Yes. And how about some labor unions that are not simply increasing the income and security of their members at the expense of others in the same workplaces? 

I think of my university's hypocritical faculty in the Idaho Federation of Teachers, affiliated with the AFL-CIO.  For years the tenured faculty (some of whom have not published in years, or in any peer-reviewed journal, or even taught many classes by way of balancing that lack of research) have enlarged their salaries, benefits, and other aspects of power at the expense of their grad students and other academic colleagues, hired as adjuncts and paid little more than minimum wage. If that much.

It is very, very hard for me to respect unions when I see their members simply using the union's power to practice economic and social warfare against others in their own workplace.  When did the faculty of my university ever stand up for the cleaning staff, who got their hours cut, their workload increased, and their salaries held without raises for years?  They didn't.  Professors of 20 years or more are suddenly rushing to re-brand themselves as experts in "sustainability" (this, in the US, from people who've spent their lives so far spending money ignoring the environment and the poor).  Ok fine, maybe they finally saw the light. But are these profs who suddenly love sustainability - or at least the new research grants - including amongst their yammering any call to end the university's purchase of cleaning compounds and practices that can harm the cleaning workers as well as the environment?  Nope!   Nor do these union members stand up for office staff when they get cut back or crushed into substandard office spaces or job practices.

And let's not even begin to discuss their complete abrogation of any intelligent, practical, caring and conscientious duty to point out that infinite expansion of class sizes, degree requirements, and tuition costs is not only logically perverse, it is complacent - often even eager - participation in the giant ponzi scheme that rules U.S. higher ed today.  There is no show of solidarity from this union with their students - or with the many people in the world who want but can't afford educations. There's no solidarity with the contract faculty and TA's and post-docs whose labor they abuse. Nor with the many staff who keep their offices clean, their new buildings groomed, and their paychecks rolling in.

The only people I see the college profs' union protesting are those above them.  The outrageous salaries and lavish travel budgets and big fancy offices of the president and administrators -- now THAT, they are against. 

Hmmm.  It appears to me that this union has little to do with justice and much to do with money. Yes, I've attended many of their meetings, so I've seen what they obsess over both there as well as in their formal actions. What I see from this is that it is simply a prep school for the economic and social elitism of the adminstration. It is the junior branch of power, as it were, ignoring and despising all those below them in their constant, clamorous efforts to move themselves ever upward into the bloated ranks of the bureaucracy.

I don't know much about other unions - although over the course of my early career, I was an underpaid laborer in several other fields in which unions fought for the greater wealth of their members while refusing to consider how this was achieved by bringing in ever more "temps" and field hands.  And of course there's the long, long history of the "blue" being anti-green.  What is that but buying into privilege? Conceding that it's not about achieving fairness and consideration for all, but simply the illusion of it for some, at the expense of all who have less power?

What I see from my personal experience, then, is that the concepts of unions and labor rights seem to have gone wildly astray in the U.S. Instead of protecting ALL, which is the only freedom and protection that logically can succeed, they were seduced by the visions of infinitely increasing capitalist wealth into working to secure improvements only for some, and at the conspicuous expense of others.  American unions do seem very capitalist in their traditional obsession with wealth and power, patriarchal and racist structures, and disregard for our planetary home and all its other denizens.  Salt of the Earth is my favorite union film ever - because of its demonstration of some of these unresolved problems, and the way others can be followed "off the screen" (HUAC, Environment, the West as "colonized" land, imperialism, and consideration of indigenous and precursor peoples).

So I'm not sure unions have got any more political integrity than the U.S. parties themselves.

I'd like a working people's party - or rather, a party of working people and the working planet, which needs consideration too!  But I think unions would have to produce some very new "mission and vision" statements - or a shamefaced return to the originals - before they will regain any traction with me, or many who have seen them simply be about new lines of power rather than its end.


On Sun, May 22, 2011 at 12:06 PM, Kamran Nayeri <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
How about a labor party based on trade unions and a class struggle perspective? This, the labor bureaucracy will never do and this is what is needed to break out of the three-decade decline the labor has suffered. Kamran

On Sun, May 22, 2011 at 4:44 AM, Michael Balter <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
Given that abandonment of illusions about the Democratic Party is probably the most important step towards making social change in the United States, this might be a little bit of good news. It would be better news if unions in the US took a more aggressive role in organizing workers.


