Defend public wealth: resist privatisation

“We have to get beyond sectoral interests and look at the common good, to defend the very idea of social ownership as an alternative to the anarchy and chaos of corporate monopoly capitalism.”—Extract from the TULF’s pamphlet Robbing the People’s Wealth.

This January the Trade Union Left Forum met in the TEEU offices and agreed to launch a campaign in defence of public wealth and opposition to privatisation. Members and activists from a range of unions, public and private-sector, shared their experiences of the scale of privatisation that is under way and the loss to the public of valuable assets and services.

Privatisation—or outsourcing, sub-contracting, opening up for competition—is not new. Indeed over the years the state has sold off, for a quick buck, billions’ worth of public wealth in the form of various companies, including ICC, ACC, Irish Life, Eircom, Aer Lingus, Irish Sugar, Irish Steel, and Great Southern Hotels, as well as refuse collection, natural resources, and many more. In more recent years it has also outsourced the provision of various public services, particularly in the health service and most recently in An Bord Gáis. Many of these have ended in disaster for the public.

Where profitable companies are sold, the continuing return they provided to the state in the form of a dividend is ended. For example, Irish Sugar went on to become Greencore; if retained in public ownership it would be a valuable state asset today for investing in health, education, and other vital services.

Others, as for example ACC and ICC, on privatisation lost their strategic investment mandate and went on to fuel speculative short-term investments, so contributing to the property bubble.

Eircom went through various owners, has been stripped of many valuable assets, loaded with hundreds of millions in private equity debt, fallen well behind in its provision of vital infrastructure, and in its most recent form has become a state asset of Singapore, through Singapore’s state company ST Telemedia.

In refuse collection we now have the sadly comical scenario of three or four massive trucks from different companies roaming through estates, picking up bins from every third or fourth house, with hidden registration charges often spent on pointless advertising, touting for each household’s business; and this is presented to us as private-sector efficiency! Nothing could be more inefficient from an economic and environmental point of view than this farce; and the public pay for it.

A positive example of how an efficient state enterprise can be run and be of immense value to the public is the ESB. Established in 1927, at its peak the ESB employed 13,500 workers in secure, well-paid, decent work, with educational opportunities not available to many workers in the private sector. The ESB never received a subsidy from the state but has been self-financing from its inception. Over the last decade it has returned in the region of €2 billion worth of dividends to the public purse.

As a result of EU law on energy deregulation—i.e. privatisation of the market—imposed on the ESB, it was forced to raise its charges, at the public’s expense, so that less efficient private-sector companies, such as Airtricity and Viridian, could enter the market and profit at our expense. In essence, the state is imposing a profit tax on the public for private enterprise.

As a result of this the ESB has had to hand over about 800,000 customers and has been forced into thousands of job losses. It now employs in the region of 6,500 workers. Any “job creation” by Airtricity and other companies is not real job creation at all but job displacement, from better-paid, more secure employment to lower-paid work.

The ESB, including its workers, should be defended and supported as a valuable state enterprise and public asset.

The Trade Union Left Forum is launching a politicised union campaign within the trade union movement and also more generally among the public, because campaigning works.

This Government wanted to sell off Coillte, the successful state forestry company. In recent years Coillte increased its value from €730 million to €1,400 million and turned an operating loss into a profit of more than €40 million. At present it employs more than a thousand workers. It is committed to sustainability and biodiversity, vital for Ireland’s environmental balance, and particularly for jobs in the agricultural sector. It is crucial to the broader forestry sector, which creates €2.2 billion in economic activity each year and employs more than 12,000 workers.

The sale of Coillte was prevented by heightened public awareness and interest in our forests and the value of the company to the public, led by both the trade union Impact and committed social and environmental activists.

In Germany, union and public campaigning has forced the Hamburg Metropolitan Region to renationalise its electricity grid, after private-sector involvement failed. Indeed in Germany since 2007 more than two hundred power and water grids have been renationalised by local authorities—evidence of the failure of privatisation and the value of public ownership.

As the TULF pamphlet suggests, the trade union movement has to move beyond sectoral interests and lead a public campaign in defence of public wealth and public ownership and to fight privatisation wherever it is proposed. This needs to begin with an ideological defence of public ownership and a heightened sense of pride and value in successful public operations.

Only the trade union movement has the capacity to make this campaign national and combine the complementary interests of the workers directly involved and the public who both own and rely on these assets and services.

What’s more, it is ICTU policy to lead such a campaign; yet little has been done. The TULF is committed to making this a union issue and encouraging inter-union support and activism.

Solidarity – More Than Just Support

What is solidarity? The dictionary definition online said “mutual support within a group”. Not very dramatic, rousing, or uplifting I agree. But it is still one of the most important, yet sadly underused, tools of the trade union movement.

A prime example of the need for solidarity is what was happening in Ireland coming up to the Christmas period, regarding the media portrayal of the ESB workers and their then-threatened strike action. They were being labelled as “selfish”, “greedy”, “holding the country to ransom”, just because they were standing up and fighting for their rights to reclaim the pension deficit sprung upon them. They had been forced into the position of strike action by a board of management who refuse to engage at any meaningful level. But more worryingly than the media portrayal, was the effect this portrayal has had on the public. Pages like “NO to the ESB strike” sprung up on social media outlets like Facebook. A page which grew in the space of a week to 2,353 supporters and is still on Facebook for all to see. A page which, in one post, called for the picket line to be broken and for people to take back the company “from the unions”. As if that wasn’t enough, one had to just look at the comments section of any online articles regarding the ESB workers stance. They were, in general, resoundingly negative towards the workers struggle.

Why is this? Where is the solidarity amongst the working class, the struggling people, which Ireland was long famous for at home and abroad? Have we become that begrudging a nation that, rather than fight together for better, we instead wish the worst on those that have. This is something the trade union movement has to recognise as a huge fault of our own.
The trade union movement across the country has roughly 800,000 members, and is the largest civil organisation on the island. Yet at any major protest or march, the numbers present are a fraction of this. As was said at the ICTU Youth Conference held in November, the trade unions are looked upon by its members as a service. Something you pay for just in case you someday need it. Therefore, most people have no interest in being active within the trade union movement.

