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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.

UK Unions Plot a Winter of Discontent as They Ballot More Than a Million Workers for Biggest General Strike Since 1926 September 14, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Britain, Europe, Revolution.
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Published on Wednesday, September 14, 2011 by the Daily Mail/UK

 

Millions of workers including police, firefighters, health workers, teachers and prison officers could strike over bitter pension row Unions describe potential walk-out as ‘unprecedented’ in scale and ‘the biggest fight of our lives’ Unison says they will be ‘vilified’ for striking but urges members to ‘stay strong’

by Anna Edwards

A ‘winter of discontent’ looks imminent as Unison, the country’s biggest public sector workers’ union, gave formal notice today that its 1.1 million members will be balloted for industrial action in the bitter row over pensions.

A crowd of protesters made their feelings clear in London as marches take place across the country, sparked by a proposed increase in the retirement age for public sector workers and paying more into their pensions The Government face the threat of the biggest outbreak of industrial action since the 1926 General Strike after unions served notice of ballots over the row which will see workers pay an extra 3.2 per cent in pension contributions.

Unison’s general secretary, Dave Prentis, said 9,000 separate employer groups would be involved in the action, describing the ballot as ‘unprecedented’ in scale.

He blamed the Government for the ballot decision, which could see workers in school, hospitals, police and voluntary sectors, join the move.

He said: ‘A ballot unprecedented in scale will cover over a million workers in health, local government, schools, further education, police, the voluntary sector and the environment and private sector.

‘It’s a decision we don’t take lightly and the stakes are high, higher than ever before, but now is the time to make our stand.

‘It will be hard, we’ll be vilified, attacked, set against each other, but we must stay strong and united.’

The union was joined by Unite and the Fire Brigades Union, who all gave notice of ballots in the worsening row over pensions and launched angry attacks against the Government.

Mr Prentis announced to the TUC Congress in London that unions were involved in the ‘fight of our lives’ over the Government’s controversial reforms of pensions, which will see workers pay an extra 3.2 per cent in contributions.

He said Unison would work with the GMB and Unite, which could mean the country grinding to a halt if millions of the members decide to strike together.

His announcement was met with a standing ovation as delegates applauded the move, which brings the prospect of a winter of strikes closer.

Mr Prentis accused the Government of an ‘unprecedented’ attack on workers with its ‘audacious and devious’ pension reforms.

Mr Prentis said that exhaustive talks had not worked for the unions: ‘We’ve been patient, we’ve co-operated, but there comes a time when we say enough is enough because, if we don’t, they’ll be back for more.

Gail Cartmail, assistant general secretary of Unite, told the conference: ‘When the coalition came to power we knew we faced the fight of our lives, we knew they would seek to weaken and divide us.

‘While we will never walk away from talks, neither can we sit on our hands. We will support days of action and tactical selective action.’

The Fire Brigades Union’s ballot of its 43,000 members raises the threat of a walkout without ‘Green Goddess’ military cover.

Firefighters last took national strike action in 2003, when Green Goddesses were used as emergency cover, but the ageing military vehicles have since been taken out of service.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union, which has already announced fresh industrial action in November, said today’s moves showed that opposition was growing to the Government’s ‘raid’ on public sector pensions.

‘Following the hugely successful strike by civil servants, teachers and lecturers in June, there is a clear momentum behind our campaign that ministers cannot ignore, and they must now enter into serious and open negotiations.

‘We will now join our colleagues from across the public sector to discuss the nuts and bolts of this fightback, which we fully expect will mean industrial action on a scale not seen for many years.’

Steve Gillan, general secretary of the Prison Officers Association, which is not allowed to take industrial action, warned that his members would defy the law if no deal was reached on pensions.

Brian Strutton, national officer of the GMB, announced that his union’s 250,000 public sector members will also be balloted for strikes, warning that industrial action could last for months.

‘We are not talking about a day – we are talking about something that is long and hard and dirty, running through the winter, into next year and following the legislative programme right into the summer.’

The dispute will involve hospital and ambulance workers, meals-on-wheels staff, refuse collectors and cemetery workers, he said.

Mr Strutton said recent talks over pension reform had been held between Government ministers and local authority leaders, with unions ‘not even in the room’.

Public sector unions will meet later today to discuss co-ordinated action ahead of more talks with the Government planned for next week.

Joining them, workers at four British Sugar plants are to be balloted on industrial action in a dispute over pay and the ‘soaring cost of living’.

Unite said 250 members based in the East of England will vote in the coming weeks on whether to launch a campaign of strikes after rejecting a 3.5 per cent pay offer.

The union said it was seeking a pay deal equal to RPI inflation, currently running at 5.2 per cent, plus 0.5 per cent for the year to next April.

Regional officer Mick Doherty said: ‘Our members are being hit very hard by the soaring cost of living.

‘British Sugar is a very profitable company and despite its complaints that the sugar beet crop was hit by last winter’s bad weather, it is well able to afford a decent pay rise.’

The Government hit back at the ‘disappointing’ strikes, saying they had tried to reach a negotiation with unions.

Prime Minister David Cameron’s official spokesman described the calls for strike ballots as ‘disappointing’, and slammed the industrial action would be irresponsible at a time of economic difficulty.

‘Our view is that the best way forward is to continue with talks and we have always been very clear that we should try to have a constructive dialogue with the unions,’ said the spokesman.

‘Clearly, it is disappointing that there have been calls for industrial action, particularly as the talks are still ongoing.

‘On pensions, we have been very clear about the need for reform, but we have also been making the point that even after these reforms come through, public sector pensions will still be amongst the very best available.’

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, answering questions after a speech in London, said: ‘It is very regrettable that they are rushing to announce days of strikes when the discussions are still ongoing.

‘It would lovely to wave a magic wand and say we have discovered pots of gold, and the ageing population is not ageing, and, hallelujah, pension funds are entirely sustainable.

‘We entered into these discussions in good faith and we will continue to do so.”

Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude, who is leading negotiations for the Government, told BBC News: ‘I think the public will be really fed up if they see industrial action damaging the economy, damaging their ability to get to work and earn their own living when (they) may be paying more towards public sector pensions than they are towards their own.

‘We want this to be a proper settlement so that we know that public sector workers are going to be able to enjoy these good pensions – better pension schemes than are available almost anywhere else – but that’s on a sustainable basis.

‘I don’t want governments to be coming back in five or 10 years’ time and saying ‘We need to have another go at this because it wasn’t sorted out properly in 2011′.

‘I think the unions need to think about the effect on the public and the effect on the economy and on their own members.

‘Their own members want to be going to work, they don’t want to be giving up a day’s pay, or more than that, at a time when we are all of us working under major constraints.’

Increasingly militant transport union leaders joined in with the walkout threats, warning they were planning the ‘biggest campaign’ of civil disobedience in Britain’s history.

They plan to disrupt public services and block motorways as well as declaring they are ready to ‘go to prison’ in protest at proposed changes to pensions.

In a bid to persuade them to stop striking and wrecking the Games, transport bosses have offered hefty bonuses to railway workers amid fears the militant RMT union could wreck the Games with strikes.

Train drivers will pocket up to £1,800 simply for turning up for work during the London Olympics next summer.

Last night, MPs condemned the payments as a ‘bribe’ and accused the unions of holding the public to ransom.

Astonishingly, the Daily Mail understands that the £1,800 bonus deal with Tube drivers does not even include a no-strike clause.

The glaring omission leaves them free to pocket the cash and still cause mass disruption with industrial action.

A senior source connected with the talks said: ‘The drivers could have demanded fur coats for the wives or football season tickets for the men if they wanted.

‘It’s an amazing deal but one which the Tube had to do. There was no alternative.’

