Tuesday, May 1, 2018

AFL-CIO Leadership's Disgraceful Silence as Arizona Teachers Fight Back

Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

Thousands of Arizona teachers are out on May Day the fourth day of a walkout for increased pay and more funding for education. According to reports 800,000 students have been affected by the walk out. Churches food banks and other organizations have offered free or discounted help and school districts are opening doors to provide free school meals according to the Wall Street Journal.

The reader might notice a glaring absence in these few words above and that is the resources both financial and human of the AFL-CIO, the national body that represents organized labor. There are 14 million members represented by organized labor.

As these teachers strikes are engulfing the south the silence from the leadership of the top labor body in the nation is deafening. They should be using their army of staffers sending them in to these struggles to help them win. Organized labor should also funnel the millions they reserve for their friends in the Democratic Party at election time in to Arizona at this very moment as teachers are fighting for all of us, for our children and our future.

Organized labor should be sending thousands of teachers and other union members from around the country in to Arizona, Oklahoma and other states where the teachers are standing up to the policies of austerity directed against working people by the politicians of both parties of capitalism. Our dues money can be spent renting halls or any space where teachers from all over the US could help with this. In Arizona, most parents are supportive but unfortunately in today’s economy when both parents have to work, schools have also become child care centers. By sending money and resources in the form of teachers the pressure on Arizona parents could be eliminated. This upsurge of a section of the working class in the public sector should be being talked about in workplaces and union halls throughout the country.

Some socialists within the trade union movement, some in leading positions at the local level, some indistinguishable from the right wing pro-capitalist hierarchy in their policies and passive acceptance of concessions, claim that those entrenched bureaucrats that comprise the labor hierarchy are stupid, inept, cannot organize. This is to avoid a confrontation with them, an open struggle for the consciousness of the rank and file member and the working class as a whole; a necessary and unavoidable process if a new fighting leadership is to be built.

This is a mistake. Actually, it is not. It is a conscious decision to avoid a conflict. When the trade union hierarchy wants to defend its position and the class collaborative policies that they impose on their members, they are very quick to do so. Any serious union activist that has been around for any length of time, has experienced times when the top echelons of the unions step in to defend the bosses' interests and force concessionary contracts on locals and suppress militancy.

The courageous sisters and brothers in Arizona are refusing to trust the politicians. They want action “NOW”. They are right. But we know that covert and overt action is being taken to crush this militancy. The normal method to defeat a movement like this is to wear them down. It’s what the  heads of organized labor do to make strikes ineffective; keep workers out for weeks on an ineffective picket line, turn them in to 24-hour protests that stop nothing. This gets old after a while and also creates a mood among workers that we can’t win.

The victory in West Virginia has shattered this myth. The rank and file educators brushed aside their official leadership and ended up with a 5% wage increase for themselves and all state workers. Imagine what this does for those workers who made gains. We draw conclusions from this that collective power works. That we can win. That we can break the bosses’ anti-union laws and win. That’s how unions were built in the first place. Educators had a major victory in a right wing state and they realized that to have that victory they had to defy their own leadership and if they haven’t begun to do so already, replace them with a leadership opposed to concessions, opposed to the Team Concept and willing to use the collective power of labor and workers to force the re-allocation of society’s wealth to social need. We cannot have the military expenditure we do and have a decent education, health care and transportation system. We can’t have a healthy society.

We are on the verge of a transformation of the balance of class forces in the US. By pouring organized labor’s tremendous resources in to helping this section of the working class win these struggles and drawing in to them the 14 million members of the unions and the rest of the working class, we can take some historic steps. And that is exactly what terrifies organized labor’s leadership most of all----a victory of this scale.  They want to keep things the way they are. They want their policy of labor peace and being on the same team as the employers to continue along with their secure positions, and, more often than not obscene salaries and perks. They are afraid as the bosses are of a united, conscious working class.

The leadership of organized labor worships the market and has the same world-view as the bosses. They see no alternative to capitalism. Victories inspire, power attracts, and millions of workers are watching these events. That is bad enough, but at some point the union hierarchy knows that millions will not simply watch but act, and leadership will be swept aside on major scale much larger than in one state like West Virginia. In the wake of this, some individual members of the bureaucracy will jump ship, splits will begin to take place among the hierarchy. This is why they keep quiet but believe me, they will also be working behind the scenes to ensure things do not get out of hand.

Younger workers and union members should read up on the PATCO strike. PATCO opened up a period of major strikes that followed in the 1980’s. The AFL-CIO headed by Lane Kirkland did nothing to help that strike win ,using all sorts of organizational excuses. The bosses' and their man Reagan saw this and realized they got the green light from labor’s leadership and opened up a major offensive against the organized working class. There were many attempts to fight back that took on a national character at Greyhound, Hormel Meatpacking, the airline industry, etc. These were defeated by this powerful combination of the employers and the trade union hierarchy and we are paying for those defeats today.  These strikes are taking place where there are no official unions or where the labor hierarchy is weak and cannot suppress them, cannot divert the rising anger in to acceptable channels rendering the independent movement of workers harmless. It is important for us to recognize this.

The heads of the 14 million strong organized labor movement in the US have not changed their views. West Virginia and these teachers’ walkouts are showing the way. If we recognize we are waging a war on two fronts, against the class collaboration policies of our own leaders and the captains of industry, we have a chance of winning it.

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