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Book Review:

Griffith, Barbara S., The Crisis of American Labor: Operation Dixie and the defeat of the CIO. Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 1988. Borrowed from Longview Texas library through Dallas Public Library inter-library loan. Item barcode: 33053002087591

Working families have a giant hole in our own history. Even though virtually every union has an account of its early days, there is almost nothing about the period from 1947 to present. Union leaders might say that they just haven’t gotten around to covering that period, but I think there’s a truer explanation. I think they’re ashamed of it.

Ms Griffith’s book helps fill that hole. It tells how the brave organizers from the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO, before they surrendered to the AFL) tried to unify southern workers along with the industrialized North. It also explains why wages and benefits in the former confederacy continue to lag behind the rest of the nation.

In Spring of 1946, the CIO was less than 11 years old, but they had 4 million members! Their successes had galvanized the rival AFL into industrialized organizing, too. For the first time in American history, organized labor was more than a blip on the body politic. We were a power!

If Operation Dixie had succeeded, Griffiths says, southern workers would today be enjoying a much better standard of living. The civil rights movement would have realized its gains ten years earlier! American labor would have continued to gain membership and power. But it didn’t.

The CIO had overcome the giants of most industries, but they had not organized textile. When unions succeeded in the North, textile owners moved south where they could still get people to work almost as slaves. Griffith, who worked at the Smithsonian, seems to have done most of her research through union correspondence and personal interviews. By way of explaining working conditions in southern textile villages, she offers first hand testimonies. In one of them, a mother complains that her 8-year old daughter was removed from school and forced to go to work in a mill. The mill bosses had switches. The mother is quoted: “The second-hand, the foreman, the loom-fixer or the doffer—anyone they had over the section could whip them.”

The only way to make the union movement truly national was to organize the South. The CIO decided to go into the old Confederacy from Georgia to Texas with a small army of carefully selected organizers. Full of confidence, they gave it the fanciful name “Operation Dixie!”

From the first few months, there were major problems. Post war unions were strong, but so were corporations. Backwardness was a tradition in the South. Union organizers were not always beaten by company goons or corrupt lawmen. Sometimes, they were beaten by mill workers!

Author Barbara Griffiths doesn’t recount the entire history of Operation Dixie from Summer 1946 until it was finally discontinued in 1953. She says it was defeated in the first few months. Page 161: “As a large-scale organizing campaign Operation Dixie died in December 1946 when the organizing staff was cut in half.” Six months into the grand program, it was already a failure!

This is not a happy book. The few bright spots come from successes of the Food & Tobacco Workers and the Packinghouse workers, both left-led unions that were subsequently red-baited and kicked out of the CIO. But Operation Dixie was primarily about textile.

Griffiths correctly places the blame on the textile mill owners. They had almost total economic control over the lives of their subjects as well as the government. Racism was impenetrable. Red baiting was everywhere. In fact, race and red baiting were usually employed together against the CIO.

Were the unions to blame? Griffiths can point to a lot of their problems. They didn’t know the South at all. Most of their organizers didn’t know the textile industry. Anti-communism was already dividing the unions, even though the official witch hunt and expulsion of communists didn’t begin until the next year. But none of these problems had overcome CIO organizing before.

Under the “what if” category of meaningless daydreaming, we might speculate that the CIO might have succeeded if they had understood the period better, if they had done more research, if they had valued internal cohesiveness more, and if they hadn’t taken such a heavy-handed “all or nothing” approach to the entire South. But we’ll never know what might have happened. We only know what did.

The author says that Operation Dixie did not fail primarily because of internal CIO problems. It failed because the entrenched southern textile bosses were stronger than us. It failed because anti-union Republicans won the 1946 elections and began putting the government firmly on the side of the bosses. The CIO organizers were heroic, but it wasn’t enough.

–Gene Lantz

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

MY NOTES FROM THE BOOK:

I believe this is a rare book. On Amazon, it cost $70. Including the index, it’s a small book.

She is a historian at Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. She seems to have gathered her information from the correspondence of the unions involved and from original interviews with organizers and various workers. Several interesting quotes from the participants are used to explain what happened.

Intro: CIO was good on race, but not so much on gender, with exception of Food & Tobacco Workers, who had a lot of Black women organizers and a Southern District Director who was the highest-placed woman union officer of that time.

It lasted 1946-1953

Pgxvi:”…a CIO victory in the South might have hastened the civil rights movement by at least a decade.”

//I note that organizers tried to win over religious leaders, but they didn’t start with them as the 1954 civil rights movement did. Also, people had TV in 1954, but not in 1946, consequently a national movement was not as likely.//

Pg27: FTA held a conclave at the Highlander School to discuss the problems they expected with Operation Dixie. It sounds like FTA was the only successful union involved.

Pg27: In 1946, the CIO was up to 4M members. But they were all experienced and trained in the North. A lot of organizing successes had been handed them by government action during the war. Companies were really rich from war profits.

