Women Lose Services, Jobs, and Union Rights

By Mimi Abramovitz

The current effort to dismantle the public sector is the latest round in the rancorous debate about the role of so-called “big government” that has shaped public policy since the mid-1970s. Initially targeted at program users, the attack subsequently took aim at public sector employees and union members. Since most scholars and activists focus on one group or another they miss the whole story and the strategy’s wider impact. Lacking the gender lens needed to bring women into view, they also missed that women comprise the majority in each group. Until the 2012 presidential campaign turned women’s reproductive health services into a hot political item, few seemed aware of this decades- long “war on women.”

Origins: Thirty Years of Neo- Liberalism

Since the onset of the economic crisis in the mid 1970s U.S. leaders have pursued a neoliberal agenda designed to redistribute income upwards and downsize the state. Its contours are familiar: tax cuts, retrenchment, privatization, deregulation, devolution, and weaker social movements. Meanwhile, the Right sought a restoration of family values and a color-blind social order. To win public support for these unpopular ideas their advocates resorted to what Naomi Klein called the “shock doctrine”: the creation and/ or manipulation of crises to impose policies that people would not otherwise support. Discounting data and evoking the shock doctrine, government foes targeted not just programs for the poor but also popular entitlement pro- grams once regarded as the “third rail” of politics. Unlikely to pass Congress intact, their proposals – which fall heavily on women – will set the agenda for months to come. Continue reading

Worker Rights and Collective Bargaining Advance in China

by Paul Garver

At the same time that the rights of public sector workers to collective bargaining and effective union representation are under unprecedented attack in the USA, some Chinese workers are beginning to make substantial progress in achieving collective bargaining and worker rights. Even though Chinese politicians and bureaucrats are trying to prevent the democratic revolts in the Arab world from impacting Chinese society, they appear willing to allow modest internal labor reforms that do not directly challenge their authority.  In the USA right-wing movements fueled by the wealth of billionaires and pandered to by ambitious politicians have seized upon the budget effects of the great recession caused by their own financial recklessness and greed to destroy long established rights of public employees.


Sometimes workers’ victories are not dramatic.  Confrontational scenes like those recorded in the accompanying June 2010 photo of young workers fighting off yellow-hatted goons sent by the municipal trade union to break their strike did NOT characterize negotiations at the same Honda auto parts plant in Nanhai (Foshan City, Guangdong Province) in March 2011.

On March 1 enterprise union leaders elected by the workers and the provincial trade union federation, accompanied by 40 rank-and-file workers acting as observers, negotiated a new wage agreement for 2011 that raised the monthly wage of production line workers by RMB611 over 2010 levels (about a 30% increase).   The enterprise union had rejected the Japanese management’s earlier two offers, but with a mediating effort by Kong Xianghong, the Deputy Chair of the ACFTU’s provincial union federation, accepted a higher compromise proposal.
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Attack on Public Sector in North America will Deepen the Economic Crisis in 2010

paul-garver-edited by Paul Garver

Talking Union has not paid nearly enough attention to the growing impact of the economic crisis on the public sector and on public sector employees. Many of our readers belong to public sector unions, while all of us have already been hurt in one way or another by increasingly savage cuts in education, health, welfare and other public programs. Over the next year combatting these negative impacts must become a focus for union and political organizing, in particular at the state, local and provincial (Canada) levels.

To encourage a wider discussion, we are excerpting below three recent articles from the USA and Canada. We encourage readers to send us their ideas about organizing to defend the public sector and reports on their local activities.
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