LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Don't Bash Unions
John Buell wrote some wicked criticisms of the U.S. labor movement into
his piece, "Unions Face Globalized Workplace" [9/98 Progressive
Populist]. I don't know where John Buell is coming from, but parts of
his article could have been lifted from the far right-wing reactionary press,
i.e., "(U)nion leadership itself, often bureaucratic and insulated
from the concerns of most shop floor workers." These kind of statements
are made by antiunion corporate types, or arrogant, insulated liberals.
Some leftists in this country have an infuriating tendency, which runs through
most of Buell's piece, of disdain for US labor unions and their leadership
combined with praise and respect for unions in other countries. US unions
are dupes, company lackeys, while foreign unions are militant and progressive.
I'm reminded of the support Reagan and Bush had for Solidarnosc, while firing
PATCO and encouraging union busting in this country. How can Buell or anybody
else blithely ignore Walter Reuther's support for civil rights, Owen Bieber's
outspoken support for the struggle against apartheid, William Wimpsingers'
vocal opposition to nuclear arms? It's been the US labor movement that is
leading the fight against global trade agreements that drive wages down
and ravage the Earth, not the Honda and brie academic-based liberals.
Buell does, on the other hand, serve accolades to "shop floor dissidents"
who have responded to corporatism with "social movement unionism."
Who are these dissidents? The top leadership of industrial unions have been
practicing social movement unionism for years, supporting progressive politics,
civil rights, the ERA, a clean environment, etc. Of course, if you accept
the idea that the leadership is out of touch, then any good that comes from
the labor movement must be from "dissidents." Phooey. It wasn't
dissidents that took on GM in Flint, it was the entire UAW, from President
Stephen Yokich and Vice President Richard Shoemaker, down to the Ford workers
throughout southeast Michigan who raised thousands of dollars for the strikers.
It isn't dissidents that are in Mexico, helping to organize real, independent
trade unions, but main stream trade unionists. It isn't dissidents that
have pledged nearly a third of their unions' resources to organizing new
workers, especially minorities and women, it is the top leadership of the
good old AFL-CIO.
Leave union bashing to the right wing. Lord knows they do enough of it.
In fact, one would think that all progressives would find some common bonds
with labor leaders, given their common enemies.
UAW Local 892
I'd be the last person to argue that American workers would be better off
without unions. Nonetheless, union density today stands at about a third
of its post World War II peak and union influence even within the Democratic
Party is badly diminished. If this sorry state is solely a consequence of
corporate power and conservative ruthlessness, perhaps we should all just
sow our own gardens and prepare for a long winter. I believe the relative
powerlessness of labor and the left owes at least something to mistakes
we have made.
Walter Reuther surely was not Jimmy Hoffa. Reuther's contributions to building
a U.S. welfare state are justly celebrated. But even Reuther, like any political
leader or political journalist, was not above reproach. His fight for civil
rights nationally was never matched by equivalent efforts to diversify UAW
leadership or extend more of the best auto industry jobs to African American
The post-war union movement had several major inadequacies. As Daniel Cantor
and Juliet Schor detail in Tunnel Vision, the AFL-CIO leadership worked
with the CIA to quash left-leaning unionism abroad. In the process, labor
leadership ironically laid the foundation for much of today's capital flight.
Secondly, labor leadership in the fifties largely jettisoned earlier labor
activism in such causes as shortening the work day and giving workers more
direct control over the pace and nature of their jobs. Thomas Sugrue award
winning book, The Origins of the Urban Crisis, gives an interesting
perspective on this. In the early fifties, workers at UAW local 600, Ford's
giant River Rouge facility, recognized that deindustrialization was a threat
to all workers. And they knew that shortening hours through curbs on overtime
would create more jobs and improve the quality of life for all. But Walter
Reuther and the UAW leadership had systematically purged left elements in
the union. Reuther insisted the union focus on organizing workers in the
new rural locations and seek continual wage growth rather than hours reduction.
With tacit support from company and government, his case carried the day,
especially in a climate poisoned by McCarthyism.
Throughout the eighties and early nineties, much of the leadership of industrial
unions has been resistant to rank and file concerns regarding overly long
working hours. Readers interested in this story should consult the excellent
monthly publication, Labor Notes. Failure to address these concerns
has limited the appeal of unionism, especially to many women and environmentalists.
The splits between labor and the new social movements--from which the left
suffers today--have complex causes and are surely not the fault solely of
labor. Nonetheless, labor leadership plays some role in opening these schisms.
