USA: Unions Welcome the New Boss

As seen above, leaders from the building trades unions posed for pictures with the new President. The operating belief among these union leaders is that they will profit, as petty-capitalists, from hypothetical future national infrastructure projects. The leadership of the AFL-CIO came out in support of the new regime's trade warfare policies. The unions have dug up their own “Buy American” slogan that they coined in the 1970s. As a national chauvinist and patriotic slogan it fits in nicely with the “America First” line of the new lords of Pennsylvania Avenue.

This comes as no surprise. The machinery of the AFL-CIO has always supported a nationalist and pro-war line. The AFL-CIO supported the Iraq War and every war before it. Through the American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD), the AFL-CIO partnered with the CIA and CIA front organizations to pursue the imperialist aims of the regime in Washington. For the unions this activity outlasted the demise of the USSR. Eventually the AIFLD was rolled into to a new bureaucracy called the “American Center for International Labor Solidarity”.

While the trade warfare policy harms workers who lose their earnings to price inflation and then lose their lives in the wars that often follow, for a bourgeoisie desperate to suck capital into their national hole it might seem worthwhile. Capitalism must "expand or die" (Marx). The nationalist outlook of the unions fits neatly with the nationalist outlook of the political leadership. For union leaderships in the building trades, any policy that keeps the building boom going is a good policy. For the bourgeoisie keeping building boom going makes the economy appear healthier than it actually is, it ties values down into bank debt. For the unions this is a survival adaptation to the new reality in Washington. For the politicians it is an attempt to appeal to nationalist sentiments in the population and to “blue collar” workers in particular. The social base of the ruling parties is evaporating forcing the Republican Party to incorporate fascist elements into the ruling coalition. The ruling party needs allies just as much as the union leaderships do. The nationalist campaign on trade and in support of domestic industry is perfectly in line with all previous US policy. From one President's platitudes of “insourcing” to another President's “America First” and “Buy American” the end result is the same.

During the last Presidential election campaign the most popular candidates made visits to the iron range in Northeastern Minnesota to call for protectionist trade measures against China. The bourgeoisie, across their political spectrum, wants the long term slide in commodity prices worldwide to be viewed as entirely the fault of China. The same political class in Senate Intelligence Committee hearings on March 31, blamed all the social protests of the last decade on the insidious effects of Russian "information warfare". [1] A witch-hunting atmosphere exists that is aiming to use the political crisis of the administration to push it towards an even more aggressively militaristic agenda and not to protect the public against repression and austerity. The regime in D.C. has drawn up a list of political commentary web sites officially regarded as being in the service of a Russian state propaganda machine. The squabbling factions of the bourgeoisie appear as opponents of each other when they are only walking the same path of imperialist war, walking down the same road arguing with each other about who should be on their hit lists. [2]

The old argument that revolutionaries cannot abandon the workers in the unions to their reactionary leaderships isn't appropriate to a situation where the unions choose to abandon the workers. According to a Pew Research poll six in ten adults in the US have a favorable view towards unions. [3] The business union in capitalism responds to their decline in exactly the same way the capitalists in control of any industry would react, to cut out the dead wood and increase costs onto the backs of their member-workers. To argue today about what revolutionaries should do in regard to unions is akin to arguing about where to stand at the bedside of the terminally ill.

As state workers unions lose automatic dues check-offs, and each individual state adopts anti-union measures such as “right to work” legislation, the unionized sector of the workforce hemorrhages a little more. The current rate of unionization is now down to 10.7% of the workforce in the US, this is down from 20% in 1983 and down from 34.8% in 1954. [4] This is what the construction trades, the teamsters and the steel workers union leaderships are facing. What the ruling class is attacking when it attacks the unions is the base of a rival faction of the ruling class and not simply the wages and working conditions of the workers as members of the unions. The only thing about the executives of the unions that differs from the executive of a company is the word "union". The long collapse in members of the unions simply makes them more willing to negotiate the sale of labor power and make concessions to their colleagues.

The state government of Iowa has just ended the automatic dues check-off for their state unions and have stopped bargaining with their state workers unions. The unions in Rockford, Illinois public schools have called out a short strike to get workers to blow off steam and to push an inevitable sellout contract afterwards. Meanwhile the state workers' union, AFSCME in Illinois passed a resolution to carry out a strike vote in the near future if they feel the need to get workers to blow off steam during the bargaining process with the state. The union is currently pursuing a strategy of litigation. In neighboring states around Illinois the state workers unions have been crushed. This is precisely what all the remaining unions are looking at and hoping to avoid, but they seek to do so without having angry workers make things difficult for them. No matter the humiliation union officialdom must keep its seat at the bargaining table regardless of who is sitting at that table with them. The union must bargain a contract or perish.

The sort of unions workers consistently show support for in polls don't exist. Specifically perception of a union as an organization of workers who band together to wage the day-to-day "guerrilla" struggle against the employing class or that at the very least attempts to fight for workers interests at some level. The reality of a union that is nothing more than an organization of a faction of bourgeoisie connected to one ruling clique or another is difficult to understand for those who have not seen it. They gain what credibility they have to workers from the very fact that the state attacks them. The state attacks because the crisis compels the capitalists to make sure there are few seats at the table. During more prosperous times, when workers are inclined to ask for more the capitalists might use a union to ameliorate the exploitation with the help of an union during the upswing in the last cycle of accumulation. With the downwards phase of the cycle the capitalist class must claw back from workers as much as possible and make them bleed. There is little sense in attempts to revive or recreate these institutions when workers must circumvent these institutions and seek to move beyond their inherent sectional and national limitations. All our past experience tells us that today the basic proletarian organizational forms are workers assemblies with mandated and recallable delegates, making decisions and waging our struggles out in the open on our own terrain. [5]


4 April 2017


[1] Contrary to the title there was nothing new, only the usual assertions of the spymasters in the Senate.

Posner, S. Today’s Russia hearings actually revealed something new and important. Washington Post. March 30, 2016.

[2] For an expansion on this see

[3] Maniam, S. Most Americans See Labor Unions and Corporations Favorably. Pew Research Center. 2016

[4] Mayer, G. Union membership trends in the United States. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service. 2004

[5] For a fuller outline of our position see

Thursday, April 6, 2017