Reviving Workers’ Rights in a New Economy

by Amy Dean

Amy B. Dean

Every Labor Day, we hear about the landmark achievements of working people and their unions. Advocates of the past successfully worked to prohibit child labor and to create the 40-hour workweek. They closed sweatshops and ended systems of industrial homework, in which factory employees were made to do labor-intensive tasks for businesses late at night and in their own homes.

These achievements were indeed historic. At the same time, one wonders if these hard-fought rights are still meaningful for American workers today. In our global economy, many of us bring our work home with us, few enjoy an eight-hour workday, and everyone is forced to compete with sweatshops and child labor in far corners of the world.

This year, when so many Americans are struggling just to get by—rather than working to make a decent living—we must rethink what type of labor institutions are needed to restore and protect workers rights and make work pay again.

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Drawing Lessons from the Settlement of the SEIU-UNITE HERE Conflict

by Paul Garver

Talking Union has now posted statements by SEIU and by UNITE HERE on the settlement of their conflict

We have also posted opinion pieces by Randy Shaw and by Amy Dean setting forth their thoughts on the implications of the SEIU-UNITE HERE conflict and its settlement.

In addition, we recommend you read the detailed and balanced analyses by David Moberg (In These Times blog) and by Harold Meyerson in the American Prospect.

We welcome your comments and contributions on this important topic.

Why Taking on Blanche Lincoln Was the Right Call

By Amy B. Dean

Amy B. Dean

Challenges within the primaries allow us to define what it means to be a real Democrat — to insist that the party truly puts the interests of working people first. That’s what makes elections like Tuesday’s run-off in Arkansas between Bill Halter and incumbent Senator Blanche Lincoln, the victor, so important. Labor and progressive movements got together to target Lincoln because she had opposed the Employee Free Choice Act, helped to block a robust public option in health care reform, and refused to back one of President Obama’s key nominees to the National Labor Relations Board.

Conventional wisdom within the Democratic Party states that we need strong majorities in order to pass better public policies in Washington, DC. But the logic of “more” doesn’t add up if those people we elect do not provide us with the votes we need. As long as our political strategies ask only that candidates have a “D” behind their names, we’ll never get the type of majorities that will take hard stands to confront the power of big business and create real reform.

Going back to the Carter years in the 1970s, we had large Democratic majorities in Congress, yet we saw labor law weakened and the right to collective bargaining eroded. Under Clinton, Democratic majorities gave us NAFTA and more unfair trade. If we don’t want history to repeat itself with the current administration, we cannot get wrapped up in the temporary excitement of a given electoral campaign. We need to have the memory, foresight, and strategy to craft something different. That’s why we should hope that challenges within the primaries become more standard.

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Harold Meyerson says read A New New Deal

by Harold Meyerson
Foreword to A New New Deal

One of the happiest moments of my life was to be in the right place as a movement turned a city around. The place was a bastion of antiunion sentiment. The time was the 1990s, when I was the political editor of the L.A. Weekly and when a young labor leader Miguel Contreras, aligned the city’s reawakening union movement with the burgeoning Latino immigrant community to .create a progressive force that transformed L.A. into a solidly liberal city, policies to lessen the yawning gap between rich and poor.

Miguel was one of two  California labor leaders who lit out during the ‘90s for this uncharted territory-building a dynamic local labor movement that tackled the growing inequality that increasingly defined America’s cities.  The other was Amy Dean, who headed the AFL-CIO in the community that came to symbolize American innovation and prosperity: Silicon Valley. Like their counterparts in Los Angeles, however, the workers for whom Amy spoke shared none of the storybook prosperity of the high tech boom. The men and ‘women who cleaned their cities’ office buildings and made them glisten in the California sun worked long hours for low pay.

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