HERE 2850 spurns democracy

Nathan Newman newman at
Mon Nov 20 08:34:53 MST 1995

(This was my reply to the RTL after they posted their attack on 2850 to
the e-mail list of the union locals-- Nathan Newman).

NOTE: I don't speak for HERE 2850 or the Solidarity Committee, but I have
been a member of the Solidarity COmmittee from the beginning of the
campaign and am confident my views generally reflect most of the rest of
that body.

The RTL seems to be upset that they spit on the union leadership at 2850
and then are upset that they weren't invited back into meetings so they
can then report and highlight divisions on strategy publicly.  They have
every right to say what they want; they don't have the right to demand
inside information and attendance at strategy meetings when they use that
information to blast the organizing.  It's childish and stupid on their

You may not like the strategy adopted by HERE 2850 of scaring off
business and destroying the hotel's customer base and using the media to
highlight losses in business to further scare off other businesses, but
when you deliberately undermine that strategy by claiming business hasn't
fallen off significantly (in which you are wrong anyways), don't expect
to be invited back to try to further undermine the credibility of the
union.  It's also just irritating and people don't want you around when
you are so negative.  That's life.  I'm sure you won't invite me to your
next meeting, either.

As to the substance of your statement in favor of mass picketing, it'ss
laughable.  If HERE 2850 could pull off mass pickets, they probably would
love to.  But they are a small local that is devoting every dime of
available resources to defending these 100 workers at Lafayette Park, a
town a ways into the suburbs with no strong union movement in that or
surrounding towns.  It's takes every dime of resources to keep a picket
line out there every Friday and, to be blunt, the union's resources would
not survive a labor injunction from the courts and the union could not
count on the mass public response ion Lafayette to protect them.

This has nothing to do with the relunctance of HERE 2850 to defy the law;
more people have probably been arrested with HERE 2850 in the Bay Area
than with most other unions.  I've gotten arrested with them many times
in various direct actions at hotels and restaurants and owner's
businesses.  It just hasn't been strategic in this campaign.

No one likes that reality, but to compare the situation in Lafayette--
where the main rank-and-file organizers have been fired and the rest of
the workers terrorized without protection of a union contract at this
point-- to a strike in Detroit, one of the highest densityies of union
members in the country with long established unions, is absurd.  There
are no "masses" available for "mass picketing" in Lafayette.  If you can
produce them, that's great, but the union doesn't have them.  They wish
they did, but in their absence they have managed to drive out a range of
large corporate users of the Lafayette Park, from Kaiser Permanente to
Sybase.  The company is hurting badly and a new organizing campaign has
started at another hotel in the chain, the Monterey Park.

This week, twenty six cities will have delegations to American Express
leafletting on that companies problems and pressuring them to pull
bookings out of the Lafayette Park.

The campaign keeps escalating with available resources (and it's worth
mentioning that HERE 2850 had to negotiate many of their contracts this
year as well and just organized a new restaurant, which was threatening
workers over their immigration status in recent weeks.)

It is the Revolutionary Trotskyist League's detachment from reality that
led to their being kicked off the Solidarity Committee.  If people can't
recognize the reality of limited human and financial resources, they
aren't much help in strategy meetings.  That's also a reality.

So much for the HERE stuff.

I don't speak for the Committees of Correspondence either (since it is a
broad socialist organization without a unitary "line") but let me add
that a number of CoC members write for LABORNOTES which you quote so
extensively.  In fact, I wmyself wrote the article on the Lafayette Park
struggle that appeared in LABORNOTES a few months ago.  Like most CoCers,
I believe that direct action, militancy and mass strikes are key tools
for reviving the union movement.  We just don't think writing about it is
a complete substitute for doing the slow, painful work of educating and
agitating for the mass of workers to adopt that stance.   HERE 2850 is
working extremely hard to galvanize its own union members to come out to
picket lines .  It's slow process and they have been working on it for a few
years, ever since the local was freed from the contrrol of an old-line
business, mobbed up leadership that eventually was indicted.  It takes a
while to recover from that.

On the other hand, CoC members are pretty tough on union democracy
issues.  You cite SEIU 790's clamp down on whistleblowers as an example of
"intolerant union leadership", which most CoC members would agree with.
In fact, one of the N. Cal CoC Labor Task Force leaders, Phyllis Willett,
was the finance director of 790 and one of the whistleblowers.  She lost
her job over that challenge to 790's top leadership.  CoC just last week
help a forum of rank-and-file 790 stewards and activists to talk about
the future of SEIU 790.  That is the best way to build rank-and-file
militancy, not just handing out leaflets at demonstrations.

As to "attacks" I may have done on the RTL and the Revolutionary Workers
League (funny how it's red-baiting or anti-Trotskyism when I do it, but
democratic criticism when you folks lambast other people), I have no
problem with people's political viewpoints or Trotskyism; in fact, I am
all for a federation between Solidarity, one of the largest groups in the
Trotskyist tradition, with the Committees of Correspondence.

What I and others object to is the BEHAVIOR of certain groups that don't
work well in coalition and attack their coalition partners at the drop of
the hat.  It's not a great way of building trust among activists.

Now, the RTL seems like a nice, small slightly obnoxious sect that does a
lot of leafletting.  That is different character from the Revolutionary
Workers League whose activists physically assaulted young freshman
activists at UC campus, physically rushed the stage, pushed speakers
aside, and grabbed the microphone.  They also tried extremely hard at the
5000-person Oct. 12th march to shout down speakers, rush the stage again,
and disrupt the rally and march.  Many involved in the affirmative action
campaign think they are either an insane cult or working for the
government--that's not my belief but the belief of hundreds of activists
at UC.

If you want to compare yourself to the Revolutionary Workers League,
that's your business, but I wouldn't advertise that if I were you.

THe bottom line is that if you spent more time working in coalitions to
educate people one-on-one in a constructive way to your viewpoint, rather
than just leafletting attacks on every ally who makes a different
tactical judgement, people might have some respect for your organization.

Instead, we see "left" organizations spending most of their time
leafletting crowds or selling newspapers rather than doing the hard work
of organizing.  The working class will follow the hard workers over the
leafletters any day.

--Nathan Newman, Lafayette Solidarity Committee
	Committees of Correspondence

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 15 Nov 1995 14:34:44 -0800 (PST)
From: Revolutionary Trotskyist League <rtlorg at>
To: Recipients of conference <hotel at>
Subject: HERE 2850 spurns democracy

HERE Local 2850 Bureaucracy Explains 'Solidarity'... Workers'
Voice Expelled from Lafayette Park Solidarity Committee

Reprinted from _Workers' Voice_ Vol. 2, No. 3 (November/December
1995). For more information, e-mail rtlorg at or call
(510) 464-3084.

	Since the spring of this year, Local 2850 of the Hotel
	Employees and Restaurant Employees union (HERE 2850) has
	been waging a hard-fought battle to unionize the workforce
	at the Lafayette Park Hotel in the affluent suburb of
	Lafayette near San Francisco, California. HERE 2850 took
	up the campaign after workers at the hotel contacted the
	union to ask it to help them raise wages and fight unsafe
	and unfair working conditions.

Immigrant Workers Fight Back

	Many workers at the hotel, especially in the lower paid
	positions, are immigrants, mostly Latinos. These
	vulnerable workers showed admirable courage in taking the
	initiative to fight back against their exploitation and
	oppression by the hotel management. They did so at great
	personal risk, too; the three main supporters of the
	organizing drive were fired from their jobs soon after the
	union campaign began.  HERE 2850 also deserves to be
	praised for supporting the workers and devoting a lot of
	staff time and money to helping them fight for a union. Of
	course, there is something in all of this for HERE 2850
	also. Unionizing the Lafayette Park and its several Bay
	Area sister hotels would add to the union's strength,
	particularly if it sparked a broader organizing trend at
	other non-union suburban hotels. Still, by putting a great
	deal of energy and effort into building community support
	for a campaign to organize a heavily immigrant workforce,
	the union is fighting back against the bosses' recent
	efforts to pit workers against each other by encouraging
	anti-immigrant sentiment. This sets an example which other
	unions should follow.

The Ugly Side of the Story

	Unfortunately, there is another, less positive side to
	this story. HERE 2850's willingness to involve the
	community in supporting the Lafayette Park workers seems
	to extend only to those members of the community who are
	willing to follow the union's leadership blindly and
	uncritically.  Workers' Voice backed the union's efforts
	for several months over the summer of 1995 by joining in
	regular Friday evening pickets and other activities. We
	also went to two meetings of the solidarity committee
	supporting the organizing drive, which has representatives
	from various community, student, and left organizations.
	Our efforts were welcomed and encouraged. The union
	contacted Workers' Voice members by mail and phone many
	times to invite us to pickets and other events in support
	of the Lafayette Park workers.

Was It Something We Said?

	As part of our support for the organizing drive, a group
	from Workers' Voice went to a major mobilization called by
	HERE 2850 on Saturday September 9, 1995. This event
	consisted of a march through downtown Lafayette and past
	the hotel. At that event, we distributed a flyer which,
	while supporting the workers and the organizing drive,
	criticized the union for relying almost entirely on
	boycotting and informational picketing, which we said had
	not been hurting the hotel badly enough.  Our flyer also
	reproached the union for saying that if the hotel was able
	to get an anti-picketing injunction (which turned out not
	to be the case), the workers and their supporters should
	obey it. We added that "we think the way to win the fight
	for a union at the Lafayette Park Hotel is to take a
	lesson from militant struggles like the newspaper strike
	that is going on right now in Detroit. The workers at the
	Detroit newspapers have not listened to those who told
	them to keep their struggle within polite, legalistic
	limits. They have mustered the forces to *shut the paper
	down!*" We urged supporters of the Lafayette Park Hotel
	workers to enlist the help of other unions, as well as
	unorganized workers, in order to generate the kind of mass
	picketing that could shut the hotel down.

