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And You Thought This Supreme Court Session Was Bad

[ 10 ] July 1, 2013 |

Rich Yeselson with a good overview of how the Supreme Court is likely to eviscerate card check for unions next year:

The circuit court panel remanded back to the district court so that it “can consider the § 302 claim and determine the reason why UNITE and Mardi Gras agreed to cooperate with one another.” This outcome and the ambiguity of the 11th Circuit decision prompted both sides of the litigation to seek a hearing before the Supreme Court (although, interestingly, the solicitor general, on behalf of the Obama Administration, urged the Court to let the 11th Circuit’s decision stand). The consequences could be highly significant. The Roberts Court could decide to go beyond the 11th Circuit’s decision and reaffirm the legality of card-check agreements, a pervasive feature of labor-management relations today. Or it could hold that section 302 of Taft-Hartley makes all such agreements illegal, and thus remove one of the only remaining effective organizing strategies for use by private-sector unions.

But taking a hard line against the conditions that undergird card-check agreements would also put the Court in the anomalous position of limiting the rights of companies to reach organizing agreements with unions on their own terms—in a sense, a broad reading of section 302 could be construed as impinging upon the rights of businesses, not just unions. Still, in this as in all of its litigation, the NRWLDF understands what it is up to, and it is not to enable union organizing. Given that the Roberts Court has been widely acknowledged to be perhaps the most pro-business Supreme Court in the past 70 years, the labor movement might be faced with a court decision based upon a highly creative reading of a section of the Taft-Hartley Act that might have shocked even Sen. Taft and Rep. Hartley themselves.

Every Roberts Court decision moves us closer to the Gilded Age.

The Decline of Driving

[ 58 ] June 30, 2013 |

Really fascinating analysis of the decline of car culture. I tend to believe it to be true, particularly among young people. And I don’t think it’s an ideological rejection of cars per se nor is it a response to climate change I don’t think. Rather, it’s just changing values, different kinds of consumer goods providing status, different ideas about what makes up the good life. All of which is probably worse for the car companies than an ideological shift since that seems easier for them to combat through advertising or another change in fashion.

Via Atrios

A Journey

[ 17 ] June 30, 2013 |

If you haven’t read E.J. Graff’s personal history of moving from a radical queer activist to “mainstream and married,” you owe it to yourself to do so.

More Bangladesh

[ 4 ] June 30, 2013 |

The problem with this article on the power that garment factory owners wield in Bangladeshi politics, making the prosecution of owners of factories where workers die almost impossible, is that it completely ignores the relationship between those factory owners and the multinational apparel companies that make this all possible. Focusing the blame strictly on Bangladeshi problems lets Walmart, Gap, and other companies off the hook for a system where they hold a huge amount of responsibility.

Another Victim

[ 60 ] June 29, 2013 |

Jim Hudson, who played a key role in the 1969 Super Bowl, has died of Parkinson’s related-trauma, likely, as he believed, another victim of the NFL’s casual and dismissive response to head injuries.

Bangladeshi Trade Privileges Suspended

[ 16 ] June 29, 2013 |

In a move pleasing to the AFL-CIO, the Obama Administration has taken what I think is an unprecedented step in suspending trade privileges for Bangladesh after the building collapse that killed 1100 garment workers this spring. The labor federation had pushed for such an action all the way since 2007 because of that nation’s consistent disregard for worker safety.

Honestly, this is not that important of a move. Bangladesh is pretty mad about it, but it’s more that they lost face than real economic burden. For one, the garment industry is not covered by these privileges and that’s about 95% of Bangladeshi imports to the U.S. More likely is that the U.S. is hoping European nations do the same, which would put slightly more pressure on Bangladesh since they have more non-garment trade in the country.

The Generalized System of Preferences, which is designed to boost the economies of developing nations, covers less than 1 percent of Bangladesh’s nearly $5 billion in exports to the U.S., its largest market. The benefits don’t cover the lucrative garment sector but Bangladesh’s government was anxious to keep them.

