Disclaimer - The following article is reposted here because it is an issue with some relevance to the IWW. The views of the author and the publisher do not necessarily agree with those of the IWW and vice versa.
It is ironic that on the same week that the AFL-CIO was breaking up and both wings of the split were arguing about the need to organize new workers, the Hearst owned San Francisco Chronicle, represented by both the CWA-Newspaper Guild Media Workers and IBT 853 Teamster drivers, had taken or were taking major concessions.
These union officials were telling their members they needed to give up union classifications, take cuts in vacations and wages and even agree to cross the picket lines of other unions, even unions at The Chronicle, if they were to
In the same week as well, James Hoffa Jr., president of the IBT at the Change To Win grouping was telling the press, "Striking workers, no matter what union they belong to, can always count on the Teamsters for support and assistance. We will never waiver as defenders of America¹s working families. Let me be clear, our coalition will not allow corporate America to pit one union against another to the detriment of our members or their families."
The present epidemic of "concession bargaining" from the airlines to the auto industry however, was not even an issue - either at the AFL-CIO convention or at the press conferences of "Change To Win". Instead, the focus was on organizing the unorganized. The split also took place during the same week that 15 labor-supported Democrats from around the country voted with Bush to pass the CAFTA agreement. Some of these same AFL-CIO leaders, like IAFF firefighters General President Harold Schaitberger, had only weeks before raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for these very politicians, only to be kicked in the face. Yet despite the brazen contempt for the trade unions on this issue of CAFTA, both the AFL-CIO and the Change To Win coalition refused to say they would not only not support these pro-CAFTA politicians but that they would run independent labor candidates against them. Finally, right in Chicago where this convention was taking place, a two-year strike continues at the Congress Hotel by the Unite-HERE union hotel workers. If anything shows the political inability of the labor movement to mobilize its members and shut down these union busters, the continuing Congress Hotel strike shows the reality. Despite having hundreds of thousands of union members in Chicago, the AFL-CIO, including both wings fighting for control, have been unable to break the back of this union buster in their own backyard.
Lack of Democracy?
It was also a strange twist in the break-up of the AFL-CIO, that both factions now charge that the other is "undemocratic". The "Change To Win" faction led by the SEIU, Teamsters, UFCW, UBC, Unite-HERE, UFWA, LIUNA and the AFL-CIO leadership now primarily led by AFSCME and the CWA both charge that the other did not want a democratic debate about what ails the US labor movement. These accusations are strange indeed coming from unions with the exception of the IBT that do not even allow their rank and file to elect their international presidents. No international union within the AFL-CIO has ever proposed or even suggested that the president and top officers of the AFL-CIO should themselves be directly elected by the rank and file of those international unions - yet they now complain about the lack of democracy.
In fact, at the last SEIU convention, President Andy Stern had personally prevented a resolution from SEIU Local 509 for the direct election of the president from even coming to the convention floor. John Wilhelm and other leaders of "Change to Win" declared that the debate was over in the AFL-CIO and that it would have been pointless to be on the floor of the convention. When asked if the rank and file of his and other unions were aware of the debate, he claimed that the Unite-HERE members had an extensive discussion about the issues and his membership supported the Unite-HERE leadership in leaving the AFL-CIO. http://www.laborexpress.org/AudioFiles/WilhelmLoFi.mp3
The corporate transformation of US unions is systemic. In nearly all US unions, business agents and other full time officials are appointed and the rank and file membership pays for a centralized operation in which rank and file power is limited and suppressed. Only ILWU Local 10 in San Francisco has a two year limit in office with yearly elections for its officers. This would be a revolution within both wings of the AFL-CIO and would help break up the bureaucratic monopoly that presently exists in most union locals and internationals.
The real face of the "democratic" AFL-CIO was exposed however in the efforts of long time 91-year-old labor journalist Harry Kelber (http://www.laboreducator.org) to run for the AFL-CIO executive board. Under the constitution of the AFL-CIO, a rank and file member from the AFL-CIO can run for office but he must be nominated from a delegate at the floor. Harry was able to get some labor council officers to nominate him, but he received a letter from national CWA Secretary Treasurer Barbara Esterling that they did not have him as a registered member. Prepared as usual, Harry had a letter from his local stating that he was paid up through December 2005 and he had cancelled checks to show for it.
When this reporter at the press conference questioned Trumka, he said that the CWA had told him that Kelber was not eligible because the CWA did not have him as a member. They later relented and allowed Kelber to speak at the end of the convention for 3 minutes if he withdrew his nomination for the executive board. The whole point by Trumka Company was to prevent any real debate or even statements by the executive board candidates about where they stood - and Harry was the gumming up the works. http://www.laborradio.org/files/HarryKelber072805.mp3
At a previous Executive Council meeting at the Drake Hotel in Chicago, Sweeney and Trumka had forced Kelber to move to another hotel and charged he was a "security risk". The fear by these "leaders" of Harry Kelber shows everything you need to know about what workers in this country are dealing with. It is also telling that when John Sweeney came to the presidency he rattled off threats that he would block the bridges of the cities if that's what it took to organize; yet in this divisive split in the AFL-CIO no such threats against capitalist America are even being issued. As labor leader and UBC millwright Mike Griffin has said, the only blockade that Sweeney would lead of a bridge would be if his limousine broke down on a bridge.
