What labor should learn from Trump’s victory

by Michael Hirsch, Saulo Colón, Murray Schneider and Lois Weiner

[ed. note: This essay is a response to two articles that appeared in the New Labor Forum following the presidential election in November.

Updating a pre-election article AFT President Randi Weingarten and Albert Shankar Institute President Leo Casey defended the support that the AFT and many labor union leaders provided Hillary Clinton in the primary and general elections. http://newlaborforum.cuny.edu/2016/11/22/on-the-contrary-american-labor-and-the-2016-elections

In an addendum to his earlier article, Larry Cohen, chairperson of the Our Revolution Board, suggested that Bernie Sanders might have won the general election, and proposed a way forward for labor through Our Revolution.
http://newlaborforum.cuny.edu/author/larry-cohen/

These authors criticize Weingarten, Casey and Cohen, while also setting forth their views on how organized labor should proceed in the Trump era.]

The exchange between Larry Cohen and Randi Weingarten and Leo Casey focuses on what organized labor could and should have done differently so as to avoid Donald Trump’s victory. Bernie Sanders was the obvious choice for all of labor. He was a candidate custom-made for the movement, and he handed himself to labor’s leaders ready to wear, running as a Democrat rather than an independent.

Unlike Hillary Clinton, a one-time member of the Walmart board of directors, Sanders has been a lifelong friend of labor with the record to prove it. It was Sanders who represented the leftwing of the possible, not Clinton. Moreover, a Sanders presidency was certainly possible, especially at the early stage at which the AFT leadership made its peremptory and undemocratic endorsement of Clinton.

Labor officials, such as Weingarten as well as many others, in refusing to endorse Bernie Sanders while grossly exaggerating Hillary’s viability and worthiness for top office, share responsibility for the Trump victory.

While we agree with Cohen that Sanders was labor’s natural candidate, Cohen’s analysis misses an essential lesson for unions about backward social attitudes our society, workers, and union members harbor, and how unions must address these toxic prejudices.

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Restoring Trust after Free Trade Charade

by Stan Sorscher

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The 2016 elections threw a bucket of cold water into the face of free-trade orthodoxy. It’s no surprise that voters in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere are deeply discouraged by decades of failed promises of boon from establishment leaders. The real surprise is, what took us so long?

We need a new approach to globalization that does as much for workers and the environment as it does for global investors.

Everyone I know wants trade and globalization. However, we have managed globalization badly.

Our failed “neoliberal” approach has been to manage globalization through trade deals, written by and for the interests of global companies. The neoliberal vision is a fully integrated global economy, where national identities are blurred, shareholder interests have top priority, public interests are devalued, and gains go almost entirely to investors.

Nothing in trade theory or history says global economic integration is a good idea.

In this neoliberal vision, markets will solve all our problems, government is bad, and power and influence should favor those who already have plenty of both.

A growing number of economists and policy-makers recognize that neoliberalism is exhausted, politically unstable, and increasingly reckless. Martin Wolf, the most influential living British economist, argues that our failed market orthodoxy weakens Democracy. What Wolf sees in Europe is doubled in the US political experience.

The collapse of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a 12-country NAFTA clone, is a historic event. TPP was radioactive all through the presidential campaign, for good reason – voters have lost trust in the neoliberal NAFTA approach to globalization.

The discussion has started on a new approach. Representative Sander Levin and economist Simon Johnson recognize that our distorted power relationships and insistence on maximum possible trade cannot solve our problems.

Jared Bernstein and Lori Wallach go through TPP’s shortcomings, suggesting remedies. A recent proposal from the AFL-CIO offers 6 objectives for renegotiating NAFTA. A Sierra Club discussion paper brings environmental interests into sharper focus.

Jeff Faux makes it crystal clear. It’s time to start over.

“The trade policy of the last quarter century is now bankrupt, economically and politically. This is the moment for America to go back to the drawing board and rethink strategies for competing in the global economy in ways that raise living standards for all.”

 

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Strangers Among Us

by Paul Garver

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Some 200 million workers across the globe migrate across national borders searching for work.

