The UAW Sellout--Could this be the Worst in the History of Labor?

by Rich Gibson

As there is a bit of a lull as the UAW leadership prepares to present its package to the rank and file, or rather mobilizes its under-bosses to  pitch it ( )

let us take up Amber Sparks' (an "official UFCW spokesperson," according to press releases)  defense of the UFCW and unionism, arguing that it is "outdated," to suggest unions are corrupt, bloated, etc.

Let's see, ---

1. UFCWA belongs to the farcial "Change to Win" coalition, run by Andy Stern (formerly of the mobbed up SEIU; Stern was once mentored by the AFL-CIO's John Sweeney, who Stern betrayed in creating a split from the AFL-CIO based on no principles whatsoever other than the fact that Stern wanted a more autocratic, nationalist federation, modeled after the structure of General Motors).

The crux of Change to Win ideology, parallel to the ideology of every major labor executive is: Unity of big business, government, and labor executives, in the national interest.

Thus, the leaders of both the AFL-CIO, Change to Win (and the big NEA), reject the very idea that causes most people to join unions: workers and bosses have contradictory interests. The unity Change to Win proposes is unity with employers, against workers, as does its openly anti-democratic stance and SEIU's drive to eradicate any semblance of union democracy by amalgamating huge locals, easily controlled by staff (who themselves live under Stern's constant threats of dismissal--check the staff turnover rates of the California locals).

That the unity of business, government, and labor executives in the national interest harkens back to Mussolini's corporate state, well, that historical fact may be outdated in that it is about 70 years old, but it rings true today nevertheless.

Union officials' rejection of the very real class struggle that goes on with remarkable intensity now is a form of corruption, indeed a source.

That goes further, as the union executives prop up US imperial adventures overseas, working hand in glove with the CIA through groups like the National Endowment for Democracy, attempting to demolish local movements for justice (especially those themselves rooted in notions of class struggle) and the Central Intelligence Agency. Kim Scipes, Paul Buhle and others have documented that work, and many AFL-CIO and Change to Win locals have demanded that it stop, but it goes on relentlessly; another form of union corruption.

That kind of corruption parallels the early AFL skilled trade efforts to keep people out of the skilled trades, especially women and people of color (a habit that continues to one degree or another today, especially evident now in education unions).

Rather than the solidarity notion that an injury to one goes before an injury to all, the AFL was (and is) propelled by the idea that protecting its own members (in the skill, in the nation, in the race, in the sex, anything but in the class, etc), at the expense of other workers, would pay off---and briefly, for a few, it may have. But at the end of the day, we can witness the wreckage of the skilled trades unions, and the industrial unions as well, nearly relevant only to employers as useful foils, and to workers as just another tier of enemies.

More corruption:

Change to Win teamed up some of the most notoriously corrupt unions in the US, like the Teamsters and the Laborers Union.

UFCW executives (and indeed some local officers) have been convicted of embezzlement, fraud, and running protection rackets.  Joseph DiFlumera is a good example.

To pile on, quite fairly, there are so many American Federation of Teachers executives in jail today, I lost count, most for embezzlement, others for child molestation. 

What is left of the shipwreck of the Farmworkers (nearly demolished by the joint efforts of the Teamsters, the big growers, and the government, but still clinging to the image of the anti-immigrant Chavez) signed on to Change to Win later. This kind of union competition for dues payers is a form of corruption.

Union corruption may pale before the corruption that was, for example, Enron, or the violence inherent in the exploitation of labor that is at the heart of capitalism, but union corruption is especially egregious, much like rapist priests who betray the trust of the faithful.

2. Joseph Hansen, top executive of UFCW, makes nearly $300,000 a year. It would take most grocery workers 10 plus years to make that kind of money. Hansen continues a UFCW tradition begun by Bill Wynn who years ago himself made nearly $250,000 a year, an old AFL-CIO tradition. I doubt Hansen and the rank and file of UFCW golf on the same courses.

3. It may well be true that grocery workers, and other workers, are participating in organizing, bargaining, and political action (meaning vote Hilary) for UFCW. They do that under the theory and practice of the UFCW executives, and Change to Win. What that really means is the rank and filers are being lured into being instruments of their own, and others' oppression, perhaps in exchange for a staff job, or some limited time away from the work place, or the pretense of prestige attached to being a union "leader." Or perhaps they do it out of a mistaken belief that building the UFCW, or any similar union, has something to do with building a labor movement. It doesn't.

What UFCW is really interested in is their dues, and making sure they never catch on to a grasp of capitalism, and the unions capitalism more than tolerates (as with the UAW's criminal sellout at GM, or Ford's promise to the UAW to organize plants for the UAW).

4. UFCW is, however, one of the weakest unions in the old orbit of US unionism, which is saying something. It's failures in the meat-packing industry, in the grocery business, are counter-legendary. Recognizing history is not an outdated way of thinking.

Many people remember the role then-UFCW executive Bill Wynn and his staff played in wrecking the Hormel local, P9. Joseph Hansen was the guy who UFCW had "trustee," the P9 local. Here is a brief from Peter Rachleff on the methods UFCW used to destroy that strike, not too far from the same tactics UFCW execs used to destroy the California grocery strike

5. When in one year UFCW accepts a two tier wage system, and then the employer wipes out many of the top tier workers, so many the bottom tier becomes a base wage, and then UFCW bargains an increase on top of that bottom tier new base wage, that is not a victory, nor even a wage increase, and when the union describes it as some kind of advance, it's a sellout. Touting a wage increase that gives workers their "first wage increase in five years," is, well, draw your own conclusions.

6. It is possible, however, that the workers who do organize inside UFCW and other unions will get out of hand, maybe even storm the podiums, throw the misleaders away, and get a new movement going, one that does not divide people by industry, job, race, sex, and nation, but does recognize the very real division of the international war of the rich on the poor going on now, and takes sides (the side of the many, not the few).

Getting ready to be ready for that is wise. That is why I have no problem with people who want to work in, or for, unions. There are still some people left in them. Not (relatively) too many, but some. But while it is important to have one toe inside unionism, it is as important to have nine or ten out.

This just in; a surprise: the local under-bosses of the UAW love the new sellout, "My feet haven't touched the ground," says one. Holy cow. Why wait to see the deal in print? Or, when the feet do get back to earth, ask a Caterpillar worker just how their VEBA is going (it collapsed, there is history about this stuff, and history is never outmoded).

And, in the interim, the State of Michigan is on the brink of a shutdown, caused by a budget crisis (caused by a tax crisis, caused by shifts in the tax system which moved to target poor and working people) unresolved by the Governor and state legislature.

Most state employees are represented by UAW Local 6000 which is, at base, powerless because the local has no collective bargaining rights, and is unable to organize to mobilize its membership. The local, the largest in the UAW, has no collective bargaining rights because the parent body, the UAW, crushed a Local 6000 effort to win those rights years ago, and because the UAW outlook is not to organize people, but to encourage them to see the union as a vending machine.

I will adopt Amber Spark's language and say that something is indeed outdated. It's the failed form of corporate unionism we see today, and we need to get beyond it.

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All the best, r