Gotta Play Hardball to Win!
ILWU to Shut Down West Coast Ports May 1 to Protest War
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Supplement, 4 August 1997
Teamsters Strike Against UPS:
Committees! Organize to Defend
4 AUGUST 1997 -- At 12:01 this morning, 185,000 members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, one of the largest and historically most powerful unions in the U.S., struck against the United Parcel Service, the company which ships 80 percent of all packages in the country. It is the first nationwide strike in the 90-year history of UPS, and involves more workers than any strike in this decade. "It's Our Contract, We'll Fight for It" say Teamster signs. It's more than just a contract dispute, and what's needed is a fight to win this key labor battle. "We're striking for every worker in America," said a picketing UPS driver in Atlanta. He's right, and then some. All working people, minorities, immigrants and every other oppressed sector in this country have a stake in this struggle. We must prepare now to come out and defend the UPS strikers against the blows that the bosses and their government are already preparing.
A 21-year UPS driver picketing outside the UPS Metro facility at 43rd Street in Manhattan told The Internationalist: "this is a standoff between labor and management--here it's UPS, but it's almost everywhere. The management at UPS looks at us with contempt." Deep-seated resentment against the highhanded UPS bosses and the sheer power of the unionized work force make this a chance to turn the tide of the more than two decades of defeats that the unions have suffered. It began before PATCO, when Ronald Reagan fired all 14,000 air controllers who struck against the government. Already under Democrat Jimmy Carter, coal miners and Detroit auto workers saw their union gains ripped up and jobs destroyed. Since then, any conscious unionist can recite the list of labor battles lost: Greyhound, Phelps Dodge, Hormel, Caterpillar, Staley, Firestone, Detroit News. And as wages were driven down, by more than 20 percent over the last 25 years, the limited gains of the civil rights movement were also rolled back, along with an assault on womenís rights and anti-immigrant hysteria.
Now, with one of the giants of American labor, the still-powerful Teamsters, locked in battle with hard-nosed bosses at UPS, there is an opportunity to turn this disastrous experience around. Delivering 12 million packages a day, representing more than 5 percent of the entire gross national product of the United States, United Parcel Service cannot simply be replaced by its competitors. And with all their threats to use so-called "replacement workers," it will be difficult for management at Big Brown to bring in 185,000 scabs at once. The strikers have a potentially strong position. They need a leadership with the program and determination to use it to the hilt. For if the strike is frittered away to defeat, we all lose.
UPS workers badly need to win this one. Key to the strike is UPS' use of "part-time" workers, who make up fully two-thirds of all the company's unionized work force (125,000 out of 185,000). And it's increasing: of the 46,000 UPS jobs added in the last four years, over 38,000 were part-time. The starting wage is still $8 an hour, and hasnít been raised since 1982! At average wages of $9 after two years, no one can make ends meet with three to four hours a night. Yet not only do many "part-timers" have to work a second job, more than 10,000 of them put in over 35 hours a week at UPS. After sorting hundreds of boxes on the 3 a.m. shift, many then deliver the overnight packages in the morning. They are in fact full-time workers at half the pay, and with far less benefits.
UPS' part-timing practices have little to do with "flexibility" to "meet the competition" and everything to do with profit-gouging by nickel-and-diming the workers. Even the hubs, which work round the clock, are run with part-timers. The union is calling for 30,000 full-time jobs to be opened for part-timers, but spread out over several years--and even that will be bargained way down. The Teamster ranks should demand that from the minute you enter the door, every UPS worker must be guaranteed the right to eight hours pay at full union scale, with full benefits. And the company can certainly afford it. With $1.15 billion in reported profits last year (on $22 billion in revenue) and $4 billion over the last four years, coming while they are rapidly expanding overseas operations, UPS' pleas of inability to meet competition are hogwash. They're making billions while new hires go home with $24 a night, before taxes!
