Workers Vanguard No. 896

3 August 2007


Dellums: No Friend of Labor

Pact Ends Bay Area Sanitation Lockout: Workers Beware!

OAKLAND—Some 500 members of Teamsters Local 70 in Alameda County, locked out on July 2 by garbage hauling giant Waste Management, are back at work after voting overwhelmingly to accept a “compromise” contract on July 28. Returning with them are some 80 members of International Association of Machinists Local 1546 and another 300 recycling, landfill and clerical workers in International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 6, who walked out in solidarity with the Teamsters. These workers are rightly proud that they stood firm for nearly four weeks against the company’s scabherding assault. They received an outpouring of support from the powerful, integrated Bay Area labor movement, as many workers understood that Waste Management’s war on the Teamsters is a war on all of organized labor.

However, the lockout ended with potentially crippling concessions to the Waste Management bosses, brokered by so-called “friend of labor” and Democratic Party mayor of Oakland Ron Dellums. The workers felt compelled to accept these concessions (by a vote of 363-3) not because they were defeated in battle but because of the treacherous policy of the labor bureaucracy, which puts all its faith in capitalist politicians and the illusory “neutrality” of the capitalist state.

What labor needed to win this vital class confrontation was the mobilization of its social power in class struggle. Longshoremen from ILWU Local 10 pointed the way on July 16, when they respected Teamsters picket lines and shut down the Maersk terminal at the Port of Oakland for several hours, resulting in a scab truck and its security detail being escorted off the docks.

Waste Management locked out the Teamsters two days after their contract expired, demanding a no-strike clause that also would have outlawed honoring other unions’ picket lines as well as harsh disciplinary measures with which to harass and fire unionists for supposed “safety” violations. The workers faced a reported $600,000-a-day union-busting operation prepared well in advance by North America’s largest private waste hauling firm, a Fortune 500 company with 2006 profits of over $1 billion. The company flew in hundreds of professional strikebreakers known as the “Green Team” from non-union locations throughout the country. To escort the scab-operated trucks, the company mobilized a battalion of security vans that sent at least two picketers to the hospital in hit-and-runs.

Waste Management is notorious for trying to trash unions. In late 2005, it unilaterally imposed a draconian contract on Teamsters Local 813 members who haul trash from private businesses in New York City. This diktat came down just as transit workers were defying the state’s anti-labor Taylor Law and crippling the capital of world finance in a three-day strike. Instead of pulling out their members to join transit workers on the picket line, the Teamsters tops made the haulers eat the cuts so as not to defy the capitalist politicians. Finally forced out in April 2006, the union, after a bitter four-month strike, signed on to a give-back contract.

Local 70 leaders knew the lockout was coming. Teamsters drivers told Workers Vanguard salesmen that they were followed by scabs learning their routes. The union bureaucracy’s strategy was to use public anger, which grew as the piles of garbage mounted, in appealing to the capitalist courts and politicians to end the lockout. The labor tops looked in particular to Mayor Dellums, the kind of earnest liberal who serves to rope in workers’ votes for the Democrats, the other party of the class enemy. Meanwhile, Waste Management’s class-war garbage war meant regular pickups in affluent neighborhoods while letting rat-infested garbage pile up in largely black, Latino and poor neighborhoods.

The union bureaucracy’s strategy backfired dramatically as Dellums weighed in. Professing neutrality in the name of the so-called “public interest,” he strong-armed the union into giving up hard-won gains embodying the single most vital issue for trade unionism: the right to strike. From all accounts, the new five-year contract includes the “no strike, no lockout” clause the company demanded, stipulating binding arbitration to resolve disputes between the union and the bosses. This is a very significant concession, given that previously Alameda County and Los Angeles Teamsters contracts with Waste Management were two of the few contracts left without this now “standard language,” the purpose of which is to tie the union’s hands for years. Now the Los Angeles Teamsters, whose contract expires in September, are under the gun.

Thanks to the workers’ determined solidarity throughout the lockout, the company grudgingly conceded the union’s right to honor picket lines and dropped its demand for cuts in health care benefits. But the contract also includes the harsh discipline the company wanted, reportedly including suspension for the first “safety” infraction and firing after the third—with no right to file a grievance.

Workers must beware what this contract portends. The capitalists’ drive for profits regularly kills and maims thousands. Garbage hauling is one of the most dangerous jobs in the U.S. On-the-job fatalities are ten times the national average for all jobs. The bosses’ contempt for the safety of the workers was demonstrated by their hit-and-run scabherders. At the same time, “safety” has become one of management’s favorite tools for getting rid of workers they don’t like. Everyone knows that they will use no-grievance discipline procedures to go after union militants.

All sides agree that Dellums was key to imposing this anti-labor settlement. Teamsters Local 70 secretary-treasurer and international vice president Chuck Mack lauded it as a “fair agreement” and had nothing but praise for the mayor. But the San Francisco Chronicle (28 July) reported that the turning point was an ultimatum from Dellums: settle or the city would contract with another firm—union or not—to haul the trash. This threat to Teamsters jobs held a gun to the workers’ heads. With friends like that, who needs enemies?

The union tops’ allegiance to the class enemy meant that they never mobilized the widespread support for the locked-out workers in order to shut down Waste Management’s scab operation through mass pickets and industrial action. The ILWU International, Bay Area Rapid Transit workers ATU Local 1555, the California Nurses Association and East Bay Municipal Utility District water workers of AFSCME Locals 444 and 2019 were among the many unions that responded to an appeal for hardship funds for the ILWU Local 6 workers. Heavily Latino and mainly women, including many single mothers, Local 6 workers earn $11-14 per hour and were not eligible for unemployment benefits.

A solidarity rally on July 11 drew hundreds from local unions and other supporters, including activists with the Bay Area Labor Black League for Social Defense. Many also joined union pickets at Waste Management facilities. But throughout the lockout, security-escorted scab trucks and management crossed picket lines and even struck picketers with impunity, while unionized garbage workers sacrificed their wages, imperiling car and home payments.

Nationally the Teamsters tops are part of the “Change to Win” coalition and supposedly committed to organizing the unorganized. But they have allowed the bulk of Waste Management’s operation nationally to remain non-union, providing the large pool of potential scabs for the company’s anti-union “Green Team.” This underlines the need for a class-struggle fight to organize the unorganized.

The capitalist state is not neutral. Former Teamsters president Ron Carey rode into office on court suits and a government-run election. Then, after he led a strike against UPS in 1997, the Feds threw him out. The reformist International Socialist Organization (ISO) openly embraced the government’s installation of Carey through its active support for Teamsters for a Democratic Union. During the Waste Management lockout, the ISO likewise embraced the legalistic strategy of the Teamsters tops. Asking “what will labor have to do to win?” the ISO turned for the answer to Chuck Mack: “The message has to get out about the lawlessness that this company is about” (Socialist Worker, 20 July). The ISO timidly opined that “if WM proves impervious to symbolic picket lines, then the unions and their supporters will have to consider organizing mass picket lines to stop the trucks from rolling.” But as soon as the workers start to be effective, the courts and the cops show that they are no more “neutral” than the security thugs Waste Management employs directly. Just ask the Teamsters harassed by the cops.

Under capitalism, the unions confront a highly centralized class adversary in the cops, courts and government. That is why labor needs a leadership based on a class-struggle program and the political independence of the working class from the capitalist class. Above all, it must break from the capitalist parties—Democratic, Republican and Green—and forge its own party, a revolutionary workers party, dedicated to the fight for a workers government where those who labor rule.