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Obama Did It For the Money May 7, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Economic Crisis.
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Roger’s note: Obama strikes again: rewarding another one the architects of the economic disaster that ruined thousands of lives.  But she got him elected and the banksters and the corporate blood-sucking congress-owning community will be pleased; and that is what is important to the president.

The love fest between Barack Obama and his top fundraiser Penny Pritzker that has led to her being nominated as Commerce secretary would not be so unseemly if they both just confessed that they did it for the money. Her money, not his, financed his rise to the White House from less promising days back in Chicago.

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President Barack Obama looks to longtime fundraiser Penny Pritzker, right, as she laughs in the Rose Garden of the White House, where he announced he would nominate Pritzker to run the Commerce Department and economic adviser Michael Froman, left, as the next U.S. Trade Representative. (Photo: AP/Carolyn Kaster)

“Without Penny Pritzker, it is unlikely that Barack Obama ever would have been elected to the United States Senate or the presidency,” according to a gushing New York Times report last year that read like the soaring jacket copy of a steamy romance novel. “When she first backed him during his 2004 Senate run, she was No. 152 on the Forbes list of the wealthiest Americans. He was a long-shot candidate who needed her support and imprimatur. Mr. Obama and Ms. Pritzker grew close, sometimes spending weekends with their families at her summer home.”

But don’t sell the lady short; she wasn’t swept along on some kind of celebrity joyride. Pritzker, the billionaire heir to part of the Hyatt Hotels fortune, has long been first off an avaricious capitalist, and if she backed Obama, it wasn’t for his looks. Never one to rest on the laurels of her immense inherited wealth, Pritzker has always wanted more. That’s what drove her to run Superior Bank into the subprime housing swamp that drowned the institution’s homeowners and depositors alike before she emerged richer than before.

Pritzker and her family had acquired the savings and loan with the help of $600 million in tax credits. She became the new bank’s chairwoman and ended up as a director of the holding company that owned it. Under her leadership, Superior specialized in subprime lending, hustling folks with meager means and poor credit into high interest loans that were bundled into the toxic securities that wrecked the U.S. economy.

As federal regulators began to move in on her bank after it had dangerously inflated the value of its toxic assets, Pritzker assured its employees: “Our commitment to subprime has never been stronger.” Two months later, the bank was pronounced insolvent. At the time, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.‘s inspector general report concluded, “The failure of Superior Bank was directly attributable to the board of directors and executive management ignoring sound risk diversification principles, as evidenced by excessive concentration in residual assets related to subprime lending. …”

No biggie. In announcing her appointment, Obama joked, “For your birthday present, you get to go through confirmation. It’s going to be great.” It’s the same sort of joke he could have cracked in appointing Citigroup alum Jack Lew to be Treasury secretary.

It is deeply revealing that in the midst of the continuing cycle of misery brought on by the chicanery of the financial community two key Cabinet positions dealing with business practices will likely be occupied by people who specialized in those financial rip-offs.

For Pritzker, as with the confirmation of Lew, the fix is in. The Republicans don’t dare push back too hard on shady business practices that their deregulation legislation endorsed, and Democrats will go along with anything the president wants.

The same restraint will be exhibited in exploring the offshore tax havens that have protected the Pritzker family’s immense wealth. Back in 2008, when she had been rumored for this same Cabinet post, Pritzker was queried about avoiding the sort of taxes most ordinary folks are obligated to pay, and she replied in writing: “I am a beneficiary of some non-U.S. situs trusts which were established about 50 years ago (when I was a child) and are administered by a non-U.S.–based financial institution as trustee. I do not control how those assets are administered.” If the Republicans challenge that canard, the Democrats will smugly remind them of Mitt Romney’s tax havens, as if that excuses tax avoidance within their own ranks.

Certainly the Republicans will not raise questions about the anti-union practices that helped create the Hyatt fortune in the first place and continue to this day. Nor will the Democrats, who embrace unions only at national convention time.

“There is a huge unresolved set of issues in the Democratic Party between people of wealth and people who work,” noted Andy Stern, former president of the Service Employees International Union, which attempts to organize the miserably paid workers that produced Pritzker’s wealth. “Penny is a living example of that issue.”

But it’s payback time, and even normally progressive Democrats like Pritzker’s home state Sen. Dick Durbin are prepared to roll over. Treating the appointment of billionaire Pritzker as a victory for women everywhere, the senator said she’d “broken through the glass ceiling with her extraordinary intelligence and business acumen.”

Right, Pritzker will be a fine role model for those women working at the Asian factories that she’ll be touring as Commerce secretary extolling the virtues of the American business model.

Robert Scheer

Robert Scheer is editor of Truthdig.com and a regular columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle.

Banana Republic Legacy Thrives in Today’s Latin America February 18, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Guatemala, Labor, Latin America.
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Published on Saturday, February 18, 2012 by In These Times

The term “banana republic” has become a cliche to describe economic imperialism throughout history, but the legacy of colonialism persists in Latin America today. The tradition of predatory capitalism echoed in the recent death of Miguel Angel González Ramírez, a member of the Izabal banana workers’ union SITRABI in Guatemala.

According to the International Trade Union Confederation, the unionist was “shot several times whilst carrying his young child in his arms.” This seems to be another casualty in a labor battle between labor and corporateers who would rather see workers shed blood than be paid fair wages.

The ITUC has demanded an official investigation, noting that in the past year several unionists have been killed or targeted with threats. Last October, SITRABI member Pablino Yaque Cervantes was shot by an unidentified attacker, according to U.S. Labor Education in the Americas Project (US LEAP).

Manuela Chávez of the ITUC’s Department of Human and Trade Union Rights told In these Times, “Freedom of association and the right to organize and bargain collectively have been endangered by a very high anti-union repression for years,” adding that the threats to unionists are aggravated by government inaction.

But it’s not just the cruelty of the killing–nor the connection to the infamous banana crop–that evokes a history of enslavement and dehumanization of indigenous, African and migrant peoples. The company in question, BANDEGUA, is a Del Monte subsidiary that has come under fire for refusing to comply with the Guatemalan government’s minimum wage standards.

The incident reflects business as usual in the banana industry, well known for oppressive working conditions. Labor advocates have long protested unfair wages and other violations in Latin American agriculture, especially under international giants like Dole.

The crisis has reached a boiling point under the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), a NAFTA-style trade regime that expanded multinationals’ power over the region’s industrial and agricultural sectors. Evidence of systemic abuses prompted SITRABI and other Guatemalan unions, along with the AFL-CIO, to initiate a worker rights complaint in 2008. As documented by US LEAP, the campaign cites violations of union rights as well as outright brutality, “including the 2007 murder of the brother of the General Secretary of the union.”

It remains to be seen whether there will be any consequences for the latest killing, but if past is prologue, Del Monte will likely remain comfortably insulated from labor troubles in the recesses of its global empire. After all, that’s what trade systems like CAFTA have been designed to do, with their notoriously flimsy labor provisions. SITRABI’s activists are veterans of this war of attrition, having led global efforts to raise awareness of the rampant human rights abuses in the industry, from terrorizing violence to illegal firings to lack of collective bargaining protections.

Noting that the CAFTA complaint still drags on as the body count ticks up, Lupita Aguila Arteaga, executive director of the advocacy group STITCH, told In These Times:

This prolonged process shows how ineffective CAFTA is at protecting the rights of workers. The U.S. needs to continue to pressure the Guatemalan government to obey its own labor laws and uphold its labor rights obligations as mandated in the Central America Free Trade Agreement.

STITCH points out that labor violations in the banana industry are deeply entwined in global trade networks that send cheap fruit to hungry U.S. consumer markets. Since even so-called “fair trade certified” bananas may come from nonunion plantations, Arteaga says, American appetites are driving a hemispheric race to the bottom:

The banana industry in Latin America is facing a decline in unionization rates and wages. Companies like Wal-Mart are now buying directly from Latin American producers where unions do not exist and therefore labor and prices are cheaper. Banana companies are trying to stay afloat of this game by moving their production to other areas that can allow them to make a bigger profit by paying workers less and not providing any benefits.

Perhaps the best hope challenging Latin America’s labor injustices won’t come from government or consumer campaigns, but from within–a surge in progressive unionism led by women. In a report on women banana workers (informed by a documentary project on feminist labor struggles), Arteaga describes how the fight for gender equity has become a wellspring of self-empowerment:

Bananeras, as they are dearly called, have achieved victories we can only dream of in the U.S., including clauses in their union contract that allows them to take a paid day off for a mammogram and/or a pap smear, union-wide campaigns with workshops against domestic violence, as well as union-led campaigns against HIV/AIDS with a focus on reproductive justice and accessibility to healthcare for all women in their communities. Not to mention the fact that ALL local banana unions have a women’s committee.

Today’s banana republic is still rife with neocolonial horrors, but if you unpeel the layers of bitter struggle surrounding these communities, you might find some surprisingly sweet triumphs.

© 2012 In These Times

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Michelle Chen

Michelle Chen is a contributing editor at In These Times. She is a regular contributor to the labor rights blog Working In These Times, Colorlines.com, and Pacifica’s WBAI. Her work has also appeared in Common Dreams, Alternet, Ms. Magazine, Newsday, and her old zine, cain.

A Super Bowl of Struggle? The NFLPA’s Demaurice Smith on Opposing Indiana’s ‘Right to Work’ Agenda January 30, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Indiana, Labor, Sports.
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Roger’s note: given the outrageous and obscene salaries that some elite athletes make, it might be tempting to dismiss the concerns of sports professional from a labor point of view.  This would be an error.  The vast majority do not make those multi million dollar salaries, and even if the average player is well paid in comparison with other classes of workers, the same issues are involved with respect to working conditions, benefits, etc.  And one should not forget the physical beating that professional athletes take and pay for the rest of their lives.  In other words, the principle of worker rights is most definitely in play with respect to professional sports.  The NFLPA executive director put it most succinctly: “First and foremost, it’s important that our young men understand that they are just like every man and woman in America who works for a living. The minute that any sports player believes for whatever reason that they are outside the management-labor paradigm, I guarantee you that the minute you start thinking that way is the day you will start to lose ground.”

Dave Zirinon January 18, 2012 – 11:43am ET, www.thenation.com
The Super Bowl is supposed to bring attention and even glory to its host city. But thanks to an anti-worker, anti-union assault by Indiana’s Governor Mitch Daniels and the Republican-controlled legislature, the big game, to be held this year in Indianapolis, is bringing a different kind of attention altogether. The NFL Players Association joined the ranks of unions across the state last week in opposing efforts to make Indiana join the ranks of so-called “Right to Work” states. “Right to Work” laws have also been called “Right to Beg” or “Right to Starve” since they undercut wages, benefits and the most basic workplace protections. Coming off their own labor battle, the NFLPA released a statement where they promised that they would not be silent on these laws during the buildup to the Super Bowl. I interviewed NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith about why they felt it was important to take a stand against this legislation.
Dave Zirin: Why did the NFLPA feel compelled to release that statement against Indiana’s proposed Right to Work laws?

