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unions

I love my union dearly. The United Auto, Aerospace, and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) is largely responsible for some of the greatest leaps forward in the history of the American labor movement. But I’m terrified that we’re in trouble today.

Sing the union’s praise!

The UAW’s main contract, and one of the most important union contracts in America, expires September 14. They have decided to target General Motors then demand the same contract from Ford and Fiat/Chrysler. It’s called “pattern bargaining” and it has made the autoworkers some of the best-represented workers in American history.

Workers in Aerospace, like me, and other UAW-represented workers have done pretty well, too, but not as well as the auto workers. 151,000 of them face the contract expiration that looms over us right now. They voted by impressive margins to authorize strikes if the union negotiators decide it’s needed.

Trouble in the News

Just making everything worse, FBI and IRS agents are investigating the possibility of corruption at the highest levels. I believe 9 from the upper echelons of the union have already been convicted or pled guilty. It is fascinating to speculate on how people will react to this bad news.

I know how the Trotskyites of the 4th International feel, because I read several of their posts. They are full of glee. They call the union a “criminal conspiracy” and, apparently, can’t wait for more convictions.

A quite different reaction came from People’s World, a news service loosely associated with the Communist Party, USA. They aren’t happy with the news and want to minimize its effect on the contract negotiations. That’s my attitude, too.

Whatever some union officials may have done, if indeed they did, there’s no reason to penalize 151,000 ordinary workers for it. The government of the United States is clearly against working families, and hitting the headlines with their investigation during contract negotiations is clearly anti-worker.

UAW leaders haven’t said much to the public about the investigation. President Gary Jones has made it clear that they are focusing on the negotiations and trying to get the best possible contract. That’s exactly right, in my book.

Something Worries Me More

The UAW leadership hasn’t said a lot about the investigation, but that isn’t my main concern. What worries me to death is that they haven’t said much about the negotiations either!

I’ve been writing for some time about the recent upturn in some union activities. The most notable successes were the school employees in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona last year. But there are other, smaller successes, too. All of them involve mobilizing union members, their families, their friends, their churches, their community organizations, and even their political representatives.

Everybody who reads labor news knows that such broad mobilizations can win, and are probably the only possible way to win in today’s world. “Go it alone” is discredited. I don’t want to see the mighty UAW go alone into disaster, but I’m afraid that might happen.

So What Can You Do?

If the UAW leadership isn’t asking you for help, what do you do? All I could think of was to sound the alarm and start asking people if they would be willing to help when and if the union asks.

I made up a sort-of pledge that says, “We are backing the United Auto Workers union in negotiations with the auto industry. Many of the best things in American labor history came from the UAW. Standing with the UAW is standing for America!

Name, zip code, and contact information:

______________________________________________________ ______________________________

______________________________________________________ ______________________________”

I’ve given them out all over my area. Who knows if they will help? Who knows if they will ever even be needed? I can’t just stand by, and I hope you can’t either!

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio’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

Movie Review

“American Factory,” Netflix documentary by Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert, 110 minutes

General Motors leaves a lot of Dayton, Ohio, workers adrift when they shut down a big factory. In 2014, a Chinese company buys it and starts hiring. They bring in a number of their veteran workers to show the Americans how to manufacture automobile glass the Chinese way. The film makers follow the workers, both Chinese and American, and managers, both Chinese and American, around the workplace and during visits to China, and let them have their say.

The film was recommended by the AFL-CIO, but that doesn’t mean it’s a propaganda vehicle for our side. In an extra attachment, the two documentarians explain their lack of bias to Barack and Michelle Obama.

Even without editorializing from the film makers, there are some really hard-hitting scenes in the movie. One of the Americans explains how happy he is to get the new job, how affectionate he feels toward his new Chinese co-workers as he settles in, and then, later, how lost and miserable he is when he gets fired for causing a 3-second delay.

The Chinese and American workers try to figure each other out. The Autoworkers union tries to regain the membership they lost from General Motors (the organizing drive could have easily made a good separate movie). The American managers try to cope with the hard demands of the Chinese owners. Some quit, some get fired, and some get laid off as the factory becomes more and more efficient. At least one of the American managers is bitter about being dumped. Another one, speaking Mandarin and probably thinking it won’t get translated, shows himself to be far nastier toward the American workers than the Chinese ever tried to be.

In a trip to a Chinese factory, the American managers try to adjust to an entirely different culture and mentality. The always-neutral film makers just record it all without comment.

The Chinese workers were on 12-hour shifts and some of them were only able to see their families for a few days out of every year. They were amazingly efficient and fanatically hard-working. Nobody commented on it, but all of them were also quite young.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio’s “Workers Beat” talk show at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal page

The Texas AFL-CIO convention was depressing, even though it showed continuous improvement in labor’s aggressiveness and strategic action.

If you aren’t subscribing to Ed Sills’ regular labor e-blasts (write ed@texasaflcio.org), then you aren’t staying up with Texas working people. Ed sent out a good comprehensive report and it was upbeat. I assume that eventually it will be on http://texasaflcio.org. Every participant I talked to was upbeat. “Pumped” was the word they used.

Some of the best parts of the convention were the resolutions passed and the opening speech by President Rick Levy. Levy said we are at a crossroads and it is time for Texas labor to “Go big or go home.” In other words, we are in an extraordinary situation with unusual problems and challenges that have to be met aggressively and with our best thinking. I really liked that.

The other thing I really liked was the resolutions. Ed Sills summarized all of them, but I’ll mention just one: “Support for the concept of Medicare for All.” That resolution put Texas out front.

Off the Record

I had two personal conversations that were real zingers. One of them evaluated how to measure success for a Central Labor Council and the other evaluated today’s possibilities for working people.

All of the Central Labor Council leaders, of course, were at the convention. One of them told me that the true measure of local work is whether or not they can shut down the economy. If a Central Labor Council can’t shut down its local economy, then it hasn’t reached its potential, he said. He agreed with me that none of them in Texas has, but that’s where the bar must be set.

There are a lot of professional organizers at these things, and nearly all of the speakers said that the labor movement must, in so many words, “organize or die.” No argument anywhere, BUT: When I talk to union leaders individually and off the record, they tell me that they really don’t have time to organize. The American labor movement is tied up with servicing their members, settling grievances, and negotiating with bosses. Organizing is almost an afterthought and is usually shunted off to one or two individuals, almost as a sideline. The best thing said at the convention about organizing was that we have to make every member an organizer. It’s true but it’s going to be really hard to do.

But one organizer had an entirely different story. A short informal conversation with him made the entire 3-day convention worthwhile for me. This guy talked about turning labor actions over to the members, about looking high and low for allies, and about all things being possible when the members come together and run their own show. The most prominent example of that recently has been the teachers of West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona. I talked about that in another blog. I was absolutely delighted to see another union applying those lessons so well!

I put all kinds of photos and videos on my Facebook page “Gene Lantz.”

So why was I depressed?

On the way to San Antonio for the convention, I was agonizing over the advances that fascism is making in America. We are heading for an awful crossroads and we will either emerge with fascism or a new, extended democracy. The other thing I thought about on the way to San Antonio was the youth of Puerto Rico, who were overthrowing their government with a general strike.

I expected the speakers to deal directly with the danger of fascism and the solution, nationwide labor actions. No matter how good the Texas AFL-CIO convention was, and it was certainly good by any usual measure, if it didn’t deal with those two phenomena, it worried me. These are not normal times.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio at 9 AM every Saturday morning Central Time. If you want to know what I really think, glance over my personal web site

Book Review:

Blanc, Eric, “Red State Revolt. The Teachers’ Strikes and Working-Class Politics.” Verso, London, New York, 2019.

The book is a collaboration between Verso Books and Jacobin magazine, jacobinmag.com

“In the Spring of 2018, teachers and school staff across the United States fought back and won.” That’s the beginning.

The book purports to tell how they did it, which is something that everybody in America needs to know.

Blanc mentions other labor actions, but his main reporting comes from the strikes by school employees in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona. At the time, and even now, the victories seem incredible! In all of these states, what they did was illegal. None of them had a great deal of union density, and none of them had a single school employees’ union with a commanding majority of workers signed up. In West Virginia, there were three competing statewide unions claiming jurisdiction. (page 60)

Unity Sounds Easy, But Isn’t

Here’s the basic strategy on page 47: “…the basic challenge for a successful education strike is to close schools by building up and maintaining employee unity in action, while simultaneously seeking public support.” Would that every union and progressive organization in America take that to heart!

Overcoming Divisions

If working people could unite, we could win anything we wanted. Everybody knows that, but, so far, none of us knows how. Blanc treats some of the causes of our disunity: laws, racism, and red-baiting.

Page 54: “…at moments of struggle, legality comes down to a relationship of forces.” On page 76, Blanc says “Labor law in the United States is uniquely structured to divide working people.”

The number one divisive issue in American labor is racism. Blanc treats the problem around page 65 and concludes that it was not a major problem for the school employees.

The Bernie Sanders presidential campaign of 2016 had seriously changed people’s attitudes. Even though socialists took leading roles in the strikes, there was very little red-baiting. The bosses’ propaganda campaigns were not decisive. On page 80, Blanc says “…public support actually increased after the strikes began.”

