Ray O. Light
The AFL-CIO Split and the Fight for Workers Power
Since 1955 the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organization (AFL-CIO) has been the only union federation representing the organized section of the working class in the United States, the most powerful imperialist country of the world. Until this past July almost every US trade union was affiliated with the AFL-CIO. This years’ AFL-CIO convention beginning on July 25th marked the 50th anniversary of the 1955 merger of the AFL and CIO. At this convention the AFL-CIO literally split in two. Unions representing some six million workers and almost 40% of the organized section of the US working class quit on the eve of the AFL-CIO Convention or have done so since. These unions met on September 27th, to form a new labor federation, called the Change to Win Coalition.
What has been the significance of the AFL-CIO and of its split and what is the significance of the new Change to Win Coalition for the international proletariat, including for the working class of the USA?
I. The Historical Origins of the AFL-CIO Merger and Its Role
Founded in 1881, and becoming the American Federation of Labor in 1886, this federation was built among the skilled tradesmen on a narrow craft and white supremacist basis from the beginning. It never attempted to organize the large and growing mass of unskilled workers, flocking into the big industrial corporations.
The CIO, created in 1935, was built in direct opposition to and upon a break with the AFL bureaucracy and its refusal to organize the unorganized in the mass industries of unskilled workers such as Steel, Auto, Electrical, Rubber, Tobacco and Mining. Millions of women and Afro-American workers were welcomed into its ranks. The CIO brought about the most advanced and successful period of the US Labor Movement -- breaking the open shop and organizing most basic industries on a national scale, previously unorganized. The "apple of the CIO eye" was "left-center unity" and democratic militant working class action exemplified by such fighting "left" unions as the United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers (UE), Fur and Leather Workers, West Coast Longshore, Food, Tobacco and Agricultural, and Mine, Mill and Smelter.
The AFL-CIO merger of 1955, lauded by the labor bureaucrats of its time for its "unity", represented the death of the CIO after already being mortally wounded by the cold war leadership of the likes of Walter Reuther of the Auto Workers. The merger took place in the midst of the anti-communist hysteria of the McCarthy period in the United States and the rise of US imperialism as the unrivaled imperialist power in the world. By the time the merger took place the most militant and democratic unions had been purged and/or their "left" leaders had largely been driven out of the unions, persecuted and jailed. Some of the most progressive unions such as the
UE were openly raided with cold war government-corporation creations like the IUE. The AFL-CIO is a cold war creation.
The Cold Warriors of the AFL-CIO
In Imperialism and the Split in Socialism, Lenin brilliantly revealed the connection between the rise of the imperialist stage of capitalism and the victory which opportunism achieved within the labor movement in Europe and concluded that, "…the opportunists (social chauvinists) are working hand in hand with the imperialist bourgeoisie precisely towards creating an imperialist Europe on the backs of Asia and Africa, and objectively the opportunists are a section of the petty bourgeoisie and of certain strata of the working class who have been bribed out of the imperialist super-profits and converted into watchdogs of capitalism and corrupters of the labor movement." (Selected Works Vol. XI, p 752, Lenin’s emphasis)
Since the United States was the unrivalled imperialist power after World War II, this observation of Lenin applied all the more to the situation among the US workers in the 1950’s.
From its inception, the robber baron Rockefeller family had more influence over the AFL-CIO than the workers did. George Meany, AFL President and then to become AFL-CIO President, had been hand picked by the Rockefeller family to be the labor "spokesperson" during the construction of the famed Rockefeller Center in NYC in the 1930’s. Meany’s protégé, Lane Kirkland, who succeeded Meany as AFL-CIO President, served on the Rockefeller led Tri-Lateral Commission. At his death in 1999 Kirkland was lauded by the US bourgeois media as a great labor "statesman" for his role in helping to "defeat" communism.*
* The Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed piece entitled "Union’s Leader, Freedom’s Champion" stating: "But it was for his role in the struggle against communism for which Kirkland will be best remembered. His staunch anti-communism led him to support dissidents like Andrei Sakharov and Alexander Solzhenitsyn in Russia, Vaclav Havel in Czechoslovakia and most of all, Lech Walesa, leader of Poland’s Solidarity trade Union. From the time martial law was declared in Poland in December 1981 until Solidarity reemerged in June 1989 with a sweeping electoral victory, the AFL-CIO funneled millions of dollars in aid to the underground movement in the form of printing presses, mimeograph machines and direct financial assistance to support thousands of activists and hundreds of clandestine anti-Communist publications." (WSJ, 8/16/99)]
The AFL-CIO has functioned as a tool of US imperialism and its foreign policy. The AFL-CIO labor "aristocracy" supported the criminal US war against the national liberation movements of Vietnam and all Indo-China, and, particularly in the construction trades, incited union members to physically attack and intimidate anti-war protesters. In a number of workplaces AFL-CIO leadership promoted "Don’t bite the war that feeds you", encouraging workers to sacrifice their sons and daughters to kill and be killed for imperialist super-profits in Indo-China.
In 1962 the AFL-CIO created AIFLD (American Institute for Free Labor Development) which loyally served the US imperialist agenda for Latin America. It trained "capitalist" unions and destroyed "communist" unions, meddled in the affairs of Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Honduras, Grenada and El Salvador and various peoples’ movements. AIFLD was directly tied to the US State Department and the CIA. AIFLD received 98% of its money from the US government but with government designation as a "private voluntary organization" it avoided any congressional oversight and public scrutiny. The AFL-CIO has blood on its hands with its support of right wing death squads and its assistance to US imperialism in the overthrow of democratically elected governments in Latin America such as the Allende government of Chile. There Allende was replaced by the infamous Pinochet military dictatorship that made Chile "safe" for US investment and profits.
In Asia, the AFL-CIO has propped up the most reactionary union federations. For example, in the Philippines, it has promoted the Trade Union Confederation of the Philippines against the genuine anti-imperialist Kilasung Mayo Uno (KMU -- "The May First Movement"). In Eastern Europe the AFL-CIO played an instrumental role through their "Solidarity Center" in promoting anti-communist, pro-capitalist unions like Solidarity in Poland. It helped to accelerate the restoration of capitalism in former socialist and semi-socialist countries and to open up huge markets previously out of reach of the greedy claws of US and other multi-national corporations.
With the AFL-CIO leading the working class in the United States on a course of great nation chauvinism and unity with their own imperialists against their best friends around the world, it is little wonder that the union leadership has been completely unable and unwilling to defend even the short term economic interests of the US working class against capital. The disarmed US working class has taken a beating on the "home front".
The last 30 years has witnessed a spiral of concessionary bargaining in the USA, where unions have surrendered the field to "corporate greed". Whole unionized industries, such as the meatpacking industry centered in the Middle West, have disappeared into non-unionized bastions of the employers. Two tier wage systems where new and younger workers were sold-out to the selfish interests of the existing workforce have been commonplace, the end result being that all workers have been pushed down to the lower tier. "Quality of Work Life" programs and other overt class collaborationist schemes have become commonplace, further disarming the working class and undermining union solidarity and organization.
Defined pension plans have become relics, replaced by 401Ks where workers invest their own money in the Stock Market subject to the vagaries of Wall Street. Ten thousand workers are killed in workplace accidents each year with 300,000 more dying from occupational disease. Manufacturing plant closings in the United States go unchallenged without even a whimper from organized labor. The minimum wage stands at a paltry $5.15/hour with no increase in the last nine years and 75 million persons a year go without health insurance in any two year period. Fifty year ago, the organized labor movement fought for universal health care in the USA. Today, each union is looking out for the interests of that individual union and its health care financial stake only. Consequently, the US labor movement has not even rallied behind a Canadian style system of single-payer health care. Pensions are wiped out either through direct corporate corruption (e.g. the Enron affair) or with the legal stroke of a pen by bankruptcy court judges (e.g. United Airlines). And the US Census Bureau’s annual report on consumer income shows that, "Although the US economy grew robustly last year, the income of the median household slipped a bit, wages of full-time workers fell, the number of Americans living below the poverty line rose and more Americans went without health insurance." (ROL Emphasis, Wall Street Journal, August 31, 2005) The number of Americans who fell into poverty increased to 37 million – up 1.1 million from 2003 according to this same report.
In key labor struggles where workers have fought back, like at the Hormel meat packing plant in Austin, Minnesota in the 1980’s or at Staley in Illinois in the 1990’s, the workers were sold-out by union bureaucrats. Heroic struggles that could have been won were smashed. So too was PATCO.
The Litmus Test---Remember PATCO!
In 1981 the US air traffic controllers went on strike only to be smashed by the state apparatus when then President Reagan fired all 10,000 and permanently replaced them. This occurred despite the strategic placement of unions throughout the airline industry (flight attendants, machinists, pilots, etc.) with the power to shut the industry down. The AFL-CIO membership was never rallied by the Lane Kirkland leadership to defend PATCO. Kirkland used the excuse that PATCO was a "go it alone", "independent" union that had supported Reagan in the 1980 Presidential election. Kirkland publicly stated: "What goes around comes around". The labor bureaucrats were content to see PATCO smashed.
The smashing of PATCO opened the floodgates of permanent ("scab") replacements and the US Labor movement has been in retreat ever since. For the most part the strike weapon has been ripped out of the workers’ hands. Fear dominates US working class thinking when it comes to fighting the boss. Twenty-five years later Corporate America is still feeding like vultures on the working class and its PATCO corpse. In fact, the labor movement has just faced its "PATCO II" with the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA) strike of mechanics against Northwest Airlines.
AFL-CIO Politics as Usual
In the political arena the AFL-CIO has been a front for the two parties of big business, primarily as a wing of the Democratic Party, helping to keep the working class tied to the two party system of corporate/capitalist rule. Immense money and human resources go into electing Democrats as "friends of labor". In this last presidential election alone, the SEIU dedicated some $60 million and thousands of street activists in an attempt to elect Democratic candidate John Kerry and the labor movement in general spent over $200 million. Kerry’s positions were clearly not pro-labor and his position on Bush’s criminal wars for empire was "I can do it better". Alas, AFL-CIO president Sweeney bemoans the fact that he has never been invited to the Bush White House in five years while having been invited to the While House over 100 times in the eight years of the Clinton presidency as proof enough of the "friendship" of the Democratic Party. Yet it was with the Clinton Presidency that the working class got NAFTA, Welfare Reform, defeat of Labor’s efforts to outlaw striker replacement and the continuous bombing of the people of Iraq.
The Sweeney Period
Ten years ago, in the first contested election in the history of the AFL-CIO, John Sweeney, Richard Trumka and Linda Chavez Thompson were elected as the leadership of the AFL-CIO against Kirkland’s hand picked designee. This represented some recognition that the organized labor movement in the USA was in deep trouble. Yet, the renewed focus on organizing the unorganized promised by the new leadership was too little too late, resulting in only a slightly slower process of disintegration.
As we wrote last year, "The AFL-CIO leadership continues to be locked in a long-standing embrace with the US imperialist government going back to its formation at the height of the anti-communist McCarthy period in 1955 following the driving out of the progressive ‘left’ unions and leadership. AFL-CIO head John Sweeney offered full political support to George W. Bush and his ‘war on terror’, serving up the sons and daughters of the working class to be cannon fodder on the altar of corporate profits. The Executive Council of the AFL-CIO, representing the top leadership of all the major unions in the USA, stated after the criminal invasion of Afghanistan was well under way, ‘We support the president in his decision to use military force, even as we recognize this struggle may well be long and difficult.’ Behind the scenes, the AFL-CIO leadership worked hand in glove with US imperialism’s failed efforts to overthrow the popular Chavez government of Venezuela funneling National Endowment for Democracy (NED) Funds to the Chavez opposition.** The AFL-CIO supports right wing reactionary unions from Haiti to the Philippines against genuine class struggle oriented unions. And it was this same ‘social-democratic’ Sweeney and the AFL-CIO leadership that after 9-11, cancelled planned anti-IMF protests scheduled in Washington D.C. as part of their efforts to line up the working class behind George W. Bush." (See "Country Report-USA", Ray O. Light Newsletter, August 2004).
** In 1983 the NED was created by the US Congress with the aim of financing and influencing groups that would counter groups opposing US interests. Essentially it is a "legal" cover for a CIA conduit. The NED immediately played a role in helping to overthrow the Sandinista government of Nicaragua and provided money, through the AFL-CIO, to conservative Korean unions in opposition to radical unions that organized strikes and factory occupations. Bush, the Democrats and the AFL-CIO all supported a recent doubling of NED funds by some $40 million to be used in Iraq and the Middle East as part of propping up the occupation authority.
