Below are listed some of the things that Texas labor accomplished over the past year. Even though federal and state governments sent us backward as much as they could, the battles we won are pretty impressive.
But those milestones aren’t even the most significant gains of the year. The biggest gains can only be seen by looking at the trends that are underway:
People are better informed than ever in history, and labor’s communications efforts are part of the reason
People are communicating with each other better than ever in history
Women are taking over leadership and winning
Racism is being recognized as everybody’s problem
Undocumented workers are finally seen as part of the working class
Turnout at elections may be embarrassingly small, but it’s on an upswing
Labor’s electoral successes have the 2020 candidates lining up for endorsements
Unions are helping each other more than anytime since the heyday of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), around 1947
Unions and other progressive organizations are receiving more and more help from the general public. Our rallies and picket lines are backed with volunteers from everywhere
People are openly grappling with our problems and possible solutions
On that last topic, we can thank Senator Bernie Sanders for bringing the word “socialism” back into common parlance for the first time since the red scare of the 1920s. I would not go so far as to say that it is widely understood, but it’s definitely being talked about.
My good friend Morris Fried had a letter-to-the-editor published on Christmas Day. He said that he had been studying newspaper coverage of the battles over education and had concluded with his own definition: “Capitalism molds people to fit the economy, socialism molds the economy to fit people.”
That’s real progress!
Texas Labor’s 2019 Achievements:
* We won paid sick leave for everybody living in Dallas and San Antonio
* We survived a grueling 40-day strike by United Auto Workers members against General Motors
* Members of the United Steelworkers at plants owned by Dow Chemical in Deer Park withstood a seven-week-long lockout
* UNITE HERE members in Dallas and Houston led raucous airport rallies
* The Central South Carpenters Regional Council joined the Texas AFL-CIO in leading opposition to a hastily adopted Texas Workforce Commission rule that exempts “gig economy” companies from paying for Unemployment Insurance.
* The Texas AFL-CIO Citizenship Program held drives in cities across Texas, helping hundreds of eligible residents navigate the complex naturalization application process.
* Federal workers, many of whom are represented by the American Federation of Government Employees, stood tall during the longest shutdown in government history – a 35-day fiasco
* An international delegation of labor leaders, including officers and staff of the AFL-CIO, Texas AFL-CIO and national unions, converged on El Paso to build solidarity among working families in the U.S. and Mexico.
* Unionized Plumbers in Texas worked with their non-union counterparts to kill legislation that would have undermined state safety regulation of the plumbing industry.
* Texas teachers, prominently including the Texas American Federation of Teachers, led the way to achieving a major education reform bill that delivered pay raises for teachers and other public-school employees,
* Amid a high-profile campaign by a coalition that prominently included labor unions, the Texas Senate declined to confirm Gov. Greg Abbott’s nominee as Texas Secretary of State.
* ULLCO, the coalition of labor unions that advocates for working families at the Texas Legislature, stopped dozens of seriously bad legislative proposals,
* The Texas AFL-CIO’s Ruth Ellinger Labor Leaders School graduated its third class
* Young Active Labor Leaders, a Texas AFL-CIO constituency group for workers under age 35, held its second statewide summit in Houston
* Across the state, Building Trades unions that include Electrical Workers, Iron Workers, Painters, Steelworkers, Laborers, Plumbers and others advocated strongly for high-road policies that offer working families a path to middle income.
* Labor’s goal of enabling solid middle-income jobs to evolve and grow included an ongoing battle against off-shoring, excesses of automation and other factors in a toxic mix aimed in large part at driving down wages.
* The campaign to save the U.S. Postal Service as we know it gained ground
* Delegates to the Texas AFL-CIO Constitutional Convention created the Texas AFL-CIO Veterans Committee
* The Texas AFL-CIO stepped up its social media reach
I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” talk show at 9AM Central Time every Saturday. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site
Capitalism has never failed, even though its failure has been predicted for a 1 ½ centuries
Capitalism is already on its way toward peaceful cooperation for the good of humanity
Sincere socialists believe that the working class will place the world’s economy under democratic control at a juncture when two important conditions are met during the same period of time. The first is capitalism’s natural tendency to create its own great crises; the second is that capitalists create a working class that is informed, organized, and ready to take over.
In 1916, V.I. Lenin explained in his short book, “Imperialism,” that capitalists cannot cooperate across national borders, where each set of capitalists operates its respective armies. The First World War, followed quickly by the Second World War, seemed to validate his assertion. During WWI, Lenin’s prophecies came true in the case of Russia. The capitalists there were not able to govern and the Bolsheviks were ready and able to take over. To Lenin’s great disappointment, however, those two critical conditions were not met in other great industrialized nations.
Despite constant threats, World War III has still not happened. The long period between 1945 and the present, and especially the implosion of the Soviet Union, tends to argue for the first argument against revolution given above: capitalism has not failed. Or so they would say.
But capitalists destroyed tens of millions of young men and innumerable civilians in two world wars and interminable smaller wars. The United States is directly involved in at least three wars as this is written. Is this not failure?
Would it not be honest to say that capitalists failed, at least twice in world wars, or at least four times if one counts the Great Depression and the recent Great Recession? Would it not be honest to say that socialist revolution has failed because workers were not ready, rather than because capitalists did not fail?
Capitalists do not cooperate
Since World War II, the major industrial nations have not returned to the battlefield against each other. One reason, often given, is that they were reluctant to destroy the planet with nuclear weapons. The other reason, though, was that they couldn’t. After 1945, the United States had almost the only functioning factories in the world. The U.S. economy completely dominated the world’s prostrated bombing victims for at least 30 years. Militarily, the United States still reigns supreme.
During the years of U.S. domination, certain “international” organizations were put in place. The UN, NATO, SEATO, OAS, WTO, and WMF are examples of “international” organizations that were set up by the United States and operated for the good of the United States. Other nations were forced to go along. It may have looked like international cooperation, but it wasn’t. It was international domination, and that domination is now crumbling.
In the past week, the elected President of the United States has upset “world cooperation” with verbal attacks against other nations, trade wars, and undermining the World Trade Organization. America has begun to militarize space in clear violation of international law. Does that sound like cooperation?
The capitalists fail because they cannot do otherwise. Working families are being forced to educate themselves and fight back together. Two conditions are being met. Let us hope they come together in time!
I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. It’s podcast, too. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site
Utopianism: We don’t have to do anything about effecting change. We will just live good lives and other people will start copying us. Beatniks, Hippies, Counterculturalists, early French socialists
Economism: Capitalism will inevitably fall of its own weight. All we can do is help it along with economic struggles such as union contract battles.
Populism: We’re all pretty much the same so all we have to do is get everybody together somehow. The main thing we need is great leaders to spark the revolution. Anarchists, terrorists
Syndicalism: We will organize everybody into one big union, then call a general strike and take over. IWW
Reformism: If we just keep improving our society, little by little, we’ll eventually make it perfect. We need to work in elections. Parliamentary cretinism. Capitalist liberalism.
Class struggle: Working families have enemies: our owners and employers, who must be overcome before lasting change can occur. We have to fight on the side of working families in all arenas and at all times.
If you have time to do some reading, I recommend the 60 pages from “Reform or Revolution” by Rosa Luxemburg. She argues that we must fight for immediate reforms while pushing for an ultimate class confrontation. She was arguing against a German Philosopher named Eduard Bernstein. Bernstein personified the category of “reformist.”
This same argument is the number one issue in our progressive movement today.
Luxemburg, Rosa, “Reform or Revolution,” included in ‘Rosa Luxemburg Speaks” edited by Mary Alice Waters, Pathfinder Press, New York 1970. Available at https://www.marxists.org/archive/luxemburg/1900/reform-revolution/index.htm. A note of caution: All of the world’s revolutionary parties prior to 1917 called themselves “social democrats.” After the Russian revolution, the world movement split. See the great movie “Reds.”
The answer to the question posted in Luxemburg’s title is “both.” She says that revolutionaries must join the working class in every struggle. It is not because those struggles will lead to permanent and significant change, but because working families become strong, well organized, and well informed with each success. She says on page 36: “Between social reforms and revolution there exists for [revolutionaries] an indissoluble tie. The struggle for reforms is its means, the social revolution, its aim.”
More specifically, here is how she describes the ultimate goal (page 39): “The scientific basis of socialism rests, as is well known, on three principal results of capitalist development. First, on the growing anarchy of capitalist economy, leading inevitably to its ruin. Second, on the progressive socialization of the process of production, which creates the germs of the future social order. And third, on the increased organization and consciousness of the proletarian class, which constitutes the active factor in the coming revolution.” In simpler terms, she believes that everyday democratic struggles get working families ready to take over when capitalism inevitably goes into crisis.
But, Luxemburg says, there is a completely different theory which can only lead to disaster. The main proponent of this other theory was the German philosopher Eduard Bernstein. Bernstein was a gradualist. He believed that the everyday struggles for democratic reforms were sufficient by themselves to bring revolutionary change. One good reform would build on another one until, pretty soon, we’d have perfected society. Because Bernstein believed that reforms were all we needed to do, she called him a “reformist.”
Most of “Reform or Revolution” is an argument against Bernstein and his co-thinkers of the time. As I reread it this year, though, I substituted the names of leading writers and organization of today, because they are still preaching that reforms are enough.
Luxemburg says on page 38: “According to Bernstein, a general decline of capitalism seems to be increasingly improbable…” I haven’t actually heard those exact words in today’s arguments, but I heard “socialism is not on the horizon” many times. It’s practically the same thing.
(Page 50) “Bernstein says, The [revolutionary party] must not direct its daily activity toward the conquest of power, but toward the betterment of the conditions of the working class within the existing order. It must not expect to institute socialism as a result of a political and social crisis, but should build socialism by means of the progressive extension of social control and the gradual application of the principles of cooperation. Bernstein himself sees nothing new in his theories.” I don’t see anything new in today’s reformism either.
Bernstein’s followers say (page 50): “They hope to see a long succession of reforms in the future, all favoring the working class.” That’s reformism in a nutshell. A pipe dream!
As I read Luxemburg’s argument, I realized why reformism got such a big boost over the last few years. During the first decade of this century, relatively progressive leaders were elected in places like Tunisia, Venezuela, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, and the United States. When Bernie Sanders became a household name nationwide, it really looked like we could achieve permanent structural change just by voting. We could get good political leaders in the current election and even better ones in the next, or so we thought. I don’t know if anybody still thinks that, but that’s how it looked when Obama was in office.
Luxemburg continues about reformism on page 50: “He thinks that the expropriation of the means of production cannot possibly be effected as a single historic act. He therefore resorts to the theory of expropriation by stages.” After “socialism is not on the horizon,” I began to hear a lot more about stages, even though nobody ever explained which stage was which and how they knew.
On page 59: “We move here in a straight line toward the total abandonment of the class viewpoint.” In modern times, I heard that working families were just one of several important “core” groups. Like all good liberals, we should work for each of them equally, I heard.
Page 69: “Bernstein’s socialism is to be realized with the aid of these two instruments: labor unions – or as Bernstein himself characterizes them, economic democracy – and cooperatives. The first will suppress industrial profit; the second will do away with commercial profit.” She explains that unions are totally defensive, never offensive. She goes on to explain why ESOPs could never replace capitalism. Anybody who has ever been in one of today’s American unions know that they are defensive organizations. Lately, I’ve heard a lot about employees taking over enterprises and running them successfully. In real life, they tend to have a very short life, and anybody who thinks about it should realize that they will never overtake the mighty corporations that run the world today.
On page 76, Luxemburg sums up Mr Bernstein: “He who renounces the struggle for socialism renounces both the labor movement and democracy.” I’ve seen that in action, just lately.
I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site
How do we choose what to do next? The movement for progressive change is in an upsurge. Most of us have far more opportunities than we can use.
Our little discussion group has been examining the current situation and some of the ideas of the great revolutionary thinkers of the past. We’ve been using the simple programmed modules at http://lilleskole.us/school.
Before today, we had already enlarged our understanding of “class” and asserted that only the working class can make the fundamental change that is so necessary. A good guideline for deciding what to do is: “Think of the class.”
Today, we discussed unions
The great revolutionary thinkers valued unions because they are a great training ground for the working class.
In America today, unions are the largest, richest, and most influential progressive organizations. Unlike most other progressive organizations, they are solidly working class. It is noteworthy that most union leaders come directly from the rank and file.
It is also important that American unions are the bedrock of democracy. They are formally democratic. Nearly all their problems could be solved if they had member participation.
BUT some activists misunderstand the nature of unions. Union leaders aren’t revolutionaries. They generally don’t take the offense on social questions or on any questions at all. Whole American organizations dedicate themselves to trying to turn unions into revolutionary battering rams.
The best and worst thing you can say about unions, like any other member organization, is that they represent their members. Do not confuse a union, or even all the unions, with the working class. They are a subset of the working class. Even if all working families were union members, they still wouldn’t be revolutionary, because they would still be divided.
Only 3 unions today support impeachment: National Nurses United, the Teachers (AFT) and the Service Employees. Unions are divided or waffling on “Medicare for All.”
The great revolutionary thinkers of the past prized unions, or what they often called “combinations.” BUT they called them “Great training grounds for revolution.”
Rosa Luxemburg’s German revolutionaries, who were very close to the Russian Bolsheviks, caved in to the trade unions and removed the idea of a general strike out of their program. Luxemburg was furious.
The IWW’s program was to organize everybody into One Big Union, then take power, presumably through a general strike. It sounds so simple and easy, but is it?
For next time, we’ll go directly into how activists can decide what to do next. Knowing what to do next is the very definition of leadership. One of our activists has been studying the relationship between everyday reform activities and revolutionary work. She will lead our discussion on December 15. The Little School has no material on “Reform Or Revolution,” but the classical work of Rosa Luxembourg is on-line at:
Speeches and articles about the environment tend toward dry statistics, but the facts of drought, famine, and flood are talking louder. It’s hard to ignore climate change when your house is washing away.
have always been with us. They range from the driest academics to the
eco-terrorists. Their arguments often involve human health, endangerment of
species, and the general disappearance of our way of living. Their message
grows more relevant with every weather report.
Poverty and famine
figures indicate that 8 men, 6 of them in the United States, hold more wealth
than the poorest half of the world’s population. Rich men live 15 years longer.
Inequality is rampant and growing. A few rich families enjoy untold luxuries
while most children are underfed!
Contrary to what most economists tell us, the reason is deeper than what we can learn from a quick look at recent economics. Most of the analyses we see indicate that everything would be fine if we could just get back to the conditions in America in, say, 1955. Piketty debunks them.
collection of data shows clearly that the American situation around World War
II was nothing normal. In fact, it was a complete exception to the rest of
capitalist history. Except for that short period, inequality has always risen
under capitalism. Piketty concludes not only that capitalism creates
inequality, but that it always will.
Murder and genocide
protect and extend their wealth, just as they always have, with armed police
and soldiers. No matter the prayers that we deliver and the songs that we sing,
wars are caused by economic inequality. As inequality rises, so does the danger
World War I and
World War II, and all the little wars before, between, and since, were basically
fought for economic advantage. The sole reason that World War III has not
already started is the understanding that nuclear war will have losers but no
winners. Even so, threats of nuclear belligerency have become so common that we
barely notice them. And non-nuclear war takes up much more of our current
history than peacetime.
Just because war
is impossible doesn’t mean it won’t happen.
Isolation and political
The majority of
us, here in America we casually call ourselves the 99%, are increasingly
dissatisfied with the suffering side of inequality. In several countries today,
the “have nots” are revolting against the governments that protect the “haves.”
Today’s news talks about Colombia, France, and Bolivia, but they could as
easily have mentioned half a dozen other countries.
The solution, for our side, is to take democratic control over foreign relations, economies, and environmental concerns. The tiny majority of rich people now controlling all those essential areas would rather we didn’t. Their massive propaganda machines are working to that end. They are also going to great pains to strip us of the partial democracy that we have won over the ages. Voter-rolls are being purged, polls are being closed, unions attacked, and burdensome conditions are being put on our right to speak for ourselves.
rich are relying directly on their police and soldiers. We rely on the only
thing we have, people power, to blockade their four roads to hell.
All my facts and figures come from today’s news.
–Gene Lantz, November 27, 2019
I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program at 9AM Central Time every Saturday. If you are curious about what I really think, please check out my personal web site
Across the world and at home, we are learning how to improve
our societies. At a breakfast meeting Sunday, November 17, we discussed the
present situation and went over some of the lessons of the past.
The United States had more workers on strike in 2018 than in
any year since the crackdown against the working class began in the 1970s.
Working families in Chile, Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina, Iraq, Iran, Spain, and
Greece and other nations are holding massive protests. The progressive movement
is far broader, that is that more disparate individuals and groups are
practicing solidarity, than in recent history.
How do we make sense of it all and decide which of the many opportunities most merit our resources? We posed some interesting questions that, for most of us, are not easy to answer:
Why are there so many arguments in the progressive movement? What are some of the major divisions in the progressive movement today?
What is happening in Bolivia? In Hong Kong?
Are all the world’s protesters working toward similar goals?
Would you defend the right of the Ku Klux Klan to recruit members in public places?
Would you defend the right of American armed forces to recruit members in public places?
Would you defend the right of ISIS, Middle Eastern religious fighters, to recruit members in public places?
Would you defend the right of your local police department to recruit members in public places?
Would you urge police associations to join organized labor federations?
Does America really need a revolution?
Will revolutionaries be elected into power?
Were the Bolsheviks correct in taking power in 1917, or has
history shown that the Menshevik gradualists had a better understanding of
One would like to think that all progressive activists would agree, even on difficult questions. But the truth is that arguments have always racked and divided the movement. Our group tried looking at the time-tested ideas of great thinkers of the past. We were looking for guidelines, not specific directions.
For guidelines and to initiate discussion, we used the
automated learning modules in the “ABC” section of the Little School at http://lilleskile.us/school. I am its
author. So far, we’ve looked at the first nine lessons. The next one will be on
trade unions. Some people finish a module in five minutes.
Here are some of the main points we’ve discussed so far:
Activists need to study in order to become more unified and effective
Almost everything we have been taught has been filtered by reactionaries
Of the two main branches of philosophy, idealism and materialism, materialism is the best guide
In general and in the long view, the human condition has improved
People’s views are strongly affected by their station in society
Different classes of people have strongly divergent views
Everything, including societies, is constantly changing
We plan to get together again on the morning of December 1.
Let me know if you’re interested
I am worrying that members may resign from the United Auto Workers because they see no way to overcome the union’s problems. Leaving the union would be a disaster for those individuals and for all their brothers and sisters. Better to stay in the union and force it to change.
Here is a short
list of reform suggestions:
One-person-one-vote for critical decisions
No staffer control over membership deliberations
Join the rest of the labor movement, especially in politics
Full disclosure and cooperation with the membership
Meetings in most economical venues
Put “joint” activities under the same rigorous accounting oversight as regular union activities
Hold meetings in economical venues
The new acting
President of the United Auto Workers (UAW) is named Rory Gamble. His peers on
the International Executive Board asked him to take over after they pressured
the elected president, Gary Jones, to take a paid leave of absence. On UAW.org,
Gamble writes: “…I know recent events concerning members of our leadership have
disappointed and angered many of you….”
He is referring
to federal indictments against a number of active and retired top union leaders
and published allegations against some more, including Gary Jones. Newspapers
also reveal that other former leaders are testifying in the federal
investigation. Charges and allegations include embezzlement, corruption, and
money laundering. Two former top staffers published an op-ed calling for the
entire leadership to be fired.
The specifics in
the newspaper articles say that union officials could not account for money
spent on wrist watches, golf fees, expensive cigars, and fine liquors. I’d like
to come back to that.
Union Busters and
In these times,
no one should be surprised to learn that the government is trying to destroy
the UAW and its leaders. No one should be surprised that the corporate media is
doing all they can toward that same end.
surprising is the commentary that follows the news releases. Writers who say
they are union members are buying into the anti-union onslaught wholeheartedly.
When Gary Jones stepped down, for instance, hardly anyone wrote on social media
about whether or not he had actually done anything wrong. Almost all of the
comments, instead, were calling for his head. The mildest among them were
saying that his salary should be cut off immediately. This is before any
official charges have been filed.
problems are built in, even when the union is working well.
reps and negotiators know that their efforts are unlikely to please any union
member without pissing off another one. If the union wins a raise for someone,
for example, someone else demands to know why they didn’t get the same raise,
or a higher one.
results of union ratification votes in the recent General Motors strike reveal
that 42% of those voting did not like the contract offer well enough to accept
it. They must have known that they were voting to continue the grueling strike,
but they bravely voted against the offer anyway. After the other 58% ratified
the contract, that 42% was certain to be discontent. It’s built in to contract
negotiations that somebody will be glad and somebody else will be mad.
union contracts, servicing reps spend a lot of time, maybe the majority of
their time, helping the very worst members. A worker who stays sober and comes
to work on time regularly may not see his/her servicing rep for months on end.
The drunk who screws up has the servicing rep on speed dial. There’s really no
way around that.
When the union is working well, seniority is strictly observed. The first people to get promotions and raises are the ones that have been on the job longest. The first ones laid off are the newest. There’s no way around that, either, because the alternative would be to let the boss decide, and he will go with his nephew every time! But seniority creates a built-in problem for unions, especially during times like the last few decades, when more people are getting laid off than hired and the membership keeps aging.
revolutionary. Hot-blooded young members with high ideals and little to lose
are always wanting their union to take on and destroy the establishment. They
are always disappointed because unions don’t want to destroy companies or
systems. They just want better treatment for their members. It’s built in.
But There are
Unions became increasingly isolated after the 1947 Taft Hartley law was passed over President Truman’s veto. The progressives in the union movement were kicked out en masse. The conservative union leaders then embraced “business unionism.” They stopped struggling for social programs like shorter working hours, increased Social Security, and national health care. Instead, they bought management’s suggestions for company-provided pensions and health care. The UAW, in what is often called the “Treaty of Detroit,” led the charge backward.
Most union members were glad. They started seeing their wages, pensions, and health care get better and better while people without unions could only enjoy a residual effect. Union officers learned to play golf with management while growing more and more isolated, not only from the working class at large, but from their own members. In the long run, it was a recipe for disaster, but in the short run, during America’s great post-war boom, it worked great for the members. To this day, many union members think the leaders of the 1950s and 1960s were some kind of geniuses.
Membership fell steadily after 1957. Disaffection, separation of union leaders from everybody else, grew worse. Membership participation in union meetings declined. Leadership became increasingly opportunist. That is, they took UAW staff jobs because they were really good jobs, not out of any commitment to the union (witness them today hurrying to testify for the union-busters). Nepotism is one of the uglier aspects of opportunism, and it is weakening the UAW.
Then came Reagan
By the late
1970s, the United States began to lose its economic hegemony over the rest of
the world. Other industrial nations rebuilt the factories that were bombed flat
during the war, and they started producing products that were as good or
better, and often cheaper, than those made in the United States. Little foreign
cars, for example, became quite trendy in America.
presidential election of 1980, the employers committed to a solid plan to drive
down unit labor costs in America. They found an excellent spokesperson and
mobilized the government, the media, and most of the establishment around him.
With government help, they shipped the best American manufacturing jobs
overseas. They automated jobs away. They busted unions when they could and
passed anti-union legislation at every opportunity.
Unions, who had completely
forgotten about the historic fight to shorten working hours in response to
automation, bled members. Some of them tried to adapt through strategic mergers
with other unions and by innovative approaches to organizing. A few of them did
OK, but the UAW wasn’t one of them. Membership fell from 1,500,000 to around
The UAW responded
to the Reagan assault mostly by embracing the “Big 3” auto companies and
declaring that the enemies of the union were not managers but, rather, were
foreign workers, especially the very successful Japanese. They pushed “buy
union-made cars,” without mentioning that most of the foreign auto companies
were unionized. They immersed themselves into company-led “jointness” ventures
and “team” production. Union editors were encouraged, even directed, to give up
their union newspapers and join forces with management.
One result was
that “joint” ventures created opportunities for corruption, and one direct
result of that is some of the UAW leaders now in jail or under indictment. They
are charged with stealing funds that were designated for joint training
programs that had poor fiscal accountability.
The other result, far worse, was that UAW leaders were more than ever isolated from the members. Instead of interacting with members at work, they built a hierarchy of union staffers around them that completed their isolation. The union staffers, who have their own separate staff union, continued to get the best that the UAW could offer, while members’ wages and benefits eroded away.
One could argue that the UAW staffers, not the members, run the union. It is true that the UAW still has a good democratic constitution with regular elections and constitutional conventions. The problem with those conventions is that they are orchestrated by the staff. While some unions prohibit staffers from even being on their convention floor, UAW staffers literally lean over every delegation during conventions. Hardly anything happens at UAW conventions that was not planned out in advance by the top UAW leaders and executed by their paid staffers.
Readers of the many anti-UAW articles may have wondered what union leaders might have been doing with all those expensive cigars, golf fees, watches and bottles of liquor that they were supposed to have stolen. They couldn’t have worn that many wrist watches. They couldn’t have drunk and smoked that much while playing that much golf. The answer is pretty obvious. They probably used luxury items to guarantee, through small bribes, the continuing loyalty of the legions of staffers.
We end up with the situation in the UAW today. A significant number of union members are so confused and alienated that they actually vote for their own executioners. Others, possibly with the best of intentions and highest motives, are joining the media call for destroying the union!
On the Upside
No one should
overlook the fact that the General Motors workers were able to carry out a
successful 6-week strike even while the biggest and sharpest union-busting
effort since the McCarthy period was directed against them. No one should
overlook the fact that the UAW still has 400,000 intelligent members and
several hundred million dollars. No one should overlook the fact that the UAW
has one of the proudest and most progressive histories in America. No one
should fail to notice that the American people are becoming more and more aware
of just who their real enemies are and how to fight back. That’s a lot to build
Solutions for the UAW
It isn’t likely
that President Rory Gamble is going to be able to pull the union together with
a few worn platitudes about “solidarity in the ranks” and “a few bad apples.” Even
if union leaders survive the government investigation, their alienation from
the membership will continue to eat the union away.
There are two
guys who think they have found a section of the UAW constitution allowing for
the members to call a special convention and elect new leadership. They have a
Facebook page with 12,000 likes. The two guys are arguing that members should
join their effort rather than doing what has become almost traditional –
“voting with their feet” – and leaving the union.
I hope they can
pull it off, because it might help keep our union together. But just holding a
new convention under the same old system isn’t really a long-term reform. For
example, the convention delegates are already elected. Under the UAW
Constitution, they are the same ones that attended the last convention, and
they will be sitting in front of the exact same staffers.
Our union needs
an entirely new attitude toward its members. Staffers must stop subverting our
democracy. Members must be consulted and listened to. Top-down thinking must
The union also
needs a new attitude toward the public. More and better communications are
needed. “Go it alone” must be condemned as a union strategy and “solidarity
with all workers” must become our new guideline. We need to completely get rid
of our isolated, separate, political program and join with the other unions in
The United Auto
Workers, once the most progressive and democratic union, must take its place
again at the head of this wonderful new progressive movement that is sweeping
I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” talk show every Saturday at 9AM Central Time. If you care curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site