Diagnosing the Arizona Shooting

by David Finkel

AFTER THE INITIAL horror, the responses to the massacre in Tucson have settled into the usual political dialogue-of-the deaf, and like most such discourse these days it is pretty much useless all around.

Some Tea Party types are calling the shooter Jared Loughner a “leftist lunatic” because he reportedly owned books by Adolf Hitler and Karl Marx – not that there’s any evidence that he’s actually read, much less understood, any of them (as if Marx’s writings had anything to do with individual violence in any case). Within the left and liberal-to-center media, there’s been lots of chatter that the massacre was “triggered” by the rantings of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, or Sarah Palin’s website crosshairs image, or the “overheated rhetoric” of the political debate. But we don’t know that Loughner actually listened to Rush or visited Palin’s website or paid much attention to politics at all.

In any case, the problem with politics in America isn’t that it’s “overheated” or “hate- filled,” but that it’s largely empty, dominated from mildly liberal to hard-right by corporate power, and that the “hate rhetoric” moves in to fill the vacuum of content.

At first, of course, it made sense to wonder whether Loughner was actually a lone gunman or if perhaps others were involved, qualifying the massacre as an act of domestic terrorism. There’s plenty of terror in U.S. history — most notably the wave of lynchings of African Americans from the defeat of Reconstruction until the Civil Rights Movement, but more recently also the Oklahoma City bombing.

It seems now, however, that Loughner was hardly an ideologically motivated terrorist. (Some of his writings apparently complain about “literacy,” suggesting a racist bias against immigrants, but that’s not whom he shot up in any case.) While hundreds of federal agents are swarming at taxpayers’ expense over every aspect of his past life, it’s increasingly clear that they’ll discover what’s already emerging from the accounts of his acquaintances – Loughner is an untreated schizophrenic, possibly self-medicated with drugs and alcohol that may have made the illness worse. Although he targeted Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, he could have gone after Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck, or his own parents or community college classmates.

So there are really two lessons here. The first, obviously, is that the carnage was as great as it was because a mentally disturbed individual could purchase a Glock machine pistol with a 30-plus-bullet clip, no questions asked. This is not a weapon for home self-defense, and I don’t think you use it for hunting moose or pheasants either (although I’ll try to check with Ms. Palin and Dick Cheney to make sure). It’s hard to see what the most avid gun owner would do with it other than mass murder.

The second point is that because we have no national health insurance in America, and because state and local mental health services are being sacrificed on the altar of budget-slashing, there are now probably tens or even hundreds of thousands of untreated mental patients on the streets. Most of them are dangerous only to themselves (they comprise a sizable part of the homeless population), some are a serious risk to their own families, and a small number are potential Jared Loughners – not all that many, but enough to generate irreparable harm and heartbreak.

It’s a truism for those of us on the left that mental illness itself is socially conditioned, and that a sicker society will produce a greater number of sick individuals. And tragedies don’t happen only in America. In China, there have been a rash of fatal knife-wielding attacks on nurseries. In Germany years ago, a sick fan obsessed with tennis star Steffi Graff stabbed Monica Seles during a match, almost killing her. But almost only in America do the perpetrators have easy access to virtually unregulated automatic assault firearms.

This, we can be sure, won’t change anytime soon. And while politicians will spend all kinds of time using this case to make arguments for the death penalty, and whether Congressional representatives should have 24/7 Secret Service protection, or whether political speech needs to be censored to “protect society,” this mass murder will hardly even enter the debate over repealing or defunding health care reform. More mental as well as physical illness will go undiagnosed or untreated, and more death and social destruction will ensue – mostly quietly while no one notices, but once in a while in the public square, where everyone can see but no one is allowed to understand why it happened.

Full Rights for all Immigrants Now! Not Just Reform—But Justice!

Statement for March 21 [Español abajo]

View our previous front page, They’re President Obama’s Wars Now, here


Today millions of immigrants who work, live, and raise families in the United States do not enjoy basic rights. Those with no papers are denied basic rights, and subject to arrest and deportation at any moment – losing jobs, breaking up families, disrupting their plans and dreams for the future. Those with H2-A or H2-B work visas may be deprived of them at any time because of employers’ actions. Even documented immigrants are not be permitted to receive some government benefits. And in the last year, under Obama and the Democrats, deportations have only increased – more than 1,000 every day!

Crossing the border without documents is not now a crime, nor should it be. Migration happens because of the real crimes – poverty, injustice, and war in migrants’ native countries. Whatever someone’s legal status, immigrants are not criminals but workers in search of a decent life, working long hours at the most difficult and dangerous jobs and for the lowest wages paid in this society. Why should anyone apologize for seeking a better life and contributing to this society? These are things to be proud of.

Download leaflet here

Lack of a secure status here subjects immigrants to discrimination and exploitation by employers. Bosses refuse to pay overtime or benefits and sometimes don’t pay at at all those workers who they say are “illegal.” Because the undocumented do not enjoy the rights of others in America, they become the object of racist attacks because of national origin, ethnicity, religion or language. For all of these reasons we want not just reform—but justice.

We demand full civil and political rights for all immigrants, now. We reject penalizing immigrants with fees or fines. We reject “reforms” like E-Verify that prevent immigrants from finding work in the United States. We reject the raids, the militarization of immigration enforcement, and the border walls.

1. We demand legalization for all – not just some – immigrants living in the United States.

2. We demand and end to economic and military policies that destabilize immigrants’ home countries.

3. We demand jobs, education, and health care for all! No more blaming of immigrants.

Winning these demands will only come through a movement led by immigrants and other workers – not controlled by politicians for their own ends! In this movement, we must be prepared to use our economic and social power through marches, rallies, and strikes. Justice Now! Legalization for all!

¡Plenos derechos para todos los inmigrantes! ¡No solo una reforma, exigimos justicia ahora!

Hoy millones de inmigrantes que trabajan, viven y establecen familias en los Estados Unidos carecen de derechos básicos.  A los sin papeles se les niega sus derechos básicos.  Corren el riesgo de ser detenidos y deportados a cualquier momento, perdiendo así sus trabajos, sus familias y sus planes y sueños para el futuro.  Los que tienen permisos de trabajo H2-A o H2-B pueden ser despojados de estos permisos a cualquier momento por las acciones de sus patrones.  Aun a los inmigrantes documentados se les impide recibir beneficios públicos.  Y en el año que corre, bajo el gobierno de Obama y los Demócratas, ¡las deportaciones han aumentado alcanzando más de 1000 cada día!

Cruzar la frontera sin papeles no es un delito, ni debería serlo.  Las migraciones son producto de verdaderos crímenes—la pobreza, la injusticia y la guerra en los países de origen de los migrantes.  Sea cual sea su estatus legal, los inmigrantes no son delincuentes sino trabajadores en busca de un vida digna.  Trabajan largas horas en los empleos más duros, peligrosos y peores remunerados en esta sociedad.  Nadie debe pedir perdón por buscar una mejor vida y aportar a esta sociedad.  Al contrario, deben enorgullecerse.

Descargar el folleto aqui

La falta de un estatus legal seguro somete a los inmigrantes a la discriminación y la explotación en manos de los empleadores.  Los patrones se niegan a pagar horas extras (overtime) y beneficios, y a veces ni les pagan a los trabajadores que dicen ser ‘ilegales’.  Además, por no gozar de los mismos derechos que poseen los demás en los EEUU, se les ataca por su nacionalidad, su etnicidad, su religión o su idioma.  Por todas estas razones no queremos sólo una reforma—exigimos justicia.

Exigimos plenos derechos civiles y políticos ahora mismo para todos los inmigrantes.  Rechazamos que se penalice a los inmigrantes con multas.  Rechamos ‘reformas’ como el sistema E-Verify que impide a los inmigrantes encontrar trabajo.  Rechazamos las redadas, la militarización del cumplimiento de leyes migratorias y los muros fronterizos.

1. Exigimos la legalización para todos—no sólo algunos—los inmigrantes que viven en EEUU.

2. Exigimos que se ponga fin a las políticas económicas y militares que desestabilizan a los países de origen de los inmigrantes.

3. ¡Exigimos trabajo, educación y servicios de salud para todos! Ya basta de culpar a los immigrantes.

Estas demandas sólo las ganará un movimiento dirigido por los propios inmigrantes y otros trabajadores—no uno controlado por políticos con fines ajenos.  En este movimiento, debemos estar listos para usar nuestro poder económico y social en forma de marchas, demostraciones y huelgas.  ¡Justicia Ahora!  ¡Legalización para Todos!

They’re President Obama’s Wars Now

Is this what people voted for? Bring all the troops home now!

The voters in november 2008 spoke loud and clear: They rejected the disastrous wars of George W. Bush, the lies, the torture, the horrible waste of lives and resources. President Barack Obama, on his first day in office, promised that the Guantanamo prison would close within a year. “Gitmo” was created by the Bush-Cheney regime, on U.S.-occupied Cuban territory, to make sure the torture and military “trials” there would be beyond any scrutiny by American courts or Constitutional protections.

Afghan refugee children

Where are we, more than a year later? Guantanamo remains open, with many of its prisoners slated for “permanent detention” without trial. U.S troops are still in Iraq while the promise of “democratic elections” there crumbles. Tens of thousands more soldiers and Marines are deployed to Afghanistan – and to be fair
to president Obama, he said during the campaign he would do this – supporting the government of Hamid Karzai, who was declared “reelected” as Afghan president after fraud and violence so massive that a runoff election couldn’t even be conducted.

A troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, Obama claims, will begin in summer 2011 when Taliban “strongholds” have been conquered and turned over to Afghan army and police forces, the “government in a box” that General Stanley McChrystal talks about. But no military or political observer really believes
that the Afghan Taliban will be eliminated in this way, especially since the Taliban continue to be supported by parts of the military and intelligence services of Pakistan – which are also heavily U.S.-funded, of course.

In the end, “success” in Afghanistan pretty much means propping up Karzai’s coalition of warlords and drug gangsters so that political negotiations can ultimately bring “moderate non-al-Qaeda Taliban” into the Afghan government – in other words, a broader coalition of gangsters. Meanwhile, “success” in Iraq would mean withdrawing most U.S. troops without Iraq becoming the next Somalia. Far from the “victory” that the Bush-Cheney gang proclaimed (remember “Mission Accomplished”?), this is a salvage operation to prevent the United States’ defeat in Iraq from becoming a complete catastrophe.

Is this what people thought they were voting for?

With Misery for All

For the peoples of Iraq and Afghanistan, everything about the U.S. interventions since 9/11 – and before, for that matter – has already been catastrophic. Hundreds of thousands of civilians dead; wedding parties bombed, families wiped out, innocent people kidnapped and tortured, all “by mistake;” enormous communal violence, ethnic cleansing and retaliation, suicide bombings in marketplaces; these reports are so commonplace they fade into the daily background noise.

troops in AfghanistanWe in the United States are big losers too. Huge chunks of our democratic rights have been torn away under the Patriot Act – which the Democratic-controlled Congress just renewed — and massive government surveillance and intimidation of immigrant communities and social activists. Our society is poorer, less free and more hated internationally. Because of the trillion-dollar costs of these imperialist wars, we’re told we “can’t afford” national health insurance, decent schools or repairs to disastrously collapsing bridges and roads, let alone public investment in environmentally sustainable energy.

Meanwhile, the United States and Israel are escalating the threats against Iran. While Bush and Cheney believed they could smash Iran and create “regime change” with U.S. and Israeli military power, the Obama administration is trying to build a broader global alliance for sanctions. The end result, however, is equally dangerous – more so now as the Iranian regime itself, internally fractured and at war with its own population, may be incapable of a coherent and rational policy.

President Obama inspired the Arab and Muslim world with his speech promising a new and open policy, especially an end to the Israeli occupation and the creation of an independent state for the Palestinian people. The promise has turned to ashes: Israeli settlement construction and demolition of Palestinian homes continues with ever-increasing brutality, the United States continues to support the near-starvation of Gaza and Congress voted almost unanimously to condemn the Goldstone Report on war crimes in last year’s Israeli invasion of Gaza.

What to Do Next

Download this statement as a PDF

Facing the prospect of endless imperial wars and Washington’s Iron Fist policy toward Palestine, how can the antiwar movement respond and rebuild?

First, it’s important to raise one simple and clear demand on the U.S. government: “Bring All the Troops Home Now!” That’s the only way to end the disasters that these wars have brought to the peoples of Iraq, Afghanistan
and our own country. Most of the American people do not believe these wars can be “won;” they need to be convinced that they have the power to end the wars.

Second, we need to be very clear in demanding “No Sanctions, No War with Iran.” Not only are U.S. and Israeli threats playing with fire, but they damage the heroic struggle of the Iranian people against the brutal dictatorship. Our movement must demand Hands Off Iran both because we reject imperialism and because we support the battle for democracy inside Iran.

Third, to defend the Palestinian people, it is essential now to take up the campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against the Israeli state and especially U.S. corporate complicity with the Occupation. This is a diverse movement, in which each of our peace and social justice organizations should try to participate in the most constructive and strategic way.

It is not likely that any of these struggles will achieve victory in the short run. The antiwar movement must be rebuilt almost from the beginning. But its struggles are critical for a sane and sustainable world.

The Fight at UPS: The Teamsters Victory and the Future of the "New Labor Movement"


by Dan La Botz


A Solidarity Pamphlet



This pamphlet on the United Parcel Service strike and its significance went to press the first week of November 1997.  At this point, the federal court overseeing the Teamsters had delayed until later in November its decision on whether Teamsters’ General President Ron Carey would be allowed on the ballot in the 1998 election rerun.  We were therefore unable to discuss the impact of that ruling in this edition.

What has become clear since the UPS strike ended, however, is that the right wing and many corporate interests in this country want to see Carey removed.  No evidence has emerged—in weeks of Congressional hearings or in open court testimony—that Ron Carey had knowledge of, or involvement in, the sleazy and criminal financial dealings of his campaign manager and “consultants.”  Yet enormous political pressure is being brought to bear to force Carey to be ruled off the ballot.

Let’s be clear: The right of Teamster members to vote for their leadership is one of the greatest victories in twenty years of hard rank-and-file organizing.  It is central to the revitalization of the union, and the only way to keep organized crime out of the Teamsters.  The campaign to disallow Carey from running amounts to a right-wing witchhunt, an assault on Teamsters’ right to elect their leaders, and a threat to the future of the entire labor movement.


The author wishes to thank Jane Slaughter for allowing her article on health and safety issues to be reprinted here.  The article first appeared in the Metro Times.  The author acknowledges the contributions Mike Parker made through his comments on earlier drafts, particularly in pointing to management’s attempt to introduce team concept ideas at UPS.  Additionally, thanks to Dianne Feeley for her editing.  Finally, thanks to Huck/Konopacki for permission to reprint their cartoons and to Jim West for permission to reprint his photographs.

Further Reading


THE TEAMSTERS’ VICTORY over United Parcel Service in August 1997, represents the biggest strike and the most important labor union victory in the United States in the last twenty-five years.  Building on the recent struggles and smaller victories of other workers-particularly auto workers, farmworkers and university employees-the Teamsters victory at UPS has created a new sense of  momentum in the American labor movement.

The size and scope of this strike—185,000 workers on strike from coast to coast in virtually every town and city of the country—put the UPS workers and their union in the public eye.  This strike held the nation’s attention in part because it dealt with some of the most important and vexing questions posed by contemporary capitalism and its organization of work: part-time jobs and the contracting out of services.  Our jobs seemed to be slipping through our fingers; now we see a way to get a grip on them again.

This victory’s significance comes in part from the public’s perception that this was a strike for everybody, the labor movement fighting for us all.  When UPS workers went out, they not only fought for themselves, but—with their demand that the company create more full-time jobs for part-time workers—they also fought for millions of other people.  Studs Terkel, author and radio commentator, pointed out that “with the Teamsters’ astonishing victory against United Parcel Service, a word long considered quaint-solidarity-has found a new resonance among the great many, hitherto unconcerned.”

The UPS workers’ sixteen-day strike was seen by the public as a fight between ordinary working people and a gigantic multinational, multibillion dollar company greedily demanding concessions from its workers—and so it was.  Millions of ordinary people identified with the strikers-and partly because of that broad if amorphous support, the workers won.

After years of frustration and failures for the union movement, what an amazing change!

Rival Interpretations

As with any important social and political event, our understanding and interpretation of the event—what we make of it—can be nearly as important as the event itself.  How we analyze this strike and the social forces involved in it is vitally important, because it will shape our actions in the future. The most important question without a doubt is: Who won this strike and how did they do it?

Labor officials and politicians have rushed forward to claim the UPS workers’ victory for themselves.  “America’s labor unions are back” AFL-CIO President John Sweeney told a Labor Day rally.  Clearly he meant, labor was back, he was in charge and he would take the credit.

U.S.  vice-president Al Gore told workers at that same event that the United States has a “new unionism.” Gore linked the UPS workers victory to the recent increase in the minimum wage.  The insinuation was that the Democrats had somehow made it all happen.  Such an interpretation keeps the union, the workers and the strike safely within a “status quo” based on the corporate domination of our society.

We offer another interpretation.  We believe that to understand this strike one has to look not at the top, but at the bottom.  The victory belongs not to Sweeney and the AFL-CIO leaders—although they helped-nor to Gore and the Democratic Party, but rather to the union’s rank-and-file members. The Teamsters union and the UPS workers won in large measure because of the existence within their union of a rank-and-file movement.

