Oct 24, 2005
“Today, we are here to rekindle the American dream, to once again have workers valued and rewarded in our country. The answer is one simple word... Union. That’s right. Union. Unions are the antidote to everything that ails us.... Strategic, smart organizing is our core principle – our North Star.” With these words, Anna Burger, an SEIU vice-president, laid out the whole day’s discussion at the founding convention of the Change to Win labor federation (CtW).
Meeting in St. Louis, September 27, officials from seven unions (Teamsters, Laborers, UNITE-HERE, SEIU, United Food and Commercial Workers, Carpenters and Farmworkers) formally established the new labor federation, with a total membership of somewhere between five and six million workers. (The discrepancy is really a comment on the way union bureaucracies do business – five million is the total reported by the CtW unions for dues payments to the AFL-CIO before they left plus the Carpenters, who had long been outside the federation; six million is what some of them claimed they had after they left!)
Burger was designated as the federation’s first chair, a position to be rotated among the unions involved. Five of the seven unions had already disaffiliated from the AFL-CIO, while the Laborers and the Farmworkers tried to straddle the fence, formally not leaving the old federation, but showing up as founding members of Change to Win at the convention.
The CtW meeting acted on a constitution and several pro-forma resolutions (about the Katrina disaster – offering as Bush did to set up “training centers” for workers left without a job; lots of words about the need for “diversity” in the leadership of the unions; but nothing – not even a peep about the war in Iraq, nothing about the attack on science in the schools, nothing about the other political problems facing the working class). Other than that, the unions devoted the whole day to speeches about the need to organize, interspersed with short speeches by workers who have recently been involved in successful organizing campaigns.
Almost every speaker bemoaned the deteriorating situation facing workers today. And everyone agreed that the major contributing factor is – in the words of another SEIU vice-president – “a labor movement dangerously close to being too small to matter.”
Yes, the organized labor movement finds itself in a serious bind today, having hemorrhaged membership for a quarter of a century now. Compared to its high point in 1954, when 34.7% of the work force was organized in unions, the situation today appears truly dismal, with only 12.5% of the labor force organized, with even less – 7.9% – in the private sector. In 1979, the high point as far as numbers, 21 million workers were in unions; today, there are only 15.5 million in all of organized labor, with about 13 million in the AFL-CIO before the split.
In fact, the AFL-CIO’s current leadership – John Sweeney, Richard Trumka, and Linda Chavez-Thompson – elected in 1995, made almost the same critique of AFL-CIO functioning and almost the same proposals as CtW does today. Sweeney & Company set a goal to organize one million workers a year for the next 20 years – the amount required to get the level of unionization back to what it was in the 1950s. They restructured the organizing department and announced they would spend 30% of the federation’s budget on organizing the first two years, and 20% a year thereafter. And they encouraged member unions to do the same thing – on average unions had been spending only 3% of their budgets on organizing. Of course, with the AFL-CIO unions each doing their own thing, some increased organizing. Some didn’t.
The membership in the AFL-CIO unions did not really go down over the nine years since the Sweeney bunch began to push organizing – but it did not increase either. And the percentage of the labor force in unions continued to decline.
So today we have new proposals to organize, once again coming out of the SEIU, which was Sweeney’s old union. The essence of those proposals was contained in a report first written in 2002 by an SEIU staffer, Stephen Lerner, and then edited slightly and publicly issued in 2003 under the title, “An Immodest Proposal: Remodeling the House of Labor.”
Referring to the 1995 changeover in AFL-CIO leadership, the “Immodest Proposal” concluded: “Organizing won the debate – everybody agrees unions need to organize. The only problem is that unions aren’t organizing.... Much of the labor movement believes that the continued failure to organize and grow is due to unions not trying hard enough.” With this he disagreed, saying, “the majority of unions are too weak to organize and win.”
Perhaps the unions are weak, but the proposals made by CtW ignore the underlying political problem behind the decline of the unions, which is the willingness of the labor bureaucracy to put the interests of the bosses before the interests of the workers. There was no discussion about this problem, only technical recipes.
