RAY O’ LIGHT NEWSLETTER
November-December 2013 Number 81
Publication of the Revolutionary Organization of Labor, USA _
2013 AFL-CIO Convention:
“Inclusiveness” On the Road to Ruin
by RAY LIGHT
The 2013 National AFL-CIO Convention was held in September in Los Angeles, CA. 5,000 delegates attended, representing 57 affiliated unions and 12 million members. The AFL-CIO is the largest trade union federation in the USA. It is the closest thing to an official representative of the U.S. working class. The Convention responsibility is to determine the course of action for the union federation (and, to some extent, the U.S. working class) for the foreseeable future and to elect top AFL-CIO leaders hopefully capable of bringing about victories for the 12 million members and the rest of the working class.
With its convention now occurring only once every four years, “such jamborees are an opportunity to let off steam,” as the British ruling class magazine, The Economist, wryly reported. (ROL emphasis, 9-14-13) Of course, a militant and democratic trade union movement’s convention would serve the purpose of building steam for the tough struggles against Wall Street capital and the U.S. state apparatus to come.
Unfortunately, the 2013 AFL-CIO convention was in the classic social democratic class collaborationist tradition of “letting off steam.” It provided the delegates with “bells and whistles” to give the appearance that something hopeful and constructive for the workers, at least among the members of the unions affiliated with the AFL-CIO, will result. U.S. monopoly
capitalism and imperialism hopes that such a convention will help keep the U.S. working class contained within the limits of the current organized labor movement that refuses to break with the “Republicrat” political duopoly and especially the Democratic Party wing of the Wall Street ruling class as organized labor continues to grow ever weaker.
As The Economist (9-14-13) points out, “In the 1950’s one-third of America’s workers belonged to a union. Today 11.3% do, including just 6.6% in the private sector where the AFL-CIO’s members are concentrated.” Long term decline in membership remains the trend. For example, “The unionization rate of workers aged 16-24 is less than a third that of 55-64 year-olds.” (The Economist)
The “convention showpiece” was a resolution calling for the deepening of the AFL-CIO’s ties to “solidarity partners.” “Hundreds of invited guests from workers centers, labor support coalitions, public policy groups, student, feminist, and community organizations and ‘social change’ foundations [were] present in larger numbers than ever before,” according to Steve Early, a long time staffer for the Communication Workers, in the 9-16-13 issue of Labor Notes. (“House of Labor Needs Repairs, Not Just New Roomates”) In fact, in 2003 the AFL-CIO created its own arm for non-union workers, Working America. Originally set up for political action purposes, it now claims 3.2 million “members,” despite the fact that almost none pay dues or have any workplace connection to each other.*
*NOTE: [Much of the non-traditional worker and liberal social worker activist “inclusiveness” in and around the AFL-CIO in 2013 is projected to be channeled through Working America.]
These numbers have helped to mask the continuing downward spiral of organized labor in the USA. And the large number of “solidarity partners” at this Convention and the excitement surrounding their presence provided an illusion of working class gains in a period of bitter setbacks. Such an illusion could only help the candidacy of incumbent AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka and his slate.
Judging by the workshops scheduled at the convention, Steve Early observed: “dealing with employers in traditional workplaces is barely on labor’s to-do list at all.” Early states that watering down “the concept of membership … is not a ‘strategic shift’ so much as a shell game. It has little in common with existing serious, long term efforts to build workplace organization in the absence of employer recognition and bargaining rights.”
Steve Early reports that there was only one workshop that dealt with contract campaigns out of 50 total workshops. He concludes, as follows: “Given the extreme attacks both union and non-union workers are suffering, the convention’s heavy emphasis on conventional political strategies and growth through forms of membership was not ‘transformative’ enough to meet the challenges of the day.”
That’s putting it mildly, brother Early. But for Bill Fletcher and Jeff Crosby, open social-democratic apologists for U.S. imperialism, Early’s criticism of the “labor lieutenants of the capitalist class” was too strong! Said Fletcher/Crosby: “To argue that this turn represents an abandonment of current members, as Steve Early does here, is factually false and politically wrong. … the federation is forbidden by its bylaws from engaging in collective bargaining without the specific invitation of an affiliated union. So expecting a convention that focuses primarily on collective bargaining makes no sense. What the convention did do was focus on new forms of bargaining and organizing.”
Early never said that “collective bargaining” should have been the convention’s primary focus. He did state that only one out of the 50 workshops dealt with “contract campaigns.” Fletcher/Crosby reduce the struggle of U.S. workers for a decent contract to “collective bargaining” and interpret this in the most narrow and strict legal fashion so as to cover up the inability of the Trumka-led AFL-CIO misleadership to successfully defend the interests of the AFL-CIO membership against Wall Street capital. Fletcher/Crosby dismiss the importance of union workers achieving decent union contracts, one of the main arenas of class struggle in the USA today; they trivialize the serious struggle against the employer that needs to be waged by workers who have a recognized (majority) union in their workplace that the employer is compelled by law to deal with.
In addition, there are great dangers for the working class in the “new forms of bargaining and organizing” that Fletcher/Crosby are praising. Among these myriad groups are advocacy groups such as Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE) that has worked with the Teamsters Union to clean up truck emissions at ports and improve the conditions of waste workers. But how do the workers engaged in these struggles exercise decision making, how are they empowered when they have no control over the NGO’s they are uniting with? The social democrats, as usual, are not only unconcerned about workers power and socialism but even about the basic democratic rights of the workers under capitalism.
The one criticism that Fletcher/Crosby make of Early’s piece that has some validity is that he never states that “the AFL-CIO outreach to formerly excluded workers is a healthy and positive development.” This quote is from veteran trade unionist Peter Olney’s mild criticism of Fletcher/Crosby’s apology for the AFL-CIO leadership’s betrayal of the workers of the USA and the world. But Early’s intent is to expose the fig leaf that this outreach mainly represents. In fact, Early points to 1995, to the first contested election in the then forty year history of the AFL-CIO, to prove his point. Said Early, “The proceedings did have a progressive buzz and grassroots sheen not seen since ‘New Voice’ candidate John Sweeney won the first contested presidential election … Sweeney’s team, which included now AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka, pledged to promote new organizing and political initiatives, community-labor alliances, and anti-globalization efforts, while expanding the role of women, immigrants, and people of color.”
The utter bankruptcy of the Trumka administration is exposed by the fact that the “2013 bells and whistles” are the recycled promises of 1995! And Steve Early points out that none other than “former AFL headquarters insider Bill Fletcher reported in his book, Solidarity Divided, these reform efforts ran out of steam as early as 1998.” (!) Is Fletcher/Crosby trying to get back on the AFL-CIO “inside” through uncritically supporting Trumka in 2013?
Peter Olney gently but clearly raises a few good criticisms of the AFL-CIO Convention in his brief response to Fletcher/Crosby. (Portside, 10/20/13) This includes the article’s title: “The AFL-Path of Least Resistance?” He also points out that, “our federation and our state and local bodies are not equipped to carry out their original charge which is class wide solidarity. Are we swarming to the defense of workers in major contract fights, strikes and lockouts? With few exceptions we are not. Therefore we lose those battles, and every loss resonates in the broader working class as a defeat for workers and organization …”
But his opening sentence includes Fletcher/Crosby’s first names only, an intimacy indicating that his differences with them are not serious ones. And since Fletcher and Crosby are apologizing for the top leadership of the AFL-CIO, Olney’s criticism of Trumka et al. need not be taken that seriously either.
Olney’s central point seems to be as follows: “Our ‘national’ trade unions exist to exert industry wide solidarity and power … It is all fine to pursue the largest retailer in the world, Wal-Mart or car wash workers but how are we doing with giant supermarket chains we represent or the steel contracts that we still have? ... Further our federation and its affiliates are not ready to confront the challenges of using our existing base in certain industries to grow in non-union sectors of those industries and linked industries.” From this, Olney draws the mild and abstract conclusion that, “Those discussions and strategies require challenging the inertia of the status quo. They are difficult discussions that challenge the power and positions of our elected trade union leaders.”
-“Fight the Powers that Be!”-
In reality, the working class in the USA needs militant trade union and revolutionary leadership willing to educate, organize, mobilize and lead the people to “fight the powers that be!”*
*NOTE: [This was the title of our recent leaflet distributed at the Celebratory March for the 50th Anniversary of the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The current batch of so-called “civil rights leaders” has about as much willingness to struggle for jobs and freedom as the bulk of the current “fat cat” leaders of the AFL-CIO. These leaders, too, retain absolute loyalty to the Democratic Party and the U.S. monopoly capitalist and imperialist system. ]
And that fighting leadership will be carrying outreach to militant forces in the ranks of the Afro-American, Latino and other national struggles, militants in the immigrant rights movement, the environmental movement, etc. — forces that also are willing to fight the powers that be.
