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LABOR DAY September 4, 2016

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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

Employee Free Choice Act: Fight of a Lifetime? March 4, 2009

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www.talkingunion.wordpress.com

Posted on by dsalaborblogmoderator

by Jane Slaughter

efcaNobody wants to say it on the record, but the buzz is we won’t get the Employee Free Choice Act in its current form.

President Obama says he’s pro-EFCA but wants unions to “accommodate” the other side—despite labor’s $450 million and countless hours of volunteer work devoted to electing him.

Employers aren’t interested in compromise, spending $50 million just on anti-EFCA ads last fall in states where Senate seats were up for grabs, and vowing to spend tens of millions more.

In October Bank of America hosted a conference call for executives led by Bernie Marcus, a co-founder of Home Depot. Marcus lectured CEOs to give money to prevent EFCA and “the demise of a civilization.”
A favorite argument against EFCA is that it would deny workers the right to vote on unionization. Union strategists point out that EFCA actually permits either “card check” or a secret ballot—workers would decide which they wanted. Under current law, only the employer can decide.

Another argument is that there’s no precedent, in the private sector, for the right to arbitration of first contracts. And employers moan, like they did in the Depression, that too much unionization would wreck the reeling economy.

What Employee Free Choice Would Do

If a majority of workers in a workplace sign union authorization cards, validated by the NLRB, the company must recognize the union. If a majority of employees call for an election instead, the NLRB will hold one.

Penalties for companies breaking the law are increased.

• Up to $20,000 per violation for willfully or repeatedly violating employees’ rights during organizing drives or bargaining the first contract.

• Triple back pay for workers fired or discriminated against for pro-union activity during a drive.

• The NLRB must seek a federal court injunction when there is reason to believe a company has violated workers’ rights during a drive, such as firing or threatening to fire union supporters. Precedent says an injunction would be issued immediately.

Companies may not drag out first-contract bargaining indefinitely. If the two sides cannot reach a contract within 90 days, either one may request mediation from federal mediators. If mediation doesn’t work, they go to binding arbitration.

Supporters counter that union-won higher wages are exactly what the economy needs. After all, the debt-driven economy has utterly failed.

BALANCE OF POWER WINS

But in the end, the arguments don’t matter. The bill that passes will reflect the balance of power between business and labor. If EFCA is gutted, or fails to pass at all, it will be because not enough Senators were convinced it was in their interests to vote the right way.

How have labor and other movements in the past persuaded reluctant politicians to vote our way? By creating enough turmoil in the streets that legislators know they’d better do something.

The civil rights movement, the anti-Vietnam war movement, the worker upheavals of the 1930s—all led Washington decision-makers to do things they didn’t want to do.

It’s possible to admire labor’s efforts for two million petition signatures for EFCA and still ask, if this is the fight of a lifetime, why aren’t we acting like it?

Could the energy unions channeled for Obama last fall be reawakened for creative actions in 2009? For a huge march on Washington, for civil disobedience at senators’ offices, for informational picket lines outside the corporations bankrolling the bosses’ campaign, like Home Depot?

Less than three years ago, immigrant workers—most of them not union members—pulled a one-day national strike, bringing more than a million workers, families, students, and supporters into the streets in the largest series of demonstrations our country has ever seen. They were fighting for survival. So is the union movement. This is not the time to be timid.

This piece originally appeared in Labor Notes and is part of a special March issue on issues related to the Employee Free Choice Act. Talking Union encourages our readers to subscribe to Labor Notes.

Jane Slaughter started working with Labor Notes in 1979, eventually serving as editor and director. She is the author of Concessions and How To Beat Them and co-author, with Mike Parker, of Choosing Sides: Unions and the Team Concept and Working Smart: A Union Guide to Participation Programs and Reengineering. Her work has appeared in The Nation, The Progressive, In These Times, and Monthly Review, among others.

Organize! Many Employers Are Just Using the Recession to Stick it to Workers February 19, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, Labor.
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by Dave Lindorff

Whatever the truth is about where this economy is heading, one thing is clear: employers are taking every opportunity to slash employment and, if they are unionized, to hammer unions for pay cuts, even when there is no justification for these actions.

Take Safeway Inc., a large national supermarket chain. The company, which had $44 billion in sales in 2007, and which, based upon third quarter figures for 2008 was well on the way to show record sales for 2008, appears to be using the economic downturn as a justification for laying off employees and making remaining employees work harder.

I can only give anecdotal information on this, but the Genuardi¹s Family Market store (a Safeway subsidiary) where I live, in Upper Dublin, PA, an upper middle-class suburb north of Philadelphia, according to its employees, has been laying off cashiers, and slashing its night work force; the people who restock the shelves and unload the delivery trucks when the store is closed. The management is doing this not because sales have slumped. They haven¹t. People may not be buying new cars, but they are still buying food, and in fact, if they are cutting back on eating out, as restaurant chains are reporting, they are probably actually buying more groceries, not less. Management is making these cuts simply because they can get away with it.

The layoffs, in the face of continued heavy business, means that cashiers are working harder. It means that the night staff, cut by half, is working twice as hard. But with jobs getting scarce, what is their option? If they don’t like the speed-up, where are they going to go in the current environment? Meanwhile, if service gets worse, customers will accept the decline because they’ll blame it on the economy, not noticing that there is really no justification for employee cutbacks at the supermarket.

Temple University, which is a major public higher education institution in Philadelphia, is reportedly telling all departments to make substantial cuts in their budgets . This will inevitably lead to layoffs of faculty and support staff critical to the education mission. And yet, what is the justification for such draconian measures? The governor initially announced plans to cut the state’s contribution to the university¹s annual budget for next year by a few million dollars, but the new Economic Recovery Act stimulus package includes huge grants to the states, including Pennsylvania, more than compensating for those cuts. Furthermore, state-funded universities across the country, including Temple, are reporting increased applications and enrollments, as students whose parents cannot afford to send them to private colleges, send them instead to public institutions, and as workers who lose their jobs decide that the economic downturn is a good time to go to college and get an education. That means more tuition revenues coming in. Moreover, student aid, including Pell Grants for lower-income students, have been substantially increased in the stimulus package, meaning more money for public colleges. Money might be marginally tighter at places like Temple (while, as with most public institutions, the university’s endowment is not a significant contributor to the operating budget, small as it is it is certainly significantly reduced because of the market collapse), but it’s certainly not down by enough to put universities in crisis. It may not even be down at all.

It might be understandable that state and local governments would be considering layoffs, or reduced pay and hours for public employees, given the slump in tax revenues from property taxes, sales taxes and income taxes. It is certainly necessary for the auto industry, which has seen sales plummet, to lay off workers. Luxury stores like Circuit City are going bust. But not all employers are hurting alike. Health care industries are still booming. Public colleges are doing fine. Supermarkets are doing well. Energy companies are okay.

Criticism of the nationwide wave of layoffs by companies and employers that really don’t need to beggar their workers or push them out onto the street came from an unusual quarter recently, when Steve Korman, chief executive of a privately held Philadelphia-area company called Korman Communities, blasted corporate executives for laying off workers when they don’t really need to. Korman had gotten upset when he saw Pfizer Inc.’s CEO Jeff Kinder say, on a television business program, that he planned to lay off 8000 workers in anticipation of a merger with Wyeth, another drug company. The layoffs were not being made because Pfizer was losing money or in trouble financially, but rather to improve profits. Korman, who owns stock in Pfizer, got angry and spent $16,000 to run ads in the Philadelphia Inquirer and the New York Times, saying:

“I have listened to the executives of many companies say that they are eliminating thousands of jobs to ‘improve the bottom line,’ I own stock in many of these companies and would prefer that the company make a smaller profit and [that] the stock fall, in the short term, rather than affect the lives of our neighbors and their families as jobs are lost.

“Please join me in reminding all CEOs that we are not just dealing with numbers and profit, but with real people and real families who need to keep their jobs.”

Korman sent individual letters saying much the same thing to 16 companies in which he is an investor, including Federal Express, Google, Cisco Systems, Caterpillar, General Electric, ExxonMobil, Kraft, Nokia, Intel, Johnson&Johnson, Apple, EMC, Chevron, DuPont, Coca-Cola, Oracle and Dow.

If this phenomenon is bad enough that it has upset a prominent capitalist like Korman, it is clearly a major problem.

The irony is that as all these companies slash their workforces, and force remaining workers to work harder, and as public institutions like Temple University and other colleges cut their faculties and increase class sizes for remaining teaching staff, they are undermining any stimulus that taxpayers are subsidizing in the massive stimulus bill, and thus making the recession worse, not to mention wasting the huge deficit-spending measure itself.

Nobody would argue with a company¹s laying off of workers when sales collapse and there is no money coming in, but in many cases this is not what has been happening.

One reason there is a tidal wave of layoffs even at viable businesses and institutions across the country is simply the lack of or weakness of labor unions. With workers at most employers unorganized (unions represent only some 8 percent of private employees), it is easy for managers to engender an attitude of fear and passivity among employees, which makes it easier to pick them off, and to make those on the job work ever harder. Furthermore, without labor contracts, there is little workers can do to resist speedups that can seriously threaten their health, safety and well-being.

Only a new militancy and sense of solidarity among American workers, and a revitalization of the nearly moribund labor movement, can rescue this situation, which will only get worse as the economy continues to sink.

Dave Lindorff is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. His latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net

A Tale of Two Nobel Nations December 10, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Europe, Sweden, Uncategorized.
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Posted on Dec 9, 2008, www.truthdig.com

By Amy Goodman

STOCKHOLM, Sweden—The days are short here in Stockholm, which is so far north that winter daylight is limited to about four hours a day. But the city is buzzing with visitors, media and activities, for the Nobel prizes are being given this week. While the Nobels recognize lifetime achievements in medicine, chemistry, physics, literature, economics and peace, and Sweden is a paragon among progressive, social democracies, there is another side to Sweden and the Nobels that warrants a closer look.

Alfred Nobel made a fortune as an inventor, principally for his invention of dynamite. He died in 1896, leaving most of his fortune to endow the Nobel prizes. Nobel lived in a time when European rivalries and wars were the norm. He believed the destructive power of his inventions could promote peace. He wrote to his lifelong friend, peace activist Bertha von Suttner, who would win the Nobel Peace Prize almost a decade after his death, “Perhaps my factories will put an end to war even sooner than your Congresses; on the day when two army corps will be able to annihilate each other in a second, all civilised nations will recoil with horror and disband their troops.”

If only. Now countries can destroy each other many times over, but instead of recoiling in horror, they just continue buying ever more destructive weapons, ironically making Sweden one of the world leaders, per capita, in weapons exports. Nobel turned Swedish munitions into a stable, multinational enterprise. In 1894, he acquired the weapons company Bofors, now a subsidiary of the weapons maker BAE Systems. While the world’s eyes are on the Nobel Prize winners, several Swedes are facing prison time for taking direct action against Bofors.

Cattis Laska is a member of the anti-war groups Ofog and Avrusta, Swedish for mischief and disarm. She told me about their protests against the Swedish weapons industry: “We went into two weapon factories the same night. Two went into Saab Bofors Dynamics (while General Motors bought Saab’s auto division, Saab in Sweden makes weapons) … and they disarmed about 20 [grenade launchers] … to prevent them from being used in wars. They did it by using a hammer. There’s very much details in those launchers, so they have to be perfect. So it’s enough just to scrape inside to disable them. And then, me and another person went into the BAE Systems Bofors factory, where we disabled some parts for howitzers going to India. We also used hammers.” Like the Plowshares activists in the United States, they follow the biblical prescription from Isaiah 2:4, turning “swords into plowshares.”

Annika Spalde also participated in the actions: “We sell weapons to countries at war and to countries who seriously violate human rights, and still these sales just grow bigger and bigger, so we feel that we, as ordinary citizens, have a responsibility to act then and to physically try to stop these weapons from being shipped off.” Spalde is awaiting trial. Laska has been sentenced to three months in prison.

