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Tag: "labor"

Building Trades Allow Themselves to Be Played Like Fools

[ 91 ] January 24, 2017 |

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Emperor Tangerine invited the building trade union leaders in for a meeting yesterday and boy were they excited.

At a meeting with the leaders of several construction and building trade unions, President Trump reiterated on Monday his interest in directing hundreds of billions of dollars to infrastructure investments, some of it from the federal government, union officials said.

“That was the impression I was taken away with,” said Sean McGarvey, the president of North America’s Building Trades Unions, an umbrella group, on a call with reporters after the meeting. “That the American citizenry and the American Treasury will be invested in building public infrastructure.”

Mr. McGarvey added that Mr. Trump clearly felt that much of the money should come from the private sector and that some of the investments could take the form of public-private partnerships, an idea the president floated as a candidate.

The meeting included roughly half a dozen union leaders and a similar number of rank-and-file members, as well as senior White House officials, including Vice President Mike Pence; Reince Priebus, the chief of staff; Katie Walsh, the deputy chief of staff; Stephen K. Bannon, the chief strategist; Kellyanne Conway, the president’s counselor; and Sean Spicer, the press secretary. It took place in the White House and ran for well over an hour.

The presence of so many senior aides suggests that the Trump administration sees a political rationale to courting the building trade unions, many of whose members appear to have voted for Mr. Trump last fall.

“We have a common bond with the president,” Mr. McGarvey said. “We come from the same industry. He understands the value of driving development, moving people to the middle class.”

Mr. O’Sullivan was previously the chief executive of the Union Labor Life Insurance Company, and he said that during his tenure there the company invested in some of Mr. Trump’s projects and had a good relationship with him.

Mr. McGarvey said he worked on a Trump project in Atlantic City in the early 1990s and had always been grateful for the work. “It was the middle of a recession; no one had jobs,” he said. “He made investments to expand at the time Trump Plaza. I got that job after being unemployed for six months.”

The two union leaders said they had discussed a number of specific projects with the president and his aides, including the Keystone XL Pipeline, the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas export and storage facility in Oregon. More broadly, they discussed possible investments in building and repairing bridges, schools and hospitals.

Certain projects, like the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines, have divided the labor movement, with the building trades supporting them as a source of jobs with good pay, and other unions, like the Service Employees International Union, opposing them on environmental grounds, and out of concern for desecrating sacred Native American lands.

The shorter version of this is that Trump is going to undo Obama’s decision on the Dakota Access Pipeline and run it right down those savage Indians’ throats. And nothing would make Terry O’Sullivan more excited. Because JOBS!!!! The type of job, irrelevant. Do the Laborers or the other building trades have nonwhite members? Yes they do. Does McGarvey or O’Sullivan prioritize the civil rights of those members? Evidently not. Do they prioritize a livable planet? No. Do they think they need allies in the rest of the labor movement or the broader left movement? No. Do they wish it was 1910 again? Yes. Do they hate hippies? Yes. Do they have tremendous power within the AFL-CIO? Yes, very much so. Are they acting in their members’ best interests? No. Do their members see it that way? Largely, no.

And then there’s this:

At the meeting, Mr. McGarvey raised one point of possible discord between the labor leaders and the Trump administration: the so-called Davis-Bacon Act, which requires the federal government to pay contractors and subcontractors “locally prevailing wages,” as determined by the Labor Department, on most construction or renovation projects.

Many conservatives contend that the act inflates the cost of infrastructure projects, and on Tuesday, Senator Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, is proposing a bill to suspend it for federal highway construction contracts.

Mr. McGarvey said he had told Mr. Trump that Mr. Flake’s bill would undercut wages and undermine the president’s campaign goal of producing good middle-class jobs.

The president was noncommittal in response, he said. “He said he knows the Davis-Bacon proposal well, understands how it works,” Mr. McGarvey said, but avoided taking a position.

In other words, my offer to you is nothing.

The building trades are going to have no influence on issues that matter even to their most backward-looking leadership. Davis-Bacon is going to get destroyed. And they will still vote for Trump in 2020.

There’s a few things going on here that are important for us to understand. First, if the Democratic Party or the left wants to “solve the white working class problem,” there’s a case study we can focus on. It’s called “solving the LIUNA problem.” The old adage about the Laborers is that they would build their own prisons if they got union scale to do so. Terry O’Sullivan has been an absolute dinosaur on climate issues, bullying other unions into not saying anything about climate change or other environmental issues. No one in the labor union has done more to damage relationships with the progressive community in recent years. But then these are the white working-class people Democrats need to reach to win those critical Midwestern states. Can they? Rather than focus on this in the big picture, can they win LIUNA members and other building trades members?

The difficulty of figuring this out is the difficulty of the white working class issue generally, which is the enormous cultural baggage that gets in the way of cross-movement alliances over the last few decades. A good bit of the intense focus on DAPL and Keystone is that these workers hate hippies. They see themselves as the working “real Americans” and anyone who gets in the way of that is their enemy. There is no question that environmentalists have failed to reach out to these unions effectively, and it’s a must that they create a union-centered program of green energy infrastructure. That has to be part of solving the LIUNA problem. But there are deep cultural divides here–many of these rank and file members want to see immigrants kicked out, Muslims kicked out, gay rights repealed, etc. That might be expected–it’s not like that’s not the case in every union. The problem is that McGarvey and O’Sullivan and some of these other union leaders aren’t trying to educate their workers on these issues. Instead they are encouraging them to see this as a culture war. Right now in Rhode Island, there’s a battle over whether a gas liquefaction plant will be built. At a recent city council meeting debating it, LIUNA members were outside jeering environmentalists as they walked in. That’s incredibly counterproductive.

On top of this is the fact that the changing makeup of the union movement has reinforced the power of the building trades. One of the impacts of deindustrialization and capital mobility was the decimation of the industrial unions. It was always those unions who pushed for the widespread social democratic policies that typified the New Deal and Great Society. The building trades never played an important role in the New Deal coalition and they have never articulated big social policy. But with the UAW and USWA shells of what they once were and many of the other unions like the International Woodworkers of America no more, the building trades have become more powerful within the labor movement than any time since the creation of the CIO. The public sector unions have countered this to some extent, but with SEIU out of the federation, their ability to do so is more limited. Richard Trumka is, with the exception of Walter Reuther, by far the most politically progressive labor federation leader in American history. But he can only do so much when so much of his membership is made up of very conservative building trdes.

The other thing to note is that it’s pretty clear at this point that many of the building trade leaders would have no problem returning to the labor movement of the late 19th century, where you had tiny numbers of union members in the skilled trades with no impact on government and the vast masses of workers unorganized. I don’t see how they see this as good for them, but by meeting with Trump, they are basically endorsing this position. And you can see it from the look on Trump’s face. They are being played for fools. And they largely are fools.

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This Day in Labor History: January 20, 1920

[ 10 ] January 20, 2017 |

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On January 20, 1920, Filipino sugar workers on Oahu, Hawaii, went on strike to demand higher pay. Japanese workers soon joined them and this multiracial strike led to minimal victory for workers and, even rarer, a cross-racial strike with significant solidarity that helped create that victory.

Hawaii became a target of U.S. imperialism from almost the moment that American missionaries arrived there in the early 19th century. Often from middle class families from the Northeast with close ties to early industrialism, the missionaries wrote home to their families, suggesting they invest in Hawaii. Soon, capitalists like Sanford Dole were dominating the Hawaiian economy, leading to declining power for the Hawaiian monarchy, the displacement of the islands’ indigenous people, and the growth of American imperialism. After the Civil War, the move to get the U.S. government to annex Hawaii grew. In 1893, the planters overthrew Queen Liliuokalani and assumed they would become part of the U.S. But Grover Cleveland opposed annexation and so they had to wait until William McKinley became president. Finally, Hawaii became an American colony in 1898.

All of this required a much larger labor force than the indigenous Hawaiians could provide. So labor contractors began to look abroad to import labor. At the same time, thousands of Japanese were migrating to the United States. Many of them ended up in Hawaii working in the sugar plantations. The Filipinos, which had no tradition of migration to the U.S. while it was a Spanish colony, became a major target for agricultural contractors, especially after the combination of whites in California freaking out about Japanese immigration combined with Japanese imperial ambitions to shut off Japanese migration with the Gentlemen’s Agreement in 1907. With the Chinese Exclusion Act ensuring that no Chinese came into the U.S., west coast and Hawaiian farmers looked to the Philippines for their new source of cheap Asian labor. Smaller numbers of Portuguese also arrived to work in the sugar fields, and native-born Hawaiians also worked there, as well as small numbers of Chinese, Spaniards, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and Koreans.

