Week In Review May 25

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May 252017
 

  by Bill Onasch

I wish our U.S. readers a safe Memorial Day Weekend.

A Bivouac, Not Withdrawal

This WIR concludes a temporary three week departure from our normal format of commenting on timely events, and new issues, of concern to the working class. Instead I have attempted an in depth review of the oldest working class struggle—inextricably connected with nearly every other issue—secure employment with decent wages. I’ll return to “normal” next time.

I ended the last WIR with this pledge–“I promise to really complete this thread on Full Employment in the next WIR by showing how implementation of an updated and expanded version of the Labor Party program can lead to good jobs for all—and a whole lot more.”

‘The Bosses Have Two Parties—Workers Need One of Our Own!’

The two decades of Labor Party Advocates/Labor Party failed in one crucial task—it could not win necessary material support from unions that must be the base of a genuine labor party. This was not due to incompetence or unrealistic expectations by Labor Party leaders. Nor was it a matter of austerity by unions that collectively continue to spend hundreds of millions backing perfidious Democrat “friends.”

Key affiliated national unions that enabled the party’s promising start merged with bigger ones hostile to the Labor Party. Many local union affiliates vanished due to plant closings. Of the nine endorsing unions in Kansas City only four continue to exist.

KC LP at 2006 Immigrant Rights Rally

After Bush II stole the 2000 election from Al Gore many union officials unfairly blamed Ralph Nader’s Green Party campaign and sounded an alarm against “spoilers” aiding labor’s enemies. The modest dues of thousands of individual Labor Party members couldn’t come close to matching the loss of union funding.

A Legacy Waiting to Be Claimed

But while insolvency forced a lowering of its banner with honor intact five years ago, the Labor Party bequeathed a rich legacy of principles and program that are more relevant than ever today. This excerpt from the preamble for a Call for Economic Justice established its unabashed class bias and sets a combative tone,

“The Democratic and Republican parties serve the corporate interests that finance them. We oppose corporate power that undermines democratic institutions and governments. We oppose corporate politicians and parties that provide billions in corporate tax breaks and subsidies to the rich, selling themselves to the highest bidder. We reject the false choice of jobs versus environmental responsibility. We will not be held hostage by corporate polluters who poison our workplaces and our communities. We reject the redistribution of billions of dollars of wealth from poor and working people to the rich. And we reject every opportunist who plays the race, gender, or immigrant card to keep us from addressing our real needs, and the needs of our families and communities.

“Our Labor Party understands that our struggle for democracy pits us against a corporate elite that will fight hard to retain its powers and privileges. This is the struggle of our generation. The future of our children and their children hangs in the balance. It is a struggle we cannot afford to lose.”

Broadly Encompassing

The main body of the Program is relatively comprehensive about most of the major issues of our time. Later, specific major campaigns were developed around Just Health Care, Free Higher Education and Worker Rights. Those were aided by prominent sympathetic health professionals, economists, educators and lawyers. But for now I will stick to highlighting those parts most pertinent to full employment with decent wages.

First and foremost everyone, both in the private and public sectors, needs a guarantee of a right to a job at a living wage — one that pays above poverty-level wages and is indexed to inflation. And in today’s world that comes to a minimum of about $10 an hour. We want this right written directly into the U.S. Constitution.”

Ten 1996 dollars works out to about 15 today—the current popular demand of a mass movement of low wage workers. Inserting these guarantees in to the Constitution would mandate Congress to pass legislation to implement them.

The Program also proposes a Job Destruction Penalty Act that would require employers closing plants to make punitive additional payments to both the displaced workers and their communities as well.

It further calls for a four-day, 32-hour work week; mandatory 20 days of annual vacation; one year of paid leave for every seven years of work.

Just Transition

And, even more urgently needed today, it reaffirms support for Just Transition–

“This Labor Party affirms its commitment to a clean and safe environment. We all need clean workplaces, clean air, and clean water. But we also need our jobs. We reject the false choice of jobs or the environment. We will not be held hostage by corporate polluters who poison our workplaces and our communities. We refuse this corporate blackmail. Corporations are not interested in either saving our jobs or protecting the environment. But we also know that environmental change is coming. What we produce and how we produce will change as steps are taken to protect people and the natural environment from harm. The Labor Party will support taking such steps if and only if the livelihoods of working people endangered by environmental change are fully protected. Therefore, the Labor Party calls for the creation of a new worker-oriented environmental movement — a Just Transition Movement — that puts forth a fair and just transition program to protect both jobs and the environment. All workers with jobs endangered by steps taken to protect the environment are to be made whole and to receive full income and benefits as they make the difficult transition to alternative work. The cost of this Just Transition Income Support program will be paid for by taxes on corporate polluters.”

