Fighting to Win
(September 14, 2003 - Labor Notes Conference, Detroit)
DAILY, WE ARE CONFRONTED with many struggles. Some greater than others,
some more challenging than others, some more serious than others: but make
no mistake about it - struggles and challenges are inherent to the lives of
the working class of this country and indeed the world.
For the working class people, dock workers, factory workers, utility
workers, hotel workers, public safety workers, our challenges, our
struggles in this new century are sure to be more complex, and more
sophisticated than ever. Be not deceived, the attacks of the global
capitalists on working class citizens of every nation have been carefully
orchestrated. Masterfully designed to put workers against workers. Instead
of locating plants and factories in over-populated third world countries
for the purpose of raising the standards and improving the economic
conditions that are found there, the relocation of the plants are done
primarily and specifically to take advantage of cheap labor, weak
environmental laws, and to advance the cause of global capitalism. Labor so
cheap, it might as well be free. Wages so low, most of the workers would
never be able to afford the goods they produce.
As we look at the many issues facing us, facing working people, each one
must be viewed from a new global perspective. Every one of our jobs is
impacted by global economic conditions and a global agenda that does not
include the welfare of my family, your family, or any other working family.
A couple of months ago, Baldemar Velasquez (President of the Farm Laborers
Organizing Committee), myself and many others testified on Capitol Hill at
a Congressional hearing on NAFTA, and the devastating affect it has had on
industries and jobs in America. Garment workers, farmers, farm workers,
longshoremen, border workers, steel workers, all testified to horrors of
Surely, the reports are in. Surely, our government is aware of the
statistics compiled by its own agencies. They do not need us to tell them
what is happening to us. They already know. And even if they wanted to do
something about it, they can't because they too have co-opted out. The
corporate dollars being generated by Free Trade agreements are also the
dollars that are lining the coffers of government officials in Washington
and all across America.
What Can We Do?
How Can We Do It?
When we study this global corporate phenomenon the magnitude of this
problem, and the vast resources fueling this agenda, it can become
overwhelming, overwhelming to the extent that we feel we are already
defeated. We feel there is nothing we can do but try to survive.
Well, let me tell you, we do not have the luxury of feeling defeated and we
do not have the luxury of time.
In our struggle against global capitalism, losing is simply not an option.
Probably all of you can identify with me that sometime we find ourselves
confronted with situations or a set of circumstances where losing is not an
option. We find ourselves in a situation where we must win at any cost.
Such was the case with Charleston longshoremen in 2000 at the turn of the
century with Nordana Shipping Lines.
* Losing our work to the non-union was not an option.
* Allowing five men to go to jail for up to twenty years for picketing was
not an option.
* Losing a 2.5 million dollar lawsuit to a non-union company was not an option.
* Allowing an extremist, the attorney general of South Carolina who was
prosecuting the five men to become the next governor of South Carolina, was
not an option.
That is why on every account we did not lose. We won.
* Losing was not an option. It was taken off of the table from day one.
* We retained the work for our members.
* All five of our men facing jail time were set free.
* We successfully defended our union and our members against the lawsuit.
* We defeated our attorney general (a want to be governor) in the
primaries, in his quest for the governor's mansion.
Losing was not an option, winning was a must.
But, How Will We Continue to Win in the Future?
Let me say this, and this maybe controversial, and it may draw a whole lot
of criticism, I don't care. But this is how I see it and how I believe
things must change if we are going to be successful. Several years ago, the
AFL-CIO and all of the labor movement made a conscious decision to become
more politically involved. Political Action Funds were established in every
international union and in locals throughout the country. Millions of
dollars were being raised, political offices were being set up in
Washington, legislative directors and other staffs members were being hired
to lobby on Capitol Hill. Finally, were going to have a seat at the
table. Our presence as an organized workforce was going to be felt, and it
Labor friendly candidates and those posing to be labor friendly began to
solicit contributions from labor's war chest. We had their attention. We
were now a part of the political main stream.
