Once More on Unions . . . Steveo’s reply

Editor’s Note:  Just to clarify:  Steve-O’s position on unions does not represent Advance the Struggle’s official line.  The process of developing programmatic approaches towards concrete realities of capitalism such as unions is something which is not cut and dry, and which needs to be continually clarified through struggle.  We’re posting Steve-O’s reply to Hieronymous on here in order to clarify the terms of the debate and acknowledge the reciprocal process of learning we’re all involved in here.  No fixed dogmas here – rather, we’re seeking to interrogate our positions and learning from debate is a crucial part of this process.  

Steve-O’s reply –

Heironymous said:

“All of us agree that it’s great that the rank-and-file longshore militants have done solidarity actions with Salvadorians, South Africans, Liverpool longshore workers, Palestinians, and in the struggle around Oscar Grant. So is the lack of solidarity with troqueros, workers they interact with on a daily basis, based on a lack of class consciousness? If so, how can they be internationalists and anti-imperialists, but not be in class solidarity with a workforce comprised mostly of Spanish-speakers, but also with many Chinese, Filipinos and even a few Sikhs (with many Sikh troqueros at the deepwater inland ports of Lathrop and Stockton) ? Or am I wrong and is the ILWU a narrowly self-interested sectoral craft union that is truly a “labor aristocracy”?”

ouch… you know what? that really hurts, Hieronymous. it hurts a lot to get blown up like that. You sure are a worthy debate partner. You know you are losing a debate when you start rooting for your opponent because you want to LEARN more! Maybe losing debates should be something more Marxists try to do.

Before I continue further, I do want to apologize for calling Heironymous’ politics racist. That was, as he said “so absurd…” Sorry.

But I’m not quite ready to throw in the towel yet.

In defeating my argument, I forced you to differentiate between radical unionists like Jack Heyman and the bureaucrats they butt up against. If I was defending the bureaucracy in my argumentation, I didn’t know it and maybe got so blinded by  the desire to win the argument that I didn’t even know what I was saying. So as a rejoinder of sorts, I’ll take one last crack at accurately stating my position.

What I’m trying to say is that the very difference in Jack Heyman’s line from that of his bureaucratic antagonists is his Marxist intervention. His criticism of Local 30’s lack of militancy is probably connected with his anti-imperialist commitments. Combine those two factors (economic and political struggle) and I think you have a de facto Marxist of some type, whether they call themselves that or not.

I don’t know if Jack considers himself a Marxist but he says the term ‘working class’ and ‘class struggle’ and ‘capitalism’ and by some measures, that meets at least the lowest common denominator for Marxist in the US, so I’ve been sort of ascribing the label ‘Marxist’ to him and think it works for the purposes of this discussion. Im saying that if he, a rank and file worker become non-union bureaucrat leader within an American union, subject to all the same state co-optation moves and legal restraints as any other union, can impact the consciousness of thousands of other proletarians (in the ranks of the ILWU, throughout the Bay Area working class in general, and even on other continents, albeit perhaps not, according to you Heironymous, not on the troquero proletarians right next door)… if he can intervene in unions from within the union movement – aka engage in UNIONISM- why can’t the rest of us??

My position has been and remains that unionism is not THE central component of a Marxist program, but that it deserves to have SOME place in it. IN 2011, it remains one ingredient, not the staple, not even the icing on the cake, but certainly not a lost cause either. I’d place it somewhere in the 3-5 range on a scale of 1-10 (10 = real high priority) of dimensions of Marxist program.

Since there was some confusion, I’ll clarify that by unionism, I mean more than simply orienting to the rank and file as individuals. I mean orienting toward the union as a union, struggling for power within the structure of the union, fighting for formal positions of leadership within it, attempting to define and redefine the mission and perspective of the union, and working to build and extend the influence of the union. That, to me, is the definition of unionism.

There are alternatives to the unionist strategy. Some of these alternatives are antagonistic (incompatible) with the unionist strategy. Some are not. I personally prefer some of the alternatives to unionism, and have for most of my Marxist life seen unions as more of a problem than a help to the working class. But I’m starting to believe that this was a little to ultra-“leftist” and am exploring the boundaries of my own analysis with regard to acknowledging some positive role in Marxist unionist praxis.

The only two things that I can find are a) better living standards for union workers, which only really helps us get toward communism if the second thing is present too: and b) unions as the “schools of the working class”, which are only teaching the working class good lessons if they are led by good teachers. I consider the likes of Clarence Thomas and Jack Heyman to be good teachers, and have learned a considerable amount just by watching them for a few years and listening to them speak at rallies. By far, the most conscious and outspoken people in any way associated with a union and in any kind of union leadership position (bureaucrat, rank and file, or otherwise) that I have ever heard/seen/met.

The working class would be better off if there were more Jack Heymans, Clarence Thomas’, ILWU Locals 6 and 10 (SF and Oakland). I don’t know if their wages would be any higher, but their proletarian consciousness would be.

Thanks for the extensive education Heironymous. It was a pleasure to have my butt whooped by a principled debater and learned scholar, presumably an organic working class intellectual, organizer, and unsung hero of our class.

Solidarity!

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5 responses to “Once More on Unions . . . Steveo’s reply

  1. Steve O. asks “if [J. H.] can intervene in unions from within the union movement – aka engage in UNIONISM- why can’t the rest of us??”

    I may be misinterpreting this question to mean that those of us who do not belong to unions may be able to “intervene” in unions. If so, I apologize in advance, and I will also offer a thought on the alternative reading of the question, that we can intervene as union members.( I am also curious about Steve O’s definition of intervention. )

    My aim is not to discourage engagement with rank-and-file union members, nor with unions themselves. In reflecting on Steve’s question, I hope to offer some ideas for practical consideration. By all means, we should engage – but it helps to consider and plan for some of the potential obstacles we may face in doing so. And I think another suggestion is in order, as well: any engagement, to be fruitful, has to be taken on with a commitment to the long haul. It takes years to build the kinds of solid relationships of trust and solidarity that form the basis for transformative political activity.

    For the purposes of my statements here, I focus on the “progressive” wing of US labor – something I’m not sure how to define, exactly. At the risk of being overly simplistic I would define it as those unions to the left of the building trades unions and to the right of the U.E. and the IWW. This still covers a pretty wide swath, and includes unions that have even recently engaged in bitter and costly battles with one another. ( It may also be worth thinking about engaging with the right-wing building trades unions – and in fact, odd as it may sound, it could be pretty fruitful. But that’s a question for another time.)

    At present, progressive unions interact with the outside world of activism in highly proscribed ways. These unions tend to look to outside groups and individuals for direct support of the unions’ programs. This means that the unions look for more bodies at rallies, more signatures on petitions, more people to help make phone calls. The last thing they seek is any help or advice on the program itself. It is the rare union indeed that suspends this approach to engage in true class solidarity. For better or worse, unions tend to orient toward their own institutional interests, which at times line up with the day-to-day interests of the rank-and-file, and therefore often have support from the membership.

    Unions are terrified (for good reason, I have to say) of lawsuits. The engagement of outside people in the activities of the union is viewed with some trepidation that those people will do something illegal and expose the union to a multi-million dollar lawsuit. (Corporations facing challenges from unions don’t fuck around – they hire lawyers.) At times, unions have formally cut off ties to groups that have attempted to intervene because the intervention was based on a radical understanding of the need to go beyond the legal limits that hold class struggle hostage. So, a positive engagement from the outside that intends to help the union and its members move in a more radical direction will eventually be met with a “cease and desist” letter drafted by the union’s legal counsel.

    (On this point, I have begun to wonder why certain unions don’t adopt more of a “wink and a nod” disassociation from militants outside the union. Technically, the only way a union can be held liable for actions that go beyond the law is if those actions are performed by the union, or by agents of the union. In fact, even such actions by rank and file, as long as they are not sanctioned by the union, do not expose the institution to liability. It seems like a letter from a lawyer, disassociating the union from such groups and activities, would provide the union the cover it needs, while keeping the door open to whatever beneficial impact those interventions might produce. I suspect that this is where we run up against the structural problems inherent in the vanguardistic tendencies present in the progressive or self-indentified “militant” unions led by an aging army of New Left radicals, who answered the call to intervene in the unions a generation ago, and jealously guard their positions of influence now. I don’t think it’s for the paychecks they get, primarily. I think they honestly believe they know what’s best for the rank and file and for the class struggle. And they are usually deeply committed to the ideal of a “member-run” union, as long as they can be sure that the right members are “running” it in the right way. )

    Let’s say instead that we want to simply build relationships with rank and file members, meeting with them and sharing ideas. Our first challenge is finding those members if we don’t work with them already. So we start by identifying union struggles that include picketing or other visible activity. Here we can join in and start up conversations and maybe set up a time to meet with rank and file members for a discussion. If the union in question is an “organizing” union (ie: a union that has an organizing program and hires organizers) what will eventually happen is that the organizer or union representative connected to that workplace will run an “intervention” on our “intervention.” In short, our rank-and-file contacts will be subject to a fairly intense campaign to get them “back on the program.”

    Historically, radicals facing these practical problems have instead chosen the route of “boring from within.” By getting a job in a union shop, it becomes possible to be elected shop steward or otherwise move up into positions of influence in the union hierarchy. So far, the results of this approach have been underwhelming at best. Suffice it to say that the last generation of “bore from within” radicals are now the same people who will run your communist ass out of the union hall.

    Finally, I want to end on a positive note: give all these things a try. Why not? Go to picket lines and have conversations with rank and file union members. Ask questions. Make suggestions. Create independent bodies that invite rank-and-filers to create and engage in militant class struggle activity. Also, why not organize shop-floor solidarity in our own workplaces? This can be a truly challenging task involving a great deal of risk and long-term commitment. We can’t possibility understand the potentials and limitations of these approaches until we give them an honest try.

  2. “One of the first things to strike an outsider about San Francisco is the respect and esteem in which longshoremen are held by the rest of the community. They are good credit risks: they are homeowners (yes, some have swimming pools); they are pillars of society; Negro members are deacons and elders of their churches and are regarded in their neighborhoods as doctors used to be by the newly fledged Jewish communities. I cannot think of another part of the country in which, thanks in large part to their union, laborers are so well regarded and are in turn so proud of their work and their affiliation.”

    —Harvey Swados’ essay “West Coast Waterfront: End of an Era” (1961) in “A Radical’s America

    “In San Francisco our people were actually involved in the real labor movement [in the 1920s & 1930s, in contrast with New York – Hieronymous]. You have to understand that there was an enormous amount of bullshit. People were running around talking about ‘the masses’ and there wasn’t really any contact with the masses. But hell, I mean, I wrote the ‘Waterfront Worker’ … all of the goddamn thing, week after week after week. A mimeographed thing we used to hand out on the waterfront long before the strike [’34 General Strike]. All of us were actually involved. I had somebody ask me one time at an anarchist meeting in Italy, ‘Is The Grapes of Wrath true?’ One-eighth is true. In the novel, one guy gets killed. In a Bakersfield cotton strike, to which I took Steinbeck, eight guys get killed.

    “You see, all of us were very actively involved and this makes all the difference in the world. Another thing, very few of these people were orthodox Commies because the basic tradition on the West Coast was IWW. The attitude was really an anarchistic attitude […]

    “There’s another thing that I would like to point out, and that is that there has been right along in San Francisco a pretty consistent, relentless organizational activity.”

    —Kenneth Rexroth, interviewed in “The San Francisco Poets” (1969), edited by David Meltzer

    “AN INJURY TO ONE IS AN INJURY TO ALL” – official slogan of both IWW and ILWU , but derived from the Knights of Labor’s “an injury to one is the concern of all.”

    Another anecdote about the anti-racist tradition of the ILWU is the story of the defense of the Garys, an African American family who moved into the all-white Rollingwood suburban housing development in San Pablo in 1952. Within days of their arrival, a mob of whites gathered in front of their house, chanted “Get out n[-word],” lit a bonfire in their front yard, threw rocks that broke windows, and were ignored by the occasional Contra Costa County sheriff sent to cruise the neighborhood. Jessica “Decca” Mitford, Oakland-based organizer with the Civil Rights Congress, a CP front, called in the troops for support and over 500 showed up, including “burly” black and white ILWU longshore workers, many of whom kept all-night vigil, sleeping in the Gary’s house as well as in cars parked in front. Then Decca canvassed the neighborhood and found 8 white families willing to stand up and join the defense effort. The overwhelming support for the Gary family forced the racist neighbors to back down, and eventually other black families moved in without a problem (these moving accounts can be found in Mitford’s “A Fine Old Conflict,” pp. 128-135; “The Letter of Jessica Mitford,” pp. 474, 525, 698)

