Monday, May 3, 2021

14 million Union Members: Why Their Leadership Won't Fight

And why is it the Left in the Unions Refuses to Confront them?
Some of my co-workers and my lifeline. The Picture for Oakland City Council Campaign 1996
 Note: I previously republished a commentary on how a new leadership of the trade union movement will be built not by "professional" union staffers or organizers but by rank and file workers steeled through workplace struggles. This was published back in 2019 almost 18 months ago and is how the founders of this blog, which includes myself see working in the trade unions and how we explain how we got to where we are at. I hope rank and file union members will take the time to read it. RM
Richard Mellor
Editor Facts For Working People

Readers/followers of Facts For Working People blog are familiar with the numerous commentaries we have posted with regard to how socialists should work in the trade unions and in the workplace. We have addressed this issue on a number of occasions with Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) members and expressed our views on the decision by DSA’s leadership to contract out the guidance of its union work to Labor Notes (LN). We consider that LN is incorrect in its refusal to identify and provide an alternative to the policies of the present leaders of organized labor in the US. We have tried to share our different views and have an open and comradely debate on this crucial issue and here are some links to these articles:

I am returning to this issue as I read a piece recently by Eric Blanc who is a DSA member writing in defense of a resolution that the Bread and Roses Caucus was planning to introduce at the DSA conference in Atlanta. Comrade Blanc clearly supports and promotes the DSA leadership’s contracting out union work to the LN organization.  In FFWP’s opinion, this will hinder efforts to transform our unions in to militant rank and file led organizations and will fail to prepare young DSA members who are in unions, or class conscious worker militants on the ground floor, for the conflict with the present union leadership, the present bureaucracy, which opposes any genuine rank and file movement from below.

While we have discussed this issue extensively on our weekly conference calls, as one of the people who has written on this issue before, I think it only fair to the reader that as a critic and also someone with strong views about organized labor and how the rank and file can dislodge the seemingly entrenched bureaucracy and its policies of class collaboration, I should relate my own experiences that have shaped my views about the labor movement.

When workers are offered advice about how we can fight on the job and within the trade union movement it’s worth considering what we do when we have a problem with our automobile, washing machine or our computer and we need to have repairs done; we seek out people who have experience in doing such repairs. We do not seek out people who have written books about doing repairs if they have never done repairs themselves. So if we want to discuss the crisis in the trade union movement and the various strategies activists and socialists should adopt in our work in them, I believe it is reasonable to seek out rank and file workers (staff and academics recruited by the labor hierarchy for their skills are not rank and file) who have experience in fighting in the workplace, in negotiating contracts, filing grievances, fighting racism and sexism on the job and perhaps most important of all, building a real base among our co-workers and the rank and file in the workplace that is crucial if we are to openly challenge the present leadership’s policies.

I do not have degrees from famous universities. I have my GED. I started working at a water utility as a laborer in 1976 and retired as a backhoe operator. I was in AFSCME Local 444, a blue collar local for 29 years. During this time I was an elected shop steward in my work unit. I was an elected Executive Board member and also an elected representative to the Alameda Labor Council AFL-CIO to which my local was affiliated. I held numerous elected and unpaid offices in the local over 25 years.

I was elected as a delegate to Afscme DC 57 composed of numerous local Afscme unions in Northern Ca. and a delegate to most of the Afscme International’s bi-annual conventions from 1980 to 1998. I was also a delegate to some of the California Labor Federation’s conventions during the 1990’s and the Jack Henning years. I was in attendance at the National Rank and File Against Concessions Conference in December 1985 amid a major strike wave. My local struck for a month earlier in the year. This conference was wrecked to a large extent by left sectarianism. There is a good account of this in Peter Rachleff’s book, Hard Pressed in the Heartland. I was elected to local 444’s contract negotiating team during three contracts including during our strike in 1985.

I introduced and fought for resolutions on the need for an independent labor party based on the trade unions at all these bodies usually introducing and discussing issues first at my own local union’s (Afscme 444) membership meetings and getting them endorsed there. More often than not I discussed the issue with my co-workers on the job where our power lies.

