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Labor Vanishes?

Written by Zwarich Friday, 12 September 2008

A Response to Bill Fletcher and a Plea to the Left Intelligentsia

"Fight your closest enemy first, and never leave an enemy in your rear, to engage with an enemy you would rather fight." That is one of the oldest and most basic tenets of warfare. Failure to pay heed leads only to defeat.

We on the Left well recognize that we are engaged, (currently on the losing end, and pretty much in full ignominious retreat at this point), in a class war being perpetrated against working people by the forces of Capital (Big Money). But what all too many of us do not seem to recognize is that we are failing to apply this most basic rule of warfare. We have not yet come to even identify our 'closest enemy', let alone resolve ourselves that we must fight him first.

This basic failure is crippling our ability to stop our headlong retreat, in order to even begin to mount a 'fight back' strategy in this 'war'. In our eagerness to engage with our primary enemy, (Big Money itself, the forces of Capital), we constantly turn our back to our 'closest enemy' in our rear, with the entirely predictable result that this 'closest enemy', acting in common cause as a surrogate ally with Big Money, is constantly and repeatedly successful in undermining any efforts we try to mount to check our retreat, turn and stand our ground, and begin to fight back.

Bill Fletcher has well earned our highest esteem as one of the Left's most prominent and respected commentators. His perspective on Organized Labor is informed by his many years of experience working his way up the ladder of Labor's bureaucracy, to hold positions in the upper echelons of Labor's hierarchy, (eventually serving as a close assistant to AFL-CIO president John Sweeney).

The fact that he speaks as an African American who has been militantly attentive to the struggle for racial justice since the days of his youth, (in 1970, he led a 'strike' that shut down his high school to show 'Black Solidarity' with the Black Panther Party), lends a special degree of poignancy to his voice as we consider the current sorry plight of Organized Labor in America. 'Good union jobs' once provided a means to a dignified life for millions of impoverished African Americans, as well as for millions of other Americans, of every race, who rose from poverty through the successful struggles of labor unionism. Millions upon millions of those jobs now simply no longer exist.

But reading Mr. Fletcher's commentaries over time, as well-exampled by the article, 'Labor Vanishes', which he published last week on Labor Day, has unfortunately led me to believe that his intimate experience working at very high levels within the bureaucratic hierarchy of Big Labor has been a double-edged sword in the effect it has wrought on his point of view. Though it has given him valuable insight into the workings of this vast, immensely powerful, and highly corrupted bureaucracy, it also seems to have engendered in him a measure of familiarity and collegiality with his former colleagues in Big Labor, resulting in a measure of respect for that corrupt bureaucracy, a respect that is not only undeserved, but also highly counterproductive to our ability to 'identify our closest enemy'.

If we want to stop our headlong retreat, if we want to establish our ability to turn and stand our ground, if we want to begin to advance our own lines in this class war, it is high time that people like Mr. Fletcher, people recognized and respected as the Left intelligentsia, clear the cobwebs of blind 'union loyalty' from their minds. It is high time that we sort out our current reality from the myths of yesteryear that are kept so foolishly fresh in the hearts and minds of so many of us by the echoing refrains of 'Solidarity Forever'. Our 'loyalty to the union' is now being used against us, and it is a principle factor in our current demoralized predicament, but it seems to be so deeply ingrained in so many of us that we aren't yet even capable of becoming aware of our own folly.

It is in significantly admirable that 'the union makes us strong' mythology is so deeply ingrained in our 'loyalty to the union' blood. But it is nothing but fatally foolish if we allow this ingrained loyalty, (to something that no longer even exists), to keep us from realizing that this corrupt edifice of Big Labor not only does NOT make us strong, but rather is a key player in the forces aligned against us.

We must shake off our poetic notions born from the heroic struggles of yesteryear, which now exist only in our memories, (if we are older), and in our hopes and dreams, (if we are younger). We must realize that Big Labor has entered irretrievably into an unholy collusive alliance with Big Money. We must realize that this unholy alliance is crippling us precisely because, and only because, we refuse, (like Mr. Fletcher apparently), to fully acknowledge the horrific and ineluctable fact of its obvious existence.

Those of us who observe from more privileged positions must come to terms with what has become more than obvious to those who have fought in the trenches on Labor's front lines. To those who have felt the lash of betrayal from their own unions, to those who have witnessed first hand, and time after time, as an attack in our rear from our own unions has relegated us to defeat, there is no need of a 'new awareness' of just who our 'closest enemy' is. It is those of us who observe, (and who comment), from advantaged positions on the high ground, who must come to face full-on the awful reality that confronts us. We must come to realize that what was once a proud and heroic Labor Movement has devolved into being the Big Business of Big Labor. We must come to realize that Big Labor has used us, and is using us, and wants to use us more, to muscle itself into an allied labor management and exploitation partnership with Big Money. We must come to realize that the Big Business of Big Labor ITSELF is indeed the 'closest enemy' that we MUST fight first.

