The other American election

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The recent elections in the Teamsters have produced a remarkable result, with Fred Zuckerman, the left candidate supported by Teamsters United, and Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) actually winning the vote in the USA, but narrowly losing the overall vote once Canadian Teamsters are included.

Hoffa, the incumbent and son of his infamous father, received 100924 votes and Zuckerman received 94975, but taking into account only the US votes, Hoffa had 91403 to Zuckerman’s 92112.

Teamsters United swept to victory in Vice Presidential elections in the South and Central regions, based upon a more combative approach to trade unionism, and benefited from a previous No vote campaign by UPS workers against new contracts.

After the result, Zuckerman said:

We united members to save our union and rebuild Teamster Power—and we will continue our fight.

We built a coalition to unite Teamsters to win a better future—and this coalition is here to stay, because the problems we face are not going anywhere.

We united Teamsters to win strong contracts and defeat givebacks and concessions.

We united Teamsters to defend our pensions and benefits.

We united Teamsters to eradicate corruption because you cannot fight for the members when you are bought and paid for by the employers.

We united Teamsters to organize the unorganized because that is the only way to defend the standards in our core industries and to preserve our pensions and retirement security.

Employers and anti-worker politicians will continue to attack working Teamsters—and our coalition and movement will be there to fight back.

We will continue to unite Teamsters to fight for strong contracts, end corruption, defend our healthcare and pensions, and to take on union officials who stand with the employers, instead of the members.

We believe in coalitions and bringing union officers and members together and we will continue to do that. The election results show that many officers are badly out of touch. They need to start standing with their members or they will find themselves replaced by a new generation of Teamster leaders.

Buchanan on Trump

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While my politics are a million miles from Pat Buchanan on most issues, this extract from an article in American Conservative written before the election result, is a perceptive evaluation of Trumpism, and the appeal of Trump to the working class. It is the revolt against the establishment, but also against the liberalism which the centre wraps itself in.

Trump has made history and has forever changed American politics.

Though a novice in politics, he captured the Party of Lincoln with the largest turnout of primary voters ever, and he has inflicted wounds on the nation’s ruling class from which it may not soon recover.

Bush I and II, Mitt Romney, the neocons, and the GOP commentariat all denounced Trump as morally and temperamentally unfit. Yet, seven of eight Republicans are voting for Trump, and he drew the largest and most enthusiastic crowds of any GOP nominee.

Not only did he rout the Republican elites, he ash-canned their agenda and repudiated the wars into which they plunged the country.

Trump did not create the forces that propelled his candidacy. But he recognized them, tapped into them, and unleashed a gusher of nationalism and populism that will not soon dissipate.

[… ]How could the Republican establishment advance anew the trade and immigration policies that their base has so thunderously rejected?

How can the GOP establishment credibly claim to speak for a party that spent the last year cheering a candidate who repudiated the last two Republican presidents and the last two Republican nominees?

Do mainstream Republicans think that should Trump lose a Bush Restoration lies ahead? The dynasty is as dead as the Romanovs.

The media, whose reputation has sunk to Congressional depths, has also suffered a blow to its credibility.

Its hatred of Trump has been almost manic, and WikiLeaks revelations of the collusion between major media and Clintonites have convinced skeptics that the system is rigged and the referees of democracy are in the tank.

But it is the national establishment that has suffered most.

The Trump candidacy exposed what seems an unbridgeable gulf between this political class and the nation in whose name it purports to speak.

Consider the litany of horrors it has charged Trump with.

He said John McCain was no hero, that some Mexican illegals are “rapists.” He mocked a handicapped reporter. He called some women “pigs.” He wants a temporary ban to Muslim immigration. He fought with a Gold Star mother and father. He once engaged in “fat-shaming” a Miss Universe, calling her “Miss Piggy,” and telling her to stay out of Burger King. He allegedly made crude advances on a dozen women and starred in the “Access Hollywood” tape with Billy Bush.

While such “gaffes” are normally fatal for candidates, Trump’s followers stood by him through them all.

Why? asks an alarmed establishment. Why, in spite of all this, did Trump’s support endure? Why did the American people not react as they once would have? Why do these accusations not have the bite they once did?

Answer. We are another country now, an us-or-them country.

Middle America believes the establishment is not looking out for the nation but for retention of its power. And in attacking Trump it is not upholding some objective moral standard but seeking to destroy a leader who represents a grave threat to that power.

