Labor’s Southern Strategy

by Chris Brooks and Gene Bruskin

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Once again, the United Auto Workers have been defeated in a union election at Nissan, this time in the rural town of Canton, Miss. After failed organizing drives at a Nissan plant in Smyrna, Tenn., in 1989 and 2001, and at Volkswagen in Chattanooga, Tenn., in 2014, victory in the South continues to elude the UAW. To date, the union has yet to win a wall-to-wall union election at any non-U.S. headquartered automaker in the South.

Why does labor keep coming up short south of the Mason-Dixon Line? What strategies might work moving forward? Labor journalist Chris Brooks spoke with veteran union organizer Gene Bruskin to dissect these questions and explore the obstacles and opportunities unions face in organizing the South.

Brooks: Many companies pit nonunion workers in the South against unionized workers elsewhere in the country. For example, Boeing moved production of their 787 Dreamliner from union-strong Seattle to non-union, right-to-work South Carolina and then offered an ultimatum to the Seattle Machinists local: either open your contract and take concessions or we will move production of the next generation of jetliners to the South. After a contentious contract ratification vote, Seattle’s Boeing workers had their pensions frozen and suffered huge increases in their health care costs. Boeing, the largest and most profitable airplane manufacturer in the country, was able to force concessions on 30,000 workers in Seattle, the Machinists’ largest bargaining unit, by whipsawing them against thousands of non-union workers in South Carolina. [See Josh Eidelson, Conflicting Dreams: The strikes that made Boeing a national flashpointDollars & Sense, September/October 2011.]

Similarly, the United Auto Workers (UAW) have suffered a deep decline in membership, from 1.5 million members in 1979 to less than 400,000 today. Unionized autoworkers have seen the industry’s standards eroded over the years due to the influx of non-union operations. Speaking in 2011, then-UAW-president Bob King said “If we don’t organize these transnationals, I don’t think there’s a long-term future for the UAW.”

If unions want to protect their gains and win back what they have lost then they must organize in the South. Do you agree?

Bruskin: Completely, but I would add that it’s a much older problem. There was a moment in post-Civil War Reconstruction when slavery had ended and the industrial age was beginning: the transcontinential railroad was being built and massive industries started to be developed. It’s in this period that the National Labor Union (NLU) was formed. It was the first real, although short lived, attempt to bring trade unions together. Women were also organizing and forming unions in this period and suddenly there were four million free Black workers in the South, including skilled laborers who had worked as ship-builders and blacksmiths and other trades.

Women and Black workers who had organized unions went to the white male NLU in 1868-9 to urge them to organize all workers, saying that failure to do so would doom the labor movement to constant labor competition between unorganized women and Black workers on one side and organized white men on the other. Ultimately the NLU decided against including women and Black workers.

We’ve been paying the price every since. There have been continued efforts over the past century to organize the South, but usually not as part of a broader labor strategy, but as one shot organizing drives. There is more than one election at stake here, since the South operates both as an ocean of low-wage labor and political reaction.

Brooks: Since there aren’t many large-scale organizing drives these days and union membership is so low in the South, there’s a lot of media attention whenever a big Southern union vote comes up. The most recent example was the UAW’s failed organizing drive at Nissan in Canton, Mississippi. Based on my conversations with workers at Nissan, I think there were a few major reasons why the UAW failed. One was Nissan’s fierce anti-union campaign.

What we saw in Canton was a doubling down on the Chattanooga strategy. You might remember that the Auto Workers were defeated in their 2014 organizing drive at Volkswagen in Chattanooga, Tenn., not by the company, which was ostensibly neutral, but by what was likely the largest and most expensive anti-union campaign ever waged by third-party groups. At Canton, the UAW faced what I called “the anti-union trifecta”: a hostile employer, business advocacy groups like Americans for Prosperity—which sent out 25,000 mailers and produced videos for television and radio ads—and the Mississippi state government. Days before the vote, the Governor of Mississippi said “If you want to take away your job, if you want to end manufacturing as we know it in Mississippi, just start expanding unions.”

A key lesson of the Volkswagen organizing drive was that even if the company claims to be neutral, the political and economic establishment of the South is not. The UAW has to go into every organizing drive in the South knowing that it will be the fight of their life. They union is not only going up against a hostile multinational corporation, but the entire political apparatus of the state and the business community.

So, on the one hand, I’m sympathetic when UAW secretary-treasurer Gary Casteel describes the Nissan campaign as “one of the nastiest anti-union campaigns in the modern history of the American labor movement.” It was bad and Corporate America’s hostility towards unions should be the scandal of the industrialized world. But, on the other hand, that statement is kind of laughable because the conditions that the workers at Smithfield faced were so much worse.

Bruskin: Smithfield had experience working with unions, but intended to keep them out of the million-square foot plant in Tar Heel, N.C., which was the biggest hog slaughterhouse in the world. The company took over an enormous area of the state to raise the 8 million pigs a year they needed to supply the plant. This was part of the company’s strategy to gain a competitive advantage through vertical integration, controlling the production process from “squeal to meal.” It would have been very difficult for Smithfield to develop that kind of farming operation anywhere else in the country.

