How We Can Effectively Defend Our Unions!

Ann Robertson and Bill Leumer

This is the text of a leaflet which Workers Action distributed at the April 4, 2011 demonstration in San Francisco in solidarity with the workers of Wisconsin.

Working people are confronting a historic crisis. Those of us who are lucky enough to have a job are facing unrelenting attacks on our wages, our benefits, and our pensions, and even our right to engage in collective bargaining. Meanwhile the rich, through intensive lobbying, have managed to tilt the playing field in their direction by having their taxes lowered and their businesses deregulated. As a result, they have succeeded in having huge amounts of wealth transferred from working people to themselves. The inequalities in wealth are now higher than they have ever been in history.


Some would urge us to rely on the Democrats and pour all our energy into electing or re-electing them to office. This is a suicidal strategy. While unions have given Democrats millions of dollars and received a few crumbs in return, the corporations and the rich have given the Democrats far more money and have consequently been consistently on the winning side of the growing inequality in wealth. The Democrats have eagerly voted to lower taxes on the rich and bestow more tax breaks on the corporations.

In California, the state Democratic Party has included in its platform the intention of raising everyone’s taxes except those of the wealthiest one percent of the population. In New York, Democrat Governor Cuomo lobbied to lower taxes on the rich while wrenching concessions from public workers. Across the country Democrats are lowering taxes on the wealthiest members of society while demanding that public workers make up for the lost revenue by accepting pay cuts, fewer benefits, and reduced pensions. In Wisconsin, the Democrats eagerly supported concessions from public workers.

Unfortunately, many top labor officials are clinging to the Democratic Party and refuse to let go. But given that the Democratic Party is in turn largely controlled by Wall Street and corporate America, these labor officials continually steer the unions into a framework defined by the interests of these rich power brokers. And that means that labor officials have been encouraging their members to make concessions, because this is exactly what Wall Street and corporate America want. The more concessions workers offer, the higher the profits for their employers. During the past several years, working people across the country have collectively given up billions of dollars in the form of concessions around their salaries, their benefits, and their pensions.

But by chaining themselves to the Democratic Party, top union officials are risking the demise of organized labor and their own positions as well. The only right the Democratic Party is prepared to defend is the right to engage in collective bargaining with an automatic system of payment of union dues, because much of the dues money ends up in the campaign coffers of Democratic politicians. But the right to bargain, in the eyes of rank and file workers, is of little value if progressively worse contracts are negotiated every time. Who will want to join a union if paying dues means getting less in return? Who will want to remain in a union, and who will want to defend the right to bargain collectively under these circumstances?

Organized labor is itself in a state of crisis. And it is only a matter of time that it will be compelled to change its course and adopt a fightback strategy based on the mobilization of working people. The rank and file are angry that their standard of living is falling while the bankers are back to awarding themselves billions in bonuses and while the corporations are sitting on record profits without any intention of using this money in the current economic climate to create jobs, because the rate of profit is not sufficient for them. This anger will eventually reach the boiling point, and a change of policy will be inevitable.

Now is the time to say enough is enough. We must rely on ourselves, act collectively, and demand that our unions organize a historic fightback. There is no moral, economic, or rational justification for working people to continually subsidize the rich by lowering our standard of living.

We should call on the unions to organize truly massive demonstrations in major cities across the country to fight for our most pressing demands:

  • The Creation of 15 Million Jobs by the Federal Government. (The Corporations Are Not Creating Jobs.)
  • No Cuts to Social Services.
  • No Concessions By Public Workers.
  • Tax The Rich.
  • No Cuts to Social Security.
  • Medicare for All.
  • Papers for All.

By organizing a movement around what we can win rather than what we are willing to give up, working people will be inspired to join. And these demonstrations will begin to forge a working class identity, a sense of solidarity, and a sense of power because, in the final analysis, they will demonstrate by their huge numbers what the polls already indicate: the majority of the American public is on our side.

United We Can Win!

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About Ann Robertson and Bill Leumer

View all posts by Ann Robertson and Bill Leumer
Ann Robertson is a Lecturer at San Francisco State University and a member of the California Faculty Association. Bill Leumer is a member of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 853 (ret.). Both are writers for Workers Action and may be reached at