DeMaurice Smith: First and foremost, it’s important that our young men understand that they are just like every man and woman in America who works for a living. The minute that any sports player believes for whatever reason that they are outside the management-labor paradigm, I guarantee you that the minute you start thinking that way is the day you will start to lose ground. Our guys get their fingers broken, their backs broken, their heads concussed and their knees torn up because they actually put their hands into the ground and work for a living, and I would much rather have them understand and appreciate and frankly embrace the beauty of what it is to work and provide for their family.

[On this issue] we are in lock-step with organized labor. I’m proud to sit on the executive council of the AFL-CIO. Why? Because we share all the same issues that the American people share. We want decent wages. We want a fair pension. We want to be taken care of when we get hurt. We want a decent and safe working environment. So when you look at proposed legislation in a place like Indiana that wants to call it something like “Right to Work,” I mean, let’s just put the hammer on the nail. It’s untrue. This bill has nothing to do with a “right to work.” If folks in Indiana and that great legislature want to pass a bill that really is something called “Right to Work,” have a constitutional amendment that guarantees every citizen a job, that’s a “right to work.” What this is instead is a right to ensure that ordinary working citizens can’t get together as a team, can’t organize, can’t stand together and can’t fight management on an even playing field. From a sports union, our union, our men and their families understand the power of management and understand how much power management can wield over an individual person. So don’t call it a “right to work.” If you want to have an intelligent discussion about what the bill is, call it what it is. Call it an anti-organizing bill. Fine. If that’s what the people want to do in order to put a bill out there, let’s cast a vote on whether or not ordinary workers can get together and represent themselves, and let’s have a real referendum.

DZ: What would you say to someone who says, ‘Well, people who support this type of right to work legislation, they are just doing it to protect unions. They don’t care about the majority of workers who aren’t in unions”?

DS: Well take a look over the last 100 years. I used to say that we have forgotten a lot of the lessons from organized labor over the last 100 years, but I’m now convinced that we never learned them. Whether your talking about fire escapes outside of buildings or sprinkler systems inside of buildings, fair wages for a days work, laws that prevent child labor, things that led to the abolishing of sweatshops in America, let alone management contributing to healthcare plans or a decent pension… all those things over the last 100 years were not gifts from management. Someone in a corporate suite didn’t decide one day that they would bestow that wonderful right upon a working person. The way those rights were achieved was through the collective will of a group of workers who stood together and said, ‘This is what we believe is fair, and we are all going to stand together and demand that those things be provided to us. We’ll do it as a collective group. You may be able to pick off one of us or two of us or five of us, but you will not be able to pick off all of us.’ When you look at legislation that is designed to tear apart that ability to work as a team… that is not just anti-union. That is anti–working man and woman, and that’s why we weighed in on this one.

DZ: When you put out a statement like this, does it also goes out to every player so they’re aware of this campaign?

DS: It goes out to the players, the board, and the executive committee, and here in this case, we actually reached out to former Indianapolis Colts, former players who went to college in Indiana, and those players who live in Indiana, and asked them if they’d want to sign on. So we have a very impressive list of players. Rex Grossman is a local player who signed on. Jeff George, former quarterback for [among other teams] the Indianapolis Colts, also signed on. I’m proud of our guys who signed off on this because I do think that they appreciate and understand that in the same way that those things that we were talking about things that have been changes for good for ordinary workers in America, there isn’t a player in the National Football League who shouldn’t understand that every benefit that we have in the collective bargaining agreement is one that was negotiated by a collective of players standing together. Coming out of this lockout, perhaps it was the first time some of our young men understood what the collective bargaining agreement is all about. [Author’s note: De Smith said after the interview that Tim Tebow was behind the NFLPA 100 percent during the lockout. Given some of my own critiques of Tebow’s politics, I felt obliged to include that nugget.]

DZ: The news this week was that this bill was rammed through committee, so it is advancing through the Indiana State House. Has there been any talk about what else the NFLPA might do? Any follow up to the statement that you put out?

DS: I wrote an op-ed that has been placed in the main Indianapolis newspaper. If the issue is still percolating by the time of Super Bowl, I can promise you that the players of the National Football League and their union will be up front about what we think about this and why. Look, we have players who played in Indianapolis obviously, but I made no secret coming into this fight that the lockout, organized and implemented by a group of owners, was not only designed to hurt players but all of the people who work in and around our stadium: the hospitality network, the network of restaurants, bars, all of those things that are connected and touch our business were affected by the lockout that we frankly did not want to happen. So there is never going to be a day where players are going to divorce themselves from the ordinary people who work around their sports, and we’re sure as heck not going to divorce ourselves from the fans who dig our game.

DZ: If the legislation is still percolating, there will be people who will be doing legal, nonviolent protests around the Super Bowl game to try to leverage the spotlight of the Super Bowl to raise the issue for a national audience, and I know that they’re getting various union endorsements to do so. Is that something the NFLPA would support, the idea of a demonstration, a legal, nonviolent demonstration outside the Super Bowl?

DS: Yeah, possibly. We’ve been on picket lines in Indianapolis already with hotel workers who were basically pushed to the point of breaking on the hotel rooms that they had to clean because they were not union workers. We’ve been on picket lines in Boston and San Antonio. So, the idea of participating in a legal protest is something that we’ve done before.

We’ll have to see what is going to go on when we’re there, but issues like this are incredibly important to us. If we can be in a position just to make sure that we raise the level of the debate to the point where it is a fair and balanced discussion about the issues, I think that is something that our players can help do. Obviously, players have a very high profile, and I think its important for them to take on issues which are important to them and be in a position to talk about them, raise the level of consciousness about them.

If we do one thing by making this statement, and it is raising the level of the debate, and to have real people ask real questions about it, we’ve served our purpose.

Rights Group: Little Progress in Stemming Killings of Colombian Trade Unionists October 4, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Foreign Policy, Human Rights, Labor, Latin America.
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Published on Tuesday, October 4, 2011 by Associated Press

Trade Pacts Move Forward, But Colombia Still UnSafe for Unionists

BOGOTA, Colombia — A new study challenges claims from the administration of President Barack Obama that Colombia is making important strides in bringing to justice killers of labor activists and so deserves U.S. congressional approval of a long-stalled free trade pact.

US President Barack Obama meets with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, on April 7, 2011. Yesterday Obama submitted three trade pacts to Congress despite continued concerns about their impact on the US economy and human rights violations in Colombia. (Reuters)

The Human Rights Watch study found “virtually no progress” in getting convictions for killings that have occurred in the past 4 1/2 years.

It counted just six convictions obtained by a special prosecutions unit from 195 slayings between January 2007 and May 2011, with nearly nine in 10 of the unit’s cases from that period in preliminary stages with no suspect formally identified.

Democrats in the U.S. Congress have long resisted bringing the Colombia trade pact to a vote, citing what they said is insufficient success in halting such killings.

The White House disagrees, and says Colombia has made significant progress in addressing anti-unionist violence.

US President Barack Obama sent long-stalled free trade deals with Colombia, Panama and South Korea to Congress and pressed lawmakers to approve them “without delay.” Republicans endorse the bill overall and say it will increase U.S. exports by $13 billion a year and support tens of thousands of jobs.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk recently said the trade agreements are “an integral part of the President’s plan to create jobs here at home.”

But in Colombia, the world’s most lethal country for labor organizing, the killings haven’t stopped. At least 38 trade unionists have been slain since President Juan Manuel Santos took office in August 2010, says Colombia’s National Labor School.

“A major reason for this ongoing violence has been the chronic lack of accountability for cases of anti-union violence,” Human Rights Watch said in a letter sent last Thursday to Colombian Chief Prosecutor Viviane Morales that details the study’s findings.

Convictions have been obtained for less than 10 percent of the 2,886 trade unionists killed since 1986, and the rights group said it found “severe shortcomings” in the work of a special unit of Morales’ office established five years ago to solve the slayings. The letter says the unit has demonstrated “a routine failure to adequately investigate the motive” in labor killings as well as to “bring to justice all responsible parties.”

A chief finding: The 74 convictions achieved over the past year owe largely to plea bargains with members of illegal far-right militias who confessed to killings in exchange for leniency.

They did so under the so-called Justice and Peace law that gave paramilitary fighters reduced prison sentences of up to eight years in exchange for laying down their arms and confessing to crimes. That law expired at the end of 2006, the year the free trade pact was signed.

Only in a handful of cases did prosecutors pursue evidence that the paramilitaries who confessed acted on the orders of politicians, employers or others, Human Rights Watch says.

Prosecutors “made virtually no progress in prosecuting people who order, pay, instigate or collude with paramilitaries in attacking trade unionists,” the letter states. “What is at stake is the justice system’s ability to act as an effective deterrent to anti-union violence.”

Of the more than 275 convictions handed down through May, 80 percent were against former members of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC. The head of international affairs in the chief prosecutor’s office, Francisco Echeverri, told the AP that it has put 513 people in prison.

In nearly half of 50 recent convictions reviewed by Human Rights Watch, the judges cited “evidence pointing to the involvement of members of the security forces or intelligence services, politicians, landowners, bosses or co-workers.” Yet in only one of those cases was such an individual convicted.

In the case of a gym teacher and union activist killed in the northwestern town of San Rafael in 2002, one of the paramilitaries who confessed to the crime said it was committed at the request of the mayor, according to the judge’s decision.

The man who was mayor at the time and was re-elected in 2008, Edgar Eladio Giraldo, is not being formally investigated and has not been questioned about the killing, said Hernando Castaneda, chief of the special unit.

“I have no knowledge of that and did not know that I was involved in that,” Giraldo told The Associated Press by telephone when asked about the killing of Julio Ernesto Ceballos.

A spokeswoman for Chief Prosecutor Morales said Sunday that her boss had not yet yet seen the Human Rights Watch letter.

Dan Kovalik of the United Steel Workers said the study’s findings and the continued killings “prove what labor is telling the White House: The labor rights situation in Colombia is not improving, and passage of the FTA is not appropriate.”

A memo soon to be released by the AFL-CIO deems Colombia noncompliant with the “Labor Action Plan” Santos and Obama agreed to in April as a condition for White House approval of the free trade pact.

In the memo, shown to the AP, the labor federation finds neither “economic, political, or moral justification for rewarding Colombia with a free trade agreement.”

Deputy Assistant U.S. Trade Representative Nkenge Harmon said Friday when presented with the study’s findings that Colombia’s record prosecuting “perpetrators of violence” against labor activists “has improved significantly,” though she added that Colombian officials acknowledge more needs to be done.

Harmon also stressed that additional Colombian resources are being dedicated to the issue and that the U.S. government “is working intensively with them through training and support.”

Human Rights Watch acknowledged that annual trade unionists killings are only a quarter of what they were a decade ago. And it applauded some measures taken by Chief Prosecutor Morales, including her announcement that an additional 100 police investigators would be assigned to the special investigative unit.