Lerner’s main proposal is this: “Labor needs to evolve from 66 amalgamated international unions with multiple overlapping jurisdictions into a small number of large sectoral unions with the resources, focus, capacity and self-interest to grow and win for workers in their sectors.” To this end, he proposed that small unions be merged into bigger ones – specifying 10 to 15 as the optimal number of resulting unions, approximating the different broad “sectors” of the economy. He called for the realignment of existing unions, trading members and bargaining units, in order to establish unions based on these “sectors” of the economy. And he wanted to see one or two major unions in a sector be given the responsibility and right to lead organizing campaigns as well as bargaining for contracts in that sector. He also proposed that individual unions should move to merge their own local bodies into much larger ones in order to conserve resources for organizing.
Finally, Lerner advocated that organized labor should make a “strategic” choice of where to put its resources. “In the short term, the diversity and sheer size of the U.S. economy allows unions to target segments where competition is primarily driven by domestic and local labor markets” – i.e., service industries, state and education employment, transport and construction. As for manufacturing, where “international competition... drives down wages and shifts production abroad,” his implicit conclusion was to wait for the rest of the world to organize. “In the long run, this can only be addressed by increasing density and strengthening the labor movement internationally.”
This is nothing more than a way of giving up in advance any attempt to defend the workers in big companies which pretend to be hit by international competition. Implicit in this argument is the idea that it would not be responsible for unions in this country to reduce the profits of American bosses so long as bosses in other countries are not forced to do the same thing.
Starting from the summer of 2003, Lerner’s proposals were put forward as a kind of program by the presidents of SEIU, HERE & UNITE (two unions that subsequently merged) and the Laborers, as well as of the Carpenters, which had already quit the AFL-CIO in 2001. Calling themselves the New Unity Partnership, they resorted to buzzwords coming out of corporate focus groups: organized labor must “restructure” to face new realities, and individual unions need to “increase their market share” or “density.” In place of that good old union word, “solidarity,” they talked about “value-added integration.” Andy Stern, president of SEIU, who by all accounts pushed forward this grouping, made one addition to the original proposals: he wanted the AFL-CIO to rebate half the per capita payments owed the federation by its unions if they devoted at least 10% of their own budgets to organizing in their “particular industry, sector or craft,” in 2006, then increasing to 20% of a union’s national budget and 15% of its local budgets by 2010. Eventually, this grouping was joined by the presidents of the UFCW and finally of the Teamsters.
While being put forth and circulated inside the very top of the union bureaucracy, these proposals never made their way into the ranks of the unions, unseen by workers even in the very unions whose leaders made them. And no discussion was organized around these issues among the ranks.
Finally, in February 2005, the “partnership” presented 10 concrete proposals to “restructure” the AFL-CIO to an Executive Council meeting, looking toward the upcoming July convention. After James Hoffa of the Teamsters signed on, the “partnership” aligned their dues rebate proposal with one Hoffa had made. Dropping the idea that the percentage devoted to organizing should increase past the 10% figure, they added the idea that a union would have to spend a minimum of two million dollars, even if that meant spending more than 10% on organizing.
The Sweeney leadership effectively agreed with almost all the restructuring proposals coming from the Change to Win coalition – they were already pushing mergers, already trying to push unions to devote more money to organizing. But they obviously weren’t going to agree to rebate 50% of the per capita dues payments, which sounded like nothing so much as a way to make the federation completely irrelevant. As for the 40 smallest unions, which account for only 20% of the federation’s membership and most of which would be hard pressed to reach the two million minimum, they heard the proposal as an attempt to force them out of business.
It’s hard to say whether the dues proposal was first advanced as a bargaining chip in an attempt to unseat John Sweeney, replacing him with John Wilhelm, president of HERE – an idea making the rounds of the union bureaucracy in 2003. In any case, by early 2005, the SEIU was threatening to leave the AFL-CIO if all its demands weren’t met in the upcoming convention. Finally, on the day before the convention opened, four unions announced they would boycott it. And on the opening day of the convention, the presidents of the SEIU and of the Teamsters announced they were disaffiliating their unions from the AFL-CIO. The UFCW and UNITE-HERE waited until the convention was over to make a similar announcement. Thus, on the fiftieth anniversary of the 1955 merger between the AFL and the CIO, the federation split in two.
What were the issues that divided them? Who knew? Who could figure it out when the Sweeney leadership and the CtW coalition were making essentially the same proposals, other than the amount of the dues rebate. No wonder this supposedly momentous action went by practically unnoticed in union ranks.
In typically bureaucratic fashion, the CtW officials didn’t bother to organize a discussion about the supposed issues nor about the possibility of these unions seceding from the AFL-CIO – not even inside the ranks of the CtW unions themselves, and not even among most of the local activists who carry on the day-to-day activity of these unions. The decision to leave, just like the various proposals about “restructuring” the unions, was made in the most bureaucratic fashion, and barely, if at all, communicated to the ranks afterwards.
The Sweeney leadership didn’t disagree with the proposal to merge unions: this was already its own policy. Since taking office in 1996, Sweeney has presided over 31 mergers between national unions. In fact, every leadership from the time of George Meany on has pushed mergers as a way to rationalize the functioning of the unions, particularly where different unions overlap in the same industry or skill. In 1955, when the AFL and CIO themselves merged, there were 135 member unions in the new federation. Before the split, there were only 57.
This did not lead to more organizing, nor did it prevent the rate of unionization from falling during this long period, nor, in most cases, did it lead to industry-wide bargaining on new contracts. Those industries where bargaining was carried on in somewhat unified fashion were those like auto, steel, and rubber – the ones organized by the mass upsurge of the 1930s.
In reality, mergers were little more than a bureaucratic way for the unions to face the problem of lost dues income caused by their continuing membership decline.
But the CtW coalition says it wants mergers not only to economize on overhead, but also to “rationalize” the membership, so that unions can focus their energies and resources on one or two main sectors of the economy.
The irony of this proposal is that most of the CtW unions are the very ones which cover the most diverse segments of the working class. The Teamsters is the model of a union that tries to organize in any sector it can, today representing workers in airlines, laundries, beverage plants, breweries, building materials, construction, dairies, railroads, public services, warehouse workers, car haulers, freight, graphic arts, food processing, bakeries, motion picture, newspapers, package express, port workers – as just a small sample. And Hoffa made a point to say they do not intend to give up any of their many branches.
The SEIU started out essentially as a union of janitors and other service workers in buildings. From 1974 to 1984, it took in 22 different unions. Over the next decade alone, it absorbed 57 local and state employee associations, and it merged with unions representing guards, jewelry workers, and hospital workers, federal government employees, police officers, clericals in universities and colleges, railroad firemen and oilers, production workers in the leather, plastics and novelty industries.
The UFCW has doubled in size over the last 30 years, but that increase is more than accounted for by mergers. Starting as a union of grocery store clerks, the UFCW merged with unions representing meat cutters, barbers, packinghouse workers, truck drivers and warehouse workers, retail and wholesale store workers, as well as insurance agents, clericals in insurance companies, garment workers, textile workers, chemical workers, distillery workers, among others.
As for HERE and UNITE – whose merger took place during the period when the CtW unions were pushing the AFL-CIO to restructure according to sector – where is the “sectoral” fit between service workers in hotels and restaurants and production workers in garment and textile? But their merger did almost make up for the enormous membership losses suffered, particularly by UNITE.
In any case, with the exception of the SEIU, the main result of all these mergers was to let these unions maintain or almost maintain their membership figures.
If mergers could lead to organizing, those unions which have carried out mergers with a passion should by now have shown some big results. They didn’t. And, more to the point, their aim was never to reinforce the workers – they don’t give a damn about that. They were looking to solve their financial problems coming from declining membership: that is, they wanted to maintain dues income. They succeeded at that – but the workers gained no advantage from it. In other words, the CtW unions were no different than the rest of the AFL-CIO.
Of course, divisions inside the working class go against the workers’ interests, but what’s even worse are the policies of the unions that call on the workers to defend the interests of their own bosses – which can only help divide the workers against each other. In any case, the formal unification of groups of workers does nothing to help the workers defend their own interests and can even be used against them.
The CtW coalition proposed that unions should trade members in order to align them according to their “sector.” In fact, of all the proposals, this is the one that most smacks of the technocratic view that workers are nothing but pawns in one big chess game, to be moved around at will by clever and, perhaps, benevolent union leaders. If these particular unions have done little regarding this question – other than a kind of demonstrative three-way switch of several hundred workers between the SEIU, UNITE-HERE and the UFCW – it’s certainly not out of deference to the membership. The leaders of these unions, just like the heads of all the other unions in the AFL-CIO, are protecting their own fiefdoms. In August, a writer for The Nation pointed out that the Teamsters are organized in “every industry” and asked Hoffa whether he is willing to change that. “Absolutely not,” he answered, adding, “We would not give up members.”
The one place where lots of “member trading” has gone on has been inside the unions themselves, particularly inside the Carpenters and the SEIU. The Carpenters have, in effect, done away with locals, merging them into much broader regional councils, whose officers were chosen not by the membership, but appointed by the Carpenters’ leadership.
The SEIU, by contrast, has split up locals, and merged them, pushing to get much larger and geographically widespread units concentrated in one sector. Arguing that such vast, far-flung locals make it easier to keep up “industry standards” in wages, benefits, etc., the SEIU in California first separated health care workers from the janitors with whom they had been organized in a Los Angeles local; then it merged them with health care workers from northern California, making up, finally, the Health Care West local, covering 160,000 workers in over 300 different workplaces. While the officials of these vast new locals are still formally elected by workers – who have no contact with them at all – the people who run the smaller truly local units are no longer elected, but appointed staff reps. In most cases, they are people who not only never worked in that workplace, but generally, not even in a hospital. Then there’s Local 1, that used to be only Chicago janitors. It now covers Illinois, Wisconsin and Missouri.
According to reports filed with the government covering 2004, there were 28 SEIU locals, whose total membership was more than one million, that is over half the membership. These giant locals did not come into existence as the result of a push coming from the membership, nor did they negotiate contracts “maintaining industry standards” once they were built. Far from it. Separate contracts are negotiated – and while the SEIU may claim it is “maintaining” standards by bringing them all under the big tent of the one local, in fact it negotiates widely varying wage rates. For example, among janitors in a far-flung California local in 2002, while some janitors made barely over the minium wage, others were making $9.10 – and that hardly “a living wage.” Furthermore, the better paid janitors had some kind of pension and health coverage while the others had none. The SEIU justifies this differential, claiming that building owners outside downtown Los Angeles “can’t afford” to pay the “better” rates.
“Maintaining standards”? If so, it’s only the lowest standards, the ones that allow the bosses to make the level of profit they want.
Furthermore, these mergers were pushed on the locals, in many cases by the national office taking over the locals and putting them into receiverships. In eight years time, the SEIU, alone imposed receiverships on 40 of its locals.
“Efficiencies” might come out of these mergers – and even that is doubtful, since what has been built is a heavily bureaucratic structure. But it’s obvious that most of this consolidation was done without the agreement of the local memberships, or even against their wishes. More to the point, a vast, geographically widespread local is much more easily controlled by the top of the union, with members having much less say in its affairs, including whether a strike is called or ended. They certainly have much less knowledge about what goes on in these widespread unions. And finally, such “locals” discard members of the union from the daily life of the union.
A case in point was the 2002 Boston janitors strike, which supposedly involved 12,000 workers, but was ended by a vote of less than 800 members. When SEIU organizer Jill Hurst was asked by Labor Notes why most janitors did not take part in the strike, she said that the union leadership did not ask them to! In fact, this was one of the locals that had been put into receivership.
Whatever these locals are, they certainly aren’t a training ground for the ranks of the unions, and certainly not for those who might aspire to be union activists. In fact, more and more these unions are run by paid staff, hired from outside the unions, often from student or other petty-bourgeois milieus, people who have little sense of the daily life of the working class, and could care less about the real solidarity that workers are capable of.
The SEIU has been put forward as the showpiece for how the CtW wants to organize. It has been able to organize enough new members to increase its size, without counting on what it got from mergers – although how much is a question, in part because the figures given by SEIU leaders seem to vary by the day of the week.
SEIU has signed contracts with a variety of industries or governmental units in recent years, covering large numbers of workers. For example, over the past nine years, it has bragged about organizing 20,000 home health care workers in Illinois, and another 120,000 in California; as well as tens of thousands of home childcare workers in California. These cases involved agreements between the SEIU and a “friendly” politician. The union worked out an agreement with governors: carrying out very big election campaigns for the governors involved; getting, in return, access to these workers so they could then be signed up into the union, and negotiating in advance the terms of work and payment for workers who weren’t yet signed up into the union – in most cases, didn’t even know it existed. Workers put into the unions not only had no real say in the matter, because of the atomized nature of their work (employed in the homes of individuals or in their own homes), they had no work life with other workers, no union life. But, in many cases, after the formality of a vote, they were put under a dues check-off system.