With the endorsement of Local 444, I organized, along with others, a public meeting for Tony Mazzochi to speak in 1989. Mazzochi, an official with the Oil Chemical and Atomic Workers Union (OCAW) was calling for a Labor Party based on the trade unions. Myself and another 444 delegate Roger Martinez  approached Mazzochi at a Labor Notes Conference and asked if he would speak on the need for a Labor Party at a public meeting. He said he would if he got an invite from a union local, so we had Local 444 invite him. I got numerous locals to endorse that meeting including the Teamsters, SEIU, ILWU Local 6 and other Afscme locals. Here is a video of that meeting.   

Mazzochi told us personally that it was the success of that meeting that pushed him to form Labor Party Advocates. I was elected a delegate to the founding conference of the Labor Party held in Cleveland in 1996 and introduced a
resolution that was passed by Local 444’s membership. Local 444 endorsed my candidacy for Oakland City Council in 1996, some of my co-workers that supported me are in the photo I have included.  Due to my activity on the need for a labor party based on the trade unions, there were a number of years when no candidate, Democrat or Republican, could get an endorsement or money from Local 444.  I got my local very involved in International solidarity defending activists in South Africa, Israel/Palestine, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Britain and other countries.

I was trained as a steward on the job, not by labor experts or political science majors or those that came in to the unions from universities or were “sent in” by socialist organizations, but by older black guys that had come up from the South, or their parents had, on what they called the Kaiser Freedom Train. They did not call themselves socialists or militants and were conservative in some ways, but they were not afraid of a fight and they understood the importance of being in a union and working class unity despite being victims of racial oppression in society, on the job and in the labor movement. They had roots in places like Beaumont Texas, Monroe Louisiana and Arkansas.  When Afscme International Executive Board mandated we affiliate to Afscme District Council 57 in 1980 or thereabouts, these old timers fought back. They did not like being mandated to do anything by the big shots at the union’s national headquarters in D.C., and they opposed the affiliation dues.

The younger generation eventually won the day and I was one of them, but the old timers who had risked their livelihoods walking off the job and founding a union many years earlier didn’t surrender easily. Irish,
Black, Portuguese, Italian Americans, men and women, no Phd’s among them, are the people who changed the lives of future generations at my workplace and who trained me in my union work. I learned a lot from these workers. We had a woman president in chief steward in the late 70’s early 80’s who worked in the garage. Women mechanics were not common then and she was also a lesbian. She was a real fighter and encouraged and helped me to stay involved. It was not easy for these women in traditionally male trades.

I had major struggles with the leadership at the higher levels. One was when I invited a guy from the Hormel strike in Austen Minnesota to speak at the Alameda Labor Council. But the UFCW leadership had just abandoned Local P9, pulled strike sanction and replaced the leadership with a more compliant and employer friendly one, so the strikers were now pariah’s and the delegates all fell in to line refusing to let him in. I eventually got him in. I had the same experience when I took a group of black youth from my neighborhood to the CLC after the Rodney King uprising. They wouldn’t let them in (not affiliated) and I had to have a huge fight over it. I was demanding that the council organize a mass rally in Oakland against racism, police brutality and for jobs; I worked in those streets and we had a meter reader almost beaten to death; the way to change that situation was for organized labor to bring its potential power to the table.

I threatened to make a motion (gasp) and got them in but the liberal/lefts helped ensure that nothing was done. My experiences with Labor Notes folks and Communist Party members who were also delegates from locals, was similar. These comrades never, ever challenged the leadership or opposed their policies in any way at all for fear of them not getting the leadership’s support for their activities. All sorts of excuses are used by these people to try and justify not taking on the union leadership.

I was also a writer and editor of an opposition newsletter in Afscme I called the Afscme Activist. It was published in 10 states to different locals and had a growing subscriber base. Afscme Local 444, helped me get it off the ground. You can get some information about this experience here.
It is from these experiences in the workplace fighting the bosses and coming into conflict with the union leadership in doing so, that I draw my conclusions about trade union activity, the crisis in the trade unions, the fall in membership over the past decades, the stagnation of wages the reduction of rights etc. I would like to ask my readers to keep this in mind when they consider my views. Myself and a few others were not looking for jobs in the management of the union bureaucracy.

So I ask, for myself and on behalf of Facts For Working People blog, that our readers also consider the experience of the people, groups or currents whose opinions I comment on here. Have they been active fighters on the shop floor, in the workplace? Have they negotiated contracts, have they led strikes, dealt with racism and sexism in the workplace and so on. Most important of all, did they build a strong base on the ground floor, among rank and file co-workers? This is crucial in order to wage a serious opposition to the bosses and to the present leadership’s capitulation to them.  It is impossible to wage a serious struggle on behalf of the rank and file without coming in to conflict with the present union leadership; they won’t allow it.