For nearly a generation, rank-and-file Teamsters—led by Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU)—have been working at the grassroots, laying the basis for the rebuilding of their union, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.  In doing so, they have also been laying the foundation for rebuilding the U.S.  labor movement.

A grassroots movement like TDU has profoundly radical implications for the union, the workplace, and society.  The thrust of TDU’s work, over the long haul, is to place power in the hands of ordinary working people.  As a rank-and-file group, TDU fights for democracy so workers can make their own decisions in their union.  TDU fights both to make the ranks more powerful within the union, and the union more powerful within the workplace, and thus to make workers more powerful within society.  TDU and other such grassroots movements in other unions (as well as in communities) work to shift the balance of power toward working people and away from the corporations.

In a society where corporations dominate the government, control our culture, and shape every aspect of our lives nothing is more radical than the demand for democracy, for people’s power in the workplace, society and politics.

How to Make the Possible A Reality?

The Teamsters victory thus illustrates the potential for a new social movement for economic and political change in American society.  Were such a movement to emerge, the Teamsters victory over UPS could be considered the opening battle.  What are the stakes involved? What would it take to make that possibility a reality?

The strike against UPS was not only about full-time jobs, pensions, subcontracting and wages.  It was also a strike against the authoritarian character of the workplace.  Implicitly it was about dignity, democracy and workers’ control.

Values such as democracy, dignity and control have radical implications that challenge not only UPS, but all corporations.  Employers want top-down authority, hierarchy, and insecurity among the workers to keep them hunkered down.  Democracy, dignity and the idea of workers’ control over their jobs and lives challenge the entire social system we live in, a system which places profit as the ultimate value.  Any strike, but especially a strike with the size and scope of the UPS strike, questions the employer and, implicitly, the corporations’ domination of our lives.

A militant labor movement—rebuilt around ideas like democracy and workers’ power in the workplace—would have a tremendously radicalizing impact upon our society.  That is why we should look closely at this strike and its implications.

The Teamsters Prepare

UPS on the one side, and Carey and the New Teamsters on the other, approached the negotiations with an equally aggressive posture.  In itself this tended to level the playing field.  The key to the Teamsters’ success, as the New York Times explained, was a year-long effort to mobilize its members.

Taking a cue from TDU, the Teamsters began preparing for the contract a year before.  They developed a “Countdown to the Contract” booklet which provided tips on how to pressure the company and how to build an effective communications network.  They began with a survey of all UPS workers, asking them what they wanted in the contract.  In the survey, 90% of the part-timers expressed their desire for full-time jobs.  Responding to the members’ views, that became the union’s central demand.  By taking up the issue of full-time jobs for part-time workers, the Teamsters had chosen a demand that found broad support both in the organized labor movement and among those who had never been in a union.

The union also decided to take a stand against the contracting-out of union tractor-trailer drivers’ jobs.

Finally, the union took a strong position against company control of the pensions.  The Teamsters demanded that UPS stay in the multi-employer plans to help provide pensions to workers whose companies had gone bankrupt because they were driven out of business by other companies.

The pension issue was by no means simple.  During the 1990s, many UPS workers had become dissatisfied with their pensions.  Rank-and- file UPS workers had held meetings involving hundreds of workers who had collected thousands of dollars to promote withdrawal from the multi-employer plan, hoping to raise their own pensions in an independent plan.

The company was aware of the dissatisfaction and hoped to use it.

Once the members had been consulted, the union moved on to collect 100,000 signatures in support of the union’s demands.  Eighteen full-time field representatives were freed up to organize work sites and encourage visible, do-able actions such as wearing “Ready to Strike” T-shirts to work.  All shop stewards received a seven-minute video about the UPS negotiations.

Months in advance the Teamster research department put out packets explaining to the news media the union’s demand for full-time jobs for part-time workers. And in preparation for a series of rallies, the Teamsters distributed tens of thousands of “It’s Our Contract.  We’ll Fight for It.” stickers and 50,000 whistles in order to “blow the whistle on UPS.” On March 7, four days before negotiations opened, representatives from each of the 206 UPS locals attended a rally in Chicago.  On March 10 there were ten rallies at UPS workplaces; thirty more took place on March 30.

Carey also created a fifty-member UPS bargaining committee, several members of which had been long-time TDU activists.  The committee also included four UPS rank and filers and part-timers, something virtually unknown in union bargaining committees.

By mid-July, when negotiations were stalled, a strike vote was conducted. UPS workers voted 95% for to 5% against authorizing a strike.

The Teamsters were also prepared to pay $55 dollars a week to each UPS striker.  Given the number of people on strike, this would have amounted to ten million dollars a week.  To meet this big cash outlay, Carey went to John Sweeney, the new head of the AFL-CIO, and asked for a multi-million dollar loan to sustain the Teamsters in their strike.  Sweeney promised the Teamsters $10 millon a week in loans to sustain the strike for many weeks if necessary.

Once out on strike, the union kept members informed by faxing bulletins to Teamster locals, setting up a toll-free hot line for strikers and updating its World Wide Web site every few hours.  In addition to pulling picket-line duty, UPS drivers were encouraged to drive their route and introduce a part-timer to their customers and explain the strike.  Strikers also distributed pro-Teamster score cards at baseball games.

But perhaps most impressively, just about every Teamster interviewed by the media explained the issues of the strike in their own unique way. A national press conference in Washington, D.C.  in the middle of the strike led off with two rank-and-file workers explaining why they felt a strike was necessary.  They were confident and articulate but obviously not “professionals” hired to do a job.

The Teamsters had certain advantages in facing UPS which were not of their own making.  The American economy was booming, with the lowest unemployment rate in years at 4.8%.  UPS workers were not so afraid to strike as Teamsters and other workers had been between 1979 and 1997.  In addition, a demographic change had taken place in the workforce.

The first born of the baby-boom generation (1940-50) were now beginning to retire, opening jobs for other workers.  For the first time in decades, the working class employed in industry and services was growing younger.

The UPS workers were among the youngest workers in the country; most sorters, loaders and package car drivers were in their twenties and thirties. This may also have made a difference.  During the bitter strikes of the 1980s and 1990s workers like those at the Staley sugar plant had asked themselves, “What do I have to give up to keep this job?” Young workers like those at UPS asked themselves different questions, like: “Do I want to be a part-timer earning ten dollars an hour for the rest of my life?” UPS management was shocked to find these young, part-time workers prepared to fight.

Nevertheless it should be recognized that the backbone of the UPS Teamster locals and of the strike were the full-time package car and feeder drivers.

Finally it should be mentioned that the UPS workforce nationally as well as in many particular cities was extremely diverse ethnically.  Racial divisions have often undermined the struggle of American workers, but not in this strike.  Black, white, Asian and Latin workers worked in all job categories, and while the workforce experienced the usual racial tensions present in American society, this was a group united through its union and in its commitment to the strike.  No racial antagonisms divided these workers.  While women represented a smaller part of the workforce, they too could be found in all job categories, and also felt an equal stake in the struggle.

Labor’s Twenty Years in Retreat

To fully appreciate the importance of the UPS victory, we should step back and take a look at the experience of the U.S.  labor movement over the last twenty-five years.  Despite some victories, the balance sheet shows a series of defeats.

The process began in 1979 when the leadership of the United Auto Workers (UAW) accepted the Carter administration’s Chrysler “bailout,” and negotiated the contract which broke the “Big Three” pattern agreement covering workers at GM, Ford and Chrysler.  Thus autoworkers lost their master contract, setting a precedent for the steelworkers and other industrial unions which would also soon lose theirs.

The Chrysler bailout was followed immediately by Ronald Reagan’s attack on the Professional Air Traffic Controllers (PATCO) in 1980.  When PATCO went out on strike, Reagan (following a plan developed by Jimmy Carter) fired all 13,000 controllers, in what was a devastating and shocking defeat for the labor movement.  Although European air traffic controllers showed tremendous solidarity in the opening days of the strike, U.S.

labor didn’t aggressively support the PATCO workers.

The Chrysler bailout and the destruction of PATCO opened an era of government and employer attacks on labor unions.

The events of 1979 and 1980 broke what had been a forty-year labor-management truce (like all truces interrupted from time-to-time by hostilities).  From the end of World War II generally unions won higher wages and increased benefits with each new contract, even as they gave up control over working conditions on the shop floor.

The Employers’ Assault

The Chrysler bailout became the model for corporations.  They demanded “takeaways” or “givebacks” from labor unions and aggressively conducted what business schools call “concession bargaining.” Throughout the 1980s employers demanded that workers take wage cuts, accept two-tier wage systems, pay a larger portion of their health care costs, and accept lower pensions as their price for having jobs.

A few employers went so far as to bring in union-busting law firms to eliminate labor unions altogether or got “loyal” employees to call for representation elections and vote out the union.  Some employers, especially in the trucking industry, opened parallel non-union lines, a practice called double-breasting.  Other employers entering the market, simply fought to keep labor unions out.  Thus labor union representation fell from its high of 35% in 1955 to 14.5% in 1996.

At the same time Presidents Carter and Reagan, and later Bush and Clinton-that is both Democrats and Republicans-supported legislation that gave big tax breaks to corporations and the very wealthy, while putting the tax burden on working-class people.  Social programs that protected workers and the poor: workers’ compensation, unemployment benefits, public welfare, public health programs, and public education were cut.  The combined result of all of these policies was a redistribution of power and wealth away from working people towards the corporations and the wealthy.

The Employers’ Partner

What was the response of the labor union leaders to the employers’ attack and the government’s policies? In general-though there were some important exceptions-most national labor union officials provided little or no leadership in dealing with this government and employer onslaught.  Few labor unions had any political, contract or shop floor strategy for fighting back in self-defense.  Doug Fraser, when he was head of the UAW, complained that the corporations were conducting a one-sided class war, but he certainly never developed a strategy of fighting back.

Why didn’t the labor movement fight back? What had happened to the unions? During the 1930s workers had organized sit-down strikes, seized factories, put up massive picket lines and faced down the police and the national guard.  Out of that experience had come the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), a new industrial union movement led by people with a broad social vision.  Many of those who were pivotal in the CIO had been activated in the unemployed movement.  What had happened to that radical union movement?

The fact is that the government played a significant role in taming the unions.  During World War II (1941-1945), the government, employers and the unions cooperated to increase production and prevent strikes.  Government agencies and the employers convinced union officials that they should help maintain discipline over workers in order to win the war.  Soon union officials began to see their job as policing the working class, for example, by preventing strikes during the war.

After the war a wave of strikes broke out.  Workers were no longer willing to delay their demands, while it was clear that corporate profits were going through the roof.  By 1947 Congress reacted to the growth in the unions’ power by passing the Taft-Hartley Act, which prevented solidarity strikes, limited boycotts and outlawed Communists in the labor unions.  During the Cold War that followed Senator Joseph McCarthy launched an anti-Communist witch hunt that successfully drove radicals out of workplaces.  Generally their unions did not defend them; the CIO itself aggressively purged alleged or actual Communists from the unions.

Prosperity also acted as a conservatizing force.  During this period, when the United States dominated the world markets and the U.S.  economy was powerful and prosperous, employers were generally and grudgingly prepared to give pay increases with every new union contract in order to prevent strikes, or—in the cases where there were strikes—to get production rolling again.

During the 1950s there were plenty of strikes but they were more often situations in which the union threw up a token picket line.  The total work force and the surrounding community were not mobilized to defend the union and win the battle for the hearts and minds of the larger public.  These strikes were more limited and more self-contained than the post-World War II battles.

During this period too, most unions leaders could claim that they could “deliver the goods” to their members.  In turn, national union officials demanded and got higher salaries, luxurious automobiles, expense accounts, golden parachutes, multiple salaries and pension funds.

With this new life style labor union leaders, especially the national leaders and the professional staff, became a bureaucracy, a social caste within the unions.  With secure, well-paid positions, these leaders no longer shared the experience of the workers they represented.  They became incapable of effectively representing people with whom they had little in common.

The Concept of Partnership

The company and the union officials had a kind of partnership, as they saw it.  Union leaders tried to convince the employers that the union was good for business.  The company and the union undertook the joint enforcement of the contract, working together to prevent or suppress strikes or to eliminate absenteeism (and thus increase production and profit).

In the worst of cases, unions—which had started by protecting the workers—gradually began protecting the employers from the workers.  But more typically union officials saw their role as mediating between workers and management, arbitrating their differences.  In any case, they no longer saw their job as fighting for the workers and against the employers-and even against the government when necessary.

During the prosperous years in fact the union bureaucracy developed a rather comfortable and cozy relationship with management.  Few union leaders—outside of farmworkers, teachers and public employees unions which had fought for their rights in the 1960s and `70s—had much experience leading major strikes or mobilizing the membership.  Rank-and-file movements among miners, teamsters, postal workers, and autoworkers radicalized sections of the union members-but, with the exception of the miners, the movements were not able to obtain their objectives.

The vision of a union as a social movement fighting for its members and working people in general was replaced by the union as a kind of insurance company.

So when in the mid-70s management began to turn on the unions, the labor bureaucracy was completely surprised and utterly unprepared.

The Re-Engineering of America

Why did management suddenly change its policies? By the 1970s, the U.S. economy no longer dominated the world.  The economies of Germany and Japan had begun to rival that of the United States.  To meet the challenge, U.S. corporations had to become more competitive.  One of their strategies was to invest in new technologies.  But the other, and equally important, tactic was to lower their labor costs through a concerted attack on their workers.

The attack on labor during the `70s and `80s was multifaceted.  Corporations closed their old steel mills and factories, throwing hundreds of thousands of union workers out of jobs.  Companies  ended pattern bargaining and began concession bargaining, taking away wages, benefits, and conditions won by unions over decades of struggle and pitting workers in one plant against workers organized by the same national union in another.  Management spent millions on new technologies, completely altering the organization of the workplace and disrupting union rules and past practice.  The pace of change was dizzying.

By the 1980s personnel departments adopted new methods intended to undermine the unions and win over the workers.  These practices included Quality Circles, Team Concept and Total Quality Management.  Within a decade American society and the workplace had been transformed-and the losers were working people. With unions in retreat, between 1973-97 real wages fell by 18%.  In most working-class families husbands and wives both had to work to pay the bills.

Before 1980 the number of strikes had never fallen below 200 in any given year.  In 1980 the number fell to 187 and by 1982 it tumbled below 100.  During the ’90s, in fact, the annual number of strikes plunged below 50.  For example, in 1994 there were 45 strikes involving 322,000 workers and in 1995 192,000 workers participated in 31 separate strikes.

The media questioned whether strikes were outdated, but the real issue was that the days of the routine strike were past.  With injunctions and the right to use “replacement” workers, the corporations were more combative than ever.  Any union voting to go out on strike had to be prepared with a strategy to win, including a willingness to defy court injunctions and a capacity to unify and mobilize its members and supporters.

Supporting Democrats as an Alternative

The union leadership was baffled, bewildered, and battered at the bargaining table.  Unable and unwilling to resist the employers in the workplace or in the collective bargaining arena, many union officials put their hopes in the Democratic Party.

Despite a long tradition of voting for working-class candidates in local labor parties—or for socialist candidates—by the end of the 1930s the CIO entered into partnership with the Democrats.  After the CIO’s merger with the American Federation of Labor in 1955, the AFL-CIO became an important part of the Democratic Party.  If labor unions could “deliver” the votes of its membership to the party, then presumably the candidates would “take care” of labor once elected.  But it didn’t work out that way, particularly not since the crunch of concessions in the 1970s.

Carter, Clinton and the Democratic Congress proved nearly as conservative as the Republicans, and the union bureaucracy’s political strategy proved to be a failure.  For example, the most important piece of legislation Clinton and a Democratic-led Congress passed is NAFTA-a piece of legislation every trade union and grassroots community group opposed.  That, not outlawing the use of scabs in strikes, was the Democratic Party’s priority.

During these years, regional and local leaders, and rank-and-file workers in many areas resisted the government and employer attack.  The P-9 United Food and Commercial Workers at the Hormel plants, United Auto Workers at Caterpillar, the workers at the Staley sugar processor, the Detroit newspaper workers, and many others fought long, difficult strikes against the employers.

But without the backing of a national union, and without an organized rank and file within the union, it was almost impossible to win.  In fact, most of these strikes—despite the workers’ often heroic efforts—were defeated. In the case of P-9, the UFCW International leadership itself actively worked to break the strike.  With national union leaders who failed to defend the union, to negotiate decent contracts, and to ensure passage of pro-worker legislation, many workers had lost faith in unions.

The Mafia and Sweetheart Contracts

But if the 1980s were difficult for most unions, for the Teamsters they were tragic.  A combination of politicians, Mafia-connected union officials, and trucking employers came to dominate the highest levels of the Teamsters. Under the control of these outsiders, during the worst years of the employers’ attack on the unions in the 1980s, the Teamsters negotiated a series of sweetheart contracts.  These contracts sold out the interests of the union members and weakened the labor movement as a whole.

How had such a situation come about? The Teamsters had been founded back in the 1890s as a craft union-like the carpenters or plumbers-made up of local cartage drivers.  Under the leadership of Dan Tobin, the Teamsters formed an important part of the American Federation of Labor (AFL).  But Tobin was a conservative leader, dedicated to the AFL’s craft union model, uninterested in organizing immigrants, African Americans, or industrial workers whom he called riff-raff.

