Sunday, March 17, 2013

Labor hierarchy abandons macho defense for shared sacrifice.

Boston cops help scabs drive thru. Greyhound strike 1983
by Richard Mellor
AFSCME Local 444 retired

What seems a lifetime ago I was on the picket lines during the Greyhound strike. It was the early eighties and the strike began to take on somewhat of a national character as a few of the strikes did during that decade.  Local P9 UFCW, the Eastern strike etc. I was in San Francisco and we had attempted to get in to the Greyhound building which had padlocked doors and a couple of cops stationed outside. 

I remember about 1000 of us marched down to the building, tired of listening to Willy Brown, San Francisco’s Democratic mayor and friend of the Labor hierarchy promise us he was with us and all that nonsense. I recall it as a spontaneous action, the bursting out of pent up anger.  The cops were taken by surprise at a sight of 1000 angry workers surrounding the building they were supposed to protect.

In the end, the Labor officials derailed the attempted occupation along with some not so bright characters at the back of the crowd who threw rocks at the windows which rained glass down on us.

But another incident also stuck in my mind; one of the top Labor officials, Walter Johnson dragging his foot across a sidewalk declaring Labor’s line in the sand. Unfortunately the line has moved so far back that we are standing up to our knees in water.  The bosses’ laughed at such threats by the Labor hierarchy and 30 years later, empty threats and macho posturing in the face of a very serious offensive of capital has driven living standards closer to those in what we call low waged countries.  The Labor officialdom’s philosophy of, “if it doesn’t work do it again and again” is still the way to go.  It’s getting harder for them though as the offensive is becoming so fierce that there is little room to maneuver and the Labor hierarchy cooperates openly with the bosses in the elimination of gains made over the last century.  It is harder to play the macho card, especially among the ranks of organized Labor who have heard it so many, many times before.

But Labor officials can still impress young people and ranks of the unorganized who correctly see the benefits of organization and that these leaders rest on real a real social force with the potential for real power. I commented on this in a previous blog about a rally I attended in San Francisco last week. An AFL-CIO official was speaking to a crowd of mostly young people whose college is being savaged as part of the austerity program being instituted by the two parties of Wall Street. The official announced that “The Labor Council stands behind this institution”.  Unfortunately this doesn’t mean much if anything at all.  Labor leaders at the highest levels have promised union members through bitter defeat after bitter defeat that they were “behind them.”.  The reality is of course that they should be in front of us.  That’s where a leader should be, in the front not in the rear. As one person put it, they’ll fight to the last drop of your blood.

Experience has taught the bosses that they need not worry; they have friends in the Labor movement. They were very confident in their ability to take from the autoworkers the gains they made over 80 years. UAW officials “were realists who understand the problems facing the industry” the Wall Street Journal confidently boasted at one point. It’s nice having friends like that.

In Michigan, the governor has appointed a bankruptcy lawyer Kevyn Orr, to rule over the 700,000 souls who call Detroit home. The governor picked this lawyer, at a nice annual salary of $275,000, because of his “Interpersonal skills, legal and financial acumen..”.  He’s a man that can relate to all the coupon clippers, contractors, bankers and other scavengers that will benefit from Detroit’s demise and what it will take to fix it up.  The “elected” leaders of Detroit have no say in the running of the city although Mr. Orr says he will work with those elected leaders that agree with his plan.

Detroit borrowed a lot of money to cover its liabilities which included the pensions and health care for retired city workers.  These are now singled out as the main cause of the economic crisis US capitalism finds itself in. What do the heads of organized labor in Detroit have to say about this? The macho defense has been rejected by Albert Garrett, president of AFSCME Council 25 he’s got nobody’s back, he’s not even behind anyone except the enemies of working people as he’s one of the realists like his counterparts atop the UAW, “What we’re hoping for is that there must be concessions for more than just the workforce, that those who hold bonds or debt (moneylenders) take a haircut.”

Hope on Albert; a “haircut”, it’s a bit silly isn’t it. But the consequences of his role and others like him are dire.

I remember being at AFSCME International Conventions when then president Gerald McEntee used to call us the “lean green fighting machine.” He took his half a million a year salary and the retirement it bought him after being in the same position for some 30 years and kept his hair to boot.

The trade union leadership has completely capitulated in the face of the capitalist offensive and abrogated their right to lead, but they won’t leave without some help.  They have cooperated with the bosses in driving us farther and farther in to the quagmire that has increased our pain and suffering and made the climb out unnecessarily difficult, more difficult than it need have been.

One small life’s lesson that comes out of this is to beware those who are in leadership positions, who should be on the front lines, who have access to resources and the levers of the apparatus and announce to us proudly that they are “behind us” or “have our backs”

We’re not stupid.

No comments: