This post is brought to you by the letter H…for hotflashcarol, who sent me the link to the title story.  It’s a hella cool (as they say in Oaktown)  development, one that we hope spreads widely among  the nation’s unions.  But first, some background from Boots Riley, Dan Coffman, president of ILWU 21 in Longview, and others.  Ah, the early days of 2011; those were such heady days, weren’t they?  Before the heinous and horrific nationally concerted hammer-down of OWS and any (not-permitted, insured, yada, yada) dissent?  The glorious days of the Human Microphones!  ‘Mic Check!’  (You can read more on the Port Shutdown here.) As hotflashcarol had said on that post: ‘These Longshoremen are the real deal.

During ILWU’s contract negotiations and walkout, EGT brought in other union workers under the umbrella of the AFL-CIO at lower wages, essentially pitting union workers against other union workers.  Big Boss Richard Trumka called it a ‘jurisdictional issue’, and refused to halt the practice.  The strike at Longview got so contentious that Barack Obama ordered the Coast Guard to patrol the shores in order to ‘protect’ EGT grain ships.  EGT had hired modern day Pinkerton strike-busting thugs from Special Response Corporation which claimed expertise in “Counter-terrorism and threat mitigation systems” to help er…keep the peace and spread the anti-capitalist love

At the time, Robert McEllrath, president of the ILWU International had been painted into quite a corner, and had to parse his words very carefully over the Port Shutdowns aided by OWS in order to stay in compliance with Taft-Hartley and protect union members from firing and financial reprisals.  (Read more at the same link.)  But on August 29, with West Coast contract negotiations just ahead for the ILWU, Robert McEllrath sent the following message to Trumka (excerpts, my bolds):

August 29, 2013
President Richard Trumka

AFL-CIO

Re: ILWU Disaffiliation

Brother Trumka:

It is with regret but resolve that we have come to the point where the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) must cut formal ties with the AFL-CIO.

As you know, the ILWU has a long and proud history of militant independence inside and outside the House of Labor. With roots from the old Wobblies (IWW), our Union arose from industrial-based organizing, against the tradition of craft-based unionism, to become a founding member of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). This affiliation itself, however, did not last long. During the anti-labor, McCarthy period, the ILWU was kicked out of the CIO for being “too red” and too independent, and we did not join the merged AFL-CIO until 1988. In short, the ILWU has been independent and unaffiliated for most of its history. Today, the ILWU returns to that tradition.  [snip]

Since then, we have seen a growing surge of attacks from various affiliates. A particularly outrageous raid occurred in 2011, when one affiliate slipped in to longshore jobs at the new EGT grain facility in the Port of Longview, Washington, and then walked through ILWU picket lines for six months until we were able to secure this critical longshore jurisdiction. Your office added insult to injury by issuing a directive to the Oregon State Federation to rescind its support of the ILWU fight at EGT, which threatened to be the first marine terminal on the West Coast to go non-ILWU.

The attacks by affiliates against the ILWU have only increased. One affiliate has filed a string of ULP charges as well as an Article XX charge that not only interfere with ILWU contractual rights at specific ports; the ULP charges also are attempting to dismantle core jurisdictional provisions in our Longshore Contract for the entire West Coast. In Los Angeles and Oakland, another affiliate is imposing internal union fines against dual union members for the “crime” of taking a job as a longshoreman — the stated purpose of the fines being to prevent the ILWU from filling new waterfront jobs that replace traditional longshore work due to new technologies. In Oakland and Tacoma, another affiliate is trying to use a recent NLRB ruling against one of our employers to take over ILWU jobs with some of our other employers. Throughout the Pacific Northwest, we are daily seeing still other affiliates blatantly cross the picket lines of ILWU members who have been locked out for months by the regional grain industry. And just this week, some of the Building Trades affiliates have displaced ILWU workers in the loading of barges at Terminal 46 in Seattle where longshoremen have done this work for generations. They also had the gall to file several ULP charges against us for picketing at our own marine terminal. These multi-state attacks against the ILWU are being coordinated in large part by a law firm with close ties to the Federation. [snip]

The ILWU has also become increasingly frustrated with the Federation’s moderate, overly compromising policy positions on such important matters as immigration, labor law reform, health care reform, and international labor issues. We feel the Federation has done a great disservice to the labor movement and all working people by going along to get along. The Federation has not stood its ground on issues that are most important to our members. President Obama ran on a platform that he would not tax medical plans and at the 2009 AFL-CIO Convention, you stated that labor would not stand for a tax on our benefits. Yet the Federation later lobbied affiliates to support a bill that taxed our health care plans. Similarly, the AFL-CIO and the ILWU have historically supported comprehensive immigration reform with a clear path to citizenship that protects undocumented workers from firings, deportations, and the denial of their rights. However, the immigration bill you recently asked us to support imposes extremely long waiting periods on the path to citizenship and favors workers with higher education and profitability to corporations, as opposed to the undocumented workers such as janitors and farm workers who would greatly benefit from the protections granted by legalization. As a labor movement, we need to stand up and be the voice for our members and working people. We cannot continue to compromise on the issues that benefit and protect the working men and women of America.

Yesssss! Tell it truly!

Trumka and Obama love-fest?  Oh, me oh my.  Is that why Obama will be the keynote speaker at the September AFL-CIO national convention, perhaps?  Our Comfortable Walking Shoes Labor Supporter-in-Chief?

Ah, but more local unions and union activists are catching on to the fact that the Big Unions have been not only been coopted by the Democratic Party, but are in struggles against Democrats running their states, as well.   From Shamus Cooke at Workers Action, ‘A Big Victory for Oregon’s Biggest Union’ (my bolds):

After years of painful backsliding, the state workers of Oregon’s largest union, SEIU 503 (50,000 plus members), recently stood firm and scored a big win in their contract negotiations against the state’s anti-union Democratic governor, John Kitzhaber.

After again demanding many anti-union concessions, Oregon’s Democratic governor backed down when the union proved organized and ready to wage a statewide strike, which would have shut down many state-run agencies, including highway repair, Department of Motor Vehicles, Parks and Recreation, food stamps, the Employment Department, Child Welfare, Department of Revenue, and others. [snip]

When Kitzhaber re-entered politics in 2010, SEIU 503 and the other unions agreed to back him on a “lesser of two evils” basis, regardless of his public statements that aimed at “curbing pension costs” and other anti-union, Republican-inspired rhetoric. When the Democrats co-authored the anti-pension bill, instead of publicly denouncing it the unions were mostly quiet, a response that empowered the Democrats to double down later for a Grand Bargain. Passivity doesn’t stop your political foes, but invites more aggression.

The key lesson in SEIU’s recent victory was that the union proved it was not dependent on Democratic politicians for favors; unions have an independent power completely separate from politicians, expressed most strongly through their ability to mobilize the membership for a strike.

Now, many within SEIU 503 are re-thinking their relationship with the Democrats. Most members now realize that the Democrats are transitioning from “fair weather friends” to outright enemies; and most union members do not want to dedicate their time or money for their political enemies, whether or not the enemy is considered a “lesser evil.”

Good on you, SEIU 503!  That’s what worker power looks like!  Shrug off those Democrat shackles!

And in another tale brought in time for Labor Day, Brad Forrest has written ‘Wage Slavery in the American Auto Industry: Obama’s Shame’, describing the actual effects that Obama’s ‘bailout’ of the auto industry had on workers, while the Big Three auto makers are making money hand-over-fist.  New hires average $15 v. $28 an hour for veteran workers.  He also explains the process by which the UAW actually invests in the same companies that are screwing them:

Instead of fighting against Obama’s auto bailout plan, the UAW leadership surrendered. The pro-corporate leadership of the UAW has even gone so far as to take on investments in the companies they are supposed to be confronting in the interests of the workers. With this poor logic, the union leadership can tell the workers that by working harder, faster, and for lower wages, the workers are really helping themselves, since the UAW has investments in the company.

For example, the UAW health care fund, known as VEBA, which provides health care for retirees, is also a mega-investment fund that relieves the car companies of having to pay health insurance. In 2010 the WSJ reported:

‘The VEBA relieves the car companies of responsibility of lifelong health-care benefits for 800,000 retired auto workers and their spouses…the fund trust [VEBA] still owns 68 percent of Chrysler common stock and 17.5 percent of GM common stock plus warrants for an additional 2.5 percent. Because of its holdings, the VEBA has a seat on each company’s board, giving the union a voice in running of the companies through the trust.’

The United Auto Workers leadership has completely caved in to the logic of the capitalist system. They should be looking out for their members’ interests, not the stock prices of the automakers. The UAW leadership has gotten into a flagrant conflict of interest by owning stock in the companies they are supposed to be battling. The UAW leadership now has an economic incentive to insure that its members are exploited to the limit to raise the profitability of “their’ companies.

Hella state of affairs, isn’t it?  Cooke is calling out the UAW ‘to get its house in order’; that’s a pretty polite call, given the circumstances.

And last, but not least, is this Andy Piascik’s interview (‘Autoworkers Under the Gun’) with long-time auto union-needler/activist Gregg Shotwell.  He narrates the story of declining union shop power over the decades, and explains in a version of ‘the enemy of my (perceived) enemy…is my friend’: foreign car competition.  And with friends like these, etc…, it translated into the UAW becoming pals with the Big Three, and encouraging workers to do the same.

More generally, many unions, not the just the UAW, have lost their bearings. Union leaders don’t have a world view independent of the corporations they serve. The institution of Labor is infected with opportunists who claim we can cure the afflictions of capitalism with a heavier dose of capitalism. As a result, union leaders advocate that we work harder for less and help the companies eliminate jobs. Competition between workers and cooperation with bosses is an anti-union policy, but it makes perfect sense to union leaders who have more in common with bosses than workers.

‘Tomorrow is Labor Day. … In this country we insist, as an essential of the American way of life, that the employer-employee relationship should be one between free men and equals. We refuse to regard those who work with hand or brain as different from or inferior to those who live from their property. We insist that labor is entitled to as much respect as property. But our workers with hand and brain deserve more than respect for their labor. They deserve practical protection in the opportunity to use their labor at a return adequate to support them at a decent and constantly rising standard of living, and to accumulate a margin of security against the inevitable vicissitudes of life.”

“Tomorrow, Labor Day, belongs to all of us. Tomorrow, Labor Day, symbolizes the hope of all Americans. Anyone who calls it a class holiday challenges the whole concept of American democracy.’

~ Martin Luther King

Hmmm.  Is it time for an alternative socialist workers’ union to Fight the Power?  And again, for all working people to ask their leaders and Union bosses ‘which side are you on’?   Of course it is.

(cross-posted at Cafe-Babylon.net)