100 years ago: the Ludlow massacre

United Mine Workers

ludlowThe date April 20, 1914 will forever be a day of infamy for American workers. On that day, 19 innocent men, women and children were killed in the Ludlow Massacre. The coal miners in Colorado and other western states had been trying to join the UMWA for many years. They were bitterly opposed by the coal operators, led by the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company.

Upon striking, the miners and their families had been evicted from their company-owned houses and had set up a tent colony on public property. The massacre occurred in a carefully planned attack on the tent colony by Colorado militiamen, coal company guards, and thugs hired as private detectives and strike breakers. They shot and burned to death 18 striking miners and their families and one company man.  Four women and 11 small children died holding each other under burning tents. Later investigations revealed that kerosine had intentionally been poured on the tents to set them ablaze. The miners had dug foxholes in the tents so the women and children could avoid the bullets that randomly were shot through the tent colony by company thugs. The women and children were found huddled together at the bottoms of their tents.

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Sherpa Union Leader Killed in Everest Avalanche

ITUC OnLine

Sherpa Dorje Khatri

Dorje Khatri, Sherpa union leader plants ICTU flag on Everest

(18 April 2014)  Nepalese Sherpa Dorje Khatri, leader of Nepal’s trade union of Sherpas and a committed defender of the environment, was reportedly amongst 12 people killed in one of the worst disasters on Mount Everest ever recorded.  In 2011 Khatri planted the ITUC flag atop the peak of Everest as part of global mobilisation by unions pushing for action on climate change leading up to the Durban Climate Summit, which he attended.

Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary said, “Dorje Khatri has left an indelible footprint as a man committed to the wellbeing of others, and an activist on the frontline of climate action.  We are devastated by the loss of this gentle but determined leader, one of the very elite of mountain climbers, and those who lost their lives with him.”

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Unions, the First and Last Hope for Egyptian Revolution

by Wade Rathke

Egyptian worker demonstration March 2011

Egyptian worker demonstration March 2011

New Orleans   When more than 20 organizers from labor unions and community organizations as part of the Organizers’ Forum delegation visited Egypt in 2011 after the revolution several years ago scores of meetings with political parties, activists, community and labor organizers, proved the one clear reality-tested conclusion that cut through all of the hype was that this was no Facebook revolution whatsoever. If there was one clear, unheralded hero in the drama whose relentless pressure broke the Mubarak government it was the labor movement. Their continuing strikes kept the pressure on the government no matter how much repression and press coverage occurred in the Square. The events leading to Tahir Square and the surge of hope for change in Egypt that many called the Arab Spring were the classic case of something that seemed like a victory having a thousand fathers while a defeat is a bastard child.

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Community Groups to host “Solidarity Fundraiser for Injured Volkswagen Workers”

chatforworkersChattanooga, Tennessee — A coalition of community groups announced today that they are hosting a “Solidarity Fundraiser for Injured Volkswagen Workers” this coming Friday, April 18th from 6:00 to 9:00 PM at St. Mark’s Methodist Church in Chattanooga’s historic North Shore community. This event is being organized to raise money for Lon Gravett and Ed Hunter, two former Volkswagen employees who were badly injured while working on the assembly line at Chattanooga’s Volkswagen factory. The fundraiser is being hosted by Chattanooga for Workers, a local grassroots community group, and Mercy Junction, a Christian ministry group.

According to one local worker on the assembly line floor at the Chattanooga Volkswagen factory, “everyone who works here is injured.” Workers leave the factory everyday in pain, with soreness, numbness, and sometimes even more serious injuries. Health and safety issues related to production are a top concern for many workers involved in the union organizing drive, but they remained publicly silent on the subject due to the previous neutrality agreement between the United Auto Workers and Volkswagen.

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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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Major Attack on Academic Freedom and Labor Studies in Michigan

by   Martin Kich

Martin Kich

Martin Kich

In the Michigan Senate, the Appropriations Higher Education Subcommittee included in its budget proposal a major financial penalty against any public college or university that teaches a labor-related course or offers a labor-studies program.

Michigan State University has been considering an agreement to adopt a portion of programming from the National Labor College. A spokesperson for the university said in testimony before the subcommittee: “’We do also provide training for other groups, business groups, others on the other side of the aisle for how to work with unions on the management side. We also teach de-certification of unions as well.’” Continue reading

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

chayes_color_medium1

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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ITUC Report – The Case Against Qatar

ITUC OnLine

caseagaintQatarA new report from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) exposes how far Qatar will go to deny workers their rights, ahead of a critical FIFA Executive Committee meeting on Thursday  20th March in Zurich.

The Executive Committee will consider a FIFA investigation into labour rights problems in Qatar, after the ITUC estimated 4000 workers could die before a ball is kicked in the 2022 World Cup.

The issue of migrant workers in Qatar, and initiatives that FIFA could take, will be on the Executive Committee agenda on 20 – 21 March.

Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, said Qatar is a government which takes no responsibility for workers, and its response to criticism is focused on public relations. Continue reading

Ukraine: Trade Unions from Across Europe Endorse Five-Point Plan

ITUC OnLine

International Trade Union Confederation

International Trade Union Confederation

(Brussels, 11 March 2014)  Trade unions from across Europe, meeting today in Brussels, have issued a call for a peaceful, efficient and socially-acceptable way out the crisis in Ukraine, pointing to the years of irresponsible policy-making, unaccountable economic management and systematic disregard of rights and freedoms.  The statement was issued from a meeting of the Pan-European Regional Council European which brings together ITUC affiliates from across Europe, including the Ukrainian trade union movement, as well as the members of the European Trade Union Confederation.

The five point plan calls for:

  • De-escalation of tensions, respect for the Ukrainian Constitution, territorial integrity and withdrawal of all armed forces;
  • Free and fair elections to shift to a genuine democratic political system, respect for the rights of all, and investigation of all acts of violence, illegal appropriation of public money and abuse of public office;
  • Economic assistance packages from the EU and international financial institutions, with a strong warning to avoid the discredited austerity approach pushed on EU member states by the “troika”;
  • Social dialogue with the guarantee that workers’ rights will be respected; and,
  • Support for efficient and affordable public services, including priority for stability measures.

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