. Detroit Workers' Voice #51, Sept. 5, 2005, contained articles on the AFL-CIO split, the AMFA
airline mechanics' strike at Northwest Airlines, and postal management's disregard of worker
safety. It was distributed in Detroit at the Labor Day march and elsewhere. (CV #36, Sept. 2005).
. In late July, several national unions, led by the leaders of the SEIU and the Teamsters, split from the AFL-CIO and formed the Change to Win Coalition (CTWC). While only a relative handful of national unions were involved in the split, they were very large unions that accounted for about a third of AFL-CIO membership. So this is a big split in terms of size. Whether it's really a big split from the bankrupt, class-collaborationist orientation of the AFL-CIO is another matter.
. The CTWC leaderships' differences with the AFL-CIO leaders are limited, so workers cannot place their faith in either side in the split. But alongside of this dispute, there are also signs of a rift between the rank and file and the policy of their union officials. In struggles like the 2003-04 strike of southern California grocery workers, the rank and file has shown its fighting spirit. But workers are tired of seeing their struggles sold out by union officials as happened in that strike. Many workers want to go beyond the limits imposed on their struggle by timid union officials. This can be seen when sellout contracts are voted down, when the rank-and-file form their own struggle networks is workplaces, during strikes, etc. In some unions, workers have pushed for resolutions condemning the US occupation of Iraq while the union officials tried to divert sentiment against Bush's war into support for pro-occupation Democrat John Kerry. Another sign of workers' discontent with the standard AFL-CIO line can be seen in the creation of national groups like US Labor Against the War and the Million Worker March movement. These groups appeal to the workers' disgust with features of AFL-CIO policy. Unfortunately, the USLAW and MWM leaderships retain faith in this or that section of the AFL-CIO officialdom.
. The contradictions between the rank and file and the AFL-CIO leadership were bound to sharpen. For decades, workers have been reeling under the attacks of the capitalist employers. The capitalists' endless drive for profits has resulted in massive layoffs, wage-cuts, workload increases and slashing of retirement and health benefits. The leaders of the AFL-CIO unions have failed to stand up to this offensive. They fear militant class action as do the employers. They sacrifice the interests of the workers by giving the capitalists concession after concession. They rely on the political parties that are bought and paid for by big business, mainly the Democrats. They bow down before the pro-business courts and legal system. They rally behind US imperialist foreign policy, which helps "our" capitalists dominate the world, thought they would prefer the Democrats' multilateral imperialism to Bush's unilateral version.
. The CTWC leaders say the AFL-CIO leadership failed to devote sufficient resources into
organizing drives while using too many resources to back Democratic Party politicians. And they
have complaints about too many unions competing and undermining each other in various
industries, among other things. Time will tell if they will do any better than the AFL-CIO
officials. But the complaints of the CTWC leaders barely begin to get at the underlying stand of
the AFL-CIO leadership that has been a disaster for the rank and file and fed the crisis that led to
AFL-CIO and CTWC leaders vs. striking airline mechanics
. What then is the alternative being offered by the CTWC? The strike of Northwest Airline mechanics that began in late August is an early test. For their part, the AFL-CIO unions in the airline industry are more interested in their turf wars with the striking mechanics union, the AMFA, than in solidarity with the workers on strike. Before the strike, AFL-CIO Organizing Director Stewart Acuff rebuffed the AMFA's request for support because the AMFA is "a renegade, raiding organization" and "not in the house of labor." And Robert Roach, a vice-president of the IAM, which represents Northwest ground crew and gate agents, stated "IAM members will not be duped into standing with the AMFA." Meanwhile, the leaders of the flight attendants union, the PFAA, have offered token gestures of solidarity while discouraging their members from a sympathy strike which would have been a significant blow to Northwest's strikebreaking efforts.
. Would the CTWC break with this disgusting lack of solidarity? Hardly. True, the CTWC union
leaders haven't gone out of their way to denounce solidarity, like certain AFL-CIO union
officials. But they haven't offered any sort of significant support either.
Concessions and undermining militant struggle
. The track record of the leaders of the CTWC hardly inspires confidence that they are going to mobilize the rank and file to militantly resist the capitalist concessions drive. For example, in 2003, Northwest flight attendants voted to get rid of the Teamsters following Hoffa's efforts to foist a concessions contract on them and his attempts to crush union reformers opposed to concessions. Indeed, while the CTWC boasts about increasing union membership, the Teamster leaders have backed contracts that allow more outsourcing to non-union workers, including at UPS and Anheuser-Busch. The Hoffa regime's militancy is directed mainly against the mild reformers of the Teamsters for a Democratic Union, showing how much Hoffa fears any rank-and-file initiative.
. Another CTWC union, the UFCW, is led by Joe Hansen who led efforts to wreck the heroic
strike by Local P-9 against Hormel in the mid-80s, throwing out the elected local leaders and
imposing a sellout contract. Only last year, the UFCW leaders squandered the months-long strike
of southern California grocery workers and accepted a sellout contract, then rammed through
concessions for Washington state grocery workers. The list of betrayals by CTWC leaders, just
like the AFL-CIO leaders, could go on and on.
Complaints of the CTWC leaders
. One of the main issues CTWC officials raised against the AFL-CIO leadership was that it spent too much money on campaigning for the Democrats and not enough on organizing drives. It may turn out that the CTWC does put more emphasis on organizing the unorganized. CTWC and SEIU leader Andy Stern boasts of increased SEIU membership rolls. But the methods used often shortcut mobilizing the workers themselves and rely on deals with capitalist politicians and/or the employers. This often involves abandoning key worker demands or even backing deregulation of industries targeted for organizing. Moreover, in most cases the opportunity to entice employers to permit organizing either won't exist or won't overcome the powerful incentives for the capitalists to resist unionization.
. As for the AFL-CIO support for the Democratic Party, it has been a disaster. The Democrats, like the Republicans, worship at the altar of neo-liberal economics which promotes privatization, deregulation, the destruction of social programs, etc. But one of the main reasons the CTWC union officials give for putting more emphasis on drawing more workers into the unions is that a larger membership means more votes for the Democrats. In fact, the history of the top SEIU, Teamsters and other union officials in the CTWC shows they are very likely to continue to devote huge resources to support various capitalist politicians. SEIU president Andrew Stern went all out for Kerry, reportedly spending $65 million of the rank and file's money to get the pro-business, pro-war Kerry elected. Meanwhile, here in Detroit, SEIU Local 79 is proudly backing Democratic Mayor Kilpatrick who is out to decimate city workers with layoffs and wage and benefit cuts.
. When the CTWC leaders talk of being more independent of the Democrats, it's not to build a
political trend with the workers' interests at heart. It's to supplement support for the Democrats
with support for the openly pro-capitalist Republican Party. As Teamster president James Hoffa
put it, "We're not going to be afraid to back a Republican."
A real alternative
. Clearly, workers who are upset with the weak-kneed AFL-CIO officials can not trust the CTWC officials to build up a strong class movement against the capitalists and their political parties. But the split does show there's widespread dissatisfaction with the methods of the present union officials and provides a new opportunity to raise the need for a real break from the sellout policies of the AFL-CIO.
. The split shows that it will be up to the rank and file to build a fighting class movement.
Worker-activists must build up a trend independent of the control of the stifling union
bureaucracies. We need rank-and-file networks of different types in the workplaces, in the unions
and in the workers' communities. We need to establish forms of organization that appeal to the
militant sentiments of the workers and in which they can actively participate. The more workers
establish organization independent of the union officials, the more they will be able to resist the
bureaucrats' treachery. Independent organization also means independence from the capitalist
political parties. The Democrats aren't about to save the workers, and the idea that supporting
some Republicans will help is ridiculous. The workers have never taken a step forward without
relying on militant mass action. Strikes and other protests that defy the capitalist establishment
are what will advance our cause. True, given the protracted ebb in the workers' struggle, efforts
to build up independent rank-and-file trends may not produce huge victories right away. But
wherever such efforts are made, they are bound to assist the workers in their present skirmishes
while paving the way for powerful class organization in the future. <>
. The working class is facing a serious test of strength at the hands of the capitalist bosses in the Northwest Airlines strike.
. NWA management came out swinging, demanding a 25% pay cut for the members of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association and the elimination of half of their jobs. Management has hired 1900 scabs to do the struck work and has out-sourced a great deal of it. The bosses have spent over $100 million in training and hiring the scab workforce. NWA aims at nothing less than a complete "restructuring" of the wages and rules of its workers -- meaning crushing the workers and their unions, starting with the AMFA.
. Analysts see this strike as a "watershed. " If the NWA mechanics are smashed, the airlines' bosses will try to do the same to the other unions. Employers in other industries are also drooling at the possibility of imposing deep concessions on their workers.
. The strike comes at a time when airlines workers of all trades are fighting the employers' demands for deep concessions. The NWA mechanics were forced to fight -- they could not accept loss of half their jobs -- and to their credit they struck. They are getting support from other workers and their spirits remain high. Members of the Transport Workers Union, the Teamsters, the IAM and the UAW walked the picket lines in places New York, Detroit, Dallas and elsewhere. On August 27 a support rally was held in Bloomington, Minnesota where flight attendants, steel workers, carpenters, screen actors, Teamsters and IAM members declared support for the strike.
. AMFA gained its present membership in part because mechanics and other workers rejected the concession contracts signed by the IAM and the Teamsters in the past. But the AMFA leadership offered concessions totaling $100 million and deep job cuts just before this strike, in hopes of avoiding it.
. The AFL-CIO leadership is using the petty squabbles with AMFA to refuse to support this strike for survival. The AFL-CIO bureaucrats refused to support the PATCO workers in the 1981 and are doing the same to AMFA today. An AFL-CIO spokesman called AMFA a "raiding" organization that is "not in the house of labor. " The IAM leadership has not only told its membership to cross AMFA picket lines, but even has its members doing AMFA work, on the grounds that it was their work before AMFA got the mechanics to join it. The Change to Win Coalition, which recently broke away from the AFL-CIO under the banner of organizing the unorganized, has offered no support, although this strike would seem to offer it the opportunity to posture as a big defender of the working class.
. Far more is at stake in this strike than just the jurisdiction over a section of the workers. By refusing to support the strike, the AFL-CIO and CTW union bureaucrats are paving the way for the spread of further drastic concession in airlines and elsewhere. In fact, the IAM itself is facing negotiations with NWA in a few months and NWA is demanding the same concessions it is now demanding from AFMA.
. Workers! We must unite! Too much is at stake to split over jurisdictional conflicts! Put these
secondary differences aside and take whatever action is possible against the assaults of the
bosses! Our livelihood is at stake! For the bureaucrats not to take action today is a grievous
betrayal of the workers! <>
.. Brenda Campbell, a letter carrier at College Park Station in Detroit, died in mid-August. Campbell died in part because of the negligence of postal management. She had a heart condition that restricted her duties. On the day she died, she told supervisors at her station that she didn't feel well. Rather than show sympathy, they demanded to see her medications and thus violated her privacy. Campbell produced the medications and was clearly ill, but management didn't care. Their only concern was that she continue her duties. Indeed, when they learned Campbell's medications prevented her from driving, they had another employee drive her to the mailboxes where Campbell was to collect mail. This job only requires one person and could have been done by the driver, but the supervisors were determined to have Campbell continue to work no matter the consequences. Management should have encouraged Campbell to attend to her medical problem, which clearly was of a serious nature. But they didn't, and so Campbell didn't get medical attention when it might have saved her. Soon after collecting the mail, Campbell went home. She died that evening.
. Some may wonder whether Campbell insisted on getting medical attention. If she didn't, postal workers assume it was because she was intimidated because of previous harassment. With good reason. Postal management, from the highest levels on down, constantly bullies, threatens and retaliates against employees who are sick or injured. Meanwhile, the illnesses and injuries are often the result of management's own relentless efforts to increase workloads.
. Following the tragedy, local management big-shots showed up at College Park to offer their
condolences. But their words are no comfort because they helped kill Brenda Campbell. Postal
workers should honor Brenda's memory by spreading the truth about her death and stepping up
efforts to resist management harassment of sick and injured workers. So far the NALC union
officials have sat on their hands. It's up to the rank and file to carry out this task. <>
. On Wednesday, August 17, a woman worker at Fort Street postal facility tripped over a bent,
hazardous mail chute cover and fell, breaking her shoulder and severely cutting her head. Not
only had the chute cover been left unrepaired, it was not blocked off or posted with hazard
warnings. A simple mail cart had been "protecting" it and even that had been removed. Postal
management never tires of preaching about safety, yet it permits hazardous conditions to persist,
causing many injuries. Not only accidents like this, but repetitive strain injuries are the fate of
letter carriers and plant workers alike. The interests of management and the big capitalist mailers
lie with profits, not safety. <>
Last modified: Oct. 15, 2005.