The Legacy of the Labor Movement and the Civil Rights Movement

By Rachel Johnson,

300Willie_Pelote

Q&A with Willie Pelote Sr., AFSCME

Willie L. Pelote, Sr. has served as California Political and Legislative Director for the 1.4 million members of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) since 1995.

 

Can you describe how you got started in the labor movement and how you came to work for AFSCME?

I’m from a family of nine and I grew up on our family farm in Clyo, Georgia. When you grow up on a farm, you work from the day you can walk and learning about hard work in that environment has been a major influence in my life.  My first job outside of working on my grandparents’ farm was a union job. It was then that I learned about the power workers can achieve when they stand together.  Everyone supported each other and our negotiations helped people earn a living wage to support their families.

After coming home from Vietnam, I was stationed in Sacramento. While going to school and working as a Sergeant-of-Arms at the State Capitol, I met Willie Brown, then Speaker of the State Assembly. After working with his office for several years, I was asked to come to work with AFSCME. That was over 19 years ago. I can’t believe I’ve been given such an incredible opportunity to work in the largest public sector union in the country and to also represent 176,000 Californians. I stayed with AFSCME for nearly 20 years for many reasons. I enjoyed working with all levels of government, driving campaigns to help working people in our state, and getting to know our members; but I was always most passionate about the idea that I was helping working people like my family make it in California.

As a labor leader in CA, what work are you most proud of?

I’m proud that we have been able to give a united collective voice to our members at their worksite and the agency to take part in decision-making about the vital services they provide to people in our great state.  I’m also proud that we’ve been persistent with holding elected officials accountable to working people in California.

During the civil rights movement there was a very clear intersection with the labor movement.  What are the opportunities to continue that legacy today? Continue reading

Aliens and Humans

by Gene Grabiner

genegrabiner

Capitalism grows and sows alienation as it accumulates and expands accumulation. The capitalists, of course, accumulate and accumulate, (not only for personal gain—they are not hoarders or misers, but to expansively accumulate capital, itself). This is what economists term, ‘growth.’ But it is growth with a vengeance, growth like a cancer; and it has metastasized, globally. Capital reproduces itself through expanded reproduction on an ever-grander, ever-extended scale until it is the global occupant instead of humanity.
Yes, of course people are all over the globe, but they have not yet emerged into the true measure of their own humanity. And that cannot happen unless and until they win themselves back from capital and, in so doing, save the world. As accumulation grows, so grows alienation. Workers are alienated or separated from their product, from each other, and from themselves. So, the capitalists then come to embody the tumor of alienation, which on its other pole is the daily life experience of wage-labor.
While wage-labor may be alienated, the capitalists are aliens. It is true as science fiction has so long warned us: “they are here,” “they walk among us.” They are the well-documented aliens. As the privacy, the true insularity, the gated and garrisoned world of the capitalists grows, the privacy of the rest of the ever-more-alienated people diminishes. Likewise, the immiseration of the people grows—a psychic immiseration if not a material one.
Among other struggles over contested ground, the struggle to preserve, protect and expand privacy for all is also a struggle against, e.g., the NSA and corporate spying on us all. Still, this is only a sort of holding action, given how ruling social forces use, are using, and will use communication and expression/repression. But the true reclamation of privacy is also actually the true and fullest expansion of publicity.
To fully win back the sphere of the private, we must fully inhabit or occupy the sphere of the public through mass restoration of the Commons at a higher level. As the Commons is restored both off and on-line, the private more and more will be reclaimed by those to whom it is denied. The restoration of Fourth Amendment privacy is at the same time the achievement of total public existence—what has been called the Public Opinion State that is enshrined in the First Amendment.
The Occupy Movement contained this insight, whether explicitly or implicitly. The Occupy Movement asked the proper questions and, in many respects, provided among its demands, the appropriate answers. The issue is this: how, effectively, to move from posing those questions to the full attainment of those answers? How to build the bridge to the future; and in so doing, how to build the future itself? For Occupy, the difficulty lay in the very anarchic character of that movement which, on the one hand was its romantic beauty and attractiveness but, on the other, its lack of a program, a way to move forward.
For this substantive forward motion to occur, the centrality of labor is key. When a mass global popular front/united front movement is crystallized, and all begin to understand and act on the fact that “Workers Create the Wealth,” we humans will no longer be kidnapped by those aliens. In fact, this is the only salvation for the aliens themselves. It is the only way to set them on the path toward becoming human.

Gene Grabiner, PhD, is SUNY Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus, has been Vice-President, Grievance Chairperson, and a Contract Negotiator for the Faculty Federation of Erie Community College, (FFECC/NYSUT), AFL-CIO.

A Bigger Tent | Boston Review

A Bigger Tent | Boston Review. by Amy Dean.

Trans Pacific Partnership : TPP- The Dirty Deal

This is the proposal that President Obama wants authority to negotiate.

Historic Victory of Guatemala Coca-Cola Workers

from the Coca-Cola Workers Alliance

IUF (Uniting Food, Farm and Hotel Workers Worldwide)

Guatemala workers have proudly featured in the history of struggle between IUF members and The Coca-Cola Company (TCCC) going back to the 1980’s. Until recently of the three Coca-Cola bottling plants in the country, only one had built solid recognition from FEMSA, the Coca-Cola Latin American bottler. The other two plants were owned and operated by the Schutt family and workers there faced hostility and repression when exercising their basic rights. One of these two plants was unionised but under constant pressure and the other was non-union with all efforts to offer union membership to workers there met with forceful hostility from management.

In 2008 within the ongoing international negotiating forum (the “Atlanta process”) that the IUF secured in 2005 when finally recognized by TCCC, the IUF made clear to TCCC that operating in this environment workers at the two Schutt’s owned plants would be faced with a constant struggle to defend their rights at one plant and secure union membership rights at the other. Following protracted discussions, TCCC purchased the two plants in 2012. With support of the team engaged with TCCC in the “Atlanta process” workers employed at what both became TCCC owned facilities were finally able to exercise their rights to form and join a union.

In the most recently unionised plant, the IUF-affiliated SITRAABASA signed a first collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with FEMSA on January 10, 2015. In the second Coca-Cola acquired plant a new CBA will shortly follow. This will mean that all Coca-Cola workers in Guatemala have union rights and will be protected by a negotiated collective agreement.

IUF general secretary Ron Oswald commented, “This is testament to the determination and the courage of our members in Guatemala to fully secure and exercise their rights. The IUF is proud of our members and of their struggle as well as the role played by both FESTRAS and FELATRAC the Latin American Federation of Coca-Cola Workers.” Oswald went on to explain, “Built on the determination of our members in Guatemala, the framework within which this success was achieved was largely negotiated through the “Atlanta process”, a direct and permanent international union and company engagement. This process included a late August 2014 meeting in Guatemala involving TCCC local and international leadership, our Guatemala affiliates and the IUF international and regional leaderships. Just as in Pakistan previously, the Atlanta process has helped us secure 100% union membership in Coca-Cola bottling operations in Guatemala and a guarantee that all Coca-Cola bottling workers in Guatemala can now exercise their internationally recognized human right to be a union member.”

[Ed. note – Paul Garver – The victory of the Coca-Cola workers in Guatemala is truly a historic one.  In the late 1970s several union leaders at the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Guatemala City were assassinated during the struggle to organize a union.  It required two international solidarity campaigns coordinated by the IUF before Coca-Cola intervened to replace successive murderous and/or corrupt owners of their franchised plant with one who recognized and negotiated with the union in the early 1980s.  It has taken thirty more years to extend effective union recognition to the other two Coke bottling plants in Guatemala outside the capital city.  The struggles of Coke workers not only in Guatemala but in many other countries around the globe forced the Coca-Cola Company to formalize its engagement with the global union IUF in the “Atlanta process” cited by IUF General Secretary Ron Oswald cited above.  This permanent engagement has facilitated union organization and collective bargaining at Coke facilities in scores of countries around the world.  I was very fortunate to have been able to personally participate in this process between 2000 and 2005 as an IUF staffer, and congratulate the Guatemalan workers and the IUF for this latest breakthrough advance for the global working class struggle.]

American Labor at Crossroads Conference

from Leo Casey and Harold Meyerson

You are invited to attend a one-day conference on the future of the American labor movement, co-sponsored by the Albert Shanker Institute, the Sidney Hillman Foundation and the American Prospect.

THE AMERICAN LABOR MOVEMENT AT A CROSSROADS:

New Thinking, New Organizing, New Strategies

> Thursday, Jan. 15, 2015
> 9:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
> 555 New Jersey Ave, NW, 4th Floor
> Washington, DC 20001
>
> Lunch will be served.
>
The American labor movement is at a critical juncture. After three decades of declining union density in the private sector and years of all-out political assaults on public sector unions, America’s unions now face what can only be described as existential threats. Strategies and tactics that may have worked in a different era are no longer adequate to today’s challenges. The need for different approaches to the fundamentals of union work in areas such as organizing, collective bargaining and political action is clear.

