Editors’ note: The CPUSA Convention ended on June 15, but several noteworthy pre-convention discussion pieces came to our attention after that. They are below. We hope to publish soon a critical review of the convention’s outcomes.
“We do want more, and when it becomes more, we shall still want more. And we shall never cease to demand more until we have received the results or our labor.” Samuel Gompers
“Our wish is that the working class in every country becomes every year more mature, more confident, more optimistic and more aware of the deeper causes of the worlds problems, of the great abilities that lie ahead and of the great power it has to change this tormented globe into a prosperous, productive and peaceful world. We live and we report the atrocities that are not an isolated event, but the result of the economic machine of the capitalist system.” Flashes from WFTU, January 2014 (Vol. VII, Issue No.1) New Delhi
In 1945, A New Norm is Created
The end of World War II brought new hope for peace, justice for workers, and an end to discrimination based on race and nationality – a New Norm.
The 1945 establishment of the United Nations in Paris, with its Declaration for Human Rights, sent a message around the world that a New Norm was being established. The World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU), the longest standing NGO related to the United Nations was also established in 1945 in Paris.
The above two quotations are not poles apart. Gompers’ desire for “more” is certainly an immediate goal of the 120 million trade unionists from 90 countries who belong to the WFTU. But to stop there is to guarantee that the “more” will end up as crumbs that the corporate enemies of the working class are — sometimes — forced to share with more militant workers. The organizers of the WFTU demanded racial and national equality and justice; they demanded “more” in the workplace. They wanted a new world. Their theme: “a world can exist without employers, but cannot exist without workers” remains a WFTU theme today.
Gompers’ policy had guided the US trade union movement for decades until the 1930s when the industrial workers had had enough and began demanding real union representation within the American Federation of Labor. The coal miners, steelworkers, autoworkers, electrical workers and many others, led by the Communist Party and other progressives, organized the powerful CIO.
Many Left and working class militants fought and died heroically in the Spanish Civil and in World War II. By 1945, the postwar atmosphere was ripe for radical change in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas, including the US.
In 1945, the WFTU mobilized workers from around the world to fight against imperialism; to win world peace; to eliminate discrimination based on race, religion and nationality; to secure working class rights, and most importantly to bring down the unjust system of capitalism. This would not be trade unionism based on “business unionism.” It was rank and file based political action – “class-oriented trade unionism.” Most US unions in the WFTU agreed with that mission.
The United Nations was formed with the WFTU playing an active role. The International Labor Organization was re-vitalized and WFTU played a strong role. It seemed that there might finally be a somewhat more level playing field between owners and workers. This would set the stage for a new world of real democracy, which can only exist under socialism. Battlefield allies would be returning home, joining their militant unions and seeking a new world free from war and exploitation. Two world wars were enough.
Counter Attack by the Barbarians of Capitalism
But the seeds of disunity were actively being sown by corporate power centers in the United States and Europe. They knew they had to divide the working class and its unions. They targeted the most militant trade unions in each country. General Electric was the ringleader in the United States. GE and other employers in the US sought out and found anti-Communist, racist, xenophobic and anarchist trade unionists. Employers, some of whom had been Nazi collaborators who made millions from the war, honed their anti worker, racist policies. They had never given up their desire for a world without unions.
They understood that if there had to be unions, they couldn’t be led by Communists and militant class-oriented socialists. It was necessary that unions be led by those who sought just a little more at each bargaining period and who would agree to fight against other unions. To achieve this goal, corporate power used every possible undemocratic, violent means.
The ICFTU and the WFTU
Within a very few short years, the trade union philosophy of “more”, using the powerful weapons of anti-communism, racism, and anti women doctrines had been re-established under both the AFL and CIO labor federations in the USA. The 1947 Taft-Hartley Act was passed in Congress. New unions were undemocratically formed to counter unions in their jurisdictions. The business-unionist International Union of Electrical workers (IUE) was established to rub out the class-conscious United Electrical (UE) workers union. In 1948, the UE represented hundreds of thousands of General Electric workers. After the IUE was established (with the direct aid of General Electric) the resulting divisiveness and turmoil drove the union membership down to half of what it was. The war on the left-wing, militant trade unionists was waged by means of the anti-union Taft Hartley law. By the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, the corporate-led Cold War was in full swing with the trade union movement as its number one target.
