Sunday, July 24, 2005

Labor For Labor's Sake

I better give you a rant warning here.

It looks like the long awaited schism in the American trade union coalition has finally arrived.

The Service Employees International Union, with 1.8 million members, plans to announce Monday that it is leaving the AFL-CIO, said several labor officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the developments.

The Teamsters union also was on the verge of disaffiliating, and would likely to be the first to follow SEIU's lead, the officials said. Two other boycotting unions were likely to leave the federation: United Food and Commercial Workers and UNITE HERE, a group of textile and hotel workers.

"Our differences are so fundamental and so principled that at this point I don't think there is a chance there will be a change of course," said UFCW President Joe Hansen.

"Our differences have become unresolvable," said Anna Burger, chairman of the Change to Win Coalition which is setting itself up to be a rival of the AFL-CIO. "Today will be remembered as a rebirth of union strength in America."

Now, I know Americans have a far poorer perception in general of unions than the Brits do, in part because of the McCarthy mud that sticks still and also because of corruption and criminal involvement in unions in past decades.

But I want to tell everyone on the Left that this is a good thing for them in the long run.

The Democrats, of course, are howling. "Anything that sidetracks us from our goals ... is not healthy," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., chairman of the House campaign committee.

Then again, the Dems rely on the AFL-CIO for money and for manpower. In the 2004 campaign, unions ran nearly 260 phone banks and mailed out at least 30 million pieces of political literature in 16 states, mostly on behalf of Democrats.

However, the new organisation is committed to spending the bulk of it's money on grassroots organising for it's members' benefits - not in handing cash and work to a bunch of millionaire Senators who have their hands firmly in the pockets of big business.

For now, the split will perhaps be seen as a sign of weakness by employers and by the Right. Let them. In time, the more people are union members then the better for the workers and the rights of working people. In time, as more people join the new Coalition, their bargaining power will increase and they will no longer just be poor-boy water carriers for the latte-drinkers.

In the UK, it is union power that makes it possible for non-millionaires to become Members of Parliament and even Prime Minister. Here in the US, it is union money that funds independent socialists like Bernie Sanders - people who care more about workers than about jacking off the bankers and helping them pass a bankruptcy bill, or jacking off Lockheed by helping them get appropriations for new hi-tech shiny military toys.

In the end, the AFL-CIO became water carriers for those who profess to have the interests of working class Americans at heart but are shown liars by their sources of funding.

The new Coalition is a bright hope for those workers and for the American Left. Maybe, in a few years, you will even see the emergence of a true worker's political movement which will finally provide a credible third party - something your country desperately needs.

Take courage, take hope...and join the Coalition. And no, they don't have the vaguest idea who I am nor have they ever solicited a word from me.


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