Frustrated with Democrats, some large unions cut back on donations

By T.W. Farnam, Published: May 21

Some of the nation’s largest labor unions are cutting back dramatically on their financial support to the Democratic Party, saying they are highly frustrated with the failure of Democrats to put up stronger resistance to Republican proposals opposed by labor.

The unions have cited what they see as Democrats’ tepid response to Republican efforts to eliminate collective bargaining rights for public sector workers, cut Medicare funding and require voters to show identification at the polls.

“It doesn’t matter if candidates and parties are controlling the wrecking ball or simply standing aside,” said Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, in a speech Friday. “The outcome is the same either way. If leaders aren’t blocking the wrecking ball and advancing working families’ interests, working people will not support them.”

The determination of the unions, who have traditionally been among the largest campaign donors, to use money as a carrot and stick over policy matters could ultimately play a significant role in next year’s elections, seriously harming some Democrats’ chances of election.

“We never take anyone’s support for granted,” said Democratic Party spokesman Hari Sevugan. “And we are confident that when working men and women face a choice between a party . . . that wants to end the right to collectively bargain versus one that secured universal health care, expanded middle-class tax cuts and saved the American auto industry, we’ll be working with organized labor to again elect Democrats up and down the ballot next fall.”

Unions are simultaneously shifting their money and attention to focus more on political races at the state level, where several legislatures have targeted bargaining rights for state employees.

In the first quarter of this year, union political action committees sharply cut back funding for House Democrats, according to an analysis of federal disclosure reports by The Washington Post. Those contributions fell by half compared with the first quarter of 2009, from $5.8 million down to $3.1 million.

By comparison, corporate PACs cut their contributions to House Democrats by 26 percent, to a total of $7.2 million. Union contributions to Republicans decreased as well, but by just 13 percent.

The most dramatic shift was in giving by the International Union of Operating Engineers, which represents construction workers and has a large federal PAC. In the first quarter of 2009, the union gave $1.6 million to House Democrats, while the PAC this year has not made a single contribution to either party.

Officials with the engineer’s union said in a statement that high unemployment in the construction sector was its top priority and that it “wants to see Congress more urgently address this issue on a bipartisan basis and move on legislation to create jobs.”

The United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners gave $350,000 to House Democrats in the first quarter of 2009 but donated only $148,000 in the first three months of this year. A spokesman for union, which left the AFL-CIO in a 2001 split of the federation, could not be reached.

The International Association of Fire Fighters announced last month that it would indefinitely halt all political giving on the federal level, citing what it said was the weak response of congressional leaders to legislative threats in the states to unions.

“I have not seen our friends in these incredible attacks against us across the country,” said Harold Schaitberger, the union’s president. “Where are our friends in Congress? Where have they been to fight back on our behalf with the same voracity and the same discipline of our enemies?”

Schaitberger also cited major disappointments at the federal level, including the deal between President Obama and Congress to extend Bush-era tax cuts for upper-income Americans and the defeat of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would have made it easier for unions to organize.

“There’s just been a pattern of disappointment and failures in advancing an agenda that helps the working middle class,” he said. “It’s a pattern that goes back years.”

It is unclear whether unions will end up backing Obama in his 2012 reelection campaign with the same enthusiasm as they did in 2008. Trumka voiced muted criticism of the president on Friday, saying he didn’t “make the honor role” for the execution of his agenda. He faulted Obama for losing a message war with Republicans over stimulus funding and pushing a free-trade agreement with Colombia.

Labor’s threats to Democrats follow a major push in last year’s midterm election, when unions spent $8 million backing a liberal challenger to former senator Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.). The challenger, then-lieutenant governor Bill Halter, lost to Lincoln in a runoff, and a weakened Lincoln went on to lose the general election to Republican John Boozman.

Trumka trumpeted the outcome of that race in a question-and-answer period after his speech Friday. A moderator asked what was different about his latest rhetoric given that unions have threatened to withdraw support for Democrats in the past.

“Ask Blanche Lincoln,” he replied.

Michael Balter
Contributing Correspondent, Science
Adjunct Professor of Journalism,
New York University

Email:  [log in to unmask]

“Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof."
                                                  --John Kenneth Galbraith

The day is coming when a single carrot, freshly observed, will set off a revolution.  -- Paul Cezanne