Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Missouri passes Right to Work law as union leaders cozy up to Trump

Union leaders and Trump. And a good time was had by all
Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444 retired

So Missouri has become the 28th state to introduce right-to-work legislation. In the last four years, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and West Virginia have become right-to-work states. What this means in Missouri is that workers can now decide they don’t want to pay union dues at union workplaces. This will further undermine organized labor’s power and ability to defend members’ interests. The war against unions will continue faster as these organizations are starved of resources.

Right-to-Work is a setback, but whose fault is it?  Workers don’t join unions and pay dues as an exercise in civics, out of some moral obligation to do so. Workers built unions in order to advance our material well-being. Before unions were legal, if workers were caught discussing coming together to increase our wages, we were accused under conspiracy laws. We could be tried and punished, and of course, as jury qualifications limited members to people of property, the same people controlling our work-lives sat on the jury.

When we have a situation when our wages and conditions on the job continue to decline as our union dues continue to rise, this is not encouraging. Why pay dues under these conditions? When you go down to the union hall or you are forced on strike and your officials tell you that concessions are the only option; why pay dues to an organization like that? Why even belong to it? When your top officials earn five or maybe ten times the average members’ salary why should that bring loyalty?

The heads of organized labor have cooperated for decades in undermining our wages and working conditions. There was a time when they at least pretended to fight. Today, they have openly joined the camp of those whose goal it is to take back all the gains won over 150 years.

The leadership of the AFL-CIO, a national organization of unions with 14 million members , has nothing to say about this aggressive war against American workers by the American capitalist class. Well not quite nothing.  Richard Trumka, the AFL-CIO president wrote a couple lines on the right-to-work legislation last week.  He pointed out that, “A recent Pew survey shows that 60% of Americans—an overwhelming majority—support unions.”

I am sure that’s probably correct. So how come we are in decline? We are in decline yes because of the aggressive war against union from the employers and the state, but also because the same 60% abhor people like Trumka. The bosses are not afraid of them and the average union member and millions of unorganized workers, few of which would have ever heard of him, wouldn’t be able to distinguish between a union official and the boss so similar are they in their view of the world.

Strike after strike has been defeated through a powerful combination of the bosses and the trade union officialdom.  In some cases like Boeing a few years ago, contracts in auto and SEIU here in San Francisco and other areas, union officials have forced concessionary contracts on their members after they rejected them. Members see that that officials don’t have to work under the contracts they force down their throats.

Then there is the blatant collaboration that gets exposed periodically like Rome Aloise of Teamsters Local 70 in the Bay Area brought up on charges for “requesting and receiving things of value from IBT employers..”  and among other things “entering in to sham collective bargaining agreements with the GrandFund” and interfering in union elections. Aloise made $346,722 in salaries and allowances in 2014 according to the Teamster for a Democratic Union that’s beside all the other perks like double pensions.

I was on a picket line at a waste management complex where I live as sorters, the lowest paid workers, went on strike for higher wages. Most of these workers were immigrants and members of the ILWU warehouse division. Using organizational violations as an excuse, the higher paid truck drivers, also unionized in the Teamsters union, were escorted across picket lines by teamster staffers and officials. I could see that the rank and file drivers didn’t like it, they knew better, but the army of staff the unions employ can make life difficult for recalcitrant members if they choose to.  In some instances, the union officials collaborate with the employers to terminate members that won’t cooperate with the concessionary program.

But outside of this there is the complete failure and refusal of the labor hierarchy to put up any fight at all.  There are 14 million workers in unions but this power is kept dormant, slumbering in the lap of a bankrupt bureaucratic clique that has control of the apparatus.

The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that right-to-work is advancing,
despite strong opposition by unions.”  But that “strong opposition” is limited to electoral activity, appealing to “friendly” bosses and politicians in the Capitalist Democratic Party or the capitalist courts to protect them.

Losing funds is a major concern for the officialdom and why in the Wisconsin events of few years ago with some 100,000 workers in the streets and occupying public buildings, the only two demands of any consequence for the heads of organized labor were dues check off where the boss collects the revenue for them through payroll, and collective bargaining rights without which the officials would have no job at all. Democrats supported them mildly as cutting dues income reduces the amount of union money they can get their hands on at election time. It matters less and less to the rank and file member as their wages go down and their conditions at work deteriorate as dues union go up.

