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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Theses toward the development of left labor strategy


Concept paper:  Theses toward the development of left labor strategyPreface: The following is what used to be termed a “struggle paper,” i.e., a paper presented as an argument for a position. It is not presented as a final position, however. It is, instead, inspired by the content of the February Left Strategies web discussion on the labor movement. This paper does not try to present the ideal tactics or all elements of strategy. It does, however, attempt to identify–for purposes of discussion–issues and concepts for consideration in the development of a full-blown left labor strategy. Feedback is welcomed.

Book Excerpt: Campaigning for Union Office

Labor Notes Staff

jumpstartOur new book, How to Jump-Start Your Union: Lessons from the Chicago Teachers, shows how activists transformed their union and gave members hope. This excerpt tells how the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators (CORE) campaigned for top offices, and won.

It’s one of the universals of organizing—first you make a list.

Elementary teacher Alix Gonzalez Guevara remembers staying up late transferring data about each school from a district-published book into an Excel spreadsheet: region, address, how many teachers, how many students.

This became a Google document, an online spreadsheet available to everyone working on the campaign. The schools were grouped by regions. Within each, a couple of lead activists took responsibility to find people to do outreach at each school. Continue reading

Outrage at Boeing Spurs Reformers’ Bid for Top Spots in Machinists Union

by Jon Flanders

When Machinists President Thomas Buffenbarger intervened to foist concessions on the union's largest district, at Boeing, he added fuel to his opposition's fire. A rank and file vote for top officers will be held this spring. Photo: Don Grinde. - See more at: http://labornotes.org/2014/02/outrage-boeing-spurs-reformers-bid-top-spots-machinists-union#sthash.UB0LZnkd.dpuf

When Machinists President Thomas Buffenbarger intervened to foist concessions on the union’s largest district, at Boeing, he added fuel to his opposition’s fire. A rank and file vote for top officers will be held this spring. Photo: Don Grinde.

For the first time in more than 50 years, the Machinists union (IAM) will hold a contested election for top officers. The vote was ordered by the Department of Labor after member Karen Asuncion protested violations in the union’s 2013 uncontested election.

An opposition slate, IAM Reform, is headed by former Transportation Coordinator Jay Cronk. Cronk is a former officer because he was fired, after more than 20 years at the International, eight days after he announced his candidacy.

IAM Reform’s platform focuses primarily on internal functioning: nepotism, wasteful spending (a Lear Jet for international officers), high salaries ($304,000 in total compensation for President Thomas Buffenbarger), and excessive numbers of international officers, some of whom were appointed without ever having been an IAM member.

But since the initial appearance of the reform slate, under the pressure of events—principally the big showdown over concessions at Boeing—its nature has begun to morph into a broader opposition to concessionary contracts.

The membership vote will be held some time before June. Continue reading

AFL-CIO Repositions Itself to Speak for All Workers

Fletcherby Bill Fletcher Jr. and Jeff Crosby

The AFL-CIO Convention in September took an important turn to reposition unions toward speaking for all working people in the United States. This was a correction to the narrow focus on its dues-paying members and traditional electoral work that has cursed the movement for most of its history.

To argue that this turn represents an abandonment of current members, as Steve Early does here , is factually false and politically wrong.

It helps to understand what the federation is and is not. It is a collection of unions “held together by a rope of sand,” as a former federation president put it. From the central labor councils to the national organization, affiliates that don’t like the turn of events just quit. Continue reading

Postal Workers Elect New Leaders Who Pledge to Build a Movement

by Alexandra Bradbury


A newly-elected slate of local leaders pledges to change APWU’s direction. Till now, while pockets of postal workers have been marching and even sitting in, the national union has focused on lobbying. Photo: Adam Souza. - See more at: http://www.labornotes.org/2013/10/postal-workers-elect-new-leaders-who-pledge-build-movement

A newly-elected slate of local leaders pledges to change APWU’s direction. Till now, while pockets of postal workers have been marching and even sitting in, the national union has focused on lobbying. Photo: Adam Souza. – See more at: http://www.labornotes.org/2013/10/postal-workers-elect-new-leaders-who-pledge-build-movement

A diverse slate of local leaders pledging to take a firmer hand with management, increase transparency about contract details, collaborate with other postal unions and community groups, and mobilize members has just won national leadership of the American Postal Workers Union.

The Members First Team, headed by now President-Elect Mark Dimondstein, won seven of the nine seats it contested, the APWU announced last night.

The stakes couldn’t be higher for postal workers, who are battling wave after wave of attacks—post offices and sorting plants closing, work privatizing, delivery standards eroding. The latest nasty bill pending in Congress would kill Saturday letter delivery, replace door-to-door with curbside and neighborhood “cluster box” service, and ban workers’ time-honored no-layoff clause from future contracts.

“We’re at a crossroads,” said Dimondstein before the election. “At the core of this whole struggle is whether the post office is going to be decisively privatized and turned over to profit-making entities and low-paid, non-union jobs—or remain a public entity that serves all the people and maintains good-paying union jobs.” Continue reading

Labor Wrestles With Its Future

Harold Meyerson

Harold Meyerson

By Harold Meyerson,

Since the emergence of capitalism, workers seeking higher pay and safer workplaces have banded together in guilds and unions to pressure their employers for a better deal. That has been the approach of the American labor movement for the past 200 years.

That approach, however, has begun to change. It’s not because unions think collective bargaining is a bad idea but because workers can’t form unions any more — not in the private sector, not at this time. There are some exceptions: Organizing continues at airlines, for instance, which are governed by different organizing rules than most industries. But employer opposition to organizing has become pervasive in the larger economy, and the penalties for employers that violate workers’ rights as they attempt to unionize are so meager that such violations have become routine. For this and a multitude of other reasons, the share of unionized workers in the private sector dropped from roughly one-third in the mid-20th century to a scant 6.6 percent last year. In consequence, the share of the nation’s economy constituted by wages has sunk to its lowest level since World War II, and U.S. median household income continues to decline.

Unions face an existential problem: If they can’t represent more than a sliver of American workers on the job, what is their mission? Are there other ways they can advance workers’ interests even if those workers aren’t their members? Continue reading

Organizing Migrant Workers Key to Union Renewal in China and USA

by Paul Garver

china in revolt flyer_no text

On March 17th Talking Union, the Jacobin Magazine and Labor Notes sponsored a roundtable discussion at the CUNY Murphy Institute on China in Revolt. Over a hundred labor scholars and community and labor activists, including many from both Overseas and Mainland China, met to discuss the latest developments in the Chinese workers’ movement.

Eli Friedman, now teaching at Cornell University, summarized his hypothesis that China’s new working class of internal migrant workers might be developing a more politicized class consciousness as global manufacturers increasingly located their factories closer to their villages of origin deep in the interior provinces of China. Three highly regarded scholar/activists from the Chinese diaspora (Anita Chan, now teaching in Sydney, Chris King-Chi Chan of the City University of Hong Kong, and Elaine Sio-ieng Hui, a doctoral fellow in Kassel, Germany) commented on Eli’s hypothesis, and outlined some of their own extensive recent research findings and analyses of the current Chinese workers’ movement.

As a person with experience in the socialist and international labor movement, I was impressed and thrilled by the high level both of critical thinking and of passionate commitment to workers’ struggles present on the panel and in the room. Marxist critical theory is not only alive, but is actively at work in supporting one of the most important developments of workers’ struggles in global history. I was proud to have played a small role in facilitating this roundtable.

But as a rank amateur on Chinese worker issues who knows little more than what I learn at second hand from folks like Eli, Anita, Chris and Elaine, I want to reflect here on what implications we might draw from China for the American workers’ movement.

This is of course a stretch. Not only are China and the USA opposite poles of capitalist globalization – our political and union institutions are moving in different trajectories. Our industrial working class is shrinking – theirs is still growing. Our union membership is declining – theirs is nominally huge, but their trade union federations are essentially government/party bureaucracies with no input from or control by workers. We have a political party system of which one party is openly hostile to organized labor and the other at best an untrustworthy ally – China has one hegemonial political party nominally committed to working class interests and trade union organization but beholden to capitalist globalization and highly suspicious of and resistant to any autonomous workers’ movement.

Yet there is an analogous source of hope for these divergent labor institutions in the organization of migrant/immigrant workers.

