Saturday, August 11, 2018

The SEP’s contempt for workers

Send to Printer, PDF or Email

Workers in Missouri petitioning to repeal the Right to Work Law. It was defeated by a huge majority in the referendum held on Aug 7, 2018.
The following is an exchange in the comments section of an article on the World Socialist Web Site on plans by ICE to escalate its raids on workplaces to deport immigrant workers. Specifically it’s an exchange between a union activist called S. Fulmer, who objected to anti-union assertions in the article, and the article’s writer Eric London. I think it’s worth reading because it vividly illustrates the point we’ve been making in our two previous posts on how the SEP has crossed a class line by its support of the Supreme Court’s unionbusting Janus decision.
Just consider the way this worker is treated. He argues that accusations against the unions in the article are assertions without evidence (which happens to be true) and then objects (entirely correctly) to how the WSWS “aligns itself with highly conservative, reactionary, organized, elitist and powerful forces in their efforts to dismantle unions”.
London’s first response is to accuse the worker of being a bureaucrat - a textbook example of an ad hominem attack. But it turns out that Fulmer isn’t a bureaucrat, he volunteers his time to the union and the only committee he serves on is for health and safety. Notice that London never apologizes for making this false accusation. The SEP has become so vested in its anti-union ideology that it sounds more and more like the proponents of Right to Work.
It’s also the case that Fulmer has illusions in the Democratic party - like a great many other workers, one might add. His approach to politics is (again typically) pragmatic: he may not entirely trust Ed Markey (Democratic senator from Massachusetts) but believes he has done some good, for instance about the issue of asbestos. And yet he’s also (far less typically) a worker interested enough to read and comment on articles on a website devoted (ostensibly) to world socialism. If Marxists cannot engage in a dialogue with workers like this, then one might as well pack in any efforts to ever win the working class to socialism.
The SEP approach is instead to shout down such a worker. London declares: “Once again, whenever a trade union activist opens their mouth to speak, they reveal their hostility to the interests of the working class.” Notice - not a union bureaucrat but a rather a union “activist”. London believes that he has ‘exposed’ this worker as a reactionary but actually he’s only exposed himself as a petty bourgeois with contempt for workers - a contempt, one might add, fostered and abetted by his mentors who run the SEP.
Frank Brenner
The polemic against unions coming from wsws is unchecked and untrue:
"The trade unions will serve as a willing partner in helping to militarize American workplaces. In recent decades, the government has deported 5 million people, most of whom were workers and many of whom belonged to trade unions. The unions have refused to call a single significant strike, instead poisoning workers with American nationalism by blaming workers in China and Mexico for corporate outsourcing and declining wages"
This statement heavily relies on assumptions. It's certainly not supported by any evidence offered by the author. Obviously, when using a polemic argument, supportive evidence is not required, only aggression fitting an expected outcome. The argument here is that if you haven't called a "significant strike", then you're a wiling partner in militarization. This argument doesn't consider whether or not "significant strikes" would be effective in combatting militarization of American workplaces. In fact, in the current environment, they may serve to increase the militarization of the American workplace. It's an open question. The assumptions behind wsws' unrelenting polemics against unions are based on past political conditions.
In fact, if you set aside your willing participation in irresponsible polemics and read with an open mind, you would see that the author's own statements actually argue that striking would backfire: "The ICE announcement is an open threat to the entire working class. It is a response to the significant increase in strikes and protests..." The author and readers willing to participate in the poisoning of the American worker through strengthening right wing attacks against unions, would use this statement as a way to throw shade on unions, but, obviously, it's clear and direct evidence of self-contradiction and thoughtlessness.
In any case, such is the norm at wsws. It certainly doesn't speak to my experience with unions. This is why it appears irresponsible of wsws to align itself with highly conservative, reactionary, organized, elitist and powerful forces in their efforts to dismantle unions. If you were in the union, and were critical of the union, that's one thing. The union is what its members make it. But wsws' voice speaks as an outside threat, one that has no more to show for the healthy mobilization of the working class than those institutions that it cannot help itself from attacking. Was the workplace that was raided protected by a union? Was it protected by the wsws?
The ICE raids have been going on for more than a decade, as can be seen in wsws article from 2007:
What good has wsws been from stopping these continued raids? Talk is cheap.

