Response to AFL-CIO Restructuring Proposals 2004-2005
By: Larry Shoup National Writers Union, UAW 1981
The SEIU's "Unite to Win" and other proposals, together with
President Sweeney's encouragement of new ideas, has stimulated a wide
and far reaching discussion on the renovation of the labor movement.
What follows is an analysis and suggestions about the future
direction the labor movement by a rank and file unionist and delegate
to the Central Labor Council of Alameda County. This and other
proposals were discussed by this labor council at its December 20,
1. Any assessment of where we go from here implies an analysis of
where we are now. What time is it economically/socially,
politically, and environmentally?
Economically/socially -- One-half of the world's people live on
$2/day or less, and nearly 1 billion people worldwide are
underemployed or unemployed. an equal number of the world's chlidren
live in poverty. In the U.S. real wages are now significantly lower
than in 1973. This decline is unprecedented in U.S. history. The
share of national income going to wages and salaries is now at the
lowest level since such statistics began to be recorded in 1929.
After tax corporate profits are at the highest level in 75 years.
The top one percent of the U.S. population owns and controls 40% of
the national wealth, the top 10% controls 73%, and the bottom 60%
controls only 5%. Over 45 million U.S. workers, (1/3 of the total)
do not make a living wage (ie. make under $10/hour). Average
workers' take home pay is $517/week, the average take home pay of a
CEO of a large corporation is $155,769/week. Leading economists are
talking of a coming "economic armageddon" and "financial
catastrophe." Can anyone doubt that Bush and his cronies, with help
from many Democrats, are leading us towards an economic and social
disaster and that we, the working class, will be the ones to pay the
Politically -- In the U.S. we have one corporate party with two
heads, and a gerrymandered winner take all electoral system that
discourages both political participation and other voices from being
heard. At the national level the mainly middle of the road Democrats
are slightly better than the far right Republicans, but they are
nowhere near an adequate expression of current working class needs.
Because the Democrats will not forcefully raise working class issues
(to cite only one example, their wage proposal in the 2004 election
was $7 an hour), the national political dialogue is impoverished and
drifts to the right and towards full blown fascism (a number of
fascist like aspects such as the corporate state, racism and
scapegoating, torture, murder and other totalitarian methods,
government lawlessness and preventative war are already in place).
The national Democratic party will never be able to win as long as
it is controlled by the corporate connected Democratic Leadership
Council, and there is no sign that this will change anytime soon.
Environmentally -- Our ecology -- the land, water, air and various
natural processes-- support all life on earth. The human economy is
inseparably interconnected with these fundamentals, yet today
virtually all of the earth's ecosystems are threatened. To cite just
one example, scientists warn that a 60-80% reduction in greenhouse
gas emissions below 1990 levels in the next few decades is needed to
avoid catastrophic environmental effects, including rising sea
levels, flooding islands and coastal regions, droughts and
desertification, extreme weather events, loss of food crops and
resulting starvation, accelerated species extinction, etc. Yet the
U.S. government is doing almost nothing to deal with this looming
2. What is the real nature of the political/economic/social system
which has created these results? Who rules this system and what
motivates their behavior?
A globalizing capitalist market system now dominates the
earth, its sole goal is the liberation of capitalist property from
all political, economic, social and ecological restraints so it can
endlessly accumulate more wealth for those already wealthy. This
system can be labeled "hyper-capitalism,"a cancer-like system in
which privatization and commodification of everything are
accelerating, makeing every human activity conform to market laws so
that capital accumulation can continue. The resulting competitive
total market system is a kind of war which excludes millions of
people from the material conditions needed to sustain life. Billions
of others are grossly exploited. It also destroys the ecological
foundations of life by breaking apart ecologies both natural and
human, so that profit can be gained from the isolated parts. There
is no obligation or desire to sustain life in this system, only to
sustain capital. Attempts to privatize and control our
environmental commons -- water, seeds, plants, animals, human genes,
etc. -- are also now underway. Capital also takes over the state and
makes government its pawn. Democracy is destroyed and military
imperialism is used to conquer other nations and force the private
market system on them. This creates a culture of hopelessness
("there is no alternative"). No group having access to the mass
media or a chance at power is offering a viable alternative project
in the U.S.. Despair produced by the system is at the heart of the
current suicidal cycle of terrorism and counter terrorism now
becoming common in the world. Iraq today is an example; the U.S.
government has tried to create a utopia for the capitalist
corporation there, but has instead created a hurricane of hatred and
resistance. The terrorism of corporate globalization has created a
counter terrorism which is simply the other side of the coin of
capitalist property accumulation. At the same time, U.S. workers are
made less secure, industrial jobs leave the country for low paying
parts of the world, unions and union jobs are lost. The corporate
leaders who run the system must produce profits/accumulation or they
will be tossed aside, making reasonableness and compromise in dealing
with workers unlikely.
3. What is the alternative to this system? What should be the goals
of the labor and allied movements?
In this situation labor's immediate goal should be to help
organize and lead the needed movement against the globalized
corporate capitalist system in order to create real democracy. The
rank and file demands of the recent Million Worker March are an
example of a transitional program to work towards (see the MWM
demands on the last page). We also need a new and more democratic
electoral system, based -- as is the case in the overwhelming
majority of the world's democracies -- on proportional representation
and choice voting/instant runoff voting. The long term goal should
be the economic, political, social and cultural restructuring of our
society according to the logic of equality and solidarity, the
survival of all. The central value must be the promotion of full
democracy and the common good; the creation of conditions sustaining
the life of all people and the earth. Ownership of productive
property must be related to the future of life and the community, not
for endless accumulation. Workers/producers must be at the center of
this needed revolution, as protagonists, not as objects. Another
world is both necessary and possible.
4. Organization, strategy and tactics -- What organizational forms,
strategic and tactical approaches are best suited to the situation
and tasks before us?
Trade unionism is a democratic people's movement, not a
business. Therefore member education and mobilization, along with
solidarity and community support are central, to militantly confront
attempts to destroy unions and cripple the working class. Corporate
rulers want near totalitarian dominance and try to impose their class
interest on us every day; they practice the class struggle from
above. Meanwhile, the leadership of the U.S. labor movement has
pursued a policy of compromise -- reformist unionism allied with a
Democratic party which often proposes a gentler version of the
Republican corporate ruling class agenda. This policy has failed and
is at a dead end because it cannot address the class needs of working
people. But our union movement has a rich history and experience
with a different kind of unionism -- class struggle/solidarity
unionism, which was last dominant in the 1930s and whose banner "An
Injury to One is an Injury to All" is still being carried by some
unions. This is the kind of fighting unionism we now need. If we
organize the entire working class to engage in militant tactics when
appropriate, sponsor electoral reforms so that political parties that
fully reflects workers interests become viable, and develop
connections with potential allies such as social movements,
progressive churches, the unorganized and unemployed, left groups,
the anti-war movement, environmentalists, youth, etc. we can
transform the bleak situation we now face. The right wing in this
country has taken power over the past 30 years by persistently
articulating its principles and message, despite the fact that they
have very little to offer to the people. We have much to offer; we
should not despair or needlessly compromise.
We need to organize at the base of the society to build a new
economic/political/social alignment and involve the rank and file in
their own liberation. Top down restructuring schemes, mirroring the
bosses mergers, is not the solution. The Stern plan concentrates
resources into the hands of a few leaders and does not propose the
broad range of changes we now need. Militant unionism speaking and
acting in its own name and for its class interests must exist at the
rank and file level or it does not exist. Leaders should encourage
bottom up structures, mass participation and initiatives from the
base. We need a number of special meetings to discuss and decide on
these key questions; one meeting is not enough. The Regional Labor
Federation proposal stressing strategic organizing plans is a good
one, if these plans and the leadership to carry them out come out of
a bottom up democratic process. This effort could be combined with a
network of community based organizing centers where we partner with
our community allies to educate and organize the working class and
help lead it in the defense of working peoples' rights and interests,
fighting for and winning a real democracy, a new society based on
equality, solidarity and social justice.
The Demands of the Million Worker March
We Seek to Secure:
- Universal single-care health care from cradle to grave that ends
the stranglehold of greedy insurance companies and secures health
care as a right of all people in America.
- A national living wage that lifts people permanently out of poverty.
- Protection and enhancement of Social Security immune to privatization.
- Guaranteed pensions that sustain a decent life for all working people.
- The cancellation of all corporate "free" trade agreements,
including NAFTA, MAI and FTAA.
- An end to privatization, contracting out, deregulation and the
pitting of workers against each other across national boundaries in a
mad race to the bottom.
- For workers' right to organize and for a repeal of Taft Hartley and
all anti-labor legislation.
- Funding public education in a crash program to restore our decaying
and abandoned schools with state of the art school facilities in
- Funding a vast army of teachers to end functional illiteracy in
America and unleash the talent and potential of our abandoned
children and adults.
- Launching a national training program in skills and capacities that
will enlist our people in rebuilding our country and putting an end
to both the criminalization of poverty and the prison-industrial
- Rebuilding our decaying inner cities with clean, modern and
affordable housing and eliminating homelessness in America with
guaranteed housing and jobs for all.
- Progressive taxation that increases taxation on corporations and
the rich while providing relief for the working class and poor.
- An end to the poisoning of the atmosphere, soil, water and food
supply with a national emergency program to restore the environment,
end global warming and preserve our endangered eco-system.
- Creating efficient, modern and free mass transit in every city and town.
- Repeal of the Patriot Act, Anti-Terrorism Act and all such
- Slash the military budget and recover the trillions of dollars
stolen from our labor to enrich the corporations that profit from war.
- Open the books on the secret budgets of the Pentagon and the
intelligence agencies in the service of corporations and banks and
the pursuit of imperial war on the poor everywhere.
- Extend democracy to our economic structure so that all decisions
affecting the lives of our citizens are made by working people who
produce all value through their labor.
- An aggressive enforcement of all civil rights and a national
education campaign and mobilization against all racist and
discriminatory acts in the work place and in our communities.
- Amnesty for all undocumented workers
- Increase in federal funding for the Arts in public schools
- For a democratic media that allow labor and all voices to be heard
and oppose monopolization and union busting of media workers.