Though climate change was not specifically mentioned in this language adopted twenty years ago it increasingly becomes the focus of Just Transition and is the centerpiece of the programs of the Labor Network for Sustainability and Trade Unions for Energy Democracy. Jeremy Corbyn, head of a rejuvenated British Labor Party currently involved in an election campaign, has been a prominent supporter of TUED.

Implementation of the Labor Party proposals I have highlighted would certainly lead to full employment at decent wages. It would also enable humanity to avoid the disasters of unchecked climate change. But the Labor Party founders had no illusions about the struggle required to achieve these objectives.

A Trident Strategy

I served on the party’s Electoral Policy Commission and remain proud of our report that was approved after some contentious debate at the 1998 convention. It opened,

“The Labor Party is unlike any other party in the United States. We stand independent of the corporations and their political representatives in the Democratic and Republican parties. Our overall strategy is for the majority of American people — working class people — to take political power. Within this framework of class independence, with the ultimate goal of achieving power, we accept the electoral tactic of running candidates. The Labor Party will run candidates for public office in order to elect representatives to positions where they can help enact and enforce laws and policies to benefit the working class. We will run at governmental levels where we can best advance the goals and priorities of the Labor Party. Unlike other political parties, public officials elected by the Labor Party will be accountable to the party membership and required to follow the positions outlined in the party platform. Although we accept electoral politics as an important tactic, we do not see it as the only tool needed to achieve working class power.

“Unlike other political parties, the Labor Party will be active before, during and between elections, building solidarity in our communities, workplaces and unions. Labor Party candidates will be run only where our basic organizational criteria are met. The Labor Party will build into its electoral campaigns, and the periods between them, procedures to ensure political education and mobilization of the working class, further development of the party structure and growth in membership, and strengthened relationships to community and labor allies.”

This is what I have at times described as the Trident approach, combining struggles in the workplace, communities, and at the ballot box. Elections alone, while not unimportant, won’t get the job done. At best they can ratify and codify victories already won on the job or in the streets.

The Terminal Two-Party Crisis

The bosses’ two party monopoly is in terminal crisis. That was already evident in opinion polls over the last several years and was verified in shocking fashion in the 2016 presidential election. Hundreds of thousands voted for state and local offices while abstaining for president. In Michigan, where Trump was said to have a working class base, the fledgling Working Class Party, founded by veteran socialist trade unionists, with no budget for TV/radio ad buys, got nearly 225,000 votes for their one state-wide candidate. For only the third time in history, a second place candidate won the decisive electoral college contest. We now have the most reactionary administration since Woodrow Wilson and the most incompetent ever.

The opposition party has little to offer other than obstruction labeled “resistance”–though its “left wing’s” hyperbole often goes over the top. I was attracted to an In These Times headline–Amid “Constitutional Crisis,” Bernie Sanders Urges Workers To Seize Means of Production. But the only thing seized was a few minutes of my time. It was about bills that would provide piddling amounts to training and low interest loans for worker-owned cooperatives and ESOPs—micro-projects with historically high failure rates.

***

John L Lewis, who was fond of biblical references, once thundered “Heed the cry from Macedonia—Organize the unorganized!” That’s still a good, necessary thing to do. But even more important in today’s multiple crises is for our misdirected working class Sauls on the Democrat Road to Damascus to accept the vision of a resurrected labor party.

That’s all for this week.


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Week In Review May 21

 Week In Review  Comments Off on Week In Review May 21
May 212017
 

  by Bill Onasch

Getting to Full Employment continued…

George Santayana famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Fortunately, our class has a collective memory more durable than any individual’s, in fact spanning centuries. It is embodied not only in published format but also in our organizations, traditions, culture.