The first time the UFCW tried to organize the plant in 1994, they thought they could just go through the normal NLRB procedures. The company just unloaded on them. During the second election in 1997, the company brought in the Sheriff’s office, they stood outside the plant with armed rifles when people walked into work. During the vote, the lights went out in the plant when people were casting ballots. They beat up organizers. It was a massive, unrestrained employer campaign. It wasn’t public though, because the union was keeping it quiet outside of the plant and the company was exerting total control inside of it.

It took years before the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and the courts weighed in. It also took years before the union decided to engage in a big public campaign outside the plant to counter the company’s inside campaign. We put a lot of time, energy and resources into telling the story of the workers, not just in the plant. but also in an aggressive media campaign, also in the churches all around the state and in public places all along the East and Midwest, using key allies like Jobs with Justice. These stories put the company on the defensive. By making the oppression that workers faced in the plant synonymous with the Smithfield brand, we created a wall of public pressure to guard workers against the company’s attacks. I think we successfully exposed Smithfield’s actions in a way that hurt their brand, in a way that the UAW hasn’t seemed to be able to do to Nissan or Volkswagen.

Brooks: Another reason why the UAW failed at Nissan was because they failed to build a strong organizing committee that acted like a union on the shop floor before they won the election. This appears to have been a serious flaw in the UAW’s two previous organizing drives at Nissan, both in Smyrna, Tenn. One was in 1989 and the other in 2001. After the 2001 defeat at Smyrna, Bob King—then UAW vice president and head of the union’s National Organizing Department—admitted that the union ran the election with an organizing committee that was “substantially smaller than normal” because the union “thought the issues were so great” they didn’t need a full committee.

A similar lesson was obviously on display in Canton. According to organizing committee members I spoke with there, the committee was too small, was not representative of every department and every shift, and only half the committee was very active. On top of that, they went to a vote without having a supermajority signed up on cards. Do you agree that a strong organizing committee is the best defense against an employer’s anti-union campaign and that is a major reason for the UAW’s failure?

Bruskin: It was clear to us in the Justice@Smithfield campaign that you could not win relying solely on worker meetings and house visits or relying solely on a public community campaign that built lots of solidarity. We had to have a presence in the plant. The union had to be live on the job. One of the strongest arguments used by companies during a union drive—and this was definitely the case at Nissan—is to attack the union as an institution. Nissan made it out to be a fight between the company and some institution in Detroit. The company hopes to turn the union election into a question of whether the company or the UAW is good or bad. By doing so, they take away any sense that the union is the workers themselves in the plant. And while the union may say they are the workers, unless the workers in the plant see each other as the union while working on the job, then those third-party attacks can win.

At Smithfield, we put an enormous amount of effort into building visible activity inside the plant. I don’t want anyone to get the idea that this is easy. It was extremely difficult, but in the end having workers see one another in collective action in a variety of ways, not being fired, and even winning things is how the union takes on a living presence and is not seen as some distant Big Union organization. The union becomes the person across the line from you. That makes an enormous difference in any union drive.

Brooks: According to both the UAW and workers I have spoken with, about 80 percent of the Nissan workforce is Black. At Nissan, the maintenance employees, which are the highest paid classification in the plant, were almost exclusively white and anti-union. So there were clear racial divisions in the plant. Beyond that, the UAW tried to connect the union election to the civil rights struggles for voting rights in the South. “Workers’ rights are civil rights” is a smart message because the right to a fair union election, free from a coercive and hostile anti-union campaign from the employer, should be a human right. The highpoint of the civil rights component to the organizing campaign was the March on Mississippi, where thousands marched in Canton to a rally where actor-activist Danny Glover, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and UAW President Dennis Williams spoke.

Bruskin: Race is a critical component in every Southern organizing drive. At Smithfield, the white workers were a minimal factor, because there were so few of them and they were largely in the maintenance department. We did have an enormous challenge with the language divide: About one half of the workforce was Latino and the other half was Black and the two couldn’t easily talk to one another. So overcoming that obstacle took a tremendous amount of focus. There is going to be some variation of this in many plants in the South.

It’s really important to figure out where the social groupings of workers are outside of the plant. Organizers can’t step foot in the plant and it can be very difficult to find out where workers live. At Smithfield, workers lived in a 50-mile-radius of the plant, so we were very active in the church. We included big name preachers like the Rev. Jesse Jackson and William Barber to give the campaign moral authority, but we also focused on moving the campaign into the in the churches where the workers actually were, so their own preachers would be talking directly to the workers with the message “we are behind you.” We went to the soccer clubs, where people played every Sunday morning. We also went to the Latino nightclubs. We built the union through communities that workers actually participate in. Local institutions can play a big role as workers are taking risky actions in the plant. We had a full-time minister and a full-time community organizer focusing on just building support with local Black and Latino institutions around Smithfield.

If activists feel isolated in the plant then they go home and their primary point of contact with the organizing campaign is a house visit, then the union never becomes more than an individual decision. I think there is a real question about how to turn a union drive into a movement, like the civil rights movement, which is led by workers who feel connected to something larger than themselves so they have the courage to face down the company’s hostility. So tying the organizing drive to the civil rights movement is a great idea, it is the right kind of idea, but it has to be real for the workers.

