|Source: Left Voice|
Afscme Local 444, retired
Last time I was part of my local’s bargaining team in the late 1990’s we made it clear to the employer that we were not taking back any contract that raised the wages of one section of the workforce at the expense of another, robbing Peter to pay Paul as the old adage goes. It was a general understanding, propagated by the employers and accepted by the trade union hierarchy at the highest levels that the wages pool is a set amount and the job of the union leader is to divvy it out as best as possible. In my first negotiations in 1982, I would have accepted this argument. But workers learn through struggle, I did. Marx referred to this false view in his Wages Price and Profit.
This view is very divisive which is a tactic the bosses depend on. The slogan united we stand divided we fall, simple as it is, is crucial and we know it. In the general sense, racism, xenophobia, sexism or religious hatred are all means the bosses and the ruling class use to undermine and weaken workers’ unity and our strength, it’s a class struggle tactic from their point of view.
Our position, and any workers’ representatives in this
position should be to reject that argument completely, and educate our
co-workers and the working class in
general by making it clear that what is available to us depends on the balance
of class forces. How strong is the membership or the class in general in the
wider sense. How conscious are we as a class with our own interests independent
of the bosses and capital, and are we organized to fight. Crucial to our
success in this regard is having a leadership that has this view and organizes
and fights for it; that encourages the membership to think of themselves as
leaders as well.
The labor hierarchy today believes the boss and the worker is on the same team, that we have the same interests. The boss knows better and it is a disaster for us and one of the main reasons that we have suffered one defeat after another and our living standards have declined.
To take one example; look at what the Starbucks bosses are doing to defeat the growing unionization efforts at its stores. In response to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) certifying unions at 184 of its stores it is harassing, threatening and firing activists in order to deter others from joining the movement and standing up. This is violence, denying a worker an income. In addition, it is applying other methods to deter unionization, more insidious and malevolent.
In order to attract workers, as well as keep them, the company announced earlier this week, 8-1-22, that it was going to increase wages to at least $15 an hour or an increase of 3%. This is to deter unionization which shows us that just the existence of trade union organization raises income (see my video about Trader Jo’s after the first TJ’s unionized).
The Starbucks Workers United Union that has been instrumental in winning these NLRB certifications, has pointed out that Starbucks initially limited the raise to non-union stores. Starbucks bosses, in defense of their position has claimed that, “The law is clear: once a store unionizes, no changes to benefits are allowed without good faith collective bargaining”.
The bosses at Starbucks, a global corporation, is so respectful of the law of the land that, as much as it would like to do so, it can’t break the law and give all Starbucks workers the same raise, whether at a unionized store or not despite the Union waiving its right to bargain over wages demanding all workers should receive the same.
It’s a small detail but a reflection of the nature of the capitalists that are driven by their rapacious quest for profits to divide workers no matter what the consequences. Nancy Pelosi is applying the same strategy through her pointless visit to Taiwan. She doesn’t want to lessen tensions between China and Taiwan, she wants to increase them.
The certification successes through the NLRB is a positive development but what would be more successful and also a strengthening of working class people and our unity and power is for the established trade union leadership atop the AFL-CIO to mobilize their members and involve them in the struggle to force the Starbucks bosses to unionize, mass picketing etc. Relying on our own strength is what will make real gains rather than appealing to the state, its courts or other “legal” means to gain acceptance.
The present bureaucratic clique that heads the organized labor movement would do better to use this potential power we have rather than have the mass media take a few pictures of themselves with the new leaders of this vibrant movement. We know that they will do nothing at all if they are not faced with a powerful movement from below, a movement that would likely remove many of them and they know it.
It’s up to the dues paying members, the 14 million members of organized labor to take steps necessary to build this crucial and potentially powerful link between the organized and the unorganized working class.