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Now Out! WSA's "Workers Solidarity"

category north america / mexico | anarchist movement | press release author Wednesday June 20, 2007 12:43author by Workers Solidarity Allianceauthor email wsany at hotmail dot com Report this post to the editors

The Workers Solidarity Alliance (WSA) has recently published the latest issue of our newsletter "Workers Solidarity."

Now Out! WSA's "Workers Solidarity"

The Workers Solidarity Alliance (WSA) has recently published the latest issue of our newsletter "Workers Solidarity."

The following articles are included in this issue:
  • Workers Centers & the New Labor Movement
  • Opposition in Los Angeles. Transit Union
  • Post Mortem of San Francisco Fare Strike
  • Looking Back at the North West Airlines Strike
  • Immokalee Farm Workers Continue to Fight
  • Coalmining in Appalachia: Century of Struggle
  • Alternative Unionism in Montreal
  • The Global Scene: IWA & I-07 Solidarity Conference
  • Book Reviews
  • San Francisco Anti-Eviction victory

WS is currently only available in printed format.

A sample copy is available for $2.00 (US).

Please send all inquiries to:

339 Lafayette Street - #202
New York, New York 10012

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author by WSApublication date Sun Jun 24, 2007 00:21author email wsany at hotmail dot comauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

Welcome to another issue of Workers Solidarity, a publication of the Workers
Solidarity Alliance.

On the following pages, please find a number of interesting articles about
the on-going class struggle here in North America and around the world ---- and
the grassroots efforts to win these fights.

As well as covering events, some of our authors lay out concrete thoughts on
how to build a radical new movement.

In addition to our original articles, we reprint a thought-provoking article
written by the New York
City based National Mobilization Against Sweatshops.

This article on workers centers provides an interesting analysis and
observations, but creates an unnecessary divide. A divide between workers centers and,
as WSA describes them, self-managed unions.

In his reply, Bert argues that self-managed unions and workers centers are
complementary. A viewpoint we also share.

The article implies that the workers centers are the new, and ostensibly the
only, way forward. The implication being that unionism, even a radical,
self-managed unionism is outdated. While we may agree with the criticisms of a
reformist "collective bargaining" style of trade unionism, we do not reject the
concept of unionism. After all, it means working together, in union.

We do not make a division between unions vs. workers centers, but between
rank and file,

controlled unions and workers centers opposed to centralized and bureaucratic
unions and hierarchal workers centers.

Instead we promote a self-managed unionism as the most appropriate form in
building a new labor
movement. We would agree with the author's in that "this new labor movement
be built on an independent way of thinking …At the core of this new way of
thinking is the self-organization of workers to fight for their needs independent
of the needs and ideas of the corporations."

Our experiances have shown us that it is not the specific tactical or
organizational form or name that we use.The key is whether or not the struggle and
organization is controlled by the members.
This is the fundemental question.

We hope these articles will both inspire and lead to an on-going discussion
on how to build a self-managed and radical working class movement.

