Unions Stepping Up in Wisconsin, Egypt, and Around the World

MWisconsin_Budget_Reyn_t607exico City This evening I speak at the Workers’ University of Mexico (Universidad Obrera de Mexico) about my book, Citizen Wealth: Winning the Campaign for Working Families. It will be hard not to make the point about unions, even weakened and beleaguered, and the vital role they are playing around the world in standing up for not only workers but progressive social movements and programs for the poor.

In Egypt part of the story finally bursting through the popular high-tech Facebook narrative is the role of workers and their unions that struck repeatedly across the country to force the military and government’s hands. Partially it cannot be ignored because the strikes and worker protests continued unabated throughout the week since President Mubark finally stepped down. Reports linked to the AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Center operation indicate the strong role played in developing infrastructure and capacity. A critical driver here is the union demands to build an independent formation launched earlier this year as an alternative to the state connected labor federation. This is huge! The real lesson in Egypt may be the power that is built and unleashed when a social change movement is linked so concretely with the labor movement.

In Wisconsin the state AFL-CIO, individual unions, students, and others have mobilized reportedly up to 35,000 to protest the new Republican governor and the Republican legislative majority attempt to eviscerate collective bargaining protections for public employees and teachers. There has been a three-day sit-in at the Capitol. The Governor in best-Mubarak style has stated that he will wait out the protests in order to work his will claiming that the state’s fiscal crises driven by the on-going recession gives him no choice. The test will be whether or not this is simply organized “engineering” or the birth of a new understanding and movement to resit anti-worker anti-people legislation in the United States that is now erupting coast to coast.

In Britian as the new conservative government announces a wholesale slashing of the existing welfare program for the unemployed and poor, the loudest opposition and the clearest voice also seems to be labor, understanding that the unemployed victims are not to be blamed, when the economy is not producing the jobs. There is no real sign of a permanent and powerful coalition being built in the UK, but the ruling government may force the time for this idea to have to come.

For all of the rocks thrown at the house of labor and the continued questioning of whether or not it has a heart to go with its hands, events bursting out every day in headlines and back stories around the globe, underscore the critical role that workers and their organizations play in both creating change and defending against repression and reaction everywhere. That is another lesson being relearned today that should not be ignored.

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Democratic Union Bashers

Vehicle Theft RingNew Orleans Aside from California and Alaska, there is no stronger state for unions than New York, yet for months even before being elected as the new Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo seems to have been targeting unions as has special blame-boys for budget woes in the state.  Now indisputable news emerges that he is promoting a $10-20 million fund to help wring budget cuts from New York State employees through a public relations campaign directed at their unions.   When the story is in the Wall Street Journal and includes a disclaimer that Rupert Murdock, legendary union buster on three continents, is the head of one of the business groups raising the money, there really can’t be any doubt.

Cuomo is a Democrat from one of the darkest blue states in the United States.  Even Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, was more gingerly in his anti-labor tactics in California.  Hard ball, sure, but not so ad hominem.

President Obama trying to shore up his base with business preempts the fiscal responsibility panel by unilaterally freezing wages for two years for 2 million federal civilian employees in government and non-combatant military.  The federal unions are screaming, as they should, but this seems more about posture than power.  Employees in the federal sector will still get raises in grades, seniority, and so forth, but the cost of living increase of 1 or 2% over the period will be slathered against the deficit.  This is not about shared pain as much as simple political calculation.

Oh, and benefits for the unemployed are expiring again, so there’s a big fat political football that can be heaved back and forth with the Republicans screaming screw those unemployed bastards and the Democrats doing what exactly?   The President pulled in the CEO of Wal-Mart to the White House this week for advice on the economy.  It won’t be long before the recommendation for public workers and unemployed will be wear a blue vest and make minimum wage.  Fellows, there still won’t be enough jobs.

The politics of finger pointing and worker victimization is not a program for a sick economy, but if we thought that a least Democrats understood that, then we seem to have been at the wrong party with the bad company.

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