Earlier, we had observed, "Once they had put their prestige behind Bush it was impossible for these leaders to defend on the domestic front even the most immediate and partial interests of their own members against the Bush-led corporate pirates with their ‘economic stimulus’ packages of tax breaks for the rich, massive corporate lay-offs, the Bush energy policy sponsored by Enron, the fast track vote on Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), etc." ("Social Props of Bush’s Terrorist War", Ray O. Light Newsletter, March 2002)
Development is uneven, however, and over the Sweeney period there were glimmers of hope and some positive developments. The 1999 "Battle of Seattle" against the WTO represented a huge step forward for US organized labor. After the fact, Sweeney was forced to give lip service to support for the effort. At the first opportunity, however, with the Sweeney-led great nation chauvinism of the AFL-CIO’s "No to China" campaign regarding China’s entry into the WTO, this step toward international solidarity was undermined.
Another positive example was the 200,000 worker Teamsters strike against UPS in 1999 which united full time and part time workers, garnered surprisingly strong public support and proved to be one of the few significant US strike victories in recent memory. The AFL-CIO called demonstrations in Miami in 2004 against the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA), providing some basis to build international solidarity. The successful struggle of the "Charleston 5" (in the Black Belt South) to defend their leaders and Long Shore Union local in the face of a sell-out by their own national leadership, was a shining light. Led by the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union (now merged into the Steelworkers Union), some unions embarked on a fledging labor party effort, stalled in large part by the refusal of most unions to break even in part with the Democratic Party. West Coast Long Shore workers joined anti-war protests on the first anniversary of the open invasion of Iraq with a daylong work stoppage. The AFL-CIO developed a position of welcoming immigrant workers into the ranks of labor thereby removing an obstacle to working class unity. And, finally, the AFL-CIO took a weak but positive step at its July Convention, after the split, calling for the "rapid withdrawal" of US troops from Iraq, though this is not much more "radical" than the current position of their corporate bosses in the Democratic Party.
In sum, however, the primary role of the AFL-CIO hierarchy has been as a dangerous and effective social prop of US imperialism, an arch enemy of the world’s working class and oppressed peoples. From the standpoint of the world proletarian revolution, the AFL-CIO has represented pro imperialist class collaboration. The AFL-CIO bureaucracy thrived based on "a social compact" with the US monopoly capitalist class: for isolation from and betrayal to the international proletariat, the best friends of the US working class and collaboration with United States imperialism, the main bulwark of world reaction; for wages and overtime hours over safety, decent working conditions, worker empowerment and quality of life for workers and their families in the USA. The AFL-CIO leadership has been a leadership of success for US monopoly capitalism and imperialism and a leadership of setback and defeat for the US workers.
Current state of affairs
Fifty years ago at the time of the AFL-CIO merger, one out of three US workers was in a union. By the time the 50th anniversary of the AFL-CIO rolled around this summer, less than 12.5% of the US working class was in unions (some 13 million) and the organized percentage of workers in the private sector was under 8%. The clout of the AFL-CIO in relationship to employers and politically is severely diminished as witnessed by the elimination of union pensions in the bankruptcy court proceedings of United Airlines where tens of thousands of workers lost promised pensions with the stroke of a pen. The US labor movement, as we have known it, is truly on the verge of extinction, possibly beyond the point of no return in its current form.
At the time of the split, there were some 56 unions in the AFL-CIO. Many duplicate jurisdiction and resources. For example there are some 13 different railroad unions, and in the Postal Industry, where there is one major employer, there are five different unions representing different crafts.
Faced with extinction and following the defeat of Kerry and the Democrats, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), led by Andy Stern, raised three positive proposals to address what they refer to as the changed and largely service economy of the United States today:
Spend more money organizing the unorganized workers with at least 50% of AFL-CIO dues reimbursed for organizing.
Streamline the AFL-CIO Structure: the 56 unions would be reduced to 13 or so "mega" unions within defined industries which would also eliminate jurisdictional disputes between and among unions.
Organize global unions to challenge global capital and multi-national corporations.