Behind the rhetoric, accusations and counter-accusations by the AFL-CIO and the "Change to Win" faction is the fact that neither grouping has been able to articulate a serious strategy or plan to deal with the near complete deregulation of the economy supported by the Democrats, the growing privatization drive and the increasing ability of international capital to outsource not only most industrial jobs but high tech and professional jobs like X-Ray techs, architects and the growing list of service industry jobs.
One of the glaring examples is the issue of national healthcare. Neither grouping has clearly called for single payer national healthcare that would eliminate the insurance companies and the control by the drug companies of the US healthcare system. Instead they propose piecemeal changes to a bankrupt medical system through pressure on the corporate-controlled Congress. Hundreds of thousands of workers are now having to forego wage increases in order to pay for continuing healthcare coverage yet no plan was presented or discussed to unite the entire working class for national healthcare.
Causes of the Split
One of the most immediate and significant causes of the split is the failure of the AFL-CIO's plan to place Democrats in the White House and Congress in the elections and then to get them to vote against CAFTA and other anti-labor policies. After spending more than $200 million on Kerry and the Democrats they have nothing to show for it. Andy Stern even hinted early on, that a defeat of Kerry and the Democrats in the 2004 elections might be a good thing for labor in shaking up the AFL-CIO bureaucracy. He had probably already decided that it was time to get out of the AFL-CIO and Kerry's loss would help push more unions towards his position. It was left to Jessie Jackson to tell the remaining delegates at the AFL-CIO convention that they cannot let the Democratic Leadership Council control the Democratic Party.
The failure of any union within either the AFL-CIO or the Change to Win grouping to raise the need for a democratic political party of labor again shows that underneath the veneer this is still business unionism and the pro-capitalist politics of Gomperism. The policies of deregulation, privatization and free trade have been implemented not only by Republicans but union supported Democrats. The SEIU has also argued that the failure to get more Democrats elected means that more money should go into organizing to build support for the unionization of Wal-Mart and other major non union operations.
Yet the SEIU has played no significant role in supporting any organizing drive outside of public workers. When workers in the San Francisco Bay Area picketed the non-union construction of a Wal-Mart in Oakland, no SEIU staff or stewards were on the line. If the SEIU, UNITE-HERE, UFCW mobilize their members nationally to organize together and use their power to target national union busters this will be a first. At the same time this was possible to do within the AFL-CIO - to blame the AFL-CIO for the failure to do so does not hold water.
The split of the AFL-CIO also now means that plans for "industrial type" organizing will only involve those unions within one or another faction and not any united plan. This sectarian approach makes a united organizing campaign of the entire working class increasingly unlikely. Even with open union busting now being the order of the day in the U.S.A., there was very little talk of taking on the union busters and government head on to stop it. At a conference of the Labor Action Coalition (http://www.laboraction.org) the Sunday before the convention, part of the discussion centered around the lessons of the 1934 general strike in Minneapolis and the general strike in San Francisco. One of the lessons of those struggles is that in order to be successful the working class had to shut down the cities in mass working class action that challenged not only corporate power but also the power of the state.
Not one union or representative from either grouping even hinted that this was the kind of action that was required in order to go on the offensive. While Stern talked about the importance of this historic split he refused to point out that the massive union organizing drives of the 1930¹s and the split between John L. Lewis and AFL president Green was not over simply whether there should be industrial organizing but whether this organizing would directly challenge capitalist rule for union recognition. When Stern was questioned at Monday¹s press conference about whether the AFL-CIO was prepared to move to the mass mobilizations that took place in the 1930's he was quick to quash any such notion. "It is a global and not a local economy, and we¹re not so unwise as to fail to recognize that this is not the 1930's anymore."
In Los Angeles after winning unionization of janitors through mass marches and mobilizations, Sweeney and his supporters crushed a rank and file opposition that wanted to continue the fight on the job. Their business union strategy meant that the fight against the bosses should not continue on the shop floor once the workers had won a contract. Sweeney put the local in trusteeship and helped destroy a rank and file opposition called the Multi-Racial Alliance that had been a leading force in organizing the local in the first place and had won all positions on the Executive Board.
