Rewriting the Rules

Rewriting-rulesNew Orleans              The AFL-CIO has already begun the process of vetting potential Presidential candidates, offering the opportunity to any of the score that has an interest in coming by, which so far means all the Democrats and Republican ex-Arkansas Governor and current TV commentator Mike Huckabee. Interestingly, Rich Trumka has indicated that the AFL’s key benchmark flows from a new report spearheaded by Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz of Roosevelt University with the input of a host of others. The report is called “Rewriting the Rules,” so let’s take a look at its proposals.

Not surprisingly, Trumka and the house of labor are no doubt pleased to see the ringing endorsement of expanded labor rights and promotion of collective bargaining as important principles to re-establish in the economy. The clearest proposal in this area recommended that the federal government add clear conditions not only to governmental subcontracts but to development grants to protect and advance union protections and bargaining. The rest was predictable.

The point of the report is that the rules matter. No rules, which is what the long desert of deregulation in so many sectors produced, tilted the economy to the 1% and allowed Wall Street and other cowboys to herd us into the Great Recession. Remember it wasn’t just “no rules,” but “bad rules,” which is the point here, too. “Rewriting the Rules” is an argument that in order to re-balance the economy and its myriad winners-and-losers, our politicians and the government need to put new regulations in place that would allow us to prosper and to do so more equitably.

Perhaps most interesting were the recommendation for reforming the financial sector, because this is right in the wheelhouse for Stiglitz and many of his helpers:

 

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 10.02.33 AMEnd “too big to fail” by imposing additional capital surcharges on systemically risky financial institutions and breaking up firms that cannot produce credible living wills.

 

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 10.02.33 AMBetter regulate the shadow banking sector.

 

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 10.02.33 AMBring greater transparency to all financial markets by requiring all alternative asset managers to publicly disclose holdings, returns, and fee structures.

 

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 10.02.33 AMReduce credit and debit card fees through improved regulation of card providers and enhanced competition.

 

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 10.02.33 AMEnforce existing rules with stricter penalties for companies and corporate officials that break the law.

 

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 10.02.33 AMReform Federal Reserve governance to reduce conflicts of interest and institute more open and accountable elections.

 

Some of those recommendations would make a difference, particularly impacting on banking and credit access and affordability. The report also takes some clear shots at what is needed to rein in the quick buck artists of business for the protection of the economy and the public.

 

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 10.02.33 AMRestructure CEO pay by closing the performance-pay tax loophole and increasing transparency on the size of compensation packages relative to performance and median worker pay and on the dilution as a result of grants of stock options.

 

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 10.02.33 AMEnact a financial transaction tax to reduce short-term trading and encourage more productive long-term investment.

 

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 10.02.33 AMEmpower long-term stakeholders through the tax code, the use of so-called “loyalty shares,” and greater accountability for managers of retirement funds.

 

I wouldn’t hold my breath about any of this, but it is reassuring that labor at least is asking the right questions and pointing the way to some hard decisions and clear policies.

***

Please enjoy Rickie Lee Jones’ J’ai Connais Pas (I Don’t Know).

Thanks to KABF.

Another Crossroads for Immigration Reform Strategy and Tactics

2013-04-10t214708z_730655525_gm1e94b05i901_rtrmadp_3_immigration-rally.38038077002New Orleans    Rich Trumka of the AFL-CIO lambasted the Republican “principles” on immigration reform as a non-starter virtually creating a permanent apartheid of immigrants inside the country.  There was a time when the vigorousness of labor’s opposition would have signaled the death of such a bill.  This time though President Obama was encouraging to the Republicans, even signaling that he might be open to the door being shut on undocumented workers here now, as long as it wasn’t permanently locked.  The president is obviously desperate to get something done on immigration in a time of political peril for his presidency with the countdown already beginning on whether or not his time is running out even though three years remain.

More troubling for reformers committed to more meaningful reform were comments made by Chicago Congressman Luis Gutierrez, who more than any other politician has made reform his issue in every way possible.  Gutierrez essentially seem to be cautioning reformers that they need to lose the last of their illusions and be prepared to make a deal with the Republicans anyway they can, no matter the fact that they might be covering their noses, eyes, and mouths to do so.   This seems to be the emerging Washington beltway consensus voiced as well in part by longtime advocates, Frank Sharry of America’s Voice and Angela Kelley of the Center for American Progress.

In five years, the immigration reform movement seems to have devolved from a position of calling for comprehensive reform to trying to get a patchwork quilt to cover array of issues faced by 14 million undocumented immigrants in the country.  Some of this isn’t news.  Advocates have been strategically withdrawing for some time to be willing to embrace reform in separate packages rather than as part of a comprehensive measure.  Chris Newman of NDLON, one of the leading groups behind any reform and one of the most aggressive, argued that this would be a necessary strategic shift months ago in an interview with me.

The Republican principles though are not what he had in mind, and you can take that to the bank!   Even Ross Douthat, the Republican cheerleader and conservative op-ed columnist for the New York Times, argued that these principles were essentially a collection of special interests concessions without any pretense of fixing the problem.

The only place where there seems to be an emerging winner may be for the DREAMers, the children of undocumented immigrants brought to this country and raised here.  Their courage, activism, and continued direct protest has convinced politicians of all stripes that the morality of their cause is something they cannot no longer escape.  Direct action tactics, including the recent fast by Eliseo Medina and others, seem to have value in keeping a heartbeat for other protests, but do not seem to be moving the needle for more extensive reform.

Unfortunately though if we’re now negotiating from weakness, we’re facing a hard spring followed by at best a meager harvest.

Organizing Strategy Based on Solidarity and Power

1ilwu1-1024x768Houston   Thinking about various strategies to rebuild the labor movement is a painful pastime for many organizers, but talking to Peter Olney, the organizing director for the International Longshoremen & Warehouse Union, the fabled 60,000 West Coast dockworkers’ powerhouse, on my weekly radio show recently was a good primer on the basics for holding your own and moving forward.

Another painful footnote of labor’s troubles was inescapable in the run-up to the AFL-CIO’s convention in Los Angeles with the release of an impassioned and sharp tongued letter from the President of the ILWU to Rich Trumka, the federation’s president, disaffiliating the ILWU from the body after 25 years of membership. The issue for the ILWU was essentially the lack of solidarity.

Solidarity is so rare in the modern dog-eat-dog, struggle for survival, last-man-standing labor environment that it almost felt nostalgic to hear Olney express so clearly this essential, but too often forgotten, fundamental principal of labor.   The old adage of “an injury to one is an injury to all,” like the fight for an 8-hour day, harkens to an earlier day for labor it seems, where storied unions like the ILWU could talk with some credibility of how a “general strike,” like the great effort they led in San Francisco is still possible.  Part of the ILWU’s last toss of a brick through the window of the house of labor spoke to a series of disputes that they had experienced with other unions, most notably the Operating Engineers, where they felt the toothlessness of the AFL-CIO had isolated their members to fight on their own to protect their work and classic jurisdiction.  In a labor movement torn asunder by the defections to the Change to Win alternative federation, the SEIU and HERE disputes within C2W and in northern California and with their own local union, and a host of other discouraging debacles, a simple plea for more solidarity from a union that has often led the way in showing the huge strength of solidarity in supporting the efforts of farmworkers to organize, South Africans to end apartheid, and a score of other efforts, has a surprising amount of power and resonates as a potential source of strength.

In talking about organizing, Peter and I could easily agree on the critical need to focus on distribution plants in organizing Walmart, despite the fact it is hard work with fewer headlines.  In looking at the organizing strategy for ILWU, Peter was clear that he starts his strategic analysis from an obvious, but often forgotten cornerstone, by looking at where his union has power that they can leverage to organize additional workers.  Certainly, this was the key to the ILWU’s historic drive inland from the strength on the docks to the warehouses where their loads were taken from the ship hulls.  Now moving from their pocket of power on the docks, they are looking to organize hazardous materials workers who clean the ships and surrounding areas.  Makes sense doesn’t it, but it’s surprising how often even the best organizers forget the fundamentals in trying to look at future targets.  We found ourselves talking about the plight of independent truckers that are servicing the major ports and the efforts to organize them by the Teamsters and others that has now been stalled by court action.   Peter is too much the diplomatic ambassador of labor solidarity for me to have asked him the obvious question about whether or not the ILWU power on the Pacific docks might not be the critical factor along with community support in any successful, future organizing effort by these abused drivers.

Solidarity may be an increasingly distant dream, but moving forward from even the shrinking islands of strength that we have in the growing ocean of the unorganized are lessons from Peter Olney worth remembering for all organizers.

UAW Transplants Potential, not Worker Centers, Best News for Organized Labor

bildeNew 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.

AFL-CIO’s Membership Expansion Largely Symbolic

flag0145New Orleans  By a voice vote the AFL-CIO delegates in convention approved a resolution to expand the membership to other groups.   The measure appears to be largely a symbolic gesture about buildinga larger coalition for political issues and defense against attacks against working families, rather than a real effort to reverse the long decline in union membership and strength.

 In 2012 statistics indicate that union membership in the private sector continues to move towards the worse case 5% density that some experts have predicted.   The 2012 number fell to 6.6% among the privately employed and 36% membership in the public sector for an overall decline to 11%.

The latest measure, heralded recently by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, as a bold new direction seems to have stalled at the starting line.   Reports are that some of the initial groups in discussion with the AFL-CIO about potential membership of some sort in the body have seen the federation’s proposals significantly scaled back during meeting over the summer.  Predictably some of the old guard unions have bristled about how much power and voice in governance of the body any of these new non-labor groups might have.

            Quotes from labor leaders now range from calling it a case-by-case situation to ongoing concern about whether some of these new groups such as the National Council of La Raza, the Sierra Club, NOW, and the NAACP would be able to convert memberships into the AFL-CIO.  Terry O’Sullivan of the Laborers in a revealing quote about the internal debate said, “We were never against partnerships.   We were against direct affiliation….”   Whether such affiliation was in the resolution or not, clearly this had been Trumka’s earlier expressed intention.  Lee Saunders, head of AFSCME, as tellingly indicated that some of the “groups don’t want to be members.”

            Given that they seem to be offered little more than a chance at more meetings and buffet dinners where they are part of the window dressing, rather than any real new voice or different direction, I have to wonder why they would want to join, especially if it meant paying dues, at least until labor finally gets its act together.   The old maxim is still true.  Groups join to borrow power, not to loan power, and until labor can offer the opportunity to join strength to strength, we seem lost in the isolation of our own company and declining membership.

 

New Strategy at AFL-CIO or Same Ol’, Same Ol’?

110105_afl_cio_ap_328New Orleans    I watched a brief interview for USA Today with Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, on the eve of their coming convention, as he argued that with the diminishing numbers, there were changes coming at the federation.   The changes he talked about mainly were some kind of broader affiliation program that was enrolling the NAACP and the Sierra Club.

            Both groups have been allies of labor from time to time, and both to some degree are membership organizations with chapters around the country.  But, when Trumka was asked about whether they would be full members, pay dues, or affiliate on the local level, the answers were all, essentially, “maybe” or “we’ll have to see,” both of which are euphemisms for “no,” I’m pretty sure. 

            This isn’t a change of strategy, but a recognition that the only power that the AFL-CIO or labor in general can pretend to still have is political power, not worker power.  The Sierra Club and the NAACP are political allies, not organizational allies.   This kind of new strategy is the equivalent of asking them to come to the convention, speak for five minutes, and get an award.

            Nor is it new.  With great fanfare before John Sweeney’s last AFL-CIO convention, they paraded out Pedro Alvarado and announced an affiliation of the National Day Laborers’ Organizing Network known as NDLON, arguing that this was a new strategy of embracing worker centers as an organizing tool.  The years pass and there are now 225 worker centers, some of whom focus on day labor, most of them focus on immigrant rights, but none of them in reality are changing the organizing strategies of institutional labor.  These are public relations moves to soften the popular, outdated picture of big labor looking out for themselves and no one else.

            There is no new AFL-CIO strategy.   It’s the same strategy that the federation has used for over a 100 years.  This is a political organization and any power it has left is political power. This is the lobbying headquarters for labor nationally and at the state level, and its role in that arena is critical and irreplaceable. 

            The one thing we will not hear or read in this coming convention is anything real that talks about serious work to actually organize workers and turn back the decline that now has only a bit more than 6% of the US workforce actually dues paying, card carrying members of unions. 

            Sad, but true.