[Marxism] Does Organized Labor Have a Future? » CounterPunch: Tells the Facts, Names the Names

Ralph Johansen mdriscollrj at charter.net
Mon Dec 16 11:45:49 MST 2013

Louis Proyect wrote


Thoughts on labor's pains. More reasons here, as if more were needed, 
why labor's defensive habits and survival prospects are increasingly 
stymied, showing the patent obsolescence of traditional union short-term 
defensive tactics - and why radicalized, aggressive tactics are overdue 
- while the prospects for that kind of turn-around seem very dim - for 
the time being. But it's no sweat to connect the dots in the articles 
included here, on the questioning of traditional corporate-hog-tied 
negotiating strategies.

Yes, unions have to maintain solidarity, fight defensive holding 
actions, hoping for deliverance, and yes, stagnating capitalism is 
devastating for workers. My question, though, has to do with the 
continued efficacy of defensive as v offensive tactics on the part of 
workers. If a new strategy of attack or taking the offensive doesn't 
evolve against that vicious system, which yo-yos workers all over the 
globe and no longer intends to share any of the profits if it can help 
it, what is to prevent more defeat, more disillusionment and decreased 
solidarity? Haven't we seen more than enough of that? International 
union solidarity among other things, which has been the expectation, is 
no closer now than it was 40 years ago when John Henning called for it. 
Not only does capitalism stagnate, but many say (Istvan Meszaros, for 
one) that this slump, in its length and severity and its effects on 
workers, "will make 1929 look like a vicar's tea party." I'm persuaded 
by that. So my question is, where's the strategy? Capitalism is on track 
to takes all it can and run for the exits, and workers appear mostly 
catatonic as it happens.

Carl Finamore in his Counterpunch review of Steve Early's book says, 
"Thus, as the low-wage and benefits period we are now suffering through 
today would indicate, most of the strikes, struggles and union reform 
movements in those decades were not successful -- but not because of 
lack of passion or determination by the workers at the bottom, as Early 
describes it, but by a combination of serious mistakes made by otherwise 
honest militants and/or by the failed conservative leadership at the 
top." "I do believe OWS anti-establishment consciousness has been 
reawakened -- all this time, still latently residing in the public's 
mind even as the protestors themselves were forcibly evicted from the 
public's spaces. It has just taken awhile for its spirit to reappear in 
somewhat different forms." "What all this means will become clearer in 
the months ahead. I hope I am right that we are turning a corner and 
that a radical consciousness might just be taking hold..." "Today, union 
members are left even more isolated bargaining for "me, me, me" employer 
benefits instead of campaigning for "we, we, we" national government 
health, retirement and sick leave benefits for all, the same as enjoyed 
by citizens in other major industrial countries."

I know something of Carl Finamore's tireless track record in defense of 
trade unions. Although he writes of workers "confronting overwhelming 
corporate power while at the same time often battling against 
conservative bureaucratic union officials," radical strategy and tactics 
on the offensive, with the objective of system change, were not 
specifically dealt with in this review. Without that, what is left?

I'd be interested in Carl Finamore's response to this and to the 
articles below.

[Note that the Seattle Times actually still has a labor reporter:]


777X offer puts Machinists, Boeing at 'rock and a hard place'
Why are the Machinists so divided on Boeing's contract offer and who are 
the players in this dysfunctional drama?
By Dominic Gates, Seattle Times aerospace reporter
Originally published December 14, 2013 at 6:08 PM | Page modified 
December 16, 2013 at 8:17 AM


Yesterday I stumbled on a series of videos and articles from Airbus on 
their new A380, which carries 500 passengers, with some percentages less 
fuel consumption than the largest of the Boeing fleet (they claim - 
Boeing differs), and Lufthansa among others has a large quantity on 
order and a number in the air. Their advantages over Boeing: economies 
of size in fuel consumption, berth space at major airports which is 
increasingly scarce and now cheaper for them due to size, advanced stage 
of Airbus production capacity on a state-of-the-art item, while Boeing 
has been bogged down in production difficulties, including limited 
availability of engineering resources, design changes, and the recent 
strike by factory workers.

This must have Boeing in a state over the consequences for market share. 
This is not alluded to in the article, though, and although I can't be 
sure of how the arithmetic plays, it explains in terms any capitalist 
would understand why Boeing's labor troubles persist, in spite of the 
unions' claims about current profit margin. Especially given the abject 
weakness of labor over all, and the ever-looming threat of relocation to 
places like the Charlotte, NC area, with competitive tax breaks and land 

Then too, there's been the seeming victory of ILWU and IBEW in Portland, 
mainly due to unity on the west coast docks, cutting a deal with ship 
owners that appears to secure jobs and perks for a spell. There they 
have a lock on the docks as long as they keep workers in the west coast 
ports unified. But there's also Mexican and Canadian ports to worry 
about, I would assume the ongoing opening of arctic sea passages, the 
coming enlargement of the Panama Canal and probably growing differences 
among stratified workers stateside, as the docks become increasingly 
automated and the economy for workers looks bleak. Paul Mattick in a 
recent talk said that Rotterdam, the largest European port, now runs 
(according to their website) with about 1200 workers, controlling costs 
through use of spread sheets, automated yard and vessel control, 
hand-held computers at entry and exit gates for trucks, enabling entry 
of required data for each incoming container, while documentation 
required for container pick-up is printed on the spot, allowing staff to 
track containers as well as break-bulk cargo more effectively and to 
communicate more easily with agents; rubber-tire gantry cranes (RTGC) 
(instead of track-bound) by remote control, single platform to manage 
core terminal operating processes (including gate, yard and vessel 
activities), a program for a ten-fold productivity increase. This occurs 
in the midst of rapidly increasing concentration of ownership interests 
by Chinese and other ship owners in major ports- - which all enable them 
to garner investment capital, increase capacity, lower operating costs 
and quickly adapt to changing market conditions.

Meanwhile, amid reports that South Korea's giant Hanjin Shipping might 
pull out of Portland:

American port productivity falls just when efficiency becomes vital 

COMPLAINTS rose up at the recent Journal of Commerce Port Productivity 
Seminar in Newark with delegates saying American harbours fall far short 
of efficiencies needed in today's mega ship age.

"Carriers can save up to US$50,000 per day if they get better service at 
terminals," said Felix Kasiske, partner at HPC Hamburg Port Consulting.

Said MSC vice president Christopher Parvin: "Is port productivity in the 
US acceptable? No. We waste three hours per ship just waiting for labour 
to start."

Mr Parvin, MSC's Americas marine operations chief, said the average 
number of moves per MSC vessel while in port has increased 30 per cent 
in the last five years, but US port productivity has not kept up.

The average time an MSC ships stays in a US port is 32.5 hours, down 0.1 
per cent from 32.6 hours in 2009, said Mr Parvin, who added that labour 
costs and terminal fees are rising faster than increases in 
productivity. "If we can't improve our productivity, we are going to run 
out of berth space in our ports," said Thomas Ward, senior maritime 
planner at Parsons Brinckerhoff. "And if we run out of berth space, we 
lose competitiveness."


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