Turtle Island (or as the illegal immigrants renamed it, North America) has a long and storied history of labor activism. After the Civil War, the nation saw a rise in union activity. With the fight for the eight hour workday, libertarians, socialists, communists, and anarchists alike joined together to fight for working class liberation. Eventually the state and their corporate backers decided to shut them down by passing legislation to limit union activity, the biggest example of which was the Wagner Act. Signed into law by Franklin Roosevelt, it helped create the National Labor Relations Board and with it, a formalized bureaucratic complaint system. It also gave some minor perks to compliant union leadership while outlawing the labor movement’s best tactics such as secondary strikes.
Today most business unions are self-interested, working only for the rights of their membership rather than the rights of the working class as a whole, whether employed or not. Many union “bosses” are now invested in the ongoing success of the state and corporate system because of the perks they receive by siding with state force against bosses. They also benefit from compromising with corporate interests, obtaining benefits for themselves at the expense of the rest of the working class. This behavior is antithetical to the idea of unions checking the reckless drive for corporate profits against the needs of everyday working class people. This leaves out any long term vision for a just society in favor of immediate gratification. And no labor group reeks of statism and corporate interests than the federation of labor unions known as the AFL-CIO.
As many working class people are voicing their concerns over the potential and ongoing health hazards caused by oil pipelines as well as the property violations against some of the most marginalized people in the nation — the indigenous — the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (ALF-CIO) and the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) have publicly endorsed the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The AFL-CIO defends their endorsement on the basis that it will bring more jobs to those in the construction and oil industries, ignoring the complaints from within their own ranks. AFL-CIO president, Richard Trumka, pleaded with the tribe and their supporters to stop “hold[ing] union members’ livelihoods and their families’ financial security hostage to endless delay,” insuring that the company he’d compromised with promised on their not-so-good name not to damage the environment.
During their national convention on Labor Day weekend this year, members of the Industrial Workers of the World voted to stand in solidarity against the Dakota Access Pipeline. On September 9th, the Communications Workers of America, still strong from their win against Verizon, the Amalgamated Transit Union, and National Nurses United all issued statements in support of the Sacred Stone Camp. On September 19th, the AFL-CIO constituency group, the Labor Coalition for Community Action, defiantly announced their support of the Standing Rock tribe’s battle against the pipeline. The LCCA includes many marginalized worker groups such as the A. Phillip Randolph Institute, the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, the Coalition of Labor Union Women, the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, and Pride at Work, The Service Employees International Union followed suit and issued a statement of support on October 1st.
It’s true that most unions today are corrupted by state and corporate influence but it’s also true that the union bosses do not speak for the rank and file. We must stand with these workers in their fights to reclaim their unions and we must also offer workers the support of alt labor organizations, such as CIW and OURWalmart, and radical unions, such as the IWW. The current market is heavily skewed in favor of corporate interests at the expense of the working class and unions can offer one solution in correcting that and freeing the market. But they can’t do that as long as their business interests rely on preserving the power of corporate state. We must stand against LIUNA and the AFL-CIO bosses and their corporate benefactors. We must stand in solidarity with rank and file union members everywhere standing up for justice.