Showing posts with label LABOR BUREAUCRACY. Show all posts
Showing posts with label LABOR BUREAUCRACY. Show all posts

Sunday, September 22, 2019

In Honor Of The King Of The Folk-Singing Hard-Living Hobos The Late Utah Phillips -From The Archives- *Labor's Untold Story-James P. Cannon On Wobblie Organizer Vincent St. John

Click on title to link to tribute by ex-Wobblie James P. Cannon on the IWW organizer Vincent St. John.

This Commentary is part of a series under the following general title: Labor’s Untold Story- Reclaiming Our Labor History In Order To Fight Another Day-And Win!

As a first run through, and in some cases until I can get enough other sources in order to make a decent presentation, I will start with short entries on each topic that I will eventually go into greater detail about. Or, better yet, take my suggested topic and run with it yourself.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

In Honor Of The 100th Anniversary Of The Founding of The Communist International-From The Archives- *Labor's Untold Story- A Shining (If Brief) Moment- The Seattle General Strike Of 1919

Click on title to link to information site about the great Seattle General Strike of 1919. There will be more, much more on this subject later, especially the act of international working class solidarity by refusing to load weapons destined for the "White" side in the Russian Civil War that was going full blast at the time and at a time when the fate of the first workers state hung in the balance.

Every Month Is Labor History Month

This Commentary is part of a series under the following general title: Labor’s Untold Story- Reclaiming Our Labor History In Order To Fight Another Day-And Win!

As a first run through, and in some cases until I can get enough other sources in order to make a decent presentation, I will start with short entries on each topic that I will eventually go into greater detail about. Or, better yet, take my suggested topic and run with it yourself.

Sunday, September 01, 2019

In Honor Of The King Of The Folk-Singing Hard-Living Hobos The Late Utah Phillips -From The Archives- "Bread and Roses"-Class Struggle in Lawrence, Circa 1912

Click on the headline to link to the "Bread And Roses" Centennial Website- A Brief History Of The Great Lawrence (Ma) Textile Strike Of 1912


Bread and Roses: Mills, Migrants and the Struggle for the American Dream, Bruce Watson, Penguin Books, New York, 2005

Every leftist political movement has its ‘high holy days’ of remembrance, or it should. The international labor movement has May Day and in the America labor movement today, Labor Day. There are, however, other days worthy of celebration by militants here in America (and internationally) like the anniversaries of Sacco and Vanzetti, the great general strikes of 1934 in Toledo, Minneapolis and San Francisco and the subject of this review the great ‘Bread and Roses’ strike in the textile mills of Lawrence, Massachusetts in 1912. That, until recently, this heroic (and victorious) strike was not remembered officially under any conditions by that very representative working class city and that its continues to remain shrouded in ignorance tells as much about contemporary American labor as any other indicator. That ignorance is something that Professor Bruce Watson has with this effort attempted to remedy. As an important work of labor history Watson has done more than a commendable job. Moreover, because he has done such a scholarly, well-written and easily readable work today’s militants can draw many lessons from that seemingly long ago labor struggle.

On completion of this book I was struck by the parallels between the conditions that fostered that 1912 strike, the social composition of that work force and the attitudes of those bosses and today’s ‘globalized’ capitalist working conditions. The ethnic and racial groupings today that make up the core of the American working class, for example, are somewhat different from those that fought the 1912 where South and East Europeans predominated. However, the much overused sociological term ‘melting pot’ still applies to the extend that the working class is not heterogeneous in its racial and ethnic makeup, a factor that not only aids the breakdown of class unity but is, a more or less, conscious stratagem of the bosses to divide the working class at the base. Moreover, although we are not talking about fighting for nickel and dime raises like those asked for then today the wage system has created a wider gap between rich and poor that would not be unfamiliar to those strikers long ago. And certainly the bosses have not changed, although they are certainly slicker than in those days of William Woods and the other textile magnates. And they put their money where their mouths are, spending over a billion dollars a years to defeat unionization drives and strike action.

One question, on which there is no comparison, or none worthy of mention, is the difference in labor leadership as the 1912 strike evolved and today’s labor leadership. This refers not only to the differences in political perspective of the Bill Haywood and Joseph Ettor-led Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and today’s Democratic Party-embedded labor leadership which are striking enough but about the nature of society and politics. Fundamentally the old preamble to the IWW constitution drawn up in 1905 is correct in its assertion that there are two distinct and different class interests in the world and at the end of the day they are irreconcilble. Today’s labor leadership acts as if there wasn’t a capitalist that it did not like. An interesting sidelight to the IWW-led 1912 struggle was the attempt by the conservative traditional craft unions associated with the AFof L during the strike to break away from the bulk of the unskilled laborers who formed the core of the textile industry. That has happened in later struggles as well.

One thing that was clear then and has been muddied by today’s labor bureaucracy (with no little help from social democratic and other leftists) is the role of the state. If any mass struggle in the last one hundred years points out the capitalist class nature of the American state it is Lawrence. At every critical point from the first day of the strike and from the lowest level of government the police and military power of the state was used against the working class and in defense of the interests of the capitalist class. This is the class struggle in the raw, up close and personal, that usually only gets exposed in pre-revolutionary or revolutionary situations.

If nothing else, whatever Professor Watson’s personal political sympathies may be, he has performed a great service by placing the Lawrence strike in the context of the development of American capitalism, especially in its post-robber baron period; the development of the multi-ethnic working class; the role of the development of light industry and the Merrimack Valley in the development of American capitalism; the creation and furtherance of a radical response to the primitive capitalist production conditions; and, the role of the state in capitalist society. One may fault Professor Watson with a bit of a ‘kitchen sink’ approach to this work when he brings in every possible event and personality that can reasonably or logically be connected with the Lawrence strike in any way. Even Marxists recognize limits to the interrelatedness of events in any particular situation. However, that is a small price to pay for this important addition to labor history. Kudos.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Labor Day Scorecard- 2008




This writer entered the blogosphere in February 2006 so this is the third Labor Day scorecard giving his take on the condition of American labor as we approach Labor Day. And it is not pretty. That, my brothers and sisters, says it all. There was little strike action this year. The only notable action was that of the autoworkers last fall that I made comment on then and have reposted here. The situation since then for the beleaguered auto workers has only gotten worst, as the dramatic decline in auto sales and the energy crunch have kicked in.

Once again there is little to report in the way of unionization to organize labor’s potential strength. American workers continue to have a real decline in their paychecks. The difference between survival and not for most working families is the two job (or more) household. In short, the average family is working more hours to make ends meet. Real inflation in energy and food costs has put many up against the wall. Moreover the bust in the housing market has wrecked havoc on working people as the most important asset in many a household has taken a beating. Once again forget the Federal Reserve Bank’s definition of inflation- one fill up at the pump confounds that noise. One does not have to be a Marxist economist to know that something is desperately wrong when at the beginning of the 21st century with all the technological advances and productivity increases of the past period working people need to work more just to try to stay even. Even the more far-sighted bourgeois thinkers have trouble with that one. In any case, here are some comments on the labor year.

*The key, as it was last year, to a turn-around for American labor is the unionization of Wal-Mart and the South. The necessary class struggle politics that would make such drives successful would act as a huge impetus for other areas of the labor movement. This writer further argues that such struggles against such vicious enemies as Wal-Mart can be the catalyst for the organization of a workers party. Okay, okay let the writer dream a little, won’t you? What has happened this year on this issue is that more organizations have taken up the call for a boycott of Wal-Mart. That is all to the good and must be supported by militant leftists but it is only a very small beginning shot in the campaign (See archives, dated June 10, 2006). National and local unions have taken monies from their coffers not for such a worthy effort as union organizing at Wal-Mart but to support one or another bourgeois electoral candidate. Some things never change.

*The issue of immigration has surfaced strongly again this year, especially in presidential politics. Every militant leftist was supportive of the past May Day actions of the vast immigrant communities to not be pushed around, although one should also note that they were not nearly as extensive as in 2006 or 2007, a sure sign that the norms of electioneering by the affected ethnic leaderships have put a damper on such extra-parliamentary actions. Immigration is a labor issue and key to the struggle against the race to the bottom. While May Day and other events were big moments unless there are links to the greater labor movement this very promising movement could fizzle. A central problem is the role of the Democratic Party and the Catholic Church in the organizing effort. I will deal with this question at a latter time but for now know this- these organizations are an obstruction to real progress on the immigration issue. (See archives, dated May 1, 2006 for a recap on this factor)

The Auto Workers Struggles of the Fall of 2007



The big labor news this fall has been the fight by the United Auto Workers (UAW) for new contracts with General Motors, Chrysler and now Ford. I have already discussed the GM and Chrysler settlement and now as of Friday, November 3, 2007 Ford and the UAW have reached a tentative agreement. That agreement is along the same lines as those ratified by GM and Chrysler (barely) - a new two- tier wage system for new hires who will get one half the average pay of senior autoworkers and union takeover of the health and pension funds. As I have lamented previously these contracts are a defeat for the autoworkers. Why? The historic position of labor has been to fight for equal pay for equal work. That apparently has gone by the boards here. Moreover the pension and health takeovers are an albatross around the neck of the union. No way is this an example of worker control not at least how any militant should view it. After all the givebacks its time to fight back even if this is a rearguard action in light of the previous votes AND the futility of the 'apache' strategy. Any illusions that the give backs will buy labor peace and or/avoid further layoffs, close downs or outsourcing got a cruel comeuppance in the previous contract negotiations. No sooner had those contracts been ratified, and well before the new contracts were even printed, Chrysler announced layoffs of 8000 to 10, 000 and GM had previously announced about 1500 layoffs. FORD AUTOWORKERS VOTE NO ON THIS CONTRACT.




The Wal-martization of the Once Proud UAW

Yes, I know that we are in the age of ‘globalization’. That is, however, merely the transformation of the same old characters like General Motors, Ford and Chrysler in the auto industry that we have come to know and love moving away from mainly nationally defined markets to international markets. In short, these companies allegedly are being forced to fight their way to the bottom of the international labor wage market along with everyone else. As least that was the position of these august companies in the on-going labor contract negotiations with the United Auto Workers (UAW). And the labor tops bought the argument. In the General Motors settlement GM was nicely absolved from having to administer its albatross health and pension funds. Now autoworkers are held responsible for deciding what autoworkers get what benefits. This is not my idea of workers control, not by a long shot. Based on those provisions alone that GM contract should have been soundly defeated. That it was not will come back to haunt the GM autoworkers in the future.

Now comes news that, as of October 27, 2007, the Chrysler workers have narrowly (56%) ratified their contract, although some major plants voted against it and the labor skates pulled out all stops to get an affirmative vote. If anything that contract is worst than the GM contract because it also contains a provision for permitting a two-wage system where ‘new hires’ will be paid approximately one half normal rates. So much for the old labor slogan of 'equal pay for equal work'. If the GM contract will come back to haunt this one already does today. Remember also that Chrysler was bought out by a private equity company that has a history of selling off unprofitable operations, driving productivity up and then selling the profitable parts for huge profits. That, my friends, is what the global race to the bottom looks like in the American auto industry. This contract should have been voted down with both hands. Ford is up next and based on the foregoing that contract should also be voted down.

Look, every militant knows that negotiations over union contracts represent a sort of ‘truce’ in the class struggle. Until there is worker control of production under a workers government the value of any negotiations with the capitalists is determined by the terms. Sometimes, especially in hard times, just holding your own is a ‘victory’. Other times, like here, there is only one word for these contracts-defeat. Moreover, this did not need to happen. Although both strike efforts at GM and Chrysler were short-lived (intentionally so on the part of the leadership) the rank and file was ready to do battle. The vote at Chrysler further bolsters that argument. So what is up?

What is up is that the leadership of the autoworkers is not worthy of the membership. These people are so mired in class collaborationist non-aggression pacts and cozy arrangements (for themselves) that they were easy pickings for the vultures leading management. The epitome of this is the ‘apache’ strategy of negotiating with one company at a time. If in the era of Walter Reuther, at a time when there were upwards of a million union autoworkers, that might have made some sense today with reduced numbers it makes no sense at all. Labor’s power is in solidarity and solidarity means, in this case, ‘one out, all out’. Beyond that it is clear a new class struggle leadership is needed, just to keep even, and it is needed pronto. Those rank and filers and, in some cases, local union leaders who called for a no vote at Chrysler are the starting point for such efforts.




As of September 24, 2007, after a break down in negotiations the General Motors autoworkers went out on a nation-wide strike. In the old days, in the 1930 and 1940’s, the United Auto Workers (UAW) union was created and solidified by fierce class battles. This action evokes memories of those times although then the fight was centrally around wages and working conditions. Today, in the age of ‘globalization’ (meaning, in reality, most of the same capitalists like GM fighting it out in the world market rather than in nationally isolated markets) the fight is against the corporation- driven race to the bottom. The issues of health care, pensions, outsourcing and job guarantees are what drive today’s struggles. And the prospects are not pretty.

Take the case of heath care provision. General Motors (and ultimately the other auto makers) want to foist that responsibility onto the union with some kind of trust fund arrangement. I think an unidentified UAW local president in Detroit made the most eloquent response to that idea. His response: Why should the union be responsible for cutting off the health benefits to its own membership as health costs continue to spiral or a member reaches the plan maximum. Make no mistake this scheme is not some step in the fight for workers’ control of working conditions. The company is merely trying to bail out from its own mistakes. Ditto on the under- funded pension plans. However, GM is more than happy to try to lock the union into an agreement on outsourcing to their other plants internationally in order to cut costs. This they know how to do as the decline in membership of the UAW dramatically shows. In the end that means poorer working conditions not only here but also internationally. To mitigate the problem of outsourcing it is not enough to call for job protection. Also necessary is an international organizing drive to unionize all autoworkers.

One of the most compelling pieces of data that I have run across lately on the labor movement is from an article on globalization in which it was stated that today there are as many auto workers as in the past but only about a third of them are organized. Today GM has 73,000 UAW autoworkers. In the past there were several times that number. As we support the current UAW action let us remember this for the future. The same can be said for the other members of the Big 3. And while we are at it since all autoworkers will ultimately be affected by the GM action- extend the picket lines to the other Big 3. Call out the whole UAW to defend this strike. VICTORY TO THE GM AUTO WORKERS!

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

*The100thAnniversaryYearOfTheBolshevik-LedOctoberRevolution-Lessons- Labor’s Untold Story- Reclaiming Our Labor History- Early Knights Of Labor Leader Terrence Powerley- Prototype Of A Labor Skate

Click On Title To Link To Wikipedia's Entry For Terence Powderly. This is an up close and personal look at what a young labor militant turns into when he or she does not have a revolutionary perspective. More, much more later on this character out of the early American labor movement.

Every Month Is Labor History Month

This Commentary is part of a series under the following general title: Labor’s Untold Story- Reclaiming Our Labor History In Order To Fight Another Day-And Win!

As a first run through, and in some cases until I can get enough other sources in order to make a decent presentation, I will start with short entries on each topic that I will eventually go into greater detail about. Or, better yet, take my suggested topic and run with it yourself.

The100thAnniversaryYearOfTheBolshevik-LedOctoberRevolution-Lessons- *Labor’s Untold Story- Reclaiming Our Labor History In Order To Fight Another Day-And Win!-William Sylvis and The National Labor Union

Click On Title To Link To Information About William Sylvis And The National Labor Union.

Every Month Is Labor History Month.

This Commentary is part of a series under the following general title: Labor’s Untold Story- Reclaiming Our Labor History In Order To Fight Another Day-And Win!

As a first run through, and in some cases until I can get enough other sources in order to make a decent presentation, I will start with short entries on each topic that I will eventually go into greater detail about. Or, better yet, take my suggested topic and run with it yourself.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

The100thAnniversaryYearOfTheBolshevik-LedOctoberRevolution-Lessons- *Labor’s Untold Story- Reclaiming Our Labor History-The Knights Of Labor And The Struggle For Labor Unification In 19th Century America

Click On Title To Link To Wikipedia's Entry For The Knights Of Labor.

Every Month Is Labor History Month

This Commentary is part of a series under the following general title: Labor’s Untold Story- Reclaiming Our Labor History In Order To Fight Another Day-And Win!

As a first run through, and in some cases until I can get enough other sources in order to make a decent presentation, I will start with short entries on each topic that I will eventually go into greater detail about. Or, better yet, take my suggested topic and run with it yourself.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

*Labor's Untold Story- The Split In The Organized Labor Federations In The 1930s- The AFL-CIO Split

Click on title to link to some background information from a YouTube film clip, "AFL vs. CIO Split Of 1935", about the split in the organized labor movement in the 1930's that led the way to mass industrial unionism. Under most circumstances we want the labor movement to be unified under one roof. That is not always possible, nor given certain political realities wise. The split, for labor militants then, was necessary. The reunification of the two federations in the 1950's was something, given those changed political circumstances and with the bureaucratization and congruent politics of those organizations, that we would not have opposed. I will cover the 2005 split of the current two major organized labor federations separately.

Every Month Is Labor History Month

This Commentary is part of a series under the following general title: Labor’s Untold Story- Reclaiming Our Labor History In Order To Fight Another Day-And Win!

As a first run through, and in some cases until I can get enough other sources in order to make a decent presentation, I will start with short entries on each topic that I will eventually go into greater detail about. Or, better yet, take my suggested topic and run with it yourself.

Monday, September 05, 2016

*Labor’s Untold Story- Reclaiming Our Labor History-The Great Railroad Strike of 1877 in America And The Struggle For Trade Unions

Click On Title To Link To Wikipedia's Entry For The Great Railroad Strike Of 1877

Every Month Is Labor History Month.

This Commentary is part of a series under the following general title: Labor’s Untold Story- Reclaiming Our Labor History In Order To Fight Another Day-And Win!

As a first run through, and in some cases until I can get enough other sources in order to make a decent presentation, I will start with short entries on each topic that I will eventually go into greater detail about. Or, better yet, take my suggested topic and run with it yourself.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

From The Annals Of The Class Struggle-ILWU Votes One-Day Work Stoppage to Support Miners (1978)- A Model For Today's Labor Struggles

Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry for backgrond information concerning the great nationwide coal strike of 1977-78, a classic class-war battle with many lesson, good and bad, for today's labor militants.

Markin comment:

In the wake of the recent somewhat isolated strike action at Verizon this summer and the struggle of the public worker unions in Wisconsin earlier this year that cried out for general strike solidarity action by all of organized labor, private and public, a little glimpse at the kind of solidarity actions by other parts of the organized, if only as an exemplary action, is worth taking note of. The class battles looming ahead will provide of opportunity to take these measures from paper to power. Forward!

ILWU Votes One-Day Work Stoppage to Support Miners

The Spartacist League championed attempts by labor militants to bring other unions out on strike to smash Taft-Hartley and exposed the fake-lefts who helped sabotage this crucial defense of the miners...
—excerpted from WV No. 197, 17 March 1978

SAN FRANCISCO, March 14—As the mine workers face the most critical hour in their 100-day-old strike, the labor movement must ensure that they do not stand alone. With Carter lowering the boom by invoking Taft-Hartley it is the urgent duty of the unions to undertake protest strike action against this government strikebreak¬ing. Last week the International Longshoremen's and Warehouse¬men's Union (ILWU) became the first major U.S. union to move in this direction.

On Friday, March 10 the ILWU International Executive Board (IEB) adopted a resolution whose substance was as follows:

1) to authorize the International officers to call a 24-hour longshore strike coastwide, to protest the use of Taft-Hartley against the miners; 2) to call on the rest of the ILWU, particularly Hawaii and the Warehouse Division, to join in this action; 3) to call on the rest of organized labor in cities where the ILWU has locals to join the 24-hour stop-work action.
Such solidarity action with the coal miners is precisely what is needed at this moment. It could be the spark which ignites the rest of labor to join in this crucial battle, but some of the ILWU tops are predictably dragging their feet. Trade-union militants must raise an urgent clamor demanding that a coastwide dock shutdown and citywide work stoppages against Taft-Hartley and for victory to the miners strike be implemented NOW!...

Ferment in the ILWU

The earliest breakthrough leading to the ILWU resolution came in Local 13 in the San Pedro/Long Beach/Los Angeles area where several hundred longshoremen passed a resolution at the March 2 membership meeting calling for a one-day work action. According to a statement circulated by Chick Loveridge, an IEB member: "Local13 is urging President Carter not to interfere on the side of the mine owners, no Taft-Hartley. Local 13 is calling for a one-day supporting action, by closing down the port of LB/ LA and urging all other ports on the West Coast to do the same. Local 13 is also inviting all other labor organizations to join us in a meeting of support on the day the ports are closed down"

Parallel to the Local 13 action, Stan Gow and Howard Keylor,
members of the Local 10 (S.F. longshore) Executive Board and
publishers of "Longshore Militant," a class-struggle opposition
newsletter in the Local, along with the Militant Caucus in Local 6,
began circulating a petition on March 8 to"call on president Herman
and the Bay Area 1LWU local presidents to organize a 24-hour Bay
Area-wide protest strike against government strikebreaking in the
coalfields." The petition quoted a statement made by Herman at a
February 24 rally, where he boasted: "If they try mining coal with
bayonets or visit harm on the miners, there will be actions here and
throughout the country "

With a couple of days' circulation the petition gathered over 100 signatures in Local 10 and 150 in Local 6, as well as the signatures of Local 13 president Art Almeida and Seattle Local 19 president Dick Moork. This petition was an important factor in forcing the Local 10 Executive Board on March 9 to come out for some kind of solidarity action in support of the miners strike.

Strike Support Coalition

Herman himself had made the call for solidarity actions before some 1,000 assembled trade unionists at a February 24 rally organized by the so-called "Miners Strike Labor/Community Support Coalition," a collection of top Bay Area labor bureaucrats such as John Crowley of the Central Labor Council and Walter Johnson, president of Retail Clerks Local 1100. When this coalition held an organizing meeting March 11 at the Retail Clerks headquarters, about 200 trade union militants showed up, clearly upsetting the conservative trade union tops. Early in the meeting the Coalition's co-chairman, Larry Wing, president of ILWU Local 10, mentioned that the ILWU IEB favored a 24-hour coastwide work stoppage and was calling the rest of labor to join in. Wing also noted the IEB had voted a $25,000 donation to the mine workers as well as a $1 per-month/per-member assessment of the ILWU membership for the miners' families.

At this point a militant Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) worker announced that a similar motion for a "one day stop work mass labor rally of all Bay Area labor" had been passed 44 to 1 at a membership meeting of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 on March 8. Noting the parallel course of the two unions, she put forward a motion calling for implementing the work-stoppage motions and extending them to Bay Area labor as a whole:

"This body calls for a 24-hour Bay Area-wide stop-work protest strike against government strikebreaking in the coalfields. We urge all local unions and the Central Labor Council of all nine Bay Area counties to immediately prepare for such an action."

This simple motion immediately polarized the meeting, for the encrusted U.S. labor bureaucracy cannot abide even such elementary actions of class solidarity. Caught off guard, the nervous bureaucrats sought a way out of this dilemma and found it with the criminal aid of the Communist Party (CP) and the SWP. While both groups are vying to play chief hatchetman against labor militancy for the union tops, at this meeting the SWP clearly led the pack in wrecking the chances of solidarity strike action.

The fight which followed found the CP supporters caught in the middle. With the BART militants' motion simply calling for implementing the 1LWU resolution, they did not want to completely disavow it. But aware that the ILWU bureaucracy was seeking to minimize its impact, neither did they want to go too far out on a limb. Thus early on in the heated discussion Franklin Alexander, well-known CP supporter in ILWU Local 6, said he was "not ready" to vote for such a motion because it was "too soon," and later tried to kill it by referring it to the steering committee. (Ironically Billy Proctor, a CP supporter in Local 10, had signed the "Longshore Militant" petition earlier in the week.)

But the SWP supporters present did not beat around the bush. Mobilizing their small army of hitherto silent "Coalition" members to come out and defeat the motion, they effectively denounced the ILWU resolution as "ultra-left"! First Roland Sheppard, SWP floor leader, openly attacked the solidarity motion on the grounds that:

1) "The job of this body is to support the miners" [read Miller]; 2) "The ILWU actually isn't calling for the action, only looking for the mood in the ranks"; and 3) One must "walk before you run." Actually the SWP is on its hands and knees, a position it got used to during its 1960's peace crawls. And as if the miners who have been on strike for three months would not appreciate the support of a solidarity strike, John Olmstead, a Teamster, seconded Sheppard's remarks and actually cautioned that the motion would "alienate the union membership"!...

At this point a militant Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) worker announced that a similar motion for a "one day stop work mass labor rally of all Bay Area labor" had been passed 44 to 1 at a membership meeting of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 on March 8. Noting the parallel course of the two unions, she put forward a motion calling for implementing the work-stoppage motions and extending them to Bay Area labor as a whole:
"This body calls for a 24-hour Bay Area-wide stop-work protest strike against government strikebreaking in the coalfields. We urge all local unions and the Central Labor Council of all nine Bay Area counties to immediately prepare for such an action."

By voting time the several score SWP supporters had lined up a solid voting bloc of themselves and the most rabid right-wing bureaucrats present. Even so the first voice vote was disputed and a second hand vote was only defeated by a margin of roughly 120 to 70, with CP supporters such as Figueiredo, Franklin and several others abstaining. As if this wasn't enough, the SWP even opposed a subsequent proposal for nothing more frightening than a Saturday rally. (This was tabled to the steering committee!)

This sabotage of the solidarity strike proposal is the most blatant proof yet that the S WP's "turn to the unions" means covering for the bureaucrats and outright sabotage of vitally needed militant labor action. Surely the spectacle of these "socialists" denouncing the call of the ILWU Executive Board as, in substance, adventurist is downright grotesque. No conscious union militant can consider these reformists as anything but despicable betrayers of labor's cause. Because they are seeking to establish themselves as sophisticated braintrusters and apparatchiks for the liberal wing of labor officialdom these pimps for the bureaucracy are fiercely determined to maintain capitalist stability—sometimes even more so than the union tops themselves, who are occasionally subject to pressure from the ranks. Today the most rabid opponent of sympathy protest strikes to aid the miners—excepting only the reactionary Meanyites—is the SWP.

Australian Labour Council Vows to Aid U.S. Coal Strike

SYDNEY—On 16 March the Newcastle, New South Wales Trades and Labour Council approved the following statement of solidarity with striking coal miners in America:

"The U.S. coal miners are currently in the forefront of American labour in their battle to safeguard their union rights and working conditions against the onslaught of the coal bosses and the Carter government. A victory by the miners in their strike is in the interest of the labour movement internationally and all attempts at strikebreaking by U.S. employers and the Carter government must be resisted. We pledge our full support and we condemn the U.S. government union bashing through its use of the Taft-Hartley Act."

The motion was referred for action to the Waterfront Group of Unions in Newcastle, which is a major port for shipment of Australian coal. On 21 March the WGU also passed this motion and sent a cable in solidarity with U.S. miners. Bob Rose, secretary of the Waterfront Group, told the Spartacist League that they are not going to ship coal to the U.S. as an expression of solidarity with the coal strike.

The Spartacist League of Australia and New Zealand held demonstrations in support of the American miners strike in front of U.S. consulates in Sydney and Melbourne on 14 and 15 March respectively. At these demonstrations and in its press the SL/ ANZ called for a black ban [hot-cargoing] on all coal to the U.S. for the duration of the strike, a demand for which it alone on the Australian left has consistently fought.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

*Labor Day 2010 Roundup- The Union Victory At Continental Airways-A Guest Commentary

Click on the headline to link to a James Cannon Internet Archives on line copy of his 1934 article, The Great Minneapolis Strikes..

Markin comment:

This linked Cannon article above is still one of the best places to draw some important lessons abut the way to conduct, and win, union organizing drives. Absolutely critical, as Cannon points out, is to conduct such actions from a political prospective and not just around the narrow question of union recognition and conditions of work. Given today's massive billion dollar corporate union-busting schemes this is merely the beginning of wisdom, working class wisdom.

The article below is a modern-day exposition, using the long hard-fought victory for union recognition at Continental Airways as the central focal point, of all the pitfalls (and countering wise moves, as well) that trade union militants confront today. From the concerted efforts of national and international capital to keep unions out, to the seeming never-ending historic role of the labor bureaucracy in letting organizing efforts twist in the wind, to the need for inclusive transnational industry-wide unions in the face of globalization and collusion among capitalists, nationally and internationally, the major issues get a workout. For any modern political trade unionist this article is a primer of what has to be worked through in order to revitalize the labor movement. Don't mourn, organize! Old Wobble songwriter Joe Hill had it right.


Workers Vanguard No. 957
23 April 2010

Union Organizing Victory at Continental Airlines

Labor scored a victory on February 12, when it was announced that the nearly 8,000 Continental Airlines fleet service workers had voted to join the Teamsters, capping a 13-year organizing campaign that involved two other unions and five previous representation elections. These workers, mainly ramp and cargo agents who perform difficult, physically demanding labor for as little as $10 per hour, had been one of the largest non-union work groups in the airline industry. After almost a decade of mass layoffs, wage and benefit cuts and onerous work-rule changes, they again braved the company’s wrath to vote for the union, this time with success.

But the election victory is only a first step. Winning a contract is far from automatic. Over the years, in order to head off the unionization of the fleet service workers, the company did everything from issuing empty promises and holding mandatory anti-union workplace meetings to cultivating a network of spies and finks and selectively disciplining union activists. The same tactics will continue to be used against union supporters in order to intimidate the workforce and stonewall on contract negotiations. It is crucial for the Teamsters—and the other unions at Continental—to defend the new members.

This defense must go hand in hand with the fight against racist discrimination. At Continental, where fleet service workers are heavily black and Latino in many stations, it was not uncommon for anonymous propaganda retailing vicious slanders against the union and its supporters, at times laced with racist appeals, to be circulated throughout the workplace. Just before voting began in January, workers had to protest flyers smearing organizers as “pimps.” Meanwhile, hangman’s nooses recently turned up in the operations area of Newark airport, a union stronghold. The lynch rope embodies a program of white supremacy and violence against black people. The union must combat such provocations if it is to consolidate itself.

The success at Continental, however fragile, stands out against the wave of setbacks labor has suffered for many years, which has been made all the worse by the current sharp economic downturn. It is a testament to the determination and sacrifice of hundreds of volunteer organizers, who struggled together for years against lies and intimidation by the company. In addition to wanting to improve their lot, many were spurred on by chronic abuse from management and derision toward their “unskilled” labor, others by blatant favoritism on the job. By all accounts, the decisive factor in this election was the organizers’ efforts in traveling throughout the Continental system to unite workers at outlying stations behind the union.

Even as Continental was turning the screws on its fleet service workers, the carrier was able to keep them from organizing for so long in no small part because the leadership of the unions—whether the Teamsters, the International Association of Machinists (IAM) or the Transport Workers Union (TWU)—steered clear of anything smacking of class struggle. One missed opportunity occurred in 2005, when the IAM-represented flight attendants at Continental voted to reject concessions, putting in jeopardy the company’s goal of wresting major givebacks from all its union workers. At the time, the Machinists were attempting to organize the fleet service workers, but there was no move to link the two causes. Instead, the IAM tops foisted a new concessionary deal on the flight attendants while allowing the organizing campaign to flounder.

Divisions along craft lines and between workers at different carriers, regional affiliates and “third party” subcontractors sap the strength of the many unions in the airline industry. Mergers, such as that of Delta and Northwest and the possible Continental-United combination, have given the bosses another opening to pit workers against each other in order to impose layoffs and cutbacks. Nonetheless, workers in the industry have enormous potential power, as air transport of both passengers and cargo is vital to a modern industrial economy. What is needed is a single industry-wide union that encompasses everyone from baggage handlers to pilots.

The disastrous consequences of this atomization were laid bare in the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA) strike at Northwest Airlines in 2005. Not only did the leaders of the other unions refuse to shut down Northwest in solidarity with the AMFA union, but IAM officials criminally engaged in open strikebreaking under the pretext that the AMFA craft union had carried out raiding operations against the IAM. The strike went down to a bitter defeat, and all airline workers are now worse off.

It should hardly be news to union “leaders” that when unions scab on each other, labor loses. This was seen clearly when the PATCO air traffic controllers union was smashed in 1981 by Republican president Ronald Reagan, implementing plans drawn up by the Democratic Carter administration. Responsibility for the defeat lay squarely with the leaders of the IAM, Teamsters and other unions who refused to honor the picket lines and shut down the airports. The smashing of PATCO laid the groundwork for a quarter-century of givebacks and union-busting from which labor has yet to recover.

For a Class-Struggle Leadership of the Unions!

At Continental, the Teamsters also represent the mechanics, whose contract became amendable on the first day of 2009, shortly before the union kicked off its bid to organize the fleet service workers. During this time, the union tops sought to bring out both work groups together only for a few rallies outside Continental’s hubs in Houston, Newark and Cleveland. In speeches at these rallies, Teamsters president James Hoffa praised the virtues of supposed “allies” in the capitalist Democratic Party, outlining a legalistic response to the company’s anti-union dirty tricks. It is the reliance on the political agents and institutions of the class enemy—the calling card of the pro-capitalist labor bureaucracy as a whole—that has hastened the decline in union power.

An earlier TWU organizing rally for the Continental fleet service workers in Newark featured one local Democratic Party politician after another seeking votes in the 2008 elections. The union tops spent a whopping $450 million of union members’ dues money on the 2008 bourgeois elections. Upon coming to power, Barack Obama, a Wall Street Democrat, imposed harsh austerity measures on unions, beginning with the United Auto Workers. In 1978, Jimmy Carter pushed through the deregulation of the airline industry, which opened a new round in the carriers’ war on labor. Democrat Bill Clinton would later invoke the Railway Labor Act (RLA) 14 times to ban potential rail and airline strikes. Labor must break with the Democratic Party!

During the campaign at Continental, the Teamsters and 30 other unions began lobbying for a rule change proposed by the Obama appointees on the National Mediation Board (NMB) that would bring the union certification procedures for rail and airline workers in line with those in other industries. To win union recognition by NMB precedent today, the majority of an entire work group has to favor unionization, with absent ballots automatically counted as “no” votes; the change would make it a majority of those voting. We would support such a change, as companies like Continental and Delta pad their employee rosters to rig the vote.

But the union tops’ declaration that this would “level the playing field” is a lie. The reality is that the NMB, whatever its composition, is a capitalist government agency set up to impose “class peace” and bind the unions to the bourgeois order. Under government boards like the RLA, the deck will always be stacked in favor of the bosses. If the certification rules change, so will their anti-union tactics. The unions were built through hard class struggle in defiance of labor laws and, no less today, that is what is decisive. By accepting the framework of the RLA, the union bureaucrats are reduced to tinkering with the bosses’ rules in a losing game.

Saddled with a leadership wedded to the rule of capital, airline workers have taken it on the chin for years. Amid the wave of airline bankruptcies that followed the 11 September 2001 attacks, the bosses wrung billions in wage and benefit concessions from the unions and drastically chopped their employment levels. Continental first pioneered this form of union-busting back in 1983, when then-honcho Frank Lorenzo filed for Chapter 11 in order to tear up union contracts, shed jobs and slash pay. The bloodletting has continued to this day, as the airline bosses cite “low cost” competition, fuel prices and now the faltering economy to make the workers pay for the vicissitudes of capitalism.

Meanwhile, increasing numbers of ground workers, from cleaners and baggage handlers to aircraft mechanics, are employees of largely non-union “third-party” subcontractors, and many domestic routes are now flown by regional affiliates, where workers typically earn far less. At the outset of the organizing campaign, there were 15,000 fleet service workers at Continental. After the union won certification, Continental announced plans to outsource 150 ramp jobs at seven stations serviced by its regional partners. The increasing use of subcontractors poses a broader task for the airline unions: organizing the unorganized throughout the industry, whether at the carriers or subcontractors, and winning equal pay for equal work, no matter the employer. But rather than fighting to organize the workers at the “third party” outfits, the union bureaucrats denounce these workers as “scabs.”

At a 2008 national summit on outsourcing, jointly sponsored by the Teamsters and the “Business Travel Coalition,” union leaders representing airline mechanics urged government officials to strengthen “war on terror” security measures at third-party repair stations. A taste of what this would mean in practice was shown by the government’s 2005 anti-immigrant raid on the non-union TIMCO maintenance facility in Greensboro, North Carolina, during which 27 mechanics were arrested and later deported. As well, the bureaucrats pushed increased U.S. government inspections and protectionist legislation directed at the overseas shops. It is in the vital interest of the labor movement to fight for full citizenship rights for all immigrants.

Few industries are as conducive to coordinating joint struggle as air transport. But in his speeches to Continental workers, Hoffa promoted “save American jobs” chauvinism in support of a Congressional moratorium on foreign outsourcing. Whether by blaming mechanics abroad for jobs lost or railing against Mexican truckers, Hoffa & Co. poison the perspective of international labor solidarity. With the European flag carriers gunning for their unions, strikes have recently broken out in Britain, Germany and Italy. In March, the Teamsters and TWU made headlines for meeting with an official of the union representing British Airways flight attendants, shortly before they went on strike. But no labor action was taken in the U.S. to back up the strikers; the Teamsters did not mobilize its ground workers to refuse to work the arriving scab aircraft.

Despite the hard times, there are indications that airline workers are ready to test the waters. Those who remain at the major carriers are still heavily unionized and many are eager to restore what was lost over the last decade. At American Airlines, where nine union contracts are in mediation, the flight attendants and fleet service workers filed with the NMB for a release from talks, the first step in a long process to a potential strike under the RLA. As is typically the case, the request was denied. Other carriers, among them Continental, United, US Airways and Southwest, have also stalled for years on reaching agreements with their unions. What is necessary is for the unions to fight together in a common front against the bosses and their government.

Airline unions embody a strategic concentration of integrated union power in the “open shop” South, where a massive organizing drive is key for labor to regain its strength. In fact, with the victory at Houston-based Continental, the next major arena for organizing at the airlines is Atlanta-based Delta on the heels of its merger with Northwest. A large number of the non-union subcontractors in the industry are also headquartered in the South, where “right to work” laws have historically been enforced by racist terror. To organize the South will require a labor leadership that actively champions black rights and fights in the interests of all the oppressed.

The way forward is the forging of a class-struggle leadership committed to mobilizing union power independently of and in opposition to the capitalist politicians and government boards. It was just such a leadership, composed of Trotskyists and their sympathizers, that helped build the Teamsters into a powerful union. In 1934, these militants set out to organize every truck driver and warehouse worker industry-wide in Minneapolis. First to win union recognition and then a contract, the city’s proletariat and its allies were mobilized in mass strike action involving pitched battles with scabs, cops and the National Guard. In assessing the strikes, James P. Cannon, a founder and leader of American Trotskyism, noted:

“The modern labor movement must be politically directed because it is confronted by the government at every turn. Our people were prepared for that since they were political people, inspired by political conceptions....

“They prepared everything from the point of view of class war. They knew that power, not diplomacy, would decide the issue. Bluffs don’t work in fundamental things, only in incidental ones. In such things as the conflict of class interests one must be prepared to fight.”

—The History of American Trotskyism (1944)

The airline industry under capitalism is a paradigm of irrationality. The current air traffic control system is based on World War II-era radar technology. Many pilots are paid poverty-level wages, with some even living off food stamps. Critical maintenance inspections are routinely put off by the bosses, courting death and disaster. The contradiction between the inherently international character of the industry and how it is operated by nationally-based rival carriers is a crystalline example of the generalized anarchy of capitalist production for profit. To end this capitalist chaos requires a collectivized economy with centralized planning, which will come about only through socialist revolution. What’s needed is to build a workers party that, standing at the head of the exploited and oppressed, fights for the expropriation of the capitalist class and the establishment of a workers government.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

*Victory To The Shaw's Workers- The "March For Justice" To Boston In Defense Of The Shaw's Workers Schedule

Click on the headline to link to a "UJP" Website entry for a "March to Boston"(from Methuen, from the Shaw's warehouse for where the workers were fired) schedule in support of the Shaw's supermarket distribution workers strike.

Markin comment:

Okay, great swing band leader Artie Shaw had his moment, on the occasion of his birthday centenary, in this space today. Now back to the class struggle. Victory To The Shaw's Supermarkets Distribution Workers!

Sunday, October 04, 2009

*Labor's Untold Story Told- The Holt Labor Library

Click on title to link to the Holt Labor Library website. This is a good starting source for many of the subjects and personalities that I have introduced this month as part of my "Labor's Untold Story" series.

Friday, October 02, 2009

*Organized Labor's Rally In Boston On The One Year Anniversary Of The Wall Street Meltdown

Click on title to link to YouTube's film clip of a rally in Boston sponsored by the organized labor movement on the one year anniversary of the Wall Street meltdown. Labor is hurting, somewhat disorganized and filled with illusions about capitalism's ability to do social justice to speak nothing about the illusions in the Obama government's "goodwill" but this kind of thing is a small start in the right direction.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

*Labor's Untold Story-John L. Lewis And The Limits Of Trade Union (Sometimes)Militancy

Click on title to link to Wikipedia's entry for "labor leader" and United Mineworkers Union President John L. Lewis. His career exemplifies the contradictions of the labor movement in America, as well as the perfidious role of the labor bureaucracy. If that story sounds familiar, well, it is from the likes of old Brother Lewis that they got their "skills".

Every Month Is Labor History Month

This Commentary is part of a series under the following general title: Labor’s Untold Story- Reclaiming Our Labor History In Order To Fight Another Day-And Win!

As a first run through, and in some cases until I can get enough other sources in order to make a decent presentation, I will start with short entries on each topic that I will eventually go into greater detail about. Or, better yet, take my suggested topic and run with it yourself.

Monday, September 07, 2009

*Labor Day Scorecard- 2009-RIP

Click on title to link to UE site for information about one of the few highlights of the last year in labor- the Republic Window workers sit-in staged in order to get what they were owed from a company going out of business.

Markin comment:

Keep that sit-in idea in mind for the future. Otherwise, given the severe depression-like economic situation, including massive lay-offs in all branches of industry the labor situation over the last year has made that RIP in this entry's headline is more than a little too real. The class struggle continues but, hell, we are, and have, taken it on the chin for far too long. We must preserve the working class, at least long enough to struggle for a society that will get rid of classes, in the face of these economic efforts to turn it to dust. That said- follow Joe Hill's advice. "Don't Mourn, Organize!".

The only other newsworthy labor struggle, although it now seems in the far distant past, was the hard fought Boeing strike in the late Fall of 2008. Some information on that struggle is posted below.


October 20, 2008

Here is a little update (as of October 10) on the situation with the Boeing strikers from "Workers Vanguard". With the presidential campaign sucking all of the air out of the political universe this important strike is getting short shrift by the major media. I also have listened to a more recent interview with striking workers whose spirits are still high and who fully expect to continue on the lines until Christmas or later, if they have to. The call for a total shutdown of Boeing, creation of one company-wide union and more acts of solidarity on the lines by other unions are called for now. Again, Victory to the Boeing Strikers!


IAM Boeing Strikers Hold Firm

OCTOBER 6—Against the backdrop of the financial meltdown on Wall Street, the monthlong strike by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) against Boeing has rippled across the globe. Already the aerospace giant has missed delivery of more than 30 commercial aircraft, forcing airlines internationally to postpone the launch of new service. Many of its thousands of parts suppliers, some as far away as Japan, have slowed or stopped production. With Boeing the nation’s largest exporter, the effects of the strike could be felt well beyond the aerospace industry.

This strike, like any labor battle, is a confrontation between the capitalist bosses and the working class. Having raked in $4 billion in the last year alone, Boeing hopes to further jack up its massive profits by forcing a giveback contract on the union with no restrictions on the bosses’ ability to outsource work. Boeing is targeting new-hires, threatening to eliminate their pensions and retiree medical benefits altogether, and similarly wants to cut off survivor benefits. Its wage proposal is grossly inadequate, with more than 4,000 IAM members currently earning less than $30,000 a year because of a tiered wage structure.

But the Machinists remain firmly resolved to stay out and are in a position to win. The aircraft manufacturer had been scurrying to build planes in the face of volatile oil prices, slowing economies and a shakeout among the companies that finance aviation sales. The strike at Boeing points the way toward unleashing the social power of the working class at a time when the economic crisis, including the bipartisan federal bailout of Wall Street, threatens working people with yet another big hit in the pocketbook.

A victorious IAM Boeing strike could reverberate throughout the labor movement. Recognizing the Machinists’ struggle as their own, members of other unions have joined the picket lines, with union pilots at Alaska Airlines refusing to fly a new 737 from Boeing Field to Sea-Tac airport. In marked contrast to the bureaucrats’ plans to keep pickets small, a number of IAM members are putting in extra duty on the picket lines. However, other workers at Boeing are going into the plants. As a result, Boeing has sent out ten planes to customers during the strike, and engineers have continued to prepare the 787 Dreamliner for ground tests. Workers Vanguard supporters were told by Machinists on Seattle-area picket lines that the engineers, whose union is in contract negotiations with Boeing, and Teamsters are “required” by contract to work. The unions should carry out joint negotiations and strike action as a first step to forming one industrial union. “No-strike” contract clauses are examples of earlier sellouts by the pro-capitalist union bureaucracy, which swears off hard class struggle, substituting for it the lie of a partnership between labor and capital. All Boeing workers would be in a stronger position if they followed the union principle: picket lines mean don’t cross!

Many striking workers expressed concerns about outsourcing and job security. The response of the IAM tops has been to try to pit workers here against those overseas through protectionist campaigns to keep “our jobs” in the U.S., which fuel bigotry toward foreign, especially Asian, and immigrant workers. This chauvinist poison also is the stock in trade of the capitalist Democratic Party. As a norm, the capitalists will move to exploit cheaper labor where it is available. What is necessary is a head-on struggle against the bosses. This includes forging a fighting alliance of Boeing workers internationally and launching a serious drive to organize Boeing’s non-union suppliers in the U.S. To unlock labor’s power, there must be a political struggle within the unions for a class-struggle leadership to replace the bureaucrats who chain workers to the Democratic Party. Victory to the IAM Boeing strike!


Markin Commentary-On The Ending Of The Boeing Strike

News has come in that the IBM machinists who have been strike against Boeing for the past several weeks have ratified their new contract. Let’s face it, the way we should look at any labor contract settlement short of workers state power is as an armed truce. Whether the contract can be called a victory, a standoff or a defeat depends on the specific circumstances surrounding the contract. From initial appearances this contract looks like at least a standoff, if not a small victory especially on the question of outsourcing. In today’s dismay labor market and with the general economy in a tailspin this is to the good. A favorable combination of Boeing’s backlog of orders for its new line of airplanes, its huge profits and the union rank and file’s willingness to go on strike for an extended period to get a decent contract helped. That willingness to struggle on the union’s part is the key lesson we militants can take away from these proceedings. Of course, as always with any labor contract we come back to that question of the armed truce mentioned above. That will determine the ultimate value of this deal. Forward.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

*Wall Street, Washington Shaft Auto Workers- A Guest Commenatry

Click On Title To Link To International Communist League Website.

Guest Commentary

Workers Vanguard No. 938
5 June 2009

UAW Tops Enforce Obama’s Raw Deal

Wall Street, Washington Shaft Auto Workers

JUNE 2—Global auto giant General Motors, for decades one of the pillars of American capitalism, yesterday followed Chrysler into Chapter 11 bankruptcy under the guiding hand of President Barack Obama’s Wall Street cronies in his “auto task force.” The plunge in sales brought on by a global economy going to hell left the automakers scrambling for federal aid to stave off financial ruin. From the outset, we have opposed the bailout of the auto bosses, underlining that it “will be purchased through the further destruction of the jobs and livelihoods of working people” (“Bosses Declare War on UAW Workers,” WV No. 926, 5 December 2008). This is precisely what’s on order with the GM and Chrysler bankruptcies—to reshape the industry to again make it a lucrative source of profits for Wall Street by breaking the back of the United Auto Workers (UAW) union.

Obama, whose election was bankrolled to the tune of $5 million by the sellouts who head the UAW, celebrated “the beginning of a new G.M.” But for tens of thousands of auto workers it is the end of the line. Under the “bailout” deal, GM and Chrysler have announced that they will shut down 20 to 28 plants. The UAW, which was once the symbol of union power in the U.S., will be a shadow of its former self. The UAW’s membership has already withered from a high of 1.6 million in the 1960s to less than 500,000 today, with a scant 140,000 working for the Big Three (GM, Ford and Chrysler). In the 1970s, GM alone employed nearly 400,000 workers. With the plant closings the workforce will be reduced to fewer than 40,000. The gutting of the UAW is a heavy blow against all workers, organized and unorganized.

The UAW misleaders are helping to foot the bill for “restructuring” the automakers—at the cost of tens of thousands of jobs—by accepting worthless stock in GM and Chrysler to fund over half the union’s retiree health care trust (itself a sellout brokered in the 2007 contract to save the company $3 billion a year in health care costs). The head of the “New GM” boasted that this was a “defining moment” that would, as the New York Times (2 June) noted, allow the company “to ‘permanently’ unshackle itself from the cost of supporting hundreds of thousands of retirees.” Those “lucky” enough to keep their jobs will be shackled by a “no strike” pledge for the next six years while the auto bosses continue to hack away at their wages and benefits to bring them into line with labor costs at non-union auto plants.

Here is the bitter fruit of the trade-union bureaucracy’s program of class collaboration, which has long tied the interests of the unions to the profitability of their capitalist exploiters. “I’m very comfortable,” UAW head Ron Gettelfinger told National Public Radio on May 1, the day after Chrysler entered Chapter 11. “It’s not like we’re going into this bankruptcy fighting with Chrysler and [merger partner] Fiat and the U.S. Treasury. We’re going in there in lockstep to put our agreements in place.”

Gettelfinger’s agreements make the union joint stockholders in bankrupt GM and Chrysler. An article in the New York Times (2 June) titled “G.M.’s New Owners, U.S. and Labor, Adjust to Roles,” pointed to “industry experts” who “predict that the union, far more than before, will help management increase profitability—with the goal of pushing up the automakers’ stock prices.” In other words, as a “co-owner” the UAW will directly have a hand in ratcheting up the rate of exploitation of its own remaining members.

The attacks on the UAW highlight the attacks on all workers, in the U.S. and internationally, amid the world economic crisis. The auto industry’s devastation is a stark example of the anarchy and decay of capitalist production for profit to which there is no simple trade-union solution. But one thing is clear. If the unions are to fight not only in their own interests, but in the interests of the mass of unorganized workers and the unemployed, there must be a new leadership of labor, one armed with a program of class struggle. This is an integral part of the fight to forge a revolutionary workers party that champions the cause of black people, immigrants and all the impoverished masses brutally ground down under the heel of America’s capitalist rulers. As we wrote in “Auto Bailout Means Union Busting” (WV No. 931, 27 February):

“The fight for jobs is equivalent to the fight against the devastation of America’s working people. What is necessary is a massive program of public works at union wages to rebuild the dams, bridges and roads that are in an advanced stage of decay; to tear down and replace the crumbling public schools in the nation’s inner cities; to create an America that looks like a place that its inhabitants could survive in. It is necessary to call an end to the layoffs by shortening the workweek at no loss in pay, as part of the struggle for jobs for all.

“All must have full access to medical care at no cost and unemployment benefits must be extended until there are jobs, with all pensions completely guaranteed by the government. Such demands, the elements of which were laid out in the 1938 Transitional Program, the founding document of the Trotskyist Fourth International, will not be granted by the rapacious capitalist rulers. The capitalist state exists to defend the rule and profits of the bourgeoisie. It cannot be reformed or wielded to serve the interests of working people. The catastrophe of joblessness, threatening the disintegration of the working class, can be effectively fought only by a workers movement led by those committed to the struggle for socialist revolution and the establishment of a workers government where those who labor rule.”

Capitalism’s Labor Lieutenants

In return for allowing the automakers to cut in half the billions owed the health benefit program, the UAW will get 55 percent of the equity in the “New Chrysler”—and one seat on the board—and up to 20 percent in “New GM” once the companies emerge from bankruptcy. But what’s 55 percent of nothing? Until the private equity firm Cerberus bought Chrysler in 2007, the UAW head had sat on the board for almost 30 years. Chrysler first offered the UAW tops a seat when it was threatening bankruptcy in 1979, all the better for UAW chief Doug Fraser to help shove concessions and plant closings down the workers’ throats. Now, the UAW rep on the Chrysler board is obligated to vote “in accordance with the direction of the independent directors.”

Round after round of concessions from the labor traitors have greatly undermined union organizing, as workers rightly expect something to show for being members of a union. In 1982, GM closed its assembly plant in Fremont, California—a relatively new facility built in 1968—dispersing the heavily black workforce. The company reopened the plant as a joint venture with Toyota, with no union. After cutting a “sweetheart” deal with the automakers in 1985, the UAW got back into the plant. Now one Fremont UAW worker told WV that workers increasingly don’t see the benefit of the union. The very survival of the unions demands a struggle against the class collaborationism of the labor bureaucracy.

For Gettelfinger & Co., the overriding concern is not the livelihood of the UAW membership but the “competitiveness” of U.S. automakers. In testimony before Congress last year, the UAW chief went so far as to boast that “the gap in labor costs” between the Big Three and the non-union “foreign transplant operations will be largely or completely eliminated by the end of the [2007] contracts.” This is what the union misleaders’ poisonous “America First” protectionism means: railing against “outsourcing” of jobs abroad while not lifting a finger to organize the mass of unorganized auto workers in “foreign transplant operations” in the American South and elsewhere.

In an e-mail to UAW members at GM, the UAW bureaucracy called on Obama to “maintain the maximum number of jobs in the U.S. instead of outsourcing more production to foreign countries.” Such protectionism undermines struggle by poisoning workers’ class consciousness and solidarity, scapegoating foreign workers for the loss of jobs in the U.S. while reinforcing support to the American capitalist order.

The UAW bureaucracy has long been a leading force tying the working class to the capitalist rulers through support to the capitalist Democratic Party. A New York Times article (30 April) quoted Walter Reuther, who became UAW head in 1946, saying, “We have to fight both in the economic and political fields, because what you win on the picket lines, they take away in Washington if you don’t fight on that front.” For the social-democratic Reuther and his UAW successors, the Washington “front” has always meant subordinating the union to the Democrats. In service to this class-collaborationist alliance, the union tops have all but given up the class-struggle methods that built the unions in the first place.

The only way the labor movement can be revitalized is by returning to the road of class struggle. Immediately posed is the fight to organize the mass of unorganized workers, particularly in the “right to work” South. This will require actively combating black oppression, long used by the capitalists to divide and weaken labor as a whole. Against the government’s anti-immigrant raids, which have derailed one organizing campaign after another, the union movement must fight for full citizenship rights for all immigrants. Key to all such battles is the fight for the political independence of the workers from the capitalists and their government and political parties. Break with the Democrats! For a revolutionary workers party!

Reformist Nationalization Schemes

Having joined the labor bureaucrats in hailing Obama’s election, the reformist “socialists” now “hope” that he’ll bail out working people. Socialist Worker (6 April), newspaper of the International Socialist Organization (ISO), baldly stated: “Instead of using its billions to help auto executives push through attacks on workers or to create small surges in demand, the Obama administration could use its leverage as the auto industry’s creditor of last resort to implement a comprehensive plan that includes taking over the auto industry.” Obama is “taking over the auto industry” precisely to “push through attacks on workers.” The Obama administration is littered with Wall Street financiers—from Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to National Economic Council head Larry Summers—whose program is trillions for the capitalists and sacrifice by the workers.

Appealing to this bankers’ cabal to nationalize the auto industry, the ISO wrote in International Socialist Review (May-June 2009): “Nationalization of industries under threat of bankruptcy has historically been a demand of the socialist movement as a means to save jobs and ensure the provision of needed services.” The ISO would be more honest if it said that this has historically been a demand of social democrats who seek to tinker with and administer the capitalist state. Such nationalizations amount to nothing more than giving failing enterprises a new lease on life. The nationalization of the losers of capitalist competition has nothing in common with the socialist expropriation of the means of production by a workers government. Taking over and subsidizing bankrupt firms to “save jobs” was for many years a standard practice of British Labour Party governments by which they sought to promote the interests of British imperialism.

As our comrades in the Spartacist League/Britain observed in “New Labour Fleeces Working People” (Workers Hammer No. 205, Winter 2008-09): “In the context of British imperialism’s loss of hegemonic power, the nationalisations of coal, steel and other industries by the [post-World War II] Clement Attlee Labour government were in reality giant capitalist bailouts designed to help British capitalism to compete in the world market.” In competition with more efficient private firms, nationalized enterprises require massive subsidies financed by immiserating the working class through, for example, high taxation.

Polemicizing against reformist “socialists” who put forward nationalization schemes to rescue failing capitalist enterprises, Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky declared:

“We can say to the miner, you wish nationalization. Yes, it is our slogan. It is only a question of conditions. If the national property is too burdened with debts against the former owners, your conditions can become worse than now. To base the whole proceedings upon a free agreement between the owners and the state signifies ruin of the workers. Now you must organize your own government in the state and expropriate them.”

—“Conversation on the Slogan ‘Workers and Farmers Government’,” Writings of Leon Trotsky, 1938-39

The program of the labor bureaucracy and its reformist tails—defined by what is “practical” under capitalism—has led to disaster for the working class. We Marxists put forward the revolutionary strategy offered by the Transitional Program, where Trotsky declared: “The question is one of guarding the proletariat from decay, demoralization, and ruin…. If capitalism is incapable of satisfying the demands inevitably arising from the calamities generated by itself, then let it perish.” The burning necessity is for a proletarian revolution to rip the productive wealth of society out of the hands of the greedy capitalist rulers and build a collectivized, planned economy where production is based on social need, not profit.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

*Why Marxist Support The Employee Free Choice Act- The View From The Labor Left

Click on title to link to AFL-CIO web site for more information about this campaign. All labor can agree on the need to support this issue. And see, for all those who thought I was an inveterate 'dual unionist' I can play nice with the AFL-CIO-when they are right.


Frankly, the Employee Fair Choice Act (EFCA), as written, is not a piece of legislation that a workers party representative in the United States Congress (if we had one) would fight to enact. Our proposal would, obviously, be infinitely more labor-friendly. That said, we are nevertheless very, very interested in seeing legislation passed that makes it easier for labor organizations to unionize the unorganized. Thus, we critically support the current legislation with the caveat that we are not in favor of its included arbitration language , binding or otherwise, for the simple reason that as we organize mass unions we may very well want to take our fight to the ‘streets’.

I pass on the following entry “Why Marxists Support The EFCA” from “Workers Vanguard” that may be of interest to the radical public. I place myself in political solidarity with many of the points made there.Two points should be noted in reading the article. Read the part about the petition campaign around this issue supported by the two labor federations carefully (the critically supportable AFL-CIO one and the not supportable Change To Win Federation one). Secondly, remember our labor history- we have had our victories won, few and far between as they have been, mainly in the streets and in the plants not in the courts or the governmental offices. The backrooms of those institutions are where we have suffered many of our defeats. Take up the fight for this legislation in that spirit. Organize the unorganized! Organize the South! Organize Wal-Mart!

Guest Commentary

Workers Vanguard No. 929
30 January 2009

Organize the Unorganized!

For a Class-Struggle Leadership of the Unions!

Why Marxists Support the EFCA

No Reliance on the Capitalist State

With Democrat Barack Obama in the White House, union officials, having invested $450 million to put him and other Democrats into office, are now eager for “payback.” At the top of their wish list is passage of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), also known as the “card-check bill,” which would provide for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to recognize a union without a certification election when a majority of employees at a workplace sign union authorization cards. This long-stalled bill to ease union organizing is “the most important issue that we have,” according to AFL-CIO head John Sweeney.

Notwithstanding a slight upswing in union membership in the first half of last year, the strength of the unions has been on the wane for decades. As of 2007, unions represented 7.5 percent of the nation’s private sector workforce, with the total union membership rate hovering around 12.1 percent, down from 35 percent in the 1950s. With the recession deepening, the capitalist ruling class is moving rapidly to attempt to further gut the unions, beginning with the United Auto Workers (UAW). Revitalizing the labor movement is all the more necessary as the bosses try to make working people pay for this crisis.

Dead set on keeping the unions out, conservative politicians, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and others, including large employers that have engaged in union-busting like Wal-Mart, have launched a counteroffensive against the EFCA. The headline of a New York Times (9 January) article noted, “Bill Easing Unionizing Is Under Heavy Attack.” Indeed, in 2008, business groups spent a combined $50 million on anti-EFCA ads and are now gearing up to spend an additional $200 million in the coming months. With the bosses engaged in an all-out propaganda offensive against it and the unions waging a major campaign to have it enacted, the EFCA represents a referendum on unionization.

Even though it contains an arbitration clause that we oppose, we support the EFCA, as it allows workers to organize and form unions through a streamlined card-check system, bypassing the prolonged balloting process. At the same time, the EFCA in its current form contains a contradiction. Disputes over the first contract at a newly organized worksite could be referred to government arbitrators if after 90 days of negotiations either the union or the employer invokes the option of federal mediation and then at least 30 days of mediation fail to produce an agreement. We oppose the arbitration provision because it is a form of government intervention into the unions’ disputes with the bosses. While the purpose of such a provision is to curtail class struggle, there are no legal prohibitions in the EFCA to prevent strike action during this four-month period.

Both partisans and opponents of the bill claim that its passage will bring millions of unorganized workers into the unions. In reality, the balance of forces in struggle will ultimately determine the success or failure of any unionization campaign. To the extent that the EFCA affords the possibility of strengthening the working class by organizing unions, workers should make use of it. But at the same time workers must beware the EFCA’s pitfalls and not rely on it or the capitalist state, which exists to defend the rule and profits of the capitalist class. Last month, workers at the Smithfield Foods hog slaughterhouse in Tar Heel, North Carolina, voted to unionize after a more than 15-year organizing battle. Union officials credited a court-imposed “neutrality” agreement for the success, while the company spokesman claimed the result shows “that the union can win without a card check.” In fact, the key was the combativity of the workers, who engaged in walkouts and other protests to win union recognition (see “UFCW Organizes Smithfield Plant,” WV No. 927, 2 January).

In 1981, the government smashed the PATCO air traffic controllers strike in the most massive union-busting attack since before the CIO was founded in 1935. That strike could have been won, but the union tops refused to call out airline workers to shut down the airports. As we wrote in “Labor’s Gotta Play Hardball to Win” (WV No. 349, 2 March 1984): “No decisive gain of labor was ever won in a courtroom or by an act of Congress. Everything the workers movement has won of value has been achieved by mobilizing the ranks of labor in hard-fought struggle, on the picket lines, in plant occupations. What counts is power.” For a class-struggle fight to organize the unorganized!

Break with the Democrats!

Labor is on the ropes, and the criminal policies of the union tops are in no small part responsible. These misleaders have squandered the fighting strength of the unions by shackling them to the bosses’ state, especially through the instrument of the Democratic Party. At every turn, the “labor lieutenants of the capitalist class” demonstrate their allegiance to the rule of capital, promoting “cooperation” with the employers and policing the workforce on the bosses’ behalf. Meanwhile, this bureaucratic layer enjoys access to privileges and perks.

The labor bureaucrats long ago renounced the class-struggle methods that originally built the unions: mass pickets, sit-down strikes, secondary boycotts. This refusal to carry out a hard-fought battle to organize the unorganized is now a dagger aimed at the unions. In the auto industry, the government’s proposed bailout requires the UAW to agree to slash its wages and benefits to the levels of its counterparts in the large and growing number of non-union, mainly foreign-owned plants in the U.S. Even more, the government has reserved the right to revoke the loans to the automakers if the UAW were to strike at any time. In the face of this declaration of war, the UAW tops readily rolled over.

Worried about the dramatic drop in union membership and corresponding declines in union economic and political power, the sellouts atop the unions are at the same time committed to playing by the bosses’ rules. That’s why their primary recourse is to pressure the government to modify those rules. But capitalist “labor law” is ultimately designed to hold the unions captive to the bourgeois order. The war chest wasted on electing representatives of the class enemy last year was never considered by the union tops for strike funds or organizing drives. One-quarter million union members were mobilized for voter turnout, not to build picket lines or engage in strikes.

Obama’s support for the EFCA was a major selling point for the union tops. He was a cosponsor of the bill in the Senate in 2007 when it was common knowledge that the EFCA would not survive a Bush veto. The EFCA passed the House in a symbolic party-line vote, but was filibustered in the Senate. The backing this bill received from Obama and other Democrats was in the service of undermining class struggle while providing a means to increase the number of dues-paying union members, representing in the Democrats’ eyes more money and manpower for future election campaigns under the watch of the pro-capitalist labor tops. Although Democrats posture as “friends of labor,” their goal is the same as the Republicans: advancing the interests of capital.

But different sections of the bourgeoisie do not always agree. One ranking Chamber of Commerce official has promised “Armageddon” in the battle over the EFCA, which the founder of Home Depot referred to as “the demise of civilization.” Businesses have lined up blue-chip lobbying firms to block it and legal scholars to prove that it is unconstitutional. In the face of this opposition and the economic crisis, the new administration has dropped hints that it intends to hold off on the EFCA and is open to watering it down. When asked about the bill during her Labor Secretary confirmation hearing on January 9, Hilda Solis would not commit to supporting a specific method for union certification. A week later, Obama said of the EFCA in an interview with the Washington Post (15 January): “I will certainly listen to all parties involved, including from labor and the business community, which I know considers this the devil incarnate. I will listen to all parties involved and see if there are ways that we can bring those parties together and restore some balance.”

The labor tops are so beholden to the Democratic administration that some are now second-guessing whether to push right away for the EFCA for fear of alienating Obama. Recently, Obama’s transition team signaled that it would prefer dealing with a single labor federation, as opposed to both the AFL-CIO and the Change to Win coalition, which split apart three and a half years ago. In response, the presidents of 12 of the nation’s largest unions immediately jumped into talks to reunite the American labor movement. There are no principled differences between the two federations; their basic strategy is class collaboration, not class struggle. What the labor movement desperately needs is a new, class-struggle leadership.

Binding Arbitration Is a Trap!

In addition to opposing card checks, the bosses are outraged by the arbitration clause in the EFCA, as they cringe at the thought of someone else dictating the terms of employment. Stonewalling on first-contract negotiations after a union is recognized is one common means for employers to derail organizing drives. It is, in fact, the labor tops who wrote the arbitration clause into the EFCA as a means to “guarantee” a first contract without having to engage in struggle.

In his essay “Trade Unions in the Epoch of Imperialist Decay” (1940), written at the time of the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration, Trotsky observed: “In the United States the Department of Labor with its leftist bureaucracy has as its task the subordination of the trade union movement to the democratic state, and it must be said that this task has up to now been solved with some success.” From Trotsky’s time through today, the slavish dependence of the trade-union officials on state arbitration of labor disputes has only grown deeper.

Tailing right behind the bureaucrats are left groups like the International Socialist Organization (ISO). Demonstrating fully their willingness to accept the capitalist state as a “neutral” arbiter in the class struggle, the ISO applauds the EFCA’s arbitration clause as a means to “speed up negotiation of a first union contract” (Socialist Worker online, 30 March 2007). Binding arbitration is a trap meant to head off strikes and leave workers with no say in the outcome of the negotiations. It is no accident that the dispute over the last contract for New York City transit workers, which sparked a powerful three-day strike in 2005, ended up in arbitration after angry union members rejected the sellout strike settlement.

In “What’s In Store in the Obama Era?” (Socialist Worker online, 20 January), ISO leader Lance Selfa takes stock of the “full-out opposition” to the EFCA, adding: “As this opposition arises, it will put Obama and the Democrats to the test.” At bottom, the aim of the ISO is little more than that of the union tops: to resurrect Democratic Party liberalism and to make Obama “fight.” We say: Break with the Democrats! For a workers party!

The EFCA and the Working Class

A coalition of 500 business associations has started to run ads seeking to discredit the EFCA as “undemocratic” for taking away the “secret ballot.” The truth is that certification elections are commonly drawn out for months or even years, including when Democrats sit on the labor boards, giving the bosses time to intimidate and terrorize pro-union workers. Employers fire workers in a quarter of all organizing campaigns, threaten workers with plant closings or outsourcing in half and employ mandatory one-on-one anti-union meetings in two-thirds of unionization drives. All these tactics are illegal, but the bosses almost always get away with it or receive a slap on the wrist from the NLRB. From 1999 to 2007, 86,000 workers filed charges over anti-union firings—few ever get their jobs back.

This union-busting is often backed up by the forces of the bosses’ state and racist reaction. Historically, organizing in the open shop South meant confrontations with county sheriffs and the Ku Klux Klan. In 1995, an organizing drive at a Perdue poultry plant in Dothan, Alabama, failed after a KKK-style cross-burning at the plant. Shortly before an unsuccessful 1997 certification vote at Smithfield in Tar Heel, “N----r go home” was painted on the side of the union trailer. Recently, anti-immigrant workplace raids by la migra, such as at Agriprocessors in Iowa, have helped break up union organizing campaigns. There will be no effective defense against union-busting unless the labor movement becomes a powerful champion of black rights and takes up the fight for full citizenship rights for all immigrants.

The reformists in the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) have actually lined up with the Chamber of Commerce and its ilk in advocating NLRB-run elections over card-checks as “the most effective way for workers to express what they want regarding unionization” (Militant, 9 April 2007). The SWP goes so far as to put a positive spin on union-busting, writing, “Winning such a vote in face of company intimidation efforts means the rank-and-file has become convinced, through its involvement in the struggle, of the need to organize.”

In practice, today most workers gain union recognition through card checks. About 300,000 workers joined unions through card checks in 2007 whereas some 60,000 workers gained membership through elections. Normally for a company to respect the card check, it demands of the union concessions, including sweetheart contracts and “neutrality” agreements where the union foregoes the right to attack or even criticize the company. For the union bureaucrats, such compromises are business as usual.

To broaden support for the EFCA, the two main labor federations have circulated petitions within the unions. The AFL-CIO petition states: “This crucial legislation will protect workers’ freedom to choose a union and bargain, without management intimidation.” The third, and final, provision of the EFCA would increase the penalties for “unfair labor practices” by the bosses. But it is a dangerous illusion to think that the EFCA would safeguard union organizing efforts against employer interference. The union-busting industry of lawyers, spies and security goons rakes in $4 billion annually. If the rules for union certification were to change, so would their tactics. Already there is movement to make it easier to decertify the unions.

The fundamental purpose of the labor boards is never that of enforcing the rights of workers but rather maintaining “labor peace,” which entails preventing strikes or settling them quickly if they break out. These government boards are in effect strikebreaking agencies even if they occasionally rule against the bosses. Moreover, the EFCA will not prevent employers from unleashing their panoply of union-busting laws and tactics against labor struggle.

While the AFL-CIO petition also speaks of the “middle class,” a term meant to blur the line between labor and capital, union militants could sign it and note their objections. Change to Win’s petition obliterates this line by stating that the EFCA is “about preserving the American Dream and ensuring that the economy works for all of us.” This is a lie about and support for capitalism, and should not be signed. In fact, the capitalist system is based on the exploitation of the wage slave, as Karl Marx explained in Wage-Labour and Capital (1849): “A rapid increase of capital is equivalent to a rapid increase of profit. Profit can only increase rapidly if the price of labour, if relative wages, decrease just as rapidly.”

Trotskyists and the 1935 Wagner Act

Especially since the days of the New Deal, the trade-union bureaucracy has perpetuated the myth that the right to organize was won as the result of the passage of liberal labor legislation. Enacted at the height of the Great Depression in 1933, the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) supposedly “guaranteed” the “right to organize and bargain collectively” in its Section 7(a), added as a sop to the craft AFL leadership. Seizing on it, labor organizers urged workers that “the President wants you to join the union.” Intersecting the biggest strike wave since the early ’20s, these organizing drives met with a tremendous response, with many taking these promises as good coin. However, the open shop was not smashed, and in most industries NIRA government/company codes were drawn up that simply ratified existing conditions. As a result of the failure by the AFL tops to strike against such codes, tens of thousands of workers deserted the unions they had only recently joined.

In 1934, three victorious citywide organizing strikes set the stage for the rise of CIO industrial unionism: one led by Communists in San Francisco, the Trotskyist-led Minneapolis Teamsters strikes, and a general strike led by left-wing socialists in Toledo. The Trotskyists in Minneapolis mobilized the city’s proletariat and its allies in mass struggle, including pitched battles with scabs, cops and National Guard troops. In assessing the strikes, Trotskyist leader James P. Cannon noted in The History of American Trotskyism (1944):

“The modern labor movement must be politically directed because it is confronted by the government at every turn. Our people were prepared for that since they were political people, inspired by political conceptions. The policy of the class struggle guided our comrades; they couldn’t be deceived and outmaneuvered, as so many strike leaders of that period were, by this mechanism of sabotage and destruction known as the National Labor Board and all its auxiliary setups. They put no reliance whatever in Roosevelt’s Labor Board; they weren’t fooled by any idea that Roosevelt, the liberal ‘friend of labor’ president, was going to help the truck drivers in Minneapolis win a few cents more an hour. They weren’t deluded even by the fact that there was at that time in Minnesota a Farmer-Labor Governor, presumed to be on the side of the workers.”

Intent on preventing the new wave of labor organizing from falling under the control of union militants and “reds,” the Roosevelt administration moved quickly to set up a government-sanctioned mechanism to subordinate the unions to the capitalist state. The result was the 1935 National Labor Relations (Wagner) Act, hailed by union officials as the “Magna Carta of Labor” to this day. The EFCA, like most other federal labor laws, is written as an amendment to the Wagner Act, which established the NLRB and the framework for sweeping federal regulation of labor relations and empowered the government to carve out bargaining jurisdictions and run certification elections.

During the last big push by the union tops for labor law reform some three decades ago, we wrote: “Trotskyists opposed the Wagner Act as a threat to labor’s ability to strike” (“California Farm Labor Bill Threatens Right to Strike,” WV No. 128, 8 October 1976). In fact, as far as we know, the Trotskyists neither explicitly supported nor opposed the Wagner Act. An October 1935 New International article by John West (James Burnham) argued:

“Marxists must be vigilant with respect to it [the Wagner Act]. An attitude of simple denunciation of the Bill as a strike-breaker is not sufficient, and would serve only to confuse union workers and to isolate the Marxists. It must be connected with the lessons of Section 7a, which might be summarized: Take anything it offers, but never depend on it; depend only on independent class activity.”

Section 9(c) of the Wagner Act provided that the NLRB could certify unions by relying on a secret ballot election or “any other suitable method.” One commonly used “other suitable method” at first was card checks. But actually organizing required the mobilization of millions in militant class struggle, sparked by the 1936-37 Flint sit-down auto strikes. The CIO tops, including social democrats and Stalinists, betrayed the evident opportunity to forge an independent workers party by tying the unions to the Democratic Party of Roosevelt and the New Deal.

By the late 1930s, the NLRB was less and less willing to grant card-check recognition. In the wake of the post-World War II strike wave, Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act, which outlawed secondary boycotts and sympathy strikes, allowed states to pass “right to work” laws and demanded loyalty oaths from union officials. A majority of Congressional Democrats voted for this union-busting law. The new provisions were used in short order to strangle strikes and purge militants and “reds” from the unions. This law, as well as later NLRB and court rulings, also made card-check recognition far more difficult. Belying the trade-union bureaucrats’ nominal opposition to Taft-Hartley, an AFL-CIO fact sheet on the EFCA states, “just as the NLRB is required to seek a federal court injunction against a union whenever there is reasonable cause to believe the union has violated the secondary boycott prohibitions in the [Taft-Hartley] act, the NLRB must seek a federal court injunction against an employer whenever there is reasonable cause to believe the employer has discharged or discriminated against employees…during an organizing or first contract drive.”

In the 1930s, the thousands of militants who considered themselves communists propelled the great industrial union organizing drives forward. Motivated by their ideals of building a society where those who labor rule, they knew that spiking the bosses’ attacks on black people and immigrants was crucial. The fight to organize the unorganized could be the crucible in which a revolutionary workers party is forged. Such a party is indispensable to uniting the working class and leading it in the revolutionary overthrow of the bosses’ rule.