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By Bobby A. Summers

A prediction! And well, remember that you heard it here first, in September of 2004, almost two months before the US presidential election. Friends and comrades on the international stage, The Fascists (Bush) are going to win; Kerry and the more civilized bourgeoisie are going to lose!
And here I think is why:

A couple of months ago, right around the July 4th holiday, I had a long conversation with this guy, Jim R. Jim is the newly elected president of the local union covering workers at the Oregon Department of Transportation (about 1700 members), part of the Service Employees International Union, 503 (SEIU), which covers most State of Oregon workers. 

Being newly elected, John had been passing messages to me that he’d really appreciate a chance to talk with me about some of the problems he was facing as the new president. I wasn’t the union organizer assigned to the Transportation Department. Hell, I wasn’t even on the staff of SEIU anymore, having taken a break out of sheer frustration with the union. But Jim and I knew each other, we’d worked together for at least four years, and finding the time to sit down and talk with Jim wasn’t hard.

We did meet. Jim and I talked for four hours, in his big tent packed with 1000 square meters of fireworks, which Jim sells every Fourth of July as a sort of side job. So Jim, me, and about 300 kilograms of gunpowder, had a chat about the union. Most of the problems were pretty technical, “what can I do with this grievance?” “How can I handle that guy being fired?” But then we got to the big stuff….. the really important stuff.

So Jim says, “there’s a lot of talk by the members about getting a new union”. “Yeah”, I say, “I know, I got a call from this person, and then I heard from her, then I talked to him, and I know they’re (chunks of the membership) not happy”. Jim says, “I’m thinking we need to get a better union, one that pays attention to the members”. 

I say, “Hey, I know, the incessant political campaigns the leadership (of SEIU) is engaging in. They really don’t know the difference between a union and a political party, and it’s hurting”. So Jim says, “So how do we get a better union?” 

“Well, I don’t think there is a better union out there”, I say. “I know lots of our guys (highway maintenance workers) like the Teamsters. But, you know, Rosalie and I had to teach the Teamsters members how to do basic picketing up at the Smucker’s strike last year. They didn’t have a clue. We taught them, not the Teamsters”. 

I then explained to Jim all the legalities of getting rid of one union, and bringing another in. “First Jim”, I say, “ you’ve got to get one third of the members to sign a petition saying they want to get rid of, and change to another union”. “And, by the way”, I say, adding more misery, “that’s not one third of your 1700 members, that’s one third of your members, plus the members at the Departments X, Y and Z, and A, B, and C, as well. So, you’re talking about getting signatures from one third of 18,000 members, not 1700 members”. Jim’s face is getting pretty long at this point.

“You know”, I said, “it would be a lot easier to take control of the union and make it your own, then it is to get a new union. And you’d have a stronger union too, because it is now your union”. 

At this point I knew I had lost Jim. Jim was willing to lead a collective “shopping expedition” to hire a “better” union (how American! to go shopping). But, to lead an insurgent charge? To take a problem; to think; to find a solution; and to make it a reality? This was asking too much!
Then we got to discussing the war in Iraq. “I know they’ll find the Weapons of Mass Destruction”, Jim said. “They’re there, they’ll find them, I know.” 

“Well, we’ve got to plant the WMDs first”, I say. “Really though, they (the WMDs) are not there, they never were there”, I said. “This whole war has been orchestrated and launched in a way that would have made the Nazis proud. It’s all built on a solid foundation of lies and playing on fears”, I said to Jim again.
“Well, I don’t know, but they’ll find those weapons, and I’m voting for Bush. He’ll protect us and keep us strong”, Jim said.

“Jim”, I said with some outrage. “The guys who started this war did it to maintain a cheap, steady oil supply for their corporate profits”. I added, “the guys who started this war are the same damned bastards that are cutting your pension benefits, who think you are overpaid, and who want to privatize your jobs. I mean, Jeez man!” 

But, again, I had lost Jim.

I don’t want to give anybody the impression that John is an idiot, or a strikingly “duped” worker. Quite the contrary, Jim has committed himself to helping his fellow union members, and has kept his commitment more than many others. In many ways, Jim represents some of the best elements of the American working class. He has stood by many members in trouble with their boss, has spent months at the bargaining table negotiating with employers, and is always at the important union meetings.

But our conversation was telling; it said whole amounts about our working class in America. Our conversation told a whole story about how fascism is winning in the USA, and why Bush will win in November.

My old union, SEIU, and indeed 99% of the unions affiliated with the AFL-CIO are deeply committed to the Kerry campaign for President. I know SEIU has put at least $30 million into the Kerry campaign. I know too that the Democratic Party is deeply relying on the unions to get the vote out in November.
But the unions, and the Kerry campaign, have nothing to say to workers. We are the “dollars”, we are the “foot soldiers”, but we don’t even have a footnote in the Democratic Party agenda.

So, a couple of days ago, big news hit the US media about health care. Most health care comes to workers in the form of employer provided health insurance. Seems that the cost of health insurance is expected to rise 11% to 18% next year. Employers will holler that they can’t pay the increases. Millions more workers will fall off the rolls of those with health care. The political responses? Bush is screaming that Kerry will “socialize” healthcare; Kerry is ignoring the problem and talking about gun control.

Two years ago, our union “pulled out the stops” to get a Democratic Governor, Ted Kulongoski, elected in Oregon. We succeeded, but the man who said he would protect workers’ pensions and benefits, our new Governor, instead detailed drastic new pension and benefit cuts even as he took office. Our union was speechless…. Our leadership had nothing to say to its workers. Our members took the cuts, no strike, no opposition, and a surrender only slightly better than unconditional.

The war in Iraq? Well, I remember a contentious Executive Board meeting about a resolution opposing the Iraq adventure. 30 to 40 people in a room, with nobody on the union’s leadership supporting this War.  Everybody in their own “heart of hearts” knowing this war sucked and was criminal, but no resolution was passed. Nobody wanted to stand on his or her principles. 

The bottom line is, our American unions don’t lead workers. We have no language of “class”, “exploitation”, “capitalism”, or any alternative (“socialism” generally being referred to in private conversation as, “the S word”). We certainly don’t have a program, and we don’t have an analysis to even begin studying a program. So, to my mind, it’s no wonder that good workers, like Jim R, so readily buy into a fascist line. What else is there?

My comrades (“We few, we happy few….”) and I are not “defeatists”. Once again, I’ll make my 1500 phone calls and spend my Saturdays knocking on peoples’ doors, and my comrades will too. But I have no illusions. Bush will win, and he will win because our Democrats, at bottom, are completely and totally bourgeoisie (not even a shred of social democracy here), and more importantly, our unions, don’t have the principles or “guts” to have an honest conversation with our class about what’s really wrong.

A bit more optimistically, over the long haul, I believe, and know (because I’ve had them), it is possible to have conversations with American workers about what capitalism is really all about. We’ll have to be creative, because the language of Marxism is not accepted in America. Nonetheless, our history speaks volumes to the essential correctness of the Marxist analysis, and this is where the discussion must begin.
 But it ain’t gonna happen by November, 2004.

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