On Sunday, December 7th rank and file autoworkers are gathering in Detroit to caravan to Washington DC to insert their voices into the debate on the future of the auto industry in this country. There will be a send off rally to support the caravan from 2 pm to 4 pm on Sunday, December 7 at the Metropolitan Center for High Technology parking lot, at the corner of Temple and Third (2727 Second Ave.). A Join the Caravan website is up to help in organizing. Here is a flier for the event. I’ll be at the rally and hope to have some photos.
If there were any justice Ron Gettelfinger and cronies would be tried by a workers tribunal for treachery. Watching them act as lawyers for the auto execs has been sickening and utterly predictable. The once mighty UAW which raised the bar for all US workers has been working hand in glove with management to lower the bar for US workers for the last period. The parochialism and conservatism of the UAW tops isn’t a surprise of course, it is the logic of a labor movement that accepts the parameters of the “needs of the auto industry”, i.e. the needs of the ruling class, which are not the same needs as those of workers.
Watching the demise of the UAW close up has been excruciating. I know it has been much more so for the generation of union activists, radicalized in the 60’s and 70’s, that came before me. Many came to organize in the citadel of the US labor movement; the home not only of the UAW but of the Revolutionary Union Movement and the League of Revolutionary Black Workers back in the day. But those days are long gone.
I can’t help thinking back to the defeat of the Detroit Newspaper Strike. The defeat of that struggle, at least psychologically, seems a harbinger to all the defeats that have come since– all virtually without resistance. Talk about a failure of leadership! Exhibit A: The Detroit Newspaper Strike. It is almost impossible for me to imagine the current union leadership doing anything to turn the situation around. I grew up in a family where the word “union” had only positive connotations. For millions of workers union now means the people who negotiate away your pensions, wages and benefits.
For years now we have been talking about the defeated “models” of the 20th century revolutionary left. But what are the other lessons of the last period? That the failure is not just the far left’s for one. The business union model promised stability to worker and management. The neo-liberal offensive left the bureaucrats with nothing…but their ability to give concessions. And here is where it has led them.
The bankruptcy of reformism, traditional trade unionism, social-democracy and Great Society liberalism are even more stark than any failures of ours. All of the gains the reformists have attributed to themselves are almost all gone. They abetted in or even implemented the reversals themselves. The last century is a history of the failure of reformism with two World Wars to say nothing of the current impasse to its debit. Indeed, much of what we consider reforms were in fact products of a struggle for power by the working class rather than the victories of reform movements themselves.
After all, while the revolutionary left has, so far, been unable to deliver its transformative promise the “soft left” have been unable to deliver its much, much more modest proposal of a kinder, gentler capitalism. And they’ve been working with the capitalists on the project. I’ll gladly answer for our side, warts and all. They have to answer for Tony Blair and Ron Gettelfinger. Shouldn’t that lesson, the total failure of reformism and social democracy, be one we attempt to develop in the labor movement? And isn’t that especially true when the current crisis again raises all of these questions (reform, what kind of economy, the role of the government, etc.) anew?