RAY O’ LIGHT Newsletter
“Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.”
Capitalist Criminality in the Coal Fields
Massey Energy Company is the third-largest coal producer in the USA (by 2009 revenue) and the dominant coal producer in the Central Appalachian region that produces about one-fifth of U.S. output, according to the Wall Street Journal (4-7-10). The Upper Big Branch Mine, like all but one of Massey Company’s seventy coal mines, is non-union. And in this time of capitalist economic crisis, with its rampant unemployment, non-union miners feel powerless to speak up even about the flagrantly unsafe conditions at the Massey mines in which they are compelled by their employer to work.
The serial violations of mine safety regulation and law at Upper Big Branch, at this one mine, are astounding. Since its 1994 opening, 3,035 regulatory citations and orders have been issued against the mine. “The Upper Big Branch mine … was cited for 458 violations in 2009, many involving poor ventilation of dust and methane, failure to maintain proper escape routes and the accumulation of combustible materials.” (New York Times editorial, 4-7-10) These are the very same ingredients that produced the tragic murder of the twenty-nine miners on April 5th. Just since the beginning of this year, the Upper Big Branch Mine has been cited more than 100 times.
In the two months preceding the tragedy, miners had been evacuated three times from this mine due to dangerously high methane levels. Last month alone, the Mine Safety and Health Administration cited the mine for 57 violations; and federal records show that in this same month Massey Company had been fined on at least three different occasions due to ventilation problems. Finally, on the very day of the blast, the Upper Branch Mine had been cited for two violations! No wonder 25 year-old miner, Josh Napper, one of those who perished, had left a letter with his mother and fiancée and infant before he went to work that day, expressing his fear that he would not survive working in this coal mine!!
Beyond the Upper Branch Mine, in December 2008, another Massey subsidiary, the Aracoma Coal Company, pleaded guilty to nine counts of “willful violations of safety standards” that contributed to the deaths of two West Virginia miners in a 2006 fire and paid $4.2 million for violations of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act. It was the largest such financial settlement in the coal industry’s history. The same year Massey also paid a $20 million fine for clean water violations, the largest of its kind levied by the Environmental Protection Agency. Such monetary penalties are just a cost of doing business for this criminal corporation.
On the day after the Massey mine disaster, the Chief Executive of Massey Energy Company, Don L. Blankenship, unrepentantly told a West Virginia radio audience that safety violations are “a normal part of the mining process.” As the New York Times pointed out, “Mr. Blankenship has long seemed to revel in the role of a modern-day coal baron. He amassed coal rights when some doubted the future of Appalachian coal, and raised profits by holding down production costs, collecting dozens of environmental and safety violations along the way.” (4-7-10, ROL Emphasis)
Blankenship’s CEO pay in 2008 totaled $11.2 million, up from $5.3 million in 2006. Much more significantly, Massey made $104 million in profit in 2009, doubling its 2008 profits, according to a NASDAQ report. The increased profits were largely achieved through a vicious cost-cutting campaign, including the elimination of 700 jobs and “significant wage and benefit reduction.” Increased company profits led Massey last month to purchase rival Cumberland Resources Corp. for about one billion dollars in cash and stock. This purchase has further strengthened Massey’s dominant position in Central Appalachian coal mining.
Massey’s increased profits also mean increased political power! Social-democrats promote the illusion that workers benefit when the companies they work for prosper. In opposition to this “plausible, respectable petty bourgeois lie,” Karl Marx taught the proletarian truth that the more swollen the capitalists’ profits, the more they are able to overpower, dominate and suppress the workers who produce these profits!
Blankenship and Massey Company’s Political Power
Using Massey Energy Company’s profits, Blankenship sits on the Board of Directors of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He has taken on unions, believers in global warming and even the trade association representing West Virginia coal mining companies! Blankenship has also made a substantial financial contribution to the emerging right wing fascistic anti-union, anti-worker Tea Party Movement.
