Tony Mazzocchi’s Spirit Lives on in Oil Refinery Strike

by Steve Early


Twelve years ago, America’s leading advocate of occupational health and environmental safety succumbed to pancreatic cancer. In the U.S., where the influence of organized labor has long been contracting, the death of a former trade union official is often little noted. Yet Tony Mazzocchi was no ordinary labor leader. His passing from the scene, at age 76, was widely recognized and correctly mourned as a great loss for the entire union movement.

As a top strategist for the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers (OCAW), Mazzocchi pioneered alliances between workers concerned about job safety and health hazards and communities exposed to industrial pollution generated by companies like Shell, Chevron, and Mobil.

In 1973, members of the OCAW (who are now part of the United Steel Workers) conducted a national contract campaign and four-month strike at Shell Oil over workplace safety rights and protections. As Mazzocchi’s biographer, Les Leopold notes, “the strike helped build a stronger anti-corporate movement” because OCAW members learned “that you can’t win these fights alone.” To win—or even just battle Big Oil to a draw—workers had to join forces with the very same environmental organizations long demonized by the industry as the enemy of labor and management alike.

Striking Big Oil Again

Four decades later, echoes of that struggle could be heard on the refinery town picket-lines that went up in northern California, Texas, Kentucky, and Washington state this week. Thousands of oil workers walked out, for the first time in 35 years, over issues and demands that Tony Mazzocchi helped publicize and build coalitions around for much of his career.

About 30,000 refinery employees are still covered by the USW agreement that expired last weekend. Nearly 4,000 of them are on strike at nine plants already, including Tesoro refineries in Martinez and Carson, CA. Other USW members, including those employed at Chevron in Richmond, may join the walkout if industry negotiators fail to address non-wage issues summarized by USWA vice-president Gary Beevers as follows:
Onerous overtime, unsafe staffing levels, dangerous conditions the industry continues to ignore; the daily occurrences of fires, emissions, leaks and explosions that threaten local communities without the industry doing much about it and the flagrant contracting out that impacts health and safety on the job.” Continue reading

Women Lose Services, Jobs, and Union Rights

By Mimi Abramovitz

The current effort to dismantle the public sector is the latest round in the rancorous debate about the role of so-called “big government” that has shaped public policy since the mid-1970s. Initially targeted at program users, the attack subsequently took aim at public sector employees and union members. Since most scholars and activists focus on one group or another they miss the whole story and the strategy’s wider impact. Lacking the gender lens needed to bring women into view, they also missed that women comprise the majority in each group. Until the 2012 presidential campaign turned women’s reproductive health services into a hot political item, few seemed aware of this decades- long “war on women.”

Origins: Thirty Years of Neo- Liberalism

Since the onset of the economic crisis in the mid 1970s U.S. leaders have pursued a neoliberal agenda designed to redistribute income upwards and downsize the state. Its contours are familiar: tax cuts, retrenchment, privatization, deregulation, devolution, and weaker social movements. Meanwhile, the Right sought a restoration of family values and a color-blind social order. To win public support for these unpopular ideas their advocates resorted to what Naomi Klein called the “shock doctrine”: the creation and/ or manipulation of crises to impose policies that people would not otherwise support. Discounting data and evoking the shock doctrine, government foes targeted not just programs for the poor but also popular entitlement pro- grams once regarded as the “third rail” of politics. Unlikely to pass Congress intact, their proposals – which fall heavily on women – will set the agenda for months to come. Continue reading

Over 100,000 teachers face layoffs

By Harold Meyerson

Harold Meyerson

Nationwide, estimates of teacher layoffs range from 100,000 to 300,000, with some experts pegging the most likely number nearer the high end. Layoffs are likely to be hardest on the youngest teachers — “probably the most tech-savvy teachers we have,” says Rep. George Miller, the California Democrat who chairs the House Education and Labor Committee. Nor do many talented, young people elect to enter the profession, he adds, when the profession is shrinking.

One of the signal accomplishments of the Obama stimulus package enacted last year was to spare school districts from more draconian cuts. Of the $787 billion legislation, $100 billion was directed to schools; while districts still had to lay off teachers and reduce course offerings, hundreds of thousands of layoffs and other cuts were averted. In California, for instance, the state’s inspector general of stimulus spending found that the federal program funded 50,138 education jobs in 2009 that would otherwise have been lost. Continue reading

Eliseo Medina, SEIU VP, Speaks Out: Arizona Shows Need for Immigration Reform

by Eliseo Medina

Eliseo Medina

Eliseo Medina

As the eyes of the world focus on Arizona, it is clear that we need balanced, practical immigration solutions more than ever. While SEIU appreciates the leadership of Senators Schumer, Menendez and Reid, we are deeply concerned with elements of their reform outline that appear to put enforcement-only mandates ahead of the practical immigration solutions that America needs.

If we have learned anything from Arizona, it is that “tough” enforcement is not “smart” enforcement; that enforcement first is really just the same as enforcement only. Instead of fixing the underlying problems, putting enforcement before comprehensive reform just wastes over $18 billion a year on border walls and worksite round ups; it wreaks havoc in local communities and leads to the kind of racial profiling our nation left behind years ago, but solves nothing.