In the U.S. the union movement was dramatically weakened. In Europe, corporations and anti-union politicians tried the same thing, but the role of the Communist Parties and other militants were able to stave off the worst.
To undermine the WFTU, a new anti-Communist international trade union federation, the International Confederation of Trade Unions (ICFTU) was established. Of course, the Cold War against the former ally, The Soviet Union, was the backdrop to all of this. Winston Churchill, The Democratic President Harry Truman and others all supported this direction. With promises of leadership positions and other benefits, socialist based unions in Europe played either an ambiguous role or fully supported the ICFTU.
The coordination by major corporations and their Congressional/White House allies was in full swing. Employers sweetened the pot by offering some increases in wages with private health insurance (which also served the purpose of staving off demand for a national health service, such as that established in Britain and other countries after the war), and private pensions to supplement Social Security, which had been established in the 30’s.
Leading the way was the Auto Workers Union under the leadership of the right-of-center Walter Reuther. He agreed to a private health insurance from the auto manufacturers instead of continuing the fight for the Wagner-Murray-Dingell Bill for national health insurance. Reuther, later in his life, publicly regretted that decision.
It was still a struggle to get employers to agree to these benefits. The Republican administrations, from Eisenhower, Reagan and on to the Bushes remained virulently anti-union. Union contract struggles to get wage and benefit increases continued.
The Gompers “more” philosophy also had a collateral aspect – it brought initial trade union support for U.S. imperialist wars initiated by both the Republicans and the Democrats. The Korean, Vietnam, and later the war on Yugoslavia were bipartisan efforts.
The WFTU fought vigorously against the imperial wars of the West
Anti-democratic laws (1947 Taft-Hartley, 1959 Landrum-Griffin) passed by Congress were directed against class-oriented and anti-racist, Communist organizers and trade union leaders. Taft-Hartley, with its strike-weakening clauses, also made it illegal for a Communist to be an elected trade union officer. The Landrum-Griffin bill intervened in trade union finances and elections. While there were some benefits for members, on the whole, it served the interests of employers.
Militant, class-oriented trade unionists suffered for their political beliefs. Employers were faced with a weakened union leadership, and the results were obvious. Although aspects of these laws were found to be unconstitutional in the 60’s, the bosses’ work had been done.
The AFL and CIO, and then the AFL-CIO supported imperialist activity in Korea, Latin America, the Middle East, trampling on Palestinian rights; almost full support for the Vietnam War by trade union leaders, even though many rank and filers became bitterly opposed. And, most telling, too many trade unions and their leaders didn’t give full support to the passing and implementation of the Civil Rights laws of the 1960’s. The dictatorial rule of AFL-CIO president George Meany took precedence over workers’ rights.
Stripping the trade union movement of its most militant and class-oriented leaders was a goal of Wall Street and it has had a devastating effect on our country. Trade unionists often ask the question, why is the U.S. trade union movement nearly devoid of militant political action like the trade unions in the European, Asian, Latin American, Middle Eastern and Caribbean countries?
In those countries, certainly not all of the trade unionists are class oriented, but serious political discussions take place, discussions which are rare in the U.S. Direct confrontation with employers in the form of general strikes are not uncommon around the world.
In the U.S., the Meany Doctrine was in place, which put the labor movement’s international work in the hands of Congressional war hawks, the White House and the CIA. Meany’s International Affairs Department had a direct line to the CIA.
