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Politics, Progressivism and the Future of the Democratic Party

By Basil Anthony Smikle Jr. 

Earlier this year, Gallup reported that a record number of Americans identify as Independents. Forty-two percent of the country shed traditional political party labels: Republican Party identification fell to 25% while 31% identified with Democrats – down from 36% in 2008 when Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama battled for the nomination. Attempts to recalibrate each national party’s internal political compass before 2016 will likely prove more vexing for Republicans, but recent activity among major Democratic figures signals a far more aggressive push for realignment than previously thought. A high-profile campaign 10 years ago and recent developments among education policy-leaders may foreshadow a dramatic shift in the Party’s forthcoming platform.

Howard Dean’s rapid ascension among Democratic presidential contenders in 2004 was fueled in part by an strong anti-war stance, a unabashed liberal ideology during the neo-conservative Bush-Cheney years, and a pre-Facebook internet strategy that was groundbreaking for its fundraising and community-building activities. Dean famously lost in Iowa and New Hampshire as voters chose John Kerry, who was presumed to be a better general election candidate. While Dean’s loss was not wholly unwelcomed by certain corners of the Democratic Party, his most ardent supporters were without a champion until early 2007, when President Obama kicked off his seemingly quixotic campaign for the White House.   Continue reading Politics, Progressivism and the Future of the Democratic Party

Another Look at Labor in Dark Times – Part 3: Glimpses To Make One Less Forlorn

This is the final installment in a three-part series by Nick Unger on union structures, labor consciousness and the possibilities of organized labor moving forward. Read Part I: Thoughts on Union Structures, Labor History And Union Member Consciousness and Part II: Hello & Goodbye with Far Too Little In Between for the full picture.

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“Once the Voting Rights Act was passed and people got the right to vote, they stopped sitting in and started voting and that turned out to be much more effective.” -Former Rep. Barney Frank on the CNN series “The 60s”

Much more effective? The millions facing new barriers to the right to vote might question that. Replacing sit-ins with legally protected (a little) voting was a bad idea strategically, tactically and ideologically — and not just in retrospect. We were making progress so we stopped using the tools that worked. When has that ever worked?

But this is a blog about labor, not the civil rights movement. Same point. Replacing sit-down strikes with legally protected (a little) collective bargaining turned out to be effective for a little while. I know capital promptly moved to outlaw sit-down strikes to make a point, but they had never exactly been “legal” to begin with.

The big change was unions now had something to lose: their formal recognition and political acceptance, their institutional structures and treasuries. Before then, they just risked jail. Dylan was right: “When you ain’t got nothing you got nothing to lose.” Modern unions thought they had something to lose. Continue reading Another Look at Labor in Dark Times – Part 3: Glimpses To Make One Less Forlorn

Gag Rules and Wage Discrimination: Why Workers Need to Know Their Rights

Under the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, workers have a right to organize a union to negotiate with employers. So how can so many workplaces impose gag rules, prohibiting employees from discussing pay with one another?

In When the Boss Says, ‘Don’t Tell Your Coworkers How Much You Get Paid’, a recent article in The Atlantic, Jonathan Timm argues:

Gag rules…are policies that flourish when employers know the law and their employees do not.

Timm goes on to explain:

the NLRA is toothless and employers know it. When employees file complaints, the National Labor Relations Board’s “remedies” are slaps on the wrist: reinstatement for wrongful termination, back-pay, and/or “informational remedies” such as “the posting of a notice by the employer promising to not violate the law.”

At the same time, ignorance of the law can just as easily fuel gag rules. Craig Becker, general counsel for the AFL-CIO, used to serve on the National Labor Relations Board. He told me that workers who called the NLRB rarely were aware that their employer’s pay secrecy policy was unlawful.

Continue reading Gag Rules and Wage Discrimination: Why Workers Need to Know Their Rights

Unions Backing Historic People’s Climate March

By Jeremy Brecher

Delegates to Connecticut State Council of Machinists (CSCM) conference at the end of June voted unanimously to endorse and participate in the historic People’s Climate March set for Sunday, September 21, 2014 in Manhattan. This was just the most recent of a growing number of union endorsements for the March. New York area locals endorsing the March by June 20 included:

CWA District 1
CWA 1180
Teamsters Joint Council 16
Local 3 IBEW
DC37
SEIU 32BJ
TWU 100
Heat and Frost Insulators
UAW Region 9
NYSNA
Brotherhood of Maintenance and Way, Teamsters
SEIU 1199

These are just the pioneers: Many more endorsements, local and national, are expected.

 
The Peoples Climate March

On September 21, union members will march side-by-side with tens of thousands of their neighbors, friends and family members for a future with good jobs, clean air, and healthy communities for all.

The March coincides with a September 23 global summit on climate change called by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, frustrated at the slow pace of progress on this crucial issue. Ban Ki-moon will propose an aggressive global pact to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the end of 2015.

The invitation to the March says:

“With our future on the line and the whole world watching, we’ll take a stand to bend the course of history. We’ll take to the streets to demand the world we know is within our reach: a world with an economy that works for people and the planet; a world safe from the ravages of climate change; a world with good jobs, clean air and water, and healthy communities. To change everything, we need everyone on board.”

 
Labor on the March

Labor supporters of the march are encouraging union members, their families and their friends to participate in the September 21 March as proud union members and labor allies who are both concerned for our communities and determined to make a difference. An unprecedented array of forces for climate, economic justice and environmental justice including labor, community, environmental, human rights, faith, and arts organizations are coming together for this march.

