What Does the Election of Thomas Perez as DNC Chairman Mean?

by Eric Robertson

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I took a bit longer to process my thoughts on Tom Perez’s victory over Keith Ellison. Here’s what I got:

Losing is losing.

BUT there is a strong tendency to over exaggerate the political implications of Tom Perez beating Keith Ellison. Ellison’s vote total once again demonstrated the strength of the “Berniecrat” Left of the Democratic Party. Ellison received 200 (46%) votes to Perez’s 235 in the second round of voting, the threshold was 214. This is a strong performance by the left of the Dems by any measure. A congressman who is a Muslim with social democratic politics came within 14 votes of capturing a major chunk of the Dems national apparatus. This is further evidence of our new political reality.

Perez’s support of the TPP and his loyalty to the Dem machinery are real and justified making the case that Ellison represented the consistently progressive and populist values that are on the ascendancy. Nevertheless Perez, with the exception of TPP, was a true ally and partisan of working people during his time as Labor Secretary. The candidacy of Tom Perez in itself represented a political concession to the left.

The stakes of winning were not that high to begin with. Keith taking over the DNC would have moved the dial of American politics further to the left and opened up more space for the anti-corporate, left wing of the party, but it would definitely have had limits imposed by the party machinery. It is is worth pointing out that, with a few exceptions, the majority of people claiming that Perez’s victory means the final straw signifying the need to break completely from the Dems were also the same people who claimed Keith Ellison’s campaign for chair meant nothing and would not change a thing. Neither is correct and a flexible “inside/outside” strategy remains as the most viable strategy going forward. The fact is Keith Ellison’s campaign is just one more demonstration of the left’s increasing strength in American politics as a whole.

All this being said, what is happening at the town halls, in the streets, in our workplaces, and in the thousands of grassroots meetings happening across America is infinitely more important than what happened this weekend at the DNC.

Eric Robertson lives in Fairburn, Georgia. He is political director and a “man of many hats” for Teamsters Local 728.

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Interviews for Resistance: On Treating Trump Like a Bad Boss

by Sarah Jaffe

Interview with Ben Speight

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Ben Speight is the organizing director of Teamsters Local 728 in Georgia. (Fred Nye/ IBT photographer)  

As Republicans introduce legislation that would make labor law for the entire country like it is in the deep South, who better to talk about making unions relevant than an organizer with lots of experience organizing in a so-called “right-to-work” state? Contrary to popular belief, right-to-work laws don’t ban unions, they just allow workers to opt out of paying representation fees to the union while still requiring the union to represent all workers in a workplace. But it is still possible to fight for workers under a right-to-work regime—as long as unions remember to fight.

Ben Speight: My name is Ben Speight. I am the organizing director of Teamsters Local 728 in Georgia.

Sarah Jaffe: Last week we heard that different labor leaders met with now-President Trump. Would you talk about your reaction?

Ben: Trump is the corporate bully-in-chief. For us, in labor, in looking at him as a boss, he’s one that has shown his inclination to align with some of the most reactionary forces in the 1% and folks that are rabidly anti-union.

His demagogic appeal to working people has been extremely successful. His form of economic nationalism has cut against our ability to build broad solidarity amongst white working people, black working people, brown working people, and to have a working-class perspective that is opposed to the right wing. His economic populism is very appealing to some in the labor leadership who are very risk-averse and want to try to maintain their positions and the institutions that we have as they exist over the short term. Trump’s promises of big infrastructure projects going to the construction trades, his symbolic withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, his pronouncements of bringing manufacturing back to the United States appeal to traditionally conservative, mostly white-male-dominated smaller building trades and construction unions. Those were principally the ones that he met with earlier last week.

It is not terribly surprising that they would be the first to meet with him and give a full-throated endorsement of his initial actions. But the devil is in the details—what are we going to get out of it? When you go to somebody like Trump, like you would go to an intransigent employer, if you go from a position of weakness where you are happy just to be at the table—I think Trump viewed the labor leaders that came to the White House as pushovers. They came and spoke afterwards, clearly excited just to be there, not for what we could get out of it.

It has come out recently in a New York Times article that [when Trump met with] the construction trades, whose entire existence, in part, relies on their ability to enforce the Davis-Bacon Act, which sets prevailing wages for public infrastructure projects and other large-scale construction projects, and requires contractors to pay a family-sustaining prevailing wage—Trump was non-committal that the infrastructure projects that he is endorsing would require that wage. We have got a lot of work to do in order to understand the threat that he poses to working-class solidarity and ability to grow a labor movement today.