Union sources revealed a battle plan has been devised, mapping out ‘blocks’ of strikes running in ‘target areas’ for two to three days at a time.

One union leader said to expect scenes reminiscent of the 1978 ‘winter of discontent’ when rubbish filled the streets.

Another, unnamed, told the BBC: ‘In some areas there will be two or three days. In other areas it will be continuous. In other areas it will be a rolling programme.’

 

© 2011 Associated Newspapers Ltd

California Strike Highlights Hospitals’ Skewed Priorities June 26, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in California, Health, Labor.
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Saturday 25 June 2011
by: Mark Brenner, Labor Notes                 | News Analysis

Hundreds of workers at a central California hospital return to work today, after a two-day lockout that provoked a complaint from the state labor board.

Workers at the Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital, two hours south of San Francisco, were locked out after taking to picket lines on Tuesday.

The daylong strike—the first ever in the hospital’s 58-year history—was called by members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) after stalled negotiations with hospital management.

The union, which represents techs, professionals, and service workers in the hospital, is fighting plans to cut more than 100 direct-care positions and trim pension and health care benefits for new hires.

The labor board’s complaint says the Salinas lockout was illegal retaliation for striking. A decision is expected within a month—and could net workers back pay for the days they were locked out.

It’s the third short strike this year by NUHW, which was founded in 2009 after SEIU placed its third-largest local, the dissident United Healthcare Workers-West, into trusteeship, prompting members and leaders to establish the breakaway union.

The struggles are a critical part of the union’s development, as NUHW members work against intense opposition from employers and their former union to secure first contracts for its 10,000 members statewide.

TOP HEAVY

“We’ve never operated in the red,” said Ester Fierros-Nuñez, the Salinas union chairperson. “But now top administrators are treating this hospital, and the community, like their personal ATM.”

Hospital executives have been under close scrutiny after the union uncovered a deal which provided the recently departed CEO more than $5 million in pension and severance on top of the $150,000 a year he collects from the state pension plan.

Outrage over this taxpayer-funded golden parachute has spurred a state audit of the hospital’s finances. According to Fierros-Nuñez, six additional executives have the same kind of deal, which allows recipients to bypass IRS tax shelter rules by funneling money through multiple pensions.

“It’s like Enron,” she said. “They want to cut folks at the bottom so they can pay more to people at the top.”

NUHW has also criticized the hospital’s decision to spend $12 million on outside consultants, most notably Wellspring Partners, a Chicago-based firm. The consulting company, under prior ownership, was involved in the takeover and closure of St. Vincent’s hospital in New York City.

In St. Vincent’s bankruptcy proceedings, it emerged that the consultants had billed the hospital for everything from groceries and dry cleaning to opera tickets and club memberships. Union activists worry that Wellspring is milking their hospital as well.

LEAN AND MEAN

The biggest concern voiced on Tuesday’s picket line was for the hospital’s patients.

According to Debbie Prader, a 38-year licensed vocational nurse at the hospital, staff cuts that started a year and a half ago have sent workloads skyrocketing.

Previously, Prader typically worked her entire shift on a single floor, with an average of 10 patients. Now she’s covering two or three floors, and caring for up to 19 patients.

“They’re dismantling the whole hospital,” Prader said. “There’s no way to give good care in these conditions.”

Lily Garner, a 30-year medical transcriptionist at the hospital whose sister is currently a patient, said she’s seen the impact first hand. Basic help, like bathroom assistance, is lacking, she said.

“The people making all the decisions aren’t in contact with patients,” said Linda Vallez, a certified nursing assistant for 31 years at the hospital. “All they see is numbers on a spreadsheet.”

Salinas Valley Memorial is just the latest example of a profitable hospital looking to take advantage of the recession and lower staffing standards.

The same drive for concessions led 2,500 NUHW members in Southern California to launch their second one-day strike at Kaiser Permanente facilities on May 18. The health care giant made more than $1 billion in profits last year but is pushing for layoffs and major pension and health benefit takeaways.

