While the entire country finds itself engrossed temporarily in the seemingly protracted battles and debates encompassing health-care reform legislation, pivotal developments centering primarily on the contentious topic of labor policy has ultimately left labor leaders in a blind alley. These developments struck at the very heart’s core of the union leadership’s customary practice of staking their claim and aspirations on the whims of an openly capitalist political party – the Democrats – exposing for the millionth time the fraudulent nature of said party toward one of its most consistent financial and organizational backers. Furthermore, it revealed the ineffective, bankrupt methods employed by the AFL-CIO over the past decades in attempts to proliferate what they refer to as “union density” in both the public and private sectors of the economy. It commands both union leaders and rank-and-file militants alike to face reality, to re-evaluate their entire method. Only by such a re-evaluation and subsequent alteration is it possible for the unions to move qualitatively forward in their work. Such a move requires a break with the Democrats and the construction of an independent party of labor.
This past week during a speech given by Labor Secretary, Hilda Solis, to the executive council of the AFL-CIO there was no mention of any provision in the coming months in support for the principal motivating factor on the part of organized labor to spend upwards of $400 million on getting Barrack Obama elected president and facilitating Democratic Party majorities in the House and Senate: the EFCA. When asked what she, Vice-President Joe Biden, and, above all, Obama would do to assure its passing in the future, she simply replied, “I’m not going to tell you I have the ability to persuade members of the House and Senate [about passing the law].”
Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), stated that he believes, “there is no current path to passage” for EFCA in the Senate. Instead, he and his counterparts are seeking new “strategies,” as they call them, to boost union influence and growth in the coming period. They include but are not limited to, working more closely with Jobs with Justice, American Rights at Work (a watchdog agency that reports on employer law-breaking), the federation’s own Voice at Work drive, and utilizing greater community and religious support, e.g., the NAACP.
One would do well to take full note of the “passive” position taken by such “leaders” like Larry Cohen towards getting EFCA (un-amended) passed as opposed to utilizing the rank-and-file base of their respective constituencies to struggle, using direct, militant tactics, i.e., strikes, pickets, and workplace occupations, to achieve their strategic goals. The current leadership of the AFL-CIO and their respective federating section presidents consistently reveal their own impotency in the face of such seemingly daunting tasks as passing necessary labor-law reform legislation at a time when the labor movement itself is, statistically speaking, limping along at an all time historical low point.
Their principal tactic, therefore, boils down to simply filling posts with apparent labor “allies” on the NLRB, as Cohen himself even admits. From this, a veritable cornucopia of “pro-worker” reform policies, in rather naïve fashion, is bound to flow. The “gigantic organizing drives” he has in mind on the part of the entire federation are purely secondary. Nevertheless, circumstances may necessitate a reversal of such priorities as well as a shift in their tactics and priorities for unionization drives in the coming months as their initial plans for “taking back” the NLRB proved, in a very short amount of time, unsuccessful.
Back in January, for instance, two Senate Democrats blocked with Republicans in denying Craig Becker a seat on the NLRB. This move infuriated labor leaders, as Becker (who worked previously for both the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU)) was viewed as “their” potential man on the inside. This development has vividly thrown a monkey wrench into the labor movement’s current strategy; union leaders were previously relying on Becker’s appointment to go through to secure a “friend of labor” on the nation’s pre-eminent litigating mechanism designed, ostensibly, to arbitrate between employers and employees as a formally “disinterested” third party. Yet even the most vehement apologist of capitalism must surely admit that said governmental body acts and renders judgments in a manner that could hardly be described as non-prejudicial, one that clearly favors the bosses over workers.
Now with Beckers’ nomination all but derailed, labor leaders, including Larry Cohen, are demanding Obama appoint him during the Congress’s Easter recess, which would allow him to serve on the board for upwards of a year before removal even becomes possible. Obama, however, has already refused this option once prior during the President’s Recess, in exchange for Republican support for less “controversial” Democratic Party appointments to posts. So much, it seems, for relying on the Democratic Party and its representative in the highest office in the land to assist in securing even the most basic of democratic rights: the right to organize and be collectively represented in his or her place of employment.
With the national unemployment rate holding steady at roughly 9.7% and fewer than expected job losses for the month of February, politicians, economists, and Wall St. traders are all optimistic – despite the fact that 36,000 additional workers last month filed for first-time unemployment benefits – that the economy, strengthened by the potential introduction of the so-called “Jobs Bill,” is now poised for a rebound. AFL-CIO president, Richard Trumka, who himself referred to the bill as a placing a “[b]and aid on an amputated limb,” was left nothing short of indignant over the provisions (or lack thereof) built within it designed to assist working people in times of historic economic crisis. It was, to be exact, pro-business legislation, one containing tax-cutting initiatives and programs designed to help small to medium businesses, while, at the same time, attempting to pay lip service to the demands and necessities of those struggling to find meaningful, long-lasting employment.
Despite the objections by more supposed “liberal” Democrats that the bill’s language did not contain language for increased federal spending projects, it is proof positive of the favoritism of the Democratic Party towards the bosses and their economic system at the expense of not only organized labor but the great majority of the working public. Such measures prove the necessity on the part of the unions, if they ever are to see meaningful, albeit insufficient – from the standpoint of the multitude of anti-labor legislation still currently on the books – reforms like the EFCA enacted, then they will need their own organ of independent struggle to achieve it: a workers’ party, one embracing the mass of laborers all across the country.
All the unions that comprise the labor federations making up the AFL-CIO (Change to Win included) should immediately stop their funding and political support for the Democratic Party and take the lead in organizing for the building of such a workers’ party. Rank-and-file unionists must realize that their current leaders have no objective need in such an organization of the working class. They are more than content making alliances with capitalist politicians so long as their interests are not in conflict with the economic system and pressure from the base remains historically subdued. Unionists should not, therefore, sit back, simply wait, and hope for their leaders to start the construction of a workers’ party; they should demand that their leaders break entirely with the Democrats and take the road of struggle towards an independent political organization of workers.
The political makeup, however, of such a party is not predetermined. The makeup is determined by material factors, i.e., through struggles between those forces seeking to turn the newly formed workers’ party into a carbon-copy of the Labor Party in Britain, the Social Democracy, or of the mis-named “Communist” parties of Europe and those desiring to win the organization to a program of social revolution against the capitalists and their State. Such an outcome, the construction of a revolutionary party, is what we envision and desire.
The abject, passive position taken by the unions in regards to their tactics and strategies to pass the undeniably crucial EFCA and re-build the strength of the labor movement in general, demonstrates clearly to every worker and, indeed, unionists that their “official” leaders are virtually incompetent when it comes to the matter of fighting directly for their interests. These leaders must mobilize their rank-and-file members for direct, militant struggle in the workplaces and on the streets as the only viable tactic to massively increasing union membership across America and realizing the needs of their existing members.
Building a labor party, utilizing direct, militant action, actively participating in and encouraging the struggles of the entire working class and the oppressed, these are the methods necessary to ensure the passage of the EFCA and to build up the strength of the unions. It is in total contrast to the tactics deployed presently, and instead offers the only recipe for success at a time when the bosses are desperately trying to offload the capitalist crisis onto the backs of working people.