Unions: Selfishness will be our death

The Seattle Times reports that Ironworkers from Local 86, backing that noted humanitarian Jeff Bezos, went and shouted down Seattle city council member Kshama Sawant as she tried to speak in favor of a proposed tax on Seattle businesses. The tax would be used to provide services for the homeless. What happened was that Amazon shut down two major construction projects until the city council votes on the tax issue. This was a way of pressuring the city council and also riling up the construction workers. It was intended to drive a wedge between these workers and the rest of Seattle’s working class, especially those forced to live on the streets.  Unfortunately, it worked, although not without the assistance of the Ironworkers leadership. During their lunch break, the Local 86 “business manager” Chris McClain, led his members from a job across the street to protest this business tax. The ironworkers leadership swallowed whole the claim of Amazon that if the tax goes into effect then Amazon will build less in Seattle, causing these ironworkers to lose work, and so they passed this corporate propaganda on to their members.

Chris McClain, business manager of Ironworkers Local 86, leads the chants in favor of Amazon

This is not only accepting the claim by big business that we must help them make ever greater profits in order to have work; it’s even worse: It’s a total reversal of any sort of class solidarity. Where are these union members for the homeless or for other more oppressed layers of the working class?

This thinking reminds one of the position of the building trades regarding the construction of the Oakland A’s stadium right across the street from Laney Community College in Oakland. (See this article.) That it would have destroyed Laney didn’t matter. As  Rafael Gonzalez, President of Laborers Local 304 said at the time: “We’re going to support wherever they (the A’s) want to build.” Where that thinking leads was shown by Abraham Parra, labor relations representative for Laborers Local 304: When asked if the laborers’ union (LIUNA) would then support building Trump’s wall if it meant jobs, he said “on behalf of LIUNA I can’t answer that.” Andreas Cluver, secretary-treasurer of the Alameda County building and Construction Trades Council, also made the thinking clear. “Yes, we are slaves in the capitalist economy to the financiers,” he said.

It’s clear from looking at the video in the linked article that the business manager of the ironworkers is leading this disruption. But where will all this lead? For one, it’s exactly this selfish, “me first, last and always” thinking that the union leadership is encouraging that has led so many union members to vote for Trump. “If I’m going to get a job due to his being president, that’s all that matters. I don’t care about anybody else,” is the thinking. And that’s exactly what is being encouraged. It is why, according to the latest polls, approval for Trump is now tied at 49% approve and 49% disapprove. And while racism certainly plays a role, it is not purely racism as the fact that Trump’s approval among black voters has also risen slightly since his election. This is despite the fact that Trump’s overt appeals to racism have gotten even worse since he came into office.

And what do these building trades workers think will happen when Trump’s construction plans get built non-union? Who do they think will support them?

This writer remembers a discussion he had with a business agent of his local many years ago. “If they were going to build a prison to put all union members in, you guys would support it as long as they were going to build it union,” the business agent was told. He thought for five seconds and then said, “no, we wouldn’t.” But the key is that he had to think for a few seconds before answering!

A real union member
Meanwhile, back up in Seattle, the Seattle Times reports that a member of Ironworkers Local 86, Logan Swan, spoke along with Sawant in favor of the business tax. We know it took a lot of courage and integrity to take that stand that was unpopular among his fellow workers. Every real union member should congratulate Logan Swan.

House slaves or Nat Turner slaves?
It may be true that as workers we are the “slaves” of capital, as Andreas Cluver said. But what he really means is that we should be the passive “house slaves” of capital instead of the Nat Turner slaves. Instead of campaigning for increased profits of Amazon, how about the Ironworkers and the unions in general put on a nation-wide campaign with protests at every Amazon center, demanding that they – and others like them – pay enough taxes to take care of the homeless? How about their occupying Amazon’s centers until they retract their threat to leave Seattle and until our demands are met?

update: Since this article was published, we got a letter that apparently was from Chris McClain. We published it along with our reply here. A further exchange with the president of the local is published here.


Categories: labor

2 replies »

  1. Does the Seattle City Council have an answer to homelessness? If so, please share. Where is this increase in taxes really going? We have not been shown a “plan”. Rumors persist that city workers will benefit with raises. That’s nice but how does that help the homeless and less fortunate? Show us a plan for the new tax money. How will it be spent?

    • So, presumably, you agree that city workers should get a raise. That, in itself, would be a positive, no? As for where else the money would be going: I’m sure there is a lot of bureaucratism in the Seattle City Council, but that wasn’t the point of the protest. The point of the protest was to support Amazon against the homeless. Let’s start with that. Does Mary Kelly think that Amazon should simply keep all its loot rather than being taxed? Does she agree with union workers backing up Amazon?

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