Sunday, October 28, 2018

UPS/Teamster Contract: Two Strategies, Labor Notes and FFWP

Rank and File Voted Contract down
Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

Facts For Working People received the following comment from
Daniel Tierra Y Libertad responding, unfortunately in a sectarian and personalized way, to our recent post, DSA, Labor Notes and the Trade Unions that we shared on the FFWP FB page.*

Daniel writes:

“I love Jane Slaughter and Bill Fletcher, so you've pissed me off. The fact that you accuse them of covering for the timid labor bureaucracy afraid of worker militancy shows that you have no idea who they are and what they have spent most of their adult lives fighting for. Fletcher was fired by the AFL-CIO for being a Leftwing labor radical, by the way. Labor Notes is one of the most hopeful things in the US Labor Movement and has been steadfastly outspoken against any elected labor officials or paid staff who have tried to stiffle worker militancy. Are you guys paid by the capitalists to divide the Left or do you do it just for shits and giggles and your own pathetic self-agrandizement? Go ahead and wave your magic wands, fellas, so the general strike begins. It's all so fucking simple because you know all the answers, don't you? You jack asses. Shame on you for telling lies against good people.” This response was on our Facebook post.

I was not the only author, but in response I stand by the piece that is so upsetting to brother Tierra y Libertad. I was initially excited that the very same Labor Notes was organizing an online discussion on the Teamster contract with UPS that was voted down but imposed on the membership by the national union leadership using a constitutional clause allowing them to do so. The discussion was led by a panel consisting of two Labor Notes organizers and two TDU (Teamsters For a Democratic Union) representatives, one being Ken Paff who is also an influential Labor Notes policymaker. There were two rank and file Teamsters on it. You can watch the discussion here.

The panel discussion was billed as an event to help rank and filers fight back and also on how to build a stronger labor movement. The discussion focused around organizational details and whether or not the actions of the Teamster leadership could be challenged legally, the need to elect more delegates and local officers and the need to elect more delegates to the constitution committee so that the clause allowing the officialdom to impose this contract could be eliminated or changed. When asked by a call in what could be done right now there was little that would inspire to be honest. One caller asked about a national sick out and the TDU panelists suggested that they wouldn’t have the backing of the International for this which seems a bizarre answer given the national union is imposing the contract. Ken Paff offered no response to this important question raising direct action of sorts at all. An activist who wasn’t a Teamster who asked how they could help was told that they could donate to the Teamster Rank and File Fund.

This concentration on organizational details, electoral opportunities and/or legalistic ways of preventing the union hierarchy from capitulating to the employers is one of the major differences in approach Facts For Working People has as we expressed in DSA, Labor Notes and the Trade Unions

The approach of Labor Notes, the TDU and sections of liberal/left academia that we can change the present leadership of organized labor without an open confrontation with them, without an open struggle for the consciousness of the members and the entire working class, is flawed. Constitutional amendment or not, when the hierarchy is faced with a challenge from below they will simply move to crush it. In the Hormel strike when the local leadership of UFCW P9 refused to buckle to the bosses the UFCW national leadership simply removed them and replaced them with a leadership that would. A similar situation occurred when Boeing workers rejected a contract a few years ago. The Machinists national leadership came in manipulated tricked and orchestrated a yes vote on a contract that had only one month before being rejected by a considerable majority.

During the Carpenters wildcat strike here in California in 1999, union officials were calling the homes of the strikers and harassing family members. When a local UAW leadership called a strike against Freight liner in Cleveland NC some years ago the UAW tops stepped in and actually collaborated in the termination of local leaders. When workers at a Chrysler plant rejected a contract the UAW leadership supported, the bureaucracy mobilized to get it passed. There are endless examples of this activity. The only successful defense against this is rank and file power, not the courts.

The Labor Notes/TDU panel discussion was a bit demoralizing and offered nothing to the rank and file worker/union member looking for a way forward. In particular, there was no real explanation of why the union leadership acts in this way. In the commentary in question, FFWP pointed out that Jane Slaughter, a prominent leader in Labor Notes claimed that in the wake of the Janus decision, that union “…leaders have shown little understanding of what it will take to right a floundering ship.” But the union leadership’s betrayals and surrender to the bosses is not due to confusion at all.

This stifling bureaucracy is absolutely terrified of victories against the bosses because it undermines their arguments that concessions have to be made, that we can’t win, that there is no alternative to capitalism. They believe the rising of a conscious, working class movement in opposition to the capitalist offensive, in or outside the unions, can only lead to chaos. This description of the union hierarchy’s motives is one of the major differences Facts For Working People has with the approach of Labor Notes and, many in liberal/left academia.Here is the second part of our commentary on this subject.

The Labor Notes/TDU panel discussion failed to stress the inevitability of the struggle against the entrenched bureaucracy and that same bureaucracy’s commitment to keeping struggles isolated in their efforts to maintain their friendly relationship with the bosses based on labor peace. A staggering example of this is the picket line rules the IUOE (Operating Engineers)  issued to its members in the recent strike of crane operators in Western Washington State.

These rules are such a striking example of the fear the union hierarchy has of its own members and the wider labor movement and working class that I have to share them in total here:


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.

What Can They Do?

