Monday, March 6, 2017

Big Labor's Biggest Secret Revealed


As an organizer for a major labor organization, I remain surprised and dismayed by how many of our own union members don't really understand how it all works and where Union Power comes from.
 
To that end, I would like to herein offer a little bit of insight and reveal what is apparently the biggest secret about the union business.
 
Ready for it? The biggest secret about the union business is... THERE ARE NO FUCKING SECRETS ABOUT THE UNION BUSINESS! That's it. There is no secret springfed well of power that flows beneath the marble palaces in Washington DC. There is no secretive Skull and Bones-like society of union leadership pulling strings, even if a few of them up there might wish that were true.  
 
Generally speaking, the union business looks a lot like this... National Presidents and Executive Board members meet and TRY to establish agendas and plans, all the while wondering at what point their local unions and membership are going to wakeup and do something about the current crisis state of the movement. Mid-level and Local union leadership meet and wonder why the national office isn't doing more, and wonder when their membership is going to wakeup  and do something about the current crisis state of the movement and the workplace.
 
And Union Members, generally speaking, are wondering why their local unions aren't doing more, but more alarmingly, live under the bewildering assumption that the National Union will take care of it all for them somehow. This, after all, is why we pay union dues, right?
 
In fact, recently, in a meeting with union members, I was making them aware of some of the legislative efforts currently underway and one local union elected officer shook his head and said, "the national union will never allow that to happen. The attorneys will stop that."
 
 
To which I replied with the above face, only my jaw was much, much lower... and paler... with more of a double chin with graying reddish brown whiskers.

Answering that member, and so many more just like him, I felt the need to delve into exactly how a labor union works in these matters.

First, during political cycles, labor unions work to convey the importance of voting to their membership. Why? Because so many legislative issues effect us as working people that it would be a complete dereliction of duty NOT to inform members about the issues effecting their pocketbooks and rights as workers, and how respective candidates for office WILL vote on those issues.

Many union members get upset about this when they receive calls and mailers and volunteers knocking on their doors. The general belief has become that the unions are little more than the funding arm of the Democratic Party. Indeed, it is a correct assertion that the vast majority of labor unions DO support the vast majority of Democratic Candidates. But why, especially when so many Democratic Candidates are so obviously flawed?

The answer can be found in the currently Republican controlled state and national congresses and administrations. Because while many Democrats are flawed and spineless and do little in the way of helping advance the cause of workers and organized labor, Republicans, as a general rule, want to bust every union in the country, and turn back the clock on worker's rights about a hundred years, just as they openly promise their big corporate donors during their campaigns, and just as they are actually working to do right now. For those of us in the business who follow politics closely... all of the attacks currently being waged on workers amount to the biggest "WE FUCKING TOLD YOU SO" of modern times.  

Now in power, we have seen Wisconsin style union busting successfully introduced in Iowa, and anti-worker "right to work" legislation being introduced in numerous states as well as a national version being pushed in Washington. Attacks of every conceivable sort are being launched against our pensions and retirements savings, healthcare plans, and wages. Workers compensation is being dismantled in many states, safety nets like unemployment insurance are being hacked to pieces, and even child labor laws are being railed against by Koch controlled Republicans as holding back our youth from reaching their full potential.

In a nutshell, Democrats seldom do anything for us, but Republicans want to outright destroy us. Period. The fight is about the wholesale dismantling of the remainder of the American Labor Movement, and the ultimate destruction of every financial gain made by workers since they began striking for a ten hour workday in the 1830's. This matters to every single wage earning worker in the country and every single small business owner. The corporations who are in control of our governments right now have absolutely nothing for us, and share absolutely nothing in common with our collective interests. And labor leaders elected to represent workers have an unquestionable duty to try to educate members about it.

Understanding what unions can really do about it requires knowing how unions really work and where their power comes from. It is so simple that it should not require any explanation, really, but apparently something has been largely lost in the translation of communications between Washington DC and the rank and file.

I will use some basic rounded numbers from my current employer to try to illustrate further. Our national union employs a few hundred staff people, including attorneys, and representatives and organizers and political organizers and accountants and communications folks, etc., etc. and represents almost a million workers. 

There are people whose job it is to essentially read every line of every bill and look for things that effect our membership. These people are paramount to what we do because in modern times you can have a 6,000 page bill in Congress entitled the Potato Farmer Rejuvenation Act, and on page 4,867 you might find a rider attached that inexplicably can, say, raise the individual cost of pension benefits to all workers. Yes... it is just this ridiculous. Really. 