But like an individual subjected to trauma, a class can also suffer temporary amnesia and identity loss. Even though the working class is the big majority, and “without our brain and muscle not a single wheel can turn,” repeated blows over the last couple of generations have blurred class awareness and diminished struggle. Recovery has been impaired by a great deal of alt-history forged by alternative facts. A good dose of the real thing can be therapeutic.

That’s why, despite my lack of credentials beyond graduating from Ruskin High School, I devote so much space in these weekly missives trying to view the present in historical context. I hope you will stay with me as even this continuation fails to complete the objective promised in the last one.

***

I closed the lead section of the last WIR, “I’ve tried to explain the obstacles to genuine full employment and a resulting improvement in wages. It is not a pretty picture because the system itself is inherently ugly. But I wouldn’t be writing such stuff—and you probably wouldn’t be reading this—if we thought the situation is hopeless. In the next WIR, I’ll offer some suggestions about–what is to be done?”

The Man Who Hated Work and Loved Labor: The Life and Times of Tony Mazzocchi

It since occurred to me that I was making a perhaps unwarranted assumption that the benefit of full employment is self-evident. I remembered that Marx’s son-in-law Paul Lafargue wrote a small book entitled The Right to be Lazy. When Les Leopold wrote his excellent biography of Tony Mazzocchi he chose the title The Man Who Hated Work and Loved Labor. And the idea of a guaranteed basic income to all as an alternative to wages is again trending.

But these are not really as dismissive of full employment as they are supportive of work to live versus live to work. Lafargue didn’t disagree with his father-in-law’s ultimate goal of a classless society where work and reward is governed by “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need.”

Mazzocchi dedicated his life to improving the conditions of the work he hated while toiling on the shop floor by fighting for reforms for workplace safety and health, shorter work weeks, longer vacations, earlier retirements—and a working class labor party needed to win such objectives.

***

Shorter hours to share available work, and get more time to do “what we will,” has long been a principal objective of organized workers. At the depth of the Great Depression in 1933, the U.S. Senate passed the Black-Connery bill for a standard work week of 30 hours with substantial penalties for overtime. It was strongly endorsed by the American Federation of Labor–and initially President Roosevelt. But FDR soon caved in to pressure from the National Association of Manufacturers and the bill died in the House.

Five years later, during the turbulent rise of the CIO, the Fair Labor Standards Act finally secured the goal pursued since the Haymarket battle in Chicago in 1886–a 40 hour standard work week. Despite exponential increases in worker productivity, it has remained unchanged for nearly eighty years. The only current amendment being offered by Republicans would allow the bosses to substitute compensatory time off—at their discretion—instead of paying time-and-a-half rate for hours over forty.

In 1978, I participated in a Detroit gathering of more than 700 local union officers in several industrial unions that launched an All Unions Campaign for a Shorter Work Week. At that time I was president of the 2400-member UE Local 1139 in Minneapolis—an amalgamated local since virtually wiped out by plant closings, including my own. But in those days stretches of compulsory overtime between and even during layoffs was a major issue.

The impressive Detroit conference took place as Social Democratic parties in Europe were beginning to enact shorter work weeks of 35 hours, and in some countries also increased vacations, retirement at age 60, and paid parental leaves for all workers as well. John Conyers, a Detroit Democrat with ties to the UAW, had introduced a bill in the House that would, in two stages, reduce the legal standard work week to 35 hours. After giving Conyers a standing ovation, the conference unanimously endorsed this reform that potentially could have expanded job openings by 12.5 percent.

But while many Democrats style themselves as “friends of labor,” and some, like Conyers, may even believe they are our allies, their party is dominated by bosses and bankers–not worker institutions. This is known and accepted by most mainstream union officials. Accounts in both the New York Times and Washington Post noted the “practical” AFL-CIO top leadership took no position one way or another on the Conyers bill—that never made it out of committee. Efforts on the state level did no better.

The more visionary Detroit conference came as a combined employer-government offensive forced the working class in to bitter defensive battles. During the double-digit inflation that became rampant, labor “friend” Jimmy Carter tried to impose a 7 percent cap on raises—patriotically supported by most bosses. There was a wave of strikes and some companies hired strike-breakers. The United Mine Workers shut down most coal production for 110 days, defying a Taft-Hartley injunction ordering them back to work. But while winning higher wages the miners had to accept other major concessions.

