US Labor Against the War

by USLAW

US Labor Against the War (USLAW) held its 2016 National Assembly at ATU’s Tommy Douglas Center in Silver Spring, MD from April 15-17. Unlike the labor movements of most countries in the world, with the exception of trade and immigration, most of the American labor leadership still is uncomfortable or has yet to see the importance of talking about foreign policy and the need for international labor solidarity in practice rather than just in rhetoric.

Organizations present included OPEIU Local 2, DC Young Trade Unionists, Bay Area Labor Committee for Peace and Justice, UFCW 1776, AFT 2121, Philadelphia Labor Council, USW Local 3657, AFSCME DC47, Philadelphia CLUW, UE, AFSCME Council 32 WI, CWA-UPTE 9119, UAW-National Writers Union, UAW Local 2320, CWA-PHEW, Coalition to End the Saudi Alliance, Professional Staff Congress, Wisconsin State AFL-CIO, ATU, AAUP-AFT, Iraq Veterans Against the War, #blacklivesmatterdmv, and the Washington Peace Center.

In addition to being gathered at a time of large scale protest against big money in our political system (Democracy Spring), April 17 was the anniversary of the day in 1965 when the student activist group Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) held its first anti-Vietnam War protest rally in Washington, DC. It was co-sponsored by Women’s Strike for Peace. 25,000 attended, including Joan Baez, Judy Collins, and Phil Ochs.

History brought us together in more ways than one. USLAW led the campaign to get the AFL-CIO to take a stand against the Iraq war in 2005 (renewed in 2009). It sent the first labor delegation to Iraq and brought Iraqi union leaders to the U.S. in 2005, 2007 and 2009, when it also sent another delegation to Iraq to participate in the first international labor conference ever held there.

The labor movement may have shed its Cold War policies but it has not yet shed the organizational and political culture that accompanied those policies. Unlike the labor movements of most countries in the world, with the exception of trade and immigration, most of the American labor leadership still is uncomfortable or has yet to see the importance of talking about foreign policy and the need for international labor solidarity in practice rather than just in rhetoric. This shift in thinking remained a major theme of the weekend and played out in each of the speakers and workshops arranged.

Continue reading

One Day Longer | Portside

Forty thousand Verizon workers have now been on strike for a month. These days, a strike of the Verizon action’s scale and duration is exceedingly rare. That’s largely because the stakes for workers are so high. Strikers don’t just lose their pay and benefits — they risk losing their job entirely.

Source: One Day Longer | Portside

20 Years of Cross Border Solidarity

A History in Photographs
By David Bacon
NACLA Report on the Americas, May 2016
http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10714839.2016.1170301

TIJUANA BAJA CALIFORNIA NORTE, MEXICO - 1993 - Workers vote in a union election outside the Tijuana maquiladora of Plasticos Bajacal.  Voting is public, and workers have to declare aloud whether they're voting for the company union or their own independent union.  Sr. Mandujano, head of the labor board in Tijuana and an ally of the companies and the company unions, points to a worker and demands that he say which union he's voting for.  Company  and company union officials look on, along with Carmen Valadez, representative of the independent union.  The election was called off halfway through.

TIJUANA BAJA CALIFORNIA NORTE, MEXICO – 1993 – Workers vote in a union election outside the Tijuana maquiladora of Plasticos Bajacal. Voting is public, and workers have to declare aloud whether they’re voting for the company union or their own independent union. Sr. Mandujano, head of the labor board in Tijuana and an ally of the companies and the company unions, points to a worker and demands that he say which union he’s voting for. Company and company union officials look on, along with Carmen Valadez, representative of the independent union. The election was called off halfway through.

Unions and social movements face a basic question on both sides of the Mexico/U.S. border – can they win the battles they face today, especially political ones, without joining their efforts together? Fortunately, this is not an abstract question. Struggles have taken place in maquiladoras for two decades all along the border. Many centers and collectives of workers have come together over those years. Walkouts over unpaid wages, or indemnización, as well as terrible working conditions are still common.

What’s more, local activists still find ways to support these actions through groups like the Collective Ollin Calli in Tijuana and its network of allies across the border in Tijuana, the San Diego Maquiladora Workers Solidarity Network. Other forms of solidarity have been developed through groups the Comité Fronterizo de Obreras and the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras. And long-term relations have been created between unions like the United Electrical Workers and the Authentic Labor Front, and the United Steel Workers and the Mexican Mineros. More recently, binational support networks have formed for farm workers in Baja California, and workers are actively forming new networks of resistance and solidarity in the plantons outside factories in Ciudad Juárez.

Over the years, support from many U.S. unions and churches, and from unions and labor institutions in Mexico City, has often been critical in helping these collectives survive, especially during the pitched battles to win legal status for independent unions. At other moments, however, the worker groups in the maquiladoras and the cities of the border have had to survive on their own, or with extremely limited resources.

These photographs show both the conditions people on the border are trying to change, and some of the efforts they’ve made to change them, in cooperation with groups in the U.S. There have been many such efforts – this is just a look at some.

TIJUANA BAJA CALIFORNIA NORTE, MEXICO - 1995 - Women workrers from the National O-Ring maquiladora demonstrate for women's rights during the May Day parade in Tijuana.  Their factory was closed, and the women laid off and blacklisted, after they filed charges of sexual harassment against their employer in courts in Tijuana and Los Angeles.Copyright David Bacon

TIJUANA BAJA CALIFORNIA NORTE, MEXICO – 1995 – Women workrers from the National O-Ring maquiladora demonstrate for women’s rights during the May Day parade in Tijuana. Their factory was closed, and the women laid off and blacklisted, after they filed charges of sexual harassment against their employer in courts in Tijuana and Los Angeles.Copyright David Bacon

TIJUANA BAJA CALIFORNIA NORTE, MEXICO – 1995 – Women workers from the National O-Ring maquiladora demonstrate for women’s rights during the May Day parade in Tijuana. Their factory was closed, and the women were laid off and blacklisted, after they filed charges of sexual harassment against their employer. The plant manager had organized a “beauty contest” at a company picnic, and ordered women workers to parade in bikinis. Supported by the San Diego Support Committee for Maquiladora Workers, women filed suit in a U.S. Federal court, which surprisingly accepted jurisdiction. The company then gave women severance pay for the loss of their jobs.
See the entire essay and the impressive photos. http://davidbaconrealitycheck.blogspot.com/2016/05/twenty-years-of-cross-border-solidarity.html

Kent State: Review of a New History by a Participant in the Struggle

by Paul Garver

grace on kent state

Thomas Grace.  Kent State: Death and Dissent in the Long Sixties.  Univ. of Massachusetts Press, Amherst and Boston, 2016, 384pp.

Tom Grace was one of the nine Kent State University students seriously wounded by a fusillade of gunshots from the Ohio National Guard on May 4, 1970, when he joined a student rally after leaving his university classroom.

Four other students were killed, two of whom were not even attending the protest rally.

In the aftermath of the shooting, numerous student leaders were prosecuted and imprisoned.  None of the officers who had issued order for the guardsmen to fire and even themselves joined in the shooting were ever prosecuted for their arguably criminal actions.

More than forty years later Tom Grace authored this temperate, well considered, and thoroughly researched history of the Kent State struggle.  It is  much more than a personal memoir.   A succinct account of how he came to be shot on that day is included in a prologue and in sidebars to the description of the day of the shootings, but this is not why he wrote this history.

Grace writes with commitment or passion, but with remarkable equanimity.  Neither he nor his fellow student activists appear as victims, but rather as combatants in a desperate struggle.  Their adversaries are not portrayed as villains, but as combatants on the other side with their own views and goals.

Tom Grace conducted interviews with some 47 Ohio student activists, meticulously scoured the campus and local newspapers, and placed their stories in the context of the national student antiwar movement.   He also compiled portraits of dozens of individual national guardsmen and officers involved in the shooting, drawing on records of their testimony before various investigative panels and tribunals.

Eighty pages of endnotes show how thoroughly Grace pored over the decades of local activist struggle and repression, while firmly situating it in the history of the national antiwar movement and its organizational structures.

The result of Grace’s study is a systematic deconstruction of many media-generated myths that were immediately projected onto the Kent State shootings and persist as a battle over the memory and meaning of May 4 that continues to the present day.  The events were not a tragic anomaly but were grounded in a tradition of student political activism that extended back to Ohio’s labor battles of the 1950s and to a decade of antiwar and black liberation struggles in the nation and on the campus itself.

As a public university in the American heartland, far from the coastal epicenters often associated with the 1960s movement,  Kent State proves in Grace’s account to be a microcosm of the national student antiwar movement of the “long sixties.”

The expansion of the university after World War II brought in growing numbers of working-class students from the industrial centers of northeast Ohio. Most of the Kent State activists  retained many of the core labor and New Deal values of their parents, despite disagreements about the Vietnam War.  They came from the same generational cohort as the American combat forces in Vietnam and the Ohio national guardsmen.

As the war’s rising costs came to be felt acutely in the home communities of Kent’s students, the growing antiwar movement on campus faced repression from the university administration and the political conservatives who dominated Portage County and the Ohio state government.

The deadly effort to suppress antiwar activism by gunfire on the campus was a logical stage of the cycle of radicalization and repression that began earlier in the 1960s and continued  well into the 1970s at Kent State. In the years that followed the shootings, contrary to myth, the antiwar movement continued to strengthen on campus, bolstered by an influx of returning Vietnam veterans.

