A veteran United Airlines mechanic comments on the vote for AMFA

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Mon Aug 11 07:12:28 MDT 2003

The following are some selections from letters sent to me by a
longtime comrade of mine, Richard Lesnik, about the International
Association of Machinists[IAM]-Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal
Association [AMFA] fight to represent the mechanics at United
Airlines, which AMFA recently won.  The first item demonstrates that
even when I admit I'm wrong, I often don't know what I'm talking
about.  The rest takes up more substantive questions.

One point that Richard stresses is the decay of the AFL-CIO unions.
To use a traditional analogy, they don't seem to me to be much less
rotted out than the bureaucratically-ruled Soviet Union before it

Of course  (and I'm sure Richard and I don't have a real disagreement
on this) until workers are in a position to create something stronger,
they have to fight to make their  defensive organizations (such as
they are) act in their interests.  In this sense, there is no way
today around the fight to transform the bourgeois unions we have into
more effective weapons for their members -- and the rest of the
working class. It's in the process of doing that -- and the mechanics'
decision to choose AMFA over the IAM is basically part of that
process -- that we will find out in life whether the coming labor
battles utilize or shatter and replace all or any of the existing
union organizations.

Fighters in the trade unions have carried out this approach not only
in the bureaucratically decayed US trade unions, but even in officiaL
company unions and "employee associations" and even in
police-controlled unions under Czarism or fascist dictatorships.

An early example of the dynamic that Lesnik foresees was the attempt
of meatpackers at the Austin, Minnesota, Hormel plant to form the
North American Meatpackers Union, after the United Food and Commercial
Workers officialdom stabbed their 1985-86 strike in the back. But this
new formation arose out of a strike battle waged by UFCW workers and a
fight to make their existing union apparatus do its duty. The attempt
to create a new meatpackers union failed as the strikers went down to
defeat despite a heroic fight, but I am sure that was not the last
time that working class fighters will support efforts to form new
unions to replace apparatuses that are unable to defend them.

Following are three excerpts from Richard Lesnik's letters.
Fred Feldman

1. Your initial statement, by the way, was correct. AMFA threw out the
IAM at Northwest. The flight attendants recently threw out the
Teamsters for an independent union. By the way, the Teamsters local at
NWA had been a pro-TDU[Teamsters for a Democratic Union]  group, and
was subsequently slaughtered by the Hoffa leadership. This contributed
in no small way to their ouster.

2. As you probably know, I was intimately involved in the AMFA-IAM
campaign. During AMFA's earlier drive (right after the ESOP[employee
stock ownership plan] went through, in 1994), Malik and I campaigned
for the IAM against AMFA. We reassessed our position later, and came
to the conclusion that we were wrong then. We joined the AMFA
organizing committee, and remained active in the drive to get rid of
the IAM. Our position has been that the ESOP was the beginning of the
end of the IAM as a union.

The IAM has morphed into an "employee association" whose primary
purpose is to corral workers into supporting UAL management at all
costs -- including the cost of more and "better" layoffs, outsourcing,
etc., etc. Of course, this is covered over with (false) propaganda,
trying to make it look like they're "fighting the fight" against
management, then "accepting" defeat. In fact, the IAM has this all
worked out to a tee. And they're not the only union that does this,
either. They all take their cue from [AFL-CIO President] Sweeney's
"partnership with America" philosophy.

Problem with most leftists is that they're stuck in old formulas and
categories, and can't see anything positive if something "rings a
bell" (craft union phraseology, for example). Like Pavlov's dog(s),
they jump to condemn when the bell rings.

Our experience with the AMFA campaign (including the one where we
campaign FOR the IAM) was that the best workers were with AMFA, and
the most hidebound, demoralized and concession-minded workers were
with the IAM. Actually, by the way, just about everybody was convinced
that AMFA won that election, which was "fixed" by 1000 "lost" ballots
and a phony vote count. The IAM-UAL-US Govt. coalition was just too
gigantic to effectively counter at the time.

I agree with your assessment that the AMFA vote was/is a sign that
workers want to fight. Now, what the immediate prospects are for a
fight is a different question, and tactics in the immediate period are
going to be interesting, to say the least.

I'm retired from UAL now. I took an early out when it looked like the
pension was in doubt -- and the concessions of the latest contract
confirmed my concerns.

I stay in touch with my former co-workers at UAL, but I'm not really
involved in the union anymore.

3. Workers at UAL are better off with AMFA than they would ever have
been with the IAM, for one reason, I think. Democracy. Real democracy,
as in public negotiations, immediate and easy recall of officials who
don't deliver, and no bureaucracy. It's not the greatest thing since
sliced bread, of course. After all, it IS just a union. But it's head
and shoulders above any of the AFL-CIO (funny, I had to hesitate
before adding CIO when I wrote that, they're all so AFL-like these
days, in fact, not even as good as the old AFL unions were) union
apparatuses today. I realize I do tend to exaggerate things, but I'm
more and more convinced that the road to class-struggle unions is
going to be around, outside of, and perhaps even against the AFL-CIO.
We'll see.

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