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Union leaders fall far short

19 October 2021

Workers picket outside the John Deere Harvester Works facility on
Oct. 14, 2021, in East Moline, Ill.

At the end of September over 90% of Bus workers in Dublin angrily rejected the imposition of a deal negotiated by their union leaders - a deal which ran a coach and horses through their conditions of employment and offered little in return.  Their full time officials were sent back to the table, and the dispute sank without a trace.

This is not an isolated case.  The increasing exploitation of labour is part of the capitalist strategy for increasing profitability but it is producing growing opposition which union leaders are struggling to keep a lid on.  Other factors also come in to play.  Workers were universally applauded by government parties and cajoled by union leaders in to returning to unsafe workplaces to prevent profits from flagging and the collapse of capitalist enterprises.  Now, the “verbal recognition” that has been heaped on workers  has heightened expectations.  But workers who were labelled “essential” or “frontline” have since been treated with contempt.

Heightened expectations are clashing with pay offers that fall far short of what is needed in an increasingly inflationary economy and frustration is building with union bureaucracies who attempt to impose such deals on their members. This has got to the point where, as with Dublin Bus, rejections of negotiated deals are frequently over 90%.

In the US this is assuming the proportions of a strike wave.  Workers at John Deere, in a move very similar to what happened at Dublin Bus, rejected the appalling deal struck by UAW union leaders by a margin of over 90%.  Workers in union meetings in Iowa, Illinois, and Kansas overwhelmingly voted against a contract that expanded the already abyssmal two tier pay structure to three tiers.  It offered below inflation raises and removed any provision of a pension scheme for new starts.  A further 3500 workers in the supply chain had already rejected a similar UAW deal by a 90% margin and are currently on a holding contract that rolls over every day.

The experience of Irish workers is similar.  For workers in health, education and public transport the concept of concession bargaining is all too familiar, as is two tier pay and erosion of pensions.

The result of the UAWs appalling negotiation effort at John Deere is that 10'000 workers have walked off the job, closing the company down for the first time in 35 years.  They are not alone.  Frito-Ley workers are on strike in Kansas, health workers in Massachusetts and New York, Telecommunication workers in California, steel workers in West Virginia,  coal miners in Alabama, and bus workers in Nevada. Food workers for Nabisco and Kelloggs are also on strike at various locations and distillery workers are on strike in Kentucky.  All these strikes involve relatively low numbers but add to them the planned strikes by 37'000 health workers in Oregon, California, and Hawaii and the 60'000 in the broadcast intertainment industry, that have voted by 98% for strike action, and we begin to see a developing pattern. This is against a background of an international upsurge in workers action that encompasses engineering workers in Turkey, Danish nursing staff and South African Metalworkers which are striking in huge numbers.

Union bureaucracies' snug relationships with big business are being exposed by the rising militancy to the extent that Wall Street is beginning to worry.  An analyst has noted “how deep-rooted the distrust is between the rank & file union members and its UAW national leadership” and John Deere's stock price projections were marked down by 25% on news of the bureaucracy's failure to enforce their “tentative agreement” on their members.

With discontent simmering among transport workers; with health workers underpaid and struggling to pay accommodation costs, and with education workers being pushed back in to a workplace where it has been decided to allow covid infections to “rip” among school students it is not unlikely that this wave of militancy will visit our shores.

Heightened expectations are combining with disappointingly austere pay offers and the union bureaucrats accustomed to a partnership approach are increasingly caught in the crossfire between their members - backed in some cases by the more independent among their shop stewards - and the bosses.  Their sellouts demand an increasingly determined resistance and that is precisely what the ever attentive Wall Street analysts fear.

The union members' opposition that is made apparent in these rejectionist ballots must become organisational in the form of defensive rank and file bodies so that resistance becomes a daily and weekly experience, not just an election day rebellion.

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