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Mon Apr 29, 2013, 02:38 PM

On Labor…and it’s Crisis


Posted on April 29, 2013
The role of the Union is to represent the interests of it’s members.” (West Coat activist with the SEIU)
“The Role of the union…is to represent the interest of the Working Class.” (South African Union leader)
Page ix of 304 of Solidarity Divided


This contrast is telling of the role of the Union and how labor sees itself in the US. In other places of the world labor sees itself as part of a movement to gain worker rights, not part of the middle class. This is not about a middle class lifestyle, but getting a safe work place, and decent pay, and respect from employers.

Outside the United States (and some of the First Word, such as Canada), this is a struggle between the owners of capital and workers. It is sounds somewhat revolutionary, for Americans it surely does, radical even. But current labor leadership in the US keeps losing not just members, but historic gains. I will say part of it lies in an uncomfortable truth, leaders have forgotten who they work for, and why.

No wonder the unions still growing, (SEIU for example) are doing such for a simple reason…the rank and file members come from countries where militant labor exists, which is not present in the US. But still leaders of these Unions are still trapped in the ideas that have led to the current failure of organized labor…and this is a reality.

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Response to nadinbrzezinski (Original post)

Mon Apr 29, 2013, 03:40 PM

1. I am a union leader and I beg to differ...

...with your comment that "leaders have forgotten who they work for, and why," although I honestly don't know whether my experience is typical or not. AND my union is an SEIU affiliate. But at any rate, the membership IS the union in my union, the California Faculty Association (SEIU 1983). The officers are ALL working faculty members. I do union work AND teach a full load of classes AND conduct my research AND mentor graduate students AND work in campus governance, etc, as do ALL the other CFA officers and activists. We do employ staff members at several offices around California but they have their own union, separate from CFA and with whom we bargain a contract independent of our own contract with the California State University.

So we (the union leaders) are not in any way separate from our membership. We are members, and any member can participate in union leadership if they wish.

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Response to mike_c (Reply #1)

Mon Apr 29, 2013, 03:51 PM

3. Yup, you work for members, not the working class

This is part of the crisis Mike...

We, in labor, have forgotten, to try to accommodate with capital, who we work for.

That is the point of the authors...one I happen to agree with from looking at Labor's failure, and the surrender of the strike as a tool.

FYI, the two authors of solidarity divided have many years in labor.

Here, useful link

http://www.ucpress.edu/book.php?isbn=9780520261563

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Response to nadinbrzezinski (Reply #3)

Mon Apr 29, 2013, 05:06 PM

9. ok, but our first responsibility is to our membership...

...who pay monthly dues, AND we work hard to support broader political and legislative labor issues too. For example, I'm also one of my union's delegates to our central labor council, whose primary issues are broader labor concerns rather than member specific problems. Our political activities and legislative committees and staff work with state legislators on issues of importance to our membership, such as protecting pensions, as well as issues of broader labor concern, such as blocking passage of Prop 32. Our officers, activists, and members turned out in large numbers to protect worker's voices in the Prop 32 fight. I could list more examples, but you get the point.

I do agree that the American labor movement has diverged significantly from the international labor movement (although you might not get that impression listening to a report from my union's Peace and Justice Committee chair). But there are lots of us still fighting for workers' rights, still hoping for an end to unregulated capitalism, and still working for social justice while we simultaneously defend our members' contract rights.

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Response to mike_c (Reply #9)

Mon Apr 29, 2013, 05:22 PM

10. You should read the book

I come from a country with a 100% class identity, and lack of fear of saying it. Labor is militant. American labor has not been militant in generations. It has sat out of class thinking that being a loyal soldier would earn it a permamently seat at the table.

Tell me, where exactly, membership wise, has this approach led to? I'll make it easy, it's in a nosedive.

I will be brutal, the renewal of the labor movement will only come after the current iteration of labor dies, either by concluding the current approach is a losing proposition...or it simply fades away. I suspect it will simply fade away.

The goal of capital is the 100% suppression of all organized labor in the United States. So yes, short term you are serving your members, long term the crisis will continue to deepen as labor plays short term rear guard actions that forget about class...and the needs of class and the surrender of things like the Strike.

I will say it. This is a Union household...but primarily we are a working class household, and the needs of the class is what we are concerned with. In fact, some union members have to fight union leaderships, since those unions are the best union management could ever get...

And don't get me started on the ignorance of history among union members, let alone leadership, or the surrender of things like the five day work week by negotiating units. That book was written a decade ago...things have gotten worst...

I highly recommend you read it, with every officer and rank and file member of the union.

Me, back to research...the history of labor in the US is currently one of defeat after defeat after defeat.

