Letter to a Labor Reformer
Who Just Wants "the Leaders" to Lead
By Tom Laney
Tom is a member of UAW Local 879 in St. Paul.
Why do you call them the "Labor Leadership?" They don't lead labor, they lead for their corporate partners. What's needed is a new movement, entirely democratic, which represents the interests of workers and the poor—too often the same people. This is not an argument to do nothing....it's a position for doing much more—first off, for dropping the pretense that the "labor leadership" just needs a little tuning up from below. And do you really believe that working people are "below" these guys?
Whatever energies we all have following our monied work days could best be spent actually trying to form a new movement based on those things that are most important to workers. I don't think the "Labor Leadership" or their organizations are concerned with items like democracy, equality, solidarity. I see them as enforcers for the boss and our enemies.
I love the folks I work with everyday. I can't think of any way to interest them in Sweeney, the AFL or the UAW these days. They work hard. They back each other up. They stand up to Ford. They hunt and fish together. Have dinner with each other's families. They hate favoritism. They think the UAW is a bad joke. If they didn't have to pay dues they wouldn't.
They went out and voted for Jessie Ventura in droves because they were sick of UAW politics and union endorsements don't mean a damn thing to them. They're bright. They might be interested in something that made democratic sense to them.
Union reformers talk like these guys don't count for much. I get the feeling that many reformers write most workers off because "the workers don't get it." Well, they do get it and they're not interested in these phony, anti-worker unions much.
We just got through a four- month fight for our rail loading jobs here. The UAW threatened to give our jobs to scabs if we refused to speedup. The local chairman bragged he would attack us in a plant-wide letter a week ago. They criticized us for "not giving Ford a damn thing." They met apart from us with new people on our crews who were on the company's side in a sleazy effort to split us. Finally, we settled it without the union for 2.4 hours more per train load of trucks than the UAW told us was the "bottom line."
This was not an isolated scene. In St. Louis, the UAW backed Ford in removing UAW workers from rail jobs and replacing them with scabs. In Norfolk, UAW workers were replaced by second class Teamsters. The new UAW head at Ford has non-UAW workers doing this work at his home local. There is the CAT situation, Flint, Lorain, a long list of despicable, union-backed attacks on workers from the Mon Valley to P-9. The "Labor Leadership" has crushed labor whenever workers have tried to fight.
I suggest we find a new involvement: Instead of looking for ways to "push from below," why don't we look for the way people support each other everyday on the job, look for groups of workers in our factories or offices who are the like most of the guys I just described and try to connect all their ideas across the workplace? And then we could talk about ways to organize real unions that would be worker-run organizations that would then join with farmers and other workers to revolutionize society.
It is a terrible waste of talent and energy to continue to beat the same old, corrupt horse whose only militancy is reserved for beating down the workers it is supposed to "lead."
Why not fight for something where when we win, we actually have a victory?
Originally published in New Democracy Newsletter, March-April 2000.