When things like this are discovered, they send teams of lobbyists to tell Congress we are against the Potato Farmer Rejuvenation Act in whole or in part, because of how it adversely effects members. The national union also sends out emails or text alerts or calls, or whatever communication the union of your choosing prefers, to educate membership about the bill and why we ought to be for or against it.

The union president and all of the lobbyists talk to whoever will listen about the bill. But here is the thing; and it is the most important thing; if there are almost a million people represented by a union with a few hundred staff people, then it defies logic and common sense to assume that "the union" is going to take care of all problems. "Union power" lies almost completely with the masses.


I believe the problem often lies in how members view the union. They say "the union" referring to some faraway mystical place in D.C. that is an all powerful Wizard of Oz. I have dedicated my life to this thing of ours and I can tell you with all certainty that I did not do so because I believe in the power of national union leaders in Washington DC. I did it because I believe that the power of working people banding together for mutual aid and protection as the ONLY true source of power against an unjust society designed to benefit the very wealthy propertied classes. In the photo above, "the union" is neither St. Michael, nor the Devil. Rather, the union is the sword.

It is a tool or a weapon to be wielded by activists against injustice. That is it. That is all. The man behind the curtains really is us. If someone is being treated unjustly, the union is a sword that can be wielded BY US and swung as a weapon to fight for them. If we want to improve our lot in life, the union is our best tool in working toward achieving our shared goals. But that is it. That is all it is. It is a tool and a weapon, but without someone who cares enough to pick it up and use it, then it is nothing at all. If the members and the masses do nothing with it, then it becomes merely what the corporate interests want you to believe it is... a machine for collecting moneys from your check. Nothing more.


People need to know this. People need to understand that "the union" is nothing without us. They also need to understand that we desperately need more powerful unions in this country to combat the coming tsunami of legislation being drafted against all of us. The unions ARE the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dike holding back the surge of rising waters. They are our last line of defense. There is NO ONE else.

And here is a big P.S. to members who think that attorneys will win the day for them: It doesn't fucking matter how many attorneys you employ, or how awesome their legal argument is when the enemies of the working class control the U.S. Supreme Court. All roads lead to it, and there is NO JUSTICE to be found in it when all branches of government are controlled by the same party.


I don't want to sound as if the sky is falling, but please understand that the fucking sky is literally falling right now. If you are waiting around for "the union" to do something about it, then quietly go to your boss right now, hand in your resignation, and go apply at Wal-Mart while they are still hiring because pretty soon they are probably going to be one of the best employment options around. 

So, pray tell, what to do? That is the question of the hour isn't it? I say when in doubt, do SOMETHING. And here are a few thoughts to get you started...

First, when it comes to making your voices heard legislatively, get used to calling and emailing your state and national representatives. Most unions nowadays have it setup to make this ridiculously easy for you to do, because they recognize that 2,000 phone calls from a representative's home district is more powerful than 20,000 calls from all across the country. It sounds and feels stupid and pointless, but sometimes... every once in a while, it actually works and pressures an elected official in to backing out of their bought and paid for position on a  bill.

We see the difference in the union business when our lobbyists go in to talk to elected officials. They are either like, "now what do you guys want?" or they are like, "yeah, yeah... we know why you are here... we've received 2,000 calls from your members in our home district, and here is how we are prepared to work with you on that."

But even more powerful (as we have recently seen) than 2,000 phone calls and emails, is the presence of 200 constituents at a town hall, or 20 gathered at a local congressional field office.

For more about fighting back, and even forming groups of your own to do it, check out Indivisible. These folks are making a real difference just bringing people together and providing them with some very basic tools for getting started.

 https://www.indivisibleguide.com/

There is much more to do than simply lobbying too. This shit storm of labor hating didn't begin suddenly last election cycle. The Koch Brothers and their cronies have been organizing quietly for decades. Now we must do the same.

I implore you, I beg of you, if you are a lifelong activist, or a person who is just fed up and ready to do something but you don't know what yet... DO NOT WAIT for someone else to plan it for you, or tell you what to do. That is exactly the sort of thing that got us all into this mess to begin with. We have all relied upon someone else to wield our swords for far too long. Use the tools on Indivisible to form your own group in your own community.

To win back the day in the long run, we have to fight like hell to stop the advance of union busting and anti-worker legislation today, and start building in every county and state and city and town in the nation, something worthy of people actually believing in again. If you wait for someone else to do that for you, then the exact same people will do the exact same things, and a decade from now we will all be voting in the presidential election of Donald Trump, Jr. VS. Chelsea Clinton. Great kids, I'm sure, but fuck them. This is our country and our children's future we are talking about here... not theirs.

