Winning strategy for Contract Fights

How can the Oakland Port Workers Assembly Support the SEIU 1021 strike in winning a non-concessionary contract?

We have seen many one day strikes (the California Nurses Association makes a regular practice of using them as do the European trade unions which often hold one day General Strikes) and they do not result in winning contracts. In fact, they are used by the union leaderships who tie the workers to the capitalist bosses’ political party, as a pressure release valve when leadership feels heat from the rank and file. However, in this period of capitalist crisis non-concessionary contracts will not won by one-day strikes or even a series of them.

Our support for the strike action at the port by SEIU 1021 this week must be unwavering and show that the Assembly is mobilizing boots on the ground and bringing the information about the Port to our co-workers and communities. But we would be remiss if we were to say nothing about the failed strategy of one-day and limited duration strikes, about who promotes them, the whys and how’s and that they disarm the working class.

Our assembly has a choice to make. Will we limit ourselves to doing the work the labor council should be doing, substituting ourselves for the work the accumulated resources of labor (under control of the leaderships) should be put too? Of course we must! But this is not enough.


With our limited resources we will make links with community, with occupy, with the unemployed, with the vanguard elements of organized and unorganized labor who will bring support to the strike (hopefully with a spill-over effect to other labor solidarity efforts.) However, our work will be done without the resources (funded by our co-workers dues dollars) confined by and in the hands of the local unions and indirectly dispensable by the leadership of the Alameda Labor Council (ALC).

The ALC should be the organizing center mobilizing bay area labor to build broad class solidarity to win strikes! The council, were it so inclined, could take the necessary actions to mobilize hundreds and thousands of rank and file workers. The same workers the union leaderships called for the get-out-the-vote campaign are today sitting at home atomized, trying to figure out how their family will weather the crisis. They must be looking at their fiscal situation, recall the port shut downs and wonder when its time to do it again!

But the rank and file is unprepared by decades of the “team-concept” and the leadership’s class-collaboration for winning. The memberships have been kept from their class struggle history, from how to develop a winning program and what the methods are of organizing and winning strikes.

Rank and file workers wait (like undated wallflowers) for the phone call from their elected leadership; calls for effective action, calls which will never come from these fakers! Workers are asking themselves what is the union doing and see nothing but ineffectual political campaigns and more austerity and accepting concessionary contracts enforced by over-paid fat-cat bureaucrats playing footsie with management.


Our Assembly should use this opportunity to explain the limits of the one-day strike tactic, to advocate a winning strategy of an indefinite strike, and bring the demand to the labor council to mobilize the bay area rank and file for actions that can force big capital to its knees!

All our current union leaderships justify their inability to mount class wide battles by accepting the limits of Taft-Hartley as etched in stone! But we know that law only reflects the relative weakness of the working class at the time of it’s implementation and to win labor must free it’s straight-jacketed torso by defeating Taft-Hartley. But Taft-Hartley will not be defeated at the ballot, by lobbying or by petition-it will only be defeated in class struggle, in strikes that unite the class in its defiance! Our union leaders hide behind this law; it keeps dues dollars flowing to the labor tops as long as they assure class struggle does not erupt under their watch.

But if we learn anything from the Marikana miners, who just won a 22% pay raise from Lonmin, whose struggle has ignited a class wide uprising across Southern Africa, it is that the enforcer unions, those with one hand in our pockets and two feet in the camp of the capitalist state, can be swept away when workers self-organize.

The way to defeat Taft-Hartley is united labor action initiated by the rank and file, bringing the organizational strength of the class into united action, in strike after strike, in city after city until it collapses under the weight of united mass strike action. We know this will not be initiated by the entrenched leaders. We know they will lead each struggle into defeat, which is why class struggle caucuses must be built to challenge for leadership, to bring class struggle strategy to our co-workers.

