Enough Blame to Go Around

by Michael Hirsch

 Steier cover

Review of: Richard Steier, Enough Blame to Go Around: The Labor Pains of New York City’s Public Employees. Albany, New York: Excelsior Editions/State University of New York Press, 2014. 304 pp. US$24.95  (paperback).

Two things I know to be true about Richard Steier. He is the best full-time reporter on the New York City labor beat. He is also the only full-time reporter on the New York City labor beat.

That is no mean praise. Sure, The New York Times’ Steve Greenhouse does yeoman work as its national labor reporter, and the city’s union doings are covered sporadically by the dailies, but with the Times and the tabs, if it does not have a business angle or a political angle or a sports angle or an education angle or does not prefigure a strike that threatens to close the city down, it is not news.

It is to Steier, who thinks that what happens to working people on the job and in their unions is well worth knowing. It is Steier who knows union leaders and their industries, knows elected union officers sometimes act heroically, if rarely. It is Steier who unfailingly listens to what workers say. Like James Thurber’s description of the good newshound, Steier “gets the story and writes the story.” That skill and that sensitivity are amply on display in his There’s Enough Blame to Go Around: The Labor Pains of New York City’s Public Employees Unions. The book is a selection of his writing from 1996 to the present. With the exception of an introduction, conclusion, and section updates, all first appeared in his must-read and widely circulated weekly The Chief, which he edits. Know that the book is no simple cut-and-paste job, but shows the utility of covering closely the progression of stories over time.

And what stories! They have the quality of a Grand Guignol, as Steier captures a real-life demimonde inhabited by thieves and poseurs who prey on the poor, whether they be union leaders running the table and stealing the chairs or elected public officials who think smart budgeting means shilling for the city’s already undertaxed corporate elite by instituting austerity programs whose savings come from either contract takebacks or employee layoffs. In the extreme case of former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, that meant layoffs only for workers whose locals failed to endorse him, something even Michael Bloomberg never tried.
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Back to the Future: Union Survival Strategies in Open Shop America

by Steve Early and Rand Wilson
 
The rupture of labor-management relationships that may have been “comfortable” in the past, plus the accompanying loss of legal rights in a growing number of states, have triggered membership-mobilization activity reminiscent of the original struggles for collective bargaining. In Wisconsin and elsewhere, labor’s recent defensive battles demonstrate that a new model of union functioning is not only possible but necessary for survival. As a first step in this process of union transformation under duress, workers must definitely shed their past role as “clients” or passive consumers of union services. In workplaces without a union or agency shop and collective bargaining as practiced for many decades, they must take ownership of their own organizations and return them to their workplace roots, drawing on the experiences of public workers in the South whose practice of public-sector unionism has, by necessity, been very different for the last half century.
 
When the history of mid-western de-unionization is written, its sad chroniclers will begin their story in Indiana. That is where Governor Mitch Daniels paved the way, in 2005, for copycat attacks on public-sector bargaining in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Michigan — and for a successful assault on privatesector union security in his own state earlier this year.

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Collective Bargaining Essential to Democracy

Bruce T. Boccardy

by Bruce T. Boccardy

SEIU Local 888 represents nearly 10,000 Massachusetts public employees working for cities and towns. Bruce Boccardy was elected as its President in 2009 as part of a “new wave unionism” insurgent slate for democratic union reform.[eds. note]

Corporate power is strangling the natural American impulse to political democracy.  Collective bargaining is an existing mechanism that ensures a modicum of fairness for employees.

Corporate billionaires pay swarms of lobbyists to influence legislators.  Union contributions cannot compete with such expenditures. Corporations transfer gobs of cash to legislators as the Koch brothers billionaire club did to the governor of Wisconsin.  They finance reactionary think tanks that churn out staggering amounts of false data on issues affecting middle and low income people.  Individual employees are no simply match for such corporate power and avarice.  Unions serve to democratically balance that asymmetrical relationship as a “countervailing power.”  

Our history is replete with patterns of employer abuse absent a union with the collective bargaining instrument.  Employees were routinely underpaid, overworked and dismissed unjustly at the caprices of employers.  Employees and their family’s lives were arbitrarily disrupted and sent into financial and personal chaos.  Collective bargaining provides a serious voice for the public employees who perform the work in our cities and towns.

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Kill Public Employee Unions; Erase the Middle Class

By Dmitri Iglitzin and Carson Glickman-Flora

It’s not like we didn’t see it coming.

At the very start of this year, January 2, the New York Times warned us of the coming battle with a front-page story, “Public Workers Facing Outrage in Budget Crisis.” The Economist, in its January 8 issue, gave us “The battle ahead: confronting the public-sector unions.” And the January Time Magazine? “Public Employees Become Public Enemy No. 1.”

So nobody should have been surprised when public employees became enemy number one in Wisconsin, whose governor and Republican-dominated Legislature are pressing a bill that would eviscerate most of the unions representing that state’s employees.

Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Ohio are likewise all considering legislation to ban various types of collective bargaining, and in Indiana, almost every Democratic member of the state’s House of Representative recently boycotted a legislative session to stop a bill that would weaken collective bargaining.

What has not been clearly noted, however, despite the thousands of barrels of ink that have been spilled about this topic, is the underlying motive behind these attacks. Why, exactly, has the governor of the Badger State made destroying public-sector unions his number one goal? Why are similar efforts being made in numerous other states? Why target public sector workers and their unions? What put this on the top of the hard Right’s agenda? Especially because, as the New York Times noted, “A raft of recent studies found that public salaries, even with benefits included, are equivalent to or lag slightly behind those of private sector workers” with a similar education.”

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This is What Democracy Looks Like!

Cecily McMillan sent us this video of a rally she organized at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, in support of public workers under attack.

A union speaker announces that he is now proud to call students “my brothers and sisters.”

Boston to Wisconsin to Sacramento!

by David Duhalde and David Knuttenen

In Boston on Tuesday 22 February, DSAers joined over a thousand union members and supporters demonstrating outside the statehouse in solidarity with Wisconsin workers.

Wisconsin has been in the forefront of our minds, as tens of thousands of people have poured into the streets to resist the Republican governor’s attempt to effectively eliminate all collective bargaining rights for public employees.

The energetic and enthusiastic Boston rally was attended by a healthy mixture of public and private sector union members.  Continue reading

Wisc. Governor Makes a Cold-Blooded Threat to Sic the National Guard on Union Workers

by Mike Elk

Mike Elk

Last week, Wisconsin’s Republican Governor Scott Walker threatened to use the National Guard if his state’s public employees go on strike in response to his proposal to strip them of the right to bargain collectively.

By merely mentioning the possibility of deploying the Guard to prevent a strike, Governor Walker has threatened to militarize the attack on unions. The 150-year history of the American labor movement shows that such moves often lead to the deaths of union members.

Some observers claim that Governor Walker was merely “alerting the National Guard” in order to take over Wisconsin’s correctional facilities if the prison unions went out on strike. However, such preparation could have been made in private without risking the criticism Walker has received since raising the issue. By announcing it publicly, Walker was attempting to intimidate unions with the threat of force; his militarization is creating a toxic climate of fear and violence in which an inspired right-wing nutjob might feel justified attacking union members.

It is important to grasp the role of violent intimidation by both the state and privately run militias in order to understand why Governor’s Walker’s attack is such a troubling move in a democracy.

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Stop the Lies: