Posts Tagged ‘Unions’

Robert Fitch, who in 2006 wrote Solidarity for Sale: How Corruption Destroyed the Labor Movement and Undermined America’s Promise, passed away recently and has been receiving a bit of positive press for his writing. While the dictum coined by Chilon of Sparta, one of the Seven Sages of Greece, still is wise advice: “De mortuis nil nisi bonum” (“Of the dead say nothing but good”); one may nonetheless let the dead speak for themselves… even if in speaking they might say ‘nothing good’.
Mr. Fitch has written of the vast corruption which is the union movement – not some unions, mind you, but “the unions”.
“The point of this book is not to show that American unions are corrupt. That’s obvious to anyone who reads the daily paper. The real argument is about how they’ve become corrupt, what difference it has made, and why America can’t let it stand. […] and why the movement that’s been organized in [working people’s] name has come to so little after so many years and such great sacrifices”.
Once establishing that ‘the unions’ are corrupt, he paints a view of the working class movement in the US that reads like a page out of Orwell’s 1984:

“Essentially, the American labor movement consists of 20,000 semi-autonomous local unions. Like feudal vassals, local leaders get their exclusive jurisdiction from a higher level organization and pass on a share of their dues. The ordinary members are like the serfs who pay compulsory dues and come with the territory. The union bosses control jobs—staff jobs or hiring hall jobs—the coin of the political realm. Those who get the jobs—the clients—give back their unconditional loyalty. The politics of loyalty produces, systematically, poles of corruption and apathy. The privileged minority who turn the union into their personal business. And the vast majority who ignore the union as none of their business.”

While apathy sometimes arises, the last sentence conjures up an image of workers as little more than sheep.  The author also strangely appears oblivious to the fact that the vast majority of industrial unions actually elect representatives, at the very least local officers, rather than their being appointed by “union bosses”. There apparently is also no awareness of the differences between craft and industrial unions, making the assumption that all unions control hiring through hiring halls as in the building trades.  This would come as a great surprise to the vast majority of union members in the U.S. who were hired not by union hiring halls, but by company management.
More naive views surface in Fitch’s quip about the now-famous Republic Windows & Doors company in Chicago. In 2008, during the Wall Street bank bailout, workers at Republic found out the plant was closing and would not pay them severance, health care and benefits due them, and that the company was violating Federal law. They occupied the plant, making national news.
Mr. Fitch’s book, “Solidarity for Sale”, while not receiving plaudits from the labor movement,  did however get accolades from various right wing web sites:
“Fitch proposes a quid pro quo as the best hope for reform:  Employers must give up resistance to worker representation; unions in turn must give up their twin National Labor Relations Act-sanctioned privileges of exclusive representation and (in non-Right to Work states) mandatory dues payments as a condition of continued employment. […]For someone who still maintains ties to organized labor, that’s an unexpectedly welcome assessment.” (Peter Flaherty is President of nlpc.org and served as Chairman of the lobbying group Citizens for Reagan)
And from an e-commerce website for AntiUnion paraphenalia and literature (www.squidoo.com/AntiUnion):
“Anti-Union Stuff on Amazon:
Solidarity for Sale, by: Robert Fitch”
More revealing are the reviews on Amazon.com, many of them from workers familiar with the examples Fitch poorly understood or misrepresented in his book:
“I was looking forward to a serious study of union corruption and its effects… His factual inaccuracies seem too sloppy to take the rest of the book seriously.”
Fitch is basically saying – some unions are corrupt AND some unions don’t do the things I think they should THUS the reasons unions don’t do what I think they should is because they are corrupt. His logic, if you can call it that, is that simple and skewed. Really, this book is such a disappointment.”
Dishonestly, Fitch promises to do much more than tell us stories about corrupt locals. He claims he can show that corruption is the defining force in the American labor movement, shaping labor history, constraining the behavior of national labor unions, and leading to the declining membership in the U.S. labor movement. But he never delivers.
One expects a coherent attempt to show that corruption is endemic to the entire labor movement and has resulted in its destruction. Instead, this book reads like a collection of short articles about some of the worst abuses in labor, without developing a coherent theory until the final chapter, which is short and without factual support.”
A final review of his book sums up his views on labor.  In the review, Fitch’s book is compared to a well-received book on union corruption: Mobsters, Unions and Feds, The Mafia and the American Labor Movement (New York University Press, 2006) by Jim Jacobs.  The review is by the Association for Union Democracy, a blog where Fitch said one would “find no sharper or more knowledgeable criticism of union autocracy”.  Their assessment was actually quite sharp:
“Fitch’s book is more likely to be ignored as irrelevant.”

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Women Workers at Misr Spinning and Weaving Co.

“This didn’t have anything to do with Twitter and Facebook.  This had to do with people’s dignity, people’s pride. People are not able to feed their families.”  – Richard Engel

As anticipated in these pages, there has been ever mounting evidence that the engine behind the Egyptian uprising has been less the educated tweeters, bloggers and middle-class youth than the ‘unschooled’ working class – particularly factory workers, many unionized, and the impoverished.

This has become even more undeniable as tweeters went home and back to work after Mubarak resigned, while the workers instead went out on strike.  As Weal Ghonim, the feted techno-leader, tweeter and Google marketing executive proclaimed after Mubarak resigned,

“It shows how civilized the Egyptian people are… Now our nightmare is over. Now it is time to dream.”

