If you have "no place to go," come here!

Union and third party leaders not fighting, not present

danps's picture

On Monday workers from the Port of Oakland Truckers Association went on strike to demand better pay and working conditions. They were joined by members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), and their action closed one of the terminals. Their demands are fairly modest: an end to stagnant wages and the right to basic needs like bathroom breaks without being fined. Tuesday the strike seemed to lose steam, with at least one report that ILWU leadership crossed picket lines Monday and encouraged their members to stop supporting it.

Maybe there is some kind of behind-the-scenes intrigue going on between the truckers and the ILWU. O'Brien's article hints at animosity towards the truckers for resisting previous organizing efforts, and also notes ILWU management was concerned about being fined if they supported the protest (make what you will of that profile in courage), so there could be more going on beneath the surface.

Still, it's an effort by a group of workers to organize, and whatever the local politics or clash of personalities, one would think the truckers' efforts would be worthy of support by national union leaders. Certainly someone like AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, who said last month the decline of union membership was a crisis and called for a big tent labor movement, might reasonably be supposed to think no effort to organize is too small.

Yet instead he has been blowing hot air at Washington. At a time when his union can't prevent a deeply unpopular policy change and is doing everything it can to just put it off for a year, it would seem he is not in much of a position to dictate terms. Perhaps if the union aggressively increased its membership there wouldn't be a need to issue empty threats at all.

As the face of his union, Trumka could lend great support and encouragement to organizing efforts by showing up, yet he can't be bothered to do that even for the ones his own union is sponsoring. We are well outside of election season now. If this isn't the time to focus on building up membership, when will be? Trumka seems content to talk tough in the capitol. Then next year will roll around, union numbers will have declined further, and their leaders will once again (despite all the tough talk) stand behind the neoliberal Democratic establishment because they have no place to go. That's not a strategy, it's a death spiral.

Speaking of having no place to go, a third party sure would be a nice alternative. Before last year's election I wrote about the failure of the Greens to do the kind of work that makes a political party viable. Parties don't spring full grown from some uber-politician's skull - they get built from the ground up. My running complaint with the national Green party is that it seems to disdain such unglamorous grunt work.

I focused on Ralph Nader as my example because the Green's 2012 candidate, Dr. Jill Stein, hadn't had a post-election period to show (or not) her commitment to party building. The Greens don't have anyone in Congress or state governorships. As with unions, one would think no effort is too small. And it so happens there is a Green candidate for mayor of Syracuse (Kevin Bott) and another running for 4th District Councilor there (Howie Hawkins).

Yet the party web site doesn't feature either on its Current News (though one of its five rotating banners mentions Bott). Stein, meanwhile, is giving interviews about the Green New Deal and meeting with Green leaders from Ireland. For a party that has zero national presence outside of quixotic presidential runs, why isn't every effort being made to elect actual candidates in an upcoming election? Over the next couple weeks, going door to door in upstate New York would seem to be a much better way for the party to spend its time than bitching about capitalism.

The reluctance of leadership in the Greens and the AFL-CIO to engage on the ground in local and regional battles speaks to an institutional aversion to taking on smaller, winnable, and low-profile efforts in favor of larger, futile, and vainglorious ones. It also makes it easier to write them off as egotistical, out of touch losers who are unworthy of the movements they represent. And when they plead their case to the public down the line, it will be easy to dismiss them: Were you in Oakland? Were you in Syracuse? Or did you spend your time issuing statements and going to conferences at the expense of those who were desperate for your support?

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Alexa's picture
Submitted by Alexa on

a bit of supplemental background on Trumka and his corporatist agenda, later.

Thought that I'd posted a video on him all but disavowing any intention at aggressively pursuing union activities (like collective bargaining).

He appears to have openly adopted the attitude that the AFL-CIO is a subsidiary of the Democratic Party (not that it wasn't already until his leadership).

Personally, I consider the position of the AFL-CIO to be considerably different from that of the Green Party. By that, I mean that the Green Party is not even in the same league with the AFL-CIO when it comes to resouces (financial, organizational infrastructure, etc.).

I expect that "the Greens" (which I have nothing to do with, personally--even though I voted for Dr. Stein) will continue to fail until enough Dems recognize that the only Dem Party Presidential candidates will be DLC/Third Way/No Labels, or corporatist Dems, who no longer have the interests of ordinary people at heart.

I believe that if enough people become familiar with the corporatist Dem agenda (The Hyde Park Declaration), they will finally abandon both legacy parties--leaving a huge opening for some Third Party from the left.

Actually, after the ACA fiasco, I believe that it would be possible for just an "independent" leftist candidate to gain the grassroots financing to run, and possibly defeat the corporatist Dem 2016 candidate.

The only problem is: Who would be courageous enough to do so?

I regret to this day that I was too cowardly to support former Rep Dennis Kucinich for President--even though he most reflected my own values and policy prescriptions.

I had and still have a great deal of respect for him (though he not's perfect, of course).

I may be wrong, but I believe he became an attorney, against pretty great odds.

I remember a C-Span interview with him, with host Steve Scully, in which he described literally "living in a automobile" during part of his high school years.

Contrast that to the other corporatist Dems' backgrounds, who are being bandied about as potential Presidential candidates in 2016.

Kucinich's inclination and ability to know, understand and empathize with very economically vulnerable Americans is unquestionably superior to that of most other potential candidates.

Sadly, today--if and when there is a Dem politician who hails from a working class, much less poorer background--they often run as a "populist candidate."

But once in office, they have no intention of developing and passing policies that alleviate the suffering of low income and/or middle class Americans, which they appealed to in order to win their election.

We need a true "economic populist" Dem or Third Party (as in Independent) candidate.

I believe that 2016 could easily see a Third Party Presidential run that leaves Perot's run (percentage-wise) in the dust--and maybe even wins!

And I am open to any candidate who actually runs on an economic agenda that will actually rebuild the middle class--not this DLC Dem (and corporatist Repub) poppycock of public-private partnerships--throwing more money at Pete Peterson and his ilk.

But only if the liberal community actually "rediscovers the ideology of liberalism."

And that remains to be seen.

danps's picture
Submitted by danps on

That's what's funny about it. It seemed to become instantly proverbial - no one writing about it at the time even feels the need to link to it. Everyone knows where it came from, right?

There's a lesson here, but I'm not even sure what it is. On the face of it: link to everything! But that would quickly become unreadable,* and in any event would be incredibly tedious.

* Links are little interruptions, even though they don't actually obstruct text, you know? Too many of them are distracting (to me, anyway).