Eric London:
SFulmer: I believe from your other posts that you belong to the apparatus of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, which takes about $42 million in dues money from teachers. You describe yourself as a “union activist.” Elsewhere online you are listed as the Chair of an MTA board.
The paragraph you quote is not based on assumption but on fact. The unions have given millions of dollars to the Democratic Party, which passed the laws laying the basis for mass deportations and workplace raids. You note that Obama conducted workplace raids—Well, the AFL-CIO and all the major unions endorsed Obama. Did the MTA endorse him? What do you have to say about this? Obama deported 3 million people. The unions cannot claim to have been “surprised” by his anti-immigrant program, since they endorsed him in 2012 after he had already deported hundreds of thousands.
The unions poison the atmosphere with toxic American nationalism. They recently published a series of press releases denouncing “temporary workers” and calling for Trump to eliminate visas for such low-wage workers.
You imply that strikes would not “be effective in combatting militarization of American workplaces” and that strikes “may serve to increase the militarization of the American workplace.”
Spoken like a true union bureaucrat! You say: Don’t bother fighting the corporations and the government—it will only make matters worse. Don’t bother defending the rights of immigrant workers—let the government come and drag them away because there is nothing you can do. Your bankrupt argument proves the point made in the paragraph you challenge.
What does the WSWS do? We fight to break workers from organizations led by people like you who explicitly tell them not to fight or strike to defend their rights and those of their immigrant coworkers.

Make it about me? I can defend myself. I introduced a business item before the annual delegation at the MTA to require that all money donated to political candidates who voted in favor or privatizing education be required to return our campaign contribution. The motion was passed by the body of 1,500 delegates. All of the money had gone to Democrats. There is a movement within the union to change its direction, but to wsws, it's not a movement of thinking people, it's a poisonous union.
I've never told anyone not to strike in my life. You have no idea what you're talking about, which is, again, consistent with the polemic attacks coming from wsws. At least you searched on the internet and found information you could smear me with. I'm not a bureaucrat in the least. All my time is volunteered and the committee I serve on is health and safety. The number one agenda is to help locals mobilize their forces to protect themselves from health and safety threats. If you can help with that, we can work together.
"Spoken like a true union bureaucrat." Spoken like a true wsws polemic attack against anything union.
"What does the WSWS do? We fight to break workers from organizations led by people like you who explicitly tell them not to fight or strike to defend their rights and those of their immigrant coworkers." I would say this is exactly why I fight you, and will continue to fight wsws' anti-union polemics, but, as is typical with wsws polemic attacks against unions, in actually, it is a meaningless statement without the perspective of the expectations of your polemics. What organization do I actually lead? You don't know, nor do you care to engage in open discussion, but need to smear at every opportunity. The only organization I lead is the only organization available to me. If it didn't exist, I might - and certainly have done so in the past - initiate an organization.
There's nothing a priori that says a union can't be effective and mobilized. But the wsws anti-unionism is a perfect tool of the right wing, whose number one priority in their long crusade against unions is to break down their political strength and support of the Democratic party. Sure, wsws doesn't have the same end in mind, but you are the perfect tool for them. It needs to be pointed out. People need to think for themselves.
The question remains, given that ICE has been militarized and attacking working people for over a decade, what have you achieved? Notice I didn't ask, above, what you do. I know what you do. I asked what good have you been.

Rosa Roja:

I disagree with you on many points (especially the Democratic party), but I totally sympathize with your reaction to wsws polemics. They write as if workers are incapable of organizing unions in their own defense. They call for "rank and file committees" but what does that mean? Either the committees would be small and isolated or they would end up as locals in a new and better union. So is the wsws calling for alternative unions? Why not say so?
Or perhaps they imagine the committees forming the nuclei of revolutionary workers' councils ("soviets"). But they don't say that either. Instead they function as union-bashers pure and simple.

Eric London:

Why did your organization give $230,000 in teachers dues money to elect Ed Markey to the Senate? He just voted to provide $25 billion to build Trump's US-Mexico.