Sarah: I want to talk about how this, “We have got to go make a deal with the boss” mindset, in terms of dealing with Trump, is reflected in how a lot of unions have dealt with the more direct boss in recent years.

Ben: We are at an all-time low in strikes in this country. In the labor movement, because we are big enough to have power and we are big enough to get sued and to want to protect the institutional capital that we have left, we are extremely risk averse. The leadership that we have throughout labor has been burned so many times by every level of government, we have almost abandoned the strike as a weapon. We have abandoned any kind of innovative strategies that would end up maximizing our leverage when we get to the table. We have become overly reliant on the National Labor Relations Board and other legal tactics. Our institutionalization has caused us not to be as forward-thinking and visionary in being willing to use widescale collective action to put pressure on employers the way that we could and need to. Over time, we have become very, very conservative.

As a result of that, the standards that we have been able to achieve through collective bargaining have declined and our power politically has declined. What labor showed in 2016 is that even when we boast about our ability to mobilize our members in elections, we are not even successful at doing that. Our organizations have not, for years, talked to our membership, asked our membership what they want to see in their next contract, asked our membership to get involved in fighting for tangible changes in the next contract or, in the interim, fighting around issues collectively, building solidarity in the workplace, and applying it to community struggles and others that are fighting for expanded democracy. We simply have not learned, internally, how to fight.

When it comes to organizing in existing union work sites for improved conditions, organizing in non-union industries, mobilizing our membership to fight political battles, showing solidarity with others that are trying to expand and defend democratic rights, we have abandoned those basic tasks for so long that, in many ways, our organizations are paper tigers. So when we go and we are invited by somebody that has just taken power, we are not bargaining from a position of strength, because we know internally how weak we are.

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Unions Celebrate Victory over TPP

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by Paul Garver

The Teamsters (IBT) and the Communication Workers of America (CWA) informed their members that the long campaign against the Trans Pacific Partnership [TPP] has succeeded in blocking a ratification vote in the lame duck session of Congress.

The Communications Workers of America (CWA) reported  this on the news that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal won’t be brought up for a vote this Congress.

The news that the TPP is officially dead for this Congress is welcome, overdue, and a lesson for the future. We’re glad to see that all observers finally recognize the reality that TPP will not and should not go through. For more than five years, CWA members, allies, and working families throughout the country mobilized to expose this corporate-friendly trade deal and the serious consequences for working families and communities if it did take effect. CWA members and allies long have been ahead of Washington on the issue of TPP and trade policy, and this work built a strong public base of voters who rejected what they clearly recognized as bad deal, no matter their political party.

As CWA has been stating throughout this past year, the votes in Congress simply aren’t there to pass TPP. But beyond the vote count, the very act of trying to advance the corporate-friendly TPP would have demonstrated that Washington was willfully ignoring the American public. After a 2016 election season in which anti-TPP sentiment was a rare area of bipartisan agreement and a major factor in shaping election results, trying to ram through the TPP in lame duck would have been an act in willful opposition to the American electorate’s stated wishes.

We will be ready to take on any attempt to revive the TPP in the next Congress or advance other corporate-friendly trade pacts based on the same failed and outdated model of trade.

http://www.cwa-union.org/news/releases/cwa-on-news-tpp-dead-for-congress-welcome-overdue-and-lesson-for-future

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TPP’s End is Near Thanks to Workers

After years of taking aim at the terrible Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Teamsters and their allies can finally see victory in their sights.

In the wake of last week’s election results, congressional leaders made it clear they would not press forward with considering the 12-nation Pacific Rim trade deal. And U.S. trade officials acknowledged on Friday that efforts to pass this corporate boondoggle would not continue this year.

The good news is that view will not likely change anytime soon. President-elect Donald Trump was an outspoken critic of the TPP and his transition team has made it clear it will not move forward with consideration of the trade deal. In fact, it plans to drop out of it.

But this looming win is not about any one political leader. It is about the long-standing coalition of union, fair trade, environmental and health care advocates that have stood strong against efforts to craft a trade proposal that would have further fattened the wallets of the corporate elite at the expense of everyday Americans who continue to struggle to support their families.

Concerns about the TPP were first raised more than six years ago when allies gathered outside the first U.S.-based negotiation session to raise concerns that the TPP was a dramatic departure from previous trade deals that would only further the interests of big business. And it grew to become a bipartisan opposition bloc on Capitol Hill.

