Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Trump: SEIU leadership in shock but will hang on to failed strategy

Left: Mary Kay Henry.
By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

If anything reveals the complete bankruptcy of the trade union leadership and its policies in this country, it is SEIU president, Mary Kay Henry’s internal memo to SEIU staff in the aftermath of the Trump electoral victory.

“Because the far right will control all three branches of the federal government, we will face serious threats to the ability of working people to join together in unions,”,
  Henry wrote on December 14th. We didn't face obstacles or threats in 1880 did we?

Henry announces that SEIU will be cutting costs in preparation for lean times ahead. Like any CEO of a major corporation, which is what business unionism is, she warns employees (staffers) of the “tough decisions” that have to be made due to a 30% reduction in the Union’s budget over the next year.

In the face of a right wing administration that will control both houses and the presidency, the budget cuts are necessary in order for the union to “fight forward”, Kay Henry continues. I am not sure what “fight forward” means or how reducing what could be shock troops if applied properly in battle, would help build and increase the power of organized labor, but Kay Henry seems to think that it will help “resist” the attacks that will be forthcoming as Trump and his gang get going. It’s hard to have much confidence that this would be the case as the heads of organized labor have failed to resist the attacks on workers and their members that have occurred over the last period under Democratic and Republican administrations.

Some small victories at the lowest level have been won, raising wages in the service sector somewhat although these increases still ensure workers remain in poverty overall.

In the face of what will be an intensified capitalist offensive against all workers, unions and the public sector (if you’re a retired public sector don’t think your pensions are safe) under the Trump regime, Kay Henry writes of a new period in which the leadership needs to “dramatically re-think” how the union will respond, what the strategy will be. So far, all we can deduce from what this writer has seen of the letter is that there will be layoffs of staffers.

Myself and other contributors to this blog have stressed that the force responsible for the rise of Trump is organized labor’s leadership at the highest levels. It is people like Mary Kay Henry and the leaders of the other national unions that comprise the leadership of the AFL-CIO and Change to Win Coalition that have allowed an anti-worker, racist and misogynist like Trump to get where he is.

Union members’ wages, benefits and overall standard of living has been in steep decline for decades along with union membership.  Unions now represent around 12% of the US workforce down from 35% when the AFL and CIO merged in 1955. If we take the public sector out of the mix, only 7% or so of the working class in the US is organized.  In the aftermath of the defeats suffered by the auto-workers (UAW) due to the usual combination of the employers and their own leaders, Trump will wage an aggressive offensive against us in the public sector we can be sure of that.

History and Mary Henry Kay’s letter make it clear that nothing is about to change and will not change without a mass uprising from within the ranks of organized labor. In a split back in 2005, five “dissident” AFL-CIO unions along with the International Brotherhood of Carpenters, already outside the AFL-CIO, formed the Change To Win Coalition. Prior to the AFL-CIO convention taking place in Chicago that year, the dissidents introduced their  “Restoring the American Dream Proposal” outlining their suggested changes for the AFL-CIO. Some thought this was a significant step as SEIU definitely had what appeared on the surface anyway a more aggressive approach to organizing. Maybe there is going to be some militancy after all. But all hope was dashed. Nothing in the program of the dissidents mentioned perhaps the most damaging trade union philosophy of all, the Team Concept. No differences there.

Teamster president Jimmy Hoffa made it clear what drove the split in a press release in July 2005, “In our view, we must have more union members in order to change the political climate that is undermining workers rights in this country.” JP Hoffa press release on leaving AFL-CIO 7-25-05

This nailed it. What some hoped might be a major split over program and policy was in actuality a difference over how best to bring more members in to the unions in order to use them at election time to elect more Democrats to office. More members meant more voters and that would mean more heat they could put on Democrats. That was the political motivation.

As far as the economic policies of organized labor, they simply mirror the liberal section of the capitalist class in the Democratic Party. Prior to the AFL-CIO split, the darling of the liberals in the Bay Area labor movement here was Amy Dean who was head of the South Bay Labor Council. She was to be our savior. She had great ideas for the labor movement when she wrote:

Labor must become proficient at being able to broker the supply and demand of labor within a labor market.  Yet, I am suggesting nothing different from the ways in which a temporary agency functions. Temporary agencies were created to fill an important niche that client firms needed but are not filling, the niche that the employee side needs.  Thus, we have determined that marrying training with job development and placement is an absolute critical core capacity unions of the future must have.” *

And folks have asked me why I refer to the labor officialdom as “Labor Brokers.”

The adulation for Dean among the full time staff and delegates to the higher bodies was nauseating, but most workers are not impressed by the liberals at all; they’re not fooled by it, the kinder, friendlier bourgeois view of the world,  although they don’t put it that way. They know that it's just self-serving. That’s one reason Trump has some misguided popularity. He’s perceived as more honest even though he’s not. Here’s a look at where Dean is now.

In her letter, Mary Kay Henry continues down the same path. She writes that the Union needs to “….focus our resources and energy on the fights that position us to retake power in 2018, 2020 and beyond,” 

“Retake power”?
  She’s talking about political power but we’ve never had political power. Workers don’t have a political party and she has no intention of using her position as the head of one of the largest workers’ organizations in the country to build one. She’s talking about helping a wing of the capitalist class to return to governance. We have lost ground under both Democratic and Republican administrations alike. We can see why class-consciousness has been driven so far back when we read statements like this from a person in her position. In this regard, she is no different than any other union official at this level. They're all kissing Trump's ass now, trying to make a deal for their own constituents, their own dues base. Trump is not afraid of them that's the problem. Too many years of collaboration.

So labor’s response to Trump is capitalist, free market policies economically and in the electoral sphere, continue to support the capitalist Democratic Party, in the mid-terms in 2018 and the national election in 2020. This is why we’re in this mess. This is why Trump got elected.

There is no mention in Kay Henry’s letter of the potential power of the rank and file of organized labor as a whole. Not a hint that this power should be organized, mobilized and that this force alone, the 12 million workers affiliated to this body can stop the US economy from functioning and that such a development dedicated to organizing the unorganized and linked to working class communities, would transform the balance of class forces in the US.

The anger at the rich in the aftermath of the Great Recession has not gone away.  Trade union leaders like Henry refused to tap in to that anger constrained as they are by their own view of the world embodied in the Team Concept and loyalty to capitalism and the market. Trump’s popularity is not so great but there are those that, after years of cuts and betrayals, see in him someone who will make some changes for the better. This will not last long.

Because the present union leadership refuses to break from its disastrous marriage with the capitalist Democratic Party and its so-called free market policies, workers will be driven back even further. The entire union leadership must go. There may be some, surely there are at the mid level or are presently silent dissidents, real dissidents, in the ranks of the leadership at the top.  A shorter workweek should be a demand put forward by any so-called alternative or opposition groups in the ranks. Opposition to the Team Concept, jobs, health care, wages people can live on, free education, mass transit, all these social needs can be paid for by the 1% and through ending the corporate wars.
But we will have to fight for them. We have the numbers and the power to win these things through mass action, strikes and occupations, relying on our own strength, tactics that built the unions in the first place. We have no alternative but to fight, the bosses’ will not stop.

It is telling that the pope of Rome is to the left of the trade union leaders. He condemns capitalism.  Meanwhile labor officials and liberals do everything they can to avoid the word. They talk of the “donor class” a term I heard on the liberal station KPFA, this morning as some guy was promoting this Democrat Larry Ellison, the same old story that one. They talk of oligarchy or plutocracy which describes a political body or group of people but not a system. There is the elite or corporotocracy. For F%&;ks sake we live in a system called capitalism; call it what it is, the pope does.

What the pope leaves out of course is the alternative, a democratic socialist system. Jason O’Neal describes what we mean by this with regard to the environment in his blog post last week.

Sorry to raise the word but believe me, we are in a new era. This is not capitalism in its birth which was violent enough, but in its decay. And the major capitalist powers all have nuclear weapons. If them poisoning the environment doesn’t kill us, nuclear fallout will. They don’t build these weapons with the intention of never using them.

The trade union leadership are deathly afraid of a victory because they are even more terrified of the revolutionary potential of the working class.

* (1) Remarks by Amy Dean at the Conference on The Future of Work, Employment and Social Protection Agency, January 18-19, 2001 

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