The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Who Can Clean Up the Unions?
No One but Us!

Apr 1, 2019

The following article is the editorial from The SPARK’s workplace newsletters for the week of March 25, 2019.

A former United Auto Workers vice-president for Chrysler has been indicted in an ongoing federal probe into corruption in the union-company relationship.

Are there corrupt individuals among union officials? Undoubtedly. There are corrupt individuals in any organization, running from the White House, through the highest courts in the land, through Congress, state officials, city officials, county officials and so on. But the worst corruption is centered in the large corporations, which siphon off value created by the workers’ labor, handing it off to that small class of people who do nothing but take in money.

The feds also leaked a hint that they were looking into extortion by union officials.

Could there be “extortion”?

Sure. All of capitalist society is organized to extort money. Look at the current Boeing scandal. One of the planes that crashed didn’t have safety equipment installed – Boeing charges extra for safety equipment! What is that, but another version of “your money or your life”?

Even so, it’s understandable that many workers got mad when they heard that some union officials took money from their boss.

We should be mad.

BUT, don’t believe this crap that the federal government wants to clean up the unions to serve the workers. The government is not neutral. It comes down on the side of the companies, over and over again, including by attacking the unions and the workers.

Have we forgotten the 1997 Teamsters strike against UPS? The Teamsters, led by Ron Carey, forced UPS to back off on its drive to push part-time work. After 15 days of an active and combative strike, the company agreed to give part-time workers full-time jobs and increase their wages. That strike seemed to open the door to a wider fight against part-time and temporary work.

But the government quickly moved to attack those who led the strike. The government had been investigating gangster influence in the Teamsters union long before the strike started. Foolish people back then cheered the government on, believing it was going after corruption. But look how it all turned out. The Feds used their old investigation to remove Carey, the man who led the strike and who had opposed the gangsters in his union – while the gangsters were left alone. Part-time work remained.

It was a defeat for UPS workers. It was a defeat for the whole working class.

If we cheer when the government takes on the unions, we only help stab ourselves in the back.

The government is not neutral. The laws it passes and the actions it takes systematically favor the wealthy classes.

There is an idea pushed on us: supposedly, we will do well, if we help the companies do well. That belief disarms us.

No. When we go along, ONLY the companies do well. They increase the exploitation of those of us who do the work – by driving us to work harder, for longer hours, for less pay.

We will defend ourselves only when we fight against the companies and the wealthy class that owns them. And in making such fights, we will deal with whatever problems the unions have.

Today, the unions are deformed by having been in a long partnership with the bosses. But they are the only mass organizations the working class has. They include many activists who are real militants of the working class. They include many people who are convinced we will have to fight. Their retirees, who remain organized together, are a fund of experience.

All of those people understand that the working class needs to organize itself. They can be the base of the fights we will all have to make. Fight against those who are our real enemies: the big corporations and the government that serves them. In doing that, we can rebuild or build anew the organizations we need.