by RICH GIBSON
With respect to nearly anyone who is trying to fight back in our current context, I differ from what most people think about the current state of US unionism.
Of course, none of that can be split away from an analysis of our current circumstances which I believe is an international hot war, and economic war, of the rich on the poor and the rapid emergence of fascism as a popular movement.
It does not have to be that way.
Let us hope that another scenario is possible if we take on the hard tasks of the immediate future and connect them to a vision of what can be. One of those tasks is to determine the role of the unions and the relationship of radicals to them.
Labor bosses at all levels are the nearest and most vulnerable of workers’ enemies. Rather than “move unions to the left,” better, “demolish the labor quislings, take their treasuries, seize their buildings, as we build a mass class conscious movement to transcend the system of capital.”
Why does that make better sense?
Since the Industrial Workers of the World (a grand vision but fatally flawed practice) were nearly demolished in the Palmer Raids of 1919, American unionism has been a false flag operation: not what most people think of as unionism.
*Every major labor leader in the US adopts the corporate-state view of unity of Labor Bosses, Government, and Corporations in the national interest. These are hardly “labor” unions in the strict sense of the word. They are the empire’s unions. I assume the connections of labor and US intelligence are fairly well known and do not need to be explained. They are the unions of what now is, surely, the US corporate state.
*It follows that the Labor Bosses deceive people from the moment they join a union, the key lie being that none of labor’s elites believe that workers and employers have contradictory interests–the very reason most people agree to send them money.
*The remarkable salaries of US Labor Bosses (past National Education Association president Reg Weaver made $696,949 in his last year in office) come directly from the fruits of US imperialism and war. They know that. They have been war hawks for decades, using the unions to promote the Empire’s desires. They sit on the boards of the Social Democrats USA, the National Endowment for Democracy, The Albert Shanker Institute, The George Meany Center, and other fronts for the Central Intelligence Agency. Following the history of the American Federation of Labor, which sought to organize white men into craft (skill based) unions, and exclude most of the working class, the international operations of the AFL-CIO seek to demolish indigenous workers’ struggles so, in theory, American workers will do better. Clearly, this failed.
*Union tops sell a pacified or disciplined work force for money from employers. That is the nucleus of “collective bargaining.” Employers collect dues (check off) on behalf of the union, send it to the union heads, while the labor tops promise labor peace for the duration of the contract. That is precisely the traditional exchange.
Labor heads use violence to “protect the contract,” because employers can sue them if the rank and file wildcats, strikes within the contract’s time period. Unions become the bosses enforcers.
Henry Ford fought unions for years. When he finally came to understand this devil’s deal, he said, “You mean I’m the union’s banker? Sign me on!” Today, Ford management organizes Ford plants on behalf of the United Autoworkers Union. The upshot is, labor leaders (1) condition the work force for passivity, (2) urge members to think of the union as a vending machine, (3) consider the treasury, and thus mis-leaders own jobs and pensions, to be more important than the interest of the rank and file members–the union becomes a bank.
*When labor tops cry, “Save Collective Bargaining,” they really mean, “Save My Job and Pension!” The last 40 years of labor history show they are willing to concede everything the members have (wages, hours, working conditions, pensions) to management, often under the guise of “Save Our American Industry,” but what they really want is to preserve their money. “Save Collective Bargaining!” becomes, “Save Our Automatic Check-off and We will give you Labor Peace!”
*The vast majority of unions are corrupt and hierarchical at the core, usually mimicking the structure of the employers. So, those seeking to reform those unions are not learning lessons to transcend capitalism, but rather they learn every opportunist and corrupt maneuver that has kept US “unionism” afloat when it should have been put to death years ago.
* When one gets close to “reforming” a US union, one will face serious violence. That will come from not only the union bosses, but their allies in the courts, the cops, joint union/Boss firings, intelligence, and the mob–one or all. Those unprepared for that should, at the least, be forewarned.
*The unions accept without question the multiple divisions of labor that, in part, lay at the base of the capitalist system. The unions divide people far more than unite people. And each union’s structure mimics the structure of the management of their workplace.
