The year 2008 was when the big banks were bailed out, but it was also the year that catalyzed one group of window makers into democratically running their own factory.
On the former industrial hub of Goose Island in Chicago, the employees of Republic Windows and Doors made headlines after they were locked out of their jobs just before Christmas without the back pay or severance they were owed. Organized by the United Electrical Workers Union, these displaced workers did exactly what the ownership hoped they wouldn’t do. They refused to quietly accept the layoffs. Instead, the workers engaged in a sitdown strike at their factory, garnering local and national media attention. Eventually, the employees won the occupation, forcing Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase (Republic’s primary creditors) to create a fund to give the workers their back pay, benefits, and health insurance. This became viewed as a much-needed victory for workers and unions in a desperate economic time.
And this January, more than seven years after their initial takeover, the workers finally received their last payment won from their struggle. According to the Chicago Tribune, “The National Labor Relations Board announced Wednesday that it will distribute to 270 union workers $295,000 in back pay stemming from labor law violations.”
A short but well-organized campaign to stop plans to build a coal export terminal in the Oakland Port resulted in a packed Oakland City Council meeting on September 21, and a vote requiring a public health impact study to guide the Council’s action, up to and including a moratorium on coal.
Contrary to popular belief, de-unionization is not primarily due to globalization or new technology: Successful attacks on organized labor have affected many place-bound low-tech industries, like construction or hospitality, nearly as much as manufacturing. The primary driver of labor’s decline is the growing power of corporate employers who are fiercely determined to weaken unions where they already exist and to prevent their emergence elsewhere. That determination is reinforced by the ideology of market fundamentalism, for which both unionism itself and governmental protection of the right to organize are anathema.Continue reading De-Unionization & the Future of Work→
On June 29th, the International Program for Labor, Climate and Environment, in partnership with 32BJ, Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, and Rosa Luxemburg Siftung – New York, hosted a one-day climate summit. The summit brought together unions from the U.S. and 12 other countries for a day of discussion on the Paris talks and related actions; the international trade union movement’s program and strategy and the need to confront the ‘energy and climate emergency,’ and to hear how unions are linking climate protection to the anti-austerity and equality movements that are gaining momentum in different countries.
How have decades of union busting, “right-to-work” and the decline of organized labor affected workforce development? According to Corporate America beat back its best job trainers, and now it’s paying a price, a post on the Washington Post’s Wonkblog by Lydia DePillis, they’ve led to a decline in overall job preparedness — alongside an ever-growing need for an educated workforce. DePillis writes:
Although unions have historically constructed high-quality educational pipelines to well-paying jobs in cooperation with employers, labor has lost ground over the years. In the absence of union training programs, businesses in vast sectors of the economy are scrambling to meet their workforce needs through other means, like piecemeal job training programs and partnerships with community colleges, with few solutions that have really broad reach.
Over the years, [costs have] shifted to workers and the public education system. Companies in general have been spending less on training, as jobs have grown more transitory. Companies don’t see the point in investing in someone who’ll only stick around for a few years, if that, particularly when economic prospects are uncertain. So, at a time when manufacturing requires more sophisticated knowledge, the companies have found themselves without a base of trained workers, leading to complaints about a “skills gap.”