Observations on Cuba

By Marisa Butler

In March, I traveled to Cuba with my family. We were able to go legally on a People to People license issued by the US government. Limited, legal travel is one of the ways the Obama administration has been easing restrictions between the two nations. As a requirement of our visa, we were mandated to adhere to a strict schedule of tours and programs that served as a cultural exchange, rather than a traditional vacation.

I want to give context to our trip and acknowledge my role as an outsider who was traveling within the bounds of a US-granted license and a tour run by the Cuban government. Despite these details, I learned an incredible amount that I feel has been mostly absent throughout my educational career in the United States. It was an incredible opportunity to view this experience through the lens of the Urban Studies program. Continue reading Observations on Cuba

Labor’s Only Real Choice: Beating Harris v. Quinn and Right-to-Work Attacks From the Inside Out

Jane McAlevey is working on her PhD at the CUNY Graduate Center.  This article was written by originally posted in The Nation.

Unions are in trouble. Short of a giant meteor crashing on top of the nation’s union headquarters emblazoned with the words, “warning, you will soon be crushed by right-to-work laws,” few things could be clearer from the Supreme Court’s Harris v. Quinn ruling.

Harris v. Quinn unites some of the most toxic trends in American labor tradition. It resurrects the worst of the 1935 National Labor Relations Act, the racially motivated, sexist concept of “excluded workers,” and then joins it with one of the worst provisions of the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, the so-called “right-to-work” legal framework which attempts to gut unions from the inside-out. (Although “right to work” has historically been a state’s rights concept, Harris v. Quinn effectively nationalizes it.)

Continue reading Labor’s Only Real Choice: Beating Harris v. Quinn and Right-to-Work Attacks From the Inside Out

Is Harris v. Quinn a Threat to Labor Peace?

Joshua Freeman is a professor of Labor History at The Murphy InstituteThis article was originally published in The Nation.

The five-to-four Supreme Court decision in Harris v. Quinn is a blow to organized labor, a movement that in recent decades has suffered one blow after another, with victories few and far between. But it is not as devastating as many unionists feared. The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation hoped to use this case involving Illinois homecare aides to overturn the 1977 ruling in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court decision which found it constitutional to require public employees who choose not to join a union to pay an “agency fee” to cover the costs of representing them. The majority opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito, took lots of potshots at Abood, but did not overturn it. Nonetheless, it ruled the agency fee illegal in this case, deeming the home aides involved not “full-fledged public employees” because under Illinois law they are jointly employed by the state and the individual clients they care for.

Continue reading Is Harris v. Quinn a Threat to Labor Peace?

Another go-round on Unions as Consciousness Builders – Part 2: Hello & Goodbye with Far too little In Between

By Nick Unger

Why would one expect American unions to foster a broad insurgent culture?  The legal framework, political and organizational for today’s unions goes back almost 80 years.  It has always encouraged a culture of accommodation with the needs of production, output and efficiency and discouraged a broad insurgent culture of conflict, turmoil and disruption.

The Wagner Act strictures were not imposed on labor but rather demanded by it.  The AFL in the 1930’s was not looking for social conflict and industrial strife but for stabilization.  The CIO was looking for the same thing, institutional standing for unions, though they were willing to use disruption as a tactic to get it.  The New Deal gave labor what it asked for, institutional protection.  Labor gave the New Deal leaders what they needed in return; relatively stable production. 

Unions viewed the Wagner Act as a fundamental pillar of American society, almost on the level of the Bill of Rights, like Social Security.  Unions were here to stay this time.  Public sector unionism’s growth comes from the post-World War 2 expansion of America’s version of a welfare state. Unions treated both the welfare state and the unions of workers who administer it as permanent features of American society more than as contested terrain.  Union structures made responding to the growing contest over the terrain more difficult. Continue reading Another go-round on Unions as Consciousness Builders – Part 2: Hello & Goodbye with Far too little In Between

Bad Week for Workers at the Supreme Court

By Penny Lewis is an Assistant Professor of Labor Studies at the Murphy Institute. 

It’s been a bad week for workers and unions at the US Supreme Court (not to mention women and families in general).  Last week, in NLRB v. Noel Canning, the Court affirmed the lower court decision that three appointments to the labor board made by President Obama in 2012 were invalid.  In the 18 months that these board members served, 436 cases were decided.  As the Washington Post reports, the current board will likely reaffirm the decisions it must revisit, but it’s not clear yet whether the effect of the ruling will be to force large scale revisiting of the decided cases, an outcome which would create a major backlog for the board. 

Worse, in the long and short terms, was the verdict in Harris v. Quinn, the case that the labor movement has been following with fearful anticipation for the past year.  Creating a new employee category of “partial public employee,” Alito’s majority decision found that such workers were not obliged to pay fees to unions that represented them if they were not members of the union themselves.  Putting the decision in historical context, Jane McAlevey points out

Harris v. Quinn takes aim at public-sector workers precisely because today they are the largest segment of unionized workers and, not coincidentally, a leading source of employment for people of color and women. The efforts of today’s economic elite to inflict a Taft-Hartley on the fastest-growing group of workers within public sector unions — home-care and childcare employees — seem like déjà vu.

While public sector unions dodged the worst outcome for now—which would be overturning all agency fees in the public sector— the decision written by Justice Alito lays groundwork for overturning Abood, the 1977 decision that allows unions to address the problem of “free riders” by charging agency fees for non-members in unionized workplaces.  For excellent coverage (and links to even more coverage) see On Labor.

Penny Lewis is Academic Director of Labor Studies and an Associate Professor of Labor Studies at The Murphy Institute.

Photo by Steve Rhodes via flickr (CC-BY-NC-ND).

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