Recently the open forum website, www.21cpw.com, saw the airing of a complaint from APWU members of the Retirees' Department about the treatment of Retiree delegates during the Craft Conference / Installation of Officers circus. For those who may have missed the posts, the complaint is essentially that certain officers of the APWU headquarters administration disrespected our Retirees and did so on more than one occasion, in more than one way; that, generally, administration officers showed an arrogance bordering on contempt for the status of our retired members.
So, what else is new? This, as has been pointed out by others, is part of a pattern that has been present in the handling of retiree issues for many years. Retired union activists, members of the APWU, have brought issues to the floor of National Conventions repeatedly over the years only to find their legitimate objectives blocked by the APWU headquarters administration. It has taken several Conventions to develop sufficient momentum for retiree issues to have finally achieved some measure of success in granting these devoted unionists participatory rights in what we brag to be the most democratic union in the country. But the resistance of our national "leaders" continues to be reflected in the arrogant abuse recently displayed in Las Vegas.
Unfortunately, this arrogance is endemic to the APWU administration, and has been developing there for the past twenty years. It is not limited to disrespect for retirees. The national administration has been separating itself from the rest of the APWU for years, consolidating political power at the top. It has resulted, for example, in absurd presentations to National Conventions of dire imperatives to cut costs while presenting rosy economic reports to justify huge increases in top officer salaries. While such contradictory presentations resulted in rejection by the Convention body of the proposed salary increases, the more important point is the underlying contempt reflected by the effort. Not just that someone wanted a salary raise - who does not? No, it is the contempt for the delegates - the presumption that the elected delegates to the Convention were too stupid or too complacent to notice that one side of the mouth spoke of impending economic perils while the other side of the mouth asserted we are in sound financial condition. These presumptions are founded in arrogance and contempt.
The separation between 'the boys in Washington' and the rest of the Union is further demonstrated in the ongoing attack on the "field offices" - the NBA's and their secretarial staff. While, on the one hand, promises are made that cost-cutting measures will never be made that affect representation activities, the administration persists in trying to find ways to justify closing NBA offices. Simple economics would dictate that purchasing property for an office is wiser than renting space, yet when leases reach term 'the boys in Washington' decline to authorize property purchase. Why? Because it is not the economics that matters. Purchase or rent - the real question is, how to get rid of the field offices. Does this reflect an understanding of or respect for the desires and best interests of Local representatives and, ultimately, the members? Of course not. What Local officers, stewards and the members want is more and better representation, not less. That will not come from a greater concentration of political power in Washington DC.
The mantra in Washington these days is, "Run the Union like a business." We have even been subjected to hearing from the President, "At heart, I'm a capitalist." Looking at what corporate capitalist ideals have done to the American economy and the situation of working Americans, aspiring to being more like a business is not becoming to a Union. But it does reflect what is important to 'the boys in Washington' - concentration of power. Corporate capitalism is all about concentrating power at the top and taking from the workers. Unfortunately, as this Union emulates this "value" it increasingly becomes something unrecognizable from what union activists have thought for years we were devoting our lives to. It is time for change. It is time we alter the dynamics of how this Union operates. The members are entitled to more democracy, entitled to know that their Union is more interested in pursuing the ideals of the labor movement than the ideals of corporate capitalism. As we approach another National Convention, we should be spending time and energy examining what this Union is about, what it has become and what it ought to be. And we should be preparing to make some changes.
(First published in January 2008)