UE meeting and comment

Michael Yates mikey+ at pitt.edu
Mon Apr 3 19:36:36 PDT 2000

I delivered an address to the officers, staff,and organizers of the United Electrical Workers (UE) in Wilkes Barre, PA. this morning. I thank those of you who commented on a draft of my talk. Your comments were most useful to me. The talk was a great success and generated a long discussion. These brothers and sisters are about as left as you get in the US labor movement. President John Hovis and the other officers are remarkably unpretentious and down to earth. Of course, no officer earns more money than the highest paid member (today the president earns $45,000!!). They are keen on empowering the members. Not servicing them or mobilizing them, but helping them to control their own union. Most remarkable.

I went to the meeting early so I could hear the other presentations. The first speaker was Mike Dolan of Seattle WTO protest fame. I must say that I have seldom seen a person so full of himself, even holding up a picture of himself in a Wall Street Journal article about him (why did he bring this with him?) and refering to his organization's website as "his" website. I shook hands with him before the meeting, but he was not at all interested in learning anything about me. He just shook hands and then went off to continue whistling the song "Union Maids." He gave a rather canned pitch complete with annoying histrionics and dumb jokes and many references to himself. Most troubling to me was the incredible China bashing spiel he gave, complete with numerous handouts.(He argued that we cannot let capital win any victoreis and this alone is reason to go all out on keeping China out of the WTO). Now I understand that the China issue is complex, but his talk verged on the worst kind of jingoism and racism. Not one mention of prison labor in the US or sweatshops here or racism here or anything like this or what his organization proposed we do about these things. Nothing about attempts at direct solidarity with Chinese workers. Nothing about what next if China is not admitted to the WTO. He had a lot of slogans but not much in the way of analysis. In addition, he seemed the kind of person not one bit interested in anyone other than himself. Fortunately the unionists seemed in agreement with me when I said in my talk that the China issue needed to be carefully considered, especially in light of the long history of absolutely horrible racism of US labor against Chinese immigrants.

On my way home I couldn't stop thinking about Dolan. I can't see how a radical movement, one aimed at worker self-emancipation could ever be led by such a person. Perhaps others can enlighten me on his good qualities, but I was very much unimpressed.

Michael Yates

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