Detroit Labor Activists Call for People's Unions
by General Baker and Charles E. Simmons
Detroit--Dec. 30, 2004--Across the nation, in every work place and
community, working people and professionals are rapidly losing benefits and
jobs as a result of the new globalization of labor and injustice. At the
same time, Bosses and CEO's are being awarded giant salaries, stock options,
fat pensions and bonuses.
Trade Unions, once the champion of the working people, are now standing by
helplessly while their share of the organized labor force has dwindled to
9%. They are consenting to giving back benefits, renegotiations, wage cuts
and outsourcing, and too often ignoring racism and sexism. They are
consenting to the new employment contracts, which grant higher wages and
benefits to the older workers and only a pittance to the younger workers.
Pensions are on the chopping block everywhere. Is there any hope for
traditional trade unionism in an era when unskilled and many skilled jobs in
North America and Western Europe no longer needed, and workers in the poor
countries are lining up to get jobs in sweat shops?
There are eight changes that organized labor in the U.S. must implement in
order to become relevant in the 21st Century. Otherwise, its days are
numbered. And working people will continue to go the way of the rocking
First, there must be a reorganization of unions to empower rank and file
workers and to raise the consciousness of workers about the historic role of
labor, and the continuing struggles for justice based on class, race and
gender. That is not the situation today and has not been since the formation
of the AFL-CIO. Rank and File workers presently have to suffer an archaic
and top-heavy bureaucracy in policy making and election of leadership.
Second. There must be the organization of the unemployed, not only as a
support mechanism, but also as an integral part of the union democratic
Third. There must be an alliance and mutual support between the workers in
the rich countries with those organized and unorganized in the poor
countries. Since corporations have international agreements and mergers,
this will be a counter force against the International agreements that rob
the workers around the planet.
Forth, unions must demand a living wage or income for all residents. This
had been a call in the Democratic Party back in the 1950s and early 1960s
but was dropped after the U.S. began a war against Vietnam.
Fifth, unions must support social justice, world peace, community
development, low and moderate income housing, and health care for all
residents whether they are employed or not. They should direct the resources
of their pension funds toward that end.
Sixth, unions must fully integrate people of color and women at all levels
of the organization, and not just tokens as they are now in most unions.
They must also demand complete integration of the grievance process and the
hiring of people of color as arbitrators. Even in Detroit, with a population
that is over 85% African American, most of the arbitrators are elderly white
Seventh, international unions must develop an independent foreign policy,
not linked to that of the U.S. government, but based on the principles of
true grassroots social and economic justice and peace.
Eighth, Unions must organize to oppose any laws, which prevents unions
from supporting one another, and oppose any grievance process, which favors
employers against the interests of workers.
General Baker is a retired Detroit auto worker and veteran labor activist.
Charles E. Simmons is a Professor at Eastern Michigan University and
Co-Chair of the Committee for the Political Resurrection of Detroit. Both
were members of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers.