Yesterday, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick issued a letter to the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) expressing his appreciation for unions and his deep, heart-felt belief that unions are an important and necessary part of our society. Perhaps he is scared that his state’s unions will go rogue on him, despite their well-established history of collaboration. Maybe he’s just fishing for campaign contributions early. Or possibly he’s trying in his own pathetic way to help bolster rank and file support for what should be a dying institution: collaborationist, bureaucratic unionism.
“The actions against public sector employees in Wisconsin have dominated recent news and troubled us all. As you consider Wisconsin's approach to its budget and fiscal crisis, I want to reiterate a few of the values that guide us here.”
That is to say, we’re not Wisconsin, so please don’t do anything rash, like shut down our schools and government offices. Please, please, please, play nice with us. We’re on your side (as long as you keep making generous campaign contributions and do our dirty work by enforcing our rollbacks on your members).
“Unions are good - and they can be part of the solution. Our public sector unions have demonstrated over and over again their and your willingness to work with us to build a stronger Commonwealth. From pension reform to transportation and education reform to wage concessions to help us close the budget gap, you and your union leadership have been our partners as we have tackled serious issues and made decisions that improve the Commonwealth in the long term. I am grateful for that.”
In other words, unions are good because they serve as the cops that police the workers, keep them in line, and force them to accept declining living and working conditions. “Commonwealth” is a euphemism for ruling class. Why should workers care about a stronger “Commonwealth” if their pay and benefits are weaker, their services gutted and their working hours lengthened?
“We have had our differences, naturally. But I believe in a politics that says we don't have to agree on everything before we work together on anything. As tough as our outstanding issues may be -- whether it's "plan design" or the next phase of pension reform or consolidating state agencies -- union leadership has been and will remain at the table. Standing for workers and standing for change are compatible values.”
Yes, play by our rules and you will retain your seat at the table. The seat may be at the end of the table, lower than the others, perhaps a little wobbly, and your meal might not include the caviar and fois gras that is on the other plates, but you will be there with us.
Of course if we were represented by Wobblies, rather than the AFT and NEA, the seats would NOT be wobbly because we wouldn’t be wasting our time at the table in the first place. A fighting union doesn’t waste its members’ dues trying to fight a losing battle against corporate campaign funding or trying to bargain with politicians whose personal and political interests lie with the ruling class. The interests of workers are only considered when necessary to secure campaign support and are always subservient to those of the bosses. A fighting union focuses on organizing, educating and mobilizing its members. It wins its demands by withholding its labor and through sabotage and other methods that cut into profits. As the preamble to the IWW constitution says, “The working class and the employing class have nothing in common.” It is this fundamental truth that negates any hope that a “seat at the table” will result in gains for workers.
“The attack on public sector employees and their unions is wrong for Massachusetts. As long as I have anything to say about it, we will continue to modernize our government and renew our social contract with balance and respect. We will remain focused on finding solutions. Today's needs -- and tomorrow's -- demand no less.
Keep your chin up,
The attack is wrong for Massachusetts because Gov. Patrick knows it is unnecessary due to the social contract his government has with the unions. The unions know their role and continue to play by the rules, donating generously to political campaigns, accepting the ruling class’ definitions of the issues, and enforcing ruling class solutions on their members. In exchange, the unions retain their legitimacy and the union bosses keep their seats at the table (and their six-figure salaries). They get to continue serving as the representatives of workers and collecting their dues and using them to prop up the politicians.