Hands Off Local Labor Councils!

Workers Power USA

At the weekly meeting of the Aggregate of Workers Power USA on May 19, 2021, WPUSA chose to endorse an open letter to Richard Trumka and the national AFL-CIO in regards to their heavy-handed abuse of power over their local labor councils. Specifically, the Vermont Labor Council and their resolution to call for a general strike if Trump did not cede power to the newly elected Joe Biden. The resolution was overwhelmingly approved back in late November 2020 by the majority of the members of the local council and its leadership. The text of the letter and the justification for the letter is linked at Open-letter-to-Richard-Trumka-pdf.pdf (classconscious.org) . Note that this action by the Vermont Labor Council came during the beginnings of the campaign by Trump and his right-wing associates, in and out of the Republican Party, to overturn a democratically run election with baseless allegations of fraud which led up to the insurrection of January 6, 2021. Lest anyone forget, five people lost their lives and elected Congressional representatives of both parties were threatened with bodily harm and worse.

Also note that we only endorsed the letter itself. We had some problems with the justifications presented by the Class Conscious organization who had written the letter and asked for endorsers, individual and group.

Our Reasoning for Endorsing

In keeping with both Trotskyist and Bolshevik traditions of allowing the freedom of working class organizations and especially unions, to democratically chart their own course over what they do with their own labor, we felt that we had to take this stand when those freedoms are under attack, even if the attack is coming from their own leadership. Perhaps especially if the attacks are coming from their own leadership.

We do realize that the impetus for these current potential punishments by Trumka and the national executive board of the AFL-CIO occurred six months ago and, in the main, didn’t materialize. However, that doesn’t change the basic premise of our support for the Vermont Labor Council’s action in late November, 2020. At the time the resolution was passed, the situation was still unresolved and many possibilities were being discussed, including using the US military to keep Trump in office. It was entirely logical to also discuss a fightback to those authoritarian possibilities and prepare a response, which should have always included strike action.

It’s obvious that the national AFL-CIO was planning to let the Democratic Party lead any response offered to a potential illegal Trump power grab. This would have been a huge mistake and would have kept the nation in a turmoil for an unknown length of time just as the country was attempting to end yet another capitalist crisis with the rollout of the coronavirus vaccines nationwide. Allowing the Democrats to control this aspect of our country’s politics would have also been a slap in the face of a working class organization that was ready to fight. We saw this too in the Wisconsin uprising of 2010. Several midwestern local labor councils were ready for and talking about a general strike there, but were diverted by the national leadership into the “safe” path of a recall election, rather than militant action. A recall election that was lost when the militancy of the workers was dissipated over the months leading up to the electoral campaign. But because the labor bureaucracy depends on the stability of capitalism for their reason to exist, any militant political action like a strike will be considered a loss of control by the national labor leadership and thus, suspect.

But then this is the thinking of the labor bureaucracy in all crises of the capitalist system. Strikes are only to be used as a last resort and only for economic reasons and not political ones. We utterly reject this reasoning by an entrenched bureaucracy that has a vested interest in keeping the status quo. Local councils are closer to the membership and to the conditions on the ground than the national leadership and, as such, should have the major say in strike actions, not the national board, and especially not one man like Richard Trumka.

A Problem With the Listed Justifications

Our main problem with the justifications for the open letter to Rich Trumka are based around the characterization of the Trump administration as “fascist”. Fascism is a movement and a word that has avery specific meaning and class character and must not be confused with authoritarianism or even dictatorship. People, administrations, and even ideas, can be both authoritarian and dictatorial without being fascist and we’ve always held to the belief that neither Trump, nor his administration, was actually fascist.

Which is not to say that Trump and his administration wasn’t authoritarian and that his blatant attempt to overturn the 2020 election wasn’t dictatorial in nature. It was. We will further stipulate that Trump had the support of actual fascists and potentially had fascist ideas held by some members of his administration. And we can even agree that the opportunist nature of Trump toward his supporters made use of fascist symbolism and rhetoric at times. None of which makes for actual fascism. At worst, the Trump movement might be characterized as “proto-fascist,” being based in the petite bourgeois class and raising the nationalism and rabid patriotism, class and racial animosities that a fascist movement entails. But “proto-fascist” is still not fascist.

Regardless of the actual nature of Trump and his administration though, it’s enough that it was authoritarian and making moves toward taking dictatorial powers after attempting to overturn an election that deposed him. The Vermont Council was entirely correct in taking the actions that they did to face down this threat to democratic rights. As the letter itself stated, “We defend the right of workers and the organized labor movement to strike together to defend their democratic rights.” No socialist of any stripe should be against that.

We’re proud to endorse this letter and stand in solidarity with the actions of the Vermont Labor Council and join the demand for the immediate dropping of this bogus “misconduct” investigation of the Vermont AFL-CIO and its labor council.