The USSR and its Aftermath
The USSR, other socialist countries and certain European trade unions such as the powerful French CGT played a major role in the WFTU, especially after the ICFTU was established. The ICFTU had international corporate financial support. Their number one goal was to destroy the WFTU, rather than to fight international employers and financiers. Political attacks, monetary payoffs and other methods were sometimes successfully used to stop the growth of the WFTU. But, the reputation of the WFTU grew worldwide between 1945 and the 1980’s.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union everything changed. During the 1990’s, starting with the imposition of Clinton’s North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), employer and union relations changed. According to Clinton himself, NAFTA was one of his greatest achievements. NAFTA has caused devastation to Mexico and other Latin American countries.
What had been a sometimes-hostile and sometimes-friendly relation between the unions and the Democratic Party — and even between some employers and their unions — started to evaporate quickly. NAFTA was just the tip of the iceberg. There was far less of a need to “make nice” to the working class with the Soviet example no longer viable.
The ideologues at right-wing think tanks, e.g. the Heritage Foundation went into high gear. The formerly liberal Brookings Institution also became a center for neoliberal thinking.
The “Battle in Seattle” in 1999, against the World Trade Organization (WTO) sent a rallying cry. AFL-CIO unions under John Sweeney demonstrated and even committed civil disobedience along with other organizations. The militancy was short lived. Broken promises by the Democrats, especially Bill Clinton, discouraged workers from voting in the 2000 elections, stolen though they were. The result was the George W. Bush Administration. That Administration’s ultra right-wing, fascist rhetoric and policies sent too many organizations and leaders running for cover. Only some massive Iraq anti-war street demonstrations blunted its fascist impulse. The Iraq war made millions for the military industrial complex, and put the trade union movement into retreat.
The decades of the fierce grab for profits and power by the international banks and major corporations caused a crisis not seen since the thirties. Who would pay for the rulers’ dirty dealings?
The impact for non-union U.S. workers, as well as those still in unions, has been devastating. The capitalist economic and financial crisis, beginning in 2008, was just another excuse to destroy working class living standards. Even employers making billions, like Verizon, still demand and receive radical reductions in wages, health and pension benefits, and work rules. Across the board, workers and their unions are being hacked to death in the destruction of their trade union rights, wages, etc.
Trade deals that, to some, didn’t seem so bad when passed (after all, it was the Democrats enacting them), soon became the disasters that many predicted. The Teamsters union opposed NAFTA, but few others followed its lead. Over-the-road truck driving by unionized drivers was and still is in deep peril. But, the prevailing national union leadership thought NAFTA wouldn’t affect them. Trade union trust in the Democratic Party has proven to be a major political disaster.
For a number of years, NAFTA and other trade deals, often unknown to workers and their unions, were slowly driving down living and working conditions.
The World Trade Organization, the World Bank, the EU “troika“ (the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF) were in full swing with a massive corporate media campaign blaming workers around the world and unions for the financial crisis, with austerity as the only solution.
The unions mobilized for the Democrats in the 2008 elections and Democrats won in a landslide victory. With the Democrats in power, many stopped worrying and thought this was to be a transformative period. It didn’t take long for workers and most unions to see that the Democrats were not keeping their campaign promises to create pro-worker policies. In fact, they sounded more and more like Republicans with each and every financial/economic policy proposal. Democratic Party policy was not to bail out the victims of the crisis, but to reward the perpetrators — banks and corporations — for their criminal acts.
The federal worker wage freeze by the Obama Administration sent the message that the Democrats would agree to wage and benefit cuts in the public sector as well as in the private sector. This one action turned everything in the direction of Wall Street and the demands of the One Percent.
The net result was a major shift to the right, forcing workers and their families to make huge economic sacrifices to put capitalism back on its feet, and make sure employers were saved. It was hypocritically labeled “sharing the debt burden.”
It took the form of wage cuts; the scrapping of collective bargaining agreements and the destruction of negotiated defined benefit pension plans with the shift to Wall Street-controlled pensions (401k’s). Health costs shifted from employers to the working class. The so called Affordable Care Act, while having some advances in regard to Medicaid, is a shift of public money to the private profit-making insurance companies, with the working class paying more out of pocket, and jeopardizing negotiated union benefits.
A New York Times Article, December 3, 2013, “Americanized Labor Policy is Spreading in Europe,” put a lot of this into perspective. This simple article spread like wild fire in Europe. The article highlighted the drop in unionization in Europe — the growing wage gap between the rich and workers, which is seen as an American phenomenon. All the working class cutbacks happening in the USA are now being transported to Europe. Crippling the European unions was next task.
At the same time, international solidarity based on class-oriented trade unionism has never been more important. But the ITUC, a federation of international trade union organizations, doesn’t agree. The ICFTU changed its name to the ITUC (International Trade Union Confederation). The results of its international meetings sounded like latter-day Gomperism. Its meeting provided information about the crisis. It did not work to develop a plan to confront and defeat international capital.
The much anticipated ITUC conference of June 2010 in Vancouver confirmed this direction. That conference showed that the philosophy of “more” was still in play for the business-unionist, social democratic and Christian trade unions attending. The invited guests, the IMF, WB and WTO, spoke at the conference and essentially told delegates that they had to take the deal given them – take it or leave it. The ITUC social democratic leadership had insisted that no discussion was permitted. The ITUC bent over and accepted these new terms. The ITUC remains the loyal opposition to the IMF, WB, and WTO etc. It does not call for their overthrow. The many trade unionists from around the world that were hoping for a new ITUC, which would confront the crisis, were severely let down and angry.
The undemocratic nature of the ITUC was never more evident than by the silencing of any opposition to the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO at this conference.
2011 WFTU Congress
The World Federation of Trade Unions met in 2011 to set its new path for a modern, democratic, class-oriented (not business trade unionist), and internationalist model. The results were 180 degrees from the ITUC embarrassment.
Over 1,000 delegates met for three days. The Congress represented over 80 million workers from 120 countries.
Over 20 trade unionists from the U.S. were in attendance. Elected union leaders of very large trade unions were among them. This was the largest U.S. delegation to a WFTU Congress for at least two and a half decades. WFTU trade union affiliates were recognized as delegates, but independent trade unions and individuals were also welcomed. The Athens Pact was agreed to and passed. (The Athens Pact can be seen on the WFTU website) New officers were formally elected.
The WFTU North and WFTU Canada were established and have been working on spreading the WFTU word for the past three years. Over 3000 trade union leaders from the US and a similar number from Canada are receiving WFTU material on a regular basis.
Since 1945, the Communist Party USA has recognized the WFTU and supported its many anti-imperialist, anti-war, anti-racist and internationalist trade union positions. This was the same as other Communist Parties throughout the world. It attended meetings as guests and encouraged U.S. trade unionists to participate as best they can, given the anti-left, anti-Communist restrictions of their trade union leaders and constitutions. While the severe restrictions of the Meany period have lessened in recent years, few still dared to participate in WFTU Congresses. The U.S. participation in the 2011 Congress was a big step forward.
Support for the WFTU
The CPUSA’s support for the WFTU seems to have significantly ebbed since the past two Party conventions. The CPUSA sends delegates to international Communist meetings, even though it has serious disagreements with many parties.
For the first time, the CPUSA rejected attending the WFTU 2011 Congress. And it had, behind the scene, discouraged trade unionists with whom it has relations to attend WFTU-related meetings.
Why is this a mistake? Workers, their trade unions, their families and communities get encouragement by knowing that there is a replacement for capitalist exploitation – socialism. That is why the mass media, hard copy, and social networking, spend endless time trying to demean and destroy the image and reality of socialism.
Similarly, workers and trade unionists know that there is something more than just accepting the crumbs of greedy, ruthless employers. The WFTU offers a place where they can learn to take on Wall Street and their own employers by talking with other workers and unions from around the world who are doing it. A place to meet with trade unionists from the Middle East, Cuba, China, India, Venezuela and many other countries was made possible.
This gives them encouragement to return to their current trade union struggles and continue to beef up their own demands and mobilizations. There is no separation of the two. There is no sectarianism in this approach. There is no dual trade unionism. Those are the insults of social democratic and right wing trade union academics and functionaries.
The 2014 Chicago Convention of the CPUSA could correct that omission.
Where We Stand and What to do About It
In order to plan for the present and future, there must be an honest assessment of the immediate past. Never has the WFTU slogan been more apropos: The world can live without employers (and financial hedge funders), but the world cannot live without workers. Diabolical election laws and requirements have left workers and their unions with the choice of two anti-working class political parties. To have only one of these parties to vote for leaves proud, fighting workers in despair. Is it any wonder that fewer and fewer workers show up at union meetings and that consistent political action is almost non-existent?
“More” has become far less for U.S. workers given the betrayal of their interests by the leadership of the Democratic Party. The Republicans have always remained publicly loyal to corporate and financial interests. The 2008 elections were supposed to be a new day for labor, especially with the strength of rank and filers volunteering across the country to bring out the votes to get Democrats elected to the White House and Congress. The effort was a resounding success. The Democratic Party controlled the White House, the House of Representatives, and the Senate from 2008 to 2010. Workers and their unions doubled and tripled their efforts to elect the first African-American as President of the USA.
That the Democrats lost control of the House in 2010 could only be attributed to their failure to deliver on promises made.
All during the 2007 and 2008 campaign, candidates said that promises being made by the Democratic Party, this time, would be kept.
But, on the way to the White House and Congress came a new strategy – bi partisan government, not loyalty to the workers, trade unionists, community activists and others who made it all possible.
For workers and their trade unions, the betrayal began almost immediately with the abandonment of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). This was the crown jewel of trade union political goals for decades. The demand for labor law reform was on the workers agenda for 30 years or more. The promise of EFCA brought tens of thousands of trade unionists into the streets to elect Democrats. Had it passed, it would have significantly expanded the strength of trade unions. And, at the same time, it would have moved the Democratic Party to a more pro-worker, pro-trade union position. Corporate fear of a larger, more powerful trade union movement was definitely in the air, especially for those corporate Democratic Party supporters.
The next promise to fall by the wayside was the commitment to end the worst sections of NAFTA. The Democrats had also promised to consult more directly with the trade unions on any future trade agreement proposals.
This bad news began to appear even before the 2008 elections. Memo leaks from the Obama campaign that assured Canadian political and corporate leaders that NAFTA would not be changed spread like wild fire. The leak was not disowned. That promise to the Canadian corporations and government was kept. In the push to win the November election, this important finding was swept aside.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)
The current 2013/2014 mobilizations of the U.S. trade union movement to defeat “fast tracking,” and then the actual TPP is in full blast. The fast tracking seems to be defeated. The AFL-CIO and its state and regional affiliates are mobilizing against TPP. But, to this day, the actual details of the TPP have not been shown to trade unionists. And, another promise was broken, that is, the TPP would move ahead like NAFTA, without full disclosure. So, NAFTA was developed and passed by the corporate powers that would benefit; and TPP is going forward in the exact same way. Union opposition is in the form of memos and letters, not street demonstrations and actions.
More and more union members and unions are breaking with the Democratic Party on these trade agreements, given their anti-worker, anti-union nature. But, the Democratic Party under Presidents Clinton and Obama has been a relentless supporter of these neoliberal agreements.
Defeating this and future international trade deals will require a clean break from the mainstream and leadership of the Democratic Party.
By the time the Democratic Party decided that health policy would be its major domestic initiative, the movement for Single Payer/Medicare For All was in high gear. Hundreds of local unions and labor councils voted in support. The AFL-CIO was very sympathetic. Some months later, the AFL-CIO came out in support of the Single Payer proposal. Promises had been made by the incoming Obama administration to make health care its priority. Videos of Illinois legislator Obama were produced showing his previous support for the Single Payer proposal.
Between President Obama’s inauguration in January 2009 and the enactment of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, on March 23, 2010, almost every health care promise made was broken. The ACA was a totally private sector program, written by the very profit making insurance carriers who would benefit from its enactment. Single Payer/Medicare for All advocates were in shock. The details were far worse than the macro side of the legislation.
