I have a piece up at the Prospect interviewing Joe Burns on his book Reviving the Strike, which argues that the decline in strikes is a cause, not a consequence of the decline of the American labor movement:
Is the strike sick?
Strikes today are not very effective. The reason is that over the last 75 years, employers have been effective at pressing courts and Congress to outlaw effective strike tactics.
Check it out.
At Alternet, I break the news of a settlement between PMA and ILWU Local 10 over the latter’s industrial solidarity action – and describe the controversy that settlement has created among the membership:
Four months ago, longshore workers shut down the ports of San Francisco and Oakland in solidarity with workers in Wisconsin and across the country whose collective bargaining rights have come under attack. The Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), which is made up of longshore employers, responded with a federal court lawsuit against the workers’ union, International Longshore and Warehouse Workers Union (ILWU) Local 10. In an interview yesterday, Local 10’s president publicly acknowledged for the first time that PMA and Local 10 have agreed to a settlement. Workers will be discussing it at a membership meeting tonight – and some will be questioning whether the union gave away too much, and why they didn’t get to vote on it.
Check it out. And here’s my May story on the lawsuit for In These Times.
At Alternet, I report on the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ campaign for a Fair Food Agreement with Trader Joe’s, and the company’s resistance – which I suspect is more about power than money:
The company’s letter passes responsibility onto its wholesalers, who buy tomatoes from growers and sell them to Trader Joe’s (and have less to fear from public embarrassment). In a point-by-point rebuttal to the letter, CIW retorts that “Apparently, Trader Joe’s is better at innuendo than math.” CIW notes that when it began discussions with the wholesalers — several separate competing companies — the wholesalers said they needed to talk to Trader Joe’s before moving forward, but then stopped returning CIW’s calls.
My piece also shares reports from tomato growers who’ve worked in Florida’s fields before and after their employers entered Fair Food agreements. Check it out.
I have a new piece up on Alternet reporting on the shift in energy from public protests to recall GOTV in Wisconsin:
Democracy Addicts blogger Ed Knutson said that activists “seem to be completely engulfed in working on the recalls,” but that the upcoming elections were “a direct result of the protest.” Ken Dundeck, communications director for the activist group Autonomous Solidarity Organization (ASO), said, “We can chant ‘This is what democracy looks like,’ but what democracy really looks like is us getting out in the field and talking to people at their doors.”
John Matthews, president of the union Madison Teachers Inc. (MTI), said he wants the “budget repair” bill overturned before the MTI’s current contract expires in 2013. He said that would require having enough politicians in both houses who either are “people of good conscience” or “people who are worried” that progressives could oust them. “We have to build that fear into them” with recalls, he said.
My reporting comes from interviews with a dozen activists and leaders for the piece. Check it out.
(I have another piece telling a different Wisconsin labor story that will be going live soon as well)
I have a new post up on Dissent asking what an AT&T merger could mean for economic democracy:
If you’re on the left and you buy groceries, chances are at some point you’ve been faced with a choice between a neighborhood corner store and a unionized chain supermarket. That choice exposes a tension between two long-held progressive goals: anti-monopolism and workers’ industrial power.
The progressive puzzle I’m analyzing here reminds me of sociologist Albert Hirschman’s discussion of two ways people deal with inadequate institutions: exit and voice. It plays out in this case as a tension between improving customers’ chances of dumping an unjust company for another one and improving workers’ chances – together with consumers – of transforming their company.
Check it out.
Update (7/3): Alek Felstiner offers some interesting thoughts in response:
At his press conference yesterday, President Obama made another move to distance himself from the NLRB’s complaint against Boeing for anti-union retaliation. While insisting he wouldn’t get into the merits of the case, Obama took the chance to emphasize the importance of capital mobility within the United States.
Here’s a different way he could have answered the question:
“There’s an legal process underway here, both Boeing and the union are having their day in court, and I’m not going to weigh in on what the evidence will show. I’m always happy to see cases like this reach a settlement both sides can live with – but that’s up to the parties. What I do know is this: there’s an important principle at issue here – the protection of workers’ right to engage in collective action without being punished. Workers taking action together for their families and their communities is part of what has made this country great. Every worker, union or not, should know that there are laws not just regulating their working conditions but also protecting their right to push to make their jobs better. On my watch, those laws will be enforced.”
Same refusal to judge the merits of the case. But a very different emphasis.
My interview with Iranian labor leader Homayoun Pourzad is now up on Dissent, just in time for tomorrow’s two-year anniversary of Iran’s contested election:
JE: How do you see the role of religion in terms of mobilizing people in the movement or suppressing the movement?
HP: For millions of people, including some workers, religion is the only language that they know in terms of culture and politics. Religious language and symbolism were used masterfully to mobilize people against the Shah. And the regime has been able to keep the mobilization going, even deepening it, with Ahmadinejad, with the same language and the same worldview. There is no reason why the democratic movement and even the labor movement shouldn’t use the same language. After all, many workers are devout religious people and most Iranians are believers, maybe over 80 percent. So this is not an opportunistic deployment of the other side’s tactics or language. It belongs as much to us as it belongs to them. So when in defiance of the regime people go on the rooftops and say, “God is great,” it really shakes the regime. Because that is exactly the language that they have used, and they have been able to dupe people with. And now it’s being hijacked. The same thing is going on in other Middle Eastern countries. And so I think religion could play a huge role in that sense.
We also talk about the evolving relationship between the labor movement and the Green movement, the challenges each faces, and what the US government should do. Check it out.
