The ORGANIZER Weekly Newsletter
Issue No. 76 (Part 1) – U.S. Politics
September 29, 2022
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IN THIS ISSUE:
• The State of Labor Unions and Recent Worker Strikes – Interview with Alan Benjamin
• Saladin Muhammad, Presente! – Statements from Socialist Organizer and Black Workers For Justice
• Open Letter to Sister Colia Lafayette Clark, honoring her decades of struggle on behalf of the oppressed and exploited
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The State of Labor Unions and Recent Worker Strikes
Interview with Alan Benjamin on WBAI (NY) Radio program “Law and Disorder,” hosted on September 26 by attorney Michael Smith and Jim Lafferty, past president of the National Lawyers Guild chapter in Los Angeles. The text has been edited for publication.
PRESENTATION by Jim Lafferty:
For decades now only about 11% of workers in America have been members of unions, whereas previously more than 35% were union members. Various pieces of pro-management legislation and court opinions caused this diminution in union membership and, as a consequence, a weakening of the rights of U.S. workers. But in recent years, as a result of militant fight-back efforts by exploited workers in many industries, unions have once again been having some success in organizing efforts at various workplaces, like Amazon, Starbucks, Apple, and Trader Joe’s.
But federal and state laws still create an up-hill fight for those seeking to organize workers into unions, and to win good labor contracts. So today we ask: do these few but growing numbers of recent labor union victories truly represent a new day for U.S. workers and the unions that serve them? Do these localized labor victories suggest that more and bigger victories for workers are now within reach? Or, have these recent victories been simply exceptions to the still dismal overall state of union organizing in America?
Are either of the two capitalist political parties sufficiently committed to advancing the right of workers to organize unions, or is an independent political movement or party needed to make significant union/worker gains? And what about the pending threat of a nation-wide railway worker’s strike?
And if the railroad companies and their workers cannot reach a negotiated settlement acceptable to the railway workers, could President Biden step in and use the Railway Labor Act in an effort to prevent a railway strike with its devastating consequences for the U.S. economy?
To help us answer some of these questions, we couldn’t have a better guest than Alan Benjamin, long-time union activist and workers’ advocate. He has served on the Executive Council of the San Francisco AFL-CIO Labor Council and is also one of the principal organizers of the organization known as Labor and Community for an Independent Party, or LCIP.
QUESTION: Alan, are the recent victories at a few of the Amazon shops or at Starbucks or Trader Joe’s evidence that today’s labor movement is once again, on the ascendancy – or should we be careful not to read too much into these victories.
BENJAMIN: Without a doubt, we are witnessing a very powerful labor resurgence. Not all union organizing drives have been successful, but the fightback is mounting by the day. We are seeing more strikes than we’ve seen in decades. And there have been some very significant victories.
The most recent organizing success was in Michigan among Chipotle workers – a chain employing 100,000 people nationwide. Chipotle workers voted to form a union and to affiliate with Teamsters Local 243. This follows on the heels of successful organizing efforts at Amazon in Staten island, REI, Home Depot, among others.
Strikes are on the rise: Mental health workers at Kaiser Permanente, organized by the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) here in California, just voted to renew their strike, rejecting management’s latest offer. They have been out for seven weeks. Nurses in Minnesota also went out on strike, as did teachers in Seattle.
Railway workers, organized into 12 different craft unions, rejected management’s final offer and were poised to go on strike. It was only the 11th hour intervention by President Joe Biden and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh that put a halt to the planned strike. The top union officials accepted a sub-par last-minute agreement that left out many of the workers’ central demands.
Biden, acting squarely on behalf of Big Business and Wall Street, felt that he had to intervene directly to avoid a rail strike, which would have paralyzed one-third of the nation’s commerce. On the eve of the 2022 mid-term election, this so-called “friend of labor” did not want to invoke the Railway Labor Act, which would have banned the rail workers from striking. But, according to the business press, he was ready to do so, if necessary.
The last word has not been said about the rail workers. The interim agreement still has to be put to a vote of the membership – and there is huge discontent among the ranks over the tentative settlement. One of the main demands, for example, involved seven to ten days of paid sick leave. This is standard in many union contracts. The TA called for one day of paid sick leave – yes one! In addition, the 5,000 IAM [Machinists] working in rail just voted to reject the proposed contract. The Wall Street Journal noted on September 14, “The threat of a strike has been delayed, but not averted.”