In 1980, many workers angry with Carter voted for Reagan and a few unions actually backed him as well. One of those was the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) who had made no progress in negotiating with the Carter administration. But when PATCO went out on an “illegal” strike in 1981, Reagan fired the lot of them.

The AFL-CIO huffed and puffed and even called a Solidarity Day march in Washington. Much to their surprise, hundreds of thousands turned out. It happened to come at the end of the week of a UE national convention in Pittsburgh and I joined hundreds of other delegates who stayed over to ride chartered buses to DC.

But solidarity was undermined as the airline unions had continued to work during the strike and proposals by Tony Mazzocchi and others to lead the Solidarity Day marchers to National Airport to shut it down were rejected. PATCO’s ultimate destruction was used by the timid top bureaucracy as justification to pursue concessionary bargaining, avoiding strikes if at all possible. Even once militant CIO unions, such as the UAW, began openly embracing “partnership” with their employers.

***

Reagan and Bush I facilitated early moves of U.S. plants—including some UAW “partners”–to the Maquiladora zone on the Mexican side of the border. That trickle turned in to a flood when Bill Clinton cajoled and threatened enough in his own party to join the GOP in approving NAFTA—a landmark in what became known as Globalization.

Once again the bosses got the mine while we got the shaft—and it didn’t seem to matter much whether it came from the evil Bush or the lesser evil Clinton. Even hard won gains through collective bargaining could be reversed by the political duopoly of capital.

***

At the 1978 UE convention in Minneapolis I introduced a resolution from Local 1139 calling for the formation of an independent labor party. After some enthusiastic support during the discussion it was approved by acclimation. At that time most of us would have been pleased by even a mild-mannered formation such as the Canadian NDP as a start.

But in the outrage against NAFTA an alternative closer to the labor party vision of the great Eugene V Debs seemed possible. After a few years of probing and preparation through Labor Party Advocates, a Labor Party Founding Convention was held in Cleveland in June, 1996. It was attended by 1400 activists representing national and local affiliated unions and community chapters open to all who agreed with the perspective of building a new working class party.

Called to order by honorary “Founding Brother” Tony Mazzocchi, the convention debated a comprehensive draft program submitted by the precursor LPA. Entitled A Call for Economic Justice, it was certainly not an explicitly socialist agenda. Socialist Bernie Sanders wasn’t a bit interested. But those of us who were socialists identifying with the tradition of Debs thought it was just what the doctor ordered. In anticipation of a union conference considering the labor party question in 1924 Debs wrote what he would like to see,

…a party with a backbone and the courage to stand up without apology and proclaim itself a Labor Party, clean, confident of its own inherent powers, bearing proudly the union label in token of its fundamental conquering principle of industrial and political solidarity…”

and went on to say,

If a genuine labor party is organized at Chicago I shall not expect the platform to go the limit of radical demands but shall be satisfied with a reasonable statement of labor’s rights and interests as well as its duties and responsibilities, doubting not that with the progress of the party its platform will in due time embrace every essential feature of the working class program for deliverance from industrial servitude.”

The program adopted in Cleveland was more than a “reasonable statement of labor’s rights and interests.” The new party itself however, after a promising start did not survive to become a “genuine labor party” as defined by Debs. The reasons for its demise and the prospects for revival have been discussed by many and a selection of these views, including mine, are available on the Labor Party Advocates page of this website.

I promise to really complete this thread on Full Employment in the next WIR by showing how implementation of an updated and expanded version of the Labor Party program can lead to good jobs for all—and a whole lot more.

That’s all for this week.


If you’re not already signed up you can get the Week In Review free of charge in one of the following ways.

http://www.workdayminnesota.org/sites/workdayminnesota.org/themes/workdayminnesota/images/social/large/rss.png Really Simple Syndication (RSS)

Simply send your name and e-mail address to billonasch[at]kclabor.org

Follow Bill Onasch on Google +

Powered By Blogger Our companion Labor Advocate news blog posts articles of interest to working people by 9AM Central, Monday-Friday.

Our sole source of operating income is reader contributions. If you can help please visit the KC Labor Donate page.

Privacy Policy. We don’t share any information about our readers with anyone else—period.

The original content we provide is copyrighted and may not be reproduced by commercial media without our consent. However, labor movement and other nonprofit media may reproduce with attribution.