Workers Vanguard No. 935
24 April 2009
The IG and National Association of Manufacturers Oppose the EFCA
When the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) was introduced again in Congress on March 10, it immediately set off a renewed and widespread backlash from the heads of industry and commerce. For the bosses, the EFCA is anathema because it would ease the rules for government certification of newly organized unions. In an article titled “Playing the Labor Card—Business Looks for Ways to Block ‘Card Check’ Bill,” the Journal of Commerce (30 March) wrote that the EFCA “has triggered an urgent and widespread response from just about every imaginable business group—manufacturers, retailers, transportation providers and others—to erect political roadblocks to a measure they fear could bring lasting changes as important as anything happening in the trading economy.” “Stop the Employee ‘Forced’ Choice Act!” has become the rallying cry of union-busting employer associations that have pooled hundreds of millions of dollars for their anti-EFCA crusade. On the other side, the AFL-CIO and Change to Win union federations are waging a major campaign for the EFCA’s passage. The battle over the EFCA has become a referendum on unionization.
We have a side. Our article, “Why Marxists Support the EFCA” (WV No. 929, 30 January), drew a balance sheet of the proposed legislation:
“Even though it contains an arbitration clause that we oppose, we support the EFCA, as it allows workers to organize and form unions through a streamlined card-check system [majority signing of union authorization cards], bypassing the prolonged balloting process.”
At the same time, we have emphasized that the EFCA would not be a panacea for labor. The success or failure of any unionization campaign will ultimately be determined by class struggle. As we wrote: “To the extent that the EFCA affords the possibility of strengthening the working class by organizing unions, workers should make use of it. But at the same time workers must beware the EFCA’s pitfalls and not rely on it or the capitalist state, which exists to defend the rule and profits of the capitalist class.”
IG Opposes the EFCA
In a couple of recent articles on its Web site, including one titled, “Why Marxists Oppose All Government Intervention in the Unions” (23 February), the centrist Internationalist Group (IG) has made clear its opposition to the EFCA, denouncing our position with typical IG bombast. Yet nowhere in these recent articles does the IG mention that the Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers and almost every major employer association likewise oppose the EFCA.
What really comes through is the IG’s utter disdain for the prospect of increased unionization. In an article on the Obama presidency (23 February) that also touches on the EFCA, the IG blithely dismisses card-check union recognition with the observation, “Canada has a card check law and only 17 percent of the private sector workforce is unionized (as opposed to 7.5 percent in the U.S.).” It takes some chutzpah to sneer at “only” more than doubling union membership! There is no guarantee that the EFCA will pass in its current form or that its passage would result in similar numbers in the U.S., which would amount to 10 million new union workers, but a streamlined “card check” would certainly facilitate union organizing.
Would the IG admit that this might have something to do with why the bosses oppose the EFCA? Employers have a whole “union avoidance” industry, spending $4 billion annually to break up union organizing drives. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the difference in wages and benefits between unionized and non-unionized production workers is $8.41 per hour. This means that maintaining non-union production labor puts an additional $17,500 per worker into the pockets of the exploiters on a yearly basis. For the capitalists, ten million newly organized workers pose the threat of at least $175 billion in reduced annual profits.
Trying to give its opposition to the EFCA a veneer of orthodoxy, the IG claims we are repudiating our historic opposition to government labor boards and implies that we reject our article “California Farm Labor Bill Threatens Right to Strike” (WV No. 128, 8 October 1976). To the contrary, we stand on what we wrote then:
“In short, we oppose all government laws regulating union representation. Only essentially negative laws eliminating legal penalties and obstacles to unionization—for instance, the Norris-La Guardia Act—can be supported. Even then, communists must warn the workers not to place any trust in the bosses’ government.”
The EFCA, with its key “card-check” provision, is just that kind of supportable legislation, effectively eliminating a major union-busting restriction on labor organizing.
Currently, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) oversees a two-step union certification process: card signing followed by elections. Certification elections are commonly drawn out for months or even years (including when Democrats sit on the labor boards), giving the bosses time to intimidate or fire pro-union workers. In its present form, the EFCA would give workers the option of foregoing the second step, making it easier to win NLRB certification. Precisely because of this, with Bush no longer around to blame for the failure to push through the bill, one Democratic “friend of labor” after another has over the last few weeks vacated their “support” for the EFCA as currently written. Politicians like Senators Dianne Feinstein and Tom Harkin are looking to “amend” the EFCA by undermining the card-check provision, thus threatening to gut the proposed legislation.
IG vs. the Trotskyists on the Wagner Act
The IG opens its polemic against us with the claim that the Trotskyists opposed the 1935 Wagner Act. The IG then conflates the creation of an entire corpus of labor law—i.e., the Wagner Act and its NLRB—with the proposed EFCA amendment, arguing that it “slightly modifies but maintains” mechanisms of government control. By its criteria, the IG would also oppose legislation eliminating California’s “three strikes” law if it did not also eliminate the entire state penal code!
In falsely equating the EFCA with the Wagner Act, the IG distorts the Trotskyists’ historical record as well. In our article in support of the EFCA, we qualified the statement from our 1976 WV article that “Trotskyists opposed the Wagner Act as a threat to labor’s ability to strike.” We noted in our recent article, “In fact, as far as we know, the Trotskyists neither explicitly supported nor opposed the Wagner Act.” This brings howls of protest from the IG. But for all its protestations to the contrary, the IG cites no Trotskyist writings on the Wagner Act that contradict the position expressed in the authoritative article by John West (James Burnham) in the October 1935 New International, which we quoted in WV: “Take anything it offers, but never depend on it; depend only on independent class activity.”
The 1935 New Militant articles cited by the IG, written before and after passage of the Wagner bill, are both scathingly critical but do not, in fact, explicitly oppose the bill. Their central thrust was to dispel illusions in this legislation that was touted by AFL leaders as a “Magna Carta” for labor. The latter article warned that the newly created NLRB and other such agencies are concerned only with “preventing strikes or if they break out somehow, ‘settling’ them” and are thus “in effect strike-breaking agencies even under the best conditions.” At the same time, the article also noted that the bill’s passage may create the impression that unionization had government support and thus “stimulate organizing campaigns and strikes.” Indeed, as the Trotskyists predicted, bloody strike battles and union organizing drives increased in the years following passage of the Wagner Act—something the IG fails to mention.
The IG does find historical cothinkers in the Stalinist Communist Party (CP), positively citing a passage opposing the Wagner Act from a 1935 article in the CP’s Daily Worker, written as the CP was coming out of its ultraleft “Third Period”—before swinging sharply to the right, including by supporting the Democratic administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt. As if writing against the IG today, Burnham concluded his 1935 New International article: “The passing of the Wagner Bill was neither a victory for labor, as [AFL head William] Green hails it, nor a defeat, as the Daily Worker insists. Its significance depends on what is done with it. Properly utilized it can play its part in a notable advance.”
Class Struggle vs. Class Collaboration
Most backers of the EFCA, from the pro-capitalist labor bureaucrats to the reformist left, support the arbitration clause in the bill. This is consistent with their strategy of trying to reform the workings of the capitalist state, especially through the agency of the Democratic Party. Instead of fighting at the point of production, they plead hat in hand before Obama and Congressional Democrats. Under the EFCA as it is currently proposed, if a newly certified union hasn’t reached a contract settlement after 90 days of negotiations, the process leading to arbitration could be invoked by either the union or the employer. This would then be followed by at least 30 days of mediation. If no contract is reached by that point, then a government arbitrator would dictate the initial—and only the initial—contract, lasting two years.
The labor skates atop the union federations, with the fake socialists in tow, push the EFCA not as an aid in the struggle to organize the unorganized but as a substitute for that struggle. It was the labor tops who wrote the arbitration clause into the EFCA as a means to “guarantee” a first contract without having to engage in struggle. In fact, workers should not be lulled into thinking that the bosses would not use every means at their disposal against newly organized unions.
The IG falsely claims that union organizing under the EFCA would necessarily result in binding arbitration. That outcome is certainly preferred by the trade-union bureaucrats. But arbitration is not the only course available. As we pointed out in our earlier article on the EFCA, “While the purpose of such a provision is to curtail class struggle, there are no legal prohibitions in the EFCA to prevent strike action during this four-month period.” The IG simply accepts that the political strategy of the pro-capitalist labor tops will always prevail within the unions.
In grasping for arguments against our observation that strike action is possible, the IG brandishes spurious “legal precedent” they claim would turn the EFCA into a “no-strike” law. Sounding like company lawyers, the IG legal eagles cite a 1974 Supreme Court decision involving a contractual arbitration clause and then apply it to newly organized unions that haven’t even negotiated a contract! It is testament to the complete political bankruptcy of the IG that a group that claims to be Marxist cites “legal precedent” against class struggle. For our part, we stand by what we wrote in “Bosses’ Rules—A Losing Game: Labor’s Gotta Play Hardball to Win” (WV No. 349, 2 March 1984), when present-day IG leader Jan Norden was editor of WV:
“No decisive gain of labor was ever won in a courtroom or by an act of Congress. Everything the workers movement has won of value has been achieved by mobilizing the ranks of labor in hard-fought struggle, on the picket lines, in plant occupations
“The entire history of the American labor movement is one long string of laws broken and court injunctions defied. Otherwise there would be no labor movement.”
We oppose on principle all government intervention in the labor movement. But short of workers revolution the capitalist government is going to intervene in the class struggle on a daily basis. The question is how to resist it and fight to maintain proletarian class independence. Integral to our opposition to capitalist state intervention is our fight against the union tops’ class-collaborationist program of reliance on the government, including its labor boards and arbitrators. There is no such thing as an “impartial” arbitrator—the deck is always stacked against the workers.
All government intervention is not the same, however. Those who bring the class enemy’s government directly into the union, for whatever reason, undermine the very purpose of unions—to defend the interests of the workers against the employers. It is always unprincipled to sue the union and bring the bosses’ courts in to decide internal union affairs. Government arbitration of disputes between unions and bosses, on the other hand, does not in every case undermine the integrity of a union.
The American Trotskyists, whose militants led the pitched battles on the streets of Minneapolis in 1934 that laid the basis for forging the Teamsters as a powerful industrial union, agreed to federal mediation in the July-August strike and subsequent to the union recognition elections filed a request for arbitration to raise the minimum wage rates. One of the leading participants in the Minneapolis strikes, Farrell Dobbs, would later explain in Teamster Rebellion (1972) the considerations for doing so:
“Since union recognition was the paramount issue in the fierce battle with the bosses, we could afford to be somewhat flexible on the wage issue insofar as that might help to win on the main point. Any setback on the wage question arising from this tactical course would be only limited and temporary. Once the union was firmly established on the job, the workers would have a solid foundation for a steady advance in wages and working conditions.”
The difference between such forms of arbitration and bringing the bosses’ government into the unions is, on a much smaller scale, analogous to the difference between the 1918 Brest-Litovsk treaty between Soviet Russia and German imperialism and a workers party inviting a capitalist government to determine its central committee’s makeup. Immediately after the October 1917 Revolution, with World War I still raging and the Russian army disintegrating, German troops were amassed along the front, threatening the very existence of the young workers republic. Bolshevik negotiators at Brest-Litovsk in early 1918 were forced to make huge concessions, including ceding large amounts of territory, in order to secure an onerous treaty to end the war with Germany. In fact, the Brest-Litovsk treaty was the subject of great controversy within the Bolshevik Party, with many leading comrades vehemently opposing it. But in accepting this treaty, the Bolsheviks and the Soviet workers state, however beleaguered, remained intact to fight another day. Leon Trotsky soon forged the Red Army, which eventually triumphed in the ensuing Civil War, including regaining much lost territory.
In terms of the EFCA, the importance of union recognition and an initial contract has not been lost on the bosses. The central reason that employer associations oppose the arbitration clause is that it lets unions get a foot in the door. This calculation is predicated on the current weakness of the labor movement, a result of decades of betrayals by the pro-capitalist labor tops in the face of relentless union-busting attacks and deindustrialization.