Jim DeMint Communications Advisor Amanda Carpenter yesterday tweeted a link to a Wall Street Journal story on a motion filed by three South Carolina Boeing employees working with the National Right to Work Foundation. Boeing, as I explained in this piece, is charged by the NLRB’s General Counsel with retaliating against union members in Washington State by transferring a new line of airliners to South Carolina. The three workers, at least one of whom was active in campaigning to get rid of the Machinists union at the South Carolina plant, want to intervene in the case in defense of Boeing. Carpenter is presumably tweeting (on her personal feed) the article because she likes seeing Boeing employees siding with the company (at least three, that is). But I’d say the most revealing piece of the WSJ story is buried in the sixth paragraph (emphasis mine):
When Boeing bought one of the pre-existing 787 facilities in the state, the production employees working there at the time were represented by the Machinists union and Boeing was “more than willing to work with” the union, the motion says. Still, one of the three employees now seeking to intervene successfully led an effort to decertify the union at that plant in September 2009, in part to improve Boeing’s chances of building the new facility, the motion says.
So one of the Boeing workers thought going non-union would improve the chances of Boeing moving production to South Carolina. How does that help Boeing’s case that it doesn’t retaliate against union activity? Would be interesting to know if any Boeing management suggested to this worker that getting rid of the union would be seen favorably by the company. (That could have been grounds for another Unfair Labor Practice charge). Maybe the Journal could do a follow-up story on the topic.
I tweeted at Carpenter yesterday to get her take on this part of the story, but so far no response.
Update: The NRWF motion is on-line. In his declaration, Dennis Murray says
My reported piece breaking news about the employers’ lawsuit against ILWU Local 10 is up on Working in These Times:
April 4 saw hundreds of solidarity actions across the United States, but only one reported work stoppage. On the national day of “We Are One” actions defending the right to collective bargaining, thousands of longshoremen shut down the ports of San Francisco and Oakland for 24 hours by not showing up to work.
The Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), which comprises the longshoremen’s employers, responded by filing a federal lawsuit against those workers’ union, the International Longshore and Warehouse Workers union (ILWU) Local 10. Now, only a month after filing their lawsuit, the employers have reportedly reached out to the union to discuss dropping their charges.
Check it out. I’ll be posting updates as the story develops.
My new piece debunking right-wing rhetoric about the NLRB’s Boeing complaint is up on Counterpunch and Common Dreams:
During the Bush years, many progressives gave up hope that the government could really make companies pay when they broke the law. Now a big company may have to pay a big price for illegally punishing workers. Last month the National Labor Relations Board, the federal body that enforces labor law, issued a complaint charging that Boeing illegally transferred the production of a line of aircraft out of Washington State. Boeing is accused of transferring the production to punish the workers there for going on strike. Punishing workers for union activity is retaliation, and it’s illegal. If Boeing is found guilty, it could be made to transfer the whole production line back. Naturally, the prospect of the Labor Board seriously enforcing labor law has Republicans freaking out…
Right-wingers are rising to defend Boeing, bash the NLRB, and blame Obama. But rather than debate retaliation against workers, conservatives want to conjure phantom menaces: bureaucrats micro-managing production, Democrats punishing “Right to Work” states, and union bosses paralyzing job creators.
Check it out.
Update (5/29): It’s now up on Talking Union and ZNet too.
In the wake of Walker’s Wednesday maneuver, National Review‘s Daniel Foster mourned the extent to which Americans still (or maybe more so now) recognize union rights as democratic rights, or as any kind of right at all:
To hear all the talk of the “rights” — even “civil rights”(!) — that have been stripped from public sector workers in this bill by the “far right wing” is to see Stockholm Syndrome on a massive scale…The fact is that no individual human being lost a single right in Wisconsin tonight.
The right that Scott Walker and company are desperate to deny is this: the right of a worker to sit across the table from her boss as an equal, with the security of solidarity and the leverage of collective action, and say “No.” It’s the right to say safety rules are too weak or healthcare is too expensive and to exercise voice with strength rather than to exit in hopes of finding a charitable boss somewhere else. And with it goes the right – also attacked by Walker – to act together to move your boss.
There are no workers that conservatives believe should exercise these rights -unless, maybe, they’re in a history book. Either the job you do is too important to be subject to your needs (like TSA screeners), or the business you work for is too small (like a store), or your company is too generous already (like Starbucks), or you’re not really a worker (like domestic workers), or your job requires too much independent thinking (like graduate teachers), or your job should be done by a teenager and you should go to college (like fast food), or – like public workers in Wisconsin – you don’t need an organized voice on the job because you get to vote on who runs the government.
Was recently listening to the journalists on Slate’s Political Gabfest pondering why union density is so much higher amongst public sector workers than the private sector. None of them mentioned the most important difference: It’s harder for a government to get away with running a terror campaign against the union.
There’s more oversight and accountability to restrain public sector management from threatening workers for union activity, implying benefits to keeping out the union or danger with it, holding captive audience meetings against the union, or just firing union leaders. Only some of these tactics are even illegal. And bosses get away with those all the time. (Check out this reportfrom Human Rights Watch, or this one from Prof. Kate Bronfenbrenner). Consultants get very wealthy guiding companies on how to run fear campaigns against employees trying to organize. It’s a lot harder for the TSA to cut anti-union consultants a check than it is for Wal-Mart. When it comes to organizing, the fundamental difference between public sector and private sector workers is that public sector workers have a better chance at organizing free from fear. So lots and lots of public sector workers do.