Paul Buhle Responds

[from New Politics, vol. 7, no. 4 (new series), whole no. 28, Winter 2000]


Few authors are fortunate enough to enjoy such a symposium of hard-thinking and hard-working activist-intellectuals; and before responding, I need to remind NEW POLITICS readers who have not read the book's acknowledgments that Taking Care of Business owes its real origins to an unpublished essay by Julius Jacobson on George Meany. Thus I am doubly in debt.

The small section of the book ruminating on the post-Kirkland Era has attracted a vastly disproportionate amount of attention here. With but few exceptions, my kindly critics prefer to assume a great deal of common ground on the past and move on to the present. The main contribution of the book is elsewhere, and so I hope that NP readers will bear with me as I touch briefly on the present crisis of labor, shift gears to the past, and finally return to the issues now at hand.

The main thing to say about the specific criticisms made of John Sweeney and the "New Voices" leadership is that most of them are on target and badly needed. Indeed, Taking Care of Business begins on a note of disappointment with current labor leadership and proposes to trace the dilemmas backward.1 The four years of the new regime have not been, despite some upbeat moments, very encouraging. Yet even the most acute and critical assessment would be inaccurate if it did not make sense of the sea changes that the AFL's Old Guard fought furiously to prevent in 1995, and which it continues to seek to reverse. Even a palace revolution is a revolution of sorts, especially one that invites prominent enemies of the former power structure into the new one.

Any social movement (even a guerrilla band) needs a good, clear understanding of the new rulers. To take a case in point, George Meany went out of his way in 1968 to congratulate the cops who cracked heads in Chicago. Neither he nor Lane Kirkland would have shown their faces in Seattle or embraced environmentalists on any grounds. That John Sweeney led the troops uneasily and even halfheartedly, dampening efforts to bring workers from afar and seeking to wall off unionists in Seattle's streets from other protesters, striving in vain to protect free-trader Al Gore from embarrassment, was to be expected. It seems to be the essential character of what I will describe further down as "Sweeneyism."

Michael Goldfield's careful analysis of local-market craft unions versus global market industrial unions as basis for the overturn of the increasingly incompetent Meany-Kirkland (in later years, Kirkland-Shanker) AFL leadership has much to commend it. But as I observed in Taking Care of Business, a casual glance at the Advisory Board of the Jewish Labor Committee reveals most of the top, bitter-end supporters of Kirklandism. Morton Bahr of the Communications Workers was (and apparently remains) an ardent Kirklandite with intense and hawkish international views unaffected by membership sentiments. So was Jay Mazur of UNITE. On the other hand, Arthur A. Coia of the Laborers, a mainly localist union, cast a decisive vote for Sweeney. And so on through a lengthy list of exceptions to Goldfield's useful guidelines.2

It would be easy and mistaken to characterize this line-up, alternatively, as a reflection of the Israel Lobby. The free-spending Lobby doubtless plays a role, or (according to insiders) a leading official of the bricklayers would never have had a Lear jet at his personal disposal. Nor would Lane Kirkland have as likely found a soul mate in the world's leading unpunished war criminal (since Pol Pot's demise), Henry Kissinger. Basically, such labor hardliners are ideological Cold Warriors or Imperial Liberals who love to talk about democracy but believe supremely in the iron fist. For them, the more frequent and unrestrained the U.S. wars, the better: they've never seen one they didn't like, except of course in Vietnam when the U.S. seemed to be losing, and then they looked to weapons-lobbyist Senator Henry Jackson and accelerated bombing of that tiny jungle country as the best solution. These men naturally regard peaceniks, environmentalists or uncorrupted radicals of any kind here or abroad as the spawn of the 1960s if not of Old Moscow, suited to be vilified if not eradicated. The positions the Old Guard takes and activities it avidly supports would, if conducted from the Sweeney office, bring internal crisis and the withdrawal of the most dedicated, efficient and idealistic activists.3 That's one measure of difference.

In that light, Peter Rachleff's revelation of the CIA ops' persistence within the international apparatus reveals something shocking: the holdover of human rights violators of long standing, a persistence that I had until now believed to be confined to sinecures and small assignments in parts of Eastern Europe. If the time-tested tricks presently conducted by the AFT in Russia persist within such key sectors of AFL foreign operations, then we need a public campaign to call an immediate halt to activities which clearly make the touted cross-border and solidarity work illogical and even impossible. Friends of unions should lobby together for those familiar (but almost never honored) goals of today's purported civil societies, "transparency" and "clean hands." That campaign should include more long-buried truths about the past, including the role of the CIA's pet intellectuals' activities in the Congress for Cultural Freedom and its partner-in-stealth, the American Committee for Cultural Freedom intellectuals who not surprisingly served simultaneously as the favorite scholar-commentators (and more than occasional convention speakers) of the Cold War unionists.4

The ability of Cold War-era personalities to hold onto power even after public disgrace suggests the continuation of the quiet struggle around the AFL's center of gravity. The Old Guard holds more cards since Hoffa Jr.'s elevation, and one journalist intimately close to the UFT/AFT leadership recently predicted in The Forward (which has repeatedly baited Sweeney and his potential successor Rich Trumka, urging that Sandra Feldman be placed at the head of a restored Shankerite leadership) that the successful organization of high-wage, high-tech workers would free labor from a future tied to "the likes of strawberry workers."5 The suggestion is bald: once unionization was mainly for white, male skilled workers, the aristocracy of labor; in the future it should properly be for that new aristocracy, the professional workers, and the devil take unschooled immigrants along with the vast majority of non-whites and women toiling at nonunionized workplaces.

This is a sentiment which--along with absence of any real democracy in the AFT's upper layers--chills the heart of many an NEA member perennially facing a merger which looks a lot more like being swallowed whole. It's something that we need to keep carefully in mind when interpreting the Sweeney leadership's moves or apparent stasis. By all means let us write up a bill of particulars about New Voices (the one suggested by several writers here is a good start) -- and then seek to explain why the Old Guardists, still fiercely nostalgic for the Reagan State Department and the unlimited control of the AFL's international role by the intelligence agencies, are out for John Sweeney's head.


NOW LET ME TURN TO THE HISTORICAL SUBJECTS WHICH OCCUPY over ninety percent of Taking Care of Business. Michael Hirsch issues the most retrospective criticism by suggesting that the Knights of Labor and Industrial Workers of the World fell "because capital had the better team." I never doubted it. But the Knights easily outnumbered the AFL in 1886, and without the campaign carried on by Gompers against cooperation of local AFL unions with them, without Gompers's own destructive behavior, the Knights might well have survived the onslaught after Mayday as a vital union, not as the ghost that entered the 1890s when the AFL shrank so quickly that the Knights might have become once again the nation's leading union.

A crucial moment for the IWW came in its earliest days when important AFL unions (such as the brewery workers) wavered, then were pulled back into line by Gompers's threats; the second crucial moment came during the mass strike waves of 1909-13 when AFL leaders sought and often succeeded in breaking Wobbly strikes outright; the third came during the severe repression, when Gompers personally prevented efforts of AFL unionists to offer solidarity to class war prisoners. Could the Wobblies have survived? Perhaps not, but history does not give us absolute answers, and if we consider what a full expression of solidarity by today's AFL-CIO for the peaceful demonstrations (and joining the demonstrators!) in Seattle might have meant for that moment, we can multiply it many times for eras when the labor movement had vastly more influence.

William Gould's generally astute analysis takes us squarely back to the Gompers Era and the purported leap forward marked by the National War Labor Board and assorted labor legislation during Woodrow Wilson's administration. I won't spend any time on the political context, because NEW POLITICS readers know that while the NWLB took shape, socialist newspapers were being suppressed, Wobblies railroaded into trials and long prison sentences by the same administration, a preparation for the all-out Palmer Raids of 1919-21. Repression was the other side of government mediation, and Gompers like Wilson regarded the combination as Harry Truman would later treat the concurrence of the Cold War with international aid programs: "two halves of the walnut."

Some of the basic NWLB rules for bargaining were re-established in the National Labor Relations Act in 1935. But Wilson gave the NWLB no mechanism of enforcement, himself acting only on specific cases through his war powers' executive authority. This would be a weak precedent in any case, but more important, it ignores the historical context. If the NWLB crystallized the moment of government support for labor representation at the bargaining table, then why were unions which had been during the labor shortage of the war so often and effectively wiped out, in many cases with government assistance to the employer, only a few years later? Why did it take the Depression and more to the point, the dramatically radical, solidaristic strikes of 1934 (Minneapolis-St. Paul Teamsters, Toledo Auto-Lite, the San Francisco General Strike and the Textile General Strike) to impel another administration to the next level of union recognition? The question should answer itself, and the Roosevelt Administration had no dire need for a precedent amid so much other unprecedented social legislation. Nor did it need memories of the Wilson war boards to make do in the Second World War; the New Deal itself supplied all the required precedents, if precedents were, indeed, required.

The "advances" made by labor organization during the two wars and during the Depression were in many cases real, but couched within the terms of awards that could be readily withdrawn or quickly turned against unionists. Here we leave Gould momentarily and turn to Goldfield and the question of the CP-influenced unions, one of the most difficult and understudied in all of post-1920 labor history.6 Significant advances in scholarship have been made in just the last few years, but large areas remain clouded, especially the relation of local events and personalities to the changing political tides set in Washington, New York and Moscow.

To go back to this beginning, the thin written history of unions influenced, reshaped or launched by the Trade Union Educational League and the Trade Union Unity League offers little homogeneity, let alone conformity. The pre-Stalinized Communists formed union factions, occasionally took over fading unions and restored them as much as possible (the Auto Workers Union being an admirable case in point) but most often they spent their time usefully propagandizing for a fightback against the "American Plan" anti-union campaigns and for a program of industrial unionism (or "amalgamation" of crafts).7 As David Montgomery among others has argued, the isolated TUUL unions by contrast mostly had no chance of contracts and therefore returned to Wobbly-style leadership and support of strikes already in progress. For a variety of reasons having less to do with Russia than with the suppression of the wartime Left and the post-Wobbly legacy of union conservatism, the TUEL and TUUL lacked the historic opportunity to evoke the kind of vision which have made the Knights of Labor and the Industrial Workers of the World the foremost representatives of labor democracy. Tragically, so did their Left-led successors, for more complicated reasons.

The National Industrial Recovery Administration offered so little of substance that the Communists could cling to W. Z. Foster's badly imported idea of a "Soviet America." Local anti-Stalinist Marxists and independent radicals operated best on instinct, including that old favorite of many American unionists, workers' control. But the Wagner Act and National Labor Relations Act (and Board) offered quite a lot to the workers who Communists and their rivals wanted to organize--if and only if the partners on labor's side promised to be compliant. This was not a new situation for veteran socialists, whose most conservative figures had long since become the over-paid bureaucrats of the garment trade. But it was a new situation for younger and more militant socialists, for Communists (and those occasional Trotskyists with influence). Why did they accommodate themselves so quickly to arrangements that Wobblies would have scorned? That remains a large and fascinating question. When I posed it to Len DeCaux, former editor of CIO News (and himself loosely connected with the CP, that is to say, not under discipline), he answered readily: they were out so long, they didn't want to make trouble once they got in.

It's a simple explanation with a more complicated addendum. In the view of many political veterans from different sectors of the 1930s Left, the launching of the Second New Deal in 1935-36 allowed Franklin Roosevelt to hold the country in a sort of class- struggle stasis with the rules drawn rather carefully on both sides. Sometimes labor seemed on the verge of breaking out, as during the wave of sit-down strikes that took many a Marxist by surprise. But as Governor Frank Murphy proved in Flint, refusing to defend automobile manufacturers' property against sitdown strikers, even the most dramatic acts could be turned to New Deal advantage.

Hopes for a national labor or farmer-labor party, stronger in the mid-1930s AFL than the incipient CIO, were put on hold because of FDR's immense popularity among immigrant (European) workers in particular, and because the framework of a deal had already been quietly worked out, key labor figures (like the leftwing Milwaukee socialist and Amalgamated Clothing Workers leader, Leo Krzycki) abandoning the SP to support Roosevelt's reelection. The theme song of many a Leftist might have been "After Roosevelt...." None of them quite envisioned FDR's successor as a political thug like Truman, although many (longtime conservatives or recent converts from the CP alike), were eager enough to support him. Personal success, upward mobility and the cooperation of the government in stabilizing unionism and insulating union leadership through the dues check-off had made a world of difference by that time.

The apathetic attitude of most early CIO unions to women and nonwhites, and the immediate bureaucratic hold on such unions as the United Steelworkers, raises a host of other issues but none of them so far from the DeCaux sentiment above. Goldfield missed my point (perhaps I neglected to state it with sufficient clarity) that the social crisis of the 1930s, the downright lack of public faith in capitalism, prompted leftwingers to see any form of unionization, whether democratic or top-down, as the harbinger of better things certain to come.

Institutional success also prompted them to agree readily with the logic of NLRB mechanisms which, as H.L. Mitchell pointed out, meant for instance that members of the deeply interracial Southern Tenant Farmers Union--unable to pay dues, facing a glum future amid the mechanization of agriculture accelerated with New Deal assistance--did not qualify for the CIO and were effectively squeezed out of the CP-led Cannery Workers union which avowed its interracialism and worked hard trying to organize Chicanos and Filipinos in Western fields. The early United Auto Workers offers another story, but one just as ambiguous: the short-lived split-off AFL autoworkers union guided by Jay Lovestone (with funds from David Dubinsky) was a Jim Crow operation. Only with its demise did Reuther become the champion of racist ex-AFLers, offering him a hammer against his opponents and accelerating a faction struggle so complex that the details do not bear repeating here.8

Simply to recall some of the smaller unions where leftwingers (not only Communists) held wide influence speaks to the sincere efforts of thousands of ordinary radicals to overcome the imbalance of the largely white, "productivist" industrial union movement. The Food and Tobacco Workers, Marine Cooks and Stewards, the Teachers Union, Mine-Mill, cannery workers and United Public Workers among others were distinguished by their commitment to interracialism and to spread unionism beyond the northern factories, by the personal honesty and low salaries of their officers (relative, of course, to other CIO and AFL unions). Only a few of the Left unions, notably the National Maritime Union under Joseph Curran, became AFL-style havens for sluggers; nor did many others besides the NMU turn the famous blind eye toward mobsterism in the time-honored fashion of the building trades, the musicians' James Petrillo, and the famously double-talking David Dubinsky.

But they were not models of internal union democracy anymore than their leaders were visionaries. As planned by Roosevelt administration officials to limit unrest, regularize negotiations and afford recognition, NLRB operations placed negotiations in the hands of specialists whose work (on the labor side) could be rejected by membership vote but not refocused by the demands of local unionists. Contrary to what Gould suggests, this was no conspiracy but a simple matter of policy whose goals most labor leaders shared with management and government: to replace "chaos" (intermittent working class upheaval and frequent disruptions) with "order." As Staughton Lynd and others have argued, the moment of triumph in achieving recognition, with all the benefits of unionism for the members, was also the moment when the grand vision of the Knights and Wobblies practically passed out of range. Communists consoled themselves with naive expectations for Washington and Moscow, making a return to sharpened class conflict, during the Hitler-Stalin Pact period, confused and inadequate even when voicing demands of workers suddenly facing a tight labor market for the first time in a generation. Socialists went along with the tide. Trotskyists fought a backstairs struggle for rank-and-file prerogatives.

A more consistent and democratic approach than most Communist leaders and those close to the Party offered would have been of inestimable value. But willingness to compromise early and often had been an important element of (institutional) success. Ben Gold, the most incorruptible figure in the needles trade and the one Communist (or near-Communist) whose success preceded the NLRB, was held in high estimation by the manufacturers because he brought reliable production as well as high wages and good benefits to the trade. Sidney Hillman, who often worked in close coalition with the Communists while managing to be intimate with FDR ("Clear it with Sidney!"), may be said to have finessed the CIO as an election-base for Roosevelt, convincing the closed-minded New York ex-plumber George Meany that industrial unionism was no more than a smoke-screen for political advance. Neither Gold nor Hillman and none of their compromises are of the same order as Sam Gompers's racism, global schemes and campaign of dirty tricks against the Left. But once more: neither did their styles of unionism lead toward the promised land, unless that was redefined from socialism to workers' consumerism.

That is surely a contribution to the elusive "seamless theory" that Hirsch is seeking. I'm not at all puzzled by the cravenness of most labor leaders, if Sidney Hillman and John L. Lewis have been the best figures in the mainstream since 1920. "Honest and militant unionism," whether in Hollywood (where the Left was pitted against the mob- connected IATSE and where FBI informer Ronald Reagan, who considered "industrialism" of the CIO a form of communism), Chicago or New York, was only temporarily shaped by class-struggle programs and then returned predictably to an imperial model of divide-and-conquer, at home and abroad.

