Thursday, September 15, 2016

AFSCME' Convention. No Change Here. More Defeats for Working People.

AFSCME President Lee Saunders with Hillary Clinton who could be the first female US president to bomb the Middle East
By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

Not much has changed in the American Federation of State, Country and Municipal Employees if the latest Afscme Magazine (Afscme Works) is anything to go by. This edition comes on the heels of AFSCME’s 42nd International Convention held in Las Vegas in July.

Afscme President, Lee Saunders' column could have been written prior to the 1980 election, the 1988 election and probably most national elections since WW2. It’s no wonder most workers don’t read official union publications as after an issue or two it’s pretty much the same regurgitated content. A cheerleading sheet only works when victories, real victories, are on the board.  Organized labor in the US has suffered defeat after defeat for decades. True, a job in the public sector is still preferable to the private in the main but with the autoworkers safely out of the picture for a period, pacified through a powerful offensive waged by a combination of the auto bosses and the national leadership of the UAW, the public sector is the last bastion of unionism and under a fierce assault.

I find the reports of the convention so nauseating I can’t read on but let me share a little of it with the reader.

President Saunders boasts of AFSCME's commitment to the fight. The Convention passed a resolution denouncing governor Bruce Rauner of Illinois. No, wait, it was more militant than that, the resolution “denounced virulently anti-worker” Gov. Bruce Rauner. Get me a glass of water for Christ’s sake, this union leader is going too far.

Hold it, there’s more. They passed a resolution “demanding a Senate vote on US Supreme Court Nominee Merrick Garland” writes Saunders.  What courage. Is it appropriate here to quote the heroic Martin Luther King when he said, “Free at last, Free at last, Thank God almighty we are free at last.”

As they always do they have the Democratic Party presidential nominee as a key speaker and sure enough Hillary Clinton, (of predatory black males fame) the friend of working families, racial minorities and the poor told them, “I will be by your side in this fight every step of the way”, when she’s not bombing the Middle East of course. The workers of the former colonial possessions have an historic opportunity here, to be bombed not only by the first black US president but the first female US president.

Afscme, you have my back and, and as President I’ll have yours” Clinton told the convention and as a special treat she promised, “When I’m president, working people will always have a seat at the table and a champion in the White House.” It’s like a broken record isn’t it. No wonder the American people have given up on electoral politics altogether.

There’s more of this cheerleading on page 9 where a couple of in house writers offer a slightly more detailed report but the same worn our content. Pravda couldn’t do better.  AFSCME and SEIU, tradition rivals for members which results in more revenue and more of their members hard earned money they can hand over to the Democrats, have agreed to “voluntarily partner” more closely.  The assault on the labor movement is so fierce it’s forcing traditional enemies among the bureaucratic clique that sits atop organized labor to make temporary pacts.

But the reader may remember the split in the AFL-CIO some time ago when the Change To Win coalition was formed that included SEIU, Here, The Teamsters and the UFCW. There was much excitement but the split was not about anything substantial, it was not about opposition on the part of the CTW to the Team Concept and concessions. It was about electoral politics, pressuring the Democrats and trying to get more of them in to office.

Saunders made the argument well for supporting Hillary, “Consider the alternative…” he writes, “This election is a choice between an unstoppable champion and an unstable charlatan.” He should not have been allowed to make this statement without being challenged as he and the entire leadership of organized labor at the national level are primarily responsible for there being no alternative. It is his fault we have no choice other than billionaires, and representatives of the 1%

Saunders heads a union, AFSCME, with some 1.6 million members, approximately 3,400 local unions, 58 district councils and affiliates in 46 states according to its website. District Council 37 in NYC had 127,000 members when I was active. With members in huge urban centers like NYC, Philladelphia, Chicago and other cities this is tremendous potential power if we all stop working.  SEIU has two million members and the AFL-CIO about 12 million. This is the case despite the reduced membership due to the concessionary polices and outright betrayal of the labor officialdom from the top down. Organized labor still has the potential to stop this economy from functioning and if a fight was launched it would draw in to its orbit and inspire millions of workers and the poor.

Organized labor has structure, money and numbers. Saunders should not be able to get away with the worn out argument that we have to vote for one rotten candidate of capitalism because the candidate of the other party of capitalism is worse.

He should fight within the AFL-CIO as an executive board member for this position, for the AFL-CIO to build a party of workers and the middle class that can challenge the two parties of Wall Street.  I am supporting Jill Stein and the Green Party. Saunders could at least do that; it would send shock ways through Washington if he did.  A significant turn out for the Greens even if they didn't win, would change the balance of class forces in the US, it would be a positive step forward as it would make people consider that an alternative to the twin parties of capital is possible. It would send a message to the US ruling class that their monopoly of electoral politics is not secure.

Of course he won’t do that, none of them will do that without being forced to from below.  It’s not the obscene salaries and perks although that is part of it. The primary reason they are terrified of the potential power of organized labor is that they have the same world view as the bosses. They accept capitalism, they accept that profits are sacrosanct and the market is the answer to all things. To mobilize their membership to act in our own interests and rely on our own strength on the job and in the political arena through building our own party can only lead to chaos. They cannot conceive a world without Warren Buffet, and Bill Gates. A political party governs and workers cannot possibly govern we are born to be led.

 The Union hierarchy is ideologically bankrupt, this is the main issue.

Every local should send a letter or pass resolutions directed at the AFSCME executive board condemning Saunders for his failure to campaign for a labor/workers party. For supporting anti-worker candidates like Clinton and handing over billions of dollars of their members hard earned money to finance the election of these candidates.

That is a small gesture,  but in the last analysis, you can’t avoid an internal union struggle to change the present leadership and its disastrous policies.  Putting it off until our backs are against the wall might be too late. Better to fight now while we can.

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