Michigan, as of this week, has become the 24th “right to work” state, the Orwellian euphemism that, bottom line, bars labor contracts from requiring all workers to pay union dues and undermines the ability of workers to collectively bargain for better work wages and conditions.
According to Shamus Cooke of countercurrents:
The labor movement is in terminal crisis. After decades of declining membership the union movement has been targeted for destruction: private sector union membership is near eradication, and now the corporations are on a public-sector mopping up mission, using the city, state, and federal budget deficits as an excuse to target public sector unions. Obama’s Race to the Top education policy specifically targets the nation’s most powerful union workers, the teachers.
If that wasn’t enough, enter the “grand bargain” that Democrats and Republicans are attempting to broker, at the expense of hundreds of millions of people — cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, education and other social programs are being planned, and will very likely include Social Security cuts.
Obama has been on an anti-worker “grand bargain” path for over a year. He is not labor’s “friend,” but foe. This is the reality of the situation that threatens the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people.
There is no coincidence that the war against unions is happening at the same time as the war against social programs. The connection is that both are main targets of the corporations, since they both take money from the wealthy and re-distribute it to working and unemployed people. This is why the decline in labor unions has been proved to be directly related to the rise in inequality in the United States.
Most importantly, the “grand bargain” represents a tremendous challenge to organized labor to act as an independent social force: politicians are testing the ability of unions to intervene in this conflict as labor mobilized in Wisconsin and Chicago.
Jerry White of wsws who represented the Socialist Equality Party as presidential candidate in our recent national election has much to say about the union leaderships' traitorous collaborations with the corporatists and their pimped out politicians:
The UAW, the Michigan AFL-CIO, the Michigan Education Association and the other unions are incapable of mobilizing workers. They have spent the last three decades working to suppress and betray workers’ struggles and impose the demands of the corporations for one round of wage and benefit cuts after another. They have collaborated in the closure of plants and mass layoffs, leaving former industrial centers like Detroit devastated and impoverished. The UAW agreed to a six-year strike ban as part of the wage-cutting contract dictated by the Obama’s Auto Task Force in 2009.
The UAW once had over 1 million members and as recently as 2004 had 650,000 on its membership rolls. Today it has a membership of about 380,000.
Workers do not look to these anti-democratic, sclerotic organizations, with their legions of six-figure-salaried officials and joint union-management slush funds, as instruments of struggle. They hold them in deserved contempt.
The executives who run the UAW and the other unions oppose the right-to-work law only because it threatens the flow of dues that sustains their apparatuses. They couldn’t care less about the rights of workers, and are no less hostile to the class struggle than those who pushed the bill through the legislature.
Where do the union dues go? To providing funds for the Democratic Party and the bureaucrats’ own affluent lifestyles. Meanwhile, young workers in UAW plants are forced to work for poverty-level wages of $15 an hour, endure back-breaking speedup, work ten- and even 12-hour days with no overtime pay, and watch as “their” union reps police the shop floor on behalf of the bosses.
With the new law not going into affect until April—and at workplaces only after the expiration of current agreements—the UAW bureaucrats at Solidarity House and officials at union headquarters all over the state will work overtime to push through new concessions contracts to lock in their dues income for the next several years.
It is heartbreaking to watch the corporate-captured political parties continue the bipartisan destruction (despite media kabuki) of what was best in America. What groups of our heroic American ancestors struggled and sacrificed so much to achieve for the quality of life and work-life of us, their collective citizen descendants.
White reminds us that the UAW arose out of “massive struggles in the 1930s” against a failing American Federation of Labor. He writes:
To establish the new industrial unions, workers had to carry out sit-down strikes and general strikes that paralyzed entire cities. They had to battle company thugs, police and the National Guard—and thousands paid with their lives.
According to White the tragedy of the American labor movement is that organized unions became and stayed subordinate to “pro-capitalist bureaucracy” -- “the corporations, the Democratic Party and American imperialism.”
In the 1940s, the socialists and left-wing militants who had led the sit-down strikes were purged from the UAW in the anti-communist witch hunts carried out by the union bureaucrats.
It did not take very long for these organizations to begin their decline, which coincided with the first signs in the 1950s and 1960s of the end of American postwar economic hegemony. By the 1970s and 1980s, the growing global integration of production and finance undercut the nationalist perspective on which they were based.
White explains how unions proved more and more impotent against the “domination of the world economy by giant corporations”, whereby production was transferred more and more to low-wage countries:
Their only response was to go from pressuring employers to improve the wages and conditions of workers to pressuring the workers to improve the competitiveness of the corporations by means of layoffs, wage cuts and speedup.
The unions tragically have sustained this betraying codependency -- the “union-management partnership” -- an ever-worsening scenario for all US and global workers. Declares White:
The result of this process is the transformation of the unions into labor syndicates. They have become businesses that seek a cut in the profits sweated out of the workers. The UAW is today a major holder of stock in the Big Three automakers. Its income is tied to driving up the profits and stock prices of the companies at the expense of the workers.
White sees the working class in desperate need of a new political perspective and a new political party. It is the U.S. and international capitalist “economic system” that spreads “social misery, poverty, war and the most brutal forms of exploitation.”
In America according to White both “business parties” are the enemies of the working class. The American worker needs to face this reality and mobilize, and not behind union leaderships that have sold out to those exploiting machines.
Shamus Cooke also gives failing grades to the present union leaderships but calls out to them to end their subservient allegiance to Obama and the Democratic Party that continues to betray the welfare of working Americans
For example, on November 9th 146 national labor and community groups sent President Obama a letter stating their insistence that he not cut social programs and instead fix any deficit issue by taxing the rich and corporations, while focusing also on job creation via investment in infrastructure and education spending.
The President of the AFL-CIO, Richard Trumka, has made several public statements about labor’s willingness to fight against “grand bargain” cuts. He stated correctly that the “fiscal cliff” was a creation of the politicians to attack social programs.
But his powerful words haven’t been followed by equally powerful actions. Although small demonstrations have already taken place, they have been mostly symbolic, and many were mild lobbying operations, politely requesting that politicians stop attacking them. No national demonstrations have been announced.
More disturbing is that, after labor leaders met with President Obama regarding the “grand bargain,” unions left the meeting “encouraged.” Richard Trumka said that it was a “very, very positive meeting”[?!].
It’s fine if labor leaders want to meet with President Obama. However, it’s unacceptable for them to be fooled by him and announce their gullibility to the country. Union members and the community need to be told the truth about the bi-partisan “grand bargain.”
This is not a crisis that can be solved with backroom deals, letters or petitions to the President, or lobbying congressmen.
If the 146 organizations that sent the “no cuts” letter to Obama also begin planning huge nationally coordinated protests, the public debate would instantly change. If European-style mass protests happened in the streets here, working people would have begun leveraging power in their favor.
The struggles in Wisconsin and the teachers’ strike in Chicago proved that labor has an inherent power that, if released on a national level, has the ability to stop the “grand bargain.”
If labor and community groups fail to act powerfully against the “grand bargain,” the corporations will be inspired to increase their attacks on working people; they will not be satisfied with an anti-worker “grand bargain,” but will be inspired to finish off the unions along with the social safety net and then proceed to expand the privatization of the public sector.
The “grand bargain” threat is a call to action for organized labor. But will unions respond? Or play deaf? Pretending that a war against working people is not happening will guarantee a massive defeat. Preparing for the defense of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and public education will require massive mobilizations in the streets while demanding that the corporations and the wealthy pay for the crisis they created.
The economic gang-raping of American and global workers will continue if we do not collectively push back against our exploitation.
[cross-posted at correntewire]