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Negotiating Our Lives Away

by Richard Mellor Saturday, Oct. 03, 2009 at 2:12 PM

At some point we have to step to the plate and put our foot down. It's not going to stop on its own.

Richard Mellor

AFSCME Local 444, retired


I see SEIU the leadership of SEIU Local 1021, fresh from a tough set of negotiations ensuring the San Francisco City workers it represents take some cuts has negotiated further cuts for the 4300 workers it represents in Alameda County, according to the Oakland Tribune. * Remember that SEIU leaders and the head of the San Francisco Labor Council accused the SF city workers that originally rejected a concessionary contract of being “confused.” The County workers have forfeited their 3% raise that they were due in December and the contract is extended to 2012. How inspiring is that? Fran Jefferson who is the Field Director for the Local tells the Tribune: "We understand these are tough times. Our members stepped up and did the right thing for our community, protecting vital services for our neighbors and protecting each others' jobs."

What does this do for the unemployed and the children of workers who want good jobs in the future pray tell?

The Union officialdom love to turn a defeat in to a victory. Actually, it is not a defeat because no fight was waged.

The entire trade Union leadership at the highest levels always use the excuse of these “tough times” to explain away their refusal to organize a fight back. But during the nineties, when profits were at a forty-year high, they still never went on the offensive. Most of the gains in wages were among lower paid workers and they were market driven.

“The new pact was deemed necessary as the county struggles to deal with the harsh economic environment.” Says the Oakland Tribune. The county has already eliminated almost 300 positions.

Keith Carson, the county supervisor and political representative of the bankers and other folks who caused this mess, was also ecstatic. “It’s “really unprecedented” he says. “You have to applaud everybody in this process.”

How rotten the Democrats are. This other big business party that the Union officials hitch our wagon to needs to be seen for what it is by working people. We can and must build an alterative independent worker’s political party rooted in the communities in which we live and work.

Will Keith Carson and the Labor leaders who negotiate these savage cuts be telling landlords to cut rents 5%? Will Safeway be cutting prices to do their bit to help the community? What about the banks and all the moneylenders? Will they drop the mortgage rate?

What hope do the Unions offer the unemployed and low waged when the leadership of these organizations hand over decades of hard won gains without a whimper? And where’s all the rhetoric about “Where’s our bailout” gone.

Writing in the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs Magazine, Roger Altman, the moneylender, former Lehman Brothers guy and deputy treasury secretary in the Clinton administration reminds his class of what has just occurred. The US treasury, the FDIC, and the Federal Reserve has provided, “an astonishing trillion of support to the financial system.” He adds that this hand out includes “guarantees of commercial paper, money market fund investments specific groups of bank assets and the like.” **

U.S households lost 20% of their net worth in 18 months he adds. This may well be the greatest transfer of wealth from working people to the minority that own the financial houses, auto factories and the like in history, and there are more bail outs to come. The FDIC is grossly under funded.

A staggering consequence of this crisis is that globally, an estimated 400,000 children a year will die “on account of this crisis” Altman writes.

The leaders of Local 1021 are not alone in this collaboration with the employers on the part of the Labor hierarchy. The entire trade Union leadership accepts that cuts have to made, accept the market and profit as sacrosanct and have no alternative but capitulation. Chaos would reign if they were to mobilize the potential power of their members. One or two victories would open a Pandora’s box as working class communities, low waged and unorganized workers followed suit ands were drawn to the developing movement to resist. Hell, the Labor officials might lose their jobs. Out of such a development the demand for a political break with the Democrats would naturally arise.

The employers are confident with the present Union leadership on their team. But the rank and file of the entire Labor movement must recognize it has to act. We must return to the traditions and methods of the thirties that built the Unions and transformed working class life. The direct action, occupations, mass picketing and challenging of laws that attack working people must return. Injunctions must be violated en masse. The civil rights movement used the same tactics. Wearing pink at work to protest layoffs, writing to congress; they do not fear this because it doesn’t work. Instead of their forced furloughs, the public sector Unions as well as private should give them a one day furlough of our own, a 24 hour strike. If they don’t back down we escalate it.

The UC students are organizing a conference for October 24th to develop a plan of action to defend public education. All workers should join in this campaign and bring our ideas and strength to it.

We can make gains, the money is there and the potential power is there. We can drive back these attacks form the big business politicians in Sacramento and from there to Washington and beyond.

If we accept in our minds like the Labor leaders do that the money is not there we will travel the same path they do--concessions. The money is there; the power is there. We have to organize and go after it.


** Foreign Affairs, July/Aug 2009

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