He's got great hair? It's a good question that I don't have an answer for. It was before my time participating in the union activities, which were spurred on in part by a lack of responsiveness from them regarding political candidate support. I didn't vote for him, nor did I vote for anyone beyond my local, because participating in these fake elections presupposes you're voting against your interests. Nevertheless, Markey is the only Sen who has had anything to say about asbestos, meanwhile, Trump has opened the floodgates to asbestos production, benefitting Russians as much as anybody. Granted, Markey saying something isn't heard by anyone above the crazed noise about Russia. I guess politics is not monolithic. I have to start thinking less and less in terms of polemics. That's the media's advantage.
Why hasn't wsws done a story about Massachusetts going to the poll to defeat the expansion of charter schools? It's a perfect example of the people standing up to private interests, and it shows how effective unions can be when they mobilize at the grassroots level. Is there a reason why you wouldn't want to show a clear and important story about a union successfully standing up to powerful, private interests and galvanizing the public to walk to the polls and defeat them, directly?

Eric London:
The unions "standing up to powerful, private interests"!? This year's teachers strikes shows the union serves the powerful interests in stopping strikes and protestors by teachers demanding a defense of public education.
Here are two fantastic articles on the role of the Democrats in attacking public education, including through charterization, written by Nancy Hanover and Jerry White this year.
Here is a quote from the first part:
The period from 2007 to 2016 saw the fewest major work stoppages in the US of any decade since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began recording them in 1947. This was not the result of any complacency among workers, let alone satisfaction with the historic transfer of wealth from the bottom to the top that occurred during the Obama years.
On the contrary, it was the outcome of the deliberate policy of the AFL-CIO and other unions, which guaranteed the Obama administration “labor peace” in the aftermath of 2008 financial crash, giving the Democratic president a free hand to bail out the Wall Street banks, starve the states and school districts of funding, and restructure economic and social relations at the expense of the working class.
In order to maintain the political straitjacket of the Democratic Party over the working class and prevent any challenge from below to the financial oligarchy, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA) worked overtime to smother the opposition of teachers—above all in the suppression of the powerful strikes and mass protests that exploded in Wisconsin in 2011, Chicago in 2012 and Detroit in 2015-16.

Yes, we stood up to powerful, private interests, which your readers would know if there was any honest information coming through your site about the Massachusetts ballot question. I see you didn't answer the question, but, in form with a polemist, returned with another question.
Be that as it may, the ammunition wsws uses to smear unions for offering labor peace was the legacy of pubic union organizing in the 60s. Lefter-than-thous have a terrible time acknowledging the advance of working people under Kennedy, who signed the order allowing public unions to have legal standing, among other things, such as the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. It was tested in court and labor peace was the justification upholding it. I hope it isn't hard to understand why a state might want labor peace. This policy is not the same thing as Harvard students murdering strikers in the name of the National Guard at the BRead and Roses strike, nor does post-assassination state policy mean the same thing it had meant when the inchoate coalition of working people, minorities, and even academics was gaining a foothold in the Democratic party.
The fact that labor contracts have no-strike policies is unfortunate, yes, Taft-Hartley and all that. However, wsws looks silly fronting that unions are against the strikers, when the timing of these strikes appears to anyone paying the slightest attention to appear coordinated and perfectly aligned with the existential threat posed by the stacked supreme court and their decision on Hugh Janus. Duh, their not outwardly calling for strikes. More fodder for polemicists. It doesn't mean they, we, don't support them. Yes, you have counterarguments. But that's all you have. You have nothing to call an achievement, no standing, and you're aligned with these powerful, private interests in seeking the destruction of unions. What a great way to grow a coalition!

Eric London:

Once again, whenever a trade union activist opens their mouth to speak, they reveal their hostility to the interests of the working class. Your praise for "labor peace" and your appeal that workers understand why labor peace is important to the government makes your class position crystal clear.

Rosa Roja:
"Once again, whenever a trade union activist opens their mouth to speak,
they reveal their hostility to the interests of the working class."
Therefore all trade union activists are hostile to the working class. What kind of nonsense is this?