Sunday, January 29, 2017

Trumka and the Women's March: "Forward" he Shouts From the Rear

"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." *

by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

I was talking to a friend of mine about the Women’s march in Washington DC.  She is a long-time union activist who has a strong record of fighting for workers’ rights.
She told me that her union made very little effort if any at all,  to mobilize women members or anyone else for the march. Here is an official statement from Richard Trumka the AFL-CIO president sent out on January 18th, two days before the march.

AFL-CIO Proud to Partner with the Women’s March on Washington
January 18, 2017
Statement by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka on the Women’s March on Washington:
The AFL-CIO is proud to support the Women’s March on Washington. Thousands of our 12.5 million members—women and men alike—will come together this weekend to stand up for gender justice, equality and opportunity for all.

The incoming Administration and Congress—both in words and actions—pose a serious threat to these core labor values. So we are mobilizing for an economy that works for all of us, including strong unions, equal pay and health care for all, and renewing our pledge for women’s rights, just immigration and racial justice.

Working people know this is not the time to retreat. Women’s rights are workers’ rights. We are ready to march, fight and win.

Contact: Jasmine Nazarett (202) 637-5018 end

The only aspect of this statement that is accurate is that Trump and his gang “pose a serious threat” to labor and its goals for “….gender justice, equality and opportunity for all.” As far as “support” that the AFL-CIO is talking about, it’s non-existent. Telling someone “good luck” when they’re about to be attacked by a tiger is support.

Very nice. Young workers, especially union members, get used to terms like “we will work towards” and “we will fight” when they are not accompanied by how they plan to fight or how they will “work” toward building a better life for all. Maybe they’re appealing to St Jude, the patron Saint of lost causes. Thanks for that but it’s about as useless as a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.

So far, Trumka and his colleagues have done just the opposite; they have worked to ensure that a serious mobilization of their 12.5 million members doesn’t take place. They have worked to ensure that any protests, any opposition to the intensified war on workers and the poor do not disrupt business as usual, do not bring them in to conflict with their friends in the Democratic Party or the bosses’ whose team they urge us all to be on. In fact, do not threaten in any serious way, the system that is hurtling toward the precipice threatening life as we know it on this planet, never mind the US.

In Trumka’s address he said the AFL-CIO was “mobilizing” its members for this. That’s not what I heard. One female trade unionist told me she couldn’t even get a contact list for her union’s female members in order to at least encourage them to attend.  “We were encouraged to attend by our union leadership and that was it.” one member told me.

And did we see a massive throng of union banners at the march headed up by the heads of the potentially powerful national unions? Were the army of staffers they use to turn out the vote for the Democratic Party at election time sent to every workplace, every union hall and door to door with labor volunteers building a union presence for the march?

Of course not. The labor hierarchy fears nothing more than victory as they are afraid of the inspiration it will bring to millions of their members and non union members who will begin to see unions as a positive thing that can make major changes in their lives, changes for the better.  They are aware that they wont be able to contain the anger that exists in society and that anger will also be directed at them, their obscene salaries, their love affair with Democratic Party politicians and its “liberal” billionaires, not to mention the employers whose rights and profit making activity the union officialdom sees as sacrosanct.

Consequently, with their conscious refusal to organize, despite their rhetoric, the demands of working class men and women and all marginalized sectors of society were absent in the main, were not there to be linked to the struggle for reproductive rights and equality for all, for jobs, health care, housing education. The speakers and leading figures were millionaires and film stars etc. I have to admit I only saw two speakers, Scarlet Johansson who talked about her young daughter and Madonna, another member of the super rich worth about $300 million, both Zionists who have not, to this commentators knowledge, raised the murder and imprisonment of Palestinian children by the Israeli regime when they visited that Apartheid state. Have they visited Gaza? 

As far as I can tell the only union official that spoke was George Gresham of SEIU 1199.  I don't know what he said but he was also in there when the building trades leaders met with Trump I believe and they praised him. If he was there shame on him.

Here are a few links to some unions where I tried to find comments and press releases about the march and what the union leadership was going to do to help build it.
Trumka’s statement above is perhaps one of the best of the do-nothings.

Afscme opposition newsletter I was involved in
The heads of organized labor employ an army of staff to ensure their positions are not threatened by uprisings from within the ranks. Their job is to that carry out the pro-business policies of the leadership and that their philosophy of “labor peace” enshrined in the Team Concept is maintained.  Many of these individuals believe it or not come out of socialist and radical organizations. Often they are university educated, very talented people. Some had good intentions initially I’m sure, but they entered in to the lions den without protection, in their case, a base among the ranks and a clear understanding of how to fight.  Most of them do not come from the ranks and if they do, they never arose by building rank and file opposition caucuses that can challenge for leadership.

They are too often brought in to the leadership from above not forced in from below. I could name very familiar names as some of them now portray themselves as great labor leaders or radicals.  I saw a woman from my labor council where I was a delegate some years ago. She considered herself a radical as did the CP delegates there. Neither her or others like her said a damn word in opposition to the leaderships positions as workers were beaten down throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s.

She is now a well-paid regional director (or was last time I saw her) for a major national union. That’s the reward for keeping your mouth shut as workers are being savaged and our leaders do nothing.

Then we have the building trades leaders and Jimmy Hoffa, the lawyer who heads up the Teamsters, praising Trump. A bunch of them met with him as we have pointed out in previous posts.  How disgusting is that!  One doesn’t “work with” an enemy of the working class, one “works against” an enemy of the working class.

I have been in three sets of negotiations for my local. Many years ago I took a class from  a “professional” negotiator. I spent half an hour in it, why would I want to go to a class to learn “concession bargaining”?   I was also told that the bosses’ allocate only so much money to labor costs and I could see that the general view was that we were there as representatives of workers to divvy it up. But we start from a position of what we want and need to live decent lives not what the bosses want. How much and what we win depends on the balance of class forces, and it can also determine how much we lose. Thereader can read the assessment we published after the last negotiations I wasin at the top of this blog.

Of course there are times when we retreat when the balance of class forces are not in our favor. But we don’t retreat before we fight and when we do, we do it with the collective understanding that we have to prepare our forces, build and widen our movement to encompass all issues affecting workers, and come back strengthened. In other words, we fight to win.

The same must be applied to the inevitable struggle against the concessionary policies of the present union leadership. We are in a war on two fronts. One is against the bosses’ which is relatively easy in some ways. The other, and more difficult is the internal struggle to change out unions.

We cannot avoid either of them.

Negotiations are a euphemism for capitulation if the shadow of power is not cast across the bargaining table. George Schultz

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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