At least 40 million migrants do not have documents allowing them to live or work in their host countries, while millions of others are “guest workers” bound to their employers and subject to expulsion if they are fired.

In the neoliberal global economic order, capital flows freely across the borders that constrain workers.   Whether “guest workers” or undocumented, migrants are among the most vulnerable and exploited people who do the indispensable tasks of feeding and caring for other people.

Like refugees, migrants are often blamed for a host of economic and social ills in the countries that depend on their agricultural, construction or domestic labor.  Politicians looking to score political points from their own xenophobic domestic constituencies find migrants and refugees tempting prey for vicious slanders. Donald Trump is a notorious perpetrator but is far from being the first chauvinist demagogue in the world.

Mexican native Diego Reyes, Sr. works the tobacco and vegetable fields in Sanford, NC.  He is a member of a relatively successful migrant worker organization, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee [FLOC].  As translated by his son Diego Reyes, Jr., a seminarian working for FLOC, he describes a reality all too often experienced by migrant workers in the USA and around the world.

It’s not only in Sanford [N.C.} but everywhere, all this propaganda against immigrants. People feel they’re stealing their jobs, that immigrants are bad people, drug mules, and criminals. It dehumanizes people. It’s not the stealing of jobs. The people came here because of the policies the U.S. implemented in the world.”

The Strangers Among Us: Tales from a Global Migrant Worker Movement documents the harsh conditions faced by migrant workers in Asia, Europe and North America.  Editor Joseph Atkins, a professor at the University of Mississippi, traveled with his wife to such far-flung locales as Singapore, Taipei, Hong Kong, Beijing, and Buenos Aires, where he interviewed key activists supporting migrant worker organizing.  He also solicited contributing chapters from activists and scholars in the UK, Israel, China, Japan and India.  The result is a moving and kaleidoscopic survey of the social justice movements that are helping migrant workers organize throughout the world.

Here are a few examples of the innovative approaches taken by migrant workers and their supporters in various world regions illustrated in this compact and compelling book.
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“Refinery Town”: A Model for Local Political Action

by Ryan Haney

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Steve Early, Photo by Robert Gumbert

Refinery Town: Big Oil, Big Money and the Remaking of an American City will be available from Beacon Press on January 17th, 2017.

Steve Early’s Refinery Town is a compelling read on multiple levels. It paints an interesting portrait of Richmond, CA (pop. 110,000), a Bay Area city that is home to a massive Chevron refinery. It also works as a journalistic deep dive into contemporary municipal politics, with a cast of reformers and establishment actors clashing over approaches to problems in a city wracked by disinvestment, toxic waste, corruption, and crime.

In November 2016, the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) won a majority on the City Council, overcoming massive campaign funding for their opponents by Chevron.

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(Pictured, left to right: Gayle McLaughlin, Eduardo Martinez, and Jovanka Beckles, three members of the Richmond Progressive Alliance who now serve on City Council. Photo by Tom Goulding, Richmond Confidential.)

Written before this success,  Refinery Town excels as a case study for activists looking to build power at the local level through grassroots organizing and independent electoral work. Early, a longtime labor activist and journalist who moved to Richmond five years ago, counts himself among the reformers. His book is an invaluable documentation of their journey and a testimony of what might be possible in other cities. Continue reading

Go Red! Labor for Our Revolution

by Peter Olney

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Bill Fletcher and Bob Wing have written an important post election analytical essay with many excellent recommendations on the path forward. “Fighting Back Against the White Revolt” is a must read for all people of good will concerned about the future of humanity. Throughout the election period, both authors provided clear and clarion voices on the importance of uniting all to vote for Hillary to stop Trump and did education on the left to convince skeptics in the movement to vote for the lesser of two evils to stop the racist, misogynist, xenophobic, authoritarian Donald Trump. Everything in Trump’s behavior since November 8 upholds the wisdom of that advice.

Serious engagement in electoral politics is not the sum total of the struggle, but as we are witnessing in the aftermath of November 8, elections do have real consequences. Therefore any strategy must take into account the winner take all and electoral college features of our politic. As Fletcher and Wing point out, Trump won the election by a razor thin margin in three battleground states: Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania by the margin of 77,000, the size of a large union local. Labor’s turnout effort and union household votes clearly could have made an enormous difference in the outcome. That’s why it is so important to critically examine how organized labor failed to carry union households to the degree that Barack Obama did in either 2008 or 2012.

I argue that a defection of working class voters to Trump was key to the loss of historic battleground states, and thus the election. The change in Ohio is stunning: from a 23% margin for Barack in 2012 to a Trump margin of 8% in 2016 among union households. These are voters who have been voting for change at least since 2008 and they haven’t gotten it from a corporatist Democratic party.

The problem in Fletcher and Wing’s analysis of working class support for Trump is that they resort to income as a proxy for class. The working class is a many splendored thing, but the traditional Marxist definition of someone who works for a wage and does not own the means of production still resonates for me. But let’s put any doctrinaire disputes aside and look at the income argument. Fletcher and Wing assert that there was no massive defection of working class voters to Trump by pointing to the fact that Clinton won the majority of voters earning under $30,000 and under $50,000. By that line of reasoning, half the unionized workers in American would be cut out of the working class! My son, a fourth-year IBEW apprentice has just been displaced from the proletariat because his income is $30,000 over the threshold that Wing and Fletcher use. The pollster Nate Silver used the figure of $70,000 to debunk the working class support for Trump argument. Do the math. Divide $70,000 by 2087 annual work hours and you get $32 dollars per hour, hardly an outrageous hourly rate and not even a labor aristocrat’s rate! The defection of union households is an important number and accounts for the marginal shifts that proved definitive in those mid Western states.

The distinction is important because going forward there is plenty of work to be done among these workers who voted for Trump, many of them good union members. Fletcher and Wing acknowledge that: “A key starting point (in combatting racism) will be to amplify the organization and influence of whites who already reject Trumpism. Unions will be one of the key forces in this effort.” There is cause for hope in the fact that the largest group in the more than 100 local unions that broke with their parent bodies to support Bernie Sanders were IBEW locals, (the union my son belongs to) where a journeyman in the Bay Area can make $125,220 a year. Of the thirty-six IBEW locals that endorsed Bernie, twenty-eight were construction locals.

None of this means that the points that Fletcher and Wing raise are to be negated, but it does mean that there is potential on the margins to shift significant sections of the electorate as the Trump anti-worker, anti-union realities set in.

Below is a slightly different and more narrowly focused trade union-based program. I modestly call it “Go Red!”

Organizers must go to the Red states, the Red counties, and to the Red members! “Organize or Die!” doesn’t just refer to external organization; it also applies to the singularly important task of organizing our existing members. Ignoring this challenge led us to the colossal disaster of a Trump presidency.

Look at the electoral map. We see slivers of blue on the coasts. And while there are a few exceptional inland pockets of blue, they are surrounded by a sea of red. What is to be done in these massive areas of Trump and Republican dominance in the most recent election? Unions have members who span the entire political spectrum. This is especially true in 25 states that are not yet “Right to Work,” where membership is a condition of employment.

The first part of “Going Red” is being willing to work in the “red” states, that is, those that Trump carried. Many of those who voted for Trump are good and loyal trade unionists. Before the hammer of legislative and court initiatives (ala “Friedrichs Two”) shatter compulsory membership, we have a superb opportunity to speak to the sons and daughters of New Deal Democrats who voted in key electoral states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin for Trump and helped him carry those states. These discussions cannot be approached as rectification and remedial sessions with “wayward” members, but must be part and parcel of massive internal organizing involving their issues, their contracts and their concerns. It’s time to come home and patiently build organization from the bottom up. And when union leaders and activists do, they should be prepared to hear some harsh critiques and serious questions.

This internal organizing cannot be accomplished by inviting members to meetings. Rather, we need to embed newly trained worker leaders into our worksites. Those leaders (Business Agents, Field Reps, Shop Stewards) responsible for contract enforcement cannot carry out this task. New armies of internal organizers are needed to talk to their sister and brother members about unions, politics, and the future of the working class. This internal organization on a massive scale must begin immediately to move this program because the resources for it may be considerably diminished within a year after the onslaught of “right to work” under the NLRA and the Railway Labor Act.

The second part of “Going Red” is labor’s new political project. Union leaders’ comfort with — and access to — the Democratic Party’s neo-liberal establishment just isn’t going to cut it. Our future lies with the exciting political movement within labor that we witnessed in support for Senator Bernie Sanders, the Democratic Socialist from Vermont. Not since Eugene Debs and his 1920 race from prison for President has there been a candidate who espoused our anti-corporate, pro-working class values like Senator Sanders. He captured 13 million votes, won the endorsement of six major unions and was supported by more than one hundred local unions — many of whom defied their International’s support for Clinton. Many Clinton supporters now realize that Bernie, with his “outsider” message, an uncompromising record, and decades of political integrity, would have been a far better choice to beat Trump.

Bernie Sander’s new Our Revolution organization needs a strong union core in order to sustain itself financially and organizationally. Unions that supported Bernie should consider coalescing in a new formation around Our Revolution. Unions that didn’t support Bernie should do some serious self-examination, consider a new path forward, and hopefully join with the Bernie unions. A new “Labor for Our Revolution” could be a network of national and local unions that actively engage their members in electoral politics at both the primary and general election levels to support Our Revolution endorsed candidates who reflect labor’s values. The Labor for Our Revolution network could link its political work with member mobilization around local and national labor struggles to defend workers’ rights and contribute to building a broader movement for social and economic justice.

“Going Red” by having a face-to-face conversation with all our members and launching a new political project are two tasks bound up with each other. Without re-establishing an allegiance with members who supported Trump, progressive electoral victories backed by working class union members will be much harder to achieve. Without giving those members an alternative political vision, like that of Bernie Sanders, there is no moving them politically. That alternative political vision must include the fight for multi-racial unity by recognizing and combatting the pervasive effects of systemic racism.

Finally and perhaps most importantly, “Going Red” means being ready to make sacrifices to defend our brother and sister immigrant workers, Muslims, People of Color and all those who are hatefully targeted by the Trump administration. We can take inspiration from the recent efforts of thousands of veterans to stand with the Standing Rock native peoples. We can take inspiration from unions like the ILWU that sent their members to the Dakotas to stand in defiance of the energy companies. More of these kinds of sacrifices will be necessary to win the allegiance of all people to the cause of labor and the defeat of Trump.

“Go Red” to grow and win power!

Peter Olney is retired from the ILWU staff. His essay is reposted from Portside.

6 Ways We Could Improve NAFTA for Working People

 by Jackie Tortora

6 Ways We Could Improve NAFTA for Working People

For years we’ve talked about the shortcomings of the North American Free Trade Agreement (we even released this detailed report on its 20th anniversary) and how trade deals created behind closed doors with corporate CEOs harm working people.

Today we released a blueprint for how to rewrite NAFTA to benefit working families. This past election there was much-needed discussion on the impact of corporate trade deals on our manufacturing sector and on working-class communities. The outline below puts forward real solutions that should garner bipartisan support if lawmakers are truly serious about realigning our trade policies to help workers.

We need a different direction on trade. This movement has been largely driven by working people. As we approach the inauguration of a new president, it is important that everyday working people’s perspectives lead the debate, starting with how to rewrite NAFTA.

 The AFL-CIO has long supported rewriting the rules of NAFTA to provide more equitable outcomes for working families. To date, the biggest beneficiaries of NAFTA have been multinational corporations, which have gained by destroying middle-class jobs in the U.S. and Canada and replacing them with exploitative, sweatshop jobs in Mexico. It doesn’t have to be this way. With different rules, NAFTA could become a tool to raise wages and working conditions in all three North American countries, rather than to lower them.

Key Areas for Improvement

1. Eliminate the private justice system for foreign investors.

NAFTA established a private justice system for foreign investors, thereby prioritizing corporate rights over citizens’ rights, giving corporations even more influence over our economy than they already have. This private justice system, known as investor-state dispute settlement, or ISDS, allows foreign investors to challenge local, state and federal laws before private panels of corporate lawyers. Although these lawyers are not accountable to the public, they are empowered to decide cases and award vast sums of taxpayer money to foreign businesses. Under NAFTA, these panels have awarded millions of dollars to corporations when local and state governments exercise their jurisdictional power to deny things such as municipal building permits for toxic waste processing facilities. ISDS gives foreign investors enormous leverage to sway public policies in their favor. Scrapping the entire system would help level the playing field for small domestic producers and their employees.

