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Trump Must be Defeated, but Unions Shouldn’t be Democratic Party Cheerleaders


Source: TheAnalysis.news

Hi, I’m Paul Jay and welcome to theAnalysis.news podcast.

A convergence of events, including the murder of George Floyd, the pandemic, and a deep economic crisis has produced a rebellion in the streets and a shift in public opinion that wasn’t expected even just a few months ago. This mass movement is taking place in the run up to a November presidential election, an election that many consider one of the most important in American history. Now joining us to discuss the movement and how to sustain the movement and build into a more transformative motion and what that means to be in the context of a presidential election, what it means for the movement, is Bill Fletcher Junior.

Bill’s been an activist since he was a teenager from graduating from college. He went to work as a welder in a shipyard. He’s worked for several labor unions. In addition to serving as a senior staff person in the national AFL-CIO, Fletcher is the co-author of Solidarity Divided The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path towards Social Justice, and he’s the author of, They’re Bankrupting the US and 20 Other Myths About Unions.

Thanks for joining us, Bill.

Bill Fletcher
Pleasure, Paul. Thank you very much for inviting me.

Paul Jay
So the movement faces some challenges or obstructions, even you could say, both from the right, meaning Trump and kind of strengthening of a police state and law and order society, but also from the exert leadership of the Democratic Party, which traditionally and now would like to merge the movement that’s taking place into simply an arm of the Biden election campaign.

On the other hand, it’s not like the results of this election don’t matter to the movement. So it’s a complicated moment for activists and the people involved in trying to organize and lead. What do you see as sort of the main challenges and how is the movement dealing with them?

Bill Fletcher
Well, you know, it’s interesting, Paul. I was thinking about your introduction and for the last several election cycles, people. Have frequently said this is the most important election of your life, whatever that election cycle was and. I started feeling like it was the boy who cried wolf. But what I realized is that what’s been happening is that the polarization in US electoral politics has been sharpening with each election cycle. And it’s brought us to this point where this particular election. I do believe is one the most important in U.S. history because if Trump wins, I truly believe that he will be convinced that he has a mandate for authoritarianism and further irrationalism. And even if he doesn’t win. I’m very worried about the kind of provocativeness that he’s engaged around with, the right-wing, neo-fascist wing. So this is a very deadly moment. Now, the Sanders campaign, the campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders, was obviously of great significance and then came in for a landing for two reasons.

One was he was outflanked by Biden, who had a Southern strategy, and Bernie didn’t, in my opinion, and then the COVID crisis. And in the aftermath of Sanders suspending his campaign, a significant minority within his campaign announced that they weren’t going to be participating in the election by voting for Biden, Biden was the nominee, and I think that one of the things that this reflected was a misunderstanding of what’s at stake in the November election, and we can talk some more about that if you want. But I think in essence, many people view the election too much as if it’s American Idol, as opposed to recognizing that this is not an election between two individuals. This is an election between the forces of democracy and the forces of right-wing populists. That’s really what this is. And within the forces of democracy, it’s a very broad and even front, but it’s a front, nevertheless.

Paul Jay
It’s to give the argument of the people you’re mentioning who supported Sanders or some who didn’t but do not see Biden as a credible alternative. They would say some sections of the Democratic Party that certainly are around Biden. And if things are to continue, as Biden has in his past, then I wouldn’t rule out some change in that, but if he’s consistent with who Biden has always been, he will be with, with and guided by and perhaps a vessel for sections of the Democratic Party who I don’t think is all that democratic.

I mean, they do believe, I guess you could say, at least in the kind of constitutional law that we had pre-Trump, and that isn’t saying a lot, especially, as, you know, eight or nine to four if you’re poor and black you never had many constitutional rights during the eight years of Obama, I lived in Baltimore. And even the Department of Justice, when they did, the review of the police department said people’s constitutional rights are violated every day in Baltimore.

That said, there is still was a certain amount of rule of law, which I agree with you. The Trump, type of forces would like to get rid of it. And we can talk about why.

But when you say the forces of democracy, are you a little concerned that within that broad definition of the forces of democracy, it’s giving a little bit too much to the corporate Democrats and their allies in the financial sector and such? Even though I would agree they’re better than Trump. I’m not arguing that that way. Doesn’t the movement that we have to kind of talk about the need to defeat Trump without creating any illusions about who Biden is?

Bill Fletcher
Oh, absolutely. And I think that one of the lessons of the Obama years revolved around illusions that people, too many people had, frankly, the wrong assessment of Obama, completely overestimated him in terms of believing that he and his administration were going to be progressive, not just liberals, but progressives, it was a wrong assessment. But what was even worse than that was the demobilization of massive segments of progressive social movements. In the name of giving Obama a chance and being supportive, I think that we hopefully learned an invaluable lesson from that experience, maybe we didn’t. So, yes, I have no illusions about Joe Biden.

There are so many areas where I disagree with Joe Biden. But I look at the movement as one of can we get more space to organize? Can we influence Supreme Court appointments? Can we influence other court appointments, agency appointments, etc.? Right now, it’s clear that we can’t, not with Trump in office. But then you add one to that, one of these very scary things of these armed right-wing demonstrators. You know, just last month who were demanding the reopening of the economy and they were doing it militarily.

This is something that’s different, Paul. I mean there’s certainly a history to the right when white vigilanteism in the United States. But to get the open support of the president of the United States, that is different. And so I think that that you’re right, we should have no illusions about Biden, that we have to be prepared from day one, meaning the day after he’s elected to be on his case like white on rice.

It still involves decisively defeating Trump. And that’s different than people voting for the Green Party. For example, voting for the Green Party is not a vote against Trump. It’s not a vote to defeat Trump. It’s an expression of individual dissatisfaction.

Paul Jay
The way the polling is going and the way the pandemic’s going, the way the economy is going. Barring some remarkable turnaround in the next, what is it for five months? And I certainly don’t expect it. Trump’s going to lose this election. And I thought he was going to lose all the time. I never thought he could win this election. I thought his win was an anomaly because Clinton Hillary Clinton was maybe one of the worst candidates imaginable and ran a terrible campaign and not campaigning in the swing states and so on. But now it’s starting to feel to me like Trump knows he’s going to go down, which is why has his bigger aim? And when I say he it’s not just him, it’s the people around him. Sheldon Adelson is Steve Bannon’s the real hardcore fascist sections of the elites. And I think they’re planning for this broadcast empire Trump was planning to launch in 2016 because everyone thought he would lose then.

I think it’s more important to these forces to consolidate that 35-40% of the population that can be drawn into an almost overtly racist and fascist movement beyond a broadcast empire and political machine based on that. And then they didn’t make another run at the White House. And because the way Trump is not even trying to moderate his message, it to me is he’s throwing in the towel on the election, but he hasn’t. He and his forces have certainly not thrown in the towel on building what you’re talking about, a virtually militant right-wing fascist movement.

Bill Fletcher
Correct. I think that that scenario that you’ve painted, it makes a lot of sense to me that that would be an objective. I would qualify that slightly, though. See, I think when you look at Trump since inauguration, he has done nothing to significantly expand his base. He has regularly taken almost every opportunity to thumb his nose at even potential allies. What he keeps doing is reinforcing his base. To me, that 25-40%, whatever it is, that is thoroughly reactionary. People like this, I describe them as zombies, people that have lost their humanity. And that’s I think his objective, number one, is making sure that they are so energized that regardless of all else, that they will turn out to vote in November. And then second, if they don’t, there’s a couple of possible scenarios. What you just described is one. Another scenario is that he decides not to step down. And he either tries to cancel the election or claim that the election was fraudulent, and throws us into a constitutional crisis. So I think that there’s a number of potential scenarios, and that means the progressive forces need to be ready in a different way than we have in a while. And we need what I’ve been calling democracy brigades. We need well organized groups that are ready to ensure that the vote is protected and that should he play in shenanigans on Election Day or the day after that, we’re basically ready to shut the country down.

Paul Jay
There’s an interview I did with Larry Wilkerson on theAnalysis website now, which is about just this point. Wilkerson is part of three working groups with some pretty heavy hitters from the former State Department people, intelligence people, politicians from even a fair number. What used to be, at least in the Republican Party, about just this question of will Trump go if he loses? One of the significant things Wilkerson talked about is these generals that came out against that PR stunt at the church, he says, was a shot across the bow. Milley, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and several others, I think Dunford and such and some others, have come out and actually critiqued Trump for doing it. But the subtext is that if you try to prevent a constitutional transferring of power, the military is not going to support you. And really, that’s what it’s going to come down to if the military won’t support Trump. He’s going to have to go if the military splits, then we’re into a very weird shit show.

And I wouldn’t put it past the military to split because so much of the military in the lower ranks, but also in the senior ranks are very hardcore evangelicals. There’s been a real movement to organize right-wing evangelicals in the armed forces. But if there’s a decisive Biden win. I don’t think they can do that, but in any case, what how does the movement respond to this now? The movements in the streets been very focused on the issue of police reform. There’s more demands developing, which are more broadly about social and economic equality, but it’s still very siloed. First of all, city by city siloed, I don’t know if there’s any organization that’s national outside of the Democratic Party. Maybe the Poor People’s campaign is called closer to national.

Doesn’t there need to be some really broad popular front? It’s national in scope outside the Democratic Party that gets big enough to have some influence on the course of events.

Bill Fletcher
Oh, absolutely. So one of the things that I’ve been advocating, almost as soon as things jumped off after the murder of George Floyd and protests started, is that we need what I’ve called the People’s Anti-Repression Coalition at the national level. There are, as you said, there are certain national groupings, the Poor People’s Campaign, the Movement for Black Lives, a few others. But we need something broader, something that touches on elements within organized labor and something that seizes on the demands that have been emerging out of these movements. This is a spontaneous set of protests, which you have to keep reminding people this is not like an organized insurrection where there’s a political party or some organization leading it. This is a very broad grouping. And so even when the slogans get raised, whether it abolishes the police or defund the police, there are myriad different interpretations because this is a very broad, spontaneous movement. So I have been arguing that we need something that is posing demands such as keeping the troops out of our cities demilitarising and restructuring the police, rethinking policing justice for those that have been lynched and taking and being vehemently anti-austerity. And we need that kind of broad front at this moment precisely to deal with this issue that you’re raising a siloing, but also because what will invariably happen at some point, this movement will crest, if it hasn’t already.

And if there is nothing institutionalized to seize on this energy. There is a tremendous danger that a void will emerge and in that void, there will be various right-wing forces that will emerge. And I’m not just talking about white right-wing forces. For example, in the African-American movement, there is this reparations group called ADS, American Descendants of Slavery, which have been arguing for a while. What is an effect, a Right-Wing Nationalist argument that the only people that should be recipients of slave reparations, assuming slave reparations or what would be people who are the direct descendants of people that had been enslaved?

So basically the clock starts and 16, 19, and ends in 1865. So there’s a very narrow interpretation as to who is the relevant population. It completely ignores what happened after 1865 and the continuation of racist national oppression. So you have these right-wing elements, even within our movement, that have various objectives. And if progressives don’t consolidate institutionally as well as programmatically, the door will be open for all kinds of nefarious forces to enter.

When you look at the Bernie Sanders campaign, which was until these protests, rallies across the country, probably the most transformative mass motion in a long, long time, maybe since the 60s. The Sanders campaign, to a large extent, took off because of the role of a few unions, particularly the nurses union out of California, it became national. It was really something to see how just like one, two, maybe three unions, communication workers, couple of others, how effective they could be because they have an organization. After all, they have money, because they have organizational skills. If there’s gonna be this popular front, and I should back up, obviously, because these unions are connected to sections of the working class, which is what is critical to any real movement that’s going to have a backbone and be able to sustain the kind of blows that will be coming from the unions. Got to be in the midst of this, and even more, if the unions have progressive leadership, then hopefully they help be part of the leadership. I don’t think it’s just going to come from unions. But they need to be a big piece of this.

But are there unions there to do it? And two, I don’t mean you, is there any leadership that could play this role? And two, what’s happening in terms of the struggle inside the unions by progressive workers to try to become the leader of these unions?

Bill Fletcher
In some ways, Paul. We have not gotten over the split that took place in the AFL-CIO in 2005, which was devastating. And truly, this oriented movement.

Paul Jay
We’ll talk a bit about what that was because I’m sure a lot of our listeners don’t know.

Bill Fletcher
Basically what happened was, under the leadership of the Service Employees International Unions and President Andy Stern, several unions that included the United Food and Commercial Workers, the Teamsters, the Carpenters, and Unite Here left the national AFL-CIO claiming that it wasn’t making changes fast enough. The unfortunate thing was that they did not engage in a real debate. They made pronouncements and demands o,n then President, John Sweeney of the AFL-CIO, and then carried out this debate.

Paul Jay
What changes did they want?

Bill Fletcher
Well, it was sort of hypocritical. They claimed that they wanted greater attention to organizing by the AFL-CIO. But the reality is that many of the unions that were directly involved in the split had fought the AFL CIO having a greater role in organizing. And so in some ways, Paul, I would say that the split was driven by psychological factors, by money, by frustration. A number of these things kind of came together and instead of a path forward. Both sides ended up becoming weaker. The result has been being a certain level of strategic paralysis at the national level and fragmentation, different unions doing their things. And in this particular crisis that we’re in right now, you have a national AFL-CIO that has been pretty silent ever since Trump was elected, seemingly unable to respond to attacks. You have individual unions that like, for example, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees that have worked with other affiliates within AFL-CIO, as well as working with SEIU, sometimes at cross purposes with the national AFL-CIO. So you don’t have the sort of strategic consensus. Then we lost some good people. Larry Handly, who was the president in the Amalgamated Transit Union, was one of the most visionary leaders and he died, suddenly.

So what we have in the midst of this current crisis. Some unions are spoken out. American Federation of Teachers being one. But you don’t have, labor saying, for example, that we’ve got to build this kind of popular front. This people’s anti-repression coalition.

Paul Jay
Which has SEIU is now just one point five million dollars to get people to knock on doors for Biden, which is what happens in these situations over and over again. These unions just throw everything into the election campaign.

Bill Fletcher
That’s exactly right.

Paul Jay
I once interviewed John Sweeney and before the Obama election. And I raised this question then to him. Don’t the unions have to have their own independent politics and don’t just believe in the Democrats? And at the time there was this was called the Employee Free Choice Act or something like that.

Bill Fletcher
That’s right.

Paul Jay
Obama had promised this, and so I raised this with Sweeney and I said, you know, you believe you’re going to get this thing passed. And Sweeney says to me, ‘I’ll eat my shoe on camera if Obama doesn’t get this passed’. Well, of course, Obama didn’t pass it, nor did Sweeney eat his shoe. Well, I think one of the things that happened and that’s a really interesting thing.

Bill Fletcher
So for your listeners, the In-flight Employee Free Choice Act was legislation to make it easier for workers to join or form unions. And I think one of the things that were not factored in even by some of the progressive unions at the time, was that this needed to be a mass campaign as opposed to a lobbying effort. They were expecting that Obama was going to do something. First of all, Obama’s first objective in the election when he was elected was health care. He was very clear about that. And so he threw down around health care, around restarting the economy. The union movement as a whole did almost nothing to make the Employee Free Choice Act a mass campaign and instead was relying on lobbying. But here’s the other factor, Paul, there were members there were elected Democrats who had been in favor of the Employee Free Choice Act when they knew it would not pass, so they lost nothing by supporting. When Obama was elected and when Congress shifted, all of a sudden the possibility of it passing emerged. And it was at that point that some key legislators got weak legs because they never really wanted to see it pass. And then that tells you something about the breath of the Democratic Party out of the range of politics that exist there. What Sweeney and others needed to have done, particularly given the time period, time in 2009 in the middle of the Great Recession, was to have tied the campaign for the Employee Free Choice with the response to the recession, they didn’t. It was a major strategic mistake. And so, yes, your point this week was right that Labor Union had its own clear agenda, a working people’s agenda, that it was an advocate and most of the young movement retreated from that in favor of, at best, a legislative agenda for their particular unions. But I think you are right on time.