In the 1930s, mass labor struggles prompted Roosevelt to enact the Wagner Act that recognized unions and supposedly even the right to strike but sought government “regulation” of the class struggle. In an effort to head off further class explosions and any potential for revolution, Roosevelt even strong-armed recalcitrant capitalists into accepting unionization for the greater capitalist good. Crucial to channeling this tumultuous union upsurge into support for the Democratic Party was the pro-Roosevelt union bureaucracy, along with its Communist Party backers who used their political authority in the unions to provide a left cover for the “New Deal.”
The Trotskyists opposed Roosevelt’s government and the American capitalist order. Trotskyist leaders in the trade unions took care not to get entangled with government labor boards. The lessons of Minneapolis and other hard-fought union battles were codified by the then-Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party in a 1940 draft resolution on “The Trade Union Movement and the Immediate Tasks of the Party in the Development of Mass Work.” It noted:
“Arbitration of disputes over the interpretation and enforcement of a contract is permissible under certain conditions. However, every effort should be made to avoid this course whenever possible. Certain minor points may, for tactical considerations, be submitted to arbitration in the negotiation of a contract, both with and without strike action being involved
“A union should not in any case agree to a contract containing a clause providing for the arbitration of the terms of the renewal contract to be negotiated upon its expiration. To do this is to give up the strike weapon, to handcuff the workers.
“Attempts to legislate compulsory arbitration upon the unions must be fought with every ounce of energy which the workers can rally.”
IG: Small-Time Opportunists
Applying Marxist principle and historical experience to present-day struggles is alien to the IG, whose nominal principles reside on paper and have little application to its activity in the real world. When the IG’s founders defected from the revolutionary Trotskyism of the International Communist League in 1996, they abandoned the struggle to forge proletarian vanguard parties in order to chase after Stalinist washouts, Latin American nationalists and left-talking trade-union bureaucrats. Now, the Internationalist lectures that “genuine Marxists (i.e., Trotskyists) oppose any mechanisms of government control of labor.” This is laughable coming from the IG. The Brazilian affiliate of these “Marxists” ran an ex-cop for president of a cop-infested public employees union, and then wielded lawsuits to drag the union through the bourgeois courts to hold tight to their union posts (see “IG’s Brazil Cover-Up: Dirty Hands, Cynical Lies,” WV No. 671, 11 July 1997). In Mexico, the IG has blatantly refused to defend the miners union against state intervention, even when the bosses’ state deposed the union leader, froze the bank accounts of the union and gunned down and jailed striking miners a couple of years ago. According to the IG, that union and others affiliated to the former ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, which ran Mexico for some seven decades, are not workers organizations but the “class enemy” (El Internacionalista/Edición México No. 1, May 2001). The IG’s class betrayal is an expression of its affinity for the more “progressive” bureaucrats in the unions affiliated with the bourgeois-nationalist Party of the Democratic Revolution (see “Miners, Steel Workers Strikes Shake Mexico,” WV No. 872, 9 June 2006).
The IG’s opportunism takes full flower in its own backyard. The Internationalist blows hot air about trade-union independence while in practice the IG alibis the chauvinist, class-collaborationist labor tops to further its own petty maneuvering in the unions. In three lengthy articles enthusing over the West Coast port shutdown in opposition to the war in Iraq last May Day, the IG obscures the role of the grotesque patriotism of the International tops of the ILWU longshore union, as well as the criminal subordination of the work action to pro-Democratic Party pressure politics and the disappearing of any opposition to the war in Afghanistan, which is now Obama’s war. More recently, the IG has taken a prominent role in CUNY Contingents Unite, a class-collaborationist formation in the New York City PSC teachers union that has issued a fact sheet on budget cuts at city and state universities, encouraging people to contact the Democratic-controlled New York State legislature and city council (see “For Free, Quality, Integrated Education for All!” WV No. 934, 10 April). Now, the IG has joined with the bosses in opposing the EFCA. Cui bono (who benefits)? The IG doesn’t care.