For my brothers and sisters across the land... sign up for email alerts from your union... and READ the damned emails! If they ask you to do something... DO IT. And DO NOT wait for your national union or your local union or the AFL-CIO to think up some great fucking solution for you. Get off your asses and do something yourself. If it helps to use the union as a resource when organizing, use it. If it doesn't, use some other tool, or make your own sword. But now is the time to DO SOMETHING!!


For those of you in my great State of Iowa, please consider RSVP'ing to attend the following event. This is not strictly a union event. Every progressive and pissed off working class person in Iowa is welcome to attend and join the discussion on a new kind of organizational sword we can use to fight for social justice. I plan on being there and I hope you will consider joining us. 

Thanks For Reading,
Buzz

21 comments:

  1. I certainly hope this is not true, but one can never really know the truth, can they?

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    1. Gregory, I'm not sure which part you are referring to about hoping it isn't the truth, but nonetheless, I hope we can agree that our system is fundamentally broken for the masses and the only ones who can change that is We, the People. Thanks for reading!

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    2. Gregory, let me assure you, it is true, we are only a couple of years from extinction if something does not happen immediately.

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  2. Buzz, I plan on printing this article out and stapling it to some foreheads on my job. Thank you for this post and for fighting the good fight.

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    1. Lol. That is awesome. I just hope we aren't co-workers! Good luck and thanks for reading!

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  3. Apathy is a major issue, as well as individualistic ideals that oppose the realistic outcome of a resolution. I feel that a Union is only as strong as it's member base & their participation in what they stand for. Although, I'm not sure most get it, as a former administrative employee at a local union I've found that most "new" members are only interested in the money and benefits. This is funny to me because they want the perks, but don't want to fight to sustain such. It seems more of a pain in the ass to participate in political functions, especially. As a poly sci major this concerns me greatly, due to the direct influence of politics in our day to day lives! And that those elections are putting in those that make major decisions that effect those perks. Yet, people are still not getting it!! �� And as shameful as it may be, alot don't even exercise their right to vote, let alone follow issues and candidates, but still somehow maintain the entitlement to bitch about shit. Really?! I could go on & on, but really sick of wasting my breathe. I absolutely agree that critical action is required in the community to educate and follow through with efforts to get the vote out, especially for local and state elections. Down with kicking ass on the political struggle at hand! ��

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    1. I don't believe that it is our task merely to get out the vote. There are enough folks out there in the world trying to do that already. What we are tasked with today is creating something new that will produce leaders, candidates and results worthy of people getting out to vote for. I do hope you are planning on joining us for the Cedar Rapids meeting. Yours is exactly the kind of input we need. Thank you for reading!

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  4. Wow...blame the rank and file instead of administrative staff? Chalk up everything to political power instead of workplace power? You've got everything backwards.

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    1. I think you may have missed the point of my piece a little bit. I am not aiming to "blame" anyone. We really don't have time for that. The point is that it is time to wakeup and get active regardless of what your administrative staff is, or is not, doing. And it ultimately is about organizing for workplace power. But if you believe that workers will just wake up one day and decide it looks like a fine day for a national general strike, and then in the afternoon, they will decide to seize control of their workplaces, then, well, comrade, I wish you all the best of luck with waiting for that to happen. In the meantime, I think the rest of us ought to be organizing toward building an effective movement... politically and in the workplace.

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    2. And P.S. the idea is not to funnel all of our energies into the broken two party system. It is to build a new kind of locally based movement with graduated direct activism in the political process that eventually leads into the workplace. But all organizing begins somewhere, and as much as I deplore politics, it is a great place to see exactly who and what we are fighting against right now.

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  5. The language expressed in article A typical. Unions can do no harm? Are blameless for the chaos in America? Lol ok. Yes unions are needed. The socialism, the PC non sense and globalism not. The open borders not. Abortion not. The sellout of workers not. Almost 40 tears in IBM. Eyes wide open.

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    1. Don, congratulations on getting those eye fixed, brother. Now, if we could only do something about that hearing. Or as an old railroad friend of mine used to say, "your ears are fine. It's your listener that appears to busted."

