From Washington, D.C. to California, public employee unions one after the next have taken massive concessions in this year’s latest round of bargaining. Terms such as “furlough,” “automatic layoff,” along with “increased employee contributions” for health care and pensions have become so commonplace that public employee workers can scarcely remember a time that they weren’t under threat.
But it was in response to this threat that the labor movement and community allies most clearly found their backbone this year in Wisconsin, which was expressed neatly in the phrase, “No Cuts, No Concessions.” What this term means and how it is applied, though, are two different items.
To elected labor officials this term can be scary. What this term can represent to them is that when bargaining a contract with the employer, if they fail to take a “No Cut’s No Concessions” stance, they will fail to come to any deal with the employer whatsoever and the members will be on a strike line that they might not win and which could have possibly been avoided. This is their mindset.
Such fears, though, must be relegated to the trash bin. This campaign is not about second-guessing a local union or a local bargaining team. What use could that possibly be? To second-guess a union and bargaining team is like advising soldiers what they should be doing when they are the ones under fire.
To pursue the analogy, “No Cuts and No Concessions” would be like saying to that solider: Keep firing while we build a hill underneath your feet that gives you the high ground. Absent any such campaign, the membership of the union is left organized in their own local to take up the fight in isolation. Isolation to a union is painful and runs counter to the very premise of the labor movement.
The time for a campaign that says clearly, “No Cut’s, No Concessions” is from the outset of contract negotiations. In fact, it may be that such a concerted campaign is dying on the vine like a strawberry that was never picked. Workers do not form unions to make concessions for long periods of time. If the economists and other forecasters are right when they predict the oncoming double dip recession around the corner, we can expect labor to concede even more.
A full mobilization of the AFL-CIO, Change to Win as well as independent unions on the basis of “No Cut’s and No Concessions” is needed or labor will continue to shrink and die away because it is unable to defend workers’ interests. There is no mystery as to why the labor movement has suffered for the last 40 years. There has been a failure to act on anything other than the voter box, and that strategy has had dismal results.
But organized labor is not dead yet. It is still here, it is still a voice, and it is the workers’ best chance to defend themselves against the ravages perpetuated by both Democrats and Republicans who essentially do the bidding of the banks and investors and have been allowed to chain the future of workers in America to the bankers’ bottom line.
This is why in Oregon a resolution has been drafted to build the fight. The two primary struggles are for a national jobs program and “No Cut’s No Concessions.” We want jobs and we don’t want any more cuts to benefits. This policy is openly and rightfully hostile to the banks and investment firms and any politician they have bought off. There is no better expression of this fight than during bargaining. But so long as the members and staff of labor unions under the pressure of the economic recession that is all around them and are cowed by the clamoring for deficit reduction, and so long as they begin bargaining by announcing they are prepared to partner with the employers and make concessions, then once again the fight is delayed and denied.
The larger picture is clear: The rich are growing increasingly richer. The corporations are sitting on record profits. The bankers are back to awarding themselves huge bonuses. Meanwhile all of them are enjoying lower and lower taxes. There is no reason for labor unions to delay the fight or deny that anything can be done. It is time for labor to move forward and demand that the rich pay their fair share in taxes so that social services and public education can be fully funded and so that public workers can rightfully demand: No Cuts! No Concessions!