Chinese “migrant” workers for over a generation have migrated from rural villages in China’s interior to work in factories and construction sites in coastal cities, where they make up a large percentage of the relatively unskilled manufacturing and construction workers. In recent years they have increasingly asserted their collective power through unsanctioned strikes and riots. The formal trade union structures had heretofore made little effort to represent their interests, but under pressure from the Party to deal with the growing social unrest and industrial actions of migrant workers, some local and provincial trade union federations are experimenting with reforms designed to open up channels for collective bargaining.

The American labor unions have long had checkered relations with immigrant workers, that at various times in U.S. history have also made up a significant portion of the working class. In recent years recent immigrants, even some without documents, are becoming leaders in local unions. For instance many SEIU locals particularly in the property services sector are being led by recent immigrants recruited through the Justice for Janitors campaign, and a top SEIU officer, Eliseo Medina, is a leader of immigration reform efforts. Even as the AFL-CIO unions are weakened by losses in membership, most of its national union organizations have become much more progressive in including immigrants, including ones without documentation, and the AFL-CIO is solidly backing comprehensive immigration reform and a path to citizenship.

Of equal importance, many of the most creative new union organizing efforts in the USA, from port truck drivers through fast food workers, warehouse workers, healthcare domestic and personal care service workers heavily draw upon recent immigrants both as the organizers and as the organized.

It is no accident that the reform agenda of unions both in China and in the USA have to be based on their ability to integrate newer entrants into the working class movement, whether these be internal migrants (China) or documented/undocumented immigrants (USA).

Those of us who advocate and support workers’ struggles and union reforms in both countries have much to learn from each other. Exchanges of experience like the roundtable on China in Revolt are extremely important.

Labor’s Turnaround: The AFL-CIO has a plan to save the movement

by  David Moberg

(March 3 2013)The mood at the meeting, one AFL-CIO top staffer said, was that the future of the labor movement Richard Trumka was at risk if they continued “business as usual.”

As I waited outside the AFL-CIO’s closed-door executive council meeting on Tuesday at a hotel near Disney World, I recalled a conversation at another AFL-CIO meeting some 35 years ago. The Democratic Socialist leader of the machinists union, William “Wimpy” Winpisinger, had called for retirement of the AFL-CIO’s aging, conservative president, George Meany, saying that labor was in crisis and needed to head in a new direction. I approached the teachers union president, Albert Shanker, known as a feisty Cold War liberal, to get his reaction. Wimpy was too impatient, Shanker said. The labor movement was like a battleship. It takes time to turn it around.

Who knew how long?

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Jerome Brown Reviews Two Reviews of Jane McAlevey’s Rising Expectations

by Jerome Brown

Jerry Brown


Talking Union previously featured Sarah Jaffe’s interview with Jane McAlevey. Joe Burns’ review of McAlevey’s book can be found here. Steve Early’s review of McAlevey’s book can be found here. McAlevey’s response to Early can be found here. We encourage further discussion.–TU

I am submitting this as a review of Joe Burns’ review of Rising Expectations and of Steve Early’s critique of McAlevey which in many ways is parroted by Burns.

I am writing as someone who was directly involved in the unusually effective changes led by Jane McAlevey in Local 1107, SEIU Las Vegas and as someone who watched with real sadness the subsequent undermining and failure of that Local. I am the retired president of 1199 New England, a union with a proud history of militant rank and file activity and high standards in the public and private sector. The growth of Local 1199 in Connecticut from 900 members when I assumed staff leadership in 1973 to 23,000 members when I retired required the dedicated efforts of many leaders and members. McAlevey identifies me as one of her mentors in the labor movement and I am happy to wear that description.

I disagree with some of the examples of SEIU skullduggery recited by McAlevey–most particularly her description and demonization of Sal Roselli and UHW under Sal’s leadership. But on most of the facts supporting her narrative, McAlevey is right on target. Yes, SEIU made private deals with national hospital chains, deals that gave away worker rights to strike and even rally. And these deals were never explained to or ratified by the members. Yes SEIU undermined and then disrupted member activism,threatening Jane and the Local with trusteeship if it dared engage in job actions against these employers. And yes, the SEIU and the AFL-CIO failed in Florida during the 2000 presidential election and failed in any number of other crises because they did not motivate, support or really believe in militant membership activity.

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