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    2. Don actually you're the one that has created this mess. You have voted against working people in favor of irrational personal social issues. You don't want an abortion don't get one, you don't like the PC police don't be one, globalization is here to stay get used to it. No unions have not been perfect but they did create the greatest expansion of wealth for the middle class in fact created the middle class. As unions have declined so have peoples wages and benefits. Wake up..

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    3. I am reminded of the old wobbly cartoons featuring Mr. Block.

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  6. Buzz Thank you for the wake up call, hopefully the text was not too long for most of these guys. I have been writing away on our union sites for years now the vest majority of men cannot be bothered to read or comment.

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    1. Bill, I understand your frustration, brother. But my target audience is not the masses of members. Rather, it is addressed to the current and perspective activists. One of my mantras has always been that instead of wondering why only 3-5% of the membership shows up for regular meetings, we ought to be asking ourselves what we are doing with that 3-5%. The movement has always been maintained by the sacrifices of a small percentage of courageous souls. It is simply time that we organized ourselves as a whole somehow and began to push forward together in a meaningful way. If we can do something and create something of value... the people will follow. Thanks for reading and all of your comments, brother. Keep on keeping on.

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  7. Buzz this is not exactly on subject but I thought you may want to read it. If you feel it is inappropriate by all means delete it. ANALOG LEADERS IN A DIGITAL WORLD 2/27/2017

    I recently posted a PBS video essay regarding what was once a middle-class society. See URL below at the bottom.
    One essay was set in a West Virginia mining town and the other in Erie Pennsylvania which was once a manufacturing hub. In the case of Erie Pennsylvania the decline started in the late 70s. Erie's proximity to waterways made it a very efficient manufacturing center. Unfortunately using shipping as a means of transporting goods inland changed. It was no longer the most efficient way to get goods distributed. Then came the beginning of mechanization coupled with companies that decided to outsource their labor. The result was a precipitous decline in good paying blue-collar jobs many of which had union protection. The sad truth is, even if a company decided to build a manufacturing center in Erie Pennsylvania it would be almost 100% mechanized. Sorry to say this type of work is a thing of the past. The fact that many of these hard working blue-collar men and women believe that we can return to the good old days borders on fantasy.

    In the case of West Virginia, the discussion revolved around a 67 year-old man with black lung disease and a very young man believing coal mining was on its way back. While the old man was very proud of the way he made a living he cautioned the young to run away from this means of making a living. The young man looking to me like a child was married with a very young son and a month old daughter. He readily admitted he had no way of making a living. His hopes were, that his vote for Donald Trump would bring back the good old days of coal mining in West Virginia. This young man did not even think about a second option. I'm sorry to say not only is this young man not going to make a living from coal mining but his young family will suffer from his irrational belief. Coal mining has been decimated for several reasons, one the cheap and abundant use of natural gas from fracking. Two mechanization has rendered physical labor almost unnecessary. It takes 1/10 of the amount of manpower to extract a ton of coal then it did only 10 years ago. Three the fact that we are no longer exporting coal to other countries at the rate we once did, unlike the US the rest of the world believes in human precipitated global warming and is moving away from coal.

    Micro and macro solutions to the problem, or should we will call them short term / long-term solutions? The short term solution is to continue lying to the American public. From the president on down, the American public are being mislead by both parties. The president of the United States openly admitted he does not read. leaders in Congress openly boast that they do not use a computer or use email. These are people that have stopped learning. To be clear, any person that is the CEO of any major corporation that cannot do an effective Google search does not belong there, neither should they be in office. Yes the president can use the bully pulpit to badger corporations into keeping manufacturing in this country for the short term. In fact even if corporations are repatriated and manufacturing returns, it will all be mechanized.

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    1. I am reminded of a contingency of the leadership of the miners union (don't recall the names) whose goal it was to ultimately make coal so expensive that it would either be entirely mechanized, or replaced by another fuel source altogether. Their rationale being that they never wanted to see another generation of young men going down into the mines to work. As a man who ultimately ruined his own body pouring concrete on skyscrapers, I can relate to the sentiment. Coal is dead and should stay that way.

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  8. Even jobs like computer programming, accounting, many types of engineering, are no longer safe. We have watched technology expand at an exponential rate. The computing power has doubled in the period from 1970 to 1990, 20 years. It has then doubled from 1990 to the year 2000, 10 years. It has then double in a period of five years, And it will continue along that same timeline. In fact computers are now writing their own programs, far faster than any human and infinitely more accurate, artificial intelligence is here to stay. We are now seeing driverless trucks, the medical profession is using online and virtual technology for diagnosis and treatment. The day that you will wear your Fit Bit synchronize it to the Internet and a computer will diagnose your condition, is right around the corner. The prescription will be sent to a dispensary where you will go scan your phone and pick up your medication. In short what looks like a very good career path now may be a dead end in 5,10 or 15 years.

