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Yet another blatant betrayal by heads of organized Labor in San Francisco

by Richard Mellor Thursday, May. 21, 2009 at 10:11 AM

SEIU 1021 members voted down a concessionary contract because they were "confused". The higher up the Union ladder you go the more contemptuous of workers you become.

Another example of what is a national and indeed global crisis of leadership

All last week there was a major campaign in the California media to get voters to vote to raise our own taxes and other legislative gimmicks to help lessen the attacks on our living standards in response to the economic crisis. If we didn’t vote to cut our own throats further, there would be catastrophic consequences; further cuts, more job losses, etc.

Workers weren’t fooled and voted against these big business measures except the one that places certain restrictions on legislators pay.

Also last week, members of SEIU local 1021, the Union that represents some 11,000 city workers in San Francisco, voted to reject a contract that contained million in concessions in order to help the city during these hard economic times.

How dare they! SF Mayor, Gavin Newsom was very, very angry. He threatened to lay off 1000 workers.

There were two or three long articles about the crisis and the Union’s rejection of the concessions in the Chronicle last week but I don’t recall one quote from Union officials in response. The bosses left the Union leaders an out, as Supervisor David Chui tells the media that, “It’s not too late for Labor leaders to work out a deal.” “And make a deal they will.”, I wrote to a friend. But it’s worse than that.

Quite naturally, there have been no threats of a response that would worry the employers. No hint of a city-wide strike; no demands for more funding for education, more teachers and smaller class sizes. No calls for increasing social services, or for more jobs---for a bailout of people instead of bankers There is no explanation of why this economic crisis has occurred and that the culprits are forcing the costs of it on to the backs of workers and the middle class.

The membership of 1021 that voted against the concessions has not been held up as champions of Labor by the leadership of SEIU or the San Francisco Central Labor Council. The city’s top Labor officials have not called on the entire Labor movement to mobilize and join with 1021 to develop a program and strategy that can build a movement to repel the vicious and unprecedented attacks on working people by big business and their millionaire politicians, both Democrat and Republican. The left wing of the bureaucracy that in private meetings calls for bailing out of people not banks is not mentioning such things in the mass consumption media at times like these; they don’t want to get their members worked up, after all, concessions are the only possibility.

The response to the rejection of a concessionary contract by the San Francisco Labor leadership at the highest levels is criminal. The Chronicle reports today that the leaders of SEIU “Plan to take another package of concessions to their members for a vote next week.”. They will play their usual role and wear them down. The leadership’s explanation for the no vote? Their members may have been “confused” when they rejected the concessions last week. They wouldn’t say this on the record but stated this privately, says the Chronicle.

This is disgusting but reveals the contempt and disdain the Union leadership has for working people, for the average Union members that fork over the dues that pay for their, often obscene, salaries.

This response has given the bosses further confidence and they are showing no mercy---weakness invites aggression---as they say.

The head of the San Francisco Labor Council, Tim Paulson finally breaks silence and ensures the bosses that all is well. Letting them know that another vote will take place before the layoff deadline and he is “hopeful that if it’s approved, the mayor will rescind the layoffs.” Workers as usual are given the option by our leadership of layoffs and no concessions on wages etc, or no layoffs and concessions on wages and benefits. Do you want a 20% wage cut or no job?

There is not the hint of a fight coming from the lips of the head of the AFL-CIO Central Labor body, a Union body representing more than 100,000 workers. This damage control strategy has brought catastrophic results to workers over the years. Time Paulson was a speaker at a forum recently, a “teach in” with the title, “Bail out Working People—Not the banks.” This is standard procedure for the top Labor officials (the left wing of the bureaucracy especially) who actually have the potential to organize something significant but instead repress resistance as Paulson is doing with the 1021 vote. The head of the Alameda Central Labor Council spoke also, as did Sal Roselli and other officials from the SF Labor Council. These arenas are “safe”. When it comes to their own members, though, capitulation is the preferred strategy.

“Ultimately, the rank and file will make the right decision to save as many services as we can during these difficult times.” Paulson adds. If you accept that we can never go forward then this is the best bet I suppose. But we shouldn’t accept that.

The members of 1021 made the right decision---they rejected the idea that workers should pay for a crisis not of our own making. We see that they’ve just handed some trillion to their banker friends and other big capitalists.

Labor leaders like Paulson are not confused I should add, and I am not of the opinion that they are simply corrupt, as so many members think as a way of explaining away their disgraceful collaboration with the boss and failure to defend worker’s living standards and rights. The major problem is that they have the same world-view as the employers, they worship the market and the right of the boss to make profit is sacrosanct to them, they have no alternative to capitalism. Mobilizing the tremendous power of their members and workers in general is a terrifying prospect for them; it can only led to chaos. Having this view leads to corruption and betrayal as the natural tendency of workers to resist attacks on our material well being is suppressed---in this small example, workers are so stupid we are “confused”. We should know better and hand over more of our means of subsistence to the billionaires despite seeing trillions be thrown around like monopoly money and a governor of the state who is worth some million telling us we need to “live within our means.”

The San Francisco Labor Council actually has delegates and even executive board members who call themselves socialists. What will their response be in that body to this disgusting public betrayal of the rank and file, by the Council’s director? We’ll see, but the tradition of the left has been to not challenge the right wing bureaucracy for fear of losing their positions—they have entered the leadership of these bodies using the wrong method. They are brought in from above rather than participating in the building of rank and file oppositions based on a fight to win program and direct action strategies and using these as a base to win leadership. They are equally responsible for the betrayal by their refusal to confront the right wing bureaucracy. Barring a movement from below, one cannot get in to positions in the higher Union bodies without making it clear that you are safe, that you will in no way challenge the policies of the leadership and campaign among the troops to change them; no amount of left posturing can alter this fact.

Any opposition in the Unions or any community activists that are serious about resisting the offensive of capital will end up betraying workers if they accept that there is no money in society and if they limit themselves and their expectations to what the employers, the democrats, and the Labor leaders say is realistic or possible. In other words; if they confine their activities and demands within the framework of capitalism.

Capitalism is in crisis---its worst ever financial crisis and worst recession since the thirties. This is a great opportunity for us to end its misery. They have forfeited their right to rule, the Labor leaders have forfeited their right lead. It is up to us to step forward. *

* see:

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