FIGHTING WORDS

Nathan Newman: “Many conservative analysts try to explain the weakness of labor unions and social democracy in the U.S. through a whole range of culturalist explanations about the U.S. working class. Racism is often cited but as Blackmon’s book makes clear, one incredibly key but almost completely unmentioned factor is the southern gulag that destroyed free labor in a whole region of the country–with the full cooperation of northern capitalists who recognized the economic and political usefulness of a non-union region of the country to undermine labor in the rest of the nation.”

Dean Baker: “They are prepared to use the heavy hand of the government to ensure that small meat packers do not win out over bigger more politically powerful meat packers. It is clear that the Bush administration is not prepared to tell the big meat packers that ‘you are on your own.'”

Ann Friedman: “Their decisions are seen by the antichoice Republican base as affirmation that Palin shares their values. But the underlying message that each woman had a choice is a validation of pro-choice values.”

FIGHTING WORDS: PRIMARY EDITION

Harold Meyerson: “Next Tuesday, in fact, Connecticut Democrats will be doing exactly what small-d democratic theorists would have them do: decide an election by opting for one clear policy alternative, as personified by one candidate, over another personified by the incumbent. From a big-D Democratic perspective, Connecticut’s Democrats are doing what Democrats are hoping a clear majority of voters everywhere will do this November: reject incumbents who have supported the failed policies of this administration, the war most particularly.”

Mark Schmitt: “The real reason the Vietnam War divided and discredited Democrats and splintered the liberal consensus was because – let’s not be afraid to admit it — Democrats started that war.”

Nathan Newman: “In some ways, what Newt argued is not that different from what many in the netroots have argued — it’s just that many in the blogs are far more tepid in admiting ideas and ideology matter than old Newt. The blogs practice ideological warfare sporadically, but then seem somewhat embarassed when moderates call them on it, as if it’s something kind of dirty.”

FIGHTING WORDS (ALITO EDITION)

Nathan Newman: “So subtract the Supreme Court and democratic reapportionment of the states might never have happened. And the anti-democratic rightwing recognized this and was prepared to make almost any deal to override the Supreme Court through a Constitutional Amendment, including cutting a deal with the labor movement.”

Robert Gordon: “The argument that he was just saying whatever it was convenient for him to say in order to get a job doesn’t sound too good coming from somebody who is now trying to get another job. There is something really slippery, or at least less than forthright, about his approach to his own record of actions and opinions.”

The Nation: “When in 1969-70 President Nixon nominated and lost both Clement Haynsworth and Harrold Carswell, the result was not “someone worse” but the pragmatic, humane Judge Harry Blackmun, who later wrote Roe v. Wade; when Bork was Borked, his replacement was Anthony Kennedy, who in 1992 joined fellow Reagan nominee O’Connor to reaffirm Roe.”

BORROW AT WILL

Faced with the prospect of having to cover something substantive, like Judge Alito’s long record of anti-worker jurisprudence, which Nathan Newman documented and Sherrod Brown wrote a letter about to Mike DeWine, the Cleveland Plain Dealer decided that the more interesting story was Brown’s use of Nathan’s work without attribution. As Nathan himself writes:

Were they deceived that Brown got on LEXIS, did the legal research himself, and wrote every word of the letter he sent Mike DeWine himself? This is the comparison to academic plagiarism, but the difference between students (and I teach two classes) and politicians is that we expect students to do their own research. Politicians have speech writers and use other peoples ideas without attribution all the time.

So the problem isn’t using other people’s ideas, but that somehow the American people assumed that Brown paid good money to staff for these unattributed ideas and the fact that he got them for free from a blogger is a scandal. Now, if I was a volunteer on the Brown campaign, and not a paid staff person, would all these conservatives beating their breasts over plagiarism still see a problem? I doubt they could do so with a straight face. So is the problem that I am an independent political activist offering my ideas to all progressive comers, without working for Brown specifically?

As Nathan notes, he posted the piece not only on his own website but on DailyKos, every page of which bears the disclaimer:

Site content may be used for any purpose without explicit permission unless otherwise specified.