The Teamsters’ heroic years began in 1934 when rank-and-file truck drivers and warehouse workers from Minneapolis, Minnesota led a series of strikes, culminating in a city-wide truck-drivers’ strike.  The leader of that strike was Farrell Dobbs, a socialist and a brilliant strategist, who went on to organize over-the-road freight drivers and other dock workers and warehousemen throughout the Midwest.

In this way Teamsters underwent a transformation from a craft union to a kind of industrial union of the transportation industry, a development which paralleled the rise of the auto, rubber, and electrical workers’ unions of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO).  Dobbs trained other Teamsters in his strategy of organizing the rank and file to hit the economic weak points of the companies.  One of his students was Jimmy Hoffa.

Dobbs and the team around him provided political leadership within the Teamsters from 1934 until the eve of World War II.  They played a decisive role in organizing Teamsters throughout the Midwest and in making Minneapolis a union town.  They also forged ties with the unemployed movement, helping Minneapolis-area workers in government programs to win the highest wages in the country.

But the government, in concert with Tobin, orchestrated a witch hunt with the approach of World War II.  Dobbs and more than two dozen militant trade unionists and socialists were the first to be indicted under the newly passed Smith Act.  Eighteen were eventually convicted and sentenced. With the leadership core of the Minneapolis Teamsters out of the way, the door was open for other elements to come to the foreground.

Jimmy Hoffa-and the Mafia

Jimmy Hoffa rejected Dobbs’ socialism and his rank-and-file approach, but adopted the strategy of analyzing the economic linkages between companies. Hoffa extended Dobbs’ organizational work throughout the Midwest and the South, and also won the Teamsters first health, welfare and pension funds. On the basis of these achievements-and with the support of some of the mob’s “paper” locals (so called because they had no members)-Hoffa was elected Teamster president in 1957.

In addition to being an aggressive organizer, Hoffa also established close ties to Mafia figures, like Allen Dorfman, whom he brought in to manage the Teamsters’ Central States Pension, Health and Welfare plans. Hoffa’s lieutenants included Mafia-connected union officials such as Roy Williams in Kansas City and William Presser in Cleveland.

Hoffa and the corrupt union officials he supported or put into power cut dirty deals with employers, including payoffs for labor peace.  Hoffa also bought trucking companies in his wife’s name and became an employer.

To keep his control of the union, Hoffa established a kind of dictatorship, where the General President held all the power.  He could put locals into trusteeship, he effectively controlled the pension plan—using it to build his image as a labor leader who could produce for the membership but also through his access to the money, could corrupt union officials at the local or regional level.  Even the master contracts—which take labor in one area out of competition with another, and are therefore an important step forward for worker—were used by Hoffa to build his base of power.  Through these various carrot and stick mechanisms local unions found it impossible to resist Hoffa’s machine; democracy disappeared from the Teamsters.

By the 1950s a series of Congressional investigations brought the Teamsters’ corruption before the public.  The public outcry forced the AFL-CIO to expel the Teamsters for corruption in 1957.  By the early `60s President John F.  Kennedy and Attorney General Robert Kennedy decided to go after Hoffa.

While Hoffa was guilty of corruption, the politicians’ interests were not entirely altruistic.  Employers and the government both saw the prosecution of Hoffa as a way to weaken the Teamsters and the labor movement.

After several indictments and trials, Hoffa was finally convicted of jury tampering and stealing Teamster members’ pension funds in 1964.  He remained out on appeal until 1967 when he was finally imprisoned.

During the decade that Hoffa had headed the union, the Mafia had first cast a shadow, and then cast a net over the organization.  Ensnared by the mob, first the union stumbled and then it fell.

Fitzsimmons and Nixon Make a Deal

Hoffa went off to prison, leaving the union in the hands of Frank Fitzsimmons. Hoffa believed Fitzsimmons a loyal flunkey who would give the union back when he got out of jail.  But Fitzsimmons proved more ambitious than Hoffa had imagined.

Fitzsimmons made a deal with President Richard Nixon to let Hoffa out of jail on the condition that Hoffa be banned from all union activities for ten years.  With Hoffa thus ineligible to run for union office, Fitzsimmons would continue to head the union.  In return for keeping Hoffa out of the union, Fitzsimmons and the Teamsters supported President Richard Nixon and the Republican Party.  Even after the Watergate revelations which exposed Nixon’s illegal wire-tapping activities, the Teamsters stuck with Tricky Dick.

When Hoffa got out of prison in 1970 he began a campaign to take back control of the union, appealing both to his corrupt Teamster official friends and the Mafia.  Perhaps Hoffa threatened to blow the whistle on somebody, or maybe his return just created unwanted problems.  In any case, in July of 1975 Hoffa disappeared, and is presumed to have been murdered by the mob.

The Dictators, the Mob and the FBI

As head of the Teamsters, Fitzsimmons let union officials with ties to the Mafia, such as Roy Williams in Kansas City and William Presser’s son Jackie Presser in Cleveland, dominate union affairs.  As the employers turned up the pressure in the 1980s, Fitzsimmons, Williams and Presser negotiated a series of sweetheart deals permitting the trucking companies to rewrite the contracts in their own interests.

Fitzsimmons died in 1981 and was succeeded in office by Williams and then by Presser.  In this manner the Mafia thus came to control the presidency and the highest councils and the coffers of the union.  Williams was indicted and convicted of corruption, while Presser, to save his skin, became an informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).  Presser and Harold Friedman were indicted for racketeering, but Presser died before the trial, while his co-conspirator Friedman was convicted.

During the `70s and `80s, the people with the most influence over Teamsters’ national policy were Presidents Richard Nixon and, later, Ronald Reagan, Mafia bosses Williams and Presser, the FBI, and the trucking employers to whom the union was rapidly selling out.  Everybody was involved in the Teamsters leadership-politicians, bosses, and the Mafia -everybody but the workers.


The Beginnings of Rank-and-File Rebellion

Faced with such corruption and seeing their union fail to represent the needs of its membership, rank-and-file Teamsters began to organize.  Local unions had resisted Jimmy Hoffa in the 1950s and `60s as he extended his dictatorial control over the union and in 1970 freight workers organized wildcat strikes in several states against Frank Fitzsimmons’ attempt to sell them a sweetheart contract.  That same year workers came together to found Teamsters United Rank and File (TURF), an important, but short-lived effort to create a national rank-and-file organization.

Then the union’s older activists were infused with some young blood. The early 1970s were years of important social movements throughout the United States.  A powerful national movement which had begun in the 1960s continued to fight against the war in Vietnam.  African Americans worked to extend the gains made by the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s.  Women organized an important feminist movement fighting for, among other things, the Equal Rights Amendment.  Many college students and other young people, transformed by the experience of the anti-war movement became committed reformers, radicals and socialists.

These rebel youth argued that business interests dominated U.S.  society, while the working people’s interests took second place.  They wanted a country where people, rather than the corporations and the rich, would control the economy democratically.  Some of these young idealists entered the labor movement, either taking jobs with labor unions, or going to work in a variety of industries.  They believed that the U.S.  labor movement could be a great force for social justice, if only it could be reformed.

One group, the International Socialists-one of the forerunners of Solidarity-had members in the trucking industry and in the Teamsters union.  Those socialists sought out the union’s long-time activists, and together they began to organize around local union democracy issues and union contracts.

In 1975 a group of Teamster activists from around the country, some of them young radicals and others older, long-time fighters, created a coalition called Teamsters for a Decent Contract (TDC) to fight for a decent freight contract the following year.  At the same time, they created a parallel organization called UPSurge to organize UPS workers to fight for their 1976 UPS contract.

During 1975 and `76 both TDC and UPSurge organized hundreds of workers in cities throughout the United States in the movement for a decent contract. TDC and UPSurge pressured both the employers and their union officials with demonstrations at trucking companies and union halls and resolutions at local union meetings.  The contract campaign planted seeds of change.

Teamsters for a Democratic Union

The relative success of the TDC and UPSurge contract campaigns led a number of activists to decide to create an on-going rank-and-file organization. At a convention in Cleveland in 1976, a couple hundred Teamsters founded Teamsters for a Democratic Union, committed to returning the control of the union to its members.

TDU had grown out of a contract campaign, but the recessions of 1974-75 and 1979-80 took much of the militancy out of the labor movement.

Teamsters were afraid to engage in militant action on the job or to strike for fear of losing their jobs.  They also knew that they could not count on their union officials to back them up.  In this more conservative climate, TDU began a long, slow task of fighting for rank-and-file workers’ rights: the right to elect stewards and business agents, the right to vote on contracts. TDU also organized campaigns throughout the 1980s against the sweetheart contracts negotiated by Fitzsimmons, Williams and Presser.

TDU organized among all kinds of Teamster workers: freight drivers and dock workers, carhaulers, grocery warehousemen, and Mexican-American cannery workers out West.  TDU created special committees to analyze the problems in the industry, survey the workers, and come up with rank-and-file contract demands.  TDU worked with Teamsters from coast to coast, and in Puerto Rico and Canada.  One of the companies TDU organized workers to fight was United Parcel Service.

What TDU was doing was building a militant minority within the Teamsters. The history of the labor movement is the history of such militant minorities who take the lead, and by doing so bring others up behind them.  The militant minority acts as the leaven in the loaf.

If we look back, for example, at the history of the great sitdown strikes of the 1930s, we find that in most cases only a few thousand or even a few hundred workers occupied the plants.  But thousands of workers marched outside.  And tens of thousands of workers offered their moral support by staying away from work.  Later, when union elections were held, those tens of thousands of less active supporters voted to uphold the union.  The fact that they did not participate in the factory occupations did not mean that they were unconvinced or uncommitted.

The key thing is often to create that militant minority which through its courage, its dedication and its perseverance convinces the larger majority to give its moral support and take action.  Teamsters for a Democratic Union over its twenty-year history has built a structure whereby Teamsters can become organizers and thus part of that militant minority.

United Parcel Service

United Parcel Service was founded in Seattle in 1907 by James E.  Casey, a messenger boy.  Casey bought some bicycles and went into the business of delivering department store merchandise to customers.  By 1919 Casey had expanded to California; in 1930 he moved the company headquarters to Manhattan.  In the 1950s UPS became a common carrier, that is a freight company specializing  in packages.  When Casey retired in 1962, younger UPS managers took over the company, following his management methods.  By the 1990s UPS had become a multinational company with operations not only in the United States but in a number of other countries throughout the world.

Back in the twenties, Casey had adopted what is called “scientific management.” The founder of scientific management, Frederick Taylor, believed that managers, not workers, should completely control the work process.  Managers had to study how workers work, analyze that work process, and break it down into separate pieces.  Managers and supervisors could then control the work process and instruct workers on the most efficient way to work.

Later Henry Ford combined Taylor’s methods with the machinery of the modern assembly line factory.  In Ford’s factories, the machines set the pace and drove the human beings.  Taylor and Ford influenced Casey and his successors.

UPS management attempts to control the worker completely from the moment of arrival until departure.  The UPS worker’s every move is planned precisely by company managers, from picking up the keys to loading the package.

UPS became a fabulously successful corporation largely through its oppressive management techniques.  The day begins with a management pep talk and ends in exhaustion.  Under the threat of discipline and with the promise of promotion, UPS package car drivers run all day, racing up and down the streets of America, spending their energy on making managers happy and stockholders rich.

With its control not only over the worker’s actions, but also its intrusion into the worker’s mind, UPS could be called a totalitarian management. It may be said that UPS has mastered the art of managing fatigue.  Workers are pushed to their physical and psychological limits, leading to a high incidence of accidents, injuries and occupational illnesses.  The pressure to perform is so great that some workers even donate their unpaid time before and after work or work through their lunch break to meet production goals.

The pressure, tension, and sweat of the UPS workers are transformed first into organizational efficiency, and then into more than one billion dollars a year in corporate profits shared by about 20,000 UPS managers who are also stockholders.

But UPS profits have not been shared with the workers.  During the 1970s and 1980s, UPS began to expand the number of part-time workers and negotiated contracts which allowed the company to pay them lower wages and fewer benefits. The combination of the efficient exploitation of the package car and over-the-road drivers and the lower-wage and benefit packages for the backbreaking work of the sorters and loaders earned millions for the company and fueled its international growth.

UPS managers also attempt to learn about the workers’ off-the-clock activities through eavesdropping on workers’ conversations, taking notes and making diagrams of workers’ friends and associates.  UPS sends spies to labor union or TDU meetings.

Campaigning for a Decent UPS Contract

Frank Fitzsimmons, Roy Williams and Jackie Pressure negotiated substandard, sweetheart contracts against the wishes of UPS workers.  But Teamsters for a Democratic Union and its UPS contract committees fought against these deals year after year.  TDU organized rank-and-file UPS workers into a national network, created national contract campaigns for a decent contract, and mobilized the ranks to vote against the poor contract proposals of the Teamster leadership.

In addition to TDU, UPS management had another thorn in its side.  Ron Carey, the President of Local 804 in New York, also resisted UPS management. Carey went to work at UPS in 1955, following in his father’s footsteps—Joseph Carey was a UPS worker for forty-eight years.  Thirteen years later, Carey was elected president of Local 804, a union of 5,000 members.

Carey led his local in several strikes for higher wages and better conditions in the 1960s and `70s.  When Local 804 was brought into regional and national contract bargaining, Carey became an outspoken critic of the sell-out contracts negotiated by Fitzsimmons, Williams and Presser.  When TDU organized against UPS and the national Teamster leadership, Carey too could be expected to oppose the Mafia-dominated national leadership.  Carey never joined TDU, but was an ally in the struggle against the company and the Teamsters corrupt Old Guard.

The RICO Suit and Ron Carey for President

In 1988, the U.S.  government decided to take action against the corrupt Teamster leadership.  Using the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) Act, the U.S.  Justice Department floated the idea that it would take over the Teamsters.  TDU intervened, arguing that rather than putting the union into trusteeship, the government should simply oversee elections in order that Teamsters could democratically elect their president and other top officers.

TDU launched a national Right-To-Vote campaign that gathered 100,000 signatures, held rallies around the country, and organized members at the local level to support this position.  It also outlined how a fair and honest election could be conducted.  In March 1989 the government dropped the trusteeship idea and the Justice Department and the union agreed to the alternative: a one-member, one-vote for the top union officers.  The agreement also included the Justice Department’s continuing to monitor the union for corruption.

Two months after Carey announced his candidacy for president, TDU’s members voted to support Carey.  Carey, in turn, picked several TDU leaders to run with him for positions on the union’s General Executive Board.

Carey was the underdog in the three-way race.  The other two candidates-R.V. Durham, supported by the majority of the General Executive Board, and Walter Shea, supported by the minority of the board, especially those who had closer ties to organized crime-had enormous financial resources.  But the Old Guard made a critical mistake: it never dreamed an “outsider” like Carey could win, and therefore it didn’t go into the election unified.

TDU provided the Carey campaign with a ready-made national campaign organization.  As Carey toured the country in `89 and `90, the national TDU office and local TDU chapters organized meetings and rallies in his support.  With TDU’s support, the first Carey campaign for the union presidency had the feel of a rank-and-file movement.  Workers themselves passed out literature, made phone calls, organized rallies and got out the vote.  TDU played an important role, arguably the crucial role, in winning Carey’s first election.

The Carey slate won the election with 48% of the vote in the three-way race, much to the Old Guard’s shock-and the surprise of some in the reform movement itself! Shortly after the election, TDU leaders met to discuss the future.

Perhaps some observers thought that now that a reform leader had been elected president and even some TDU members were elected to national office, TDU was no longer needed.  But most TDUers disagreed.  Even with a reform leadership in power, it was all important to have a rank-and-file movement from below to push for the complete democratization of the union and to make demands upon the employers.  TDU decided to continue as a force for change within the union.

With Carey’s reform administration pushing down from above, and TDU and the rank and file pushing up from below, it would be possible to squeeze the mobsters and the sleaze out of the union.  As some TDU leaders put it, the situation was like a sandwich, or perhaps more like a vice.

Carey Holds Out an Olive Branch

In office as General President, Carey called his administration “The New Teamsters,” giving that name to the union’s magazine.  Carey took some important measures at the very beginning of his regime, important both in substance and symbolism: He cut the salaries of the top union officials, including his own.  He ended the officers’ practice of “double-dipping,” that is taking multiple salaries for holding various offices.  He sold off the Teamsters’ Lear jet planes.

Beyond those initial actions, Carey had two tasks before him: the reform of the union and the fight against the employers.

Carey’s strategy for union reform was cautious.  First, Carey made a tactical decision to hold out an olive branch to the Teamster leaders who had been associated with the old regime.  Except in flagrant cases of corruption, he attempted to win over his former opponents.  Considering the closeness of the vote, Carey’s strategy-to break-up the opposition, win part of it over and neutralize another part-was critical to moving the Teamsters forward. The broadest possible unity is always a desirable goal, but it was particularly important for Carey since immediately after the election sections of the Old Guard-such as Larry Brennan, president of Michigan Joint Council 43-threatened to withhold dues payments from the International.

Unlike most other unions, the Teamsters is formally a decentralized union and the Old Guard network continued to control most of the centers of organizational power even after their surprising defeat in the elections. For example, only 13% of the dues money goes to the International.

While a strategy toward established officials was essential, the details were difficult.  Where to draw the lines? How to pose the issues? How to draw in local officials without alienating and demoralizing supporters and more militant forces?

Carey’s olive-branch-strategy was partially successful.  He won over a few of his former opponents.  It also demonstrated to a significant portion of the membership those who stood in the way of Teamster unity.

At the same time his administration became somewhat more conservative and, in some cases, unable to mobilize the membership.  Sometimes it seemed as if Carey tried to keep TDU and its leaders at a distance.  Although not repudiating TDU and its support, Carey attempted to incorporate more of the typical union officials.

Following his own vision, Carey pushed his olive branch strategy as far as he could.  Only when most Old Guard Teamster leaders made it clear that they wanted nothing to do with Carey, and moreover that they would do everything they could to sabotage both his regime and union reform in general, did Carey challenge the Old Guard by abolishing the regional Teamster Conferences that formed their power base.  The Teamster Conferences represented a great drain on the union’s economic resources, served no useful function, and helped prop up Carey’s political opponents.

Among its many challenges, the Carey administration faced one particularly difficult problem: the handling of corrupt local unions.  Where the U.S. Justice Department or the Carey administration had removed corrupt union officials, the Teamsters International union had to take over the unions and run them, a practice known as trusteeship.  Out of about 600 local unions, by 1997 approximately sixty unions had been put in receivership.  (The Courts directly oversaw two trusteed locals.)

While corrupt local unions had usually been dominated by the mob, employers and corrupt officers, the problem of corruption often reached down into the membership.  Corrupt officers may have involved some local members in labor-peace payoffs, embezzlement from health, welfare or pension funds, extortion, hijacking, robbery, gambling, drugs, prostitution or other crimes. The majority of rank-and-file members were often fearful of gangsters, union officials and the employers, ignorant of their union rights and without any experience in union democracy.

The goal of a good trustee is to weed out the crooks, establish democratic functioning of the union, and help to develop local leaders who can manage their own affairs.  Under any circumstances it would have been difficult to find scores of honest, reform-minded, effective, strong leaders to undertake this difficult work.  Unfortunately, Carey appointed some trustees and trustee supervisors who  came over from the old regime when he held out the olive branch, and who are not committed to union reform.  Partly because of this, the clean-up and reform of the sixty trusteed locals has not been altogether successful.

Looking at the union as a whole, while several important local unions remained in the hands of Old Guard Teamsters with their authoritarian, conservative and sometimes corrupt practices, the International union underwent a dramatic change.  Carey, with several TDU leaders on the General Executive Board, opened up the union to local leaders and the membership.  Carey adopted many of TDU’s programs of education, information, and organization.

He worked with local officers and rank-and-file members to begin to reverse the years of criminal control, corruption, and conservative unionism which had plagued the Teamsters.

The Teamsters Take on the Employers

During those first five years in office, Carey put the employers on notice that the old sweetheart deals were at an end.  He prepared the union for strikes but showed he was flexible enough to negotiate contracts without them whenever possible.

    • The national carhaul contract, covering 17,000 Teamsters, had already expired when Carey took office.  A previous tentative settlement, with a two-tier wage scheme and other concessions, had been rejected by the membership with a 74% margin.  The main issue was double-breasting, that is, when a company opens a non-union subsidiary and transfers work from its union to non-union operations.

The new leadership took a harder stance at the bargaining table and attempted to mobilize the membership through contract bulletins.  They launched a corporate campaign against Ryder, the largest carhaul corporation and the worst double-breasting offender.  Although prepared for a strike, the Teamsters were able to reach an agreement in April 1992 that prohibited the corporations’ parent companies from using non-union subsidiaries.

    • In 1993, after sluggish negotiating, UPS got serious about a tentative contract only when the membership voted 94% in favor of strike authorization and the Teamsters decided to stop extending the old contract.  The agreement won the use of Teamster drivers for the new three-day select service and the union negotiated into the national contract an “innocent until proven guilty” clause that was a first for a U.S.  union.

But the big problem remained: a work force in which the majority were part-time workers with a wage half that of the full-timers.

    • During the 1993 contract talks, when the union raised the issue of weight limits, UPS had stated it had no intention of increasing the weight limits. But in January 1994 UPS announced its intention to increase the weight limit on packages from seventy to 150 pounds.  Negotiations between UPS and the Teamsters made no progress and the new weight was scheduled to take effect on February 7.  So Carey set February 7 as the strike deadline.

The company sought a temporary restraining order against the strike, and a federal judge issued one.  But Carey felt the issue important enough to break the injunction and defend the union members’ health and safety. For their part, the Old Guard used the order as an excuse to keep their locals from participating.  Consequently only about 30-40% of the Teamsters at UPS struck.  The action, however, forced the company to negotiate a settlement: the higher weight limit stands, but UPS agreed to bargain over how the heavier packages will be handled.  In the meantime, Teamsters are not required to lift packages over seventy pounds without help from another member of the bargaining unit.

Violating the restraining order was a bold step that forced the company to compromise.  It also demonstrated the willingness of the membership to participate in a job action, paving the way for the successful 1997 strike.

  • On April 6, 1994, 120,000 Teamsters began a twenty-four day strike against Trucking Management, Inc.  TMI is the largest of several employer groups in the freight industry, comprising twenty-two national companies.  The union signed interim agreements with nineteen of the twenty-two, who agreed to accept whatever the other TMI companies negotiated.  In exchange, the Teamsters allowed them to continue operating.

In the end the union forced TMI to withdraw the demand to replace 15,000 full-time dock workers with part-timers.  On other issues the settlement was mixed, with some union gains and some concessions.

The freight and UPS strikes proved to be modest successes, despite the attempt of some union officials to undercut the Teamsters’ stance by charging that the issues weren’t worth striking over.  Carey, on the other hand, showed himself to be a leader willing to mobilize the membership against the employer.  As a result, employer opposition to Carey hardened.

Carey’s First Five Years: An Assessment

During his first five years in office, Ron Carey proved to be a daring leader on a few fronts.  As a matter of principle, Carey opposed employers’ cooperation schemes-Quality Circles, Team Concept, Total Quality Management. He called them by their right name: an attempt to undermine the union and negate the contract.  Carey discouraged Teamster locals from entering into such agreements and encouraged the union’s education department to organize an educational campaign against them.

Unlike most other labor leaders, Carey did not see the boss as a partner. In taking this position, Carey prepared the ground for the UPS strike. Had he not taken this stand, UPS management would have been in a far better position to demand “loyalty” from its workers.

Unlike his predecessors Fitzsimmons, Williams and Presser who had a partnership with the trucking companies and other employers, Carey saw his job as fighting the company to win economic improvements for the workers. To win the fight with the company, Carey was prepared to mobilize the workers, even if it meant an illegal strike.  While he did not share TDU’s more radical rank-and-file perspective, Carey’s brand of unionism opened up more space for the ranks.

Carey also became the foremost labor leader in the struggle against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and its destructive impact upon American and Canadian workers’ lives, as well as those of Mexicans. While the Teamsters’ initial statements about Mexico and Mexican workers were sometimes awkward and insensitive, the union learned quickly from its mistakes.  Soon the Teamsters entered into an alliance with several Mexican trucking associations and labor unions, and adopted the language of international labor solidarity.

Within the labor movement, Carey’s New Teamsters played a progressive role.  When Lane Kirkland retired from the presidency of the AFL-CIO he picked Tom Donahue as his successor.  However, when John Sweeney, head of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) decided to challenge Donahue-resulting in the first contested election in the AFL-CIO executive board’s history-Carey and the Teamsters backed Sweeney.  Whatever Sweeney’s weaknesses and limitations, and there are many, his election-together with Rich Trumka of the United Mine Workers and Linda Chavez-Thompson of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)—represented an important shift in the AFL-CIO leadership.

On the political front Carey turned the Teamsters union away from its decades-long support for Republican presidents including Nixon and Reagan. Carey steered the Teamsters straight into the Democratic Party.  But if others might have preferred Carey to join with Bob Wages, President of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers union and build an independent labor party, such a project found no resonance for Carey.

Yet the Teamsters was the only prominent AFL-CIO union that did not endorse Bill Clinton’s re-election in 1996.  They held back an endorsement because of Clinton’s role in the passage of NAFTA.

The Old Guard and Jimmy Jr.

The Old Guard Teamsters, the conservative and often corrupt holdovers from the old regime, had every interest in opposing union reform.  The Old Guard’s goal was the re-establishment of the status quo ante.  Their slogan might have been: “Forward to the past.”

The Old Guard knew they had to unite behind one candidate, who could hopefully defeat Carey.  Their preferred candidate was Jimmy Hoffa, Jr., son of the former Teamster President.  Hoffa Jr.  had never been a working Teamster and had never held elected office in the Teamsters.

An attorney, much of his business came through the Old Guard Teamsters with whom he associated, and everyone recognized the name.

Hoffa decided to run against Carey in the 1996 election, and hired Richard Leebove to help manage his campaign.  Leebove was a former follower of the kooky, but dangerous right-wing extremist Lyndon LaRouche.

Hoffa and Leebove sought out the support of businessmen, the Republican Party, and conservative newspapers.  In media interviews Hoffa criticized Carey and the Teamsters for their mobilizing of the membership in the freight and UPS contracts, sending a clear signal to employers that his regime would mean labor peace.

While Leebove and the Old Guard leaders who controlled some big Teamster locals used mud-slinging and red-baiting to attack Carey, Hoffa projected the image of a negotiator who would be able to handle all problems.  His image projected the feeling that it wasn’t necessary to do anything except back him-he’d make sure the union got the best contract possible.  His slogan was “Restore the Power,” an effective slogan that harkened back to the days when his dad was “in charge.”

Ken Paff, National Organizer of TDU, explained the appeal Hoffa had for Teamsters:

“The allure of a strong leader who will slay the corporate dragon still


resonates.  “Hoffa’s rap to the 100,000 freight Teamsters who struck


in 1994 to stop the introduction of part-time workers to handle freight


was, `You struck for 24 days and your companies are still jacking you around.’


And many Teamsters nodded.

“Without internalizing that the contract represents the truce line between corporate power and union power, some Teamsters fell prey to Hoffa’s `I will personally negotiate your contracts’ appeal.'”

Unlike the first Carey campaign, which depended upon Teamsters for a Democratic Union and Local 804 in New York City for support, in the second campaign Carey turned toward professional public relations firms like the November Group.  The hiring of the November Group, with its ties to the Democratic Party, would prove to be a huge mistake.

In the 1996 election-where 456,707 Teamsters voted out of the 1.4 million eligible-Carey succeeded in winning by a narrow margin, receiving 51.71% of the vote to Hoffa’s 48.28%.  What really won the election for Carey was not his professional public relations firm—which sent out a last-minute mailing, which arrived days after the ballots were received—but his record over the past years and the support he had from fellow Teamsters.  TDU loyalists and rank-and-file activists campaigned for Carey, and this time around he received increased support from many local officials.

On Strike for a Job and a Pension

The strike against UPS, which began on August 4, was completely effective in stopping the operations of the company from coast to coast.  Out of the work force of 185,000, UPS management suggested that between 5,000 and 10,000 workers had crossed the picket line to scab.  That is, the company could command the loyalty of between 3-6% of the workers, while the union had the support of 94-97%.

While UPS did use management employees and a few scabs to move some trucks, UPS never attempted during the strike’s duration to hire replacement workers.  Given the company’s strict methods of operation, it would have been a difficult process to recruit, hire, train and mobilize enough workers to really move significant amounts of freight.  UPS would not have wanted to put just anybody in its complex carousel conveyors, behind the wheel of its package cars and tractors, or in charge of millions of dollars worth of merchandise.

Where UPS did use scabs, the results were sometimes disastrous.  One UPS manager accidentally drove a truck off an overpass and was killed.

Another essential element in UPS’ inability to conduct business as usual were the UPS pilots, who themselves have been locked in battle with UPS, and have been without a contract.  The 4,000 pilots wholeheartedly pledged themselves to support the Teamsters’ strike.  Their active participation in strike solidarity verified for the U.S.  public the intransigence of UPS management.  (Should UPS be foolish enough to force the pilots out on strike, the Teamsters have pledged to honor their picket lines.)

UPS certainly played hardball with the strike.  In many parts of the country, the company sought and got injunctions to limit picketing.  The company fired some workers, and in some places, such as the Boston area where picket lines were more militant, workers were arrested.

Once the strike occurred, UPS banked on the possibility of government intervention.  While the company got local injunctions, President Clinton never invoked the Taft-Hartley Act, which would have permitted him to stop the strike at least temporarily.  Clinton realized that it would look absurd to argue that the UPS strike constituted a “national emergency.” This hands-off position no doubt helped the Teamsters maintain a strong position.  At the same time, it should be pointed out that Clinton never spoke out against the company’s part-time jobs policy or pension grabbing, and did nothing to assist the union or the UPS workers.  Clinton’s was a policy of benign neglect.

Waving the flag of democracy, the other strategy UPS employed was to demand that the union–in the middle of the strike-conduct a referendum vote on the company’s last offer.  This demand was designed to fool people-both strikers and the public at large.  In this scenario UPS was supposed to be viewed as the democratic beacon flooding light on the union leadership, who were undemocratically trying to prevent the rank and file from voting. But the whole campaign fell flat, brushed aside by union spokespeople and rank-and-filers the media interviewed.

Throughout most of the country, the tone of the strike was in keeping with the particular work force at UPS.  Known for politeness, the workers used their “familiar face” to advantage.  That strategy paid off when the media began to interview small businesspeople.  Instead of finding a group of people angry at the strikers, the general response was “While this strike inconveniences me, I know my driver needs to win this one.”

The War of Wits and Words

UPS had a great deal at stake in this strike, hundreds of millions of dollars in lost business each week, and the possibility of losing customers to other carriers in the long run.  As soon as the strike began, freight companies, the air-freight companies, and the U.S.  Postal Service all nibbled away at the UPS quasi-monopoly of the small package express business.  Workers at Emery Air Freight reported being inundated with UPS freight, and with some UPS workers who were temporarily hired to move it.

With the union’s strike effective, and the company prepared to take losses to win, the strike became in part a matter of public relations. The Teamsters won the war of words, not because they adopted the deceitful public relations techniques, but because they mobilized the members.

The union turned the company’s own image-making upside down.  The polite UPS workers who usually appeared at your home or business to take your package now appeared in the press and on radio and TV to explain their union’s demands.  Who could deny these young American men and women, Black and white, Asian and Latino, the right to a full-time job? Who would take away their pensions?

The UPS corporation, however, with its demands to continue part-time jobs, outsource union work, and make a grab for the workers’ pension funds appeared to be what it really is—money-hungry, insensitive, uncaring, ruthless.

Opinion polls showed that over 50% of the American people supported the UPS strikers, while less than 30% supported management.  The Teamsters campaign for the hearts and minds of the people was so successful that one tends to forget that other outcomes were possible.  Often the media portrays people on strike as high-paid workers who have it so much better than lower-paid workers, so what are they complaining about?

Clearly one of the lessons of the UPS strike is that when the union makes demands that have an appeal to working people and society at large, it can win broad public support.

The Settlement

As an internally-owned corporation, UPS was in good financial shape to withstand a lengthy strike.  But after two weeks of a solid strike, UPS management decided to cut their losses.  Surely one important factor in their decision must have been the public’s support to the Teamsters.  In negotiating, the company pulled back from its aggressive stance and agreed to meet virtually all of the union’s demands:

First, UPS agreed to create 10,000 new full-time jobs by combining existing, low-wage, part-time jobs.  In addition, the company and the union expect another 10,000 full-time jobs to be created through normal growth.  The agreement provides that five out of six new full-time jobs must go to UPS workers, up from four out of five in the previous agreement.

Second, UPS agreed that it would remain within the multi-employer pensions funds.  The Teamsters stated that, “Under the Teamsters’ largest fund, the Central States Pension Fund, a UPS worker will be able to retire after thirty years of service with a pension of $3,000 per month-50% more than the current amount.

Third, UPS agreed to limits on subcontracting demanded by the union. This means that UPS will not subcontract the feeder (over- the-road) drivers’ jobs.

Fourth, the union also won substantial wage increases for UPS workers. But while the union fought for more full-time jobs, it was unable to end the huge gap between full-time and part-time wages, and the new contract reinforces that gap.  Full-time workers won $3.10 an hour, or 15%, which will bring them to $23 by the end of the contract.  The part-timer won an extra dollar an hour, raising them from $11 to $15 an hour by the time this contract expires.

Fifth, one of the big health hazards at UPS is lifting.  The union also won an agreement from UPS that if the company increased weight limits, it would first negotiate with the union a safe way to do so.

At the same time, the company forced the union to extend the new contract to five years (the previous contract had lasted four years and many major industrial contracts last only three years).  This gives the company a long period in which to consolidate its position before facing a possible strike. Members, who may not strike during the life of the contract, may become demobilized.

The Biggest Victory in Twenty-five Years

The Teamster-UPS strike and the new contract represented the most important victory for organized labor in a quarter century.  Certainly there have been other recent victories-the United Auto Workers (UAW) members at General Motors who struck for more jobs, the drywall workers in California, or the Justice for Janitors campaigns.  But the Teamsters’ UPS strike, as nearly everyone has recognized, has taken on a special significance.

