The Right to Strike

Will-Strike

For half a century, the loss of the right to strike has moved in lock step with the increase in income inequality. According to an International Monetary Fund study of twenty advanced economies, union decline accounted for about half of the increase in net income inequality from 1980 to 2012. The following is the start of a Boston Review discussion on US workers’ right to strike.

James Gray Pope, Ed Bruno, Peter Kellman

Boston Review

May 22, 2017

In December 2005 more than 30,000 New York City transit workers walked out over economic issues despite the state of New York’s Taylor Law, which prohibits all public sector strikes. Not only did the workers face the loss of two days’ pay for each day on strike, but a court ordered that the union be fined $1 million per day. Union president Roger Toussaint held firm, likening the strikers to Rosa Parks. “There is a higher calling than the law,” he declared. “That is justice and equality.”

The transit strike exemplified labor civil disobedience at its most effective. The workers were not staging a symbolic event; they brought the city’s transit system to a halt. They claimed their fundamental right to collective action despite a statute that outlawed it. For a precious moment, public attention was riveted on the drama of workers defying a draconian strike ban.

How did national labor leaders react?

AFL-CIO president John Sweeney issued a routine statement of support, while most others did nothing at all. To anybody watching the drama unfold, the message was clear: there is no right to strike, even in the House of Labor.

About a decade earlier in 1996, Stephen Lerner, fresh from a successful campaign to organize Los Angeles janitors, had warned in Boston Review that private sector unions faced an existential crisis: density could soon drop from 10.3 percent to 5 percent if unions did not expand their activity beyond the limits imposed by American law. He called for unions to develop broad organizing strategies—industry-wide and regional—and to engage in civil disobedience. Few embraced these radical strategies. Today private sector union density is about 6.5 percent, not quite as low as Lerner predicted, but down from a high of over 30 percent in the mid-1950s. Continue reading

Trumpism, Labor and the Civil Rights Movement

John Mason,
I have been celebrating May Day, THE international day honoring workers and our achievements in organizing for our rights, and what we accomplish if the workers stand together and fight the bosses and their political minions. I have been active in these campaigns-don’t worry, we’ll still have Labor Day in September.

The origins of May Day are in the struggles in this country for an eight-hour working day, led by the Knights of Labor.  The American origins of May Day have been obscured by the appropriation by the Soviet Union, China, and other Communist regimes of revolutionary culture to further their ends, which have not been revolutionary; it gave the regimes the appearance of being radical and revolutionary. Now, the truth has been coming out, and I urge you to look up the web site, maydayusa.org.   (This raises the question: what other things have we been lied to about, in schools, media, and politics?)

We need to have such solidarity in these times of trump as our “president,” and I have NO obligation to show him ANY respect! A woman was arrested for laughing at Attorney General Jeff Sessions-laughing! Political satire, laughing at the doings of our elected (by whom?) officials is a venerable American tradition; currently, we have seeing a new golden age of it, with the work of Trevor Noah, Jon Stewart, Samantha Bee, and Stephen Colbert-who recently faced trumpist howling after a great monologue. Continue reading

Which Way to the Barricades?

An interesting and long piece from Jacobin by Stephen Fraser and Nelson Lichtenstein. Excerpt:

Surprisingly, these recent calls for strike come primarily from middle-class activists, usually without the faintest connection to the labor movement. They summon people to deploy a weapon linked, since Peterloo, to an oppressed working class in revolt while decrying what they understand as white working-class backlash. The very incongruous timing and social location of these calls makes them odd, awkward, and naive, but also socially and culturally imaginative.

After all, what remains of the organized labor movement has avoided strikes like the plague for a long time; unions are simply too weak to conduct them. As late as 1975, each year witnessed more than four hundred strikes, involving more than a thousand workers. Today, ten or fifteen work stoppages occur, mostly for defensive reasons — to preserve pensions, wages, or health insurance against an aggressive employer.

Strikes have cropped up among unorganized, low-wage workers, sometimes assisted by outside unions. The Fight for $15 movement has generated a good deal of social energy and achieved some legislative success on the state and local level. But as important and even heroic as such struggles are, these strikes-cum-referendum-campaigns hardly disturb the country’s economic machinery.

Read the entire piecehttps://www.jacobinmag.com/2017/05/mass-general-strike-history-may-day-barricades

Day Without Immigrants: The New Workers’ May Day

by Peter Olney and Rand Wilson

Food Production

The buzz about a Day without Immigrants on May 1, 2017 is growing. Spanish radio is already churning with calls for strikes, rallies and demonstrations on May 1. This movement recalls the giant mobilizations of May 1, 2006 that occurred in response to proposed draconian anti-immigrant federal legislation called the Sensenbrenner Immigration Bill.