Trump’s followers see an American Spring as crucial, and they are not going to let past boorish behavior cause them to abandon the last best chance to preserve the country they grew up in.

These are the Middle American Radicals, the MARs of whom my late friend Sam Francis wrote.

They recoil from the future the elites have mapped out for them and, realizing the stakes, will overlook the faults and failings of a candidate who holds out the real promise of avoiding that future.

They believe Trump alone will secure the borders and rid us of a trade regime that has led to the loss of 70,000 factories and 5 million manufacturing jobs since NAFTA. They believe Trump is the best hope for keeping us out of the wars the Beltway think tanks are already planning for the sons of the “deplorables” to fight.

The unions and migration

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey’s speech at the CLASS conference in London, on November 5.

Unite is proud of the part it played in establishing the movement’s very own think-tank [CLASS], and it is wonderful to see it now advancing its work by leaps and bounds.

Of course, it is hard when you are as adrift in the opinion polls as Labour is today. Most of what CLASS is advocating – the policies it is developing across a range of issues – will require a Labour government to put them into practice.

There are many reasons for this present poll deficit, one of them of course the summer wasted on an unnecessary bout of internal warfare triggered by some in the PLP.

But another is the subject I want to say a few words about today – immigration, the free movement of labour or however you want to describe it. What I would like to do is open up a debate on how our movement should respond, rather than pretend to say the last word on it.

There is no doubt that concerns about the impact of the free movement of Labour in Europe played a large part in the referendum result, particularly in working-class communities.

It is those same communities – traditionally Labour-supporting – where our Party is now struggling.

It would be easy to simply say – let’s pull up the drawbridge. However, that would be entirely impractical in today’s world and it would also alienate many of those whose support the Labour Party needs to retain as part of its 2020 electoral coalition.

But we are well past the point where the issue can be ignored. Indeed, I can reveal that as long ago as 2009 Unite private surveys of membership opinion were showing that even then our members were more concerned about immigration than any other political issue.

And we are also, I would argue, past the point where working people can be convinced that the free movement of labour has worked for them, their families, their industries and their communities.

It is fine to argue values and perspectives for the middle distance, but if it comes up against the reality of people’s daily experience, these arguments will fail.

Let’s have no doubt – the free movement of labour is a class question. Karl Marx identified that fact a long time ago. “A study of the struggle waged by the British working class,” he wrote in 1867, “reveals that in order to oppose their workers, the employers either bring in workers from abroad or else transfer manufacture to countries where there is a cheap labour force.”

So it is today. Anyone who has had to negotiate for workers, in manufacturing in particular, knows the huge difficulties that have been caused by the ability of capital to move production around the world – often to China and the Far East or Eastern Europe – in search of far lower labour costs and higher profits.

Likewise, the elite’s use of immigration to this country is not motivated by a love of diversity or a devotion to multi-culturalism. It is instead all part of the flexible labour market model, ensuring a plentiful supply of cheap labour here for those jobs that can’t be exported elsewhere.

The benefits of this are for sure easier to see in Muswell Hill than they are in Middlesbrough. Of course, all socialists must ultimately look forward to a day when people can move freely across the world and live or work where they will.

But that is a utopia removed from the world of today, and would require international economic planning and public ownership to make a reality.

Argument that wage rates are not affected does not stand up to scrutiny either. Put simply, if all you have to sell is your capacity to work, then its value is going to be affected by an influx of people willing to work for less money and put up with a lower standard of living because it nevertheless improves their own lives. Supply and demand affects the sale of labour too, pitting worker against worker.

Of course, there is a straightforward trade union response – we need to do everything necessary to organise all workers here into trade unions, wherever they may have been born and whatever their history, and fight for decent pay, proper working conditions and full rights at work.

And we should join Labour in demanding that this country – the sixth richest in the world – provides every worker, wherever they are from, with a decent job and every family with a decent home.

And unions here need to unite with trade unions in other countries to end to the playing off of workers in one part of the world against each other, to oppose the power of global capital with the power of a renewed international labour movement.

The problem is not cheap labour in Britain – it’s cheap labour anywhere. And let’s not pretend that free movement is a straightforward benefit to the countries workers are leaving behind, being denuded of young people and skilled labour. We need to work with Socialists across Europe and indeed the world to create a system that works for everyone, wherever they are born.