“Kaiser executives are making more money than ever and are giving themselves huge raises, but they refuse to provide nurses with the staff we need to take care of our patients properly,” said Roxana Valadez, a pediatric nurse in Los Angeles. “And now, they’re not just keeping us understaffed, they also want to cut our benefits. Kaiser is becoming a worse and worse place to provide patient care.”

NUHW’S NEXT STEPS

The fights at Kaiser and Salinas hold the promise of stabilizing NUHW’s financial future, if they can win the union a first contract—and dues checkoff. (The union is hand-collecting dues in the meantime). Tight resources have hampered the union’s expansion, leading it to withdraw from numerous elections in recent months.

But even more important, the struggles are defining NUHW’s identity independent of SEIU.

There is no question the union will continue to run and win elections in SEIU bargaining units across the state, and extend their reach into non-union hospitals and nursing homes. NUHW’s recent victory in three of the four California Pacific Medical Center facilities in San Francisco is the latest example of its enduring appeal.

But the union’s most important challenge right now is to make good on its founding promise—that workers can build a democratic union willing to stand up and fight.

This task is doubly difficult when unions everywhere are ducking for cover, and when taking concessions is the norm. SEIU’s California leaders have agreed to health care cost-shifting and pension takeaways at health care facilities, giving management yet more reason to take a hard line against NUHW.

For NUHW’s members, there is no going back to the union they once had. And workers from Santa Rosa to San Diego have demonstrated they’re ready to build something new, and hopefully better, in its place.

Obama’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Politics April 15, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Uncategorized.
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Larry Pinkney

www.blackcommentator.com, April 9, 2009 

Rarely had so many been hoodwinked by so few, until the installation of Barack Obama as the head of the U.S. Empire. The fact is that Barack Obama is not the fulfillment of anything but the nightmare of continuing 21st Century U.S. Empire.

Recently, even as it appeared that Barack Obama nearly broke his back, bending over in unnecessary and overly subservient obeisance to the current Saudi Arabian “King” Abdullah, economic and conditions for everyday Black, White, Brown, Red, and Yellow peoples right here in this nation have continued to significantly worsen on a daily basis.

There is an enormous difference between sovereign Heads of State exhibiting simple diplomatic respect towards each other and needlessly prostrating oneself. The symbolism of Obama’s over done and unnecessary prostration to “King” Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is telling, chilling, and deeply troubling. It is noteworthy that notwithstanding its own hypocrisy, the United States of America was brought into existence as a result of fighting a protracted and bloody war for “freedom” against a King and other monarchs and tyrants of the period. If indeed there is to be any prostration on the part of Barack Obama towards anyone then let it be (in both word and deed) to the everyday, ordinary Black, Brown, Red, White, and Yellow peoples of ‘America’ and the world, not Wall Street barons, banksters, kings or other such monarchs.

By now even some of the politically deaf, dumb, and blind of this land should be able to see that other than misleading rhetoric, no “change” of any real substance, is in the making. In fact, and to the contrary, Obama is busy pandering to the very same Wall Street institutions to whom his predecessors gave unceasing political and economic homage and loyalty. Nothing has changed substantively or systemically.


1. On the matters of Afghanistan and Iraq, Obama is in reality widening these wars not ending them. Moreover, his political and military destabilization policy towards Pakistan is short sighted, wrong, hypocritical and enormously dangerous for that entire region of the world. These wars are being continued by Barack Obama, while the peoples of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan are butchered, not to mention the ongoing deaths of U.S. men and women in uniform who remain the canon fodder for the U.S. Empire’s war machine. In this regard also, nothing has substantively or systemically changed under Barack Obama.

2. Notwithstanding Obama’s endless rhetoric, on the matter of the absolutely criminal financial bail-out of the Wall Street barons and banksters, inclusive of the avaricious insurance companies, Barack Obama has demonstrated repeatedly that he is deep in the pocket of Wall Street, not the people.  Expect no systemic change from him for it will not be forthcoming.

