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The Epic Failure of Labor Leadership in the United States

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The Epic Failure of Labor Leadership in the United States, 1980-2017 and Continuing

https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/08/04/the-epic-failure-of-labor-leadership-in-the-united-states-1980-2017-and-continuing/

 

This article has some reasonably good insights into the catastrophic decline of unions and the abysmal role of the labor bureaucracy. As the author points out,

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The labor movement has been under direct attack since at least the PATCO strike in 1981, and the leaders of the labor movement—and focus here is on the AFL-CIO, although there are others labor organizations outside of its ambit—have had no vision and, arguably, no clue about what to do about this. 

 

This is perceptive – I also see the national trade union leadership failure during the PATCO air traffic controllers strike beginning in 1981 as a key moment in the decline in the power of the U.S. working class – a critical class-struggle defeat, and a sinister victory for the ruling class of U.S. capitalism.

 

I also concur with the author's assessment that

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This problem is a major reason for the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, aided strongly by working class voters, and I’m speaking of those who are not generally racist, sexist, homophobic and/or xenophobic.

 

This appears to corroborate some points made in the RAN analysis American capitalism enters a darker new era:
 

Quote

 

Trump’s ascendancy to power indeed appears to represent a decisive and particularly sinister change in the character of American capitalism – what this analysis above called a “seismic shift”. The onset of this unprecedented political miasma cannot be blithely ascribed merely to the impact of purported “Russian interference” in the 2016 election (i.e., the Wikileaks release of internal Democratic Party Email traffic), nor to then-FBI director James Comey’s “October Surprise” effort to resurrect the brouhaha over security issues with Hillary Clinton’s own Email. 

Instead, Trump’s victory in winning formerly liberal workingclass voters in key electoral-vote states – a startling political swindle by this certified deceitful, reactionary, authoritarian mega-billionaire mogul of the capitalist elite – raises far more troublesome, deeply rooted issues. In particular, it glaringly exposes the role of Democratic Party liberalism – and its leftist camp followers – in facilitating this disaster. But – more importantly – it underscores the bankruptcy of the country’s pro-capitalist labor union leadership (and likewise the leaderships of an array of other movements on the left).

 

 

As the RAN analysis goes on to point out,

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... a compelling case can also be made that American working people desperately have lacked something crucial to protect their interests: a fighting, anti-capitalist, class-struggle-savvy leadership that could rally an effective resistance against an increasingly savage onslaught … and ultimately advance forward toward revolutionary social-economic transformation. 

 

Unfortunately – as the evidence seems to prove clearly – in the absence of that kind of leadership, the masses of the American public were set up to get clobbered. Labor union members, the working class generally, and virtually every other mass segment of the U.S. population have been sitting ducks for the steadily escalating onslaught against them. And the Trump government with its reign of terror is now the latest consequence.


 

 

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Clicking on the author, Dr. Kim Scipes, name, above the article, pulls up a description of him as a "long-time political activist and trade unionist.  I was skeptical about the "trade unionist part so I googled his name and came up with:     https://faculty.pnw.edu/kim-scipes/about-dr-scipes/

which seems to be a more comprehensive bio of his professional life, from Northwest University.  It describes Dr. Scipes academic activities and books he wrote.  It says nothing about any union membership in which he may have participated. 

 

I probably agree with Dr Scipes on most things but NOT on "Economic Unionism"  V  "Social Unionism".   I speak not from an academic point of view but from the experience of a 25 year union steward in CWA, Local 1101.  There have been times and places where unionism rose to greater status than just defending the interests of its members.  But in my experience, for the most part, unions are limited to what Dr. Scipes calls "Economic" or "Business" unionism. 

 

Social Unionism, that is, unions militantly pushing for broader social justice for societal goals transcending their membership, is simply a construct of the mind.  In the real world, in order to thrive, labor unions must be encouraged by government.  The real job of labor unions is confined to promoting better working conditions, pay and benefits for  their membership.  To do that, they need a fertile soil in which to flourish which can only be provided by friendly government.  If government is hostile, as is the case in the US today, labor unions will wither and die under oppressive laws, legal actions and propaganda ...  As we see now. 

 

And labor unions need to be allowed the ultimate weapon in their arsenal:  To go on strike.  Sure, strikes are disruptive and can hold up business as usual. And the public finds them inconvenient.  But many people see the long-term social value in strikes.  Many recognize that strike are necessary to ultimately, raise all ships and that, in the long run, strikes do far more good than harm.  That attitude needs to be encouraged and not suppressed, as is happening today.  Unions are not the best spokesman for themselves.  They need official approval by government.  And society in general must be educated to the benefits of trade unionism.

 

Everything possible must be done to settle contracts in lieu of a strike.  Strong arbitration and a labor friendly NLRB are important.  But when worst comes to worst as it often does in labor disputes, labor unions need governmental support though messages to the public and on privately owned media ...  The opposite of what we have now.

 

I agree with Dr Scipes that " The US labor movement is in terrible shape".   And that " The US labor movement"  has been in an increasingly worse position since Reagan fired the striking PATCO union air traffic controllers.  Yes:  That was the first signal to the plutocracy that it was now to be open season on labor unions.   But for at least 40 years before the Reagan administration, starting with the FDR administration, unions enjoyed relatively good, even if gradually declining  encouragement and protection from government, after FDR's death. 

 

I do not see eye-to-eye with Dr Scipes that the failure of the union movement in the US is because of a lack of vision by its leaders.  Their vision has been to protect their membership.  More than that, they cannot be expected to do without government support and encouragement.  Running a union and social activism are largely incompatible activities. For one thing, union leaders cannot make law.   By and large, unions are not/cannot be set up to be socially active.  By their very nature, labor unions operate within the shop(s) they represent.

 

From what I can see, Dr Scipes has many good ideas but, from my experience,  labor unions as instruments for sweeping social change, is not one of his better ones.  What we need is for the pendulum to swing left again so that anti-labor laws may be repealed to be replaced by a system in which the union movement can flourish.

 

Just my two cents.  Dr Scipes has written many fine books of value, while I have none to my name.  But I have seen how unions work, from the inside.  In my role as steward and participation in many bitter, sometimes bloody strikes, I have gotten an idea of what's possible and what is not.  It's easy to theorize a more idealistic role for unions than they are capable of most of the time.  But, IMO, social change must come from the electorate first and then translate into government legislation and policy, including governmental treatment and attitudes toward labor unions.

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On 9/5/2018 at 3:28 PM, RAN said:

... a compelling case can also be made that American working people desperately have lacked something crucial to protect their interests: a fighting, anti-capitalist, class-struggle-savvy leadership that could rally an effective resistance against an increasingly savage onslaught … and ultimately advance forward toward revolutionary social-economic transformation.

 

It is unlikely society will be transformed, to work for its own interests, with nothing but union leaders in the vanguard.   In order to obtain:  "a fighting, anti-capitalist, class-struggle-savvy leadership that could rally an effective resistance against an increasingly savage onslaught … and ultimately advance forward toward revolutionary social-economic transformation."American working people"  are first going to need to elect enough left wing legislators to bring about majority union representation in the workforce.

 

Majority union representation, among America's workers can end the gross economic inequality we see now.  But before that comes about, the American people will need a sufficiently left-wing government to protect the spread of labor unions and give them the freedom to effectively pursue their mission.  Once unions become dominant in American industry, no matter what form it takes, union leaders will probable play an increasingly important role in shaping public opinion.  But they will still need political support from government if they are to continue to exercise it.

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Of course it would be wonderful if union leaders ran for public office and attained prominent positions in congress or became president.  Even an American Labor Party might become possible someday, if the movement gained enough momentum.  Eugene Debs was the last to try in 1920.

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Unions came about for a host of great reasons. Unions for garment workers, coal miners, car factory workers, etc... came about due to extremely unfair wages, and horrible working conditions. These unions changed the shape of working for all Americans for the better. I worked for a short stint with the United Utilities Workers of America thanks to a job I got from my brother in law who was a union steward while working for Detroit Edison. I was just a kid and they stuck me in trenches following a backhoe one summer. I worked for a small hourly wage but we worked six to seven days a week, usually 14 hours or more. Due to the union I made a lot of money that summer mostly from double and triple time. And there was also the hope of getting into a trade school provided by the union. I know a few people in my family made their whole life's lively hood from skilled trades and working in a union. 

 

The thing about unions is that it can protect workers if done right. When the work isn't there the union can provide training and hopefully somehow keep them employed. This is what made this country a whole lot better than it was before. You know the idea is to work hard, but also to have deep respect for your work. You need to have the sense that you've accomplished something and that your work is of great value. That's the American Dream historically speaking I think. But we need a mission. We need to constantly design a better life for all folks. 

These days I think about climate change and of all the positive things that could come out of it if we as a people work together to provide a true green energy future that will require new skilled trades and good jobs for all who willing to work hard.

 

It's the way we design our infrastructure, our cities, and our job opportunities that truly matter. The mission involves actually making life truly better for all citizens to enjoy and I think that Unions could play a big part in making the dream come to fruition. 

 

I don't want to be a billionaire. Seriously, I don't. But I do want to work. 

 

Peace!

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And I wanted to add in economics a bit. We are all economists in some shape or form. It comes down to supply and demand and work creates the supply that is required by the demand. We need a sustainable economic environment whereby profits come from this synergy of workers working together to get extremely big jobs done. The mission is not a mission for more war, it's a mission for peace and prosperity for all. From this you get profits whereby all involved get fairly rewarded, and the extra profits build better schools, a continuously improved upon infrastructure, healthcare for all, and good life working hard for. It's why we work, why we vote, 

why we dream. Open up a big lane for bikers and put class A catering trucks along the way in an amazingly beautified setting that makes people want to take longer to get to work while getting healthy by exercise. For people to enjoy, and for community pride. I've got a lot of ideas that don't cost too much. Most of us are like this, I truly believe. Tell me what demand is, good demand for something that you can use and not abuse and then let's work together to supply it.

 

Peace!

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It's getting so bad now unions in some industry have tried to force contractor employees who are already in a different labor union to join or not be able to work there. I don't see a problem making the non union contractor have his employees join but using a power play like that on someone on technically your side is wrong. 

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on your side, as an individual only looking for work, who works for the worker alone. The person who washes the floors and cleans the bathrooms needs to claim respect. Yep, they are just as good as anyone else. Who knows, they might work their way up. They might be really smart and be the type of person who can carry their own weight. I think that, many of us do.

It makes my life better when I know those who work hard beside me have a solid chance to make a decent life. I feel that way as a human being. I think a lot of people do.

 

Peace!

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