Eli Friedman’s Insurgency Trap: A Review

 by Paul Garver

Insuregency Trap cover image

Eli Friedman’s Insurgency Trap: Labor Politics in Postsocialist China is indispensable for anyone trying to understand what is happening with hundreds of millions of internal migrant workers in China today. Postsocialist China has become the world’s largest manufacturing center and exporter to the rest of the world, and the future of Chinese society and of the global economy hinges on whether the new Chinese working class remains excluded from its social and political system.

Some readers may opt to skim through some of the technical sociological language, bearing testimony to the origin of the book as a doctoral thesis. But most of Insurgency Trap is made up of detailed and incisive description and analysis of specific case studies of the dynamics of Chinese “trade unions” in their interactions with workers. The chapter on Chen Weiguang, reformist leader of the Guangzhou Municipal Trade Union Federation is brilliant and revealing. Chen gave Eli Friedman full access to study the concrete results of some of his reform initiatives, and Friedman’s research reveals the limited accomplishments of even the most ambitious efforts at reforming China’s unions. Another superb chapter describes and analyzes the wave of strikes in Honda and Toyota auto parts supply plants that resulted in economic gains for workers, but achieved only very limited changes in the plant unions themselves.

Although I remain hopeful that the worker insurgency in China could leave to democratization of the sclerotic Communist Party and State controlled trade union apparatus, Insurgency Trap demonstrates enormous obstacles to real social advance when all avenues for autonomous political activity by workers remain closed. So long as the Chinese Communist Party remains so fearful of any independent political organization that it forbids any move towards genuine worker-controlled unions, the Chinese state will remain caught in its own “insurgency trap,” unable to advance towards a more inclusive society or make a positive contribution towards creating a more equitable global economy.

Insurgency Trap: Labor Politics in Postsocialist China by Eli Friedman is available from ILR Press, Ithaca, 2014, in paperback or in an Amazon Kindle edition.

UAW Local Union 42 Created at VW Chattanooga

by Paul Garver

The campaign to organize Volkswagen workers in Chattanooga is taking a new and interesting direction.

The UAW has chartered Local 42 as a new local organization representing workers at the VW plant.  According to the UAW press release, Local 42 will offer the workers the opportunity for a voice in the workplace similar to the VW works council system for employee representation in Germany.  Calling itself “Volkswagen’s works council partner,” the union pledged to continue its advocacy for state incentives to encourage VW to expand production and create jobs at the Chattanooga plant.

Unlike the usual American labor relations system the union will not have the right to exclusive representation, nor will it represent workers other than its own members.  However the UAW expects that the company will “recognize” the union once it has signed up a “meaningful” portion of its workforce as an organization that represents its own members.  Since the union had dropped its NLRB challenge to the February representation election it had narrowly lost, it could no longer at this time seek formal collective bargaining rights nor the right to exclusive representation of the work force.
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Dan Gallin’s Solidarity: A Review

by Paul Garver

gallinbookcover225Dan Gallin’s career as a socialist and union activist now spans more than six decades.   Child of an exiled Romanian diplomat, he was recruited to “Third Camp” Socialism (Socialist Youth League/International Socialist League) as a college student at the University of Kansas in the early 1950’s.  Forced to leave the USA for his political activities, he rejoined his family in Switzerland where he became a Swiss citizen and a member of the Swiss Socialist Party.  Opting to labor in the international workers’ movement rather than the socialist political movement, he joined the staff of the International Union of Food Workers (IUF), which he served as General Secretary from 1968 to 1997.

Solidarity is a collection of 19 of Dan Gallin’s essays, including  two autobiographical articles, three pieces from the late 1950s and early 1960s, one from his tenure as IUF General Secretary, and the  remainder from the last twelve years.  Dan Gallin’s interview by Eric Lee of LabourStart can serve as an introduction to the book.

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Dan Gallin on the international labor movement

by Stuart Elliott

Dan Gallin’s book Solidarity was officially and fittingly launched at the recent LabourStart “Global Crisis, Global Solidarity” conference. Gallin, now in his eighties, is a legendary figure in the international labor movement, having served for many years as General Secretary of the IUF, the international trade union secretariat of food workers union. Gallin transformed, modernized, and democratized the IUF. Unafraid to break new ground, guided by the values of “third camp socialism” he learned in the American Independent Socialist League, he embraced the organization of domestic and informal workers decades ago. Currently, he is  Chair of the Global Labour Institute (GLI), a labor service organization established in 1997 with a secretariat in Geneva, with affiliates in Moscow and New York . In this video, he is introduced by Eric Lee, founding editor of LabourStart.

 

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New ITUC Global Rights Index – The world’s worst countries for workers

ITUCglobalrightindexA global leader-board in the race to protect workers’ rights was released on May 19 at the ITUC World Congress in Berlin. The ITUC Global Rights Index ranks 139 countries against 97 internationally recognized indicators to assess where workers’ rights are best protected, in law and in practice.

“Countries such as Denmark and Uruguay led the way through their strong labor laws, but perhaps surprisingly, the likes of Greece, the United States and Hong Kong, lagged behind,” said ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow. “A country’s level of development proved to be a poor indicator of whether it respected basic rights to bargain collectively, strike for decent conditions, or simply join a union at all.”