May Day has its historic origins in the nineteenth century struggle for the eight-hour day. In many cities on May Day in 2006, the marches and rallies proved to be the largest in history. Industries that relied on immigrant labor were paralyzed as millions of workers responded to the call for a Day without Latinos (also called the Great American Boycott). Labor participated unevenly in these rallies and mostly in places where the membership in service unions was predominately Latino. This year, in the turmoil surrounding the Trump Presidency, May 1 could be a great opportunity for the labor movement to flex its muscles and build its future.

Labor’s participation is important to the future of American politics. For example, look at the history of politics in California. Turn back the clock 23 years to 1994 when then Republican Governor Pete Wilson faced a fierce re-election battle. He launched a “Trump-like” assault on “illegal” immigration replete with videos of masses of Mexicans streaming across the border and threatening California. It was a brazen racist ploy called Proposition 187, introduced to bolster his reelection bid. Union leaders in California faced a critical decision about whether to participate in the massive Los Angeles mobilization against Prop 187.

In a meeting of labor leadership, some union leaders argued that it was important not to participate in the Los Angeles’ May 1 march so as not to alienate “Encino Man” — the Reagan Democrats of the San Fernando Valley and elsewhere. In the midst of a heated discussion, AFL-CIO Regional Director David Sickler made a dramatic plea to Los Angeles’ trade unionists:

“If we don’t march with these Latin workers, we will lose the confidence and trust of whole generation of Latinos.”

Sickler’s argument won the day, and Los Angeles’ labor turned out for the march. That action, and many others, solidified the labor/Latino nexus. In one generation, California went from “Reagan-land” to solid Blue Democratic.

Again the same challenge faces labor, however now it’s on a national scale. And the opportunity for the labor movement is equally huge. Supporting the upcoming May 1 protests, strikes and other actions will clearly demonstrate that unions are ready to be a champion of the rising Latino demographic. Conversely, sitting on the sidelines will mark us as bystanders to racist repression.

Recently building trades labor leaders blindly and naively embraced Trump’s agenda by meeting with him at the White House just days after his inauguration and lauding his commitment to build infrastructure and oil pipelines — but with no commitment to pro-labor codes like prevailing wage or project labor agreements. AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka — usually a strong voice for racial justice — recently embraced Trump’s talk of immigration reform after his speech to a joint session of Congress. Again, a major labor leader is blindly and naively playing into Trump’s racist rhetoric. These actions by the building trades and the leader of the AFL-CIO undermine the U.S. labor movement’s need to squarely be on the side of immigrants battling Trump’s racist rhetoric, executive orders and travel bans.

There are many possible levels of participation for labor and unions on May 1. Each union must determine what’s the most appropriate way to participate based on its members needs and consciousness. In California, SEIU’s United Service Workers West, representing over 60,000 janitors, security guards and airport service workers has announced on Facebook its support for a May 1 strike. The United Food and Commercial Workers, representing supermarket workers in Southern California and the hotel workers union (UNITE HERE) are both assessing their actions in California. California is fertile ground for these protests with a sympathetic and supportive political infrastructure and a demographic tidal wave that means that Latinos are now the largest ethnic group in the state — out numbering Anglos 39 to 38 percent.

These calls for strikes may snowball. On the hastily organized February 17 “Day without Immigrants,” tens of thousands of mostly Latin service workers in many cities and towns stayed home (in many cases with the support of their employers). Earlier in February, Comcast employees at the company’s headquarters walked out to march and rally against Trump’s immigration policies. There is no reason not to expect similar dramatic actions on May Day. The social fervor is such that strikes in certain sectors and workplaces are very possible and possible with relative impunity.

With the prospect of large rallies and marches on May 1, some other unions are talking about participating in an organized way — even if it means after work or on off shifts. Just visibly marching with banners and signs in support of immigrant rights would be important and impactful to the thousands of immigrants who will brave deportation to hit the streets. Unions at the national and local level have an opportunity to speak with one voice in defense of immigrants. In specific locations like Los Angeles, these unions and others may hold joint press conferences and public events. Equally important will be actions in the “heartland” where immigrants may feel more politically and organizationally isolated than on the coasts.

