Workers Vanguard No. 976

18 March 2011


Labor Tops Derail Anger, Promote Democrats

Wisconsin: Defend the Unions Through Class Struggle!

MARCH 13—Republican Wisconsin governor Scott Walker has thrown down the gauntlet to the entire labor movement, signing a law stripping the state’s public workers unions of their right to bargain for their members. This is an open attempt to destroy the public sector unions, which are similarly under attack in Ohio, Indiana and other states. The law dictates that pay increases—the sole issue on which the unions are now permitted to bargain—may not exceed the cost of living index unless approved by a statewide referendum. Workers’ contributions toward their health care and pensions will be dramatically increased, meaning an effective pay cut of 8 percent on average. Wisconsin’s Democrats, who put up a show of stalling the vote on the union-busting bill by fleeing the state, had earlier stated their support to all the key economic take-backs, as had the state’s labor officialdom.

The labor movement must beat back this wage-slashing, union-busting attack. Six years ago in Indiana, collective bargaining rights were abolished for state workers, leading to a decline in union membership from 66 percent to 7 percent of the eligible workforce. What is and has been needed is strike action to close Wisconsin down. Many workers have shown their determination to wage such a fight. Tens of thousands have repeatedly rallied to defeat the anti-union onslaught. Across the U.S., private sector unions have joined in demonstrations against similar legislation and cutbacks, which are designed to make working people pay for the economic depression—a crisis caused by the capitalists’ insatiable drive for profits. National polls indicate that broad swaths of the population, hammered by the economic crisis, are opposed to the anti-union attacks.

Occupation of the Wisconsin State Capitol by protesters drew worldwide attention to Madison, but to date there has been no strike action. Why? The pro-capitalist trade-union leadership has been working overtime to divert workers’ militancy into Democratic Party electioneering, centrally through a campaign to recall Republican legislators as well as Walker.

This was made clear at a 100,000-strong demonstration in Madison yesterday mainly organized by the AFL-CIO. After the farmers, after local Democratic officials, after the folk singers and a parade of speakers from the “Fab 14” state senators, after the preacher pronounced, “Amen,” and the crowd was dispersing—only then did a few labor officials speak. And when they did, they urged Wisconsinites to channel their energies into the recall of eight Republican senators who backed the governor and into pressuring the capitalist courts to overturn the bill. Not a word was uttered from the podium about mobilizing labor’s strike power. Spartacist comrades put up a banner and held signs highlighting the need to break with the Democratic Party and build a revolutionary workers party, selling most of our literature to people who sought us out because of our hard stand against the Democrats.

The labor bureaucracy’s service to the Democrats and prostration before anti-union laws are a recipe for defeat. Virtually every gain of the labor movement, including the very right for unions to exist, has been achieved through class struggle against America’s capitalist rulers. The Democrats, deceptively promoted by union leaders as “friends of labor,” are simply the other major party of U.S. capitalist rule. The union bureaucrats are core cadres of that party, assuring that the unions they lead provide votes for its candidates and millions of dollars in dues money to electoral campaigns.

For that reason, the Democrats seldom seek to bust the unions outright. But they are no more averse than Republicans to leading savage attacks on the wages and benefits of working people in the service of the bosses. In fact, Walker was elected governor in a contest against the Democratic mayor of Milwaukee, who supported cutting back public employee benefits. The mother of anti-union legislation, the Taft-Hartley Act, was passed in 1947 over the veto of Democratic president Harry Truman, who knew full well that the veto would not withstand a Congressional override. Notwithstanding the Democratic Party’s pledges to abolish Taft-Hartley, the law survived several administrations, during which the Democrats controlled the presidency and both houses of Congress.

Barack Obama, as a candidate for the presidency, promised to walk picket lines to defend union rights. Once elected as Commander-in-Chief of the American imperialist order, he quickly moved in collaboration with the auto bosses and the United Auto Workers misleaders to lead the assault that reduced the UAW—once the symbol of union power in this country, with a peak membership of 1.5 million—to a shell of its former self. Obama went on to launch a war against teachers unions by endorsing the wholesale firing of Central Falls, Rhode Island, high school teachers last year. Recently, a presidential spokesman repeated his boss’s “indictment” of the legislation in Wisconsin as an effort “to denigrate or vilify public sector employees.” This is equivalent to complaining that Hurricane Katrina was bad for tourism.

Scott Walker promised to create a PATCO moment for Wisconsin’s public sector unions, that is, to destroy them. Ronald Reagan’s unchallenged destruction of the PATCO air traffic controllers union in 1981, utilizing a plan drawn up by his predecessor, Democrat Jimmy Carter, set the stage for a ruthless capitalist offensive against the unions and the working class as a whole. It didn’t have to be that way. Labor could have beaten back the union-busters by shutting down the airports. The power to do this was in the hands of unions like the IAM machinists, which organized the ground crews. There was plenty of sentiment in labor’s ranks to fight to defend PATCO, as seen in the massive 19 September 1981 labor demonstration—half a million strong—in Washington, D.C. But IAM president “Wimpy” Winpisinger, a leader of the Democratic Socialists of America, refused to call solidarity strike action, leaving individual workers to decide whether to honor or cross PATCO picket lines.

Emboldened by the decimation of private sector unions—a product of the prostration of the labor leadership to the dictates of the capitalist order—state governments under both Democratic and Republican administrations are threatening the hard-won gains and even the very existence of public employee unions. The Wisconsin law proscribes the dues check-off system and mandates yearly union recertification elections in the hope that workers will refuse to pay their dues and abandon their unions. We oppose the capitalist state abolishing dues check-off or intervening in any other way into union affairs. At the same time, it is in labor’s basic interest that union representatives, and not the bosses, collect union dues. This money should go toward building strike funds and otherwise supporting workers struggle, not be squandered to fund Democratic Party candidates. There must be a fight for the complete independence of the unions from the state agencies and political parties of the capitalist enemy.

The mass demonstrations in defense of Wisconsin’s public sector unions have moved various ersatz socialist organizations to respond to calls for strike action. In the case of the International Socialist Organization (ISO), this has meant issuing a few mealy-mouthed criticisms of the union bureaucrats while simultaneously supporting their pro-Democratic recall campaign. An 11 March editorial in the ISO’s Socialist Worker emphasizes: “The Republican senators should be recalled—and Walker, too.” Even while chastising union officials for “demobilizing and disarming” workers, the editorial disparages the call for a statewide strike as “unlikely to get very far,” advocating instead “pickets before work or noontime marches.” This is the kind of “activism” that would bring smiles to the bosses’ faces, as it neither stops operations nor challenges anti-strike laws.

The ISO is at one with the labor bureaucracy, which has itself made perfectly clear that the recall effort is counterposed to preparing the unions to wage the strike action that is necessary to defeat the union-busters. This comes as no surprise, as the ISO, along with the many other fake “socialists,” seeks not the overthrow of the system that is based on the exploitation of labor but its reform.

Wisconsin workers realize, correctly, that they are treated as if they have no rights. Anesthetized by decades of labor’s passivity enforced by capitalism’s labor lieutenants, in the face of repeated attacks by the bosses, workers must be won to the understanding that such treatment is not an aberration but the very essence of the capitalist “democratic” order. That order enforces through its state power the democratic right of the rulers to exploit and repress the toiling masses. The cops, falsely portrayed by many reformists as fellow workers, now close off the Capitol in Madison to demonstrators and will not, if the unions strike, be hesitant to employ force against the picket lines. The courts will quickly move to proscribe militant class struggle. And the “friends of labor” in the Democratic Party will promise reform while supporting the forces of law and order.

Many workers fear that strike action can only result in further losses. While it will not be easy to defeat the arrogant rulers’ union-busting drive, playing by the bosses’ rules is a sure guarantee of defeat. It requires the mobilization of the mass strength and solidarity of the working class to prevail against the capitalists’ attacks. As we wrote last issue in “All Labor Must Fight Assault on Public Workers Unions!” (WV No. 975, 4 March):

“Two possible roads lie before the working class. There is the bureaucracy’s acceptance that the workers must ‘sacrifice’ to preserve the profits and rule of American capitalism, which has led to disaster. Or there is the class-struggle road of mobilizing the power of the working class in the necessary battles against the capitalist masters. In the course of such struggle, under a leadership that arms the working class with an understanding of the nature of capitalist society, the workers will become imbued with the consciousness of their historic interests as a class fighting for itself and for all of the oppressed. Such consciousness requires a political expression. That means the fight to build a multiracial revolutionary workers party whose purpose is not only to defend the working class against the menace of its own devastation but to rid the planet of the source of that devastation, capitalism itself, and the state that preserves it.”