The Battle for Seattle

by Zach Cunnigham

Zach Cunningham

Zach Cunningham

The AFL-CIO’s 2013 convention came with a great deal of fanfare.  Unlike other conventions in the recent past, many felt a sense of revitalization surrounding this year’s proceedings as the federation moved to change strategy in a number of key ways.  Perhaps most indicative of this shift was the passage of Resolution 16.  Titled “Enduring Labor-Community Partnerships,” this resolution noted the “broad macroeconomic transformations” that have “[accelerated] deep divides and inequalities in our society.”  “Unions must work hand in hand with community partners and allies,” it continues, “to reverse these economic trends.”

In the run-up to the convention, Steven Greenhouse of the New York Times wrote that AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka “believes that if unions are having a hard time increasing their ranks, they can at least restore their clout by building a broad coalition to advance a worker-friendly political and economic agenda.”  What’s currently happening in the Seattle area could serve as a testing ground for this theory.

These are certainly interesting times for the labor movement in Seattle.  As Paul Bigman recently wrote in Labor Notes, there have been a number of “dramatic actions by and on behalf of workers in the past few months.”  These actions included a victory for the “traditional” movement, as both the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and the Teamsters successfully fought a concessionary contract for many grocery workers in the area.  There have also been a number of victories for workers outside the channels of collective bargaining, such as the passage of a $15 minimum wage in SeaTac (a small airport community outside of Seattle) and the election of Socialist Kshama Sawant to Seattle’s city council. Continue reading

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How’d Seattle Do It?

by Paul Bigman

Bigman pic

Seattle grocery workers claimed attention with their strike-countdown clock. As they beat concessions, other area workers were winning a $15 wage and electing a socialist to city council. What’s in Seattle’s water? Photo: Vote Sawant.

Is there something in the water in Seattle?

The area has seen dramatic actions by and on behalf of workers in the past few months: defeat of concessions at major grocery chains, Boeing workers’ big “no” vote on concessions, a $15 minimum wage voted in for airport workers, and election of a socialist to city council—a candidate who made a city $15 minimum the centerpiece of her campaign.

Activists are hoping what’s happened here has implications far beyond the Puget Sound.

“We may be ahead of some areas, but we’re not unique,” predicted Dave Freiboth, head of Seattle’s county labor council. “This kind of change is coming nationally.”

In October, two hours before a regional grocery strike would have jumped off, 30,000 Food and Commercial Workers and Teamsters won a contract that defeated onerous health care concessions, and more, that had been forced on their co-workers in other states.

A few weeks later, Boeing Machinists (IAM) turned down an extortionist demand to freeze pension contributions for current workers, abandon defined-benefit pensions for new hires, and pay new hires $21,000 below current workers. Boeing had demanded an eight-year contract extension to keep work on the 777X airplane in Washington. Despite extraordinary intervention by the IAM International, the 31,000 Boeing workers voted “no” two to one. Continue reading