The space between our two worlds
With each passing week we become more conscious of the differences between union reformers whom are boldly going into the future and biz unionists who are boldly gorging whenever the opportunity presents itself and the union mainstreamers who are meekly staying put. As our web site has evolved, we've become more conscious of our identity, our values and our aspirations and the fact that these are all quite legitimate. We are entitled to them despite whatever those who are meekly staying or boldly gorging may have to say about it. We are coming to terms with the reality that we do not need to be a part of their scene, that their scene is not very exciting and that it, in fact, doesn't do much to help us at all. We are creating our own - it suits us a lot better. We are learning that the current system isn't helping us and we are setting the stage for large-scale change. We are also seeing first hand the reaction to us of those who would rather we just left well enough alone. It's a reaction that's pretty lame. Items from this past week's front page tell the story:
The system isn't working for us:
In Saskatchewan, 2,000 workers in the retail food industry returned to work after a two-week strike. The workers, some of whom earn minimum wage, had been urged to accept a deal made on their behalf in Toronto between senior officials of their union and their employer, Westfair Foods. The deal was marginally better than what they'd been offered before their 2-week strike.
In Manitoba, a long awaited arbitration decision that was supposed to decide what would be in a collective agreement between Safeway and UFCW Local 832 turned out to be "unclear" on certain issues. Which ones? We don't know and neither do the members. Details will be withheld until the mess is sorted out says a tersely worded note on the union's web site.
Uncertainty continues to plague workers at a Winnipeg bus manufacturing company that wrung concessions from them and millions from the government of Manitoba just by threatening to leave town. The rollbacks and corporate welfare package came on the understanding that the company would stay put. The latest is that the big co. is still miffed and wanting a break on some land it wants for an expansion of one of its plants.
A dozen union leaders on a the Board of Directors of union sponsored life insurance company are under investigation for insider trading that netted some of them piles of money while their pension fund took a hit.
An Ohio Congressman is found guilty of 10 counts of bribery and racketeering. It turns out the UFCW contributed to his election campaign, at a time when he was helping an Ohio employer bust a strike of UFCW members.
In New Jersey, the President of a HERE local is dumped for bestowing a $500,000 severance package to his predecessor, who was dumped for his mob associations.
In Langley BC, workers coming off of a 10 contract won't be getting a new contract. They're getting pink slips instead. Their union, the UFCW, is telling them to sit tight and hope that an LRB decision, which won't be out until after their jobs disappear, may do something for them.
The BC government has announced plans to enact sweeping changes to the provinces' labour legislation - ones that stand to dismantle what little protection workers have from their employers and their biz-unions.
How it is, isn't good enough - we're talking about how it should be:
In the community of workers, there is a lot going on and the news is most assuredly good - even exciting, some of us would say. The lights are going on, people are putting the pieces together, realizing that they were right all along, that what they had only suspected couldn't be more real or more pervasive. More importantly, they are discovering that they are not alone; that they aren't nuts and that it's not such a bad thing to know the truth, to speak their minds and to demand better. On web sites like MFD, the truth is being laid out for all to see and analyze and come to their own conclusions. On the growing number of Internet bulletin boards, those conclusions are being shared, as are ideas about how it ought to be. The fog of secrecy that has sheltered the worst excesses of the biz-unionists is lifting. The world is changing. Questions are being asked, information exchanged, histories uncovered, puzzle pieces are falling into place. New alliances are formed. Old taboos are being broken. Concepts that have been off-limits for decades are being openly discussed. Very soon now the new common goals will be identified, and plans made for getting to them.
The leaders, in whom we have been taught to place our trust, are failing us. Some are crooks, some just plain old incompetent. Either way, they aren't doing us much good. Our rights, such as they are, will soon be carved up in the interests of flexibility, efficiency and good labour relations. The system that we have been told is there to protect us, is about to lose any pretense about that.
An air of militancy is returning to the community. Playing it by the rules isn't cutting it anymore and there is a growing awareness of that. In Montreal, thousands of workers tell their employer what to do with a mediocre contract proposal - by walking off the job. In Alberta, the IWW calls for a general strike - by all workers, unionized or not. Union members speak openly about bargaining strategy. Their discussions show that they are street smart and know where corporate vulnerabilities exist and how they can be exploited. They are educating themselves and others about concepts like the duty to fair representation, the interpretation of contract language. They are talking about what the unions they want - and don't want. Committed young activists question why they ought to continue cheer leading for mainstream labour. Corporate profits pile up. Demands for wage concessions continue. Discontent seethes just below the surface, even business leaders recognize it's there and are wringing their hands about it. Explosive revelations wait to be aired publicly as lawsuits filed against democracy advocates threaten to backfire badly against biz-unionists. UFCW leaders speak openly about their debacle in the meat packing industry where they are now fighting to hold on to existing members, never mind organizing new members.
They aren't really getting it:
In the face of all of this, the biz unions respond in characteristic self-serving fashion. The umbrella orgs continue to blame the usual suspects (the government, the employers, the poor misguided reformers). The UFCW continues its lawsuits against union democracy advocates. Smear campaigns are embarked upon to malign reformers and others who dare to criticize the Voice for Working America. The suits have the potential to bring decades worth of embarrassing and distressing biz-union wheeling and dealing into the public eye but that seems lost on the biz-u-guys. Biz union supporters turn up in MFD forum to defend their leaders and their actions. They defend their voluntary rec deals saying that their union was a logical pick for the company. They refer to their leaders "wolves in sheep's clothing", oblivious to the inference. Biz unionists continue to consolidate power and run their unions like a business. They speak and think in business terms. They wheel and deal. They play bizness-man. They defend the outrageous investments of their members' in the high-risk ventures of their corporate biz-partners. If all this seems pretty lame and inadequate given what is happening in the community of workers - that's because it is.
We live in two different worlds now. We are in different realities. That's why we really don't care that they don't care much for us. We know where this is and where it's going. The biz-unionists at the end of an era, we at the beginning of one. They are hanging desperately on to what they have, we are anxious to create something new. Our realities are overlapping right now. This week's news items alone are an example of what is in the space between.
Stay with us because the space between is going to get even busier and more exciting. Here's our look back at the past week.
The season of our seething discontent
It's getting harder to fool most of the people most of the time. The economy is on a roll, the jobless rate is declining and corporations are raking in profits. The biz-guys are getting worried. Will our unions make their worst nightmares come true?
"There is this seething discontent that could bubble to the surface, and it's worth keeping an eye on," said BMO Nesbitt Burns economist David Watt. "For the last few years it's been relatively quiet."
They had better. There are no more excuses for lackluster deals. With the knowledge that is now available to them, the Power Source can be and will be in the driver's seat. The biz-guys have no idea what's coming their way.
Top Secret: The Biz-U-Files
A copy of a Demand for Documents posted in MFD Forum by HJ Finnamore gives us an idea of the nooks and crannies of biz-union life that are likely to get explored when the UFCW's lawsuit against him sees the light of court room. No wonder he has not received any of the requested docs just yet.
In August of last year the UFCW commenced a lawsuit against him seeking, among other things, a permanent injunction prohibiting him from saying anything further about the union. The lawsuit concerns a number of opinion pieces critical of business unions, which appeared in the Financial Post in 2000 and 2001, and comments made in an interview he gave to a national radio program. According to Finnamore, since filing its lawsuit the UFCW has made no efforts to proceed to court and it has failed to honor a Demand for Documents; a listing of documents that Finnamore claims will vindicate him in the lawsuit. The Demand, which was filed in British Columbia Supreme Court September 12, 2001 requests information concerning a wide range of transactions, activities and relationships in which UFCW officials have been involved over the past two decades. Included in the list are check registries and balance sheets for training and education funds, records related to business expenses of senior officials, voluntary recognition and "partnership" agreements, and records of real estate transactions between the CCWIPP and various hotel enterprises.
From our contributors
The kind of house we want
It's an atrocity we cannot trust our elected officials. The phrase "House of Labor" comes to mind. What happens in the "House of Labor, Stays in the House of Labor". Well, I suppose someone has opened the door on our house and the whole world is looking in. Hiding behind closed doors will not work anymore. There are too many members, who are concerned enough for our future, who want to clean and polish our "House of Labor". Labor must set an example for all to see. Through our basic rights and fundamental principles, we can make Labor a respected word among society in general. We should be fighting for everyone's rights, whether they are union members or the general public. An injury to one is an injury to all! - licatsplit
The power is with the people
I would thought that the Union would take care of its members but I knew I was dreaming with UFCW 1000A when the very first day I was told by their executive that when I came over from Kitchener that the 122 jobs were secured because they were going to take care of their OWN people first. I truly believe there will be absolutely no justice in this workplace until there is a real Union in place. ... Power is with people and in numbers we can achieve what is right. - BOBO
They're not getting the solidarity thing
Six years ago when our contract was up, the Steelworkers in Winnipeg distribution were out on strike at the time. They came down and picketed the Saskatoon distribution centre. During a 1400 meeting, it was asked by a member why we didn't go out in solidarity to strengthen our position. Brian's (Local President) response: "We've dealt with the Steel Workers before and they can't be trusted" Local 1400 settled with no strike and a crummy contract. One of the new guys had enough gumption to speak out against the deal at the ratification vote and was shouted down by Greg Eyre (as well as other members). We didn't need the company to threaten the members, the Local was doing a fine job all on their own. "If you guys don't take this, you'll be out on the street" from Greg Eyre. - fed up
Why back room deals are bad news
Fraser undermined the entire bargaining process by cutting a deal in Toronto by himself and from now on anytime this employer doesn't like what the local's doing they'll just fly out to Toronto and cut a deal with Fraser. And this is a guy who was not elected by the members to his position, a position that clearly impacts each of their lives. - Scott McPherson
I agree, why the heck is Mike Fraser sitting down in Toronto and bargaining without the Bargaining Committee present for everything that's said? What tradeoffs were made in those meetings is anybody's guess. Meetings like that are where things like "partnering agreements" are made. The whole notion of keep the deal secret until the meeting is nothing more than ripping off the members for their right to think about what the company's offer really means. - weiser
What back room deals get us:
"(UFCW Local 777 President) Whitlock has outdone himself with this untenable contract. Even though his term of office, and his powers associated therewith, expired in December 1993, you continue to allow him free rein to negotiate "market-share-at-all-costs" agreements which are abominations to trade unionists everywhere.
For example, in my opinion, Article 30.9 DEMOTIONS is nothing more than a "fire at will clause" designed to rid the employer of top-rated, full-time employees. This clause is indefensible by even the lowest of trade-union standards:
In the event that a full-time employee receives two consecutive performance reviews documenting poor work performance within a two (2) year period, he or she may be demoted to the status of part-time employee and placed at the bottom of the seniority list in their department. The timing of the performance reviews and the decision to demote the employee shall be at the discretion of the employer". - From a letter by HJ Finnamore to Doug Dority in 1993
An open letter to Biz-Union Machineheads:
"It has been my experience that you no longer act in my best interest. Therefore, from this day forward I will no longer support any action brought to me and recommended by you until I have ample time to examine it's content, discover its impact on my life and discuss it fully with my peers.
I will no longer trust that you understand what is best for me in my workplace. Until I have your recommendations on paper, in my hand, until I have time to fully examine and question it, I will vote NO!" - siggy
A description of Biz-Union Machineheads from a long time ago
"Some of them merely serve as pie-cards for the tired business men who are their officials and all such unions serve more or less as props of the existing order. But they are not unions in the modern sense at all. They are merely the shells of once useful unions operating to secure advantages for a few favored groups of workers without regard to the interests of the working class as a whole. They are organized within the capitalist system which they have been taught to take for granted, and they have no thought or program of anything beyond this system." From a 1933 IWW pamphlet posted by Blackcat
The best laid plans of biz-unionists about to backfire
Asking for a dismissal (of the UFCW's lawsuit) would thwart my day(s) in court. There are a lot of people waiting for the outcome. There are a lot of people waiting for the truth. This is a public hearing that needs to be held. - HJ Finnamore
How biz-unionists see the world
The company hand picked... Think from a business standpoint. A Co. is opening a warehouse that requires skilled and qualified workers from the start to get it up and running. They are transferring the business from other warehouses to the new one. Product needs to be picked and shipped from the other warehouses to the store until the warehouse is empty all the while the new branch is receiving goods to keep the balance so that their is no disruption of the transfer of goods to the store level. How can they get qualified workers in the new building without sacrificing productivity from the closing warehouses? UFCW was there. Four warehouses of skilled and qualified F/T and a skilled and qualified P/T pool to replace the F/T that left without disrupting the transfer of goods. The company didn't hand pick UFCW for Maplegrove they had no choice but to turn to the UFCW because they had the manpower, and we took it. If the CAW had the manpower they may have gotten Maplegrove. To me that is the kind of thinking that I'm looking for if I was to invest in a company, service the customer. From an employee stand point.... that kind of thinking tells me that I will have a good job for a long time. - dougle
How unions can get it together
Local unions should be small, so that leaders are closer to the members and that they don't have to focus on running a multi-million dollar corporation. The creation of huge locals is a control mechanism created for the benefit of the International leadership. They don't like contested races because they don't want their power base fiddled with.
All local unions should be required to prepare members for leadership roles. What do you do if the President dies or retires just after the election? Oh yeah, a new one is appointed who is deemed acceptable to those in power. Why not a new election? Why not the runner up?
The president should not be the be-all, end-all for any organization. The UFCW has created a system that puts all power in the hands of the President. There used to be a balance of Sec. Treas. and Pres. rounded out by a powerful E-Board.
The International should have experts ready to assist the newly elected succeed in their new roles. Large locals can afford to hire business managers.
If people elect a new president then they have a right to do so. Members aren't stupid, so their decision shouldn't be taken lightly.
Maybe things would work better if President was a "Service" position rather than a "career" position. Sort of like the President of the United States of America. Two terms, and good-bye. - weiser
I think two of the most important components of leadership are honesty and integrity. There's tons of members out there pissing and moaning about their Unions. The ones who will change them are the ones who put it on the line. - Bill Pearson
Freedom of... hypocrisy
I of course hope that the UFCW is successful in fighting this injunction but I couldn't help but wonder about the irony of their fighting injunctions from employers on the one hand and asking for injunctions against their members who just want to express themselves (like Bill Gammert, Sharyn Sigurdur, Steve Guiliano, the MFD web site, the list goes on) on the other hand. He who lives by the injunction, dies by the injunction, I guess. - remote viewer
This weeks Post With The Most
"I am glad that MFD is here. It gives me a voice and I know that I will be heard. I feel at home here where I have freedom of expression. No one will call me out of order. I almost would prefer some union to charge me. I have that fire in the belly again. And just perhaps, when I write there is great meaning in my words but I doubt it. I am just an average older guy with a passion and a dream. I welcome all contributors even if they are the president of a union. That to me is the greatest asset of this web site; everyone pretty much says what is on his or her mind. No matter who we are we must preserve that in my opinion." - about unions
Words to live by
It is not a sign of communal well-being when people turn to their government to execute all their business for them, but rather a sign of decay...The state, indeed, is but one of the devices that a really healthy community sets up to manage its affairs. (Aug. 27, 1924 - from "The Library" in The American Mercury)
This Great "Candaian" Superstore got loads of unexpected publicity for its grand opening. We don't call 'em Stupidstore for nothing.
What smart biz-u-guys are wearing this season.
Links to useful and interesting information
as posted in MFD forum this week:
Glossaries of labour relations terms: