Monday, August 29, 2005

NWA Strike, links about IAM vs. AMFA

Can you trust the NYT as a source of information about a strike? I wonder, especially when the article appears in the Business section. The headline and opener for the article emphasizes "dissenters" among striking mechanics at Northwest, who have criticized the union for going out on strike without allowing membership to vote on the contract first. This is one of the most misleading openers I think I've ever seen in a news story. First of all, union leadership usually does not put a contract up for a vote until AFTER management and the union bargaining team have agreed to a compromise at the bargaining table. Before they'll agree to anything in that context, and certainly before they do something so risky as call a strike, union leaders tend to do everything they can to find out what the membership thinks and is willing to do. Indeed, as the NYT story indicates in the 11th paragraph, On Sunday, Mr. Delle-Femine said he stood by his decision not to bring the offer to a vote. "We put out feelers on that," he said, adding that only a small minority of union members thought the offer was worth voting on. "We would have been hung if we brought it out to ratify." When the strike vote was taken, 93% of the membership was in favor, but that information also comes towards the end of the article.
So this idea of AMFA's dissenters is a non-story.
For better information, I recommend this article by Peter Rachleff, whom I trust when it comes to all labor news. WBAI's "Building Bridges" has a downloadable show on the Northwest Strike featuring Mark Taylor. An old comrade of mine from Minneapolis, Brad Sigal, did a nice job covering the AMFA demonstration in Bloomington, MN. (there's pictures too)
In a lot of the current news coverage on the NWA strike, you'll see references to AMFA's rivalry with the IAM. The only thing that sounds bad to me about AMFA is its identity as a "craft union" and suggestions by its detractors that it is an elitest union that split mechanics off from baggage handlers etc. It has been criticized also for building itself entirely through raiding the AFL-CIO IAM. However, I'm not so sure that I believe what probably amounts to IAM propaganda on this one, and I'm certainly dubious of any Teamsters' defenses. Pretty much everyone I trust on the issue of union democracy suggests that AMFA's success in winning members away from the IAM is not about its "craft union" identity, but about its rejection of concessionary contracts, and its democracy-friendly small size.
In contrast, the IAM leaders have not been exemplars of solidarity, confrontation or democratic practice. For example, they have a record of forcing concessions on their members again and again. and even attacking their own locals. This comment from Richard Lesnick, who shifted to AMFA provides a view different from the ones you'll see in the mainstream media. Among other things, he says: Our experience with the AMFA campaign (including the one where we
campaign FOR the IAM) was that the best workers were with AMFA, and
the most hidebound, demoralized and concession-minded workers were
with the IAM.
You can read a longer article by Miah and Lesnick at Greenleft.
Even if you are determined to believe that "boring from within" the IAM is the best strategy, this piece from "Working Life" points out that the loss of this strike could have a catastrophic effect on the labor movement as a whole. Both the "Working Life" article and Mimi Rosenberg of "Building Bridges" bring up the frightening analogy of PATCO...while the Minnesotans seem to be bringing up the analogy of the heroic (but failed) P-9.
Meanwhile, machinists at Boeing, who belong to IAM, are also considering a strike, an indication that the rivalry from AMFA may be pushing the AFL-CIO's IAM into a more challenging posture.

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