AFL-CIO "labor statesmen" countered these proposals with the need for even more "political action" (translated as electing more Democrats). Of course, most of the existing union leadership opposed the mandated mergers as a direct challenge to their vested interests.***
*** William Z. Foster, the great US trade unionist and head of the CPUSA, described the labor bureaucrats this way: "There is a strong tendency, universal in capitalist countries, for the trade union leadership to develop certain group interests of its own antagonistic to those of the workers. The labor official of today, with his private fortune, fancy automobiles, aristocratic apartments, and extensive business interests, is a very different type from the men who laid the basis of our trade union movement. … The modern top trade union leaders are pampered servants of capitalism, well paid betrayers of the working class. Their aims and ideals have been divorced from those of the rank and file; their primary purpose is to advance their own interests regardless of those of the workers. That is why… ‘They have made America the land of lost strikes’ ". (American Trade Unionism, 1947)]
Given its history and current practice and current state of affairs, no honest worker can doubt that there needs to be fundamental change in the US Labor Movement. A break up of the AFL-CIO does not in and of itself represent a setback for working class unity. For AFL-CIO "unity" has led from one defeat to another for the US working class and been a serious obstacle to the workers of the world and the struggle for national liberation and socialism.
II. The Change to Win Coalition and its Prospects
Led by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and its president Andy Stern, the three largest US unions: the SEIU of 1.8 million members, the Teamsters with 1.4 million members and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union with 1 million members all disaffiliated from the AFL-CIO, forming the Change to Win Coalition (CTW). This new coalition was joined by the UNITE/HERE union consisting of textile and hotel workers, the Laborers Union and the United Farm Workers Union. The Carpenters Union, which consists of some 600,000 members and had left the AFL-CIO a few years ago, is also part of the CTW.
The current AFL-CIO leadership bemoaned the "weakening" of the Labor movement. Gerald McEntee, President of AFSCME, called it a "tragic day". SEIU President Andy Stern, the leader of the CTW forces, countered, "Our goal is not to divide the labor movement but to rebuild it."
Many in the US "left", with little or no connection to the working class, have condemned "the breaking of ranks" as undermining working class "unity" (see the Trotskyite Socialist Organizer). Others like the semi-Trotskyite, semi-anarchist Workers World Party take a wait and see attitude. The Democratic Party is extremely upset as so much of their election time "muscle" comes from labor unions.
Is this dramatic development in the US labor movement a step backward or a step forward for the US working class and for workers the world over?
On the positive side, there have been some initial efforts to put CTW’s money where their mouth is. The SEIU has opened offices in a number of countries including England and Brazil to coordinate efforts with unions in these countries. The CTW coalition has established a yearly $25 million special fund for organizing campaigns vitally important to the entire US labor movement -- aimed at FedEx, Walmart, etc. At their founding convention the CTW Federation earmarked 75% of per capita dues for organizing.**** In a op ed column for the Los Angeles Times entitled "Why we walked out on AFL-CIO", Stern at least paid lip service to independence from Democratic Party politics: "We also are committed to acting independently from any political party –Democrats or Republicans -- and being an aggressive watchdog for the public interest". This stance helps expose the unholy marriage of the AFL-CIO to the Democratic Party and opens the door for more struggle for an independent worker-based labor party.
**** Organizing of the working class into trade unions in basic self-defense organization of workers, will lead to more class-consciousness and more collectivism on the part of the US working class, a needed step on the road to seizure of power by the working class.
Furthermore, at the CTW’s one-day founding convention on September 27th, SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger was designated to lead the new labor federation and Edgar Romney, an Afro-American, was chosen as Secretary-Treasurer. Chairwoman Burger stated: "Strategic, smart organizing is our core principle -- our North Star." This represents the first time in US labor history that a woman is leading a national labor federation and that an Afro-American is part of the leadership team. It signifies that the CTW aims to organize workers among the lower paid and service employees.
As we pointed out in our last Newsletter, "The division of the main organization of workers in the USA into two federations in the face of the anti-labor Bush Regime on the surface appears to weaken the position of the US working class. However, the shake-up of this reliable social prop of US imperialism has within it the possibility for new opportunities for working class organization of a more militant character to emerge. [The issues raised around the split and quite possibly the split itself represent new opportunity for rebuilding the labor movement of the US.] Indeed, among the exiting organizations, especially Stern’s SEIU, some small amount of real organizing of the unorganized has taken place over the past decade." (The Iraqi National Liberation Movement and the World Proletarian Revolution, Ray O. Light Newsletter, Sept. 2005)
On the negative side, the formation of the CTW coalition unions had little input from the rank and file. CTW’s "mega" union model appears to carry with it the elimination of much local union democratic life where the rank and file is nurtured and developed and young working class fighters emerge. The entire focus on growth vs. "politics" can lead to a dangerous apolitical stance of the unions solely leaving politics in the hands of the wealthy where they already hold dominant sway. And there is a real possibility that at least in the short run the "split" may weaken the "unity" of labor in specific immediate crises at a time when the unionized workers face the extremely repressive anti-union Bush policies and practices.