 

3. On the matter of his attempting to bully and boycott the United Nations Conference on Racism, Obama is both wrong and hypocritical. Obama’s actions in this regard have made it quite clear that he opposes serious and systemic compensation / reparations for the descendants of the trans Atlantic slave trade, though no one should be surprised by this since he serves the interests of furthering and maintaining U.S. Empire and is himself, despite his slight pigmentation, the descendant of slave holders not slaves. What better way to maintain racism and other forms of economic exploitation than to have a Barack Obama as its de facto point man?!

4. On the matter of universal single payer health care, Obama and his minions offer the deliberately misleading rhetoric of so-called “affordable health care” which is not Universal single payer health care and still serves the financial interests first and foremost of the bloated and blood sucking insurance companies and their Wall Street accomplices. Universal single payer health care for everyday people is, and must be treated as, a human right, not some capitalist market commodity from which money is to be made or profit gained. On this matter of health care Obama and both the Democrat and Republican Parties (i.e. the Republicrats) are hustling the peoples of this nation.

 

5. Despite his misleading rhetoric to the contrary, Obama has set out to break the back of organized labor in a way that would have made Ronald Reagan green with envy. Again, this should come as no surprise as back in 2008, Obama made his strong “admiration” for the late Ronald Reagan known. This is the same anti-union Ronald Reagan who is remembered for, among other things, despising poor and working class people and for having utilized the military to neutralize the legitimate organizing / labor rights and aspirations of U.S. civilian air traffic controllers, etc.

One should not be surprised at being bitten by the proverbial snake.

Future columns of Keeping It Real will delve into various details pertaining to the above points and much, much more.

It must be reiterated that Barack Obama is not the fulfillment of anything but the nightmare of continuing 21st Century U.S. Empire. This can and must be changed only by we the people collectively organizing, not by politicians who in reality serve the interests of the Wall Street / Military / Prison industry’s elite.

The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde politics and policies of Barack Obama are not acceptable.

Onward…

BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board Member, Larry Pinkney, is a veteran of the Black Panther Party, the former Minister of Interior of the Republic of New Africa, a former political prisoner and the only American to have successfully self-authored his civil/political rights case to the United Nations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In connection with his political organizing activities in opposition to voter suppression, etc., Pinkney was interviewed in 1988 on the nationally televised PBS NewsHour, formerly known as The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour. For more about Larry Pinkney see the book, Saying No to Power: Autobiography of a 20th Century Activist and Thinker, by William Mandel [Introduction by Howard Zinn]. (Click here to read excerpts from the book). Click here to contact Mr. Pinkney.

 

 

Obama’s War on Labor April 6, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, Barack Obama, Labor.
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Stephen Lendman

www.opednews.com, April 6, 2009

Voters expecting change keep getting rude reminders of what kind, none they can believe in reiterated again on March 30 in Obama’s remarks to the auto giants. While stating “We cannot….must not (and) will not let (this) industry vanish,” he laid down a clear marker. Labor, not business, is targeted. More on that below.

“We (won’t) excuse poor decisions,” he said. “We cannot make the survival of our auto industry dependent on an unending flow of taxpayer dollars.” In rejecting their aid request, he added: “These companies – and this industry – must ultimately stand on their own, not as wards of the state….What we are asking is difficult. It will require hard choices by the companies. (Their plan doesn’t go) far enough to warrant the substantial new investments these companies are requesting.”

Imagine the hypocrisy – open-checkbook trillions for Wall Street criminals v. a thinly disguised war on organized labor by scolding the auto giants for not forcing their workers to make greater sacrifices.

They’re needed, said Obama. Their “best chance for success” is a “surgical” bankruptcy lasting for as little as 30 days – meaning workers will lose everything while CEOs get seven-figure compensation for betraying them.

