Thursday, September 29, 2016

San Jose: Union construction workers pitted against non union.

Source: South Bay Labor Council

by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

"Brethren we conjure you...not to believe a word of what is being said about your interests and those of your employers being the same. Your interests and theirs are in a nature of things, hostile and irreconcilable.  Then do not look to them for relief...Our salvation must, through the blessing of God, come from ourselves.  It is useless to expect it from those whom our labors enrich." (1)

I caught a short clip on the local news tonight about a protest at a construction site in San Jose.  The very orderly protest was directed at a developer who has been using non-union labor according to the report and various building trades unions had called the protest. A couple of construction workers talked of how difficult it is trying to live in the Silicon Valley area due to the cost of housing and this employer was bringing in non union labor from the central valley and sometimes from out of state undercutting local workers. They earn a little above minimum wage the worker said.

Even with the somewhat better union wage scale (benefits and health care are a huge benefit in these cases) workers are having a hard time living in the area in which they work

This is common throughout the Bay Area as is well known. Rents and housing consume a huge percentage of family income. In San Jose, as of August 2016, the average apartment rent within the city is $2936. One bedroom apartments in San Jose rent for $2527 a month on average and two bedroom apartment rents average $3205.  The figures for the city of Santa Clara are: $2625 a month and $3316. (Source: Rent  Trying affording that on a $15 an hour minimum wage that might take place in three or four years time in some cases.

As the poster form the South Bay Labor Council website explains, The company KT Urban was targeted for “short changing the middle class and stifling hundreds of local construction workers out of middle class wages.” Ben Field is the head of the South Bay Labor Council to which 100,00 workers in 97 unions are affiliated.  The Labor Councils are the county bodies of the national labor federation, the AFL-CIO.  When an AFL-CIO union goes on strike it has to receive what is called “sanction” from the labor council to which it affiliated in order to get support. These days support generally means a rally here and there and some gestures of solidarity like fundraising, anything that is sure not to hurt the struck employer too much. Sometimes officials like Field will bring a Democratic Party politician to the picket line who will walk around for a while telling us how his grandfather was a miner or something like that and how he is just one of us.

Field was interviewed briefly and explained that the motive for this shabby treatment of workers was pure “Greed” and Field should know. He has a law degree and a PhD in American History from UC Berkeley. His bio on the Labor Council website boasts of his membership on the various labor management boards like, “Team San Jose, a partnership of the San Jose Convention and Visitors Bureau, hotels, the arts and labor, the Nova Workforce Investment Board, and the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority’s Advisory Committee….” The bio continues, ….”After graduating with a degree in Political Science from Columbia University in 1986, Ben worked as a legislative aide to Congressman Don Edwards and later on the United States Senate Banking Committee, Subcommittee on Housing and Urban Development.”

The heads of organized labor have built a relationship with the bosses based on labor peace. They keep the membership in check and ensure strikes, if they occur, do not actually hurt the employer. They ensure demands are “realistic” which means they are acceptable to the labor hierarchy’s friends in the Democratic Party and among the employers whose team they are on.

The highest ranks of organized labor people like Field and AFL-CIO strategists who determine policy, is filled with fancy college educated types from Harvard and Brandeis and other capitalist institutions.  It goes to show that all the lawyers and PhD’s in the world can’t be relied upon to defend the interests of working class people and it certainly wasn’t these types that built the trade union movement. The ideology of the ruling class is very strong in universities. And so it should be, these are institutions of capitalism, factories that turn out the forces that make capitalism work to the extent that it does and where Field and others like him soak up the so-called free market ideology like a sponge.

I stress of course, that great individuals, members of the middle and upper middle classes (the petty bourgeois best describes them for me) with college educations have been great labor activists and of course revolutionists. These individuals adopted the class position of the worker, abandoned their class privilege and orient to and place their skills at the service of the working class. But these are rare people.

So the PhD and the leaders of the unions involved lead their members on a rally and protest that basically pits them against lower waged workers form the Central Valley which is a very poor section of California who also need to feed their families. In many situations like these here in California, many of the lower paid from this area will be Latinos, Mexicans or Mexican Americans.  It's not rocket science is it to figure out that these workers would love to earn union wages and benefits. It reminds me so much of the vicious attacks against Irish labor back in England during the 60’s that always included a racist element.

Instead of whining about a rogue employer and appealing to the so-called “friendly” employers who pay the union rate, what the 100,000 workers of the South Bay Labor Council should be mobilized for is for a 30 hour workweek with no loss in pay. This would be a first step in opening up the job market a little. Fifty mles to the north San Francisco has a labor council also with more than 100,000 workers. Here in the East Bay, the Labor Council has another 130,000 or so all in key industries. The LA labor council has 800,000 and the state of California Labor Federation $2 million workers affiliated. Both the SF and Alameda County Labor Council were involved in general strikes, SF in 1934 and Alameda in 1946

There should be a campaign for more jobs, a massive infrastructure spending program paid for by ending all predatory wars and taxing the rich.  Defense production should be cut and funds reallocated for social use. There should be a massive organizing drive aimed at the workers from the Central Valley and others like them, the unemployed for example, and get them in to the unions. Organize the unorganized don’t allow the bosses to force us in to competition with them.  These unions should be organizing residential construction instead of consciously abandoning it as they have done. HERE, the restaurant workers union also made the conscious decision to abandon small outlets and concentrate on the big hotels as they bring in lot of revenue. This is what happens when you run a workers' organization like business.

All the talent and skills of the workers on the shop floor of the industry they are in can be utilized to build and spread organization. But it’s safer to hire an army of staff loyal to the tops, many of them college kids at first who have no base among the troops or in the workplace. (read this) This is a conscious strategy, one word of criticism from them and they will be out of a job, they have no solid footing, no base in the union on which to rest and that can challenge the organized leadership and their full-time apparatus.

But this is what happens when the strategists atop organized labor have the Team Concept philosophy as their guidance, that workers and bosses have the same interests, are on the same team. The union bureaucracy is on the same team, the folks that pay the dues aren’t. This inevitably pits workers in one industry against those in another, workers in countries against each other.  It’s a disaster, we can’t build workers unity and solidarity that way and if we can’t build that unity we can’t ever win.

As I write this it becomes so clear that what we face within organized labor is ideological warfare. The leadership of organized labor, their views and policies represent an alien ideology.  All Field’s education is useless to us, he is not putting it at the disposal of the working class in our struggle for control of our work lives and the society in which we live.  Him and most of them are connected in all sorts of ways to the capitalist class, through the Team Concept on the job in terms of what is and what is not acceptable economically, and the Team Concept in the political sphere through their deathly embrace of the Democratic Party and their association with its institutions. They soak up the 1%'s  economic and philosophy of the world in their universities.

I concede that the members are accepting Field’s argument, attacking the workers being exploited even more so by this particular employer because they have no union to defend them and/or may be immigrants. They are not making any effort to link with them. This is a mistake and harmful to their own self interest. But there are activists within the unions that refuse to take up this false policy of the leadership openly, that refuse to build opposition caucuses in the workplaces and union that can challenge the present policies and build a new leadership based on defense of our class interests; they keep their mouths shut. The members have to see there is a force inside the union that they can turn to, that has a plan and a way to fight back to bring change. As for socialists, how can we talk to workers of the need to join with us in overthrowing capitalism when we refuse to even confront the leaders of the workers' organizations, or can't fight for a clean restroom on the job.?

As we say on this forum, we are in a battle for the consciousness of the working class and that includes the organized sector of it and winning that war means challenging the petty bourgeois layer, the lawyers, economists and other academics that head our organizations on behalf of Wall Street. 

(1) 1840's appeal from New England laborers to their fellows to abandon the idea that the employers/capitalists would solve working people's problems.  Philip Foner History of the Labor Movement Vol. 1 p192

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