Unions and Allies Cooperated

The strikes were generated from the rank and file employees, not by their unions. The unions, however, generally cooperated with the process. Other unions, such as construction workers in Oklahoma, significantly helped. As for the main school employees’ unions, Blanc says on page 84, “…though the AFL-CIO, National Education Association, and AFT unfortunately failed to organize any systematic national support campaign, solidarity messages and photos from individual unions across the country similarly bolstered the educators’ spirits. Churches proved to be no less politically important.”

On page 92, Blanc describes the reaction when major West Virginia union leaders announced that they had made a settlement and were calling off the strike. When details of the very inadequate settlement emerged, the strike went wildcat! Workers stayed away from work in spite of their unions!

Technology Changes Strategy

Traditional union actions may not have yet fully grasped the changes in communications technology, but the striking workers in this book did. The West Virginia strike actually began as a Facebook page. On page 115, Blanc says “Without social media, there’s no chance that the red state revolt would have developed as it did.” At the same time, it would be a big mistake to think that the entire campaign came about because of social media. On page 150, Blanc says flatly “…establishing real workplace power can’t be forged solely through Facebook.”

The “Magic” Was Hard Work

It is my considered opinion that Blanc’s main point is found around page 140: that success did not come from some magic formula, nor from social media, nor from brilliant leadership. It came from hard work. “Lost in the breezy national media reports were the months of organizing – and the political strategies that informed these activities – that made West Virginia’s success possible.”

Here is the concluding paragraph: “No one has any illusions that it will be easy to reestablish an influential Left rooted in a fighting working class. This will require patient organizing over many years. Our enemies are powerful – and we’ll certainly experience many defeats along the way. But never underestimate the ability of working people to turn the world upside down.”

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” talk radio show at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

Why am I still smiling?

In Dallas, the “business elite,” a euphemism for “unscrupulous greedy rich people,” won the June runoff elections for City Council and School Board. Turnout was among the lowest in the nation.

Elections are absolutely critical, but we always find that the winners we support (think Obama) can’t really save us from everything and the ones we worked against (think Trump) can’t really do as much damage as we feared. So elections are not entirely completely totally about who won and who lost.

To understand politics, we have to look beyond candidates and try to understand trends. For example, the Dallas election turnout was 33% higher than the last comparable election. The runoff election, which should have had a much lower turnout than the first round because there were far fewer candidates, was the same as the first round!

What does it mean? It means that we may have a very low level of political consciousness in Dallas, but that it’s dramatically improving! That’s one thing to smile about!

Another trend worth noting is the humongous amounts of money that rich people are paying to win elections. Positions that they used to buy for a few thousands are now costing them millions! Money still wins elections, but it takes more of it!

Another very good trend sounds like a bad trend: the political stooges of the rich-and-greedy are trying every possible way to end democracy, especialy as it applies to elections. Voter suppression is obvious in many state legislatures, especially ours. If they weren’t running scared, would they be publicly shaming themselves so?

The rule of the rich-and-greedy is becoming precarious, and they know it!

Some other good things are evident in Dallas’ local elections. In the past, it was difficult to pick the candidates to vote for. Nowadays, the Dallas AFL-CIO has perfected the most comprehensive screening process ever available for working families. Many Dallasites haven’t realized it yet, but the information is there for future elections.

And, speaking of information, the Dallas AFL-CIO is steadily improving its ability to inform and activate the progressive population. In the last week of the runoff election, we were finally able to establish a Digital Organizing Committee that will be the beginning of a progressive information network. Our goal is to organize everybody, and, thanks to the farsighted National AFL-CIO leadership, we have the tools to do it!

Thanks for reading this. You’re proving my point! If you share it around, you’ll prove it even more!

-Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program 89.3 FM in Dallas at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

Brazil has jailed its most popular leader. Lula is a prolitical prisoner.

Having been run out of New York by its mayor, the new Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is supposed to be welcomed to Dallas on May 15, 2019. Articles from New York and in the Dallas Voice indicate he will be welcomed by Mayor Rawlings and will receive a “Person of the Year” award from the World Affairs Council.

On line, activists are asking them to not. If Bolsonaro does indeed show up, protests are certain to happen. People are contacting the Dallas World Affairs Council, 325 N St Paul in downtown Dallas, at 214-965-8400 and asking them to cancel. People are also contacting Mayor Rawlings.

The Problem with Bolsonaro

Jair Bolsonaro campaigned on his admiration for the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil before the Workers Party under Ignacio Da Silva, known as “Lula,” established one of the world’s most enviable democracies. Lula and his successor were both thrown into prison as a prelude to fascism’s triumph. There is an international “Free Lula” movement that explains what happened.

Lula is popular in the United States and in the world.

On May 2, the American Association of Jurists issued on Thursday (2) an official statement in which it recognizes Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva as a political prisoner. The AAJ, which is a non-governmental organization in consultative status with the United Nations’ Economic and Social Council, had already reported the persecution against Lula during the General Assembly of the 39th Session of the UN Human Rights Council, last year. However, this is the first time the organization officially declares that Lula is a political prisoner. The statement points out that Lula ended his second term with an approval rate of over 80% and that, last year, he was not only prevented from running for the presidency but also forbidden to give interviews or express his views publicly.

“Free Lula” is chanted the world over!

As President, Bolsonaro immediately began taking away native lands, persecuting homosexuals, subverting democracy, cutting education funds, and hamstringing unions. A May 3rd article indicates that he has even asked students to provide evidence against any teacher who speaks against him or his ideology!

Bolsonaro quickly earned the friendship of President Donald Trump and helped side with him against other more democratic nations.

On the same day that Bolsonaro is supposed to arrive in Dallas, May 15, Brazilian educators have called for a national one-day strike. Local actions will be in solidarity.

When we contemplate the last big upsurge of fascism in Nazi Germany, Americans invariably ask “What were they thinking?” How could anybody stand by and allow such a horror to develop? We may have never successfully answered the question about Germany, but now we have to ask it about ourselves.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” radio program at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. If you are curious about what I really think, see my personal web site

It makes sense that everybody who works would want to study successes and failures of those who struggle to make things better for our side. But do we?

Author Eric Blanc talked about the recent wave of successful school employees’ strikes to a small group gathered at Alliance/AFT (school employees) union hall on April 30, 2019.

Blanc, Eric, ‘Red State Revolt. The Teachers’ Strikes and Working-Class Politics.” Verso, London, 2019

The book is available on Amazon and elsewhere on-line. Blanc said that all money gained from book sales will go to “the national strike fund.” Apparently, he’s not just reporting on developments in the working class; he’s pulling for us!

The strike wave actually began a few years back with the Chicago Teachers, but the West Virginia wildcat strike of 2018 was the immediate inspiration for the successes that followed. Blanc emphasized that strikes in the American labor movement had become quite rare, and successes were threatened with extinction before a small group, Blanc mentioned that there were two or three of them, started things moving.

Another important aspect of the school employees’ strikes was the high degree of unity showed between different job groups, different ethnicities, and different communities. Blanc said that it is no coincidence that the other two industries that had large numbers on strike in 2018 were health care and hotels.

What’s the connection?

Women.

In all three industries, women dominate. “Really, these strikes were led by women,” Blanc said. It makes perfect sense. Women, especially women of color, are also winning elections right and left!

What Were the Main Issues?

Blanc said that none of the strikes were about wages. They were about changing the national dialog, created by the dark money manipulators, that schools are failing and the solution is privatization. There was never any evidence to support the idea, but it was the only thing being said prior to the strikes. Blanc said, “The reality is that privatizing is being tried and it isn’t working. All it does is hurt workers and students.”

Teachers struck against privatizing. They struck against divisive school policies such as merit pay. They struck in order to be able to teach instead of spending their entire day filling out forms. They struck over class sizes.

“You Can’t Do It Here”

Just about all I’ve heard here in Texas since the West Virginia strike is that such an activity would be impossible in Texas. Blanc pointed out that West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona are just as Republican-dominated as Texas. School strikes were just as illegal in West Virginia as they are in Texas. The way to keep from getting fired for striking, all seasoned unionists know, is to win the strike.

What’s Next?

Blanc wound up his opening remarks by pointing out that the strike wave is continuing. He said that there will be one-day walkouts in South Carolina and North Carolina. Tennessee and Oregon may have actions coming up. “That should give us hope in our opportunity to seize this moment.”

Who Is Learning These Lessons?

Only 18 of us gathered to hear Eric Blanc. I was the only one from the private sector. Virtually all of the questions thrown at Eric Blanc were about obstacles that school employees had faced and how the Texas situation might compare. I was almost last when I asked how we can get the entire labor movement to realize that the school employees won because they curried broad-based support.

Blanc responded that other kinds of workers could develop broad support for strikes and other progressive activities. “The majority of the workplaces have a relationship with the public that can be leveraged, but it’s not being leveraged right now.”

When somebody finds a winning combination, it makes sense that the rest of us would study their tactics. We might start by reading Eric Blanc’s book.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio’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