Thursday, February 5, 2015

ILWU leadership's cowardly appeal to the Port Bosses

by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

On the heels of the USW strike the ILWU leadership has released a statement about the state of their negotiations with the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA)

The PMA is the employers group that negotiates with dockworkers and their unions.  Its members’ list is like a who’s who of global corporations and includes APL, Yang Ming, Costco, Hyundai, Mersk, Zim (Israeli) and many other corporations.

The ILWU leadership’s statement above is yet another example of the complete bankruptcy of the bureaucratic clique that heads organized labor. I commented two days ago on the USW strike and also shared my views on the tasks that face the rank and file of organized labor here and here.  

A young member of the carpenters union talked to me the other day about his union and he said that he is in it for the “bennies” and “health care”.  That’s reason enough to join a union for sure.  I talked with him a bit about the Waste management strike where Teamster officials joined with the bosses in ushering their drivers, (members of Teamsters local 853) across the ILWU Local 6 picket lines. (Local 6 is the ILWU’s warehouse unit).

The carpenter went on to tell me that his leaders were corrupt and the Teamsters is led by Mafia.  I have always countered this view because while corruption exists and organized crime has influence in some unions, it was not the Mafia that built the unions and neither organized crime nor corruption are at the root of the problem.  The present trade union leadership is corrupt ideologically. They are wed to the market and capitalism ands see the world through the bosses’ glasses.

The ILWU statement is throwing in the towel, offering not an olive branch but workers livelihoods and future to the Warren Buffets, Bill Gates and others like the Walton family and the Koch Brothers.

“We’ve dropped almost all of our remaining issues to help this get settled –and the few issues that remain can be easily re solved.”, the ILWU assures the bosses’ The ILWU leadership is afraid that the PMA will lock out the dock workers when it is the ILWU that should be locking out the bosses and opening a united front of struggle.

“Closing the ports at this point would be reckless and irresponsible” says ILWU president Robert McEllrath as if it’s simply a matter of responsibility.  The public will suffer he argues and plays the nationalist card pointing out that many of the PMA corporations are foreign owned and make billions of dollars.But many more are American.

We saw a similar situation last year when the public sector here in the Bay Area could have united and shut down this economy with the crippling economic power of transit workers at the helm.  This was yet another betrayal. 

What will suffer with a successful shutting down of the docks is corporate profits and millions of working class people will suffer with yet another victory for the bosses over a potentially powerful trade union like the ILWU, this is what McEllrath should be stressing.

The bosses are drooling over this ILWU statement. Their aggressive appetite will be whetted and their assault on all workers intensified. Weakness breeds aggression in war time and we should recall the advice of one of working people’s most aggressive enemies, George Schultz when he declared that, Negotiations are a euphemism for capitulation if the shadow of power is not cast across the bargaining table.”

The bosses are all connected, meet each other, organize together in gangs like the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, entertainment and retail industry organizations.  They use the police, the courts, their media to drive workers back 100 years and destroy our organizations that were built through generations of heroic struggle.

Despite the decline in union membership and power over the past period this is due to the labor hierarchy that knows only once strategy; “capitulation” and the failure of militant fighting caucuses rising from the ranks to dislodge it.  The California State Labor Federation has two million workers affiliated to it although the folks that pay the dues would most likely not even know it exists which suits the clique well. The LA Central Labor Council has some 800,000 workers affiliated to it.

Rather than capitulation and cowering before the bosses’ offensive we have another unique situation potentially very favorable to us.  The USW and the ILWU should be joining forces and should develop a plan to hit the 1% were it hurts most, profits. The refineries left open should be struck, the ILWU should prepare to shut the ports, the AFL-CIO and Change to Win should be organizing and mobilizing members, the public sector unions whose members have been savaged over the past period should take this opportunity to build a united front of struggle.

The communities in which we live and work can be appealed to and drawn in to this struggle if demands are placed on the table that are not limited to union members alone.  Jobs, health care, housing, transportation, education, social services, these are all issues that are facing working people.  We have seen massive demonstrations in the US around police brutality and the labor hierarchy to its shame is non-existent in this battle. Taking up this issue and the destruction of many young lives, especially youth of color would swell the ranks of those willing to fight this fight.

But that is exactly what the labor officialdom is afraid of. Having no alternative to capitalism and worshiping the market and profits, such people power for them can only lead to chaos. The heads of organized labor fear nothing more than a victory and how that would inspire millions of their members and all workers.

I read yesterday that a huge percentage of Americans stress over money. It was an American Psychiatry Association survey. There were plenty of cures but none of them fighting to change the system that is at the root of this problem. Of course we need money; we can’t eat without it; we’d be homeless without it.

The ILWU statement above is a disgrace. The bosses are winning this war as I wrote yesterday.  They are winning it with the help of the bureaucratic clique that is at the helm of organized labor. But we have responsibilities of our own as union members and as workers.  The present leadership of organized labor will not fight; they are confined within the straitjacket of their own consciousness. This offensive will not stop unless we stop it and to do that we cannot be passive victims of history, we have to make a history of our own as we have in the past. In the unions we must build organized and open caucuses that challenge the present leadership with  a program that meets the needs of working people and a direct action strategy that can win.

We must involve ourselves in the daily struggles of the youth and others struggles that are taking place around many issues that are not directly connected to the trade union or workplace. We must contradict and challenge our friends and co-workers who side with cops rather that the youth of color in their resistance to police brutality.  To many youth of color they may not be as sympathetic to the fact that white workers have been savaged over the past 40 years. Why would they, white workers like myself are not present enough in the struggles of these youth against racism and lack of opportunity and racism has been very successful in keeping us apart.  You don't really know people if you don't socialize with them. But the age old divide and rule strategy along color lines that has been so successful for US capitalism is not so easy to turn to in the present era.  By recognizing how destructive racism and sexism has been to others and openly joining with its victims in resisting it will help bridge the divide between white and black, young and old, men and women, union and non-union, that has been so useful to the 1%.

It will build class unity and we cannot win without class unity.

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