Workers Vanguard No. 978

15 April 2011


The Anti-Union Drive and Black Workers

Editorial Note

With anger growing among workers over the attacks on public sector unions, the labor officialdom thought it had to do something to blow off steam. “Unions Rally, Linking Their Cause to Dr. King” was the headline of the New York Times (4 April) reporting on the “We Are One” rallies held throughout the country protesting attacks on public workers unions and commemorating the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America, proclaimed, “We’re putting all employers and all elected officials on notice that we’re mobilizing as we haven’t in decades.” While the Port of Oakland was shut down when members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) overwhelmingly did not show up for work, the main “mobilization” was for tepid pro-Democratic Party rallies, organized by the labor bureaucrats who have overseen the decimation of the private sector unions with a loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs.

The two capitalist parties, Democratic and Republican, play soft cop/hard cop with the public workers unions. The Democrats demand an arm and a leg, i.e., major concessions on wages and benefits, while helping enforce the anti-strike laws that affect most public employees. The Republicans demand massive concessions plus the abolition of collective bargaining, i.e., the gutting of the unions. During the just-concluded budget impasse in Washington, the only “debate” between the Democrats and Republicans was over just how much of essential services and jobs to cut. The union bureaucrats and black liberal politicians alibi the soft-cop Democrats by protesting against the hard-cop Republicans. In Madison, Wisconsin, the labor tops quashed any strike sentiment among trade unionists who showed up by the thousands to protest the Republican governor’s assault on public workers unions, pushing instead a campaign to recall Republican legislators.

For black workers, who were hit disproportionately hard by the loss of manufacturing jobs in the Midwest and elsewhere, what is posed is an assault on the last major bastion of black employment with decent union wages and benefits. A New York City transit worker recently told Workers Vanguard that in talking about the protests in Madison over the new law against public sector unions, “I thought it was notable that a couple of my black co-workers expressed amazement that ‘they’re really going after white workers out there!’” A construction worker told WV that black workers at his union hall were saying, “If they’re screwing over the white workers out there in Madison, they sure as hell are going to kick the shit out of us.”

The labor misleaders who invoke the martyred King as a prophet of “patient moderation” carry on his bankrupt program of reliance on the Democratic Party, which is helping to lead the assault on labor and, together with the Republicans, enforces the brutal segregation of the mass of black people on the bottom of this society. Noting King’s support for striking Memphis sanitation workers at the time of his assassination, Clarence Thomas, ILWU Local 10 Executive Board member, intoned that it is Wisconsin’s “fierce resistance that is inspiring all of us today.” The “resistance” the union bureaucracy displayed in Madison was its untiring efforts to stop any move toward using labor’s strike weapon and to channel workers’ anger into promoting the Democrats’ electoral fortunes.

It will take hard class struggle to beat back the anti-union offensive. This perspective does require a political fight: a struggle to break the multiracial working class from the Democratic Party and to build a workers party that fights for a workers government.

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FlashThe Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) is suing ILWU Local 10 and the local’s president, Richard Mead, for the action taken by union members who overwhelmingly did not work on April 4, shutting down the ports of Oakland and San Francisco that day. The San Francisco Labor Council unanimously passed a resolution calling on Bay Area labor councils and the California AFL-CIO to protest this attack at the PMA’s SF headquarters on Monday, April 25. All out to defend the ILWU!