The union's answer to the management ploy should be to use this strike to organize Federal Express and other non-union carriers! Everyone knows that there are organizing efforts underway at FedEx, and many workers there would flock to the union if there was an all-out effort to use the Teamsters' muscle. During the New York City janitors' strike last year, FedEx workers refused to cross picket lines and dropped their boxes on the sidewalk. Now is the time to send out flying squads of Teamster pickets to shut down FedEx operations as well and sign up the workers on the spot, particularly in key cities. That's the way you go about a real organizing drive, not begging to the "National Labor Relations Board" of the bosses' government. You have the power, use it!
But that will bring down the government on us for violating labor laws, the IBT bureaucracy will reply. Under Ron Carey, the Teamsters have switched allegiances back to the Democrats and heavily contributed to the Clinton campaign in '96, with time and manpower. Now they expect a payback, and Clinton says today that he doesn't see a need to intervene. But as soon as this strike begins to bite--which it will, and soon--he'll suddenly see a need. And when that time comes, the government in Washington will carry out the orders from Wall Street, and Carey will take his orders from the White House. Class-conscious Teamster militants must prepare now to resist attempts to break the strike. Elect strike committees in every local and location to take control of the strike and prevent a sellout! Build picket lines that nobody dares cross--no management scabs go in or out! Against court injunctions, strikebreaking bills or attempts to run scabs, workers should occupy the loading and sorting facilities! Flying squads of pickets can bring out other Teamster freight haulers, and help organize FedEx and other non-union carriers. Unions in Europe are talking of demonstrating in solidarity--the labor movement here better show its support in action. After first delaying the strike by three days, Carey announced that last night was a ìdrop-dead deadline.î What UPS workers need is a drop-dead strike that will stop the Brown Machine cold.
History shows that the law reflects the balance of class forces: the only illegal strike is a losing strike. Hold solid, defend and enforce the picket lines, spread the strike and Teamster strikers have the power to jam the gears of U.S. business. But that poses a sharp political confrontation with the bosses and their government, which will make crystal clear that the leadership of the Teamsters, both the "reformer" Carey and the corruption-ridden old guard, are on the side of capital against the workers.
A Test for Labor
At the outset of the Reagan years, PATCO was a test for the American labor movement. Instead of standing by the striking air controllers, the AFL-CIO stabbed them in the back by refusing to shut down the airports through bringing out Teamster fuel truck drivers and the Machinists, who were key to keeping the planes flying. For years afterwards, all labor paid the price of this betrayal. Today, the AFL-CIO leadership under John Sweeney claims to be a "new voice" for labor. But it's just the same old bureaucracy with another face. The federation has multiplied the money spent on organizing, yet it still regularly loses representation elections. Many workers frankly don't think the unions under the present leadership will fight and deliver.
Even some of Carey's biggest boosters on the left admit that he hasn't been able to "'deliver the goods' that reform promised" (Against the Current, March-April 1997). That's why a labor lawyer front man for the old guard like James Hoffa Jr. could get almost half the vote in the last IBT election just by trading on his father's name. Since the "reform" forces came in through government-supervised elections in 1991, they have presided over a continued erosion of what was once the strongest union in the U.S. Another 40,000 Teamster members were lost in this period. The 1994 Master Freight strike ended in defeat, as Carey bowed to "mediation" by the Clinton administration, agreeing to the introduction of lower-wage "casuals" on the loading docks. The February 1994 UPS walkout collapsed after one day in the face of a court injunction, as old guard local leaders scabbed on the strike.
Every single time the government has stepped in with "mediation" or injunctions or overseers' orders, Carey has folded. What else could you expect of a union leader who was installed by a government-ordered election and is under the thumb of a federal "review board"? Old guard and new guard are all beholden to the capitalist state. The company-dictated sweetheart deals have been replaced by government-dictated deals under the "reformers." Either way, UPS workers and all Teamster truckers, dock and warehouse workers pay the tab with dangerous working conditions, "two-tier" wages, racist discrimination and all-round weakening of the union. As a result of more than doubling package weight limits to 150 pounds and the killer pace that management has always enforced, UPS workers suffer 60,000 injuries a year, filing more OSHA complaints than against any other company in the United States. UPS pays almost $1 million a day in workmanís comp. For management's speed-up engineers, injuries that can destroy workers' lives are just another business expense to be factored in. Now UPS bargainers are demanding a company takeover of union pension funds so they can loot them, while they increase the use of subcontractors for package car delivery. The steady deterioration of union gains at UPS over the last two decades and the collapse of the one-day walkout in '94 whetted management's appetites. Stop them now, beat back the companyís takeback offensive, or the future of the union is at risk--and with it the livelihood of every single UPS worker.