Labor participants explain that climate change must be considered a labor issue – and an issue of social justice. When Super Storm Sandy hit the northeast in October 2012, we experienced firsthand the devastating impacts of a rapidly changing global climate. It destroyed communities and also revealed the vulnerabilities and inequities that existed before the storm for working New Yorkers. Sandy showed us that climate change is here and that if we do nothing the most vulnerable will be the hardest hit. Working people, the poor, the young, the old, women, immigrants, and people of color are all suffering disproportionately, yet together gain the least from the current patterns of investment and neglect.

Like the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom identified with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this march will emphasize the centrality of jobs to other forms of progress – in this case climate progress. It will send the message that the two crises of the climate and the economy have one solution – put people to work making our economy climate-safe.

Labor supporters of the March maintain that we can create good paying union jobs that address the climate crisis by reducing our emissions and transition us to a sustainable, equitable economy with energy efficient buildings, improved and expanded public transit systems, renewables-based power, sustainable waste systems, and much more. Addressing the climate crisis is an opportunity to reduce unemployment, grow our unions, improve our community’s health and restore balance to our environment. It’s also an opportunity to challenge the 1% and corporate CEO’s who are responsible for both attacking our unions and polluting our environment and causing climate change. They are the main reason why the United Nations has failed to reach a binding global agreement on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

 
Connecticut Machinists

The Connecticut State Council of Machinists delegates who voted to support the March represent more than 10,000 active and retired Machinists Union members in Connecticut from industrial sites including Pratt & Whitney, Hamilton Sundstrand, Electric Boat, Stanley Works and other IAM-represented workplaces around the state.

CT State Council President John Harrity said: “Let’s be clear. Climate change is the most important issue facing all of us for the rest of our lives. And as the resolution points out, working families and the poor will bear the brunt the catastrophic consequences we are already beginning to experience.”

Harrity continued, “I am proud of the CSCM delegates, and their clear understanding of how crucial this issue is. I am hoping that hundreds of Connecticut Machinists can make the short trip to New York for this historic event. When our kids, and grandkids, ask ‘What did you do to help stop this disaster?’ which they will surely ask if we do not take drastic steps immediately – Machinists Union activists can say, ‘We helped save the world. We were there on September 21.’”

 
Here is the text of the Connecticut Machinists’ resolution:

RESOLUTION IN SUPPORT OF THE PEOPLE’S CLIMATE MARCH

WHEREAS, world leaders are coming to New York City on September 23 for a historic United Nations summit on climate change and Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon will call for governments to agree on an ambitious agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions before the end of 2015; and

WHEREAS, an unprecedented array of groups representing climate, economic justice, environmental justice, human rights, labor, faith, and the arts are uniting for the People’s Climate March on Sunday, September 21; and

WHEREAS, the rapidly changing climate is impacting union members and working communities in New York as we experienced firsthand with the devastating impacts of Sandy; and

WHEREAS, we recognize that working people will suffer disproportionately from the current patterns of investment and neglect that do not prioritize good jobs, clean air, and healthy communities;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, to endorse the People’s Climate March and support the demand for an ambitious, binding, and fair agreement for emission reductions to foster a sustainable adaptation to the effects of climate change; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, to encourage union members, and also their families and friends, to participate in the march as proud union members and also encourage participation in the other events around the UN Climate Summit on September 23rd movement to address the challenge of climate change.

PASSED UNANIMOUSLY BY CT STATE COUNCIL OF MACHINISTS DELEGATES ON JUNE 21, 2014.

Photo by kris krug via flickr (CC-BY-NC-ND).

Response to Nick Unger’s “Unions as Consciousness Builders – Part 2”

On July 3rd, we posted Part II of Nick Unger’s series on union structures, labor history and union member consciousness. As with the first installment, the responses have been rolling in. Here’s a sampling:

From Martin Morand, Professor Emeritus, Industrial and Labor Relations, Indiana University of Pennsylvania:

Nick is painfully correct — as far as he has gone. Since he promises, “Glimpses of new possibilities that might make one less forlorn,” my cavils may be premature. But, “fools rush in…”

As critique this is brilliant — painfully so. Until I see the “new possibilities,” I remain forlorn. As with Occupy, it exposes and labels the enemy without quite providing a solution. Continue reading Response to Nick Unger’s “Unions as Consciousness Builders – Part 2”

What does the Harris v. Quinn decision mean for home care workers?

Since the Supreme Court’s ruling in Harris v. Quinn last month, some have questioned the future of home care worker organizing. The ruling stated that unions cannot require home care workers who choose not to be represented by the union to pay fees. According to a recent article in Portside by Dave Jamieson, however, the SEIU is showing no signs of slowing down in its efforts to organize:

Jamieson writes:

After being dealt a major setback by the Supreme Court just two weeks ago, the Service Employees International Union is plowing ahead in its efforts to organize home care workers, filing a petition Tuesday for what could be one of the largest union elections in Minnesota history.

According to SEIU, the election would cover an estimated 26,000 Medicaid-funded home care workers in the state who assist the elderly and people with disabilities. Under a hotly debated law passed last year, unions in Minnesota are allowed to organize day care and home care workers who work in clients’ homes and are paid in part through the federal health care program.

For the full article, visit Portside.

Photo by Jeff Kubina via flickr (CC-BY-SA).