Thursday, October 26, 2017

AFL-CIO Convention. Trumka Elected Status Quo Maintained

Four Years ago. The Same Old Story in 2017. Keep Our Heads Down. Don't Rock the Boat.
Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

Most union members wouldn’t be aware of it but the AFL-CIO convention started last weekend and Richard Trumka was re-elected president for another four years. Secretary Treasurer Liz Shuler and Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre, also kept their seats. None of them had a hard time of it as there was no opposition. There has only been one contested election for president of organized labor’s national body in over 100 years (as AFL and AFL-CIO) when John Sweeney defeated Steve Donahue in 1995.  Trumka was part of the Sweeney slate.

Trumka talked tough back then, saying in October of 1995, While we are always willing to negotiate as equals, the era of union busting, contract trashing and strike breaking is at an end.  Today, we say that when you pick a fight with any of us, you pick a fight with all of us! And that when you push us, we will push back.”

As usual, not much changed as the bosses continue to drive living standards and the working conditions of US workers further backwards.  Since Trumka’s comments we have seen strike after strike amount to nothing. Workers are taken out on strike for weeks in order to sit on ineffective picket lines as scabs are escorted through under the protection of the police and at times, union officials. This is the case when the officialdom of one union is in some sort of organizational pissing contest with the officials of another----the members’ suffer.

Given the attacks union members and the working class in general are under one would think that a national meeting of organized labor’s highest official body would be a contentious affair, debate, discussion, strategy planning, how to respond to an anti-union/worker administration headed by a racist and misogynist endorsed by the KKK and the Nazis.

This is especially the case when a section of organized labor’s leadership, namely the building trades leaders, met with Trump kissing his ass in the hope of some jobs for their members that will keep the dues money coming in. The heads of organized labor view the unions as employment agencies with them as the CEO’s. The lawyer that heads the Teamsters, James Hoffa also ingratiated himself with Trump. Imagine it, the unions these bureaucrats head have women members and many members of color. Not for one minute did they think of what this means for them seeing their leaders laughing it up with Trump.  As of 2014, 45.5% of union members were women and blacks are also more likely to belong to a union than whites. As bad as Trump is for all of us, the union officials are so myopic and self-serving they do not even consider the affect their meeting with Trump has on more than half of the labor movement---women and blacks.

BLS figures for last year (2016) reveal a continuing decline in union membership. Just 10.7 percent of the workforce was organized, slightly under 14.6 million, with a 240,000 member decline from 2015. In 1983,the total was 20.1 percent, 17.7 million workers. After successfully taming the once mighty UAW with the help of the UAW hierarchy, the bosses have the public sector in their sights. We have seen huge cutbacks in public services and jobs and more are on the way as for US capitalism, the unionization rate is still too high in this sector. The unionization rate for public sector workers at 34.4%, is five times that of our private sector sisters and brothers at 6.4%. This is what the bosses need to change. This assault will increase the burden on women as the BLS points out, “Workers in education, training, and library occupations and in protective service occupations had the highest unionization rates (34.6 percent and 34.5 percent, respectively.” According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics

But despite the vicious attacks on wages and working conditions as well as the numerous social explosions we have witnessed recently around safe drinking water, pollution, police brutality and racism, housing and health care, the national meeting of the heads of a workers’ organization with over 12 million workers in it passes by without fanfare----just how they like it.

Trumka told Business Week before his “uncontested” re-election, “Whether it’s political action, legislation, or collective bargaining, you’re going to see a unity from the labor movement that you haven’t seen in decades,” I’ve heard that for 40 years. He’s actually talking about unity between the leadership of the different unions independent of the membership, and along with that, unity with the bosses’.  The Team Concept, the view that workers and capitalists have the same economic and material interests was not debated and rejected. The Team Concept is felt in the workplace (Management/ Labor teams, Quality of Life Circles and Interest Based Bargaining) through concessions, and in the political arena through support for the Democratic Party.