It is my experience that in many cases, the people from left backgrounds who seek to advise the union membership do not have experience on the shop floor. Working as part of the union bureaucracy, selected to do such work by the union bureaucracy, is not working on the shop floor. In fact it is a prerequisite to being selected for a job in the union bureaucracy by the union bureaucracy, not to have led movements on the shop floor, not to have built a fighting movement in the workplace or in the union rank and file.

As I comment here on some of the views and opinions and advice being offered to union activists and DSA members by Brother Eric Blanc. I would respectfully ask Brother Eric Blanc to give us his experience in the workplace and in building a real base among the workers and dues paying members on the shop floor. I would be interested in hearing of the struggles of other university educated people who have come to work as full timers either as staffers or “advisers” to the union bureaucracy, with the support of the union leadership to give us their own union experience.

I would suggest to the young DSA members who are now being advised on how to do union work to ask those who give such advice to explain their own experience as I do here. I think this is a reasonable request. I would ask the young DSA members to ask this from Bother Eric Blanc and also to those who work as writers and editors and organizers at Labor Notes or Jacobin or other left publications. Ask any of them to share their struggles with the present union leadership because such struggles can’t be avoided if you are helping to build a genuine, fighting rank and file movement in the unions. What is their record within the labor movement?

Comrade Blanc’s article is titled A Labor Strategy for the US: DSA Debates.  The approach he is promoting is outlined in an article, Rank and File Strategy written by Barry Eidlina DSA member who is an assistant professor of sociology at McGill University and a shop steward for UAW 2865. I first met comrade Blanc when he was a leader and student recruiter for Socialist Organizer, an organization that had a very similar approach to the trade unions as Labor Notes which has always gone to great lengths never to make an issue of, never mind oppose, the trade union leadership’s responsibility for organized labor’s decline and influence.

I will only point out a few important aspects of Comrade Blanc’s views that are fundamentally flawed from my perspective and the same approach can be seen in all of the coverage of the labor movement from Labor Notes and its writers and in the links I have provided here.

The idea, Blanc writes, is that “…..socialists’ central focus should be on identifying a layer of rank and file leaders who can organize in the workplace on a day to day basis”, and he points to the Rank and File Strategy and its “aim” which is to, “….reconnect the Left and labor through developing a broad layer of militant, organic workplace leaders….” 

I have to say that in my decades of activity the “left”, socialists of various stripes that entered the workplace, never were very adept at ‘connecting” with workers at all with a few exceptions; just the opposite.  But for comrade Blanc and the Bread and Roses Caucus, it appears certain socialists have the qualifications to identify rank and file leaders that can organize or build the movement that can transform our unions.  He gives as an example Jane McAlvey who refers to these worker leaders that socialists will select as “organic leaders”. McAlvey is a former SEIU staffer and labor strategist. Ms McAlevey is a Harvard graduate, a Phd and was brought in to the labor movement by the AFL-CIO hierarchy as far as I can see around the 1996 elections and the advent of SEIU’s John Sweeney. Sweeney went very quickly from threatening to “block bridges” referencing the methods of Martin Luther King, to building them, not with the rank and file, but with the bosses through the Team Concept.

Blanc also supports connecting DSA members with staffing jobs in certain “militant” unions, an example of which he cites the United Teachers of Los Angeles. But the CTA bureaucracy is no different to any other on the main issues and perhaps the most important, mobilizing the potential power of the organized working class in an offensive of our own. Yes some small gains were made in the LA Teachers strike but more could have been won. LA, Oakland, Newark and other areas all in the same union, strike separately. The NEA has 300,000 members in California and the AFL-CIO some 2 million. To not draw on this potential power and mobilize it is anything but militant; not mentioning it at all is disgraceful. And from what I recall, LA mayor Garcetti was brought in to the process in LA that shifted the balance of power to the management. Workers relying on our own strength and power is rule number one if the bosses offensive against working people is to be defeated.

The lesson learned from the West Virginia Teachers and Educators movement, is that we can win but we have to spread beyond our own members’ immediate needs and we have to violate the law and this means coming into conflict with the union leaderships. LA had wide community support but there are also 800,000 workers affiliated to organized labor in LA and this power should have been part of a militant strategy along with the community, after all, they are the organized workers of our community. No individual locals can reverse the present concessionary course the heads of organized labor have charted; there is no point in us all belonging to the same organizations and not utilizing that power on the ground.

But what jumps out at me in Eric’s promotional piece for Labor Notes is his support of Labor Notes general policy of ignoring, or at best obscuring the role of the labor leadership that stands in the way of any effort to transform the unions in to democratic fighting organizations. Any thinking worker/activist knows this. Comrade Blanc doesn’t ignore the leadership completely as in the wake of the victory in West Virginia and successes of the Teachers and Educators in other states, this has forced people and groups that support his approach to allude to them, but very cautiously in order to not suffer the consequences of being attacked by the union leadership. While having to mention these rank and file Teachers and Educators movements which were successful precisely because they defied and pushed aside their own leaderships, something not advocated by Eric Blanc and LN, Eric Blanc and LN covers for them.  

Eric Blanc writes of the decline of organized labor’s influence over the years and that, “the failed orientation of most unions has contributed to this decline.”
The use of the term “unions” is deliberate, disingenuous (this is the way educated people call each other liars) and misleading. It is incorrect to speak of the “unions’ orientation” it is not the “unions orientation. It is the union leaderships’ orientation, and the union leadership imposes this orientation  on the membership of the unions. By referring to the unions rather than the union leadership is to let the union leadership of the hook. And what flows from this is that Eric Blanc ends up blaming the rank and file membership, the folks who pay the dues, for a crisis that is caused by the policies of the union leadership which he refuses to expose and oppose. I explained why in a response to Labor Notes’ Chris Brooks and his coverage of the recent failed UAW organizing drive at the VW plant in Chattanooga. I wrote:

“…in this latest report Brother brooks again, when raising failed tactics and strategies, refers to the UAW as opposed to the UAW leadership. But the tactics are not developed by the UAW; they are determined by the leadership of the UAW. The only way the unions will be made into democratic fighting organizations and the unorganized will be organized, is if we look at the policies of the union leadership as distinct from what is in the interests of the union membership.”

Comrade Blanc repeats this “union ”phrase more than once. He writes: “Until we can push our unions out of the political rut they’ve been stuck in for decades….” and refers to the failure of the UAW leaderships organizing drive in Chattanooga as the “UAW”  “crashing and burning in the South.” But it is not simply that we have to “push” our unions out of this political rut as he calls it. Most workers would agree but he refuses to mention the real problem, that is the policies and the refusal to fight of the present union leadership. This is what the membership has to “push” aside.  He writes that the “UAW” is crashing and burning in the US South. The leadership of the unions has led us in to this political rut and has no intention, or plan for getting us out of it and it is the leadership of the UAW that is responsible for the defeats in the South. This Eric Blanc and also Labor Notes refuse to explain and oppose. It is no small omission and it is not accidental.

Consider Eric Blanc’s description of the trade union leadership on one of the rare occasions he mentions them. He describes them as “inefficient” as if the defeats they have orchestrated are accidental, are the result of a collection of bumbling fools. But the opposite is the case, they are very efficient in ensuring the relationship they have built with the bosses based on labor peace comes under no serious threat from below. They show their efficiency time and time against as they sabotage militant strikes. Perhaps the most glaring example of this has been the P9 strike when the local union leadership would not surrender to the bosses the top union leadership removed the local leadership and put in one that would surrender. There was no inefficiency there, they efficiently enforced their own policies and crushed the strike.

Blanc correctly points out to the DSA membership that they cannot “replace ”the numerous resources organized labor has. This is true. But he puts it this way, “DSA cannot replace the infrastructure, experience, institutional memory, resources, legal protections, or connections to the working class that the union movement has — and has sadly failed to make full use of.” (my added emphasis).

I’ll say this; I’ve been on hundreds upon hundreds of picket lines over 30 years where brothers and sisters with the picket sign in their hands have been told by the full time officials that they are not to impede those crossing the picket lines.* These are workers on strike for weeks and sometimes more on basically 24-hour protests drinking coffee and eating donuts. Demoralization sets in rapidly under this scenario.  Please take the time to read the picket line rules the International Union ofOperating Engineers (IUOE) handed to striking members in the recent crane operator’s strike in Western Washington State. I have seen less stringent rules in Kindergartens. This approach should be condemned and publicly so.

Workers in this situation often ask the same question,  “why don’t we shut this place down?”   In most cases, union members know nothing about the extent of the potential power the organization they belong to has, and the leadership keeps this information from them. When I was on a picket line here in Pittsburg CA when they were out for some 12 weeks I mentioned to them that they were affiliated to the Contra Costa Labor Council with some 80,000 workers affiliated to it. “Why won’t they bring them out here?”  a worker without a Phd, or college degree and who wasn’t looking for a paid union position asked me.  I explained why the leadership not only never told them about the Labor Council but also won’t bring the resources the labor movement has to the table. They have no alternative to capitalism so to mobilize millions of workers against the capitalist offensive can only lead to chaos from their world viewpoint.

Their only response is the Team Concept which argues that workers and b
osses have the same interests. This philosophy is a catastrophe and behind what so many union members see as betrayals. As I wrote in an earlier post, when capitalism goes in to crisis, the present heads of organized labor move to bail it out at the expense of their own members living standards.

I was at the waste management picket here
in California when the officials of the Teamsters were there along with management escorting the Teamster drivers across the trash sorter’s picket lines because the leaders of both unions were in a pissing contest over jurisdiction and organizational protocol. I know for a fact there are socialists on the staff of one of these unions and not a word from them.The drivers knew it was wrong though, they were visibly sickened having to cross the line; it’s in a class-conscious workers gut that we don’t do that.

Do not misunderstand me, I recognize that confronting ones own leadership as well as the employer is not easy and that is what class conscious socialists who do not see themselves as the “educators” of the working class can help with on the job and in the unions. But a prerequisite is being open to learn from the working class through a dialogue with the class and offering the skills they possess either through their middle class backgrounds or university education or both at the service of the working class in our struggle against capital. I should add that comrade Blanc refers to the DSA being too male and white which is undoubtedly true, but an even bigger problem is that the DSA is overwhelmingly middle class in its composition and culture.

It is not an answer to this problem to advise, as is being done to young DSA members, to volunteer as “picket captains” which is being done by some. This is not only extremely arrogant to think that DSA members with no union experience can be picket captains but if they do volunteer as picket captains it will be to carry out the orders of the union leadership and help the union leadership keep the strikers “in order”.
I have taken up many blue-collar workers in my own workplace and in other unions when they have explained away the failures of the unions to defend them or refusing to go on the offensive, by saying the leaders take bribes, they’re in bed with the boss, or that they are criminals in the real sense of the word and at worst Mafia. Sometimes, though not often, they will trash the union as an institution but as most workers know, we would be in a bad way without them. Some members will refer to them as “conscious traitors” What they will not do though, is refer to the leadership as “moderate” or “inefficient” as comrade Blanc does.

Kentucky:Union Officials Publicly Condemn Militants
I would urge young DSA folks and other workers relatively new to the organized labor and workers’ movement, to look in to the situation in Kentucky. It was in this video that I first a heard a teacher from Kentucky speaking on the situation there. She brought up a very important issue and that was the need to link the teachers’ struggles with the community and in particular the black community that faces additional problems, overpolicing, stop and frisk, harassment and of course we are all aware of the murder of black youth by police. It is indisputable that the crisis in education affects black and brown communities to a much greater degree. Recognizing this is not, as some right wingers claim, “identity politics”.  One related issue in Kentucky was a gang ordinance that was to be taken up in the state legislature

As the unions with some influential people taking a lead, mobilized the teachers to put pressure on the legislature with regards to teachers issues, pensions for example, and were asking Louisville and Jefferson County folks for community support, the folks affected most by increased police power in the community asked that when calling in to the state, the unions and teachers movement express their opposition to the gang ordinance. The union leadership refused to do this and influential figures in the leaderships spoke against it. I wrote at the time:

An influential leader of the teachers' group KY120 defended her refusal to oppose the bill on the grounds that she didn't want to “risk fracturing the nascent movement." and that after discussing it, the mood was that if they started "muddying the water" it would weaken the movement. Of course, the opposite is true. She is quite willing to fracture the movement by refusing to recognize the extreme importance of opposing this bill for those who would be most impacted by it. But not only would opposing what amounts to racist legislation directed primarily at black youth strengthen the movement, it would be a small step along the road to uniting the different constituents, it doesn't muddy the waters at all, it clears them up.” I should stress that whenever labor officials say that their “members”  said this or did that or that the mood among the members was…., the first question to ask them is what position the leadership took as this is a crucial element that affects the mood and confidence of the rank and file.