There is another more immediate argument for free movement of Labour – it is the price for keeping access to the single market, which is essential for so many British jobs. That problem needs to be frankly acknowledged – fixed barriers to free movement will hardly be acceptable to the European Union if access to the single market is to be retained.

So we need a new approach. I believe it is time to change the language around this issue and move away from talk of “freedom of movement” on the one hand and “controls” on the other and instead to speak of safeguards. Safeguards for communities, safeguards for workers, and safeguards for industries needing labour. At the core of this must be the reassertion of collective bargaining and trade union strength.

My proposal is that any employer wishing to recruit labour abroad can only do so if they are either covered by a proper trade union agreement, or by sectoral collective bargaining.

Put together with trade unions own organising efforts this would change the race-to-the-bottom culture into a rate- for-the- job society. It would end the fatal attraction of ever cheaper workers for employers, and slash demand for immigrant labour, without the requirement for formal quotas or restrictions.

Add to this proposal Jeremy Corbyn’s commitment to fair rules and reasonable management of migration, as well as Labour’s pledge to restore the Migrant Impact Fund for communities suddenly affected by large—scale migration, and there is the basis for giving real reassurance to working people in towns and cities abandoned by globalisation.

And let’s not forget what unites all of us: anger at the government’s disgraceful treatment of refugees, who deserve safety and protection; shame at the Tory attempts to use EU citizens already living and working here as a sort of negotiating card – they must have the right to remain; and a determination to resist the rise in racist attacks and invective which has blighted our society past-referendum.

But we can no longer sit like the three wise monkeys, seeing no problem, hearing no problem and speaking of no problem. We must listen and respond to working people’s concerns – because that is the only way to earn their support. That way we can consign today’s opinion polls to the dustbin and convince working people that the labour movement is their best protection in an uncertain present and their best hope for a prosperous future.

This article first appeared in LabourList (November 6)

Todd Snider – Conservative Christian

On Facebook recently, there was a discussion about how the entertainment industry in the US has almost become a one party state for the Democrats, with the sole exception of the Country Music scene, where although there are some Democrats like Emmylou Harris, these tend to be artists outside the mainstream, and the prominent voices of Music Row Democrats tend to be record label executives not performers. This reveals a huge racial, social and class divide in US popular culture.

Paradoxically, among Nashville A-listers the only high profile Democrat is the flag waving Toby Keith. (worth watching Toby Keith’s “courtesy of the Red White and Blue“, to understand the mindset, if you are unfamiliar with it).

But from the fringes of East Nashville, enjoy Todd Snider

BA’s abuse of the visa system to push down wages

The recent protest by British Airways IT workers sought to draw attention to the abuse of Tier 2 visas. GMB is currently in dispute with British Airways about plans to outsource 800 UK IT jobs to the Indian firm Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). A number of British Airways IT functions are already run by TCS and GMB has previously called on the Home Affairs Select Committee to investigate TCS’s use of the UK visa system to replace UK workers.

There are around 800 skilled IT jobs at issue, with BA colleagues based at various locations in the UK, at BA Headquarters at Waterside in Harmondsworth, West London, BA’s call centre in Newcastle, and at other locations in Manchester, Cardiff and Scotland.

The IT support jobs are well paid and highly skilled, and the ploy by BA is to outsource to India, where people will do the same job for a fraction of the money. Offshoring of skilled jobs is of course a habitual problem across a number of employers and sectors, however, what is distinctive about this case is that the IT support work requires the physical presence of the support workers at the customer premises in the UK.

What is happening therefore, is that the Indian staff are being brought to the UK on Tier 2 visas to do the jobs of the workers who they have displaced.

Because India is not part of the European Economic Area (EEA) it is covered by a complex range of tiered visa arrangements. Tier 2 applies to migrants who have been offered a skilled job in the UK with a prospective employer prepared to sponsor them, and it includes a Resident Labour Market Test, which is a process that an employer must follow before employing a person who is not a resident of the UK to show that no resident worker could be found to do the job.

Following the advent of the Coalition government in 2010, the conditions for Tier 2 were ostensibly tightened, however, the nature of those affected by Tier 2 visas means that generally they are used by companies experiencing what economists would describe as “demand shock”, where key skills are unavailable. It is clearly both economically and socially advisable that key skill shortages can be filled. This means that even with tightened Tier 2 rules, the number of skilled workers coming to the UK has increased since 2010, and this should be generally welcomed as this involves filling roles that are necessary and for which no one local could be found, and it typically does not lead to any wage reductions.