Without saying what is needed, the Assembly offers no viable alternative to the defeats currently being organized at the hands of the class-collaborators those all-knowing graduates of Chico State or the UCB labor studies programs! They tell us, “We know all about 1919, 1934, 1947 etc. (we came to and even sponsored Labor Fest,) but we have a better plan! Rather than acting like the ‘ultra-lefts’ of the Assembly or Occupy who advocate turning the one-sided class war into one where we fight back, we say, ‘trust our friends’ in Sacramento! We (with your good efforts) just won a historic victory, a Democratic super-majority!”

What Role for the Port Workers Solidarity Assembly

Some in our assembly have expressed the view that, “our work is to support the actions and views of the real port workers.” “Ours,” we are admonished, “is only a support role–the ‘real-workers’ will guide the assembly which is only here to support independent-workers initiative. This stated role actually covers for a definitive and self-limiting type of leadership provided the assembly by advocates of the “hands-off” approach (which actually means don’t talk about a winning program, don’t let the workers know that political independence is essential to win economic battles, don’t tell the workers that the bureaucracy is preparing our defeat, and don’t offer an alternative) that is, to walk alongside the workers as they march into a defeat without saying what we know (having been around the block a few timers) what lies around the corner.

The “hands-off, and no-critique” method leaves the assembly with the task of being silent partners in labor struggles, giving left cover and mobilizing labor and community support for the limited actions led by a bureaucracy which has no winning strategy for port workers or any struggle faced by our class.

A class struggle leadership in the labor council and in SEIU 1021 would have a strategy of expanding the strike action into a powerful organizing drive linking the organized workers at the port to the unorganized warehouse workers and truckers organizing efforts as well as defending the airport restaurant workers fired for their organizing with UNITE/HERE..

Class struggle leaderships of our unions would make every contract struggle a class-wide fight. Class struggle leadership’s would expand each port workers contract fight to demand wall to wall organization! The current leaders won’t say it. The Assembly must say, “We fight for all, products at every step of the supply chain to me made, moved, and sold by union labor!”

A class struggle leadership would make every fight for a union contract into a fight to mobilize and organize across the working class. With such a leadership the port workers would link directly to the Wal-Mart workers in their organizing drives building their organizing drive into a re-awakening of labor in an effort not seen since the founding of the CIO.

But we have to be honest when talking to the workers the current leaderships of the SEIU 1021 and the entire labor council are not up to the task that objective conditions have laid at their feet. We observe the ALC’s supporting the bosses’ Democratic Mayor Quan’s non-union appointees to the Port Commission. Such commissioners will have no accountability to the dues paying membership. Instead we should call for complete political independence in the form of a fighting workers/labor party through which labor fights to remove the bosses appointees. Under the current leadership labor will limp along from one defeat to the next.

Even the limited victory of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), based on unprecedented community support reminiscent of the 1930’s, should have gone further in building upon this outpouring of community solidarity by standing firm until the closure of 100 schools is taken off the table. But even the CTU reformers in the CORE caucus (helped by the International Socialist Organization and Solidarity) had a limited view of class struggle. So when the school closures are imposed the CTU, will be locked into contract and will shrug it shoulders in the face of their community and working class supporters who call for strike action to save our schools! We must warn workers against both the current class-collaborators and those who under the guise of reform merely loosen the choker around labor’s neck.

If the assembly limits its work, substituting itself for the organizational and outreach work the unions should be doing, without taking the lessons of class struggle unionism, class struggle caucuses, how to defeat the bosses ‘legal’ limits, how we must use tools-down methods for building local, national and internationalist solidarity, how labor can only build the community support it needs when it takes labor actions to defend the black, brown and oppressed communities from state repression, we end up assisting in disarming the working class by holding back the tools the class needs to turn the tide from defensive to offensive.

If we do not say to the workers; that only through your own self organization and your own independent political party can our class chart a course to defeat capital in contract fights, to defeat the bosses in their imposition of the austerity and replace the rule of the 0.01% with a government of our own shop-floor and district workers representatives, we offer little more than have the left and fake-socialist bureaucrats who for decades coddle the entrenched and ossified leaderships for allowing them to have a seat under the table of their ongoing feast (being held at our expense) with management.

Which way will the assembly go?

About Mad Scientist

Member of California Association of Professional Scientists
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