Defeat the Capitalist Offensive
This fight is not just about a profit-hungry management at one company. Whatís been happening to UPS workers is the same as what has happened to workers around the country and around the world over the last couple of decades. UPS' use of part-timers is in the forefront of a national trend, as 18 percent of all workers are classified as part-time. That figure doesn't even include tens of thousands of UPS "part-timers" who work more than 30 hours a week in the company or at more than one job. In fact, because of falling real wages (after taking inflation into account), U.S. workers are working longer hours for lower pay. Meanwhile, by "outsourcing" production to non-union shops, massively using scabs to break strikes, increasing sweatshop exploitation of immigrant workers without legal rights and relocating production to low-wage countries, as well as bringing back chain gangs of prison labor and replacing union workers with "workfare" slavery, the capitalists are ratcheting up the rate of exploitation. As their wage costs fall, company profits have soared, producing the current stock market boom. But after the boom comes the bust, when working people will suffer even more.
The assault on labor is part of a generalized wave of social reaction that has heightened since the destruction of the Soviet Union and the rest of the bureaucratically deformed workers states of East Europe. Ever since then, the capitalist rulers (and those of the U.S. in particular) have been going after the workers movement at home with a vengeance. No longer feeling the need to compete against a "communist menace," all across West Europe, capitalist governments are gutting the already run-down "welfare state." Pensions are cut back, health care is slashed. Under Tony Blair's "New Labour" government in Britain, the social democrats are doing the dirty work begun by Margaret Thatcher. And in the U.S., Clinton's "New Democrats" together with Gingrich Republicans in Congress are continuing the Reaganite assault. The welfare "reform," cutting off benefits from millions of mothers, children and immigrants, is the perfect example of this racist capitalist offensive against their victims. Before the French Revolution, Marie-Antoinette's haughty answer to bread riots in Paris was "let them eat cake." Today, "Republicrats" in the U.S. say "let them starve" as they cut off food stamps.
These defeats have been inflicted by the bosses and their parties, Democrats and Republicans alike, with the aid of the union bureaucrats, the misleaders of labor whose loyalties are to the companies and the capitalist system rather than to the workers they claim to represent. The current pro-capitalist labor bureaucracy originated in a "red purge" in the unions at the beginning of the anti-Soviet Cold War. This anti-labor offensive, the precursor to McCarthyism, was spearheaded by liberal Democrats, and the Teamsters were always a main target. The Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 (passed under phony "friend of labor" Democrat Truman) made it illegal for communists to be union officials at the same time as it outlawed "secondary boycotts," the refusal to handle struck goods which was key to Teamster organizing of over-the-road truckers.
The Landrum-Griffin Act of 1959, likewise, was not about union "corruption"--it was aimed at breaking the power of the Teamsters under Jimmy Hoffa. The year before, Hoffa had sought to form an alliance of all transport unions, including trucking, rail, airlines and maritime. Democratic senator McClellan declared in 1958: "All of our lives are too intricately interwoven with this union to sit passively by and allow the Teamsters under Mr. Hoffaís leadership to create such a superpower in this country." So the McClellan Committee hearings went after Teamster leader Dave Beck for mob ties, and Bobby Kennedy as chief government counsel tried to "get Hoffa" on a variety of charges from bribery to wiretapping. The resulting Landrum-Griffin law strengthened Taft-Hartleyís provisions against "hot cargoing," and as a result of Kennedy's vendetta Hoffa eventually went to jail. But out of that battle came the Master Freight Agreement, a single national trucking contract which the bosses still want to get rid of.