As Arthur Stamoulis of the Citizens Trade Campaign wrote, “Let’s make sure we’re not letting Trump steal credit for something he didn’t earn. And let’s especially make sure that the movement of movements is getting the credit it deserves. We’re heading into some very rough years ahead, and people need to be reminded of their power.”

The TPP is a scourge on society because not only would it have shipped American jobs overseas, it also would have depressed salaries at home as well. It promised to increase the amount of unsafe foods and products shipped to U.S. store shelves, worsen the global environment and drive up drug prices worldwide.

It also would have left member nations on the hook for any perceived efforts to curb the profits of multinational corporations through legislation or regulation. Pro-corporate tribunals would have heard complaints filed by companies, and taxpayers would have had to foot the bill.

That’s not right or just. But because Teamsters and others took a stand against TPP, now workers and all Americans will benefit. Thank you members for your work!

https://teamster.org/blog/2016/11/tpps-end-near-thanks-workers

Chattanooga VW Workers Vote for a Union: UAW

VWCHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — Skilled trades employees at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant have voted overwhelmingly to designate UAW Local 42 as their representative for the purpose of initiating collective bargaining.

In a two-day election on Thursday and Friday, 152 skilled trades employees cast ballots. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which supervised the election, confirmed that 71% of employees voting favored recognition for Local 42. Federal law provides for units within a workforce to seek recognition for the purpose of achieving collective bargaining.

“A key objective for our local union always has been moving toward collective bargaining for the purpose of reaching a multi-year contract between Volkswagen and employees in Chattanooga,” said Mike Cantrell, president of Local 42. “We have said from the beginning of Local 42 that there are multiple paths to reach collective bargaining. We believe these paths will give all of us a voice at Volkswagen in due time.” Continue reading

Teamsters Call for Defeat of Fast Track and TPP

by James P. Hoffa

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[Ed. note:  Leaders of the U.S. labor movement are unanimously opposed to the passage of Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) legislation and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).  Along with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and CWA President Larry Cohen, IBT General President James Hoffa has been a vocal critic of anti-worker “trade legislation.”  Even though even a united labor movement by itself may not be able to prevail against the unholy alliance of President Obama, the mainstream Republican and Democratic party leaderships, and the Business Roundtable and America Chamber of Commerce, a large and diverse coalition of progressive political movements, citizens’ action, religious and environmental groups has been mobilizing alongside organize labor to oppose Fast Track and the TPP]

The 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has for years been shrouded in mystery. But last night, WikiLeaks gave U.S. workers a real gift when it pulled back the curtain on a portion of the proposed trade deal that shows what a boondoggle the agreement would be for big business.

Language included in the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) chapter of the TPP would grant new rights to companies to challenge limitations and exceptions to copyrights, patents and other intellectual property. That means corporations could sue the U.S. or other countries included in the deal if they didn’t like their laws. Such challenges would be handled by an unaccountable international arbitration forum. And taxpayers would end up paying the tab if the private sector wins.

Companies are already challenging governments around the globe when they feel elected officials are holding down their profit margins. Tobacco giant Philip Morris, for instance, is currently appealing Uruguay’s regulation of advertising on cigarette packages because it believes the nation’s rules are tamping down on sales in that South American country. But the TPP language would make it worse.

Trade experts agree the ISDS provisions would be very bad news for the public. “With the veil of secrecy ripped back, finally everyone can see for themselves that the TPP would give multinational corporations extraordinary new powers that would undermine our sovereignty, expose U.S. taxpayers to billions in new liability and privilege foreign firms operating here with special rights not available to U.S. firms under U.S. law,” said Lori Wallach, the director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.

An analysis of the ISDS text by Public Citizen shows, among other things:

  • Foreign investors would be allowed to challenge new policies that apply to both domestic and international corporations on the grounds that they undermine foreign investors’ “expectations” of how they should be treated.
  • The amount that an ISDS tribunal would order a government to pay to a foreign investor as compensation would be based on the “expected future profits.”
  • There are no new safeguards that limit ISDS tribunals’ discretion to create even broader interpretations of governments’ obligations to foreign investors and order compensation on that basis.

In short, the ISDS language shows that based on this TPP chapter alone, the average worker is going to get screwed. The provisions will give corporations the ability to do an end-around on U.S. laws they don’t like. How is that fair? What about the rights of the American people? What about democracy?