*The divisions between elements of “Labor” are easy to see. Look at any airport–five or six unions representing people with different jobs, skills, etc. The American Federation of Labor was founded to preserve divisions–skilled craft workers from everyone else; usually meaning white men vs everyone else. The Congress of Industrial Organizations, founded mainly by the Communist Party USA (sic–the wellspring of the greatest betrayals of American radicalism), pits one industry against another: steelworkers vs autoworkers, etc. While the CIO did indeed lead heroic cross-industry struggles that won significant reforms, concessions, in the thirties, by the early 50′s the CIO evaporated into an appendage of the empire, turned into something many of its founders set out to oppose.
*Further evidence of the divisive nature of “unions” is the incessant raiding that takes place. The Service Employees International Union grew to super-size by raiding other unions and independent organizations–and they are still at it. SEIU can rightly claim to be victimized by raids as well. The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers spent a decade and millions of dollars raiding each other: the “Teacher Wars.”
*Unions routinely scab on each others’ strikes as harshly demonstrated by the California grocery strike of the not-too-distant past.
*The old labor saw, “I paid my dues,” conceals the marriage of unions and capital and the boundaries the wedding created. For example, in a teachers’ union, students are not about to be invited to meetings as active participants and voters. They didn’t pay their dues. But they are the most valuable allies teachers, especially professors, have–and the people most likely to see the necessity of militant direct action.
*The “Labor Movement” is full of police, prison guards, and others dedicated to the promulgation of the violence that is the stick behind capital’s carrots (vanishing fast).
*The empire’s war industry is nearly fully unionized: Boeing, shipyards like NASCO, etc., indicating the nature of imperialist unionism: war means work. More war means more work.
*Other labor unions are so mobbed up that it is impossible to distinguish the labor leaders from the gangsters–an indicator of the relationship of those who do crime, and the cops who often help them organize it. In this case, the relationship has a third party, the members, who are thrice robbed: by the cops, by the gangsters, and by fetish that is their union, but is not a union.
*Fake unions like those that exist in the National Football League, or Major League Baseball, win a lot of support when they claim to be part of the working class–while making millions a year, living in gated communities, negotiating individual contracts, and polluting a popular culture where adults dress up in team uniforms and slug it out, occasionally killing one another.
*Construction unions collude with developers and politicians to fleece the public: building unneeded sports stadiums and convention centers. This deepens the divides in the working class, creates a population of superfluous very well paid workers eager to get into the pockets of the rest of the working class. More importantly, the practice underlines the unity of unionites, bosses, and pols in the corporate state.
*The last thing the Labor Movement and its aristocrats wants is a mass of class conscious workers who are willing to fight in solidarity to control their work places and communities. That would mean the Labor Bosses would have nothing to sell to the Big Bosses (labor peace/no strike clauses for check-off). Instead the ability to control the work place becomes confused with ability to control the union, which is often a contradiction. There is no way to overcome this structural and psychological poisoning of the well.
*The prime maneuver union tops use to distract, divert, and finally demolish any hint of class consciousness is to herd people into electoral work, the fake “democratic,” process where people are offered the chance to choose who will oppress them best while asking the question, “What about me?” (capital’s favorite question) to the executive committee and armed weapon of the rich that is the government. This scam reinforces the dangerous false, nationalist, belief that we are all in this together in a democratic society, when every message from reality says we are not.
*The Labor Movement is not about to teach people Grand Strategy (overcome capital), strategy (how to study concrete conditions about how capital works in specific places and make broad plans to fit the Grand Strategy) and tactics (direct action on the job: sit down strikes, mutinies, etc) not only because the Labor Movement bitterly opposes that, but also because there is nearly no one left in Labor who even knows how to fake it.
*The “Labor Movement” is not a movement and it is not where most people who work are. In fact, the overwhelming majority of people who are likely to be early change agents are not in unions: soldiers, immigrants, and students. To lure them into some bogus kind of US unionism, or nearly any other “unorganized” person, is to just add a layer of enemies for them. Why do that?
*The argument that people “must learn by baby steps,” rises out of a bizarre idea that people need to be lied to from the outset so they can learn not to be lied to later. Just as far too many radicals are unwilling to use terms like “capitalism and exploitation,” “imperialist war,” and “corporate state fascism,” so are they unwilling to unmask the realities of the US’ bogus unions.