The Medicaid extension was very good, if State governments agreed to accept them. Instead, we now have a two-tier Medicaid national program. Medicare is a social insurance program, since we are all covered. Medicaid is not strictly speaking a social insurance program; it’s based on a financial requirement and State approvals.
The trade unions had the most to lose with their negotiated health benefit programs facing a national benefit program that was largely unwritten. But, when the President said, “you can keep what you have’” opposition slid away.
There are many trade union issues with the ACA. When the ACA was put forward with an onerous taxation of benefits, the rage could be felt across the country. This was a provision strongly opposed by rank and filers, unions, and the AFL-CIO. But the Administration was adamant that there would be a tax on workers benefits. The formula created by the Administration was that there would be a 40% tax on the cost of workers benefits that exceeded a dollar amount set by the ACA for individuals and families. The tax would be required to be paid by employers, but everyone knew that it would be the worker who would end up footing the bill. The great uproar by labor forced the administration to postpone the implementation of this section of the ACA.
The right wing, regressive Ronald Reagan Administration attempted to legislate the taxation of benefits in 1983, but the attempt failed. It took a Democratic Administration to get it done.
The promise, “if you like what you have, you can keep it,” was a lie to get the law passed, and the Administration finally admitted it.
OSHA, MSHA, and the EPA
Additional anti-worker actions, or inactions took place. After decrying the terrible Bush record on standards and promising big changes during the campaign, another disappointment was to follow the election. The official stated policy of the Administration post election was that there would be no new workplace standard coming from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).
Fellow Harvard man, anti-government libertarian Cass Sunstein was put in charge of all regulations where he served for 5 years. Sunstein is the Grover Norquist of the Democratic Party. Norquist is often demonized by the Democratic Party and liberals in general. Sunstein, a well-known self-proclaimed libertarian, anti government philosophy, killed all new and revised OSHA and MSHA regulations. Norquist and Sunstein are two peas from the same anti-worker pod.
The EPA should have led the fight against “fracking,” oil pipeline abuses, offshore drilling, and against global warming; its actions were reduced to weak slaps on the wrist of corporate violators.
President Obama personally attended the Copenhagen 2009 Global Warming conference. Here, again, in Obama’s campaign speeches, Bush was decried for refusing to sign the Kyoto Accord’s anti global warming actions. Obama left Copenhagen with the same policies intact. This was a great disappointment to environmentalists who campaigned for the President on the promise that he would sign the Accords. It was a sign of things to come.
These anti-democratic, anti-working class actions by this Democratic Administration may have been the impetus for the huge corporate funding of the Democratic electoral war chests for 2010, 2012 and 2014, while millions have suffered, if not died because of them. This is the campaign strategy developed by Bill Clinton and the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) in 1992 and 1996. It was not supposed to be repeated.
Demanding the opening of anti-union, private education charter schools – the beginning of the process to privatize public education, has been in high gear from 2008 to the present. The Obama White House actually requires state governments to provide more charter schools in order to receive Federal funding.
But, with the 2010 and 2012 election on the horizon, the teachers unions had only one game in town. They had no leverage to push Congress and the White House. There was nothing but the crumbs.
In the 2012 Presidential year, unions such as the NEA and AFT gave up, and ran to the polls to support the Democrats, fearing a worse outcome. This did not sit well with rank and file teachers across the country.
Recently, the 2014 annual meeting of the New York State United Teachers, a rather conservative group of over 600,000 teachers across New York State, voted the full slate of current officers out of office. They were all too close to the pro-charter school Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo. Times may be changing!
The dirty deal of 2009/2010, that auto workers were forced to accept, with no road back to their original wages, health and pension benefits, was declared a victory by the White House. That road back was given to airline workers when they accepted concessions in the 1980’s. So, there was a precedent, but Wall Street said no, and the Administration agreed with it. Now there are autoworkers working side by side with vastly different wages and health and pension benefits.
