The Machinists union (AFL-CIO) seems on the road to becoming a copycat super-bureaucratizer, taking as its model the Carpenters union (Change to Win), which is showing all the others how to get around federal law and deprive members of their right to elect union officers.
Members tell the Association for Union Democracy that when IAM District Lodge 747 in California was first established around 2001 by the merger of two other districts, its bylaws provided for the election of the top officer of Directing Business Manager (DBM) by membership vote. In IAM districts, DBMs were traditionally elected by the membership. Apparently that is about to change. Because District Lodge 747 was now technically a “new” district, members were not permitted to vote; the DBM was appointed by the IAM international office. Members never got the chance to vote, because before the term of the appointed DBM expired, the international trusteed the district.
When the international lifted the trusteeship after 18 months, members discovered that they were presented by new bylaws, summarily imposed by the international. The right of members to elect had been eliminated. From now on, only delegates will select the DBM. A portent of things to come in the IAM. A moral victory for the Change to Win bureaucratizers.
Meanwhile, Andy Stern, the practical and ideological mentor of Change to Win, reaches out to grasp the hands of the CEOs of America’s corporate leaders. In a piece written for the Wall Street Journal on July 17, he writes:
“Today I sent a letter to every CEO in the Fortune 500 asking them to make health care the national priority….Our union members ---your employees--- will work with you. The old idea that business and labor can’t work together for the common good is as outdated as lifetime jobs. The Service Employees International Union is the largest health-care union in the country…. We know health care. You know business. Together, let’s build a new 21st-century economy.”
As he notes, “The employer-based system of health care is over.” It may be an effective tactic, with great PR advantages, to try to induce the rulers of corporate America to abandon any exclusive responsibility for health care ---bound to be attractive to them--- and to join in formulating a new plan to socialize the costs of “a universal system that provides affordable coverage.”
But there are complications.
Some day in that utopian future, in happier times, labor and management may collaborate harmoniously in building an economy that justly serves all. The trouble is that we still live in a harsher world where a central problem for the labor movement is to end the dominance of federal government by those who favor the interests of the corporate rich, represented and symbolized by the Fortune 500. The need is to shape national policy on taxes so that the costs of social needs, like health care, are borne in just proportion by those who can best afford the burden. For that, we need a labor movement that can inspire its own members, rally the majority of people, and change the balance of power in the nation. The big question is: Can a bureaucratically centralized labor movement projected by Change to Win and now being copied by the IAM effectively serve that need? What do you think?