Workers' Voice Gets the Boot

	On October 5, 1995, at the next meeting of the solidarity
	committee after the march, a Workers' Voice representative
	was taken aside by Stephanie Ruby, the union organizer who
	leads the Lafayette Park campaign. Ruby informed our
	member that Workers' Voice was "not invited" to the
	meeting; that HERE 2850 no longer wished to work with us;
	and that we were being removed from the union's mailing
	list.  After some discussion, Ruby agreed to permit our
	member to attend the meeting as an observer only. She made
	it clear, however, that the union still refused to
	sanction Workers' Voice's continued support for and
	involvement in the solidarity committee and the organizing
	drive generally.  At the October 5 meeting, Ruby promised
	to speak or meet with Workers' Voice within the next week
	or so to explain the union's decision. By the time this
	issue of _Workers' Voice_ went to press (early November),
	neither she nor anyone else from the union had returned
	our telephone calls asking her to meet with us as she
	promised. The union has never explained to us why we were
	suddenly thrown off the solidarity committee on October 5,
	although we had been welcomed until then.

Will the Real Villain Please Stand Up?

	In fact, the reason for the union's decision is not hard
	to guess. About a week after the September 9 march, we
	posted our flyer from the march on LaborNet, an online
	service devoted to labor issues. The next day, a response
	to our flyer was posted by Nathan Newman of UC Berkeley,
	who belongs to the Committees of Correspondence, an
	offshoot of the US Communist Party. The response was
	signed "Nathan Newman, Lafayette Park Solidarity
	Committee." We are not sure how Newman got the authority
	to write on behalf of the solidarity committee, since that
	body did not meet between the issuance of our leaflet and
	the posting of his message on LaborNet. However, whether
	or not his views reflect those of the other members of the
	solidarity committee, we can only assume that they are
	shared by Ruby and her colleagues in the HERE 2850
	bureaucracy.  Newman's reply blasted our leaflet as "just
	one more example of how the tiny sects on the far left
	continue to embarrass sane, socialist-minded activists."
	He said that major corporations had pulled their business
	from the hotel due to the union's boycott campaign. He
	also repeated the claims about lost business which the
	hotel had used in court when it tried to get the
	injunction. Based on this, Newman concluded that the
	union's organizing drive "is a successful campaign by any
	measure, especially considering the human resources
	available and the remoteness of the hotel site from any
	other significant unions."

How Do *You* Spell "Success"?

	"By *any* measure?" How about the measure of how much
	closer the Lafayette Park Hotel workers are to having the
	right to a union than they were before the campaign
	started? The union may have had some success in persuading
	a few of the hotel's customers to take their business
	elsewhere. But there is no evidence yet that the hotel's
	tough anti-union position has weakened one bit as a
	result.  Where would things stand at this point in the
	campaign if massive picketing had been brought to bear on
	the hotel on a regular basis, forcing it to choose between
	recognizing the workers' right to a union or being shut
	down altogether? Why is this such a threatening question
	that for Workers' Voice even to ask it resulted in our
	immediate expulsion from the solidarity committee?

Look Who Agrees With Us!

	As for our views being typical of a "tiny sect on the far
	left," we must point out that our opinions about the
	relative worth of mass picketing versus boycotts as a
	strategy were echoed very closely in a recent article in
	_Labor Notes_ entitled "What Can We Do About Injunctions?"
	Hardly the product of a "far left sect," _Labor Notes_
	represents the more progressive wing of the mainstream
	organized labor movement. We do not always agree with
	_Labor Notes_. If anything, _Labor Notes_ is too
	uncritical of the "left" wing of the union bureaucracy.
	But even _Labor Notes_ appears to believe that calling for
	mass picketing instead of boycotts is a legitimate
	position to take.  The article in question, which appeared
	in the October 1995 issue of _Labor Notes_, was written by
	a reporter and union steward at one of the Detroit
	newspapers which are now on strike. It asserts, very much
	in line with the thrust of our leaflet, that "To make . .
	. boycotts the centerpiece of a strike strategy is
	suicide. Boycotts don't win strikes. The fundamental job
	of the unions is to halt production and delivery. If they
	don't do that, they can organize boycotts until hell
	freezes over and they will still be jobless. . . .
	[F]ocusing on boycotts rather than mass action to shut
	down the company is a recipe for defeat." The article goes
	on to support the use of mass pickets, regardless of
	injunctions and other legal threats. It praises the 1934
	Minneapolis Teamsters strike -- *just as our leaflet did*
	-- as an example of a victory won through mass action in
	defiance of the law. It concludes "Immoral laws are meant
	to be broken. Indeed, if the newspaper unions are to win
	in Detroit, there is no other choice." Of course, what is
	happening now at the Lafayette Park Hotel is an organizing
	campaign, not a strike like the struggle in Detroit which
	prompted the article in _Labor Notes_. But making the same
	political point about strategy in a different context --
	where we believe it applies with just as much validity --
	hardly justifies labelling us as a "far left sect" with
	"embarrassing" views, much less expelling us from the
	solidarity committee.