A March 31 New York Times Michael de la Merced/Johathan Glater article suggested that Washington may seek a “controlled” bankruptcy – somewhere between “prepackaged (and) court chaos by persuading creditors to agree” to divide GM in two pieces, sort of like a good and bad bank to create a healthier company, free of its troubled assets and liabilities.

Under the plan, GM would declare a prearranged bankruptcy. Then, the bankruptcy code’s Section 363 would authorize selling off desirable assets to a new government-financed company. Details are being discussed so it looks like a done deal, either prepackaged or through a bankruptcy court, either way very worker-adverse with UAW bosses pressured to go along, take it or leave it.

The administration also decided Chrysler can’t survive alone. It was given 30 days to ally with Fiat SpA or with another automaker if that fails, even though such a deal may combine two dogs into a bigger one with even greater problems than going it on their own.

Obama drew a line in the sand for “workers who have already made painful concessions to make even more” through additional restructuring sacrifices, including:

– permanent job losses;

– lower wages;

– gutted work rules, including health and safety protection on the job;

– forfeited security through lost benefits and pensions, including for retirees, on top of everything given up in fall 2007 negotiations when the UAW leadership surrendered to management, then muscled the rank and file to go along; and

– more sacrifices the Bush $25 billion bailout demanded, unreported in the mainstream: banned GM and Chrysler strikes, meaning effectively on the big three; more wage and benefits cuts; ending the UAW’s “jobs bank” that provided help to furloughed workers and more.

It’s a dark age for US auto workers and a prelude for what’s coming – compared to earlier times when they earned substantial wages, got cost of living and productivity increases, and had impressive benefits, including medical coverage with defined extras, employer-funded pensions, improved safety and health benefits, paid vacations, and supplemental unemployment insurance guaranteeing up to 95% of pay if laid off.

Replacing them was a two-tiered wage and benefit package with new skilled hires getting little more half the previous arrangement and for a new non-core category even less.

Much more was lost as well:

– plant closures resulting in permanent job losses; for GM alone it meant 85% fewer production jobs than in 1990 over a period when high-paying manufacturing ones disappeared, offshored, or were replaced by machines;

– for new hires, an ill-conceived 401k arrangement replacing employer-paid pensions with one dollar invested in company stock for each hour worked that turned out to be worthless two years later as the companies head for bankruptcy;

– major health care concessions under a union-run VEBA (voluntary employee beneficiary association) putting UAW bosses in the healthcare business for potential big profits at the expense reduced worker benefits and companies relieved of their obligations after putting up an initially-funded amount;

– employee buyouts, early retirements and other downsizing efforts to replace high-wage workers with cheaper new ones; and

– Chrysler workers getting even less overall than their GM and Ford counterparts.

A final coup de grace is planned with disturbing implications for all workers – after decades of hard won gains. The UAW alone lost almost one million jobs from 1979 through 2007 (from 1.5 million to about 512,000). At yearend 2008, membership stood at 431,000, and tens of thousands more may now go given industry conditions and administration demands. In addition, more major concessions are coming through the back door – by a prepackaged bankruptcy or court-appointed judge to relieve Obama of responsibility.

If GM and/or Chrysler go down either way, prearrangers or the court will do the honors. The current union contract will be replaced by new demands, meaning 60 years of gains will be lost with the stroke of a pen, and no negotiations can mitigate them. It gets worse.

Whatever’s decided will be a model for all industry. The idea isn’t to end unions, just neutralize them, then leave workers out in the cold with poor wages, few if any benefits, self-funded only retirement plans if any, and other management-demanded concessions in a new dark age for labor heading it back to its earliest days when all gains gotten were hard won and few achieved until the mid-1930s under the Wagner Act.

Labor always struggled and learned the hard way that winning meant organizing, pressing their demands, taking to the streets, going on strike, holding boycotts, battling police and National Guard forces supporting management, and paying with their blood and lives to get results.

