The working class in the United States is entering a head-on conflict with the AFL-CIO union bureaucracy, which is doing all it can to block the development of the biggest wave of strikes in decades.
Tomorrow, the United Auto Workers union forces 10,100 striking John Deere workers to vote on a six-year deal that is the same or even worse than the proposal workers rejected on November 2. Deere has announced that the contract is its “last, best and final offer,” and the UAW is functioning as its executor.
Faced with militant resistance from workers, who 90% rejected the first contract backed by the UAW in mid-October, the UAW is pulling all the dirty tricks out of its bag. This includes the attempt to divide the 3,100 workers at Deere factories in Waterloo, Iowa – the center of the opposition – by holding 12 separate voting sessions, one hour apart, where workers are separated according to their last name.
Announcing the new vote last week, the UAW asserted that it “will support the outcome as determined by our members” just as it has done “throughout the negotiating process.” In fact, the UAW – whose senior officials have been exposed as liars who take bribes and steal workers’ dues money – is dedicated to one thing: enforcing corporate diktats in direct opposition to the will of its members.
The effort to sabotage the month-long strike at Deere follows the strike of 2,900 Volvo Trucks workers in Virginia, who rejected three contracts backed by the UAW before the UAW called for a strike. “re-vote” on the third contract adopted by 17 votes. . The UAW then kept 3,500 Dana auto parts workers at work for a month and a half after voting against a 90% UAW contract, before passing a pro-company contract through lies. and economic blackmail.
It’s not just UAW. Since October 1, there have been at least 40 strikes, involving 28,000 workers in several sectors of the economy. The response of each union to this revolt has been to systematically block new strikes with last-minute agreements imposed by any means necessary.
On Monday, the International Alliance of Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts (IATSE) announced that its two agreements covering 60,000 film and television production workers had been ratified with a very low margin of 50.3% at 49.7%. Workers rejected the basic deal at major Hollywood studios by 50.4 to 49.6 percent, but the IATSE claimed it was passed on the basis of its anti-democratic voting-type system. Electoral college.
Last Friday, the Alliance of Health Care Unions announced a deal to prevent a strike scheduled to start yesterday by 32,000 healthcare workers at Kaiser Permanente hospitals on the west coast. The new deal, which has yet to be voted on, includes increases well below inflation and abandons requirements for safe staffing levels.
At the end of October, the Transport Workers Union announced a last-minute deal to prevent a strike of 5,000 Philadelphia transit workers, and the United Food and Commercial Workers ended a six-week strike of 450 workers in the Heaven Hill Distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky. A new five-year deal was passed at Heaven Hill even though a majority voted against, with the UFCW saying two-thirds of members must vote ânoâ to defeat the contract and continue the strike.
Worst of all, perhaps, are the teacher unions, led by multimillionaires, whose main function over the past year has been to get teachers back to work in unsafe schools. This is helping fuel another deadly wave of the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than a million people in the United States and continues to claim the lives of more than 1,000 people every day.
The resurgence of the class struggle has made clear the true character of the “unions”, which are best described as labor unions – corporatist instruments of management and state dedicated to suppressing working class opposition.
There is no trace of democratic rights in these organizations. In all cases, the operation is the same. Strike authorization votes are ignored. The overwhelmingly rejected contracts are repeatedly presented for a new vote. Often, as in the case of Deere, workers aren’t even allowed to see the entire contract before a vote, but instead are presented with lying âhighlightsâ. When unions decide they can’t prevent a strike, workers stand alone on the picket lines and line up for strike pay at the poverty line.
Leon Trotsky, the founder of the Fourth International, explained in 1937 that the unions should âdefend the incomes of the bourgeoisie against the attacks of the workers; should they lead a fight against strikes, against wage increases, against aid to the unemployed; then we would have a strikebreaker organization, not a union.
This is precisely the role of trade unions today, although one could add, based on the experience of the last two years: “should they facilitate the implementation of a policy which guarantees the death of ‘innumerable of their own members by forcing them to work amid a pandemicâ¦ âThe labor fronts set up by the Nazi regime in Germany would function no differently from the AFL-CIO.
Apologists for the trade union bureaucracy accuse the Socialist Equality Party of “sectarianism” because we insist that workers should not bow to the authority of the corporatist unions, and should instead build new organizations. struggle engaged in the defense of the working class. Promotion of trade unions by the Democratic Socialists of America, Jacobin magazine, Working notes and many other groups is no accident. They defend unions precisely because they serve as the labor police on the working class.
These organizations, which speak for privileged sections of the upper middle class, are aligned with significant sections of the ruling class, led by the Biden administration, who see unions as the last line of defense against a growing wave of anger. of the working class. and opposition. Unless a military-police dictatorship is established, they have very little left. However, it should be added, the existing unions would function with few problems under the conditions of a police state.
The revolt of the working class against the pro-capitalist and nationalist unions is now an undeniable reality. It is also not limited to the United States. In the UK, unions seek to block strike by 1.4 million National Health Service workers; in Germany, IG Metall is complicit in restructuring and job cuts in the automotive industry; and in Sri Lanka, unions are seeking to contain national struggles by educators, healthcare and other public sector workers to demand raises and protection from the pandemic.
The International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI) has long anticipated this reality. Three decades ago, the ICFI concluded that unions could no longer be called âworkers’ organizationsâ. Last May, in response to the role of unions in enforcing the ruling class’s homicidal response to the pandemic, the ICFI launched the formation of the International Alliance of Grassroots Committee Workers (IWA-RFC).
The call for the formation of grassroots committees has received strong echo. Grassroots committees have been established among educators, logistics workers, and auto and parts workers, including workers from Volvo Trucks, Dana and Deere. They created a way for workers to communicate between workplaces, industries and countries, to warn and counter the sabotage of union bureaucracies.
The development of these committees must be extended to all sectors and workplaces, in the United States and the world, and linked to the construction of a political leadership in the working class to introduce into its struggles a socialist program directed against the whole capitalist system.