Most instructive, with regard to the connection between private corporate profits and political power is Blankenship’s “investment” of about $3 million to defeat an incumbent justice on the West Virginia Supreme Court in 2004, at the height of the Bush Regime’s openly anti-labor rule. The beneficiary of his support in that election was Brent Benjamin who went on to become the court’s chief justice. Benjamin twice joined the majority in 3-to-2 decisions throwing out a $50 million jury verdict against Massey Energy. What a great deal for Blankenship!*
* This cozy arrangement of Blankenship/Massey with Benjamin ultimately proved to be too brazen, even for the openly ultra-reactionary, extreme pro-corporate U.S. Supreme Court of this Bush-Cheney period. The U.S. Supreme Court established a new legal precedent last year; it ruled in this Massey case that judges must disqualify themselves from cases involving people who spent unusually large sums to elect them.
In early 2006, twelve miners were killed in a Sago mine in West Virginia. Huge numbers of safety violations had been cited there, including 46 in the month preceding the disaster, in a scenario eerily similar to the current Massey Upper Big Branch mine disaster. This was in the same period that the two Aracoma miners we discussed above perished in the fire at the Massey subsidiary mine. Furthermore, the attorney for the widows of the Aracoma miners released a copy of a 2005 memorandum Blankenship had sent to his deep mine superintendents, ordering them to ignore requests from any source to do anything (like safety construction in the mines) other than to “run coal.” Blankenship explained: “This memo is necessary only because we seem not to understand that coal pays the bills.”
In the aftermath of these flagrant attacks on the West Virginia coal miners, including Blankenship’s “smoking gun” memorandum, Congress passed a law in 2006 overhauling the mine-safety laws. However, in 2006, Blankenship contributed more than $100,000 to legislative races in West Virginia. Furthermore, those associated with Massey Energy have donated more than $300,000 to federal candidates over the past two decades. The result of such bribes can be seen in the following example. One provision of the 2006 law called for every mine to have installed wireless communications systems by June 2009 that can target and communicate with trapped miners. Only ten percent of underground mines are currently in compliance with this 2006 law!
Congressman George Miller (D-CA), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, has complained that, under the improved 2006 law, the growing number of appeals by coal companies threatens to “render the federal efforts to hold mine operators accountable meaningless.” Mining safety experts agree. One in four violations issued by MSHA against coal mines is now appealed; the number of coal company appeals has tripled. Of the 50 “serious” safety violations at the Upper Branch mine in 2009, for example, Massey Energy appealed 37, resulting in those decisions being held in limbo as they wind their way through litigation. The result is the explosion and deaths of twenty-nine miners at Upper Branch, a backlog of 18,000 decisions pending appeals (as compared with only about 2,000 four years ago) and (thus far) $210 million in contested penalties. What political power Massey Energy and the big coal companies have!
Given these shocking facts, the working people of Appalachia and the USA should now be wide awake and fighting mad at Blankenship, Massey Energy and the capitalist system. To try to prevent the working class, the sleeping giant, from awakening, a systematic lullaby is being sung to us.
The political power exercised by Blankenship and the other coal barons in Appalachia and the U.S. monopoly capitalist and imperialist ruling class extends to the monopoly capitalist-controlled mass media. The news media kept the focus in the first days of this tragedy on the drama of whether the last four miners might miraculously be found alive, rather than on how the blatantly criminal Massey Energy Company and its outlaw chieftain, Don Blankenship, could be brought to justice.
This political power is reflected in the moderate tone in which concerns have been expressed by the political leaders in West Virginia. Former West Virginia Governor and current Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller blandly and calmly responded that more legislation is needed.* Current Governor Joe Manchin “criticized” Massey management not for murdering the miners but for not informing all the families in person. But this did not calm the aroused miners and other West Virginians. So Manchin called for a Friday off from coal production in West Virginia’s mines to appease the people and create the impression that the state government is taking serious steps to correct this situation.
* Jay’s actual name is John D. Rockefeller IV. His grandfather and namesake, John D. Junior, earned what should have been undying infamy as the force behind the Ludlow, Colorado Massacre of union miners and their families in 1914. How could “Jay” become one of the most successful elected officials in West Virginia, the state with the deepest history of miners’ struggles?!