They were impressive – an eight-hour day, a living wage, generous increases, good benefits, and pensions because strong unions went head-to-head with management and won. It’s world’s different today with government in bed with business, Democrats as bad as Republicans, weak unions under corrupted bosses, millions of high-paying jobs already lost, and a global economic crisis stripping workers of all bargaining power and heading them for sweatshop serfdom under a leader even more anti-labor than his predecessor.

He appointed an auto task force (headed by Tim Geithner and Larry Summers) to be judge, jury and executioner, then let them (quietly) or a bankruptcy judge pull the switch to absolve him of responsibility, be able to declare victory, and apply the same terms across industry as every sector struggles to survive, the result of a Washington/Wall Street-created crisis.

Their scheme is to:

– crush world economies;

– recapitalize the IMF to entrap developing ones in perpetual debt bondage, neo-feudalism, a virtual dystopia;

– structurally adjust their populations to a living hell – impoverishment through “shock therapy” loss of employment, essential benefits, and democratic freedoms;

– tank financial markets;

– destroy competitors;

– use trillions of taxpayer dollars to consolidate the FIRE sector (finance, insurance and real estate);

– buy other assets on the cheap;

– toxic ones from each other, mostly with public money paying the cost and assuming the risk;

– declare war on labor; and

– force companies to downsize, then strip workers of their rights and futures.

Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are next to supply more funds for Wall Street, selected corporate favorites, and generous amounts for military adventurism, global imperialism, and a homeland police state apparatus to quell restive opposition when it erupts. Obama’s promised change is betrayal of the constituency that elected him. Looking ahead, things appear very grim.

Promised Hope from the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA)

EFCA legislation was first introduced on November 21, 2003 in the 108th Congress as S. 1925 (with 37 co-sponsors) to: “amend the 1935 National Labor Relations (Wagner) Act to establish an efficient system to enable employees to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to provide for mandatory injunctions for unfair labor practices during organizing efforts, and for other purposes.” It was referred to the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee but never passed.

It was reintroduced on April 19, 2005 in the 109th Congress as HR 1696 (with 215 co-sponsors) for the same purpose. It got as far as the Employer-Employee Relations Subcommittee but not passed.

It was again introduced on March 1, 2007 in the 110th Congress as HR 800 for the same purpose. It easily passed in the House (241 – 185), then was blocked in the Senate when supporters couldn’t get the required 60 votes to end debate and bring it to a vote.

On March 10, the 111th Congress revived it for the fourth time as S. 560 (with 39 co-sponsors), again for the same purpose. It’s been read twice and referred to the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee where it’s pending.

Facts about EFCA

Change to Win aims “to unite the 50 million workers whose jobs cannot be outsourced and who are vital to the global economy. (It represents) seven unions and six million workers united….to build a new movement of working people to meet the challenges of the global economy and restore the American Dream (for) a paycheck that supports a family, universal health care, a secure retirement, and the freedom to form a union to give workers a voice on the job.” It strongly backs EFCA and states:

“EFCA respects that the right to join a union is a fundamental freedom, just like freedom of speech or religion, and that employees should be able to do so without interference from management (or government).”

If enacted, it will change federal law for the better at a time worker rights are in tatters. Overall, it would be a boon for organizing with a free and fair “card check” system under which workers merely sign them in support of a union. They may do it openly or in secret, their choice free of company coercion or intimidation. If a majority do, companies must recognize it. Unlike current rules, they presumably can’t veto the decision, coerce or bribe employees to vote “no,” or fire those who do.

Current law requires good faith bargaining. But it’s eroded to near worthlessness and become a mere shadow of the landmark Wagner Act. It guaranteed workers the right:

“to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid and protection.” In other words, it leveled the playing field to let workers bargain on equal terms with management, but never easily.

