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"Business Unions" and Solidarity Unionism (split from Candadian Carpenters thread)

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Randy
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Sep 18 2007 23:25
"Business Unions" and Solidarity Unionism (split from Candadian Carpenters thread)

(split from Candadian Carpenters thread)

thugarchist wrote:
No, I object to (the term business union) because it has no meaning. What is a business union exactly? Any union that doesn't have a revolutionary preamble? A union that files lots of labor board charges? A union with paid staff? A union that sucks? Can a local union be a business union while the larger "parent" union isn't or reverse that as well?

The latter point being exactly why I distinguished between an entire union, and the practices of certain unions, or the practices of certain segments within those unions. See? Neither fish nor fowl, entirely.

Put simply, business unionism is labor management for profit. Solidarity unionism is more what I have heard you, your own bad self, refer to as the labor movement (joining forces to kick some boss ass). I'll concede that few unions are pure solidarity unionism, and those few may be rightly called "fringe unions" (as you do). I'm equally certain that no unions exist that are "entirely" business union in character--if nothing else, there will those among the rank and file in any union, with the best of motives and some knowledge of solidarity strategy and tactics. And who knows, maybe even the occasional earnest staffer. (Stranger things have happened).

But I don't agree that because no union is entirely one or the other, it follows that the terms have no meaning. I am agreeing that business union as a term for a union (as opposed to business unionism as a term for a practice) is probably sloppy- kinda like saying middle class, when you see society consisting primarily of a dichotomy of workers and the enemy. Sloppy language, but unlikely to be discontinued, because it is a useful shorthand for a certain strata of society--or for a certain type of union practice.

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Sep 19 2007 03:44
Randy wrote:

Put simply, business unionism is labor management for profit.

What union does this describe?

syndicalist
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Sep 19 2007 05:18

Heaven help me Bakunin, I don't know why in earth I'm weighing in .....

Somehow I recall certain union represenatives being refered to as "business agents". And certain "managers" being referd to as head of local unions. This would lead one to believe that a certain less than class consciousness exists...perhaps even trade union consciousness.

Sadly, many "business agents" and "managers" I have known have acted like they were running businesses. Attitude, control and sometimes payola.

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Sep 19 2007 05:25
syndicalist wrote:
Heaven help me Bakunin, I don't know why in earth I'm weighing in .....

Somehow I recall certain union represenatives being refered to as "business agents". And certain "managers" being referd to as head of local unions. This would lead one to believe that a certain less than class consciousness exists...perhaps even trade union consciousness.

Sadly, many "business agents" and "managers" I have known have acted like they were running businesses. Attitude, control and sometimes payola.

That really doesn't answer my question. I used to hang with these ATU guys and they had a business agent who was called a business agent cause it was in their bylaws. The name some idiots 50 years ago wrote in their bylaws makes it a business union? Or is it some other defining characteristic? Not to mention its been my experience that all mainstream unions are referred to as business unions not this case by case piece meal thing that Randy is trying to promote. So Whats a business union Mitch?

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Sep 19 2007 06:11

It could mean a lot of things.

1) Something which is for all intents and purposes, a corporation that sells labor power. This can pretty much describe all unions, but the ILWU and the 'casuals' are a great example. (But perhaps you'd care to explain why Harry Bridges had to fight so hard to impose this system on the waterfront and get Stan Weir et al. fired?)

2) An organization which signs sweetheart deals with bosses to stave off spontaneous worker organizing. Ex: the Christian Labor Association of Canada, the historic 4 L loggers union, or the UFCW.

These are two big examples of what the term 'business union' could mean, there are also a number of similar things such as state/party unions like the Chinese ones that Change to Win are so hot on.

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Sep 19 2007 06:15

OK. So The ILWU, the Christian Labor Association of Canada, the 4 L Loggers Union, the UFCW and China are all business unions. Who else? Maybe it would be better to get some examples that aren't business unions? I'm going to assume the Wobs aren't, probably anarcho-syndicalist unions in general aren't... anyone else?

Randy
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Sep 19 2007 10:45

Can I see a round of sprinkles, from all who sense a certain tension in the room? Vibes monitor? wink

syndicalist wrote

Quote:
Heaven help me Bakunin, I don't know why in earth I'm weighing in .....

thug wrote

Quote:
Its been my experience that all mainstream unions are referred to as business unions not this case by case piece meal thing that Randy is trying to promote.

To begin with, my having come to revolutionary politics relatively late in life, geographical isolation from other militants, family responsibilities that limit my time and mobility, yada yada yada, leave me at something of a disadvantage in developing a political outlook.

Now, I'm sure the topic above has been discussed ad naseum by some folks, in some forums and on certain lists. I don't think, though, that I have discussed this topic in any depth since i have been posting to libcom. So I won't apologize.

But here's the kicker: my purpose is not, as Duke mistakenly assumes, to "promote" some line of thinking. Rather, it is to come to a more satisfactory understanding of matters i have had little first hand exposure to, in this right to work paradise, the rural southeastern usa. So go ahead, convince me. Change my mind. I'm not being dogmatic, I'm wide open to some new understanding. That's what this "case by case piece meal thing" is, an effort to get past, or inside of, the rhetoric on both sides and make some sense of the situation. Duke, isn't what I describe really rather close to what you argue, with your talk of various tendencies within heterogeneous worker organizations? I'm rather disappointed that you prefer to assume battle stations, and resume volleying the usual rounds.

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Sep 19 2007 15:10

actually i don't usually use the term "business unions" - "unions" generally suffices.

Orgs like hte IWW, CNT, etc. are small enough that one can be more specific when talking about them.

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Sep 19 2007 22:41

I want to jump into this again, but I think its important to identify solidarity unionism and business unionism as modes of operation. I don't think that what the IWW is automatically solidarity unionism any more than what UFCW is automatically business unionism. But both these trends exist in all working class organisations and our goal is to promote our mode (solidarity unionism) no matter where we are. I don't organise fundamentally all that differently as a unionised postie than I did as a non union call centre organiser.

syndicalist
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Sep 19 2007 23:50
Quote:
they had a business agent who was called a business agent cause it was in their bylaws. The name some idiots 50 years ago wrote in their bylaws makes it a business union?

Can't speak for the local and how they operate or don't. What I can say is the "idiots 50 years ago" probably set up their local with a business unionist "model" in mind. Why else would they call their full-time (yes?), paid staffer a "business agent"?

That said, there are different levels to this and I won't paint each local with the same brush. More of ten than not it's on the local level where you get the best or the worst interpretation or form of unionism. Yet the prevailing ideology of what model to follow generally comes down from the central office. hey, you can have a "progressive" central and reactionary locals or vice versa.

The real question has been, is and will be is what form of militant base unionism that is rank-and-file oriented and controlled are we striving for?

So that's my 2 centavos. Bakunin, beam me up now.

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Sep 20 2007 03:34

With the exception of Oliver deliberately seperating the IWW away from being a union (a fascinating position from a wob btw) I agree with everyones comments here. However, maybe I'm missing some earth shattering revelatory notion, but it all backs up my point that the term business union is meaningless.

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Sep 20 2007 03:52

Well I would say a business union is a union where business unionism is actively promoted (and enforced) by the union heirarchy. So the emphasis is on filing grievances, operating within the labour relations system even when rupture is possible, and only organising around bread and butter issues that are of immediate interests to the membership.

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Sep 20 2007 03:57
Olivertwister wrote:
actually i don't usually use the term "business unions" - "unions" generally suffices.

haha that's great, it reminds me of this one:

Olivertwister wrote:
there is no mass organization worth having

(From a thread that was purged, by the way.)

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Sep 20 2007 04:01

I'd like to offer Oliver an op-ed opportunity on p-crac to explain how he's a wob and doesn't think the wobs are a union. Taker?

Randy
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Sep 20 2007 13:32
thugarchist wrote:
...However, maybe I'm missing some earth shattering revelatory notion...

Now THAT would be a first. (Leave it to me to make a plea for respectful discourse, then pounce on the first cheap shot that presents itself.)

Seriously though, if business union is a misnomer (or if the term has perhaps outlived it's usefulnesses--I'm still reading up on the rise and fall of the cio unions) can someone recommend some better terminology?

I think "business union" and "revolutionary union" would have/did fit pretty well in the beginning of the 20th century, when the IWW and the AF of L were serious contenders against one another. So what is a good term to distinguish between, say, the UFCW and the SEIU? The ILWU and unite/here? Do you not agree, duke, that we can make some categorical distinctions between them? (And for the sake of my education, which camp do the Teamsters fall into? Or if there are no "camps", where on the spectrum do they lie? I'm assuming that the existence of TDU indicates they lean towards the former examples above, but I don't want ot assume too much.)

Edit: I think solidarity unionism (a term i filched from some wob friends) aptly describes the kind of worker organizational practices we are for. Thug takes issue with "business union" for the top heavy, discourage rank and file activity stuff we dislike. Better term?

second edit: ILWU might be a poor example above, i don't know. I seem to recall they have a militant local or two (reinforcing the heterogeneous unions point). Okay. I'll shut up now.

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Sep 20 2007 15:54

I wouldn't try and find a definition we all agree on Randy, Duke really objects to the wobs characterisation of the mainstream labour movement as largely business unionist. Have you read Solidarity Unionism by Staughton Lynd? It's a good short book, with some really great history on the CIO and would be very relevant to what you are looking at.

When comparing a union like SEIU to say the Teamsters a useful term is social unionism, which is what one could call left wing business union. The union itself is still set up as a dues for services entity (you are paying for stuff with your dues), exists entirely within the LRB, but also has some strong social movement activism. My other union CUPW is sort on the extreme left of social unionism, they are very strongly pro feminist, anti racist, anti homophobic and engage in a lot of social movement activism. As opposed to say the Teamsters who collect dues provide collective bargaining and file grievances (on a good day) and that is really about it.

Also a really good article from someone from NEFAC a few years back is this one:
http://nefac.net/node/1934

A social union mentioned in herer, the CAW is pretty good example of progressive unions still be business union to the core.

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Sep 20 2007 16:54
EdmontonWobbly wrote:
I wouldn't try and find a definition we all agree on Randy, Duke really objects to the wobs characterisation of the mainstream labour movement as largely business unionist.

Not at all. I think many of the characterisitics that the term business union implies are real. The problem lies in that it can't be used in any meaningful way so the critiques get lost. Membership organizations function on dues. NEFAC does, IWW does, the Teamsters does, etc etc. Clearly having dues isn't what makes a union a business union. Working through the NLRB can't be what defines a business union either. I've taken a look at the board charges for the last 10 years up here since I got to the Northwest. Want to take a guess what union has filed more board charges than any other union by a large amount? I'll give you a hint. Many of the charges were for a pizza shop. I seem to read an awful lot about NLRB charges surrounding Baristas these days as well. Filing grievances can't define a business union either I'd think. The Montepeliers Downtown Workers Union filed grievances, South Street tried to. I'm seriously at a loss as to how these define anything. If the critique is around a union providing services for membership I can agree with that on many levels and then would have to disagree with it on others. A receptionist to answer calls is a service. Is that a defining characteristic of business unionism? I'd think not. However there are a lot of small indy unions and locals within larger unions that actually try to organize by listing the benefits they offer. That would seem to fit this business union model better, but those aren't really what people think of within the term. They think of the Teamsters or OPEIU or something. So the term means nothing when applied.

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Sep 20 2007 20:53

Duke I didn't say having dues, or having staff is what defines a business union. I said having dues gueranteed through a deduction which the state sanctions to pay for a representative bureacracy removed from the shop floor is business unionism.

There's a pretty big difference between using RAND to get your dues (sorry 'checkoff' in the USA) and voluntarily collecting dues from members, whether ACH or otherwise. Also I'm not against using the NLRB or its Canadian equivalent, the problem is when filing a grievance is used as a subsititute for on the ground activity by the workers themselves. 'Obey now, grieve later' is the slogan all mainstream unions teach shop stewards here, what makes the IWW unique at least in Edmonton, is that we teach our militants that this is exactly where the labour movement is fundamentally wrong. This approach to grievances is one unions legally have to take in Alberta to be recognised as unions.

Again I'm not saying that the two terms we are discussing are entirely embodied in organisations, but it's a question of where you see the fight going on. Is it through the unions, or in spite of them? In so far as we can advocate direct action, hostility to the labour relations system, and the right for workers to strike, or take economic action without asking permission I am willing to work in the unions- the problem is that I doubt SEIU would tolerate this talk or UNITE/HERE. The building trades unions, all mainstream American unions are hostile to it, I've even caught shit for taking such a line in CUPW.

There is a tension between rank and file self activity and wildcat action, and conventional unionism, this tension is a structural result of how these unions operate. In a fundamental manner direct action is a threat to the leadership of the existing unions, and unless the basis of your unionism right from the start direct action (as opposed to fee for service), you are a business union.

What worries me most about just saying the term business unionism is meaningless is that it pretty much ignores any critique of bureaucracy in the labour movement. The union leadership is not interested in direct action, they will tell you to go through the courts, to go through the parliamentary channels, and appeal to public opinion. Not only is this innefective but it robs workers of the one thing that builds class confidence- the direct participation in the planning of and execution of actions undertaken by their own hands and in their own interests without the interference of former workers who long ago made a career change and became labour politicians.

Also a quick question, what do you NEFAC and ex-NEFAC folks think of the analysis that Shantz puts forwards in his articles in the NEA? It seems a lot of the line that the wobs on here take are much closer to his than what is put forward as the stance of NEFAC.

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Sep 20 2007 21:38
EdmontonWobbly wrote:
Duke I didn't say having dues, or having staff is what defines a business union. I said having dues gueranteed through a deduction which the state sanctions to pay for a representative bureacracy removed from the shop floor is business unionism.

Funny. When I was in vegas we started some national discussions about moving away from checkoff. The practicality is that our shops have more than 3 people in them. Most members like checkoff. The biggest negative reaction about moving to individual collection was from the rank n file.

Quote:
There's a pretty big difference between using RAND to get your dues (sorry 'checkoff' in the USA) and voluntarily collecting dues from members, whether ACH or otherwise. Also I'm not against using the NLRB or its Canadian equivalent, the problem is when filing a grievance is used as a subsititute for on the ground activity by the workers themselves. 'Obey now, grieve later' is the slogan all mainstream unions teach shop stewards here, what makes the IWW unique at least in Edmonton, is that we teach our militants that this is exactly where the labour movement is fundamentally wrong. This approach to grievances is one unions legally have to take in Alberta to be recognised as unions.

I've never had this experience. Even in AFSCME. The staffs biggest internal arguments with the membership is always about stopping filing grievances and moving to marching on the boss and other forms of direct confrontation.

Quote:
Again I'm not saying that the two terms we are discussing are entirely embodied in organisations, but it's a question of where you see the fight going on. Is it through the unions, or in spite of them? In so far as we can advocate direct action, hostility to the labour relations system, and the right for workers to strike, or take economic action without asking permission I am willing to work in the unions- the problem is that I doubt SEIU would tolerate this talk or UNITE/HERE. The building trades unions, all mainstream American unions are hostile to it, I've even caught shit for taking such a line in CUPW.

I can't speak for every local union but I know for a fact that in HERE locals SEIU Locals that I know and both internationals the organizers are trained to move away from grievances and push workers towards direct action. I know because I used to train organizers. You're just making stuff up at this point.

Quote:
There is a tension between rank and file self activity and wildcat action, and conventional unionism, this tension is a structural result of how these unions operate. In a fundamental manner direct action is a threat to the leadership of the existing unions, and unless the basis of your unionism right from the start direct action (as opposed to fee for service), you are a business union.

Yes there are tensions between localized desires and goals and organization-wide desires and goals. Duh.

Quote:
What worries me most about just saying the term business unionism is meaningless is that it pretty much ignores any critique of bureaucracy in the labour movement. The union leadership is not interested in direct action, they will tell you to go through the courts, to go through the parliamentary channels, and appeal to public opinion. Not only is this innefective but it robs workers of the one thing that builds class confidence- the direct participation in the planning of and execution of actions undertaken by their own hands and in their own interests without the interference of former workers who long ago made a career change and became labour politicians.

I don't think it does ignore a critique of the bureaucracy. The term means nothing and is applied as a blanket criticism whether its valid or not. Thus the actual critiques become invalid.

Quote:
Also a quick question, what do you NEFAC and ex-NEFAC folks think of the analysis that Shantz puts forwards in his articles in the NEA? It seems a lot of the line that the wobs on here take are much closer to his than what is put forward as the stance of NEFAC.

I think Jeff's a nice guy who writes stuff from a grad student union perspective and is now in a professors union I think. His critiques of bureaucracy and worker suppression are valid if overly generalized but to be quite honest I generally don't give a shit what academic unionists think. My old UAW local had a grad student unit in it and they were all radical and whatnot I guess but it really came down to them not giving a shit about the rest of us who were poor and struggling. They cared more about voting to spend dues on lectures and anti-glob protests than anything else. Fuck em.

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Sep 20 2007 22:24

I said:

Quote:
the problem is that I doubt SEIU would tolerate this talk or UNITE/HERE.

You said:

Quote:
You're just making stuff up at this point.

Note that I qualified what I wrote. We don't have SEIU or HERE out here, so I was speculating and I said that and made sure you knew it, don't accuse me of making anything up. I really want to keep this civil.

However I do notice that in the fight over the Met hotel in Toronto that we have been through ad nauseum the tendency is to paint a fight between the rank and file and bureacracy as a fight between localised issues and union wide issues. I don't buy it, for instance the wildcats in Alberta were a direct result of the building trades council's lack of militancy when a significant portion of the workforce wanted it. What resulted in the wildcats was solidarity unionism that arose in opposition to business unions.

I honestly don't share your experience of union staffers pushing workers to take on more direct action. I used the example from last weekend of the UBCJA official telling workers to go back to work, I've seen union my President tell militants over the phone not to wildcat. This isn't just a dispute between short sighted hot headed shop floor radicals with no plan, it is a fight between rank and file workers who see direct action as the solution and paid full time officials who have 'the plan'.

This isn't to say rank and file workers are strategic in their actions, they obviously aren't but I think we can build a winning strategy out of wildcat activity, I don't think we can out of collaboration with officials. This is what solidarity unionism is, it has a meaning it isn't just semantics it is a real tendency in labour activism and its opposite is business unionism.

Oh yeah, fair enough on the criticisms of academic unions, 3903 is the most radical local in Canada, but I will concede it's easy to do that when your constituency is mostly liberal arts teaching assistants. Though I do still like what Shantz has written in NEA.

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Sep 20 2007 22:34
EdmontonWobbly wrote:
I said:
Quote:
the problem is that I doubt SEIU would tolerate this talk or UNITE/HERE.

You said:

Quote:
You're just making stuff up at this point.

Note that I qualified what I wrote. We don't have SEIU or HERE out here, so I was speculating and I said that and made sure you knew it, don't accuse me of making anything up. I really want to keep this civil.

However I do notice that in the fight over the Met hotel in Toronto that we have been through ad nauseum the tendency is to paint a fight between the rank and file and bureacracy as a fight between localised issues and union wide issues. I don't buy it, for instance the wildcats in Alberta were a direct result of the building trades council's lack of militancy when a significant portion of the workforce wanted it. What resulted in the wildcats was solidarity unionism that arose in opposition to business unions.

I honestly don't share your experience of union staffers pushing workers to take on more direct action. I used the example from last weekend of the UBCJA official telling workers to go back to work, I've seen union my President tell militants over the phone not to wildcat. This isn't just a dispute between short sighted hot headed shop floor radicals with no plan, it is a fight between rank and file workers who see direct action as the solution and paid full time officials who have 'the plan'.

This isn't to say rank and file workers are strategic in their actions, they obviously aren't but I think we can build a winning strategy out of wildcat activity, I don't think we can out of collaboration with officials. This is what solidarity unionism is, it has a meaning it isn't just semantics it is a real tendency in labour activism and its opposite is business unionism.

Oh yeah, fair enough on the criticisms of academic unions, 3903 is the most radical local in Canada, but I will concede it's easy to do that when your constituency is mostly liberal arts teaching assistants. Though I do still like what Shantz has written in NEA.

1. Well then whats your basis for saying it? You're implying something and have no grounds to make the assumption other than this general "business unions" operate this way. You seem to be making my point.

2. In the debate over the Met Hotel you seem to be saying that Chendicks' criticism of OCAP thus extends equally to anyone else who may happen to knw him. I've never said anything of the sort and in fact argued that HERE needed to both address the local concerns and work with that local to become part of the overarching strategy. Fairly common sense opinion I'd hazard, but maybe its crazy talk!

3. Yes. All unions are different.

4. Solidarity unionism is just unionism. Its the whole point of defining labor as a movement. So yes. That term is as meaningless as business unionism is.

5. I like what Jeff writes too. I just don't care much.

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Sep 20 2007 22:50

1. Well in regards to SEIU and HERE I've seen little evidence that they are structured any differently than say CAW or UFCW, and I think these problems are structural, not a matter of bad policy on the part of the union but a fundamental part of how they conduct business. Sure every union is unique in its own little way, that does not mean there are not fundamental structural similarities in how they operate and concieve of the struggle.

2. I'm saying it's easy to say a fight is between someone with a 'plan' and someone without one instead of between workers and bureacrats. Sure Chuck made the argument, but it sounds a lot like you when you say:

Quote:
Yes there are tensions between localized desires and goals and organization-wide desires and goals. Duh.

It goes a lot deeper than that. The organisation wide goals and desires are determined by paid full time elected officials in consultation with staff; the localized desires and goals are determined by the rank and file who are disorganised and spontaneous. When the decisions are made by an executive and the strategy is left up to people not working on the shop floor that is business unionism, when it is up to the workers on the floor make up a strategy and act it out that is solidarity unionism.

4. If solidarity unionism was just unionism we would not be in the mess we are in right now in Alberta. If the workers shutting down an entire industry, across 26 union jursidictions while the government and their own unions do everything within their own power to shut them down, what does that make the unions that exist right now and are fighting hard to stop it? Another form of unionism? Perhaps one more coopted by business interests?

5. Funny how you can write off the opinion of someone for being an academic, but I still am willing to engage with a mercenary organiser eh? wink

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Sep 21 2007 03:53
EdmontonWobbly wrote:
1. Well in regards to SEIU and HERE I've seen little evidence that they are structured any differently than say CAW or UFCW, and I think these problems are structural, not a matter of bad policy on the part of the union but a fundamental part of how they conduct business. Sure every union is unique in its own little way, that does not mean there are not fundamental structural similarities in how they operate and concieve of the struggle.

What structures are the problem then? Because I do think that many limitations within U.S. unions are do to structural problems, both in larger strategic concerns and with the relationship of the membership to the organization.

Quote:
2. I'm saying it's easy to say a fight is between someone with a 'plan' and someone without one instead of between workers and bureacrats. Sure Chuck made the argument, but it sounds a lot like you when you say:
Quote:
Yes there are tensions between localized desires and goals and organization-wide desires and goals. Duh.

It goes a lot deeper than that. The organisation wide goals and desires are determined by paid full time elected officials in consultation with staff; the localized desires and goals are determined by the rank and file who are disorganised and spontaneous. When the decisions are made by an executive and the strategy is left up to people not working on the shop floor that is business unionism, when it is up to the workers on the floor make up a strategy and act it out that is solidarity unionism.

Um... except that I disagree with Chuck and did support the Met workers so I don't know how recognizing the natural tensions between micro and macro views is indicates any position one way or the other here? I probably agree with you more than I would with chuck on this issue frankly.

Quote:
4. If solidarity unionism was just unionism we would not be in the mess we are in right now in Alberta. If the workers shutting down an entire industry, across 26 union jursidictions while the government and their own unions do everything within their own power to shut them down, what does that make the unions that exist right now and are fighting hard to stop it? Another form of unionism? Perhaps one more coopted by business interests?

Right. I view worker self-activity as the most important part of a union so I see no point in distinquishing a union movement working well with a special name. I'd rather just say the leadership of their union is a bunch of fuckers. Seems simpler.

Quote:
5. Funny how you can write off the opinion of someone for being an academic, but I still am willing to engage with a mercenary organiser eh? ;)

More Shogun than Ronin mofo.

