Cesar Chavez, the UFW, and Why Unions are Needed

by Duane E. Campbell

On March 31, 2015, Eleven states and numerous cities will hold holidays celebrating labor and Latino leader Cesar Chavez. ChavezConferences, marches and celebrations will occur in numerous cities and particularly in rural areas of the nation. A recent film Cesar Chavez: An American Hero, starring Michael Peña as Cesar Chavez and Rosario Dawson as Dolores Huerta presents important parts of this union story.

The current UFW leadership, as well as former UFW leaders and current DSA Honorary Chairs Eliseo Medina and Dolores Huerta are recognized leaders in the ongoing efforts to achieve comprehensive immigration reform in the nation.

ArturoUFW President Arturo Rodriquez says, “We urge Republicans to abandon their political games that hurt millions of hard-working, taxpaying immigrants and their families, and help us finish the job by passing legislation such as the comprehensive reform bill that was approved by the Senate on a bipartisan vote in June 2013,” Rodriguez said.  Similar compromise proposals, negotiated by the UFW and the nation’s major agricultural employer associations, have passed the U.S. Senate multiple times over the last decade. The same proposal has won majority support in the House of Representatives, even though House GOP leaders have refused to permit a vote on the measure. “The UFW will not rest until the President’s deferred relief is enacted and a permanent immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for all 11 million undocumented immigrants, is signed into law.” www.UFW.org Continue reading

First, Stop The Self-Flagellation: How Unions Can Thrive in the 21st Century

by Lance Compa

 

(AP Photo/Long Beach Press-Telegram, Stephen Carr)

The death of the labor movement has been repeatedly predicted as an imminent event for more than a century. Yet it lives, and is getting stronger.

Labor advocates and scholars often feel like we won’t be taken seriously unless we say how awful things are. The more dire our analysis, the more listeners will nod and say it must be right, with labor insiders so self-critical. But our critical thinking shouldn’t devolve into despair.

Workers won’t join a movement that constantly proclaims it is going down the tubes and is going to disappear in ten years. Legislators won’t pass pro-labor laws because they feel sorry for unions. Workers want to see power, and legislators need to feel power. Unions won’t regain it by complaining.

Get a grip; the labor movement is stronger than it looks.

We can’t deny or minimize problems and challenges. But we often go too far in decrying unions’ fate. Get a grip; the labor movement is stronger than it looks. A lot of good organizing is going on, and most unions are doing an effective job at the bargaining table. Unions are a force in important regions and industrial sectors, still politically potent, and still bringing new groups of workers into their ranks.
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If Labor Dies- What is Next ?

David Rolf. SEIU.

[if you see Tefere Gebre either watch the entire panel or  go to the playlist tab, and click on video 3. I have been unable to change this]

The American Labor Movement at a Crossroads. – Session 1

Co sponsored by the Albert Shanker Institute, the AFT, the Hillman Foundation and others.

The American labor movement is at a critical juncture. After three decades of declining union density in the private sector and years of all-out political assaults on public sector unions, America’s unions now face what can only be described as existential threats. Strategies and tactics that may have worked in a different era are no longer adequate to today’s challenges. The need for different approaches to the fundamentals of union work in areas such as organizing, collective bargaining and political action is clear. The purpose of this conference is to examine new thinking and new  initiatives, viewing them critically in the light of ongoing union imperatives of cultivating member activism and involvement, fostering democratic self-governance and building the collective power of working people. Jan.15, 2015.

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The Battle for Education and a Revitalized Teachers’ Union

English: Protesters demonstrating at the Wisco...

English: Protesters demonstrating at the Wisconsin State Capitol against the collective bargaining restriction on unions by Governor Scott Walker (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

If we don’t transform teacher unions now, our schools, our profession, and our democracy—what’s left of it—will likely be destroyed. I know. I am from Wisconsin, the home of Scott Walker and Paul Ryan.

 

Bob Peterson.

 

In 2011, in the wake of the largest workers uprising in recent U.S. history, I was elected president of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association (MTEA). Unfortunately, that spring uprising, although massive and inspirational, was not strong enough to stop Gov. Walker from enacting the most draconian anti-public sector labor law in the nation.

 

That law, known as Act 10, received support from the Koch brothers and a cabal of national right-wing funders and organizations. It was imposed on all public sector workers except the police and firefighter unions that endorsed Walker and whose members are predominantly white and male.

 

Act 10 took away virtually all collective bargaining rights, including the right to arbitration. It left intact only the right to bargain base-wage increases up to the cost of living. The new law prohibited “agency shops,” in which all employees of a bargaining unit pay union dues. It also prohibited payroll deduction of dues. It imposed an unprecedented annual recertification requirement on public sector unions, requiring a 51 percent (not 50 percent plus one) vote of all eligible employees, counting anyone who does not vote as a “no.” Using those criteria, Walker would never have been elected.

 

Immediately following Act 10, Walker and the Republican-dominated state legislature made the largest cuts to public education of any state in the nation and gerrymandered state legislative districts to privilege conservative, white-populated areas of the state.

 

Having decimated labor law and defunded public education, Walker proceeded to expand statewide the private school voucher program that has wreaked havoc on Milwaukee, and enacted one of the nation’s most generous income tax deductions for private school tuition. Continue reading

Democracy, Schools, and Teachers’ Unions

LeoCaseyby Leo Casey. Dec.24,2014.

Over the course of the last 12 weeks, I have been thinking about our conversations here on democracy, schools, and teachers’ unions. We write under the banner of “bridging differences,” and notwithstanding our broad agreement on most important questions we have discussed, there are “differences” that could be teased out of the dialogue.

At the outset, I must confess that I am deeply suspicious of efforts to identify “differences” with those who share most of our view of the world. The impulse to draw “lines of demarcation” around ourselves takes an almost pathological form among many on the American left, a “narcissism of small differences” in which the main political fire is invariably aimed at those who are politically nearest. It creates a political culture where vanguard politics fades into Puritanism: The moral purity of the self-anointed elect is preserved, but at the price of complete political marginality and irrelevance. I have no taste for such political fare.

But let us see if we can arrive at a more productive discussion of our political differences. You ask “Do teachers’ unions truly practice democracy?” I could point to the literature on union democracy and to the organizational features that it identifies as crucial for union democracy, and demonstrate how teachers’ unions not only possess those features, but possess them in greater measure than other unions.[1] Continue reading

Seeds of a New Labor Movement ?

Harold Meyerson.

Mother Jones, American labor activist.

Mother Jones, American labor activist. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sit down and read. Prepare yourself for the coming battles.  Mother Jones.

 

DSA Honorary Chair Harold Meyerson has written the following important long form piece on the US. Labor Movement for the American Prospect. This piece merits discussion.

Excerpts:

“The path to collective bargaining has been shut down in the United States,” says Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and head of the AFL-CIO’s Organizing Committee. Where Rolf differs from most of his colleagues is in his belief that collective bargaining—at least, as the nation has known it for the past 80 years—is not coming back. In a paper he distributed to his colleagues in 2012 and in commentaries he wrote for several magazines (including this one), he argued that unions should acknowledge their impending demise—at least in the form that dates to the Wagner Act—and focus their energies and resources on incubating new institutions that can better address workers’ concerns. “The once powerful industrial labor unions that built the mid-century American middle class are in a deep crisis and are no longer able to protect the interests of American workers with the scale and power necessary to reverse contemporary economic trends,” he wrote in his paper. “The strategy and tactics that we’ve pursued since the 1947 Taft-Hartley Amendments [which narrowed the ground rules under which unions may operate] are out of date and have demonstrably failed to produce lasting economic power for workers. We must look to the future and invest our resources in new organizational models that respond to our contemporary economy and the needs of today’s workers.”

This October, with funding from his local, from the national SEIU, and from several liberal foundations, Rolf will unveil The Workers Lab, housed at the Roosevelt Institute in New York. The center will study and, in time, invest in organizations that, in Rolf’s words, “have the potential to build economic power for workers, at scale, and to sustain themselves financially.” Whatever those organizations may be, they won’t be unions—at least, not unions as they currently exist… Continue reading

How Labor Can Save Itself

by Michael Hirsch

A Review of THE DEATH AND LIFE OF AMERICAN LABOR: TOWARDS A NEW WORKERS’ MOVEMENT (Verso Books, 2014) by Stanley Aronowitz

In 1955, when the country’s two contending labor federations merged to form the AFL-CIO, the combined organization represented more than one in three American workers. Unions then were strong enough, employers cautious enough and the economy juiced enough to create a working class that for the first time in history was for the most part not poor. Today the number of union members in the civilian labor force alone is just a hair above one in nine. The numbers are worse for private sector workers, where just one in 14 are unionized — this in a period when pay is frozen, real wages fall and an explosion of young people work at part-time or contingent jobs, when they work at all.