*Yes, some people are in unions and those who are serious about transforming capitalism need to be in those unions, attacking the leadership, the corruption, the hierarchies, the betrayals, the theft of treasuries, nationalism, etc. But they need one toe in and nine out.
*There are, nearly, no progressive lessons to be learned from the Labor Movement, except when the rank and file fights the union — with the goal of overturning it entirely. The IWW notion that, “The working class and the employing class have nothing in common,” applies to workers and their union leaders as well.
*Repeated efforts to reform “Labor” have either been silly like Aronowitz and others’ “Scholars, Artists and Writers for Social Justice,” etc, or simply failed, if pretty heroically: Labor Notes.
*Today’s imitation “unions,” their leaders backed by the majority of their members, made a mockery of the history of labor in the 19th and early 20th centuries. They have spit in the faces of their grandparents who fought and often died for a vision of unionism that recognized the fact of labor/management opposition. They have wittingly made concessions that gave back nearly everything the fighters of the past won. They scab on their own children’s future when they cut newer workers’ wages in half, setting up two tiers where only the cheaper will prevail–again and again.
The emergence of fascism will not mirror its predecessor movements in precise ways. However, if as that process deepens, the US union offices would be where people would be instructed to pick up their brown-shirts.
It is well past time to get beyond the genteel idea that AFL-CIO top, Richard Trumka, the picture of narcissism, is going to be “moved left,” or voted out of office, just as it is well beyond the time to grasp what capitalist democracy is: capital trumping whatever democracy may be at every turn today.
I am sincerely sorry UAW members have not yet assaulted Solidarity (sic) House, thrown the vile leaders of the UAW in the Detroit River, grabbed membership lists, needed machinery, and whatever of the treasury they can, and either fled or held the building as long as possible while reinforcements have a chance to arrive to fend off the UAW’s goon/staff a la their action at the Detroit Mack Avenue plant in 1973.
I am sorry workers have not stormed podiums, grabbed mikes, thrown off the labor hacks, and made speeches to their co-workers about what a real workers’ organization would look like (see Paris Commune for starters).
I am sorry there have not been more wildcats like the Detroit Teachers Wildcat Strike:
Harsh, harsh measures to those union hacks who seek to foist concessions on the rank and file when 40 years of labor history show that concessions do not save jobs. Like feeding blood to sharks, concessions only make employers want more. Harsh measures.
I look forward to all of that happening, and more, and I think it will.
The core issue of our times is the rise of color-coded inequality and the real promise of perpetual war met by the potential of mass class-conscious resistance for the clarion call that has driven social movements for centuries: Equality!
This is not a utopian scheme that aims at a far distant tomorrow and refuses to address the necessity to win some kind of reforms today, or to even defend what is minimally left to poor and working people today. It is, instead, to insist that unionism as it is cannot win even short term reforms and, moreover, to split the needs of today from the requisite need to transcend capitalism is to lose both.
Or, perhaps more abstractly, to abandon both the theory and practice of revolution is to deny science (evolutionary leaps), philosophy (dialectics into materialism), history (revolution on revolution) and passion itself–a cornerstone of any movement for change.
At issue is connecting reason to power.
So far, the entire national agenda, including the education agenda, is a war agenda.
Dr Rich Gibson is a co-cofounder of the Rouge Forum (http://www.rougeforum.org/), an organization of school workers, students, and community people whose only line is: Class is important. He is an emeritus professor of history education at San Diego State University. Rgibson@pipeline.com . With perhaps ten others, he is primarily responsible for organizing what is now the largest local in the UAW, local 6000, not auto-workers but Michigan state employees. For his efforts, he was repeatedly fired and jailed attempting to build a union that recognized that workers and bosses have opposing interests. He also served on the staff of several unions including AFSCME and the NEA.
by RICH GIBSON
: October 2, 2013 in Uncategorized
0This is the text of one of the speeches I gave at the SYRIZA Youth Festival in Greece over the weekend.
I come to you tonight from the belly of the beast, from the heart of capitalism and crisis. In the US, we experience the crisis in some ways differently than you do in Greece, but the consequences for the working class are still devastating.
Just to give you a very brief picture of the last few years, we have had millions of people lose their homes, leaving up to a third of some cities completely depopulated. This includes Detroit, the old industrial powerhouse that was once the heart of working class power. Detroit now exists under the dictatorship of an unelected financial manager. He decides which workers will be paid, who will receive pensions, and which union contracts he will honor.
In Chicago, where I live, our dictator is nominally elected, but despite a mass movement to save public education, he closed fifty of the city’s 300 schools this year, cut the remaining schools’ budgets by more than $200 million, and laid off more than 3,000 teachers.
In states across the country, due to slashed budgets and the ideological warfare of the right, the right of women to abortion does not exist in any meaningful way. It took weeks of protests and demonstrations just to have a group of high school athletes held accountable for gang-raping a classmate and posting the video online.
Programs like Stop and Frisk criminalize Black and Brown youth. More than one million African Americans are in the claws of the New Jim Crow prison system, and last year, the police extra-judicially murdered a Black person every 36 hours. A racist vigilante was acquitted by an all-white jurt after murdering 17-year-old Travyon Martin while a Black woman was sentenced under the same law for 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot at her abusive husband but injuring no one.
Youth in America graduate college with an average $30,000 in debt which most of us will never be able to afford to repay. Unemployment is high–not as high as in Greece, but still devastating. For the general population, it’s about 15%. For youth, it’s closer to 25%. For Black and Brown youth, the numbers are as high as 60%.
For this reason, many people were surprised when we, the fast food and retail workers, went on strike for the first time in April this year. Some media characterized it as the fight of people who have nothing to lose, but in reality, we had everything to lose. Living on minimum wage in the US (which is $7.25/hour before taxes are taken out), is nearly impossible. Living without any income is much harder. States are cutting unemployment benefits and imposing work requirements to receive food aid and other welfare benefits.
So why, with so much to lose, are increasing numbers of low-wage workers–who, according to conventional wisdom, are unorganizable–walking off the job?
First, we must note that while the crisis and the new age of austerity has ushered in a brutal and vicious attack against working people and the youth worldwide, it has also generated a growing resistance. American workers were inspired by the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. I was standing in a line for food benefits one day in early 2011 when the man in front of me turned around and said, “We need some of that Egypt shit up in here.” And then, a week later, we got our first taste of mass struggle in the US as hundreds of thousands of workers took to the streets of Madison, Wisconsin and occupied the state capitol to oppose Governor Scott Walkers’s new law that would ban public sector unions. Nurses, students, teachers, municipal workers, and steel workers marched behind banners that said, “Out with Scott Mubarak.”
Two other mass movements erupted that fall. First was a struggle to save Troy Davis from the death penalty. Not only was Davis innocent, but he was a leader of the new abolitionist movement to oppose the racist and barbaric death penalty. Anger over his execution fused with decades of growing anger over class inequality. This turned into the Occupy movement, which also drew inspiration from the movement of the squares in Greece and Spain.
2011 was of momentous importance, because for most American youth, it was their first lesson in how to fight, and how to organize on a mass basis. But every movement I’ve talked about was eventually repressed, often violently. Public sector unions became illegal in Wisconsin. Troy Davis was executed, and the Occupy movement was the target of a massive and coordinated campaign of state repression. And perhaps most importantly, the working class outrage that had been the lifeblood of most of these movements had not found expression in the workplace, the real locus of our class power.
In 2012, that started to change. The Chicago Teachers Union took a stand against the austerity attack on public education that had been closing and defunding schools, laying off teachers, and corporatizing curriculum across the country. They waged a successful seven day strike with massive community support. The strike was built completely among rank-and-file teachers, who held building-by-building organizing meetings, went door knocking in neighborhoods, and organized displays of unity between teachers, students, and parents by packing buses with school contingents to take over hearing meetings.
On the first day of the strike, after holding 300 picket lines around the city, the teachers and their supporters, numbering about 50,000, flooded downtown Chicago, shutting down the city. Massive support for the teachers stemmed from two main things. First, they were drawing a line in the sand against austerity. Second, people understood the teachers weren’t just fighting in their own interest, but they were fighting for everyone in Chicago and for education justice. To give an idea of how the city was transformed: the first four days of the strike in September were the first four days in Chicago where there had not been a shooting all year.