In This IssueWorkers' Centers & the New Labor Movement
The international economy is going through a period of profound
restructuring, and everywhere we look the organization of work and production is changing.
With few exceptions, these changes have been a nightmare for working people.
Hundreds of thousands of US workers have seen their jobs eliminated by new
technology and the reorganization of production. Large manufacturing sites are
being replaced by smaller, dispersed shops - among these a revitalized network of
sweatshops that exploit immigrant labor in a growing, unregulated,
underground economy.
The US labor force is being increasingly transformed into a contingency
workforce; part-time, temporary and contract jobs now comprise a third of the
workforce in the US and more than half of the new employment created each year. A
disproportionate percentage of this workforce are women, people of color, and
The lack of organized response to this process of economic and political
restructuring has been as striking as its destructive impact. Today less than 12%
of private sector workers are in unions and even management cooperation
schemes and to employer sanctions against undocumented workers highlights the source
of their failure to respond: the fact that they take their ideological lead
from big business. Similarly, during the fight over NAFTA, unions lined up with
one section of capital against another instead of siding with workers here
and abroad.
Immigrant workers, workers of color and women workers, whose experiences have
given them a deeper sense of what it means to be exploited, have naturally
taken the lead among those seeking an independent way forward - and have thus
more often been at the center of the workers' center phenomenon.
These workers' centers can be at the center of building a new labor movement
because they provide a clear vision about the source of the recent attacks on
workers and how to respond.And this new labor movement built on an independent
way of thinking should encompass not just the groups mentioned above but all
workers. At the core of this new way of thinking is the self-organization of
workers to fight for their needs independent of the needs and ideas of the
Workers' centers will play a major role in building the new labor movement.
To advance this movement we need to come together and share with one another
and wit those interested in learning about this model, the lessons of our
experience in building centers. Among their characteristics are:
Workers' centers are multi-trade: By organizing across trades and across
industries - and organizing unemployed, underemployed, and never employed workers
- workers' centers allow workers to strategize and mobilize around their
common class interests. This multi-trade character allows them to go beyond
collective bargaining struggles over particular interests to fight together around
common economic, social and political issues.
Workers' centers link up workers where they work and where they live:
Workers' centers organize workers as members of a community and as members of a
class, not solely as employees in a single workplace or industry. This enables
members to draw on their social power both where they work and where they live in
fighting for their rights and furthermore enables them to gather together to
analyze collectively how the two spheres are linked.
Workers' centers are fighting organizations: Workers' centers are
organizations of struggle. They are not service providers, advocacy groups, or training
centers - although they will use all these things in the course of their fight.
They are places where workers can come together to educate themselves about
the sources of their problems, to discuss what strategies and tactics to adopt,
and to organize struggles around them.
Workers' centers are mass organizations with a democratic organizing process:
Workers' centers are based on the philosophy that workers have the capacity
to develop and lead their organizations, given the time, space and resources to
develop their skills and analysis. Workers' centers are membership mass
organizations, as open as possible, which use a democratic internal process. They
develop clear processes for decision-making and planning that demystify the
organizing process and keeps control of the organization in the hands of its
membership and out of the hands of an organizational elite.
Organizing not unionizing: The problem with unions is not just that some are
bureaucratic, or fail to take up social issues, or fail to fight militantly
enough for contracts. The problem is that unions limit themselves to fighting
for improvements within the collective bargaining process itself.
Workers' centers are not unions of pre-union formations. They do not
represent workers in collective bargaining. Centers sometimes support workers engaged
in bargaining struggles, but as a step toward further organizing on a broader
basis around broader goals.
There are those within the traditional union movement who seek to use
workers' centers as a means toward the goal of unionization, who seek to take
advantage of this new organizational form to promote their own institution's survival
and with it the continuation (with some adjustments) of the essential
premises and methods of US trade unionism. In contrast we view workers' centers as
one way of building the new labor movement. We view unionization as a tactic,
not as a strategy; we do not seek to promote the development of workers' centers
to lay the groundwork for future expanded unionization. Rather we wish to o
rganize workers into a new labor movement, one that goes beyond unionization and
ruptures with the assumptions, methods and organizational forms of the past.
Combating racism, sexism and homophobia; building working class unity:
Workers' centers have a commitment to creating specific resources and space for the
development of special-oppressed groups as leaders at work and in their
communities, and thus of centers themselves. Given where and how centers have sprung
up this has already been the reality, but must continue to be so as centers
spread to new communities throughout the class as a whole.
Workers' centers recognize the differences in culture and language among
working people who have been discriminated against, and strive to allow space for
the self-organization of these groups. At the same time centers are committed
to addressing class issues, promoting a working class identity and the
creation of a working class culture of struggle and solidarity through the
development of new values and social relations within the organization.
Commitment to political education, leadership development, and liberation:
Workers' Centers are committed to fighting for long-term changes that will
enable workers to have genuine economic, political and social power. This
commitment to fundamental change goes side by side with the commitment to developing a
mass organization and broad community base. Thus workers' centers seek to
implement an organizing model which will raise workers' consciousness and present
opportunities for them to develop as leaders and commit themselves to the
liberation of workers from exploitation and oppression.
NMASS can be reached at:
P.O. Box 130293 New York, NY 10013-0995
P:(718) 625-9091 / F:(718) 625-8950 |

Grassroots Unions & Workers Centers
Are Complementary
By Bert

Yes, there is something positive about being a workers center, just like the
NMASS article said, true. A downside is that workers centers are not able to
change conditions in whole industries, or change conditions long term, because
they did not get power on the job, where most power is. This is because most
workers came to our workers center after they were already fired, to see if
they could get some justice. So we fought for the past,--back wages--but did
not establish a presence in the shops to effect permanent change for the
future. I used to joke that we are a "union of the fired" .

This was evident in the MiniMax boycott where the 6 workers won back pay and
the changes they demanded in the shop but could not win reinstatement and so
we had no mechanism to enforce the changes (sick days, OT pay, etc). This began
to change when whole groups of workers, still on the job, began to come to
the workers center, wanting to make a change and ready to stand up. It was a
natural fit between workers center--as a community place for them to come to,
and where they also receive help with other problems as workers in a community
such as English classes, legal help, improving their kids schools, etc, ---and
union, in this case the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), so as they
fought for back wages, they also organized to demand changes on the job. So in
that experience it has not been that workers centers are the future and unions
are the past, but how they complement each other and are both necessary forms
of workers fighting organization. If they are controlled by the workers and not
foundations, or bosses, or new bureaucrats or specialists than that's okay.