There also has been a resurgence of rank-and-file movements and caucuses in the more traditional unions. We’ve seen the Teamsters for Democratic Union take the helm of the Teamsters union, with a new militant president: Sean O’Brien. The same has happened in the flight attendants’ union with Sara Nelson and the postal workers’ union with Mark Dimondstein. Similar formations have arisen in the Machinists union (IAM), teachers (UCORE, which includes the Baltimore Teachers Union), and UAW, among others.
This resurgence takes place in the aftermath of the successful Chicago teachers’ strike 10 years ago. The Chicago teachers set the example that others have followed. They have helped to dispel the idea that unions are basically business unions that only care about their members – and not the working class as a whole. They pointed the way forward with their advocacy of “social justice unionism” and “bargaining for the common good.” They ignited the Red State Revolt among educators in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona – a revolt that extended to educators in Los Angeles and Oakland and, more recently, in Seattle.
There is another strike that deserves to be highlighted, one that I have been supporting actively: the strike of undocumented immigrants locked up in the ICE Detention Centers in Central California. Detained undocumented workers are on strike to protest the insulting $1 day per day they are paid to do all the work (scrubbing bathrooms, dorms, kitchens, etc., all without proper sanitary equipment) that had been performed by paid staff, who were laid off to increase the profits of GEO, a private, for-profit prison corporation.
ICE detainees at ICE centers in Mesa Verde and Golden State Annex said, “Enough Is Enough!” and have been on strike for more than 4 months. Earlier, ICE detainees were out on picket lines in the state of Washington.
QUESTION: Taft-Hartley, one of the most pernicious anti-labor laws, was passed in 1947. Have anti-union laws played a major role in why unions have had less success organizing workers into unions than was once the case?
BENJAMIN: No question about it. That’s why they were adopted. The capitalist class needed to put an end to the massive labor uprising of the 1930s — an uprising that extended into the Great Strike Wave of 1946, immediately following the end of World War II.
The bosses had to curtail both the right to organize a union and the right to strike. These rights exist only on paper today. In real life, in the class struggle, the laws are not worth the paper they are printed on. The bosses have countless legal ways to smash union organizing efforts and to prevent workers in key sectors (such as rail and airlines) from striking.
Come election time, liberal and so-called “progressive” Democrats always promise to repeal Taft Hartley (while keeping the Taft Hartley pension funds intact, which is important). They’ve been making this promise for the past 76 years.
When the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress during Obama’s first term in office, Obama promised that his “number one priority” was to pass the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which would have removed all major obstacles to union organizing. But nothing came of it.
Similarly, Biden promised that if elected he would go to the mat to ensure the passage of the PROAct, which was similar to, and even better than, EFCA. But Biden, the so-called “best friend that labor ever had,” sheltered behind the filibuster and refused to wage the kind of fight needed to pass the PROAct. And the trade union officialdom didn’t call him out for this. There was no full-court press.
QUESTION: This leads perfectly to our next question. There are many in the labor movement, and you certainly are one of them, who argue that the two capitalist political parties – the Democrats and Republicans – simply can’t be trusted or counted on to advance the rights of workers to form unions, bargain for better wages, working conditions, and the like.
Five years ago, the national AFL CIO at its convention, in fact, adopted a resolution calling for the opening of a discussion within the union regarding whether it was not in fact necessary for a Labor Party to be formed. What, if anything, has been the result of that resolution?
BENJAMIN: Nothing at all. It was a resolution that was coupled with a workshop at the AFL CIO convention in 2017 to talk about it. The resolution was submitted by Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union. Unfortunately, though not unexpectedly, it was again a question of “We agree with this idea, but now is not the time.” For Corporate America and for a labor movement subordinated to the Democrats, it is never the time.
In June 1996, a significant wing of the labor movement – led by Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union leader Tony Mazzocchi – decided that it was time to launch a Labor Party. A founding convention in Cleveland, Ohio, brought together delegates from unions representing 1.7 million workers. Some of the unions were OCAW, ILWU, California Nurses Association, FLOC, UE, and BMWE. The main banner read, “The Bosses Have Two Parties, Workers Need One of Our Own.” This represented a giant step forward.
But the Labor Party at its three national conventions refused to run Labor Party candidates against the Democrats. It refused to challenge the Democrats in the electoral arena. Not surprisingly, it became nothing more than a pressure group on the Democrats, and, as a result, it died on the vine in 2007.
Some unionists who went through this experience have drawn the wrong conclusion from these 11 years of the Labor Party. “We tried,” they say, “but it didn’t work; the workers are not yet ready. Launching the Labor Party was premature.”
