Chicago teachers join Elwood IL warehouse workers to confront Walmart

by Bob Simpson

Walmart protest in Chicago IL

The chants rang out across Vincennes Ave in the Chatham neighborhood of South Side Chicago:

“1-2-3-4 No one should be working poor!
5-6-7-8 Come on Walmart, play it straight!

We’re working families
Under attack
What do we do?
Stand up! Fight back!

There ain’t no power,
Like the power of the people,
Cuz the power of the people won’t stop!”

Striking teachers from the Chicago Teachers Union(CTU) had joined Warehouse Workers for Justice(WWJ) at a rally aimed at Walmart to protest its employee abuses and the dumping of millions of dollars into school privatization efforts. It was the afternoon of Tuesday September 18, only a few hours before the CTU House of Delegates ended the teachers strike. I had come to the rally with a CTU retiree.

Inspired by the labor-community alliance that the CTU had built in its strike and by a strike of Walmart warehouse workers in California, the Illinois warehouse workers led by WWJ went on strike against Roadlink Workforce Solutions. Roadlink is a subcontractor at the vast Walmart distribution center located in Elwood IL near Joliet, south of Chicago. The Joliet region is now a major distribution point in the big box store supply chain. WWJ is a project of the United Electrical Workers (UE), the legendary progressive union which can trace it’s history back to the factory occupations of the Great Depression.

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The Crisis of American Labor

by Paul Garver

Paul Garver

It is a shopworn cliché that the American labor movement is in permanent crisis. Another cliché reminds us that a crisis represents a combination of danger and opportunity. But clichés can capture essential truths.

It is the worst of times. A deep recession is draining workers’ incomes and earning power and further decimating the ranks of industrial unions. Private sector union organization is approaching a historic low point. Public sector unions are scrambling to defend jobs, salaries, and benefits as cities and states grapple with sharp declines in tax revenue. Internecine struggles are distracting some unions from fully concentrating on their organizing and political agendas.

In other respects, the times are more promising. Organized labor made a major contribution to the election of a Democratic president committed to labor law and health care reform and of a Congress less unsympathetic to the interests of workers than any since the 1970s. Public rejection of the excesses of unrestrained capitalist greed has weakened entrenched resistance to reform and resulted in increased public support for the goals espoused by labor unions.

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Backstage, front stage, and off stage at the AFL-CIO Convention

By Carl Finamore


Carl Finamore

Any large national convention attracting over 1000 delegates and 2000 guests like the 11.5 million-member AFL-CIO gathering in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on September 13-17, is necessarily well-scripted and choreographed. This is to be expected.

Scheduled appearances by President Barack Obama and other luminaries generally add enough adrenalin to keep people awake for the day’s remaining important plenary debates and workshops.

But other parts of the agenda not so center stage are, nonetheless, just as notable and even, sometimes, quite remarkable in themselves. Even before the pounding of the gavel signaled the convention opening, you could detect charged enthusiasm in the room. You could see it in the faces of the delegates.

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The Situational Ethics of Union ‘Raiding’

by Steve Early

Steve Early

Steve Early

No subject arouses the passion of labor officials more than “raiding.” In his blustery maiden address as president of the AFL-CIO, Rich Trumka won thunderous applause this week at the federation’s convention in Pittsburgh by announcing that anyone daring to “raid an AFL-CIO union will find 1,000 organizers coming to the rescue of that union.”

In unions that too often treat their own members like chattel, there are few threats greater, within the “house of labor,” than an affiliate which tries to steal the dues-paying “property” of another.

The very term used to describe this activity conjures up images of unfriendly Native American visits to the first European colonies in North America. In labor circles, “raiding” almost always has a negative connotation.

Unless, of course, your own union is the one dispatching the “raiding party.”

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Indentured Workers Fight Back

by Paul Garver

One of the most welcome shifts in AFL-CIO policy over the last decade has been the wholehearted advocacy of the rights of all workers, including undocumented immigrants, so-called “guest” workers and others among the most vulnerable and exploited groups of workers. Growing ethnic diversity in the ranks of labor, if not necessarily reflected on the Executive Council or top leadership, and the increasing prominence of labor council leaders who champion immigrants rights like Maria Elena Durazo of Los Angeles, safeguard against a return to “nativism.”
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Where Obama Learned his Labor History

Point of Pittsburghby Paul Garver

When President Obama devoted a notable section of his speech at the AFL-CIO Convention to celebrating the history of working class struggles in Pittsburgh, it helped him connect to his enthusiastic audience. For those of us who had worked in Pittsburgh’s labor movement, it was a highpoint. Obama succintly and accurately cited the great Railroad strike of 1877, the Homestead strike of 1892 and the breakthrough organizing victories of the Steel Workers Organizing Committee in 1937-38.
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Obama Charms AFL-CIO Convention

President Obama came, saw and conquered the AFL-CIO Convention. Delegates and guests were prepared to welcome him to the House of Labor as a member of the family, follow his lead and love him. They were not disappointed. The President basked in the warmth, and said what had to be said in the right way.

While praising labor unions as the basis of middle-class America, the President equated the union cause with his own cause and with the interests of middle America (specifically the 95% as opposed to the 1% who have reaped most of the economic rewards in the last two decades).
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Pittsburgh Premiere of New Michael Moore Film

by Paul Garver

More than a thousand supporters of single-payer healthcare rallied at the AFL-CIO Convention in Pittsburgh, and marched along with filmmaker Michael Moore to promote the single-payer cause and attend the American premiere of Michael’s new film CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY.

Pittsburgh media reported 1400 marchers in all. About half of these were AFL-CIO Convention delegates and guests, and the other half local Pittsuburgh activists. Sponsoring unions included among others the Steelworkers (USWA), the California Nurses’ Association (CNA/NNOC), the ILWU, IFPTE and Calif. School Employees Association (CSEA). The large turnout from the Convention guarantees the passage of the resolution supporting Single-Payer as a long-term goal for the AFL-CIO (while the resolution supporting the incremental Obama position will pass as well!).

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Focus on Organizing at AFL-CIO Convention

by Paul Garver

The second day’s program focused on organizing, both organizing new members into unions and political organizing around the Employee Free Choice Act and elections. In welcome relief from long-winded speeches from the dais, many of the presenters were workers who were fighting for union recognition or first contracts. Local and state labor council leaders described organizing rallies and events promoting the EFCA. Activists from Working America presented their electoral canvassing work that had provided key margins of victory for Democratic candidates last November.

I am selecting one of these organizing successes because it was based on hard work at the grassroots level coupled with good strategic targeting that utilized international solidarity. The BCTGM successfully organized workers at the Dannon yogurt plants in Minster, Ohio and West Jordan, Utah. Here following are excerpts from the presentation by BCTGM Secretary-Treasurer Dave Durkee.
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Blogging from the AFL-CIO Convention part 2

by Paul Garver

If you are really interested in all the details, the AFL-CIO staff is doing a great job of reporting on every speech and development on its facebook page.

So I can highlight a few selected items. John Sweeney’s valedictory speech was, as I expected, unassuming and short. You can watch it on video or read it on the AFL-CIO’s facebook page. I will select a few excerpts that struck me.
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