One factor that will speed the development of such forces in the U.S. working class is to ruthlessly recognize how bankrupt the current leadership of organized labor really is. For example, the fact that the Sweeney-Trumka “reform” leadership elected in 1995 was too little, too late was reflected in the 2005 emergence of the Change to Win Federation that represented a defection of 40% of the AFL-CIO membership. The main attraction of the new federation was the failure of the Sweeney leadership, after ten years in power, to organize the unorganized. But largely the same kind of forces, notoriously including SEIU’s Andy Stern, produced Change To Win. So predictably, it has largely replicated the failed policies and results of the AFL-CIO.
In 2008, the AFL-CIO leadership overwhelmingly supported the Democratic Obama-Biden ticket, largely on the basis that, along with Democratic Party control of both houses of Congress, it would ensure that the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) would become law. This would allegedly usher in a new upsurge in the organization of the unorganized, a rebirth of organized labor in the USA. EFCA was never even brought forward for a vote! Nevertheless, in 2010 and again in 2012 the AFL-CIO chieftains, with nothing positive to show for their previous loyalty, endorsed the Democratic Party down the line. This is the very Democratic Party which in tandem with the Republican Party makes up the “Republicrat Party” that bailed out Wall Street while pillaging the already hard pressed folks on Main Street, including the members of the AFL-CIO.
Even more treacherously, in what even the bourgeois economists refer to as the “jobless recovery” the leadership of the AFL-CIO has failed to call on its members and the working class in general to march, rally and fight for jobs in the streets of Washington, DC and elsewhere. The one such rally (which the AFL-CIO called jointly with the NAACP) took place in Washington in October 2010, one month before the 2010 Congressional election. It turned out to be a thinly veiled “bait and switch” into a Democratic Party election campaign rally. In fact, The Economist (9-14-13) reported that, despite the appearance of the bells and whistles of the 2013 National AFL-CIO Convention, “According to the Centre for Public Integrity, a watchdog, unions gave $10 million to [Democratic Party] super PACs, a type of campaigning outfit, in the first six months of this year, almost six times as much as in the same period in 2011.” (My emphasis)
Can we look to the social democratic “left” in the USA to help provide a new militant and revolutionary direction for the U.S. working class and its allies? The debate among Early, Fletcher/Crosby and Olney about the 2013 AFL-CIO Convention discussed above can provide a decisive answer to this question. None of them even mentioned the Democratic Party, never mind the need for the AFL-CIO and the U.S. working class to achieve political independence from the Democratic Party wing of the “Republicrat” Party of Wall Street. None of them even mentioned the need for Workers Power in the USA, never mind expressed concern that the new member/non-member organizations largely omitted democratic rights for the working class people they are “servicing.” And, remarkably, none of them even mentioned that the working class in the USA labors under the capitalist system, where maximum private profit is the engine driving the system, never mind the need for the working class and its unions to have to struggle against capital for decent wages and working conditions, jobs, a comprehensive jobs program like the WPA of the previous Depression era that built new infrastructure in the USA etc.
What these opportunists, especially the open opportunists such as Fletcher/Crosby, have in common is a general underestimation of the power and initiative of the international working class including the U.S. working class, a hatred for Socialism and Communism, a belief that imperialism is an historical relic, a thing of the past that has already become extinct and need not be struggled against and that Leninism is as extinct as imperialism. Nevertheless, facts are stubborn things.
-The AFL-CIO Convention and Lenin’s Teachings on Imperialism-
In a substantial article entitled, Imperialism and the Split in Socialism (1916), Lenin, almost one hundred years before it occurred, fundamentally explained the 2013 National AFL-CIO Convention!!
