Thursday, March 03, 2011

Why Workers And Union Bosses Are Enemies

Governor Walker's proposals have triggered wildcat strikes
The ongoing dispute over pay and bargaining rights in Wisconsin perfectly illustrates a major theme of my blog: the need for working people to establish organisations which are independent of the corporate unions. I've devoted an article to examining exactly why workers and union bosses are enemies before, but as the economic crisis sharpens, so do the contradictions, so it's worth a re-visit.

Workers and activists in Wisconsin are into their third week of demonstrating against new Governor Scott Walker's budget plans. The state Capitol building has been occupied, and teachers have organised mass wildcat strikes against plans which will cost them, firefighters, and other government employees nearly 20% of their pay packet, as well as stripping them of collective bargaining rights, effectively busting their union.

However, the role of the union leaders has been to try and persuade teachers back to work, while encouraging illusions in the state's Democratic Party - whose senators have fled for Illinois, denying Walker the number of votes he needs to push the bill through. But the Democrats have indicated that they support the huge effective pay cuts, just like their equivalents in other states have.

Union leaders and the state Democrats are one in wanting to savagely attack rank and file workers' conditions, while keeping workers trapped within the confines of union bureaucracy. Head of the Wisconsin State Employees Union Marty Beil has declared: “We are prepared to implement the financial concessions proposed to help bring our state's budget into balance, but … we will not—I repeat we will not—be denied our rights to collectively bargain.”

It should be clear that - in the current sense of the words - 'collective bargaining' is worse than useless as far as protecting the livelihoods of those workers is concerned. If the union tops accept that the state's budget must be brought "into balance" by attacking workers rather than the financial elite who triggered the economic crisis, why should rank and filers worry about losing that 'right'? The only 'collective bargaining' worth a dime is where workers organise on a horizontal basis, and make demands of their bosses, based on an assessment of their own strength.

Marty Beil of the WSEU: "We are prepared to implement the financial concessions..."
The Democrats - like some Republican governors in other states - recognise that union bosses have done them and the ruling class many favours over the years, by channeling their members' anger into safe directions, and calling the odd one day strike when steam needed to be released. They also value the funding that unions traditionally provide for Democratic candidates come election time.

For union bosses, the equation is even more simple. If public sector unions are effectively banned in the state of Wisconsin, they will lose that dues base, which funds their very comfortable lifestyles. The task of the bureaucracy is therefore to satisfy all Governor Walker's demands for concessions from their membership, in the hope that he too will come to appreciate corporate unions' worth to the elite, and withdraw his ban on 'collective bargaining' - i.e. dues collection.

Though the specifics vary from place to place and from industry to industry, this pattern can be seen everywhere workers pay for the upkeep of their fake representatives in the 'union movement'. It is a necessary result of the current state of capitalism - hyper-globalised, hyper-unequal, and wracked by crisis. It falls to rank and filers to provide an alternative - a task the teachers of Wisconsin have shown is more than possible. Meanwhile, the non-hierarchical Industrial Workers of the World union is calling for a general strike in Wisconsin, and that idea has 1,335 fans on Facebook.
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