(en)Why the UPS Win Matters

Lyn Gerry (redlyn@loop.com)
Sun, 31 Aug 1997 17:52:09 +0000

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>Date: Tue, 19 Aug 1997 09:35:33 -0700
>Reply-To: Nathan Newman <newman@garnet.berkeley.edu>
>Sender: "SOLIDARITY: A Socialist- Feminist Organization"
>From: Nathan Newman <newman@GARNET.BERKELEY.EDU>
>Subject: Why the UPS Win Matters
>X-Mozilla-Status: 0001
> ========================================
> Why the Victory at UPS Matters
> ========================================
> -- Nathan Newman
>With last night's labor contract deal between UPS and the Teamsters agreed
>to, it appears that the Teamsters have scored a massive win against
>corporate America. Along with keeping control of their pension fund and
>winning increases for retirees, the Teamsters have won what appears to be
>a nearly 40% increase in wages for the average part-time worker and the
>creation of over 10,000 new full-time positions. In a time when many
>unions have had to fight to the death for modest gains or to just hold
>onto what they already have, this unprecendented gain for UPS workers is
>an inspiring win for UPS workers.
>But it is more than that. It was won with massive public support and the
>full backing of the AFL-CIO and, in its meaning for the future of labor
>and the progressive movement, it will likely be remembered as a crucial
>turning point for an upswing in activism and success.
>Why is the win at UPS so important?
>Start with the settlement itself. In a time when pensions are
>disappearing or companies are turning pensions into corporate piggybanks,
>the Teamsters have reaffirmed the principle of strong, worker-controlled
>pensions that are portable between jobs within an industry. In a time
>when part-time work is a tool for disempowering workers, the Teamsters
>have struck the first successful collective assault against corporation's
>abusive use of part-time work. In a time when average wages have fallen
>for twenty years, the Teamsters have won an unprecedented increase in
>In all of this, they have signalled that lowered wages and benefits are
>not an "inevitable" aspect of the global economy but a result, at least
>partly, of corporate power and that such corporate power can be resisted
>and even defeated through collective action backed by a unified labor and
>community alliance. In a world where the message has been that the only
>way to avoid being screwed was to cut your own deal, scam your own
>individual training, fight for your own raise as others fell behind, the
>UPS deal is now there as a shining example that a whole workforce can rise
>together and see improvement in working conditions achieved through their
>own collective strength.
>Let's be clear. Everyone loves a winner and labor in now a winner through
>this action. The credibility of labor struggle as a method to fighting
>corporate power has been relegitimized. The fact that this struggle
>served lower-income and part-time workers has also relegitimized labor as
>a champion not just of elite manufacturing workers, pilots and baseball
>players (a recent media image) but of ordinary workers who everyone can
>easily identify with. The faces of the strikers were often mothers
>deciding whether they could afford Fruit Loops on their strike pay and
>everyone will be cheering that that mother or other struggling families
>will now have a pay increase and a shot at converting two or three
>part-time jobs into a solid full-time job at UPS.
>It is an image of labor that can be taken to workplaces and communities
>across the country by organizers saying, you could be that mother or that
>father improving your lot if you will only stand up with your fellow
>workers and form a union. You can win and you can gain. That is a
>message we have needed, especially after years of failed strikes in
>Deacateur, Detroit and earlier Hormel and PATCO. The UPS win is the new
>meaning of a revitalzed labor movement that will fight together for
>victory, With 55% of the population siding with the UPS strikers, it
>signals a new opportunity for labor to marshall public support and
>sympathy not just as the underdogs but as effective champions to challenge
>corporate power.
>Which is where the strike win gets its other significance, which is in the
>internal meaning for Labor.
>Start with Carey as leader of the Teamsters. As a rank-and-file leader,
>Carey had fought for decades against a corrupt Teamster leadership that
>signed go-along contracts that created the two-tier wage and part-time
>labor system at UPS in the first place. It was only the struggle for
>rank-and-file democracy within the Teamsters (led by left activists in
>Teamsters for a Democratic Union) that eventually catapulted Carey into
>leadership when the opportunity came in 1991. Against the odds and
>against internal corruption and the mob, Ron Carey and his TDU allies
>wrested back control of the largest private sector union in the country.
>With the federal government overseers draining money from the union as a
>terrific rate, Carey had to expend other resources cleaning up corrupt
>locals and dealing with the vestigal resistance of old-line locals living
>off the fat of members dues. Carey sold off the private jets and slashed
>his own salary but out of the struggle to reform the union, the Teamsters
>had emerged seemingly hobbled with an empty bank account. With the
>election for Teamster President held last year, Carey faced the son of the
>legendary Jimmy Hoffa who attacked Carey for weaknesses in the union
>created by Hoffa Junior's own allies, but the attack was almost enough to
>win a majority. That would have been a tragedy of incredible proportions
>as the old-line hacks and corrupt deals would have reasserted themselves
>across the union. Carey emerged the winner but he also emerged tarred as
>allies and consultants desperately cut corners with a few large,
>embarassing illegal campaign contributions to the Carey effort undermining
>the legitimacy of his win. The contributions were returned but the damage
>to Carey's standing as an honest reformer had been done.
>So this is the situation Carey faced in this strike: an empty strike fund,
>his own leadership under a cloud, and facing one of the largest employers
>in the country backed by flush bank accounts and a $1 billion in profits
>the year before. Before the strike started, there were a number of pundit
>analyses that the Teamsters were doomed if they went on strike since their
>internal collapse or financial exhaustion of their strike fund would
>quickly kill them off.
>But Carey defied the odds or, rather, the rank-and-file did as they voted
>overwhelmingly to strike and when they did, a microscopic number would
>cross the picket lines. With the stakes so high, Carey's opponents could
>not afford to be seen as soft or helping management, so support for the
>strike was loud and vociferous from all quarters of the union. But the
>key was rank-and-file resolve, a decision after two decades of corporate
>attacks to just say "no." And the result was yesterday's victory and a
>victory for militant reform elements not just in the Teamsters but across
>the union movement.
>Carey has proven that honest leadership committed to militant united union
>action can win for workers what old-line "business unionists" could not--
>a decent contract and a shot at the American Dream for average workers.
>And by winning this strike, Carey himself has assured that his own
>leadership position will remain solid and he can further clean up the
>union and expand organizing.
>But Carey could not have won alone. A crucial part of the the win against
>UPS was the annoucement by AFL-CIO leader John Sweeney that, since the
>Teamsters strike fund was empty, other AFL-CIO unions would loan the
>Teamsters whatever funds were needed for however long it took. Sweeney's
>declaration that "The UPS strike is our strike. Their struggle is our
>struggle" was a message to UPS management that they were not fighting
>180,000 UPS workers but the combined will of millions of AFL-CIO unionists
>who would use every tool necessary to support the UPS strikers.
>This UPS strike was really the first big challenge of Sweeney's Presidency
>of the AFL-CIO. After narrowly being elected to head the AFL-CIO in 1995
>by union leaders at the 1995 AFL-CIO convention, he had focused initially
>on reorienting the finances of the labor federation towards organizing and
>had launched the federation's 1996 electoral campaign, one that sought to
>raise the issues of low pay and falling standards of living for workers.
>Partly due to that campaign, an increase in the minimum wage and the
>Kennedy-Kassebaum health care bill were passed.
>But on the labor front, Sweeney had generated a lot of noise and fanfare
>but, while a new energy surged through the ranks of labor, the concrete
>results had not been large. A major strike at Boeing had been won and the
>UAW had made some inroads with the auto companies, but this seemed to have
>little direct connection to Sweeney. The new AFL-CIO leadership made
>token mobilizations around inherited struggles in Decateur and the Detroit
>Newspaper strike, but seemed unable or unwilling to meet the expectations
>of rank-and-file activists to create a united response in support of such
>key labor struggles.
>In that sense, the UPS strike was the first big challenge that Sweeney
>would face where he could blame no one else, where the responsibility for
>full labor support was with him from day one.
>And in his support of the UPS strike, in his bringing together of labor
>heads to back the Teamsters with the full resources of the labor movement,
>Sweeney showed what a radical change had been made from the previous
>legacy of Lane Kirland who had left unions to fend for themselves, had sat
>back and watched PATCO crushed and strike after strike that followed
>defeated in their isolation. Instead, we had the message that a united
>labor movement would support strikes by any of their members.
>For doubting unions that needed resolve (or pressure) to shift internal
>union budgets away from do-nothing labor bureaucrats to Sweeney's
>priorities of organizing, organizing and organizing, this strike has
>strengthened both Sweeney's prestige and the prestige of the ideas and
>ideals that forced the historic election of Sweeney and his leadership
>team in 1995.
>And the link between Sweeney and Carey go further. When Sweeney was
>elected in 1995, Carey's Teamsters were the deciding votes. Without
>question, if Carey had not been elected head of the Teamsters in 1991,
>Sweeney would not have been elected head of the AFL-CIO in 1995. And
>without both elections, the victory at UPS would have been impossible
>since the rank-and-file wouldn't have even been given the chance to fight
>together for this victory. This is important not so much because Carey
>and Sweeney as individuals mattered but because they represented the
>aspirations and struggles of rank-and-file unionists and activists who
>had struggled for decades to revitalize the labor movement. And these
>individual leaders became the vehicles for bring that change.
>If the UPS strike is the turning point for labor, it is a thin, fragile
>line that led from defeat to revival - a thread that easily could have
>been broken and the destruction of the modern labor movement a real
>That possibility still exists, of course. The UPS strike was just one
>victory and unions today represent just over 10% of private sector
>employees, down from nearly 35% of employees in the 1950s. That low
>level of representation rivals the depths reached in the early part of the
>Depression before the CIO began its massive organizing drive.
>If the UPS strike is to represent a turning point, it will have to be
>followed by massive organizing wins, from the Strawberry workers of
>California to the Apple pickers of Washington State to the textile workers
>of the South to hospital workers in the Northeast.
>The lesson of the UPS strike, however, is that none of those strikes are
>isolated, that each struggle is our struggle, that militancy and
>determination can overcome corporate power if workers are united, if they
>mobilize community support, and if they link the interests of unionized
>workers to the aspirations of the 90% of workers who are not in a union
>but might like to be if they see union gains as gains for all working
>Much internal reform is still needed in both the AFL-CIO and the
>Teamsters, but the victory at UPS shows how far we have come.
> --------------

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