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(en) US, Portland, UNFINISHED BUSINESS* #2 - Don't Take the Purple Pill By Patrick Star

Date Mon, 15 Aug 2005 07:41:33 +0300

From the New York Times to the lunch room at work, people are seriously debating the
future of the U.S. Labor Movement. A look at some statistics show where this concern
is coming from. In 1948 31.8 percent of workers were organized into union and since
the 1960's this number has been on a steady decline. 1980 saw only 23.2 percent of
workers organized and in 2004 only 12.5 percent of the U.S workforce held membership
in unions. This decline in union membership is being felt hrough the steady decline
of the standard of living in the U.S. Wages have not kept up with the increased cost
of living and the labor movement is no longer setting the standards for wages,
benefits, and work conditions. The problem is obvious, workers need to organize.
Yet, the proposed solution thus far is not coming from workers, it is coming from
pencil pushing labor aristocrats who think
they can solve the crisis in the
labor movement through statistics
and grand sounding strategies cre-
ated by people who have hardly
worked a day in their lives, people
who don't know first hand the problems we workers
face when it comes to power at work. There is a cri-
sis in the labor movement and workers are going to
have to devise strategies that will lay the foundations
for the eventual upsurge in organizing at work.

The Solution From Above

The Ivy League labor aristocrats at the Service
Employees International Union (SEIU), folks who've
never cleaned floors for a living, think they can solve
workers problems. Andy Stern (the old New England
money bags) president of SEIU came out with a pro-
posal for the labor movement called Unite To Win.
This proposal called for a restructuring of the
American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial
Organization (AFL-CIO). The main points of this pro-
posal are centered on industry wide organizing,
union density, and more money put towards organ-
izing. Although these may sound like some good
ideas, there are some serious problems with
them. But first, I'll overview the two main
points of the proposal: Granting the AFL-CIO
the authority to require coordinated bargaining
and to merge or revoke union charters, transfer
responsibilities to unions for whom that industry or
craft is their primary area of strength, and prevent
any merger that would further divide workers
The labor aristo-
crats are deciding
the future of the
labor movement,
not us rank and
file union mem-
Rebate 50 percent of the dues unions pay to the
AFL-CIO if unions put 10 percent of their budget
towards organizing new workers.
These proposals may seem radical and pushing
towards creating an upsurge in the labor movement,
yet, all it really means is a bureaucratic restructuring
of the labor movement. The first point basically is a
preventative measure against unions raiding other
union's membership, or, a way for unions like SEIU
to justify their current raiding wars against unions like
the American Federation of State, County, and
Municipal Employee's (AFSCME) and officially move
those members into SEIU. The first point will create
larger industrial unions and destroy smaller unions,
as well as put a stop to unions like the United Auto
Workers organizing university workers. This may
seem like a reasonable re-organization of unions
and a refocusing of union organizing to their specific
industry, yet, it does not take into account what work-
ers want and the plain and simple fact the workers
get organized from their own self-activity, not the
sole efforts of union organizers.
The second point is simply that unions should put
more money into organizing and less into servicing
their members. Sure, I would rather my union dues
go towards organizing my fellow workers as
opposed to fat cat salaries for
union officers. Yet, I beg the ques-
tion: what kind of organizing are
we talking about here? SEIU is real
fond of organizing the bosses, not
workers. A case in point is their
Justice for Janitors campaign.
Instead of trying to organize all the
janitors in a city, SEIU is pressuring
building owners to give cleaning
contracts to union janitorial compa-
nies. My union, the United
Brotherhood of Carpenters (UBC)
does the same thing. UBC organiz-
ers pressure non-union contractors
to sign up with the UBC through
secondary picketing. For example,
in Portland, Oregon, my union is
picketing the U.S. Bank Tower
because non-union carpenters are
doing the Tenant Improvement
work in the building. The UBC
organizers are attempting to get
the building owner to use a UBC contractor instead
of the non-union contractor, Russell Construction.
And I wouldn't dare leave out the sham method
shamefully titled organizing called market recovery.
My union actually gives money to union contractors,
my dues, so they can underbid non-union contrac-
tors for jobs. Hey, I'm a union member; I buy my right
to work union (about $20 a week)!! These are the
models of organizing that unions 'at the forefront' of
the labor movement in terms of organizing, are
using. The labor aristocrats have forgotten where our
strength as workers comes from, US, THE WORK-

