Friday, September 7, 2018

Union Leaders' Strike Rules Will Not Stop Bosses' Offensive

Don't accept that workers are weak. The bosses know we are not
Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

Although most workers would be completely unaware of it, a major strike by crane operators and other construction workers in western Washington State looks like it might be over the organization representing the construction bosses stated last night. Bosses and union officials have reached a tentative agreement and workers, members of the International Union of Operating Engineers local 302 (IUOE) will return to work today.

By all accounts it seems this could be a small victory of sorts as the bosses increased their pay offer above that which the workers rejected previously. Health benefits also increased slightly. If ratified by the membership it will only be temporary mind you as the next economic downturn/crash is waiting in the wings. As we have pointed out, US capitalism is in an historic political, economic, environmental and soon to be deep social crisis.

Workers in these industries and trades/professions, crane operators in particular, are capable of bringing not only the state of Washington but the entire US economy to a halt. The potential economic damage of a strike of this nature could and should send the fear of god in to the hearts and minds of Seattle’s captains of industry. Just consider that Seattle’s docks have 65 cranes, Bellingham has 14 and these cranes cost $15,000 to $55,000 a month to rent, depending on the model. These workers are in all major ports. In Los Angeles, the Labor Council has over 800,000 workers affiliated to it, as the graphic shows, LA has 36 cranes. A work stoppage of this nature can hurt not only their immediate employers, but the likes of Amazon and other big companies.  A new Amazon project is under construction and it would be a good opportunity for the labor movement to link up with workers at Amazon both in the US and abroad. 

If we count the cranes in the image above, 300 of them, and if these workers were mobilized nationally it would cause havoc in the halls of Congress and the golf clubs of the US ruling class.  If we add to them all the construction workers in this industry, it would knock Putin, Mueller, Stormy Daniels and the start of the football season off the headlines.

The construction bosses are aware of this and so are the leaders of IUOE Local 302 and organized labor as a whole. Both sides want to keep this dispute contained locally, do not want it to get out of hand as the mood is such in society that it could spark off a generalized movement against the bosses and the system as a whole; the leaders of the major unions in this situation simply want to ensure their own members are pacified, that everything is under their control. But it is a temporary fix, this strategy keeps this section of the working class isolated, disconnected from the class as a whole and therefore more vulnerable to future attacks. It weakens the labor movement and the working class in general.

There is nothing that scares the labor hierarchy more than an active conscious membership. The recent strikes in public education are fresh in their minds and they are hoping that movement will fade away and we can get back to normal. Having no alternative, the trade union leaders believe that a generalized offensive against capital can only lead to chaos. The rights of the employers must be guaranteed.

That is why strikes are isolated and individual locals are left to fight what are often global corporations alone. Not only are companies global, in these disputes the bosses use every weapon at their disposal the media, the police, the justice system and what I call economic terrorism to undermine the workers’ efforts. This is why we have suffered decades of defeats and setbacks despite heroic sacrifices by the rank and file union member.

It is why the labor officialdom agrees to keep silent during disputes leaving the employers free to mold public opinion.  In this IUOE dispute Daren Konapaski, whose impressive title is International VP and Business Manager of the IUOE, explains: “…..this dispute is between our members and contractors signatory to our Western Washington Master Labor Agreement.  The Local will not distract from the negotiation process by litigating its positions in the media.  After this dispute is settled our membership will once again report to work for our contractors”

Distract from the negotiation process? If conducted properly it would strengthen the union's position at the table. This statement is for the bosses’ benefit, it will comfort them, help them feel more secure, that the potential power of organized labor will be contained and that a “gentleman’s agreement” is possible and all will be well.

Brace yourselves for what’s next. Here are the rules for picket lines in the strike that IUOE Local 302 published on its website. They are the most comprehensive rules yet for how to lose a strike, more importantly, how to ensure that labor’s power is not generalized, that the feeling of isolation, weakness and that we cannot win is maintained. It’s hard to imagine that they weren’t written by the US Chamber of Commerce. But it’s even worse, they were written by the bosses’ agents within the organized workers movement.