President Barack Obama also reacted shrewdly. “This tragedy was triggered by a failure at the Upper Big Branch mine – a failure first and foremost of management, but also a failure of oversight and a failure of laws so riddled with loopholes that they allow unsafe conditions to continue.… We can’t just hold mining companies accountable – we need to hold Washington accountable.… The people of West Virginia are in our prayers. But … we owe them an assurance that when they go to work every day, when they enter that dark mine, they are not alone. They ought to know that behind them there is a company that’s doing what it takes to protect them, and a government that is looking out for their safety.”*
* Obama’s honeyed words to the aroused Appalachian people are reminiscent of his initial “condemnation” of the ouster of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya last year. In the end Obama’s Administration made sure that the Honduran coup would endure!
Obama blamed the U.S. Congress (Democratic Party-controlled since 2006) for the loopholes that allowed Massey Energy to recklessly violate mining laws; and he called on Congress for stronger laws. Indeed, Obama himself had appointed a pro-labor Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, and a former mine workers union official, Joe Main, as the head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration. Nevertheless, his request that Solis “streamline the rules” and establish a stricter inspection regime for companies with a pattern of violations is an admission that his appointees also could have done more to prevent this tragedy. The truth is that, with all the anti-worker baggage left over from the Bush Regime, this preventable criminal murder of the twenty-nine Massey Company miners happened on the Obama-Biden Administration watch.
Of course, neither the mass media nor the Obama Regime nor any other Democratic Party politician has called for or advocated the unionization of the mine workers as a key to the defense of their safety on the job. Shockingly, neither have the leaders of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA)! Instead of showing their loyalty to the mine workers, these union leaders have demonstrated loyalty to the Democratic Party.
The Unionization of the Coal Fields – Key to Health and Safety in Appalachia
Karl Marx taught that, under capitalism, in the class struggle between the capitalists and the workers, whichever side is more united, at any given time, will make gains against the other. Following World War II, the UMWA, under the leadership of John L. Lewis, was a united workforce in a still growing industry. With this unified and militant sector of the working class in the lead, unprecedentedly strong mine safety laws were introduced and, more importantly, union miners had the power to shut down unsafe mines. Beyond this, UMWA hospitals, financed from coal revenues provided to the union by contract, were built throughout Appalachia, bringing systematic modern health care to the people of the region for the first time.
For at least the past several decades, the opposite process has been at work. The UMWA hospitals are long gone and mine safety has become dependent on the “good will” of the mine owners and the politicians. In 1978, there were still over 120,000 active miners who were members of the UMWA. Today there are barely 14,000 active members.
Nevertheless, the current UMWA President, Cecil Roberts, has remained remarkably silent on the need for miners to join the UMWA in response to the Massey mine tragedy! He has faithfully followed Obama, Rockefeller and the other Democratic politicians in promoting the need for stronger laws and enforcement instead.*
* Roberts even distorted an Obama quote to make it appear that Obama said that miners should have the right to refuse to work in unsafe conditions, when Obama actually only advocated that miners have the right to “report” unsafe conditions. But the effect of overstating Obama’s point was to encourage the illusion that this right will be extended to non-union miners in which case they would not have to join the union to gain more safety on the job!
As if providing compensation or cover for his failure to raise the need to organize the miners, Roberts’ only deviation from the Democratic Party script has been his militant sounding declaration that Massey CEO Blankenship should be fined and jailed, “if there is any justice in America.” But Roberts has functioned as a “super-patriot” supporting the U.S. imperialist government in its wars on the working class and oppressed peoples around the rest of the world. So his question about “justice in America” is insincere at best.
Richard Trumka, who took over as the President of the AFL-CIO only about eight months ago, came into national AFL-CIO leadership from the position of UMWA President. Formerly a UMWA lawyer, Trumka had spent a brief period as a coal miner himself. Trumka’s labor origins in an industrial union has been seen as a refreshing and hopeful change from the more conservative labor origins of all the past AFL-CIO Presidents since the merger that created the AFL-CIO 55 years ago. Nevertheless, in dealing with this crisis in his home base, Trumka, too, has taken his lead from Obama and the Democrats. His criticisms of Massey and Blankenship have been quite measured and moderate and lacking in outrage and indignation. And Trumka has only very gently raised the “advantage of union representation” (not workers power) with “the contractual ability to shut down a mine (or portion thereof) for unsafe working conditions.” As yet, Trumka has not even raised the idea that justice could be served by the arrest and/or prosecution of Don Blankenship.*
* It is noteworthy that Trumka became UMWA President in 1984. That same year Blankenship became a major official in Massey Energy on the basis of his aggressive and ultimately successful union busting campaign against the UMWA, including at the Upper Big Branch Mine. Blankenship and Massey breached the UMWA’s “no contract, no work” union-wide contract solidarity, while Trumka and the UMWA failed to mount an effective response.
