When Culture Eclipses Class

February 17, 2014 By: seeta Category: Civil Rights, Workers' Rights

From American Prospect:

In fact, no institution played a larger role in the construction of postwar American liberalism than the UAW. Under Reuther’s leadership, the union provided funds to civil rights activists who conducted the Montgomery bus boycott, paid for the buses and sound system at the 1963 March on Washington, detailed staff and dollars to the efforts to build municipal employee unions and Cesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers, donated resources to the fledgling efforts of Students for a Democratic Society and the National Organization for Women, and helped fund the first Earth Day. It lobbied for every liberal initiative on Capitol Hill and volunteered its considerable expertise to the development of many Great Society programs. It led the opposition within the AFL-CIO against the federation’s uber-hawkish Cold War policies. It campaigned, then and now, for Democratic candidates, which is the primary reason why Tennessee’s Republican pols opposed it so vehemently.

None of this was particularly helpful, however, in winning the vote in Chattanooga. Since its founding in 1936, many UAW members have been Appalachian whites come north to the factories of Midwestern cities. Some became union leaders and supporters while others co-existed uneasily with the growing numbers of African-Americans in the union’s ranks. During World War II, the union was stretched to the limits by its efforts to forestall nearly daily racial violence on factory floors. In the plants of Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, there was often a white backlash to the union’s aggressive promotion of civil rights, but it came from a minority of workers. This was the legacy that the union brought South, and it was this—not its fictitious reputation for thuggishness—that made the union so hard a sell to some of Chattanooga’s workers. The union’s more recent support for President Obama—hardly a popular figure in Eastern Tennessee—epitomized the politics that repelled a number of the union’s opponents. So did the UAW’s backing of Democratic candidates who, its opponents alleged, threatened to take away the workers’ guns (though the UAW, like most unions with blue-collar members, has largely steered clear of gun control issues).

By the same token, however, the UAW’s liberalism doubtless was one factor that helped it win a landmark representation election late last year among a very different group of workers—the grad student/teaching assistants at NYU. At first glance, this might not seem an election the UAW could win. Though the UAW had organized the university’s grad students more than a decade ago, the National Labor Relations Board during the George W. Bush administration (when Bush’s appointees comprised a majority on the board) ruled that grad students couldn’t form a union under the National Labor Relations Act, and the students’ contract with the university was nullified. Unlike Volkswagen management, the NYU administration then opposed the union’s and the students’ efforts to win representation outside the NLRB’s jurisdiction. For eight years, NYU refused to let the students vote, but the UAW continued to build support for a vote not only among the T.A.s but among the city’s Democratic elected officials, who were as predisposed to the effort as Tennessee’s Republicans were appalled at the thought of a UAW victory in their state. Last year, the university agreed to let the students vote and to stay neutral in the election. By a margin of 620 to 10, the students voted to have the UAW represent them.

Of the 390,000 or so UAW members, fully 45,000 are employed at universities (until the NYU election, all of them public universities, which are not subject to the NLRB’s jurisdiction). The union’s commitment not just to its workers but to progressive causes is a clear asset in organizing T.A.s and other university employees, just as it was a obstacle in organizing auto workers in the South.

Thus the UAW of 2014—able to win overwhelming support from Greenwich Village grad students, but unable to win a majority of Chattanooga auto workers, who rejected the union’s bid by a 712-to-626 margin. If America broke neatly along class lines, the UAW should have won Chattanooga in a romp and floundered at NYU. But as many unions have discovered, generally to their woe, the politics of race and culture often eclipse those of class in the United States. That’s one big part of American exceptionalism. That’s just—alas—the American way.

At Labor Group, a Sense of a Broader Movement

September 16, 2013 By: seeta Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Workers' Rights

The A.F.L.-C.I.O. invited scores of nonunion groups to its four-day convention last week in Los Angeles to brainstorm. | Frederic J. Brown/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

From NYT:

For the delegates at the convention, which ended on Thursday, there was a burning realization that the status quo was not working for the nation’s labor unions. Wages for union and nonunion workers alike have flatlined in recent years, while the percentage of private sector workers in unions has slipped to just 6.6 percent. That is less than one-fifth the level during organized labor’s prime, when union leaders were confidants of presidents and the mighty Teamsters threatened strikes that could cripple much of the nation’s commerce.

Desperate to figure out how to stop labor’s descent, the A.F.L.-C.I.O., a federation of 57 labor unions, invited scores of nonunion groups, including the National Organization for Women, United Students Against Sweatshops and Arts and Democracy, to the four-day convention to brainstorm. They debated how to shore up the sagging labor movement, how to raise wages and how to persuade Congress to pass legislation that would help 11 million undocumented immigrants gain citizenship.

“Everyone has come to the realization that we need more partners, that we got to rebuild the movement, that we have faced all these vicious attacks,” said Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which is still reeling from when Wisconsin curbed collective bargaining for most public employees in 2011. “Maybe it takes a bat to your head, but people get it now. People are engaged.”

Dozens of outside groups attended the convention, in part to lend the struggling labor movement a hand, in part to plug into the considerable power and reach that organized labor still has. There were leaders of more than a dozen immigrant worker centers, including ones from Louisiana, New York, Washington State and Texas. Numerous professors attended to share their insights, and union leaders from Bangladesh, Myanmar and Nigeria also visited.

Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, voiced support for labor’s efforts to reinvent and reinvigorate itself.

“We have to stop telling women that they have to lean in as individuals,” she said. “We have to tell them there is a whole system here that you have to lean together with your brothers and sisters, we have a whole movement here to put the United States on the right track.”

A comeback for labor, fighting for a living wage for all

September 02, 2013 By: seeta Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Economic Terrorism, Intersectionality, Poverty, Workers' Rights


From WaPo:

As New York Times labor writer Steve Greenhouse has noted, until 1975, “wages nearly always accounted for more than 50 percent of our nation’s GDP.” But in 2012 they fell to a record low of 43.5 percent. Those who make the economic engine run are receiving less of what they produce. And it’s not because employees aren’t working harder, or smarter. From 1973 to 2011, according to the Economic Policy Institute, employee productivity grew by 80.4 percent while median hourly compensation after inflation grew by just 10.7 percent.

Thursday’s one-day strike of fast-food workers in dozens of cities was one of the new forms of labor creativity aimed at doing something about this. The folks who serve your burgers are demanding that instead of an average fast-food wage of $8.94 an hour, they ought to be paid $15. Assuming two weeks of unpaid vacation, this works out to $30,000 a year, hardly a Ronald McDonald’s ransom.

The protests have the benefit of putting low-wage workers in the media spotlight, a place they’re almost never found in a world more interested in the antics of Miley Cyrus and Donald Trump. “They want a raise with those fries,” the New York Daily News cheekily led its story on the strike.

Key unions are helping to organize these efforts, but they don’t necessarily expect formal union recognition. They want to raise wages, which is what could happen if the public responds. Companies have been frantically painting themselves green to attract environmentally conscious customers. Employers might discover, to paraphrase the old McDonald’s slogan, that their workers deserve a break today if consumers (who are also workers themselves) started pressuring them to be more employee-friendly.

The fast-food campaign feeds into efforts to hike the current $7.25-an-hour minimum wage nationwide and to enact higher “living wages” in localities around the country. In Long Beach, Calif., as my Post colleague Harold Meyerson reported recently in the American Prospect, voters last November overwhelmingly enacted a measure to boost the hourly pay of some 2,000 of the city’s hotel employees to $13.

From The Grio:

Poverty-wage workers, including union workers, are more likely to be women, young and of color in the new service economy. According to EPI, one-quarter of Americans work in low-paying jobs, which is at or below the federal poverty level for a family of four, which was $23,005 per year in 2011. White women are less than half the workforce, but 55.1 percent of poverty-wage workers. Workers between ages 18 and 25 were 15.5% of the workforce in 2011, but were 35.5 percent of poverty-wage workers.

Blacks and Latinos are overrepresented among low wage workers. African-Americans were 11 percent of the workforce in 2011, yet made up 14.1 percent of all poverty-wage workers. Similarly, Hispanics constituted 15.3 percent of the workforce in 2011, but 23.6 percent of poverty-wage workers. Whites are underrepresented among the poverty-wage workforce, accounting for 66.9 percent of all workers, but only 55.9 percent of all poverty-wage workers.

Meanwhile, in 2011, only 31.5 percent of poverty-wage workers lived in households with greater than $50,000 in family income, while 31% lived in households with less than $25,000 in family income. These figures counter the notion that many fast-food workers live in high income households, such as a teenager with well-to-do parents, or an adult with a higher-earning spouse.

In addition, there are educational disparities among low wage workers. For example, workers with a high school diploma or less were 36.4 percent of the total workforce in 2011 but 54.3 percent percent of low-wage workers. Yet, workers with some college education are overrepresented as well, accounting for 19.7 percent of the national workforce but 26.4 percent of poverty-wage workers.

The workers in the $200 billion a year fast food industry are dependent on food stamps at twice the rate of the rest of the U.S. workforce, and rely on other government programs such as Medicaid just to make ends meet. This comes as Don Thompson, the CEO of McDonald’s, saw his compensation more than triple to $13.75 million.

80 Percent of Americans Support Raising the Minimum Wage

August 03, 2013 By: seeta Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Economic Development, Intersectionality, Poverty, Workers' Rights

From HuffPo:

The vast majority of Americans support increasing the national minimum wage, according to a recent poll commissioned by the National Employment Law Project Action Fund, a non-profit group that supports increasing the minimum wage.

The poll, which was conducted by the public opinion research firm Hart Research Associates, found 80 percent of the respondents agree that the minimum wage should be raised to $10.10 an hour and increased periodically to account for rising costs.

Support for the measure among registered Democrats was especially high, with 92 percent in favor of the proposal. Among Republicans, 62 percent supported the wage increase. About three quarters of the respondents said that raising the minimum wage should be a top Congressional priority.

A recent study from Restaurant Opportunities Centers United found that raising the minimum wage would have significant economic benefits. The report estimates that 58 percent Americans living below the poverty line would no longer struggle with hunger if the minimum wage were raised to $10.10 an hour.

