Challenging Extortion: Some Points on the Boeing Situation

by Joe Burns

Joe Burns

Joe Burns

Much has already been written about Boeing’s successful extortion against its unionized workforce in Seattle to make them choose between losing jobs or sacrificing pensions and taking other concessions. On January 3, Boeing workers narrowly approved a set of concessions in a controversial revote ordered by the international union over the objections of the local leadership. Certainly the fact that the Boeing corporation, a highly profitable corporation extorted workers was reprehensible as many commentators have pointed out.

What I would like to discuss here is not the decision of Boeing workers to accept concessions but the system of labor laws which allowed Boeing to place unionized workers in that situation. Looking at the question this way requires digging into the underlying set of legal rules that allow employers to either blackmail unionized workers or, more commonly, simply move to avoid unionization. It involves questions including the outlawing of solidarity or ‘secondary’ tactics, union influence over decisions of capital mobility, and the degree to which we as a labor movement can work within a legal framework designed to ensure our failure. Continue reading

Jerome Brown Reviews Two Reviews of Jane McAlevey’s Rising Expectations

by Jerome Brown

Jerry Brown


Talking Union previously featured Sarah Jaffe’s interview with Jane McAlevey. Joe Burns’ review of McAlevey’s book can be found here. Steve Early’s review of McAlevey’s book can be found here. McAlevey’s response to Early can be found here. We encourage further discussion.–TU

I am submitting this as a review of Joe Burns’ review of Rising Expectations and of Steve Early’s critique of McAlevey which in many ways is parroted by Burns.

I am writing as someone who was directly involved in the unusually effective changes led by Jane McAlevey in Local 1107, SEIU Las Vegas and as someone who watched with real sadness the subsequent undermining and failure of that Local. I am the retired president of 1199 New England, a union with a proud history of militant rank and file activity and high standards in the public and private sector. The growth of Local 1199 in Connecticut from 900 members when I assumed staff leadership in 1973 to 23,000 members when I retired required the dedicated efforts of many leaders and members. McAlevey identifies me as one of her mentors in the labor movement and I am happy to wear that description.

I disagree with some of the examples of SEIU skullduggery recited by McAlevey–most particularly her description and demonization of Sal Roselli and UHW under Sal’s leadership. But on most of the facts supporting her narrative, McAlevey is right on target. Yes, SEIU made private deals with national hospital chains, deals that gave away worker rights to strike and even rally. And these deals were never explained to or ratified by the members. Yes SEIU undermined and then disrupted member activism,threatening Jane and the Local with trusteeship if it dared engage in job actions against these employers. And yes, the SEIU and the AFL-CIO failed in Florida during the 2000 presidential election and failed in any number of other crises because they did not motivate, support or really believe in militant membership activity.

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Bread & Roses STRIKE Centennial “Double Feature!”

The Lawrence History Center will be hosting what is calls “an academic symposium on the Bread & Roses Strike of 1912” on April 27-28, 2012 in Lawrence, MA. But it should be of great interest to more than academics.  Union activists, 99 percenters, and occupiers should check out  two exciting panels.  One on “Labor Today” and another on  “The Importance of Strikes in Building New Unions.”

The symposium will feature a concert on Friday night April 27th at the Everett Mill (15 Union St.) on the 6th floor in the exhibit space. Saturday the 28th will be a full day of panel presentations, music, artwork, and walking tours. Click here for a schedule of Saturday’s programs, events, and registration information.

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Why Should Anti-Choice and Anti-Gay Groups Have More Right to Boycott and Picket Than Unions?

by Josh Eidelson

The Komen controversy showed the brilliance of ‘secondary boycotts’—and the injustice of punishing unions for using the same tactics

Josh Eidelson

When news broke that the Susan G. Komen Foundation would cease funding Planned Parenthood, the backlash was fast, furious, and gratifying.  Within days, Komen apologized and promised that Planned Parenthood could receive future funds. But some commentators were angry at Komen for all the wrong reasons: for “politicizing” women’s health, for failing to distinguish vanilla health services from the abortion “controversy,” or for dragging an avowedly apolitical organization into the muck of politics.

Contrary to those critics’ claims, women’s health is political, as the past weeks’ contraception conflictshave reminded us.  As Amy Schiller wrote in The Nation, one of the virtues of the Komen controversy was the way it brought those politics—and Komen’s contradictions—to the surface. As Barbara Ehrenreichhas written, Komen’s role in America’s breast cancer discourse has gotten worse as the culture around it has gotten better: When breast cancer was shrouded by silence, open, unapologetic conversation was a feminist feat. Now Komen hurts that conversation, contributing to a culture of cute and optimistic cancer that silences many women while letting corporations brand themselves conscientious on the cheap.

All of this is political. Progressives should be defending women’s right to choose, rather than Komen’s right not to.  And anger at the Right’s attempted Komen coup should focus on the ends it sought—the denial of women’s autonomy—not the means it employed: attacking an opponent by squeezing its funders. Applied toward just ends, that tactic—what in labor law is called a secondary boycott—is a virtuous one. But while anti-choice activists have the right to use it without restriction, unions don’t.

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Reviving the Strike: A Review

By Carl Finamore

A new book by labor attorney and veteran union negotiator Joe Burns, Reviving the Strike – How Working People Can Regain Power And Transform America, is a valuable contribution to resurrecting fundamental lessons from the neglected history of American labor.
As the title suggests and as he emphasized to me, “the only way we can revive the labor movement is to revive a strike based on the traditional tactics of the labor movement.”

But he doesn’t stop there. The author reviews for the reader the full range of tactics and strategy during the exciting, turbulent and often violent history of American labor.Refreshingly, he also provides critical assessments normally avoided by labor analysts of a whole series of union tactics that have grown enormously popular over the last several decades.

For example, he examines and reviews the mixed results of boycotts, temporary strikes of very short duration and corporate campaigns. Even organizing the unorganized membership drives come under his scrutiny for a bit of criticism, especially when they are mistakenly cast as the main formula for reversing labor’s rapid descent.

Membership will only increase, Burns believes, once labor adopts a more militant strategy, outlined in the book, which successfully leads to substantial economic gains for workers.

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