Workers Vanguard No. 1142
19 October 2018
Giveback Contract Rammed Through
Teamsters Bureaucrats Sell Out UPS Workers
No Means No!
When the votes were counted on October 5, a 54 percent majority of UPS Teamsters had given the thumbs down to a tentative national contract chock-full of concessions to the shipping giant. Teamsters especially hated the new job category of lower-paid “hybrid” delivery drivers, a scheme cooked up by the union bureaucracy under which workers both load and drive the trucks. The deal also offered only paltry wage raises for part-timers and included no protection for employees against the ratcheting up of high-tech surveillance and other forms of harassment and speedup. But the Teamsters leadership, dead set on avoiding a strike, tossed the vote out the window. The union’s chief negotiator, Denis Taylor, simply declared the contract ratified.
Having spat on its own membership, the Teamsters negotiating committee then said it intended to return to the bargaining table in order to “address a number of member concerns”! Their way of addressing longstanding driver concerns over forced overtime and the push by UPS to start Sunday deliveries was the “hybrid” driver scam. Those filling these positions will have to work unlimited forced overtime and work weekends with no premium, while their pay will top out well under what traditional drivers make. As is the case throughout the labor movement, introducing such tiers at UPS is corrosive to the unity of the union and gives a huge gift to the bosses. The company now has an opening to phase out higher paid union drivers as it competes with Amazon’s growing fleet of cheap, non-union contractors.
The Teamsters sellouts also packaged the “hybrid” position as a way to provide full-time jobs in a company heavily reliant on part-timers. In fact, the union bureaucracy has long helped the company expand its part-time workforce at bottom-level wages. A strike at UPS in 1997, which was cheered by workers across the country, won wage increases for part-timers, but the difference in pay with full-time workers has increased ever since. Many of the 10,000 full-time jobs the company promised in settling the strike have since been lost through layoffs or changed into split shifts. Other jobs have been moved to new locations with no notification to the union.
Every warehouse worker and package driver knows that the three-month holiday rush season is the perfect time to strike. There are over a quarter million UPS Teamsters, the largest private-sector collective bargaining unit in North America. They had voted by over 90 percent to authorize a strike. The 12,000 workers at the UPS Freight subsidiary have also rejected their contract proposal, seeking to protect their jobs from outsourcing to non-union contractors. The UPS workforce has substantial potential power, as do longshoremen and other workers involved in the movement of goods. UPS workers handled more than 6 percent of this country’s GDP last year as the company amassed billions in profits.
Teamsters officials justified ramming through the contract by citing a provision in the union constitution that requires a two-thirds vote to reject a final offer if less than half the membership casts a ballot. This time, some 45 percent of eligible members participated, far more than the previous contract vote five years ago. The “no” vote prevailed in the face of company intimidation and massive pressure from the union tops to accept the rotten deal.
The Teamsters leadership blocked a potentially powerful strike with a blatant violation of union democracy. This is just the latest illustration that the fundamental loyalty of the Teamsters bureaucracy, like the rest of the labor officialdom, is to the profitability of American capitalism, not to their members. This class-collaborationist crew is long overdue for replacement, but the current crop of out-bureaucrats and would-be reformers in Teamsters United and Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) is no real alternative. Whatever the differences between Teamsters United/TDU and the James Hoffa Jr. leadership, they all share a program of reliance on the capitalist Democratic Party and state agencies like the courts and Justice Department. Workers need a leadership that would mobilize labor against the capitalist exploiters, breaking the political chains binding workers to their class enemy and helping to build a class-struggle workers party.
For Union Independence from the Capitalist State!
There is some bitter irony in the fact that Hoffa was re-elected Teamsters president in 2016 by a smaller margin and with a far lower turnout rate than the contract rejection vote. His main opponent was Fred Zuckerman, president of the giant Louisville Local 89, who today heads the Teamsters United slate along with Sean O’Brien. (Zuckerman and O’Brien had earlier been stalwarts of the Hoffa regime.) In recent months, both Teamsters United and the TDU, which acted as waterboys for Zuckerman in 2016, lobbied heavily for a “no” vote and denounced the contract outcome. But they were just as fearful of a strike as the Hoffa bunch, as shown by a September 11 statement publicized by both outfits titled “Why a No Vote Does Not Mean a UPS Strike.” Now these self-declared militants simply demand the resumption of contract negotiations, minus Denis Taylor.
The TDU’s claims to be for “rank-and-file control” of the union are based on a lie. The whole purpose of union democracy is so that the membership can hammer out how best to fight for its interests against the bosses. But ever since its founding over four decades ago, the TDU has acted to bring the bosses’ government and courts into union affairs, through lawsuits and other means. The only reason these capitalist agencies intervene into the unions is to bring them to heel. The TDU union-suers have shown that they are as hostile to actual union democracy as Hoffa, Taylor and Co.
If the government pulls the plug on one corrupt union leader, it will only be to install another traitor to labor’s cause. In the meantime, the state authorities will tighten their grip on what are the only mass organizations of the working class. Workers must oppose any and every intervention by the capitalist government into the union. It’s up to labor to clean its own house.