The virtual silence of Roberts and Trumka on the need for launching a union organizing campaign in the West Virginia coal fields in response to this tragedy is all the more remarkable in light of the following fact put forth by UMWA Communications Director Phil Smith: While three out of ten coal miners are UMWA members, only about one in ten fatalities is a union miner. This means that anyone seriously concerned about the on the job safety of coal miners could offer the path to an immediate elimination of two-thirds of coal miner deaths by simply advocating a campaign for unionization of the industry!
The Need for a Crusade to Organize and Nationalize the Coal Fields
The working class and the oppressed people of Appalachia deserve better than the treatment they have received from the U.S. imperialist government, the coal barons and class collaborationist union leadership. The Appalachian people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect; and the Appalachian coal miners deserve a safe place to work.
On this basis, the working class and the oppressed people of Appalachia need to: rise up in self defense, demand the arrest and conviction for murder of the capitalist criminal, Don Blankenship, and launch a crusade to organize the unorganized coal miners into the UMWA. This union organizing crusade should begin with the seventy Massey Energy mines. In this effort, the demand should be placed on all AFL-CIO unions and all Change to Win unions to provide support, solidarity, organizers and whatever it takes to organize the coal fields.
Tellingly, on the day after the Massey mine disaster, love for their Appalachian homeland was expressed by a number of miners and their families. As the Wall Street Journal reported: “Three and four generations of the same family frequently live in the same hollow and see each other every day. Through tears and anxiety on Tuesday many people used the same phrase to describe the area: ‘the best place on earth.’” And this love exists despite the fact that West Virginia, the heart of Appalachia, is the second poorest state in the USA. (Only Mississippi, the heart of the oppressed Afro-American nation, is poorer.) This widespread sentiment reflects a material basis for significant struggle for autonomy and/or self-determination.
Joseph Stalin taught that, “A nation is an historically evolved stable community of people with a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a community of culture.” (Marxism and the National Question) By this scientific Marxist-Leninist definition, the people of Appalachia, especially in the coal mining region, constitute an oppressed nation (or at least an oppressed region) within the current U.S. multi-national state.*
* Politically, a nation has the right to self-determination, up to and including the right to an independent existence as a state. A region has autonomous rights.
On this basis, the oppressed Appalachian people, led by the coal miners, should demand: “nationalization” (i.e. Appalachian regional appropriation under union-community working class control) of all coal mines which flagrantly and persistently engage in unlawfully unsafe conduct. This should begin with the take-over of the mines of Massey Energy, which is also a serial polluter and despoiler of the Appalachian natural environment. This is an opening campaign in the protracted struggle for the liberation of the oppressed Appalachian people from their wretched dependent (“colonial”) status at the hands of U.S. imperialism. All anti-imperialist patriots of Afro-America, Puerto Rico, Atzlan in the U.S. Southwest, Native Americans, immigrants from Mexico and Central and South America and other freedom-loving people as well as revolutionary workers fighting for a socialist USA should be called upon to offer proletarian internationalist solidarity to Appalachia in its struggle for justice.
Such a two-pronged crusade, aimed at Massey Energy
Company in the first place, will transform the UMWA into a democratic
and militant union; and it will revolutionize Appalachia.
It will also help to pave the way for the elimination of the capitalist
exploitation of man by man and for its replacement by a just and decent
socialist USA, based on relations of cooperation and respect among all
There is already one sector of the U.S. working class where a militant and democratic union organizing crusade has begun in earnest. This is the health care sector in California with the rise of the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW), “a new union for workers in hard times.” The NUHW faces tremendous obstacles on the path to democratic and militant rank and file unionism. These obstacles take the form, in particular, of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the largest union in the USA today, its bureaucratic leadership under the baton of Andy Stern and the SEIU’s powerful corporate and national Democratic Party connections.