The purpose of this conference is to examine new thinking and new initiatives, viewing them critically in the light of ongoing union imperatives of cultivating member activism and involvement, fostering democratic self-governance and building the collective power of working people.
> Agenda follows Continue reading

Kentucky Voters Reject “Right to Work”

by Berry Craig

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Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo Campaigns at Union Rally in Paducah

 

The Kentucky House is standing firm against right to work

Proponents of county right to work ordinances in Kentucky claim most Bluegrass State citizens are pro-right to work.

It may be an old cliché, but the only poll that counts is the one on election day. Last November 4, right to work lost.

Almost every Republican candidate for the state House of Representatives pledged to help make Kentucky the 25th right to work state. A right to work law was a central plank in the GOP’s “Handshake with Kentucky” platform.

On the stump, in a flurry of campaign fliers and in a seemingly endless round of radio and TV commercials, Republican House hopefuls vowed to pass a right to work law if the GOP flipped the General Assembly’s lower chamber. (The state Senate has a pro-right to work Republican majority.)

Yet the Democrats held their 54-46 edge in the House of Representatives.

Oh, at first, the Republicans seemed pretty sure they’d win the House, where most Democrats – and even some Republicans – oppose a right to work law. Such laws allow workers at a unionized jobsite to enjoy union-won wages and benefits without joining the union and paying dues or paying the union a service fee. Under right to work laws, unions must also represent non-union workers to management.

But by late summer, it looked like the GOP’s confidence might be waning. Or, at least, the Republicans seemed to be devising a Plan B.

In early September, state Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, sought an opinion from Attorney Gen. Jack Conway on whether counties could legally pass right to work ordinances.

In late December, Conway’s office, citing federal labor law, said no.

The GOP’s Plan B kicked in anyway. Minutes after Conway’s opinion was issued, the Warren County fiscal court approved a right to work ordinance. Simpson, Fulton and Todd counties have followed.

In addition, Hardinand Cumberland counties have passed right to work ordinances on first reading.  Butler County is considering one.

Not surprisingly, right to work backers claim Conway, a Democrat, is biased in favor of unions. Yet even the GOP-friendly, anti-union National Right to Work Committee warns “there is zero reason to believe that any local Right to Work ordinances adopted in Kentucky or any other state will be upheld in court.”

At any rate, unions are expected to challenge the ordinances in court this month, labor attorney Dave Suetholz of Louisville told the Simpson fiscal court. The Kentucky State AFL-CIO is working closely with the national AFL-CIO on the issue, added Suetholz, who represents the state AFL-CIO.

Meanwhile, Todd County attorney Harold Mac Johns doubts the county right to work measures will stand up in court.

“I think the state has pre-empted that” (locally enacted right to work ordinances), he told Hopkinsville radio WHOP. “It’s my hope that the county is not forced to expend any general fund resources to defend this.”

Johns also thinks the right to work ordinance is more of a political statement, according to the radio station.

So having failed to grab the House, the state GOP and its anti-union allies evidently went hunting for fiscal courts comprised of anti-union Republicans and like-minded conservative Democrats and encouraged them to pass local right to work ordinances.

The idea apparently was to make the ordinances appear to have bipartisan support. No doubt, too, the ordinances were timed to pressure the legislature, which has just convened. But it looks like hogs will fly before House Democrats cave on right to work.

“I think the recent attorney general’s opinion on this issue is crystal clear: Local communities cannot pass right-to-work legislation on their own,” said House Speaker Greg Stumbo, who was Kentucky’s attorney general in 2003-2007.

“There is no mention of that authority in the law governing fiscal courts, and there is no way in the world we in the House will consider changing that. This initiative is being pushed by interests outside of Kentucky who only care about weakening our labor unions and cutting the wages of hardworking families.”

Anyway, I don’t know Johns. But if he’s an I-told-you-so kind of guy, I’d bet the farm his day is coming. It’s not a question of if the courts will overturn these ordinances, it’s when.

Berry Craig is recording secretary of the Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council, a member of AFT Local 1360 and the webmaster/editor/chief writer for the Kentucky State AFL-CIO webpage: http://ky.aflcio.org/

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