Brooks: One of the Nissan workers, Robert Hathorn, told me a story about anti-union activities led by workers in the lead-up to the vote. He said there was a worker that would stand outside the turnstiles at the entrance of the factory every morning with a bullhorn, shouting “Nissan is the giver of life!” and that he wakes up every morning and gives thanks to Nissan for giving him a chance. I believe Nissan socially engineers this kind of reaction. Mississippi has the highest poverty rate in the country. The company chose to locate its factory in Canton, a town with a population of 13,000 people. They employ over 6,000 people at the plant and pay some of the highest blue-collar wages in the state. So the choice of where to locate the factory and how much to pay workers is all part of the company’s anti-union strategy.

The challenge for the union is to figure out how to raise workers’ expectations to the point where they are willing to take the kinds of risks that you are discussing, by taking action and making demands on the company rather than settling for what they have, even though what they have is better than what many people in their community have.

Bruskin: Even at Smithfield, which is in a different industry—so it didn’t come near to matching the kind of wages that are paid at VW or Nissan—the pay was higher than at the chicken plants in the area. Even though everyone always wants a raise, that can’t be the focus of an organizing drive. Wages are something that companies always play with in organizing drives. They make promises, they raise them to be competitive with the union that is organizing the workers. Instead, we have to figure out what key issues, other than wages, really upset people. At Smithfield, the key issue was safety. We organized safety fights inside the plant, department by department, during the organizing drive to challenge the dangerous conditions that workers faced.

In any union drive, anyone who is not a “yes” is a “no.” Action is the best measure of support, better than signing cards. If you try to organize an action on an issue in a department and only three people out of 25 in the department participate, then you probably have only three “yes” votes and everyone else is a “no.” Someone’s chances of voting for the union are pretty good if they are willing to sign their name on a petition to demand workplace changes and is then willing to march on the boss during their lunch break with 24 other workers to present that petition. If a worker does that, then the chances are really good that they will vote yes, especially if that action results in a win. The results are far better than if they just signed a card.

It sounds like Nissan made extensive use of captive-audience meetings. It’s crucial that workers take a stand during those meetings. It doesn’t take 10 workers, you can get two or three people to challenge management in those meetings and the company will put a stop to them or have to change tactics and have smaller and smaller meetings. The company can’t do anything to workers that speak up in those meetings because there are too many witnesses. But if I’m sitting there watching the company slam the union and the pro-union committee people are silent, I’m going to think to myself, “Man, these people are as scared as I am.” That’s a signal to me that the union is weak. Conversely, if I see someone standing up to the company, then I think to myself, “Wow, this woman is somebody who is going to speak up for me if I have a problem, and look at the company getting scared.” Those are moments when you figure out if you have the strength to even have an election. It’s a key measurement.

Brooks: You talked about the importance of an inside-outside strategy, where an outside strategy puts public pressure on the company, and that protects the workers organizing actions on the inside of the plant—using public pressure to stave off the worst of the company’s anti-union hostility. In the UAW campaign, I didn’t seem any sign of obvious leverage over Nissan’s bottom line. There were a limited number of protests at Nissan dealerships in the South, but not as part of any prolonged or nationally coordinated campaign to really pressure the company. The union also did not publicly attempt to leverage the power that workers have in the company’s logistics chain or at auto parts suppliers.

For example, the auto parts supplier Shiroki North America operates three non-union plants spread out over Tennessee and Georgia. Shiroki produces parts for multiple car companies and is the main supplier of certain door parts for four Nissan vehicle lines. Like many auto parts companies, Shiroki does not produce parts that are then warehoused until an auto maker needs a shipment, but instead relies on just-in-time production and only produces enough parts at any one time to cover a limited number of production shifts at the companies they supply to, including Nissan. I spoke with an employee at the Shiroki plant who said the company attempts to maintain a one and a half day stock, so if they had a three-day shutdown it would disrupt the supply chain and Nissan’s production process. Due to the fragility of the just-in-time production process, organizing workers and engaging in strategic work stoppages at auto part suppliers would be heavily disruptive to the companies that are reliant on them.

The entire just-in-time production process is a result of auto makers squeezing suppliers. The suppliers then squeeze their workers. So workers in auto parts plants are often working under even worse conditions for even lower pay and fewer benefits than auto workers in the large auto production facilities. So it seems like there is a good possibility that the union could have more success in organizing these parts suppliers.

You would think that the UAW would be interested in leveraging the weaknesses in the company’s global production process so they could at least try and pressure the company into not engaging in some of the more heinous anti-union behavior.

Bruskin: The UAW would have had to organize the parts suppliers first if they were to have that kind of leverage. Those would have been tough fights. The fundamental question of how to apply leverage to a company in a way that can actually an impact on how they handle their campaign is crucial.

At Smithfield, it was only after running two elections where the union got the crap kicked out of them and years of fruitless efforts at the NLRB that the UFCW finally decided that the only way to get a fair election where the company didn’t go absolutely crazy on the workers, like Nissan did, is if the union waged a public campaign against the company.

