Organized Labor Should Spend 2015 Training Workers How to Fight

BY David Goodner
While the labor movement is in some of its more dire straits in over a century, 2015 is also shaping up to be a big year for unions. The “Fight for $15” strikes held in over 200 cities on April 15 indicate that a mass movement for worker justice may be on the verge of exploding, one that blends the best of organized labor, community organizing, Occupy Wall Street and #BlackLivesMatter. Oil workers, truck drivers, and dockworkers also went on widely publicized, confrontational strikes this year, and LA teachers at both public and charter schools are preparing to take action on the job, as are graduate students at the University of Washington and several other campuses.

Today, May 1, a Bay Area local of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union shut down its ports to protest the racism and police brutality against black and brown people, providing a classic example of what “social movement unionism” looks like in practice.

Unions are also fighting hard to block looming pension cuts and derail fast track for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. But labor’s “Right to Work” defeat in Wisconsin in March was a huge setback, while the results of the April 7 Chicago mayor’s race were mixed, at best. Taken as a whole, the small upsurge in labor unrest in recent months has not been enough to slow down, much less stop and reverse, the steep historical decline of the trade union movement.   Continue reading

Who’s Getting Walloped by the Economy? Go Ask ALICE

by Gregory Heires

(Photo Flickr/Eric Gravengaard)

(Photo Flickr/Eric Gravengaard)

 Occupy Wall Street struck a deep chord with its notion that the fundamental divide in our country is between the “1 percent” and the rest of us.

That facile rhetorical device brilliantly captured the sharpening of the gross economic inequality in the United States and how the economy is leaving so many of us behind.

But we all know—and OWS activists would be the first to acknowledge—that our social stratification is in fact more complicated than the 1 percent versus 99 percent division suggests, with cleavages not only within class lines but also differences among racial, ethnic and gender groups and based on immigrant status.

Occupy Wall Street focused attention on the young educated work force.

At the height of the OWS revolt, the media paid less attention to the working poor, a group that encompasses tens of millions of Americans who live above the federal poverty line but are only a paycheck away from economic calamity. They have little hope of seeing their living standards improve unless the federal government and state governments adopt more progressive economic policies, unions become stronger and more inclusive, and political pressure leads to higher wages. The retail workers movement has helped raised greater awareness of the working poor, and it is building on Occupy Wall Street’s success in moving the country’s political discourse to the left. Continue reading

Workers and Occupy Wall Street Fight Shop Closure; 24-Hour Picket and Occupation of Hot and Crusty Bakery Begins

Laundry Workers Center

Hot and Crusty occupation starts–photo courtesy Bryan Sargent

New York, NY, August 31, 2012 – Following news of an impending store closure, workers at the 63rd street location of Hot and Crusty bakery have called for a 24-hour picket and store occupation, alleging the company has deliberately withheld rent payments following a hard-fought and successful unionization drive in May 2012. The company, owned by private equity partner Mark Samson, gave the Hot and Crusty Workers Association 11 days notice of eviction from the property, informing employees that August 31st would be their last day.

The union, led by grassroots labor organization Laundry Workers Center and a contingent from Occupy Wall Street, students, faith and community members are occupying the workplace and holding an around-the-clock picket demanding the company discontinue its union-busting tactics, pay its rent immediately, and continue to negotiate a fair contract with its workers. The company has used several bait-and-switch tactics during negotiations, threatening workers’ immigration status to deter their commitment to continuing the fight.

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Occupy Wall Street and Labor: The Closest of Strangers

 by  Michael Hirsch

A sign on a lower Broadway storefront window just one block south of Wall Street reads “I can’t afford a lobbyist, so I organize.” The sign, one of many put up by Occupy Wall Street activists, sits inside a cavernous street floor space the United Federation of Teachers lent gratis to OWS for storage and coordination. The UFT, like other city unions, can afford lobbyists—subsidized by its own members through voluntary contributions. Like other city unions it operates an extensive volunteer political action arm, and massaging or muscling elected officials is seen as key to improving members’ wages and working conditions. And, like other unions in a state boasting the nation’s highest concentration of union households and home to the largest number of Fortune 500 mega-corporations and public-sector-union-averse think tankers, it also organizes aggressively.

Organizing and lobbying are tactics used by the Transport Workers, Service Employees, Communications Workers, AFSCME and Unite-Here, too— key supporters of the Occupy movement nationwide.  Yet the slogan hints at outstanding contradictions between two movements that view the world –at least right now—quite differently, even as its activists are building warm relationships with each other.

What labor and Occupy share is a common enemy in corporate America. What else shared is not so clear. Much of the discussion at a recent forum on “Can the Labor Movement and Occupy Wall Street March down the Same Road,” sponsored on Jan. 27 by The Murphy Institute, a graduate labor program at City University of New York, was about  fostering dialogue and the need to see things from others’ perspectives. Certainly the plague of joblessness, growing economic inequality, environmental genocide, needless military adventures and federal and state policies that reward the financial industry even after it sunk the economy are all powerful incentives for cooperation. But substantively, in my view, very little was exchanged.