The International Trade Union Confederation has been collecting data on the abuse of trade union rights around the world for the past 30 years. Now for the first time the ITUC Global Rights Index presents carefully verified information from the last 12 months in an easy-to-use format so that every government and business can see how their laws and supply chains stack up. Continue reading

Super-sized fast food worker strike to start tomorrow as movement goes global

by Teamster Nation

5-15-14Fast food workerswill strike tomorrow in 150 U.S. cities and 30 cities overseas, escalating the movement for fair wages and the right to organize that now encompasses port truck drivers, warehouse workers, food processing workers, Walmart associates and government contractors.

Short, sudden strikes began in late 2012 against fast-food employers, but they have since grown to include a spectrum of low-wage workers joining together in job actions. Walmart workers, longshoremen and Teamsters held picket lines for striking port drivers recently, and a McDonald’s worker and UFCW member recently joined Teamsters and Taylor Farms workersin California’s state capital to push for a bill protecting temporary workers.

Decades of union-busting in this country lowered wages to the point where half the workers in America earn wages at or near the poverty level. Now tens of thousands of workers at a time are taking to the street to demand a fair day’s wage for a day’s work. Continue reading

The UAW’s Election Loss at Chattanooga VW Plant Will Not End the Southern Auto Organizing Drive

by Paul Garver

Attributing its narrow loss at the Chattanooga VW plant to outrageous outside interference by anti-union special interest groups and right-wing politicians, on 21st February the UAW formally filed objections to the election with the NLRB. This is new legal terrain, since the electoral misconduct stemmed not as customary from management but from misleading and coercive statements by right-wing politicians and wealthy anti-union organizations.

The success of the UAW’s novel legal appeal is far from certain, despite its evident justification. It is also uncertain, even if a new election is granted, whether the union would  prevail in an unchanged hostile external political environment and continuing opposition to the union by some workers. However a new combination of political mobilization in the community and renewed organizing efforts by pro-union VW workers and their families can succeed.

I went away from a workshop with renewed hope at the recent Labor Notes conference in Chicago addressed by Volkswagon workers  and by Chris Brooks, of Chattanooga Organized for Action.  The workers and Chris explained with passion and clear analytical thinking how the union came close to victory, only to be blindsided by a massive anti-union campaign fueled by hundreds of thousands of dollars from shadowy outside special interests.

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Welcoming China’s labor federation back into the global union family?

TU vs. workers

by Eric Lee

[Ed. Note: This image shows strikebreakers sent by the local union federation attacking young striking workers at a Honda parts plant in 2010  The local union  was forced to apologize and a higher level federation officer helped negotiate higher wages at the plant.  A wave of strikes at auto parts plants in China followed.  -Paul Garver]

At the end of March, the International Labour Organisation’s Bureau for Workers Activities (known as ILO-ACTRAV) and the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) signed a Memorandum of Understanding “to promote Trade unions South-South Cooperation in the Asia- Pacific region”.

The Director-General of the ILO, Guy Ryder, said “we need to find a way which so that the ACFTU can work more closely with other parts of the international trade union movement, sharing common objectives.”

Ryder is a former General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, which has decided to invite the ACFTU to attend its upcoming World Congress in Berlin in May.

These two events illustrate the fact that the trade union leadership in much of the developed world now seems keen on putting the past behind us and welcoming China’s trade unions back into our “global family”.

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How a Leftist Labor Union Helped Force Tunisia’s Political Settlement

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by Sarah Chayes
Democracy and the Rule of Law Program
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

[Editorial note:  Over the last three years, Talking Union has run several articles on the constructive role that independent labor unions have played in creating  the underpinnings for the emerging democratic society in Tunisia,which continues to be  a positive accomplishment of the Arab Spring - Paul Garver]

Summary
Without the muscular involvement of a powerful labor union, it is unlikely that Tunisia’s remarkable political settlement would have come about.

On a Saturday afternoon last October, in an ornate, scarlet-draped convention center bedecked with flags and white flowers, Tunisian labor leader Houcine Abbassi presided over a signing ceremony that would mark his country’s destiny and perhaps that of the Arab world. “Thank you for heeding the nation’s call,” he told the leaders of two dozen political parties, before each stood to sign what has come to be called the Road Map.

The event almost came off the rails. Some politicians were shocked to discover upon arriving that they would be forced to sign the document in front of television cameras—and thus be bound by its terms. On a tight calendar, the text called for three giant steps: the resignation of Tunisia’s entire cabinet and the appointment of a nonpartisan prime minister tasked to put together a new one, the formation of an independent election commission, and the modification and approval of a draft constitution.

With handcuffs like these lying open before him, the head of the ruling Islamist Ennahda party, Rached Ghannouchi, balked. The Road Map, in his view, was merely a “basis for discussion.” For three hours, as participants and witnesses and journalists grew confused and impatient in the main hall, Abbassi tousled with Ghannouchi offstage, at last extracting an agreement to sign.

And what was a labor union doing in the thick of politics? Everything, it turns out.

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Pro-Worker NGO Criticizes Apple’s Failures of Corporate Social Responsbility in China

by SACOM

Hong Kong, 28 February 2014

On the day of Apple’s annual general meeting, Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM) is urging Apple again to take immediate and constructive action to fulfil its corporate responsibility by improving the working conditions in its suppliers.

Despite respectable quarterly revenues of US$57.6 billion and a net quarterly profit of US$13.1 billion in the first quarter of its fiscal year of 2014, the company is unwilling to share its success with frontline workers – those who turn its ideas into real products. Apple’s newly published Corporate Supplier Responsibility (CSR) Progress Report projects an ideal workplace at Apple suppliers, yet we doubt workers are enjoying any benefit at all: Continue reading

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