One of the most original and useful features of this history  Grace provides us are updates on the life histories of the Kent State activists he studied. The vast majority of Kent State New Left activists remained actively committed to the social causes of their movement and incorporated these into their future life paths and careers.

Being somewhat older member of the same New Left generation as Thomas Grace, I appreciate how his detailed history focused on Kent State brings alive our shared history while demolishing many of the distortions perpetrated upon it.  It is no accident that many from our activist generation are helping to organize the Sanders democratic socialist candidacy that is proving attractive to  young people today.

Thomas M. Grace is adjunct professor of history at Erie Community College. A 1972 graduate of Kent State University, he earned a PhD in history from SUNY Buffalo after many years as a social worker and union representative.

 

 

Guatemala: Coke Union STECSA and Coke Bottler FEMSA sign new collective bargaining agreement

from the Coca-Cola Workers Alliance

IUF (Uniting Food, Farm and Hotel Workers Worldwide)

Stecsa2016

[Ed. note – Paul Garver:  This may sound like a routine story abut a contract settlement between a local union and management.  Except for one thing.  The initial creation of the STECSA union in Guatemala City in the 1970s cost the lives of several assassinated Guatemalan union leaders, plus a large-scale protracted global labor solidarity campaign.  Nearly forty years later Coke unions around the world remain engaged in a global coordination through the IUF that has resulted in a flexible and evolving framework of contention and dialogue with the giant corporate Coca-Cola empire.  The Guatemala Coke union has always remained on the IUFs global labor solidarity agenda.  In this case therefore what seems on the surface to be a routine event is actually a further manifestation of a heroic history of workers’ struggle.]

On the night of March 3, after 14 months of difficult negotiations and a suspension of nearly five months of negotiations, the Union of Workers of Embotelladora Central SA (STECSA) and Coca Cola FEMSA reached an agreement and signed the new collective bargaining agreement that will be valid for two years.

On March 2, the two negotiating committees signed an agreement that actually gave way to the completion of this difficult negotiation.

“Solving the conflict and finalizing the negotiation were the most important targets for the new Board of STECSA” Carlos Luch, the General Secretary of STECSA told the IUF Latin America region.

The agreement allowed us to ensure a retroactive wage increase of 4 percent from 1 March 2015 and provided a wage increase of 4 percent from 1 March 2016.

This percentage applies to all items that have economic impact, in that case also with retroactive effect from 1 March 2015.

“While we are not entirely satisfied with the salary adjustment reached, we believe that the agreement consolidates job stability in Central Bottling Company S.A. (Coca Cola FEMSA) and maintains the structure of our collective agreement unchanged guaranteeing the acquired rights” Luch added.

STECSA General Secretary thanked the members for their unconditional support given throughout the duration of the negotiations, and called on them “to continue with that commitment and conviction of struggle.”

He also urged all members to remain alerted “to defend the gains that were achieved through the struggle”.

United Electrical Workers Endorse Sanders

sanders_cwa

 

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders on Sunday welcomed an endorsement by the 35,000-member United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America.

Peter Knowlton, the union’s national president, called Sanders “the most pro-worker pro-union presidential candidate I have seen in my lifetime” and said electing Sanders “is a unique opportunity that workers and unions must not pass up.

“We are proud to endorse Bernie Sanders and support his campaign,” he added.

The endorsement was approved unanimously by rank-and-file local delegates from the union’s three regions over the past six weeks.

Knowlton said the labor organization and Sanders have longstanding ties in Vermont. “As more of our members around the country have seen and heard Bernie over the past few months,” he added, “they’ve seen that his policies and priorities match our own. So, there has been a groundswell of support for Bernie with members volunteering for the campaign.

Sanders welcomed the news while he was campaigning in Rhode Island ahead of Tuesday’s presidential primary elections here and in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Delaware and Maryland.

“I thank the 35,000 members of the United Electrical Workers for their endorsement,” Sanders said. “During my 25 years in Congress, I have been proud to stand side by side with the UE fighting to increase the minimum wage to a living wage; to guarantee health care to every man, woman and child as a right; to make it easier for workers to join unions; to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure; to transform our nation’s energy system; and against disastrous trade agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement and normalized trade with China which have destroyed millions of decent-paying jobs in America.”

Altogether, more than 100 national and local unions, representing over 1.5 million workers, have endorsed Sanders. They include the Communications Workers of America, the American Postal Workers Union, the Amalgamated Transit Union, National Nurses United, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the United Electrical Workers.

University of Colorado Should Give Nike a Swift Kick

by Dave Anderson

Buffs Nike.jpg

USAS Activists at UC Boulder

A university should be a critic and conscience of society, according
to an old-fashioned view. There are lofty goals on campus plaques and
universities should certainly provide a unique space for dissident
views.