The International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 302, aims to communicate a positive message and a positive image at all times. During an economic strike/picketing campaign certain conduct, described below, works against our goal of a positive campaign, can have serious financial consequences, employment consequences for the membership, and will not be tolerated. Local 302 picketers must comply with the following instructions at all times:

1. There will be a designated Local 302 staff member or designee (picket captain) in charge of the picket line. You are to follow his/her instructions at all times.

2. Before you begin picketing, check all entrances and gates in and around the job site and/or picketing area for signs designating specific contractors. If a “dual” or “reserve” gate system has been established, contact the Local 302 staff member/designee in charge immediately. You may picket only at the gate that identifies the contractor you are picketing. Wear approved picketing attire/vests.

3. Reserve gate systems. The Primary gate is for the sole use of the picketed contractor’s (the one on your picket sign) employees, suppliers, visitors, and vendors.

4. The Neutral gate(s) are for ALL others. If any of the primaries use the neutral gate, the reserve gate system becomes tainted and the Union can picket the entire job ONLY after the picket captain approves such action.

5. The Union will confirm with the picket captain at each strike location whether the Union has been notified about the existence of a gate system and/or whether tainted gates have been reestablished.

6. If a separate gate or a new entrance is established after you start picketing, notify the designated Local 302 staff member/designee in charge immediately.

7. Do not, in any way, obstruct entrances or exits of the premises. Do not interfere with, or swarm, persons or vehicles entering or leaving the job site.

8. Picketing must take place on public grounds and in close proximity to the entrance used by the primary employer. Picketing cannot block access to the project. If access is denied an injunction may be obtained by the property owner or target. Use common sense.

9. Hold no conversations with any truck drivers or other persons who attempt to make deliveries to projects or remove material from projects. 

10. Do not, in any way, encourage or induce people to leave the project site or quit work on the project site.

11. The precise number of pickets allowable will depend on the size of the area to patrol. Keep the size reasonable. Gathering/swarming in large groups can lead to limits on the number of pickets and/or financial damages.

12. You are only to carry the picket sign provided by and approved by Local 302. Do not bring your own picket sign nor alter in any fashion the one provided by Local 302.

13. You are not a picket without a picket sign. Carry a picket sign at all times that you are picketing. If you leave the designated picketing area, leave your picket sign behind, cover it, or lower your picket sign as you move about.

14. Picketing is to be confined to public areas surrounding the job site and only at a designated picketing area as established by the Local 302 staff member/designee in charge of the picket line. As a general rule, there should be no picketing on private property or in the streets. The picket sign should NEVER go near a gate reserved for other contractors.

15. Be enthusiastic in your support of the picket line. Chanting and yelling is ok so long as your chants and yells do not contain threats, slurs, or other forms of harassment based on ethnic or national origin, color, race, religion, gender/sex, sexual orientation, etc. Striker misconduct can lead to termination of your employment and render the strike activity unprotected under federal law.

16. Do not use sound amplification devices unless authorized by the Local 302 staff member/designee in charge of the picket line.

17. DO NOT TALK TO ANY THIRD PARTIES. Unauthorized, stray remarks can create financial liability and both undermine and jeopardize the goal of the informational campaign.

18. Do not engage in arguments. Avoid confrontations. Do not make physical contact with anyone under any circumstances. Do not throw anything at the picket site. Do not engage in any intimidating or threatening manner.

19. Do not record any automobile or truck license or any other identifying information with regard to those who enter or leave the premises of the picketing action.

20. Do not photograph or videotape people entering or leaving the premises of the picketing action.

21. Do not bring alcohol, drugs, or weapons of any kind to the picket line. Do not come to the picket line under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

22. Do not litter. Maintain a clean picket area.

23. Do not speak to reporters. If approached by an individual who identifies themselves as a reporter refer that person to the Local 302 staff member/designee in charge of the picket line. 

24. In the event you are approached by law enforcement be cooperative and refer them to the Local 302 staff member/designee in charge of the picket line.

25. If all of the employees of the target contractor leave the project site, immediately contact the Local 302 staff member/designee in charge.

