Why Labor and the Movement for Racial Justice Should Work Together

by Maurice Weeks and Marilyn Sneiderman

fixla

Labor should work alongside the Movement for Black Lives, a coalition with more than 50 organizations, to usher in a radically new economic and social order. The path won’t be easy. But recent history has shown that one of the ways to get at this new reality is through union bargaining.  

It is exciting to imagine potential bargaining demands major unions could undertake alongside racial justice organizations.

The Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) has made tremendous strides in exposing and challenging racial injustice, and has won real policy victories. The policies, while often imperfect, are a testament to the strength of the organizing and activism of the moment. Not coincidentally, this uprising comes at a time when income and wealth inequality are at peak levels and the economy for most black people looks markedly different than the economy for their white counterparts.

Just as we are in a critical moment in the movement for racial justice, we are in a critical moment for the right to unionize. Unions, which have been a major force for economic justice for people of color in the past 50 years, have been decimated to historically low levels.

Labor should work alongside the Movement for Black Lives, a coalition with more than 50 organizations, to usher in a radically new economic and social order. The path won’t be easy. But recent history has shown that one of the ways to get at this new reality is through union bargaining. Consider the example of Fix L.A.

Fix L.A. is a community-labor partnership that fought to fund city services and jobs alike, using city workers’ bargaining as a flashpoint to bring common good demands to the table. The coalition started after government leaders in Los Angeles drastically cut back on public services and infrastructure maintenance during the Great Recession. The city slashed nearly 5,000 jobs, a large portion of which had been held by black and Latino workers. Not only did these cuts create infrastructure problems—like overgrown and dangerous trees and flooding—but they also cost thousands of black and Latino families their livelihoods.

Fix L.A. asked why the city was spending more on bank fees than on street services, and demanded that it renegotiate those fees and invest the savings in underserved communities.

What was the result of this groundbreaking campaign?

The creation of 5,000 jobs, with a commitment to increase access to those jobs for black and Latino workers, the defeat of proposed concessions for city workers and a commitment from the city to review why it was prioritizing payment of bank fees over funding for critical services in the first place!

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U Mass Amherst Threatens to Close Labor Center

From Michael D. Yates:

UMass Labor Center

This letter is from Eve Weinbaum, Director of the Labor Center at UMass-Amherst. She writes about the abominable efforts of the university administration to get rid of the Labor Center and its despicable treatment of her. Eve is an outstanding champion of workers, at her own university and across the country. And the Labor Center is outstanding. Please consider writing to the persons she notes at the end of her letter, protesting what the university is doing. I taught in the Union Leadership and Administration Program part of the Center for many years.

Dear friends,
I hope you’re all well and enjoying the very end of summer. I wish I were writing with uplifting news about how well things are going at UMass Amherst, but unfortunately, as some of you have heard, the Labor Center has not had a good year.

As you probably know, the UMass Amherst administration has been cutting the Labor Center’s budget for many years, and on several occasions planned to eliminate the Labor Studies program. As Director, I have spent time building support among other UMass faculty, the labor movement, and legislators, to convince the administration of the importance of the Labor Center. We have had to fight for our survival many times over the past decade.

In July of 2015 I left for a sabbatical to do research in Medellin, Colombia. Immediately after my departure, the dean’s office and the chair of sociology informed my colleagues that they were cutting all funding for Labor Studies programs. They eliminated all funding for graduate students (including teaching and research assistantships) and all funding for part-time faculty who have taught the required curriculum for many years. They also cut the director position from a 12-month to a 9-month job, with a large cut in salary but no cut in responsibilities. They also reduced the course releases that have always been provided in exchange for the administrative work involved in running the Labor Center and its two graduate programs.

Administrators explained that they would only allow the Labor Studies Master’s degree program to continue to exist if it served as a “revenue generator” – to fund other parts of the University outside the Labor Center.

With these changes, the Labor Center can no longer welcome all students, labor leaders, and rank-and-file activists regardless of class, race, nationality, or ability to pay; and we cannot offer externships that provide valuable experience as well as tuition waivers. Instead, we have been told to recruit only students who can afford to pay full tuition, preferably out-of-state tuition, which is currently $31,733 each year for the full-time graduate program (not including room and board), or $63,466 for a two-year degree.
At the same time, we have been asked to shrink the curriculum, to cut electives and to eliminate some required courses — including Collective Bargaining and Contract Administration, Current Issues and Debates in Labor, and possibly Labor Law, among others — all in order to lay off faculty and cut costs.