Shortly after the Hoffa team invoked the “two-thirds rule” over the contract, TDU national organizer Ken Paff trumpeted how three decades ago the group “won a big victory in partially ridding our union of ‘minority rule on contracts’” (tdu.org, 9 October). That “victory” was actually a dagger aimed at the union. In the 1980s, the “two-thirds rule” applied to all contract votes, irrespective of turnout. The TDU challenged this in court, as part of a series of lawsuits that helped open up the union to government intervention. These efforts culminated in the TDU drawing up the blueprint for the Justice Department to reorganize the Teamsters, who were targeted under the RICO “racketeering” law, the weapon of choice for government intervention into the unions. The Feds have been running Teamsters elections ever since, as well as installing regulators and putting locals in receivership.
The real crime was perpetrated by the TDU. And in this case crime certainly didn’t pay. The TDU was an early and enthusiastic supporter of former Teamsters president Ron Carey, who had filed his own legal actions against the “two-thirds rule” and other union practices. In 1991, Carey was elected Teamsters president. But the Feds turned on their onetime accomplice after he led the 1997 UPS strike, suddenly discovering “political contribution violations.” Carey was banned from office and eventually expelled altogether from the union.
The TDU did its part to further a decades-long government effort to cripple one of the most powerful unions in the country on the grounds of “corruption.” This included Democratic attorney general Robert F. Kennedy’s vendetta against Jimmy Hoffa, who was convicted in 1964, the very year Hoffa signed the first nationwide master freight agreement in the trucking industry. Over the years, the TDU was cheered on by a range of reformists, in particular Labor Notes and the International Socialist Organization. Support to government intervention into the union was an expression of their anti-Marxist embrace of the “democratic” capitalist state, which they portray not as a mechanism of class repression but as a neutral body that can be pressured to act in the interests of workers and the oppressed.
For a Class-Struggle Leadership!
“Hybrid” drivers, low pay for part-timers, slicing and dicing of jobs won in the 1997 strike: the UPS workforce toils under conditions that increasingly resemble those at other shipping and logistics companies. The difference, though, is that UPS workers are one of the few unionized workforces in the vast, just-in-time cargo supply chain. The Teamsters could bring their power to bear not only to advance their own members’ interests but to spark the organizing of unorganized workers up and down that chain, crucially including FedEx and Amazon. A union that takes the fight to the bosses would be a beacon to the entire multiracial working class, which is ground down by the capitalists’ relentless drive for greater profits.
The crucial issue is leadership. In response to attempts to divide the union, a class-struggle union leadership would demand: No tiers! Equal pay for equal work! Wage raises to close the gap between warehouse workers and drivers! It would launch a struggle for full-time jobs at good wages for all part-timers who want them and combat the company’s notorious racist harassment of black and Latino workers. To stop the brutal pace, it would fight for more jobs to spread the work around at no loss in pay. A militant leadership would also insist that any introduction of labor-saving technology be used to make jobs easier, not for more speed-up and layoffs.
The Teamsters own history provides an example of such leadership: the Trotskyist union militants who organized and led a series of strikes by Minneapolis truckers in 1934 that won union recognition and began the transformation of the Teamsters from a fragmented craft union into a nationwide industrial powerhouse. These socialists, who drew inspiration from the October 1917 workers revolution in Russia, proceeded from the standpoint of class war. Against the scabs, company goons and cops, they deployed roving pickets dispatched from the union hall. To counter the lies of the capitalist media, they produced a daily strike newspaper. To strengthen bonds of support more broadly from working people and the poor, they formed alliances with farmers and organized unemployed workers as well as a women’s auxiliary that engaged in vital strike support. (For more on this and other strikes of 1934, see our July 2015 pamphlet Then and Now.)
These militants placed no faith in any capitalist government official or state institution, including the Farmer-Labor Party governor and federal mediators sent by Democratic president Franklin D. Roosevelt. Above all, workers were prepared for the inevitable confrontations with the capitalist state. In a speech on “The Great Minneapolis Strikes” given some years later, American Trotskyist leader James P. Cannon observed:
“In practically all the other strikes the militancy of the rank-and-file workers was restrained from the top. The leaders were overawed by the government, the newspapers, the clergy and one thing or another. They tried to shift the conflict from the streets and the picket lines to the conference chambers. In Minneapolis the militancy of the rank and file was not restrained but organized and directed from the top.”
—The History of American Trotskyism (1944)
“The modern labor movement must be politically directed because it is confronted by the government at every turn. Our people were prepared for that since they were political people, inspired by political conceptions….
“Our people didn’t believe in anybody or anything but the policy of the class struggle and the ability of the workers to prevail by their mass strength and solidarity.”
The Trotskyist militants went on to help organize over-the-road truckers throughout the Midwest. But the Teamsters national leadership under Daniel Tobin, a key labor operative for FDR, launched its own campaign, to drive the Trotskyists out of the union. In 1941, the federal government, spurred on by Tobin and cheered by the Stalinist Communist Party, prosecuted leading Trotskyists and Minneapolis Teamsters for their opposition to U.S. imperialism in World War II. Eighteen went to prison.
Today, workers face a daunting situation given the weakening of the unions as a result of decades of betrayals by the labor tops. But the ruling class cannot extinguish the class struggle born of the irreconcilable conflict of interests between workers and their exploiters. The conditions that grind the workers down can and will propel them into struggle, together with their allies among the black and Latino masses and others oppressed by the capitalist system. For the workers to prevail against the class enemy, they must be won to a Marxist political program that links labor’s fight to the building of a multiracial workers party committed to doing away with the whole system of capitalist wage slavery through socialist revolution. The Spartacist League aims to win workers to this perspective.