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Future of Labor Movement

August 29, 1994

* I found Bill Robertson's (letter, Aug. 14) attack on Eric Mann's Aug. 4 Column Left interesting but predictable. Interesting because Robertson denigrates The Times for even running Mann's article. Although Robertson has been an enthusiastic proponent of the free market system, he seems to draw the line at a free market of ideas, especially when those ideas diverge from typical Establishment opinion. I am familiar with Mann's work since 1982 when he worked on the GM assembly line in Van Nuys and was the UAW coordinator of the Campaign to Keep GM Van Nuys Open.

That campaign, unafraid to acknowledge the "class struggle" which seems to frighten Robertson, built a large worker-community-civil rights coalition to defend the multiracial but predominantly Latino work force against GM's plans to shut the plant down. This struggle was one of labor's few bright spots during the Reagan '80s, and succeeded in keeping the plant open for a full decade. In fact the issue was lost only when the "class struggle" politics that Robertson hates so much gave way to the "labor-management cooperation" policies of the AFL-CIO and the UAW International. Labor cooperated by making major concessions to GM. The company cooperated by closing down the plant in 1992.

In light of this history, it is rather ludicrous for Robertson to deride Mann and the Strategy Center for criticizing the leadership of the transit unions for failing to wholeheartedly support low-income communities that are fighting against fare increases and cuts in bus service. Mann correctly points out that the union's shortsightedness and narrow self-interest resulted in major losses for their workers. Of course, Robertson has every right to disagree with Mann's ideas. Robertson and the labor Establishment should stop and consider what will once again make the labor movement relevant: welcoming pro-union innovators like Mann, or futilely seeking friendship with GM and the MTA.

BILL GALLEGOS

Los Angeles

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