We Need Your Help
Military V. Health
Right V. NEA, Again
GAY & LESBIAN COMMUNITY NOTES
MJ's Queer Family
You, Me & the SPP
Schwartz's Solidarity Stories
Gordon's Anarchy Alive
Yates's Working Class
Rich's Human Eye
SCENES OF RESISTANCE
Coups, UNASUR, U.S.
Hug Them While They Last
Nowhere To Fall
Hoodboy on Pakistan
Ramiro on Drug War
Zaps - 10-09
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Cards Stacked Against Labor
All kinds of techniques are used to reverse losing streaks in Las Vegas or Atlantic City. Switching decks, tables, or croupiers is one way. Another is to take your action somewhere else. It's still a gamble, but maybe with better odds.
The problem with the labor movement is that it never leaves the table or takes its action elsewhere. Predictably, labor's latest legislative goals in Congress have been pushed aside. There seems little chance for either a viable government alternative to private health insurance or of democratic reforms of the National Labor Relations Act. Of course, the house odds in Congress always strongly favor big business and unions are seldom able to gain an edge. That's the record and everyone knows it. Yet, unions can still recoup their losses by putting aside their skittish "friends" in Congress for a moment and returning to what originally made them so strong—active members and hard bargaining.
It is time to focus on preparing already-organized union members for tough contract negotiations, the only time powerful threats of strike action hang ominously in the air. With union numbers in serious decline, there is no time to waste. Private sector membership is now below 8 percent. Labor's share of the auto industry, for example, shrank from roughly 60 percent of the workforce in the early 1980s to about 30 percent in 2006, with even less representation for hundreds of thousands of parts workers as Chrysler, Ford, and GM spun off these divisions.
There are three issues that can begin to galvanize union members to retake valuable territory previously ceded without much of a fight.
One Union, One Standard
A benefit of the Railway Labor Act (RLA) is that it stipulates national contracts. Airline and rail workers from the same carrier and in the same bargaining class and craft—north and south, east and west—all enjoy the same wages, benefits, and working conditions. This is a powerful unifying factor and should be the example for all negotiations. The other major national labor law, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), applies to most other union employees outside of airlines and rail. It does not have this national requirement and each local employee unit fends for itself. It is, therefore, each union's choice whether to take a stand defending industry and trade labor standards across the board.
The UNITE-HERE international union operates under the NLRA and successfully incorporated this strategy several years ago. The national headquarters fully supported its San Francisco Local 2 in 2004-2006 during an employer three-day lock-out, a strike, and a two-year boycott. Local 2 ultimately won demands to have the same contract standards throughout the city regardless of how large or how small the hotel. But most major unions have long abandoned such an approach.
One example is the United Steelworkers union (USWA) which decided to go "along with a decidedly less adversarial tone [when] the 1986 bargaining round produced separate agreements with LTV, National, Bethlehem, Inland, Armco, and US Steel, which cut the standard...." (Robert Bruno, Labor Studies Journal, Spring 2005). In abandoning uniform industry wage rates, the union allowed each Steel company to cut its own deal according to their individual economic problems.
This approach accelerated the decline of the USWA and of its members' standard of living. It also divided steelworkers doing the same work into different wage categories, thus hindering their solidarity. As an alternative, national industry bargaining for common standards would challenge employer attempts to use economic formulas to divide workers according to region and company.
Common Expiration Dates, Coordinated Bargaining
About the only good that came out of airline bankruptcies during the last several years is that the collective bargaining agreements were all lined up by the judge to expire around the same time. Because creditors of United Airlines (UAL) demanded five-year contracts at the minimum, all UAL unions opted for the same shortest possible duration of the concessionary contracts. That five-year span is up at the end of 2009. Negotiations are now being conducted with UAL by all the unions representing the overwhelming majority of UAL's 48,000 national workforce. In order of size, they are: the baggage handlers and customer service employees (IAM), flight attendants (AFA), pilots (ALPA), mechanics (IBT-Teamsters), and engineers (IFPTE).