But you know what, those who support us were not the only ones who
recognized that the unions had become politically savvy. The corporations
noticed, the right wing legislators noticed and how did they respond? This
well greased and well-funded machine simply turned up the rpm, they turned
up the heat against the unions. They began to introduce legislation and
amendment to existing legislation that made it extremely difficult to raise
pact funds, union dues, and any other assessment, and they pushed for
strict enforcement. The national right to work foundation along with other
anti-union organization cranked out more anti-union propaganda and began to
funnel more and more dollars to corporations and bosses facing key
organizing drives. Needless to say, the defeats have been devastating. So
where has all of this left us?
After years of political activism and political spending, we have very
little to show for it.
* The decline in union membership is alarming.
* Free trade agreements are wiping out unionized plants.
* The Government in almost every state in America is privatizing
departments, and eliminating thousands of good public sector union jobs.
* The health care system for our workers, their families, and our retirees
* Pension funds and retirement accounts are being robbed and stolen by
corporate insiders and what funds are left are (were) devastated
(decimated) by a declining stock market.
* The public school system is in crisis and is failing miserably.
So, when it comes to issues affecting working people and their families,
what have our political dollars gotten us? What has been the rate of
return? What have we gained? Where are the dividends?
If you or I had invested our hard earn dollars in banks or in the stock
market, and had gotten the rate of return that we have gotten out of
Washington on our political dollars, everyone of us would have pulled every
dollar out of those institutions and seek other investments immediately.
Diversification, re-allocation is what I'm advocating for the AFL-CIO and
all of organized labor. We must reduce our political spending and direct
our funds towards uniting workers, their families, their churches, and
their organizations: unite the forces of resistance. More of our funds,
more of our investments must be directed towards building a people
movement; first in this country and abroad. We must say to the AFL-CIO and
to the International unions: "Spend our monies on people, invest in people,
and build a people's movement."
Build a people's revolution. After all people vote, dollars do not. And if
that is true, then we must build the movement, build the votes, and I
guarantee you the politicians will seek your votes ten times more than they
ever sought your dollars. It's not difficult to figure out that the union
dollars are no match for the corporate dollars. But the corporate dollar is
not match for the votes of the working class. Educate them, show them that
the only hope for any of us is through the collective strength of all of us.
Finally, while we push towards this new revolution that I envision - and
while we turn up our efforts to unite all workers, I know we can still win
many of our individual struggles like the ones you all are facing. If you
want to win, take losing off of the table.
Here Is What You Must Do
1. Do your research and then research some more. Find out who owns who? Who
supplies who? Who produce what? Who consumes what? Who loads what? Who
transport what? Connect the dots. Draw the lines. Find the weak points and
the areas of vulnerability.
2. Plan and then plan some more. What buttons are there to push? Which ones
do we push and when?
3. Organize and then organize some more. Recruit and surround yourself with
the best, and with the willing: those who know how to get things done and
are willing to get it done. Recognize everyone's strength and all their
weaknesses. Then delegate and issue assignments accordingly. And by all
means follow up and follow up frequently. Accountability is crucial.
4. Generating the resources; every struggle has a cost. And every dollar
counts. Get out and market your struggle. Tell your story, sell your story
and the people will respond.
5. Most importantly Leadership - The leadership must be determined. They
must have internalize the struggle and be totally convince that winning is
not only possible but inevitable. If the leadership is not convinced, no
one else will be. If there is an element of doubt, it will sweep over the
membership like a wildfire and all hope will be consumed. The leadership
must stay out front leading the way, even when they themselves are not sure
what's around the corner. Lead by example and make the sacrifice. Others
will take notice and be inclined to make the sacrifices as well.
In conclusion, we must win, you must win. Why, because we simply cannot
afford to lose. Losing is not an option.
A willingness to fight is one thing,
And fighting is another thing.
But knowing how to fight and win is the Better Thing.
Lets Fight To Win