So I say, rather than workers centers being better than unions, the key
question is, who are running them? Rank and file workers need to run them if they
are to be fighting organizations of the workers. That is the new labor
movement, not the particular forms in my opinion.

Bert is an activist in both a workers center and a union organizing campaign
in Brooklyn, NY

Opposition Movement in
Los Angeles Transit Union
By Tom Wetzel

The Los Angeles MTA operates a vast transit network throughout Los Angeles
County, with 16 bus divisions and four subway and light rail lines. There are
about 5,000 bus and train operators in the UTU. The widespread
de-industrialization and closing of unionized industrial plants in Los Angeles in the '70s and
'80s has left the MTA's transit operation as one of the few places where
African-American workers can get a job that has good pay and benefits. A decade ago
about half the drivers were African-American.In recent years Latino drivers
have become almost as numerous as the black drivers. There are also still some
drivers of European descent, as well as Persians, southeast Asians, and other
ethic groups, reflecting the cosmopolitan character of Los Angeles.

The pay and benefits at MTA, and the union's check on management power, are
the product of a long history of struggle and sacrifice by Los Angeles transit
workers. They dragged themselves out of poverty through their own efforts.

Prior to World War II, transit operator was a low-wage job in Los Angeles,
and workers who dared to "talk union" were at risk of being fired. The two main
private transit companies in Los Angeles in the early 20th century -
predecessors of the present-day MTA - had been owned by Henry Huntington. Huntington
was the Mr. Moneybags who financed the anti-union "open shop" movement in Los
Angeles. This movement had emerged in 1903 as a challenge to the AFL unions.
Huntington's management on the Los Angeles transit system
was virulently anti-union. Strikes in 1919 and 1934 were broken by hiring
permanent replacements. Finally, in 1942, taking advantage of a war-time labor
shortage, the AFL Amalgamated Bus and Streetcar Workers Union (predecessor of
the present-day Amalgamated Transit Union - ATU) defeated the Huntington
management in a strike. This strike won the first union contract.

The two main predecessor companies of MTA were acquired by the government in
1958. This led to a jurisdictional agreement between the AFL Brotherhood of
Railway Trainmen and the ATU. BRT got the drivers and ATU got the mechanics. In
1970 BRT absorbed a number of smaller "railroad brotherhoods" and changed its
name to United Transportation Union.

Management continually probes the unions for weakness - trying to get more
part-timers, two-tier wage systems, contract out lines to private companies, or
weaken driver protections in other ways. The transit workers have been able to
fend off most of these attacks through their willingness to stand together
and fight. Since 1960 there have been ten Los Angeles transit strikes. In recent
years the MTA management has been squeezing the drivers
to get out more service. Drivers used to have 15 to 20 minutes of layover
time at the end of their runs. Now the layover is down to only 6 to 10 minutes -
not enough time to relax, eat, and go to the toilet.

In the 1980s Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley - a liberal African-American
Democrat and former cop - and right-wing County Supervisor Pete Schabarum
cooperated in a major attack on the union. A large part of the transit network in
eastern Los Angeles County was subcontracted to a private firm, Foothill Transit.
But, as UTU drivers tell me, UTU never made the attempt to organize the
Foothill drivers, to fight for parity with drivers at RTD (the predecessor of MTA).
UTU rolled over. Eventually Teamster union apparatchiks began collecting dues
from the Foothill Transit drivers. But Foothill pay levels are still way below
UTU drivers at MTA. As long as Foothill Transit remains a low-wage sinkhole in
the realm of Los Angeles public transit, it is a threat to the other transit

The current chieftain at the UTU in Los Angeles is James Willams, General
Chairman of the UTU Board of Adjustment -- the MTA-wide UTU committee. He draws
a CEO-level salary, over $300,000 a year. Williams is an African-American man
of humble origins who moved from Louisiana to Los Angeles in the 1960s and
began driving a bus for the RTD. Williams was groomed for his current job by Earl
Clark, the chieftain of the UTU in the
RTD era. The local presidents also make fat salaries. Rick Ortega, president
of UTU local 1607, receives $120,000 - almost two and half times what a
full-time driver makes without overtime.

Oppositionists in Local 1607 tell me they believe that Williams and Ortega
probably got into being union leaders out of a sincere desire to help their
fellow drivers, many years ago. As they got used to receiving huge salaries and no
longer face the daily stress of driving a bus, they became "lazy,"the
activists believe. The problem is, the UTU type of union institution is a "system";
it tends to shape the people who get involved in it. The union is now the
leaders' personal fiefdom.

