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U.S. | Labor & Workers

Union leaders want to limit the goals as Wisconsin protests grow.
by Richard Mellor
Friday Feb 18th, 2011 1:49 PM
Continued battles in Madison Wisconsin. Union leaders and Democrats say its only about bargaining rights. They are preparing the ground for concessions on other issues. Workers and youth must not let this happen and use the heightened political mood to build a movement that can drive back the bosses' offensive and make some real gains for all workers.
Protests are continuing in Wisconsin. What is happening there is an inspiration and we should not waste it. Rahm Emanuel, the multi-millionaire Democratic candidate for mayor of Chicago says a good crisis shouldn't be wasted, well workers shouldn't waste one either.

The workers in Wisconsin are not only facing their governor; a more insidious danger lurks. They are faced with two opportunistic opponents; he Labor leadership whose demands are limited to ensuring that they have the legal right to negotiate with employers so they can sit down and offer concessions, and the Democrats who, due to the pressure from the workers and youth, want to perpetuate the diminishing myth that they are the party for the working class. This is what Union tops and their Democratic allies have announced in order to placate employers "Democrats and union leaders said their concerns were focused on losing decades-old bargaining rights, not the financial concessions." Not financial concessions". (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) These are carefully chosen words.

The lesson for us is that our united strength matters and that is what we should rely on. Our strength in the streets with direct action and in the political arena as well through our own political party.The sign held up by the veteran/student above should remind us; the Egyptians weren't simply demanding the right to negotiate with the regime; they were demanding its removal. And our demands in Wisconsin should not be limited to negotiation either.

The Labor hierarchy wants to limit the demands to simply the right to negotiate because it is them that negotiate in the main and their whole existence is based on having that right. They want some social credibility and a quiet life. There is no doubting the importance of that right for us and our organizations. But more important is what is being negotiated. The Union leaders have made it clear through public announcements like the one quoted above that they are OK with concessions; that financial concessions were not their "concerns". They are not their concerns as it won't be the likes of Gerald McEntee of AFSCME or any other major Labor officials that will be making financial concessions.

This strategy is good for the business model oriented Labor hierarchy and the Democrats but not for workers, public sector or otherwise. Firstly, when most workers hear about Union workers fighting for their rights and how they deserve this or that, their answer is "What rights?" "We've never had any of those rights" One comment I saw from a young worker was that public sector workers should take "cuts like the rest of us". We, as organized workers, need to change that mentality, show that we are fighting for free education, free transportation, an end to foreclosures and decent housing for all and free medical care and jobs for all at a %15 and hour minimum wage or $5 an hour wage raise whichever is greater. This will counter the propaganda against us and encourage the lower waged and less fortunate to join our ranks.

We should not lose sight of the fact that only12% or so of workers are in Unions and in the private sector less than 7%. We are about 35% organized. In order to stop the attacks on us and social services we have to speak to the rest of the working class, to the middle class, to youth to immigrants and the specially oppressed minorities, women, people of color, the disabled as well. A powerful united movement will drive back this offensive of capital and enable us to go on the offensive. We have to use this opportunity to draw the rest of the working class in to this struggle for a better and more humane life, in and out of the workplace.

We need to reject the propaganda that we are in a difficult economy and there is no money. We have shown many times on


that the money is there. We demand what we need, not what the politicians of big business or their allies atop the organized Labor movement say is "realistic".

I was a rank and file elected member of the negotiating team for my local three times. I learned a lot after that first time in 1982. I was idealistic, I believed that if we have the right arguments we can win the day and that the Democrats might help us or the courts were on our side along with supreme justices etc. This is not the case. The Democrats holed up across the Wisconsin border as a protest against the "anti-Union" law proposed by the Wisconsin Republican governor is an opportunistic ploy, nothing else.

Unions weren't built through negotiations, they were built through mass action and violating anti-worker laws, just like the formation of the modern nation state of America. The racist laws against black people in the south were not stopped across the negotiating table; they were stopped by mass action and breaking racist laws. Those that meet with the boss on our behalf are important but our successes have not come from the glib tongues of lawyers and "educated" Labor officials. When I was in negotiations in 1997 we had been negotiating for three months and gotten nowhere. We were stuck on our employers' insistence that we didn't need our Cost of Living Clause (COLA) in the contract as inflation was a thing of the past. they said that all top Union officials would agree. "We don't care" we told them and held firm, but we couldn't budge them.

Then we forced a general meeting of the two AFSCME Locals in my workplace against the wishes of the other Union's more conservative white collar leadership and that led to a meeting of members and stewards to discuss a stoppage and all of a sudden the COLA as stated in the contract and about $1,000,000 that the boss was taking away fell back in our lap. This is what unity or the threat of unity can do as opposed to months of chatter across a table. It's not about "tough guys" or glib tongues; it's about working class unity and power.

We have to go no further that the words of our enemies to see how they understand clearly what works and what doesn't. George Schultz, the former Bechtel executive who served in many government positions including secretary of the treasury and state (they all head this route as the plunder is bountiful) hit the nail right on the head when he said:

"Negotiations are a euphemism for capitulation if the shadow of power is not cast across the bargaining table."

The ground for capitulation is being prepared in Wisconsin by the Labor hierarchy and the Democrats. We should take this opportunity to reach out and fight for all workers; success in this will guarantee they don't pass anti-Union laws, not relying on the courts. Take the advice of George Schultz and cast a real shadow of power over those that want to drive us back to conditions that prevailed before the 1930's.