FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

AFL-CIO’s Own Oil Disaster

by ANN ROBERTSON and BILL LEUMER

With less than transparency, the AFL-CIO just issued a statement endorsing “expanding the nation’s pipeline system.” Although it did not explicitly endorse the Keystone XL pipeline, the labor federation nevertheless managed to extend its blessing to the project while hiding behind vague generalities. However, the logic of its position is unambiguous: the federation is in favor of extending pipelines in general and without qualification; the Keystone XL is a pipeline. Therefore logic compels us to infer that the federation supports the extension of the Keystone XL pipeline.

The duplicity of the gesture is entirely intentional. The building trades unions have embraced the pipeline and have lobbied the AFL-CIO to do the same. However, the AFL-CIO would prefer not to alienate its environmental allies, who strongly oppose the pipeline. For this reason the federation refrains from mentioning the Keystone XL by name. But its vague generality is just enough cover to provide President Obama with an excuse to support the pipeline, which his administration’s State Department has already secretly embraced. Obama can now point to disunity among his liberal supporters as a justification for ignoring them. He can do exactly what the corporations want while pretending to be unable to satisfy the conflicting and inconsistent demands of the liberal left. The AFL-CIO hides behind language, and Obama hides behind the AFL-CIO.

Obama has been in desperate need of this cover. Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, we know that in 2011 his State Department was engaged in its own duplicity by sending encouraging emails to a representative of TransCanada, the company seeking to build the pipeline, while at the same time supposedly conducting a neutral investigation into the pipeline’s environmental impact.

Then in 2012 James Hansen, a NASA scientist, in a New York Times op-ed article forcefully argued that Canada’s development of its tar sands oil supply, because it contains twice the amount of carbon dioxide as other oil reserves, will tip global warming trends past the point of no return. He concluded: “…it will be game over for the climate.”

We seem to be caught in an irreversible downward spiral. Money translates into power, thanks to lobbying and campaign contributions. When wealth becomes concentrated in the hands of corporations, power becomes equally concentrated. For this reason, corporations have been particularly successful at imposing their agenda on the rest of society.

They have successfully attacked unions and thereby lowered wages, eliminated safety regulations and reduced benefits; they have undermined public education by defunding it and by promoting charter schools that have a dubious record of success; they have undermined health care by insisting that profits be prioritized over the welfare of patients; they have torn the safety net by campaigning for a reduction in government spending; and they have placed the survival of the planet as we know it in jeopardy by refusing to curtail the consumption of fossil fuels. The 1% surges forward at the expense of the 99%.

The 99% will have no chance of halting this corporate onslaught by playing the corporate game of money and power. Although labor unions have money, their resources are miniscule compared to corporate reserves, so labor’s attempts to beat corporations at lobbying and campaign contributions have yielded paltry results. In fact, the standard of living of working people has been steadily eroding and has been both the cause and effect of a declining union membership.

However, organized labor has far more powerful resources at its disposal, if it will only take advantage of them. By embracing the philosophy that served as the foundation of their origin — “an injury to one is an injury to all” — unions could begin to organize and mobilize the 99% in order to create a powerful movement capable of sweeping the country. Such a movement would draw its power and inspiration by occupying the moral high ground: unions would not only fight for their members’ interests, they would fight most tenaciously for working people in general, especially those most in need. They would demand that the government institute a public works program like those in the 1930s that would create good paying jobs for all. They would fight for the protection and extension of Social Security and Medicare, protection of the environment, amnesty for undocumented workers, fully funded public education and social services, all to be paid for by taxing the rich. In this way the unions could begin to create a movement of millions. They could transform the current culture of corruption, where it is all about special interests, backroom deals, money and power. Only such an independent massive movement has the chance to shift the balance of power in favor of the 99%.

But in order to spark such a movement, organized labor will have to abandon its current, doomed trajectory where it responds to its continually declining membership by redoubling its efforts to mimic the backroom cynical deals of corporations. It will have to trade in manipulation for inspiration and money for morality, including reducing the inflated salaries of many of the top officials. And it will have to give up its pretense of putting up a fight, where lip service is given to some good cause and a small, ineffectual rally of a few hundred is organized to supposedly promote it. Instead, it will have to put up a real fight by bringing millions of people into the streets to place their demands on the government.