For the time being, the ULA limited-residency program is safe because it is a net revenue-generator – it pays for itself through tuition and fees. But it is unclear how much longer it can survive without the dedicated staff and faculty support that ULA requires throughout the school year to recruit students and to keep the program running smoothly.

I have been a vocal opponent of the administration’s plans to demolish the Labor Center, and I am proud to have fought off many attacks over the past decade. This past spring, I filed grievances when two of the proposed cuts violated our faculty union contract. As we were discussing possible settlements with the provost’s office, however, I was told that the administration would only settle the grievances if I stepped down as Director immediately, so that they could appoint someone more open to “compromise” (in their words). Before I had time to formulate a response, the chair of the Sociology Department sent out an email to the entire faculty of Labor Studies and Sociology, falsely declaring that I had “resigned” as Director, and announcing that she was accepting nominations for a new Labor Center Director. As you may imagine, this came as a shock to myself and my colleagues. As things currently stand, I have been dismissed as Director as of September 1, and the status of the Labor Center is unclear; as of today we have no director but the Sociology Chair will be appointing one soon, with no input from Labor Studies. I am hoping to remain as director of the ULA program, but the administration has not been willing to make that commitment.

The UMass graduate program in Labor Studies is the premier graduate program in the country for union activists, leaders, staff, and those interested in potential careers in the labor movement to study the history, theory, legal framework and best practices in this field in an academically rigorous manner. Almost one thousand Labor Center alumni have gone on to serve as organizers, representatives, labor academics and educators, industrial relations experts, strategic researchers, arbitrators and elected leaders in universities, unions and community organizations throughout the country. Working with our students and alumni has been my greatest joy and a source of immense satisfaction as Labor Center Director.

I don’t know if it is possible to reverse the plans of UMass administrators, but I know we have to try. If you want to weigh in, please contact these administrators:

Sociology Department Chair Michelle Budig: budig@umass.edu
Dean John Hird: jhird@umass.edu
Provost Katherine Newman: ksnewman@umass.edu
And please send a copy to me: weinbaum@umass.edu

We are asking administrators to reverse the cuts to Labor Studies; to restore our graduate student funding and externships; to maintain our full curriculum; to honor the Labor Studies faculty’s autonomy to make programmatic decisions and to designate a Director; and to commit that the Labor Center is an integral part of the University’s educational mission, not just a profit center to subsidize other programs.

As always, we are so grateful for your support. We wouldn’t fight to continue doing this work if we didn’t know how valuable it has been to our students, our alumni, and our friends in the labor movement all around the world. Thank you for everything you do, and please stay in touch.

In gratitude and solidarity,
Eve

 

Labor Day and Farm Workers

Arturo

Arturo Rodriguez,
This Labor Day the American worker has reason to be optimistic.

While a few short years ago a $15 minimum wage seemed like a moonshot, today municipalities and states across the country are standing with workers and adopting a minimum wage that will ultimately lift 35 million hard-working American families out of poverty.

Earlier this year, the Obama Administration expanded overtime pay protections to more than 4 million working Americans.

And in California we are on the cusp on progress that builds on what the President has accomplished and paves the way for reforms that have the potential to put millions of working Americans on a pathway to the middle class.

Last week, California lawmakers passed first-of-its-kind legislation that allows farm workers to get paid overtime like all other workers.

Right now – in 2016 – a Jim Crow-era federal law excludes professions like farm workers, maids and domestic workers from overtime. Professions almost exclusively held by people of color. The fact that 78 years later that law is still on the books, prohibiting farm workers from earning a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work, is reprehensible.

In 1938, it was passed to discriminate against people of color and all these years later it still discriminates, now predominately against Latino farm workers.

While we haven’t been able to change that law on the federal level due to Congressional inaction, states have the right to expand benefits. After decades of fighting to correct this injustice, we are close to righting an historic wrong.

The bill sponsored by California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez that recently passed would gradually raise overtime pay for farm workers, requiring time-and-a-half for more than 8 hours worked in a day or 40 hours worked in a week. Farm workers who work more than 12 hours a day would get double pay.

It means a hard working mother or father who rises before dawn in the summer heat or on a freezing winter’s day and gets home well after the kids are asleep will finally get the pay they deserve but have been denied.

This isn’t controversial – it’s just fair.

The legislation didn’t pass on its own. Hillary Clinton was the first national leader to advocate for the change, Obama Administration officials, including Labor Secretary Tom Perez and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, have stood with us, as has Senator Dianne Feinstein and a diverse coalition of labor, immigrant, civil rights and social organizations.