The reasons for the collapse of the “House of Labor” are many: the failure of the postwar drive to organize the South, the purges at the onset of the Cold War of radicals who were often labor’s best organizers, insular union leaders who emphasized contract unionism, allowing employers free rein to run their own enterprises with no voice from workers. Union leaders even traded away the right to strike for more or less steady work. Then there’s the sheer power of U.S. capital, at home and unchained.

Even in their debilitated state, unions remain by far the largest and most deep-pocketed institutions on the left and, in theory, have the potential to be the anchors of a broad-based, multiracial progressive movement. Yet, organizing the unemployed and making alliances with community groups and radicals are sadly rare. Even the support Occupy received from labor — which in New York City was a lot — was episodic. And the outstanding things Occupy did, including intervening in home foreclosures, are not yet on any union’s agenda.

None of this is new to people who follow labor closely. What’s new is the way it is understood by Stanley Aronowitz, former factory worker, union organizer with the Amalgamated Clothing Workers and the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers unions, prolific author and sociology professor at the CUNY Graduate Center. His latest book, The Death and Life of American Labor: Toward a New Workers’ Movement is a slim, compelling and highly readable treatment. It builds on work Aronowitz has done over the past four decades since the publication of his seminal work, False Promises: The Shaping of American Working Class Consciousness. This latest not only harks back to the labor movement’s glory days in the 1930s and charts the present hard times for working people, but also looks at a problematic future where he says mass unemployment will be the rule and union resistance extinct unless labor rediscovers its historic mission of fighting not just for its own static or shrinking memberships but for engaging every worker and every worker’s family in the fight.

Aronowitz targets collective bargaining itself as the rock in the shoe. Contracts have their good points: they lock in wages and benefits, codify work rules and prescribe a transparent and agreed-upon due-process system for handling grievances, discipline and firings. In return, workers give up their birthright: the right to strike and challenge the employer’s arbitrary right to manage.
In the postwar boom years such a strategy bought labor peace. With the flight of manufacturing jobs, first to the South, then to Mexico and overseas in search of a workforce that would work for almost nothing, good jobs at home shriveled and unions workers were forced to make major concessions on wages, benefits, working conditions and even job security. Collective bargaining today, Aronowitz says, “is now mostly a kind of collective begging.”

For the author, the era of labor-management cooperation initiated by the New Deal and welcomed by unions has come to an end. At this point business isn’t even looking for lapdogs, let alone labor allies. It’s a brave new world where business-driven automation across many sectors of the economy is gaining speed and destroying more U.S. jobs at home than are outsourced overseas. Worst of all, the unions’ dependency on management circumscribes revolt. Labor-led struggles, such as they are, are either defensive efforts in support of Social Security and Medicare or parochial battles to preserve defined benefit pensions for government workers while private sector employees must rely on 401K plans that are contingent on a booming investment market that regularly goes through bust cycles.

Aronowitz’s advice: encourage direct action in the workplace (such as the walkouts that galvanized the fast-food workers movement), don’t leave the fightback at protracted grievance handling and fight for a guaranteed basic income — even a $15 minimum wage is below the poverty level. He wants working people to intervene in the process of technological change by demanding control over its introduction and design, as well as a say in how the product or service is made. (The first step: recognizing that they currently have no choice in these matters.) He wants unions to stop thinking of workers as purely wage earners or their clients, but as partners in job and community struggles, among them “raise[ing] hell about the virtually closed-down state of mass transit.

Aronowitz wants the movement to “take seriously the question of workplace democracy,” to stop investing in polluting industries and take seriously that the war measures taken by the last two presidents are as much about spiking war production, with its fading hope of creating large numbers of new jobs, as with actual ongoing imperial ambitions.

To its credit, the book reads like the words of a secular prophet, but without the hectoring or sanctimony. Where Aronowitz misses the target, and he doesn’t miss it much, is in not quantifying the trends to some of his more scarifying predictions. He first floated the idea of job shrinkage as the wave of the future in his co-authored 1995 book The Jobless Future, and the present book holds that the jobless wave morphed into a tsunami of lost work and blown opportunities for labor. He uses the specter of mass unemployment throughout, a problem that for him outstrips even the creation of a precariat, but he relies on anecdotal evidence for that, when a look at the last 20 years of Bureau of Labor Statistics data would better demonstrate actual job loss trends. Absent that, Aronowitz’s book is a wonder.

This review is reposted from The Indypendent with permission of the author.

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