That’s different from a community campaign where leaders just take public stands saying “we’re with you.” Even if they are respected civil rights leaders or Bernie Sanders. The question has to be: what will it take to force the company into making an agreement with the union that recognizes the organizing rights of workers? At Smithfield, we won that agreement by going after the company in a variety of ways. We took the campaign to all of the outlets where their products were being sold and marketed. We talked about how Smithfield pork is packaged with abuse. The company was spending millions on their brand and we were damaging it by simply telling the truth. We did that internationally as well. In the end we got an agreement for an NLRB supervised election but with additional protections against company abuses. It was those additional rules that made it possible for us to win.

Brooks: One of the contrasts between the Volkswagen and Smithfield campaigns was that the UAW worked behind the scenes with the labor community in Germany to craft a deal with Volkswagen that resulted in a neutrality agreement, so it came down from on high, while the Smithfield workers had to engage in a long series of escalated collective actions that included the broader community and consumers to win a neutrality agreement with the company. One of the serious concerns I have with the current campaign that the UAW is running at Nissan is that the union seems to be hoping that all the media attention Nissan received for their hostile anti-union campaign and the unfair labor charges that the union has filed will convince the French government to push for neutrality at the company. The French government is the largest shareholder in Renault and Renault is the largest shareholder in Nissan. So the UAW seems be engaged in some top-down political maneuvering to force the company into neutrality, but once again it won’t be a victory won by the workers themselves.

Bruskin: All aspects of the campaign, including the public campaign, have to be involve workers at every level. It’s not hard to imagine Nissan going back into the plant and telling the workers that the UAW is working with the French government to overturn their election decision or something like that. It’s easy to third-party the union when workers are not involved.

Brooks: Nissan has a three tier workforce. In the top-tier are “legacy” employees. These were hired by Nissan when the plant first opened 14 years ago. They are paid the highest wage tier, receive the best healthcare benefits and fringe benefits like vacation time. About 40% of the plant is estimated to be temporary workers, which are employed by secondary companies and they constitute the bottom tier. In the middle tier are “pathway” workers, which started as temps but then were hired on by Nissan as direct employees of the company, but they can never top out at the same pay rate as legacy workers and they receive less generous benefits. The UAW’s organizing drive did not focus on organizing temp workers, it focused solely on organizing those workers employed directly by Nissan rather than organizing everyone and claiming that Nissan is a joint employer under the Browning-Ferris decision made by the Labor Board. So about 40% of the workforce, the ones in the plant who actually face the most exploitation, were written off in the campaign. Making the organizing even more difficult was the fact that many of these temps were performing the same jobs on the same lines as the employees that work directly for Nissan, so that meant that the only way to distinguish between the two was for the organizing committee in the plant to make sure they had an accurate list.

Bruskin: That definitely sounds like a setup that favors the employer. What happens when Nissan gives all the temps anti-union tshirts and then the workers on the fence think that thousands of their coworkers are against the union?

At Smithfield, one of the biggest challenges was huge turnover, hundreds of workers every month. You could go out and have a hundred good house visits in a week, which would be enormously difficult because workers are spread out over large distances in rural areas. And then the next week, thirty of those people could be gone and you would never know. It’s not like they call up the union to tell them that they are leaving. That was not a temp situation, but it was an enormous challenge because there was no way to have a complete list when half the people you visit in August are no longer working for the company in September.

Of course we have to stay on top of our lists as best we can, but what really has the greatest impact is building as strong a committee presence inside the plant as you can. That is something you can control. If you decide you can’t organize the temps, and I don’t know how the UAW handled this, then the committee are the ones you have to rely on to determine who is not a temp and who is not. In a plant that is that big with that many departments and multiple shifts, you would have to organize a committee that is truly representative. It’s a huge challenge. This is also why taking action to get the company to the table and win an election agreement can be necessary, because there are just so many factors working against the union.

Brooks: And if you don’t build the union leading into the election, how can you expect for workers to suddenly act like one after they win? And in the South, in a right-to-work state, we know that the employer’s campaign against the union isn’t going to end after the election. The company will be constantly putting pressure on workers to drop the union.

Bruskin: We aren’t just trying to win an election. We’re also trying to win a first contract, to build a strong local, and everything you do from the beginning has an impact on those second and third stages of the campaign. The laws are against us. The employer is fighting you. The Governor and Koch brothers are weighing in. And organizers struggle to just get workers to sign a card or just to get their name and address or get them to attend a meeting. And even if you win the union, it’s not unusual for the company to appeal and slow everything down and then fight to keep the union from getting a first contract, or at least from getting a good contract. So you can win the election only to get a bad contract and then workers drop their membership in the union, because you are in the right-to-work South. So to be thinking as far down the line as the first contract and establishing a strong local is immensely challenging, but in this environment it is necessary. But it can be done and for labor’s future, it must be done.

Chris Brooks is a former Southern organizer and covers the UAW for Labor Notes.

