Thursday, August 23, 2012

After Caterpillar, AMR flight attendants take a hit before the judge's gavel falls

workers' control and management of the transportation industry is what's needed
I commented on yet another defeat for organized Labor with the ending of the three and a half month strike at the Caterpillar plant in Joliet Illinois last week.  Years and years of defeats have made workers extremely wary of striking at all. Expectations are low as well as confidence, people think we can’t win; we can’t change things for the better. Pretty much every strike or dispute begins not with the leadership offering an offensive strategy but a defensive one; the name of the game is damage control.

A few days after the Caterpillar settlement, flight attendants at American Airlines, members of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA), voted to acceptAmerican’s final offer by a 59.5% to 40.5% margin.  The vote was taken as the bosses threatened to have a Bankruptcy Court judge who is overseeing the restructuring of the airline throw out the present contract which would permit American to, as the Wall Street Journal puts it, “Impose more draconian terms” on the workers. These would include working longer hours and with smaller raises than in the last and final offer. This is economic terrorism. These setbacks come after major concessions were made by American’s Unionized workers in 2003 in order to keep the Bankruptcy Court judge at bay.

Earlier this month, American’s 10,000 pilots rejected the company’s final offer.  In their case, the bankruptcy judge is holding off on voiding the pilots’ present contract but only on “two items” the WSJ says, issues, on which the airlines’ management “over-reached”.  American is in the process of remedying that mistake and most likely the judge will throw out the contract in a decision expected on September 4th if the pilots don’t buckle under.

As I wrote with regards to the Caterpillar settlement, statements by academics and Labor officials which are repeated by rank and file workers that we are in an unfavorable environment for negotiations with the bosses or that we can’t expect to make any gains due to the economic climate are completely wrong.  Accepting this argument is accepting that the working class is weak, that we cannot make gains in the present situation, or that organized Labor is weak.  But this is not so.  We are certainly stronger than we were in 1930’s.  The problem is not that we are weak or that the bosses are all powerful, it’s how the struggle is conducted.

Take this American Airlines dispute for example. Here are two Unions at the same firm negotiating with the bosses separately, a third if we include the TWU.  This is a very advantageous situation for the bosses we don’t need a Ph.D. in Labor history to figure that out; plus, these Unions are affiliated to the same national organization of workers.  And beyond this, all the other major airline transportation companies are Unionized and are also affiliated to the same national organization of workers. Then there are the other workers in airports that wish they could belong to a Union. So a crucial advantage the bosses have is not one of their own creation; but one the leadership of the workers’ organizations involved and organized Labors’ leadership at the national level, hand to them---it’s a gift. The Labor hierarchy takes the troops in to battle with no ammunition and no strategy for winning.

US capitalism is not only waging a war on workers abroad. There is this ferocious assault being waged against us at home.

But it is important we recognize that the objective situation is overwhelmingly favorable to us; more favorable than it has been for a long time.  The anger and hatred of the rich, the mistrust and disgust with capitalism, are at an all time low while the desire for change and the percentage of people favorable to some sort of socialism is widespread.  And the potential power of the working class is immense, without us economic activity, and most importantly, profit making, ceases.

Justifying capitulating to this assault, the leadership of the flight attendants Union pulls our their trump card, their best advice on how to win: “The only way for American Airlines to grow and compete” the leadership of an organization built by workers to defend our economic interests and material well-being announce, is through a merger with US Airways that puts the CEO of the new merged group, “and his team in charge.”

The above is another example of why we continue to go backwards, the only solution offered by the strategists atop organized Labor is to bow before the altar of the market and appeal to corporate CEO’s to lead us. The leadership of The National Association of Letter Carriers AFL-CIO that represents 280,000 US mailmen has the same approach. The Union hired Ron Bloom who was Obama's "car Tzar" that oversaw the taxpayer bailout of the auto industry after their economic crisis hit.  Bloom is a Harvard Business School graduate who has worked for various Unions when he is not working for the banking business.  He has been a long time associate of Lazard Freres, the bankers that have been involved in the restructuring of numerous industries and business in order to make them profitable. The NALC has also hired Lazard.  The plan is to "restructure" the post office in order to make it profitable and please the private sector. The goal of the arrangement is to "prevent the collapse of the institution and remake its business model for modern America" writes the Wall Street Journal. The members' dues will pay a hefty price for such good business advice.  It's just as big a waste of members' dues money as the millions the Union officials give to the Democrats every election cycle.

We built Unions to protect us from market forces and competition.  Every worker with any brains at all knows that the only way we can compete with non-Union and low paid workers either at home or abroad is to undercut them, offer the bosses more favorable terms and conditions for the sale and use of our Labor power.  I am a socialist, but you don’t have to be a socialist to know that this leads to a downward spiral, a race to the bottom.  The object is to unite us organizationally and in action in order to force concessions from the bosses, not the other way round.

Most workers know that we have to unite along class lines if we want to drive back this offensive of capital.  Most workers know that we have to defy their anti-Union laws, violate anti-worker injunctions and halt production to have any real effect.  It does not take rocket science.   But what is complicated is not the struggle against the 1%, against capital, it’s the struggle against the collaborationist policies of our leadership; the internal struggle is always more difficult.  Many workers I talk to blame the sell-outs on corruption and criminal activity on the part of the Union leadership and the propaganda about not be able to win has had an affect, but it is not corruption or their obscene salaries that are the primary reason for the Labor leaders’ refusal to fight, it is that they cannot see an alternative to the market, to capitalism, that’s why we get the insane situation where Labor leaders call on corporate CEO’s to save us.  I am not sating that there isn’t corruption or criminal elements, but this is not the main issue.

In this example above it is obvious that all these workers at American should be meeting together and discussing how best to make gains as opposed to giving up what took decades to win. The strategy should be to link up with the workers at other airlines and the workers, many of them low paid, that staff restaurants and stalls in airports. The reservation clerks are also non-Union. Every working class person sees the sense in this argument. In the wake of the recent crisis even members of the 1% like George Soros have called for the nationalization of the banks and such. The housing industry is already state owned.  An industry like transportation should be taken in to public ownership under workers control and management. For the Union to call for a different set of private owners who are only interested in the return on their dollars will just continue the destruction of our living standards and create a pauper's future for our children.

Workers understood this at times in our history, in the early formation of the US working class: "Brethren we conjure you...not to believe a word of what is being said about your interests and those of your employers being the same. Your interests and theirs are in a nature of things, hostile and irreconcilable.  Then do not look to them for relief...Our salvation must, through the blessing of God, come from ourselves.  It is useless to expect it from those whom our labors enrich." *

Every worker is anti-capitalist in the sense that most of us recognize we need Unions. The ruling class in this country fought the formation of these organizations with the most extreme violence and oppression.  They would do without them if they could, after all, they infringe on the 1%’s right to control the Labor process and society’s production. But we are in a serious war as the developments of the last few years indicate.  People who thought they were safely planted in the middle class who did everything right, worked hard have found themselves with no job and no home---have lost everything despite their efforts.  Some of them couldn’t take it and took themselves, and at times their entire family, out of the race.

But we have the power to turn this around, to give people a future but we have to be honest with ourselves, we are in a real war at home and we should fight like we are.

* 1840's appeal from New England laborers to their fellows to abandon the idea that the capitalists would solve working people's problems.  Philip Foner History of the Labor Movement Vol. 1 p192

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