The difference in this case is that there are UK workers who not only are available to do the work, they have already been doing it! The Resident Labour Market Test is specifically designed to prevent this situation, and it raises the question of whether TCS are breaking the law, and whether the Home Office are turning a blind eye. Where migrant workers substitute for native workers with the same skills but for lower wages, then this is clearly more profitable for the companies involved, but it is deskilling the UK economy, and means that the opportunities for well paid, skilled jobs are not available for people already resident in the UK in the future.

This is obviously a bit of a minefield for unions and the left, with the danger of being perceived as anti-immigrant. However, the issue here is of a company abusing the law to disadvantage working people in the pursuit of greater profits, and they should be stopped.

The left must work with trade unions not against them

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There is an unfortunate tendency for articles nowadays to have sensationalist “click-bait” headlines, but by any standards the aggressive spin put on Michael Chessum’s latest piece in the New Statesman is highly unfortunate.

The headline screams “It’s time for Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters to take on the trade union leadership”. Nothing could be more counterproductive than seeking to mobilize supporters of Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour Party to intervene in internal union politics.

Trade unions are organizations that have their own rule books, decision making structures and autonomous interests. The lay activists who participate in the decision making processes, and who are elected and delegated to conferences and to sit on committees, are the same lay activists who represent their work colleagues in disciplinary and grievance hearings, who negotiate with management, who recruit to the union on a daily basis, who hold the participatory branch, sectional and regional structures together, and campaign on industrial and political issues.

Many thousands of these lay member activist in trade unions also support Jeremy Corbyn, and it is highly mischievous and irresponsible for Michael to misrepresent such activists as potential agents of disruption within their own unions.

From my experience the deliberations on policy issues within trade unions are serious and well informed, based upon the expert opinions of those with experience in the industries or sectors whose interests are at stake, and informed by other expert opinion commissioned by or researched by the unions themselves.

Michael Cheesum seems to be suggesting that pressure should be applied to unions from outside to subvert the outcomes of such democratic decision making. This is a fundamental breach of the well established protocols whereby the political and industrial wings of the party operate in a spirit of mutual restraint. As Lewis Minkin describes in his magnum opus “The Contentious Alliance – Trade Unions and the Labour Party” the development of unwritten “rules” governing the relationship between the unions and the party have arisen over many years, and effectively derived “from fundamental values of trade unionism”

Trade unionism is inherently based upon collectivism, and preserving the autonomy of collective organisation from constraint. It is collective organisation which counterbalances the disparity of wealth and power between employers and individual workers. As Minkin describes

“Through their collective capacity, the liberty of the individual worker was enhanced via-a-vis the employer. Through the collective, workers increased their control over the work environment. Through the collective, workers advanced living standards without which a simple “absence of restraint” was often the freedom to go without, to grow sick or starve. This view of collective capacity involved minimizing impediments to the operation of the industrial collective, whether they were external or internal to the organisation. By its nature, this involved restricting individual rights in relation to the collective (albeit a democratic collective). Whatever libertarian views trade unionists might hold about individual rights in a wide social and political sphere, they recognized the necessity in industrial life to accept some diminution of choice in one relationship in order to enhance it in another”

This concept of liberty as being a mediated one through respect for the collective is one that dovetails with the moral underpinnings of labourism as associated with thinkers as diverse as R H Tawney and Tony Benn. For example, the astute observation of RH Tawney is that liberty is related to equality. If freedom is defined as absence of restraint, then liberty promotes inequality, because the more powerful in our society have less constraints upon them, and the majority of the population will always be unfree.

For Tawney, true liberty is the freedom to act positively for the benefit of the community, and being empowered to resist the tyrannical demands of the rich and powerful. Trade unionism is therefore inherently virtuous through being founded upon collectivity and mutual support, rather than individualism and personal acquisitiveness.

It is worth looking at Michael’s views in more detail. He writes

The logic that drives unions to support projects like Heathrow expansion – and which drives the GMB union to support fracking and Trident renewal – is grounded in a model of trade unionism which focuses not on transforming the workplace, but on the narrowly-defined interests of workers – job creation, economic growth and a larger share of the pie. It views the trade union movement not as merely antagonistic to employers, but as a responsible lobbying partner for business and industry, and as a means of mediating workers’ demands in a way that is steady and acceptable to the state and the economic system. This model, and the politics that accompanied it, is why, historically, trade unions were a conservative influence on Labour’s internal politics.