Gene Bruskin was the campaign director for the United Food and Commercial Workers’ Justice@Smithfield campaign, which resulted in the successful unionization of 5,000 workers at the Smithfield Foods hog slaughterhouse in Tar Heel, N.C., in 2008. At the time, it was the largest successful private union election in decades and the largest victory in UFCW history.

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Reposted from Portside Labor

 

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How the UAW Lost at Nissan

by Dianne Feeley

IN EARLY AUGUST the UAW’s union recognition campaign at the Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi ended in a disastrous 63% “no” vote — 10% greater than the loss at Volkswagen in Chattanooga, Tennessee three and a half years earlier.

From the beginning of the decade-long campaign at Nissan the UAW sought community support, stressing that “Workers’ Rights = Civil Rights.” This was a particularly effective strategy given that 80% of the workers are African American, and Canton is 80% Black. And given the 6,000-strong march held this spring in support of the unionization drive, it seemed like the UAW was headed for victory.

But that was outside the sprawling plant. Inside management took an aggressive anti-union stance, holding captive meetings, blaring anti-union videos in the break rooms, and in the days just before the vote holding mandatory large group meetings and even one-to-one sessions. They explained how the UAW would not represent the interests of employees and other “facts.”

In listening to the voices of the Nissan workers, health and safety was a major issue, as it is in most non-union workplaces. Several mentioned Derrick Whiting, 37, who collapsed and died on the plant floor in September 2015. He had gone to the plant’s medical facility complaining of chest pains and was sent back to the line.

Anna Wolfe reported in the Clarion Ledger, “Some employees claim Nissan did not respond quickly to the crisis and even kept nearby production lines moving. The company denies these allegations, maintaining that safety at its automotive plant is ‘significantly better than the national average.’” (http://www.clarionledger.com/story/news/politics/2017/08/01/inside-fight-over-unionizing-nissan/508465001/)

Others planning on voting for UAW representation spoke about the need for job security and pensions. A big contradiction in the election, however, was the division among African Americans. At Nissan, the top-tier workforce averages $26 per hour while second-tier workers make $18 — but both are much higher than Canton’s per capita annual household income of $15,000. Given these economic disparities the company was effective in discouraging eligible workers from “rocking the boat” and voting for an untested union.

African Americans in Mississippi have few opportunities for relatively higher paying blue-collar jobs. Faced with both an anti-labor government and Nissan, many Black workers feared losing a stable, well-paying job. Meanwhile there was debate in the plant around management’s favoritism of whites in promotions and opportunities. But neither the in-plant issues of economic inequality nor the particular history of racism in the region were well understood by the UAW leadership. Had there been a strong in-plant committee capable of taking initiative, these could have been addressed.

Organizing Problems

Of the 6400 workers at the plant, only 3500-3800 were eligible to vote. The rest were temporary workers. In fact 2500 are employed by Kelly Services, not Nissan.

At Nissan there are three separate tiers. There are “legacy” workers who were hired in when Nissan began. Second are “pathway” workers who started as temporaries and gained full-time employment — but whose benefits will never equal the highest tier. There are approximately 1500 of these second-tier workers. Third are the “temporary” workers employed by Kelly Services.

As a retired autoworker, I see two huge organizing issues: 1) the pro-union workers didn’t come together and begin to act like a union but merely talked about why there should be one. 2) The UAW didn’t reach out to the temporary workers and draw them into the campaign.

Most autoworkers see how temporary workers are superexploited. They work as hard, or harder, than “legacy” workers but are paid significantly less, with no job security and zero benefits.

In watching the organizing drive from a distance, I’ve wondered what could the UAW organizers do to build a militant union at a large Southern plant, given that many of the problems Nissan workers faced were similar to the ones we had in UAW-represented plants.

After all, UAW officials had preached concessions as a way to keep our jobs since the 1980s. They, along with the corporations, sold two-tier wages and benefits to autoworkers, intimidating and slandering those of us who argued against this strategy.

Once imposed, the two-tier structure was rationalized. Unable to organize the foreign-owned transplants who had located in the South in order to keep unions out, the UAW maintained that until the proportion of unionized autoworkers grew, UAW workers were stuck with concessionary bargaining.

That’s a circular argument. We lost our power because the proportion of unionized autoworkers declined with the opening of the nonunionized transplants. Therefore, we were told, UAW workers must survive by taking concessions, waiting for a better day, when we can grow again and regain what we have lost. But through taking concessions, we undercut the reasons why unorganized autoworkers would want to join!

In the last round of Big Three negotiations, UAW President Dennis Williams chose to negotiate with Chrysler first. Many wondered about his choosing the smallest and weakest corporation for negotiation because it would set the pattern for the other two.

When the negotiated contract was announced, it retained the two-tier system and limited the percentage of workers who could climb up the ladder. To the surprise of Solidarity House (the UAW headquarters), Chrysler workers overwhelmingly rejected it. A second and slightly improved contract was approved — but today there are more job and pay categories than ever before.

The current contract expands the use of temporary workers. Yet the industrial union model is built on the concept that whatever one’s job, there is relatively little difference in pay, benefits and working conditions. Yes, skilled workers make more money, but with the same benefits. Permanent differentials erode collectivity on the shop floor, and allow management to promote a culture where workers see themselves as individuals competing against other workers.