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Sep 22 2007 02:03

Are you opposed to the ILWU's worker controlled hiring hall system? What would you propose as an alternative to this system?

If your speaking specifically about the A men and B men system...then yes. This was a way for the ILWU to marginalize new (mostly black) members and this system continues today where it can take years to become a full book member in the Longshore Division.

But the ILWU's hiring hall and bid system governed by seniority is a fine example of worker control of our employment.

The casual system is also quite nice. You should give it a try sometime. The company ships a job down the hall and as a casual you have a choice to take the job or not...you can work...or fuck off for the day. Its great! Plus every time you finish a job your technically laid off until you get your next job which makes it really easy to collect unemployment. smile

Fuck being a "steady man" in my opinion ... its sexier being casual smile

Can you clarify what your critiquing about the ILWU's hiring hall....its it the entire hall system or just the A book B book system ? Or the concept of being casual or steady? These are all very distinct and specific things? By calling the ILWU a "business union" are you opposed to workers organizing new systems to control the nature of our employment ?

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Sep 22 2007 03:39

Business union apologist!

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Sep 22 2007 09:54
gurley wrote:
Are you opposed to the ILWU's worker controlled hiring hall system? What would you propose as an alternative to this system?

If your speaking specifically about the A men and B men system...then yes. This was a way for the ILWU to marginalize new (mostly black) members and this system continues today where it can take years to become a full book member in the Longshore Division.

But the ILWU's hiring hall and bid system governed by seniority is a fine example of worker control of our employment.

The casual system is also quite nice. You should give it a try sometime. The company ships a job down the hall and as a casual you have a choice to take the job or not...you can work...or fuck off for the day. Its great! Plus every time you finish a job your technically laid off until you get your next job which makes it really easy to collect unemployment. smile

Fuck being a "steady man" in my opinion ... its sexier being casual smile

Can you clarify what your critiquing about the ILWU's hiring hall....its it the entire hall system or just the A book B book system ? Or the concept of being casual or steady? These are all very distinct and specific things? By calling the ILWU a "business union" are you opposed to workers organizing new systems to control the nature of our employment ?

They are distinct and specific things.

Harry Bridges had to strong-arm, and get laid off, quite a few members to get these systems into place, of which a notable member was Stan Weir.

The ILWU inherited the IWW tradition of committees at the rank-and-file making decisions, Bridges did what he could to destroy this.

The fact that from the perspective of a 'casual worker' generally (like myself or 'Gurley') the 'casual' men in the ILWU seems like a good deal doesn't mean that Bridges and his qlique in the leadership of ILWU weren't key in breaking one of the few areas of strong workers power... No matter how much the steady A-men get paid on the waterfront these days, they have very little power as an individual worker or member of a class.

PS Duke, I think the definition of 'union' has changed from something that was half-the-time an active workers organization with bureaucrats who supported capitalism and half-the-time an organization that was for the abolition of wage slavery, to being something that completely means an organization for the maintenance of wage-slavery, means that our response to the word should have changed.

To me its easy enough, when one has to talk about specific examples of the CNT amd IWW that one can write something to explain the difference. But to most workers, 'local 10' (if the have a union) is just part of the government that 'taxes' them and gives services for those 'taxes'. To most of the pupulation, a union is a corporation that sells labor power, why should we kee[ identifying ourselves with the rest when we could just declrare that we are a 'worker's organization.

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EdmontonWobbly
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Sep 22 2007 14:05

Oliver would you say there is a widespread consciousness among the average working person that the union is 'corrupted' and we need to go back to how unions used to be? This opnion I've found pretty common from my co-workers at Canada Post. All I'm saying is that the left communist line of totally writing off the unions is not entirely in line with what the average worker sees as the way forward. I mean if you explain informal commitees coordinating the struggle from a grass roots level coordinated by workplace assemblies across classifications as workers councils you may come off as a little nuts- but these things can be appealed to as a sort of unionism.

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Sep 22 2007 16:40
OliverTwister wrote:

PS Duke, I think the definition of 'union' has changed from something that was half-the-time an active workers organization with bureaucrats who supported capitalism and half-the-time an organization that was for the abolition of wage slavery, to being something that completely means an organization for the maintenance of wage-slavery, means that our response to the word should have changed.

