Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Saul Alinsky And Labor Unions—A Love-Hate Relationship

In “Saul Alinsky Hated Capitalism, But He Also Hated The Liberals,” I point out that Alinsky had a relentlessly pessimistic view of capitalism. He was contemptuous of the liberals because he believed that they were too moderate, and they lacked the will to use coercive and violent methods for fundamentally transforming the capitalist system.

But he had similar contempt for the leaders of the labor unions. He believed that the labor unions were not doing enough to damage the system. They were too democratic, and often unwilling to promote socialist causes and political movements. In their negotiations with private enterprises and government bodies, they were too soft and flexible.

He believed that instead of being foes of capitalism, the labor unions were its supporters: “It is clear that the organized labor movement supports a cap­italistic form of society. It is also obvious that the labor movement as now constituted must continue to be as much a guardian of the castle of capitalism as is capital.”

The above quote is from Alinsky’s Reveille for Radicals which he published in 1946. A significant number of the book’s pages are devoted to excoriating the labor unions for their soft tactics. He was of the view that as the unions have come into their own in the monopolistic capitalist economy, they are comfortable with being in bed with the capitalists.

He accused the labor unions of becoming “strong, wealthy, fat, and respectable,” like the capitalists:

“As labor unions have become strong, wealthy, fat, and respectable, they have behaved more and more like organized business. In many cases their courses have run so parallel that in a basic sense organized labor has become a partner of organized business. The illustrations of this fact are legion, and are found in practically all of the great variety of labor unions.”

In Reveille for Radicals, Alinsky has analyzed the statements of the union bosses representing various industrial sectors. He reaches the conclusion that the unions don’t want to see any decline in the profits of the industries and the government bodies. He accuses them of being more concerned about the profits of the capitalists than with the wages of the workers.

He regarded the labor unions as the citadels of conservative reaction. According to him, the unions are mired in racism and they don’t give enough representation to the black population. He wanted the country to move towards socialism, but he felt that the labor unions didn't want socialism as their structure was such that they could only survive in a capitalist system.

“They must be opposed to Socialism, Com­munism or any other philosophy which would destroy private ownership of industry or private employment. From their point of view, the introduction of a Socialistic society would mean the death knell of the present organized labor movement.”

In Rules for Radicals (1971), Alinsky has listed his ideas for radically transforming the labor unions. He proposes that as the labor unions were failing to do their job, it was necessary for the ever fighting radicals to take control of all agitations for securing the rights of the workers. He wanted the radicalized unions to swamp the capitalist system with never-ending agitations and ever-changing list of extreme demands. Here’s an excerpt:

“Labor union organizers turned out to be poor community organizers. Their experience was tied to a pattern of fixed points, whether it was definite demands on wages, pensions, vacation periods, or other working conditions, and all of this was anchored into particular contract dates. Once the issues were settled and a contract signed, the years before the next contract negotiation held only grievance meetings about charges on contract violations by either side. Mass organization is a different animal, it is not housebroken. There are no fixed chronological points or definite issues. The demands are always changing; the situation is fluid and ever-shifting; and many of the goals are not in concrete terms of dollars and hours but are psychological and constantly changing, like ‘such stuff as dreams are made on.’”

He exhorts his radicals to instigate the workers by making them aware of their bad condition. He says that the radicals must dramatize the “injustices by describing conditions at other industrial plants engaged in the same kind of work where the workers are far better off economically and have better working conditions, job security, health benefits, and pensions as well as other advantages that had not even been thought of by the workers he is trying to organize.”

He points out that no one can negotiate a good deal without being in a position of power, and that the power of the labor unions comes from their ability to go on a strike or indulge in violence if all their demands are not met.

It is worth noting that while Alinsky has advocated for a radical transformation of the labor unions, he has not expressed any concern for the economic well-being of the working class. He does not claim that his ideas will lead to improvement in people’s quality of life.

From Alinsky’s writings you can draw the inference that he wanted to replace capitalism with a totalitarian socialist system. But he has not said that explicitly in his books, and it seems as if he is not concerned about what comes after the capitalist system has been ruined. As I have pointed in my earlier articles, Saul Alinsky was a nihilist; he had no higher goals and he wanted destruction for the sake of destruction.

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