People are also becoming disillusioned with the trade union movement and their individual unions. The current Government are not just continuing, but actively building upon the torturous austerity program that the Irish people are suffering through. Cuts to Social Welfare payments, the aggressive rollout of a compulsory JobBridge program for unemployed, water charges and the ongoing Irish Water fiasco, household taxes, the promise of job creation but the reality of forced emigration.

Workers have watched this happen and, in many cases, do not think the trade union movement have done enough to voice the opposition of its members towards these cuts. They may not be job specific, but they still affect workers and members. Couple this with public perception that the trade union movement donates to, or are conjoined with political parties, and you can imagine why people are becoming disenfranchised with trade unions, and deciding not to join. In my opinion, a clear and public statement of disaffiliation from all political parties by trade unions, would not only break this stigma, but would be extremely beneficial to the unions and create a membership boost.

Imagine a trade union movement that not only looks after the people it represents, but is active politically, fighting against austerity measures forced upon the country by successive Governments. What we need is a union completely disaffiliated from any political party, a movement which can activate against a particular cut or measure at a moment’s notice, which would pull any political parties worth anything to the worker along in its momentum, a union which does not allow, forget or forgive attacks against the workers and the workplace, a union movement not afraid to take a stand on and support the important social issues affecting the country and world, from the pro-choice debate and legalisation of gay marriage at home, to the continued atrocities in Palestine and the anti-homosexual agenda surrounding the Winter Olympics in Russia. This is something which would not only breed solidarity and activism amongst the trade union movement, but would also appeal to non-unionised workers, and encourage them to join, but most importantly get involved in the issues that they are most passionate about.

But there is not just the need for national solidarity. Global solidarity is equally important. In September of last year, a group of trade union activists stood on a drizzly Saturday afternoon, outside a McDonalds on O’Connell Street in Dublin. They were there as part of a solidarity picket with Sean Bailey, a young McDonalds worker and Unite Union delegate in New Zealand, who had recently been fired from his job. The reasons for his dismissal; exposing serial law breaking by the company over not providing meal breaks for many staff working more than a four-hour shift as mandated under the current law. This picket was important on two levels. Not only was it offering much welcomed support to Sean and his struggle, but it was highlighting to McDonalds that the workers, regardless of where they are from, will not take any form of erosion of workers’ rights lying down. It showed that an attack against one worker, even one over 11,000 miles away, is an attack against all workers.

This is the meaning of true solidarity, and it is not just with Sean. It is with all workers worldwide, as they fight for better terms and conditions against their respective employees. It is with the Wal-Mart workers in America as they fight for trade union recognition. It is with the McDonalds workers worldwide as they fight for a living wage. It is with the workers in Colombia who are beaten or murdered for being active in their trade union. It’s with the four workers of Connolly Shoes in Dun Laoghaire who are still, after 3 years, awaiting their court ordered compensation for unlawful dismissal. It is with bank workers who receive abuse for mismanagement they were not part of.

Solidarity is much more than the dictionary definition. Solidarity is the greatest tool trade unions have in their struggle for the working class. It is, as the American labor leader Harry Bridges said, “The most important word in the language of the working class”.

Professional and Industrial Organizing Scores Banner Year

“You heard a common theme from many of our speakers – if we stand still, we die. If we don’t change what’s not working, then we are condemning ourselves to a slow death.”

– President Edwin D. Hill at the 38th International Convention, Vancouver 2011

Change. It’s inevitable. But progress comes only through perseverance, doubling down and refining your efforts.

This year, organizing in the professional and industrial sector — comprised of utilities, telecommunications, manufacturing, government, broadcasting and railroad — has helped thousands of workers raise their voices for fair pay, decent benefits and the added dignity that comes on the job from having a union at their back.

“Probably the best part about it is that, all of a sudden, we’re a ‘we’ instead of an ‘I,'” said Julie Wichmann Huerta, who is a commission chief administrative officer for the Port of Los Angeles. “We have influence, we have clout — and we have a professional-level organization that is negotiating for us and making sure that our needs are met.”

The biggest win of the year came in January, when Wichmann Huerta’s co-workers who are part of the massive Engineers and Architects Association cast their ballots for Local 11. The vote brought more than 4,500 new members into the fold.

This year, 92 successful campaigns have won representation rights for more than 7,000 new members. The campaign win rate is a whopping 72 percent — significantly higher than the average organizing ratio for any union in any industry across the U.S. and Canada.

“It’s an exciting time to be building the IBEW,” said lead organizer Steve Smith, who has helped win voices on the job for workers at Comcast in the Northeast. Smith is one of 49 full-time organizers in the professional and industrial branch, a corps that has more than doubled in size since before the 2011 convention, largely due to added funding from the membership.
Other improvements include the addition of IBEW leaders assigned full-time to business development at various locals throughout the U.S. and Canada, as well as new membership-boosting trainings that have been launched by the Education Department at the International Office in Washington, D.C.

But behind the numbers are stories — lives that have been changed, families that have been strengthened, and hard-won dignity that reverberates long after the votes are counted.

“It is no secret that organizing campaigns are most successful when we utilize all of our resources — a and because of the work of our local unions, organizers in the field and leadership support, we are helping change the lives of the workers we touch,” said Membership Development Director Gina Cooper, who heads up professional and industrial efforts across the U.S. and Canada. “From the United States Infrastructure Corporation worker who framed every piece of organizing campaign correspondence that was mailed to him, to the City of Ocala workers who had all gotten together on game day and danced every time an IBEW commercial played, thousands of workers who wanted a voice are thrilled and excited that they are now a part of our organization.”

