The Bush administration, even more than its predecessors, takes great pains to advertise abroad its supposed virtue in handling labor relations. This is especially true in Third World countries where the governments may be under siege by militant and revolutionary workers. With its vast network of embassies employing hundreds of publicity agents, the U.S. government promotes a self-flattering fiction on how a democratic capitalist country deals with labor-management struggles.
According to this benign image, free labor in the U.S. negotiates with free management over the terms and conditions of employment in a peaceable, calm manner. When disputes arise that cannot be resolved through bargaining, the government occasionally offers its services and intervenes in a benevolent manner. The result is of course beneficial for both parties and serves the public interest.
This tripartite relationship of labor, management and government is a model that can only serve the best interests of all sides concerned.
How ideal! How incredibly idyllic is this picture of the class struggle in the United States!
Now a news bombshell involving labor relations in the U.S. has been dropped. We wonder if the Voice of America or the diplomatic network of labor experts have communicated it to the world. The media have certainly failed to convey it adequately at home.
Over the objection of the largest union in this country, the government has imposed upon it the former head of not one but two dreaded secret police agencies. On Aug. 5, Manhattan Federal Judge David Edelstein appointed William Webster to supervise and control the 1.5 million members of the Teamsters, the strongest union in North America. Webster directed the Federal Bureau of Investigation from 1978 to 1987 and then moved over to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Webster still part of "the Company"
Even to use the word "former" is to underestimate the situation. Webster is as deep in police and espionage work as he possibly can be. No CIA director can disengage from "the Company" after supposed retirement. While some secrets may be unearthed under the Freedom of Information Act, the CIA legally is not required to reveal its relationship with former employees, from the directors to clerks and janitors. Such is the character of the elaborate U.S. espionage network.
This writer knows of no other country on the entire planet where the government, be it so-called democratic, fascist or otherwise, has had the temerity to actually impose the former chief of its spy network on an unwilling union. Scan the whole world and you will not find a parallel to this utterly incredible and gross interference into the internal affairs of a union.
None of the pre-World War II fascist governments--Franco's Spain, Mussolini's Italy or even Hitler's Germany--dared to do this. But the democratic government now headed by former CIA director George Bush has done it, and only a sprinkle of short news reports have found their way into the capitalist press.
Taking advantage of a Consent Decree signed by the Teamsters and the government in 1989, Judge Edelstein appointed Webster to be the "independent member" of the three-person Independent Review Board that was created presumably to protect the International Brotherhood of Teamsters from alleged corruption.
Behind the `corruption' charges
For decades, the government has intervened in this powerful union, presumably because of corruption, but really because the IBT is the strongest union in the country. At this time, the Teamsters union shows every indication of growing stronger and more militant. Teamster intervention in the strike at Pittsburgh Press in July stopped management's attempt to use scabs to produce and deliver the newspaper.
The government first imposed the Independent Review Board on the previous union leadership, which was supposed to be corrupt. The newly elected leaders have nothing to do with the old officials. They have a right to dispense with this review board, to reject the whole thing and be free to bargain collectively without interference from the government.
As the new Teamster president, Ron Carey, argues in a July 29 news release, "We had a democratic election. The former leaders who were accused of ties to organized crime have been removed. Now it's time for the government to let the members and their elected leaders run this union."
Instead of honoring this request, the government set itself up as the permanent supervisor without the consent of those to be supervised and in fact over their strong objection.
The union release makes the point that the government went back on its word in the Consent Decree. It promised to scale back participation in the Independent Review Board following a democratic election, but has not done so. It instead proposes the IRB be allowed to send representatives to attend any meeting of any Teamster local union or joint council, though these meetings involve discussions of sensitive issues related to contract negotiations and political and legislative campaigns.
This is unwarranted interference in union affairs.
The government also wants to give its board representative unlimited authority to spend the union's money on staff and expenses. Fees and expenses billed to the union by court-appointed overseers so far total nearly $27 million. The Consent Decree has cost the union more than $10 million in legal fees and related costs.
The government's representative is paid at $385 per hour. This amounts to extortion. It's a form of unarmed robbery, with the money coming out of the hides of the workers.
Teamsters object to Webster
The union also objected strenuously to Judge Edelstein's appointment of Webster. It argued that Webster was part and parcel of the law enforcement agencies and had no credentials that would in any way qualify him to monitor, let alone supervise, such a vast organization which more than anything else needs to deal with its own affairs and needs no interference from the government.
Nonetheless, the judge went on to appoint him. This could scarcely be done without the knowledge of the Bush administration.
Of course, for many years the U.S. public has been saturated with all types of stories about corruption in the Teamsters. One after another of the heads of the union were removed through government intervention, indicted and convicted. As part of the Consent Decree, 58 officials charged with offenses related to organized crime were removed from the union, and another 77 officials have been removed, resigned, were suspended, or signed agreements relating to other offenses.
Of course, there has been corruption of union leaders. This is an inseparable aspect of their relations with the capitalist government and the employers, who all these many years have been anything but paragons of virtue.
Corruption in business
This appointment of the former CIA director comes precisely at a time when the U.S. government has been forced to disclose corruption in the giant conglomerate Sears Roebuck & Co., which has advertised itself all over the country as the place where America shops. For years Sears had been robbing the American public through its auto service centers where it deliberately overcharged customers, thereby milking the public of undisclosed millions of dollars. The findings of an 18-month investigation forced the government to charge that this habitual practice by a giant corporation is "nothing but systematic looting of the public."
And what is the government doing about it? Has it moved to appoint a former CIA or FBI director to supervise this vast multibillion-dollar corporation? Has it even denounced the board of directors or other executive officers? The company has not denied the practice of cheating the customers. Its best defense is that these were honest mistakes. Yet there is not even a remote possibility that the government will crack down on Sears as it did on the Teamsters.
In over a century of the existence of the labor movement and the capitalist monopolies that exploit the workers, no large company has ever had its principal officers indicted or convicted because of scabbing, strike breaking, or illegal anti-union practices. Yet these are commonplace.
Even in cases where, during strike-breaking operations, workers have been killed, wounded, openly beaten up, or savagely brutalized, as has happened so many times, the government never punishes corporate directors. Would it ever think of taking the corporate entity over and supervise it so no illegalities could be committed in the future?
Ever day executive officers, directors, partners, and owners of companies are convicted of innumerable crimes. Does the government ever take it upon itself to take over an entire corporate entity? At most there is a slap on the wrist, a fine here and there which adds up to the equivalent of a small gratuity.
Corruption in government
For a government to bring corruption charges against the Teamsters, it is only proper legally if the government has clean hands. Yet who was in charge when the union was being taking over for corruption? Attorney General Ed Meese, who later had to resign under a cloud of corruption charges.
The issue in the Teamsters union at the moment is whether the union is actually free to negotiate with management, with its exploiters, freely and on equal terms. How can there be equality if bargaining is overseen by a judicial process and all the judges are appointed for life by a capitalist government? The Bush administration alone has appointed 115 federal judges.
Yet all this is supposed to be taking place in an atmosphere of free labor negotiating with free management, where the government brooks no interference and merely acts as a benevolent outsider that is occasionally called in by both sides to aid and assist a peaceable solution.
Time was when the labor movement in the United States looked to the government to help rather than hinder union organization and collective bargaining. But this has been turned around. Union representation elections are now supervised by a government that is all too eager to wreck the trade union movement. There is virtually no use for recourse to the capitalist government in labor relations.
The labor movement must finally come to the unavoidable conclusion that it cannot reliably look upon the capitalist government to befriend it or to act as an unbiased arbitrator. The process of collective bargaining in this stage of the tremendous growth of monopoly capital has meant the fusion of the monopolies with the capitalist state. Rare intervals when the capitalist government truly took on the role of arbitrator, as was attempted by the Franklin Roosevelt administration, have faded away. The Nixon, Carter, Reagan and Bush administrations have all shown this.
Labor's remedy lies within
Labor's remedy lies within itself. The process of collective bargaining must take on a realistic aspect.
The habitual and long-established form for a contract between union and company, in which it is written that the company and the union will collaborate and have an identity of interest, is a false conception.
Their interests are diametrically opposed. The union struggles for higher wages, better conditions, pensions, health care, and all the rest. It is diametrically opposed to the interests of the employers.
In a broad historical sense, what is the meaning of collective bargaining in Marxist terms? It is to bargain over the rate of exploitation. As long as the struggle is limited to this, the unions are dependent on the vicissitudes of the capitalist cycle of development.
No matter how hard they fight, in good times and bad, the workers' struggle is limited to curbing the intensity of exploitation. But the exploitation of labor by capital, the appropriation of the unpaid portion of labor by the capitalists, remains the one undeviating aspect of the relationship.
The struggle to limit the intensity of exploitation, to decrease its rate, must necessarily continue in both good and bad times, so-called. But the working class as a whole--in and out of the trade unions, skilled and unskilled, full and part-time, employed and unemployed--must fight not merely to limit exploitation, which is inevitable under capitalism, but to abolish exploitation.
It is in this respect that the labor movement must take on a thoroughgoing review of its political orientation. Labor must not be an instrument in the hands of this or that capitalist party that is dedicated to maintain the exploitation of labor under the mask of friendly, peaceable negotiation in which the government poses as a benevolent neutral.
The absurdity of this mask is exposed by the appointment of the former CIA director to supervise the Teamsters! What is next?
It is not some obscure Big Brother that is looking over the shoulders of the population, but this old, familiar yet monstrous behemoth, which seeks to control every facet of life. Webster's appointment is a dangerous development.
Main menu Yearly menu