Mind you, this doesn’t even address how Americans will be hammered by the other 28 chapters included in this Pacific Rim trade deal. But we already know they will. We’ve seen what NAFTA has done; we’ve seen what the recent U.S.-Korea Trade Agreement has done. Those two deals together have led to more than a million lost U.S. jobs.

Previous leaks have also let us know that lower wages, unsafe food and products, lessened environmental standards and reduced access to affordable medicines will result if the TPP becomes a reality. It’s why the Teamsters and our numerous allies have taken a stand against this terrible trade agreement. And it’s why we can’t let up now.

Want to stop this from happening? Let your members of Congress know you oppose fast-track trade authority. Forcing Capitol Hill to debate this agreement in the open on its merits is the only way hard-working Americans will be able to get a full picture of what the TPP will do. And it’s the best opportunity we have to halt TPP in its tracks.

James P, Hoffa is General President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.  His statement is reblogged from the Huffington Post with the permission of the IBT.

Is U.S. Labor Morphing into something new ?

HaroldMeyersonAIDBy Harold Meyerson

Haltingly, with understandable ambivalence, the American labor movement is morphing into something new. Its most prominent organizing campaigns of recent years — of fast-food workers, domestics, taxi drivers and Wal-Mart employees — have prompted states and cities to raise their minimum wage and create more worker-friendly regulations. But what these campaigns haven’t done is create more than a small number of new dues-paying union members. Nor, for the foreseeable future, do unions anticipate that they will.

Blocked from unionizing workplaces by ferocious management opposition and laws that fail to keep union activists from being fired, unions have begun to focus on raising wages and benefits for many more workers than they can ever expect to claim as their own. In one sense, this is nothing new: Unions historically have supported minimum wage and occupational safety laws that benefited all workers, not just their members. But they also have recently begun investing major resources in organizing drives more likely to yield new laws than new members.

Read the entire piece from the Los Angeles Times. December 8, 2014.

http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-meyerson-labor-organizing-20141208-story.html

Meyerson is an editor of the American Prospect and a Vice Chair of DSA.

Port Truck Drivers on Strike! A Dispatch from Two of the Nation’s Largest Ports

 by David Bensman

 November 22, 2014

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All Photos Courtesy of the Author

On Thursday, November 13, port truckers struck at the nation’s largest ports, Los Angeles and Long Beach, demanding an end to misclassification and wage theft. It was the fourth strike in a campaign initiated by the Teamsters and Change to Win seven years ago. It’s been a long campaign and the cost has been enormous.

The trucking companies categorize the truckers as independent contractors, a ploy that relieves the companies of the responsibility of employers. They don’t have to pay payroll taxes, don’t have to contribute to unemployment or workers’ compensation funds, don’t have to respect labor and employment laws: no right to unionize, no health and safety protections, no freedom from discrimination. After several strategies stalled, the Teamsters and Change to Win embarked on a campaign to prove that the drivers were employees, not contractors, and therefore fell under the jurisdiction of the Wagner Act. (The first step was convincing the drivers themselves that they were misclassified.) Having spent seven years researching the port trucking industry, I wanted to find out if the unions’ organizing campaign had finally broken through, so I flew out to Long Beach last weekend. This is what I saw.
Friday, November 14, 2014

Things are breaking on the port truckers’ strike. Nick Weiner, Change to Win’s lead organizer on the campaign, met with two trucking company heads and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti about respecting the workers’ right to unionize. Court rulings and NLRB actions are taking a toll on the companies. At the end of two days of picketing, the parties issued a joint statement that, amazingly, recognized the independent contractors’ right to join a union if they so chose—a major breakthrough. The union agreed to suspend the picket lines on Saturday, with the understanding that if the companies did not sign agreement next week, the strikes would resume. Two other trucking companies are reported to be close to a card check agreement.

In the afternoon, members of Teamsters Local 848 and International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) staff joined drivers from two struck companies on the picket lines. Truck after truck was turned away at terminals by terminal operators who did not want to bring down the wrath of the IBT. At the Pac9 picket line, striking drivers actively blocked traffic while discussing strategy in loud Spanish. I met with one driver, Alex Paz, who was discharged by another trucking company, TTSI, for filing charges in court complaining of wage theft and misclassification. Alex was one of thirty-five drivers illegally discharged for speaking up. The unfair labor practice complaint against the company is before NLRB. While awaiting restitution, Alex is working as an employee of Toll, a member of the Teamsters, where—for a change—he enjoys overtime pay and health care coverage.
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