Ron Radosh

Not in Our Name: The 'One Nation' March — Today's Trade Unions and the Left

There was a time when the mainstream trade union movement confined itself to union concerns — a union contract that guaranteed a decent standard of living, and in turn for a negotiated agreement with the corporation, guaranteed labor stability and productivity. Large corporations learned quickly, as did the leadership of General Electric in the 1930s, that signing with the union, even as in their case a Communist-led union, meant the opportunity for both profits and economic growth. The stockholders were more than pleased, and the workers represented by the union achieved their rather minimal aims.

The unions accepted the corporation as the essential institution  necessary for economic growth and prosperity, and its leadership understood well that Marxian oriented radicalism threatened their membership’s own freedom and growing higher standard of living. Gerard Swope, the president of General Electric in the 30s and author of a highly publicized plan for a corporatist reorganization of America — the so-called Swope Plan — rejoiced when the Communist-controlled United Electrical Workers/CIO organized his plants and won the work force’s allegiance. “If you can’t get along with these fellows and settle matters,” he told one of GE’s vice-presidents, “there’s something wrong with you.” As for the Communist union he and his staff had to deal with, he remarked that they were “well led; the discipline good.” The CP union chief, Julius Emspak, returned the compliment by calling Swope an “enlightened” employer, who understood that “industry would have to recognize” that union leaders might eventually even have to sit on the corporation’s board of directors.

In turn for labor peace, Swope even supported a thirty-hour work week and a federal minimum wage. His goal was to integrate the work force into the system, and make it a patriotic defender of capitalism; not an antagonist.  The current AFL-CIO leadership is far removed from the type of leaders who built the industrial union movement in the 1930s, and whom Swope could easily work with.

They are also removed from the union leaders of the 1950s, such as the social-democrat Walter Reuther. Reuther built the United Automobile Workers into a forceful organization that made auto workers part of the middle-class and led them to become the kind of workers who quickly abandoned revolutionary schemes, as they found that working within our democratic system gave them the ability to realize the American Dream. Reuther also played a major part in purging the Communists from the union leadership in the post-war era, as the Communists’ allegiance to Stalin and the Soviet Union led them to function as a force seeking to align labor with America’s enemies.

I raise all these historical points because they came to mind when I viewed the trade union movement sponsorship this past weekend of the rather pathetic so-called “One Nation” rally. Scores of unions chartered buses and got some of their members to board them for their answer to Glenn Beck’s massive Aug. 28th rally that captivated the nation.

Reuther, were he alive today, would have been horrified to see what the marchers on Washington were saying in labor’s name, as well as the scores of fanatical  communist grouplets that dominated the march and that advocated a blatant anti-American and revolutionary agenda.

Writing on, Rich Trzupek accurately observes how “Saturday’s ‘One Nation’ rally in Washington demonstrated just how far out of step the Left is with America.” Having once sought to condemn Tea Partiers as racist and anarchists, now  “they’re telling America that Tea Partiers are corporate shills.” MSNBC’s talking head, the repulsive and little watched Ed Schultz, told the small crowd that “this march is about the power to the people. It is about the people standing up to the corporations. The conservative voices of America, they are holding you down. They don’t believe in your freedom. They want the concentration of wealth. They’ve shipped your job overseas.”

As Schultz saw things, it was the corporations that were holding down “the working man of America.” They want to ship American jobs overseas, he argued, and keep all the profit and money for themselves. It did not occur to Schultz, evidently, that protectionist trade policies would only decrease jobs at home, spur a trade war, increase prices, and even more quickly produce a new economic downturn — with a result of even less jobs at home.

As Trzupek points out, however, the conservative opponents of Obama do not shill for the corporations. They not only “distrust corporate America,” but “understand that businesses large and small must be held accountable for their actions and that government should do its best to maintain a level playing field. The Left’s wild assertion that conservatives — and it should be noted that twice as many Americans associate themselves with the right than they do the Left — favor unchecked corporate greed over their own well-being is patently ridiculous. Those same Americans are stockholders in corporations, their retirement accounts depend on the continued profitability of those corporations and their jobs, to a large extent, depend on maintaining a free market economy that allows corporations large and small to thrive.”

Like the old union leaders, they know that a market economy is their friend — not their enemy.

Not only was this rally divisive and one that could never unite America, but scores of its participants openly made clear their hatred for this country.  That is why John Avlon is correct when he calls his column about the march “Left-wing Crazies Take Their Turn.”  The rally, he writes, “offered a snapshot of the fragile coalition that is the contemporary far left — a dizzying array of activist organizations and identity politics, with financial muscle provided by the labor unions who bused their members in.” Just take a look at who is part of this “coalition,” — groups such as the National Center for Transgender Equality, the National Council for La Raza, Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Push Coalition, the communist International Answer anti-war group, Code Pink, the Apollo Alliance, the old CP front the US Peace Council, the Democratic Socialists of America, the far left International Socialist Organization, the split from the CP, the Committee of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, and yes — the Communist Party USA!

I can see Reuther and John L. Lewis and Philip Murray rising up from their graves, and shouting at Ed Schultz: “Not in Our Name!” They would concur with Avlon’s judgment that “this rally provided plenty of evidence the Wingnuts on the loony left are alive and well.” Signs that were displayed included such as “End all U.S.  Aid to the racist state of Israel,” “Fund Jobs. Not Israel,” “Yes We Can: Bomb Civilians,”  with more signs from International Answer than any other group. And yes, they gave it to Obama from the Left, holding signs like “Stop Obama’s Wars” and “Mr. Obama: End These Fucking Wars Now,” as a sign from Veterans for Peace had it.

Gone are the days when such groups would be forbidden to be part of a labor-led coalition. That today they are not only welcomed, but urged to take part, indicates how isolated and far removed from the people today’s labor leaders are.  The leaders’ obviously false claims that their march had as many participants as the Beck march simply add insult to injury, since anyone can see how false that claim is.

If the One Nation march is now the face of the united left in this country, it is rather clear that the Tea Party and conservatives in general do not have much to worry about from their movement.