As we reported last year, “SEIU President Andy Stern had tried to crush what had been a democratically run, San Francisco-based 150,000 member United Health Care local of SEIU, local #250, led by its progressive President, Sal Roselli. The National Union of Health Care Workers was launched on January 28, 2009 as a democratic response to the dictatorial seizure of Local #250 (‘trusteeship’) by Stern and his corrupt coterie of pampered and privileged trade union bureaucrats based in Washington, DC.
“Stern’s union organizing strategy has amounted to promoting growth of the union through negotiating sweetheart deals with private capitalist healthcare and hospital corporations over the heads of the workers, selling out the interests of the hospital, home and health care workers in exchange for diminished corporate resistance to ‘unionization’ of these workers. Local #250, by contrast, had become the fastest growing local in the SEIU by providing democratic empowerment of its worker-members in every aspect of union life – both internally, establishing bottom-up control of the union, and externally, where the members developed the organization and strength to stand up to the corporations, i.e. in the organizing committees, contract committees and in a strong stewards system operating the grievance procedure.” (“The National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) – A New Union for Workers in Hard Times,” Ray O’ Light Newsletter #55, July-August 2009)
In June 2009, at the time we published our newsletter devoted to NUHW and its potential significance for the U.S. and international working class struggle, it had just suffered an excruciatingly close loss among the Fresno Homecare workers, following its first substantial victory at Doctors Medical Center. In the Fresno campaign, “SEIU’s massive campaign used attack mailings, robo-calls, TV and radio ads and still had to break the labor law to barely win the vote.” (ibid.) NUHW’s charges against SEIU, including for widespread illegal threats to the individual homecare workers and for ballot tampering, are still pending and will lead, in all likelihood, to a re-run election. But, between this loss, and SEIU’s ability (through powerful connections to the national Democratic Party and to President Obama) to block elections at many of the 360 eligible facilities representing one hundred thousand workers where a majority had petitioned the labor board for elections to join NUHW, survival appeared not all that promising for the fledgling union.
Indeed, these nefarious acts of the SEIU bureaucracy, which also included the filing of countless frivolous charges against NUHW and its largely volunteer staff, were intended to starve and strangle the NUHW out of existence, seeking to prevent the workers in the healthcare industry from having the opportunity to choose the trade union organization that they want. Nevertheless, we were confident in the strength of the NUHW and the healthcare workers, as our Newsletter declared.*
* In what has been an all too rare demonstration of self-sacrifice in the modern U.S. labor movement, many NUHW union organizers kept the faith with the workers and functioned as volunteer (or minimally paid) organizers when the workers kept faith with NUHW.
In December 2009, the 900 caregivers at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital were finally able to have their union recognition election. And what a stunning result! NUHW received 283 votes to 13 for SEIU! The fact that “no union” almost won the vote, gaining almost as many votes as NUHW, exposed the anti-union role being played by SEIU in the campaign, which refused to withdraw even when requested by the local labor council. For SEIU’s 13 votes were less than one vote for each mass mailing it had done to the workers, and far less than one vote for every professional SEIU staff person they had sent in. SEIU was clearly an integral part of the company’s anti-NUHW campaign! What an exposure of SEIU-UHW, which has won zero workers to organized labor since its “creation” by Stern-SEIU in January 2009! Meanwhile, in Santa Rosa, NUHW had won the USA’s biggest hospital union election of 2009.
The following month, in January 2010, the most powerful blow struck thus far for democratic unionism in the USA in decades occurred with the votes of three Kaiser union locals in Southern California. Kaiser Healthcare Professionals voted 189 for NUHW to 29 for SEIU; Kaiser Psych-Social Unit voted 717 for NUHW to 192 for SEIU; and Kaiser Los Angeles RN Unit voted 746 for NUHW to 36 for SEIU.
There is tremendous significance to this decisive victory for NUHW and decisive rejection of SEIU. First, all of these Kaiser employees had the experience of being in both these unions while dealing with the same employer and the overwhelming vote for NUHW shouts out their choice. Second, these three votes on top of the Santa Rosa vote helped inspire the NUHW staff to keep on keepin’ on, rather than allowing the NUHW to be starved and litigated into extinction. Third, these votes exposed the bankruptcy of the SEIU in the eyes of all of organized labor. (In order to try to save face and stem the NUHW’s momentum, the SEIU got to withdraw its labor board block on elections in twenty-six of eighty units where it believes it has the best chance of winning. The labor board shamefully allowed this “cherry picking” rather than unblocking all eighty units since the charges are identical. But it does put the labor board under greater scrutiny, too.)
Fourth, the overwhelming support of the three Kaiser units lays a basis for a voluntary dues campaign (while still in contract negotiations themselves) among these clearly knowledgeable workers who have a big stake in the survival of the NUHW and for a volunteer organizing role in the next great NUHW organizing campaign, among the rest of the Kaiser workforce.
Fifth, in June 2010, 45 thousand Kaiser workers will finally be given their opportunity to file for a vote for the union of their choice, at the single largest bargaining unit in the hospital industry. And, like the three Kaiser units that voted in January, these workers have had both the experience of being Kaiser employees while being part of the SEIU’s top down, dictatorial form of union organization and also while being part of the NUHW (as UHW local #250) with its rank and file “bottom up” democratic control and mass committee involvement in all aspects of the union’s activities.
If the NUHW is able to win the giant Kaiser Unit, it will have the ability to survive and thrive. So the prospects look promising for NUHW. But SEIU knows this, too. It knows that if NUHW wins the big Kaiser unit, it will be the beginning of the end for SEIU among healthcare workers in California, SEIU’s largest base in its largest state. So SEIU will stop at nothing to defeat NUHW and the healthcare workers at Kaiser.
Such was the motivation for a recent civil lawsuit pursued by SEIU with the use of ten million dollars of members’ dues money to try to intimidate and destroy NUHW. It resulted in a jury award to SEIU that amounted to only a fraction of its legal fees, but still cost the NUHW much time, energy and resources. As legendary union leader Dolores Huerta, co-founder with Cesar Chavez of the United Farm Workers, said about this verdict: “Tens of thousands of healthcare workers are organizing with NUHW for a real voice at work and a democratic voice in their union, and that will continue in spite of this verdict. These reformers stood up for workers’ right to vote when SEIU tried to take it away, and that’s the only thing they are guilty of.”
The NUHW’s successes among the California health care workers are, no doubt, a major reason why Andy Stern is apparently about to resign as President of SEIU! The fact that his longtime heir apparent, Anna Burger, SEIU Secretary-Treasurer and head of the Change to Win Coalition, has withdrawn her name from consideration for the SEIU Presidency, underscores this point. For Burger is the individual most closely associated with Stern’s leadership.
Now it seems that SEIU International Executive Vice President and Health Care Division Chief, Mary Kay Henry, who originally came from the SEIU staff in Southern California, will likely assume the Presidency. Though less well known and less identified with Stern, Henry, like Burger, has been a key confidante of Stern, voted for the dictatorial take-over of SEIU-UHW #250, and has close links to the corrupt and exposed Stern-appointed SEIU leadership in Southern California. Most importantly, Henry, like Stern, is a strong advocate of building union-management partnerships over the heads of and at the expense of the healthcare workers and union members.*
* As Sal Rosselli pointed out, “Stern’s legacy is that SEIU has become a rogue union, undemocratic, unable to pay its bills, and unwilling to defend its members…. His likely successors, Mary Kay Henry and Anna Burger, have been tarred by the same ethics scandals and failed policies that marred his tenure.” (“Statement by NUHW Interim President Sal Rosselli on the Likely Resignation of SEIU President Andy Stern,” 4-13-10)
Because SEIU’s anti-worker policies are so identified with Stern,
there will be a new dangerous opportunity for SEIU to present itself as
a changed entity with Stern gone. The combination of the general
jubilation among Kaiser workers that Stern will no longer head the SEIU
and the fact that Henry is a woman leader in a majority women’s
industry means that SEIU, with Henry as President, will likely be a
more difficult opponent to expose and defeat than the Stern-led SEIU
would have been.