“These remarkable gains certainly say something positive about our continued organizing efforts in the professional and industrial sector,” said International President Edwin D. Hill. “But beyond that, these victories show that countless workers nationwide are saying ‘enough’ to unfair pay, lack of benefits and disrespect on the job. I applaud these brave men and women for standing up for their rights, and I know that we can continue the fight to make jobs better for more workers in the upcoming year.”

Delegates to the 2011 International Convention voted to provide more resources to organize new members by passing two per capita tax increases. The first went into effect this year, and another will be implemented in 2014. After that, if membership growth projections fall short, a third per capita increase will kick in in 2016.

The following are just some of the other high-profile stories from an action-packed year of successful organizing.

‘If They Can Get a Contract, I Know We Can Too’

In Lebanon, Mo., frustration had been setting in for years amongst the nearly 20 employees who handle water treatment, management and construction tasks for city of 14,000 in the central part of the state.

“They were upset about how they’d been treated at work,” said organizer Phil Meyer, who services locals throughout the 11th District. “There were unfair discipline actions, and they were upset about not having the proper safety equipment.”

Even obtaining full-time status had proved elusive for some. “One employee had been a part-time employee for 16 years,” said Tony Parrish, which meant no benefits for the worker and his family. Parrish is business manager of Springfield Local 753, about an hour’s drive southwest of Lebanon.

A group of Local 753 linemen who frequently rubbed shoulders on the job with the water workers recently won a contract with representation from the local. The water workers said, “If they can get a contract, I know we can too,” said Meyer.

A quick campaign yielded victory for the workers, who overwhelmingly voted to be represented by the local in July.

As first contract talks ramp up, Parrish says the new members are mobilized and engaged. “This is going to be a huge benefit to them,” he said. “They’re excited and they’re ready to move forward.”

Broad Territory, Bolstered Opportunities

With an outside jurisdiction that spans hundreds of miles, Philadelphia Local 126’s territory covers the southern half of Pennsylvania, Maryland’s Eastern Shore and all of Delaware. That distance makes the task of building linemen’s careers and boosting the membership all the more challenging.

To better make the rounds, local leaders have in the past few years established satellite offices in four strategic locations in the three states, while increasing the number of full time organizers to 16.

“A lot of people who have lived in Maryland or Delaware might not have really know who local 126 was unless they actually talked to a lineman down there,” said organizer Rick Fridell, who works out of the Bridgeville, Del., office. “People didn’t know that there were those types of opportunities down there — you don’t see union halls down there.”

The revamped, ambitious presence has yielded immediate results. More than 520 new members have joined the local since January 2012, and seven new contractors have signed letters of assent.
“We’re always trying to pick up new work,” said Local 126 Business Manager Rich Muttik. “That’s our No. 1 goal, to get everybody working and have everybody IBEW.”

And Muttik’s approach –as well as attitude — is infectious, especially to the businesses he partners with.

“One thing that Rich has said to me before is, ‘Our contractors don’t fail,'” said Cindy Gallo, owner of telecommunications contractor Fiber Business Solutions in Norristown, Pa. “That’s what struck a chord with me.”

Tech-Savvy Campaign Nets Win for Ca. Workers

Organizing 2.0 presents new opportunities for workers to connect over broad distances. Text, e-mail, blog posts, social media and Web sites are all playing a role in bringing workers together to raise their collective voices.

But what happens when a worker is trying to reach out to you online, and the company ups the ante to something akin to low-level cyber warfare?

This was the challenge facing workers at NCR in Ontario who had contacted the IBEW for representation. The employees service and maintain ATM machines, bank equipment and other electronic point-of-sale technology for the company.

“These workers are service orientated ,” said First District organizer Brett Youngberg. “They’re technicians and they’re mobile. It’s not like when you’re dealing with a factory where you can meet them at the gate and solicit them through leaflets.”

Mobile and Web technology proved fruitful in the early stages of the campaign late last year — that is, until management caught wind of the effort.

To keep workers and IBEW activists from communicating, NCR set up a firewall system to block any incoming e-mails to employees featuring particular keywords like “union,” collective,” IBEW” and more.

So organizers’ and workers’ next moves were to communicate through small-batch e-mails via Google’s Gmail system, which allowed Youngberg and his colleagues to send electronic attachments — including authorization cards — to workers without raising red flags or overloading the company’s system. This proved the perfect camouflage, as the organizers’ information now flowed to workers undetected by management.

It worked. Per Ontario law, employees were able to print their e-mailed cards, sign them in front of a witness and deliver them to the province’s labor board. Nearly 100 techs are now some of the newest members of Toronto Local 636.

“Our goal is to ensure that these people are well represented, that the employer lives by the rules — and we’ll take them to task if they don’t,” said Local 636 Business Manager Barry Brown.
A new Web site developed at the IBEW International Office is helping foster more communication and reach more workers in ongoing efforts at the company. Visit it at

>h3>IBEW Gets High Marks from Fla. School Personnel

Further south, tried-and-true shoe leather efforts helped win a voice on the job for hundreds of employees of the Duval County Public Schools in eastern Florida.

Workers who perform carpentry, maintenance, and other tasks for the 125,000-student district had been reeling from a recent round of layoffs that affected 30 employees.

“That’s when we realized that we didn’t have anybody that could really speak up for us,” said Ed Kicklighter, a carpenter for the district who was instrumental in the campaign.

After coordinating with leaders at Jacksonville Local 177, Kicklighter, some co-workers and local organizers gassed up their cars and hit the road to make home visits across the vast county, traveling as many as 50 miles at a time to meet one employee face-to-face.

“When we came knocking on the door, they knew that we weren’t just sitting back waiting for them to come to us – we were willing to sit in their home, in their environment, where they’re comfortable,” said Local 177 organizer Bill Stuart.

Kicklighter said his fellow co-workers were largely receptive to the home visits.

“They knew we needed something,” he said. “Of course, we had a few who didn’t want to talk and wanted no part of it. Since then, some of those guys shook my hand and said, ‘You’re right. We needed this.'” More than 300 district employees are now the newest members of Local 177.