I disagree with this assessment, as do dozens upon dozens of union activists and leaders who believe that the problem was failed leadership on the part of the top Labor Party conveners and organizers. We stated at the time, and we reiterate today, that an independent working-class party committed to running candidates, beginning on a local level and working closely with the Black and Latino communities, could have built up the necessary base and momentum to take on the Democrats at a state level, and then a national level.
In our view, this would take time, but at every step of the way there would be Labor Party candidates to promote, candidates rooted in local labor-community assemblies. At every step there would be efforts to organize around the issues that unite the broadest sectors of the working class. The party would be built from the bottom up.
We argued in support of this orientation during the 11 years of the Labor Party, but we did not prevail.
Many of us decided to continue the fight for the Labor Party — because the effort to get the labor movement to break with the Democrats and launch its own independent political party is one of the most pressing and immediate tasks of the day. We came together a few years ago to form Labor and Community for an Independent Party (LCIP) with the aim of (1) promoting local labor-community assemblies that designate independent labor candidates for local office and advocate for a national Labor Party, and (2) promoting the effort to open a discussion in the labor movement about the need for a Labor Party – as per the 2017 AFL-CIO convention.
QUESTION: Let’s talk a bit more about broad community support. How important is it for winning strikes or forming unions to begin with? How successful can you be without that broad community support?
BENJAMIN: You can’t be successful. The labor movement, with only 12% of the labor force organized, doesn’t have the specific weight it once had, when 35% were in unions. We also have laws on the books banning secondary (solidarity) strikes by other unions and permitting bosses to hire so-called “replacement workers” – that is, scabs. The strike weapon is therefore much less effective, as you cannot stop production.
It is vital to build community support. The Southern Workers Assembly has long pointed out that one of the main reasons that trade union efforts to organize the South have failed is that the unions bring organizers from the North who have no base in the communities. They are viewed as outsiders.
The Chicago teachers’ strike in 2012 showed that when you involve the community you can win – and they won.
QUESTION: We’re familiar with the fact that the Democratic Party in South Carolina is not keen on the South Carolina Labor Party running independent candidates in that state. Tell us about this.
BENJAMIN: As I mentioned earlier, a Labor Party was formed in 1996. It lasted till 2007. One of the positive developments in this effort was the formation in 2006 of the South Carolina Labor Party (SCLP). It is a registered electoral party with ballot status. It has to run candidates every four years and receive a certain percentage of votes to remain on the ballot, which it has done consistently.
Earlier this spring, Gary Votour, who ran for the gubernatorial nomination in the Democratic Party, quit the Democratic Party when the leading candidate in that race refused to embrace such progressive planks in the party platform as the fight for the $15 minimum wage, and when the SC Democratic Party sidelined an activist African-American woman in that race. Votour publicly left the Democratic Party and asked to be nominated for governor by the South Carolina Labor Party.
Votour was duly nominated by the SCLP meeting in convention on July 30. Two other SCLP candidates were duly nominated at that time as well: Harold Geddings for Lieutenant Governor and Lucus Faulk for U.S. Representative in the SC First Congressional District.
Labor and Community for an Independent Party (LCIP), of which I am a Continuations Committee member, held a zoom meeting with two of the three SCLP candidates and voted to support these candidates in whatever way we could, beginning with helping to publicize the campaign.
The South Carolina Democratic Party went ballistic. They filed a lawsuit – supported by the South Carolina AFL-CIO – to keep the SC Labor Party candidates from appearing on the ballot. The state election commission ruled that there was no basis for keeping them off the ballot; they had done everything according to the law. The SC Democrats persisted, however, having found a technicality (long ignored by the Democratic Party itself) to bolster their lawsuit: the SCLP had allegedly held their nominating convention past the required deadline. The Democrats found a willing judge, and so the SCLP candidates were thrown off the ballot.
The real reason for keeping the SCLP candidates off the ballot was spelled out clearly by one of the lawsuit supporters. He explained that now was the time to rally behind the Democrats at all levels; we had to do everything to stop Trump in 2022 and 2024. This is a refrain we have heard time and again, whether in relation to Nixon, George W. Bush, or just about every other Republican.
The Democrats are scared of the South Carolina Labor Party because though it is a small party in a state with only 1% union density, the SCLP opened a crack in the door of the two-party system – and that door had to be kept shut.
QUESTION: We were speaking with Chris Hedges [earlier in the program] who was Ralph Nader’s speech writer, and the Democratic Party did the same thing to Ralph Nader to keep him off the ballot. But let me switch our line of inquiry here for a moment and ask you about foreign policy. How would you evaluate the position of the U.S. labor movement when it comes to speaking out on issues of U.S. foreign policy. For example, have they taken a position on the U.S. support for the war in Ukraine, or any stand on the Israeli war crimes in Gaza and the Occupied Territories, or just recently on the more than $800 billion for the U.S. defense budget – funds taken directly out of our pockets?