The action may not exact a major and immediate economic toll, but it carries a reputational cost and might deter American companies from investing in the country, one of the world’s poorest.

This is all fine and good. The Bangladeshi government does suck on these issues, what with its murdering union organizers and such. Putting pressure on it is a positive. But the real power behind improving working conditions is the apparel companies. The government needs to pressure the companies to improve conditions. Once again, the only real way to protect workers is to have international safety and health standards that are both legally enforceable in the country of origin and that contractors are still liable for if their subcontractors violate them. One could create these standards with various levels of stringency, but at the minimum, basic workplace safety, exposure, and pollution laws should not only be applicable, but workers around the world should be able to sue the companies in the corporate country of origin.

I know we are nowhere near this happening. But the textile industry has exploited workers for over a century in the worst way. Why things never really improve in that industry is capital mobility while laws and regulations remain tied to place. It is time to make law as mobile as capital.

As it is, the concern is that U.S. companies will invest in Vietnam or Indonesia or Cambodia, taking jobs away from Bangladeshi workers who need them and who are losing them simply because a couple of particularly horrific accidents took place in their country. Those workers want reforms, not to lose their jobs. We need to craft responses that encourage workplace safety, worker empowerment to improve their own lives, and continues to have people work and earn money for their families.

The Worst People in the World

[ 27 ] June 29, 2013 |

The North Carolina legislature for another in a string of extremist laws that tear the state’s once fairly robust safety net apart in order to appease plutocrat Art Pope:

Starting next week, North Carolina—which has the fifth highest jobless rate in the country—will become the only state in the union with no safety net for the long-term jobless. Thanks to reforms in the state’s unemployment insurance laws, North Carolina’s 71,000-plus long-term unemployed residents will lose access to the federally funded Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program.

North Carolina is losing eligibility to the federal program because of a new law, signed by the governor in February of this year, which reduces the number of weeks that unemployed people are eligible for state-funded benefits and cuts the maximum weekly benefit amount by roughly one third, from $535 to $350. It is the latter provision that has cost North Carolina workers its eligibility: States looking to receive federal EUC money are forbidden from cutting weekly benefits. The federal government granted a special exemption from that rule to four other states last year, North Carolina’s request for a similar exemption was ignored.

“I would call these cuts obscene,” said Michael Leachman, director of state fiscal research for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

So Long, It’s Been Bad to Know You

[ 30 ] June 28, 2013 |

I don’t think we can bury the coal industry yet, but this article really suggests an industry on its last legs. Or dying from black lung perhaps.

…In case you want some more evidence on the sheer awfulness of the coal industry from the 19th century to the present, reading Alan Derickson’s Black Lung is a good place to start

Rise of the Get-Passive

[ 82 ] June 28, 2013 |

Language is always changing. I find the organic transformation of language quite fascinating, even when it leads to new forms of language that drive some people crazy, like using the word “grow” in ways such as “growing the economy.”

I think my support for changing language comes from a grammar snob aunt who used to correct people for using supposedly bad grammar.

Native Americans and the Court

[ 151 ] June 28, 2013 |

In our stories about racial oppression in the United States, Native Americans aren’t forgotten, but the legal details of how the government have denied Native American rights usually are ignored. At least two possible reasons for this. First, unless you are from or live in a handful of western states, there just aren’t very many Native Americans. It doesn’t seem as fundamental to either the recent past or present as African-American issues. Second, the most famous decision on Native American rights actually supported them, when after the Marshall court issued Worcester v. Georgia, Andrew Jackson basically told Marshall where he could stick his decision and went ahead with plans for Cherokee removal.