The implication in the union leaders refusal to support the legislation is that the poor whites in eastern Kentucky (Appalachia) are all racists or ignorant and would not support it. She blames the members for her decision not to take the right position on the gang ordinance.

Rather than strengthen the union by supporting the more militant and forward thinking activists in and around Lousiville (a teacher described the situation as a city taking on the state), when the teachers’ sick out shut down the schools for six days in February and March this year, with the parents, teachers and allies from the Lousiville area the central players, the trade union leaders came together at a JCTA press conference in March 2019 to condemn the Louisville leaders and parents. In other words, rather than strengthen the union and oppose racist legislation, by helping the Jefferson County folks build their influence and links across the state, they chose to weaken the union. Brent McKim head of the Jefferson County Teachers Association was joined by leaders from Afscme, SEIU and the Teamsters.  The Afscme official blamed them for costing “her” members money. The Teamster official accused them of "…pimping our people out and putting their jobs in jeopardy," If they were as aggressive in dealing with the bosses we would be in a better shape all round.

As I write here it strikes me even more that to refuse to oppose a gang ordinance that would strengthen the state security forces in the black and brown community on the basis that it would “muddy waters” is a disgrace. And people wonder why they might be accused of racial bias treating such an important issue as an irritant basically. There is a video of this conference here at WLKY a Kentucky TV station and I urge folks to watch it. They are pretty efficient you see when they want to undermine rank and file/community militancy.

I explain this situation in a video I made at the time
. It will give the reader useful information about the Kentucky events which is important, particularly the open attack on Jefferson County/Louisville folks by a section of the labor bureaucracy and the failure of the unions and influential leaders to campaign against the gang ordinance. Any class conscious workers, especially socialists including the DSA leadership should condemn the Kentucky union leaders and the heads of organized labor nationally for their class collaboration attacking rather than aiding the more aggressive and militant sector of the struggle

The reality of it is that comrade Blanc’s understanding of the trade union leadership, and those “experts” he orients to as this advanced layer of politically driven individuals who can build the movement to transform the unions, is to the right of the vast majority of the brothers and sisters that pay the dues. The idea that “socialists”, of his type I assume, can recognize and select “organic leaders” from the rank and file is a giveaway. Organic leaders do not need selection by experts from academia, union staffers or the lower rungs of the left bureaucracy that have not proved themselves qualified. And by “proved” I mean a long history of the struggle against the policies and practises of the present entrenched bureaucracy which inevitably means building and being rooted in a solid base in the rank and file and in the workplace.

Here is a list of Labor Notes staff: and we can see that it is definitely not composed of rank and file workers. They are mostly employees or former employees of the labor hierarchy. Some occupy positions in unions and that in itself is not a bad thing. But to judge their qualifications in this situation and at this time in the class struggle in the USA one has to have evidence that they have fought the long hard battles that are unavoidable in the struggle to build rank and file fighting oppositions in the labor movement.  And I stress one more time, any thinking class-conscious worker knows you don’t get jobs as staffers, whose role it is to ensure the concessionary policies of the leadership are implemented, or advisors to AFL-CIO presidents, SEIU presidents or top officials in any union, with a known record of fighting for the rank and file in a serious way.

It was in the Battle of Seattle that the youth shut down the WTO meeting in 1999. Their activity and boldness had an impact on many of the young unionized workers that were there and were drawn to the direct actions. This terrified the AFL-CIO leadership who, like AFL-CIO head John Sweeney, were holding candlelight vigils and such. When the dust settled and the US and global bourgeois went after the youth with a vengeance at WTO meetings, the AFL-CIO union leaders sent staffers in to the movement here in the US, many of them trendy types with the right ideas on social issues that would appeal to the young. They sent these people in with the same intention as they now use such people in the aftermath of the teachers and educators struggles which shook the labor hierarchy as it was mostly rank and file led, that is, they send them in to temper this movement, to tame the movement, to ensure it doesn’t get out of their control, undermine their support for the Democratic Party and their accepted channels of protest which do not work.

