Rank & file strategy for the building trades?


by Gregory Butler

“Here  is an example of the Democratic Socialists of America’s “rank and file strategy” in action… and why it’s not really a realistic strategy, or even a good tactic – and why it’s real goal isn’t building working class power, but career advancement for DSA members.

A DSA member who’s an electrician in Austin, Texas and close enough to the union’s leadership to be a staff organizer, and that local’s Central Labor Council and Texas AFL-CIO delegate got a resolution passed in both of those bodies supporting a Green New Deal.

Now, those familiar with the labor world know that central labor council and state federation of labor resolutions are meaningless and have no impact on the real world

Also, getting a resolution passed in a labor body is the opposite of rank and file activism – it involves log rolling and deal making with other union delegates, totally divorced from the real world of the workforce and ordinary workers

This is especially true of a resolution in a major  oil producing and refining state, where much of the manufacturing and construction  union membership is composed of oil, gas and refinery workers, that calls for eliminating the oil industry

The author poses this as a way of the DSA reaching out to rank and file construction workers in the Lone Star State

Problem #1 – 96% of construction workers in Texas are non union – you’re not going to reach non union workers through internal union politics

Problem #2 – about two thirds of construction workers in Texas are recent immigrants from Mexico – so any serious attempt to reach out to them would, at the very least, have to be made in the Spanish language (cause that’s the dominant language in construction in Texas) and would have to have some relevance to their work and their lives (a call for ending deportation, for example, or a demand that Texas end it’s status as the only state that does not require contractors to carry workers compensation insurance, would be far more relevant to these workers)

Problem #3 – most construction workers in Texas are in residential construction, so a program built around the energy industry is pretty irrelevant to their work lives

And finally,

Problem #4  – most of the union construction workforce in Texas are maintenance workers in the oil industry – they’re smart enough to know that any reduction in oil and gas production leads straight to the unemployment line for them – the United Steel Workers-represented full time oil refinery workers, who make up a majority of unionized manufacturing workers  in the Lone Star State, are also smart enough to have figured this out (talk to either group about environmentalism and you will get an earful!)

There are real issues for Texas construction workers – like the fact that the state doesn’t require workers comp coverage – it’s not unusual for construction workers who were injured in major accidents to refuse medical care because they know they can’t pay for it

Also the fact that a majority of construction workers in the state are undocumented and are constantly looking over their shoulder for ICE or the Border Patrol

Texan construction workers also face the problem all American construction workers face – the fact that over 90% of building trades workers nationally – and over 96% of Texas construction workers – do not have a union, and thus have no rights that the boss  is bound to respect on the job.

This proposal doesn’t address those issues in the least

Any “rank and file strategy” that’s only addressed to the leaders of the unions that only represent a tiny fraction of the workforce is a “rank and file strategy” in name only

Of course,  this is assuming that the DSA has any real interest in building worker power and leading workers into struggles with the bosses

That’s a big assumption.

I’ve long suspected that the real endgame for “the rank and file strategy” is to get union staff jobs for DSA members

This seems like a very good example – DSAer gets an electrician job in Austin, the Texas state capital (a good place for a man on the make, looking to advance himself), quickly becomes a staff organizer and his local’s Central Labor Council and state federation of labor delegate, and makes a big campaign to pass a meaningless resolution (that if its contents were known to the members would be wildly unpopular with them)

That sounds like the tactics of somebody auditioning for a higher position in the union bureaucracy or the Democratic Party machine, not somebody trying to build power for the working class

This plan might just work – lots of DSA people are well educated, and have the kind of reformist politics that fit in nicely with the AFL-CIO bureaucracy and the Democratic Party apparatus – and lots of them have advanced quite quickly in the union and Democratic Party machines.

It says VOLUMES that labor leaders feel comfortable putting DSA people  in staff jobs.

Union officials are very good at sniffing out radicals who want to fight the boss, and keeping such dangerous radicals far away from staff positions

The DSA folks…go right up the ladder, because the union leaders know that social democrats can be trusted to be very class struggle averse

So, let’s check back in a  year to see if the DSAer who  championed these resolutions has advanced in the labor bureaucracy or the Democratic Party machine

Meanwhile, for the majority of Texas construction workers who are undocumented recent immigrants from Mexico, work life won’t change very much at all – they will still live in fear  of deportation, or of getting hurt and not having any way to pay for their medical care, and they still won’t have a union to represent them or any sort of worker organization on the job”


(Reprinted with Permission)

The above article is a criticism of this article: “The Case for an Ecosocialist Rank & File Strategy in the Building Trades -In order for the Green New Deal to move forward, it must become a standard demand from organized labor.”


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