Thirdly, the lack of full democratic accountability within many unions contributes
both to their unresponsiveness to many qualitative concerns and their inability
to broaden their base. The UAW still elects its officers at its conventions
rather than by direct membership vote. The lack of internal union democracy
and procedural protections for union dissidents within many unions-- also
detailed by Labor Notes-- is more than a moral scandal. It often
saps unions of vital idealism and of an energized rank and file needed if
the union base is to grow. Treating all who criticize current union leadership
as though they are tools of Reagan, Bush, and the corporate establishment
hardly contributes to informed debate and is only likely to further diminish
That was an excellent article in the [11/98 Progressive Populist]
on Winner Take All. It was the clearest explanation of all the speculation
of why so many voters say "my vote doesn't count". They seem to
have understood all along that they were living in a neighborhood that was
heavily "other party".
A more interesting statistic, if you could get it, would be on how many
of those House elections that were "up for grabs" had an element
of a third party candidate as part of the election. My reading of third
party groups is that nearly all of them are to the left of the Democratic
party. Where the Democratic party used to be, or could more easily be--so
to speak. Making suggestions of proportional representation would only exacerbate
that problem, and at best would achieve tokenism as a result of victories.
It probably wouldn't even achieve a compromised coalition government such
as happened in Germany.
The Ballot Access News in March indicated that New Mexico almost
got their "instant run off" bill out of committee but for the
absence of one favorable senator. The "instant run off" type of
election would permit all supporters of third party candidates to cast their
vote for their preference and not lose their opportunity to vote against
the party that they want to make sure doesn't win.
This system worked so well in Northern Ireland last Spring, it's hard to
believe that not all newspapers are picking up on it and doing a story on
it. I sure hope you take the opportunity to follow the progress of this
next evolution of our democratic process in future articles.
Eugene, OR 97403
Bad Choices in Washington
Jim Cullen writes [in "Monopoly Hard to Beat in Politics," 11/98
"Patty Murray, 'the mom in tennis shoes,' as it turns out, treads a
reliably progressive path through the halls of the Senate. Her key issues
are education, the environment, and a woman's right to choose. Murray has
written legislation which would reduce class size, increase training for
teachers, and give parents time to attend activities at their childrenís
schools. While Murray's pollsters show her with a lead, the right wing is
lined solidly behind opponent Republican Rep. Linda Smith."
Look a little deeper and you will see that Patty Murray is a corporate stooge,
and she's as dumb as a mud fence. Consequently, she is rolling in corporate
campaign contributions and establishment endorsements. She does look faintly
progressive on a few issues which do not seriously challenge corporate power.
And she will probably win. But she will not get my vote. I am tired of the
Her opponent, Linda Smith, is actually more of a populist. She is the only
member of the Washington congressional delegation to vote against NAFTA,
one of only two who voted against MFN for China. She has been an outspoken
advocate of campaign finance reform, and has pissed off the GOP leadership
as a result.
However, she is a right-wing populist, with a large following of bible-
thumpers, liberal-bashers, privateers & buccaneers and rednecks. And
she has a special talent for grossing out the urban sophisticates in the
Seattle area. The latter are doing well economically and are in a deep political
sleep. Under these very transient conditions, the shallow economics-avoiding
progressivism of Patty Murray will be enough for her to win.
I am not going to vote for either candidate. And I'm sorry to read that
Jim Cullen has endorsed one of them.
Looking for Progressives
I have recently been re-elected, after an 8 year hiatus, to the Arkansas
General Assembly. I am seeking other "progressive" or "liberal"
activists in office as well as examples of progressive state legislation
that might be passed on to other states.
JIM LENDALL, RN,
Ark. State Representative
10625 Legion Hut Rd.
Mabelvale, AR 72103
Perhaps this publication can address a problem that has vexed me for years.
Why do we have such a myriad of consumer-oriented fledgling parties--Labor
Party, New Party, Working Families Party, Green Party, etc etc.?
We have one basic objective, to protect ourselves from the predator corporate
conglomerates; "we" being labor, farmers, environmentalists--consumers
all. Better-paid workers will buy more organic foods; farmers who get a
fair share of the price for their product, rather than disproportionate
shares to the processors and distributors--which will lower the price we
pay--will buy more manufactured goods. Make the corporate structure pay
when they despoil our environment.
These basic objectives are attainable if we unite as one. Nothing is attainable
if we pursue individual parochial goals.
United we stand, divided we fall.
Spring Valley, N.Y. 10977
Look Out For Nursing Care
I hope the Labor Party's platform plank demanding "comprehensive, universal,
single-payer health care" ["'Party Time' for Labor," 11/98
Progressive Populist], which I heartily endorse, includes long-term
nursing care for the elderly or disabled. Millions of American families
are faced with the spectre of being emotionally and financially wiped out
when a loved one must be cared for in this way.
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