Tag Archives: union organizing

Pro-Labor are not the Same as Pro-Union Policies

New Orleans       To have a number of Democratic candidates for President full-throatily espousing policies that seem to favor labor is so rare that it earned a headline in the New York Times saying, “Democrats Grow Bolder With Pro-Labor Policies.”  Hey, that’s got to be good news under any circumstances, so let’s see what it’s all about.

We know virtually all of the candidates are in favor of raising the minimum wage. Andrew Yang who is not at the top of the pack is still getting solid attention advocating for a guaranteed annual wage or universal basic income, as it’s known more broadly.  Something is bound to happen on this issue, one way or another.  The federal minimum wage can’t stay permanently at $7.25 per hour.

A good number of candidates understand that the definitions of employees versus independent contractors must be clarified so that tech and other exploitation of workers can be stopped.  Fast forward to thirty years from now when there will be a story every other day in the papers, if indeed there are still papers, about the social security crisis then when tens of millions of app-workers from this period don’t have enough benefits to survive their lengthening lifespans and government has to bailout the workers because it subsidized the tech predation now while narcotized by its hype.  Importantly, this can be done through the Department of Labor, rather than Congress, so it might actually happen as well.

Other candidates want to prohibit non-compete agreements and mandatory arbitration.  One blocks worker mobility, while the other handcuffs workers to bad work and employers.  Admittedly, it is amazing how non-compete agreements have spread even to the service industry, but most of this advocacy is a plum for professions, techsters, and middle-class, suburban voters.

More candidates are talking about sectoral bargaining, largely I would bet because SEIU has made this a litmus test for their support.  The Times reports that some support for these positions around sectoral bargaining are coming from a group at Harvard and something they have convened called the Clean Slate for Worker Power, which has assembled some folks to “reimagine labor law from the ground up.”  I can already see the skepticism clouding your faces.  I looked at the program for their first convening in March and sectoral bargaining didn’t seem to be much in evidence actually, compared to the discussions about worker centers, community-labor partnerships, new formations of organized workers, and worker-support and partnership efforts, many well-known.

The interest in sectoral bargaining seems to come largely from the European experience.  The concept is that with a showing of support in an industry there would be tripartite discussions convened by the government involving representatives of employers and unions to negotiate baseline levels of wages and terms and conditions of employment for workers in these industries.  Extensive conversations with union organizers in Europe indicate that indeed wages and standards rise for nonunion workers at some level, which might be why it has a growing popularity among the chattering class.  Organizers are careful to point out that the body of labor laws benefiting workers is also much deeper and more expansive than we have in the US.  Additionally, though all argue that it helps unions survive at some existential level, none argue that it builds unions and or worker power on the job, independent of unions.  In fact, my recent visits with organizers in the Netherlands and Germany found me listening to the ways that sectoral bargaining had co-opted unions and left workers weaker.  Some ostensibly pro-labor proposals are not the same as pro-union policies, especially of the legal and rights infrastructure for workers and their unions do not receive more protection.

There does seem to be robust discussion of what we have advocated for over 25 years:  majority unionism, or what some of them call minority unionism.  That’s good news, especially if it comes with any commitment to actually engage in the real work!

To underline this quick inventory, I would argue none of this is enough.  We need to push harder.  The position of workers won’t substantially change, unless the ability of unions to protect and advance their interests is not welded tightly to the same policies.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Great Union Organizing Songs for Labor Day

 

Billy Bragg singing with 'Cotia Pit folk group at Durham Miners Gala, a 120-year-old festival in which mining communities from all over County Durham (the largest coalfield in Britain; there have been 218 pits in Durham County over the years) march with banners and bands to the centre of the town 2004.

Billy Bragg singing with ‘Cotia Pit folk group at Durham Miners Gala, a 120-year-old festival in which mining communities from all over County Durham (the largest coalfield in Britain; there have been 218 pits in Durham County over the years) march with banners and bands to the centre of the town 2004.

New Orleans     There used to be a bumper sticker saying “Unions:  The People Who Brought You Vacation.”  Unions definitely brought us all Labor Day.  There were years of giant parades, now largely in the United States something for San Francisco, Chicago, and maybe New York City, while the rest of the world celebrates May Day for workers’ solidarity.   In New Orleans when I was Secretary-Treasurer of the Greater New Orleans AFL-CIO we brought back the Labor Day picnic which has now endured more than 15 consecutive years.  Not the same, but at least it’s something.

            But for too many it’s just a welcome day off, a turn of the calendar marking the rush of school buses hitting the streets and leaves getting ready to fall.   For us it’s a chance to remember the importance of unions, and even more, union organizing, so let’s hear it in the words of the great Woody Guthrie, the classic Ballad of Joe Hill, and then Billy Bragg from Britain, a modern union troubadour.

Union Burying Ground

by Woody Guthrie

I see they’re lowering a right new coffin
I see they’re letting down a right new coffin
Way over in that union burying ground

And the new dirt’s falling on a right new coffin
The new dirt’s falling on a right new coffin
Way over in that union burying ground

Oh, tell me who’s that they’re letting down, down
Tell me who’s that they’re letting down, down
Way over in that union burying ground

Another union organizer
Another union organizer
Way over in that union burying ground

A union brother and a union sister
A union brother and a union sister
Way over in that union burying ground

A union father and a union mother
And a union father and a union mother
Way over in that union burying ground

Well, I’m going to sleep in a union coffin
I’m going to sleep in a union coffin
Way over in that union burying ground

Every new grave brings a thousand new ones
Every new grave brings a thousand members
Way over in that union burying ground

Every new grave brings a thousand brothers
Every new grave brings a thousand sisters
To the union in that union burying ground

The Ballad of Joe Hill

by Alfred Hayes and Earl Robinson

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night,
Alive as you or me:
Said I, but Joe you’re ten years dead;
I never died said he.
I never died said he.

In Salt Lake, Joe, Great God, said I,
Him standing by my bed;
They framed you on a murder charge,
Said Joe but I ain’t dead;
Said Joe but I ain’t dead.

The copper bosses framed you Joe
They shot you Joe said I;
Takes more than guns to kill a man,
Said Joe I did not die.
Said Joe I did not die.

Joe Hill ain’t dead he says to me,
Joe Hill ain’t never died;
Where working men are out on strike,
Joe Hill is at their side,
Joe Hill is at their side.

And standing there as big as life
A-smiling with his eyes.
Said Joe, what they forgot to kill
Went on to organize,
Went on to organize!

From San Diego up to Maine,
In every mine and mill – 
Where working men defend their rights
It’s there you’ll find Joe Hill.
It’s there you’ll find Joe Hill.

(repeat first verse)

There is Power in a Union

 by Billy Bragg

There is power in a factory, power in the land
Power in the hands of a worker
But it all amounts to nothing if together we don’t stand
There is power in a union

Now the lessons of the past were all learned with workers blood
The mistakes of the bosses we must pay for
From the cities and the farmlands to trenches full of mud
War has always been the bosses way, sir

The union forever defending our rights
Down with the blackleg, all workers unite
With our brothers and our sisters from many far off lands
There is power in a union

Now I long for the morning that they realize
Brutality and unjust laws can not defeat us
But who’ll defend the workers, who cannot organize
When the bosses send their lackies out to cheat us?

Money speaks for money, the devil for his own
Who comes to speak for the skin and the bone
What a comfort to the widow, a light to the child
There is power in a union

The union forever defending our rights
Down with the blackleg, all workers unite
With our brothers and our sisters, together we will stand
There is power in a union

 

Woody Guthrie

Woody Guthrie

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail