Hard Changes Coming to France?

Paris   The day began with an ominously when I woke up at 2:05 AM for my 2:45 AM ride to the 3:17 AM train to Budapest. After taking a shower, I realized that in the dark, I had misread the time, and it was now 12:20 AM, not 2:20 AM. It was going to be a long day!

The 3:17 AM to Budapest was a workers’ milk run to the city. Tired men and women would slump into their seats and then immediately doze off in a practiced part of their routine. The train hit Budapest 4 minutes late, and I knew I only had 8 minutes then to find the ticket machine, get a ticket, find bus 200E and make to the airport for my 6:25 AM flight, where I could doze off in my practiced routine.

And, then on to Paris. With the election of the Macron government and his new party, Marche, which has disrupted French politics, hard changes were projected with hard fights in the future to see whether he would succeed or would the resistance.

The first change I noticed though was the McDonalds in the guts of Terminal 1 at Charles DeGaulle Airport. Of course it was huge. That was predicable, but it was also all automatic. Orders had to be placed on a eye-level robotron machine where you picked through your selection, to go or in-house, card or cash, and then went to a counter to pay and pickup, or not. Where you would think automation would mean less workers, I had never seen so many. There were people to help you learn the machine. If you were eating there, a worker brought you order to your table. Yes, to your table! Everywhere we looked there were staff people by the dozens. Our affiliates in France had been working on the McDonald’s organizing campaign and the fight for higher wages and workers’ voice there, as well as the opposing the use of GMOs, which are largely vilified in France. I noted all of this with interest, mentally tabulating the contradictions.

Meeting later in the afternoon with several union and community organizers, there seemed to be a feeling that the constant assault on long established labor rights that had endured in France for generations against almost constant attack were in real danger from the new government. Though Macron had run on a merging of left and right policy positions, and had formerly been a minister in the ruling Socialist Party before resigning to pave his own path, there seemed nothing moderate in his proposals for amending labor rights. The rigid and exacting labor rules that make it difficult to displace workers in an arbitrary fashion have long been targeted by business interests. Labor unions are girding for the fight of course, particularly the CGT, which has militantly drawn the line in the past even though a competing workers’ federation has been trying to play a more accommodating role with the new government. All other business, including new organizing, seems to have been pushed aside for the coming struggle.

Nonetheless, even if labor’s efforts were heroic, my friends seem to feel success would be defined in how much was saved compared to how much would be lost in measuring the level of the defeat, rather than optimistically predicting a victory.

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Local 100 Leaders Share Skills and Plot the Future

Congressman Al Green (D-Houston)

Houston   When local leaders get together in the annual leadership conferences for Local 100 the room is always buzzing with conversation when a speaker isn’t on the floor or a workshop isn’t scheduled. They are sharing stories about grievances, problems with bosses, membership concerns, and a million other issues, including the always vexing problems around fair wages and benefits. Another theme that has been recurred with added urgency at the 37th annual conference were the every accelerating threats to the very survival of labor unions.

the popular leader and steward panel with Stephanie Newtown (warren) and Robert Stahn (Arlington)

Perhaps the highlight of the conference was a brilliant workshop on leadership development, unit maintenance, and grievance handle moderated by Robert Stahn, chief steward of one of our newest units in Texas of bus drivers and attendants with the Arlington Independent School District, and Stephanie Newton, one of the team of stewards and activists at the Southeast Arkansas Human Development Center in Warren, Arkansas. There was a lot of back and forth and other key stewards weighted in on everything from how they recognized “union material” in new workers to the importance of handling grievances on the job site in the Dallas County ISD. Sister Newton, with very little warning that she was moderating the session, demonstrated why she is such a revered steward by the members in Warren and so feared by management by reeling off a list of almost a dozen “must-do” tips for handling grievances beginning with the importance of understanding the rules, procedures, and contract when members have one. Brother Stahn inspired members with the story of how Arlington drivers had won a 5% putting starting wages over $15.00 hour in the district and pulling up attendants as a priority as well.

Given that Local 100’s members are lower waged workers, there were both reports and discussions on how to move forward on “living” wage campaigns. The members voted to make a $10 per hour wage the absolute bottom line on our contracts and facilities, while hearing a report on the New Orleans fight to get cleaners the benefits of a $10.55 minimum which has thrown the union into court against the city. Plans were made for healthcare and community home workers to insert themselves into the legislative budget process in Louisiana to impact reimbursement rates and force some sharing to bring wages and benefits up. Arkansas state worker members are involved in a similar process and shared their efforts. Another workshop showcased our success since the last conference in getting lead tested in Houston and to some degree in Dallas and the need for constant followup.

workshops on lead raised a lot of questions

Congressman Al Green from Houston had opened up the session with a report on the struggles in Washington over consumer protection, healthcare and sundry other matters. Green is seeking to trigger impeachment proceeds for President Trump as well. State Representative Ron Reynolds detailed the fight to prevent a loss of payroll deductions for public employees in Texas which is part of the call for a special session there.

Texas State Representative Ron Reynolds from Houston

The union recommitted to fighting to keep affordable healthcare and protect Medicaid which is so critical in our workplaces and communities, while also discussing new initiatives and organizing models for the union that recognized the changing circumstances of workers and the service economy.

Everyone learns things at these conferences. I got instructions on how a “bus arm camera” works to photograph cars that go around school buses and ticket them for $300 in Texas, as well as device called a “zonar” that drivers are required to use in Arlington on bus maintenance, inspections, and attendance. I also asked how many members had checked the union’s website and Facebook pages in the last 30 days, and received a wake up call about our need to communicate more directly not only on worksites but also through robodialers and going old school on phonebanks between leaders, organizers, and members.

Merging the big picture and the constant details makes any leadership gathering of union leaders and stewards essential.

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