[Marxism] Union Labor -- and Societies [larger and smaller]

Hunter Gray hunterbadbear at hunterbear.org
Sat Sep 12 08:46:30 MDT 2009

NOTE BY HUNTER BEAR: 9/12/09 [Stimulated partly by a Redbadbear discussion]

I arose this morning at 2 am, have had plenty of strong, black coffee and lots of imported cold pure mountain water. With nothing on the tube to speak of, I dallied for awhile with Fox News -- awful -- but left when Ann Coulter arrived. I have a few thoughts on Michael's post which, in turn, stems from that of a few days ago by Edward -- with one of their foci being the sad state of the labor movement in this country. Neither of these very good guys -- and many others -- are stepping off the Save the World Trail -- but a certain bitterness is reasonable under the frequently disappointing circumstances -- and the oft-myriad of mirages and shattered dreams.

In 1960, I read Aldous Huxley's excellent non-fictional book, Brave New World Revisited. Its basic thrust focuses on the rapidly mounting population explosion on the planet -- and its obvious impact on food and freedom. At that point, the tally for the human race was about three billion -- and now, half a century later, it's more than doubled. Enter into that the survival of feudalism in some global quarters and, very much in others, the continued existence of always predatory corporate capitalism and you get a reasonably cogent idea of the problematic rivers that have created our latest array of profound earthly challenges -- and certainly those relating to what's called the United States.

I like tribalism: land based, fundamentally communalistic and democratic, characterized by the principle of tribal responsibility [i.e., the individual has a responsibility to the tribe, the tribe has its responsibility to the individual, and there are clearly defined areas of individual/family autonomy into which the tribe cannot intrude. But, in certain areas of conflict, the tribe prevails.] Tribal societies aren't utopian -- always some internal fuss -- but they are characterized by a very basic unity and, despite the frequently hostile vicissitudes of the eons, most of them have survived nicely all around the world. [Speaking personally, who knows but that at some point, I may myself -- to draw from my late father's very pro-tribal perspective -- "go back to the wigwam" for good.]

But, compared to the mass populated urban/industrial societies of our world, tribes do have small populations.

And even though I'm always happy to visit in that context where lie my most basic roots, I'm still committed to "missionary work". And that's why I, along with Michael and Edward and a vast number of us indeed, consider myself a socialist.

It's always easy to "knock" the unions -- and, as long as I can recall from young adulthood onward, the epitaph for organized labor has come again and again. While much of this comes from our natural enemies, some comes from liberals and even left intellectuals. But I can say, with some pride, that -- from the beginning of 1955 to the present moment [I am 75], I have always belonged to at least one bona fide union and sometimes two or even three simultaneously. 

As Lawyer Clarence Darrow, truly a great "counsel for the damned," put it over a century ago with reference to unions: "I know their cause is just."

I've written a great deal about Labor since those long ago days in my very early spring-time -- and some of that is on our now very large Hunterbear website. I've said a lot on discussion lists. So I am not going to be redundant here.

Organized labor in this country [as in some others] is in rough shape. The reasons are many and some lie with the unions themselves. But I am certain that Labor will resurge very effectively in this country and elsewhere. It constitutes the only real protection that a workingstiff -- all wage and many salaried folks -- will ever have. In the end, the very nature of capitalism will spur Labor into a genuinely radical social change direction. And no matter what ideological ethos characterizes the respective urban/industrial society, free and democratic unionism is critical in keeping government bureaucrats in check. [Yes, indeed, there is something of a "syndicalist glint" in my eyes.]

On the matter of the United States being an allegedly "failed state", I see it another way. Along with most of the rest of the world, it is -- to me -- a "developing" human society. 

Let's keep on working to make it as sensibly healthy as the lands and peoples of the "wigwam".

Here's a little something I wrote a few years ago:


Couple of key-note things: 

One is, awhile back, I [to my surprise] found myself increasingly unwilling to dwell extensively on the Old Southern Civil Rights Movement. Eldri and I, who came into the Deep South in the latter summer '61, were there as Movement activists for six years. My demonstration and arrest and jail record is quite respectable [Eldri was arrested, too] and we were enjoined in injunctions [which we defied]. I was beaten in various ways, shot at [and shot back a couple of times], on "death lists," hospitalized with serious injuries, etc. This and more happened to lots of people. And, since it's certainly important to get Movement history down accurately, I do spend plenty of time with students and writers.

But we are always especially glad to see old Civil Rights activists tangling with contemporary social justice issues -- and thinking in futuristic terms.