Numerous activists, including people on the Labor Notes Panel mentioned the anger among the Teamster ranks as well as the increased interests in the contract talks. There is no doubt that this anger exists throughout the working class in the US as our living standards have been savaged over the past decades. Also, this dispute is taking place in the wake of the teachers and educator’s struggles that have opened a new era in the US labor movement.

The educator’s movement did what I have been told by one union official after another for 40 years was not possible to do. They struck in states where strikes were illegal, Republican controlled states. They struck in opposition to the official leadership’s wishes. They built a movement that included all workers in education whether union or not. Teachers cooks, maintenance workers, janitors etc. All were allowed to participate in votes and decision making. This is contrary to the narrow self-serving jurisdictional limits and other rules that are the norm in the labor movement as sections of the labor hierarchy compete for members and revenue in the form of dues money. In addition, in West Virginia, they not only won a 5% wage increase for themselves but for every other state worker. You can’t have a better advertisement for joining a union than that.

If you haven't seen them we urge the reader to watch these presentations by three teachers from the recent struggles. There are important lessons here for the class conscious worker and rank and file union activists.

Kentucky Teachers Stress the Need For Union and Community Links

West Virginia Teacher Describes Events Leading up to the Strike
Arizona Teacher Talks About Education and the Recent Strike

It is inconceivable that this movement has not sent the fear of god in to the hearts of the bosses and their two political parties but also the trade union hierarchy. TDU and Labor Notes have considerable resources and access to rank and file workers, I think TDU has thousands of members. Instead of advice about how to get a delegate or two on to a constitutional panel, Teamster/UPS support groups could be set up in every workplace, every union hall and in our communities and anywhere else they would be welcome. As a Teamster caucus, TDU could reach out to the still very active teachers movement and the numerous rank and file activists that have arisen and are active in that movement. UPS drivers are very popular with their customers.

There are some rumblings in today's labor movement in the wake of Trump as we saw with the ATU local in Washington DC that openly countered the transit authority’s decision to provide separate trains for “right wing” protesters with train operators refusing to carry them at all supported by the leadership. At this moment thousands of hotel workers are on strike in cities throughout the US and there are rumblings among fast food workers as well. A major obstacle to these movements coming together in to a national offensive of our own is the leadership at the head of the organized labor and its 14 million members.

There are numerous groups and organizations fighting back against the capitalist offensive in one way or another from Black Lives Matter to the struggles at Standing Rock and the numerous movements against fracking, the campaigns against poison drinking water and against the horror of climate change and more. The leadership of a Teamster caucus like TDU could be raising the importance of linking with all these movements to build a generalized offensive against austerity and not leaving labor isolated. Such a program would be more likely to draw the rank and file in to activity than hopes of getting a few more friendly delegates elected at conventions three or four years away.

UPS is vulnerable
A victory over UPS would send shock waves throughout society and open the door that the teachers unlocked a little further. UPS is a global corporation and international appeals and permanent links should be cemented using this recent dispute as a starting point. UPS operates in more than 220 countries. It owns 247 aircraft and has short-term leases on 320 more. UPS has over 5,900 vehicles and 21,000 trailers.

Here are some further statistics from the UPS website
Total 2017 revenue $66 billion
454,000 employees globally 374,000 in the US
Packaging Operations 2017 revenue: $54 billion
2017 global delivery volume: 5.1 billion packages and documents
Daily global delivery volume: 20 million packages and documents
Daily US air volume: 2.9 million packages and documents
Daily international volume: 3.1 million packages and documents

The point is that the size of UPS makes it a very vulnerable company at home and abroad. A strike there affects many other industries in the US. Internationally, workers are facing the same attacks that we are facing and that the workers at UPS are trying to overcome taking the first step by opposing a concessionary contract. The recent teachers’ struggles show that we can win despite all the proclamations from the labor hierarchy that we can’t. Nothing scares them more than a victory which is why they have not picked up the teachers/educators baton and ran with it.They are not confused at all on this issue.

Once again, I urge the reader to watch these presentations by three teachers who have played a significant role in the recent teachers strikes. There are powerful lessons here for every class-conscious worker and trade union member.

In the Labor Notes/TDU panel discussion one panelist mentioned that the problem with trying to defeat the bureaucracy electorally is they “outnumber” us at conventions. But they do not outnumber us in the workplaces and communities of the US or among the ranks of organized labor no more than the bosses do. We have the power and an obstacle to us building and using that power is the labor leadership atop the AFL-CIO and our national unions. We have to by-pass this obstacle and in the process replace it; it's unfortunate, but we are in a war on two front. An inevitable result of a serious movement from below is that it will cause splits in the labor hierarchy as some more progressive elements move to support it as well as contain it. A similar situation akin to the rise of John L Lewis and the CIO split from the AFL in the 1930’s.

It appears from the outside, that the strategy of the Teamster hierarchy at the moment is to head back to the table after imposing the contract to tidy up side agreements or perhaps win a crumb or two. But there’s no mistaking it, they have shut out the rank and file.

The Labor Notes TDU panel was an opportunity to help the rank and file of the Teamsters and workers in general to see clearly that there has been a change in the game plan thanks to the heroic teachers/educators struggles and that this dispute can build on those victories.

Unfortunately it was an opportunity missed.

*We welcome serious contributions to this important debate on work in the trade unions. Contact us through our Facebook Page or e mail here:

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