In addition, these CTW unions have plenty of reactionary and bureaucratic baggage similar to the remaining AFL-CIO unions. UFCW president Joe Hanson was the key traitor in the sell-out of the courageous Hormel workers and their P-9 local in Minnesota as they fought against the tide of concessions and union busting in the meat packing industry. James Hoffa, president of the Teamsters, was the candidate to replace the government framed and persecuted reform Teamster President Ron Carey after Carey had led the successful national strike against UPS. Hoffa’s campaign manager and confidante is a shady character named Leebove of the notorious LaRouche fascist organization. Leaders on both sides of the "split" profited from the corrupt ULLICO (Union Labor Life Insurance Company) insider trader scandal. A number of the CTW unions have been historically "mobbed-up" over the years with widespread mafia influence in the HERE, Teamsters and LIUNA. Such influence remains an area of concern today and could ultimately represent fertile soil of a "fascist labor front". And the Teamsters and Carpenters, rather than promoting independent working class politics, have leaned with the Republican Party over the years, with Teamster endorsements of both Nixon and Reagan, the more open and aggressive representatives of US imperialism.
The split in the AFL-CIO is not principled on either side. Lines of demarcation have not been drawn on key working class questions -- class struggle unionism, labor solidarity, the war against Iraq and Afghanistan, independent working class political action. It is noteworthy that real efforts to link up with the struggles of the international proletariat were absent from the CTW founding convention last month.
This "split" does not represent the building of a new CIO. The formation of the CIO, took place in a period where 1) the working class of the United States was clamoring for and building union and other self-defense organization and was not afraid to use the strike weapon and other mass actions in its fight; and 2) the working class had strong links with the rest of the international working class (through genuine communist leadership of the CPUSA and the Communist International) and years of political education by the CPUSA-led Trade Union Educational League (TUEL). Clearly, this is not the US situation today.
No Labor Solidarity for Northwest Airline Mechanics
Those who claim to want to rebuild the labor movement within the newly formed CTW coalition as well as those who remained in the AFL-CIO have flunked an early test.
On August 20th, less than one month after the AFL-CIO "split", 4,400 mechanics, represented by AMFA (Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association), went on strike against Northwest Airlines, refusing to accept massive concessions and job reductions as so many other airline unions have done. AMFA is an association built on the raiding of other unions, particularly the International Association of Machinists. Once successful they spun off other workers to sub-contracting and will only "protect" the narrow craft interests of mechanics. Like PATCO a quarter of a century ago, AMFA became a pariah in the labor movement.
For whatever reason, AMFA has followed through with a commitment to resist concessions. The AMFA airline mechanics at Northwest took a stand to stop the floodgates of massive concessions plaguing airline workers from mechanics to pilots, from flight attendants to reservationists.
Northwest Airlines has a well developed plan to break the union and the Bush Administration acceded to the request by Northwest not to invoke emergency provisions as is usually done (against the workers) in airline disputes. In an article from the Christian Science Monitor entitled "Why Big Labor hasn’t aided striking machinists," staff writer Alexander Marks accurately surmises that, "If Northwest rides out the strike and succeeds in breaking the union, it could be a watershed in the history of the American labor movement, many analysts say -- a key event in a long string of setbacks that have weakened the role of organized workers as a political and social force in the country".
The article continues, "Some labor experts go so far as to infer that Northwest isn’t alone in wanting to break AMFA, speculating that Big Labor, which has not come to AMFA’s aid would not shed too many tears if it fell. As a result, they say, the strike was lost before it began. ‘This is payback time for AMFA. That’s the way the labor movement is looking at it, says Gary Chaison, a professor of industrial relations … raiding is a sin, and AMFA raided and won [by] saying it would never accept concessions. It’ll be much easier for other unions to tell members that they must accept concessions if AMFA was killed for not doing it’."
