New Orleans Reports on the closing of the AFL-CIO quadrennial convention in Los Angeles were depressing to me. Sure, I liked hearing Rich Trumka almost endorse my long standing call for “majority unionism” by saying labor needed “to build a movement not for the 99 percent but of the 99 percent. Not just the 11 percent we are right now.” On the other hand I had trouble finding where the beef might be. Elections of some people, no matter how good, to the Executive Council is a sentence to a elite frequent flyer status and butt calluses, not a prospect for real change for labor. There’s almost a proportional formula in these situations that the smaller the organization becomes, the more people it elevates to leadership.
It was wild reading Richard Berman of the so-called Center for Union Facts op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal which was largely an attack on worker centers bereft of virtually any factual basis. His most convoluted and misleading claim was that the value of worker centers, given their nonprofit status, was that they could picket companies endlessly and “get around” the NLRB requirement that after 30 days, a union’s picketing had to stop or file for an election. Huh? Of course he’s talking about the instance when a union might be picketing for recognition to represent the workers. The “facts” are that a union or any group or individual can picket any company endlessly over grievances and problems in the company. Berman needs to learn the facts about America and our freedom of association. Not sure what country he’s talking about, but of course he doesn’t really care about the truth there. He just wants to take some shots at worker centers in order to make the point that the publicity strikes recently at Walmart and at fast food shops calling for $15 per hour didn’t have many participants. Who said they did? They were protests called strikes. Get over it!
The most encouraging news from labor this week was from the UAW and its president Bob King, who recently returned from a meeting with Volkswagen officials in Germany where he was seeking recognition. For the first time the UAW can see potential success in organizing a “transplant” or foreign automaker in the US since they now have a majority of the 2000 workers signed up at the VW plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee thanks to a big layoff there that sparked the drive. The wage differences are of course not the driver. VW pays $14.50 to start where most UAW auto contracts start at $15.78 and in 4 years go to $19.28, while VW gets past that to $19.50 in 3 years. UAW success finally in the South would be much more of a game changer for the labor movement than learning how to use Twitter or Facebook. And, I’m not oblivious to the reality that fast food workers demands for $15 per hour seem hollow when the elite of labor in the auto industry are scratching to get close to $15 themselves.
To organize still requires putting organizers real boots on the ground, not more press releases and tweets in the air, and it still takes real members and real workers to build a movement, not just a claim to represent.