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solidarity unionism

Unions, Trade and Nationalism

By Tom Crofton - CounterPunch, October 31, 2017

A recent statement from the AFL-CIO regarding a rejection of NAFTA and other corporate/globalist trade agreements unfortunately only skims the surface of the issues working people face.

As the dominate union leadership in America, the AFL-CIO and its member unions need to take a deeper look at their historical behavior, and their role in enabling the evolution of the corporate state with its current right wing/anti labor swing.

American unions never were interested in taking responsibility for production. American unions developed to confront management but not to replace it. The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) was the only organization that tried to organize horizontally across all sectors to create a “new world in the shell of the old”. The vision of workers building a society where prosperity was available to all and artificial class barriers would dissolve was never a popular theme in American labor. We have always felt that we needed the owners, agreeing at least subliminally that capital has more power than basic human needs; that human weakness, pettiness, and laziness would wreck any sort of money-free effort to exchange services; that hierarchies of wages and benefits were natural and that those at the bottom were there due to their own fault.

The evolution of trade unions cemented in place these hierarchies, leaving the least skilled workers unorganized until the CIO attempted to fill the need while organizing mine workers and African Americans during the Great depression. The following era of war-induced prosperity, and the ongoing economic expansion during the Cold War, created a phony, unsustainable sense of American prosperity for a growing middle class, where 5% of the world’s population consumed 80% of its resources. The AFL-CIO was active in this period wrecking third world union organizing attempts as a front for a CIA run, right-wing sponsored, American style Imperialism. On the home front, a rising middle class of workers were happy to build low quality products, for good wages, as the disposable society offered an endless supply of the “latest” consumer goods. Conspicuous consumption and keeping up with the Jones’s did not include the working poor or the third world.

Democratic Ownership and the Pluralist Commonwealth: The Creation of an Idea Whose Time Has Come

By Gar Alperovitz - Truthout, September 19, 2017; excerpt from Welcome to the Revolution: Universalizing Resistance for Social Justice and Democracy in Perilous Times by Charles Derber (NY: Routledge, 2017)

The following piece by Gar Alperovitz forms one of the guest "interludes" in Welcome to the Revolution.

On September 19, 1977 -- a day remembered locally as "Black Monday" -- the corporate owners of the Campbell Works in Youngstown, Ohio, abruptly shuttered the giant steel mill's doors. Instantly, 5,000 workers lost their jobs, their livelihoods, and their futures. The mill's closing was national news, one of the first major blows in the era of deindustrialization, offshoring, and "free trade" that has since made mass layoffs commonplace.

What was not commonplace was the response of the steelworkers and the local community. "You feel the whole area is doomed somehow," Donna Slaven, the wife of a laid-off worker, told reporters at the time. "If this can happen to us, there is not a secure union job in the country." Rather than leave the fate of their community in the hands of corporate executives in New York, New Orleans, and Washington DC, the workers began to organize and resist. And they joined with a new coalition of priests, ministers, and rabbis -- headed by a Catholic and an Episcopal bishop -- to build support for a new way forward. I was called in to head up an economic team to help.

Working together, the steelworkers, the ecumenical coalition, and our team put forward a bold proposal to re-open the mill under worker–community ownership. With support from a creative Carter Administration official, a study was financed that demonstrated the feasibility of a plan to put the old mill back into operation with the latest modern technology. A worker–community-owned facility could operate efficiently, re-employ 4,000 people, and generate a profit.

Peace activist, civil rights advocate, and labor lawyer Staughton Lynd worked with me and the coalition to develop the transition effort. Lynd subsequently wrote:

What was new in the Youngstown venture was the notion that workers and community residents could own and operate a steel mill. ... Employee–community ownership of the Campbell Works would have challenged the capitalist system on the terrain of the large-scale enterprises in basic industries. ... This was the ownership model the workers themselves chose.

The coalition knew that their only chance against big steel was to build a popul

Rebuilding Radical Unionism: An Organiser’s Notes

By an Anonymous Organiser - Novara, January 31, 2016

Britain is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Still, a substantial minority of the workforce works for less than what it takes to get by. A much larger part of the workforce gets by in a haze of exhaustion, alienation and frustration, with little recourse. For the unemployed, disabled, ill or precariously employed, the sorrows of work are replaced or compounded by the malicious bureaucratic violence of the Department for Work and Pensions. For the retired, pensions are among the worst in the developed world and social care is a disgrace.

Chronic low expectations, low levels of worker solidarity and enfeebled official union structures – all the consequences of very deliberate legislative and executive action by successive governments – make it difficult to see a way out.

Still, a functional, scaleable, radical, rooted trade unionism capable of transcending bureaucratic hindrance and legal repression is a necessary starting point for a freer, more democratic, more equitable society.

With looming, sweeping automation threatening the movement’s last vestiges of strength in the industrial sectors – on the railways, and in some parts of distribution – the task of building this trade unionism is urgent.

Extensive automation achieved purely on the terms of capital will eradicate what’s left of the unionised working class, hastening the arrival of a purgatorial post-democracy. The absence of any industrial organisation with any means of obstructing the means of production and distribution in moments of conflict will lead to the total exclusion of the working class from civil society and political discourse. Protests and mobilisations are one thing – good unions secure and enforce the gains of the class in a permanent, scaleable way.

To unpack some of the obstacles to this work in the UK today, we need to approach this from the workplace and national level. We need to interrogate which demands, tactics and strategies could – just could – begin to rebuild the political and industrial power of workers and the economically excluded. And such interrogation is a matter of urgency: the Conservatives’ trade union bill – a bill that will make useful trade unionism close to impossible within the law – looks set to pass through parliament with little more than a whimper of labour movement opposition.

Can “solidarity unionism” save the labor movement?

By Eric Dirnbach - Waging Nonviolence, November 4, 2015

The debate on how to revive the troubled U.S. labor movement has been around for decades. Labor activists generally believe that much greater rank-and-file democracy and workplace militancy is the key to labor renewal. However, an essential perspective that is usually missing from the conversation is well represented by Staughton Lynd’s “Solidarity Unionism: Rebuilding the Labor Movement from Below,” which was first published in 1992 and has been recently reissued.

Lynd is a legendary progressive lawyer and activist from Youngstown, Ohio. He is the coauthor with his wife Alice Lynd of the classic “Rank and File: Personal Histories by Working-Class Organizers,” a collection of oral histories of militant union organizers, which informs much of the framework of “Solidarity Unionism.” At around 100 pages, the book reads more like a summary of his organizing philosophy, and many readers will come away wanting a more extensive discussion. It should be read along with several other recent books which make similar arguments: Stanley Aronowitz’s “The Death and Life of American Labor: Toward a New Workers’ Movement,” and “New Forms of Worker Organization: The Syndicalist and Autonomist Restoration of Class-Struggle Unionism,” edited by Immanuel Ness, who also provided the introduction for “Solidarity Unionism.”

Lynd argues for a rethinking of the assumptions of the labor movement and for a revived version of labor organizing that was more prominent in the pre-New Deal era that he calls “solidarity unionism.” What may surprise most labor-oriented readers is that central to this kind of unionism is the absence of a contract between the union and the employer.

Isn’t the whole point of forming a union to get a written collective bargaining agreement? Lynd doesn’t think so and he argues that workers fighting together with direct action on the job to make improvements in the workplace do not need a contract and may be hurt by having one. He is critical of the “management rights” and “no-strike” clauses that are standard in almost all union contracts. He believes they reduce the power of workers to influence major decisions in how the workplace is run and to solve their problems at work immediately as they arise. Contracts tend to remove agency from the workers and place it in the hands of union staff who typically bargain and process grievances while the members may be uninvolved and cynical. Lynd is also skeptical of a union’s exclusive representation of all workers in the workplace and automatic dues check-off, preferring for workers to actively join the union and pay dues because they want to.

Lynd’s view of the prevailing “contract unionism” differs from standard labor history, which considers the 1935 National Labor Relations Act, or NLRA, labor reforms as a progressive advance for workers. In the mainstream view, workers organizing, with the support of President Roosevelt, finally won full government enforcement for the right to organize and bargain collectively. In exercising this right, unions typically hold workplace elections and then negotiate contracts with employers that set the conditions of employment and also guarantee labor peace (no strike/no lockout) for the term of the contract. This industrial relations framework led the way for millions of workers to organize and improve their wages and working conditions. This “class compromise” held for several decades until employers changed their mind and increased their opposition to unionization again.

Life Under Austerity

By Erik Forman & Eleni Eleftherios - Jacobin, July 12, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Last Sunday, Greeks sent a resounding “no” to the politics of austerity in a historic referendum. In the end, 61% of the country’s voters cast their ballot against the creditors’ proposed austerity deal, and 39% voted yes, with turnout of eligible voters at 62% (3.5 million people in a nation of 11 million). But before the week was over, in a seeming about-face, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had proposed a new austerity package that included minimal debt relief.

What will happen next remains unclear — will the European “institutions,” so intent on making an example of Greece, dismiss the deal as insufficiently brutal? — but the deadly economic conditions the Greek people have endured seem set to continue.

So how have the last five years of austerity transformed the everyday life of the Greek working class? How do Greece’s working poor perceive their reality and the historical possibilities that lie immanent within it? What role could workers and their unions play in the rocky road ahead, as euros vanish from the banks and Greece descends into ongoing economic dysfunction? How do workers view the possibility of Greece exiting the eurozone?

To answer these questions, Erik Forman interviewed Eleni Eleftherios, a fast-food worker in Thessaloniki, Greece, in the run-up to last week’s referendum. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Toronto is now home to world's first harm-reduction workers' union

By Ella Bedard - Rabble.ca, December 8, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Toronto is home to the world's first ever harm-reduction workers' union: THRWU.

On November 11, workers at South Riverdale and Central Toronto Community health centres told their employers that they had joined the Toronto Harm Reduction Workers Union (THRWU) and demanded recognition.

With 50 members and counting, the union represents a wide range of professions including HIV/AIDS workers, workers involved in the distribution of safe usage tools, overdose prevention workers, peer workers, Hepatitis C workers, and nurses -- to name only a few.

While some THRWU members work in paid positions, others work as volunteers or are unemployed. 

Foregoing Labour Board certification and a conventional collective bargaining process, the THRWU is developing a distinct organizing model.

Chapter 26 : They Weren’t Gonna Have No Wobbly Runnin’ Their Logging Show

By Steve Ongerth - From the book, Redwood Uprising: Book 1

Now Judi Bari is a union organizer,
A ‘Mother Jones’ at the Georgia-Pacific Mill,
She fought for the sawmill workers,
Hit by that PCB spill;
T. Marshall Hahn’s calling GP shots from Atlanta,
Don Nelson sold him the union long ago,
They weren’t gonna have no Wobbly,
Running their logging show;
So they spewed out their hatred,
And they laid out their scam,
Jerry Philbrick called for violence,
It was no secret what they planned…

—lyrics excerpted from Who Bombed Judi Bari?, by Darryl Cherney, 1990

Meanwhile, in Fort Bragg, the rank and file dissent against the IWA Local #3-469 officialdom grew. Still incensed by Don Nelson’s actions over the PCB Spill, and not at all satisfied with a second consecutive concessionary contract, the workers now had yet another reason to protest: a proposed dues increase. Claiming that the local faced a financial crisis, the embattled union leader proposed raising the members’ dues from $22.50 per month to $29, an increase that amounted to more than a 25 percent rise. Ironically, IWA’s Constitution limited the monthly dues rate to 2½ times the wages of the lowest paid worker. The local’s financial shortage had resulted from a decrease in the wages and the loss members due to G-P’s outsourcing logging jobs to gyppos and automation of jobs in the quad mill. [1] The usual suspects readied themselves to blame “unwashed-out-of-town-jobless-hippies-on-drugs” once again.

Nelson presented his proposal in the form of a leaflet posted on the employee bulletin boards and distributed in the employee break rooms throughout the G-P Mill in Fort Bragg. The leaflet stated, “we are voting to maintain the ability of our union to function.” A group of rank and filers, however, led by a mill maintenance janitor, named Julie Wiles and her coworker Cheryl Jones, as well as some of the eleven workers affected by the PCB spill and others who had been most dissatisfied with the recent round of contract negotiations, responded by producing a leaflet of their own opposing the dues increase. Their leaflet stated, “Last year Union officers’ wages plus expenses were $43,622. This year they were $68,315. That’s a whopping 69 percent increase! Considering our lousy 3 percent pay raise, how can the Union ask us for more money?” The rank and file dissidents’ leaflets were quickly removed from the employee bulletin boards. [2] This wasn’t to be the worst of it, though.

"HANDS UP, DON'T SHIP": MINNEAPOLIS UPS WORKERS STAND WITH FERGUSON

Anonymous Press Release, August 23, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

After discovering ties between Missouri law enforcement and a company whose shipments they handle each day, a small group of part-time UPS workers in Minneapolis spoke out against their labor supporting the ongoing police violence against the population of Ferguson, Missouri in the aftermath of the murder of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black man. Workers undertook a range of actions against handling packages from Law Enforcement Targets, Inc, in order to show our objections to our work benefiting the militarized police violence directed at Ferguson residents.

Law Enforcement Targets, Inc is a company based in Blaine, Minnesota, which produces shooting range targets and holds hundreds of contracts with police departments, federal agencies, and military branches across the country. The company has held at least 10 contracts with federal agencies in Missouri, and far more with county and local police departments and other agencies. They have received criticism before, being forced to withdraw a line of targets called “No More Hesitation,” which featured young children and pregnant women with guns, and still offer a predictably messed up “Urban Street Violence” line. All of it is shipped through the UPS sorting facility in Minneapolis.

On Friday, August 22nd, a group of workers decided they would not be silent about the connection between their work and murders such as Mike Brown’s. Some of us intentionally removed targets from trailers that would deliver them to law enforcement agencies, while others stood in solidarity and refused to ferry these packages to their intended trailers. Those who were uncomfortable or unable to directly engage in these actions posed with a sign reading “‪#‎handsupdontship” in order to speak out. Actions like this took place in various work areas across the building, and were taken by people with a variety of job positions.

One worker involved in organizing the action on his section put it this way: “UPS knows the rule of this game just like any other company: make your money however you can get away with it. It’s like their number 1 rule, you always gotta keep the wheels turning. If you got the cash, UPS will ship it, even if its part of this f***ed up system that winds up with a kid getting executed by cops and then this military invasion of the town where it happened, give them the check and they couldn’t care less. Well, we care.” While this action was symbolic, with no packages winding up being halted, we believe it’s important to build the idea that workers can and should find ways to refuse to do work that contributes to racism and other forms of injustice.

We hope that this action is the first step in dealing with this issue and others like it. We shouldn’t have to go into work and have our job support the murder of any more black youth, just because UPS makes a buck off of it. In the weeks ahead, we expect to see more actions that demonstrate our outrage at being pawns in this deadly game. We encourage workers elsewhere, especially at UPS, to think about how their labor contributes to the current situation in Ferguson and elsewhere, and what we can do together to stand against it. And we want to help you make it happen. If you want to get involved or have an idea of how to take a stand but need help making it happen, please contact us at screwups@riseup.net.

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An Interview With Staughton Lynd About the Labor Movement

By Andy Piascik - ZComm.net, April 30, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

For more than 50 years, Staughton Lynd has been a leading radical in the United States. He was an engaged supporter of the Black Liberation Movement in the Deep South in the early 1960’s, most notably as coordinator of the Freedom Schools during Mississippi Summer in 1964. He was an active opponent of US aggression in Indochina, including as chairperson of the first national demonstration against the war in Vietnam in April 1965.[1] In recent decades, Lynd has been an attorney representing prisoners, particularly at the Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown, and has written a book, a play and numerous articles about the 1993 uprising at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville.[2]

Since the late 1960’s, Lynd has also been deeply involved in the labor movement as an activist, attorney and prolific writer.[3] Inspired by Marty Glaberman, Stan Weir and Ed Mann,[4] Lynd has been a passionate and prolific proponent of decentralized, rank-and-file driven unionism. In November 2014, Haymarket Books will publish a book by Lynd entitled Doing History from the Bottom Up: On E.P. Thompson, Howard Zinn, and Rebuilding the Labor Movement from Below and a new edition of his book Solidarity Unionism: Rebuilding the Labor Movement from Below with an introduction by radical labor scholar and activist Immanuel Ness will be published by PM Press in Spring 2015.

Piascik: What is your general view of the state of organized labor in the United States today?

Lynd: My general view, like that of everyone else, is that the labor movement is in catastrophic decline. My particular view is that the reason for this decline is not the Supreme Court, or the McCarthy period, or anything that might be remedied by changing the top leadership of unions, but the model of trade union organizing that has existed in all CIO unions since 1935. The critical elements of this model are: 1) Exclusive representation of a bargaining unit by a single union; 2) The dues check-off, whereby the employer deducts dues for the union from the paycheck of every member of the bargaining unit; 3) A clause prohibiting strikes and slowdowns for the duration of the contract; 4) A “management prerogatives” clause giving the employer the right to make investment decisions unilaterally.

In combination these clauses in the typical CIO contract give the employer the right to close the plant and prevent the workers from doing anything about it. So long as collective bargaining agreements conform to this template, the election of a Miller, a Sadlowski, a Carey, a Sweeney, or a Trumka will not bring about fundamental change.

Piascik: You have written extensively about the working class upheaval of the 1930’s, both the early years of the decade and the formation of the CIO.[5] How and why was the CIO consolidated as a top-down organization?

Lynd: It tends to be forgotten that the CIO was created by John L. Lewis. There is now a significant body of scholarship to the effect that 1) Lewis centralized the administration of the UMW so as to minimize the traditional influence of local unions and ran the national union in an altogether high-handed manner; 2) Lewis went out of his way to assure the business community that if they bargained with the CIO such phenomena as wildcat strikes would become a thing of the past; 3) many liberals and radicals such as Roger Baldwin of the ACLU opposed the Wagner Act, believing correctly that the result would be exactly what has occurred and that alternatives such as the Progressive Miners in southern Illinois would be steamrollered; 4) contrary to popular belief, the revival of unionism among miners began from below before the passage of the National Recovery Act with its Section 7 during the Spring of 1933 and the long-lasting miners’ strike the following summer was created and persisted in by rank-and-file miners despite endless attempts by Lewis and his lieutenant Philip Murray to settle it from above.

Piascik: You consistently underscore the importance of local initiatives. What do such initiatives look like in practice and why might they be more fruitful than national reform campaigns?

Lynd: At first glance any imaginable agglomeration of local groups appears helpless in contrast to gigantic international corporations. Indeed, in my early struggles with this dilemma, I highlighted the absence in the steel industry in the 1930s of effective coordination between new local unions improvised by the rank and file in a variety of locations.

The same problem presents itself today as low-wage workers in a variety of communities are simultaneously assisted, but also managed by, existing national unions like the UFCW and SEIU. For the moment, the unions say they only want to help these workers win specific demands through direct action. Down the road, however, these same unions may seek to make local direct actions serve as stepping stones to their familiar objective: exclusive bargaining status, complete with dues check-off and no-strike clause.

The Centralia Conspiracy (Ralph Chaplin)

By Ralph Chaplin - 1919

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