The NELP poll was released as the minimum wage debate plays out on the national stage and in cities around the country. President Obama has called on Congress to increase the minimum wage to $9 an hour, a proposal Republican lawmakers oppose.

Fast Food Strike: Detroit, St. Louis, New York, Chicago And 3 Other Cities Striking Monday For Increased Pay

July 29, 2013 By: seeta Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Intersectionality, Workers' Rights

On Monday, workers from major fast-food chains such as KFC, Wendy’s, Burger King and McDonald’s in seven cities — Detroit, New York City, Milwaukee, Chicago, St. Louis, Flint, Mich., and Kansas City, Mo. — will be staging a strike in a movement for higher wages. Reuters.

From IBT:

On Monday, workers from major chains including KFC, Wendy’s, Burger King and McDonald’s in seven cities will be staging a strike in a protest for better wages. The workers are hoping the protests — which will occur in Detroit, New York, Milwaukee, Chicago, St. Louis, Flint, Mich., and Kansas City, Mo. — will prompt employers of popular fast-food chains to raise pay to a “living wage” of $15 an hour.

KMBZ in Kansas City reported that the protests, part of an ongoing movement dubbed “Fast Food Forward,” will begin on Monday and are expected to continue through Thursday. The protesters in the seven cities are calling for the hourly-rate hike as well as the right to form a union without retaliation and an end to unfair labor practices.

The New York Daily News reported that strikes in Brooklyn [began] as early as Friday, involving workers from Papa John’s and Domino’s as well as other chains. The action will mark the third such strike in a year, following similar protests in April (in Detroit, New York, Milwaukee, Chicago and St. Louis) and last November.

According to the Washington Post, the strikes in these seven cities extend beyond the fast food business, with employees at other low-wage stores including Dollar Tree, Macy’s and Victoria’s Secret slated to join the protests.

The protesters have been backed by support from communities as well as labor groups such as the Service Employees International Union. “SEIU members, like all service-sector workers, are worse off when large fast-food and retail companies are able to hold down wages and push down benefit standards for working people,” SEIU president Mary Kay Henry told the Washington Post.

The Power of the Unions

February 22, 2013 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, Prison Industrial Complex, Prisoner Rights

Big Labor’s Lock ‘Em Up Mentality

How otherwise progressive unions stand in the way of a more humane correctional system

—By and In Mother Jones and Solitary Watch

Now AFSCME will apparently fight to keep a troubled prison open simply to keep some of its members from having to relocate. All of Tamms’ union employees were guaranteed placement in other facilities, and no positions were lost due to the closure. But the union argued that conditions at Tamms—widely denounced as cruel, inhumane, and ineffective—were necessary for safety and security, and that the prison was needed to keep jobs in southern Illinois. Tamms Year Ten countered with protests where prisoners’ relatives hoisted signs bearing slogans like “Torture Is a Crime—Not a Career” and “My Son Is Not a Paycheck.”
AFSCME is just one of four large national unions—among them Service Employees International Union (SEIU), American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), and the Teamsters—representing prison workers. And corrections officers in a number of states and even some local jail systems have their own powerful unions….

As strapped states and localities look to their corrections budgets for savings, unions have fought proposed facility closures and the establishment of programs that would divert offenders into treatment and other lockup alternatives. They have frequently opposed reforms that could affect their members’ autonomy, including oversight programs designed to curb abuses by prison employees.

Several unions have attempted to counter the growing tide of reformers who condemn long-term solitary confinement as not only torturous but also counterproductive to prison safety.

See also Prison Culture on Tamms

CI: Old/School/New School 2 – Golden Gulag for more on the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA)

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WATCH: Workers’ Rights and the American Dream

November 18, 2012 By: seeta Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Workers' Rights

AMERICAN DREAM is a feature documentary film, which tells the story of meatpackers’ years-long strike in Austin, Minnesota. Barbara Kopple and her crew spent four years filming the drama within the Austin community and the ensuing debates among labor organizations across the country. Brothers and neighbors must eventually make the painful and emotional decision whether the strike or their families take precedent as members of Austin’s P-9 Union consider crossing the picket line. The film is a human look at the brutal consequences of corporate greed and Reaganomics. It is an intimate portrait of working families in America whose efforts to make a living are challenged time and again, and it is a tribute to the noble spirit of labor unions all over the nation.

Chicago Public Teachers Stage Historic Strike in Clash with Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Education Reforms

September 10, 2012 By: seeta Category: 2012 Election, Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Education, Intersectionality, Poverty, Workers' Rights

From DemocracyNow:

More than 29,000 Chicago public school teachers and support staff have gone on strike today after union leaders failed to reach an agreement with the nation’s third-largest school district over educational reforms sought by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. It is the first teacher strike in Chicago in a quarter of a century. Unresolved issues include the cost of health benefits, the makeup of the teacher evaluation system, and job security. Emanuel, who is President Obama’s former chief of staff, wants teacher evaluations tied to the standardized test results of students. We hear the voices of union leaders, teachers and parents on Chicago’s strike.