While such bourgeois analysts understand what is at stake for the workers, a shameless and clueless AFL-CIO representative is quoted in the same article as saying, "I don’t think this will have wider implications because of the nature of this particular organization."
No sooner were these words spoken than the initial company victory in the Northwest strike opened the floodgates for an aggressive corporate drive against the US workers and their unions. Northwest has gone after the rest of their workforce demanding massive concessions from flight attendants, ramp service workers, and pilots. Delphi, the largest automobile parts maker, declared bankruptcy. Holding up the example of the Northwest mechanics, Delphi’s CEO warned the UAW workers not to strike. Delphi is demanding a wage cut from $25.00 to $9.00 per hour and a similar reduction in benefits. Now General Motors is wresting massive concessions from the UAW amounting to $15 Billion in savings on health care costs. The pundits of Wall Street gleefully reported in a lead editorial ("Rip Van UAW") in the Wall Street Journal of October 18, 2005, "Two cheers for the United Auto Workers Union … this is a watershed concession by the American industrial workforce in the middle of a contract that doesn’t expire until 2007…"
Just as with PATCO, if other airline unions had honored the Northwest mechanics picket lines, the strike could have been won. Instead, the strike is essentially lost, and the US monopoly capitalist class was the victor. Unions in both the AFL-CIO and the CTW Coalition represent airline workers. Both consciously refused to stand in solidarity with the mechanics and both share responsibility for the labor setback that is occurring now. The PATCO history is repeated. Stern of the CTW motion is right that the labor movement must be rebuilt, but union solidarity is the best place to start. He and the CTW leadership as well as the AFL-CIO leaders miserably failed "Labor Solidarity 101".
III. The Way Forward
Genuine communist, revolutionary and progressive forces should neither condemn the CTW coalition split as a breaking of crucial working class unity nor welcome it as the building of a new CIO.
We should however, welcome and influence the debate, the need for fundamental change in the AFL-CIO and the new labor federation, and work to find the path to rebuild the labor movement, build militant and democratic working class organization and battle corporations and their government -- all as part of the necessary process of accumulating discipline, training, experience and strength on the road to winning proletarian power.
Among other things, we can do this by:
Defending and rebuilding the US trade union movement on a democratic, class struggle basis against the US monopoly capitalist union-busting offensive including promoting strike funds and strike solidarity.
Supporting all genuine efforts to "organize the unorganized" into trade unions from all quarters.
Opposing all efforts of unions from either federation raiding the other in existing union shops or in organizing campaigns.
Fighting for rank and file and union cooperation at the local level and the Central Labor Council level regardless of union affiliation or federation.
Organizing for a decisive break with both the Democratic and Republican Parties of big business and renewing efforts to build an "independent" (bourgeois) labor party capable of running candidates in bourgeois elections that help the working class to see the need for and hope of achieving proletarian state power.
Fight for prevailing wage [Davis-Bacon Act] application to construction worker wages in the rebuilding of the US Gulf Coast and for Afro-American and other community control of post hurricane Katrina reconstruction plans and resources.
Promoting union campaigns representing the general interests of the working class such as the fight for single payer national health care as well as for social security, the shorter work week with no reduction in pay and increases to the minimum wage.
Defending workers rights against the special repressive measures of the US government such as the USA PATRIOT ACT and the drive toward fascism.
Encouraging fraternal relations and mutual support with class struggle unions around the world such as the General Union of Oil Workers in Basra [Iraq], the KMU in the Philippines and the SINALTRAINAL Coca-Cola unions in Colombia.
Struggling for international solidarity on specific unionizing campaigns and in opposition to the Bush-led US imperialist wars against the peoples of the world.
In the May 1982 Ray O. Light Newsletter we made the following points that apply to the new 2005 developments discussed above,
"…the Marxist-Leninists in the USA and around the world have a new opportunity to begin to really break the US working class off from US imperialism and to link them back up with the rest of the international working class where their long run interests lie. The Marxist-Leninists have an opportunity to rally the US working class first in defense of their own immediate economic interests and in defense of the unions (a ‘Save the Union’ movement) in the class struggle for reform, for workers rights against (but under) monopoly capitalism. On the basis of this mass experience of the working class the Marxist-Leninists can go on to lead the class struggle of the workers for revolutionary power, for socialism in the USA, and thereby make our contribution to the cause of world socialism and communism."
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