The Change To Win Coalition

In the month preceding the AFL-CIO convention in
July, six or so unions signed up with the
Change To Win Coalition.
The basic tenants of the coalition are the same as
the Unite To Win proposal. Put more money
towards organizing. As argued above, the funda-
mental question is what kind of organizing is this
and is it real worker organizing? And the
answer is still no.
The last week of July saw the Teamsters, SEIU,
and the UFCW withdrawal from the AFL-CIO.
UNITE-HERE, The Laborers, and The United Farm
Workers, all members of the new coalition, are also
threatening to pull out of the AFL-CIO, but as of yet,
they are still making up their minds.
The Change To Win Coalition is still very new. In
the next months we will see what it has to offer, but
many are doubtful they will fundamen-
tally change to labor movement. The
structure of the Change To Win
Coalition is just as undemocratic as
the AFL-CIO, hell, there was no mem-
bership vote over affiliation with this
new coalition. Andy Stern and Jimmy
Hoffa junior, with approval from their
national executive boards, not local
unions, made the undemocratic deci-
sion to withdraw from the AFL-CIO and
join the coalition. There has been no
democratic vote from the membership
of the coalition unions over affiliation.
Once again, the labor aristocrats are deciding the
future of the labor movement, not us rank and file
union members.
There once was a time when workers felt like they
had the power to fundamentally alter the economic
and political structure of the U.S. In the 1930's work-
ers started to organize themselves and create their
own organizations, their own unions. The 1930's saw
the largest upsurge in worker organization ever in
the U.S. When you look into how these elders of the
labor movement accomplished this, you'll see that it
was because they were self-organized. They were
the power at work, through direct actions, strikes,
and generally a willingness to put their economic
power into action, the workers of the 1930's wielded
real power to better their lives. Coming out of the
1930's, the statistics show the militancy of the newly
organized workers to take action to maintain and
grow their power. In 1945, 1,435,000 workers were
out on strike. In 2004, only 171,000 workers took to
the picket line to maintain and grow their power.
Many factors play into this dismal crisis in our power.
The two largest factors in the minds of many labor
militants is workers complacency due the accept-
ance of the middle class mindset that what matters
in life is two cars, a house in the suburbs, and fancy
toys; the American Dream, and the second factor is
the lack of ownership of our unions due to their good
ol'' boy structure (the labor aristocracy) and upper
class take over by the likes of people such as Andy
As proven by the experiences of the 1930's, we
rank and file militants are the ones who have the
power to turn this crisis into an upsurge. We have to
develop strategies around organizing our fellow
workers in a way that builds power on the job, not
just a collective bargaining agreement. It is high time
for us to shake the hopelessness from our minds
and start engaging in militant tactics and strategies
that hold the potential for an upsurge in our power. I
don't pretend that I know what the answers are, but
I do know we have to start looking and acting. An
upsurge in Labor Movement will most likely come out
of economic crisis that takes years of development
and hardship until workers start to stand up and fight.
We must prepare the militant bare bones structure
that will facilitate this upsurge. This means testing
tactics, building organizations of rank and file mili-
tants, and recognizing that we don't have to get this
all done right now. We have time, keep a long term
outlook or we'll get lost in the seeming futility of it all.

Patrick Star is a member of the Firebrand Collective,
a member collective of the Northwest Anarchist
Federation. He is also a rank and file member of the
United Brotherhood of Carpenters, Local 247.
* Unfinished Buisness: Agitational publication of the
U..B.. B U P.o. Box 112 Portland, O R 97232

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