“It’s a great win for us,” said Joe Roberts, who directs business development for the local. “It gives us a lot more visibility in the community, and all of the people who have worked for the school board are active in the community with little leagues and things like that, so it spreads the idea of the IBEW beyond where we are now.”

Drivers for High-End N.Y. Chef Supply Company Vote IBEW

In good times or bad, New York City’s elite will call on their best chefs. The city’s restaurant and tavern sectors expanded during the latest recession, often opening up for business in rehabilitated venues where industrial manufacturing once thrived.

New York City Local 1430 has lost much of its manufacturing membership. But the local never lost its spirit for organizing. So, a while back, Business Manager Jordan El Hag and his staff decided to target the Big Apple’s food distribution industry, offering workers a voice on the job and the benefits of collective bargaining once so widely enjoyed by its members in the factories of electrical equipment manufacturers.

In September, the plan to target food distribution was validated when drivers for Chefs’ Warehouse, a supplier of specialty food to upscale eateries, hotels and gourmet stores, voted 62 to 36 for representation by Local 1430.

“The 2-to-1 vote shows the effectiveness of letting prospective members know what to expect during a representation campaign and getting their buy-in to run it themselves,” says Local 1430 Business Agent Sammy Gonzales Jr., who first reached out to drivers and warehouse workers in July 2012.

While drivers didn’t have major complaints about pay or medical benefits, they wanted the company — which has warehouses in major cities including Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Miami — to institute fairer, consistent procedures. They were concerned, for instance, that the company was making arbitrary decisions in moving employees up to “team leader,” a position that provides a $100 per week bump in pay.

“They weren’t treating the drivers right,” says Gosnell Butler, who has worked at the company for two and a half years. As workers compared their paychecks and saw inconsistencies, they “woke up to see what was happening.”

“We discussed how forming a union is about being a partner in a company’s success,” says Gonzalez, who, along with Lead Organizer Joe Mastrogiovanni Jr., outlined what kind of opposition might be mounted by the company.

Gonzalez and others met weekly with drivers, whom he described as seasoned and experienced professionals, to answer questions. They supplemented information about the union and the campaign through text message blasts and e-mails.

“We told drivers that Local 1430 was the avenue [for pulling members together], but they were the union and they needed to take ownership of the campaign, not let it get sidetracked by divisive tactics from the employer,” says Gonzalez.

The “inoculation” effort, designed to help workers anticipate well-worn anti-union tactics, was particularly important, he says. Some of the drivers were on the company’s payroll in 2008 and 2010 when two different unions vied for representing the work force, with each one failing to achieve a majority.

“Organizers, aware that drivers worked irregular shifts, showed up at the warehouse nearly every day,” says Gonzalez, to underscore the perception that Local 1430 would not abandon workers as company opposition mounted.

Divisive tactics were deployed as soon as the campaign went public. The company — which had revenues of $480 million in 2012, a 21 percent increase since 2009 — called in four “union avoidance” consultants from Delaware and Virginia. They held non-mandatory meetings, advising drivers that the union would sap their savings in dues and put their livelihoods in jeopardy by recklessly striking the company.

While drivers weren’t compelled to attend, the meetings were held within earshot of the dispatcher’s office. As drivers walked by, they heard the same anti-union barrage from the consultants that had been discussed in meetings with organizers.

Complementing the misinformation campaign and attempting to undermine the growing relationships between drivers and Local 1430, Chefs’ Warehouse hosted picnics for the work force and gave away free food to employees. The drivers were undeterred.

El Hag and his staff knew at the start of the campaign that some of the company’s warehouse workers were interested in joining the drivers as local union members. But, as he and organizers assessed the terrain, they deliberately proceeded to first focus on the drivers, a more cohesive group. The plan worked. El Hag says IBEW’s Third District Vice President Don Siegel, Mastrogiovanni and International Representative Brian Brennan provided crucial support.

“Teamwork between locals and the International is always critical,” says Mastrogiovanni. “Jordan El Hag and Local 1430 made no false promises to drivers. They lived up to their word and they gave Chefs’ Warehouse workers the opportunity to better their lives.”

Organizers hope to deepen their numbers inside and beyond Chefs’ Warehouse’s New York City locale, convincing more potential members to take ownership of their futures by joining IBEW and partnering with a thriving business.

According to The Bull and Bear Financial Report, Chefs’ Warehouse supplies 20,000 products to chefs, compared to about 1,600 for the average specialty distributor. The report projects a minimum growth rate of 15 percent in annual sales for the next five years.

‘All In’ Strategy Wins Florida Municipal Campaign

Two years ago, after Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker launched his war on public employees’ collective bargaining rights, some self-appointed experts on the labor movement predicted a quick demise for public sector bargaining units everywhere.

That dismal forecast for organized labor never made it down to Ocala, Fla., a politically conservative city in the center of that right-to-work state.

On Aug. 15, city employees — who perform a wide range of jobs ranging from call center operators to crime scene technicians and building inspectors — voted 203 to 97 for representation by Gainesville Local 1205.

The margin of victory reversed the percentages of a prior organizing loss by another international union a few years back.

But, more importantly, the strategy and tactics developed during the Ocala campaign demonstrated the effectiveness of the all-in, multi-dimensional approach that was the theme of September’s IBEW Membership Development Conference.

The campaign tapped the creativity of the city’s work force and reached out to IBEW retirees and the wider community, mixing modern online communication with traditional, time-tested organizing techniques.

Members of the Ocala volunteer organizing committee joined Local 1205 Organizer Tommy Ward and Lead Organizer Doug Williams making house calls to their co-workers.

They packed city council meetings wearing IBEW T-shirts and hats to oppose severe cuts in their pensions — the main catalyst for the organizing campaign. And, with a stroke of good luck, a letter sent by the local union to prospective members outlining the benefits in organizing arrived the same day a national TV ad promoting the IBEW was aired during the 2012 NFL playoffs. “The IBEW was legitimatized,” says Williams.

