Promises, Promises & The Change To Win
CTW Founding Convention
"Organizing Without A Political Agenda and a Plan to Mobilize the Membership"
by Steve Zeltzer
DECLARING THAT THIS WAS a "new beginning", the launching of the Change to Win Federation took place on September 27, 2005 in St. Louis. The new grouping consists of the SEIU, Teamsters, Laborers, UFCW, UBC and UFWA. It
has a membership of nearly 5.4 million workers. The new federation was formed after these unions had failed to remove John Sweeney from the presidency of the AFL-CIO at ' July 2005 convention in Chicago.
About 450 delegates and 500 guests attended the convention. It was an orchestrated, tightly controlled meeting, with nearly every delegate at the podium reading from a prepared script that was approved by the leadership. Arguing that the focus of the new federation was "the coordination of bargaining and organizing within sectors and between affiliates", the newly elected president, former SEIU Secretary Treasurer Anna Burger, along with Secretary Treasurer (UNITE-HERE leader) Edgar Romney, declared that this would not be a top-heavy trade union organization, but rather an executive committee basically following decisions of the top officers of the founding unions.
While trade union activists who are involved in organizing campaigns were scripted into the agenda, the leadership of the CTW had very little to offer as to how it would confront the general political attack facing labor - from the use of bankruptcy laws to terminate pensions and benef', to the deregulation and privatization of the entire economy and more of the federal, state and local governments.
The CTW founding convention, according to statements made by SEIU president Andy Stern, was also supposed to encompass 50% rank and file delegates and be the most democratic trade union federation in the country. Instead, most of the delegates were appointed by the International presidents.
The United Brotherhood of Carpenters had only 18 delegates, all of whom were paid staff. For the most part, very few rank and file workers and even officials from some internationals had either input or knowledge about the convention.
This new grouping represents in fact a top down business/corporate approach to the political and social crisis facing organized labor and the working class as a whole. The rank and file are told by their leadership that this is what is necessary to confront the new problems, but they (the rank and file) have no role in discussing what the structure and policies of this new federation should be.
The CTW structure, according to their own literature, will not be like the AFL-CIO, but would consist of an executive committee, composed of the chair and treasurer, to coordinate with strategic planning committees on organizing campaigns.
This structure of the CTW or "Leadership Council" would include the presidents of the international unions, who would make all the decisions, including appointing three at-large members selected by the unions to
Tom Woodruff, who is Executive Vice President of the SEIU, gave his standard stand-up comedy routine with a multi-media overview of the state of organized labor. His slick slide show is about the de-unionization of the US and the industries that CTW must focus on. Woodruff laid out how industry after industry is ripe for organizing, but he failed to explain how this could be done, what with growing attacks on those workers who were already organized and under assault.
There was also nothing in his charts about the plan to counter the ideological and political media barrage that working people face every day on the job and in the community. The new federation has no plans for either a radio or TV channel that would help it's campaign to organize the unorganized.
Despite ' refusal to use radio and TV to help organize, CTW did not overlook the opportunity to launch corporate style branding and image-making, with the distribution to convention delegates of bags emblazoned with the slogan "New Hope For Workers, Founding Convention of the CTW" and video clips were peppered throughout the convention for the delegates. Bumper stickers and buttons can't be far behind, and no doubt the occasional advertising blitz as well, but don't expect any regular media programming with interviews and footage that would bring the stories of real life rank and filers into viewers' living rooms or onto their radios.
In between speeches of the International presidents' member unions, newly
organized workers and workers in the midst of organizing drives made speeches. These included workers from DHL, CINTAS, Smithfield Foods, and SEIU Janitors in Houston.
The growing anger and crisis within the organized labor movement is a reflection of '' political and economic paralysis. Worker after worker at the convention told about being harassed and threatened, and of their continuing battle to organize and defend their unions. They all pleaded for more support and backing in their struggles.
UNITE-HERE members from Las Vegas talked about how they have set up training centers to establish workers' assistance centers at Gulf Coast casinos.
While LIUNA international president Terence O'Sullivan railed against the
politicians and racism in the Gulf Coast crisis, and proposed setting up training centers and workers' centers throughout the region, and a Gulf Coast Action Plan was adopted, he did not call for any action against the attacks by the Bush administration and it's anti-labor edicts after the Gulf Coast catastrophe:
"Our commitment to each other is our common belief that there is only one option. To organize every worker in this country. We will not face nor tolerate the slow death that many unions in this country have accepted. We're what true solidarity is all about. As I heard and you've heard many times over, an injury to one is in fact an injury to all. And any son of a bitch that gets in Change to Win's way, any union that belongs to this, any worker, we will stand side by side, we will stand soldier to soldier and take everyone if that's what it takes to win our cause and win for working families. Our commitment is to all the CTW unions, particularly within the construction industry with Doug McCarron in the Carpenters Union and Jimmy Hoffa in the Teamsters. If somebody tries to take you on they are going to have to go through the Laborer's International Union."
His greatest anger was directed not against the Bush administration but against other unions that might raid members of the CTW. Even though he mentioned that the Bush administration has cancelled the Davis-Bacon Act and gutted OSHA and other protections for workers, there was no call for action against Bush. Instead, the focus was on helping workers to get training. Workers on reconstruction efforts in the Gulf states won't even get needed scale wages thanks to revocation of Davis-Bacon.
Teamster president James Hoffa, when questioned about the NWA striking Mechanics, offered his verbal support but very little else. "We're very sorry about those people being on strike. We hope they get what they have coming and we hope they are successful in their strike." When asked what concrete
support the Teamsters would provide, he said "We're talking about it right now and will continue to talk about it."
While some of the speakers harked back to the union organizing campaigns of the 1930's when the CIO was constructed there was no plan to mobilize the millions of members of the CTW coalition. The mass mobilization of the working class during the 1930's was the decisive factor with general strikes, occupations and mass pickets that led to the successful organization of tens of millions of workers. This was clearly absent from the agenda of the Change To Win grouping. Tied to this was the hunger for more labor-management collaboration deals. Speaker after speaker lamented that the capitalists and their corporations were unwilling to have more labor management deals.
Despite the growing health insurance crisis in the US and the collapsing healthcare structure, not one union called for single payer healthcare, nor for a national political campaign and the elimination of the insurance companies' control of the healthcare industry. Although there was talk about the healthcare crisis no action was put forward to deal with it. At the same time, Unite-HERE and LIUNA in a resolution did call for full support for the union-run insurance company ULLICO and the UNITE-HERE owned bank Amalgamated.
The lack of any serious political analysis of the systemic problems of capitalism of the need for a democratic labor party with a program for working people and against war was notably absent from the convention. While Sullivan and other presidents railed against the politicians, they offered no plan to provide an alternative. McCarron of the UBC made the point that this new federation did not need anything else other than union organizing plans. When the chart went up on a slide show by Tom Woodruff on how much organizing had been done by the UBC, it's numbers had actually decreased.
Unlike the AFL-CIO's 2005 convention, CTW's founding convention was silent on the war in Iraq. When President Burger was asked at a press conference whether the CTW would take a position on the war, she replied that many of the Internationals had already taken positions on the war and that there was no need for the CTW to take a position.
There was also no statement on the use of bankruptcy laws to terminate pension plans, no statement on the need to fight deregulation and not a word on the need to stop the growing privatization drive by Bush, Congress and elected officials and politicians throughout the country.
But like the AFL-CIO, the CTW has itself been unable to defend the workers who are already organized. SEIU members all over the U.S. have taken pay cuts and privatization and these attacks continue unabated.
In St. Louis, where the convention was held, 22% of workers are presently organized yet they are under a frontal attack.
Since May 22, 2005, 36 truck drivers, members of Teamster Local 600 in St. Louis, have been striking the Lohr Distributing Co., the major distributor of A-H products in the city of St. Louis. St. Louis Anheuser-Busch workers who produce Budweiser beer are also represented by Teamsters. The officialdom of the CTW coalition showed no interest in supporting these workers on the picket lines who were struggling in the very city where they were convening their convention. The only action taken was to pressure the hotel not to serve Budweiser and this was even challenged by A-H legally as a violation of the law.
"We're not asking for the moon and the stars, we're just asking for a fair contract," Teamsters Local 600 President Dan McKay said after a press conference. Company president "Ron Lohr has seen fit to take a position that he wants us to deliver two cases of beer and get paid for one."
According to the St. Louis Post Dispatch of 9/28/2005
"Though the Teamsters want to end the strike, the members aren't ready to yield. Two weeks ago, union members rejected a contract proposal that the Teamsters said was unchanged from an earlier one Lohr had presented to them in May."