One important lesson for young DSA members to recognize is the labor hierarchy is not “inefficient” and they are not “moderate” as Eric Blanc describes them. They are very efficient when it comes to maintaining the present course of the trade unions under their control. They are committed to the defense of the system, of capitalism and will fight to keep it that way.


As the last century drew to a close, the Wall Street Journal produced a centennial edition. This included a segment titled - "Events that Helped Shape the Country". It explained that in 1893 there was an economic slump that left half the membership of what was then the main union federation, the American Federation of Labor (AFL), unemployed. The AFL was composed overwhelmingly of craft unions (skilled trades). Samuel Gompers was the leader of that federation. Under his leadership, and against the background of that economic slump, the AFL made a decision as to what its general policy should be towards U.S. capitalism.

Here is how the wall street journal reported this decision. "The AFL led by Samuel Gompers votes against adopting socialist reform programs....Gompers believes that U.S. labor should work with capitalism, not against it, and that the AFL’s  proper concerns are wages and hours and better working conditions". "Work With Capitalism, Not Against It". Why theLabor Leadership Surrenders to the Bosses
This is the contribution of Facts For Working People Blog to the discussion of how to work to build a democratic fighting movement in the rank and file of the unions and in the workplaces.   Contribution to the discussion of how to make the unions a fighting force, to develop a leadership in the working class which fights the bosses and their capitalist system and their two capitalist parties, the Republicans and the Democrats.

It is how we can organize the unorganized and also build a mass workers party that can represent the interests of the working class not the capitalist class. We hope that Brother Eric Blanc and also Labor Notes and others will engage in this discussion. 
There are various ways in which undemocratic means can be used in the labor movement. One is to refuse to discuss the different views as to how the movement should organize. FFWP hopes that those who have different views from those expressed here will state these views and so help the working class movement. Facts For Working People Blog is open to sharing opposing views.

* I try to not use the term scabs anymore because, as has been the case historically except with gangs organized by the employers to break strikes, those crossing the picket lines are underemployed or unemployed workers. In the Toledo General Strike in 1934, the unemployed were organized and joined the strike. The unorganized and unemployed are basically workers that have been abandoned by the trade union bureaucracy in the main. While we have to prevent those crossing from doing so, we have to do it through class appeals and mass picketing and also recognize that for many of them, the trade union has played no direct role in their lives so we have to have an alternative and cannot remain passive members but play a role in changing the present leadership and their policies.


Earl Silbar said...

Thanks for this excellent contribution. My years of experience in AFSCME 3506 and council 31 here in Illinois it's very similar to yours, and so are my conclusions.the higher you go up the union leadership from local to regional to national, the more conscious and devious they are in defending both their well-paid, cushy positions and they're cozy deals with corporate America.

For example, during the 2011 Wisconsin workers uprising against cuts in education, healthcare, a tax on union rights, a small number of us oh, mostly iww members, distributed leaflets and talked to many workers in the streets about organizing for a general strike. People's response was overwhelmingly positive, starting with what is a general strike and how do you do that?

When a local leader of the painters union raised the question of a general strike at the state union leaders meeting, the presidents of the two largest public unions said, " That ain't going to happen. If we do that, (meaning a general strike), they will take our treasuries and put us in jail."

at around the same time, the national AFL-CIO brought in dozens of their staff people who collaborated with local Democrats and state union leaders to shift the emphasis aren't you having a recall petition and election for governor, opposing and sidelining the growing sentiment for strike action.

One more example from our experience: after a three-year organizing drive and just three days before our announced and legally supported strike was to start back in 2003,AFSCME COUNCIL 31 leadership announced that they would declare our strike to be a wildcat, would support any discipline management declared, and would stop any solidarity by other unions.

This took all the oxygen out of the room. We didn't expect any real support from council 31, but almost none of us was prepared for such a betrayal and our strike move folded.

Could the need to fight on two fronts be clearer than that?

In solidarity and with appreciation for all you do.

Richard Mellor said...

Thanks for your comment Earl. I recall those days in Afscme and had the group I was in not helped destroy it, the Afscme Activist of which you, myself, Roger Martinez and Cheryl Zuur were a part would have undoubtedly opened the door to a genuine rank and file caucus that would have been in a position to intervene in the chaos that came soon after with the ballot stuffing, the fall of Victor Gotbaum, the potential for a union wide (Teamsters and Teachers) strike in NYC against Giuliani's attacks etc. We're still here though.