This history is important to know in order to understand that it was the liberal Democrats who led the government assault on the Teamsters and labor gains. This led Hoffa and his successors to embrace the reactionary Republicans, just as United Mine Workers leader John L. Lewis did when Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt outlawed miners' strikes in World War II. Now under Ron Carey, the Teamsters are back in the Democrats' pockets, and the federal government is "supervising" the union from top to bottom, running national elections, indicting local officers, controlling the pension funds. While the strike fund is depleted, and the union treasury is near broke, government overseers and lawyers are getting paid top dollar from the Teamsters' union dues. Either way, with Democrats or Republicans in office, the workers lose. The answer to government strikebreaking and the assault on labor by both capitalist parties is to build a revolutionary workers party that fights for socialist revolution, in this country and internationally.
Build a Revolutionary Workers Party
The experience of the "new Teamsters" under Carey is living proof of the disaster brought about by union "reform" under government control. ("Old guard" officials may moan and groan about government controls, but they were the ones who under indictment signed the 1989 "consent degree" that turned the union over to the feds.) And the stark fact is that the takeover of the Teamsters by the capitalist state was engineered by a bunch of fakers pretending to be socialists. Teamsters for a Democratic Union was braintrusted by social democrats coming out of the International Socialists of the late 1960s and early '70s. Today these social democrats are organized in the International Socialist Organization (ISO, publishers of the Socialist Worker), Solidarity (which publishes Against the Current) and the Labor Notes crowd. In the mid-'70s, the TDU reformists were oppositionists; today, having hitched their wagon to Carey, they are part and parcel of the Teamster bureaucracy.
What put them there was the United States Government. These fake "socialists" acted as finks for the feds. A recent UPS special handout of the Socialist Worker quotes Pete Camarata (a TDU leader and ISO supporter) saying, "TDU was opposed to government control of unions." This is a lie. Even before the announcement of the 1987 federal suit against the Teamsters under the RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) law, a TDU leader (Ken Paff) sent a letter to the Justice Department asking it to "seek reorganization of the IBT under section 1964(a) of the RICO Act" (quoted in Dan La Botz, Rank-and-File Rebellion ). TDU served as witnesses for the prosecution in the 1989 Senate investigation of the Teamsters, and argued in a brief to the court (ostensibly on the union's side) in the RICO suit that its plan for "democratic elections" run by the Labor Department and the courts would be more effective than a straight government takeover. And that is in fact what happened.
At the heart of the fight for genuine union democracy and class independence is the fundamental question of the state. Social democrats of every brand and flavor treat the state as if it were neutral between the classes, and potentially an ally of the workers to "clean up" corrupt officialdom. Many union militants understand that the government and the bosses go hand and hand. But it's more than that. Marxists understand that the state is everywhere and always the instrument of enforcement of the ruling class--in this case, the capitalists. In his 1940 essay on "Trade Unions in the Epoch of Imperialist Decay," left on his desk at the time he was murdered by a Stalinist assassin in Mexico, the Russian Bolshevik revolutionary Leon Trotsky wrote that "trade union democracy....presupposes for its realization the complete freedom of the trade unions from the imperialist or colonial state." Trotsky stressed that in this epoch of decaying capitalism, there was no room for reformist unionism because it could achieve no serious and lasting reforms:
"The trade unions of our time can either serve as secondary instruments of imperialist capitalism for the subordination and disciplining of workers and for obstructing the revolution, or, on the contrary, the trade unions can become the instruments of the revolutionary movement of the proletariat."
That is why, he wrote, "the independence of the trade unions in the class sense, in their relations to the bourgeois state, can, in the present conditions, be assured only by a completely revolutionary leadership, that is, the leadership of the Fourth International."
These are not abstract principles, they go right to the core of struggle of the UPS workers, of all Teamsters and unionists everywhere. In another Socialist Worker flyer (25 July), the ISO claims that the company-spread rumor that Clinton would outlaw a UPS strike like he did at American Airlines in February is "a lie," and that "Clinton could ban that strike only because pilots are covered by a labor law for airlines and railroads." What fatuous faith in Democrat Clinton and the ìdemocracyî of the capitalist state! The bourgeoisie can easily invent all sorts of "legal" excuses to enforce its class interests. Courts could resuscitate the old claim that the strike is an illegal restraint to interstate commerce, or rule that it threatens national security, or health and safety. Congress could pass a special law ordering strikers back to work. Already, the NLRB considers FedEx an "airline" in order to make it harder to unionize. Also, Clinton can do some heavy duty arm-twisting behind the scenes. Every striker had better know that the government can move to shut down their strike, and they must prepare now to defend it.
Over and over, the issues raised by this and every other major strike keep coming back to the question of the state. Thus, the Teamsters leadership organizes cop "unions," recently making a bid for federal police in Washington. The ISO supports the "unionization" of the cops, and even of prison guards, such as the notoriously brutal thugs at NYC's Rikers Island jail. Yet the police are professional strikebreakers, as they amply demonstrated in busting strikers in the 1994 national freight strike, as well as racist killers of blacks and Latinos, as shown by everyday experience in the ghettos and barrios. Marxists and every class-conscious worker must demand "cops and courts out of the unions!" A fight for this basic principle of class independence has been waged over the last two years by our fraternal comrades of the Liga Quarta-Internacionalista do Brasil (Fourth Internationalist League of Brazil) and its members elected to the leadership of the Municipal Workers Union of the industrial city of Volta Redonda, site of the largest steel mill in Latin America.
Every major class battle also necessarily involves broader issues of social oppression. At UPS, in particular, there is the history of racist discrimination by management that goes back decades. Last April, a group of UPS workers filed a class-action suit against the company for a pattern of vicious discrimination. In Oakland, California black UPS drivers were systematically restricted to minority areas while white drivers were assigned to the predominantly white Oakland Hills. Meanwhile, in San Bernardino, "Several black United Parcel Service employees who have found 'KKK' scrawlings at their workplace say their company is more likely to promote white employees" (San Bernardino County Press Enterprise, 27 March). The suit was sponsored by the NAACP, which has focused on issues such as promotion of black managers, and it could be turned against the union. But the real answer to how to fight the deeply ingrained racism at UPS is to mobilize the power of the union to wage a broad class struggle against every instance of oppression.
Yet nowhere in the Teamsters' contract demands is there a mention of discrimination, nor does the TDU touch this issue. In every way, the program of simple trade unionism boils down to acceptance of the rule of capital and the oppression it produces. This was demonstrated again last year when the Teamsters bureaucracy mobilized a national chauvinist, racist campaign against Mexican truckers in the U.S., successfully appealing to the Clinton government to ban them. What is needed is an internationalist opposition to NAFTA, in support of Mexican workers often fighting against U.S.-owned "multinationals," as well as their own U.S.-backed government and its imperialist masters in Washington.
Carey is not the first government-installed "reformer" in recent U.S. labor history. In 1972, Arnold Miller was elected president of the United Mine Workers in a Labor Department supervised election, ousting a corrupt and murderous old guard. TDU in the Teamsters was in fact modeled on the opposition group which backed Miller, Miners for Democracy. Once in office, Miller predictably did the bidding of his Labor Department masters, and tried to shove one concession contract after another down the miners' throats. This led to a series of wildcat strikes that swept through the Appalachian coal fields in 1974-76, and ultimately to the great coal strike of 1977-78. Insurgent miners burned effigies of Miller and torched his sellout contracts, twice voting them down. But that powerful potential went down to defeat for one central reason: there was no revolutionary leadership rooted among the mine workers which could lead this militant class struggle to victory.
The Russian Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin defined strikes as a "school of war," class war. UPS, with its militarized discipline, abysmal pay and rampant discrimination, is an embodiment of American capitalism today. In fighting this behemoth, the task of militant Teamster strikers, along with all class-conscious workers, fighters for minority and women's rights, is to oust the pro-capitalist bureaucracy and fight for genuine independence from the bourgeois state by forging a multiracial revolutionary workers party. This party must vigorously fight every instance of racist oppression; it must defend and give leadership to the struggles of the working class in the international struggle for socialist revolution. The Internationalist Group invites you to join us in this fight.
Elect strike committees! Build picket lines no one dares cross!
Use the UPS strike to organize the unorganized -- Bring out FedEx!
Don't bow to government strikebreaking --Strike to win!
Break with the bosses' parties -- Build a revolutionary workers party!
Mobilize labor and minorities to defend the Teamster strike!
To contact the League for the Fourth International or its sections, send an e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org