Inside The Beltway Game Plan With New AFL-CIO Leadership
|Inside The Beltway Game Plan With New AFL-CIO Leadership
The Crowning Of Richard Trumka And The Threats To The UBC
By Steve Zeltzer
WITH THE HIGHEST unemployment in the United States in over 70 years and an internecine union warfare breaking out throughout the country, the AFL-CIO held it’s national convention in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was held on September 13 through the 17th only weeks before the meeting of the G-20 which was scheduled to show up a week later following the AFL-CIO convention.
Ten years ago, thirty thousand trade unionists were mobilized nationally against the WTO in Seattle but there was no such mobilization on the table at this convention.
John Sweeney who was in charge in 1999 had said he wanted to get a seat at the table for labor and it was announced at this year’s convention that the USWA steelworkers had been invited by President Obama to be on a panel on the situation in the steel industry. A resolution to support the G-20 protest from the San Francisco Labor Council (resolution 41) was quickly dropped by the resolutions committee so there would be no embarrassing debate about the upcoming meeting of the G-20 and what labor should do about it. The resolution never saw the light of day.
The “Tobin Tax” As An Economic Program For Labor?
This convention also had breakout sessions with experts to outline the AFL-CIO’s plans to solve the crisis for working people. At the economic panel with Thea Lee of the AFL-CIO, Sharon Burrow, President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions as well as president of the ICFTU and Robert Kuttner, the talk was all about a ‘Tobin Tax’ on speculation and green jobs. Their reformist scheme is to have a tax on capitalist speculation to pay for public services. What was missing of course was how this was going to happen without any mobilization of labor and no discussion or resolution on developing a labor media strategy or education campaign to challenge the ideological and media control by corporate America. There also was no mention by the new AFL-CIO leadership of any support for a second stimulus to help the tens of millions of unemployed and underemployed with unemployment benefits winding down across the country. In fact, Obama’s crew is now crowing that the economy is getting much better. Federal Reserve Chief Ben Bernanke last week said that "The recession is very likely over." The acceptance by the AFL-CIO of the appointment of the the banksters by Obama to run the Treasury and other agencies is evident. Of course any challenge would have conflicted with the fact that Obama’s leading economic advisors like Geithner were themselves responsible for bailing out the banks and giving them trillions of US tax dollars.
With the present stalemate over the the AFL-CIO’s demand for the Employee Free Choice Act EFCA and Obama being pressured to drop a so called “public option” by the bluedog Democrats and the insurance industry no real challenge was presented. In fact at Obama’s speech he called for the AFL-CIO to back him up but no concrete proposals were made for action.
USWA delegates and Trumka were elated that Obama had placed tariffs on tires from China and they argued this was the way to defend jobs in the US so American workers could “compete” fairly with Chinese and other workers around the world. The acceptance of pitting US workers against workers around the world was again and again reflected in many of the comments of delegates who spoke.
This reliance on “fair” capitalist competition to protect jobs in the framework of the world market was generally agreed upon with no opposition.
The previous week, the right-wingers had mobilized 70,000 “tea baggers” from every part of the country to Washington and many were asking why the tea baggers were framing the issues.
This convention was also a much smaller meeting with only 675 credentialed delegates and the continued absence of the Laborers, UFCW, Teamsters, SEIU, UFWA and UBC.
The convention was orchestrated by a corporate planner with controversial resolutions put off the table and no labor music. Labor troubadour Ann Feeney was aghast that although there are many labor musicians and cultural workers in the Pittsburgh and the unionized region, all of them were kept off the platform. Labor songs at the convention were apparently not welcome.
Activism Over Single Payer but No National Protest or March
A resolution to support single payer which had been fought for nationally had broad support from many labor councils, state federations and internationals however these resolutions did not contain any call for any mass action by the labor movement to support the single payer option. With no call to action, the single payer resolution was passed unanimously along with a resolution supporting Obama’s “public option”. Richard Trumka promptly announced that he and the AFL-CIO would be pushing the public option while ignoring the obvious support for single payer.
One of the high points of the convention was a presentation by Michael Moore at one of the convention halls hosted by the CNA/NOC. Moore on short notice had also agreed to premier his new film “Capitalism, A Love Story” at the convention and following the speech, 700 worker and healthcare activists marched to the theater for a screening with Moore. The militant march did not even have a permit and one cop showed up to order people onto the sidewalk.
One of the march captains even began a chant “Healthcare, Not Capitalism” but Rose Ann DeMoro the executive director of the CNA was quick to change the chant back to their chant against the insurance industry and for single payer.
At the packed theater, people were excited to see a film that exposed the systemic destruction that capitalism is doing to working people. The film is also an attack on Democrats Senator Dodd and House Chair Pelosi for supporting the bailout of the banks. The question of course is what labor is going to do about the systemic problems and this question while not raised on the convention floor was asked by a guest at the convention who attended the screening.
"My name is Joella Bouchard-Mudry and I am the president of the A&R Retirees Council in Hartford, Conn., (this is affiliated to the AFT) and I have one question: When do we march in Washington?"
Moore was quick to respond. "I think we need to do this. To see a small minority of rabid right-wingers at the town-hall meetings and in the streets of Washington makes me say, 'Where are we?' They think they're going to win. They are organized. We need to do the same. We need to take to the streets. We need to get organized.
"Seventy-five percent of the country wants universal healthcare, wants the government involved in universal healthcare. ... Maybe by Thursday the AFL-CIO will call a date when we all have to be in Washington, D.C." Of course that call never came during the entire convention.
The UBC, SEIU and The 1,000 Organizing Team
One of the most militant points at the convention was the plan by the new Trumka leadership to build a team of 1,000 union organizers to make sure that if the SEIU or Carpenters attempted a raid on an AFL-CIO union they would face the full fury of the Federation. While not proposing to mobilize even 70,000 like the “Tea-baggers” to DC for healthcare or EFCA, Trumka threatened militant action against any raid. The AFL-CIO will “send a message that anybody who dares raid an AFL-CIO union, 1000 organizers will come to the defense of that union that’s being raided and they will never allow that to happen again.”
This also was one of the contentious moments in the convention as the International presidents of the Painters and Sheetmetal workers said that they had already spent over $30 million dollars fighting raids by the UBC carpenters and a new plan was needed. The UBC has set up a multi-million dollar training center in Las Vegas to train all crafts who are then members of the UBC. The plan to counter this raiding by the UBC was a resolution to offer the UBC and it’s president Doug McCarron to rejoin the AFL-CIO or face the AFL-CIO Building Trades Department chartering AFL-CIO Carpenters locals. The resolution number 70 passed which calls for the creation of a “Carpteners Organizing Committee passed unanimously but a member of the IUOE said that this tactic would not be successful.
One Building Trades delegate from Los Angeles warned about the growing crisis in his union where he said fights were breaking out in his union meetings as workers were turning on each other as unemployment has skyrocketed. In California with over 12.2% unemployment and massive unemployment in the building trades, there have been no statewide or regional protests by the building trades to demand jobs and more Federal funding.
Afghanistan Off The Table
Another “controversial” issue for the AFL-CIO was the expansion of Obama’s war in Afghanistan. Not wanting to embarrass the president and oppose the “war of necessity” the AFL-CIO resolutions committee dumped a resolution from the Alameda Labor Council (resolution 51) calling for a “imminent rapid withdrawal” from Afghanistan.
Although this had been supported by USLAW around the country they had no flyers or other material at the convention supporting the effort to get the AFL-CIO to oppose this deepening imperialist adventure in Afghanistan.
In fact, one of the only mentions of Afghanistan on the convention floor is when Obama declared that he proposed spending less on his corporate healthcare plan than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The plan I’m proposing will cost around $900 billion over ten years. That’s less than what we’ve spent on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars”
USLAW and the AFL-CIO Solidarity house did have a forum with trade unionists from Iraq, Palestine and the Middle East hosted by the USWA at their HQ. The Iraqi trade unionists pointed out that the US government and the IMF were continuing to support the privatization of the oil industry and that the tripartite ILO had refused to oppose the anti-labor laws in Iraq that prevented democratic rights for trade unionists.
No Democracy At The AFL-CIO Convention
Although the AFL-CIO has a more democratic structure than the rump grouping “Change To Win” CT, the AFL-CIO did not want to have an election for the 43 person executive board. To prevent an open election, Trumka and the leadership decided that they would not allow long time labor journalist, CWA member and labor educator Harry Kelber from running.
Although the constitution allows a rank and file member being nominated by other AFL-CIO members, when Kelber notified Trumka that he had been nominated, he was told that he was ineligible and new rules had been established that would eliminate his candidacy.
This is the second time that Kelber had sought to run at a convention of the AFL-CIO and the 95 year old journalist and labor activist was such a “security threat” that he was even banned from a hotel where the AFL-CIO had an executive board meeting in 2004.
The fear of a real election and debate at the convention is not something new. The AFL-CIO was established in 1954 in collaboration with the US government and corporations to crush the militant CIO and exclude communists, socialists and militants who built the CIO. This labor management partnership and corporate style leadership has continued since the formation of the federation. Kelber in his election campaign said the unions in the US were built in the 1930’s not be relying on the Democrats but by independent action of the working class. This cold war perspective was and continues to be the politics of the AFL-CIO. Trumka argued in favor of the healthcare “public option” be supporting the need for a fair capitalist market place with real competition.
Although many delegates supported the idea of a mass march or rally by the AFL-CIO for healthcare or for the right to organize not one delegate rose to the platform to challenge the inside the beltway agenda put forward by the Trumka team with a resolution or amendment to the resolutions.
In fact, at many points during the convention debate stalled on resolutions as no one rose to speak on the resolutions. A real debate would have challenged the AFL-CIO to mobilize the rank and file nationally but this was clearly not part of the program and agenda.
Trumka’s hand picked slate Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler and Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker. Shuler from the IBEW and Baker from AFSCME were virtually unknown in the labor movement and were crony appointments put forward by those political supporters of Trumka. One example of the emotions at the conference came when IBEW president Edwin Hill came to tears when talked about how he would lose his highly valued executive assistant. Shuler who is a long time executive assistant to Hill was welcomed by Trumka as an example of bringing youth into the AFL-CIO to invigorate it.
Arlen Spector and EFCA
The number one legislative agenda of both the AFL-CIO and CTW was to pass the Employee Free Choice Act or EFCA that would supposedly allow these unions to organize. This of course has been sabotaged by the very Democrats that the AFL-CIO has supported such as Diane Feinstein in California. At the AFL-CIO convention, they invited as a keynote speaker Arlen Spector from Pennsylvania who had in fact helped defeat the momentum for EFCA by saying that he would vote against closure in the Senate to allow an up and down vote on the bill. He also opposed the card check clause.
At the convention, he now announced that “no one could get elected without the unions” he was opposing a “card check” but would support expedited elections within one week of submitting union cards for an election.
"I realize elections are won or lost with the support of the AFL-CIO and I again thank you for your help in the past and I will do my utmost to merit your support in the future.”
Of course even getting this through the corporate controlled Congress is questionable although Trumka railed at the convention that the he would make sure that some kind of EFCA passed.
Unlike previous conventions, workers who are on strike or in struggle were not invited to set up tables or address the convention to build support with one exception. Only the Tobacco workers had a table up about their struggles.
Financial Crisis And Trumka
While calling for 1,000 organizers to fight any raids there was no plan to deal with the deepening economic crisis in the AFL-CIO with a debt of over $24 million. The loss of per capita from the SEIU and the other CTW unions has also dealt a deep economic blow to the AFL-CIO and the income from AFL-CIO credit cards and other marketing schemes has sharply fallen off.
Trumka as Secretary Treasurer was in fact was in charge of the finances during this very time. While millions of workers are taking pay cuts and furloughs, Trumka increased his salary during the last four years $74,000—from $165,000 to $238,975.
Unlike the last AFL-CIO convention there was no financial report provided to the delegates and press and these issues were not seriously addressed but the major focus was that now that a Democratic president has been elected that will help solve the problems. The AFL-CIO and the CTW spent over $500 million on Obama and the Democrats in the last election cycle. Although the convention ended on a high note with Unite Here rejoining the “labor family” even the re-unification of labor will not solve this crisis.
Failure To Fight Rightwing Corporate Agenda
The continued failure of the US trade unions to counter the right-wing corporate agenda and the growing crisis in the Obama administration combine to make it clear that all the promises of the Trumka hand picked team will make little difference in the real struggles in the working class. Their continued reliance on the Democrats and “inside the beltway” politics to defend working people and labor looks more and more hopeless as the continued privatization, union busting and deregulation destroys organized labor.
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