2. Strengthen the labor and environment obligations (the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation and the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation), include them in the agreement, and ensure they are enforced.

The NAFTA labor and environment side agreements were not designed to effectively raise standards for workers or to ensure clean air and water. Instead, they were hastily patched together to quiet NAFTA’s critics. These agreements should be scrapped and replaced with provisions that effectively and robustly protect international labor and environmental standards. Violators should be subject to trade sanctions when necessary—so that we stop the race to the bottom that has resulted from NAFTA. Without stronger provisions, environmental abuses and worker exploitation will continue unchecked.

3. Address currency manipulation by creating binding rules subject to enforcement and possible sanctions.

Within months after NAFTA’s approval by Congress, Mexico devalued the peso, wiping out overnight potential gains from NAFTA’s tariff reductions. This devaluation made imports from Mexico far cheaper than they otherwise would have been and priced many U.S. exports out of reach for average Mexican consumers. Countries should not use currency policies to gain trade advantages—something China, Japan and others have done for many years. All U.S. trade agreements, including NAFTA, should be upgraded to create binding rules, subject to trade sanctions, to prevent such game playing.

4. Upgrade NAFTA’s rules of origin, particularly on autos and auto parts, to reinforce auto sector jobs in North America.

NAFTA’s rules require that automobiles be 62.5% “made in North America” to qualify for duty-free treatment under NAFTA. Even though 62.5% seems high compared with the Trans-Pacific Partnership’s inadequate 45%, it still allows for nearly 40% of a car to be made in China, Thailand or elsewhere. The auto rule of origin should be upgraded to eliminate loopholes (through products “deemed originating” in North America) and to provide additional incentives to produce in North America. This, combined with improved labor standards, will contribute to a more robust labor market and help North American workers gain from trade.

5. Delete the procurement chapter that undermines “Buy American” laws (Chapter 10).

NAFTA contains provisions that require the U.S. government to treat Canadian and Mexican goods and services as “American” for many purchasing decisions, including purchases by the departments of Commerce, Defense, Education, Veterans Affairs and Transportation. This means that efforts to create jobs for America’s working families by investing in infrastructure or other projects, including after the financial crisis of 2008, could be ineffective. This entire chapter should be deleted.

6. Upgrade the trade enforcement chapter (Chapter 19).

NAFTA allows for a final review of a domestic anti-dumping or countervailing duty case by a binational panel instead of by a competent domestic court. This rule, omitted from subsequent trade deals, has hampered trade enforcement, hurting U.S. firms and their employees. It should be improved or omitted.

Reposted from the AFL-CIO News blog

AFL-CIO Endorses Keith Ellison to Lead DNC

Kenneth Quinnell, AFL-CIO News Blog

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

 

The Executive Council of the 12.5-million-member AFL-CIO has voted overwhelmingly to endorse Rep. Keith Ellison to lead the Democratic National Committee. Over the past few weeks, several candidates have sought the endorsement of the AFL-CIO and met personally with members of the Political Committee, which ultimately recommended the endorsement.

“Representative Ellison meets the high standard working people expect from leaders of our political parties,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “He is a proven leader who will focus on year-round grassroots organizing to deliver for working families across America. Under his leadership, the Democratic Party will embody the values that our members stand for every day.”

“The AFL-CIO knows the challenges facing America’s working families and how to speak to working Americans of all colors, genders and backgrounds,” said Ellison. “I am proud to be on their side, and I am even prouder that the AFL-CIO is on mine. Workers will be central to the Democratic Party.”

[Ed. Note:  Keith Ellison, Co-chair of the House Progressive Caucus, has been endorsed by Senators Sanders and Warren.  His selection would symbolize a new progressive direction for the Democratic Party.  A few conservatives on the Executive Council opposed the endorsement of Ellison while others abstained].