The CoC and the Working Class

	The bottom line, as always, is the class line. Relying on
	a boycott of one business by other business means counting
	on the good will of the bosses to help the workers win
	their struggle. Relying on mass picketing, on the other
	hand, means putting one's faith in the organized force of
	the working class. This is not only more reliable, but
	also builds solidarity among workers, which is an
	important goal in and of itself.  Newman's preference for
	boycotts over mass pickets, on the other hand, shows a
	failure to maintain a consistent orientation toward
	working class political independence. This reflects the
	overall politics of the Committees of Correspondence,
	including its willingness to support "progressive"
	Democratic Party candidates.

Business As Usual

	Unfortunately, the action of HERE 2850 in expelling
	Workers' Voice from the Lafayette Park solidarity
	committee is typical of the arrogant attitude which all
	too often characterizes today's union "leaders." The
	firing of whistleblowing union staffers who exposed
	questionable expense account practices by the president of
	SEIU Local 790 is another recent example.  Unions are a
	powerful and often necessary fighting tool for workers in
	their struggle against exploitation and oppression by the
	bosses. But this kind of intolerant, undemocratic attitude
	by union bureaucrats only alienates rank-and-file workers
	and hurts the struggle in the long run.  In order to
	revitalize the US labor movement, we need more than just a
	contested presidential election in the AFL-CIO. We need a
	radical restructuring of the internal workings of the
	unions to put them firmly under the democratic control of
	the rank-and-file members whose interests they are
	supposed to serve.

A Postscript

	While we are on the subject of Newman's views, we must
	correct one other misstatement in his LaborNet post. He
	argued that "Members of WORKERS VOICE [sic] have done
	almost nothing to help build the pickets and marches, yet
	they presume to argue they could do it better? When folks
	like WORKERS VOICE [sic] get involved in the day-to-day
	struggle of organizing, they will do more to promote their
	views." These comments are unjustified.  Elsewhere in his
	LaborNet post, Newman urges us to "consider the human
	resources available" in judging the success of HERE 2850's
	organizing drive. Fair enough; we have not faulted HERE
	2850 for devoting inadequate resources to the campaign,
	only for adopting the wrong strategy. Evidently, however,
	Newman is not willing to consider the availability of
	other organizations' "human resources" in evaluating the
	contribution they have made to the organizing effort at
	the Lafayette Park Hotel.  Workers' Voice is a small
	organization, but several times over the summer we sent a
	large fraction of our membership to the Friday night
	pickets and other events. If Newman's organization, the
	Committees of Correspondence, had sent an equivalent
	*percentage* of *its* Bay Area membership, the picket
	lines would have doubled or tripled in size.  Where were
	your comrades on Friday nights last summer, Nathan? For
	that matter, where were they in the fall of 1994? We spent
	a great deal of our time back then at Youth Carrier
	Coalition and solidarity committee meetings and on the
	picket lines for the newspaper strike, and we do not
	recall seeing the Committees of Correspondence there --
	certainly not in numbers proportionate to ours, relative
	to the "human resources available." Newman's response to
	our flyer appears to be part of a larger personal campaign
	against others in the Trotskyist movement. For the past
	few months he has been filling the Internet with attacks
	on the Revolutionary Workers League, charging them with
	attacking an affirmative action rally at UC Berkeley. Most
	recently he has attempted to lend credibility to the lies
	of the trade union bureaucracy in the Detroit newspaper
	strike.  The bureaucrats have used the Detroit media --
	including the scab _Detroit News_ and _Free Press_ -- to
	spread the rumor that the RWL and its front groups are
	infiltrated by Vance Security and the cops. While the RWL
	conducts itself in an intensely sectarian way around
	actions like the affirmative action rally and the
	newspaper strike, and while Workers' Voice does not
	condone acts of gangsterism, Newman's writings on the
	assault are dubious, and on the newspaper strike are
	outright lies.  We hope Newman will get both his facts and
	his socialist principles straight next time, so he will
	not make a fool of himself publicly again on the
	information superhighway.

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