Testify brother! Write me a little essay about why the IWW isn't a union.

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Sep 23 2007 07:42
Quote:
They are distinct and specific things.

Harry Bridges had to strong-arm, and get laid off, quite a few members to get these systems into place, of which a notable member was Stan Weir.

This is true of the A and B Book system. Not true of the hiring hall system. Longshoremen, sailors etc... saw the hiring hall model as something worth fighting for at both the rank and file and leadership level. It is key to our power as workers in our industry. In theory I understand what you mean by saying that the ILWU's hiring hall is selling worker power....but in practice I understand it as the closest we have come to controlling the nature of our employment. I agree with you about the "book system" though.

As far as steady vs. casual. I wish the union had more direct control over steady work like we have control over the casual work shipped out to the hall. Once again, on a theoretical level, I can see where your coming from. By creating a division between "steady" and "casual" workers the ILWU created an internal division between their own members. But in the reality of the world today...some people need steady consistent work with one company. Others prefer to work casual taking work when it comes. I don't oppose this system, there are things that could be changed...but in general I think it works and that my co-workers find this process fair.

I should also specify that in my division of the ILWU ( Marine/Inland Boatmen's Union) the process to move up from being a "permit" to a full book member is much easier than in the Longshore Division and that the opportunities to move from being casual to steady with seniority are also allot easier.

I have never worked Longshore and cannot speak to the experiences Longshoremen have with their union. All I know is that I and most of my co-workers find the ILWU's Marine Division's process democratic and fare.

Kizzle
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Sep 28 2007 00:23
thugarchist wrote:

4. Solidarity unionism is just unionism. Its the whole point of defining labor as a movement. So yes. That term is as meaningless as business unionism is.

"Solidarity Unionism" as a concept traces back, technically, to Lynd, but really the term is being borrowed to refer to something more specific than anyone is getting at here. Solidarity Unionism is organizing strategies that consciously avoid these things as goals: legal recognition, over reliance on the NLRB as a weapon, "contracts" (viewing No-Strike, binding arbitration, management's rights, and dues check-off as fundamentals of the contract in today's world), and the traditional grievance procedure. So the Chicago Couriers Union's initial strategy, Montpelier and South Street, Metro Lighting locally here, historic stuff like Austin's IUAW and other stuff pre-Wagner Act, UE's UNC campaign - all these are possible examples. I would think it's pretty elementary to say that these kind of union strategies are non-traditional.

Solidarity Unionism gets thrown around a lot these days by IWW members as a synonym for "good unionism." This is wrong in the same way that people use business unionism as a synonym for "bad unionism." SU is a strategic idea initially promoted by a very small number of folks within the IWW as a possible way forward for the IWW and the labor movement in general. Since Alexis' columns were published the term has since gained a lot of traction in the IWW vocabulary, and maybe has bled a bit into the labor left, but mostly it's used incorrectly.

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Sep 28 2007 01:45

EW yeah that's exactly what i'd say.

I also don't think that the 'unions', such as they are today, could ever go back in time. I take influence from council communist ideas, but probably more from anarchosyndicalist ones - especially Sam Dolgoff's writings from the 70s. See: http://libcom.org/library/notes-for-a-discussion-on-the-regeneration-of-the-american-labor-movement-dolgoff-1970s

I'm also chewing over some of the ideas of the French CNT-AIT. They're very critical of the idea from the Charter of Amiens that the revolution will be as simple as the unions taking over society. They recently changed the name of their paper from "Le Combat Syndicaliste" to "Anarcosindicalisme!" to reflect this.

Gurley: That's exactly why I said that they are two distinct systems. The hiring hall is at least workers taking some control over their own exploitation*, and was one of the central demands of the '34 strike. The A and B card system however was imposed by the company directly with the help of Harry Bridges.

*Although one could make the argument that the casuals, who are not allowed membership, are in a sense employed and exploited by the union.

Kizzle: Absolutely. SU is used as a catch-all for a range of terms such as Direct Unionism, Minority Unionism, etc. and to a lesser extent it is used to avoid having to use difficult words like Revolutionary Unionism or Anarcho-syndicalism.