urge them to do so.  But leadership has responsibilities. The Occupy movement could have assisted in the process but at this point in time it does appear that the Labor hierarchy and their allies in the Democratic Party are making a successful intervention in the Occupy movement in order to temper it and weaken it much like this combination did in the Direct Action Network after the shutting down of the WTO in Seattle in 1999. Regrettably, much of the left, socialists, anarchists and others play a negative role in this process giving the Labor hierarchy a left cover.  It shows that what people call themselves doesn't really matter, it's their ideas and what they do on the ground that counts.

The positive aspect of all this is that this dam will be breached at some point.  History teaches us that much.

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