Thursday, September 22, 2016

Trumka and building trades leaders join bosses, support Dakota Pipeline

An all out victory here will be a win for all workers.
By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444,retired

In an article on its website, the liberal leaning Common Dreams has published a letter sent by Sean McGarvey, president of North America's Building Trades Unions to the presidents of all the AFL-CIO.  The letter condemns those unions that support the Standing Rock Sioux in their struggle to defend their sacred lands our environment. The article reads:

In the letter, McGarvey questions top leadership for not taking a firmer position in defense of the union members working on Dakota Access and calls out other AFL-CIO member unions—specifically the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), the National Nurses United (NNU), the Communications Workers of America (CWA), and the American Postal Workers Union (APWU)—for aligning with "environmental extremists" opposed to the pipeline and participating in a "misinformation campaign" alongside "professional agitators" and members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.

The letter condemns the other unions and the AFL-CIO for not defending the 4500 workers who will lose their jobs if the project is halted. This horror that stopping the pipeline represents for the heads of the building trades is not unlike the horror it represents to the capitalists and investors who hope to profit from it: “Should the administration ultimately stop this construction, it would set a horrific precedent,” I quoted one leader of a pro-pipeline coalition as saying in an earlier commentary.

It's not just that the stifling bureaucracy that heads organized labor doesn't care about climate change, they don't care about their own members or workers in general. The trade unions to these leaders, especially those in the building trades, are employment agencies with them as the CEO's. They are protecting a smaller and smaller dues base that will keep them in their positions and preserve the relationships they have built with the bosses and the corporations based on labor peace.

They are junior partners alongside the developers, energy companies and other huge industries in making capitalism work, keeping profits sacrosanct and flowing in to the coffers of the rich.  It is not simply a matter of disrespecting sacred or sovereignty of Native Americans whose culture was almost wiped out as capitalism spread across this continent in the wake of a racist genocidal war. The only thing sacred for the ruling class in this country is profits. The only reason that capitalists hire workers is they have to as profit comes from the unpaid labor of the working class. It is created though the labor process as workers are paid less in wages than the value the use of their labor power creates.

Part of the reason entire areas of the country are poisoned or depopulated or that our cities are crumbling and infrastructure in decay is the capitulation of the trade union leadership at the highest levels to market forces and the rule of capital.

They worship capitalism, they see no alternative to it and what the Standing Rock Tribes and their allies are doing is threatening their world. To do this can only lead to chaos.  As the employers always do in strikes, the union leader in his letter, claims the problem is misinformation, the allies are professional agitators and people, including the Sioux themselves it would seem, that care about the natural world and the horrific damage capitalism is doing to it, are “extremists”.

Yes, many of the top union officials have gotten rich and receive obscene salaries as they push concessionary contracts on their own members. But what can they do? What will anyone do that does not see an alternative to the market and capitalism, they try to patch it up and/or watch the ship go down as they feather their own nests. They ignore the devastation, and human suffering.

While the building trades are among the worst due to the nature of the industry, they are not alone; they don’t shoulder all the blame. I don’t know the details but it is obviously an important development that other unions, notably unions that represent a considerable number of public sector workers or are service oriented, are supporting the Sioux for all the right reasons, their land rights, the protection of the environment etc.

But the entire union hierarchy is guilty.  They all support the Team Concept. They all surrender rights to capital that must be denied it if we are to survive as a species.  There should have been an internal war within organized labor a long time ago, instead, any movement from below that threatened the concessionary policies of the leadership is met with suppression. The CNA, one of the better and more “progressive” unions came in to the AFL-CIO some time ago but as is always the case when unions amalgamate and join forces, leave or join the national body, these decisions are made between leaderships. There is no protracted debate and discussion among the members; it’s a top down process.  This is true of all of them.

It is tantamount to sacrilege to criticize another leadership and a mortal sin appealing to their members.

The workers immediately affected by the halting of the pipeline should be told that they will lose no wages, that they will be employed in socially constructive employment. It’s not that they don’t care, they don’t want to lose their jobs, hurt their families, not be able to keep a roof over their heads or pay the college tuition that has sky rocketed under Democratic and Republican administrations alike.  The liberals will no doubt whine on about white privilege as most of them are likely to be higher paid white workers but this is an economic issue in the main.

I recall talking to a young middle class student many years ago after she came back from a protest at a nuclear plant in Southern Cal. I think it was called Rancho Seco. She said that the “hard hats” came out and opposed them, called them names. “See,…..” she said to me with some confidence, “,,,,these union workers don’t care about the environment.”
“They care about their jobs” I replied. “They care about their daughter’s tuition fees, they have a mortgage or rent to pay.”

The issue is if you’re going to call for shutting down someone’s source of income you’d better have an alternative.  The problem is even those unions supporting the protests and opposed to the pipeline do not have an alternative. It’s the same as opposing deforestation or certain types of mining or the defense industry. The workers movement and if we had one, a workers party must put forward an alternative to the solutions that are not limited to the confines of the market or objected to by capitalist parties and politicians. How we produce in society cannot be left to market forces.

The energy industry must be taken in to public ownership under the democratic control and management of the workers in that industry and the consumers and those sections of society that are most affected by these decisions.  The only solution is to do this with all the dominant sectors of the economy including the finance industry.

By taking capital out of the hands of the clique that posses it, how we allocate it can be a truly democratic process. It would allow a massive infusion of public capital in to social infrastructure, schools, services, transportation etc. We can place human and the environment’s needs first. These are inseparable. It is not the voice of the average worker behind that building trades leader’s letter. It is the voice of the investors, speculators and banks that control the economic and political life of society and indeed the world.

AFL-CIO head Richard Trumka, the former miners’ (UMWA) leader who helped undermine the Pittston Strike in 1989-90, says the pipeline should be supported because it was "providing over 4,500 high-quality, family supporting jobs". We have seen union membership decline drastically over the last period, something that was accelerated by the smashing of PATCO in 1980, the attacks that followed and the refusal of the heads of organized labor to do a damn thing about it. Workers have had wages cut in half, benefits slashed, pensions eliminated or cut, been forced to relocate halfway across the country, and Trumka and the building trades leaders are crying crocodile tears for 4500 jobs. Let’s be realistic here, it’s revenue, 4500 times so much a month union dues in the immediate and the danger of a movement developing through a victory.

The union leaders that are supporting the Standing Rock Sioux and their allies need to address genuine fears of the workers who will lose wages but they can’t. They will support Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party in this election and no solution, no massive public spending project will come to fruition. Clinton, like Sanders would have, will continue the disastrous foreign policy that is generating hatred for Americans abroad and poverty at home. She is an aggressive defender of capitalism and we will pay for that. *

Here is the Common Dreams article.

* The first sentence of the last paragraph previously read as: "The union leaders that are supporting the pipeline need to address genuine fears of the workers who will lose wages but they can’t."

This was an error. It has been corrected.

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