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Labor and Occupy on the Same Road?

   by Cecily McMillan

On Friday, January 27th 2012 I walked into a packed room, every seat taken with several standing, at the Murphy Institute, CUNY. For two reasons, I was taken aback at the crowd of more than 175. 1) It was 8:30 a.m; in my limited New York experience, less than 6 months, I was under the impression that New York does, contrary to popular belief, sleep—between the hours of 4 and 10 a.m. 2) The event was a forum entitled “Can the Labor Movement and Occupy Wall Street March down the Same Road?” In my OWS experience, beginning August 6th—my third day in New York, the very mention of unions generally precedes a heated argument, abruptly cut off by “Mic check!—[Mic check!]—We will—[We will]—not be—[not be]—co-opted!—[CO-OPTED!]. Twinkle fingers all around. Many (most?) at Occupy Wall Street feel that the relationship between unions and the worker is a direct parallel of that between government and the citizen—exploitative and suppressive, a carefully decorated puppet of big business. We ally with workers, we’ll take donations from unions, but an explicit “partnership”? Well that’s an OWS four-letter word.

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Trumka on Obama’s State of the Union

President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address tonight made clear that he hears the people who aren’t being heard by the 1 percent, says AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. Obama’s speech showed he “listened to the single mom working two jobs to get by, to the out-of-work construction worker, to the retired factory worker, to the student serving coffee to help pay for college.”

By laying out a vision of an America that can create jobs and prosperity for all instead of wealth for the few, Trumka said the president “voiced the aspirations and concerns of those who are too often ignored.”

Obama also made clear that the era of the 1 percent getting rich by looting the economy, rather than creating jobs, is over.

“Now it’s time for Congress to stop standing in the way of rebuilding our country and act,”  Trumka said. Continue reading

Occupy Wall Street: Phase Two

On the two-month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, the 99 percent poured into the streets for a massive day of protest against glaring inequalities of wealth and political power. Following nationally coordinated police raids on protest camps, occupiers face new choices about the direction of OWS. What next? On Monday, November 28, Dissent, Jacobin, and Columbia’s Center for American Studies will discuss how social movements with diverse tactics, needs, and goals grow and gain power.

The conversation will feature Frances Fox Piven, an activist and scholar of social movements at the Graduate Center at the City University of New York; Liza Featherstone, journalist and author of Selling Women Short: The Landmark Battle for Workers’ Rights at Wal-Mart; Nikil Saval, associate editor of n+1 and labor activist; Michael Hirsch, labor journalist and editorial board member of New Politics; and Dorian Warren, a fellow at the Roosevelt institute and professor of political science at Columbia University.

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Occupy Wall Street: Seattle Redux?

Harold Meyerson’s Nov 17 column is still  well-worth reading about week later.–Talking Union
by Harold Meyerson

Harold Meyerson

As in the anti-WTO demonstrations in Seattle in 1999, today’s [Nov 17] nationwide Occupy Wall Street actions come in many shapes and sizes. There’s the enraged confrontations we’ve seen around Wall Street itself. There are the pre-arranged arrests we’ve seen in the banking district of downtown Los Angeles. There are permitted rallies sponsored by unions, which, as evening falls, will shift their locales to bridges around the nation in an attempt to loop the rebuild-the-decaying-infrastructure issue into the mélange of progressive causes that OWS champions. There’s an action for every mood and strategy – though some strategies make a lot more sense than others.

This afternoon, activists from unions (most particularly, SEIU) will march across bridges in Chicago, D.C., Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Miami, Baltimore, Detroit, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, L.A., New York (the granddaddy of all urban bridges, the one-and-only Brooklyn), and damn-near any American city that has a creek, an overpass, and union members. As with this morning’s action in Los Angeles, there may be some decorous, pre-arranged arrests. Clearly, these actions have been conceived to win the allegiance of constituencies such as the hard-hats, who may support OWS’s message but be less than thrilled by OWS itself.
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Sheet Metal Workers Opposes Eviction of Peaceful Protestors

Joseph Nigro

The following statement from General President Joseph Nigro of the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association (SMWIA) is in response to police actions initiated in the dead of night against participants in the Occupy Wall Street movement.

You cannot evict an idea whose time has come. Our democracy belongs to all of us, not big donors and corporate interests who equate mass amounts of wealth proportionally with the right to free speech.

A movement is emerging to reclaim our nation’s democracy. That is why the protesters’ message and actions have resonated throughout America.  No action by a billionaire politician to silence the ninety nine percent of the America people will ever shut that down.

We urge our current generation of politicians to bear heed to how history has unkindly judged those in the past who have stood in the way of progress.

The Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association (SMWIA) represents over 140,000 skilled men and women employed throughout the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico in the construction, manufacturing, service, railroad and shipyard industries.

The SMWIA is affiliated with the American Federation of Labor and Council of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO  and the Canadian Labor Council.

DSA Holds Convention in Washington

DSA at Occupy Wall Street

Democratic Socialists (DSA)  Hold Convention in Washington-

Responding to the Economic Crisis: Beyond the Washington Consensus.

“Occupy Wall Street and the Struggle for a Democratic Society-“

A plenary session at 1:30 PM  on Friday  will kick off  national convention of DSA, the Democratic Socialists of America to be held from on Nov. 11 through Nov. 13 at the Sheraton Premiere at Tysons Corner located at 8661 Leesburg Pike, Vienna, VA.

DSA, the  U.S. affiliate of the Socialist International, is the largest socialist political organization in the country with over 7000 members and active locals in more 40 U.S. cities and college campuses. DSA members reside in all 50 states.  Continue reading