Friday, July 22, 2022

Another Wasted Opportunity. Labor Hierarchy Abandons Independent Truckers



Richard Mellor

Afscme Local 444, retired




I posted a short video to my You Tube channel explaining why I believe the trade union hierarchy is bankrupt and refuses to lead a fight back against the bosses’ offensive. They are open class collaborators and we witness this in every dispute between capital and labor. In the video, I gave the example of the AFL-CIO leadership’s refusal to invite some of the leaders of the unorganized workers at places like Amazon and Starbucks to the bi-annual conference in June this year when the main discussion was organizing new members. Yes, it appears bizarre but it’s not.


Now we have yet another example of this tragic refusal of the labor tops to strengthen organized labor and bring in more members as independent truckers, individuals that own their own rigs, have been blocking West Coast Ports in opposition to California’s Assembly Bill 5.  This bill is the gig economy bill passed in 2019 that made it more difficult for companies like Uber and others to classify their employees as independent contractors.


So AB 5 is an important piece of legislation for workers and the organized labor movement. For trucking bosses, AB 5 is a major problem as classifying employees as independent contractors relieves them, the trucking giants and small comanies in this case, of providing benefits and other rights afforded employees under the law, rights and benefits unions have won for employees. Health care would be a big one, but holidays, sick leave and other rights don’t necessarily apply to independent contractors. The romantic idea of being your own boss, of controlling your own hours is touted as freedom. Being a small capitalist is better than being a worker, right. Unfortunately not so.


I worked outside the docks as a water utility worker and had many opportunities to talk to owner operators. There are some owner operators that own more than one rig and contract out the others, but in the main, these independent truckers earn low pay and work long hours. An empty truck means no money coming in. Tires are expensive as is gas, insurance and so forth and they often spend hours at hubs waiting to be loaded or unloade. What the big trucking companies have done is increase profits at the expense of the individual driver and has gotten away with this due to the passive acceptance of it by the heads of organized labor. There is no doubt trucking companies large and small are taking advantage of this opportunity to undermine workers rights and protection on the job.


The Teamsters union has supported AB 5 as has the ILWU that is in contract talks at the moment with the dock bosses. For three days, many ILWU members refused to cross the picket lines on safety grounds.


But what an opportunity to organize truckers using AB 5 as a lever as well. But to give the reader an example of the treachery of the present clique atop organized labor and the catastrophe that the so-called Team Concept philosophy is for the rank and file union member and the working class as a whole, Biden, the pro-union president according to the AFL-CIO tops, has been brought in to the ILWU contract talks,  “The Biden administration has been working closely with both parties to prevent a work stoppage on the ports. Even though the PMA is demanding major concessions on automation and working hours, the ILWU issued a joint statement with the PMA last month declaring it had no intention of calling a strike” In These Times 7-21-22


This is why we hear nothing from the ILWU leadership, that often feigns militancy, resting on past laurels, about the state of the talks when it is an opportunity to build on the movement developing among the unorganized for union rights. The Team Concept prevents the union from agitating or appealing to the members or even suggesting going on the offensive.


So the rank and file worker and union member has no representatives at all in these important contract talks between bosses and a union that can shut down the West Coast of the United States. California alone is one of the world’s top ten economies. The dock bosses, the most important political representative of US capitalism and Wall Street and the present leadership of the workers that have the power to close the ports are all working very hard to ensure profits are protected and the workers bear the brunt of the concessions as workers and consumers.


Danny Wan, who I had dealings with when he was employed as a management strategist of some sort where I worked, is now the executive director of the Port of Oakland, shares his thoughts as a representative of the bosses:

“We understand the frustration expressed by the protesters at California ports,” Port of Oakland executive director Danny Wan said in a statement. “But prolonged stoppage of port operations in California for any reason will damage all the businesses operating at the ports and cause California ports to further suffer market share losses to competing ports.”


Market share, there you have it. In the workplace and society there are only two main sources of social power, the bosses, or capital, and the organized workers. In the absence of a powerful voice backed up by direct action of the organized workers, the boss steps in. And I saw this last night on the news when a trucking company owner was touted as the representative of the independent truckers.


This process is in contrast to the national master agreement that Jimmy Hoffa fought for, a strategy developed by the Farrell Dobbs who worked for the teamsters prior to leaving to run for US president on the Socialist Worker Party ticket. Dobbs wrote in 1938:


“We have had sufficient experience to understand that the only solution to the problems of the over-the -road trucking industry lies in the establishment of  uniform labor conditions for the trade area. We are further aware that if we permit ourselves to be sidetracked in to a maze of subregional and individual city negotiations that the outcome will be to perpetuate the present chaotic conditions." Hoffa and The Teamsters Ralph andEstelle James


The friendly chit chat between Biden, the dock bosses and the heads of the ILWU and the subsequent silence in the media has other causes.  In These Times again:

“This is motivated in large part by concerns that work stoppages at West Coast ports, which collectively handle roughly 40 percent of the country’s imports and a comparable fraction of exports, could disrupt ongoing war efforts. Most US weapons arming NATO proxy forces in Ukraine are shipped from seaports. Meanwhile, the US is actively ratcheting up tensions with China over Taiwan, which could require rapid deployments of military-related materials from West Coast ports.”


The Teamsters leadership has referred to AB 5 as a “massive victory” and it is legislatively, though workers can never rely on the law for our rights, they are, in the last analysis, protected only through direct action and our ability to shut down production and profit taking. But one thing the present trade union hierarchy will not do, is question US foreign policy or threaten the arms industry profits.


The truckers are right that it will make it harder for them to function, it will make it harder for them to work their own hours and they are having a hard enough time as it is and super exploited by dock and truck company bosses. Forcing them to be classified as employees is not much different than Stalin’s forced collectivization; it’s a disaster. The trade union leadership must offer them an alternative if the bosses' grip on them is to be weakened.


The obvious is there for any person not interested in saving investors, hedge fund managers and the likes of Jeff Bezos or Onan Musk, and that is for the ILWU members, Teamster members and the trade union movement the West Coast and nationally to link up with the individual owner operators and unionize them, make the bosses pay them and provide the rights and benefits any unionized trucker gets. Power attracts and real power will draw the best of the independents toward the movement. Without this attraction, without something tangible in it for them, a better living and improved material well-being, the boss will remain the only option.


I have been out of activity a while now. But I cannot believe there aren’t union locals like mine was that are not in the grip of the labor bureaucracy. Resolutions can be passed condemning the Team Concept, condemning the class collaboration where it exists, calling for and standing for office on a program against concessions and for rank and file power. Delegates to the higher bodies can carry these resolutions in to these areas and argue for them there, and in District Councils and AFL-CIO county and state bodies that all have meetings and conferences. Saying silent is not acceptable.


Making the argument is as important as winning the day as the rank and file member sees that there is a struggle going on to change course; they hear an alternative viewpoint and see there is a reason to become active.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The great irony in the ILWU now supporting the truckers against AB 5 is that 8 years ago they outright crossed a picket line of truckers who were demanding better conditions at the Port of Oakland. They were demanding the Port provide more accessible bathrooms, assistance for new catalytic converters required by clean air emission standards ect..At that time the truckers even came to the ILWU meeting and received majority support from the membership who voted to support the truckers efforts at that time. This past week we have a smaller group of flag waving “independents” who are backed by huge leasing companies that effectively want a share cropping on wheels system for what they call “independent contractors” to haul drayage between the port and distribution centers. As the article states the truckers themselves make very little from these arrangements especially compared to the system when they were paid by the hour rather than the mile. The supposed trucker shortage could easily be solved by either paying truckers to wait for their cargo or arranging a system that did not rely on them to serve as warehouses on wheels for just in time supply chain systems. If truckers could simply pick up and drop off cargo when they arrived at a shipping terminal there would be much less waiting, and this would be entirely possible given the size of most terminal yards. Most of the waiting around is due to fulfillment scheduling requirements for “just in time” delivery of items to stores. So now the ILWU “supports” the protestors and honors their picket line yet is still in favor of AB 5. It doesn’t matter what union organizes the truckers in California. The time is ripe now more than ever especially if the unions can find a way to help those who feel they have to remain independent for whatever reason.

Joel Schor - Sailors Union of the Pacific

also affiliated ILWU local 10