There’s nothing new about unions giving electoral support in the hopes of getting favorable treatment – AFSCME has long done it – but often the union gave the support and didn’t get what it wanted. What’s different in this situation is that the union gave the governors much more than just electoral support. In effect, the union was functioning as a kind of labor contractor. Union activists of an earlier age might have called them “company unions”!
The deal that the SEIU cut with the association of nursing homes in California, after similar deals in Florida and Texas, was even more revealing. The SEIU got free access to all nursing homes in the association, coming to a similar contract understanding; in exchange, it agreed to try to influence legislators to pass legislation that would have exempted nursing homes from liability for patients who had been abused or negligently treated. An SEIU representative even justified this deal by insisting that if the nursing homes didn’t have to pay out so much money in damages, they would hire more workers and pay them more, and therefore the level of care would go up. We might call him a dreamer, if this weren’t so cynical!
The SEIU was not the only union to make such deals. HERE made a similar deal with the big hotel and casino companies in Las Vegas. The union agreed to lower wages and benefits in the hotels that had already been organized in exchange for being given access to workers in the unorganized hotels.
What are these unions doing? At best, they are acting as middlemen, a kind of lawyer offering to take the workers on as their clients, while regulating terms of employment, etc. for the bosses. In reality, they are selling out the workers for the sake of their own interests as a union apparatus.
They have taken the long-standing class collaborationism of the existing unions to new heights. The UAW, for example, agreed to terms of wages and work – reduced from the standard DaimlerChrysler contract – for a Dundee Michigan plant that hadn’t even been built yet, much less the workers hired; in exchange, the company agreed to give the UAW “access” to its workforce. “Access” of course, is nothing but a legal way to say what legally they can’t say, that the company has agreed de facto in advance to recognize the union for these yet-to-be-hired workers. In exchange, the union agreed in advance to a worse contract. At one time the Big 3 accorded union recognition and the extension of the existing contract into new plants – as a kind of recognition of the strength the union and of the working class. Nowadays, this kind of gift to the union apparatus has to be paid for by the unions’ betrayal of the workers’ interests.
In fact, there is no real difference between the AFL-CIO and the CtW in the policies they advocate, nor in the organizing drives they carry out. Stern and company are just more obvious about the deals they make – and they justify them in much more blatant terms.
In an interview on CNBC-TV shortly after the split, Stern said: “we need to build a new, dynamic, modern flexible innovative labor movement that can be good partners with our employer.” Explaining what this means concretely, he went on to say that in order to have a cooperative arrangement between management, labor and the government, the unions need to streamline. They need to “be able to speak with a single voice, not just for employers in a company, but in an industry.... So we need to change our focus, consolidate our strength, have unions that are big enough and strong enough to be good partners with the industry, not individual employers.”
In other words, the point of all this consolidation is not to be able to organize workers to go up against their bosses; it’s to have enough strength to be invited to the bosses’ table. Undoubtedly, the bosses are more willing to sit down with those union “entrepreneurs” who have already tamed the workers within the straitjacket of these “new,” “dynamic,” and “modern” structures.
The SEIU is certainly proposing nothing new when it offers to be a partner with the bosses or help them improve their competitive position. It was the same argument made by the UAW in 1979 and 1980 when it pushed to convince auto workers to give up concessions in existing contracts in order to “save” their bosses, who were some of the biggest companies in the country. It’s the same argument that has just been made by all the unions in the airlines – including AMFA at United; the same argument made by the steelworkers union as one steel company after another used the dodge of the bankruptcy courts to dump pensions and medical benefits – only to come zooming back as very profitable companies. It’s the same argument made by government workers unions around the country, even as local and national governments hand over still more tax breaks to every company that comes knocking on their doors. And it’s the same argument being made right now by the UAW facing new concessions demands from GM. All of them know only a song with one note: “We have to help out our struggling company – or city.”
But Stern has raised that song to a new pitch. In that CNBC-TV interview, he laid it all out: “Our labor movement was built around an industrial economy back in the 1930s. It was sort of a class struggle kind of unionism, but workers in today’s economy are not looking for unions to cause problems; they’re looking for them to solve them, and this means just like Ireland where business and labor and government all began to work together, we need team America to really work together if we’re going to reward American workers’ work, and to make sure that they still can live the American dream.”
What American dream? It has long ago turned into a nightmare for large sections of the working class and other poor layers of the population – precisely because this class struggle that Stern says is outmoded has been raging full-speed ahead.
What ails the unions today is not that they suffer from an excess of “class struggle unionism.” The class struggle has been all one-sided, pushed on by the capitalists, while the unions didn’t call on the workers to enter the arena.
Stern and company don’t even pretend they are leading struggles of the workers. They say openly that this is a thing of the past. They proudly maintain the need for close collaboration with the bosses. And they do so in the language of the bosses, going so far as to ape their stupid business school jargon and pseudo-New Age rhetoric.
The workers have no reason to put their hopes in this new federation, any more than they do the old one. The CtW’s approach has nothing to do with defending the interests of the working class. They are as bureaucratic as the AFL-CIO union leaders, they want to please the bosses just as much, perhaps even more; they are just as eager to control the workers. And, as far as unity is concerned, they may argue for it, but they walked out of the old house of labor, slamming the door on those left behind, for no reason other than their own sectarian interests.
The bourgeois press was quick to compare this split from the AFL-CIO with the split of the early CIO from the AFL in the 1930s.
The comparison couldn’t be more far-fetched. The 1930s was marked by vast mobilizations of the working class, which pushed parts of the union bureaucracy to take some action in order not to be made completely irrelevant. One of the founders of the CIO, Typographical Union president Charles Howard, reminded the AFL Executive Council that the workers were organizing and if the AFL didn’t open its doors to them, they would organize under “some other leadership” – which was exactly what the workers were doing, under the leadership of communists and socialists.
In the distant, far-off, really ancient 1930s that Stern derides, most workers weren’t in unions at all – just like today, in fact, worse than today, because the mass production industries were practically not organized at all. Nonetheless, workers managed to carry out a vast wave of strikes, building those unions in company after company, industry after industry. Their goal was not to build small little local unions, but neither was it to build unions by “sector.” They were organizing the CIO – which became a watchword in much the same way that IWW had been a watchword for earlier generations of workers – signifying one big organization of the working class, built by the struggles of workers in their own local organizations. And it was those local organizations, through which the militants of that generation passed, which shaped and educated them, producing some of the most devoted leaders and best fighters of their class.
The bureaucrats of the existing unions, with John L. Lewis charging out at the front, pushed and fought to reduce those struggles of the workers into sectors or even smaller divisions. The merger of the CIO with the AFL in 1955 was the mark they had done it, aided by the witch hunt against the communists and other militants who had led those earlier struggles.
A real unification of the working class in this country will require a new wave of struggles – against the very corporations and government entities with whom Stern wishes to set up even closer ties, and against or despite the bureaucrats like Stern who would tie the workers to their bosses.
For the working class to have the organizations it really needs, there need to be working class militants who understand that there is a class struggle going on and that the working class has to fight, not just be victimized by it. That means people who, like many of the militants of the 1930s, understood that unions are not enough, that they are not the “antidote to everything that ails us” – to use Burger’s words. The people who can lead new struggles of the working class are those who understand, for example, that the organizations of the working class must raise questions like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and must oppose them for what they are, wars of imperialist conquest and not just simply “misadventures” by a lying president. It’s one of the key questions of our time.
But the AFL-CIO couldn’t bring itself to denounce the war in this fashion. And the CtW was too worried about presenting a “unified” face to say anything at all.
It is significant that the people leading these federations and the unions in them will not clearly condemn these wars: wars that are being fought to defend the interest of the American bourgeoisie against another people, wars that cost the American population dearly.
It is absolutely necessary for the workers to have their own policy to counterpose to that of the bourgeoisie, whether it be at the plant level or at the political level. As a matter of fact, you cannot consistently fight for the day-to-day demands of the working class if you are not ready to contest with the bourgeoisie over the way they rule all of this society. It is necessary to reject the logic of this system, with its competition and drive for profit.
Sooner or later new organizations of the working class will be born – whether they come out of the existing unions, out of struggles of the workers against these unions or out of struggles of the workers which make these unions irrelevant. And those struggles will be led by people who put their trust in the ability of the working class to organize itself, to build its own organizations, to carry out its struggles.