From the start, its provisions were attacked, then severely restricted under the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act. In the “national interest,” it lets presidents stop strikes by court-ordered injunctions for 80 days, and it’s been done numerous times, 10 alone by Harry Truman who opposed the law but used it against labor.

It also allows stiff penalties for union violations but minimal ones for companies. It enacted a list of “unfair (union) practices prohibiting jurisdictional strikes (relating to worker job assignments), secondary boycotts (against firms doing business with others struck), wildcat strikes, sit-downs, slow-downs, mass-picketing against scabs, closed shops (in which employees must join unions), and more while legalizing employer anti-organizing interventions.

It eroded worker power that continues to this day. It’s so weak that employers can (illegally) fire union sympathizers with only minor fines if proved. They can fire workers for any reason or none at all, and, of course, offshore high-paid jobs, freely move to low-wage “right-to-work” law states that restrict organizing under Taft-Hartley, and use those threats to extract more concessions from unions, easily intimidated or coerced to go along.

The result is that union membership declined steadily from the 1950s, and since the 1970s, worker wages and benefits have eroded under rigged market-based rules against them.

EFCA aims to restore labor rights affirmed by the Supreme Court in decisions like Virginian Railway Co. v. Railway Employees (March 29, 1937) when it ruled that “employees (have) the right to organize and bargain collectively through a representative of their own selection, doing away with company interference and ‘company union.’ “

It reaffirmed the right in National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation (April 12, 1937) by ruling: “the corporation (engaged in unfair labor practices by) discriminating against members of the union with regard to hire and tenure of employment, and was coercing and intimidating its employees in order to interfere with their self-organization.”

It added that:

“Employees have as clear a right to organize and select their representatives for lawful purposes as the respondent has to organize its business and select its own officers and agents. Discrimination and coercion to prevent the free exercise of employees to self-organization and representation is a proper subject for condemnation by competent legislative authority. Long ago we stated (that) labor organizations were organized (of necessity); that a single employee was helpless in dealing with an employer; that union (representation) was essential (to resist unfair treatment and) give laborers opportunity to deal on an equality with their employer.”

We’ve come a long way from a friendly High Court. The current Roberts one is “supremely” pro-business. It’s why passing EFCA is essential even given enough congressional votes to kill it and an anti-labor president who won’t mind.

Today, over 90% of employers oppose unions with government on their side. Nearly 50% threaten to close plants or other work sites. Many coerce, threaten and/or bribe workers to be union-free, and around 30% illegally fire pro-union employees and get away with it.

Current election law mandates secret ballots one month after organizers collect enough signatures, but in the interim, companies can discourage, threaten and/or coerce employees to vote “no.” They can also deny union recognition even if 100% of them want it.

EFCA turns the tables by enforcing fair collective bargaining under the following procedure. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) arbitrators get to write first contracts (for a two-year period) covering wages, benefits, and work rules. NLRB union certification will be based on “card check” majority votes. Employers must then make “every reasonable effort to conclude and sign a collective bargaining agreement” within 10 days of the union’s request. If none is reached in 90 days, either party may ask FMCS to intervene. If resolution fails after 30 days, an arbitration board “renders a decision settling the dispute” – binding for two years, unless both sides agree in writing to amend the contract.

The NLRB will be empowered to take legal action to immediately reinstate workers fired for union activity and enforce triple damages on companies.

EFCA levels the playing field by letting workers vote up or down on whether to form a union – freely by majority vote without fear of employer retribution. Overall, it’s the first pro-labor law since Wagner, if only a first step at a time their rights are greatly eroded. It’s high time Congress reinstated them, but don’t bet on it or that Obama will exert pressure to do it. Business fiercely opposes it with good reason. They’ve got it all their own way and resist change. EFCA will force it for the better at a crucial time for workers.

Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the Center of Research on Globalization. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net.

Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to The Global Research News Hour on RepublicBroadcasting.org Monday – Friday at 10AM US Central time for cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on world and national issues. All programs are archived for easy listening.

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