Latino-Labor Alliance in CA: View from Right

John Gulick jlgulick at
Fri Aug 18 21:55:50 PDT 2000

Nathan Newman posted the following article:

>Union card for green card: The radical vanguard in the Los Angeles labor

I sez:

Nathan, nice find. Once one cuts through all the demagogy and posturing in this piece, there's a lot of interesting and valuable info here.

As has been pointed out repeatedly here and elsewhere, in the Sweeney era the wing of organized labor which has done the most foot soldiering for nominally pro-"working family" centrist hack Dems like Gray Davis and now Al Gore are personal service sector unions (SEIU, HERE) supposedly on the cutting edge of the "new social movement" unionism. There is sort of a structural coherence between DLC global neo-liberalism and "new social movement unionists" pushing the DLC Dems from the left but faithfully staying within the fold after much grousing and kvetching. DLC global economic policy means hypertrophic growth of an overconsuming professional-technical salariat, who spend their plush incomes on personal services (hotels, restaurants, etc.) delivered by these unionized workers. (This is an obvious oversimplification, but I think the picture is more or less clear). Another part of the bargain is this: DLC Dems, right in line with their philosophy of an info-capitalist world of unimpeded wealth-producing flows, support an open immigration policy (although they are prone to occasional demagogic plays to nativists). Support for an open immigration policy bolsters their "tolerant" and "multicultural" credentials with liberals who are either bureaucrats and activists in the "new social movement unionism" or their sympathizers.

A few contradictions in this alliance, some of which may be exposed in the upcoming recession, some of which will develop slowly over the long haul:

1) Hotel and restaurant profits, union dues, and worker wages are highly dependent on yuppie overconsumptionism -- what happens when the stock market tanks ? Then the functional complicity between DLC global neo-liberalism and the "new social movement unionism" is laid bare and sundered. Few things piss off a movement more than being beat back after tasting a little hope-inducing success, so perhaps there are some latent radicalizing possibilities resting within this contradiction.

2) Increasing bifurcations among the recent immigrant working class. Strange though it may seem, amongst working poor Latinos in L.A. it's not unfathomable to imagine unionized maids and janitors making twice the wages (plus benefits) as super-exploited welders and seamstresses, whose jobs will be exported if their wages rise. Schisms amongst the recent immigrant working class may interfere with "new social movement unionist" activist-politicos capacity to peddle themselves to the DLC Dems as "race men/women." At the same time, AFL-CIO support for amnesty of the undocumented will serve to contain and maybe alleviate these potential tensions.

While I find the "new social movement unionism" to be in many ways an exciting injection into a moribund labor scene, and obviously I'm in favor of better wages/conditions for the working poor in the tourism and entertainment sectors, I think there are very severe structural limits to the replication of the model: not so much b/c of the binding ties between "new social movement unionist" leaders and the DLC Dems, but because of the former's dependence on the fragile and contradictory accumulation strategy of the latter.

For my money (and based on my very puny knowledge), it's the environmental justice movement in the Southland which has the greatest potential to bring together a non-economistic critique of capitalism (the "new social movement unionist" critique is basically distributionist couched in terms of racial justice) with a politics actually rooted in the lifeworld of the multicultural working class (i.e. not imposed by the romantic projections of outside radicals). The L.A. Bus Riders' Movement is a good example. Problem is, environmental justice movement doesn't have the power to withhold labor, only to protest. And while the "new social movement unionists" may be far too wedded to the Dems, the environmental justice movements are probably far too wedded to the liberal foundations. One, two, many Labor-Community Alliance Centers are required for the red-green revolution (i.e. without the overbearing and dictatorial of certain personalities in the LCAC) !!!

John Gulick

More information about the lbo-talk mailing list