Labor’s Appeasers: Teamsters’ Hoffa backs down on China visit

While there is a great deal of talk these days about whether or not an Obama Administration would be engaged in “appeasement” if it puts in place its proposed “dialogue with dictators” proposal, there is a new form of appeasement spreading inside the American trade union movement.
The basis of global labor solidarity is steadfast support of the rights of workers to organize and engage in collective bargaining free of harassment by the government or employers. These rights are enshrined in numerous international agreements and are the cornerstone of a genuine democracy. They must be vigorously defended no matter where, whether it is under the Burmese dictatorship, in right wing regimes like that of Chile’s Pinochet or in America’s newest global partner, China.
While establishment figures like Obama and McCain have their foreign policy, so must the labor movement and to work with the labor officials of the Chinese government is a form of appeasement inside the labor movement – cozying up to labor’s opponents in the farcical hope that that might be a way forward for American labor.
Where is this new form of “labor appeasement” coming from?
A new group of authoritarian leftists including the maoist Ellen David Friedman, and university-based political activists Katie Quan of U.C. Berkeley, Elaine Bernard of Harvard and Kent Wong of UCLA have been joined recently by some prominent authoritarian labor leaders like Andy Stern of SEIU in bringing Chinese state labor officials to the United States, into the American democratic labor movement, as reported here by the International Labor Communications Association.
In the eyes of these authoritarian left activists the Chinese labor officials have something of value to share with real trade unionists.  What that is, I can only imagine – perhaps it is an effort to justify the kinds of one sided top down tactics used by Andy Stern to rule SEIU with an iron fist.
But the appeasement process goes two ways: Stern and Teamster leader James Hoffa have traveled to China, too. And while Hoffa, at least, has made an effort to defend jailed trade unionists around the world, I have been told by a reliable labor movement source that he abandoned that effort on his 2007 trip to China.
According to a Teamster press release issued during the early days of the trip while the delegation was in Shanghai, Hoffa intended to take a tough stance with the authorities in Beijing:
“A reporter from international wire service Reuters asked Hoffa about the rights of labor activists in China and about charges that ACFTU is a government-controlled, management-friendly union that does not truly represent the interests of workers.

“‘We have to see, has there been improvement in the lives of the workers?’ Hoffa said. ‘Have their hours been changed? Do they have a better job? Do they have more money? That’s the question, not whether there’s a union at Wal-Mart. The question is what has been the effect on the average workers? Have their lives gotten better because of the union?'”

But things changed when Hoffa and Stern got to Beijing. While meeting with lower government labor officials he was told he could not raise concerns about human rights of jailed labor activists with the leaders of the government’s trade union arm or else the meeting would be cancelled.

Hoffa duly complied with the request.

Hoffa abandoned his Chinese brothers and sisters despite reports of several key labor activists languishing in Chinese prisons simply for exercising their universally recognized human rights to freedom of association and freedom of speech. When reports of the trip were made back in the United States, according to my source, there was an uproar but unfortunately, until now, the discussion has been kept private, away from the rank and file membership of the Teamsters and the labor movement more generally.
I leave it to my readers to ponder whether there is a link between the new labor appeasement and the “dialogue with dictators” proposed by Obama. But it is also true that Hoffa’s Teamsters and Stern’s SEIU were early and aggressive Obama backers.
Readers interested in the details on the conditions facing genuine trade union activists in China are urged to consult the excellent work of the China Labour Bulletin, based in Hong Kong, and headed up by Han Dong Fang, who was a leader of workers in the 1989 democracy movement on Tiananmen Square. CLB is supported financially by the western labor movement, but when Stern and Hoffa went to China they ignored Han Dong Fang and held only a brief meeting with independent union representatives in Hong Kong, whom they reportedly treated in a paternalistic and dismissive manner.
Here is how the Bulletin describes the Chinese labor arm, the ACFTU:

“In essence, the ACFTU sees its labour rights work as conducting union operations under the overall guidance of the Party and government. The ACFTU stresses that only when unions consciously accept the Party’s leadership and firmly implement the Party’s line, strategies, and policies, can they consistently maintain the correct political direction and truly implement their basic responsibility to protect workers’ legal rights.”

Some union, eh?

I also engaged in a debate recently with some of the academic supporters of the new “labor appeasement” policy which you can view here on Google video.

I wrote to the Director of Communications Brent Caldwell of the Teamsters asking about this trip. I received no reply.

What is truly tragic about the new appeasement is that it emerges just as the Chinese workers themselves are organizing a new genuine independent labor movement that has the potential to shake the autocratic Chinese state to its very foundation.

As just one example of the new divide between the Chinese state and the workers consider this comment by the China Labour Bulletin in a research report late last year:

“In 2005-2006, while the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was seeking to create a ‘harmonious socialist society,’ factory managers withheld wages and forced employees to work excessive overtime for little or no additional pay. The All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) called for migrant workers to “come to the union with their problems,” but millions of migrant workers and others ignored the call and took to the streets to demand their rights.”

It is those millions with whom our labor leaders should be meeting and supporting – through the China Labour Bulletin and in any other way that is feasible, just as the AFL-CIO did in support of eastern European workers’ movements like Polish Solidarity in the 1970s and 1980s.

Chinese Labor Leaders [sic] Meet with Bay Area Airport Labor Unions