    The macro or long term solution. Long term the world including the US is going to have to come to the realization that the value of all work must provide a livable wage. YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT COMMUNISM, No, I'm talking about re-evaluating a persons working wage. We once did exactly that, go back to the mid 30s through the early 60s and you will see people that made a livable wage. Keep in mind one person was working not two. The pure capitalist model has to be modified or it will fail under its own successes. You cannot have a society in which you produce goods and services that no one can afford. Service like the AmeriCorps model ( just recently eliminated ) may also be a method of not only creating jobs, but educating the most vulnerable in rural and in the inner city areas. Remember that kid in West Virginia with a wife and two children? Training the unemployed workforce in new technologies and services may also be a method to be used. Yes government must be a part of this system. Countries like Finland and Sweden are presently experimenting with ways to address the coming unemployment storm. There is a Limited pilot program in Finland that gives each person approximately $2000 a month. If you choose to live on $2000 it's yours, if you want a better way of life you go to work or become an entrepreneur and add to the total. Who pays for this madness? Companies like Amazon who have created a model of almost eliminating physical labor would. It is now at the point companies like Amazon have created fulfillment centers in the state of Washington that no one is employed. A customer goes into the store scans there phone, picks the items off the shelf and is charged by a computer to his account on the way out. No I do not have all the answers or do I claim to. But a tsunami of misery is around the corner and it must be addressed. The rich will once again have to pay their fair share of taxes. Keep in mind the top tax rate from the 30s to the early 80s ranged between 70 and 90%, a period of greatest growth and middle income prosperity. You may say but it's never been that way, why does it have to be that way now? The simple answer is, because technology has never advanced at such a pace that it has made large segments of human labor almost unnecessary.

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  9. Be aware of the direction many want to follow. The father of the "alt right", the brains in the White House, Steve Bannon's model must be rejected at all costs. Bannons abrasive brilliance was demonstrated at every stop in his career. His extensive college career, the Navy, Goldman Sachs merger expert , entertainment industry financier, Extreme right wing documentary screenwriter and his leadership at Breitbart news, "the platform of the alt right". He described himself as a “Leninist", that wants to " bring everything crashing down”. His enemies are the establishment, the press, "crony capitalism" and the current world order. Comments like "the press is the enemy of the people" derives its Pedigree straight out of the totalitarian play book. His recent comments at CPAC should send chills down anybody's spine. "The deconstruction of the administrative state”,(absolutely unbelievable) which explains the majority of the current cabinet appointees. I described them as antimatter. Going back to Star Trek days anytime matter and antimatter touch it results in a nuclear like explosion. Anyone that has listened to this man speak in the past, understands he wants to return the country to a time before FDR. An isolationist society and world order . In other words a white, European, Christian theocracy (Catholics need not apply) where all people compete for survival. No labor rules, no environmental rules, no minimum standards, no school standards, no corporate standards, survival of the fittest. No social security, no Medicare, no Medicaid, it won't be sold as such, it will be delivered under the guise of preservation. Which will inevitably lead to a system that will allow it to "wither on the vine" as Newt Gingrich once said. A true oligarchy, a return of the robber barons, while holding the Bible in one hand with the flag draped around oneself. Images of this history are well documented. Beware of people that will exploit the discontent of the times. The methods described above work because of the precariousness of the average persons future. Inequality, globalization, tribalism, Powerlessness. And the constant barrage of seemingly democratic failures throughout the world to keep up with digital disruption.


    https://www.facebook.com/newshour/videos/1015423969167164


    Respectfully submitted for your comment. Bill Thompson

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    1. Bill, you need a blog of your own. You've got a lot to say and it is all good stuff. I believe that we are already in a new era of robber barons and Laissez Faire economic policy... and we all know how that ends. Deregulation, followed by scandal and economic collapse, followed by we, the people, being forced to save capitalism from its own greedy self... AGAIN. Unrestrained, free market capitalism does not work. It has never worked. It is a merry-go-round we all need to step off of eventually. These cats like trump and Bannon are simply new faces on an age old beast. Sadly, their end game is always more poverty, more war, and less of everything for the masses. Nice piece, brother. Too much content for me comment on all of it right now. Hopefully you are in Iowa and can join us. If not, start organizing in your own backyard! Thanks for reading.

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