Go Red! Labor for Our Revolution

by Peter Olney


Bill Fletcher and Bob Wing have written an important post election analytical essay with many excellent recommendations on the path forward. “Fighting Back Against the White Revolt” is a must read for all people of good will concerned about the future of humanity. Throughout the election period, both authors provided clear and clarion voices on the importance of uniting all to vote for Hillary to stop Trump and did education on the left to convince skeptics in the movement to vote for the lesser of two evils to stop the racist, misogynist, xenophobic, authoritarian Donald Trump. Everything in Trump’s behavior since November 8 upholds the wisdom of that advice.

Serious engagement in electoral politics is not the sum total of the struggle, but as we are witnessing in the aftermath of November 8, elections do have real consequences. Therefore any strategy must take into account the winner take all and electoral college features of our politic. As Fletcher and Wing point out, Trump won the election by a razor thin margin in three battleground states: Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania by the margin of 77,000, the size of a large union local. Labor’s turnout effort and union household votes clearly could have made an enormous difference in the outcome. That’s why it is so important to critically examine how organized labor failed to carry union households to the degree that Barack Obama did in either 2008 or 2012.

I argue that a defection of working class voters to Trump was key to the loss of historic battleground states, and thus the election. The change in Ohio is stunning: from a 23% margin for Barack in 2012 to a Trump margin of 8% in 2016 among union households. These are voters who have been voting for change at least since 2008 and they haven’t gotten it from a corporatist Democratic party.

The problem in Fletcher and Wing’s analysis of working class support for Trump is that they resort to income as a proxy for class. The working class is a many splendored thing, but the traditional Marxist definition of someone who works for a wage and does not own the means of production still resonates for me. But let’s put any doctrinaire disputes aside and look at the income argument. Fletcher and Wing assert that there was no massive defection of working class voters to Trump by pointing to the fact that Clinton won the majority of voters earning under $30,000 and under $50,000. By that line of reasoning, half the unionized workers in American would be cut out of the working class! My son, a fourth-year IBEW apprentice has just been displaced from the proletariat because his income is $30,000 over the threshold that Wing and Fletcher use. The pollster Nate Silver used the figure of $70,000 to debunk the working class support for Trump argument. Do the math. Divide $70,000 by 2087 annual work hours and you get $32 dollars per hour, hardly an outrageous hourly rate and not even a labor aristocrat’s rate! The defection of union households is an important number and accounts for the marginal shifts that proved definitive in those mid Western states.

The distinction is important because going forward there is plenty of work to be done among these workers who voted for Trump, many of them good union members. Fletcher and Wing acknowledge that: “A key starting point (in combatting racism) will be to amplify the organization and influence of whites who already reject Trumpism. Unions will be one of the key forces in this effort.” There is cause for hope in the fact that the largest group in the more than 100 local unions that broke with their parent bodies to support Bernie Sanders were IBEW locals, (the union my son belongs to) where a journeyman in the Bay Area can make $125,220 a year. Of the thirty-six IBEW locals that endorsed Bernie, twenty-eight were construction locals.

None of this means that the points that Fletcher and Wing raise are to be negated, but it does mean that there is potential on the margins to shift significant sections of the electorate as the Trump anti-worker, anti-union realities set in.

Below is a slightly different and more narrowly focused trade union-based program. I modestly call it “Go Red!”

Organizers must go to the Red states, the Red counties, and to the Red members! “Organize or Die!” doesn’t just refer to external organization; it also applies to the singularly important task of organizing our existing members. Ignoring this challenge led us to the colossal disaster of a Trump presidency.

Look at the electoral map. We see slivers of blue on the coasts. And while there are a few exceptional inland pockets of blue, they are surrounded by a sea of red. What is to be done in these massive areas of Trump and Republican dominance in the most recent election? Unions have members who span the entire political spectrum. This is especially true in 25 states that are not yet “Right to Work,” where membership is a condition of employment.

