Over the last year, the share of U.S. workers belonging to unions held steady at 11.1 percent, according to data released last week  by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But the new BLS figures also show unions made surprising gains in a region where labor faces some of its biggest legal and political obstacles to organizing: the U.S. South.
In the 13 Southern states*, the number of workers belonging to unions grew from 2.2 million in 2014, or 5.2 percent of the workforce, to 2.4 million by the end of 2015, or 5.5 percent of Southern workers.
Eight Southern states gained union members, including four states that ranked in the top 10 nationally for growth in union membership: West Virginia (which rose from 11.6 to 12.4 percent, a 1.8 point increase), Mississippi (a 1.8 point increase), Florida and North Carolina (1.1 point increases).
North Carolina’s rising unionization rate, which brings the state’s total number of union members up to 123,000, or 3 percent of the workforce, lifted it out of its position last year as the country’s least-unionized state. The bottom position now belongs to South Carolina, where the union membership rate stands at 2.1 percent. Continue reading
I am a Northern California labor historian. Late last year I published a book entitled BUILDING THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE: A WORKERS’ ORAL HISTORY. The book is based on interviews I conducted with surviving 1930s construction veterans some years ago when they were still available. Together their voices chronicle the rough job conditions, the tragic accidents, and the ultimate triumphs experienced by workers who built an American icon during the Great Depression. The book ends with the testimonies of two nurses who cared for the injured and the recollections of an African American iron worker who overcame gender and racial challenges when she did maintenance labor on the great bridge in later years.
On Thursday, January 21, I will be reading from the book at Time Tested Books, 1114-21st Street, Sacramento, at 7 pm.
In solidarity, Harvey Schwartz
by Duane Campbell
Dolores Huerta, who co-founded United Farmworkers with Cesar Chavez and who is an Honorary Chair of Democratic Socialists of America, spoke during a news conference Tuesday morning Nov. 10, before the Republican candidates debate in Milwaukee and said it’s “really unfortunate” that GOP leaders are trying to win by attacking innocent people.
Huerta has led movements for organizing union rights and social justice since the founding along with Cesar Chavez, Philip Vera Cruz and others of the United Farm Workers (UFW) union. She continues through her current work in supporting union democracy, civic engagement and promoting Latino Voter participation.
Huerta calls Donald Trump the face of the Republican Party, and accuses him of dehumanizing Latinos. With organized work, GOP positions on immigration and union rights may sink Republicans in the 2016 elections.
Huerta says Trump’s primary opponents are no better.
“When we think about people like Rubio and Ted Cruz, even Jeb Bush, who speaks Spanish, they may have a Spanish last name — but they do not have a Latino heart because they don`t care about immigrants. They don`t care about our community,” Huerta said. Continue reading
Filed under: Immigrant Workers, Labor and Democracy, Labor History, Politics, Solidarity | Tagged: Dolores Huerta, Donald Trump, haters, Latino votes, Republican Party (United States), United States | 1 Comment »
By Carl Finamore
There are only two flash points in American history where labor unions became center stage in politics.
I will call these “Big Bang” moments because they propelled the American Federation of Labor (AFL) after 1886 and the Committee for Industrial Organization (CIO) after 1935, from fledgling organizing committees into mass organizations directly impacting and attracting millions.
In the case of the AFL, it was due to avid support for the eight-hour day and in the case of the CIO, it was due to resolute support for union organizing of millions of previously excluded industrial workers.
There has never again been such mass acceptance and relevancy for labor, mostly because of numerous failures to grasp the historical moment. Continue reading
Filed under: Economy, Immigrant Workers, Labor History, Low wage workers, Organizing, Politics, Solidarity, Strikes and work action | Tagged: activism, AFL-CIO, American Federation of Labor, American Federation of Teachers, CIO, Samuel Gompers, United Farm Workers | Leave a comment »
Great film. Saw it last night ! DC.
“Brothers on the Line.” Directed by Sasha Reuther. Produced by Sasha Reuther and Nancy Roth. Edited by Deborah Peretz. Running time: 80 mins. Release date: 2012. Distributor: The Cinema Guild (non-theatrical/educational).
Some years ago, in a provocative article for The Nation magazine titled “I Dreamed I Saw MTV Last Night,” historian Jesse Lemisch questioned the Left’s attachment to outmoded/provincial forms of cultural expression, notably labor/radical documentary films with heroic narratives and folk-music-heavy soundtracks. “One of the chief problems in left expression,” Lemisch wrote, “centers on the question of authenticity. Can people on the left speak honestly in their various voices, or must they pretend to be somebody else and speak in a voice that they imagine, erroneously, to be mainstream American?” Continue reading
And, Why Should We Care?
In the 1990s, hundreds of US labor activists came together to form the Labor Party. The initiative was the brainchild of Tony Mazzocchi, the passionate leader of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International Union (which, after two mergers, is today part of the United Steelworkers).
Mazzocchi held true to the dream of an independent political party rooted in the labor movement over which working people would have ownership. He was fond of saying: “The bosses have two parties. We need one of our own.”
Dereck Siedman interviews Marc Dudzic:
Historically, labor has been committed to the Democrats, and Mazzocchi recognized a problem here: unions won’t abandon the Democrats for a labor party that can’t promise victory and may be an electoral spoiler. But at the same time, it would be impossible to build a labor party that could compete electorally if it didn’t have the support of unions. What was the Labor Party’s strategy for confronting this dilemma?
Our party-building model was premised on the understanding that you cannot have a party of labor that does not have at the table a substantial portion of the actually-existing labor movement. The Labor Party had to start with the assurance that it wouldn’t play spoiler politics and that it would focus on building the critical mass necessary for serious electoral intervention. Continue reading
Filed under: Labor History, Organizing, Politics, Union Reform | Tagged: AFL-CIO, Associated Press, Democratic Party (United States), electoral work, Joe Biden, Labor Day, Labor Party, Pittsburgh, Political campaign, Richard Trumka, Tax law, third parties, United Steelworkers | 3 Comments »
September 20, 2015
This is an expanded version of an article in the Insight section of the San Francisco Chronicle: http://sfchron.cl/1QHt9Jt
Fifty years ago the great grape strike started in Delano, when Filipino pickers walked out of the fields on September 8, 1965. Mexican workers joined them two weeks later. The strike went on for five years, until all California table grape growers were forced to sign contracts in 1970.
The strike was a watershed struggle for civil and labor rights, supported by millions of people across the country. It helped breathe new life into the labor movement, opening doors for immigrants and people of color. Beyond the fields, Chicano and Asian American communities were inspired to demand rights, and many activists in those communities became organizers and leaders themselves.
California’s politics have changed profoundly in 50 years. Delano’s mayor today is a Filipino. That would have been unthinkable in 1965, when growers treated the town as a plantation.
But a mythology has hidden the true history of how and why the strike started, especially its connection to some of the most radical movements in the country’s labor history. Writer Peter Matthiessen, for instance, claimed in his famous two-part 1969 profile of Cesar Chavez in The New Yorker: “Until Chavez appeared, union leaders had considered it impossible to organize seasonal farm labor, which is in large part illiterate and indigent…” Continue reading
Filed under: Immigrant Workers, Labor History | Tagged: American Federation of Labor, Australian Labor Party, AWOC, Central Labor Union, Cesar Chavez, Delano grape strike, Filipino, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, Labor Day, Larry Itliong, Peter J. McGuire, United Farm Workers, United States | Leave a comment »