A Different Strategy?

What could the UAW have fought for at Nissan to benefit the 2,500 Nissan temporaries? A core of UAW supporters, coming from all three tiers, could have begun to function as a union on the shop floor. They could have raised demands around health and safety issues. They could have contested discrimination that occurs when supervisors favor white workers and when one part of the workforce lacks security.

This would have changed the dynamic about what the union is and deepened the understanding and commitment to economic equality on the job. The union is not a foreign body injected into the Nissan plant, it’s the workers who have come together collectively to voice their demands and seek their implementation.

Under this model, building the union is the goal. Maybe the shop committee would be so strong it could challenge the racist system of promotion, maybe even force the company to get rid of Kelly Services and start hiring. But whether or not it could accomplish its goals, the union would function as an institution to carry out campaigns that its members decided upon.

It might even turn the tables on management, tracking Nissan’s suppliers and helping those workers to organize as a way of increasing the union’s power over the company’s just-in-time production.

Holding a recognition election would be a secondary goal. Whenever it happened the temporaries, whatever their formal status, should have the right to vote. Two potential contract demands might then be that temporaries become permanent employees and the wall between tiers be dissolved. That would be a union worth fighting for.

I believe an organizing campaign that united the workers around their needs could have won at Nissan — despite the words of the Republican governor who opposed the union, despite all the Nissan ads on local TV and all the intimidating tactics used on the job.

Such a campaign would transform the union, which today is a shell of what the UAW was. Once it did take on management through a variety of actions including delegations during break time, work-to-rule actions and quickie strikes — a strategy, by the way, that’s also needed in the already organized UAW plants.

reposted from Against the Current (https://www.solidarity-us.org/node/5082)

A Tale Of Many Cities: Potholes in the Road To Municipal Reform

by Steve Early

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There is no better role model for aspiring radical scribes than Juan Gonzalez. The country’s leading Latino journalist is co-host of Democracy Now!, a former columnist for the New York Daily News, and twice winner of the Polk Award for his investigative reporting. Not many veterans of campus and community struggles in the Sixties and workplace organizing in the 1970s later moved into mainstream journalism with such distinction, Gonzalez has managed to combine daily newspapering with continued dedication to the cause of labor and minority communities.

As a New York Daily News staffer for two decades, Gonzalez broke major stories on city hall corruption, police brutality, and the toxic exposure of cops, firefighters, and construction workers involved in 9/11 attack rescue or cleanup work. When he wasn’t cranking out twice-a-week columns, he helped lead a big Newspaper Guild strike and wrote four books including Harvest of Empire, a history of Latinos in America,

Gonzalez’s movement background and intimate knowledge of New York City politics makes him an ideal chronicler of the unexpected rise (and near fall) of Bill de Blasio as a city hall reformer. In Reclaiming Gotham: Bill de Blasio and The Movement to End America’s Tale of Two Cities (New Press, 2017), the author situates New York City’s current mayor within a “new generation of municipal leaders” whose election reflects a broader “grassroots urban political revolt” throughout the United States. In that political cohort, however, de Blasio’s personal history as a Central America solidarity activist and, in the 1980s, “an often disheveled admirer of socialist ideas” makes him fairly unique.

Gonzalez reports that, under de Blasio, poor and working class New Yorkers have received a $21 billion “infusion of income and economic benefits” in the form of “universal free pre-kindergarten and after school programs, long overdue wage increases for municipal workers, paid sick leave for all, and a virtual freezing of tenant rents.” He believes the mayor’s sweeping pre-K initiative—deemed impossible by Governor Andrew Cuomo and other critics—“should be judged one of the truly extraordinary educational accomplishments of any municipal government in modern US history.”

Although critics of the mayor, on the left, may disagree, Gonzalez argues that de Blasio has presided over the “most left-leaning government in the history of America’s greatest city.”  Yet, New York remains in thrall to private real estate capital to such a degree that affordable housing for the non-wealthy is still shrinking, rent stabilization offers insufficient protection against displacement, and the mayor’s “build-or-preserve” housing plan, incented by tax breaks for developers and neighborhood rezoning, won’t provide enough below market rate units to meet future need. Continue reading

Historic Farmworker California Exhibit

 

HISTORIC STATE FAIR EXHIBIT RECOGNIZES FARMWORKERS
by David Bacon
Capital & Main, 7/25/17
https://davidbaconrealitycheck.blogspot.com/2017/07/historic-state-fair-exhibit-recognizes.html
https://capitalandmain.com/historic-state-fair-exhibit-recognizes-farmworkers-0725Cutting the ribbon at the farmworker exhibition (left to right): Assemblymember Blanca Rubio, United Farm Workers President Arturo Rodriguez, State Sen. Ben Hueso, Assemblymembers Kevin McCarty and Freddie Rodriguez, Cesar Chavez Foundation President Paul F. Chavez, Assemblymember Anna Caballero, State Fair CEO Rick Pickering (partially obscured), Sacramento City Councilmember Eric Guera, State Sen. Ed Hernandez (partially obscured), State Treasurer John Chiang and Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna.For over 160 years the California State Fair/Cal Expo has been run by growers to showcase the wonders and wealth of the state’s agriculture. And for over 160 years the fair did this without mentioning the people whose labor makes agriculture possible: farmworkers.This year that changed. Rick Pickering, chief executive officer of the California Exposition & State Fair, and Tom Martinez, the fair’s chief deputy general manager, asked the United Farm Workers to help put together an exhibit to remedy this historical omission. As a result, for the first time the fair, which runs through July 30, has an exhibition that not only pays tribute to field laborers, but also acknowledges the long history of their struggle to organize unions.

