Sunday, September 15, 2019

Video, GM Strike: Teachers/Educators Have Shown How to Win

Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444 retired
Member DSA

Comrades, sisters and brothers,

As I just received this and my time is limited, I will apologize in advance for any minor details I may  have left out. I watched this video and am compelled to respond to it.

Firstly, I thought for a minute it might be a video from some years ago as what struck me was that that it was as if nothing has changed in US society and the US trade union movement in the past 5 years.

I just watched it once so far and I can't see the point of having more than one speaker, as each one came forward and like the one before him, all white men, though women and people of color work at GM and have played a major role in the history of the UAW in Detroit. (The image in this video is a reflection of the failure of the existing UAW bureaucracy to build a genuine diverse leadership.) They stressed in robotic fashion that the strike is about fair wages, affordable quality health care, "our" share of the profits, and they want seniority for temporary workers. Though the term working class was used once, I had to suffer through the nauseating "middle class jobs" plea.

This presentation inspires no one and it's not meant to. The leadership of the UAW has pandered to and offered their members' living standards up to the bosses on a platter. They have cooperated in driving down the wages and conditions of the auto workers and weakened the once mighty UAW which was the entry in to the middle class for many Americans. Generations of families made GM a global powerhouse in auto.

I wish my sisters and brothers at GM, success in their efforts to push back against one of the world's dominant corporations but it is clear through this dismal performance from the UAW leadership, it is like watching a funeral gathering, that nothing has changed in their world outlook and their plan for for the future.  Like the entrenched bureaucracy atop the AFL-CIO, they are thoroughly demoralized and incapable of leading a fight against capital in this period. Their years of class collaboration have brought us this far.

I appeal to my sisters and brothers in GM and all of auto to think about what has happened in the past couple of years. In 2018, 485,000 workers participated in what the Bureau of Labor Statistics says was the first major increase in work stoppages in three decades. This strike wave was driven by  379,000 teachers and other education workers. This was a major event in the US trade union movement that both the labor hierarchy and many on the left that are dependent on their relationship with this bureaucracy, want to undermine.

Many gains were made in these teachers/educators battles, some significant and some small. In West Virginia, there was a huge victory that resulted in the striking teachers/educators winning a 5% wage increase (up from an offer of 1%) and a 5% increase for every other state worker. What better advertisement for joining a union than that?

Why The Educators Won: Rank and File Leadership
The education strikes were victorious because they were not led by the established leadership but by the rank and file. We have explained on this blog that had the presence of the established union leadership been greater, they would have suppressed this movement from below as they always do. They took place in red states where strikes are illegal and the union hierarchy relatively weak, and the strategy broke from the narrow passive strategy that the heads of organized labor have been using for decades that have led to defeat after defeat. This is despite heroic sacrifice on the part of the dues paying members.

All workers in education, gardeners, kitchen workers janitors etc. were included and had the right to vote in the decision making process. Even charter school teachers were included.

Social Media as an Organizing Tool
Then the rank and file activists used social media to build and organizes for the events. Here is an excellent description of that process from a participant in Arizona  I appeal to GM/ UAW rank and file members to read it. Arizona led the stoppages in terms of numbers.

It is clear that his dreadful demoralizing presentation by the UAW/GM leadership also made every effort to avoid the present revelations about corruption in the higher ranks of the UAW leadership. We have stressed on this blog, that it is necessary for the rank and file to remove the present bankrupt leadership in the UAW and this applies to the heads of organized labor as a whole. At the same time, we appose any involvement of the corrupt US government in our organizations. The rank and file must clean our own house. Here is a press statement from Frank Hammer, a former UAW president on this issue.
What is so hypocritical about the statements in the video about how this leadership is defending the members and care about the members, is that they come after years of capitulating to the bosses and sacrificing their members living standards in the interests of auto-profits. We don't need a "share" of profits we make they are the product of our labor of today and the past we want to be paid the full value for our labor.

The reality is that union struggles and strikes are seen by the millions of unorganized workers, the unemployed and sections of the US working class fighting for affordable housing, health care and jobs etc. as narrowly defending the rights of their own members exclusively. There is truth to this and we must change it. The dismal performance by the UAW officials in this video will strengthen this view among the 88% or so of the working class that is unorganized.

The teachers violated the law and got away with it. Unions were built by violating the law and so was the modern nation state we call the USA.  This strike must appeal to all of auto, the organized and the unorganized plants in the South. The rank and file of the teachers' movement should be reached out to, linked up with and a wider appeal to all unionized and non unionized workers made. They have picked us off one by one, local by local region by region country by country. We are fighting a global force here.

The AFL-CIO and UAW officials have cooperated with US employers in smashing union organizing internationally; anything that undermines US corporate profits. Ford executives in Argentina were imprisoned for helping the military dictatorship kidnap and torture union activists. The same is true in Colombia and also Mexico. See our page on AIFLD here.  

GM has plants throughout the world as do Ford. We are not weak, we are strong, it is the policies of the trade union leadership that fail us.

Facts For Working People wishes our sisters and brothers at GM success, but we have to be realistic here. Leadership is crucial at any time and especially when the struggle breaks out in to open warfare which is what a strike is. The UAW GM leadership in the video do not offer much hope that anything has changed. The rank and file must step to the plate and the time is ripe. We have no alternative but to fight.

As a DSA member, myself and Facts For Working People appeal to the 60,000 members of Democratic Socialists of America to assist the rank and file of the UAW in winning this strike. We also appeal to Labor Notes with its vast resources, connections and rank and file contacts, to use these resources to assist the GM and UAW rank and file; not simply cheerleading, but in helping the in the building of a rank and file leadership of the strike, taking control from below  and waging a real struggle following the example of the teachers strikes and opening a new day for organized labor. The present policy of the DSA and Labor Notes leadership of not criticizing the trade union hierarchy must be ended and not be allowed to prevent assisting the rank and file in winning this trike.

Facts For Working People offers the services of this blog and its contacts to any genuine rank and file auto/UAW members that want to put a stop to decades of concessions and defeats for the US working class.

Further reading: A Fighting Union Leadership Will be Built by Rank and File Activists
Short Video: DSA OEA Mass meeting

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