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Response to nadinbrzezinski (Reply #10)

Mon Apr 29, 2013, 05:48 PM

11. I completely agree with you....

I was at a union assembly this past weekend in San Francisco. Someone stood up and declared that "we need more jobs!" I groaned-- we only need more jobs if we accept the paradigm that as workers, we belong at the mercy of employers, to whom we appeal for jobs so we can sell them the hours of our lives at minimum price.

What we REALLY need is greater working class control of the means of production.

But that sort of partnership with capital to create more jobs in a race to the bottom is the refrain we hear in the Central Labor Council all the time from the delegates representing building trade unions, e.g. carpenters and pipe fitters and such. Keeping their members employed is clearly their top priority, and it's also true that their membership tends to be socially and politically rather conservative.

I think I have a copy of Solidarity Divided at home in my books to read queue. Thanks for the recommendation.

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Response to mike_c (Reply #11)

Mon Apr 29, 2013, 06:10 PM

12. I know, I cover labor often and labor issues

The labor trades come in conflict often wirh the rest.

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Response to nadinbrzezinski (Original post)

Mon Apr 29, 2013, 03:51 PM

2. Too many unions are undemocratic in their structure and too many unions want to "partner"

 

with the bosses instead of oppose them and try to institute workplace democracy.
The union leadership bought into the Cold War and expelled or blacklisted left unions and left union members who were anti-capitalist. Find a union that is acting as a partner for management and they will probably be strongly pro-capital.
The AFL-CIO all through the 50s and 60s was pro US imperialism and did not want to sincerely work with foreign unions unless they were State Dept approved.
The Canadian Auto Workers have come out from under the influence of the UAW to the benefit of Canadian workers.
So, in my view, business unionism is responsible for the lack of rank and file militancy and is partly responsible for the demise of USA unionism in general.

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Response to byeya (Reply #2)

Mon Apr 29, 2013, 03:52 PM

4. Exactly

And it is time rank and file take over labor.

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Response to nadinbrzezinski (Reply #4)

Mon Apr 29, 2013, 03:59 PM

5. Couldn't agree with you more - the greater the degree of rank and file input both

 

at the workplace and within the union, the stronger the union will be and the greater the feeling of solidarity.

Unions can become a one-stop center for all sorts of social goals and recreation if there is the opening for participation of all members on an equal footing. Now we all know, different people have different needs and wants at different times in their lives so it's to be expected that leaders will emerge from the rank and file and many members will be happy for them to take the lead in this or that area.

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Response to byeya (Reply #5)

Mon Apr 29, 2013, 04:04 PM

6. My hubby's union is a perfect example

He has had to go around his local leadership to take on issues that affect him. Local leadership is the best union management could have or hope for

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Response to nadinbrzezinski (Reply #6)

Mon Apr 29, 2013, 04:11 PM

7. And, the national leadership has the ability and the gall to take over locals. TheSEIU for one

 

Last edited Mon Apr 29, 2013, 06:39 PM - Edit history (1)

example "trusteed" the CA United healthcare Workers local run by Sal Rossselli in 2009 which was a hugely successful local. But this local didn't follow the class-collaboration line of Andy Stern. The SEIU went so far as to file lawsuits against this progressive local.

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Response to byeya (Reply #7)

Mon Apr 29, 2013, 04:35 PM

8. Because we all need to work for members

Not the working class...

Class identity is a critical step. At times I think the movement overall needs to die for real renewal to happen.

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Response to nadinbrzezinski (Reply #8)

Mon Apr 29, 2013, 06:47 PM

13. I favor internationalism if the workers are as free from government interference as possible.

 

I think a worker who works in a steel mill in Sao Paulo has more in common with a worker in a steel mill in South Korea then with the managers of steel mills in their respective countries.
The outlawing of secondary boycotts, and the workers fearing to break this law, is a huge handicap for class consciousness and making improvements for wage earners. If a firm unilaterally voids a collective bargaining agreement and hires scab labor, I would like to see the Teamsters(say) refuse to handle any of the firm's ourput. Harry Bridges was wonderful at this on the west coast docks. The Longshoremen just wouldn't unload boats from certain locations carrying certain cargo.

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Response to byeya (Reply #13)

Mon Apr 29, 2013, 06:51 PM

14. I favor that as well

It would also stop job flight from "high cost markets" to "low cost markets."

My favorite example are long haul truck drivers. If all are paid the same in North America, there is little incentive for companies to ship to Colima and drive north...

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Response to nadinbrzezinski (Reply #14)

Mon Apr 29, 2013, 06:54 PM

15. Good example!

 

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