Growers are not happy, and fair organizers got some pushback. But at the ceremony inaugurating the exhibition, State Senator Ben Hueso (D-San Diego), the head of the California Latino Legislative Caucus, explained why they no longer have veto power. “We wouldn’t be here without the work of farmworkers,” he said. “The legislature now includes members who worked in the fields themselves, or have family who did, who know what it’s like to work in 100 degree heat, to suffer the hardest conditions and work the longest hours. We want our families to work in better conditions and earn more money.”

Some of the farmworkers who came as guests of the fair were veterans of that long struggle. Efren Fraide worked at one of the state’s largest vegetable growers, D’Arrigo Brothers Produce, when the original union election was held in 1975. However, it was only after the legislature passed the mandatory mediation law, forcing growers to sign contracts once workers voted for a union, that the first union agreement went into force at the company in 2007, covering 1,500 people.

D’Arrigo workers maintained their union committee through all the years between 1975 and 2007, organizing strikes and work stoppages to raise conditions and wages. “I’m very proud to see that we’re included here,” Fraide said, gesturing toward the photographs on the walls in the cavernous exhibition hall. “It shows who we are and what we went through. Si se puede!”

As the workers were introduced by UFW President Arturo Rodriguez, they stood up from their seats to applause. Rodriguez noted that some farmworkers, like those working at Monterey Mushrooms’ sheds near Morgan Hill and Watsonville, now make a living wage of between $38,000 and $42,000 in year-round jobs with benefits. “This exhibition recognizes that farm labor is important work, and that it can be a decent job if it includes labor and environmental standards. It can come with job security, and can be professional work,” he emphasized.

“What’s been lacking is an acknowledgment of the people who do the work,” charged Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna, son of the capital city’s late mayor, Joe Serna, and nephew of former UFW organizer Ruben Serna. “This exhibition documents their political activism. We wouldn’t be here if it were not for the farmworkers movement.”


In the Fields of the North / En los Campos del Norte
Photographs and text by David Bacon
University of California Press / Colegio de la Frontera Norte

302 photographs, 450pp, 9”x9”
paperback, $34.95

 

DSA Launches National Boycott Against B&H

by Maria Svart, National Director DSA

For 16 weeks, DSA members in New York City have been picketing every Friday and Sunday in support of hundreds of unionized warehouse workers fighting to save their jobs and win a contract at B&H Photo and Video. They’ve engaged in direct action, contacted city politicians, pressured the company on social media, produced flyers and videos and organized fundraisers for the campaign.

But B&H is a national retailer, with $2.65 billion in sales revenue – and so the campaign against them must be national too. That’s why today DSA is launching a new national boycott effort and website, www.boycottbnh.com, to tell the company: Settle a contract with your workers! End the exploitation!

B-and-H-boycott-branding-08.png

B&H is the largest non-chain distributor of media production equipment in the U.S. It’s also a notorious violator of workers’ rights with a long track record of inhumane working conditions and rampant discrimination. The company is currently being sued by the Department of Labor for racial disparities in hiring and forcing Hispanic workers to use segregated bathrooms, among other abuses.

Please visit www.boycottbnh.com today and sign on to the boycott of B&H Photo and Video to tell the company that you won’t stand by while it exploits its warehouse workers. Share the website on social media and tell all your friends, family, co-workers and acquaintances to sign on too. Remember to tag your social media posts #BoycottBnH.

The conditions under which B&H warehouse workers work are deplorable. These include

  • 5.5-day work weeks with frequent demands for 16-hour days but only a 45-minute break;
  • denial of ambulances when seriously injured;
  • exposure to asbestos, benzene, and fiberglass dust resulting in chronic nosebleeds and other complications;
  • lack of training on operating dangerous equipment like forklifts, powerjacks, and pickers, and on handling of hazardous chemicals like sodium selenite and ammonium bromide;
  • lack of basic safety equipment; and
  • coercion to sign away workers’ comp benefits after injuries.

During a 2014 fire at one warehouse, workers were denied access to fire exits so management could run them through metal detectors to check for potential theft.

The warehouse workers are fighting back against these abuses – but they need your help. Please visit www.boycottbnh.com now, sign on to the boycott and share the website widely. Use the hashtag #BoycottBnH. Tell B&H: End the exploitation!

After the 2014 fire, workers contacted the Laundry Workers’ Center (LWC) to help them organize and address their grievances. In November 2015, the workers voted to join the United Steelworkers to secure a union contract. Management has fought them every step of the way and now intends to close the warehouses where they work and relocate production to Florence, NJ, 75 miles away rather than settle a union contract.