It is a good thing that all the unions are bargaining at the same time, but it could be even more effective if negotiations were coordinated, which they are not. In 1969, there was a 102-day GE strike by 150,000 workers represented by 13 international unions. It was hugely successful because there was a coordinating bargaining committee (CBC) representing all the unions, who were united on the issue of reaching parity with workers in steel, auto, and aerospace.
This powerful example of coordinated bargaining still impacts today's GE bargaining. A United Electrical workers (UE) 2007 newsletter explains that "prior to the start of negotiations, each CBC union sends representatives to a series of CBC meetings to discuss contract proposals. Each union, in their separate negotiations with GE, is free to submit whatever proposals their members want, but through the CBC we try to achieve unity on the key bargaining issues. A union that feels strongly about a particular bargaining goal will try to convince the other unions to adopt it as a proposal so that the union will face GE as a united front on the issue."
This united bargaining approach is seldom adopted. In fact, labor's decline has been accompanied recently by more bitter divisions than solidarity. Andy Stern, the leader of the 2.2 million-member Service Employees International Union (SEIU), for example, has embarked on a strategy of raiding members of other unions rather than staying focused on the 100 million-plus unorganized.
Leaving aside these tragic examples of crumbling union principles, contract negotiations should establish common expiration dates throughout their particular economic sector. Different union bargaining objectives could be resolved through genuine labor coordination as past history demonstrates.
Organize to Negotiate
Congress is not likely to pass legislation reducing employer harassment and threats aimed at union organizers. Staggering numbers of workers are terminated each day for attempting to legally organize a union. Many "estimates suggest that almost one-in-five organizers or activists can expect to be fired as a result of their activities in a union election campaign" (Center for Economic & Policy Research, January 2007). Failure to pass urgently needed democratic reforms such as the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) is another reason labor must be more aggressive at the bargaining table.
There are currently several international unions who have successfully negotiated majority sign up at a number of locations, but they are too few. This is a job security issue. Union workers have seen their wages, benefits, pensions, and working conditions steadily deteriorate because of competition from non-union sectors of the economy.
Unions must win at the bargaining table what has been negotiated away by their "friends" in Congress. Contract negotiations should require employer neutrality and majority sign up procedures at all new expansion plants and with all contracted vendors. This would give union organizers a fighting chance to expand the union power base. Had the United Auto Workers union (UAW) employed such a bargaining strategy several years ago, they could have prevented expansion of non-union auto plants throughout the south and among the essential auto-parts production sector.
Of course, all these steps are predicated on a militant and mobilized membership ready to strike. It can only be accomplished through a sustained, long-term campaign to inform and interact with members. It will certainly be difficult to reverse decades of disinterest, apathy, and unresponsiveness among millions of union members. Some would consider it a long shot, but it really is our best bet to improve the lives of working families in this country. Even more emphatically, I would argue, it's our only real chance.
Carl Finamore is former president (retired) of Air Transport Employees, Local Lodge 1781, IAMAW.
Z Magazine Archive
HUMAN RIGHTS - The U.S. Human Rights Network will celebrate its 10th anniversary with the Advancing Human Rights 2013 Conference, December 6-8, in Atlanta, GA.
Contact: 250 Georgia Avenue SE, Suite 330, Atlanta, GA 30312; firstname.lastname@example.org; http:// www.ushrnetwork.org/.
AFRICAN/SOCIALIST - The Sixth Congress of the African People’s Socialist Party USA will be held December 7-11, in St. Petersburg, FL.
Contact: 1245 18th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33705; 727- 821-6620; info@aps puhuru.org; http://asiuhuru.org/.
SCHOOLS - The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) will host a workshop on the DSC “Model Code on Education and Dignity: Presenting A Human Rights Framework for Schools” at the Mid-Hudson Region NY State Leadership Summit on School Justice Partnerships, December 11 in White Plains, NY.
Contact: http://www.dignityin schools.org/.
ANARCHIST/BOOKFAIR - The Humboldt Anarchist Book Fair will be held December 14, in Eureka, CA.
Contact: humboldtgrassroots @riseup.net; http://humbold tanarchist bookfair.wordpress. com/.
CLIMATE - The World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities is hosting a follow-up event to the 2012 Rio de Janeiro symposium. The gathering will be held in Qatar on January 28-30, 2014.
