AFSCME Local 444, retired
Richard Trumka, secretary treasurer of the AFL-CIO under John Sweeney, is looking to become president of the Labor federation later this month when Sweeney retires. Trumka, the former miner’s leader, along with Sweeney and Linda Chavez-Thompson of AFSCME were elected to the leadership of the federation in 1995, swept to power in the first and only contested election for the presidency of the Federation that century.
With the moribund, Lane Kirkland out of the way, the trio promised change claiming organized Labor could not continue to fight, "...only defensive battles." Nor would they "... wait for change in the political climate to provide us with the opportunities to grow. We must first organize despite the law if we are ever to organize with the law." (1) Trumka talked pretty tough back then warning the employers that “While we are always willing to negotiate as equals, the era of union busting, contract trashing and strike breaking is at an end. Today, we say that when you pick a fight with any of us, you pick a fight with all of us! And that when you push us, we will push back.
The newly elected John Sweeney, former president of SEIU, talked of blocking bridges prior to his election but went from blocking them to building them soon after the victory was assured. The bridges he went on to build were not links between the leadership of organized Labor and its membership but between the Labor leadership and the employers.
The employers weren’t fooled by more hot air from Labor officials no more than Labor’s rank and file were. The talk from Trumka almost 15 years and numerous defeats later is much of the same. He announced to the world in time for Labor Day that the AFL-CIO would launch a “push for causes that more directly affect young people.” “We have lost touch with a whole generation,” he adds. (2)
Among the causes the AFL-CIO will push for are, affordable college education, protection for telecommuters and portable health care according to the WSJ. The list is not very inspiring. The reason for this is that any demands the Labor leaders make cannot offend their friends in the Democratic Party which amounts to ensuring the employer’s interests are not threatened in any serious way. Offending their members is OK. And, as is always the case, the economy is being blamed for their inaction. Trumka has shown the employers he is a reasonable man, if the employers have a "legitimate problem, unions will respond", he has told the bosses in the past, and he is responding. He announced to an audience in Washington DC last week that the Union official’s beloved Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) “may or may not be.” a “key issue” when it comes to Labor-law reform. (3) Organized Labor spent some $400 million getting Obama and other so-called “Labor friendly” Democrats elected. SEIU alone spent more than $50 million; “We spent a fortune to elect Barack Obama — $60.7 million to be exact — and we’re proud of it.” Boasts Andy Stern. (4) EFCA was their main issue. It was their key to getting more members in to the Union without doing anything. Now it is not a “key issue.” It would not be a key issue were the heads of organized Labor prepared to mobilize the power of their membership against the employers rather than relying on their friends in the Democratic Party. But this is not what Trumka is talking about.
How quickly the Labor leaders retreat; how empty their threats have become. Like the capitalist class, any hindrance to profit taking is a “legitimate problem” as far as they are concerned and their refusal to challenge this world-view is the basis for their collaboration with our enemies.
They don’t even pretend to defend worker’s living standards. They are on the boards of the new US auto industry after collaborating with the employers as they drove the once mighty UAW in to the ground, and now Denis Hughes, the president of the New York State Federation of Labor has been selected chairman of the New York Federal Reserve Board, a position he has been holding temporarily since May; he will replace a former Goldman Sachs executive, the fusion of finance capital and the heads of organized Labor is complete.
The strengthening of the ties between the employers and the Labor leaders is taking place while attacks on workers increase as the capitalist class use the present economic crisis to go on the offensive with even greater intensity than before. Unemployment is officially 9.7% but closer to 20% when the underemployed and those who have given up looking for work are included. Teenage unemployment hovers around 25%, much higher for minorities in some areas. The economic crisis is exacting a heavy toll on workers as millions lose their homes and their health benefits. Public services are being slashed and public sector workers are seeing their living standards savaged.
The number of workplace suicides reported in 2008 rose by 28 percent over the previous year, according to the US Labor Department. I was talking to a friend in the building trades who said that the tension on his job is intense as layoffs increase and people have no idea whether they are working from one day to the next.