Nevertheless, if you scratch the surface, you realize that
universities are increasingly knowledge factories subordinate to
corporate America.

Progressive student activists challenge universities to live up to
their ideals. United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) is a
nationwide, grassroots group organizing solidarity with workers who
face grievous conditions locally and abroad.

They have focused their activism on the reckless business practices of
university-branded sports apparel brands. As students attending
colleges and universities with multimillion-dollar apparel programs,
USAS has conducted campaigns to force apparel brands like Nike to
respect workers rights. University of Colorado has a huge contract
with Nike.

On April 5, the CU Boulder chapter of USAS hosted a talk by Noi
Supalai, former union president and Nike factory worker from Thailand.
She described her struggles while working for a sub-contracting
company in Thailand called Eagle Speed, which produced clothing for
brands such as Nike, Northface, Columbia and Puma.

Accompanied by a volunteer translator, Supalai explained that after
the 2008 world economic meltdown, these brands began to order less
clothing from Eagle Speed.

Supalai said that, “it was at that point that Nike took advantage of
the situation and made a deal with the factory trying to order in
higher quantity, and they pressured for greatest quality, and we had
to produce it within a shorter time frame and in lower costs.”

Supalai said that Nike threatened to terminate Eagle Speed’s contract
if they didn’t agree to the new conditions. The 2,000 Eagle Speed
workers were unable to keep up with the high demand. As a result, Nike
placed a fine on the factory and refused to pay for any of the
clothing produced.

The workday was elongated from 8 a.m. to midnight or 1 a.m. Management
placed devices on their bodies to track their working pace to ensure
consistency. The workers didn’t get paid for two months and couldn’t
even go home.

In desperation, the workers went on strike. When Supalai and 24 of her
fellow co-workers attempted to meet with Eagle Speed management, they
were directed to a room where they were immediately locked up.

She said Eagle Speed’s response when questioned about the detention
was, “You are too radical, stirring up workers.”

The Eagle Speed workers contacted the Thai government’s Department of
Labor Protection who refused to help them. The workers directly
contacted Nike and got the run-around.

Finally, they reached out to the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC), an
independent labor rights monitoring organization.

Within one week, the WRC was able to reach an arrangement with Eagle
Speed that successfully allowed former workers to go back to work with
a promise that they wouldn’t be discriminated against and that those
who wished to resign would be granted full compensation.

The WRC attempts to combat sweatshops around the globe and protect the
rights of workers who make apparel and other products. It was founded
in 2000 by university administrators, labor rights experts and student
activists. The group’s primary focus is the labor practices of
factories that make university-related apparel.

The WRC conducts independent, in-depth investigations; issues public
reports on factories producing for major brands; and aids workers at
these factories in their efforts to end labor abuses and defend their
workplace rights.

Nearly 200 schools are WRC affiliates. CU is one of them. For many
years, WRC and Nike have had a reasonably cooperative relationship.
However, the situation changed recently. Late last year, workers at a
Nike supplier’s factory in Vietnam held a pair of strikes over working
conditions. The WRC wanted to inspect the factory but Nike stopped
them.

WRC director Scott Nova was “surprised and concerned” by this change.
He said, “What it boils down to is Nike prefers not to be accountable
to an independent investigative body. They want to police the working
conditions themselves. The reason there are mandatory standards is
it’s not prudent to allow companies to police themselves.”

Nike has a lengthy history dealing with labor watchdogs and student
activists. In the 1990s, the company was embarrassed over a number of
sweatshop scandals. Since then, Nike has polished its pubic image and
has changed its behavior.

The USAS is leading a national campaign to force Nike to go back to
allowing WRC to inspect factories producing Nike shoes, clothes and
athletic equipment. The company is violating codes of conduct in
contracts with many schools.

Recently, hundreds of college faculty members around the country
signed onto a letter criticizing Nike for not assisting the WRC in
investigating the situation at the Vietnamese factory.

The president of Rutgers University, Robert Barchi, said that if Nike
didn’t help the WRC access the Vietnamese factory, the company would
be taking “a step backward” on its labor rights record. “Rutgers feels
that it is essential that all companies producing Rutgers-branded
products not only adhere to all applicable labor codes of conduct but
also be perceived as maintaining the highest standards of labor
rights,” Barchi wrote.

Parker Haile, an undergraduate in economics and chemical engineering,
says the CU Boulder chapter of USAS is asking the CU administration to
be as assertive as Rutgers. The student activists need our help. Check
out their Facebook page: http://tinyurl.com/hbywglr.

This opinion piece originally appeared in the April 21 edition of Boulder Weekly.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,625 other followers