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Unions Are Important in Texas

Although Texas is not the bottom rung for union density in the United States, it is extremely low on that ladder. The reasons are in our history of racism, machismo, and other forms of oppression. Texas had its "right to work" anti-union law passed even before the federal government authorized them. The Dallas Morning News came up with the name "right to work." The Dies Committee, named for Congressman Martin Dies of East Texas, was red-baiting unions long before the House Un-American Activities Committee was ever imagined.

In Texas, the strongest unions are the Teachers and the Communications Workers. Each union local is under the authority of its national union, which generally has its own political offices. Most locals are also loosely joined to a local AFL-CIO, the Texas AFL-CIO, and the National AFL-CIO. These connections with the AFL-CIO are generally voluntary and usually have little influence on the local unions except for their political work.

But most Texas unions, even including some of the unions not affiliated with the Texas AFL-CIO, still coordinate their lobbying efforts through ULLCO, the United Labor Legislative Committee. Considering the size of the constituency it represents, ULLCO is extremely effective when the Texas Legislature is in session.

There are about 40 Central Labor Councils in the state, but only two have gathered enough money together to hire full-time staff. They are Houston and Dallas. In all election periods, the CLC's become the focus of union political activities. CLC affiliates typically go to work early making yard signs, then they organize and/or encourage phone banking and neighborhood walking by volunteers.

It is the Houston CLC that shows the most leadership toward a more powerful and more independent labor movement. Houston labor actively courts alliances with other progressive organizations. They have an ongoing program to organize the large immigrant population there, and are currently getting ready to launch a "Justice for Janitors" campaign modeled after the dramatic union successes in Los Angeles.

Houston labor operates their own "labor neighbor" program to build political strength in the neighborhoods where union members live. The Houston CLC took deserved credit for the 2004 election of Hubert Vo, the first Vietnamese American in the Texas legislature. Houston actively operates its own e-messaging service. At the last national AFL-CIO convention, Houston was honored as a precedent-setting example of how CLC's should be functioning.

The national AFL-CIO's progressive leadership elected in 1995 has begun many outstanding reforms. For example, there are several "constituency organizations" and other ways that progressive activists can become involved with union activities without even being a union member. Somewhere around the same time, the Texas AFL-CIO hired a Communications Director with experience in commercial news reporting. His daily e-mail news blurbs are probably the most unifying force for Texas union activists in the state's history.

During the Bush years, the union movement has grown more unified and more progressive.

With the exception of Houston, it may be difficult to see progressive reforms in Texas. However, there has been at least one outstanding example of unions working with larger constituencies on a progressive cause. It was the Immigrant Workers' Freedom Ride. El Paso, San Antonio, Austin, and Dallas committed themselves very well as core organizers of this activity. Houston went even further and became a launching site for one of the freedom rides.

Currently, union people are working with coalitions to save Social Security. On March 31, five major Texas cities held simultaneous public events against brokerage firms that are financing publicity for Bush's privatization plan. Dallas had the largest action with about 70 picketers. Houston held 5 separate leafleting events.

The Party's Role

It is important to note that unions are not revolutionary groups and should in no way be seen as more important or more of a working class vanguard than our party. It's a common error.

But the Communist Party recognizes that unions are the fundamental organizing vehicle for the American working class. We recognize that they tend to be larger, more stable, better financed, and more consistently progressive than most of the organizations we can work with. Although phony leftists and armchair socialists put a lot of energy into criticizing unions, and nobody claims they are perfect, they remain the most important elements of the growing progressive coalition in America. All members of CPUSA are required by the constitution to join their union if they can. We have zero scab members.

The Party

There is nothing terrible or fundamentally wrong with the present functioning of local unions or AFL-CIO affiliates in Texas. There is little to criticize about the role that CPUSA members play in union activities. At the same time, we have to recognize that CPUSA forces are small and that the union movement in Texas is far too small to meet the challenges ahead. We are doing the right things, but we need to do a whole lot more.

One of the most important union drives in America is going to take place in San Antonio when the United Auto Workers works to organize the Toyota plant being built there. The UAW has a string of failures in trying to organize Asian-owned factories, and they desperately need to reverse their steady decline. UNITE-HERE and the SEIU have precedent-setting organizing drives and contract fights involving Texas immigrants. These activities give our comrades an extra opportunity to fight for unionization and civil rights at the same time. These are just examples. Great opportunities and great challenges face the union movement all over the state, and there are ways that our comrades can help.

It may surprise some activists to learn how easy it is to get involved with unions. Unions have very few volunteers that know how to carry out political activities. Among hard-working and dedicated union activists, there are extremely few who could make a leaflet, create a phone tree, or set up a web page. There are even fewer able and willing to work with the public. Your talents are needed, and the opportunities are myriad.

Most of today's activities to save Social Security have focused on organizing lobbying efforts, publicity work, and petitioning. Union leaders agree 100% with our party that the main focus must be to prevent Bush's privatization plan. However, I may have noticed a slight tendency to bow to Democratic Party leadership on the lesser issue of how to raise more money for Social Security over the long term. The obvious method is to raise the cap and require everyone to pay Social Security taxes on their incomes that exceed the present cap of $90,000/year. I suspect that Democratic Congresspersons, who make more than $90,000/year, would rather soft-pedal this solution. Consequently, they may be more amenable to lowering Social Security benefits or raising the retirement age, as they agreed to do in 1983.

That gives our party members a special duty to make sure that "raise the cap" is the option of choice for working people.

In conclusion, I do not want to leave the impression that the great work being done outside the union movement is diminished by the vast opportunities in the union movement. I only want activists to consider the overall goals in informing and organizing the working class as we select our activities and apply our resources.

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