The Teamsters have shown that organized labor can represent not only the needs of its members, but working people as a whole.  Nothing is more crucial to the well-being of our society than the creation of well-paid jobs with decent benefits.  The Teamsters put that issue at the forefront of their demands.  When the Teamsters stood up for the working class, the working class and the public stood by the Teamsters.

As important perhaps as the victory, was the public perception of victory. Unlike so many of the labor conflicts of the 1980s and `90s, management was unable to humiliate the Teamsters.  UPS management won over no significant portion of the workers to scab or to the demand that their leadership organize a vote on the employers’ last offer.  UPS workers were not starved out in a prolonged strike but stood up for their rights and won in a relatively short and sweet struggle.  Nothing moves a movement forward so much as a victory.

The Teamsters victory at UPS had an immediate impact upon the labor movement.  At Labor Day picnics, parades, and demonstrations around the country, UPS workers took center stage.

Whose Victory Was It?

What accounts for the victory? There is of course no one simple answer. As a high-profile company always in the public eye, with terminals throughout the country interacting with hundreds of thousands of customers, UPS was under national scrutiny.

In political terms, the benign absence of President Clinton and the federal government helped.  John Sweeney and the AFL-CIO solidarity loan made a difference.  Of course it was Ron Carey, the Teamster executive board and the UPS bargaining committee who organized, led and won this strike.

But Carey would never have been elected, the strike would never have taken place, and the members would never have given it their support had there not been a tradition of rank-and-file activism in the Teamsters.

The existence of Teamsters for a Democratic Union played a critical role in this strike.  Twenty years of organizing had given UPS workers and other Teamsters the confidence to stand up and talk about their views. Year after year TDU had reached out to the newer, younger workers, drawing them into the fight for union democracy and economic justice.  Only an on-going rank-and-file organization could have incorporated wave after wave of new hires into the movement.

TDU had taught Teamster members how to make a leaflet, how to put out a local rank-and-file paper, and how to run for steward, business agent or local officer.  TDU has organized contract campaigns even when voting down the contract meant defeating it by more than two-thirds.  TDU has created a militant minority within the union, a small social movement, and that movement had helped to change the direction of the union.

The Government Calls for New Elections

Throughout the Carey administration, as provided by the RICO suit, the U.S.  Justice Department and the courts continued their oversight of the Teamsters union.  In a decision reached on August 4—but held until the Teamsters’ strike against UPS was settled—the court-appointed Election Officer, Barbara Zack Quindel, nullified the 1996 election for Teamster President and most of the Executive Board officers.  She called for a new election because Carey’s election benefited from illegal campaign contributions.

Quindel found that the Carey campaign had used Teamster union funds laundered through other individuals or organizations to help finance the campaign.  Carey himself, however, was not personally accused of any wrong-doing. She also found that as soon as Ron Carey learned of the problem, he directed his campaign committee to immediately repay the money and ordered that the Teamsters follow a policy of full cooperation with the investigation.

The Carey campaign irregularities involved the campaign manager, Jere Nash, and two consultants: Martin Davis of November Group political consultants and Michael Ansara of Share Group telemarketing.  According to the indictment against Davis, he told Ansara to pad his bill for get-out-the-vote phoning the Teamsters did for the Clinton campaign.  Extra money was to be given to Ansara’s wife, Barbara Arnold, who would then donate it to the Carey campaign.  More than $200,000 was involved, mostly union funds laundered and recycled into the Carey campaign.

Carey himself denied any knowledge of these activities, severed his relations to the individuals involved, and condemned such corrupt practices. Interestingly enough only Hoffa is appealing the Election Officer’s decision! He has stated that he wants Ron Carey removed from office, a government trusteeship placed over the union, postponement of the rerun and Ron Carey disqualified from running again.  In October 1997, the question of disqualifying Carey is before the Election Officer and is being used by Republicans in the on-going battle with the Democrats over campaign funding.

Hoffa is hardly Mr.  Clean-his supporters had also been accused of similar wrong-doing.  Hoffa’s campaign organization, the Real Teamsters Caucus, had been funded with dues money from Teamster locals, joint councils and state conferences.  In early 1996 the Elections Officer found that the Real Teamsters had collected $116,187 in illegal funds, and ordered the caucus to return the money.

Similarly, in November 1996 a Texas official was found to have funneled $36,700 of his local union’s money into the Hoffa campaign.  The Elections Officer also ordered that money returned.

The Hoffa campaign’s election violations were similar to those of the Carey campaign, but occurred earlier in the election cycle.

Carey clearly made a mistake when he allowed political consultants associated with the Democratic Party to run his campaign.  Unlike U.S.  presidential campaigns, union elections tend to be won by activist members who organize in the workplace, at the union hall and in their communities.  Mass mailings, professional phonebanks and glossy leaflets do not usually win union elections-committed activist members do.

Hoffa, of course, attempted to focus as much attention as possible on the allegations of corruption in the Carey campaign.  In doing so, Hoffa and Leebove got the assistance of conservative politicians such as Newt Gingrich and the voice of the employers, the Wall Street Journal.

Hoffa and the Old Guard represent the worst tradition in the U.S.

labor movement.  Despite his rhetoric, Hoffa stands for a return to the old partnership between the employers and the union bureaucrats.

Now the rerun has been set: mail ballots will be sent out in mid-February 1998 and the counting will begin March 17.

The Meaning of Rank-and-File Unionism

Teamsters for a Democratic Union represents something different in the labor movement.  TDU is not just about contracts or running for union office. TDU is about the idea that the union should be a movement for workers’ power.  This idea that workers should have power in their union and control over their workplace is one with enormous appeal to millions.

From the point of view of the powers that be-the corporations, the government, politicians, and the union bureaucrats-independent rank-and-file organization is the most dangerous thing imaginable.  Rank-and-file power threatens the whole corporate system.  Making concrete the idea of rank-and-file control of unions and grassroots control of the society, we can begin to challenge the corporations which so dominate our lives today.

If such an experience and such an idea begins to spread, a new vision of society can open up and transform our society.  It’s a vision of society where workers could democratically control the economy and the government. We call that vision socialism.

So claim the victory of the UPS strike for rank-and-file activism, and claim the future for a new movement for justice and freedom.

 For Further Reading

Amy Carroll.  Savvy Troublemaking Politics for New Labor ActivistsDetroit: Solidarity, 1997.

Convoy Dispatch.  (Monthly newsletter of Teamsters for A Democratic Union.) P.O.  Box 10128, Detroit, MI 48210.

Farrell Dobbs.  Teamster Rebellion.  New York: Pathfinder Press, 1972.

Farrell Dobbs.  Teamster Power.  New York: Monad Press, 1973.

Farrell Dobbs.  Teamster Politics.  New York: Monad Press, 1975.

Farrell Dobbs.  Teamster Bureaucracy.  New York: Anchor Foundation, 1977.

Steve Downs.  Why the Jobs Moved But the Unions Didn’t: Capital’s Restructuring and Labor’s Crisis.  Detroit: Solidarity, 1994.

Labor Notes.  (Monthly newsletter that covers issues and struggles of the labor movement.) 7435 Michigan Avenue, Detroit, MI 48210.

One year: $20.

Dan La Botz.  Rank and File Rebellion: Teamsters for A Democratic Union.  New York: Verso, 1990.

Dan La Botz.  A Troublemaker’s Handbook: How to Fight Back Where You Work and Win!  Detroit: Labor Notes, 1991.

Kim Moody.  Workers in A Lean World.  New York: Verso, 1997.

Kim Moody.  An Injury To All: The Decline of American Unionism. New York: Verso, 1988.

Mike Parker and Jane Slaughter.  Choosing Sides: Unions and The Team Concept.  Detroit: Labor Notes, 1988.

Dan La Botz was a founding member of Teamsters for a Democratic Union and is the author of Rank and File Rebellion: Teamsters for a Democratic Union (Verso).

He edits the biweekly Mexican Labor News and Analysis and is a member of SOLIDARITY.



Regroupment & Refoundation of a U.S. Left - An Introduction

As part of the preparation for our 2008 Convention, members of SOLIDARITY have begun a political document describing some perspectives for socialist renewal in the twenty-first century. Below is an excerpt from an initial draft of this document. Some of the themes here have also been developed in Solidarity’s Founding Statement and our 1997 pamphlet, “Socialist Organization Today.

he opening of the 21st century finds the global working class, social movements, and revolutionary left in disarray. Yet, another world – one freed of exploitation, oppression, war and environmental catastrophe – is possible, and the need to fight for that world is as great as ever. This document attempts to summarize our experiences as members of Solidarity and to draw these lessons into suggestions for today. We lay this on the table and reach out to other anti-capitalist activists, organizers and organizations also desirous of a larger, more powerful grouping committed to revolutionary change. Collective work and analysis is necessary to generalize our experiences and gain a greater understanding of the world we live in. Changing this alienating, dehumanizing profit-driven political and economic system requires an accurate understanding of our world and location of pressure points that can create openings for radical change. Socialists need organization to be effective. Since our founding in 1986, Solidarity has seen itself as an organization devoted to the rebirth of the left in the United States. At that time the U.S. organized socialist left was approaching its low ebb.

In this 40th anniversary of the revolutionary tumult of 1968, it is important to recollect how then the worldwide upsurge spawned a proliferation of socialist organizations and parties, many attached to a particular country of “already existing socialism” (whether China, Cuba, Albania or the USSR). The overriding belief at the time was that the revolutionary process would continue to unfold. There were genuine differences on the left in this era, between radicals who identified with different historical currents (supporters of the USSR, of China, of Trotskyism, of various social-democratic trends), which led to legitimate ideological competition between different organizations. Too often, however, this spilled over into an unfortunate competition even among those who adhered to the same historical perspectives, leading to unnecessary factional warfare and splits.

By the mid-‘80s, it was apparent that this cycle of radicalization had come to an end. At the time of Solidarity’s founding most of the organizations of the New Communist Movement had closed up shop. The feminist and Black liberation movements had ebbed, as had other people of color-led movements, leaving behind a rich legacy of leadership and ideas.

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  • Social Movements over the Last Two Decades

    “The re-emergence of the civil rights movement following World War II inspired and propelled forward all of the oppositional and liberation movements of the 1960s and ‘70s…
    For draft-age youth in the 1960s opposition to the Vietnam War was a pivotal experience…
    While the U.S. immigrant population had been stagnant throughout the 1960s, by 2004 it had risen fourfold (approximately 34.2 million)…
    Throughout the 1990s and into the 21st century, campus activists developed networks to coordinate labor solidarity, environmental, antiwar, global justice and anti-racist activism…”

  • Regroupment, Refounding and the Arc of Resistance

“In the decade of our founding, people on the left began talking to each other across ideological lines, in ways that hadn’t happened for a long time – with a common realization that the “party-building” of the previous years had effectively collapsed, and had been abusive in significant ways to the human beings committed to it…”

“The period from 1999 to 2008 has created a new situation for remnants of the U.S. revolutionary left and the new progressive and popular movements…”

“U.S. revolutionaries need to understand how global capitalism is evolving, how that affects the confidence of the working class and social movements, and how those changes reveal new fault lines. We also need to support and participate in working-class and community-based struggles and social movements…”

“A forceful renewal of the socialist left is not entirely a matter of our will alone. It ultimately depends on developments of a more massive scale both here and around the world that in one way or another pose a significant challenge to the capitalist agenda from a left direction…”

What is Feminist Process?

Feminist process first emerged as a set of practices in women-only groups where people began to recognize that personal power dynamics were present even when men were absent. Over time, these ideas spread into other movements, while feminists borrowed ideas from other political traditions such as the popular education movement in Latin America (see, for example how bell hooks uses Paolo Freire in Teaching to Transgress) and the Quaker-influenced peace/non-violence movements (especially, consensus decision-making).

Feminist ideas about organizational process and culture were further enriched when women of color challenged white feminists to confront their unexamined racism. Feminists have contributed to and borrowed from the insights developed by consciousness-raising projects confronting white supremacy and trainings about how to work across race differences.

The practices that come out of this history are not difficult or complex to describe, but they take an effort to learn and to enact. This is because they are, in some respects, very different from the modes of interaction that this society values and because they require a kind of self-awareness and self-consciousness that is neither taught nor encouraged in society or in many of our political organizations. These norms for interaction within an organization can start out feeling formulaic, too formal, and not genuine. But over time, as people act on them, like any other social practices, they come to feel more natural and personal.

The kind of self-awareness and self-consciousness that feminist, anti-racist process calls for concerns both thinking and feeling. Many leftists consider any attention to feelings “apolitical,” a distraction from real work. As the feminist phrase “the personal is political” encapsulates, however, the reality is that institutionalized power relations of the society shape our most personal interactions. Feminists have challenged the dualistic opposition of public/private and intellect/emotion. Feelings are always there and we bring them into any social interaction. The more we are aware of our own and others’ feelings, the more capable we are of having a productive intellectual interchange.

First, people on the upside of power have to acknowledge and recognize the many ways in which white privilege, middle-class privilege, heterosexual privilege, masculine privilege, gender normativity, etc. operate. This, of course, is complicated because almost everyone finds themselves in one way or another on both the “upside” and the “downside” of these relations.

Second, we are called upon to acknowledge and deal with the emotional consequences of recognizing privilege and experiencing oppression. The left, because of the persistence of the masculinist culture which defined most of its history, is particularly resistant on this second point.

Let’s indulge in some gross generalities for a minute to define a “masculinist” culture within capitalist society. Although mediated by race and class, a masculinist culture discourages the expression of strong feelings other than anger and hostility; values competitive striving more than taking care of others; and defines masculine potency as the ability to win in struggles with other men.

Women, of course, are perfectly capable of adapting to these values and behaving according to their terms; so we are not speaking here of men alone. Also, many men find themselves at odds with masculinist culture. Further, feminine culture has its own unique, and in some ways complementary distortions; so we are not talking about some sort of female superiority. Indeed, the very history of women’s organizations demonstrates quite well that they are also subject to the unacknowledged play of power, privilege and aggression; unresolved and pernicious conflicts; and failures of empathy.

Feminist Process and the Establishment of Norms

Feminist process, then, is an attempt to identify a set of norms that can be used in any organization regardless of its gender composition. Feminist process validates and brings into focus the emotional underpinnings of our intellectual and political relationships.

The goal of feminist process is to open up more space for participation and to create a climate where the least confident among us feels it is safe to speak up.

Comrades have expressed two main concerns about feminist process. One is that the organization will become too personalistic, or too internally focused, that we will spend too much time on “navel-gazing” in trying to “perfect” our relationships with each other. While this is a reasonable concern, we think our organization is so far from such outcomes that the likelihood of being de-politicized is minimal. Furthermore, we would argue that in the long run Solidarity will be far more effective politically as an organization if we can develop social norms that allow us to address our interpersonal conflicts well, rather than having anger, hurt, and frustration boil over into sarcasm, blaming, snide remarks, and cliquishness.

Another concern that has been expressed is that social norms are not only gendered but also linked to class and racial/ethnic group cultures; therefore, in creating new social norms we will unwittingly be imposing norms of the dominant, white, middle-class culture. Again, this is a reasonable concern. However, the social norms that are suggested by feminist process and anti-racist dialogue have been successfully adopted and used by people of many different races and ethnicities. They have also proven to be a particularly successful foundation for creating and sustaining multi-racial organizations. These experiences suggest that these norms are not so much a reflection of white middle class culture as they are a part of the contemporary political culture of anti-racist and anarcho/socialist/radical feminist groups.

An Example: Norms for How We Talk to Each Other

What does embracing feminist process mean in concrete terms? One important example is how we talk to each other, including how we interact one-on-one, as well as in branch meetings, NC meetings, conventions and other bodies.

Our goal is to achieve respectful dialogue where every person feels affirmed in the value of their ideas and their contributions to the group. This means that we have to speak in certain ways and we have to hear/listen in certain ways. Respectful dialogue requires that even if we disagree with an idea or a behavior, we are very careful to not speak in a way that demeans the other person or their ideas. Respectful dialogue requires that we engage in active listening–a technique that helps us to be less defensive in responding to criticism or disagreement.

Respectful dialogue is especially important to modulate the impact of strong emotions that we often experience around conflicts–conflicts about ideas or conflicts about someone’s behavior. But even without sharp conflict, people’s identities, sense of worth and self, are often tied up with their ideas. So we should be mindful of our responsibility to support each other and to engage in arguments in ways that always acknowledge the value of one another’s points of view.

We should expect our leadership (NC members, PC members, fraction convenors, branch execs, etc.) to be exemplary in modeling respectful dialogue. This includes conforming to certain norms, including, but not limited to the following:

Listen Actively

Close, active listening requires us to focus on the person speaking rather than on what we might have to say and to reserve judgment until they have finished speaking and we are sure that we understand their point of view.

In group discussions, active listening requires minimally:

  • No side conversations or note-passing

  • Body language that indicates supportive attention (e.g., eye contact with the speaker)

  • No body language that is derisive (sighs, eye-rolling, muttering under your breath, throw-away comments after the speaker is finished).


Respect the people chosen to facilitate the discussion.

Unless a facilitator asks for your input, allow them to do their job. Do not interrupt, call out, or otherwise undermine their authority. Facilitators should regularly check-in with the group. That allows for a space where those who want to suggest a different course of action can make that suggestion.