Support for the teachers extended beyond the picket lines and downtown rallies into other workplaces too. For low-wage workers, who at this point were almost completely unorganized, we did little things. We put up “We Support the Teachers Union” signs in our shop windows, wore red (the color of the teachers union) to work, donated our limited money to the strike fund, made tamales to bring to teachers on the picket lines.
But what we did not only supported the teachers’ strike, it also helped ourselves to get organized. It gave concrete lessons in how to build solidarity and the crucial role it plays in a victory. The experience of the teachers’ strike inspired others to walk out: teachers in nearby school districts, symphony musicians, cab drivers, hotel workers, domestic workers, graduate students, and soon enough, fast food workers. Fighting back took concrete form because now we had a playbook to follow. It combined our class’s most powerful weapon, the strike, with new ideas about how to make the strikes more effective and part of social movements.
Over the summer, our union has waged three one day strikes in addition to holding other demonstrations. Each time, the number of workers and stores participating has about doubled, and we have won very concrete gains in our stores. No one has been fired for striking.
There are a few important things to understand. First, in the US, there are very few unions, and almost none in the places where young people work. Many of my co-workers didn’t even really understand what a strike was. Only 6% of US workers have a union. We are in the position of having to start over, to build from scratch.
It is not easy to go on strike. Unions have been hesitant to call them, since the leadership is committed to the false belief that sitting at the table with management can make gains for workers. The bosses try to fire anyone who organizes a union. Sometimes they will even close a shop rather than allow it to go union. In the middle, youth have little to no experience of trade unionism, and so for those of us on the left who understand the central importance of the working class to changing society, and who know that a union is the most basic level of working class organization, we find ourselves in a very difficult position. We must train our co-workers in organizing and fighting the bosses’ attacks while at the same time confronting the old style of bureaucratic unionism that we know is a recipe for failure. It is a tall order, but it is one we must meet if we have any hope of changing the tide of austerity.
And we have other hurdles we must overcome. Perhaps the biggest is racism. In the US, racism has a long, brutal, and powerful legacy that is present everywhere you go. Our cities are segregated, so in Chicago, most African Americans live on the South Side, Latinos on the West Side, and white mostly in the North. Until the 1960s, segregation was enforced through law. Now, it is the marker of continued inequality and discrimination.
To give you a picture of the inequality: more than 90% of the students affected by Chicago school closings are Black. Since taking office, Obama has deported more than one million immigrants. In the place of schools, cities are building prisons, often run by for-profit contractors. The city of Philadelphia closed 23 schools this year, citing a budget deficit, but then announced they would be building a prison that cost more than the size of the deficit. Youth of color are being diverted from schools directly into the prisons, and in the US being convicted of a crime can strip you of voting rights, welfare rights, and legitimate housing discrimination against you. So right now, among the youth there is a very strong feeling that something must be done, because the future we are being presented with is untenable.
Racism has long divided American workers too, so we have to confront it now on a political and organizational basis. For our union, this means going to demonstrations to demand justice for Trayvon Martin. It means having bilingual meetings so English and Spanish speakers organize together and see each other as brother and sister.
And as we have started to struggle together, we have started to lose our fear. There comes a time in all of our lives when we decide that we will not allow our boss to walk over us, mistreat us. A time when we decide that our work deserves dignity and fair pay. The courage that decision generates is contagious.
Let me give you an example. In my workplace, a few of us started wearing pins to support the union. Since we’re only allowed to wear pins issued by the company, we took some of the pins we had, painted over them, and wrote “We support the union” on them. The first day only a few of us wore them and our boss told us we couldn’t wear them. But we said we were following the rules, since they were work-issued buttons, and we wouldn’t take them off. We won the stand-off, and soon almost everyone was wearing the buttons.
That was a small thing we did together, but the implications were large. They gave people the courage to do more. Every time we stood up to our boss and didn’t get fired, people got a little bit bolder. Unity and solidarity are not just ideas or slogans. They are our organizational and political basis. We are fighting for a living wage, paid sick days, and a recognized union. But along the way, we win things that embolden people. Those little things matter a lot. Now we are allowed to drink water and coffee while we work. I was able to have my absence excused so I could come here to Greece, when before, people have been fired for leaving work early after being electrocuted on the job or going into childbirth. But now I said, “I need to go to Greece to a workers’ conference,” and they told me I could go. They told me in writing they wouldn’t fire me or retaliate against me so I can enforce it.
My co-workers and comrades wanted me to come here to speak but also to learn. Because they look at you here in Greece and they see people who know how to fight. They see one of the most organized working classes in the world. They are inspired by you, and they are in solidarity with you.
So I want to finish today by talking about what young people of the left can do to help us organize ourselves in the workplaces.
First, organize to solve small problems but always have in your head that you are building people’s confidence to take on bigger problems. Problems in the workplace, but also political problems.
Second, make your workplace political. Confront racism, sexism, anti-immigrant ideas, homophobia every time they arise. This will teach your co-workers to see the workplace not just as a place where we earn money, but a place where the working class does politics.
Third, democracy is our power, and we need to build democratic unions. We as workers have the power to totally transform society, and the everyday practice of unionism–not only in the delegates’ meetings but on the shop floor–is how we prepare ourselves, how we transform and educate ourselves. In this way, we must see the dual nature of trade unionism. It is a way to fight for the reforms we need now, the ones that will allow us to live and to organize, but it also a way to build the basis for revolutionary struggle, and a different kind of society where workers’ power extends from the workplace to the whole of society.
This is the GOP crook who clings to a gerrymandered house seat like a big fat tick. There NEEDS to be a serious effort on the part of the Democraps to get this asshole OUT. from “Dail Kos”:
Rep. Mike Rogers was given a free ticket to another term in the House of Representatives, where he can continue with stupid like this, because of some very shifty sleight-of-hand tactics in Michigan’s 8th district. (Details here)
MIKE ROGERS: When you think about any of the operations of a soldier in the field that’s released could lead to their death, that is an act of treason. And an act of treason is a capital offense and it should be,
You have to stop this culture of disclosure. It’s dangerous. It gets people killed.
CENK UYGUR: So would you have supported execution of Daniel Ellsberg for leaking the Pentagon Papers?
ROGERS: Well, I don’t know all the circumstances around it. If it was information that certainly put soldiers at risk in the field and he was convicted of treason, absolutely.
I have my own opinions about WikiLeaks’ responsibility with regard to releasing names. But I don’t have an argument with them releasing documents, nor do I believe it is an act of treason, nor do I believe anyone should be executed as a result, including Afghans working with the US government.
But this man, Mike Rogers, was just granted another term without any effort. Lance Enderle did not receive enough votes to get onto the November ballot as the Democratic candidate, leaving the ghost rider, Kande Ngalamulume as the non-resident Democrat running for office in that Congressional District.
I don’t usually make it a point to slam Democrats, but this begs for it. There is no excuse for the DCCC to have ignored this race and allowed such nonsense to prevail. For all the money they spent sending me little birthday cards to sign for the President along with my $50 donation, they could have actually spent the time to vet this candidate and look for a contender.
Instead, they just ignored it completely. They ignored the fact that a lunatic who thinks executing people for leaking documents is a good thing will now be the de facto winner in November. How hard would it have been in that state to find one candidate — ONE — who could have actually gotten something done?
The DCCC misses the point of its sheer existence when it allows nonsense like this and likewise, the DSCC in case of the monumental hairball in South Carolina with Alvin Greene.
For starters, it appears arrogant and entitled. It appears as though Democrats don’t really care all that much about districts where they can’t get high profile bang for their buck.
But mostly, it’s undemocratic. That’s all. It’s undemocratic to allow stupid to take the place of democracy.
Lance Enderle received 9% of the vote as a write-in candidate. That’s not so bad, given that write-ins almost never get even 1%. We made a difference, but not enough of one, given the time and money constraints. And so, Mike Rogers will now represent a district that has just about an even split of conservatives and liberals in it.
LWC has been wandering loose since we lost our space in the Northstar Center in 2012. As of April 2013, we have a new space! It needs a LOT of work, but we’ve finished the hardest parts (plumbing and electrical). We still need to make roof repairs, install a new ceiling, turn a second bathroom into a kitchen area, etc etc etc…but we will get it done! We will have a grand re-opening in late May. But as of the first Tuesday of May, ( May 7), our regular Tuesday meetings will be at the new location. 7pm (call 342-6435 for info).