But HRW regional director Jose Miguel Vivanco said “the challenge (Morales) is facing remains huge.”

A U.S. congressman who has met with various Colombian presidents on human rights issues, Jim McGovern, a Democrat from Massachusetts, doesn’t think enough has been done to reverse what he called a “dismal” record.

Said McGovern: “My worry is that if you approve the FTA at this particular point you remove all the pressure off the powers that be in Colombia to actually make a sincere, honest and concerted attempt to improve the situation.”

Associated Press writers Vivian Sequera and Libardo Cardona contributed to this report.

© 2011 Associated Press

Labour bargains with a gun at its head — again September 20, 2011

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By Tim HarperNational Affairs Columnist, Toronto Star, September 20, 2011
OTTAWA

Lisa Raitt’s talking points included two reasons for threatening to legislate Air Canada flight attendants back to work before they had a chance to put their tray tables in the upright position.

The labour minister said the Conservatives will intervene whenever they see a labour disruption having a significant effect on the economy or the general public.

She didn’t mention two other reasons.

First, the Harper Conservatives are micromanaging labour disputes in this country because ideologically they are delighted to put unionized workers in their place.

And they are doing it because no one can stop them.

The government’s latest move to usurp bargaining rights in this country was as certain as leaves in Ottawa changing colour in September.

Even the president of the union representing 6,800 flight attendants told his membership in August that the Harper government had them over the barrel when he urged ratification of an earlier agreement.

In a Ground Hog day moment, the last parliamentary session ended in June with an NDP filibuster over the government’s back-to-work order to postal workers and the fall session began with a threatened NDP filibuster over the government’s back-to-work order to flight attendants.

But the party, now in the hands of interim leader Nycole Turmel, seemed uncertain how to react to this latest affront to workers, and tried to stay away from the matter Tuesday.

Like a hanging in the morning, the threat of back-to-work legislation tends to focus the mind and eliminate posturing at the bargaining table.

The Conservatives will doubtless point to Tuesday’s settlement as evidence of its good work.

But the government has offered no parameters on what constitutes an economic threat to the country or significant inconvenience for the Canadian public.

That should concern workers everywhere in this country because by using criteria so broadly sketched no one can be certain that their hard-won bargaining rights will be respected.

This was a private company in which both management and union appeared to be negotiating in good faith without the long, meddling reach of the federal government.

In an August memo recommending ratification, Jeff Taylor, the president of the CUPE Air Canada component, bluntly told his members “the Conservative government will not let us go on strike.’’

He argued for acceptance because they were facing a government “that would rather enforce back-to-work legislation than allow your union to strike.’’

He was right.

Had the flight attendants jumped off the cliff into a strike situation, they risked losing even more.

As they did with the postal workers, the Harper Conservatives were prepared to enshrine an offer in the legislation that was less rich than that offered by the airline.

Raitt has been quick in the past to point how rarely back-to-work legislation has been used in this country and how extraordinary such a measure would be.

It is extraordinary no more.

The last three major potential labour disruptions — none of which resulted in a full-blown strike — have been met with legislative threats or action from Raitt, a self-styled friend of labour and daughter of a union organizer.

Air Canada says its flight attendants are the best paid in the country.

They had offered the workers a 12 per cent hike over five years (they accepted nine per cent over four), with defined-benefit pensions.

They point out that there are 25 applicants for every job opening and say once hired, flight attendants tend to stay until retirement.

The attendants counter they must be better compensated because they must be bilingual, must familiarize themselves with more aircraft than flight attendants on other airlines, and must undertake more long haul flights with shorter layovers.

That sigh of relief heard midday Tuesday came from air travellers and the NDP caucus.

While the travellers can take to the air with confidence, it is clear the post-Jack Layton NDP is still trying to find its wings.

Tim Harper is a national affairs writer. His column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Matt Damon: Stop the War on Teachers July 31, 2011

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Matt Damon with Howard Zinn

Sunday 31 July 2011
by: Zaid Jilani, ThinkProgress                 | Report

Actor and activist Matt Damon spoke at the Save Our Schools rally today. Before he spoke, Damon granted ThinkProgress an exclusive interview. We asked him about how teachers unions are being demonized in much of the media and teachers are being blamed as the root of all problems in public education. Damon told us that the attacks on teachers unions are part of a larger “war on unions over the last decade” and condemned “punitive policies” that punish teachers without looking at the social factors that lead to student achievement.

Towards the end of his statements, Damon joked about the right-wing meme that unionized teachers are overpaid, noting that he grew up as the son of a unionized teacher: “Granted, I did spend my summers in the Hamptons on her teacher salary and we did live on a yacht for a long time.”

Damon also told us earlier that he supports the recall of Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI).

The Democrats Attack Unions Nationwide May 16, 2011

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By shamus cooke
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Obvious political truths are sometimes smothered by special interests. The cover-up of the Democrats’ national anti-union agenda is possible because the truth would cause enormous disturbances for the Democratic Party, some labor leaders, liberal organizations and, consequently, the larger political system.
Here is the short list of states that have Democratic governors where labor unions are undergoing severe attacks:   Massachusetts  , Connecticut, Oregon, California, New York, Illinois, Washington, Hawaii, Minnesota, Maryland and New Hampshire. Other states with Democratic governors are attacking unions to a lesser degree.
The Democrats in these states have sought to distance themselves from the Republican governors of Wisconsin and Ohio, who have specifically attacked the collective bargaining rights of unions. The above Democrats all hide their anti-union attacks behind a “deep respect for collective bargaining;” akin to a thief who will steal your car but, out of respect, will not target your deceased Grandma’s diamond earrings.
For example, the anti-union Democratic governor of Connecticut is demanding $1.6 billion in cuts from state workers! The contract has not been ratified yet, but Governor Malloy referred to the agreement as: “historic because of the way we achieved it – we respected the collective bargaining process and we respected each other, negotiating in good faith, without fireworks and without anger.”
The anti-union Democratic governor of the state of Washington uses similar language:
“They [labor unions] contributed [to fixing the state budget deficit] with a salary cut; they contributed by paying more in health care. They have stepped up and said we want to be a part of the solution. I did it by going to the table, respecting their collective bargaining rights and we got the job done.”
The anti-union Democratic governor of Oregon is demanding 20 to 25 percent pay cut for state workers:
“But [says the Governor] those concessions will be made across a bargaining table through our collective bargaining process and with mutual respect.”
This garbage normally wouldn’t fool a 4th grader, but some labor leaders are playing dumb, in the hopes that the above attacks will not ruin the long-standing friendship between unions and Democrats. Of course, such hopes are founded on illusion: workers are not so blind as to not notice that the governors they campaigned for are now demanding their wages and benefits be destroyed in an unprecedented attack.
But by minimizing the Democrats role in targeting unions, some labor leaders are disarming the labor movement. On the one hand, labor leaders of both the AFL-CIO and Change to Win federations have drawn some correct conclusions from the events in Wisconsin, especially when they say that “labor is in the fight of its life” and “the corporations are out to bust unions.” On the other hand, both union federations have made excuses for the anti-union Democratic Party, enabling labor to be vulnerable on its “left” flank to the anti-union attack.
The fight against massive cuts in wages and benefits cannot be separated from the attack on collective bargaining; they are two sides of the same coin. Workers only care about collective bargaining because it enables them to improve their wages and benefits. A union that agrees to massive cuts in wages will not remain a union for long, since workers will not want to pay dues to an organization that cannot protect them. Concessionary bargaining destroys the power of a union in the same way that cancer destroys the body; pulling the plug [ending collective bargaining] comes after losing a battle with cancer.
Fighting the concessionary cancer is the essence of the problem. This is the real lesson of Wisconsin: workers want to fight back against the nationwide attack against their livelihoods, whether it be wages and benefits or collective bargaining. The AFL-CIO and Change to Win realize this to a certain degree; they are separately creating campaigns to deal with the attack, with SEIU jumping out in front with its Fight for a Fair Economy.
These union campaigns are doomed to fail if the energy generated by them is funneled into the 2012 campaign for Barack Obama.
Any successful union campaign will require that massive resources and energy be used, since the attack workers are facing is colossal. If workers are told to halt their campaigns to door knock and make phone calls for Obama, the campaign will lose all legitimacy, since Obama has established himself as a friend of Wall Street and thus no friend to workers. Voting for Democrats has a demoralizing effect on workers when the inevitable “betrayal” happens; and demoralized union members will not fight as effectively for their own pro-union campaign.
A successful union campaign will require that workers are energized about it. SEIU’s campaign focuses largely on making more connections with other labor and community groups, which is very positive. However, without waging an energetic battle to prevent state workers from making massive concessions, the campaign will fail, because workers who make massive concessions will be demoralized and not take the union campaign seriously, since it failed to address their most pressing needs. The fight to defend state workers has the potential — as Wisconsin proved — to unleash tremendous fighting energy among workers, while also uniting those in the broader community, who are eager for working people to fight back.
If labor unions continue down their current path of making huge concessions in wages and benefits while making excuses for the Democrats attacking them, the movement will wither and die.
If, on the contrary, labor unions demand that state budget deficits be fixed by taxing the rich and corporations, workers would respond enthusiastically; if public-sector unions demanded No Cuts, No Concessions, workers would energetically join the union’s cause; if unions banded together to demand that a national jobs campaign be created by taxing the top 1 percent, a flood of energy would erupt from working people in general; if, during election time, unions joined together to run their own independent candidates with these demands, an unstoppable movement would quickly emerge.
Without using aggressive demands aimed at solving the immediate problems facing working people, a social movement cannot be created to deal with the crisis facing labor unions and working people in general.    ONLY a national social movement with Wisconsin-like energy has the potential to shift the direction in which the country is going, away from the rich and corporations towards working people. Such a social movement cannot be born from soft demands, half-fought battles, or campaigning for Democrats.

Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for  Workers Action (www.workerscompass.org)

1) http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/14/nyregion/connecticut-reaches-deal-with-unions-to-close-budget-shortfall.html?_r=2&hp

2) http://www.npr.org/2011/02/27/134103416/Governors-Meet-As-Pro-Union-Protests-Spread

3) http://www.katu.com/news/local/117565323.html

Why Workers Need the Employee Free Choice Act April 9, 2009

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by David Bacon

Unions are good for workers. Today, median weekly pay for union members is $886, compared to $691 for nonunion workers. Moving cargo on the Oakland waterfront pays three times what stocking shelves does at Wal-Mart because longshore workers have had a union contract since 1934.

In 1936, Congress recognized the value of unions and passed the National Labor Relations Act, setting up a legal system in which private sector, nonfarm workers could join unions and bargain. The preamble declares the law’s purpose: “encouraging the practice and procedure of collective bargaining and … protecting the exercise by workers of full freedom of association, self-organization, and designation of representatives of their own choosing.”

