Friday, March 25, 2011

Class War: Union Bosses vs Public Sector Workers

 (Image by Sue Peacock)
While Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has been doing everything in his power to destroy the public sector unions, the leaders of those unions have been doing everything in their power to comply, including selling out their own members, in a desperate attempt to preserve their six-figure incomes. They have been madly pushing through contracts that cut workers’ pay and benefits in hopes of beating a deadline that would preserve their right to continue automatically collecting dues from paychecks. According to the WSWS, the average Wisconsin public sector worker will lose $4,000 per year as a result of the cuts.

The WSWS has just published some of these union bosses’ salaries. Their large incomes relative to those of their members should lay to rest the delusion that they share the interests of their union members. The average Wisconsin public sector worker earns only $51,000 per year (not counting the $4,000 cut), while their union leaders earn in excess of $100,000 each, not counting the thousands more many receive in perks and other benefits.

  • Marty Beil, Wisconsin Public Employees Union (WPEU) executive director, $162,000 in 2008
  • Rick Badger, Wisconsin AFSCME executive, $133,000 in 2009
  • Gerald McEntee, national president of AFSCME, $480,000 in 2009
  • Mary Bell, Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC), $173,466 in 2008
  • Dan Burkahlter, WEAC’s Chief Executive, $242,807,
  • Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association (NEA), $397,721 in salary and benefits.
  • Rose Ann De Moro, executive director of National Nurses United, $293,000 per year.
  • Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO President, $283,340 last year
  • Randi Weingarten, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) president, $620,000 from two jobs in the same union.
  • AFT has nearly 100 officials who earned over $400,000 each
WSWS correctly points out that Wisconsin’s public sector union bosses served as the ruling elite’s bulldogs by demanding that all workers return to work after Republicans pushed through a modified version of the union busting bill. This version of the bill slashed workers’ pay and benefits and cut funding for social programs, but left intact collective bargaining and the automatic payroll dues collection (the only issues that affect the union bosses’ salaries). The union bosses argued that they could best continue the fight through the election process.

This has been the historic role of union bosses: to serve as capitalism’s enforcers. Their financial interests are so much more closely tied with those of the ruling elite that they routinely sell out their members in order to protect their own status and income. The tragedy and irony is that Walker had done more to organize and mobilize workers than any union boss has done in generations and the unions wasted the opportunity. Tens of thousands of workers were in the streets, skipping work in a de facto strike, occupying buildings, and they were willing to continue to doing so. The momentum and sentiment were there. People were talking about a General Strike. All the unions had to do was provide the support. Instead, they allied themselves with the class enemy of the workers and crushed the movement.

The lesson is that class conscious union activists and organizers need to do a much better job organizing from the ground up, not only in opposition to the bosses and politicians, but in opposition to our own union leadership.

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