The Wall Street Journal reported on the struggle going on between communities as the economic terrorism of the employers plays itself out. Union workers at Mercury Marine in Fond Du Lac Wisconsin recently rejected a contract with “deep concessions” including a three-year wage freeze and increased health care costs. Mercury Marine’s bosses are threatening to move the jobs to its plant in Stillwater Oklahoma if the workers don’t re-consider and accept the concessions. Stillwater is a similar sized town 800 miles away and both communities are desperately trying to coax Mercury Marine to keep jobs in its community. “Mercury Marine, a unit of Lake Forest, Ill.-based Brunswick Corp., has been offered undisclosed financial incentive packages by both Oklahoma and Wisconsin to try to sway the company one way or the other.” the Journal adds. (5) These “incentives” generally include tax breaks, training of workers, free or cheap land, and sometimes guarantees from the community to purchase the product for public projects.
This corporation is blackmailing these two communities in order to wring further concessions from workers as employees and workers as residents of the community. Workers and their communities turn on each other as the elected representatives, many of them Democrats, entice these bastards to stay. The fragmentation and competitive wars that take place are overwhelmingly due to the criminal role of the Labor leaders offering no alternative but capitulation. This scenario was played out between Ypsilanti Michigan and Arlington Texas some time ago with each community offering GM tax breaks and other incentives in the hope that the other community would be the victim and the GM plant in their town would not be the one to close. Ypsilanti lost out but they eventually closed Arlington anyway.
It's not just Chinese workers that attract capital. The bosses will always find the cheapest labor to exploit and turn worker against worker in their rapacious quest for profit.
According to the AFL-CIO, Nearly 60 million U.S. workers say they would join a union if they could. The obstacle to workers joining Unions is the outright terrorism of the employers. The capitalist class is the greatest purveyor of terrorism on the planet. Workers built Unions despite violent opposition from the bosses, their political representatives and their police and hired thugs. We built Unions by relying on our own strength and challenging the employers and their laws.
Because of the role played by the heads of organized Labor, their capitulation to the market and indeed collaboration with the employers, workers in Wisconsin and Oklahoma are competing with each other, are at each other’s throats in order to win the favors of a corporation so they can put food on their tables. Because of the role played by the Sweeney’s, Trumkas, Sterns and others, the workers at Mercury in Wisconsin are mobilizing to reverse a vote against concessions in order to savage their own livelihoods.
Seeing no other option, as one worker put it, "When we saw the contract for the first time, everyone you talked to said it was garbage," Mr. Rodriguez said. "But at least with this, you have a job." And so many officials blame the members for being unwilling to fight, but you have to see there is something to fight for.
In his opening address to the 20th bi-ennial convention of the California State Labor Federation in 1994 which I attended, then Executive Secretary, Jack Henning said:
"The two party system can't give relief because capitalism in large finances both parties. In one way or another. we may say it finances the Republican Party more. But have you ever known Democrats en masse to turn down the enticements of capitalism?”
"There should originate, in the leadership of the AFL-CIO, a call to the unions for the only answer that is noble: global unionism is the answer to global capitalism.
Jack Henning was a better talker than he was a doer and never used his potentially powerful position to ensure such a development got off the ground. Even in the most favorable economic conditions, the Labor leadership refuses to go on the offensive. The present economic crisis has undermined the idea that the market has the answer to all things. So tainted is the term capitalism that the US chamber of commerce cannot use it in its upcoming campaign aimed at championing free enterprise and the benefits of the market and the private sector over the public, but we can be sure the heads of the AFL-CIO and the CTW will find more “legitimate problems” to justify their betrayals.
The delayed response to the war being waged against US workers is due primarily to the role played by the trade Union leadership; workers do not see a way out, no social force they can turn to, no ready-made movement. Under these conditions it is only natural that all sort of confusion and infighting occurs, that every-man-for-himself attitudes are prevalent. But this will not continue forever, and the beginnings of a new movement will begin to find its feet in the period ahead. The anger in US society will not be contained forever.
(1) A New Voice For American Workers: A Summary of Proposals From The Unions supporting John Sweeney, Richard Trumka and Linda Chavez Thompson June 28, 1995,
(2) WSJ 9-1-09
(3) Trumka Implies He can live Without Card Check WSJ 9-2-09
(4) Las Vegas Sun, 9-4-09
(5) WSJ 9-4-09 Two Cities in Fight Over Factory Jobs