Lots of anti-communism within the CIO. President Murray appointment Bittner to head the operation. Baldanzi was the sparkplug who carried it out. All were anti-communist. There was a deliberate attempt to try to avoid the inevitable red-baiting by keeping the reds out of Operation Dixie.

Pg28: They charged $1 initiation fee, but veterans were free

Pg29: on setting up initial organizing committees “The recruitment of this core group went slowly in Operation Dixie. Some organizers blamed the weather for the slow development of in-plant committees, while others focused on police hostility, the opposition of ministers, the public pronouncements of elected officials, the harshness of company policies that intimidated workers, the graciousness of company policies that made workers grateful, or the Machiavellian nature of companies that were capable of both.” //this seems like a pretty good list of what they were up against in the South//

Pg34: Humbling defeats in textile. Only successes in tobacco

Pg36: some union members were in the KKK

Pg 59: A lot of textile workers were historically intimidated because they had lost a strike in 1934. It was “organized from below” and had 400,000 participants. But they lost! They had also lost a big one in 1929. //that’s the one where Ella Mae Wiggins was murdered//

Pg60: In “Uncle Charley Cannon’s” mill territory, police arrest records were made in triplicate. One for Cannon!

Pg 65: “The president of the Food, Tobacco, Agricultural and Allied Workers of America (FTA), also a left-wing and heavily black union, issued a similar appeal for funds after a black FTA worker in Arkansas, on strike ‘against 55 cents an hour and a 12-hour day,’ was murdered by a strikebreaker in Little Rock. Although having confessed to stabbing the man, the strikebreaker was set free and, in his place, six union members were rushed to trial under charges of ‘attacking’ a strikebreaker. All were black.”

Pg72: The CIO knew that black union members were better unionists than white

Pg76: Race baiting and red baiting were everywhere, often together.

Pg 78:  Organizers felt that they had to organize white first because white workers would never join what they perceived to be a “black union.”

Pg84: Excellent anecdote about Ft Worth Packinghouse Local that refused to carry out CIO’s anti-racist policies. National leaders came down and forced them to do it. Then they stayed around and made sure that a mixed-race slate won the next election! //I can remember some of Roy Evans’ stories concerning Packing House leadership//

Pg92: Paternalism was total in mill villages. One anecdote from a mother tells how her 8-year old daughter was taken out of school to work in the mill. The bosses had switches. “The second-hand, the foreman, the loom-fixer or the doffer—anyone they had over the section could whip them.”

Pg99: In a long list of harassments, she cites a member of the internal organizing committee who could range around his plant. He was reassigned to a stationary position. Exact same thing happened to the Organizer at North American Aviation in Dallas in 1941!

Pg100: Great story of JP Mooney of Mine Mill and Smelter. Beaten, hospitalized, and threatened with death, he signed up “every bloody member of that plant.”

Pg103: “……literally scores of stories of unexpected confrontations with mobs organized by management.”

Pg105: “The CIO was forced to accept a contest on grossly unequal grounds. It never found a way to redress the balance.”

Pg107: Southern churches were a problem. “It’s either Christ or the CIO!”

Pg108: a preacher said on radio, “Luke 3:14 says be content with your wages.”

Pg108: “Militant Truth” was a free newspaper that followed CIO organizing drives around the South.

Pg121: CIO organizers tried to use Ecclesiastes 4:9-10: “Two are better than one because they have good reward for their labor. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone.”

Pg139 “In 1946, the CIO Executive Board included representatives of forty-one internationals.” And their views were diverse

“By the time Operation Dixie was officially launched in May 1946, hairline cracks and fissures in the CIO’s foundation had already become visible.”

Pg140: “To trace Philip Murray’s passage from cooperation with the CIO’s left to hostility and thence to implacable opposition is to trace, first, these national and international pressures, second, their impact on the CIO, and finally, the local ramifications in the South that brought Operation Dixie to a formal end in 1953.”

Steelworker red baiting was underway in 1946. James Carey, CIO national Secretary blasted UE reds.

Election of Nov 1946 was disaster for CIO and Democrats

Pg149: At the Highlander meeting, the FTA decided to work hard to organize within Operation Dixie, but they were afraid that the CIO was stacking it against the left. “The FTA’s fears of the CIO’s use of jurisdictional assignment as a weapon for defeating left-wing unions were well founded, however. By 1947, the CIO was assigning tobacco workers to the United Transport Service Employees’ Association. Such events constituted a form of ‘raiding’ by administrative action. Actual raiding followed soon afterward…”

Pg150: Mid-year 1947, CIO President Murray instructed the Exec to throw out the communists. “The center-left coalition was dead and the isolation of the left was complete.”

Pg152: Baldanzi called for expulsions at the 1947 Convention in Boston

Pg154: CIO and AFL raiding destroyed the FTA union at RJ Reynolds, which remained non-union

Pg155: crisis internal fighting in Ft Worth United Packinghouse Workers Union

Pg 157: AFL had always practiced “sweetheart” contracts to employers who wanted to avoid the CIO. They had done it from the K of L to present, she says.

Pg 157: Americans for Democratic Action established as liberal anti-communism, but wasn’t very effective. She doesn’t mention Hubert Humphrey.

Pg 160: Murray excoriating communists. “in such a manner, the CIO fought its way back into the mainstream of the Democratic Party. Unfortunately for labor, that mainstream represented an accommodation to corporate America that severely circumscribed labor’s influence on national policy. The price of respectability was high.”

Pg 161: “As a large-scale organizing campaign Operation Dixie died in December 1946 when the organizing staff was cut in half.”  UAW quit in 1948.

Pg172: ‘No quick fix can be suggested that might have changed the outcome of Operation Dixie.”

Pg176: concluding paragraph: “Operation Dixie happened at the moment of labor’s apogee when hopes were still lofty but when resources had begun to shrink and the corporate opposition had armed itself for a massive counterattack. All the tensions implicit in such a pivotal historical turning point surfaced in Operation Dixie. The legacy has been a bitter one, for within the ranks of the trade union movement, there were no winners, only losers. For American labor, Operation Dixie was, quite simply, a moment of high tragedy from which it has yet to fully recover.”

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

–Gene Lantz

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

We’ve been studying theories of social change:

  • 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.

–Gene Lantz

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

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:

https://www.marxists.org/archive/luxemburg/1900/reform-revolution/index.htm

Let me know if you would like to join us.

Gene Lantz

Contact me at genelantz19@gmail.com. I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program at 9AM Central Time every Saturday. If you are curious as to what I really think, check out my personal web site

Choose your favorite coming disaster:

  • Environment
  • Economy
  • War
  • Democracy

Strangling and drowning

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.

Environmentalists 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

The latest 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.

Thomas Piketty’s 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

Wealthy people 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 of war.

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 impotence

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.

Increasingly, the 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

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
  • End nepotism
  • 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 Longer Explanation

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 Their Friends

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.

What is 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.

What Makes Unionists Anti-Union?

Some union problems are built in, even when the union is working well.

Union servicing 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.

The published 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.

In enforcing 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.

Unions aren’t 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 Preventable Problems

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.

In the 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 400,000.

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.

About Those Cigars

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 on.

Short-term 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.

Long-term Solutions

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 go.

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 AFL-CIO.

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 America.

–Gene Lantz

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

It’s a peculiar thing for an activist to deliver such bad news, but there really aren’t any solutions for working people within our nation. Here’s why: If we won decent treatment for American working families , the cost of labor in the United States would go up. That’s exactly what the bosses keep telling us, but it’s true.

If the cost of labor went up in the United States, then the nation would suffer competitively with other nations. Eventually, the other nations would take over whatever goods and services we now offer to the world.

It’s a little bit easier to see in microcosm. Take, for example, the American auto industry. During the General Motors strike just concluded, management argued all the way through that they couldn’t afford to be less competitive with the transnational companies, like Nissan and Volkswagen, that are producing good cars in the United States for the United States market cheaper than General Motors. They claimed, I think, that they pay $10-$13 more per hour in unit labor costs.

Nobody really disputes that. It’s the handwriting on the wall. Eventually, those companies with the lower labor costs could drive General Motors out of business, unless we do something.

So it is in international affairs. The nations with the lowest labor costs tend to take over from those with higher costs. A lot of us would like to think that the Chinese economy has grown because of socialist planning, and maybe good planning had something to do with it, but I imagine that their unit labor costs deserve a lot of the credit. The same is true of the other rising Asian star, Vietnam.

As long as workers live in separate nations and compete with one another, then there will be pressure to drive down unit labor costs. That’s us, you and me, unit labor costs.

So there is no solution within the United States or within any of the competing nations.

That’s the bad news.

Want the Good News?

The good news is that our present idea of nation-states can be overcome with internationalism. Capitalist nation-states are fairly new in human history, and they can be overcome. The good news is that internationalism is making progress. Unionists allied with the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) recently held a big conference in Nepal. They went over the same kinds of problems that we might have discussed at an American trade union conference, but their solutions are different. Their solutions are internationalist.

More and more, we are seeing the AFL-CIO unite the progressive forces in the United States. They are also doing some good outreach in other countries. President Richard Trumka recently honored the leading Brazilian leader, Lula da Silva, even though he’s in prison. Tomorrow, American trade unionists are meeting with Mexicans in El Paso to discuss problems concerning immigration. Those are marvelous developments. They point the way forward. It’s what we need. It’s what we must have.

How Do We Get There?

Working families struggle at every level. Contract fights, elections, legislative battles, and whatever else comes up. Working families have a big stake in everything that happens, and they have to fight to get anything at all. More and more, we are seeing people fight for one another. It’s called solidarity, and it’s growing nicely.

The fights will continue and so will the solidarity. It will grow into international solidarity, too. Keep going, everybody, you’re doing great!

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program every Saturday at 9 AM Central Time. They podcast it on knon.org. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site