Today’s Wall Street Journal had a short piece about the growing militancy of Chinese workers. There have been increased strikes and other disruptions as workers seek more pay, better conditions, and more control over their lives. There have been a number of well publicised suicides at one factory which, coupled with the increase in strikes and a tight Labor market, has forced employers to make some minor concessions, particularly on wages but also with regard to Labor law and worker’s rights.
The employers are trying to head off further worker militancy especially when it is expressed through independent organization as opposed to the official state sponsored Unions. The heads of organized Labor in the US are very quick to criticize the Chinese for their lack of independent Unions but when it comes down to it, although US Unions aren’t “state sponsored”, the trade Union officialdom might as well be.
Today’s San Francisco Chronicle reports on the situation with the Muni drivers, who operate the public transit system. These workers rejected a concessionary contract and are facing pressure from so-called Labor friendly politicians to re-consider their vote. San Francisco mayor, Gavin Newsom has urged the workers to take another vote and accept the concession or “face real consequences”.
Last year, San Francisco city workers, represented by SEIU Local 1021 also rejected a concessionary contract. These stands by rank and file workers are the first step on the road to confronting the capitalist offensive, to rejecting the idea that we have to pay for their crisis. But in both these instances the top leadership of the Labor movement joins forces with the employers and their political representatives to pressure the workers to take the concessions.
Last year when Local 1021 members rejected concessions, SEIU officials accused them of being “confused” and eventually wore them down, forcing a concessionary contract down their throats. They had help from Tim Paulson, head of the San Francisco Labor Council, “Ultimately, the rank and file will make the right decision to save as many services as we can during these difficult times.” he assured the employers back then. According to today’s Chronicle, the national leadership of the Transport Workers Union and the right wing bureaucracy in the San Francisco Labor Council are joining with the employers and their political representatives to get the Muni drivers to give up their hard won gains. This is a formidable combination.
There is no pretense anymore; this is one positive aspect of the heightened class struggle. The Labor officialdom do not even pretend to be defending worker’s living standards, they are forced defend the employers more openly. The response of the leaders of the San Francisco Labor movement to Mayor Newsom’s threat of “real consequences” should be some threats of our own. It is their support for capitalism that is at the root of this betrayal. It is their worship of the market and lack of an alternative. Their obscene salaries and perks are an issue, but secondary to their ideological bankruptcy. Tim Paulson of the SF Labor Council for example is on the executive board of the California Democratic Party as elected chair of the Labor Caucus. Contrast the comments of US Labor officials in times like these urging workers to make sacrifices to the striking workers at the Honda factory in China, "We call all workers to maintain a high degree of unity and not allow the capitalist to divide us.”, one of their announcements reads.
Were there a serious fighting left wing in the Labor movement sparks would have been flying in bodies like the Central Labor Councils long ago. Open campaigns would be waged within Union bodies and on the job against the cuts and the leadership’s support of them. This would galvanize workers and show them that a real fighting alternative exists.
A combination of the employers and Labor officials is a formidable barrier but the ranks are stronger and more numerous and it is to them, over the heads of the right wing leadership, oppositionists must turn. There has to be an open campaign against the collaborationist policies of the leadership within the official structures but also outside them in the workplaces and wherever workers and Union members gather. Unfortunately, too many left activists in the Unions are dependent on the right wing bureaucracy for their positions. They have not built a strong base within their locals, among the rank and file from which to fight and struggle against the collaborationist policies of the right wing bureaucracy.
There has been some talk on the Internet about assisting the Muni workers in their struggle against the employers and their allies in the leadership of our organizations. This is something we should take up. There are thousands of activists in the Bay Area that consider themselves leftists or anti-capitalists of one type or another, or just militant workers. This could be a significant force that, by linking with the communities in which we live and work can help an increasingly angry rank and file wage this war on two fronts, a war that can transform the Unions and drive back the capitalist offensive.