Now the only remaining hurdle we have to clear to level the playing field for farm workers is Governor Jerry Brown’s signature. Ed. note; Governor Brown signed the bill on September 12.

If we can do it in California – the largest agriculture producer in the nation and the state that produces more than half of our nation’s fruits, vegetables, and nuts- it would be the latest example of the Golden State leading the nation in workers’ rights. It will yet again be a model for other states to follow.

Today, I’m proud to see our efforts bear fruit. As we celebrate Labor Day, farm workers in California rejoice the passing of this historic legislation. We’re almost there.

Together, we will continue to fight alongside our brothers and sisters as we work to open up a path to the middle class for farm workers and their families.

Follow Arturo S. Rodríguez on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/ufwupdates
President, UFW.
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Labor History for Labor Day: How the UAW Learned Racism Was the Bosses’ Tool

by Carl Proper

river rouge image

By 1941, the United Auto Workers Union / UAW had already won historic first contracts at General Motors and Chrysler Corporation. But Ford Motors, where old man Henry Ford still presided, was holding out.  He was damned if he’d ever allow a union in his company.

The U.A.W. chose the huge, 75, 00-employee River Rouge complex in Dearborn, Michigan, as its strike target.  River Rouge was also the site of Henry Ford’s office.  The strike began with a series of brutal confrontations between union members and company toughs, including a “Battle of the Overpass” where both sides gave and suffered beatings.  The union held its ground, and the plant ground to a halt – with a significant exception.

Since this story is well told in “A History of the American Worker, 1933-1941: Turbulent Years,” by Irving Bernstein[i], I’ll use his words (and the language of 1970), with a few clarifications:

“[T]he problem that worried the union most” concerned the Negroes.  A group of colored workers, variously estimated as between 800 and 2,500, many recent imports from the South, did not walk out [on strike, with the white, pro-union workers]. Inside the plant [Ford manager Harry] Bennett preyed upon their fears.  On the outside [union organizers] Marshall and [UAW President] Homer Martin [finally] did what they had to do.  They went into Detroit’s Negro sections to urge [an end to] the [black workers’] back-to-work movement…The union…mobilized a group of Negro leaders headed by Walter F White, secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and including local pastors, editors, teachers, and social workers, who urged the Negro community to support the strike. The back-to-work movement [promoted by Ford management] collapsed.” …. 

…“By April 3…it was plain that the UAW strike was totally effective and that the Ford Motor Company would be compelled to deal with it alone”

.Henry Ford still refused to deal with the union.  Instead he finally retired, and his second-in-command signed the contract

But what was happening here?  Why were African-American workers helping to break the strike?

Well, reason enough. Up to the time of the strike, the UAW and some other unions had not accepted black members.  Many blacks had instead found jobs in anti-union industries, or as strikebreakers.

So, for the UAW and labor movement, River Rouge was a double victory.

Ford, and the auto industry were now organized. And, the UAW and labor movement were greatly strengthened by this belated step to bringing the “races” together.

For the  union, and the labor movement, the opening to African Americans was a firmly rooted strategic decision.  Here are the memes (the oldest memes in labor history):

UNITED WE STAND is how we win.

DIVIDE AND CONQUER is the boss’s game.  For organized workers, or workers seeking to organize, racism is especially dumb and self-defeating.

[i] “A HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN WORKER, 1933-1941: THE TURBULENT YEARS”, Irving Bernstein, Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, 1970; pp 734-751

 

 

 

 

 

Labor Day Weekend Reading

by Paul Garver

Getman cover

If you are as tired as I am of inane electoral political commentary in the media, why not take some time over the Labor Day weekend to consider the deep roots of the growing economic and political inequality that underlies the superficial campaign rhetoric?
I would not normally recommend sources on labor law and labor economics for your holiday reading. But here goes.

The Economic Policy Institute [EPI] just released a new research report, “Union decline lowers wages of nonunion workers: The overlooked reason why wages are stuck and inequality is growing,” Access at http://www.epi.org/files/pdf/112811.pdf

The EPI Report analyzes how the decline of organized labor in the USA has contributed to wage stagnation and economic inequality. If good jobs in industry are increasingly scarce and pay for private sector workers has barely budged in the last four decades, a major cause is the catastrophic decline in private sector unionism from 35% to 5%. Building walls along the borders and expelling undocumented immigrants will not help alienated working-class voters. As Hamilton Nolan advises them in his analysis of the EPI Report: “Don’t get mad at foreigners. Unionize. It’s the only battle in the class war that lies entirely within your power to win.”