My contribution to the discussion of unionism's crisis and decline during the post- World War II years has been to argue that wartime industrial relations and the rightward dip from "Doctor New Deal" to "Doctor Win the War," as well as the Communist unionists' pliability, opened the door to a revival of the AFL mentality within the labor movement at large. Contrary to C.L.R. James (among others), the State Socialist- or State Capitalist-minded union leader, indifferent to private ownership but determined to hold onto direction of working class activity from above, was not to play a central role in the U.S. The crisis of labor could be managed, even as a dramatic succession of national strikes and city general strikes broke out in 1945-46. Racial divisions emphasized by the changing workforce had already become palpable, and a cultural conservatism (to return women from the factory to the home, preferably a new home in an all-white suburb) soon followed. The AFL comeback, with Meany as its peerless leader, was complete with the conversion of the willing (like Curran and Mike Quill) to anti-Communism and the expulsion of CP-led CIO unions.9 Sure of their success in the new, brave world of Cold War America, the AFL chiefs were programmed for failure; or better, for their own version of a glorious exit from the stage when the children of white unionists entered the middle classes and the unworthy (but especially nonwhites) were left with worsening union jobs or no union jobs.10

Perhaps that outcome was already inscribed in the cultural conservatism of the 1930s widely observed by social historians and by no means absent from working class life. The imperial glory of the 1920s and the further racialization of American life with the return of the Ku Klux Klan, anti-immigration laws and the heavily propagandized invasion of Nicaragua, all had their effects. But on balance, I do not view these as decisive. Capitalism had failed Americans of the 1930s, and it was the combination of the New Deal (with benefits like Social Security virtually unimaginable a few years earlier) and the suddenness of war's approach which made a genuinely revolutionary vision, Knights- or Wobbly-style improbable. As in the case of the New Left, movements had hardly begun, local activists trained themselves, than the historical moment had passed; only for the movements of the 1930s, the institutional remnants often survived to comfort and oppress the next generations.


WILLIAM GOULD ASKS IF THE POSTWAR REVIVAL OF EUROPE THROUGH THE MARSHALL PLAN was not a good thing and the support of the Plan by the labor movement (emphatically including George Meany) not evidence of idealism. This goes near to the heart of issues right up to the present. My first response is that the recovery of capitalism under the sign of the mushroom cloud launched a military-industrial-consumer society which has laid waste the world's resources and opened Europe to a perverse model (cars, highways, and constant change of fashion) that Asians and Eastern Europeans now try, hopelessly (except for the super-rich minority) to attain. My second response is that the Marshall Plan was fashioned to exclude the Soviet Union, and what we have learned since is that if Stalinism could survive isolation and military competition, it could not survive the opposite. As to Russia's "aggressive" intent: the betrayal of Greek Communists tells us otherwise; Stalin urgently wanted detente and an end to all unrest on "his" greatly extended borders, something that Truman had absolutely no intention of granting. The American imperial model, perfectly shared by the president and AFL leader, was to prevail.

And so the Cold War and the Security State (it's recorded that Truman uttered a sigh of relief at the news of the Korean war; he now had no problem instituting NSC-68, instituting a massive secret apparatus), the arms race (which produced hundreds of thousands of new jobs and dozens of new communities, many of them full of workers destined to become Reagan Democrats), and the nominal labor commitment to civil rights (Congressional lobbying on one hand; firm resistance to racial integration of unions and union leadership itself on the other).

Throughout the last half-century, with but few exceptions, attention has focused upon the public balancing act of labor and the federal government, as if the rest of things had been settled. I appreciate Gould's expertise in labor law, but the real problem lies in labor culture. Decades before the rust bowl gained its cognomen, the union movement gave up its chance to become a rich racial and gender mix too hearty to be rusted by the loss of industrial jobs. In a smaller compass, decades before the UAW had lost most of its base, its leaders might have drawn in the budding African- American leaders represented in the National Negro Labor Council and revitalized the aging membership, unionizing related occupations in something far more real than Walter Reuther's half-hearted Progressive Alliance. Reuther had decided firmly against that kind of alternative.

Again and again (and Kim Moody is right in saying that Taking Care of Business should have spent more time here), initiatives of the 1980s and earlier 1990s, like Miners for Democracy and Teamsters for a Democratic Union, have been blocked by a combination of old-fashioned thuggery and modified Reutherism. Union reformers rising to the top (here Arnold Miller comes to mind) learn to say the right words but cave in when the going gets tough; or like Ron Carey, whose leadership of the UPS strike remains controversial, are trapped in contradictions familiar for generations, an unwillingness to trust ordinary workers with decisions that affect their lives, alongside an extreme willingness to turn to the "experts" who will take care of the problem. This is not to say that the lessons of MFD or TDU are mostly negative, but that business unionism (aided by employers and the government) has a thousand ways of recuperating its losses to rank-and-file activity, if not to the corporations. Jane Slaughter, like Moody, has written eloquently on these issues elsewhere and here (like Rachleff and the Lynds) offers many reasons why the Sweeney regime, at its best, has not broken with a way of thinking and acting which cannot mobilize organized (let alone unorganized) working people, and which therefore cannot win.

If I'm dissatisfied with this perspective, it is not a matter of affirming John Sweeney's good intentions or analyzing his consciousness. Rather, it is that the situation of 1995-99 may very well not be the one facing us in a few years. Our job is not "waiting for Sweeney" (I regret that anyone should have interpreted Taking Care of Business to suggest it) but acting and trying to understand how organized labor might respond, top to bottom, to the changed moods that the return of social movements and the appearance of social crisis will surely bring.

Rachleff is right to say that nothing short of global solidarity can meet the crisis facing labor. That brings us squarely to Seattle, an explosion of popular energy sandwiched between the growing perception of corporate irresponsibility and the emergence of the next presidential race. John Sweeney finds himself rather like Eugene McCarthy of 1968: to prove his bona fides to the powers-that-be, he needs to be able to show that he can cool down workers and their allies, delivering progressives and even radicals (at least, all but the "irresponsible" ones) to the Democratic Party. But that kind of proof undercuts his claim to importance, because without a significant degree of unrest, he and the AFL-CIO become bit players in the big global game.

What is Sweeneyism? An increasingly desperate attempt to hold onto business unionism with (some) dramatically new rhetoric, (some) hitherto unimaginable allies, and (some) claims to global solidarity of workers, intermixed with old-fashioned economic nationalism and corporate-friendly international trade policies. It has been more pragmatic, in practice, than any American unionism since John L. Lewis's perambulation between the AFL, CIO and a never-never land of his own. But unfortunately, that "more" is not saying very much at all. Given the crisis of the Federation, it is phlegmatic and defensive, like mainstream unionism since at least the 1930s (and perhaps the 1910s) seeking to minimize its losses in the field while hoping to recover them in the political sphere.

Stanley Aronowitz is 105% correct in saying that more work must be done on the various differences between AFL-Central, the internationals at top and at their base, and that I did not do nearly enough of it in the limited space of Taking Care of Business. Contrary to public pronouncements or media events and good (or bad) high level appointments, revival will show itself first at the local level. And here Kim Moody (his suggestion filled out partly by Jane Slaughter) is on target arguing that the hopeful observations in my conclusion do not add to a fighting program. I never thought that they did.

But I probably see that potential program somewhat differently from my critics, because I continue to view the palace revolution, and similar smaller-scale developments, as having altered our tactical situation in subtle but important ways. Insiders tell me, for instance, that the most sluggish of current union presidents, Jay Mazur of UNITE, is going to retire within a year, giving way to the most energetic organizer the South has seen for two generations, Bruce Raynor. This is a move from the top, but not to be disregarded or treated as mere symptom. UNITE suffers under the weight of the old ILGWU, in which (as Bob Fitch has been pointing out lately) sweatshops could usually be found within a subway's ride of union headquarters, most frequently with the collusion of union officers. This kind of corruption has gone on for generations, despite all the "liberal" pronouncements (and many deeply conservative ones on international issues) on "free trade unionism" as the vehicle for social progress. Will we respond to Raynor, who comes out of the more progressive textile workers' union tradition, as another Mazur? Only if we are very foolish.

The same principle rules for the admirably progressive president of the Wisconsin AFL, David Newby (I'll admit to prejudice: he comes out of my old union, the Madison- based Teaching Assistants Association), to Bill Fletcher of the Sweeney office and to a large handful of others who would not be benefited by mentioning their names. I do not view them as saviors (and they do not view themselves that way, either); and I know that they are under constraints. But I see them as a foothold on a different kind of unionism that is not going to arrive until Americans sense crisis again.

Seattle gives us some mighty hints about what that perception of crisis may be like. It does not give us the fighting program to which Moody alludes, and for which the continuing discussion in NEW POLITICS over the decades has been one of the best guides. What I hope we may see is a rising consciousness of possibility which will wipe out the defeatism and cynicism of the last period, and prompt the contact between socialists, interested union or would-be-union members, and enraged citizens (especially young people) who are sick of the race to the bottom, of working long hours with long commutes, of the individualism and loneliness that the corporate model of global economy provides along with the terrors of misdirected science and the prospect of endless wars.

I won't bother to recite the rest of the symptoms, here and abroad, except to repeat the obvious: that the wild stockmarket speculation will finally see an end, and all hell will almost certainly break loose as pensions and the personal hopes (realistic or unrealistic, earned or unearned) of tens of millions of people go right down the drain.

Since Gompers's day, and perfectly identified in Gompers' own mentality, U.S. organized labor has believed in an exploitable world without limits with its avowed ideal as more, more and more for union members, not more education (except as a means of social mobility), not solidarity (except among relatively privileged groups), not even the remotest glimmer of awareness about American responsibility for the problems in the world (except of course in all forms of denial). Nonwhite peoples around the world and in the U.S., were frankly regarded, at least until the rise of bilious Cold War-era rhetoric, as part of the landscape to be exploited. For the last forty years, from Black Power (and Red, Yellow and Brown Power) to the Oil Crisis, from Vietnam to Central America and the dawning awareness of extinction, history has been catching up with us as a nation. Now is the time to get ready for the consequences.


  1. Michael Yates, "The Road Not Taken," Monthly Review, vol.51 (November, 1999), lauds Taking Care of Business for its warning to activists not to be swept away with enthusiasm for the Sweeney leadership; apparently my critics missed this warning, or (more likely) they read an admittedly ambivalent, fifteen-page, final chapter in one way while Yates read it in another. return

  2. Michael Hirsch criticizes me for romanticizing Coia. No such thing: I used his example to point to the oddities of the anti-Old Guard coalition, although I may be guilty of building up the role of the only Rhode Island-based union since the dissolution of the National Textile Workers in the 1930s. return

  3. The statements issued by the AFL-CIO during the nuclear- tipped war on Serbia (and the regional environment) echo the change clearly. A sort of "pray-for-peace" sentiment replaced the bomb-them-to-pieces Kirkland/Shanker position stated and restated so often from the Vietnam War to Central America and beyond. return

  4. A splendid new volume not yet published in the U.S., Frances Stonor Sauders, Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War (London: Granta Books, 1999) covers much of this territory, revealing for instance Arthur Schlesinger Jr.'s role as CIA functionary Cord Meyer's personal line into the liberal community; meanwhile, as a speech-writer for Hubert Humphrey and "expert" on American Communism, Schlesinger received the warm attention of Cold War unionists, articulating for them, in turn, the logic of unions such as the Screen Writers Guild blacklisting their own members. return

  5. Ira Stoll, "Laborite Wages Union Fight from Telegraph to Internet," Forward, Sept.3, 1999. return

  6. Most of the recent scholarly developments are recorded in the specific union entries in the new edition of the Encyclopedia of the American Left (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), edited by Mari Jo Buhle, Paul Buhle and Dan Georgakas. return

  7. I wish to acknowledge a conversation of mine with the late Phil Raymond, AWU leader who was unceremoniously pushed aside by the Party once the UAW took the field. Interview in the Oral History of the American Left, Tamiment Library, New York University. return

  8. The Workers Party carried on a noble effort against the No Strike pledge and (unlike Goldfield's contention) was not the main supporter of the SIU/SUP, an honor or dishonor that belongs to the wartime Socialist Workers Party. The small group around C.L.R. James abandoned the WP in 1948, rejoining the SWP and abandoning them both two years later for splendid isolation. The WP is guilty as charged for supporting Reuther. In my considered view, the group around Bert Cochran, which tried to hold onto a Left anti-Reuther bloc as the CP was being pulverized, deserves the greatest credit in this instance. return

  9. Contrary to Stanley Aronowitz's suggestions, I do not find George Meany "nimble" or especially intelligent, albeit shrewd. Like a hammer-headed shark, he found his direction early and kept moving ahead until the rightward turn of labor caught up with him. A different Meany would have been able to make sense of the CIO a decade earlier and turned the insight to his advantage, actually brought nonwhite workers and women workers into the Federation during the 1950s and enhanced his own status greatly. As I note in Taking Care of Business, Meany instead goes down in history as the bloated Cold Warrior, enemy of the peace movement, affirmative action, environmentalism and feminism, thus the architect of organized labor's decline. return

  10. Mike Hirsch seems to think that this does not explain the sheer incompetence of union leaders two generations later, and obviously the folks at AFL headquarters don't think so, either. They are, in my view, looking at the problem from too close up. return

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