Some unions have already begun “Know Your Rights” solidarity trainings to prepare workers for Immigration Control and Enforcement (ICE) raids that could take place in the community and the workplace. Union halls could become “Sanctuary Sites” for the undocumented. And now is a timely moment for always appreciated contributions of money, materials and office space to immigrant rights groups.

In addition to SEIU’s United Service Workers West, several national political and immigrants’ rights groups are organizing for the May 1 Day Without Immigrants including: Solid (an open-source project offered by Brandworkers), Strike Core, Cosecha, and the Beyond the Moment March.

May 1 is the traditional international day of working class solidarity, a holiday born of the U.S. struggle for the eight-hour day. It can be reclaimed with gusto this year as a focused attack on the anti-immigrant policies of Trump. But more than that, it is a day to cement the alliance between labor and the immigrant working class.

Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta and the Legacy

Celebrate Labor History

Chavez

“When we are really  honest with ourselves, we must admit that our lives are all that really belong to us.  So it is how we use our lives that determines what kind of people we are. ..I am convinced that the truest act of courage..is to sacrifice ourselves for others in a totally nonviolent struggle for justice.”
Cesar Chavez (1927-1993)

by Duane Campbell

On March 31, 2017, Eleven states and numerous cities will hold holidays celebrating labor and Latino leader Cesar Chavez.

Conferences, marches and celebrations will occur in numerous cities and particularly in rural areas of the nation. A recent film Cesar Chavez: An American Hero, starring Michael Peña as Cesar Chavez and Rosario Dawson as Dolores Huerta presents important parts of this union story.

The current UFW leadership, as well as former UFW leaders and current DSA Honorary Chairs Eliseo Medina and Dolores Huerta are recognized leaders in the ongoing efforts to achieve real  immigration reform in the nation.

UFW President Arturo Rodriquez says, “We urge Republicans to abandon their political games that hurt millions of hard-working, taxpaying immigrants and their families, and help us finish the job by passing legislation such as the comprehensive reform bill that was approved by the Senate on a bipartisan vote in June 2013,” Rodriguez said. “The UFW will not rest until the President’s deferred relief is enacted and a permanent immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for all 11 million undocumented immigrants, is signed into law.” http://www.UFW.org

Let us be clear. Chavez was religious, but he was not a saint. Neither were the growers, their Teamster collaborators, nor corporate agribusiness saints. Celebrations should not be about hero worship or uncritical praise, nor should we ignore the present oppression of farm workers in the U.S. Continue reading

Lump of Coal – Unions

There is a fine essay on labor history and the current problems of labor on our Democratic Left blog.  here. http://www.dsausa.org/lump_of_coal_dl

Also see   “How Dwindling Union Power Helped Usher In Trump”

Alan Draper  American Prospect. http://prospect.org/article/how-dwindling-union-power-helped-usher-trump

Donald Trump swept the Rust Belt in part because labor unions are in retreat, a trend that started long before Election Day.

SEIU and the Standing Rock Conflict

SEIU Statement on Standing Rock Sioux and Dakota Access Pipeline

indiancountrytodayWASHINGTON, DC – Today, the Service Employees International Union issued the following statement in support of the Standing Rock Sioux’s efforts to prevent the Dakota Access Pipeline from disturbing their sacred lands and burial grounds and to avoid the threat of contaminating the Missouri River which provides the Tribes’ drinking water.

“The two million members of SEIU stand beside the Standing River Sioux Tribe in their fight to protect their sacred lands and burial grounds from being dug up if the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline is allowed to continue as planned.

“This instance of disregard for the Standing Rock Sioux and the potential impact to their lives and livelihoods from a potentially hazardous crude oil pipeline is unfortunately not an isolated incidence. Over the last three years there have been over 200 known pipeline leaks in the United States. We call on the government to consult with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe immediately and find a solution that will not pose risk to the Tribe, their water sources or their sacred grounds.

“The history, culture and lives of Tribal people, the first Americans, should be respected and protected. SEIU stands with them in assuring that what remains of their precious and sacred lands and resources are not be taken away from them once again.

“Historical disregard for low income communities and communities of color, including those where many SEIU members live and work, has subjected them to toxic air pollution and contaminated waterways for decades. In these communities, asthma and other respiratory ailments caused by toxic air and poisonous toxins such as lead in the water supply, affect our children’s health and ability to thrive. As the nation’s largest healthcare union, we stand with the growing movement of environmental organizations, businesses, students, parents and others demanding cleaner air and water and to address the growing threat of climate change for the health and safety of our families and communities. Continue reading