The first part of “Going Red” is being willing to work in the “red” states, that is, those that Trump carried. Many of those who voted for Trump are good and loyal trade unionists. Before the hammer of legislative and court initiatives (ala “Friedrichs Two”) shatter compulsory membership, we have a superb opportunity to speak to the sons and daughters of New Deal Democrats who voted in key electoral states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin for Trump and helped him carry those states. These discussions cannot be approached as rectification and remedial sessions with “wayward” members, but must be part and parcel of massive internal organizing involving their issues, their contracts and their concerns. It’s time to come home and patiently build organization from the bottom up. And when union leaders and activists do, they should be prepared to hear some harsh critiques and serious questions.

This internal organizing cannot be accomplished by inviting members to meetings. Rather, we need to embed newly trained worker leaders into our worksites. Those leaders (Business Agents, Field Reps, Shop Stewards) responsible for contract enforcement cannot carry out this task. New armies of internal organizers are needed to talk to their sister and brother members about unions, politics, and the future of the working class. This internal organization on a massive scale must begin immediately to move this program because the resources for it may be considerably diminished within a year after the onslaught of “right to work” under the NLRA and the Railway Labor Act.

The second part of “Going Red” is labor’s new political project. Union leaders’ comfort with — and access to — the Democratic Party’s neo-liberal establishment just isn’t going to cut it. Our future lies with the exciting political movement within labor that we witnessed in support for Senator Bernie Sanders, the Democratic Socialist from Vermont. Not since Eugene Debs and his 1920 race from prison for President has there been a candidate who espoused our anti-corporate, pro-working class values like Senator Sanders. He captured 13 million votes, won the endorsement of six major unions and was supported by more than one hundred local unions — many of whom defied their International’s support for Clinton. Many Clinton supporters now realize that Bernie, with his “outsider” message, an uncompromising record, and decades of political integrity, would have been a far better choice to beat Trump.

Bernie Sander’s new Our Revolution organization needs a strong union core in order to sustain itself financially and organizationally. Unions that supported Bernie should consider coalescing in a new formation around Our Revolution. Unions that didn’t support Bernie should do some serious self-examination, consider a new path forward, and hopefully join with the Bernie unions. A new “Labor for Our Revolution” could be a network of national and local unions that actively engage their members in electoral politics at both the primary and general election levels to support Our Revolution endorsed candidates who reflect labor’s values. The Labor for Our Revolution network could link its political work with member mobilization around local and national labor struggles to defend workers’ rights and contribute to building a broader movement for social and economic justice.

“Going Red” by having a face-to-face conversation with all our members and launching a new political project are two tasks bound up with each other. Without re-establishing an allegiance with members who supported Trump, progressive electoral victories backed by working class union members will be much harder to achieve. Without giving those members an alternative political vision, like that of Bernie Sanders, there is no moving them politically. That alternative political vision must include the fight for multi-racial unity by recognizing and combatting the pervasive effects of systemic racism.

Finally and perhaps most importantly, “Going Red” means being ready to make sacrifices to defend our brother and sister immigrant workers, Muslims, People of Color and all those who are hatefully targeted by the Trump administration. We can take inspiration from the recent efforts of thousands of veterans to stand with the Standing Rock native peoples. We can take inspiration from unions like the ILWU that sent their members to the Dakotas to stand in defiance of the energy companies. More of these kinds of sacrifices will be necessary to win the allegiance of all people to the cause of labor and the defeat of Trump.

“Go Red” to grow and win power!

Peter Olney is retired from the ILWU staff. His essay is reposted from Portside.

International Longshore and Warehouse Union Endorses Sanders

Labor for bernie

ILWU Press Release

March 24, 2016

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – The ILWU’s International Executive Board voted today to endorse U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders for President.

“Bernie Sanders is the best candidate for America’s working families,” said ILWU International President Robert McEllrath. “Bernie is best on the issues that matter most to American workers:  better trade agreements, support for unions, fair wages, tuition for students and public colleges, Medicare for all, fighting a corrupt campaign finance system and confronting the power of Wall Street that’s making life harder for most Americans.”

Many longshore union members have expressed enthusiastic support for Sanders at the local level.

The ILWU represents approximately 50,000 women and men who work in California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Hawaii – in addition to ILWU Divisions represe

Panamanian Dock Workers Join the American Union ILWU

by David Bacon

[ed. note: In my experience as a labor organizer at the global level, international labor solidarity was often more rhetorical and moral than it was practically effective for workers on the ground.   In this exceptional case dock workers in Panama did not only receive effective support from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), but became members of that union’s local branch in Panama].  