Aside from cutting wages and benefits, these auto deals also adversely affected how collective bargaining would take place in the future. This example of capitalist savagery has left the once proud UAW licking its wounds, and the city of Detroit is in bankruptcy.
The Fight Against Racism
The fight against racism is a national, as well as international struggle. It doesn’t help the cause of the international struggle against racism when Barack Obama’s US delegation boycotted the 2009 UN World Conference Against Racism, following the
George Bush walkout of the first 2001 UN World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) in South Africa.
Participating in the South Africa 2001 World Conference were 2,300 representatives from 163 countries, including 16 heads of State, 58 foreign ministers and 44 ministers. Nearly 4,000 representatives of NGOs and over 1,100 media representatives were accredited. A similar number met in 2009.
Nationally, the increase in poverty during the current administration has been devastating to the working class and all oppressed minorities, especially African Americans who have been hit the hardest. All economic indicators have confirmed this.
At a speech on the anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education, even First Lady Michelle Obama confirmed that “… schools are as segregated as they were back when Dirksen gave his final speech…” The Obama Administration’s linking Federal education funding to the growth of Charter Schools is no way to fight for the elimination of racism in education. New York City public school activists have directly linked segregation of schools to the growth of charter schools.
The Vagaries of the AFL-CIO & CtW
Since the merger of the AFL and CIO in 1955, the Federation has gone through significant changes. Lessening the old anti-communist, racist policies of George Meany and Lane Kirkland was an important step. The leadership of John Sweeney (1995-2009) set the Federation on a better road. The heroic “Battle of Seattle” in 1999 was the signature event of his tenure. Sweeney’s committing of civil disobedience to oppose the World Trade Organization was an important step. Currently, under Richard Trumka, the Federation has taken some good positions. Immigration reform, better attitudes toward community-based organizations and other efforts have opened up the AFL-CIO.
In 2005 some major unions bolted from the AFL-CIO to form the Change to Win Federation: SEIU, the IBT, the UFCW and the United Farm Workers. The Laborers International Union and the Carpenters left the AFL-CIO, and then returned, as did the UFCW. But, with a reshuffle of the CtW, their politics and activities seem to mirror the AFL-CIO.
The grim fact is that both Federations are tied to the Democratic Party. While both support different candidates in primary elections [a big reform under Sweeney], as well as different policies, in the end, they both will support the Democratic program and its candidates.
In foreign policy, the International Affairs Department under Meany/Kirkland was more than shameful. Its regional organizations like AIFLD in Latin America and the Caribbean sought to tie the unions to the US State Department and the CIA, and to topple progressive trade unions and “unfriendly” governments. There were AIFLD-type centers for Africa and Asia.
In 1983 President Ronald Reagan created the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) an anti-communist, US government-funded organizations, which fed millions of dollars to right wing trade unions for the purpose of opposing progressive and left wing trade unionism. NED activities, mostly dealing with trade union issues under Sweeney, was curtailed, but the organization remained. Carl Gershman, its leader for 30 years continues Meany’s work.
The current lines between the NED and the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center are deliberately blurred. For example, in 2002 the coup attempt in Caracas to remove Hugo Chavez was connected to the NED, CIA and some elements of the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center. This severely affected Sweeney’s progressive reputation. It underlined the reality that, while the Meany period is over, ties between the worst elements of the U.S trade union movement and imperialism still exits. In 2009, Sweeney’s retirement, and Richard Trumka’s election (Trumka comes from the United Mine Workers Union whose membership is well below 80,000) hasn’t changed anything. In fact, the AFL-CIO may have moved ideologically backwards on some international issues.
The AFL-CIO (and de facto, the CtW) is a full-fledged member and policy setter of the ITUC. The ITUC’s subservience to the IMF, European Central Bank et al., denies the real help that U.S. trade unionists have a right to expect from an independent international trade union movement. The Vancouver ITUC meeting showed that a coordinated international trade union political/economic activity to confront imperialism is not in the cards. But, the fight for it continues.
