Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Union leadership, not "unions" is responsible for Trump

Randi Weingarten, union member with friend. Earned $560,000 total compensation 2013 (DOL)
By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

We reprint the article below from The American Prospect and agree with the general thrust of it that Trump’s rise is directly related to the decline in union power. But why the decline in union power?  This is not really answered or even asked, and consequently there is a gaping hole in the piece, there is no leadership atop organized labor according to this article. 
. Strong unions would have helped convince white workers….”  and   Unions articulate and transmit social democratic values and a sense of class solidarity to their members.” the author writes, as if “unions” can talk. 

The author brings us up to date claiming that “Today’s unions, however, find it harder to socialize their members or reach new ones with an alternative, more inclusive narrative that can compete with what right-wing populists like Trump offer.”

For whatever reason, the author completely ignores the role of leadership. When an organization of 12 million people is described merely as “The union”, the writer places a low waged unionized housekeeper at a hotel, who pays dues to UNITE/HERE, in the same category as Richard Trumka, the head of the AFL-CIO or Don Taylor the president of UNITE/HERE who earns almost $300,000 a year.
Union teachers. Average pay US $44,000 a year

More important than the salary though, is the difference in the role of the players. There are dues paying members and there is the bureaucracy that has a stifling hold on the trade union apparatus.  To not differentiate between the two--------- to not only obscure, but completely ignore the role of leadership, does not help explain things. It disarms the rank and file, makes them equally responsible for the decline in union representation and power.

The article talks of Iowa meatpacking and the decline there. But workers in this industry waged a considerable battle to prevent that decline in the 1980’s.  UFCW members at the Hormel factory fought a year long battle against concessions that was defeated primarily because the UFCW national leadership and the AFL-CIO leadership refused to go on the offensive, they abandoned these workers to the employers as they have so many struggles since.  The same with Wisconsin that the article refers to. The trade union leadership in Afscme and nationally objected to only two demands that directly affected them as leaders, dues check off and the right to bargain, without which they have no job. As for concessions in  general, they were fine with that.

By leaving out the leadership’s role the author disarms the rank and file and the working class as a whole. There is no hope at the end of this.  Contrast what the policies of the trade union leadership are to what we have stated on this blog.  Their policy is to ingratiate themselves with the bosses’ both on the job and politically though their deathly embrace with the Democratic Party. They are all scrambling now to “work” with Trump. Over decades they have handed over gains workers fought for and won through heroic struggle and sacrifices. They accept the ideology of the employers and their view of the world and do whatever they can to help them, forcing concessionary contracts down members’ throats and suppressing any movement from below that threatens to break this embrace.

We do not have a principle of attacking the trade union leadership as one so-called leftist accused us of. But we do not ignore them. We do not blame the members’ equally by simply saying the “union” hasn’t done this or that. We tell the truth.  We are in a war on two fronts. We are faced with the capitalist offense which aims to take back 150 years of gains, but we are also in a war against the present leadership that agrees with this offensive only a milder version. We oppose  the Team Concept, the collaborative policies of our own leadership that have resulted in the present state of affairs and the rise of Trump.

We explain that we have to build a rank and file movement, in the workplaces and union halls, fighting oppositions that challenge both the bosses’ offensive and the trade union leadership’s cooperation with it. Not simply a call for “union democracy” without content, we have to have demands and a program that can offer a future.  We have to generalize our struggles by campaigning within the wider labor movement and also in our communities where we link workplace battles with community and social struggles. We have to have a class approach.

Lastly, there have been thousands of young people who have been drawn to political life through the Obama campaign in its beginnings and Sanders efforts recently. They are around the traditional left organizations, some are in unions, they have been let down by Sanders. In my opinion, this article doesn’t help them either.

The author may unintentionally omit the crucial role of leadership in organized labor’s decline. I can’t say, maybe it’s part of the limits of those in academia. I know that among the army of staffers the bureaucracy employs to impose its polices on the ranks, there are many members or former members of socialist organizations. They got these positions  through the generosity of the officialdom rather than by building a real base from which to challenge them. This meant keeping their mouths shut.

As is often the case, I have written more than I wanted to.  There is good information in the piece below and the author is correct that the decline of unions has contributed to the rise of Trump. But why the decline, and what force, outside of the bosses’ themselves, bears the responsibility for it. By not answering those questions the article doesn’t really help much and instead blames all union members.

How Dwindling Union Power Helped Usher In Trump

January 2, 2017
Donald Trump swept the Rust Belt in part because labor unions are in retreat, a trend that started long before Election Day.

Workers who make coal mining machinery wait to hear from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell during a campaign stop in Lebanon, Kentucky. 
Donald Trump’s surprise victory in 2016 stunned the nation in part because white, working-class voters helped him crack open the Democratic blue wall of Iowa, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

Trump succeeded in these states and among the white workers in them because we live not in a post-truth world, but in a post-union one. Strong unions would have helped convince white workers to turn out and vote for Democrats, and would have offered them an alternative to Trump’s narrative that blacks and immigrants are to blame for stagnant wages. But Trump capitalized on declining union strength in key Midwestern states that had previously been dependably Democratic.

An early harbinger of Trump’s Midwestern victories was West Virginia, once a reliably progressive state. West Virginia was the base of the United Mine Workers (UMW), a racially progressive union that was one of the few to organize biracial locals in the South during the Jim Crow era. Miners joked that “we’re all black down there,” because even the white union members emerged from the mines with black coal dust coating their faces.

But West Virginia is no longer true blue, but deep red. Its political transformation has gone hand in hand with the decline of unions, especially the UMW, within the state. In 1982, 30.5 percent of West Virginia's workforce was organized, the second-highest union density rate of any state in the country. Thirty-three years later, in 2015, only 12 percent of workers belonged to a union, and the Mountain State's ranking in union density is no longer even in the top third. In 2016, as if to punctuate its retreat from unionism, West Virginia passed a right-to-work law that will further hasten the decline of unions within the state.

This decline now threatens the entire Midwest. Iowa, which turned from blue to red in 2016, was once the home of the United Packinghouse Workers of America, with unionized plants in Ottumwa, Waterloo, Sioux City, Mason City, and other small towns throughout the Hawkeye state. Meatpackers once received above-average wages in manufacturing, and belonged to the most racially progressive union in the U.S. For example, the Packinghouse Workers union was an early and generous supporter of the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955. Today, meatpacking plants in Iowa are non-union, pay is below the median wage in manufacturing, and most meatpacking jobs are held by immigrants instead of native whites.

Now let’s turn to Wisconsin. In 2005, 16.1 percent of all workers in Wisconsin belonged to a union. Ten years later, by 2015, that number had been cut by almost half. Over the course of that decade, no state has lost a larger percentage of its unionized workforce than Wisconsin, as union membership plummeted from 410,000 in 2005 to just 223,000 in 2015. Ten years ago, Wisconsin was in the top fifth of states in union density; now it is in the second-to-last quintile.

The pattern is the same in Michigan, which like Wisconsin has recently become a right-to-work state. Union density in Michigan has fallen from 44 percent in1964 to just 15 percent in 2015. Again, narrowing the timeframe to just the last ten years, Michigan is third, behind only Wisconsin and Arizona, in registering the steepest drop in union density of any state in the union over the last decade.

All this matters because of the powerful role unions play in politically mobilizing and educating their members. Unions articulate and transmit social democratic values and a sense of class solidarity to their members. And the more unions deliver at the bargaining table, the more their members are willing to accept political direction from them.

For example, during the 1950s, when massive resistance to the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision was sweeping the South, union leaders fought segregationists for the hearts and minds of their members. They defended keeping integrated public schools open in opposition to segregationists who wanted to close them.

They defended federal law in opposition to states’ rights advocates who wanted to nullify it. And they warned members to beware of racial demagogues whose real agenda was to undermine unions. Simple lessons, to be sure, but in the din and fury that gripped the South after Brown, white workers in the South were exposed to them for the first time.
Today’s unions, however, find it harder to socialize their members or reach new ones with an alternative, more inclusive narrative that can compete with what right-wing populists like Trump offer. Unions now deliver less of a wage premium, which reduces the political legitimacy members are willing to grant them. And their ability to organize is increasingly blocked by intransigent employers.

It’s as if there is a virus infecting members of the white working class, and the only organization that can inoculate them and provide the antidote has been eviscerated and hollowed out. There are fewer distributors of the vaccine, and the medicine they prescribe is too weak to cure and stop the spread of the disease.

The attraction of the white working class to Trump is not about “the wages of whiteness,” or defending white male privilege. Certainly, there are “deplorables” among them, just as there are racists and xenophobes among the middle and upper-classes. Let’s not romanticize white workers. But the bottom line is that unions are no longer able to reach such workers to challenge these values. In the absence of unions, disaffected and marginalized workers are increasingly susceptible to racism and xenophobia.

The rise of Trumpism would not have been possible without the dismantling of the labor movement that preceded it. Unions are among the few organizations with the institutional means to transmit progressive values to workers, and workers view political socialization by unions as legitimate because they defend their interests at work. But with the demise of the labor movement, their signal is weaker, and a smaller percentage of the workforce is organized to receive it.

1 comment:

Sean said...

Jesus H Christ. it is enough to make you take a pair of plyers and pull your own finger nails out. I am talking about the amount of money that Union leader takes out of the union members funds. it is a crime. She and her kind should be sent back to the shop floor, if she was ever on one. Then there are the left academics and most of the left. They are not much better. They in the main refuse to take on these union leaders and their robbing of the members funds and their refusal to fight the bosses.We have to build fighting oppositions in the unions and workplaces who refuse to bow down to the bosses and union leaders and who would adopt as principles, no concessions on wages benefits or conditions or rights, no participation in any way with the so called team concept, either with the bosses in the workplaces or the Democrats in Washington, and at the same time organize militant direct action, strikes, mass strikes, occupations and direct physical confrontation with any forces that are mobilized by the bosses to break the working class and drive it into poverty. Thanks very much for your excellent article, Richard.