Contact: http://environment.tufts. edu/.
LABOR - The United Association for Labor Education (UALE) will host Organizing for Power: A New Labor Movement for the New Working Class in Los Angeles, March 26-29. Proposals are due December 15.
Contact: LAWCHA, 226 Carr Building (East Campus), Box 90719, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708-0719;lawcha @duke. edu; http://lawcha.org/.
MEDIA FELLOWSHIP - The Media Mobilizing Project is seeking applicants for the first annual Movement Media Fellowship Program. The Fellow will work with MMP to produce the spring season of Media Mobilizing Project TV. MMPTV is a news and talk show that tells the stories of local communities organizing to win human rights and build a movement to end poverty.
Contact: 4233 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19104; 215-821- 9632; milena@media mobilizing.org; http://www.media mobilizing.org/.
RACE - The 7th Facing Race: A National Conference will be held in Dallas, TX November 13-15, 2014. Organizers, educators, artists, funders and everyone interested in racial equity is invited to exchange best practices and learn about innovative models and successful organizing initiatives. Proposals must be submitted by January 24, 2014.
Contact: Race Forward, 32 Broadway, Suite 1801, New York, NY 10004; 212-513-7925; media @raceforward.org; http://race forward.org/.
VETERANS - They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars - The Untold Story, by Ann Jones, is about the journey of veterans from the moment of being wounded in rural Afghanistan to their return home.
Contact: Haymarket Books, PO Box 180165, Chicago, IL 60618; 773-583-7884; http://www.haymarketbooks.org/.
LIBYA - Destroying Libya and World Order: The Three-Decade U.S. Campaign to Terminate the Qaddafi Revolution, by Francis A. Boyle, is a history and critique of American foreign policy from Reagan to Obama.
Contact: Clarity Press, Inc., Ste. 469, 3277 Roswell Rd. NE, Atlanta, GE 30305; 404-647-6501; email@example.com; http://www. claritypress.com/.
CHILDREN - Fannie and Freddie by Becky Z. Dernbach is about two bumbling villains who gamble away the savings of the people of Homeville.
Contact: fannieandfreddiebook @gmail.com; http://fannieand freddie.org/.
PROTEST/COMIC - Fight the Power!: A Visual History of Protest Among English Speaking Peoples, by Sean Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson is a graphic narrative that explains how people have fought against oppression.
Contact: Seven Stories Press, 140 Watts Street, New York, NY 10013; 212-226-8760; info@ sevenstories.com; http://www. sevenstories.com.
CHILDREN - Brave Girl by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet is the true story of Clara Lemlich, a young Ukrainian immigrant who led the largest strike of women workers in U.S. history.
Contact: http://www.harpercollins childrens.com/Kids/.
FESTIVAL - The 2014 Queer Women of Color Film Festival will be held June 13-15 in San Francisco. The festival is currently accepting submissions until December 31.
Contact: QWOCMAP, 59 Cook Street, San Francisco, CA 94118-3310; 415-752-0868; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.qwocmap.org/.
IRAQ/REFUGEES - Ten years after the U.S.-led war in Iraq, thousands of displaced Iraqi refugees are still facing a crisis in the United States. The Lost Dream follows Nazar and Salam who had to flee Iraq in order to avoid threats by Al- Qaeda-affiliated groups and Iraqi insurgents that consider them “traitors” for supporting U.S. forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Contact: Typecast Films, 888- 591-3456; info@type castfilms. com; http://type castfilms.com/.
HUMAN RIGHTS - Lyrical Revolt! III will be held December 4 in Syracuse, NY. The event will feature hip-hop musician Anhel whose album Young, Gifted, and Brown was just released. The event is sponsored by ANSWER Syracuse, Liberation News, and SyracuseHip Hop.com. Performers and artists are encouraged to send submissions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.answercoalition.org/syracuse/.
FOLK - Musician Painless Parker has released his album Music for miscreants, malcontents and misanthropes featuring “Fuck Yeah, the Working Class.”
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://painlessparkermusic.com/.
COMEDY - Political comedian Lee Camp’s new album Pepper Spray the Tears Away has been released.