Thursday, December 6, 2012

Workers pepper sprayed as Union rights under assault in Michigan

Michigan State Legislature toda
by Richard Mellor
"Union busting is a field populated by bullies and built on deceit.  A campaign against a Union is an assault on individuals and a war on the truth.  As such, it is a war without honor.  The only way to bust a Union is to lie, distort, manipulate, threaten, and always, always attack."
Martin jay Levitt, Confessions of a Union Buster.

The heads of organized Labor will be whining about the Right to Work legislation that the Republicans just shoved through the Michigan State Legislature.  Workers were pepper sprayed by the police today and others were arrested as they protested and tried to disrupt the proceedings. "At one point, a man shouted, 'Heil Hitler! Heil Hitler! That's what you people are.' ", the Associated Press reported.  "We will remember in November." others shouted.  But what can we do in November?  Vote Democrat? The bosses have a monopoly in politics, they hold a dictatorship in the political arena and they don't fear their "other" party.

The Right to Work measures passed in the House will mean that private unions will not be able to charge employees fees. The Senate also voted to impose the same requirement on most public unions, reports say.  When an employee objects to paying union dues for whatever reason, they were required to pay the equivalent to a charity or agency that in the case of my former workplace was offered as an alternative. The bosses claim this is to give workers more "freedom" to choose.   No worker believes this. They claim that if they can get rid of costly Unions they will create more jobs. Michigan officials point to Indiana which has wages and conditions of many third world countries. Caterpillar just closed a plant in Ontario to move to Indiana where wages are 50% less.  A spectre is haunting the US I would say.

There's a few lessons to be learned here.  The first is an easy one and that is that the Democratic Party is not a political party that represents workers' interests and we cannot rely on it to defend what took us decades and heroic sacrifice to win.  Even when it has a majority as it did nationally during the Carter years holding both Houses and the presidency, not one piece of legislation of major importance to Labor was passed, the same with Clinton's first two years. We must build an alternative working people's party in this country.

The other important issue is that the blame for this situation, the increasingly successful assault on workers and our organizations, lies squarely on the shoulders of the heads of organized Labor, those folks that run the AFL-CIO and the Change to Win Coalition. When he was seeking a role in the leadership of the AFL-CIO after the exit of the moribund lane Kirkland Richard Trumka, now president of that organization said:

"While we are always willing to negotiate as equals, the era of union busting, contract trashing and strike breaking is at an end.  Today, we say that when you pick a fight with any of us, you pick a fight with all of us! And that when you push us, we will push back."
Oct 1996.

John Sweeney, who Trumka succeeded as head of the AFL-CIO talked of blocking bridges as a   direct action tactic in our struggle against the bosses and their offensive on Labor.  These were just election campaign rhetoric as Sweeney's "blocking bridges" became building them, not between the rank and file and the leadership of the Unions but between the bosses and the leadership of the Unions. This is done through the Team Concept on the job with the numerous Labor/management committees, Quality of Life circles and other such euphemistic terms for class collaboration and betrayal and through the Team Concept in politics with the blood bond between the Union hierarchy and the Democrats.

You can go to any Unionized workplace these days and it would be impossible not to find two sets of workers.  The older hires whose benefits, wages and conditions have been cut and the new hires, mostly younger workers whose wages, benefits, conditions and chances of retirement are ten times worse. 

Talk to grocery workers here in California. Talk to the new hires in any of these situations and they'll tell you they got a raw deal from the Union.  They pay dues yet do the same job for less money and worse benefits.  The Union officialdom with their position of damage control which means pleading with the bosses' for slightly fewer concessions than they're asking for, cast the future workers, the new hires to the wolves. It's very easy to do as not yet being hired, the new young folk can't vote on a  crappy contract that in many cases pays them 50% less.  This causes animosity on the job and animosity to "the Union" for not putting up a fight.  The greater victory for the boss, greater than the money saved even, is the weakening of solidarity on the shop floor.

Even when we had 100,000 workers in the streets of Madison Wisconsin, both Democrats and the trade Union hierarchy accepted concessions, agreed to all the cuts. Only dues check off and a seat at the table mattered.  The Democrats for the  money they get from our dues at election time and the Labor heads in order to have a job at all.

As working conditions continue to deteriorate and wages decline as Union dues go up, the anger at "the Union" increases.  Workers built and join Unions because they improve our material well being, the same with voting.  Neither are an exercise in civics.  When your dues go up and wages go down, the Union doesn't appeal so much any more.

I was talking to a young leftist the other day and like many leftists they use all sorts of excuses for not waging a struggle within their Unions.  In my experience, many of them that do attend meetings do not openly challenge the leadership and their concessionary policies and wage a campaign among the rank and file for an alternative.  They have their "private" meetings outside the workers' movement for their militant side. They often argue that you have to play the game, or that the leadership won't do anything so why place demands on them? "Why confront them when the members aren't even there?" one socialist in the movement told me. These are excuses.  It's more important to defend anyone when they are not there than when they are.  It's the harder thing to do but it also is part of building an opposition as workers hear that there's division taking place at the meetings.  They hear that someone's speaking up for them and the leadership will talk crap about them which will spark interest among the ranks who want to know what it's all about.  And it's also important for oppositionists to mark their turf whether the ranks are there or not, it helps hold our feet to the fire.

If we are active in Unions we have to wage an open campaign against the concessionary policies of the present leadership.  We are in a struggle for the consciousness of the members, of the working class as a whole.  This is part of building rank and file oppositions around a fighting program and direct action fight to win tactics.

Most workers recognize that they're better off with a Union, even a bad one.  But years of class collaboration and concessionary contracts forced on members by a bloated bureaucracy that does not have to work under them,  have made it a lot easier for the bosses and their politicians to undermine the Union and attack Union rights.

As myself and others on this blog have stated many times, this logjam will be broken at some point.  The police are getting more aggressive as the bosses are becoming overconfident. But we are suffering undue hardship due to the refusal of the leadership to fight which means we we are forced to start from a much deeper hole than necessary when these small clashes like in  Michigan today become generalized and take on a national  character.

But we have the power, this is indisputable.  We just have to use it and openly fight all the bosses' divide and rule tactics, racism, sexism,  blaming immigrants etc. aimed at weakening our unity.

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