LABOR BRIEFING: Okla. votes for ‘right to work’ law

Okla. votes for ‘right to work’ law

All workers lost out when the Oklahoma electorate on Sept. 25 joined 21 other states and passed an anti-worker “right-to-work law.” The vote wasn’t even close, 54 percent to 46 percent.

Business crows that now the state will be better able to compete with Arkansas, Kansas, and Texas for investors’ bucks. At times the AFL-CIO has been able to defeat such legislation, but once passed the federation has not been able to get it off a state’s books.

The 1947 Taft-Hartley Act allowed states to get out from under Depression Era laws that recognized the workers’ hard-won right to demand union membership as a condition for employment. The T-H Act was adopted despite the popularity of unions, as evidenced by the largely successful post-World War II strikes. The new law also provided that unions that had officers who were members of the Communist Party or who refused to sign non-communist affidavits would be denied the use of the National Labor Relations Board.

Mineworkers leader John L. Lewis denounced the new law as “fascistic” and called on all unions to refuse to comply. When they did not, Lewis pulled the United Mine Workers out of the AFL.

Subsequently, the labor officialdom in both the CIO and the AFL used the T-H Act to witch-hunt and oust many militant opponents.

To this day, the union movement is without a viable militant wing. That has allowed the labor bureaucracy to stay in power as it leads a decades-old retreat in the face of the bosses’ large-scale offensive attacking workers’ living standards and working conditions.


Hoffa Wins

In November-for the second time in 36 months-James P. Hoffa, the son of the storied Teamster leader, Jimmy Hoffa, was elected president of the Teamsters Union. Hoffa’s new term is for five years.

Winning by just under a two-to-one margin (Hoffa, 200,168; Leedham, 108,389), Hoffa scored a landslide victory over Tom Leedham, the candidate backed by the union’s reform forces, principally the Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU).

Hoffa won easily, but not cheaply. Incomplete financial reports filed with the election administrator indicate that Hoffa spent more than $3 million. Leedham reported spending $300,000.

Just like the rest of organized labor, the Teamster ranks are, at present, profoundly demobilized. Almost 1.1 million of the claimed 1.4 million Teamsters did not return their mail ballots.

It’s been estimated that Hoffa now has the support of 95 per cent of the officialdom. The number of officers with multiple salaries is once again on the rise. Nearly 200 officers draw down at least $100,000 a year, not counting perks. Hoffa draws down $228,713; even though he once swore he wouldn’t take a dime more than $150,000.



Another UAW lemon?

The autoworkers will elect a new president in June to replace Stephen Yokich, who is retiring. Ronald Gettlefinger is a shoo-in to head the union that has lost half of its industrial membership since 1979. Gettlefinger is a member of the Administration Caucus, an establishment group that hardly ever loses an election. Convention delegates, not the ranks, elect the top UAW officers.

If autoworkers could directly elect their top officers, perhaps they might elect their leaders from the ranks of the UAW Solidarity Coalition/New Directions Movement that met in Flint, Mich., in October. The UAW reformers plan to run for delegate positions to June’s Las Vegas convention.

Reportedly, they’ll campaign for the ranks’ right to vote for top officers; oppose the cozy setup that allows the Administration Caucus to field a full-time shopfloor force with joint labor-management money; call for putting more steam and savvy into organizing efforts; and spark a plan for an industrywide strike.

Billy Robinson, leader of the Accuride strike/lockout, and former president of Local 2036 in Henderson, Ky., told the reform group that he may run to oppose Gettlefinger. The Accuride autoworkers have been fighting the national union to get real backing for their nearly three-year-long struggle.

There are 1 million U.S. autoworkers (assembly and parts). Still, today the UAW represents just 672,000, down from 1.5 million in 1979. The Flint oppositionists fear that Gettlefinger’s election will mean a continuation of the UAW’s numerical decline and organizing power.


N.J. teachers jailed for striking

Freehold, N.J., teachers raised handcuffed fists in solidarity, as a judge sent 228 of them to jail for defying his injunction not to strike against takeaway demands. They had refused to work any longer without a contract.

One teacher said, “When you give in, you are saying, ‘keep stepping on me.'” But with no help from the labor movement, the isolated teachers voted on Dec. 7 to go back to work.

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