Lenin says: “Imperialism is monopoly capitalism. Every cartel, trust, syndicate, every giant bank is a monopoly. Super profits have not disappeared; they still remain. The exploitation of all other countries by one privileged financially wealthy country remains and has become more intense. A handful of wealthy countries … have developed monopoly to vast proportions, they obtain super-profits running into hundreds, if not thousands, of millions, they “ride on the backs” of hundreds and hundreds of millions of people in other countries and fight among themselves for the division of the particularly rich, particularly fat and particularly easy spoils. This in fact is the political essence of imperialism … The bourgeoisie of an imperialist ‘Great Power’ can economically bribe the upper strata of “its” workers by spending on this a hundred million or so francs a year, for its super-profits most likely amount to about a thousand million. …
“On the economic basis referred to above, the political institutions of modern capitalism – press, parliament, associations, congresses, etc. — have created political privileges for the respectful, meek, reformist and patriotic office employees and workers, corresponding to the economic privileges and sops. Lucrative and soft jobs in the government or on the war industries committees, in parliament and on diverse committees, on the editorial staffs of ‘respectable,’ legally published newspapers or on the management councils of no less respectable and ‘bourgeois law-abiding’ trade unions — this is the bait by which the imperialist bourgeoisie attracts and rewards the representatives and supporters of the ‘bourgeois labor parties.’” (Lenin’s emphasis except for my bold)
-A Few Good Signs of Recent Working Class Fightback-
In the six or seven weeks since the 2013 National AFL-CIO Convention ended, there have been a few good signs of working class initiative and struggle. In early October, the National American Postal Workers Union (APWU) Election resulted in the defeat of incumbents and the elevation of a “Members First” slate of candidates into the APWU Presidency and about a half dozen more of the top union offices. The slate campaigned on a militant program of aggressive contract struggle to regain benefits and wages already lost in giveback contracts, to fight against the two or three tier job classifications, etc. And it committed to launch and lead a determined campaign to Save the Public Postal Service from the Corporate and Finance Capitalist privatizers and their stooges in the U.S. Congress, the White House and postal management up to and including the current Postmaster General. At least three of the victorious Members First Team leaders, including President-elect Mark Dimondstein, have proven track records that indicate this is more than mere lip service. In fact Bloomberg Businessweek, immediately after the election results were in, warned Corporate America that Postmaster General Donahoe’s plans [to disrupt and dismantle the service to make it ripe for privatization] were going to encounter trouble from the new APWU leadership.
In the San Francisco Bay area, the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) workers wage a second short term strike in their contract campaign aimed at obtaining a decent union contract and they were victorious. Such a bold campaign by transit workers whose strikes significantly inconvenienced Bay Area workers commuting to work daily needed to be skillfully activated and withdrawn so as to keep the BART commuters on the side of the workers. At a time when the strike weapon is still not being commonly used in the USA, the BART “guerilla strikes” and contract victory should inspire other workers to take bold action as well as enlist sympathy and solidarity from others in defense of our livelihoods and each other’s standard of living.
At least a few other worker strike actions have also taken place in this period. Boston school bus drivers and Baltimore longshore workers have taken their destiny into their own hands.
In opposition to the bureaucratic leadership of the AFL-CIO: The Path to Working Class Gains against Wall Street Capital and ultimately for Power for the U.S. working class over capital has to begin with this:
“ We’ve Got To Fight the Powers That Be!!!”
They’re playing the game on us!
“PATRIOT GAMES” of the
National Football League (NFL) Owners
by RAY LIGHT
This Veteran’s Day weekend, as many of us watch the NFL on TV and watch all the paid U.S. military recruitment ads that accompany the games, before we get caught up in all the hype, it’s worth knowing how the NFL owners “played us” last Veteran’s Day. At that time, according to sports reporter, Gregg Easterbrook, “… the NFL announced that it would donate cash to military groups for each point scored in designated games. During NFL telecasts that weekend, the league was praised for its grand generosity. The total donation came to about $440,000. Annualized, NFL stadium subsidies and tax favors add up to perhaps $1 billion. So the NFL took $1 billion from the public, then sought praise for giving back $440,000 — less than a tenth of 1 percent.” (See “How the NFL Fleeces Taxpayers,” Gregg Easterbrook, The Atlantic, October 2013, ROL Emphasis)
These are the same millionaire NFL owners who concealed for years the devastating impact of repeated concussions on NFL football players’ health, the same capitalists who fought the players’ union in an attempt to deny physical and mental health care for the huge number of retired players with permanent disabilities, including early onset dementia and death. It is these NFL owners who are now “running a game” on the youth of the USA about the valor of military service to the U.S. Global Empire and the less than 1% who benefit from the continued exploitation and oppression of the 99%, the rest of us, workers and toilers of the USA and the world.
This Veteran’s Day, let’s remember a real NFL football hero, a war participant, and then anti-war hero and martyr, Pat Tillman. Having given up his lucrative pro football career to “serve his country” after 9-11, Pat Tillman was not looking for praise and glory. However, the U.S. ruling class and especially the U.S. military promoted Pat as the most celebrated member of the U.S. military to try to use the popularity of this football hero to recruit more of our youth to become cannon fodder for U.S. imperialism. However, once he got to Iraq and then Afghanistan, Pat Tillman became disillusioned with the brutal U.S. imperialist occupation of the land and people in both these sovereign countries and became determined to share what he learned when he got home. Instead he was killed by “friendly fire” under highly suspicious circumstances. (see Ray O’ Light Newsletter #62, September-October 2010 for the rest of the story.)
This Veteran’s Day, let’s not fall for the millionaires’ “Patriot Games.” Let’s commit ourselves to the fight to bring all the U.S. troops home now!
Still stumped?! See answer below to front page mystery quotation.
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“If You’re Not Outraged, You’re Not Paying Attention”*
Get Angry, Get Active, Rise Up –
Fight for Workers Power!
JP Morgan, the banking behemoth, has just agreed to pay $4 billion in fines, a record, for promoting and selling worthless mortgages to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that helped lead to the economic collapse in 2008. This is on top of a recently paid fine of $1 billion for trading “irregularities.” But this is just a “slap on the wrist.” Not a single JP Morgan individual has been jailed for the crimes! Nor is this revenue being provided to the masses of people that have been victimized by the “banksters.”
The Obama-Biden administration talks about “compassionate” immigration reform, but the reality is strikingly different: This “liberal” regime has now deported over 2 million human beings, more people than any other administration in U.S. history!
Largely financed by federal dollars, warrantless surveillance is growing by leaps and bounds in cities throughout the U.S. In a recent example, Oakland, CA is using $7 million in federal grants to implement police initiatives to collect and analyze surveillance data gained by traffic cameras, license plate readers, cameras, and video tapes. Meanwhile, as we lose our privacy rights, Corporate America reaps the profits. Computer giants like Microsoft and IBM are major players in selling and servicing this technology.
While workers and the oppressed face joblessness, wage stagnation, austerity measures and increased poverty, millionaires in the U.S. are doing just fine. The 2013 Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report showed that of the worldwide new millionaires of the past year, 1.7 of 1.8 million were in the United States. The report also pointed to the increasing gap in global wealth: The world’s 32 million millionaires represent less than one-tenth of 1% of the world’s population and control 41% of its wealth. 4,800 million people (4.8 billion people), the bottom 68%, control just over 3% of the world’s wealth. That’s right — globally, in millions of people, 32 control 41%, while 4,800 control 3%!!!
The technique known as “fracking” is used to harness oil and natural gas for the private profit of the energy corporations. For the people of the USA and the world, fracking is an extremely dangerous practice that uses terrifying amounts of toxic chemicals injecting them into all kinds of underground and water resources. It has now come to light that fracking is more widespread and frequently used in offshore platforms and man-made islands near Long Beach, Seal Beach and Huntington Beach, CA. Apparently California state officials had no idea because no government agency has been assigned the responsibility to monitor this new scourge!
AFRICA for the African People, Not for AFRICOM: In February 2008, it was decided that the U.S. imperialist military headquarters for AFRICOM would be kept in Germany after a one year search in Africa resulted in only isolated Liberia agreeing to provide and AFRICAN base for AFRICOM. Tiny Djibouti hosts the only official U.S. military base on the African continent. But the presence of the U.S. Empire’s military forces is expanding rapidly across all of Africa, clearly against the wishes of the African people. Tragically, it is being done under the authority of the first U.S. President of African descent!
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the share of workers making less than $15,000/year rose to 13% of the population in 2012 from 10.9% in 2000 and the share making less than $35,000 expanded to 35.4%. The percentage of U.S. people facing “deep poverty” (living at 50% less than the poverty line) rose to 6.6% of the population in 2012 from 4.5% in 2000.
A report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition found that low-income households could afford no more than $495/month rent while the national two bedroom fair market rent was $977/month. Rents rose nationally 3.5% from a year earlier. Not surprisingly, the number of homeless people in the U.S. with families continues to climb, with a 1.4% increase from the previous year. The number of children without a home increased by 2%.
the Revolutionary Organization of Labor, USA
Snowden’s revelations … of NSA spying on everyone in the US ... dramatically confirm our exposure of the U.S. Empire’s war of terror at home against us as well as abroad against the rest of the peoples of the world. In their immortal call to the workers of the world, Marx and Engels revealed that we have “nothing to lose but our chains and a world to win.” In the imperialist epoch, Lenin said, “Only he is a Marxist who extends the recognition of the class struggle to the recognition of the dictatorship of the proletariat.” (The State and Revolution, 1917)
LET’S STRUGGLE FOR WORKERS POWER IN THE HEARTLAND OF THE U.S. EMPIRE!
TOWARD A SOVIET SOCIALIST USA!
—Ray Light [Introduction, p. xxxi]
(518 pages, illustrated)
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“The great appear great to us
Only because we are on our knees:
Let us rise.”
— Camille Desmoulins