Lohr, only weeks after the convention, fired the striking Teamsters. This showed exactly what even the union busters in St. Louis thought about the promises of this new federaton. The CTW, and even the regional Teamsters, despite this brazen attack, have refused to mobilize their members to shut the union buster down.
The failure to mobilize the teamsters in St. Louis, much less the rest of the CTW membership has led to further isolation of the strike.
Another one of the key battles taking place in St. Louis is the fight against privatization of the schools. According to a local labor activist,
"The root of the problem with the SEIU here is that they placed their relationships with politicians ahead of serving their members. The state council here used to be headed up by Grant Williams, a former ACORN organizer who got into the SEIU by way of ACORN's SEIU local and rose to become an international vice president. His strategy was to campaign heavily for certain Democratic politicians and rely on them to hand him members. In 2000 he backed Bob Holden, who won the race for governor. One of Holden's first acts was to sign an executive order granting the SEIU the right to have agency fees automatically deducted from the checks of state workers. After that, Williams had to keep backing Holden's camp in order to defend the executive order. Williams also tied SEIU to Missouri Pro-Vote, a 'progressive' Democratic Party organization run by his brother-in-law.
In 2002, the Democratic mayor of St. Louis, a Holden backer, decided to take over the school board. The four people he selected where very clear they would privatize many of the jobs, but the state SEIU backed them anyway, even though the local union claimed to have only one concern: privatization.
After the election, there was a movement to have all the unions stand together (AFT, SEIU, and various building trades unions) to combat privatization plans and demands for concessions. The SEIU broke ranks first (and over the opposition of many of ' members), agreeing to a $3/hr cut in custodians' wages, cuts in jobs, cuts in health insurance and pension benef', and privatization of food service workers, in returning for keeping the remaining custodians on the school board's payroll. Public employees don't have the right to strike in Missouri (technically they don't even have the right to bargain). The logical stance for the union should have been 'no concessions, privatize our jobs and we'll strike.' The board took the SEIU's offer, then tried to privatize all the building trades jobs. The stationary engineers went on strike for two days and won a 5-year agreement to keep their jobs.
The SEIU folds the custodian's local into the local run by Grant Williams (Local 2000), who calls a meeting of the custodians to tell them that if any of them try to fight to keep their jobs in the school system, they will not get any support from the union. 2004, Williams loses big on his political gamble. Despite working full time to get Holden re-elected, his candidate loses in the primary. Miffed, Holden's supporters withhold support from the Democratic candidate and an extremely conservative Republican takes the governor's mansion. One of his
first acts is to cancel the executive order allowing unions to collect agency fees from state workers. The SEIU then reassigns Williams to a position in England. 2005, the school board decides to break ' agreements with the SEIU and the stationary engineers (IUOE). SEIU caves first, agreeing to outsource their jobs, reduce the school board's pension contributions, and agreeing not to strike. The stationary engineers are then privatized without an agreement. They are campaigning to get their jobs back. The state SEIU wants to back more of the mayor's candidates for school board, but the membership objects. The union ends up staying neutral. A new leadership has emerged in SEIU Local 2000 since then, and they've repudiated acts of the past leadership. The president is someone who rose from the ranks, the new public employees director is a former activist from New Directions in the UAW. The state political director, however, is a holdover from Williams' team."
The promises that this new federation will "be the coordination of bargaining and organizing within sectors and between affiliates" seems to be ringing hollow also around the country. At the convention, President Sal Rosselli of SEIU UHW, which represents 140,000 workers in healthcare throughout California, spoke about the need to support striking Sutter Hospital workers on strike in San Francisco. They have faced an international mercenary union busting firm called the Steele Foundation. Using goons and ex-mercenaries from Iraq this firm publicizes itself as getting the job done for union fights.
Also weeks after the CTW convention, SEIU UHW healthcare women workers were beaten up on the picket line but no call went out to the CTW members to mobilize to shut down this criminal operation. In fact even members in other SEIU locals were not aware of what was going on at the picket line at Sutter. With nearly 200,000 workers in California without a contract or out on strike, the question of what the CTW is going to do is immediately on the agenda. The majority of these workers are members of the SEIU's UNITE-HERE, but there has yet to be even a report back to these workers about CTW much less a plan of action to win their battles.
One delegate at the end of the convention lamented that she would now have to go back to the rank and file and give another pitch about how things were changing and the CTW would bring that change. From the sounds of her words however, she didn't believe it and she did not believe her fellow members would believe it.
It is clear already that CTW's slogan that it will be a "New Hope For Workers" is just so much sloganeering .