The second thing was a most negative comment from a member of a discussion list following my latest posting on the hard-driving efforts of copper workers and retirees to secure contract and pension justice in Arizona from the huge copper bosses. The workers are led primarily and effectively by Local 937, San Manuel Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers, formerly Mine-Mill and now, since the '67 merger, in United Steelworkers of America. But they remain very conscious in the positive sense of the old, fighting Mine-Mill traditions. 

Anyway, said this Sour Fish,"99.9% of the members of this list don't care a bit about the Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers." I don't believe that for a moment -- but, Adios Fish.

Now I'm always much glad, believe me, to shoot the breeze on the Old Civil Rights Movement Days and the various personalities that graced the geography. Honoring folks, commemorations -- fine. But that good Old Movement will not come again. 

Racism is still very much around -- fading at a glacial pace -- but some former victims are now a comfortable part of the middle class. And the hard bones of the economic class struggle remain along with most of the victims.

Important local "pieces" of the Old Civil Rights Movement survive broadly, especially in the South, and do offer considerable potential to genuinely committed labor organizers. Let's hope that AFL-CIO and its component unions -- and independents as well -- put money and staff into direct grassroots organizing, especially in settings like Dixie. Mergers between unions don't constitute organizing in any sense and, unless they really maintain the individual autonomy and identity of the mergees [genuine amalgamation based on mutual respect rather than gobbling assimilation], mergers are negative.

CR Movement lessons are relatively universal, pretty much timeless: courage, tactical nonviolence in demos and importance of political action and litigation, principled civil disobedience, don't let racism slow your momentum -- nor race or money break up your solidarity. Those principles live on.

But the economic class war goes on -- always -- and in the most tangible sense. And in fighting on the perennial class struggle front, I see unions as absolutely critical -- all the way through the various Wars and into the administration of whatever Visionary New Society ultimately emerges. But most unions today, north of Mexico, strike me as pretty tired, maybe even housebroken. And union membership in the United States, of course, is extremely low.

I do spend a good deal of time writing and posting on the old International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers [Mine-Mill]. In addition to the fact that I know a great deal indeed about the Union, I also believe strongly that it exemplifies what militant and genuinely effective unionism must again be on all fronts. [At the beginning of 1960, the widely respected Fund for the Republic recognized Mine-Mill as the most democratic of the United States unions -- and said much the same thing about several of the other Left unions.]

The Preamble of the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers -- like that of the old Western Federation of Miners, by which name it was known until 1916 -- firmly recognized the class struggle:

"We hold that there is a class struggle in Society, and that this struggle is caused by economic conditions. We affirm the economic condition of the producer to be that he is exploited of the wealth which he produces, being allowed to retain barely sufficient for his elementary necessities. We hold that the class struggle will continue until the producer is recognized as the sole master of his product. We assert that the working class, and it alone, can and must achieve its own emancipation. We hold that an industrial union and the concerted political action of all wage workers is the only method of attaining this end. An injury to one is an injury to all. . ."

Candid and explicit recognition of the class struggle, industrial unionism [all workers in the particular industry together rather than the old-line split-up craft unionism] and the bed-rock fundamental principle of An Injury To One Is An Injury To all -- all of these major dimensions of the old Mine-Mill are critical components of any healthy and effective unionism for today and far beyond.

Add to that the fact that, at every point, Mine-Mill was always and consistently racially and ethnically egalitarian. And it was characterized by vigorous rank and file democracy [among other things, heavy usage of the referendum vote] in the context of strong autonomy and pride at the level of its local unions -- locals that were also broad community centers with a wide variety of educational and recreational programs.

Its paid officials drew very modest salaries -- possibly the lowest of any union in the United States and Canada. No pie-card artists -- rip-offs -- in Mine-Mill.

Its visionary commitment -- basically socialist democracy -- always remained strong.

And at every level, Mine-Mill blazed new trails and fought collateral and very tangible struggles for social justice in the United States and Canada.

Thus it encompassed the basic bones and components of healthy tribalism.

Take a good, long look at the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers. Never forget it, always remember it, consistently emulate it. 

Fraternally/In Solidarity


Hunter [Hunter Bear]

Abenaki/St. Regis Mohawk 
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´ 
and Ohkwari' 

Check out our Hunterbear website Directory http://hunterbear.org/directory.htm 
[The site is dedicated to our one-half Bobcat, Cloudy Gray: 

See Outlaw Trail: The Native as Organizer:
[Included in Visions & Voices: Native American Activism [2009]

And see Personal Narrative:

More information about the Marxism mailing list