The opposition to TPP appears to be similar to the opposition to the other trade agreements. But opposition too often focuses on getting a better deal within the framework of those deals, and not to dump the deal(s) completely.
Immigration, Deportations and Drones
Immigration is a trade union issue. It is to the credit of the AFL-CIO and the CtW that the organized labor movement has moved to relatively progressive positions. Historically, under the Meany regimes, their positions were racist and xenophobic.
No doubt, it is the Republican Party right-wingers who are preventing decent immigration reform in Congress.
But, there is a shameful chapter in history that is now being written by the President himself. The National Council of La Raza has labeled him the “Deporter-in-Chief” for the unprecedented two million deportations that have taken place on his watch. This is a serious stain on the President’s reputation.
No analysis of the past six years can leave out the criminal use of military drones, which kill thousands of innocent people in an undeclared war. Actively promoting their use, and ignoring promises to curtail them will be a real legacy of this Administration.
A New Day
Class-oriented, militant actions by trade unionists and their unions are not uncommon.
- The West Coast longshore union, the ILWU, which recently left the AFL-CIO and disassociated itself from the Democratic Party over labor disputes that left it without any real support from either;
- The heroic Machinists Union (IAM) rank and file local in Washington, that fought the Boeing draconian cutbacks down to the wire;
- The public sector workers in Wisconsin who led the fight against the Republicans only to be sold out by the AFL-CIO/Democratic know-it-alls who argued that to fight Scott Walker in the governor’s election would sacrifice Obama’s chances in the national 2012 elections. Wisconsin’s workers were sacrificed.
- And, let’s not forget the fast food workers, fighting for their rights around the country.
The recent statement by national officers of the United Electrical Workers Union exposing the European and U.S. imperialist role in Ukraine is a breath of fresh air in the trade union movement. Not being tied to the AFL-CIO made this step more possible. It mirrors a similar statement by the RMT trade union in Britain. This statement went viral around political and trade union social media.
Independent forces in almost every other trade union who are fighting for more than just “more” — since the “more” strategy has resulted in cruel unemployment lines, reduced wages and health benefits, the ripping up of long-standing labor contracts, the destruction of defined contribution pensions and the switch to Wall Street-friendly 401K’s and finally the constant threats to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps and all other Federal, state and local programs.
Building Class-Oriented, Democratic Trade Unionism in the USA
By taking this step back toward the WFTU’s democratic, class oriented, modern trade unionism, the CPUSA will rejoin with the heroic South African Trade Union COSATU, which recently voted to rejoin the WFTU again. European unions are looking toward re-affiliation with the WFTU, blasting the Wall Street/ EU “troika” deals coming from Brussels. Two major sections of the French CGT have rejoined the WFTU. The 80,000-member RMT union (National Union of Rail, Maritime & Transport Workers) in Britain has voted to join the WFTU. It remains a member of the British Trade Union Congress.
The CPUSA needs an inclusive strategy and goal for our national and international trade union movement. The “Big Picture” must include the unions of the U.S. Change to Win federation; trade unions aligned with the Left, those, which are independent, and those affiliated with the WFTU. The AFL-CIO should not and cannot dictate CPUSA trade union policies.
We know that the CPUSA cannot join the WFTU. It is only for trade unions. But by returning to its supporting role, it can help others join. This does not mean casting the AFL-CIO/CtW adrift. On the contrary, it is time for militant, class-oriented trade unionism in all unions.
Our trade union and community-based members are being asked by our friends to lead from the front. That would bring our trade union comrades back to our rightful place, and restore all fighters for the working class and trade unions as in 1945.
The New Norm, for the current period and beyond, will mirror the New Norm of the post World War II period with class oriented trade unionists combining with democratic and peace loving forces from throughout the world to beat back the onslaught of imperialism and establish a new day for everyone.
The capitalist economic and financial crisis will be defeated by a strategy of militant political and economic struggle.
Phil Benjamin, 2014 Austin Hogan Club