As long as this Big Money/Big Labor Alliance is able to bamboozle us into singing 'Solidarity Forever' as we march into battle against the forces of Capital under the banners of our morally corrupted unions, only to find ourselves routed by an attack from our rear, from the Fat Cat bureaucrats in our own damn unions, that is how long we will continue in our state of demoralized confusion and headlong retreat.

Once we shake off these cobwebs that are causing us so much confusion, we can clearly grasp what will be obvious to people whose thinking is unencumbered by the culture of Labor mythology. We will clearly realize that this enormously corrupt edifice of Big Labor, this $6 BILLION dollar a year business that is owned by, and operated for the benefit of, the Labor Fat Cats who have entrenched themselves in power, is NO friend to working people in America. These corrupt vestiges of once proud and noble unionism, these lucrative (to their Fat Cat 'owners') 'union businesses' that in gluttonous self-serving greed and lust for power have morally polluted the very idea of 'solidarity' among working people, do NOT make us strong. They cripple us. They send us flying off in headlong flight, in demoralized defeat, (and for all too many of us, into the spiritual enervation of disinterested apathy).

Big Labor has joined in partnership with Big Money to do its part to ensure a malleable and docile workforce. It has muscled itself into a lucratively profitable position as an outsourced adjunct division of corporate labor management. It operates directly, (and from our rear), to undermine any efforts that are mounted to fight back against Big Money in the class war being perpetrated against us.

This is the awful reality that all too many of us, steeped in our 'loyal to the union' cultural mythology, have thus far refused to face. Big Labor has become a Big Business in and of itself, and it is every bit as much our enemy as all the other amalgamated forces of entrenched wealth and power. Big Labor's role in our continuing headlong retreat is crucially insidious only because we continue to allow ourselves to be duped into thinking that these entrenched Fat Cats of Big Labor, and the prosperous bureaucratic hierarchies over which they reign, are our friends. Once we come to realize that they are NOT, we will immediately rob them of a huge measure of their power over us.

Over the past several years I have traveled extensively throughout the Midwest 'labor war zone', (as it is commonly known throughout Labor's 'guerilla underground'), to meet with small groups of labor activists who HAVE developed a keen awareness of who our 'closest enemy' is. I have met with many of the people who have played leading roles in some of the most well known strikes of the past twenty-odd years. One very clear perspective that these front line soldiers, (unlike the out-of-touch Left intelligentsia apparently), most certainly share is that in strike after strike, in struggle after struggle, it has been our OWN DAMN UNIONS that have been the KEY instrumental factor in causing our defeat.

Time after time we have watched helplessly as our own union bureaucracies have reached collusive agreements with the companies behind the backs of the workers in the trenches, agreements that improve and protect the entrenched positions, powers, and fortunes of the union bureaucrats themselves. The Fat Cats take care of themselves and their own, at the expense of the well-being of rank-and-file union members who are out walking the line, in high spirits and fully prepared to fight tooth and nail for the safety and security of themselves and their families. Once these back-stabbing agreements have been reached, over the angrily spirited protests from the soldiers in the trenches, the union Fat Cats have then actively assisted the companies in undermining and demoralizing the militancy of workforces that had theretofore been standing solid and strong in their resolve for a protracted, and ultimately victorious, fight.

How many times does this have to happen before we quit singing out our blind loyalty to those who show us no loyalty in return? How many times must we watch this same scenario repeat itself before we come to our senses? How many times must we witness this same betrayal before we wake up and realize that the days when the refrains of 'Solidarity Forever' had real meaning are passed? How many times must we see this happen before we realize that these clever union Fats Cats, whose vestiges of loyalty to us pale in comparison to their loyalty to their fat salaries, their entrenched power, and their country club perks, are using our loyalty to 'the union', our loyalty to the heroic idea of 'Solidarity Forever', against us, to defeat us?

Like many other members of the Left intelligentsia, Mr. Fletcher's perception of the problem seems to be clouded by his resume of familiarity with, respect for, and even admiration of Big Labor's Fat Cats. And like so many others in the Left intelligentsia, his vision seems to be so clouded by the cultural mythology of 'Solidarity Forever' that he thinks that saying bland things like "the vision of labor unionism itself must shift", (as he writes in 'Labor Vanishes'), is going to turn this corrupted edifice of the 'Labor Business', this lucrative Big Business that takes $6 BILLION dollars a year directly from the paychecks of millions of American workers, away from their heavily entrenched and well-demonstrated course of collusion with Big Money in their joint exploitation of workers.

What say? Let's follow Mr. Fletcher's lead here. Let's all join in with this refrain. Let's all tell these prosperously entrenched Fat Cats: "C'mon you guys. You need to shift your vision away from your expense account vacations, your country club power lunches on the union tab with politicians, corporate magnates, and other power brokers, your $1000-$2000 a DAY salaries, your union paid 'conferences' in luxury hotels in the choicest tropical vacation spots. You need to shift your vision away from all that and get back here in the muddy trenches with us. C'mon you guys, you need to stop making those back-stabbing secret deals with the companies and be on our side again".

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