Friday, August 29, 2014

ILWU tops and grain bosses make deal. But no one's talking.

Back at work
By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

ILWU members working at Northwest Ports have ratified an agreement with multinational grain bosses after an 18-month lockout.  The two sides have been in negotiations for almost two years and 84.4% of the members voted for the agreement. The actual count was1,475 for 193 against.

The ILWU leadership and the grain bosses are keeping the details under wraps which is not a good sign at all for the rank and file and all workers, but it's standard procedure as the labor hierarchy continues to compromise in order to keep the labor/management team together.

“Bargaining was difficult….” the couple of paragraphs announcing the deal on the ILWU’s website tells us, “….but in the end, both sides compromised significantly from their original positions, resulting in a workable collective bargaining agreement that preserves the work of the ILWU-represented workforce and fosters stability for the export grain industry.”

Jay Inslee, Washington State’s Democratic governor is equally pleased telling the Columbian the agreement is, “welcome news for the workers and the three grain facilities” and that it’s also “great news for Washington’s internationally acclaimed grain industry.”

“I am grateful that the lockout’s disruption to the marketplace was kept to a minimum and that for most of those 18 months state grain inspections continued.”, Inslee added.

Inslee is a liberal democrat but this does not change his views in labor disputes-----the market is god. By “disruption to the marketplace” Inslee is actually referring to profits. For workers, our strength lies in being able to not only disrupt the market activity or profit taking, but to halt this activity altogether.  The ideological marriage between the union hierarchy and the bosses is clear as the official statement from the ILWU expresses the leadership's satisfaction that the deal, "fosters stability for the export grain industry.” 

Could we imagine in the time of war, the generals being pleased that their actions had brought "stability" to the opposing armies? They'd be hung as traitors.

The market cannot feed, clothe or house billions of people so the market is not so precious when it comes to human needs and the protection of our environment.

The fact that both sides are silent on the details and are praising the contract shows that workers have yet again taken a step backwards.  While a mere 7% or so of US workers are in unions, organized labor still represents, or should represent, the interests of the working class as a whole. I had a decent job and have a decent retirement thanks to those that fought and sacrificed in the past. We owe what we have to the heroic struggles of US workers, not to the generosity of JP Morgan, Carnegie or the two parties of Wall Street.

From my understanding the dispute was not so much about wages but more about attacks on work rules, safety and the struggle between workers and bosses over control and power in the workplace. Reports in the media confirm this to be the case. The Columbian writes, “The conflict wasn’t about wages and benefits. Instead, it was about workplace rules and hiring policies. It was a battle over which side — grain terminal operators or union dockworkers — would get the upper hand over control of labor issues on the region’s waterfronts.” This is the crux of the matter in all labor disputes.

The US bosses are forced by global capitalism to drive conditions of US workers back 100 years; they have to place the US working class on rations.  The beefing up of domestic police agencies and the violence we saw in Ferguson is all part of this process. The militarization of the police is necessary as the 1% is well aware of the revolutionary history of the US working class and that this plan will not be passively accepted.  The deafening silence from the labor officialdom and absence of any serious commentary at all on the AFL-CIO website on this issue and the events in Ferguson is criminal.

Pat McCormick, a spokesperson for the multinationals involved in the grain struggle is happy a “fair” agreement was reached, one that will provide “…..well-paid employment to our Longshore workers and allowing terminal operators to remain competitive.”  And here is the problem----being competitive.  McCormick’s partner on the union side, Jennifer Sargent, makes her purposefully vague statement saying in an e mail to the Columbian that, “both sides compromised, and the agreement reflects that.”  The compromises will ensure that profits are not hurt and that the rights of the bosses to make them not impeded. It is union power that will be compromised. As long as the diues money keeps coming in, the labor officialdom will be satisfied.

Let’s not forget that the workers involved in this dispute were dealing with four multinational corporations and the power this presents to us.  They were fighting global capitalism as we all are in the present epoch..  The entire weight of organized labor and working class communities should have been brought to bear on these bosses long ago and strengthening links internationally has to be part of this offensive.  They’re internationalists, so should we be. They weren’t talking about baseball at Jacksone Hole last week.

The ILWU is also in contract negotiations here in the Bay Area.  It is pointless belonging to national organizations if these organizations don’t build a national offensive, and most workers have drawn that conclusion.  Why pay union dues that in most cases support obscene salaries for paid officials and when dues go up and wages and benefits head south?  Hundreds of millions of union members hard earned dues money finds its way in to Democratic Party coffers; workers are not stupid, we know a bad bet when we see one.

I have written many times on what I believe is the cause of the betrayals on the part of the trade union leadership and why we are facing a capitalist offensive aimed at taking back all the gains we have won over more than a century. We are not taught to think in terms of systems.  We live is a capitalist system, a capitalist mode of production based on private ownership of the productive forces. Production is set in to motion not on the basis of human need but on the basis of profit.  Capitalists produce for profit not social need and they compete with each other for market share, the ideal situation being one in which they are the sole producer. The social system drives them to attack workers and to wage wars against their competitors with workers as cannon fodder all under the guise of national unity.

In their rapacious quest for profits, they seek the cheapest workers (labor power) that can work under conditions that favor their activity.  US manufacturing has lost a lot of ground as this process has meant US bosses shifting production overseas; we are too expensive, although over the last 30 years or more the US as far as manufacturing is concerned has become a low waged haven.

Workers built unions to protect us from the market and profit-taking not to facilitate it. The leaders of our organizations, unions here in the US, or political parties that arise from a workers’ movement, accept that rules of this game.  We will all fall prey to the same pitfalls, will betray our ideals and our class if we accept that the market, competition, private ownership of the dominant sectors of economic life, and the capitalist mode of production is the only form social organization.

How can workers fight global corporations without global working class unity and global working class organizations both economic and political?

The ILWU leadership has compromised away workers power we can be sure of that.  It’s inevitable if the idea is that workers in each country and from each country have to compete with each other. The Wall Street Journal reported that the demand for commercial trucks increased 36% in the first half of 2014 but much of this demand has been provided by US manufacturers in Mexico which produced almost 300,000 trucks last year, 68% higher than four years ago. We only have to take note of the words from the horse’s mouth as Jack Allen, the COO of Navistar tells the WSJ that the move to Mexico was not simply cheaper workers, but “..great cooperation from the union there, as well as the government.”

The ILWU leadership and the entire leadership of organized labor follow the same practices, cooperation with the bosses.

There will be an explosion in this country much like the 1930’s.  The fact that the presence of left, socialist, communist and other radical movements with deep roots among the working class is pretty much  non-existent today will mean that in the movements that arise all sorts of compromisers, reformers and opportunists will fill the leadership gap, we see this in Ferguson, we saw it in the immigration May Day walk off in 2006and the Occupy Movement.

But the militant and socialist traditions of the US working class while weakened have not been eradicated and these traditions will re-emerge as the crisis of capitalism intensifies.

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