It is from this ideology that the disastrous betrayals and concessionary policies arise. The labor officialdom worships capitalism, for them profits are sacrosanct and the market the answer to all things. They are desperate to maintain the relationship they have with the capitalists based on this philosophy and labor peace------ at their members’ expense of course.

As US capitalism continues to wage a war on workers, the AFL-CIO tops clutch at any opportunity to prostrate themselves before them hoping to be kept in the game and keep the dues money rolling in. “Our movement is at its best when we work together during times of great need…..”, Trumka said of the help and assistance victims of Hurricane Maria received through AFL-CIO unions and the Puerto Rican unions. United Airlines “volunteered” the plane and Trumka made sure to include the Airline bosses in the teamwork… “…….But we are even better when we find common ground and partner with business and industry on solutions to lift up our communities” Over the years, UA bosses have savaged employees especially flight attendants, undermining their pensions and in some areas UA flight attendants qualified for food stamps. We can never rely on them to lift up our communities. On the contrary, it is their policies, their rapacious quest for profits that are destroying them.

Unity is a good thing but it depends on what basis the unity is concluded. Claiming that workers and bosses are on the same team is a deathly embrace indeed. There certainly should be no unity with the officials that met with Trump, the unity should have been expressed as unity between women members, members of color. and immigrants. This should have been a contentious issue debated throughout. Trump offered the building trades leaders a carrot in the form of infrastructure spending and they jumped at it. The public sector unions are under assault and were left out. The leaders of these unions still kept their mouths shut. It’s an unwritten rule that they don’t dis each other, don’t openly attack each other’s policies. They do have differences  but are fully united when they are pitted against the members’ pressure form below.

The convention ended yesterday and I did check a couple of the resolutions that were passed. It’s the same meek and cowardly expression displayed for decades.

Don’t be fooled by the title. This is not about an independent political party rooted in our organizations, the rank and file of the unions, the workplaces and our communities which would mean the beginning of workers having a truly independent political voice. It’s the same old stuff, defining “….a pro-worker agenda across the sectors of our movement to hold as a joint standard for all candidates and officials, regardless of party.” There was a time when the hierarchy could be more open in their support for Democrats, today that is not possible given the disgust most US workers have for the two parties of capitalism so they obscure it by talking of supporting individuals that support “working families”.

Instead of a political party the officialdom encourages members to run for office and passes a resolution to that affect, Resolution # 10 Encouraging Union Members to Run for Public Office

  • Protect more workers’ right to organize;
  • Meaningfully penalize employers who violate the law;
  • Provide a process for ensuring an agreement with employers when workers first organize; and
  • Protect immigrant workers from exploitation and retaliation when they exercise their rights.

Is the power of the membership and workers in general that can guarantee these things, our ability to stop production, to halt profit taking.The resolution on “Diverse and inclusive leadership” points out that women are 46% of union membership and 36%, of union members are people of color.  The hierarchy addresses this and plans further reviews and other steps that will create “…pathways to leadership for women, people of color, immigrants and members of the LGBTQ community.”

This is all well and good but the pathways will only be open to people that accept and adopt their worldview; people from these sections of society that will continue to support the concessionary policies and attacks on workers living standards. Throughout the massive protests against the murder of black youth by the police and racism in general, the officials at this convention have for the main part kept their mouths shut, The mice that never roared, the dogs that don’t bark. The faces of the leadership may change a bit but the policies won’t; it will take explosions from below to bring that about.  We will simply see a more diverse looking group handing over gains that took a century or more to win. As Moses Mayekiso, the South Africa labor leader and Numsa official said at the founding conference of COSATU in 1984, they didn’t want to change the color of the faces of the bosses, they wanted to change the system. It was Scottish socialist John McLean, who said: “Rise with your class, not out of it.”.

The same weak language is contained in Resolution # 48 Exploring New Directions for Labor in Electoral Politics

The final Resolved, states: THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, “in addition to the traditional supporting for electoral candidates who are friends and allies of workers, the AFL-CIO also pursues a strategy of advancing our core issues through referenda and ballot initiatives and propositions at the statewide and local level; studies the viability of independent and third-party politics; and explores other reasonable means of advancing the interests of labor in electoral politics”

We do much of this already but this type of vague language the aim of which it to sidetrack the issue and continue to do nothing is par for the course. We need a study to run independent candidates?

In what the Wall Street Journal mistakenly referred to as a “show of independence” the AFL-CIO hierarchy has chosen this year to not invite any politicians or a representative of the Trump administration to speak. “Today’s political environment and the needs of our members demand a departure from business as usual,” union spokesperson Josh Goldstein told the Wall Street Journal,  “…..There will be no parade of D.C. insiders or flashy celebrities.”

Some workers not familiar with the treacherous nature of the present union hierarchy might consider it a bold show of independence that the AFL-CIO leadership breaks from tradition and keeps capitalist politicians out. They will also keep socialist politicians and any independent pro-worker anti-capitalist candidates out if there are any. This fosters the idea that “all” politics is bad which is a common view of many workers.  The reason for this move is to avoid any contentious issues coming up.  There is division among them that they do not want to break out in to an open fight as the flood gates might open. Their own members and millions of workers throughout the country are angry at the conditions they are facing as working conditions and living standards are under assault and they are angry at the refusal of their leaders to stop it as they draw salaries far above the average dues payer. Some of the issues I have mentioned above, poverty, health care, education being priced out of reach, housing pollution you name it. These issues must be kept in the background and only spoken about in generalities.  To have opened up the division around Trump would place too many heads on the chopping block.

These resolutions, the refusal to invite politicians are all about maintaining the status quo.  The name we give them is appropriate “The Dogs That Don’t Bark”

The heads of the AFL-CIO will not mobilize the potential power of their12 million members because
they are terrified where this will lead. It will break the pact they have with the bosses’ based on labor
peace and threaten their view of the world and their jobs.They will only act when faced with mass
pressure from below and that has to be built from the ground up, in the workplaces, the communities
in which we live and in the locals where the bureaucracy is weaker. Opposition caucuses must be
built that openly challenge them and their concessionary policies. As we have seen time and again, in
the Boeing dispute a few years ago, the Freightliner dispute in Cleveland NC, the Hormel Strike,
GM, and the ILWU struggles, they are aggressive enough when they want to crush a movement from
below. Any oppositionists that are serious have to recognize that a struggle with the hierarchy is
inevitable in the battle to change our unions. Many in these self-styled socialist organizations will
disagree as they avoid a conflict with the leadership on the basis that they’re building a
“revolutionary party”. Intentions aside, this is a recipe for doing nothing and acts as a left cover for
the leadership at the highest levels.

I apologize for the length here. But some younger workers may not be fully aware of the decades of 
defeated struggles and disputes that were a result of the pro-capitalist outlook of the labor hierarchy
that met in St Louis this week.  Many of us have heard it all before. Here is a short speech Jack
Henning gave at one of the California State Labor Federation’s Conventions I was a delegate to. I
introduced numerous resolutions on independent political action and  the need for a Labor Party first 
passed in my local at this and other meetings of the higher trade union bodies. The California Labor
Federation has 2 million members affiliated. In the resolution above it talks of the politicians not
being accountable  to us in between elections.  We have the ability to close the port docks of a state
that has some 12% of US GDP. Start doing that and well see what power can do.

In his opening address to the 20th biennial convention of the California State Labor Federation in 1994, then Executive Secretary, Jack Henning said:

"The two party system can't give relief because capitalism in large finances both parties.  In one way or another.  We may say it finances the Republican Party more.  But have you ever known Democrats en masse to turn down the enticements of capitalism?
"There should originate, in the leadership of the AFL-CIO, a call to the unions for the only answer that is noble: global unionism is the answer to global capitalism.
"We were never meant to be beggars at the table of wealth.  We were never meant to be the apostles of labor cannibalism on the world stage.  We were meant for a higher destiny.  We were never meant to be the lieutenants of capitalism.  We were never meant to be the pall bearers of the workers of the world."

Naturally Henning did nothing.

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