Allow enough time for thorough discussion.

When planning meetings, realize that a really good discussion will take a lot of time. It is better to have fewer discussions where more people can participate. Having enough time also helps to lower the emotional tone because people are less likely to become frustrated. Invest in facilitation. Identify clear goals for the discussion. Take time to summarize where people are at. Check in about process during the discussion.

On the other hand,

Share the Air.

Those who talk a lot need to take a step back to make more space for others. Discussions can only take so much time; therefore, those who are more active speakers in the group need to create room for others to participate.

If someone has already made the point you were going to make, do not speak–even if they were not as eloquent as you think you are.

Try listening to an entire discussion before participating. See what happens.


Take responsibility for how everyone in the group experiences the discussion.

Many people define leadership as the ability to articulate the ideas that will move the group forward. As such, they are often focused on getting their own ideas out as much as possible so that other people can have the benefit of hearing them.

There are, however, other models. As Barbara Ransby points out in her biography of the civil rights leader, Ella Baker, Baker conceptualized leadership as developing the capacity of others to articulate their ideas and she did this by engaging in a dialogue with them rather than telling them what she knew or thought.

Acknowledge your own social location and modify your participation accordingly.

Take responsibility for ensuring that those who are on the “downside of power” (in one way or another) are encouraged to speak.

Do not make attributions about people’s motives.

This is generally a form of name-calling passing as analysis. We cannot know the reasons that a person expresses an idea or behaves in a certain way. Address the behavior/idea only and be specific.

Make I statements.

There is no privileged place of knowledge from which you speak, no matter how much you may know or think you know. I think, I feel, from my experience, etc. are all ways of framing your speech that opens up space for the next person to engage in the dialogue.

When someone makes you angry, address the behavior, do not shame or blame others.

We all make mistakes and however angry another’s mistake makes you, you have a responsibility to deal with them in as empathic a way as you can. For example, ‘when you said or did X….when X happened…I felt….thought…”

If possible, try to say what would have worked better, suggesting alternatives or giving a specific example.

Do not be afraid to apologize or to ask for an apology.

Again, we will all make mistakes, so we need to acknowledge them without trying to excuse or rationalize our behavior–just saying you are sorry is good enough

And we need to accept other people’s apologies and then move on.

The Inter-Personal as Political: Expanding Our Definition of Good Process

One fundamental political insight of second wave feminism was that interpersonal relationships are a site where power operates. This insight has opened up new thinking about how organizations work, and, particularly how the social norms and culture of an organization can reproduce oppressive social relations or help people to challenge them. Solidarity has an honorable tradition of institutionalizing democratic process. But we have understood this goal too narrowly. For example, we have tended to assume that if the rules allow for everyone to speak, then that is sufficient to ensure that people will step forward. In response to the clear tendency of men to speak more frequently than women, we’ve said that before another man can speak, the chair must ask if any women wish to speak.

What we have not analyzed is whether the ways in which we talk to each other are also a barrier to participation. Our practice indicates that many people in the organization have assumed that the best way to encourage women to speak is to train them to be tough–that is, able to interact with others in a particular kind of masculine style. We have not considered whether we ought to question that style of debate and think about how it excludes not only women, but many other people from participation.

By paying attention to this important dimension of how organizations work, feminist process has the potential to help Solidarity grow. We think the social norms proposed here will help us to:

  • Work across our race/gender/sexuality/class differences in ways that are emotionally supportive and therefore more productive

  • Be much more skilled at handling conflicts–over behavior as well as over ideas

  • Create an organizational culture where every person feels that they have important ideas and something to offer the group



FEW TAXPAYERS ARE familiar with the National Endowment for Democracy, a publicly funded yet privately owned organization operating in at least forty countries.  NED’s mission?  To help the United States set up capitalist economies around the world, backed by regimes that are friendly to U.S. big business.

With no interference from the public or congress, the NED is free to accomplish its goals by manipulating and buying elections, starting political as well as economic turmoil, funding counter-insurgency material to right-wing groups, and using other tactics that would be considered illegal in the United States.

Equally disturbing, yet more surprising, is the role that leaders of the U.S. labor federation, the AFL-CIO, play in carrying out the NED’s dirty work. The AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Center is at work in twenty-eight countries, discouraging radical organizing among workers and promoting privatization by assisting unions and labor groups that support private enterprise.

A glimpse into this NED constituent’s predecessor organization shows a history of collusion with Central Intelligence Agency terrorism since the early sixties.

The AFL-CIO Solidarity Center’s predecessor, the American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD), was one of the four government-funded labor institutes created during the cold war to prevent foreign countries from establishing independent economic systems.  AIFLD was instrumental in the overthrow of democratically elected leftist governments in Guyana in 1963, Brazil in 1964, the Dominican Republic in 1965, and Chile in 1973.

By the late 1970s, the CIA was exposed for its sabotage of governments and labor movements around the world.  Corrupt dictatorships in Central America, backed by local death squads armed and trained by the CIA, massacred hundreds of thousands of peasants during popular insurgencies in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala.

With these scandals fresh in the public’s mind, the Reagan Administration created the National Endowment for Democracy in 1983 to take care of its unfinished business.  As an NED founder, Allen Weinstein, stated in 1991, “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.”

Some of the NED’s political accomplishments include the successful manipulation of elections in Nicaragua in 1990 and Mongolia in 1996, and the overthrow of democratically elected candidates in Bulgaria in 1990 and Albania in 1991-2.  By indirectly contributing “soft money” to the campaigns of candidates friendly to U.S. business, the NED is able to successfully buy elections in poor countries with only a few hundred thousand dollars.

With a 2004 budget of $40 million, and a 2005 budget of $80 million requested by President Bush, the NED will be capable of buying quite a few elections in the coming years.

From 1983 to 1994, the NED was funded exclusively by congress, at which point it began accepting private donations.  These sources include several oil companies and defense contractors—Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Texaco and Enron among its 2001 contributors.  Its funding is a very controversial subject, and its opponents frequently cite the inherent contradiction of a publicly funded organization charged with executing foreign policy, while remaining exempt from nearly all political and administrative controls.

Octopus Arms

The NED works through multiple constituencies: The International Republican Institute, The National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, the Center for International Private Enterprise, the Free Trade Union Institute, and American Center for International Labor Solidarity (ACILS), better known as the Solidarity Center.

Among its strongest U.S. supporters is the Heritage Foundation, a right wing think tank which has been very influential in policy issues.  Each constituent is given almost five million dollars, which they issue as grants to organizations or political parties all over the world.  The remainder of the NED’s budget is also given out as grants.

In her study of the NED, Barbara Conry, associate policy analyst for the free-market advocacy CATO Institute, states: “NED, which has a history of corruption and financial mismanagement, is superfluous as best and often destructive.  Through the Endowment, the American taxpayer has paid for special-interest groups to harass the duly elected governments of friendly countries, interfere in foreign elections, and foster the corruption of democratic movements…”

The National Endowment for Democracy and its constituents call their actions “supporting democracy,” but the governments and movements they target know them as “destabilization.”

One Empire, One Development Model

U.S. business could not destabilize or overthrow as many foreign governments as it does without the cover and aid of conservative, “old-guard” unions and labor groups who disorient, counter, and generally undermine radical unions and militant labor leaders.  Union leaders, in turn, couldn’t enjoy six figure salaries without an approval of capitalism, without seeing labor and business along with government as “partners” in political and economic development.

On September 11, 1973, Chilean President Salvador Allende, along with thousands of Chilean workers, students and political activists were killed in a particularly bloody military coup that ended a brief experiment in democratic socialism.  It was the culmination of a campaign by the Nixon Administration, working covertly with ITT, Kennecott Cooper, and other U.S. multinational corporations to destroy the Chilean economy and punish Allende for nationalizing industries in which U.S. corporations held major stakes.  The goal, in Nixon’s unforgettable words, was to “make the economy scream.”

While no direct link exists between the AIFLD and the CIA’s actions in Chile, the AIFLD’s program was synchronized closely with the CIA’s plan to create social unrest by sowing divisions within the labor movement and financing middle-class and professional organizations leading the opposition to Allende’s populist program.

Unable to divide and weaken Chile’s largest labor federation, the one-million-member, communist led, Central Unica de Trabajadores (CUT), the AIFLD channeled millions of dollars into right-wing unions and political parties that opposed CUT and Allende’s socialist agenda as a whole.

In the fall of 1973, widespread social unrest and a paralyzed economy provided the pretext for General Pinochet’s violent coup, and justification for his seventeen-year dictatorship.  Pinochet saw all unions, not just leftist, as the enemy, and one of his first acts after seizing power was to outlaw CUT. In the months that followed September 11th, hundreds of trade unionists, including some who had worked with AIFLD, were rounded up, many never to be heard from again.

From 1971 until the mid-eighties, the AFL-CIO, despite its pledge never to support government controlled unions, financed and supported the Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU), with full knowledge of the government’s penetration.  A government puppet, the FKTU’s activities were restricted by law, leaving it no real power.

In the late seventies, U.S. religious and human rights organizations began calling attention to the appalling treatment of South Korean workers.  They were particularly concerned with the brutality directed at young women laborers in the textile and garment industry, and the lack of response by the FKTU.

Rather than denouncing the repression in South Korea, or severing its ties with the FKTU, the AFL-CIO tried to whitewash the violence, blaming it on “differing ethnic standards of Koreans,” amongst other things.

When Korean industrial workers finally organized the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions as an alternative to the FKTU, it wasn’t officially recognized by the AFL-CIO until 1997.  Just recently, pilots represented by KCTU protested its government’s decision to deploy 3,000 troops to Iraq by refusing to transport any troops or equipment there, and engaged in street demonstrations against the war.

ACILS: Reforming Or Restructuring?

In 1995, John Sweeney was elected AFL-CIO president with the support of a broad coalition of union leaders who broke with the former president, Lane Kirkland, over foreign policy.  In particular, they disagreed with the AIFLD’s support for U.S. policy in Central America and hoped to get rid of what they believed was a cold war relic, a pro-corporate anti-communist extension of the McCarthyism still dominating U.S. foreign policy.

Two years after taking office, Sweeney reorganized the four labor foreign policy institutes into a single organization, the American Center for International Labor Solidarity (ACILS), better known as the Solidarity Center.  Although the Solidarity Center has retained a few staff members from its predecessor labor institutes, it claims to represent a fresh start at building a stronger labor movement abroad by focusing on solidarity rather than intervention.  Some of the Solidarity Center’s goals in the past six years include facilitating an organizing campaign in Honduras that led to a viable maquila union in the free trade zone, helping set the stage for a labor law reform campaign in Ecuador by working with Bonita banana workers, and playing a crucial role in convincing a GAP supplier to finance the reopening of a plant shut down due to union activity.

While many union leaders are hopeful about the reforms in U.S. labor’s foreign policy, as well as its accomplishments to date, a great deal of skepticism remains.  Much of this skepticism revolves around the Solidarity Center’s funding; three quarters of its $18 million budget still comes from government sources.  It receives annual grants from the State Department, the Agency for International Development, the Labor Department, and the NED.

Requests for a complete list of donors, including private foundations, and the amount of their contributions have been repeatedly denied by the AFL-CIO.  While Congress no longer dictates the Center’s policies, a lack of independent funding makes a truly autonomous global labor movement impossible.

Meddling in Venezuela

Critics also point to the Solidarity Center’s recent operations in Venezuela, which they feel are dangerously reminiscent of the AIFLD’s actions in Chile.  In Venezuela, the world’s fifth largest oil producer, the Solidarity Center funds a corrupt union amalgam, the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV).  CTV organizes destabilizing strikes and works with oil company management, the Catholic Church, and right-wing military officers to create opposition to the populist elected president Hugo Chavez.  How the Center’s largest, $150,000 contribution to the CTV was spent is unclear.  Stan Gacek, assistant director for the AFL-CIO’s International Affairs Department, says it was for internal union elections, but the CTV’s Institute director, Jesus Urbieta, says the money was used for conducting training courses.  In 2001 the Solidarity Center invited CTV leader Carlos Ortega to Washington, to discuss strategies to oust Chavez with U.S. government officials and representatives of the State Department.

A series of widespread strikes orchestrated by the CTV paved the way for an insurrection on April 11th, 2002, that killed over a dozen citizens and injured hundreds more. Pedro Carmona, a pro-U.S. businessman, was selected to run the country.  He immediately dissolved the National Assembly, but only two days later Chavez was swept back into power by the military and a flood of support from working people and the poor, much to the shame of the Solidarity Center, the State Department and the White House.  Not surprisingly, the NED tripled its annual Venezuela budget to almost $900,000 in the weeks and months leading up to the attempted coup.

While the CTV was disbanded after the attempted coup and replaced by the leftist Unione Nationale Trajabadores, Chavez’s opposition hasn’t given up. The NED is currently handing out grants totaling more than a million dollars to organizations it feels can be useful in getting rid of Chavez.  From September 2002 to March 2004, the Endowment contributed $116,000 to the Solidarity Center every three months for this purpose.

Between September 2003 and September 2004, Sumate, a Venezuelan company that worked to organize a referendum to recall President Chavez, was granted over $50,000 from the NED. Sumate released a poll just before the vote claiming Chavez was sure to lose. To the chagrin of Sumate and the NED, Chavez won 59% of the vote.

Iraq and Beyond

On November 6, 2003, President Bush gave a speech commemorating the NED on its 20th anniversary, and placing it at the center of the “democratization” of Iraq. For the Bush Administration, the NED and the Solidarity Center, democratization is synonymous with privatization, as is evidenced in their attempts to hold the largest state liquidation sale since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

A key strategic aim of U.S. imperialism in the Middle East is to break state control over oil production and reserves and open them up to the direct control of U.S. based energy conglomerates.  The first act of L. Paul Bremer, who led the U.S. occupation of Iraq from May 2, 2003 until his early departure on June 28, 2004, was to fire 500,000 state workers including teachers, doctors, nurses, publishers and printers.

Next he opened Iraq’s borders to unrestricted imports, declaring it “open for business.”  Enacting a radical set of laws unprecedented in their generosity to multinational corporations, Bremer allowed foreign companies to own 100 percent of Iraqi assets outside the natural resource sector, and to take all of these profits out of the country tax free with no obligation to reinvest in Iraq. The only remnant from Saddam Hussein’s economic policy was—a law restricting trade unions and collective bargaining!

Rather than creating an economic boom, these policies instead fueled a resistance that has ultimately made reconstruction impossible.  Labor relations reached a bloody peak under Bremer’s occupation; faced with job loss, workers feared starvation, and managers in turn feared their workers, making privatization far more complicated than the Bush Administration anticipated.

Violent protests have kept investors out, and forced Bremer to abandon many of his central economic policies.  Several state companies have been offered up for lease, and thousands of the state workers fired by Bremer have been rehired.

Nonetheless, the Bush Administration’s plans to “democratize” Iraq are still underway.  In January, 2004, Bush requested to double the NED’s Middle East budget, putting it at $40 million.  According to Abd al-Wahhab al Kabsi, the NED’s program officer for the Middle East, the NED’s involvement is “expanding and we expect it to continue to expand.”

In the months before the Bush Administration invaded Iraq, the AFL-CIO for the first time in its history openly challenged a U.S. decision to go to war. However, once the invasion began, AFL-CIO president John Sweeney shifted his antiwar stance, declaring that the federation would “support fully” the Bush Administration’s war goals.

Within two days of Bush’s request for an increased NED budget in the Middle East, Sweeney said that “training and other kinds of support from the international trade union movement should be encouraged” in Iraq. Since then, he has applied for $3-5 million in grants from the NED. The money will be used to counter independent labor organizing by leftist groups like Union of the Unemployed in Iraq (UUI), which has sponsored and supported strikes and demonstrations for jobs and against U.S. occupation.

The NED and Solidarity Center have chosen to support the General Federation of Trade Unions in Iraq, a discredited Ba’athist union formation sitting on the U.S. appointed Iraqi Governing Council.  According to the UUI, its history “is as gloomy and bloody as the history of the Ba’athist regime.”

The Reform Movement

Given the Solidarity Center’s actions in Venezuela and Iraq, many unionists are concerned about its true motives, and what it is doing around the world in its more covert operations.  Over the past four years, labor councils and grassroots labor activists on the West Coast have been pressing AFL-CIO leadership to come clean about its past and set a more honorable course for the future by opening its archives, which include material from the Reagan era that remains off-limits to researchers.  They also wish to create a truth commission to analyze and publicize the contents.

Resolutions passed in 2000 by the San Francisco and South Bay labor councils in California, and in 2001 by the Washington State AFL-CIO, asked the federation to renounce what it did in Chile, the Philippines, and other places in the name of labor, and allow union members and independent researchers to make a full accounting of the past.

In 2002 the South bay AFL-CIO Labor Council submitted its “Clear the Air” resolution to the two million member (with over one sixth of the AFL-CIO’s members) California Federation of Labor.  The resolution was withdrawn in favor of a substitute resolution, submitted by the Federation leadership, which simply asked the AFL-CIO to meet with the California Federation and its affiliates to open a dialogue about its government-funded foreign affairs activities, both past and present, and to affirm a policy of genuine global solidarity in pursuit of economic and social justice.

It was clearly understood that if the meeting failed to resolve the issues, the leadership of the Federation would fall back to support the “Clear the Air” resolution.

In March, 2004 the California Federation of Teachers unanimously passed a resolution at its annual convention calling for the AFL-CIO to accept no government funding for its work in Iraq and elsewhere, claiming this would be the first step in achieving true global solidarity.  That resolution was submitted to the July 13-14, 2004 Convention of the California Federation of Labor.

It took 15 months to organize the meeting on foreign policy called for in the resolution passed by the California Federation in 2002.  Not satisfied by the October 2003 meeting, the Plumbers Local 393 and the Labor Councils of the South Bay, San Francisco and Monterey Bay passed a resolution for “Unity and Trust among Workers Worldwide,” and submitted it to the California Federation of Labor 2004 convention.

The “Unity and Trust” resolution and the CFT resolution were combined by the convention’s resolutions committee to become a more strongly worded version of the 2002 “Clear the Air” resolution.  The new resolution, passed unanimously by the convention delegates, urges the AFL-CIO to “exercise extreme caution in seeking or accepting funding from the U.S. government, its agencies and any other institutions which it funds such as the NED for its work in Iraq or elsewhere, and to accept these funds only to further the goals of honest international labor solidarity, not to pursue the policies of Corporate America and the United States government.”

Fred Hirsch, vice president of Plumbers and Fitters Local 393 in San Jose, played an important role in getting both resolutions before the Federation.  “We expect tremendous resistance from the AFL-CIO to having their power base removed, and being forced to seek more funds from their affiliates, rather than the government,” says Hirsch.  “This will also force them to be more accountable to their affiliates by giving them total freedom of information on their actions abroad.”

Resisting Disclosure

Unfortunately, the AFL-CIO archives remain firmly closed.  Under the archives rules, documents can only be released twenty years after their creation, which means that material about controversial AFL-CIO activities during the eighties, such as support for the Nicaraguan contras and cooperation with U.S.-backed counterinsurgencies in El Salvador and the Phillipines, remains classified.

According to Michael Merill, director of the archives, there is no consistent policy on what to do when someone wants to open the books sooner.  Any request to shorten the twenty-year waiting period, he added, would have to be approved by the senior leadership of the AFL-CIO.

It is highly unlikely that this will occur without a great deal of pressure from the AFL-CIO’s constituents.  Since Sweeney and several members of his executive council were board members of the AIFLD and the other institutes, they are likely to be uncomfortable with an open record.

This also applies to the Solidarity Center’s current head, Harry Kamberis, a former State Department employee who worked with the Asian American Free Labor Institute (AAFLI), the AIFLD counterpart for Asia, while the institutes were known to be in collusion with the CIA. His endeavors with AAFLI include donating six million dollars to a corrupt labor federation allied with right-wing death squads in the Philippines throughout the eighties.

In order to put pressure on the AFL-CIO, it is important for resolutions like the “Unity and Trust” to be passed in locals, then moved to statewide labor federations, and eventually, national and international affiliates of the AFL-CIO.

While the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), who passed anti-war resolutions at their national conventions in late June, are already having an impact on the AFL-CIO’s executive council, it is unlikely to open the books or significantly change its policies without pressure from a larger portion of its affiliates.

“To counter corporate globalization, we need labor globalization,” says Hirsch.  “But we can’t embark on a path of genuine solidarity, nor can labor unions overseas trust us, until we own up to the past and divorce ourselves from those actions and the government funding which made us a pawn of U.S. foreign policy.”

To let Harry Kamberis, executive director of the Solidarity Center, know you would like to see the AFL-CIO own up to its past actions and embark on a path of genuine global solidarity rather than act as a pro-corporate tool of U.S. foreign policy, call him at (202) 778 4503.  John Sweeney can also be reached at feedback@aflcio.org

Jon Quaccia is a freelance writer in Oregon.

The Case for an Alternative

The following is excerpted from the concluding section of Solidarity’s pamphlet “Bush’s Wars, the 2004 Elections and the Movements.”

THE STRATEGY OF “the lesser evil” hasn’t worked, and less than ever will it work today.  The loyalty of labor, racial minorities, women, LGBT people and other progressives—expressed in massive campaign contributions and large numbers of votes—comes at a very low cost for the “New Democrats,” who know perfectly well that no matter how far to the right they move, the advocates of “the lesser evil” remain their captives.

Accordingly the Democratic leadership continues to move right—opening the way for ever more right-wing Republicans.  During this long era of political stagnation—essentially since the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment and the mid-’70s effort for labor law reform—the institutional leaderships of the AFL-CIO and oppressed groups have sparked few if any important political initiatives.

The demand for reparations for African-American slavery is a partial exception, but it has been embraced only by the most progressive fringes of the leadership.

For the most part, efforts to defend past gains have foundered on multi-million dollar lobbying efforts, while “hold your nose and vote” campaigns have not brought in large numbers of new activists to reform struggles.

The most important force opening space for radical politics in the past decade, until the recent development of mass antiwar mobilizations, has been the global justice movement.  The ability of this movement to mobilize hundreds of thousands in the struggle for “another world is possible” is rooted, to a large extent, in its political independence from both corporate capitalist parties.

Building mass, direct street actions against the WTO, World Bank, and other organs of the transnationals in Seattle, Washington and Montreal, the global justice movement created vital space for the 2000 Nader campaign.

For the first time in more than half a century, a candidate independent of the capitalist parties won significant support for a left populist platform, denouncing corporate dominance of domestic and international politics, and defending the organizations and struggles of working and oppressed people.

Winning three percent of the popular vote, despite vicious attacks from the AFL-CIO leadership and other Democratic Party liberals, the Nader campaign proved that there was a potential audience for radical progressive politics in the United States.

Realizing Our Potential

Today, the antiwar movement that was able to mobilize hundreds of thousands in U.S. cities against Bush’s invasion of Iraq has the potential of pushing politics significantly to the left. However, much of that potential could well be dissipated as the movement is again pulled into the Democratic Party “lesser evil” in the 2004 election.

LGBT or “Queer” activists, for a generation, have used grassroots organizing to change the character of the country.  Through teach-ins, creative direct action, and millions of conversations at work, school, family and church, this movement has altered the political landscape.  In most sectors of the country, outright bigotry and discrimination is much less tolerated and acceptance of Queer folks has never been more mainstream.

While repression and discrimination remain serious, the recent Supreme Court decision striking down sodomy laws illustrates our point: Movements can remodel the country and lay the groundwork for continued struggle—no matter who holds positions of official power.

If lesser-evil electoralism narrows the breadth and depth of organizing, what is the practical alternative in 2004?  We believe that continuing to mobilize against the U.S. occupation of Iraq, forming alliances with the global justice movement, workers’ struggling against the corporate offensive—and an independent global peace and justice presidential campaign—are the key elements of the alternative.

The Lessons of 2000

During the 2000 presidential race there were often heated exchanges between supporters of Nader’s Green Party ticket and those who said that to vote for Nader was to “waste your vote.”

The outcome of the 2000 elections is instructive.  Gore won the election, in the old-fashioned sense of getting the most votes.  He beat Bush by better than 600,000 votes—votes that were counted—and thereby hangs a tale (and a chad).

Due to the reactionary nature of the U.S. electoral system, it was necessary for Gore to win not the popular vote, which he had, but rather the Electoral College vote. Which he also would have, had the election not been flagrantly stolen in Florida.

Most of us are all too aware of the drama of the refusal to count thousands of paper ballots, effectively disenfranchising tens of thousands of voters in Florida counties with heavy African American populations.  This is not counting the huge numbers of Black voters who disappeared from the rolls, or were stopped at police roadblocks ordered on Election Day by Governor Jeb Bush.

Finally, despite all evidence that Gore had won a clear majority of the votes in Florida—as he had across the country—the U.S. Supreme Court appointed George W. Bush as the President of the United States.

Al Gore personally presided over that session of Congress as president of the Senate.  Gore personally ruled out of order repeated attempts, mostly by Black members of the House of Representatives, to challenge the Florida electoral vote. Not a single member of the Senate—not one—was willing to join the members of the Black caucus in registering at least a symbolic protest against this fraud.

It wasn’t the small minority that voted for Nader that “wasted” their vote. There is no bigger waste of your vote than to give it to someone who won’t defend your right to have your vote counted.

As the Florida election fraud unfolded, Al Gore had a clear choice: he could either explain what was happening and call on working people, and especially the Black community, to demand an honest count, or he could go through the motions of limited recounts in Dade and a couple of other counties.

Gore chose to be loyal to the corporate ruling elite in the hope that they would reward him by saying all votes should be counted, and thus allowing him to occupy the office he had won.

The alternative was to encourage mobilizations against the fraud.  There is no evidence Gore ever considered this option.

Impact of Mass Mobilizations

In the climate of fear and intimidation the rulers whipped up in the wake of September 11, we were told the entire country was solidly united behind the Bush administration’s “War on Terrorism.”  But as soon as significant mobilizations against the projected Iraq war started, millions of people lost their fear because they realized the media was lying, they were not alone, and so protests took place all over the country.

In some places, demonstrations were bigger than any held during the movement against the war in Vietnam.  People could see with their own eyes, and from the reactions of their friends, neighbors and coworkers, that the media claims of overwhelming support for Bush’s projected war were lies.

Undercover attempts by Texas-based Republican radio monopoly Clear Channel Communications to manipulate people into supporting an invasion of Iraq by staging “Support our Troops” rallies in the name of individual DJ’s fell flat on their face, despite extensive publicity from their own radio stations, Fox News, CNN and other corporate outlets.

What’s more, the effort fueled a backlash when these corporate interests tried to ram through the FCC rule changes to allow them to further extend their control of radio and television broadcasting.

There was a tremendous outpouring of opposition, provoked largely by anger over the corporate media acting as the mouthpiece of the Bush Administration.  Opposition was so great that both Republican-controlled houses of Congress and the Republican-controlled judiciary moved to placate the opposition by canceling the rules changes.

As these examples show, our real power lies in our own independent mobilization and organization.  Activists in the labor and social movements looking to use the electoral arena to promote our politics must never lose sight of this reality.  The election campaigns we need are ones that seek to promote our real strength, which is outside the two-party-monopoly electoral arena.

Ralph Nader’s Green campaign in 2000 shows that there is today in the United States a mass audience willing to consider breaking with the two parties of the rich to support a party that will challenge corporate rule.

The California Experience

The 2003 California gubernatorial campaign, where Green Latino candidate Peter Miguel Camejo got more than 5% of the vote, is further confirmation.

As a result of that showing, California news media were compelled to treat Camejo as a major candidate in the special 2003 recall elections, routinely including him in polls and debates and covering his campaign events, thus helping him reach millions more.

Camejo’s campaigns addressed the big issues in that state as well as national and international questions.  He called for reversing the trend towards a regressive tax structure by proposing raising taxes on the richest Californians to close the budget deficit.  He championed the cause of Latinos, Blacks and other “minorities” who make up the majority of the state, and especially of undocumented immigrants.

Camejo denounced the marijuana prohibition that is used to persecute young Blacks and Latinos under the rubric of a “war on drugs.”  He has demanded the United States get out of Iraq now, and used his campaign to promote antiwar protests.  His California campaigns—like Nader’s in 2000—point to real alternative politics for Latinos, African Americans and all working-class people.  These campaigns break with the corporate two-party system and offer an electoral alternative.

The Green Party is growing precisely because it is a party that fights against the corporate rule and in support of the labor, antiwar, global justice and other social movements.  Its potential mass impact was shown by Matt Gonzalez’s San Francisco mayoral campaign—which forced the Democrat into a hard-fought December 10 runoff, and took 47% of the vote despite being outspent ten to one.

The Greens have not asked activists to give up organizing mass, militant actions against the corporate rulers—as have every “progressive” Democrat since Eugene McCarthy in 1968.  In 2000, Nader and the Greens campaigned as the candidate and party of the global justice movement—showing videos of the Seattle demonstrations against the WTO at all the “Super Rallies.”

In 2004 we need an independent peace and justice presidential campaign that presents itself as the electoral voice of the antiwar, global justice and social movements.  We in Solidarity will work together with other socialists, Greens, radicals and activists to help organize such a campaign.

Portraits of Philippines Unionista

LIKE ALL WOMEN workers, Filipina workers’ experiences in the labor force are shaped by gender.  Tracked into the lowly-paid service economy doing “feminine” labor, they often have dead-end jobs with a secondary wage-earner status.  In mixed-gender unions and labor movements, their status is also secondary.

Women workers, however, are fighting the sexism of the workplace and labor unions with their own strategies.

Emilia Dapulang, national vice chair of the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU-May First Movement), noted that women “comprise 37.5% of the 32 million workers in the Philippines.  Moreover, the majority are mostly employed in the service industry and export processing zones (EPZ) where they are 75% of the workforce (Sabaratnam 2000, 5).

Seventy-seven percent of workers in the garment industry are women, and 72% in electronics.  Also, mostly women work in sales, education, and in domestic labor, in jobs “that earn below the average wage rate.”  This fact is particularly alarming because it means they make less than the daily minimum wage, which was 250P (US $5) per day in Metro Manila.  This was less than half the daily cost of living for an average-size Philippine family of six (Dapulang 2002: 7, 3, 5).

Shoemart Strike

While I was in the Philippines last year Shoemart workers, mostly women, went on strike.  Shoemart has been one of the most ubiquitous department stores in the Philippines, employing 20,000 workers.  According to Antonio Tujan Jr. of the IBON Foundation, only 1,731 rank-and-file employees were protected by the collective bargaining agreement.

The other workers came from recruiting agencies with contracts of six months or less. “Such labor flexibilization schemes are the reason for the very small percentage of unionized employees and the beleaguered state of the labor union.”

These labor schemes “are so disempowering and reinforce feudal-patriarchal views and relations among the mostly female salesforce” and often mean that “female employees have to pass through a ‘casting couch’ in order to pass hiring tests, and would again have to fulfill the sexual desires of superiors in order not to be laid off” (Tujan 1998, 2).

During the last three years, Shoemart workers have gone on strike four times.  Henry Sy, the owner, then hired the Star Force as security guards to deal with the mostly female strikers.  Interestingly, these ex-military men had been previously deployed to battle Muslim insurgents in Mindanao.

I visited the strikers at the Cubao branch where sixty-three workers were on strike.  The woman picket commander, Estrellita Mil, introduced me to some of the other strikers.  These saleswomen had been working twenty or thirty years and earned P354 a day while a new trainee made P305.

Workers were not making enough to provide for even their daily protein requirements.  One of the workers’ demands was a pay increase of P40 more a day while the management was insisting on P14.  Mil commented, “That won’t even by a kilo of rice.”

They were concerned not only about their low wages but about job security.  Shoemart is trying to convert all its workers into short-term contractual workers.  Short-term workers only work three or four months; after their term ends they cannot work at SM for another year.

Strikers told me that saleswomen were required to stand for their eight-hour shift except for coffee breaks and lunch.  They could not enter the restroom without a pass. Workers were constantly frisked—sometimes twelve times a day.

Mil noted that some women workers were afraid to join the strike because they feared their husbands would quarrel with them. Also, management pressured its workers not to support the strikers—if found to be supporting them in any way, they were immediately fired.

Spies lurked among the workers.  One gave management a list of thirty workers who were sympathetic to the strikers, and they were fired.

The store blared loud dance music to prevent strikers from using bullhorns or giving speeches.  Workers then used banners, signs and colorful streamers.

As I sat with a few Shoemart strikers on a ledge just a few feet from the entrance of Cubao branch, one worker observed that the security guards watching us were also lowly paid, receiving only minimum wages, and only two pieces of candy and water for their merienda (snack).

I was struck by the sympathy these workers had for the security guards who had been hired to intimidate them. A few days later, at a rally supporting the workers, a guard grabbed the breast of one of the female labor organizers.  Although the women workers saw the guards as fellow workers, the guards viewed them only as sexual objects.

Women in the EPZs

The concentration of young, single women workers in the EPZs, according to Dapulang, was deliberate.  Managers choose them because of traditional gender stereotypes.

Women had “nimble fingers” suitable for small parts assembly, are more diligent and patient—perfect for highly repetitive work, and more docile, therefore less likely to join unions or cause trouble.  They are more “willing to work for low wages and have a higher rate of voluntary turnover due to their supposed status as ‘secondary wage earners’ and the primacy of their reproductive role in the family.”

During their contract, women usually work twelve- or fourteen-hour days, six to seven days a week. Their demanding schedules make them susceptible to a host of health problems.  As well, they are exposed to sexual harassment and rape.

Many companies regulated the reproductive activities of their employees.  Single women are given “virginity tests” or else not hired.  Married women workers are required to practice birth control or undergo tubal ligation (Dapulang 2002, 6).

Women workers in the EPZs have very little recourse to challenge these repressive policies.  They are not allowed to unionize.  EPZs are “notorious for their unwritten no union, no strike policy” (Dapulang 2002, 5).  Teresita Borgoños of Makalaya said that they sometimes call EPZs “union-free zones” and very difficult to enter because they are protected by local government officials.

Women labor organizers need creative strategies to make contact with the female EPZ workers.  One federation in Cavite organized women workers into mutual aid organizations rather than unions.

The EPZs recruit marginalized workers—young, single women—and keep them in an isolated compound under constant surveillance.  But women organizers have used the innocuousness of women’s organizing like a Trojan horse.

