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Why the possibility of an all out victory in Wisconsin frightens the union leaders.
by Sean Throne (we_know_whats_up [at] yahoo.com)
Friday Mar 4th, 2011 12:28 PM
Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO president on Wisconsin..

More on the big picture.
Our movement is under attack from the employers’ offensive. We must make no concessions. The alternative? The employers and their class make the concessions. And we go on to the offensive.
Our blog http://www.weknowwhatsup.blogspot.com has been arguing that the working people of this country and especially the workers involved in the struggle in Wisconsin and similar struggles throughout the country have to conduct the struggle taking into account and explaining the big picture. The majority of the union leaders have been conducting the struggle on the narrow issue of the right to collective bargaining. Basically they say that if the public sector workers are allowed to collectively bargain they will give up even more concessions than they already have. This is an approach which weakens the struggle and if continued will lead to defeat. To strengthen the struggle and to lead it to victory we need to look at things in their totality, as we say, we have to see and explain the big picture.

Since Reagan fired the air traffic controllers and the union leaders allowed him get away with this, the employers have been on an offensive against the working class. Wages, benefits, conditions, rights, rates of work, have all been under attack. The most recent front on this assault, this offensive war against the working class, is against the public sector workers. This is what we are seeing in Wisconsin and around the country; the most recent phase of the capitalist offensive against the working class.

How do we approach this situation? There is one way not to approach it and that is to say to the employers ,if you allow us to negotiate we will make even more concessions than we have already made. In other words, we will cooperate even more with your offensive against us. This preserves the jobs and role of the union leaders in their capacity as negotiators but it is a recipe for defeat. Richard Trumka, head of the AFL-CIO has an article in the Wall Street Journal today. He correctly points out that corporate profits have reached an annualized level of $1.7 trillion. This is the highest since statistics were kept 60 years ago. And we are supposed to believe that the only way to deal with the deficits is by attacking public sector workers. Trumka also pointed out that Wall Street bonuses averaged $128,000 in 2010 which was more than six times the average pension of a retired public sector worker in Wisconsin. Mr. Trumka could have gone on to state many more realities that show that the situation is not what the employers and their mouthpieces make out in their propaganda.

The amount of tax paid by the rich has gone down dramatically as a percentage of total tax revenue. See the graph in yesterday’s post on our blog. We also explain there the cost of the wars in the Middle East which are being fought in the interest of the owners of the oil and gas companies. No matter which way you look at it, the rich and the corporations have been making more profits and paying less taxes over the past years. This is the reason for the deficits and also this is part of the offensive of capitalism against the working class. This is the big picture. The struggle in Wisconsin and the struggles elsewhere must be fought by explaining this big picture. Make the rich and the corporations pay, they must make the concessions. This approach will allow these struggles to mobilize the overwhelming majority of people in the country who have been left out of the profits bonanza generated by the growth of the past years.

Richard Trumka made a few half points but he did not state any opposition to his and the AFL-CIO’s continued policy of the workers making more concessions if only the union leaders are allowed to participate in the negotiations on these concessions. We have to be frank here. It is insane to conduct a major campaign to demand the right to negotiate if the idea is, and this is the idea of the union leaders, when we do negotiate we make concessions. It is hard to think what could be more demoralizing to the movement if this is to take place. Just give us our right to sit at the table and we will give you what you want.

Richard Trumka and the trade union leaders tend to see themselves as brokers between the employers and the working class. Their whole emphasis in this struggle is to make a deal and as the employers are not prepared to make a deal where they make concessions, the trade union leaders see the ending of the struggle to be the workers and unions making concession. Again to be frank. This is a disgrace. The union leaders cannot see themselves as operating in any way as outside the existing capitalist system. They cannot see the working class building an alternative to capitalism. So they see themselves as responsible to fit the workers movement into the demands of the capitalist system, to “educate” their members to see that they must make deals that the employers agree to.

The demands of the capitalist system over the past forty years have been to cut the living standards of the working class. The union leaders have gone along with this and explained to their members there was no alternative. They have also crushed any alternative voice in the union movement, which said there was an alternative, and this was to fight and oppose the employer’s offensive. Let us look at the implications of this. The union leaders have based themselves on the idea that concessions have had to be made. They have based themselves on the idea that victories could not be won by the workers. They have crushed all voices that have said that victories could be won. On this basis the union leaders have maintained their control over the union movement. Think about this.

What happens if we have a great victory, if the working class movement has a huge victory, for example that in Wisconsin we win the right to organize but also in the negotiations that follow we win increased wages and benefits and make the rich and the corporations pay for any deficit. This would be brilliant. And you would be right if you were looking at it from the rank and file workers’ point of view. But think about it a bit more and this time from the union leaders point of view. Such a victory would completely undermine the total arguments, propaganda and actions of the union leaders for the past forty years. They have been saying no such victories were possible and their members had to make concessions and they have been crushing all who said this was not correct. But a major victory would show that it was this argument and position of the union leaders that was not correct. The result would be to severely undermine the ideas and positions and control of the trade union leaders. This has to be kept in mind.

Consciously or not the majority of the trade union leaders neither believe nor want a major and absolutely clear cut victory in Wisconsin or in the other battle grounds throughout the country. As activists in the movement we have to be clear on this. The conclusion we have to draw is that while explaining the weakness of the arguments and approach of the trade union leaders and calling on them to change, we must not allow them to evade their responsibility to lead, but at the same time we have to be realistic and see what the union leaders will do and will not do, we have to see their role. This means that as rank and file and activists in the movement we have to build caucuses in the workplaces, the union locals and at all levels in the unions and these to be based on an offensive strategy. That is based on recognizing the capitalist offensive against us and having as our target the defeat of this employer’s offensive, the halting and throwing back of this offensive and the opening up of an offensive of our own; a working class offensive to make the employers and their class pay for the crisis of their system.

These caucuses should, among other things, base themselves on the following program:

Not a single cut in wages, benefits, spending, and conditions. This to be a principle of these caucuses.

No contract is signed in which there are any concessions.

Every contract signed to contain increases for the workers covered and for increased spending on social services and infrastructure

For a $15.00 an hour minimum wage or a $5.00 an hour increase whichever is the greater.

For a guaranteed job for all through a public works program and reducing the length of the working week with no loss in pay.

For free education and free health care for all at the point of use.

For an end to all wars and occupations and a reduction in military spending.

For a campaign to explain how the employers and their class have used and still use racism and sexism to divide and rule the working class movement and to oppose this.

For the election of all union leaders subject to recall at any time, their wages to be the same as the average wage of their members and all their expenses to be made available to all their members.

For the building of a working peoples party as an alternative to the bosses parties the Republicans and Democrats.

For the movement to have at its center a discussion on the nature of the capitalist system and what the alternatives are. In the case of the FFWP and our blog we see the alternative as a Democratic Socialist Society in the US and on a world scale.

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