Paul Jay
There are some progressive unions. You could see the split over the unions that supported Biden at the beginning of the primaries and a few that supported Sanders locals all over the country that defied their national leadership, that supported Biden and supported Sanders despite the national leadership had gone in terms of the endorsement. Is there any organization or forum or does anyone proposed an organizational forum? I don’t know how what exactly what it is or it’s some subset of AFL-CIO or just something else altogether. Where progressive locals and unions can create more of a force together and not be dominated by what essentially a right-wing union leadership?

Bill Fletcher
There is something called Jobs and Justice, which was formed in the late 80s largely by the Communication Workers of America and the Service Employees International Union. And it is a network of local unions and community-based organizations that fight for workers’ rights. And it is very progressive. And it is one of the outfits, frankly, Paul, that I think. Needs to be championing a people’s anti-oppression coalition, because I’m not. I think if you’re waiting for the nationally AFL-CIO to take such a step, you’ll be waiting a very long time.

And that either a group like Jobs or Justice or some groupings grouping of major unions? Need to take the step in that direction. And there’s precedent for that. I remember in the 1980s when several unions broke with the national AFL-CIO around foreign policy, specifically around Central American, South Africa, and took very strong stands against U.S. involvement in Central America. And there’s the support of the United States for the apartheid regime. These unions, they infuriated then AFL-CIO praised the president, Lane Kirkland, but they took a very proud, independent stance. We need something like this at this moment.

Paul Jay
Yeah, I think it’s crucial. The need for this movement in the streets to not lay down their arms, quote, unquote, on arms, or their placards or banners when Biden gets arrested (harassed). Harassed. Sorry. Thinking in my mind, I’m thinking of Biden get elected. Who knows, maybe one day all these people will get arrested. But anyway, I think it’s going to be more about what this administration, Biden administration, is going to do than repression, at least early on.

And if it looked like a Trump presidency, then I think the issue of repression would come to the fore because the authoritarian type of police state law and order state, I think was very much in the cards. If it’s a Biden, then I don’t think we’re going to see that, at least not early in the administration. If the economic crisis gets more severe and there are really tens of thousands, millions of people’s rising and unemployment marches. And then I think the Biden administration, we’ll see whether it goes and FDR kind of route or goes a more European fascist kind of warpath. And the American experience so far was FDR. But things have changed since FDR. So we’ll see.

But I think there needs to be a movement and there need to be the unions, at least some of them that are progressive have to help construct this that says we’re not leaving the streets. The movement is not over because you got elected by and this is just acting two because we’re not going to let your administration do what the Obama administration did, which is set the table for Trump. And you’re not going to set the table for something worse than Trump in 2024 and hammer this administration in a direction that is not the Obama neo-liberal path.

There’s certainly unions that talk like that. You know, the communication workers were involved with Sanders and helped create Larry Cohen’s help. It was like it was the leader of communication workers who helped create our revolution, which was an allied organization of Sanders. I said the nurses there were a few others, teachers in Chicago. You can find her across the country, some human unions that have some real backbone. But there needs to be they need to get together. And we’re certainly not seeing it.

Bill Fletcher
No, I think that that’s true. So first, in terms of Biden and U.S. history, it’s important for people to remember that when Franklin Roosevelt was elected, he was a sort of mundane liberal and there were no great expectations or hopes, great expectations that Roosevelt’s original conception for the New Deal was very much based on the framework of Mussolini’s corporate sic. And that but there were a couple of critical things that one must take note of. So first of all, there were movements that were churning at the base.

Unemployment, unemployed workers, a developing new union movement. That was very important. The second thing was that two Loserville surprise elements of his own class were opposed to concessions to working people. That there were these forces to his right that we’re looking for a more authoritarian response to the depression, fascistic, if not outright fascists. And in fact, some of them conspired to overthrow Roosevelt. And so under those circumstances, Roosevelt was pushed to the left in ways that he didn’t seem to have expected.