But in case any intrepid Senate campaign staffers are out there looking to lift writing from a (less talented, younger, unmarried) blogger, let me offer an additional disclaimer of my own for Little Wild Bouquet:

Take whatever you want (as long as you don’t re-write it to mean the opposite). Please. Take it all. Have at it. No, really. This means you. You know you want it.

Please?

Anybody?

FIGHTING WORDS

Nathan Newman: “If progressives want a killer political response to Bush’s calls for making the Estate Tax permanent, it’s to keep the estate tax and devote the proceeds to long-term health care. The purpose is the same — preserving assets for the next generation — but ending the “sickness tax” would have far broader appeal than conservative wailing about a “death tax” that applies only to a a tiny percentage of the population.”

Sam Smith: “It was on this show that I got conservative journalist Marc Morano to admit he was a ‘a la carte’ socialist since he used Washington’s subway system. ‘You’re a subway socialist,’ I had told him. ‘You’re just not a healthcare socialist.'”

David Sirota: “This blunting of the left’s ideological edge is a result of three unfortunate circumstances. First, conservatives spent the better part of three decades vilifying the major tenets of the left’s core ideology, succeeding to the point where “liberal” is now considered a slur. Second, the media seized on these stereotypes and amplified them – both because there was little being done to refute them, and because they fit so cleanly into the increasingly primitive and binary political narrative being told on television. And third is Partisan War Syndrome – the misconception even in supposedly “progressive” circles that substance is irrelevant when it comes to both electoral success and, far more damaging, to actually building a serious, long-lasting political movement.”

FIGHTING WORDS

Anna Burger: “The truth is we do work hard. We’re driving trucks, and serving food, cleaning hotels, picking apples, building houses, pouring concrete, and stocking shelves. And American workers do play by the rules. But the rules no longer work.”

Greg Palast: “I admit, I was suckered by Galloway. I was the first journalist in the UK to rush to his defense on television when he was accused of wrong-doing. I wanted to believe in him, but the hard facts condemn him — and us, if we don’t act true to our moral imperative. Mr. Galloway told the Independent newspaper, ‘I’m not as Left-wing as you think.’ Indeed, he isn’t.”

Nathan Newman: “So a narrow focus on Delay might get him indicted, even convicted, but it won’t hurt the GOP that broadly. What’s needed is a clear focus on who the companies contributing the money were and what they got from doing so.
THAT is the story that converts a political he said-she said political fight into a meaningful symbol of Republican corporation corruption”

FIGHTING WORDS

Joe Stork: “Mubarak’s biggest challenge isn’t winning the election, but generating enough voter turnout to claim popular legitimacy. It’s no coincidence that recent police violence against the government’s critics occurred when protestors urged the public to boycott the polls.”

Nathan Newman: “the reality is that decent wages translates into better quality and less costs down the road, as a range of studies linked to on that page highlight. If we should have learned anything from Katrina, it’s that short-term cost savings translate into long-term costs.”

Barack Obama: “I hope we realize that the people of New Orleans weren’t just abandoned during the Hurricane. They were abandoned long ago – to murder and mayhem in their streets; to substandard schools; to dilapidated housing; to inadequate health care; to a pervasive sense of hopelessness. That is the deeper shame of this past week – that it has taken a crisis like this one to awaken us to the great divide that continues to fester in our midst.”

LABOR ROUND-UP ROUND-UP

Are we meta, or what?

Nathan Newman’s labor news round-up brings together stories on the implications of the AFL-CIO split, its local impact, future organizing opportunities, state law, and the international movement.

The Bellman’s zwichenzug followed up that round-up with a labor blogging round-up of his own, bringing together a range of views on issues from the historical meaning of the split to open-source unionism to the UAW’s endorsement (this site makes it in there too).

Now that the cries of the people (both of them) have brought the reign of the ubiquitous block-quotes to an end on this site, I’ll just plead with you, kind reader, to follow those links.

UNION RIGHTS ARE SPEECH RIGHTS

While I don’t at all agree with Thomas Geoghegan’s contention in Which Side Are You On that the ACLU’s agenda, while noble, wouldn’t “cost anyone anything” to implement, he does speak to a well-justified frustration many “labor liberals” feel at the difficulty of stirring certain civil libertarians to get up in arms about the civil liberties of workers on and off the job. Not only are positive rights (like economic security) crucial to the meaningful exercise of negative rights (like free speech), positive and negative rights frequently and fundamentally intersect, perhaps nowhere moreso than the workplaces in which millons spend the majority of their waking hours. Opposition to civil liberties comes not only from those who see in others’ exercise of their rights a threat to their values but also from those who see in others’ exercise of their rights a threat to their economic interests. That’s why the right of workers to speak, assemble, and organize on and off the job has always been threatened in this country. And that’s why it’s so often fallen to unions, in Nathan Newman’s words, to “bring the first Amendment to the workplace.” It’s worth asking (as Geoghegan was trying, though through a troubling turn of phrase, to do) why the idea of deprivation of civil liberties affects many of us more viscerally than the idea of economic deprivation. But even those who only get up in arms over the former should be disturbed that, as Geoghegan has been reminding us for years, American law offers you no protection against being fired for expressing your political beliefs, and promises the weakest of responses to employers who threaten, punish, or fire workers seeking to bargain collectively.

What are the stakes? The Bush-appointed majority on the National Labor Relations Board provided a reminder last month when it upheld a security firm’s rule that bars its employees from “fraternizing” with each other on or off the job. Guardsmark insisted that its employees give up their right to associate with each other socially on their own time as a condition of employment, and the NLRB blessed the company to keep the rule in place.

GETTING DENSE AGAIN

A week ago, TPMCafe opened its House of Labor, a collaborative blog on the future of the Labor Movement with the likes of Nathan Newman, Bill Fletcher, and Jo-Ann Mort, and the discussion has remained unusually articulate, informed, and relevant ever since. Over the past few days the contributors have been debating the organizing agenda of the Change to Win Coalition (now chaired by Anna Burger), a topic on which there’s been all-too little discussion in the blogosphere and the media in general.

Tuesday Bill Fletcher considered a letter from Machinists President Tom Buffenbarger making the case that the AFL-CIO under Sweeney has done the best it could under the circumstances – a position Fletcher, like me, rejects – and that those circumstances deserve a more serious examination in this debate. Fletcher writes that

His argument is that the workforce has jumped in size dramatically and events, such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks (and other problems such as deindustrialization) have been devastating to organized labor. These issues, he asserts, are not being discussed. He is basically right: they are not being discussed in any serious way. Further, he asks what percentage of the workforce should we be trying to organize. What is interesting about this question is that i cannot remember anyone EVER attempting to answer it. The implicit question here is what percentage of the workforce needs to be organized such that there is a QUALITATIVE improvement in the power relation between labor and capital…What has largely been missing from the debate, as i asserted in an earlier blog, is a real analysis of the objective conditions facing workers generally and unions specifically. It is, for instance, very unclear in the debates what people actually mean by “power” for workers outside of bargaining power…while the debate has focused on the AFL-CIO, the reality is that it is the individual unions that have the major resources AND RESPONSIBILITY for organizing, yet this seems to have been largely ignored in most of the discussion.

Yesterday, Nathan Newman took up Bill Fletcher’s challenge to engage with Buffenbarger’s argument, agreeing that we need better ways to evaluate where we stand and how to get back on track than just comparing density percentages. One key, he suggests, is density within industries, and a more promising approach to building density is what distinguishes the Change to Win dissidents from the team that Buffenbarger is defending. He cites a piece from Justice for Janitors head Stephen Lerner which, as he summarizes

Lerner first argued that the key was dramatic comprehensive organizing, not incremental work by unions…He laid out the argument for consolidation around sectors where such strategic organizing would have the resources to make dramatic changes…He specifically argued that there is a critical point where the combination of density and militant action by unions makes employer opposition too costly; that is the point where employer resistance fades and unions make dramatic gains in a sector..The problem was that most unions were too diffuse in their organizing to achieve that critical mass in any particular sector, so they made small organizing gains that failed to counterbalance other losses. And he argued that unions had failed to grapple with changes in the global economy that made these diffuse organizing efforts even less effective…his steps to rebuilding the labor movement involved both a social vision and reorganization of the union structures…The key, he argued, was to exponentially expand the resources spent on organizing, not incrementally but in dramatic ways. In a sense, Lerner completely agreed with Buffenbarger that the problem was not in the AFL-CIO itself but in the international unions responsible for organizing…The solution was to set concrete goals…with a whole range of other resource and political commitments, from achieving legalization for undocumented immigrants to punishing anti-worker companies as examples to other employers.

While criticizing Lerner’s lack of emphasis on union democracy or racial equality, Nathan argues that the broad strategy he laid out was right then, and that the Change to Win unions are right to push the same one three years later.

Jo-Ann Mort echoes Nathan’s argument that the Change to Win approach to building density offers more hope of reversing the decline in union membership, and she suggests that that decline has brought us so far down that Buffenbarger’s question of “how much is enough” becomes an academic one:

SEIU and Unite-HERE, to name two unions, have strategies, it seems to me, on how to build critical mass in key industries and therefore increase bargaining power. These unions have even been willing to trade members in a particular industry so that their membership is more homogenous, and they can build strength within a certain industry or company. Sectors–both domestic and global matter more today than overall numbers, in a certain sense, but numbers also do matter. The fact is that with organized labor’s numbers having sunk below 10%, it makes it difficult not only to organize new workers, but also to advocate for new laws regarding union organizing, labor law, workers’ rights, etc.–let alone elect a union-friendly politician. Today, it’s a too rare occurance when someone even engages with a member of a union. There are whole regions of the country where labor members are nearly completely scarce. This makes it impossible for labor to build any kind of public support. No matter how you cut it, there is a crisis in labor, a crisis which the Buffenbarger letter doesn’t seem to acknowledge.

Responding today to readers’ comments, Nathan acknowledges that manufacturing unions have faced more hostile organizing conditions than the service unions who’ve been Sweeney’s strongest critics. But like the service unions, he argues, they have strategies available to respond – and they parallel the Change to Win approach:

I’d suggest four possibilities- (1) Abandon new manufacturing and organize associated services; (2) leverage their existing density more strategically; (3) organize the world; (4) organize Wal-Mart, the largest manufacturing company in the world…Given the fact that such a large part of employment in the US is in services — many of them not subject to easy overseas outsourcing in almost any scenario — why not concentrate all of the union movement’s extra resources on the “low hanging” fruit of local services, especially those services most related to a union’s core industry? In a sense, that’s what UNITE’s been doing for a number of years, shifting its organizing focus from garment manufacturing, which has been decimated by global competition, over to related industries like the industrial laundries who wash the clothes UNITE workers once sewed…Unlike the garment industry, a lot of big manufacturing like autos are still building factories in the US– often non-union as with the Japanese transplants — but the industry isn’t disappearing. And the UAW for example, as Frank no doubt knows better than me, is getting smarter at using its incumbent power at the Big Three to leverage new organizing through contract agreements– whether going after parts suppliers or through Chrysler negotiations to get agreements at Mercedes…If unions are stronger in developing nations, companies will only move plants there if it’s really more efficient– not just because they’re running to a non-union environment. And the reality is that US unions could help fund a hell of a lot of organizers in those countries precisely because wages and the cost of living are so much lower– and with more global allies, it would help keep the pressure on the manufacturers across the world…Organize Wal-Mart, which is far more than a retailer, but really the global headquarters directing the operations of thousands upon thousands of manufacturing subcontractors who produce what and when Wal-Mart tells them. Get a handle on Wal-Mart and the union movement could get a handle on organizing a heck of lot of manufacturing companies, both domestically and globally. And that’s a goal both the service and manufacturing unions can share.

UNITE HERE and SEIU absolutely were dealt a better hand as unions in industries where fewer jobs can move overseas. But the organizing victories they have to show from it would have been impossible if they hadn’t played those hands much better than most by prioritizing strategic organizing of the unorganized, including marginalized Americans, and strong community-based coalition-building. And, contrary to Buffenbarger’s implication, this is not a specialized strategy for the service industry.

