The much-anticipated split in the AFL-CIO, the labor federation in the United States, took place in Chicago, at the federation’s annual convention. Three unions—the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the Teamsters, and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW)—left the federation, and more will likely follow. The dissident unions call themselves the Change to Win Coalition, and they have suggested that what they have done parallels the formation of the CIO in 1935, which resulted in the organization of the nation’s mass production industries. They will be holding their inaugural convention in late September.
We do not know what the short-term effects of this split will be (see the essays by Jerry Tucker and others on the MR webzine: www.mrzine.org). One possibility is that unions in and out of the AFL-CIO will raid one another’s members; that the local central labor councils so important for solidarity support in strikes and boycotts, political activities, and building labor-community coalitions, will splinter; and labor education programs will suffer reduced funding and support. But another scenario is that the split will begin a process of rethinking and rebirth, as leaders in both organizations are forced to come to grips with the devastation of the working class wrought by capital over the past thirty years.
We hope that it is the second scenario which unfolds. We can’t make this happen, but we can offer some advice to both the leaders of unions and to the rank and file, consistent with what MR authors have been saying for fifty years. Leaders, move to the left and do it fast. Empower your members by educating them to the harsh and constant realities of capitalism. Be steadfast opponents of U.S. imperialism and the “War on Terror.” Come to grips with your past collaboration with imperialism and the terrible impact this has had on the world’s workers. Challenge the government’s foreign policy, don’t collaborate with it (see the article in this issue on Pakistani labor by Aasim Sajjad Akhtar). Confront racism head-on and, where appropriate, make it the centerpiece of your organizing efforts. Do the same for sexism and homophobia. Show some political courage and begin divorce proceedings with the Democratic Party. Show principled, and not just tactical, solidarity with allies at home and abroad.
Rank and file, educate yourselves and take control of your own unions. Be aware that entirely new organizations might well be needed to organize yourselves and many other workers (see the article in this issue by Elly Leary on the workers’ center in Florida that won a heroic struggle against Taco Bell). Understand that it will be you and not today’s leaders who will build a real labor movement.
Most MR subscribers will have received our fall associates appeal by now. The future of MR depends on the extra degree of support we receive when basic subscribers become associates, and from our associates when they renew.
In that appeal we focused on what has become a growing threat to our survival. Changes in book distribution are making it more and more difficult for small, dissident presses to exist. The trade market is increasingly dominated by a few large book chains, which prefer to sell books issued by the large for-profit publishers that monopolize most book publishing. In the early 1990s independent bookstores still accounted for most bookstore sales in the United States. By the end of the decade the majority of sales were by the large chains. Although online orders have to some extent helped small publishers during this same period, the inability to get their books out where they can be seen and purchased on the spot has proven to be a serious obstacle. The problem is made all the worse for small presses due to their very strained marketing and promotion budgets.
Obviously there are still further barriers facing a radical publisher like Monthly Review Press. Consequently we are finding it difficult to get our important and timely books into the stores where people can see them. We are asking you therefore to do what you can to draw attention to our books through word-of-mouth—and where possible to get them into your local bookstores and libraries. As we indicated in our fall appeal letter, two books that we are publishing this fall are especially worthy of your support: The Language of Empire: Abu Ghraib and the American Media by Lila Rajiva and Understanding the Venezuelan Revolution: Marta Harnecker Talks to Hugo Chávez. Those of you teaching college courses related to these topics may wish to consider assigning these books.
In early August, John Bellamy Foster visited Honolulu to give a talk that is published as the Review of the Month in this issue. During his stay there he was able to attend a gathering of MR subscribers and friends at an art gallery in Honolulu. The political and intellectual interests and activism of those who attended the gathering was truly impressive and everyone there appeared to have a good time. These friends of MR meet on a semi-regular basis to talk about politics and the magazine. We would like to do everything we can to support such local gatherings of MR readers and supporters. If you wish to organize such a meeting in your area please send an e-mail to Martin Paddio (mreview [at] igc.org) or call us at 212-691-2555.
An error occurred on page 6 of “Naked Imperialism” by John Bellamy Foster in the September issue of MR, where reference was made to the “Research Group on Political Economy,” as author of Behind the Invasion of Iraq(Monthly Review Press, 2003). Instead it should have said “Research Unit for Political Economy” (RUPE). In addition to having authored Behind the Invasion of Iraq, RUPE publishes Aspects of India’s Economy, “a journal which aims to explain day-to-day issues of Indian economic life in terms that can easily be understood, and to link them with the nature of the country’s political economy.” For more information see http://www.rupe-india.org/about.html.
From time to time we receive bequests from readers who want to contribute to the continuance of Monthly Review, Monthly Review Press, or the Monthly Review Foundation. Those who wish to do the same may simply state in their wills that the bequest is to “The Monthly Review Foundation, 146 West 29th Street, #6W, New York, NY 10001.” For additional information contact Martin Paddio at (212) 691-2555 or use our contact page.