Above all it must never try to advance the interests of its own members at the expense of other working people and of the survival of the planet. By offering support for the Keystone XL pipeline, the AFL-CIO wins a few construction jobs and a little money; but it sacrifices everything of value.

Ann Robertson is a Lecturer at San Francisco State University and a member of the California Faculty Association.

Bill Leumer is a member of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 853 (ret.). Both are writers for Workers Action and may be reached at sanfrancisco@workerscompass.org.

Ann Robertson is a Lecturer in the Philosophy Department at San Francisco State University and a member of the California Faculty Association. Bill Leumer is a member of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 853 (ret.). Both are writers for Workers Action and may be reached at sanfrancisco@workerscompass.org

May 30, 2016
Ron Jacobs
The State of the Left: Many Movements, Too Many Goals?
James Abourezk
The Intricacies of Language
Porfirio Quintano
Hillary, Honduras, and the Murder of My Friend Berta
Patrick Cockburn
Airstrikes on ISIS are Reducing Their Cities to Ruins
Uri Avnery
The Center Doesn’t Hold
Raouf Halaby
The Sailors of the USS Liberty: They, Too, Deserve to Be Honored
Rodrigue Tremblay
Barack Obama’s Legacy: What Happened?
Matt Peppe
Just the Facts: The Speech Obama Should Have Given at Hiroshima
Deborah James
Trade Pacts and Deregulation: Latest Leaks Reveal Core Problem with TISA
Michael Donnelly
Still Wavy After All These Years: Flower Geezer Turns 80
Ralph Nader
The Funny Business of Farm Credit
Paul Craig Roberts
Memorial Day and the Glorification of Past Wars
Colin Todhunter
From Albrecht to Monsanto: A System Not Run for the Public Good Can Never Serve the Public Good
Rivera Sun
White Rose Begins Leaflet Campaigns June 1942
Tom H. Hastings
Field Report from the Dick Cheney Hunting Instruction Manual
Weekend Edition
May 27, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Silencing America as It Prepares for War
Rob Urie
By the Numbers: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are Fringe Candidates
Paul Street
Feel the Hate
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
Basic Income Gathers Steam Across Europe
Andrew Levine
Hillary’s Gun Gambit
Jeffrey St. Clair
Hand Jobs: Heidegger, Hitler and Trump
S. Brian Willson
Remembering All the Deaths From All of Our Wars
Dave Lindorff
With Clinton’s Nixonian Email Scandal Deepening, Sanders Must Demand Answers
Pete Dolack
Millions for the Boss, Cuts for You!
Peter Lee
To Hell and Back: Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Gunnar Westberg
Close Calls: We Were Much Closer to Nuclear Annihilation Than We Ever Knew
Karl Grossman
Long Island as a Nuclear Park
Binoy Kampmark
Sweden’s Assange Problem: The District Court Ruling
Robert Fisk
Why the US Dropped Its Demand That Assad Must Go
Martha Rosenberg – Ronnie Cummins
Bayer and Monsanto: a Marriage Made in Hell
Brian Cloughley
Pivoting to War
Stavros Mavroudeas
Blatant Hypocrisy: the Latest Late-Night Bailout of Greece
Arun Gupta
A War of All Against All
Dan Kovalik
NPR, Yemen & the Downplaying of U.S. War Crimes
Randy Blazak
Thugs, Bullies, and Donald J. Trump: The Perils of Wounded Masculinity
Murray Dobbin
Are We Witnessing the Beginning of the End of Globalization?
Daniel Falcone
Urban Injustice: How Ghettos Happen, an Interview with David Hilfiker
Gloria Jimenez
In Honduras, USAID Was in Bed with Berta Cáceres’ Accused Killers
Kent Paterson
The Old Braceros Fight On
Lawrence Reichard
The Seemingly Endless Indignities of Air Travel: Report from the Losing Side of Class Warfare
Peter Berllios
Bernie and Utopia
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
Indonesia’s Unnatural Mud Disaster Turns Ten
Linda Pentz Gunter
Obama in Hiroshima: Time to Say “Sorry” and “Ban the Bomb”
George Souvlis
How the West Came to Rule: an Interview with Alexander Anievas
Julian Vigo
The Government and Your i-Phone: the Latest Threat to Privacy
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail