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Common Enemy 2/25/2011

By: Ricardo Torres

If the unions truly want to unite to gain membership and power they need a common enemy. The union leadership has known for many years that the future of the union movement lies at with the younger generation. During the IMF protest in the U.S., the AFL/CIO was holding meetings with college students to tap into their energy in order to redirect their efforts to help the labor movement.

In my organizing days, I held one meeting where we had over 4,000 young people attend. We recruited over 1,000 to attend the George Meany Labor College of Organizers. In the late 90’s, I was in France to observe methods used to motivate mass protests against the government. I was also in Mexico during mass strikes to participate and provide guidance on directing so-called “mob tactics”. Trust me when I say that I know a thing or two about motivation from inside the union.

The goal of the higher union strategist has always been to mobilize “armies” through frustration, anger and mistrust. The genius of a pure antagonist is to get people to the “point of no return”, where they believe there is no hope and no future with a belief that the problems they face are bigger than they can ever endure on their own. A pure antagonist wants their followers to believe that the other side has only disgust for them and no respect.

These are very strong emotions, and when left untapped you lose people to these overwhelming feelings. It’s like strikes, when there is violence and it causes ordinary people to take risks they normally wouldn’t, that could affect their life and family livelihood. The unions sometimes look to some big strikes as a chance to demonstrate these tactics. To the union, this a great place to use psychological warfare as a proving ground. Unions use strikes like the military uses weapons built during times of peace to test tactics on the battlefield.

How far will people go? What threats or incentives work in motivating people beyond normal limits? How do you get a human being so engulfed into actions that they no longer think for themselves? I remember being asked by a top AFL/CIO official if I had ever read the Chairman Mao Tse-Tung Red Book. I said no and that I was not a Communist. He told me that you don’t have to be a Communist to learn from his writings. Some of the things that stood out in the reading were:

  • ”No political party can possibly lead a great revolutionary movement to victory unless it possesses revolutionary theory and knowledge of history and has a profound grasp of the practical movement”
  • “Policy and tactics are the life of the Party; leading comrades at all levels must give them full attention and must never on any account be negligent”

It was evident to me that many high ranking union officials wanted a “workers revolution” and that our leadership would take hold amongst the chaos. During headline strikes, like the Detroit Newspaper Strike, where we had the perfect battle ground, people were led to believe that they would lose everything if they didn’t fight the company. After they lost everything and they continued to support the “cause”, we knew we had dangerous weapons (and soldiers) on our side. We could always count on management to fuel their anger and feelings of despair. Management is rarely taught how to control emotional levels in times of unexpected stress and we took advantage of it (a tactic unions still use effectively today). We knew we could expect a knee jerk reaction and were masters in orchestrating management’s response to chaos.

We would refine these “human nature tests” while establishing new organizing tactics. Today, inside sources are telling us that international unions across the globe are looking to the Middle East to reenergize the union movement on home turf. In recent news, you can read how the unions in unlikely parts of the world are waging war in a “fight against the tyranny of the ruling class”. Just recently I saw the following headlines:

“Bahrain Trade Union Calls Strike from Sunday”
“Egypt Workers at Largest Factory Strike, Despite Warning from Military”
“Strikes Lit the Fuse for Revolution tat Toppled Mubarak”
“Egypt Workers Demand Dissolution of State-Run Trade Union Federation”

Try and compare it with statements and news articles in the United States:

“Workers Toppled a Dictator in Egypt, but Might be Silenced in Wisconsin”

Unions have some of the same students being sponsored to go to union halls, universities and media outlets in the U.S. to fuel the notion that unions are promoting “freedom fights”.

Believe me when I say that there was not much that could get Richard Trumka and James Hoffa Jr. talking directly. Most of the communication was done through staff aids. Trumka looked at Hoffa Jr. as a traitor for leaving the AFL/CIO to start another union federation. The anger was so great that Trumka would not attend any meeting where Hoffa Jr. was present. Both realized they had an opportunity in front of them to build union support as political leaders like Governor Walker of Wisconsin are trying to get a handle on runaway budgets by dissolving public union bargaining rights. The danger of losing these rights is so great that two are now meeting in private to discuss the best approach to come together and fight these actions.

Hoffa Jr. and Trumka have been meeting with powerful people in Washington who depend on the unions support (including President Obama). A high ranking union source told us that these same Politicians have been told in no uncertain terms that it is past the time for them to earn their keep or they (and their party) will surely suffer if they “don’t get off their butts and their fences and show their support for the unions.”

The unions plan to “take this fight to the streets.” Our sources are telling us that the union leadership wants this fight and are currently planning to target the same demographics that got President Obama elected. The youth is the future and the unions are giving up on their older membership who has proven to be of little value when it comes to growth. The first commitment of 30 million dollars is only a drop in the bucket compared to what the union is willing to spend to increase membership. They are going to assemble rapid response groups across the country and in labor groups overseas. Only time will tell if the labor movement has learned anything from the uprisings around the world on how to formulate a strong message while targeting their common enemy’s for public condemnation and building the necessary anger to motivate workers to take action. This is the future of the unions.

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