26. If in doubt about any of the above, consult immediately with the Local 302 staff member/designee in charge of the picket line.

If you have any questions about the foregoing while picketing, contact your picket captain or Business Agent immediately for guidance.


I have seen less stringent rules when I worked at a childcare center many years ago. Don’t talk to other workers. Don’t talk to third parties, don’t photograph or videotape anyone. Wear the authorized clothes carry the authorized picket signs, don’t swarm or gather or the courts will issue injunctions, make sure that the entire job is not shut down, don’t, don’t, don’t.

The union hierarchy is very adept at telling us what we cannot do. But these rules, as nauseating as they may be, are a reflection of the trade union bureaucracy’s weakness and our strength, or potential strength. They are obsessed with control.
Arizona educators making a point

Contrast this disgusting spectacle to the most important development in the labor movement in decades, the teacher strikes and movement among education workers. This movement, led to a great degree by women, arose in states where strikes are illegal. In West Virginia, the teachers refused a call by their “official” leadership to return to work fearing (correctly), that they could not trust their legislators. They struck in opposition to the will of the official leadership and beyond that, increased their raise from 1% to 5% and won the same increase for all state workers. (Is there a better reason to join a union than that?)

The educators’ movement appealed to all workers in education, union and non-union. It included charter school teachers, groundskeepers, service workers and everyone had the same right to vote and participate in the movement. It is not possible to attack it openly but the leadership atop organized labor is terrified of the likelihood this could spread and threaten the relationship they have built with the bosses’ based on labor peace, based on an organized and“controlled retreat” that would allow them to maintain their positions and in most cases their obscene salaries and perks.

If you haven’t seen them already, watch the three short videos included here to get some idea of what a huge difference there is in tactics and what has to be done if we are to win. There are also the huge battles teachers are waging in Puerto Rico, that has been savaged by climate change and economic terrorism from the bankers and capitalists of Wall Street and their friends in the US Congress. See the Puerto and education labels on this blog.
Kentucky Teachers Stress the Need For Union and Community Links   

It is one step from what workers in education did to workers in all trades, professions and workplaces, skilled and unskilled coming together in one movement, an alliance of workers against capital. It is a step toward us seeing ourselves as a class, acting in our own self interest as a class and eventually forming a political party as a class in opposition to the two capitalist parties that play the good cop bad cop game; one beats you the other offers you a cup of coffee, but they’re both want the same result.

A lesson learned is that to win we have to rely on rank and file power and not be held back by the restraints and obsession with obeying the anti-worker laws of the present official leadership. Another important lesson in the teacher’s strikes is that they occurred in states where the labor hierarchy is weaker or non-existent. We’re this not so, the hierarchy would have been able to suppress the movement, derail the anger and organize one of their controlled retreats.

To build a movement of all workers we have to build the links with our communities and we do that by taking up social issues, housing, racism, police brutality, sexism, health care for all and more. The power of the organized working class belongs to us all. The present labor leadership, wedded as they are to capitalism and the market will not do this; isolation is good as far as they are concerned.

I cannot end this without pointing to the failure of the thousands who belong to the self styled socialist organizations of which they are many. Many union staffers are members or former members of socialist organizations. The staffer's job is to ensure the hierarchy’s policies of capitulation to capital are carried out. Lower levels of the bureaucracy are also members or former members of socialist organizations of one type or another.

In my experience, these groups and where they have members in locals, refuse to openly challenge and campaign against the pro-management policies of the labor hierarchy. They have more often than not attained their positions through the good graces of the present leadership so they are completely powerless, or more accurately, become part of the problem. Even if they are elected usually avoiding any direct reference to the disastrous role of the present leadership, they intentionally or not, act as a left-cover for the harmful policies of the right wing clique atop organized labor. I speak from experience here. They refuse to struggle against the union hierarchy (and the capitalists) for the consciousness of the working class.

The teachers/educators movement shows that when the rank and file moves, the leadership can’t stop it. We must make sure that this movement gets its rightful place in the forefront of labor's banner as the road we must travel

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