Labor Daze and Labor Waves

Labor Organizing National Politics

happy-labor-dayNew Orleans On the eve of another ritual of picnicking and the last gasps of the summer that we celebrate as Labor Day, there will be the ritual mentioning of the value of labor and hard work, commentary on the recession, and even some mention about the value of unions in certain geographies where we are the ones flipping the burgers or pancakes in memoriam.  Feels like labor daze though to me.

In generations past the kind of gnawing, persistent unemployment and jobs stagnation we are now experience would have seen angry union leaders knocking at the White House door demanding an audience with Nixon, Regan, Bush, or Carter.  Fists would be banging on tables.  I’m not saying that labor leaders are happy with this situation, but I’m not hearing it.  Facebook postings, tweets, and press releases really are not the same.

Recently, some unions tried to turn the tables on some Congressional town hall meetings reversing the Tea-tactics of recent summers.  Certainly it was about time, but as assuredly this was no movement igniting prairie fire.  Worse, strategically, it all seemed partisan.  The Tea Party is in some ways post-partisan.  They are solid, salt-of-the-earth haters who can be as dangerous to some of the Republicans as they almost always are to the Democrats.  If labor wants action in Congress, we need to understand and learn that our friends need to feel the heat as much as our foes.  We don’t need to simply be the Seal 6 team in the Republican redoubts.  We need to let all of them now we have had enough and are ready to rip the House down.

And, why not?  Are we getting so much from the Obama Administration that we need to lower our voice to a whisper?  Not that I can see.

There’s a heartbeat at the NLRB, but most of this is slight and symbolic so far.  A notice that the law says workers can organize is nice as a reminder to all of us perhaps that we are forgetting to organize, but the notice won’t organize a single new worker.  A different way of looking at nursing home units is swell, but it won’t change the economics or opportunities for organizing in that health care sector.     A couple of items that give existing, certified bargaining units a little more breathing room is also smart, but won’t stem the tide.   We are where we are, and it’s not good or getting better.  The biggest election on the horizon is still the dénouement on the West Coast between the new SEIU and the old SEIU leadership of United Healthcare West.  The NLRB gave the old team another shot claiming that Kaiser illegally aided the new team, but the damage is done and the relief is weak, and as is true in all elections, time and resources always favor the incumbent.  Nothing will change the outcome here.  SEIU will so clearly win that that they are trying to get a quick election just to deliver the final coup de gras to their old leadership and its new independent union.

Green jobs would be nice, but it is not clear how we get to scale.  Recent news of critical bankruptcies for solar companies is discouraging.  Alternative fuels are not producing jobs or much traction in the market.  Administration incentives are insufficient.  As good as it might be, there’s no silver bullet there.

We are at a funny intersection where there is more action around banks and foreclosures than there is around jobs, unemployment, and income.

We need a new wave of action and organizing, but this recession and the weakness of the hand we are playing seems to hang like a dark cloud over even the most ambitious of efforts.  What used to be the new labor leadership is now the old labor leadership and the labor daze at Labor Day is down right depressing.