[Marxism] Ralph Nader on AFL-CIO dispute

Javier A javierunderground at yahoo.com
Tue May 10 19:39:10 MDT 2005

There is been some recent interest in decertification from major unions in order to establish "real" democracy in a smaller union. I have been able to see how CUE operates at the UC's, who split off of AFSCME local 3299 under this exact pretext of establishing real union democracy as apposed to the bureaucratic norms of AFSCME. From my experience it does seem like it is quite easy for a member to have input and raise concerns and ideas during decision making meetings of this Union. But even with the positive aspects of their decentralized structure and democratic norms, the actual structure for organizing for a better wages are absent. Democracy at times exists in a vacuum. Not that they should have excused bureaucratic practices, but it seems leftist impulsively use the leverage of "democracy" first and fighting the existing power/class structure second. When it should be the opposite of calling out how the AFL-CIO, in a macro sense, argue that cuts that the capitalist demand are
 necessary when they are not. The general landscape of American labor is going down and leftist could be in a strong position to reverse this trajectory by first putting economic demands that are only natural response to the growing cost of living. Pushing for this perspective, will in its process, create a much more democratic environment and the opening of linking such a process with political ones. The problem I see with Solidarity is that they consistently propose and organize for democratic locals as if this is inevitably going to deal with the real problems at hand. Why not focus on the real problems at hand through a democratic process?  
In general the American left wants to either denounce the Bureaucracy, which in turn divorces themselves from the members, capitulate and do work for SEIU or HERE-UNITE, or work with progressive locals like ILWU local 10 and wait for this progressive wing of the officialdom to launch a workers party (taking about living off the legacy of Harry Bridges). I knew of very few leftist involved in the UFCW Safeway struggle and I knew very few leftist involved in the HERE struggle with the hotel chains that were actually trying to challenge the "business as usual" of the hotels. The proposed HERE method was a a timid boycott and good PR.  
My optimism has actually come from the growth of the IWW. Now with its 100 anniversary, I have seen many young people (in the California area) gravitate towards the existing IWW as a body to organize for. They want to reconcile their anti-cap politics with labor through the IWW. 
So usually I have to add a dimension of criticism because in no real sense does the IWW want to take the task of orienting towards AFL-CIO struggles with a different proposal for the rank-file. They to have an over-empasis of democracy and not of the political and economic direction of the future labor movement. 

Jack Cade <jack.cade at btinternet.com> wrote:

Again this has echoes in Britain. The solution is wrongly
seen as one of:

* different leaders or leadership

* mergers of unions

* more resources on organising (the so-called 'organising model')

On the surface this seems sensible and credible but it is
bankrupt and stale. Part of it is the product of activists in the
left tradition who have concentrated on:

* being better union administrators. Seeing committee work as the
way to do things.

* obsession with slates, ballots and 'so and so for general

* 'stance resolutions', which require no membership action but
give a militant or left impression

* mergers rather than industrial strength. 'Organising' rather
than grass-roots democracy

In their business union style, which reflects capitalism,
they see union mergers like corporate mergers ignoring the fact
that you can't join labour together like capital. The mergers
have more to do with getting a bigger membership base (more dues)
to preserve the union officialdom than getting greater collective
bargaining leverage. Union democracy generally gets worse as the
overall structure becomes unaccountable.

Then we have this 'organising model'. The AFL-CIO has its
Organising Institute and the TUC its Organising Academy. Young
people are recruited for this to harness their energy but where
are the results? What this does is take recruitment away from the
ordinary worker and create a whole new class of bureaucrat: the
full-time union recruiter. Which is seen as a first step on the
ladder up to GenSecship.

Nader notes lack of action on laws that restrict union
organising campaigns. We have the same on the Thatcher anti-union
laws that, inter alia, prevent solidarity action. Lip service but
no real activity to get them repealed, except by smaller unions,
who do not determine TUC policy. This is part of the overall
business unionism, anti-political approach.

Also the emphasis on personalities rather than policies
and politics. Various people at various times are hailed as
lefties and the solution to our problems. Some of these seem of
rather recent and tenuous pedigree. In Britain Kevin Curran,
General Secretary of the long-time, undemocratic, GMB union, was
greeted as some kind of left winger (well he was left of Tony
Blair, which isn't hard). Now he has resigned. Bill Morris, once
TGWU General Secretary was thought of as left but seemed to be a
disaster as was Margaret Prosser, his deputy, now Baroness
Prosser. Even Tony Woodley, current TGWU GS, got a left gloss

First of all democracy needs to be restored or
established in trade unions. Many of them have never known
democratic content in living memory or have made it a low
priority. The concept of a service organisation should be
dumped--unions need to be mass-organisations in every way. Power
needs to go back to the shop floor. Today politics needs to be
discussed in the unions and for a more political approach in
general. This must lead to action against anti-union laws of all
kinds. There need to be membership based campaigns on issues like
pay and hours, which affect everyone and where real work can
deliver success because, when all is said and done there is
'power in the worker' isn't there? Mass-work needs to be
resurrected, especially for peace. Committee based activity,
centring work around the union annual conference and the belief
that there are 'white knight' personalities who can save trade
unions should be abandoned.

None of this is going to happen anytime soon, of course

Jack Cade (who once had a pint or two with Jerry Tucker)

> http://www.commondreams.org/views05/0509-29.htm
> Published on Monday, May 9, 2005 by CommonDreams.org
> A Clash of Unions
> by Ralph Nader
> With U.S. union membership down to only 8% of the workers in 
> the corporate 
> sector - the lowest in 90 years - a clash of unions is 
> underway within the 
> AFL-CIO over the future direction of organized labor. The
> challenging the leadership of President John J. Sweeney - the
> Employees International Union (SEIU), Teamsters UNITE and the 
> Laborers - 
> want more of member unions dues to the AFL-CIO returned for
> organizing and want more mergers among the 76 existing 
> national unions.

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