But the same courts that have denied African-American rights have also denied Native American rights. We all know that in 1896, the Supreme Court ruled for legal segregation in Plessy v. Ferguson. But that year the Court also issued its decision in Ward v. Race Horse. This case decided Native American hunting rights on public lands. In 1895, thirty Bannock from the Fort Hall Reservation in Idaho were arrested by a Wyoming posse after hunting in what was then Yellowstone National Park (which had been a major hunting ground for Native Americans for thousands of years). The Court got involved and ruled in Ward (to quote Mark Spence, from Dispossessing the Wilderness) “that all treaties guaranteeing native rights to hunt on public lands were predicated on ‘the disappearance of those [public lands]‘. Consequently, a posse could enforce state laws that banned native hunters from lands expected to be settled sometime in the future.”

In other words, like with African-Americans, the Supreme Court created a ruling that fit its white supremacist ideology.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court issued a ruling that voided the most relevant portion of the Voting Rights Act. Texas and other southern states are already moving ahead to reduce the power of African-American voters. But the Court also issued another disturbing ruling undermining Native American rights. In a 5-4 decision (with Scalia dissenting and Breyer in the majority) the Court ruled in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl that a Native American girl adopted by South Carolina parents could not be returned to her father who later tried to reclaim her, using the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act, which sought to keep Native American children in Native American families.

This was a narrow ruling, focusing around strictly the specifics of the case. It’s not an outrage on the level of Ward. But it also reaffirms the difficulty Native Americans have in realizing sovereignty and the consistent misunderstanding between the American legal system and tribal law and custom. Colorlines:

So what does ICWA do? The act was created because of incredibly high rates of white parents adopting Native children; in states like Minnesota, that have large Native populations, non-Natives raised 90 percent of Native babies and children put up for adoption. Those adoptions sever ties to Native tribes and communities, endangering the very existence of these tribes and nations. In short, if enough Native babies are adopted out, there will literally not be enough citizens to compose a nation. ICWA sought to stem that practice by creating a policy that keeps Native adoptees with their extended families, or within their tribes and nations. The policy speaks to the core point of tribal sovereignty: Native tribes and nations use it to determine their future, especially the right to keep their tribes and nations together.

But leave it to the Supreme Court to miss the point altogether this morning. The prevailing justices failed to honor tribal sovereignty in today’s ruling. In writing for the court’s majority, Justice Samuel Alito opened his delivery on the ruling with these words:

This case is about a little girl (Baby Girl) who is classified as an Indian because she is 1.2% (3/256) Cherokee.

What Alito (along with Justices Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas and Breyer) is perhaps willfully missing is that the Cherokee Nation does not classify its citizens in that way. Baby Veronica is not a certain percentage Cherokee—she is Cherokee, as determined by her nation. The high court’s first sentence, based in the colonial practice of blood quantum instead of the way that citizenship is determined by the Cherokee Nation, illustrates that the justices made this case about race—in their mind—and not about tribal sovereignty in the law. By this flawed logic, the high court ruled that Baby Veronica is somehow not Native enough to be protected by ICWA.

The conception of race is particularly important here. How do we classify race? As always in this country, it’s about blood quantum determined by non-whiteness (i.e. Barack Obama is the 1st black president instead of the 44th white president, even though he 50% Kenyan and 50% Anglo). But that doesn’t always fit the situation and certainly didn’t here. Instead, the Court’s decision in Adoptive Couple reinforces systemic racism, with non-Indians forcing their conceptions of race over Cherokee conceptions of race.

Again, this is a narrow ruling, kicking this back to the South Carolina courts. And of course, I do feel for the adoptive parents and realize that the particulars of this case are not cut and dried. But this is a bad principle to set; the fact that 4 of the 5 conservatives made up the majority is always a bad sign.

On Our Knees for America

[ 201 ] June 27, 2013 |

The Family Research Council has called for a day of action on June 30 against same-sex marriage. They designed a really great logo for it.

These people are so ready to come out of the closet, they can’t help themselves.

….Once again, it’s worth noting that it is in fact impossible to parody conservatives. Impossible.

Student Loans

[ 14 ] June 27, 2013 |

While I’m glad that Senate Democrats are fighting for a better bill that would lower student loan interest rates, Obama really left them hanging out to dry after proposing tying the interest rates to the 10-year treasury note, which Republicans and a few Democrats have embraced.

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