We have to understand that if Biden is elected, I don’t. I’ve only been on sure things. But if Biden is elected, we have to, as I said before, be ready to move very quickly. And so one part of that is this issue within which you’re asking for in terms of what unions do. And one of the reasons that I keep pushing jobs and justice because I think that there needs to be a force on the left that’s pushing because at the top and I have a lot of experience with this poll at the top of the union movement, even some of the most eloquent leaders and progressive can be seduced, as I saw under the oath during the Obama years and earlier during the Clinton years by Democratic Party administrations that open up their doors and welcome these leaders. In some cases, they can come almost any day, any time of day or night. And this tickles these leaders to no end and they become seduce.

Paul Jay
Yeah, I saw that. I used to talk to some union leaders, presidents that would get invited for tea at the White House and consultation of meetings after consultation meetings, mostly with senior staff. You know, once in a while, maybe with Obama, but they would just come back with stars in their eyes as if they’d just met. I don’t know-how. The greatest movie star in history.

Bill Fletcher
Yes, absolutely. I saw this all the time when I was on the national staff of the AFL-CIO during the Clinton years. I remember when Al Gore came to an executive council meeting and I left and I went to return phone calls and saw the chief of staff later asked me what? What. Why did you leave? And I said, because Al Gore had nothing to say that I was particular interest in him. I said the reality is that he was gonna tell us the workers are getting screwed. Well, we know that.

Now, when Al Gore goes to speak to the Chamber of Commerce and tell them that workers are being screwed, I want to hear that speech.

Paul Jay
That’s not like the Chamber of Commerce doesn’t know workers are getting screwed. That’s their job is to screw the workers.

Bill Fletcher
That’s right. But laying into them. Right. But, you know, why do I need to hear that? I’ll go tell us. This is like a white person telling me that there’s racism. Well, yea, ok. But these leaders were. They were in thrall. So I have to get past this, which I think at the end of the day is going to necessitate. Some major changes within the union movement, some major insurrections, because most of the leaders, frankly, are worthless.

Paul Jay
Well, I think this pandemic moment and this deepening unemployment crisis, and it’s not going to end anytime soon. This is just nonsense that the pandemic is going to be over by the fall and so on. We haven’t even hit the fall. The second wave is here, wait till the third wave and the fourth wave. A lot of workers. I mean, the tens of thousands, millions who never imagined they could be in poverty and unemployed are. And a lot of these are union members as unions aren’t going to do a damn thing for them, and it’s going to become a serious issue. And I think one of the litmus tests of the union movement and for workers to fight on to overthrow the old leaders, that won’t respond, rise to the occasion is the question of organizing the unemployed and not just an unemployed union members, but unemployed, period, and start thinking like an organization that represents the class, not just the sort of privileged workers.

Bill Fletcher
Couldn’t agree more.

Paul Jay
All right, thanks for joining us.

Bill Fletcher
My pleasure, thank you very much.

Paul Jay
And thank you for joining us on theAnalysis.news podcast.

1 comment

  1. Ali Ghorbani July 11, 2020 12:49 pm 

    It was a good conversation and I learned a lot, especially about the working class movement in America.
    But, in my opinion, first of all, the American society and the crisis of that day will deepen, it will not be much different from the fascist Trump or the democratic-liberal bond, this is the crisis of capitalism. American society needs a subversive, ups and downs revolution, a revolution called the Communist Coercive Revolution. Such a revolution, in order to win, outside the existing mass class organizations, requires a completely different political party from the existing parties. The party is called the Party of Conscious, Revolutionary and Communist Workers. The American imperialist and fascist capitalist class has a government that has such well-equipped, organized, and armed repressive forces that history has no recollection of it. The revolution must deal with such a force. This is a big job and requires Herculean effort. But the American working class can overcome it, but not easily, and for that it needs a strong party – a class war headquarters. be successful and victorious!

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