“Because they say that women’s organizing is not very controversial, not like union organizing, so it’s just a strategy where you can go inside, know the workers there, have contacts, and you can give them support,” said Burgoños.

Unions and Women

As in many countries, most labor unions in the Philippines are dominated by men. Although women are half of all laborers, they make up only 35% of union members.  Out of the 1,260 union presidents, only 177 (14%) have been women.

“Unions started off as an ‘all boys club’ and were therefore shaped by male consciousness.  Thus, women’s issues tend to be considered as non-priority issues,” said Reggie Aquino of the autonomous women’s organization, Makalaya (Sabaratnam 2000, 5).

The Philippines have a number of organizations for women workers.  Makalaya (Manggagawang Kababaihang Mithi ay Paglaya, Women Workers Fighting for Freedom) was started in 1998 by women trade unionists, community leaders, and women in the informal economy.

Tes Borgoños, the secretary-general, explained: “Makalaya is trying to mix two perspectives in organizing—those of trade unionism and community organizing.  In this way, we are acting as a pressure group within and outside the union movement.  There is a big debate whether to be separate from the union or let women members in the union take it forward” (Mather 2003, 18).

This has been a theme in Borgoños’ life. Before becoming secretary general of Makalaya, Burgoños was president of a 600-member garment factory union that was 90% female.

Burgoños pointed out that community-based organizing “is very important because we belong to one area and if there are problems in our factory, the first that can help you are the factories nearby you.”

I asked if there were any women’s trade unions in the Philippines.  Burgoños replied that there were none. Women workers in the formal sector of the economy belong to a particular trade union.

Makalaya works outside the unions, as a pressure group for women’s issues as its members were generally members of the women’s committee within their unions.  Said Burgoños, “If you belong to a union which is a mixed organization, there are men and women, you will encounter lots of difficulties in lobbying for women’s issues in the workplace or in the unions.  Makalaya as a group gives encouragement and strength for [the women] when they go back to the unions.”

Unions, Federations and Centers

Three different types of labor organizations exist in the Philippines: labor unions, labor federations, and labor centers.  Local company-based unions are members of the over 250 labor federations.  The labor federations, in turn, belong to nine labor centers.  The labor centers advocate, including legislative lobbying on a national and international level.

The labor federations also focus on specific workers’ issues at the workplace—such as legal service, education activities, and organizing.

Borgoños told me that because empowerment relied on the quantity and quality of their members, their organization prioritized organizing and education.  “The first step is to organize them through their particular issues, in the community, in the workplace, in the home.”

Mylene Hega of LEARN (Labor Education Advocacy Research Network) explained that labor unions need different methods to reflect their democratic goals.  “We need different methodologies for workers’ education like workshops and study circles.  This should reflect democracy in action by creating space for participants to express themselves.”

While some Filipino trade unions use formal education seminars, “LEARN has tried to put more emphasis on the learning process.  We have introduced games and structured learning exercises, which relate to the conditions and everyday experiences of workers.  We have also used cultural activities like song and dance to raise awareness around particular themes” (IFWEA 1998, 2).

Hega continued, “Women workers need to develop a global perspective.  Yet international trade union work is usually dominated by men. In analyzing globalisation, women will have a different angle.  This angle needs to form an integral part of our understanding of globalisation.  The international study circle will also allow us to develop international solidarity links which opens the door wider for women workers.”

She noted that “There has been a lot of workers’ education on local and national issues, but very little on international issues.  LEARN must take up the challenge of delivering education with a global focus.  But we also need to concentrate on education activities, which will strengthen trade unions at a local level.  For example, skills development and the political participation of workers.  We have to address the role of Filipino trade unions in the changing political and economic structure of the country” (IFWEA 1998, 2).

Dapulang pointed out that “women’s participation” was not enough “if this simply means integrating women in the neoliberal development model.”  She added, “It is grossly misleading to banner the empowerment of women without addressing the economic and political basis of our disempowerment and marginalization in the decision-making structures of society.  This is because the marginalization of women is embedded in the structure of class, race and national oppression” (Dapulang 2002, 8).

Women workers have had to work within and outside the labor movement to fight for their rights and find support for their concerns where they are not seen as “legitimate workers.”  Their gender has pegged them as less likely to cause trouble or raise their voices.  But as women transforming the global labor force, they are reinventing women labor organizing and the labor movement.

Works Cited

Review: Men's Feminism and August Bebel

Men’s Feminism: August Bebel and the German Socialist Movement by Anne Lopes and Gary Roth (Amherst, New York, Humanity Books, 2000), 261 pages, $52 hardcover.

MEN’S FEMINISM SETS out with an important purpose—rescuing August Bebel, the leading 19th century German socialist leader who authored a pioneering text on women’s liberation, Women and Socialism. This is not a biography of Bebel, but a study of Bebel’s interaction with women’s rights issues.

The book is divided into six chapters: “Historiographic Switching” (tracing the marginalizing of Bebel as a feminist); “Reading Women” (reading between the lines of Women and Socialism and discussing Bebel’s methodology); “Men’s Feminism” (analyzing the historical context within which Bebel moved towards women’s equality); “Transitional Feminisms” (detailing Bebel’s party experiences and women’s equality issues between 1869 and 1875); “Women and Bebel”; and “Bebel and Zetkin.”

Authors Anne Lopes and Gary Roth contend that historical accounts have focused either on Marx and Engels as the key theoreticians in considering the relationship between Marxism and women’s liberation, or on Clara Zetkin—the most prominent woman leader in the revolutionary socialist movement next to Rosa Luxemburg—as the key figure for the growth of a Marxist movement for women’s liberation.

While one tradition limits Bebel intellectually, the other ignores his historical impact.  The authors find this disturbing and erroneous.

Lopes and Roth juxtapose Bebel’s Women and Socialism (first published in 1879) with Engels’ The Origins of Family, Private Property and the State (first published in 1884).  They demonstrate that while the book by Engels had nowhere the same level of distribution, and indeed initially it was Bebel’s book that seems to have sparked off Engels’ work (as a corrective to what Engels may have perceived as weaknesses in Bebel’s anthropology), in subsequent historiography Women and Socialism was accorded a “common, or merely documentary” status, while The Origins became what Hayden White calls the “so-called classical text.”

They argue that this overlooks Bebel’s distinctive style of theorizing.  At the same time, the authors dismiss Lise Vogel’s assertion, in her important study Marxism and the Liberation of Women, that the two books constituted a form of silent polemic.

They show that in the twenty-year- long correspondence between the two, Engels never makes criticisms of Bebel’s book. They point out that one cannot pit Engels against Bebel by asserting that Bebel relied too much on the utopian socialists, because Engels himself had full respect for the latters’ position on women’s emancipation.

Granting the arguments of Lopes and Roth, it is however necessary to recognize that Engels made a theoretical contribution that would be recognized by feminist activists and scholars.  Gerda Lerner, after making substantial criticisms of Engels, commented: “Yet, Engels made major contributions to our understanding of women’s position in society and history: He defined the major theoretical questions for the next hundred years.”  (The Creation of Patriarchy, Oxford and New York, Oxford University Press, 1986, 23)

Metanarratives vs. Subalternist Visions

The authors contend that they are able to rescue Bebel precisely because of their methodology.  This consists first of all in moving away from historical metanarratives to a Nietzschean-Foucauldian stress on genealogy.

Instead of seeking to study the rise of socialism and women’s liberation, they focus on Bebel, the details of his life history and concerns of his book. In this regard Lopes and Roth do not engage in what Neal Wood has called writing the social history of political theory.

The central focus of Men’s Feminism is Bebel’s Women and Socialism, yet the book is not given the proper contextual reading nor is there a detailed discussion of the text.

The authors begin with a strong criticism of existing English translations.  They point out that Bebel showed a sensitivity to the linguistic dimensions of gender representation, something ignored by his translators.

For example, when Bebel uses the German Menschen, which should be rendered “people” or “humankind,” his translators routinely use “mankind,” which in German would have been der Mann or die M<132>nner.  Lopes and Roth have made fresh translations that they feel reflect political as well as linguistic considerations, maintaining Bebel’s style but modernizing the language.

Instead of focusing on the history of large organizations, mass movements and well-developed theoretical positions, the authors believe that it is more important to study how members of the lower classes came to think and act on their own behalf.  (23) As a result they consciously decided not to use language associated with Marxism.

What therefore emerges is not the leader of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), but an earlier Bebel, groping his way forward.

Bebel’s Evolution

In Bebel’s lifetime Women and Socialism appeared in fifty-three German-language print editions, was translated into twenty languages, and sold almost a million and a half copies.

Far more people came to be attracted to socialism through this book than through most of the writings of Marx or Engels.  Richard J. Evans called Women and Socialism Bebel’s “lifework,” and indeed, he went on revising and improving and altering it all his life.

A self-taught working-class socialist thinker, Bebel wrote in a conversational style so that his readers could read the book aloud and feel women’s oppression.  Because the book has simple language and moves with word pictures, even those who have limited education can respond.

Lopes and Roth give examples to show how this actually happened, and the testimonies of many women activists, both from the working class and beyond, are quoted to show how women responded in reality.

Bebel is depicted as evolving from the 1860s to the 1890s, from relatively non-political self-help groups among working-class men to reaching out to women across classes, to male workers, and to socialist activists in particular.  However, a number of questions also need to be posed.

The first is over a very confusing handling of the term “feminism.”  At the beginning Lopes and Roth inform the reader that in the late 1800s feminism was a term reserved for men wishing to insult other men. Then we are presented with a plethora of positively evaluated feminisms (men’s feminism, proletarian feminism, Marxism’s feminism)—yet all with basically masculine agency, since few women were actually involved in this period.

Secondly, by stopping in the early 1890s, the authors seem to suggest that once the SPD was legalized and a mass party started functioning, the impact of Bebel’s book need not be judged at all.

In a later chapter, Clara Zetkin is brought in only so that we learn that her arrival as the central leader of the women’s movement marked a slide back to a less radical position.  Thus, it seems that the radical phase, when Marxism and women’s liberation were one, belonged to Bebel and male feminists.

How Radical A Vision?

The early career of Bebel shows how, functioning within a number of working-class and women’s organizations, Bebel’s ideas on women’s liberation crystallized.  From 1865 he takes a clear class orientation; however, his feminism had a non-Marxist origin.

Two specific influences on the pre-1865 Bebel need to be mentioned.  One was the role of men like Moritz M<129>ller, whose feminism had limitations, but which stressed equal access to education, work and the right to organize.

Marxism’s ideas on gender, specifically in the German context, were shaped considerably by M<129>ller.  But his ideas involved a combination of equality and domesticity.  As he expressed it, family life would be improved through the political education of women and their equal access to the public sphere.

The other influence on Bebel was that of the middle-class feminists.  Their vision of gender equality would gain wider currency in the 1860s and 1870s.  They assumed that women had certain feminine traits like emotional sensitivity and avoidance of conflict, and thought that carrying these over to the public sphere would humanize society.

While this perspective was different from that of men’s feminism, the fact that the Allgemeine Deutsche Frauenverein was in regular touch with Bebel and organizations in which he worked shows that points of contact existed.

Bebel, however, went beyond both influences.  Unlike M<129>ller, he was in favor of full equality of women in political organizations.  And unlike middle-class feminists, he did not highlight feminine traits.  Still, though female emancipation became an article of faith in the socialist movement, Marxism’s feminism—including that of Bebel—seemingly never shook off its faith in domesticity.

At first Bebel’s activities on behalf of women were administrative: he attended meetings, helped arrange logistics at women’s conferences, referred inquiries to women’s groups, and otherwise associated politically with advocates of women’s equality.

He was publicly silent on gender equality until the late 1860s, with the development of dual-gender unions.  This was an attempt to go beyond craft unionism and overcome gender segregation.  The fact that the Marxists embraced this idea reflected their openness on gender issues, particularly in comparison with anarchists, Lassalleans and liberals.

But Bebel’s ideas evolved in piecemeal fashion.  His work on the draft program of the Social Democratic Party (the “Marxist” or Eisenach party, as opposed to the Lassallean Allgemeine Deutsche Arbeiterverein) and his 1870 his pamphlet, “Our Goals,” suffers from contradictions.

By the time the two socialist parties in Germany united in 1875, adopting the Gotha Program, Bebel had moved to the most progressive wing of the movement.  Although the program was silent on the question of women’s suffrage, Bebel’s amendment proposing “the right to vote for citizens of both sexes” was rejected by 62 votes to 55.

Men’s Feminism, Theory and Practice

In an interesting chapter on “Women and Bebel,” the authors trace Bebel’s relationships with a number of women, bringing out the diversities of interactions.  This includes mutual influences and assistance, between Bebel on one hand and Gertrud Guillaume-Schack and Hope Adams on the other.

Adams was integrated with the socialist movement, widely known for her health work, herself a physician particularly involved with issues of birth control and patient rights.  Because of her hospital connections, Adams could perform abortions.  Bebel’s views on abortion in Women and Socialism became increasingly sympathetic, possibly influenced by women such as Hope Adams.

Schack, for her part, was mostly outside the socialist movement, and her ideas were often at loggerheads with those of other feminists too. She was instrumental, nonetheless, in drawing attention to the situation of prostitutes.

She financed the first working-class women’s newspaper, The Woman Citizen, and wanted to organize women against state regulation of prostitution.  She believed prostitutes should have the same rights as men, and opposed restrictions or sanctions on sexual behavior.

Unlike Lenin, Bebel was not uneasy with discussing about prostitution.  He raised the issue and examined its causes: gender imbalance and class oppression.

But perhaps the limits of 19th century men’s feminism can also be found in this chapter, provided somewhat unwittingly by the authors.  In their discussion on the relationship between Julie Bebel and August, the authors have a desire to show their hero in the best possible light.

Julie, we are told, was completely independent.  Bebel’s On the Present and Future Position of Women had emphasized that marriage was a private contract between two fully equal partners, to be dissolved without external constraints when the relationship between them made it necessary.

In real life, say Lopes and Roth, “traditional gender roles prevailed in the early years of their marriage.”  (145) But when Bebel was arrested Julie managed his business and served as his political liaison.  Bebel’s unstinted support to Julie, including when she had a clash with his business partner, is documented.

What is played down, however, is that this involved a reintroduction of domesticity.  Nearly every letter of Julie to August includes references to constraints on her time. And in a letter to Engels, she wrote:

I was often very dissatisfied that I couldn’t do anything for my intellectual development; but the thought that I could provide a comfortable home for my husband made me happy since this was so important for his intellectual development and work. Because I had to take care of his Party business insofar as I could when he was so often away from home, I was immersed in the spirit of the movement and today remain entirely within it. And so, I must be satisfied with what I have learned.  (157)

On Bebel and Zetkin

Yet the authors’ treatment of Bebel is far more gentle than their treatment of Clara Zetkin.  Reading their book, one gets the feeling that Bebel had expunged the term “domesticity” from his politics, while Zetkin brought it all back.

Out of her massive works and writings, only an extract is cited, out of context, to claim that she treated women as mothers.  Even at the level of personal life, they write that “Her proletarian experience (that of the impoverished intelligentsia) may have been framed by socialist theory but it was worked out in terms of middle-class solutions.”  (211)

Lopes and Roth criticize Zetkin for a speech she gave at the 1893 International Socialist conference, when she criticized “so-called women’s rights.”  But this was Zetkin’s criticism of liberal bourgeois feminism, particularly its opposition to protective legislation in the name of freedom of the individual.

This debate must be put in its historical and theoretical context.  In every country where liberal feminism developed, a sizeable group of feminists held that given equal legal and political rights they could then work out their futures as individuals.  To them, it appeared as though protective legislation was an admission of the inferior status of women—whereas for the woman worker, it meant no more than being equally exploited.

In addition, the equal right of the gentlewoman to go out and work could well come about through the exploitation of the domestic servant.  The rhetoric of gender equality here masked acute class inequality and exploitation, which often came out openly in some feminist writings.

This was a period when both the socialist workers and liberal bourgeois women were trying to develop movements.  In the 1890s Zetkin was fighting for a strategy based on mass struggle, and opposing one limited to petitioning.  Thus her scathing comment that the women’s movement of the bourgeoisie “allegedly” fights for women’s rights has some substance.

Secondly, Zetkin is dealing with a number of sharp tactical questions.  She was part of a group of women who were coming into the party and trying to make a place for themselves in a radical milieu, not as assistants, but as equal partners—all the way to the party leadership.

They had to adopt a distinct strategy to do so. A Bebel did not need recourse to the strategies that a Zetkin or a Rosa Luxemburg would adopt (each her own strategy), because he did not “suffer” from being a woman.  Lopes and Roth’s unproven suggestion that Bebel’s post-1891 trajectory was a case of self-effacement in the light of Zetkin’s rise needs to be buttressed by considerable evidence before it can be regarded as convincing.

An Important Contribution

It is necessary to add in conclusion that these criticisms should not stand in the way of appreciating the real services rendered by Lopes and Roth. Bebel appears, no longer as an individual, but as part of a current, and the achievements as well as limitations of men’s feminism can be understood from the book.

Men’s Feminism has been amply researched, and a huge amount of primary sources unearthed.  It is also, despite the research load, an eminently readable book. It therefore allows us to look into a formative period of the socialist and the socialist women’s movement.