Until recently, Local 1607 activists say, Mr. Ortega would get around
opposition at meetings by arbitrarily declaring the meeting "adjourned" without a
vote. This would end the meeting. The members were ignorant of their rights,
activists say, and were intimidated by the union leadership who surround
themselves with a small circle of cronies. Over the years Ortega had learned various
tricks for prosecuting grievances. "But he doesn't teach the members anything so
they will be dependent on him," one driver told me. Activists want the union
to teach members how to file grievances and deal with grievance hearings.

The union had done nothing to develop the knowledge that drivers would need to
participate effectively in the union. To empower their fellow
drivers,activists in Local 1607 began by distributing leaflets explaining how the members
can use Roberts' Rules of Order to defend their democratic rights in union
meetings. Now, if Mr. Ortega tries to stop a meeting by declaring it adjourned,
members respond by telling him: "You have to take a vote to adjourn a meeting. If
you want to leave, that's fine. We'll continue the meeting without you."

A union where a leader can keep members in the dark and intimidate them is a
recipe for a kleptocracy. Here's an example: At the time of the last strike in
2003 union members came to believe that Mr. Ortega had been pocketing $7,500
a month in dues owed to the international union. He'd been telling the
international union certain drivers were sick and were therefore exempt from dues.
When these drivers tried to collect their $600 strike pay during the walkout,
the international told them they weren't supposed to get strike pay because they
were listed as out on sick leave. In fact they had been
working. One of the things the members of Local 1607 have been fighting for
now is an open accounting of the use of union funds.

In addition to the salary James Williams receives, dissidents allege that he
has taken hundreds of thousands of dollars of union funds without
authorization to defend himself against sexual harassment complaints of female drivers. At
the end of the last strike in 2003, activists tell me that the meeting to
vote on the proposed contract was poorly advertised among the UTU membership,
with only 200 of the 5,000 drivers showing up. No copy of the proposed contract
was provided. Mr. Williams insisted they vote on the contract after describing
the alleged contents for about 15 minutes. He claimed that the contract
contained no loss of benefits. But workers later discovered that in fact the
contract included a cut in health benefits, with a new requirement for $50 copays.

Theft of union funds are not peculiar to this local in the UTU. The two
international presidents of the UTU before the current president are currently
serving time in prison for embezzlement of union funds.

Challenging James Williams is no easy task, however. UTU at MTA is divided
into five locals. This is a bureaucrat-entrenchment device. Drivers would
normally have contact with the colleagues in their own operating division and local.
Special effort would be needed to develop contacts across locals.This creates
a speed bump against the spread of a rank-and-file movement that might
challenge the leadership. Williams is not elected directly by the UTU members, but
is selected by the Board of Adjustment, which is made up of the five local

Oppositionists in Local 1607 have a vision or program for union reform.
First, they'd like to see the union funds that currently go to huge salaries put
into the strike fund. They want any paid positions limited to the pay rate of a
driver. Second, they advocate term limits - a maximum of six years in a row in
office - to avoid the syndrome of domination by entrenched chiefs. For
officers who are paid, term limits will force them to go back to driving a bus after
a certain period. If the officers know they're going to go back to the
stressful job of driving a bus once again, that will be a motivation to fight harder
for their colleagues. Third, the oppositionists want a system of elected shop
stewards in the operating divisions so that the drivers can more readily
defend themselves on the job. Finally, activists in Local 1607 also put forward a
vision of a "solidarity movement" that would link MTA drivers with other
transportation workers in the Los Angeles area - port truckers, line-haul truck
drivers, taxi drivers, and bus drivers at the suburban "munis" and private
contract operations like Foothill and Laidlaw(8).

Activists in Local 1607 are also sympathetic to the idea of a driver/rider
alliance to fight MTA management. "I like [the Bus Riders Union]," a leading UTU
activist told me. "They want what we want." He doesn't understand why the UTU
leadership has not tried to develop a better relationship with the BRU.

The undemocratic power that an unelected general chairman wields at the MTA
UTU is derived from the UTU international constitution. Gaining control of an
international union convention to change this would be no easy task. I think it
would be easier to decertify UTU. In fact, it's hard to see how the
"solidarity movement" the UTU activists talk about could come about except through the
formation of a new, independent transportation workers union.
Workers Solidarity is published by the
Workers Solidarity Alliance (WSA).

Submissions of articles, cartoons and graphics are welcomed. Submissions should be either mailed or emailed to the addresses below. All signed articles do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the
Workers Solidarity Alliance.

Editorial group:
Gordon S. (WV), Tom (SF), Pat (NY) & Mike A. (RI),

Subscriptions are $10.00 for 4 issues.

339 Lafayette Street-Room 202
New York, NY 10012
Tel: 212-9798353 or email:
On the web:

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