Apparently the nightmare was not over for the Egyptian workers, however.  Nor was dreaming part of the plan.  Rather, pushing forward the real revolution was the plan.  Economic and political strikes were the plan.  While the tweeters go home, the Egyptian military remains untouched.  The Egyptian rulers, military and even many “democrats” are menacingly warning the workers to stop striking – for the “benefit of the nation”.

To anyone who has looked at Egypt prior to January 2011, the emerging split between the “democratic technocrats” and the working class behind the uprising should come as no surprise. There has been a growing surge of strikes across the country – ever more widespread over the past two years, ever more desperately seeking survival from relentless increases in food prices and cost of living.

Especially recently, it has been noted,

“Strikers have different priorities but have coalesced around a central demand that the government raise the minimum wage to 1,200 pounds a month.  The rate has remained fixed at only 35 pounds per month since 1984.”

For some reason American literati have been declaring the Egyptian Revolution (which isn’t yet a revolution, and isn’t in any way over) to be a “Facebook” or “Twitter Revolution”.  Said the New York Times,

“Facebook and YouTube also offered a way for the discontented to organize and mobilize — and allowed secular-minded young people to seize the momentum from Egypt’s relatively neutered, organized opposition… Social media tools…provided a new means for ordinary people to connect with human rights advocates trying to amass support”

However, the Wall Street Journal discovered the tweeters were largely left out of the initial uprising, as they were outmaneuvered by the police, and had never before been able to mobilize any large numbers:

“The plotters say they knew that the demonstrations’ success would depend on the participation of ordinary Egyptians in working-class districts like this one[Bulaq al-Dakrour], where the Internet and Facebook aren’t as widely used. They distributed fliers around the city in the days leading up to the demonstration, concentrating efforts on Bulaq al-Dakrour. […] The Bulaq al-Dakrour marchers, the only group to reach their objective, occupied Tahrir Square for several hours until after midnight, when police attacked demonstrators with tear gas and rubber bullets.

“It was the first time Egyptians had seen such a demonstration in their streets, and it provided a spark credited with emboldening tens of thousands of people to come out to protest the following Friday.”

The initial uprising, though coordinated to a point with social media, had as its center of gravity poor youth with no twitter, blogs or computers.  Perhaps more representative of attitudes of Egypt’s tweeters and bloggers was Tarek Amr, an NGO blogger and software programmer:

“I didn’t participate in the first day of the revolution. I was a bit scared, a bit not convinced that it will change anything, and also I prefer to follow such events on twitter and facebook instead of participating in them.”

After weeks of stalemated protests, the trigger that finally tipped the military into ousting Mubarak, not surprisingly, was not techno-savvy democracy activists.  Instead it was the surge of strikes that swept the nation, according to Hossam el-Hamalawy:

All classes in Egypt took part in the uprising. In Tahrir Square you found sons and daughters of the Egyptian elite, together with the workers, middle class citizens, and the urban poor. Mubarak has managed to alienate all social classes in society including wide section of the bourgeoisie. But remember that it’s only when the mass strikes started three days ago that’s when the regime started crumbling and the army had to force Mubarak to resign because the system was about to collapse.

Why would this final ‘tipping point’ be reached, after three painful weeks, only by a surge of factory strikes, rather than by the huge crowds peacefully gathered in Tahrir Square?  This question would need to be asked to those who actually run the country:  the generals-cum-enterprise-managers who own and insinuate themselves into every pore of Egyptian business and corrupt dealing.  The guarding of wealth in Egyptian enterprises is the sina-qua-non of Egyptian rule and rulers.  El-Hamalawy continues:

Some have been surprised that the workers started striking. I really don’t know what to say. The workers have been staging the longest and most sustained strike wave in Egypt’s history since 1946, triggered by the Mahalla strike in December 2006. It’s not the workers’ fault that you were not paying attention to their news. Every single day over the past three years there was a strike in some factory whether it’s in Cairo or the provinces. These strikes were not just economic, they were also political in nature.

And after Mubarak was pushed out, and Ghonim went home to “dream”, the uprising split decisively in two, according to the Wall Street Journal (“Splits Emerge Among Egypt’s Young Activists”):

“Three Facebook pages devoted to trashing Mr. Ghonim have gone online in the past few days. They have titles such as ‘Ghonim Traitor,’ and already have over 40,000 members.

“Labor activists accused the Revolutionary Youth of selling out the workers after they endorsed the military’s call for striking workers to return to their jobs…’They’re not real revolutionaries,’ said Gigi Ibrahim, a youth activist with the Revolutionary Socialists.”

And so the crisis in Egypt continues to spread – strikes, both economic and political, spread against the ruling class in Suez, Port Said and Ismailiya (where the American USS Enterprise aircraft carrier and a guided missile cruiser patrolled today, as if to remind Egyptians whose interests are at stake in Egypt), to Mahalla el-Kobra in the textile heartland – the very same location which sparked nation-wide strikes in 2006, and to Alexandria and Damietta.  And in Cairo, where state banks are under siege from their employees who relentlessly hound the corrupt managers, the Charmain of the Egyptian National Bank resigned.

“Outside the headquarters of Banque Misr, another state-owned institution, a 10-minute walk from Tahrir Square, chants of “Leave, leave, leave” echoed into the night”

The workers are assuredly not dreaming now – they have woken up.

Suez workers strik

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