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Commentary :: Labor
Rank & file unity and the AFL-CIO split
11 Aug 2005
Following are excerpts from a recent Million Worker March Movement (MWMM) statement regarding the recent AFL-CIO split and the necessity of rank and file unity in organized labor and beyond.
Rank & file unity and the AFL-CIO split

By Larry Shoup
Clarence Thomas

The AFL-CIO has been split almost in two, mainly on the basis of personalities and inter-bureaucratic hair splitting. The differences causing this rupture boil down to two main questions.

First, what share of union resources should go to organizing the unorganized versus what share should go to electoral efforts supporting the Democratic Party? Second, should diverse unions be reorganized and merged by sector in order to achieve enough density and power to stand up to the current anti-worker corporate offensive?

Left unmentioned in the discussion were more central questions of concern to the rank and file and the Million Worker March Movement. These include how to transform and make democratic the existing structure of top-down business unionism; how to end the inequality, injustice and ecocide of racialized capitalism; what to do about the endless sellouts of the union-supported Democratic Party; and how to stop the war crimes, mass murders and tortures of the U.S. empire and its ongoing imperialism.

If a split of the magnitude that has taken place in the AFL-CIO was going to happen, there should have been a great rank-and-file debate on these fundamentals. Instead, the "debate" over the collective future of over 100 million U.S. workers, both organized and unorganized, was confined to a few hundred leaders, with an even smaller group having a decisive role. The Million Worker March Movement wants an ongoing dialog among the rank and file about the grand issues of our day. ...

Business unionism

The labor movement has lost its ability to confront the employer because of the threat of court intervention through injunctions, striker replacement and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

Trade unionism should be a democratic people's movement, not in any way a business run on corporate principles. Yet business unionism is the dominant perspective in the current leadership of the American labor movement, on both sides of the new split. The major premise of business unionism is that the most labor can ever achieve is to be the junior partners of capitalism, which is seen as an eternal system destined to last forever. Respectability is desired, so that a special relationship with the "enlightened" wing of the capitalists can be fostered. ...

We must deeply understand that dominant sectors of corporate capital no longer want to accommodate the trade union movement; on the contrary, they want to destroy us. Supposed union "leaders" who fail to recognize this reality are totally, even criminally, out of touch.

Much of the labor movement still operates on undemocratic, top-down principles, also based on business unionism. Yet if there is to be a future for the labor movement, an educated, active, informed and empowered rank and file is fundamental, along with a serious vision of working class power.

To achieve this, the working class must speak in it own name, not as a junior partner of our oppressors. We need to advance the civil rights and economic interests of the working class as a whole, not only union members. ... sub-head: Racialized capitalism

A globalizing capitalist market system now dominates the earth. Its sole goal is the liberation of capitalist property from all political, economic, social and ecological restraints so it can endlessly accumulate more wealth for those already wealthy. This system can be labeled "hyper-capitalism,’ a cancer-like system in which privatization and commodification of everything, including even life forms, is accelerating, making every human activity conform to market laws so that capital accumulation can expand further. ...

This modern capitalist system was born together with racism and slavery. White workers' class consciousness was deformed at the same moment the Black worker was enslaved and the Asian, Native or Latin American worker bonded in a second-class status through debt peonage. The American labor movement has been crippled by the resulting racism and white supremacy, which divides workers by creating solidarity on the basis of whiteness, thereby preventing authentic class solidarity and class consciousness.

Capitalism, which is a dictatorship of the rich, can only be transformed through an end to white supremacy and class-conscious rank and file unity born on the basis of class solidarity for all working people and serious anti-racist theory (education) and practice (an injury to one is an injury to all). Racist oppression inside and outside the workplace must be confronted and a power base built through assistance to oppressed communities to advance a working class agenda.

The Million Worker March Movement believes that the priorities of capitalism are deformed and can never be reformed. Workplace massacres are taking place in today's labor market, with Black labor taking the brunt of the cuts. The current reality for Black workers and other workers of color as well as for many women workers means that representatives of our own choosing [must] be heard at every level and venue of power, built into the structure of the larger labor and social movements. Social justice unionism must ally and collaborate with community organizations fighting the oppression inherent in American racial capitalism, becoming an organic part of a community-based fightback. We have to speak to and fight for working class control of economic development, including control of investment and community development.

The Democratic Party

The Democratic Party is a sellout party increasingly influenced by corporate donations and lobbyists; is adrift with no clear ideology or mobilizing approach to politics; and represents a weak, "Republican-lite" approach. Largely taken over by the pro-corporate Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), the Democrats are an organizational ally, a junior partner and frequent supporter of important aspects of the current corporate capitalist offensive against the working class. ...

The overall function of the politically bankrupt Democratic Party is to try to co-opt and control any people's movement which arises on the left and channel it into dead ends controlled by the corporate power structure. For all these reasons the Million Worker March Movement believes that workers must break with this sellout party and form an independent political party by and for the U.S. working class. This new party must be based on a spirit of service and sacrifice for all the people, not greed and selfishness for a few. In short, we must craft another way of doing politics, one which will be based more on the direct action of the movement than involvement in the electoral corruption of the current system.

A history of support for U.S. imperialism

AFL-CIO foreign operations, often in cooperation with the CIA and other branches of the U.S. government, have helped overthrow democratically elected governments in Guatemala (1954), Brazil (1964), Chile (1973) and Venezuela (2002). They subverted and helped repress progressive movements in Guyana (1964), Dominican Republic (1965), El Salvador (1980s), Nicaragua (1980s) and South Africa (prior to 1986). The AFL-CIO has refused to "clear the air" with an open discussion and honest accounting of their support for the imperialism and empire of the reactionary corporate bosses, support which has led to the murder of hundreds of thousands of progressive people and the repression of even more.

As U.S. imperialism has become more aggressive under both Clinton and the current Bush regime, there has been a continuation of what can only be called "labor imperialism" during the tenure of John Sweeney. This “labor imperialism’ has helped the U.S. government try to overthrow the popularly elected government of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela. ...

The labor movement of the 1930s, the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s and the anti-war movement of the 1960s and 1970s were all mass movements, and we need a rebirth of all of these in a grand coalition to fight for the just, equal and peaceful society we all want. The supreme task of labor is to challenge corporate America head on as part of a new civil rights movement for all workers.

This can only be done with an anti-racist and anti-sexist, class-conscious, mass democratic movement. Unionism must be linked to social transformation, not just collective bargaining. ...

The Million Worker March (MWM) ... put forward a workers' agenda with a list of demands which includes: universal health care, a national living wage, protection and enhancement of social security immune to privatization, guaranteed pensions for all working people; an end to the war and occupation in Iraq; and an aggressive enforcement of all civil rights against all racist and discriminatory acts, including those based upon gender and sexual orientation, in the workplace and in our communities. ...

Shoup is a member of UAW Local 1981 and the MWMM. Clarence Thomas is co-chair of the MWMM and on the ILWU Local 10 Executive Board.

-- 30 --

Union labor donated.
See also:

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