The Political Winds are Shifting

Published on ZNet,(first on Worker’s Action, Nov. 10, 2009), by Ann Robertson and Bill Leumer, November 12, 2009.

The labor movement is beginning to stir after decades of setbacks and defeats. Having embraced the concept of a partnership with the employers, most labor officials renounced any recourse to strikes, the only effective weapon when properly employed, and proceeded to negotiate one concessionary contract after another for their membership. Meanwhile they attempted unsuccessfully to pursue their goals through their other “partner,” the Democratic Party.

But the current economic crisis has resulted in tremendous pressure on the labor officials from the rank and file, who are bearing the brunt of the crisis through massive job loss, health care termination, home foreclosures and evictions. And although much still needs to change, hopeful signs are sprouting up on the horizon. 

For example, in the past several years, organized labor has been passing one antiwar resolution after another. This year the AFL-CIO called for “speedy withdrawal from Iraq.” The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) has called for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. The National Education Association, the Communication Workers of America, the American Federation of Teachers, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and United Electrical (UE) have all passed antiwar resolutions. Union officials have recognized that the hundreds of billions of dollars allocated to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could have been spent on job creation programs, education, health care, and other social services. U.S. Labor Against War, a nationwide organization promoting antiwar positions in the labor movement, includes 184 affiliates, most of whom are local unions.

But the significance of these resolutions goes beyond a mere symbolic gesture. They represent a break with the official policies of the Democratic Party, since these wars are now Obama’s wars. By breaking with the Democratic Party on war, the labor movement is taking a step in the direction of independent political action. That is, rather than cementing itself entirely to the Democratic Party, which is controlled root and branch by corporate America and the rich, many labor officials are beginning to acknowledge that their interests might diverge. The partnership is beginning to fracture and crack …

Below is a Sample Resolution:

  • Whereas — despite the so-called economic recovery — the economic crisis for working people has continued unabated with growing unemployment and rising home foreclosures and evictions,
  • And whereas this economic crisis has resulted in the underfunding and degrading of public education and social services,
  • And whereas the government has bestowed billions of dollars of bailout money on the financial institutions whose recklessness and greed created this economic crisis,
  • And whereas there is growing opposition to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq by a majority of the people here in the U.S., not to mention in Afghanistan and Iraq,
  • And whereas these wars are costing billions of dollars each month,
  • Therefore be it resolved that the San Francisco Labor Council call on the AFL-CIO and Change to Win to organize a Solidarity Day III march on Washington D.C. to demand jobs, housing, health care, full funding for public education and social services, and peace. (full text).

(About the Authors: Ann Robertson is a teacher at San Francisco State University and a member the California Facutly Association. Bill Leumer is a member of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 853 (ret.). Both are writers for Workers Action /workerscompass.org and may be reached by this e-mail).

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