On July 10, the workers delivered their response to B&H’s demand that they accept the move: No! Let the workers know you stand with them – and against union-busting – by signing on to the boycott of B&H Photo and Video at www.boycottbnh.com today. Then share the website with everyone you know using the hashtag #BoycottBnH.

While DSA has coordinated nationally on many labor campaigns in the past, it has historically played a supporting role. This boycott marks the first time in recent memory that it has launched its own coordinated national labor initiative. DSA is the driving force behind this boycott – and so it is critical that each of us do our part to see that it succeeds.

If you would like to get more involved in the campaign, please write to nyc.strike.solidarity@gmail.com, especially if you work for or are otherwise affiliated with an organization that does business with B&H. And remember to visit www.boycottbnh.com today!

In Solidarity,

Maria Svart, DSA National Director
http://www.dsausa.org/

boycott b & H

Facing Deportation for Showing Up to Work

Jobs with Justice

FreeRodrigo_hugo

Instead of celebrating Father’s Day with their children and family, beloved fathers and longtime U.S. residents Hugo Mejia and Rodrigo Nunez spent the special day in a detention center near Oakland, California.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has held Hugo and Rodrigo in immigration custody since May 3. That morning, their employer sent them to work on a new construction project at a hospital on the Travis Air Force Base. At the base, a military official detained and reported them to immigration officers. Now they fear the worst: that the federal government will deport them at any point and tear them away from their families and communities.

The devoted family men call California home and have lived in the United States for more than 15 years. Hugo is a foreman at S&R Drywall and a member of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) and Rodrigo is a member of the Carpenter Union Local 713. The construction workers are local volunteers with deep community ties. Hugo lives in San Rafael with his wife, Yadira and his three young kids. His eldest children have been granted protection from deportation through DACA, and his youngest is a U.S. citizen.  He volunteers at his children’s school. Rodrigo lives in Hayward with his wife and his three young kids, all of whom are U.S. citizens. He is an assistant coach for his son Sebastian’s baseball team who also volunteers at his church.

Argued Hugo, “We don’t take anything from this country. On the contrary, we give to this country. It’s not fair to deport us.”

None of these facts have compelled the local ICE field office director to stop their expedited deportation cases or release Hugo and Rodrigo. ICE has full discretion to discharge them from custody so they can reunite with their families while reviewing their cases.

The Trump administration’s ramped up immigration policies could result in more of our friends and neighbors getting separated from their families as a result of reporting to work. Hugo and Rodrigo deserve to watch their children grow up and thrive.

If ICE deports Hugo and Rodrigo, everything that have worked to achieve to sustain their families could be taken away. And the loved ones they leave behind will experience an emotional and economic toll. The Urban Institute and Migration Policy Institute study found that a father’s deportation causes a family’s income to drop an average of 73 percent.

Hugo’s and Rodrigo’s detainment has caused a widespread outcry among labor, faith, and community groups, and elected officials. Jobs With Justice and our network of coalitions are supporting a #FreeHugo&Rodrigo week of action currently underway urging ICE to free both men and halt their deportations.

You can help keep up the pressure to reunite Hugo and Rodrigo with their families with two simple gestures:

1) Make a call to the San Francisco ICE field office to demand that Director David Jennings use his prosecutorial dissertation and release Hugo and Rodrigo now.

2) Encourage your friends and family to do the same.

Call ICE Director David Jennings at 415-844-5503

 

Exploitation of Workers Making Ivanka Trump Shoes in China

by Paul Garver

ivanka trump shoes

These Ivanka Trump shoes retail for about $80 in the USA.

Many of them are manufactured at giant Huajian factories in Dongguan and Jiangxi, China.  There hundreds of shoe workers are paid about $1 an hour for work days often extending to 15 hours, with one or two days off per month.  No overtime is paid.  Wage slips are routinely altered by management to indicate higher pay than actually received.  Wages are docked and fines imposed on any worker taking a leave day.

Huajian produces shoes for other USA brands as well, but the Ivanka Trump label stands out because her dad has attacked China for stealing American jobs.

The China Labor Watch, a highly respected NGO that monitors labor conditions in China and whose reports are widely used to investigate violations in global supply chains, routinely assigns undercover investigators to work in Chinese factories and report back.  For 17 years Chinese authorities did not intervene.  Now three young Chinese investigators (Su Heng, Li Zhao and Hua Haifeng) are being prosecuted by the Chinese authorities for working in the Huajian factory in Jiangxi and reporting on labor conditions there.   They are currently out on bail, but have suffered from abusive conditions in prison and been forbidden to leave the country.

China Labor Watch has asked the brand retailers, including Ivanka Trump, to respond to and attempt to correct, the abusive labor conditions at their Huajian supplier factories.  None has responded at all (This is rare in the 17 year experience of China Labor Watch).

Ivanka Trump could at least ask the Chinese authorities to give the three China Labor Watch investigators a fair trial.

Keith Bradsher covered this story in an excellent article for the New York Times Business section on 11th July.  For further developments, consult the informative and reliable website of China Labor Watch at http://www.chinalaborwatch.org