Traditional Swedish politics also are in flux. Brian Palmer is an American, a former Harvard lecturer, who has immigrated to Sweden and become a Swedish citizen. Palmer has penned a biography of Sweden’s prime minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt. Palmer credits Reinfeldt, 43, with leading the shift away from the progressive social policies for which Sweden has become world-famous. He said Reinfeldt, in 1993, “wrote a book, ‘The Sleeping People,’ where he said that the welfare state should only prevent starvation, nothing beyond that. After being elected … one of his first major visits abroad was to George Bush in the White House.”

Reinfeldt and his Moderate Party hired Karl Rove as a political consultant to help with the election coming in 2010. Palmer went on: “We have a real kind of silent war on the labor movement. We have a rather dramatic change in the tax system, abolishing the inheritance tax and most property taxes, cutbacks in social-welfare institutions.” This week, a new coalition of center-left political parties formed to challenge this rightward drift.

The U.S. electorate has thoroughly rebuked the Bush administration, handing Barack Obama and the Democrats a mandate for change on issues of war and health care, among others. One of the world’s leading laboratories for innovative social policies, Sweden is now wrestling with its own future. Those seeking change in the U.S. would be wise to watch Sweden, beyond Nobel week.

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

Angry Laid-off Workers Occupy Factory in Chicago December 7, 2008

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Associated Press

CHICAGO — Workers who got three days’ notice that their factory was shutting its doors have occupied the building and say they won’t go home without assurances they’ll get severance and vacation pay.

About 250 union workers occupied the Republic Windows and Doors plant in shifts Saturday while union leaders outside criticized a Wall Street bailout they say is leaving labourers behind.

Leah Fried, an organizer with the United Electrical Workers, said the Chicago-based vinyl window manufacturer failed to give 60 days’ notice required by law before shutting down.

During the two-day peaceful takeover, workers have been shovelling snow and cleaning the building, Ms. Fried said.

“We’re doing something we haven’t done since the 1930s, so we’re trying to make it work,” she said, referring to a tactic most famously used in 1936-37 by General Motors factory workers in Flint, Mich., to help unionize the U.S. auto industry.

Ms. Fried said the company can’t pay its 300 employees because its creditor, Charlotte, N.C.-based Bank of America, won’t let them. Crain’s Chicago Business reported that Republic Windows’ monthly sales had fallen to $2.9-million (U.S.) from $4-million during the past month. In a memo to the union, obtained by the business journal, Republic CEO Rich Gillman said the company had “no choice but to shut our doors.”

Bank of America received $25-billion from the government’s financial bailout package. The company said in a statement Saturday that it isn’t responsible for Republic’s financial obligations to its employees.

“Across cultures, religions, union and nonunion, we all say this bailout was a shame,” said Richard Berg, president of Teamsters Local 743. “If this bailout should go to anything, it should go to the workers of this country.”

Outside the plant, protesters wore stickers and carried signs that said, “You got bailed out, we got sold out.”

The Chicago-based Rainbow PUSH Coalition, a civil rights group, announced in a news release Saturday that Jesse Jackson planned to visit the workers Sunday morning to offer his support.

Larry Spivack, regional director for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Council 31, said the peaceful action will add to Chicago’s rich history in the labour movement, which includes the 1886 Haymarket affair, when Chicago labourers and anarchists gathering in a square on the city’s west side drew national attention after an unidentified person threw a bomb at police.

“The history of workers is built on issues like this here today,” Mr. Spivack said.

Representatives of Republic Windows did not immediately respond Saturday to calls and e-mails seeking comment.

Police spokeswoman Laura Kubiak said authorities were aware of the situation and officers were patrolling the area.

Workers were angered when company officials didn’t show up for a meeting Friday that had been arranged by U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, a Chicago Democrat, Ms. Fried said. Union officials said another meeting with the company is scheduled for Monday afternoon.

“We’re going to stay here until we win justice,” said Blanca Funes, 55, of Chicago, after occupying the building for several hours. Speaking in Spanish, Ms. Funes said she fears losing her home without the wages she feels she’s owed. A 13-year employee of Republic, she estimated her family can make do for three months without her paycheque. Most of the factory’s workers are Hispanic.