By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired
The Wall Street Journal reports today that the United Steelworkers and the negotiators representing the refinery bosses have come to an agreement.
It appears that we have the same old well traveled road here as all we know so far is that the deal has been made and yet to be voted on. The USW leadership considers the deal a victory but then the trade union hierarchy is known for calling defeats victories.
The WSJ report is vague. The agreement according to the Journal, “calls for an immediate review of staffing and workload assessments for union employees. It also calls for annual wage increases and maintaining current health benefits.” In addition, there are “….hiring plans to be developed in conjunction with recruitment and training programs” says USW International VP Tom Conway.
The agreement calls for wage increases but the USW site doesn’t say what they are. “The tentative agreement calls for yearly wages increases as well as maintaining the current health care plan cost-sharing ratio.”, an official USW statement on the site says.
That’s about it. These workers lost six weeks pay for vague promises about meetings with management to discuss issues.
A trusted indicator that the strike made few, if any gains for the folks that pay the dues and do the work is that the USW leadership applauds it. “We salute the solidarity exhibited by our membership. There was no way we would have won vast improvements in safety and staffing without it.” said USW International President Leo Gerard
This looks like yet another defeat for organized labor. Why would the energy companies make any concessions? From the start, the union hierarchy made it plain that they had no intention of hurting the oil refineries profits.
“The strike had little impact”, the WSJ says as, “…most affected plants continued to operate using management and non-union workers”.
Well, that’s only a small part of it. The main reason the strike was ineffective was the labor leadership intended it to be; an effective strike, and the actual aim of a strike, is to shut down production. If you don’t do that then it is merely a protest and a very expensive one for the rank and file out on the lines. The union officialdom has no problem taking workers out on strike for weeks on end then sending them back with no real gains, after all, they do not have to work under the concessionary contracts they force on their members.
Despite having the potential to cripple this industry the union hierarchy refused to strike all plants ensuring that industry profits were unaffected; five companies made $90 billion in profits last year. The USW represents workers at 65 U.S. refineries that produce approximately 64 percent of the oil in the U.S. according to the union. This is real power, or potential power if used. Given the extreme aggression we have seen from the bosses over the past period why would you only strike nine of them unless you weren’t serious about the battle?
For many workers this was their first and only experience of this nature. Many workers simply make do with paying the dues and hoping for the best. But this doesn’t make it. As I have explained before we cannot avoid a major open campaign against the policies of the present labor leadership from the top on down. We must educate ourselves about our history and why the present leadership refuses to fight. The heads of organized labor are bound to the Team Concept, the idea that bosses and workers’ have the same interests and this is a major cause of their betrayals. They support one or the other of the two bosses parties, the Democrats and Republicans, this is the Team Concept in politics. On the job it is through helping the employer compete, keeping wages and benefits “competitive” in order to help the bass keep profits flowing in. They worship the market and attend all the economic seminars that explain economics from the bosses’ viewpoint. They sit on various committees and competitive council designed to make us cost affective.
We must build opposition caucuses in our unions, link them with the communities in which we live and work and return to the tactics that built the unions in the first place, direct action, mass strikes, occupations and openly challenging anti-union/worker laws and injunctions. We have to build our own party and we have to learn our own history.
Check out earlier commentaries on the USW strike at the links below.