As Nathan reminds us, while differences between industries are certainly something, they aren’t everything. The aggressive organizing strategy which made Detroit a city where auto workers join the middle-class and the one which made Las Vegas a city where hotel workers do have essential similarities we’d do well to recognize. So do the challenge of choosing interracial solidarity over union-backed racism in an earlier generation and the modern challenge of organizing across lines of citizenship and borders.

FLIP-FLOP IN A PHRASE

Appearing on Hardball, What’s the Matter With Kansas star Sam Bronwback (R-Kansas) just told us that Americans are angry at the courts because they keep “inserting themselves” in issues where we don’t believe they belong, like Roe, and “changing our understanding” of issues like property in cases like Kelo. What he avoided saying, lest he stray off the message discipline reservation, is that the decision in Kelo he decries as a change was a decision not to overturn the law. Senator Brownback’s problem with the court’s economic jurisprudence, in other words, is that it’s not activist enough.

The conservative establishment vision for the court is not that it leave controversial decisions to be settled directly by the people, but rather that it step back when majorities choose to legislate against civil liberties (especially those of others) , and then aggressively intercede to overturn even those economic regulations which are overwhelmingly popular. Conservatives like Sam Brownback are outraged when the court stops a heterosexual majority from writing homosexuals out of the city’s non-discrimination laws in Romer, but elated when it turns back Congress’ attempt to keep firearms out of our schools. Whereas my reactions, unsurprisingly, are the opposite. A couple days ago I set forth a couple of the reasons I think the Court is justified in blocking the imposition of majoritarian sexual morality in Griswold and unjustified in blocking the majority’s attempt to set common labor standards in Lochner (if you want to have sex without condoms and make at least $5 an hour at work – not at the same time that is – my using condoms doesn’t make a difference to you but my working for $1 does). And Brownback has his reasons for his position as well. But unlike, say, Nathan Newman, he can’t hope to credibly claim that he’s an opponent of “judicial activism” across the board (and unlike – maybe – Finnegan, he can’t claim to be a consistent fan of judicial intervention to limit government either).

As a couple Yalies just showed in a Times piece identifying Clarence Thomas to be the Court’s Activist-in-Chief, the question for most of us is when and to what extent such activism is just and appropriate, and the country would would be better served by a national debate on that question (personally, if the question were all the activism or none of it – which I’m glad it isn’t – I’d go with none so that the left would at least have recourse to the legislature, and a spur to organize).

SEEKING SOLAR SOLIDARITY

Nathan offers a good example of what a missed chance to build a broad-based pro-environmental constituency looks like:

California is debating a Schwarzenegger-backed bill to subsidize solar panels on homes and businesses across the state– on a level that could supply energy equivalent to 10 average-sized coal-fired power plants. Sounds good, but in a classic move to pit labor and environmental interests, the GOP cosponsors, as this article details, oppose a requirement that public money only go to installers paying prevailing union wages in the state. Labor in California has fought a long struggle to require that, if government pays for it, the labor has to meet union wage levels. Now, the GOP wants to open a multi-billion dollar loophole in the rule: somehow the hipness of solar panels makes using public money for sweatshop labor acceptable. This is a perfect chance for environmentalists to stand up for the principle that green policy can also be a pro-labor policy, but few environmental leaders have stepped up to champion prevailing wages for the workers who would actually install all these solar panels across the state.

It’s this kind of failure build not just a momentary majority but a stable, inter-generational, cross-cause constituency that caused some environmental leaders last year to declare “The Death of Envionmentalism.” Of course, where Nathan says,

And the enviros wonder why some labor unions joined the GOP in supporting drilling in ANWR when they promised that all those jobs would pay union wages

one could with equal justification fire back “And the union people wonder why some environmentalists are willing to screw them to get solar energy in the wake of ANWR.” The stakes for both movements – fostering an alternative to a laissez-faire race to the bottom and building an economy which values and invests in human beings and the earth – are too high not to work together. Everyone has on the left has some work to do to get their own house(s) in order. If you want to see what the payoff from broader-based, cross-issue organizing looks like, just check out the modern Right in this country.