PANAMA CITY, PANAMA (4/2/15) — You see a lot of parked taxis in the parking lot at the Panama Ports terminal here.  They’re not waiting to give rides to longshoremen.  Dockworkers themselves are the drivers.  Longshore wages in Panama are so low that after a shift driving a crane, a longshoreman has to put in another shift driving a taxi, just to survive.

At Panama Ports, however, this situation has begun to change.  A few weeks ago the union signed a new contract with raises totaling more than 27% over the next four years.  One factor that made this agreement possible was support from a U.S. union, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.  That agreement will have a big impact on the lives of longshoremen and their families.

In Panama they call longshore pay “hunger wages.”  Workers’ families live below the government’s own poverty line, and some families literally go hungry. Continue reading

Longshore Union Got a Raw Deal from the AFL-CIO

By Carl Finamore

Carl Finamore

Carl Finamore

On August 29, 2013, the 60,000-member International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) announced it was leaving the 13-million member AFL-CIO.

The ILWU explained it was taking this action because of “the Federation’s moderate, overly compromising policy positions on such important matters as immigration, labor law reform, health care reform, and international labor issues.”

The Longshore union also cited “attacks from other national [AFL-CIO] affiliates, who actively tried to undermine our contract struggle by filing legal claims and walking through our picket lines.”

I was at the Sept. 7-11, 2013 AFL-CIO quadrennial convention in Los Angeles and can attest that the ILWU’s presence was sorely missed, especially when “overly compromising policy positions” were openly laid bare.

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What’s At Stake in the Longshore Workers’ Battle

by Joe Burns

Joe Burns

Joe Burns

The disputes that led to one of the nation’s most militant and progressive unions, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) abandoning the AFL-CIO are not, as some may argue mere jurisdictional squabbles, but rather touche on central issues facing trade unionism today. The question at stake is whether one of labor’s most militant and effective unions will be able to defend its traditional jurisdiction and in doing so maintain strong working standards for tens of thousands of long shore workers.

On August 29, ILWU President Robert McEllrath sent a letter to  AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka notifying him of the ILWU decision to disaffiliate from the AFL-CIO. The letter zeroed in on the failure of the national AFL-CIO to offer support to the ILWU in fending off multiple raids on long shore work. Since the letter lays out the multiple challenges faced by the ILWU, it will be quoted at length.

“..we have seen a growing surge of attacks from various affiliates. A particularly outrageous raid occurred in 2011, when one affiliate slipped in to longshore jobs at the new EGT grain facility in the Port of Longview, Washington, and then walked through ILWU picket lines for six months until we were able to secure this critical longshore jurisdiction. Your office added insult to injury by issuing a directive to the Oregon State Federation to rescind its support of the ILWU fight at EGT, which threatened to be the first marine terminal on the West Coast to go non-ILWU. Continue reading

AFL-CIO: No Solidarity Charters for ILWU

Drawing on the principle that “an injury to one is an injury to all,” ILWU longshore and marine workers have used their port power to support the struggles of other unions. But jurisdictional disputes, most notably a 2011 battle with the Operating Engineers over work at a grain terminal in Longview, Washington, have driven a wedge between the militant union and the AFL-CIO. Photo: Dawn Des Brisay.

Drawing on the principle that “an injury to one is an injury to all,” ILWU longshore and marine workers have used their port power to support the struggles of other unions. But jurisdictional disputes, most notably a 2011 battle with the Operating Engineers over work at a grain terminal in Longview, Washington, have driven a wedge between the militant union and the AFL-CIO. Photo: Dawn Des Brisay.

As the AFL-CIO prepares for a convention where leaders say the goal is unprecedented solidarity with organizations outside the labor movement, the federation is turning its back on some inside the house of labor. Leaders have ruled that locals of the West Coast Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) cannot seek “solidarity charters” and will be ousted from local and state labor councils. The ILWU international disaffiliated from the AFL-CIO last Friday.

The stance is a departure from the federation’s reactions to previous disaffiliations. After several large unions left the AFL-CIO to create Change to Win in 2005, the AFL-CIO eventually created a mechanism to allow locals to remain affiliated (after initial reluctance). Locals of the departed internationals could take “solidarity charters” and remain part of their local and state labor movements. Later, similar charters were allowed for locals of the giant National Education Association. Continue reading

Longshore Union Quits the AFL-CIO

by Mark Brenner
Labor Notes

Longshore workers from across the Pacific Northwest have come to the aid of locked out grain handlers in ILWU Local 4 and Local 8. Source: ILWU.

Longshore workers from across the Pacific Northwest have come to the aid of locked out grain handlers in ILWU Local 4 and Local 8. Source: ILWU.

In a surprise move, the 40,000-member International Longshore and Warehouse Union announced its disaffiliation from the AFL-CIO yesterday. The news comes just a week before the federation is set to hold its national convention in Los Angeles, the nation’s biggest port and an ILWU stronghold.

The ILWU, known for its militant traditions and progressive politics, has been drawn into turf wars with other unions in recent years—particularly in the grain export terminals of the Pacific Northwest, where longshore workers have been locked in a high-stakes battle over master contract standards since 2011.

In an August 29 letter to AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, ILWU President Robert McEllrath cited these ongoing juristictional battles as part of the union’s decision to disaffiliate. The skirmishes hit close to home: McEllrath comes out of Vancouver, Washington’s Local 4, where members of rival unions are crossing ILWU picket lines, and debate over the disputes was squelched at this summer’s state labor convention.

The letter also cited the federation’s compromised positions on health care and immigration reform. Invoking the union’s radical and independent history, McEllrath noted the ILWU did not join the AFL-CIO until 1988—after being kicked out of the CIO during the McCarthy era for being “too red.”

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Itochu Office in San Francisco Occupied to support ILWU at Longview Port

by Paul Garver

View ahd share this Labor Video Project production of protestors occupying the San Francisco offices of Itochu. Itochu is a Japanese oilseed company part of EGT, the company that is trying to break ILWU Local 21 in the port of Longview, WA.  We are reposting the video as part of our Labor and Occupy series.

Solidarity Divided: Occupy Protesters Shut Down Ports Without Union’s Support

By Mike Elk

Mike Elk

Yesterday, Occupy protesters attempted to shut down ports along the West Coast. In particular, the protesters targeted SSA Marine, a company owned in large part by Goldman Sachs, as a way of protesting both corporate greed and the working conditions of port truck drivers who are denied basic workers right by being classified as “independent contractors.”

But while the Occupy movement declared solidarity with the port workers, including the truck drivers and members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), the Longshoreman’s union did not vote to shut down the port.

Ultimately, protesters were successful in shutting down some terminals at ports in Oakland, Portland, and Longview, Wash. Workers in Portland and Longview were sent home with pay, but in Oakland, 150 workers were sent home without any pay, according to ILWU spokesman Craig Merrilees.

But the decision by an outside group to shut down the ports and cause workers to lose a day’s pay without them first getting their consent raises serious questions about  the Occupy movement willingness to bypass a labor union’s own democractic decisionmaking process.

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Labor Wars in Longview,Washington: “No Wisconsin Here”

by Michael Yates

We have passed by Longview, Washington many times on our way to Seattle or Mt. Rainier. We never knew about its rich labor history, and we would never have guessed that it would become the center of a struggle that is as important for the future of the labor movement as the uprising in Wisconsin.

Longview is a town of 36, 000 people, located along Interstate 5, forty-eight miles north of Portland, Oregon and 128 miles south of Seattle. It was established in 1921, built privately by Robert A. Long, president of the Long-Bell Lumber Company. A company town, it was constructed originally to support a population of 50,000, including the 14,000 workers Long needed for his operations. About two miles southwest of the center of Longview is the Port of Longview, which was also established in 1921, by the state, as a locally-run Port Authority.

Today both Longview and the Port are staunchly pro-union strongholds. The Wikipedia entry for the Port tells us that,

The Port manages and operates a marine terminal complex where domestic and international ships and barges arrive and depart, and bulk, break bulk and project cargos are loaded or unloaded by local labor union workers. Union workers operate lifting and moving equipment including cranes, forklifts and reach stackers. These workers belong to the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 21.

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