Strategy with strikes is pathetic and childish. In fact, strikes are not strikes at all today but 24 hour ineffective protests. Workers are left sitting at factory gates or sidewalk camps eating donuts, drinking coffee as scabs, accompanied by cops (and sometimes officials of other unions) enter struck plants freely. In the refinery strike last year, the union could have struck all 65 plants but struck only nine so as not to disrupt production.

In a restaurant strike a few years ago in San Francisco, tape was placed on the sidewalk that kept the strikers from impeding scabs that entered freely. The union leadership, the cops and the employer had “an agreement”. So basically workers were out of work, losing money and spending their days picketing a brick wall.

Then, common with the building trades, machinists and some others is the inflated rat. How many of us have driven past ineffective picket lines, donuts and all, and there is the big inflatable rat. That really hurts the boss doesn’t it. If some crafty worker had only come up with the inflatable rat idea in the 1880’s through the 1930’s we could have avoided all that violence, workers shot, deported, beaten, kicked out of their homes, all for nothing; the inflatable rat would have brought the bosses to their knees. Too late now; their not frightened of it any more.

There’s just too many failures, too many betrayals to mention. Concessionary contracts that are signed that screw the new hires, strikes that go on endlessly with nothing to show for it. And to top it all off, we have leaders of the building trades meeting with the degenerate Trump, laughing, praising him as Teamster head Hoffa has. In a California report on KNPR this morning union officials were interviewed about the future and it was less than inspiring. One of them did mention mobilizing and getting in the streets but that alone is not enough. “Wear Red on Friday” was one of the themes of a protest against layoffs that I went to once. That’s worse than the rat.

The bosses will only respond if we mobilize in our workplaces and out communities to shut down production, to halt business as usual. This is all they listen to. But the union leaders are wedded to the Team Concept, they worship the market as the answer to all things and cannot see an alternative to capitalism. Mobilizing the immense power of their members and the working class as a whole can only lead to chaos, and besides, their privileged positions will be threatened.

The labor hierarchy’s response to the capitalist offensive and the rise of Trump (which is their own doing) is cowardly and pitiful. Meeting with the predator in chief is disgusting and does further harm to the labor movement, scabbing on the movement. How must women, immigrants, people of color and the Transgender feel about that? The living standards of white workers has declined, Trump will not correct that and by dividing us ensures it will not be corrected. The entire union leadership should work against this man (and his class) not with him, organized labor can draw all in to its ranks and that must be our goal.

I have read some who say we have to just pull out and start new unions and such escapism. But that guarantees nothing. We have an obligation to fight to remove the present pro-business clique atop organized labor. We must build oppositions on the ground, in the workplaces, in our communities.  We must reject the Team Concept, the view that employers and workers, capitalists and workers, have the same economic interests. We must demand what we need to live a decent life in harmony with nature. We must step up and stop this madness. It is one thing if there is a mass split from the traditional organizations but to advocate leaving without a fight is a mistake.

We are in a new period. Millions of people have been energized by Trumpism. There are a whole host of groups, Internet organizations, campaigns, that are going on throughout the country and union members must work to help draw these struggles together in to one mass united working class alliance or front and direct action, stopping business as usual must be our tactic. The bosses must fear us, and they only get scared when the profits stop coming in.

Scabby the Rat. Plant him outside union headquarters.
Those of us around Facts For Working People have ben discussing these issues and how to move forward in this new situation. Our resources are small, but we have ideas, tradition and history in unions and community struggles and want to participate in the battles ahead.  As union members who want to fight back, we can start with a protest of our own at the AFL-CIO headquarters. Let’s take the inflatable rat there. We can have more than one rat. We can take numerous inflatable rats and have mass protests at the headquarters of the unions whose officials met with Trump. We should seek an alliance with others fighting back and invite them to join us.

It took heroic struggle to build our unions with all their weaknesses, racism, craft snobbery, sexism, but we should not abandon them without a fight. Despite the low unionization rate they are still organizations of the working class as a whole, as the entire working class benefits from their existence. The present leadership has lost their right to lead. They are agents of our enemies within our organizations and we have to remove them.

I am sure there are new leaders who want to change direction but if that is so they must not remain quiet, they must speak up and they must reject the failed policies that have brought unions to the edge of extinction. Unity between leaders at all costs must cease. They must reject concessions, the Team Concept and the deathly embrace with the Democratic Party. They must reject the murderous US foreign policy that threatens us all with nuclear war or environmental catastrophe and embrace instead internationalism and solidarity if they want to play a role in re-building organized labor.

Leadership has responsibilities, but so does being a member. We must lead from below.

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