The description of the unions as a “conservative influence” is spookily close to that of Tony Blair, who used to rail against unions as the forces of conservatism because unions resolutely advocated economic growth and good, well paid, high skilled jobs, and resisted his deregulation and privatization. Of course Michael Chessum has different objectives to Blair, but in his case he considers unions to be conservative because they advocate economic growth and good, well paid, high skilled jobs in the face of sometimes ill-considered and knee-jerk policies from parts of the fashionable left.

It is hard to know what Michael means by “transforming the workplace”, which he thinks trade unions don’t currently do. Let us look at the premium that workers in organized workplaces enjoy. According to a 2014 booklet by the TUC.

In the public sector, for every £10,000 that a non-member earns, a union member on average earns around £1,690 more; in the private sector it’s around £580 more.
Over the period 2001–2013 union members were on average a third more likely to have received training than nonunionised employees.
Union membership brings the greatest financial benefits for young workers: 16- to 24-year-old union members earn 38 per cent more than their non-union counterparts.
Union members also have more paid holidays, with 3.8 days more paid holiday than non-members (25.5 days compared with 21.7 days).
Workplaces with unions have far fewer accidents, according to a 2007 study.

To take two examples over the last couple of weeks, the solicitors Leigh Day won the first stage of a legal campaign to force ASDA to give equal pay to the mainly female retail workforce compared to mainly male workers doing similar work in distribution.

With the same employer, GMB national negotiators recently gained agreement from ASDA that they would cease the individual monitoring of scanning rates in stores, which colleagues were finding oppressive and demeaning.

These are both examples of trade union organization making a real difference. The workplace is transformed when workers have a strong independent organization which allows employees to redress injustice, and gain greater respect.

Michael seems to believe that unions are failing their members if we are not involved in ceaseless class warfare. However, while recognizing that in the final analysis employers may have potentially antagonistic interests to their workforce, it is also true that employees do have a material interest in their employer’s business prospering: there is no point is advocating higher wages if employers don’t have the means to pay them. Where an employer treats their workforce with respect and dignity, then trade unions do have a legitimate interest in advancing the business prospects of such good employers, thus benefiting their members.

Currently, with perhaps the exceptions of Community and USDAW, every British trade union has a leadership that historically could be regarded on the centre left; and the claim by Michael that trade unions mediate “workers’ demands in a way that is steady and acceptable to the state and the economic system” is nonsense. The constraint on militant industrial trade unionism in the modern world is due not to timid nor bureaucratic leadership, but deep seated difficulties of organizing workers in workplaces blighted by casualization, bogus self employment, low union densities and not enough experienced lay activists.

Indeed it is worth reflecting, as Gregor Gall did in his recent Huffington Post article, that far from being unimaginative, unions – especially Unite and GMB – have been very innovative in combining political, legal and media pressure on employers, such as Uber, Asos and Sports Direct.

The challenge for such campaigning tactics is ensuring that they are financially sustainable for the unions in the longer terms by both recruiting and maintaining paid membership. Ultimately, however innovative trade unions may be at using our political and campaigning leverage, the foundation of union power is industrial strength.

This is why Michael Chessum’s article is so disappointing. Whereas the locus of purely political campaigning is constantly pulled towards Westminster, and a schedule of elections that is dis-empowering for activists, trade unionism is geographically dispersed and workplace injustice happens every day, giving activists an opportunity to make real change for the better. The biggest opportunity for building a powerful campaigning left is not to encourage Corbyn’s supporters to challenge the leadership of the unions, as Michael rather foolishly does, it is to encourage activists to join and recruit to the unions where they live and work, and to help us all together to build the strong industrial organization that can empower working people to improve their own lives.

 

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss

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For those of you who haven’t followed developments in the comments, there is a significant change here at SU. John Wight will be publishing his writings elsewhere, and we wish him luck, and every success for the future.

John has relinquished his editing and admin rights at SU, and if you were banned by John, then welcome back. I have asked Tony, who brilliantly assists with technical support behind the scenes, to “unban” people (it is quite beyond me). This may take a while to percolate through, so please be patient.