BENJAMIN: On the issues you raise, their position is shameful. While the San Francisco Labor Council, working closely with the broad-based US Labor Against the War, was able to introduce and push adoption of a strong resolution condemning the U.S. war in Iraq at the 2005 national convention of the AFL-CIO in Chicago, you cannot today speak out against the U.S. / NATO role in Ukraine, or against the U.S. funding of crimes by Apartheid Israel against the Palestinian people in Gaza and throughout all of occupied Palestine, or against the skyrocketing war budget – a budget that is starving our schools, hospitals, social services, infrastructure, etc., of vitally needed funds.
Unions are welcome to issue resolutions condemning Putin’s invasion of Ukraine – a stance that has merit – but resolutions that also condemn the U.S. role in instigating the Russian invasion and then fueling the war not only with weapons, but U.S. advisers and special troops … such resolutions are defeated or ruled out of order on the grounds that they are contrary to national AFL-CIO adopted policy.
The Western Massachusetts AFL CIO adopted an excellent resolution against the war in Ukraine, focusing their ire on NATO and the U.S. and the war budget. That resolution was soon buried. The reason for this is labor’s subordination to the Democratic Party, which is a party of war and exploitation.
Regarding Palestine, the challenge is just as great given the huge Zionist lobby within the U.S. labor movement and the Democratic Party’s unflinching support to the Apartheid regime. But here, too, there are some cracks in the door. The San Francisco Labor Council just passed a resolution opposing the banning of six Palestinian human rights and labor organizations in the West Bank. This was an important breakthrough. We are hoping that this resolution can be approved by the California Federation of Labor and the national AFL-CIO itself. What is significant was that the AFL-CIO leadership did not rule our resolution out of order, thus giving our council the green light to support the resolution.
On the issue of foreign policy, we have a hell of a challenge ahead. It must be said: On foreign policy the U.S. labor movement has a sordid history. In Latin America, it actively supported the overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973. It supported the attempted coup against Hugo Chavez in 2002. It supported the overthrow of Manuel Zelaya in Honduras.
What is needed is for the labor movement to have its own independent foreign policy, which, of course, will require that it break with the Democratic Party. It will require, in particular, that the labor movement open a balance-sheet discussion of labor’s support to these right-wing regimes through its AIFLD foundation.
QUESTION: We’ve learned so much. I have. Where can our listeners learn more about your work and the work of Labor and Community for an Independent Party.
BENJAMIN: Your listeners are invited to visit LCIP’s website: LCIPcommittee.org. They can also visit socialistorganizer.org and subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
QUESTION: Thank you for the informative presentation and wise discussion.
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Socialist Organizer Tribute: Saladin Muhammad, Presente!
Saladin Muhammad on the steps of a North Carolina courthouse
Socialist Organizer was saddened to learn that our comrade and friend Saladin Muhammad has died following a very debilitating illness.
Many of us had the privilege of working with him on multiple campaigns over the years, going back to the Workers Unity Network in the early 1980s (with Jerry Gordon and Jean Tussey in Cleveland), when we helped to promote the “Organize the South” national tour of BWFJ.
Our work as comrades and allies in WUN was — and this task remains — to help Organize the South, promote Black Workers For Justice across the country, and support the struggle for Black Liberation and Self-Determination, linked to the struggle for the emancipation of the working class as a whole from capitalism. We this objective, comrade Saladin was an early supporter of Labor and Community for an Independent Party (LCIP).
We ask Sister Ashaki Binta and the leadership of BWFJ to convey our thoughts, deep respect, and appreciation for Saladin and for all the work he accomplished during a lifetime of struggle on behalf of all the exploited and oppressed. We especially extend our most sincere condolences to his wife, Naeema, and to his son, Muhammad.
Saladin Muhammad, Presente!
The National Organizing Committee of
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BWFJ: Saladin Muhammad, Black Workers for Justice Founder and Leader Joins the Ancestors
Reprinted from a posting to the Black Workers For justice website on September 19, by Biko
It is with great sadness and profound loss that we announce the passing of our exemplary revolutionary warrior and leader, Comrade Brother Saladin Muhammad. Saladin passed this morning after a long battle with illness. His wife, Naeema, and son, Muhammad, were with him as he transitioned. He fought until the end. They described him as being at peace.