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Airlines on Final Approach to Monopoly of the Skies

By Carl Finamore

Carl Finamore

Carl Finamore

The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday, April 29 that United Airlines (UAL) is very likely to soon announce their merger with Continental Airlines, making it the world’s largest airline by number of passengers carried. UAL is the nation’s third-largest airline while Continental is number four. If actually successful, the single carrier will reportedly keep the Chicago-based United brand name.

This comes partially in competitive reaction to Delta swallowing up Northwest Airlines in 2008, itself becoming, briefly, the world’s number-one carrier in both market value and passengers.

All this jockeying is not new. Recently, Southwest tried to purchase Frontier before Republic ultimately took it over and United was actually courting US Airways several weeks ago even as its talks got started with Continental.

When Congress deregulated airlines in 1978, the central premise was to expand competition, to offer consumers more choices and to lower prices. On all accounts, these have been exposed as complete myths and distortions. Today, thirty years after the deregulation of airlines, there is a virtual monopoly in the skies and steadily increasing fares.

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William Greider to Keynote Chicago Debs-Thomas-Harrington Dinner

William Greider

Chicago DSA

Bring America Home! As Frederick Douglass said, “power concedes nothing without a demand,” and in these early years of the 21st Century, “Bring America Home!” must be our demand to the powerful. It is not a cry of isolationism. It is a demand for priorities that are sensible for the majority of Americans: for health care instead of bombs, for productive jobs instead of billions to bail out a financial elite, for fair trade agreements instead of free trade agreements, for internationalism instead of empire. Bring America Home! is the theme of  Chicago’s  2010 Debs ­ Thomas ­ Harrington Dinner.

To address this theme, Chicago DSA has invited William Greider, columnist for The Nation and author of Come Home America (2009), The Soul of Capitalism (2004), The Secrets of the Temple (1989) to be the keynote speaker for this year’s Debs-Thomas-Harrington Dinner.   Greider writes about capitalism and about democracy and explains how these two value systems are in collision. I can’t think of a speaker better suited to these times. This is someone you will not want to miss.

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Andy Stern’s Message to SEIU Members

Rumored on Politico, Huffington Post and other media, the announcement of the resignation of SEIU President Andy Stern is now official with an email and video to SEIU members. We will be following this most important story in coming days, but for now here is the message from President Stern.Talking Union

There’s a time to learn, a time to lead, and then there’s a time to leave.

And shortly, it will be my time to retire… and end my SEIU journey.

I just recorded a video sharing my thanks and appreciation that I’d love for you to watch.

You can watch it [here]

Bloody Nose for NUHW, Black Eye for SEIU

By Carl Finamore

Carl Finamore

Carl Finamore

The 10-day federal civil trial is over, the verdict is in. The nation’s largest union, SEIU, claimed victory on March 9 after a nine-person jury awarded them a total of $737,850 in damages spread out among 16 former officers and employees of their 150,000-member California local affiliate, United Healthcare Workers-West (UHW) and against their UHW rebel offshoot and chief California rival, the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW).

Despite SEIU’s celebration, in the end, the jury exonerated nearly half the defendants and awarded SEIU only 3% of the damages originally sought, requiring 16 former officers and staffers to repay a set of UHW salaries for a brief period of 18 days.
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NUHW reaction to SF verdict

A jury today awarded SEIU $1.5 million in its civil lawsuit against the NUHW and 25 of its leaders. SEIU had sought $25 million in damages. While we plan to run analysis and reactions to the verdict from a variety of viewpoints, we fell it is appropriate to start with the official reactions of the two unions. Below is the NUHW press release, for SEIU reaction, click here.Talking Union

National Union of Healthcare Workers

Image via Wikipedia

Twelve defendants cleared, but jury orders other former SEIU staff to repay salary and costs because they resisted orders from SEIU’s Washington, D.C. office
SAN FRANCISCO—SEIU’s lawsuit against 28 union reformers came to an end today, with SEIU’s central claims abandoned, twelve defendants cleared of all charges, and a judgment for less than one-sixth of SEIU’s own legal costs.

“Tens of thousands of healthcare workers are organizing with NUHW for a real voice at work and a democratic voice in their union, and that will continue in spite of this verdict,” said United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta, who raised money for the reformers’ legal defense. “These reformers stood up for workers’ right to vote when SEIU tried to take it away, and that’s the only thing they’re guilty of. This judgment sets a bad precedent and the Fund for Union Democracy is committed to supporting an appeal.”

Attorneys for the defendants will ask the judge to set aside the jury’s verdict, and if the judge does not, they will appeal the decision to the Court of Appeals.

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Labor, the Left, and Progressives in the Obama Era: April 6 in DC

After the success of health care reform, what’s next on labor’s agenda? How can the labor movement grow and engage with a progressive movment that speaks to the Obama era? What is the role of younger workers, workers of color, and women? Is there a new “New Deal” on the horizon?

Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed, Christopher Hayes, Washington editor of the Nation, Gerry Hudson, executive vice-president of the SEIU, Michael Kazin, co-editor of Dissent, Harold Meyerson, columnist for the Washington Post, and Liz Shuler, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO will speak.

Georgetown labor historian Joseph McCartin will moderate.

Tonight @ 7 p.m.
McShain Lounge in McCarthy Hall
Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.

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