The idea of Stern and many who support him is that the way the organized labor movement will survive is through PR gimmicks. In a Jan 30, 2005 article by Matt Balin in the NY Times, the writer talks about the "feel" of the SEIU:
"In some respects, the S.E.I.U. now feels very much like a Fortune 500 Company. In the lobby of its headquarters, a flat-screen TV plays an endless video of smiling members along with inspirational quotes from Stern, as if he were Jack Welch or Bill Gates. The union sold more than $1 million worth of purple merchandise through its gift catalog last year, including watches, sports bras, temporary tattoos and its very own line of jeans. (The catalog itself features poetry from members and their children paying tribute to the union, along with recipes like Andy Stern's Chocolate Cake with Peanut-Butter Frosting.
Among his (Stern's) friends and allies he counts at least two billionaires: the financier George Soros and the philanthropist Eli Broad, who is talking with Stern about ideas to reform Los Angeles schools. Stern was one of the founding members of America Coming Together, the largest private get-out-the-vote effort ever assembled. His top political aide, Anna Burger, who is the S.E.I.U.'s secretary treasurer, recently took a seat on the board of the Democracy Alliance, a network of wealthy liberal donors. How Stern wields this influence -- and his union's money --can have a real impact on the direction of the
Stern, like his predecessor Sweeney when he was president of the SEIU,has based his vision on "labor-management collaboration" deals. The union has worked with corporations like Kaiser to stop workers' power on the job and he has merged local after local into statewide organizations in which centralized bureaucrats run the union top down like the corporations they mimic. In California, they have worked with nursing home bosses to stop homecare patients from suing over bad care and they have signed contracts with Kaiser call-center workers to provide financial bonuses if they turn patients away from doctors.
One of the reasons that these AFL-CIO bureaucrats are so infuriated by this new formation, besides the competition, is that their programs are very similar. In fact, the AFL-CIO formally accepted many of the proposals of the "Change To Win" grouping. What was put forward by both groupings, was new organizational schemes that organizing could be done using business unionist structures and the present reliance by both camps on labor-management collaboration. IBT president Hoffa again and again mentioned that he wanted his $10 million back from the AFL-CIO but there was no specific plan about what to do with this additional money. He and Stern promised that $5 million of it would go into the organization of a new federation, which might include the Carpenters and NEA. This new federation would also represent a significant threat to the AFL-CIO if it included the UFCW and UNITE-HERE. No plans however, were laid out by either side for serious political education of the rank and file about the nature of the capitalist economy, the history of labor and a labor media strategy to challenge the anti-labor corporate media.
Neither the Sweeney nor the Stern grouping had any idea or plans to develop a labor media strategy. When a reporter from a capitalist newspaper asked Richard Trumka at a press conference how the unions planned to get their message out, Trumka declared that that would be up to the reporters at the meeting. When John Wilhelm of the Unite-HERE union was asked about plans for a labor media strategy, he said "We haven't formulated such a strategy" but that the best voices should be the rank and file. The question is how to get those voices out when the media is controlled by the same union busters and the robber barons that run America. Even the Wall Street Journal noted this failure of a new vision on 7/28/05 when they wrote "What John Sweeney and Andrew Stern have put forth for the new vision of the labor movement is the difference between Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi, but the labor movement is tired of soft drinks." says a healthcare worker."
Another battle brewing in both camps is the anger by workers of color, particularly Black workers who have seen increasing racist attacks on the job and in the community but who note the failure of the trade unions to openly fight these attacks. Throughout the country, racist discrimination still takes place at many union operations such as UPS and DHL and in the hotel industry, yet the unions have refused to go on the offensive against these attacks. Even the issue of "hanging nooses" being put up at construction sites, hospitals and shops was a non-issue at the AFL-CIO.
Positive Effects of Breakup
The split has however already had some positive effects. The AFL-CIO, while spending millions on Democratic Party hacks, has refused to provide serious funds to the labor councils throughout the country or to truly independent labor media and labor cultural work. Local council delegates demand to know how the Internationals that run the AFL-CIO would prevent possible bankruptcies and collapse of these central and state labor bodies. The Sweeney leadership proposed to push the Internationals to pay for all their members to join local and state councils and pay per capita for all their members but this would still leave a large gap in states like California and in large cities like Chicago where the SEIU have hundreds of thousands of members. They are now planning to order the removal of all SEIU and IBT officials from central labor councils and state feds around the country. How this will "help" them in their new "organizing" drives is highly debatable. Some labor council delegates at the convention sought to begin the construction of an independent network not run by the top officials of the AFL-CIO.
Exclusion of Non-AFL-CIO Unions In Labor Councils and State Federations
In the UK, the history of the Trades Councils was an independent formation that later led to the formation of the Trades Union Congress. The TUC in the last five years has sought to shut down the independence of the Trades Councils. In the US most regional union activity is organized and supported by the trades councils and if they refused to remove the unions that have left the AFL-CIO from their councils it would be a test of the ability of the top AFL CIO bureaucrats to keep control. At present, some Carpenters locals and even some NEA and UTU locals have been able to continue to be members of the Madison, Wisconsin labor council but the Sweeney leadership with the support of AFSCME and the CWA now say that they will remove all non-AFL-CIO affiliates.