Today, however, the law is virtually unable to fulfill its intended function. Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, has proposed commonsense measures to restore its effectiveness in the Employee Free Choice Act. Employers are mounting a hysterical campaign against it, even calling it “bolshevism,” and claiming to be protectors of their workers’ rights. We need a reality check about what really happens when workers try to organize.

The Employee Free Choice Act would require employers to repay three times the back pay of a worker fired for organizing a union, with $20,000 fines for willful or repeated violations. It is illegal to fire a worker for union activity, but pro-union workers were fired in 30 percent of union-representation elections in 2007, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research. There are no fines or penalties on employers for this – just reinstatement and back pay, and employers even get to deduct the unemployment benefits of the fired worker.

The National Labor Relations Act is the only federal law where violators receive no punishment. Workers, knowing they can be fired so easily, are understandably afraid to join unions.

The proposed legislation would therefore bring back the process for forming unions used in the years after the labor act was first passed (and which is used today in Canada). Workers would be able to sign union cards, and employers would have to recognize their union if a majority signed. Today, employers demand secret-ballot elections, and then wage an anti-union campaign that peaks on election day. For instance, according to the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, at Blue Diamond in Sacramento, the company told workers two days before the election that many might lose their jobs if the union won because growers wouldn’t bring any more almonds to the plant.

Companies like Blue Diamond use outside union-busters, who have created a billion-dollar industry managing these anti-union campaigns. Campaign tactics include: In the weeks before these tainted elections, 51 percent of employers threaten to close if the union wins; and 91 percent force employees to attend one-on-one anti-union meetings with supervisors. This conduct is effectively unpunishable, making a mockery of free elections. Signing cards is a safer, calmer process that workers control themselves, and workers keep the option of using either the cards or the election – their choice, not their employer’s.

Last, when workers form a union and a majority supports it, companies should negotiate a contract. That’s what the law says. The reality? Even when workers win elections, companies don’t negotiate in half the cases. After a year, they can legally walk away. When workers at the Rite-Aid warehouse in Lancaster (Los Angeles County) won an election, the most important agreement they could achieve after 18 bargaining sessions was the location of the union bulletin board.

With the Employee Free Choice Act, after 120 days of fruitless bargaining on a first-time contract, an arbitrator can resolve the issues still in dispute. Companies say they fear an outsider imposing unrealistic conditions. But with no mechanism to force agreement, companies know it’s lots cheaper to wait out the year than to raise wages and provide better benefits.

Many employers simply do not accept the law’s intention – encouraging workers to organize. They created the need for the act by undermining the process and rights established in 1936. By first undermining the law, and then resisting Miller’s common-sense remedies, they are pushing for a return to an era when organizing a union had no protection at all.

 © 2009 The San Francisco Chronicle

David Bacon is an East Bay writer who comments frequently on labor and immigration issues.

Where’s the Outrage Over Workers Getting the Shaft? March 31, 2009

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By Marie Cocco

www.truthdig.com, Posted on Mar 30, 2009

    No cable television rants. No congressional hearing staged to publicly whip those responsible for so transparent a betrayal. Not a pitchfork in sight.

    You would be hard-pressed to know that American workers suffered a cruel defeat last week when Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter—the lone Republican to have once supported a measure that would make it easier for workers to form unions and more likely that employers would negotiate in good faith—effectively killed the effort for this year.

    A Specter vote for the proposed Employee Free Choice Act, organized labor’s top legislative goal, was needed to break the expected filibuster by his fellow Republicans.

    The immediate cause of his flip-flop was a primary challenge that Specter is expected to face from former Rep. Pat Toomey, a card-carrying member of the vast right-wing conglomerate. Toomey, who came within a breath of toppling Specter in the 2004 primary, is president of the Club for Growth, an organization of conservatives that has as its guiding principle a fealty to pretty much every economic precept that has gotten us where we are today.

    The club’s view of sound economics is to make permanent the Bush tax cuts, which drain $2.2 trillion from the treasury over a decade and which, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, bestow the largest benefits on the top one-tenth of 1 percent of households—those with incomes of $3 million or more. The club also wants to permanently repeal the estate tax. This year, the Tax Policy Center found, about two-thirds of this tax will be paid by about 700 estates. The inheritors of these estates represent 0.03 percent of all anticipated heirs in 2009.

    Indirectly but indisputably, Toomey and the ideological brain trust that has given us such skewed policies have also managed to kill the most significant chance American workers had to push back against decades of job losses, benefit cuts and stagnant wages.

    But neither Toomey nor Specter did this alone. Business made defeat of the pro-union measure its top priority. It argued, deceptively, that it was ardently in favor of workers maintaining the right to vote for or against unions in secret-ballot elections when, in truth, such elections under current law are called not by workers but by employers who refuse to accept initial results of card check-offs that favor unionization. 

    Nonetheless, the economic downturn swiftly shredded the cloak of rhetoric about democracy. Business reverted to arguing that allowing workers to bargain for decent wages and benefits is a cost they should not bear. Even Specter took up this cant, arguing against “adding a burden” to business at the wrong time.

    So here is the essence of it: Largely unencumbered by unions, which now represent only about 7 percent of private-sector workers, American businesses have shipped jobs overseas, unilaterally cut benefits, kept wages stagnant or falling for most of the decade and laid off millions. The doctrine of nonintervention in the marketplace that is now the central argument against the proposed Employee Free Choice Act is the very same dogma that led us into the current financial crisis and the worst recession in at least three decades.

    Workers who did nothing to create the current economic crisis must now be kept powerless lest they create some future economic crisis we cannot yet imagine.