    In addition to all the acts of solidarity and class consciousness mentioned in the previous thread, there is an inspiring tradition of radicalism on the waterfront (see Howard Kimeldorf’s “Reds or Rackets: The Making of Radical and Conservative Unions on the Waterfront” for a comparison of the history of militancy on the West Coast with the Mafia-run unions on the East Coast) that I would date back to the first sailors’ strike in 1850. But from a class consciousness perspective, that legacy faced periodic blows with each technological innovation that was designed to disempower dock workers and replaced human labor with machines – that, in a nutshell, is the history of capitalism – which happened in 3 distinct phases. Which were:

    –1st was the 19th century introduction of the steam-driven cargo hoisting machinery mounted on decks of ships, displacing system of ropes, pulleys and purely manual labor.

    –2nd was the Mechanization and Modernization (M&M) agreement pushed by ILWU president Harry Bridges in 1960-1961, that containerized the port (which a decade later sent all port operations across the Bay to Oakland – directly adjacent to the Army Depot – to accommodate the massive expansion necessary for supplying the Vietnam War), broke work opportunity equalization (preventing favoritism by sharing work evenly), and weakened the union-controlled job dispatch hiring hall system (which had been the greatest victory because it completely eliminated the “shape-up”). M&M not only allowed longshore workers to avoid the hiring hall by working directly for the employers as “steady men,” it broke the shopfloor solidarity by creating “B men,” a quasi-casualized 2nd-tier of workers.

    Basically, the 1st M&M began to replace the break-bulk system of loading and unloading of ships in gangs, who stowed individual cargoes that came in “sacks, boxes, cartons, bales, or barrels,” with standardized metal containers that essentially are 20 or 40x8x8-foot boxes. Also eradicated was the shopfloor solidarity built into that system. The changes resulted in a 90% overall reduction in the workforce and the atomization of individual workers in cranes nearly 100 feet in the air. After 27 years of the best rank-and-file control of the work process for any industry in the U.S., the ILWU’s radical experiment of worker-control was ending.

    The final nail in the coffin was the 2nd M&M agreement from 1966-1971. The new contract granted the right of container terminal employers to hire permanent “steady men” to work the new capital intensive machinery, reducing those working out of the hiring hall to do the remaining manual work, with nearly half as many hours and at a fraction of the pay of the steady men.

    At the expiration of the 2nd M&M in 1971, there was the last strike in ILWU history, and at 134 days it was also the longest longshore strike in U.S. history. One issue was the attempt by the rank-and-file to eliminate “clause 9.43” in the contract, allowing “steady men” to work directly for the bosses, nullifying the solidarity of the hiring hall. It was also the first rank-and-file opposition to the piecards running the union. As Stan Weir put it (in 1983), “… the longshoremen [had] designed their union to fight employers, but they did not foresee the degree to which the institution of collective bargaining – by its very nature – would develop bureaucratic conservatism in their officialdom” (from “Effects of Automation in the Lives of Longshoremen” in “Singlejack Solidarity”).

    Fast forward to today. Here’s the brutally honest appraisal of JoAnn Wypijewski (from an article titled “On the Front Lines of the World Class Struggle: The Cargo Chain,” in “CounterPunch,” March, 2010):
    _____________________________________________________
    “… the ILWU milks its militant history when opportune but is increasingly undemocratic and politically backward….”
    _____________________________________________________

    (She goes on to mention how in an act of class betrayal, the ILWU cut a deal with “maritime bosses” and stole work from “Machinists in Seattle,” sadly demonstrating how the ILWU is no longer the victim – as it was in the 1930s and 1940s – of raids by AFL unions, but in this case is itself a predator – and this was in 2010)

    Steve-O, thank you for the props and compliments, but let’s be honest: the ILWU in 2011 is no less reactionary than any other AFL-CIA (imperialist) pro-Democratic Party (just search the ’net for ILWU International President Bob McEllrath’s glowing praise for Obama) Zionist pro-gentrification trade union. When I was in ILWU Local 6 in the early 1990s, it was great having fully employer-paid health care, but it sucked that the business agent incessantly kissed the bosses ass and in EVERY workplace conflict took the boss’s side. And that fucker is still a union piecard, but he’s not the only class collaborationist in the union. And whatever great activism that Heyman or Thomas can pull off against their union bosses, it can never make up for the passivity of the rest of the 1,330 longshore workers in Local 10. With no actual strike experience under their belts since that last one in 1971, they’re ill-prepared to face the coming onslaught. (And don’t watch too many Labor Video Project documentaries: they’re great entertainment, but have the educational-nutritional equivalent of children’s breakfast cereal – or about the same class conscious content as a box of Captain Crunch)

    By the way, I ran into my old friend/comrade Howard Keylor yesterday and if you want any of this history corroborated, just ask him – because he’s the source of much of it. I gave a presentation at the ILWU-sanctioned 75th anniversary conference commemorating the ’34 General Strike, titled “The IWW Influence on the San Francisco Waterfront,” and Howard judiciously corrected any errors that I made. And being a wealth of knowledge about the Wobbly legacy on the waterfront, many of it directly from old timers he met as a longshore worker, Howard got me in touch with a labor historian in Southern California, who in turn sent me a wonderful pamphlet on the “San Pedro Waterfront Strike, 1923” – also known as the “singing strike” because the cops never broke the spirit of the IWW strikers.

    –3rd phase: here I need to talk of the coming of capital intensive displacement of living workers by mechanical AND digital technology at the ports. And with the lack of class consciousness by the ILWU in regards to port troqueros, who are the most advanced proletarian sector on the waterfront with the most recent wildcat striking experience, I fear that ILWU won’t fare too well.

    Here’s what Edna Bonacich writes in “Pulling the Plug: Labor and the Global Supply Chain,” in “New Labor Forum” journal in 2007, about the major changes in how capitalism produces commodities within global divisions of labor and the logistics revolution with supply chain management, and how it affects the ports and workers all along the chain.

    Here’s the article:
    ____________________________________________________
    “In Hamburg and in Rotterdam there are docks that operate with no visible human presence. Once a container is moved off a ship, it is picked up by an automated crane, which puts it on an automated guided vehicle, which transfers it to the yard, where two automatic rail-mounted gantry cranes, or ARMGs, stack and retrieve containers. Sensor technology creates a grid around the yard, and GPS systems keep track of where each container is. No need for crane operators, no need for clerks. Where, typically in the U.S.A., two operators, and sometimes a marine clerk, are assigned to each rubber-tired gantry crane that moves containers around the yard, here a single worker can oversee the independent functioning of many machines from a control tower. Maybe a clerk is on hand in the event of an error. Port truckers are given a code or a card that they insert in another machine, which gives the order to the ARMG to pick up the containers they have come for. The driver is signaled to a bay, where the machine puts the coded container on the truck. The truck and its cargo are checked at the gate with automatic character recognition, and cameras photograph the vehicle and its license plate. The closest U.S. equivalent is APM’s new terminal in Norfolk, Virginia, where six yard cranes run by GPS, cameras and computers are operated at once by one worker in a computer booth.

    “This is a revolution in dock work at least as dramatic as containerization, which in the 1960s cut the gang unloading a ship from 125 longshoremen to 40, with phenomenal increases in speed. A number of U.S. and European terminals not yet fitted with full automation have already reduced worker hours by installing GPS and other technology to eliminate work formerly performed manually by clerks.”
    ____________________________________________________

    And from the same JoAnn Wypijewski article, this time about the class composition of the supply chain workers:
    ____________________________________________________
    “As ‘The Cargo Chain’ [a map described in a previous post – Hieronymous] outlines, in the U.S.A. that means smooth acquiescence not only from 60,000 longshore workers, but also from 28,000 tugboat operators and harbor pilots, 60,000 port truckers, 850,000 freight truckers, 165,000 railroad workers, 2 million warehouse and distribution workers, 370,000 express package delivery people, and 160,000 logistics planners – and from similarly interlocked clusters of workers all around the world. They are not all organized, but then they would not all have to say No: just enough of them, acting in concert, at vital points in the chain.”
    ____________________________________________________
    The bosses – led by Wal-Mart – created the West Coast Waterfront Coalition, an “industrial union” of all businesses using the port, much like the collective bosses did on the waterfront in the 19th century. The sad fact is that labor unions compete and jockey to beat the other to get dues payer’s money and don’t practice class solidarity – while the ruling class clearly does. But groups like the City Front Federation that united ALL waterfront unions at the turn of the 20th century, and which fought together – with longshore and maritime workers and Teamsters – as one in the 1901 strike, would be impossible with such opportunist and conservative unions (in stark contrast with the rank-and-file in many cases) like the Teamsters and ILWU of today.

    Here’s an alternative scenario – completely coming out of my own mad mind – about how this global supply chain could act as a radical pole of internationalist class conscious working class self-activity (based on how in 1971, striking GM autoworkers involved in an “alienation” wildcat against the world’s fastest assembly line at the brand new Lordstown factory in Ohio, proposed sending a delegation to the West Coast ports during the ILWU longshore division’s 134-day strike to ask longshore workers to refuse to unload Japanese cars until they resolved the strike at their UAW shop; as predicted, UAW International president Woodcock killed the proposal). Imagine today another strike wave like the one a year ago, starting with a walkout of workers at the Nanhai Honda transmission factory in Foshan China, which spread to other Honda and then Toyota car plants, but also to factories in other industries like electronics, plastics and even breweries – and completely shut down ALL production of Honda cars in China. What if independent truckers (casualized in a similar way to the West Coast troqueros), in the world’s busiest container port in Shanghai, refused to haul the “hot cargo” produced by scabs in struck factories and went on strike and blockaded the port (like they did this past April)? Short of that, what if Chinese longshore workers refused to load the hot cargo onto any ship? Baring that, what if maritime workers refused to sail with hot cargo containers loaded on their ship? And lacking that, what if ILWU Local 10 (or Local 13 at LA/Long Beach) refused to unload the hot cargo in California? With that not feasible, what if warehouse/distribution workers refused to handle the hot cargo? With that impossible, what if the militants in the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers refused to load the hot cargo containers onto trains? That not happening, what if UPS drivers refused to take the hot cargo off the train and deliver it to a Wal-Mart in the heartland of the U.S.? And if that was prevented, what if Wal-Mart workers organized a sit-down strike, occupied their store, and refused to allow the sale of scab hot cargo from China, in a defiant act of internationalist solidarity?

    We now live in a globalized social factory and must start strategizing in a way commensurate with the current organization of the capitalist production process – and level of class composition. Sound impossible? Perhaps, but who would have expected a 44-day general strike in the French-controlled Caribbean island of Guadeloupe against unemployment, poverty and austerity in 2009 would not only succeed due to overwhelming class unity, but also spread to another successful general strike in the nearby island of Martinique – as well as spread unrest to Réunion island in the Indian Ocean. We need to take a closer look at the working class self-activity that made the “Arab Spring” rebellion possible in Tunisia, which spread to Egypt and culminated a half-decade strike wave in a popular revolt deposing Mubarak. But the international cycle of struggle inspired other uprisings in Jordan, Syria, Yemen, Algeria, Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Kuwait, Morocco, and Oman. And Greece has had nearly 10 general strikes, with much insurrectionary activity that just doesn’t quiet down; the French working class seems to have incessant strikes too. And this past week Spain seemed on the verge of a nationwide mass movement in the streets on the scale of the revolt in Egypt. We need to find ways to draw connections between these struggles and make internationalist actions to unite them. What if ILWU workers had shut down the 29 West Coast ports in solidarity with the hundreds of Suez Canal workers who had occupied offices and completely shut down locks in the canal last February? That would have rocked the whole fucking world! To do that, we’ll need to invent new “forms” of fighting that make those linkages across borders and organically rise out of the organic “content” of our anti-capitalist struggle. It’s not the question of “organization” – union, party or otherwise—it’s the question to how to organize and further the fight; phrased different, it’s how to advance the struggle. And be true to the IWW/ILWU slogan: An injury to one is an injury to all.

    To paraphrase Rosa Luxemburg about the St. Petersburg Soviet in 1905:

    “The level of active struggle is more important than the degree of formal organization.”

  3. i would not dare tell comrades in the usa how to behave either within or towards unions as my experience of them is limited,impressionistic,and somewhat old,but perhaps i might be permitted some observations,set against broader and deeper knowledge in britain and some equally impressionistic knowledgede of some of europe.

    i lived in the united states for various periods between 2 and 6 months at a time between 1984-1987,totalling about 2 years in all.i relied on a study-research grant for a short time,and was otherwise self financing or self employed during that time.i remain indebted to comrades then in tucson,arizona and cleveland,ohio for their support during much of my time in the usa.i came into contact with trades unionists not through my own memebership which would neither have been appropriate nor possible at the time,either through my researches or in what might have been called more unusual circumstances at the time.

    let me go on to put some meat on the bones of my framework.i did a lot of travelling to a lot of places,mainly reliant on cheap deals inclduing frequent flyer programmes and standby seats.

    when united airlines struck,that meant that often passengers were “bumped”onto other airlines,uding dtandby seats so that sometimes i lost my seat.whilst often more inconvenient than anything,my employment was much less affacted than for some others,though it was rare to see most working people seriously put into difficulty although it was quickly very clear that this did cause the airlines diffculty,but then that is what a strike is suppossed to do,when workers use thed only powedr they have in withdrawing their labour.

    unusually it left me witha briliant opportunity to talk to airline pilots and aircrew which was easy because i was a sympathetic brit(being british still has cachet)it was easy to discuss the industrial action and ther were lots of anecdaotes told about the immediate effects.quickly i found myself and my comrades in cleveland invited to a union action conference held using televisual contacts between a number of cities.we went on to support the strike as best we could though there was not much we could do.

    the pilots seemed to be militant and took for granted in their organising the high tech facilities,that i still think are not much used in britain.what was however equally clear were practical difficulties in developing support outside their immediate professional environment.in my limited contact i saw nothing of the heavy hand of union machinery/bureaucracy although i do not doubt it was there.as a foreign stranger i could not “read”the situation as i would have done at home.

    coming from a populous but small country,what was also clear was the relatively significant si\e,power and prestige of unions along with what seemed to be high relative autonomy of each section or local which in some cases seem to cover one or more workplace,district or city or even region.by comparison any unions seems to have international reach across a nation state which is almost synonyous with a continental.i still get the impression that some unions calling themselves international,in organising workers in canada and the usa.the term simply does not have the same content as in europe although in union terms that would tend at best to be relations between union bureacucracies rather than at any meaningful level meaningful to members,unless propelled by some rank and file initiative supported or not by particular political currents.

    otherwise i came across individual socialist who may or may not have union membership,and in some cases small groups active in rank and file groupings such as tdu/teamsters for a democratic union where life was clearly difficult.i also noticed that many workers in the welfare sector and/or private not profit were not unionised and seemed to lack any way to organise other than depending on themselves/those who were unionised could it seem to me be in unions that appeared to bare no relation at all to their trades.

    its now 19 years sinec i was last in the united states.whilst i maintain contact with friends,our focus of discussion has not often focussed on the details of the generalities of union organsiation.

    id like to know others experience and knowledge.

    union legislation in britain is pretty draconian and obstructive for serious union organisation,although current discussion amongst revolutionary socialists in britain along with some of the more militant trades union members and officials is that the current climate will require whatever is neccessary,including wildcat strikes on a mass and frequent basis.historically in britain lightning and wildcat strikes have pressed forward.the history of general strikes is more problematic.i am awre that there was some kine of general strike in 1919 which included police.in the shadow of the russian revolution it frightened the ruling class who went on to emasculate the police force unions.the police federation which represents the lower ranks amongst police is neiteh representative of nor comparable with trade uions,unlike police unions in the usa,although i acnowledge that british and usa police probably share an outlook much of the time,which places some distance between them and other trades unionists.i am cautious in saying more here,aware of how fraught ideas about the outlook of and towards police is.

    im aware ive oly talked about a tiny fragment of trade union issues here.i recognise teh limits of my own knowledge although i hope that the other things i can share will be of some use.

    i will return to the issue again in the near future.

  4. The British General was in 1926. It was a 9-day strike, from May 4 to May 13, that was sparked by coal miners attempting to prevent wage reductions and attacks on working conditions. As far as achieving its demands, it failed.

  5. Whoops! That should’ve said “The British General Strike”

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