US unionists pass historic general strike vote

Submitted by AWL on 1 December, 2020 - 8:02 Author: Daniel Randall
Vermont AFL-CIO banner

This report from Daniel Randall as Assistant Chair of the Bakerloo branch of the RMT rail union is taken, with thanks, from RMT London Calling, the website of RMT London Transport Region..

Three activists from the RMT Bakerloo branch attended, via Zoom, the Saturday 21 November convention of the Vermont State Labour Council (AFL-CIO) as observers. The convention was attended by nearly 100 delegates and guests, from local union branches and campaign groups, as well as a number of elected city councillors. As a state-wide federation, the rough equivalent to the Vermont AFL-CIO in the British labour movement would be one of the regions of the TUC, such as London, East, and South East TUC (formerly SERTUC).

The convention’s two major items of business were to discuss a resolution (see below) calling for a general strike in the event of an attempt by Donald Trump to sabotage and obstruct the election result, and to discuss a series of democratic reforms to the union federation’s own standing orders.

In opening the convention, Vermont AFL-CIO president David Van Deusen said the labour movement had to make itself a tribune of democracy: defending existing formal democracy against a potential Trump coup, but also fighting for a much fuller, more accessible democracy, including economic democracy, as well as transforming the movement itself to make it more democratic.

The business of the convention was conducted in a highly open and accessible fashion, with all delegates able to have their say, and propose amendments to the motions from the floor. Those expressing minority viewpoints were encouraged to speak up and share their views. Executive officers said that bringing the motion to the convention was an important way to give rank-and-file delegates input and ownership over strategy and perspectives, rather than simply having it determined from above.

In the discussion around the general strike resolution, delegates emphasised that the purpose was not merely to defend the victory of one man, Joe Biden, against another man, Donald Trump, but to make organised labour and workers’ action central to a wider movement against the authoritarianism, racism, and bigotry represented by Trumpism. Many delegates stressed their opposition to the neoliberal policy agenda of Biden and the Democratic Party leaders, and said the labour movement had to prepare for action to make demands of a Biden administration.

There was some debate over whether the motion was constitutionally admissible, given that local AFL-CIO federations are not able to directly call strikes or issue instructions to their affiliated unions. AFL-CIO national president Richard Trumka had written to the Vermont AFL-CIO to declare the resolution unconstitutional. Many delegates expressed frustration with his intervention, reminding the convention that the resolution was not intended to be a binding instruction but merely a call advocating a general strike in certain circumstances. One delegate asserted it would be good if President Trumka had been as quick to speak out on the need for unions to defend democracy as he had been to try to prevent discussion of the resolution.

In an indicative vote on the resolution, in which both delegates and observers were entitled to vote, 92% supported it. In the formal vote, the resolution was carried with 39 in favour, five against, and one abstention.

Significant symbolism

Although Vermont AFL-CIO is a small federation, representing around 10,000 workers, the adoption of the resolution has significant symbolism. It shows that activists in the US labour movement are thinking politically about the role of organised labour, including how to face down legal restrictions on workers’ ability to struggle in defence of rights in the workplace and wider society.

A political general strike would, in both Britain and America, be illegal; whilst simply demanding workers take illegal action without adequate preparation and organisation would have little grip, unions must challenge and ultimately defy the laws that shackle us.

RMT supports Free Our Unions and the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom, which campaign against anti-union legislation. Such campaigning has to be stepped up, especially in the context of Tory plans to impose further restrictions on transport workers’ right to strike.

Following the adoption of the resolution, a workshop session was held to discuss strengthening rank-and-file engagement across unions. Vice President Tristin Adie gave a presentation on the principles of rank-and-file organising, looking at how these had been applied in a 2018 nurses’ strike in Vermont. The presentation emphasised the need for independent working-class organisation and self-activity. As Adie put it: “No-one is coming to save us.” Breakout groups discussed the challenges delegates faced in organising at work.

The convention’s final plenary session discussed and passed a series of reforms to the federation’s standing orders, which aimed to widen rank-and-file participation and increase the number of officer positions which were directly elected. Cold War-era language in the standing orders was replaced with new statements affirming the federation’s commitment to anti-racism and anti-fascism. It was an honour to attend the convention and witness the adoption of a historic resolution.

We hope to be able to welcome Vermont AFL-CIO activists to an RMT meeting in the near future.

Comments

Submitted by AWL on Wed, 02/12/2020 - 15:43

Vermont AFL-CIO Resolution: Protect Democracy

November 21, 2020

WHEREAS, the Vermont AFL-CIO and our affiliates are committed to the defense of democratic rights and the institutions of democracy, regardless of the party affiliations of those in power;
WHEREAS, the Vermont AFL-CIO recognizes that democracy in the United States is hobbled by the archaic structure of the Electoral College and entrenchment of the two-party system;
WHEREAS, President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have refused to acknowledge the results of the election in multiple key states and continue to mount frivolous lawsuits and various political interventions in a baseless attempt to overturn the November 3rd results;
WHEREAS, President Trump has refused, on multiple occasions, to denounce the activities of white supremacist militias and organizations that have stated desires to overthrow American democracy and instead has conveyed support for their actions;
WHEREAS, the Trump administration and Republican allies have conducted a concerted campaign to obstruct, sabotage, and reject a fair and complete count of presidential ballots by creating barriers to voting, targeted at people of color, immigrants, women, and young people. These tactics include intimidation of BIPOC voters at polling places and requirements to have two people sign a ballot that hurt women voters, as well as dismantling key infrastructure such as the U.S. Postal Service;
WHEREAS, the Constitution requires voting results and Electoral College tallies to be completed and submitted to Congress by the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December, and the new 2021 Congress to validate the results, and voters should be determining the results, not courts;
WHEREAS, Trump has denied science, resulting in more than 250,000 Americans dying from COVID-19, and millions more facing deep economic pain due to ongoing impact from the virus, and can do irreparable harm during a lame-duck session;
WHEREAS, the extreme risk currently posed to the historic institutions of democracy in our nation may require more widespread and vigorous resistance than at any time in recent history;
WHEREAS, the labor movement and trade unions have played a proud and vital role in protecting democracy and opposing authoritarianism in many nations throughout the world;
WHEREAS, the most powerful tool of the labor movement in our history has been the power of the general strike;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Vermont AFL-CIO is empowered by the delegates at the 2020 state convention to call for a general strike of all working people in our state in the event that Donald Trump refuses to concede the office of President of the United States.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Vermont AFL-CIO will work with allies in the antiracist, environmental justice, feminist, LGBTQ+, immigrant rights, and disability rights movements to protect our democracy, the Constitution, the law, and our nation’s democratic traditions;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Vermont AFL-CIO will call on city and county governments to pledge to protect protesters defending democracy, and commit to not using police action or curfews to curtail these activities, and to use all available resources to stand up against any effort by the Trump administration to steal the presidential election.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Vermont AFL-CIO commits itself to the long-term goal of winning genuine democracy through the abolition of the Electoral College and two-party system, through the collective action of our affiliates and allied organizations.

*Adopted by the seated Delegates at the November 21, 2020 Vermont AFL-CIO Convention

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