However a major contributing factor to the decline of union organization is the way the U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted labor law over the same decades. Labor law professor and practitioner Julius Getman has written a concise and spritely study called The Supreme Court on Unions: Why Labor Law Is Failing American Workers (Cornell Univ. Press, 2016). In fewer than 200 pages, Getman demonstrates how a series of Supreme Court decisions on union organizing, collective bargaining, the right to strike, picketing, boycotts, the duty of fair representation, and the definition of “employee” have effectively gutted the ability of labor unions to organize new members and to bargain good contracts.

When over forty years ago I was hired by a local SEIU union to organize hospital workers (NLRB jurisdiction had recently been extended to the hospital sector), I was not prepared to confront the incredible number of tools the employer already could wield to frustrate the right of hospital workers to organize into a union. Despite several badly coordinated legislative efforts to improve union rights during the Carter and Clinton administrations, the legal framework for union organizing and bargaining has continued to deteriorate over the last half century. Getman shows how even many of the more liberal Supreme Court appointees do not comprehend or support interpretations of labor law that would reverse this trend.

Getman analyzes that it is unlikely that even better Court appointments and incremental legislative reform could overturn entrenched basic antiunion precedents After more than half a century of practicing and teaching labor law, Getman realizes that significant change will require a long hard struggle, would be bitterly opposed by wealthy political patrons of both Republican and Democratic parties, and would demand the election of a president willing to make strengthening union organization and collective bargaining as the highest political priority. “Significant labor law reform,” he reluctantly concludes’ “is more likely to follow from than to cause a resurgence of the labor movement.” That can only occur if the workers’ movement becomes part of a wider popular insurgency.

I recommend The Supreme Court on Unions: Why Labor Law is Failing American Workers as an indispensable resource not only for those active in the labor movement, but for all who are committed to building a wider movement for political revolution in the USA.

Farmworker Overtime Gains in California

farm workers
The California Assembly was flooded with farm workers demanding over time pay on Monday, Aug. 29.
The California Assembly on Monday sent Gov. Jerry Brown a hard-fought and historic expansion of overtime rules for farmworkers, but it remains uncertain whether the Democratic governor will sign off on the measure.
“A nearly identical bill fell three votes short of passage on the Assembly floor in May, with 15 Democrats voting against the measure or declining to vote. But on Monday, an amended version of the measure, now contained in Assembly Bill 1066, passed on a 44-32 vote.”

“Agricultural workers already receive some overtime pay under California law thanks to a 2002 state directive that entitles them to extra wages if they work more than 10 hours in a day or more than 60 hours in a week. AB 1066 would expand that to bring it more in line with other industries, offering time-and-a-half pay for working more than eight hours in a day or 40 in a week and double pay for working more than 12 hours a day. The pay boosts would kick in incrementally over four years, and the governor could suspend them for a year if the economy falters.”
Business groups quickly condemned the vote. “We are deeply concerned with the passage of AB 1066 today and the devastating impacts this bill will have on our small, independent farmers and the workers they employ,” said Tom Scott, state executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business.
Ahead of Monday’s vote, Assembly members heard from both farmworkers who forfeited a day’s pay to visit offices and press for the bill and from farm industry representatives, including minority farm owners, who warned lawmakers the measure would devastate small-scale growers and diminish work for laborers.
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Labor for Bernie: Our Revolution is Just Getting Started

by Peter Olney and Rand Wilson

wilson dnc

 DNC, photo by Rand Wilson

Now that the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia has ended with Hillary Clinton as the party’s nominee, Bernie Sanders’ campaign for “political revolution” moves to its next phase.

Everyone who supported Labor for Bernie is very proud of the of the unprecedented grassroots effort to rally rank-and-file members on his behalf. A network of tens of thousands of supporters (largely recruited via the Labor for Bernie website and social media), campaigned in nearly every union to get trade union organizations to endorse Bernie.

By the end of the campaign, six national unions and 107 state and local union bodies endorsed Bernie. Just as importantly, Labor for Bernie activists kept many Internationals and the AFL-CIO on the sidelines during the primaries; enabling their members to more actively support Bernie.