“We left no stone unturned in this campaign,” says Williams. He requested a list of all IBEW members and retirees in the 15 towns in the area surrounding Ocala and sent letters asking them to attend city council meetings in support of the city’s workers.

The union’s online organizing tools proved their worth. An international representative saw Ocala targeted on IBEW’s Organizing Accountability Reporting System (OARS) and called Williams with contact information for his wife’s uncle, who worked for the city.

Above all, Ocala workers like Steve Kindred made a personal commitment to reaching out to their peers.

“When I started working here, I never thought I would be making house calls, testifying at city council meetings or going to Tallahassee to count ballots in a union election,” says Kindred, an Ocala engineering technician. He carried his positive experience as a former member of two municipal collective bargaining units to his co-workers during the campaign.

In 1996, Kindred retired after 20 years in military service as a nuclear reactor operator and supply officer and went to work as a permit technician and engineering technician in two cities in the state of Washington.

The son of an Ohio union steelworker, he joined Teamster and Machinist bargaining units in each city. “We had a defined set of rules to work by and none of the horror stories [that are spread about conflicts between unions and employers],” says Kindred.

Everything changed in 2009 when Kindred moved to Ocala and got a job inspecting commercial building sites and producing drawing for upgrades to the city’s storm water system. He had no union to join. Only the police and fire departments were organized.

Policy changes in his department, says Kindred, came down so frequently that “They needed a town crier to come through every morning and say ‘hear ye, hear ye.'” Promotions were often reserved for managers’ cronies. Competence and seniority counted for nothing.

The city’s leaders announced austerity measures after the economic downturn of 2008. First, longevity awards would be discontinued. Then, a portion of the value of accrued vacation and sick leave would no longer be paid at retirement. And the city began changing from a defined benefit pension plan to a hybrid plan that would leave workers paying more out-of-pocket and sharing market risks with the city. The new plan, combining defined benefit and defined contribution portions, would lower the multiplier that is currently in place, leaving prospective retirees, like Kindred, age 55, with a lower benefit.

Kindred and some of his co-workers went to work. They contacted Local 1205, not just to organize a union, but for support in moving the city’s political leaders to reverse their decision.
The city spent money on “pet projects like drunken sailors,” says Kindred. But when officials ran out of money, the first place they looked was cutting pensions and other benefits. And, compared to similar Florida cities, management is top-heavy.

Winston Schuler, an engineering technician who has worked for Ocala for almost nine years, performing traffic timing studies and administering electronic management of the city’s transportation system, saw the city’s work force reduced by a third before the benefit changes were proposed. He told the Ocala StarBanner, “We do feel appreciated by the citizens, but don’t feel that upper management feels the same way about us.”

Schuler, like Kindred, the son of a union steelworker, drew up a questionnaire and asked his co-workers for ideas and counter-proposals for independent negotiations with the city. Then Schuler, Kindred and other bargaining unit members, led by a co-worker who is currently organizing other city professionals, set up a committee to meet with the city’s managers to discuss the pension changes and propose other options.

“The city council passively listened while employees passionately stated how cutting benefits was a bad idea. Then council members would say that ‘times are rough’ and say they had no choice,” says Kindred.

“Just as I was getting dejected about the lack of progress with our committee, I got an [organizing] letter from the IBEW,” says Kindred. He made a commitment to organize. “I’ve always believed that old saying that all it takes for bad things to happen is for good people to stand by and do nothing.”

Winning the organizing drive, he says, took a lot of “personal relationship building.” There was “a lot of surprise from our co-workers when a familiar face came to the door [talking about the union],” says Kindred.
While there’s still a lot of skepticism about what difference a union can make, says Schuler, his co-workers are hoping for the best as first contract negotiations begin.

“My wife and I have six children and five grandchildren. I’ve been working since I was 11. I’m 51 years old now and deserve a decent retirement.”

Tommy Ward told the Ocala StarBanner, “We are looking forward to working with the city hand-in-hand, workers and city leaders.”

National Wage Control or Union Won Increases?

It seems that IBEC and the Labour Relations Commission (LRC) are both calling for some kind of new centralised national wage/income agreement to control pay, as some would put it, in the ‘national interest’. The two leading figures from these organisations (Danny McCoy and Kieran Mulvey respectively) have all in recent weeks made noises about the possibility of a national agreement between union, employers and the Government on pay and income with the Sunday Business Post going as far as suggesting informal discussions have already commenced on this.

Is this signs of a tip in class power or is this a cynical move to manage and control growing worker militancy, when it comes to wage claims, in the ‘national interest’ – defined broadly as not allowing wage increases outpace inflation? When the claim for wages is accompanied with a suggestion to put in place a dispute resolution mechanism it would worryingly suggest that claims over and above the decided % will be met with opposition from State institutions and this new mechanism.

We have to ask ourselves in whose interest would this kind of agreement be and why are big business calling for a national agreement now when they wanted nothing to do with one previously? What is the political economy of such a move?

Business and Government want to suppress pay. Suppressed pay boosts profits. Profits are often made directly at the expense of workers’ wages. Profits from outsourced services largely come from pay cuts or pay stagnation. Wage stagnation supports the profits of exporting companies. This covers both the interests’ of big business multi nationals operating a variety of outsourcing contracts both private and public sector and also big Irish business engaged in exporting. Wage stagnation is also required by EU economic regulations and its public finance straight jacket. Wage claims are class struggle at a very basic and local level.

It is clear business and the Government are worried about growing union and worker militancy on the wage front. They may also be concerned that recent union wins on pay, particularly for the low paid in the retail sector by Mandate trade union, may have an inspiring effect on workers and lead to increased demands and mobilising efforts. SIPTU, and Jack O’Connor, have made it clear in recent times that they are pushing for pay increases in the private sector and this is welcome news for these workers. Other union are also making positive noise in this direction.
IBEC, however, have also stated that they expect both income tax and social welfare to be looked at in conjunction with any agreement and the said dispute resolution mechanism. Meaning they will seek income tax reductions for the wealthy and also a reduction in social welfare for the unemployed.

What does the union movement need to be conscious of? The class interests of big business in coming to an inflation based flat rate national agreement that is actually harmful to wage claims arising from organised militant workers. Putting claims over and above any set national rate into a negotiating mechanism removed from direct negotiations. Removing wage struggles from the workplace damages local union organisation and worker militancy and also disincentives union organising. It breeds an attitude of ‘we all get this anyway’ and ‘isn’t this a Government pay increase’ both damaging to union strength and leverage. But most importantly it is likely to make it even more difficult for the lower paid to win pay increases above inflation, increase their standard of living and reduce inequality.

A Communist Vision of Trade Unions: A Review

Review of Toni Gilpin, “Left by Themselves: A History of the United Farm Equipment and Metal Workers Union, 1938-1955” Volumes I and II (Ph.D dss., Yale University, 1992)

From 1947 until 1955, Local 236 of the United Farm Equipment and Metal Workers Union (FE) at the International Harvester company’s plant in Louisville, Kentucky, exemplified a union run according to the Communist vision of trade unionism.

One of its officers, an African-American, James Wright, who subsequently served as an organizer for the United Electrical Workers (UE) and still later as a regional director of the United Automobile Workers (UAW), called the Local 236 “the closest to the most perfect union.”

A case study of the Louisville local comprises part of Toni Gilpin’s dissertation on the FE, one of the most radical and militant unions in American history. Gilpin recounts the FE’s story from its founding in 1938 as an early part of the Congress of Industrial Unions (CIO), through its organization of the leading farm equipment manufacturers, International Harvester and Catepillar, to its expulsion by the CIO in 1949 as one of the so-called Communist-dominated internationals and its dissolution and merger with the United Automobile Workers Union (UAW) in 1955.

The first volume consists of three chapters tracing the history of the FE, which by the mid-1940s represented 80,000 workers. The second volume consists of three chapters, a case studies of the McCormick Local 108 in Chicago and Local 236 of International Harvester in Louisville, and a conclusion.

Gilpin was a student of the labor historian, David Montgomery, and the daughter of one of the Communist leaders of the FE, DeWitt Gilpin. For her study, Gilpin not only drew on company and union papers and government documents, including extensive FBI files, but also on oral history interviews, including of her mother Mimi Gilpin and James Wright, previously quoted.

Even though many very good studies exist of the leftwing unions of the CIO and of Communist influence on the American labor movement, Gilpin does something that sets her work apart: she puts the focus on the Communist vision and practice of trade unionism and argues that this vision was “quite different” than the philosophy of “labor statesmanship” which dominated the CIO (and AFL) after World War II.

Moreover, her case studies provide concrete evidence of Communist trade unionism at the local and shop floor level. Gilpin contrasts the Communist vision of trade unionism in the FE to the vision of labor statesmanship developed by Walter Reuther and the UAW. Reuther began articulating his ideas during the General Motors strike of 1946. At first, Reuther passed off his views as a radical challenge to the corporations by arguing that General Motors could afford hefty wage increases without raising prices and that if General Motors thought otherwise it should “open the books.”

Soon, however, the conservative essence of Reuther’s social democratic ideas emerged. He urged labor not to use its economic power to get a bigger piece of the pie but to strive to increase the size of the pie by working with management to reduce workplace conflict and increase productivity, enhancing both management’s profits and workers’ wages.

By 1948, Reuther called for linking wage increases to productivity increases and the cost of living, prohibiting strikes between contracts, lengthening the contract length from one year to five, and weakening the steward or committeeman system.

The Communist leaders of FE put forward a diametrically opposite vision of trade unionism. For them, the interests of management were opposed to those of workers, and ultimately workers could win higher wages and better conditions only at the expense of company profits.

Contrary to Reuther, Communists argued that workers needed to rely not on facts, and research and public relations but consciousness, solidarity and economic power to win and protect gains. The Communists prophetically maintained that for labor to follow Reuther’s path of reducing labor costs and increasing productivity and profits would ultimately lead the companies to use their increased profits to increase speed-up and eliminate work through automation. For FE, labor must fight for increased wages without relinquishing the control of speed of work.

Moreover, FE leaders believed that for labor to lengthen the duration of contracts and to replace job actions between contracts with arbitration would demobilize the workers and weaken the unions. FE supported contracts of one-year or at most two-years duration and announced its “unalterable opposition to peace-time no-strike clauses.”

Whereas the UAW agreed to limit the number of stewards or committeemen and to restrict the time and areas in which they could operate, the FE fought for a large number of stewards, the right of stewards to an unlimited amount of time to handle grievances and the authority to investigate grievances any place in the shop.

The results were striking. In the FE contracts with International Harvester, one union representative existed for every thirty-five or forty workers and sometimes for every twenty-seven workers. With the UAW, one committeeman served 250 workers in General Motors, 300 workers in Ford, and between 200 and 500 workers in Chrysler.

The Communist vision of trade unionism produced an FE membership that was active, enthusiastic and loyal even when located in conservative areas of the country and even when confronted with attacks by employers, politicians and rival unions.

The real power of Gilpin’s study resides in her demonstration of what the Communist vision of trade unions meant at the local level by the case study of Local 236. Local 236 was organized at the International Harvester plant in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1948. With nearly 4000 members, it was the largest local in a single factory in the state.

In its first strike in 1948, a contest that lasted forty days, the Local took on and defeated the so-called “southern differential,” the corporate policy of paying workers less in the south than it paid workers doing the same job in the north. Between contracts, the Communist leaders of the international and the local believed that workers had to defend the collective bargaining contract every day on the shop floor otherwise management would whittle away gains made at the bargaining table.

Local 236 developed a sophisticated critique of the practice of relying on arbitration to settle grievances and used quickie strikes and slowdowns to enforce the contract. The Local took the position that union officers were not responsible for ending wildcat strikes and that directing the workforce was the job of management.

In 1948, the Local engaged in at least thirty-eight work stoppages (mostly short departmental stoppages), more than any other Harvester plant. Even a decade later when within the UAW, the local had a reputation of encouraging members to file grievances.

Another notable feature of Local 236 was its principled and groundbreaking struggles for racial equality. With a membership that was 14 percent Black and with white members drawn largely from the rural south, Local 236 operated in a still segregated city.

The Local put the struggle for racial equality in the forefront of its ideology and activities. Through its local paper and meetings, the Local ceaselessly drove home the point that southern wages and living standards were worse than in the north, because employers successfully divided Blacks and whites, and that discrimination against African-Americans violated simple fairness.

The Local established an integrated leadership, an integrated Women’s Auxiliary and sponsored such integrated events as dances, which provided for many members the first occasion in their lives for socializing across racial lines. The local fought for and achieved an integrated cafeteria and locker rooms as well as equal wages and job and promotional opportunities for African American workers.

Moreover, a decade before the civil rights movement, the African American and white members of Local 236 engaged in “guerilla” actions aimed at integrating the parks, hotels, and bars of Louisville. This involved white and African-American union members going together into legally designated white and black places of business and recreation, tactics that in white places invariably met with police violence and arrests.

The local also helped to lead a successful state-wide petition drive to desegregate the hospitals in Kentucky. Local 236 also supplied the backbone for the Progressive Party campaign of Henry Wallace in 1948. Though Wallace was badly beaten in Kentucky as in the country as a whole, the campaign provided many workers with their introduction to progressive, bi-racial political work.

Above all, Local 236 demonstrated the potential effectiveness and influence of a small Communist minority. Gilpin perceptively argues that the distinctive composition of the workers in the Louisville International Harvester plant in the late 1940s and early 1950s—largely young, single, ex-GIs from rural backgrounds — made them sympathetic to the Communist vision of trade unionism.

Still, whatever the reason, the history of the Local demonstrated that a very small number of Communists mainly in the leadership of the international could successfully communicate its vision to thousands of workers in a local whose members were not themselves Communists but who willingly embraced the vision as their own.

In 1947, just before the successful representation election, the effective Communist organizer of Local 236, died suddenly, and a year later, the Communist president of the local also died unexpectedly. From that time on, apparently no Communist Party member existed in the Local. Eventually, the dynamics unleashed by the Cold War put an end to this model of Communist trade unionism.

Before then, however, the inspiration of its founders and a close working relationship with the international, made Local 236 an avatar of the Communist vision of trade unionism in a way that few others would equal. Such influence made the Communists of the FE a minority like those praised by Eugene V. Debs, namely “the minorities who have made the history of this world.” Decades ago, only academic researchers typically had access to dissertations like Gilpin’s.

Today, however, any interested reader in the instructive story of FE can get a free copy of Gilpin’s dissertation from interlibrary loan or can purchase a hardcopy by contacting University Microfilms in Ann Arbor, Michigan and using the following information and websites: “Left by Themselves: A History of the United Farm Equipment and Metal Workers Union, 1938-1955. (Volumes I and II)” by Toni Gilpin, Ph.D., Yale University, 1992, 638 pages.

Available from: AAT 9315189 or here

January 19, 2013

Taken from

Workers win with their unions

Workers win with their unions

Calling all Electricians NATIONAL STRIKE February 2014

Calling all Electricians NATIONAL STRIKE February 2014

Please click on the Download button below to view the leaflet.

Calling all Electricians NATIONAL STRIKE February 2014

The only option is class struggle

In March 2013, Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO, spoke at a conference held in Chicago. His remarks were on the plight of working people in the USA and the continued inability of the labor movement to gain new members and reverse its downward trend.

In preparation for the AFL-CIO convention in September 2013, the top leadership has issued a call for a discussion on what they have termed, “new models and new ways to gain representation and represent workers.” Trumka detailed some of the major problems facing unions and working people which included a declining membership, reduced retirement security, and an increase in income inequality.

He stated that unions need to tell a story that they are not the problem, but the solution to the problems facing all working people and the labor movement remains the largest force for progressive change in America. Fair enough but is this anything new? How should communists and others on the left respond to this “call” for new ways and new ideas?
First, the economic conditions for the vast majority of working people continue to deteriorate. Big business, with support in both major political parties continues its one sided class war of austerity and brazenly moves on all fronts to destroy all of labor’s gains.

Yet the top leaders of the AFL-CIO are either unable or unwilling to mount any serious alternative program that publicly challenges this assault. The first and foremost discussion Brother Trumka needs to hear is an honest debate in all union locals about what labor stands for and how it will fight to achieve its goals.

Labor’s problems go much deeper than a shallow debate that focuses on labor’s organizational forms and technical discussions of rearranging union bodies through mergers and consolidations.
A critical evaluation of Labor’s overall mission and how to fight the corporate/political onslaught is what’s desperately needed. The current situation provides an opportunity for Communists and honest forces on the left to revitalize the labor movement through class struggle trade unionism. Left formations around concrete issues and demands should be on the agenda for honest forces in the labor movement.

Our role is to move an agenda with concrete proposals in all levels of the labor movement that challenges the prerogatives of capital and mobilizes an action plan for its implementation. Will labor mobilize its ranks and begin to lead a mass movement against concessions in the workplaces and austerity for the working class? Is one of the “new ideas” putting resources into a labor-led coalition and in the streets to save Social Security/ Medicare?

What about fighting for a mass jobs program that rebuilds the nation’s crumbling infrastructure at union wages?

Or mobilizing the working poor around a campaign to raise the minimum wage?

Or mounting a campaign to win a six-hour day, which would create millions of jobs?

Why not a debate on the destruction of civil liberties, its impact on labor and the need to cut the war economy?

Single payer healthcare could be a magnet that gives labor another opportunity to unite union members and the general public.

Both major parties worship at the altar of big money and have adopted austerity for working people and corporate coddling as their main political plan. Will labor offer an independent challenge to this morally bankrupt and rotted political system? These and many other crucial issues need to be addressed by an independent labor movement that mobilizes and advocates for all.

The example of the visceral anger and readiness of sizable sections of the rank and file labor to fight and mobilize during the recent battle in Wisconsin is a good example of energy that can be replicated throughout the country.

Other examples abound. The possibilities for moving to higher levels of struggle must be nurtured in local unions, workplaces, and wherever workers gather. A conscious class-struggle presence in the rank and file is necessary to channel this anger and energy to move forward. The constant attacks against labor by business and the corporate media can lead to confusion, cynicism, disillusionment, and hopelessness.

At this particular juncture, the lack of a progressive ideology has disabled and disoriented the union movement. The current top leadership is not capable of mounting the necessary fight back in the workplace, communities, and political arena. It’s simply not in their DNA.

Their reliance on labor-management partnerships and obedience to the Democrats as a political strategy has confused and disarmed workers. It constitutes the fundamental weakness of the labor movement today. Labor cannot win the hearts and minds of its own members or the general public if it appears as special interest group whose leaders just want to maintain a dues income for a section of top bureaucrats.

The current attacks on working people call out for a radical alternative response that breaks with passivity and pursues independent action in the interests of workers and the public in general.

Only a shift toward class struggle unionism can begin to offer the necessary strategy and tactics that will challenge capitals plundering. Because most of the top leaders have bought into class-collaboration trade unionism and are sorely deficient in principles, standards or ideology, the struggle to interject a militant program will be viewed with skepticism and even ridicule by many at the highest levels in labor.

However, it is only by having a conscious foundation built at the lower levels will a real movement take hold and prosper. We must be convinced of this. It represents the hope of the future for working people. Working people are getting a raw deal.

Let us give conscious political direction to the latent anger and energy now permeating our land and give it an organized voice in our unions and communities.

Let’s use the call for “new ideas” as an opportunity to rebuild labor on popular independent foundation that that galvanizes working people in the workplaces, streets and at the polls. Labor has still has the capacity to step up and provide this new alternative direction.

Let us work to make it a reality.

May 24, 2013

E. J. Dewey is a labor and political activist with over 35 years of experience in the labor and political arenas. He served 15 years as a central labor council president.

Taken from

Labour Party pushing the privatisation of schools

The new education “reforms” being promoted by Brendan Howlin and Ruairí Quinn are a step closer to the all-out privatisation of our schools.

In essence, schools would be given a lump sum in public funding but would have the authority and autonomy to spend this as they saw fit. They would have control over class sizes and over the number of teachers they required, how many special-needs assistance they required, and other resources and materials. This would remove the national regulations that the state attaches to funding, which require certain standards and best practice be met for every school, so as to leave no child or area behind or deprived.

These “reforms” would in practice result in increased funds being spent on high-achievers and increased inequality between schools and within classes. Labour Party ministers are spinning this as increased power on the ground for schools and more local control so as to respond to local needs; but the long-term objective of these policies, whether the Government acknowledge it or not, is the privatisation of schools while they still receive public grants—in other words, corporate welfare.

The INTO is rightly concerned not only for its members but also for the quality of education this system would produce. “This will lead to more bureaucracy for schools and less transparency in the education system,” the union said. “The idea smacks of a failed policy championed by the Tory Party in Britain, and teachers will be shocked hearing such a proposal from a Labour minister.”

Teachers’ performance would be monitored and managed by a centralised watchdog, the Teaching Council, which would have increased powers to discipline and even dismiss teachers. With increased pressure and more paperwork, teachers would be more concerned about ticking the right boxes and shifting responsibility so as to avoid blame rather than about the quality of education that children are receiving.

These policies are virtually cut and pasted from Britain and the United States, where they have failed workers and schoolchildren dismally, as they would here. But they were not designed with teachers or pupils in mind: they are deliberately designed to break up the national cohesion of schools, so that individual schools can be privatised bit by bit, providing an elitist and unequal education system that benefits only the few.

It is intended that this plan will be piloted before being introduced throughout the country. Unions need to be conscious of the long-term privatisation agenda and resist this plan now to prevent the complete privatisation of schools in the future.

Building Class Consciousness in 2014

The Trade Union Left Forum (TULF) was set up in late 2011 by class and politically conscious trade unionists from across both public and private sector unions. The aim of the TULF is to provide a space for left trade unionists to freely discuss the position of the movement today and how to build a militant class conscious union movement that is so clearly needed.

Privatisation is a huge class issue today as the policies of the Troika and our own ruling elite continue to hand over public wealth to private business as risk and debt are socialised and profits and wealth privatised. This is a political strategy to enrich the few at the direct expense of working people and prop-up ailing profits. It is not merely technical economic sense as it is often presented. It is simply class robbery.

The trade union movement needs to fight back and defend public wealth in material ways. We must defend Bord Gais, ESB, bus routes, our health service and various other pieces of public wealth but also fight back at an ideological level and defend the right and benefit of public wealth and ownership. To date our movement has failed to do this or to implement the NIPSA motion passed at Conference that said:

Conference rejects the view that there are no alternatives to the sell off and privatisation of public services and calls upon the Executive Council to oppose what is effectively a form of economic blackmail dressed up as initiatives to stimulate growth and employment. This destructive approach is unsustainable as with further economic and financial crisis inevitable, what else will be sacrificed to appease the large corporations and financial institutions that brought the world economy to the brink of collapse?

Conference condemns any attempt to use the financial and economic crisis as leverage to force the sell-off of public utilities, land and other publicly owned resources.
This Forum published ‘Privatisation – Robbing The People’s Wealth’, click here to download, to highlight the dangers of privatization and the class forces behind it identifying those who win and those who lose from it.

To further this the TULF plans to hold a meeting on Thursday, January 16th at 6pm in the TEEU hall on the subject of ‘Union opposition to privatisation’. Further details on this will be communicated to all signed up to the TULF network. So if you haven’t already done so make sure you do at

Here’s to a class conscious and militant 2014!