Brother Saladin leaves an outstanding legacy of revolutionary commitment, leadership, consciousness, and direct organizing of our people’s struggle for liberation. He was a commander-in-chief of revolutionary forces throughout the Black Liberation Movement and a staunch fighter for the Black Working Class. He worked tirelessly and with phenomenal energy to organize, guide, and lead our people’s fights and battles against oppression. He was an internationalist, upholding the world-wide struggle against capitalism and imperialism. His intellect, insight and analysis were outstanding in the theory and practice of organizing class and revolutionary struggle and the tactics and strategy of social transformation, national liberation, and socialism for the African American people.
Saladin’s unmatched organizing skills led to the formation of the Black Workers for Justice, UE Local 150, and the Southern Workers Assembly, just to recognize only a few of his impactful accomplishments. And these organizational formations of the Black working class were built in the context of North Carolina, a state widely recognized for its anti-unionism and racist history and in the U.S. South, where the lack of a strong, progressive labor movement in the southeast region has been the Achilles heel of the U.S. national labor movement. The struggle to build a “new trade unionism” in the US South must continue.
His leadership and guidance, upon which thousands around the country and the world relied, is irreplaceable and will be sorely missed by all of us. Saladin was active in the struggles for justice and liberation for more than 50 years.
Saladin Muhammad, PRESENTE!
The Executive Committee, Black Workers for Justice
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Open Letter Honoring Sister Colia Clark
Sister Colia Lafayette Clark
[NOTE: Sister Colia Lafayete Clark is a member of the Continuations Committee of the International Workers Committee (IWC), which is sponsoring the International Working Women’s Conference and the Open World Conference Against War and Exploitation, For a Workers’ International at the end of October in Paris. Unfortunately, because of a debilitating illness, Sister Colia will not be able to attend the conferences. The letter below has been endorsed by many activists who have known and worked closely with her over the years. The list of international endorsers is still in formation.]
Dear Sister Colia Clark,
We, the undesigned delegates and supporters of the 2022 Open World Conference Against War and Exploitation, send greetings of support and profound gratitude for your leadership in the U.S. Black Civil Rights Movement as a pivotal organizer in Selma, Alabama in the 1960s, and as a leader throughout your life for Black liberation, labor, independent working-class politics, international solidarity, women’s rights, education, and the arts.
We are delighted to learn that you are finally being honored for your role in Selma, an honor that is long overdue and that we understand has been often denied in the past because of your uncompromising opposition to the twin parties of U.S. capitalism and to the usurpation of the radical legacy of the Civil Rights Movement by the leadership of the Democratic Party.
We thank you for being among the founders of the Open World Conferences and Coordinating Committee members of the International Workers Committee, and for being an ongoing advisor, mentor, and participant. We are greatly saddened that serious illness prevents you from being with us this year at the 2022 World Conference Against War and Exploitation, and we send our deepest wishes that you will recover sufficiently to continue being engaged in our efforts moving forward.
Throughout human history, each generation of fighters for liberation stands on the strong shoulders of those who came before them. Please know that all the undersigned – whether we are your long-term elder comrades or the newest youths who have joined our efforts to save humanity from capitalist annihilation – recognize the debt we owe you and are fully committed to paying it forward. Our tasks would be so much harder without your leadership and inspiration.
In Unity and Struggle
Mya Shone and Alan Benjamin
Coordinators of the U.S. Delegation to the
Paris 2022 World Conference Against War and Exploitation
Initial list of endorsers of Open Letter (the list of international endorsers is still in formation); titles listed for id. only; please add your name to this list:
Clarence Thomas, ILWU (retired)
Donna Dewitt, Past president, South Carolina AFL-CIO
Chris Silvera, Teamsters Local 808
Connie White, Socialist Organizer
David Keil, Labor Fightback Network
Nnamdi Lumumba, Ujima Peoples Progress Party
Suzanne Ross, International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal (ICFFMAJ)
Pam Africa, (ICFFMAJ)
Cynthia McKinney, former Green Party presidential candidate
Niloufar Khonsari, Socialist Organizer
Berthony Dupont, Haiti Liberté
Kim Ives, Haiti Liberté
Leonia Lamour, Haiti Liberté
Frantz Latour, Haiti Liberté
Ralph Schoenman, Past convener, Bertrand Russell Antiwar Tribunal
Millie Phillips, Editorial Board, The Organizer
Fernando David Marquez, UAW 2865
Razaklan Wali, friend and comrade
B. Ross Ashley, OCRFI Canada
Michael Carano, Teamsters Local 348 (retired)
Richard Saunders, Musician