But it wasn’t just about endorsements. Labor for Bernie was an all-volunteer army; a movement of members and leaders who took on the labor establishment. Labor for Bernie activists formed cross-union groups in dozens of states and many cities. They generated strong working class support for Bernie’s candidacy and carried his message into thousands of workplaces. They worked independently of the Sanders campaign, but in tandem with it.

Particularly in the later primaries (WI, IN, PA, CA) workplace outreach helped to identify new Bernie supporters and get them to turnout on Primary Day. In many states, the majority of union households went for Bernie, often accounting for his margin of victory.

Democratic National Convention

More than 250 Labor for Bernie delegates from 37 states attended the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia (and undoubtedly there were many more). Labor for Bernie leaders played a key role in fighting for a more progressive platform and for changes in the rules that could make the Democratic Party a more open and populist party in the future.

These changes were negotiated between the Sanders and Clinton campaigns just prior to the convention. As a result, there was little for the Sanders’ delegates to do at the convention. Yet despite the compromise agreement on the platform, there was widespread concern among delegates that the platform didn’t have strong enough language opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

A Labor for Bernie leader from Illinois printed up 2,000 “No TPP” signs. The printer folded them twice so that our network of delegates could more easily smuggle them onto the convention floor.

When the platform came up for a vote, Labor for Bernie helped orchestrate “No T-P-P” chanting by the delegates that briefly brought the convention to a standstill. It captured the attention of the national news media.

Outside the convention there were spirited mass rallies in support of Bernie’s candidacy and the environmental and labor issues brought forward during the campaign. National Nurses United organized a forum on Medicare for All. Union supporters held a forum on organizing to stop passage of the TPP during the Congressional “lame duck” session after the November 8 election.

The small but feisty Working Families Party hosted a forum with speakers discussing ways to build an autonomous and independent faction inside the Democratic Party. Democratic Socialists of America had a standing room only session on the lessons of the Sanders campaign.

Delegates were grouped by their state both on the convention floor and in their hotels. There were obvious and deep differences in the political perspectives of the Sanders and Clinton delegates. One group apparently satisfied by the status quo in the Democratic Party, the other determined to change it. Sanders’ delegates often felt they were “crashing” someone else’s party.

Just prior to the start of the convention, WikiLeaks revealed emails showing widespread favoritism and manipulation by the Democratic National Committee to assist Clinton in the primaries. This confirmation of what many already suspected enraged many Sanders delegates and at times tensions flared in arguments both about the conduct of the party and debates on the issues.

The shared experience among the 1,900 Sanders delegates may be the one of the most important lasting outcomes of the convention.

The political revolution doesn’t end in Philadelphia

Union members allied with Labor for Bernie now face the dual challenge of decisively defeating Donald Trump and stopping the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) treaty.

Yet, as Bernie argued at the Convention, we can’t allow this election to become only about the differences between Trump and Clinton. Wherever possible, we have to continue to inject our issues into this general election campaign.

And that’s where “Our Revolution,” a new organization that is emerging from the Sanders’ campaign, comes in. It will continue to bring together a new majority for economic and social change by supporting candidates at the local, state, and national level who support the mission, issues and values of the Sanders campaign.

Sen. Sanders will provide more specifics in a “live stream” video presentation set for the evening of August 24. Many of Bernie’s volunteers in the labor movement will be hosting events in their union halls or living rooms to help kick off “Our Revolution” and lead this effort.

The Sanders’ campaign showed how unions might engage in politics in ways that enhances membership involvement and organizational clout, rather than reducing it. When labor organizations decide to endorse candidates, after a democratic process open to the entire rank-and-file, it changes the whole dynamic of union-based political activism. As a labor network strongly in favor of this approach, there will be a continuing need at the local, state, and national level to back electoral campaigns inspired by Bernie’s run for president.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Peter Olney is retired Organizing Director of the ILWU. He has been a labor organizer for 40 years in Massachusetts and California. He has worked for multiple unions before landing at the ILWU in 1997. For three years he was the Associate Director of the Institute for Labor and Employment at the University of California.

Rand Wilson has worked as a union organizer and labor communicator for more than twenty five years and is  currently an organizer with SEIU Local 888 in Boston. Wilson was the founding director of Massachusetts Jobs with Justice.  Active in electoral politics, he ran for state Auditor in a campaign to win cross-endorsement (or fusion) voting reform and establish a Massachusetts Working Families Party.  He is President of the Center for Labor Education and Research, and is on the board of directors of the ICA Group, the Local Enterprise Assistance Fund and the Center for the Study of Public Policy

Reposted from the Stansbury Forum