    The public—Pennsylvanians among them—voted against this sort of illogic just four short months ago. The AFL-CIO spent $250 million in last year’s elections on behalf of Barack Obama and many other Democrats it believed would be sympathetic to labor. But Obama, who endorsed the free choice act as a candidate, began obscuring his position almost as soon as he took office. And though Specter’s about-face is the most visible backstabbing, a handful of Senate Democrats worried about their own re-elections also were uncertain in their support and almost hostile in their public statements. It is unclear whether the measure would have passed the Senate even if Specter had voted to break his party’s filibuster and allowed a vote.

    American workers do not need friends whose subservience to the politics of self-preservation makes them indistinguishable from enemies. Remember this the next time these same so-called leaders join the frenzy over an irresponsibly greedy corporate culture—and then act decisively to keep it in place.

    Marie Cocco’s e-mail address is mariecocco(at)washpost.com.

© 2009, Washington Post Writers Group

Even More than Race, the South Is About Exploiting Workers March 16, 2009

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By Joseph B. Atkins, Progressive Populist. Posted March 13, 2009.

The heart of Southern conservatism is the preservation of a status quo that serves elite interests.

Cheap labor. Even more than race, it’s the thread that connects all of Southern history—from the ante-bellum South of John C. Calhoun and Jefferson Davis to Tennessee’s Bob Corker, Alabama’s Richard Shelby and the other anti-union Southerners in today’s U.S. Senate.

It’s at the epicenter of a sad class divide between a desperate, poorly educated workforce and a demagogic oligarchy, and it has been a demarcation line stronger than the Mason-Dixon in separating the region from the rest of the nation.

The recent spectacle of Corker, Shelby and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky leading the GOP attack on the proposed $14 billion loan to the domestic auto industry—with 11 other Southern senators marching dutifully behind—made it crystal clear. The heart of Southern conservatism is the preservation of a status quo that serves elite interests.

Expect these same senators and their colleagues in the US House to wage a similar war in the coming months against the proposed Employee Free Choice Act authorizing so-called “card check” union elections nationwide.

“Dinosaurs,” Shelby of Alabama called General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler as he maneuvered to bolster the nonunion Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai and other foreign-owned plants in his home state by sabotaging as many as three million jobs nationwide.

Corker, a multi-millionaire who won his seat in a mud-slinging, race-tinged election in 2006, was fairly transparent in his goal to expunge what he considers the real evil in the Big Three and US industry in general: unions. When the concession-weary United Auto Workers balked at GOP demands for a near-immediate reduction in worker wages and benefits, Corker urged President Bush to force-feed wage cuts to UAW workers in any White House-sponsored bailout.

If Shelby, Corker, and McConnell figured they were helping the Japanese, German and Korean-owned plants in their home states, they were seriously misguided. The failure of the domestic auto industry would inflict a deep wound on the same supplier-dealer network that the foreign plants use. The already existing woes of the foreign-owned industry were clearly demonstrated in December when Toyota announced its decision to put on indefinite hold the opening of its $1.3 billion plant near Blue Springs in northeast Mississippi.

The Southern Republicans are full of contradictions. Downright hypocrisy might be a better description. Shelby staunchly opposes universal health care—a major factor in the Big Three’s financial troubles since they operate company plans—yet the foreign automakers he defends benefit greatly from the government-run health care programs in their countries.

These same senators gave their blessing to hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies to the foreign automakers to open plants in their states, yet they were willing to let the US auto industry fall into bankruptcy.

In their zeal to destroy unions and their hard-fought wage-and-benefits packages, the Southern senators could not care less that workers in their home states are among the lowest paid in the nation. Ever wonder why the South remains the nation’s poorest region despite generations of seniority-laden senators and representatives in Congress?

Why weren’t these same senators protesting the high salaries in the financial sector when the Congress approved the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street? Why pick on blue-collar workers at the Big Three who last year agreed to huge concessions expected to save the companies an estimated $4 billion a year by 2010? These concessions have already helped lower union wages to non-union levels at some auto plants.

The idea of working people joining together to have a united voice across the table from management scares most Southern politicians to death. After all, they go to the same country clubs as management. When Mississippi Republican Roger Wicker warned of Democratic opponent Ronnie Musgrove’s ties to the “Big Labor Bosses” in this year’s US Senate race, he was protecting the “Big Corporate Bosses” who are his benefactors.

The South today may be more racially enlightened than ever in its history. However, it is still a society in which the ruling class—the chambers of commerce that have taken over from yesterday’s plantation owners and textile barons—uses politics to maintain control over a vast, jobs-hungry workforce. After the oligarchy lost its war for slavery—the cheapest labor of all—it secured the next best thing in Jim Crow and the indentured servitude known as sharecropping and tenant farming. It still sees cheap, pliable, docile labor as the linchpin of the Southern economy.

In 1948, when the so-called “Dixiecrats” rebelled against the national Democratic Party, Strom Thurmond of South Carolina declared war on “the radicals, subversives, and the Reds” who want to upset the Southern way of life.

Seven years later, Mississippi’s political godfather, the late US Sen. James O. Eastland, told other prominent Southern pols during a meeting at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis that the South will “fight the CIO” (Congress of Industrial Organizations) and unionism with just as much vehemence and determination as it fights racial integration.

Eastland, Thurmond and their friends lost the integration battle. Their successors are still fighting the other enemy.

 

Joseph B. Atkins is a veteran journalist, professor of journalism at the University of Mississippi and author of Covering for the Bosses: Labor and the Southern Press (University Press of Mississippi, 2008), a book that details the Southern labor movement and its treatment in the press. A version of this column appeared in the Hattiesburg (Miss.) American and the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger.

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