Among other unions, the UNITE-HERE union, mainly made up of hotel and restaurant workers, has provided real solidarity and support for NUHW in this crucial period. Mike Casey, the outstanding HERE Local 2 leader in San Francisco and the head of the San Francisco Labor Council, has led his local and the local labor movement in excellent support of NUHW, in the face of SEIU threats. Among other things, good organizers have been loaned for key campaigns to the hard-strapped NUHW.
Under the leadership of UNITE-HERE President John Wilhelm, substantial support to the NUHW in this hour of need has been provided by this union at the national level, too. And Wilhelm has tried to get other AFL-CIO unions to provide NUHW with support, as well. But other union leaders, afraid of the power of Andy Stern and the SEIU and their political connections to the national Democratic Party, or themselves afraid of rank and file democratic and militant unionism, or simply conserving their mostly dwindling union treasuries for their own narrow and selfish purposes, have thus far largely refrained from aiding the NUHW.
As we pointed out last year: “for the entire U.S. labor movement, saddled with a leadership corrupted and ossified by sixty years of collaboration with the bulwark of world capitalism, the U.S. monopoly capitalist class of the hegemonic imperialist power, … [NUHW] helps raise up the banner of union democracy and militant struggle against capital. In this time of capitalist economic crisis, in the absence of militant class struggle by the working class in its own defense, the current epidemic of unemployment can only lead to drastic reduction of wages and intensification of exploitation for those ‘fortunate’ to still have a job [cf. the lethal working conditions of the coal miners in West Virginia or the oil rig workers in the Gulf off the Louisiana coast]. NUHW success, based on militant and democratic union principles, points the way forward; it helps to illuminate the working class path of escape from the stranglehold of U.S. finance capital and its government.” (ibid.)
The Revolutionary Organization of Labor, USAcalls upon all class conscious workers and trade unionists in the USA today to come to the aid of NUHW. Whether it is skilled labor organizers or clerical help (especially Californians) giving two weeks or two months volunteer time, or small or large donations from local, regional or national unions, or individually, we should all help NUHW to get to that strategically important vote in Kaiser this summer in the strongest possible position to win. Join the Crusade!
With the NUHW crusade, U.S. labor is finally on the march once again. Hopefully, this will help lead to a union organizing crusade in the Appalachian coal fields, and into a general crusade of the U.S. labor movement to organize the unorganized in defense of the working class against capitalist exploitation and oppression in this time of acute capitalist economic crisis. Such a crusading labor movement in the USA will bring us a long way down the road to solidarity with working people all over the world.
Workers of the World Unite!
For a successful labor and working class movement crusade to organize the unorganized in the USA, unity of the working class is a necessity.
In the last week in April, the Arizona state legislature passed the most extreme right wing and chauvinistic bill that attempts to sharply divide the working class by criminalizing immigrants and those “who look like immigrants.” This includes tourists from Mexico, native Arizonans who speak with a Spanish accent, etc. It was then enthusiastically signed into law by Governor Jan Brewer, making it the most chauvinistic law in the USA in decades.
The principal feature of this situation is that it represents a big new step down the road to open fascism in the USA, with a state government now standing behind the Tea Party/Militia mass motion “in opposition to” the Federal government, while the federal government passes and enforces its own tyrannical laws and policies that are heading toward fascism as well.
But the genuine outrage felt by millions of immigrants and their families and friends led to a substantial popular protest on May Day, though not on the massive scale of 2006. The giant leap toward open terrorism against immigrant and other workers that this bill represents provides leftists, labor organizers, and anti-imperialist nationalists and internationalists an even wider opportunity to establish united front coalitions against rising fascism. This includes the urgent need to develop economic boycotts of Arizona by conventions, tourist groups et al, before other states join Arizona in passing such a draconian law.
The Revolutionary Organization of Labor, USA and other working class and anti-imperialist fighters must demand that organized labor take a strong and active role in defense of the immigrant section of the U.S. working class and the unity of the entire working class by condemning the Arizona law and working with all its might for its repeal and to keep the contagion from spreading.
“For the proletariat needs the truth
and there is nothing so harmful to
its cause as plausible, respectable
Selected Works, Vol. X, p. 41
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