Conditions on the plantations were hard. Until 1900, many of the workers were prisoners. There were also disparate wage rates due to race, with Portuguese and Puerto Ricans receiving higher wages than the Japanese. There was a 1909 strike by the Japanese workers for equal wages. It was after this that the planters started actively recruiting the Filipinos. Workers were often not paid their wages until after the harvest, a common tactic used to reduce labor mobility.

The polyglot plantations worked well for the planters. With the workers divided by ethnicity, cross-racial solidarity, not to mention basic communication, was hard. When one group went on strike, the others were there to use as strikebreakers. But during World War I, conditions got worse. Rising prices because of the war without rising wages led to widespread destitution among the workers. The Filipinos and Japanese began to organize together, although in separate organizations. But by late 1919, the Filipino Labor Union and the Federation of Japanese Labor were working closely together. Led by Pablo Manlapit, a plantation worker who had arrived in Hawaii in 1910, the Filipinos realized they would not succeed without uniting with the Japanese. The Filipinos led the strike, walking out on January 20. The Japanese followed on February 1, although many Japanese workers struck earlier. They demanded wage hikes, an 8-hour day, and regular bonus payments for higher production that would pay 75 percent of it each month, with only 25 percent withheld until the end of the harvest. The planters did grant them the bonus plan but refused to address the other conditions. The workers had already decided that if the planters did not meet all their demands, they would strike. Soon, there were 8300 workers on strike. About 5000 were Japanese and 3000 Filipinos, with 300 from the other nationalities.

The planters responded by evicting everyone from their company houses, over 12,000 Filipinos, of which over 4000 were children. By this time, the Japanese generally lived in independent housing.The Japanese were better prepared for the strike as the union had built up a fairly sizable savings to buy food. The Filipinos assumed their community would feed the strikers but that did not work out well. The Japanese then used their money to help the Filipinos, another example of the cross-racial solidarity that marked this strike. To make things worse, the Spanish Flu whipped through the strike, affecting a lot more people than it usually would have because they were in crowded conditions in tents. About 140 strikers died during the strike.

It was a hard strike. Whites worked with Japanese elites to attempt to undermine the strike. Happening during the Red Scare, the U.S. government worried about radical communist agendas and red-baited the strikers, as well as fearing it as an extension of growing Japanese imperialism that threatened their own imperialist possessions. They tried to split the workers. Rev. Albert Palmer, leader of the anti-strike movement, called it, “a nationalistic Japanese movement, using the Filipinos as tools, but aiming at Japanese control of the sugar industry and the islands.” The Honolulu Star-Bulletin called for racial revenge, writing “Americans do not take kindly to the spectacle of several thousand alien Asiatics parading through the streets with banners flaunting their hatred of Americanism and American institutions and insulting the memory of the greatest American president since Washington.” Said banners had pictures of Abraham Lincoln, as the strikers were claiming Americanism for themselves and comparing themselves with black slaves. Manlapit did call for an end to the Filipino strike on February 9. Perhaps he was bribed. But the rank and file stayed out on strike. About 1000 of the strikers eventually went back to work. And the planters were able to hire 2000 strikebreakers. Still, they lost $12 million during the strike.

The workers finally won the strike on July 1, when the planters agreed to a 50 percent pay raise and greater benefits, although the full pay and benefits would not start for another six months, leading to disappointment to many workers. And in fact, it was only a moderate victory for the workers, as they were suffering serious losses in morale and in keeping labor out of the fields after April 1. Nonetheless, it was a remarkable strike among people who had not worked together in the past.

I borrowed from Moon-Ho Jung, “Revolutionary Currents: Interracial Solidarities, Imperial Japan, and the U.S. Empire,” in Daniel E. Bender and Jana K. Lipman, Making the Empire Work: Labor & United States Imperialism, in the writing of this post.

This is the 207th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

The Modern Day Yellow Dog

[ 26 ] January 17, 2017 |

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The yellow dog contract was common in early 20th century work. These entailed employers forcing workers to sign a contract that explicitly stated they could not join a union as a condition of employment. In the 1915 case of Coppage v. Kansas, the Gilded Age Supreme Court ruled this legal. Finally in 1932, the Norris-LaGuardia Act banned them.

The New Gilded Age Supreme Court has decided to take up the modern version of this, the binding arbitration contract.

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to decide whether companies can use employment contracts to prohibit workers from banding together to take legal action over workplace issues.

The court accepted three cases on the subject. They follow a series of Supreme Court decisions endorsing similar provisions, generally in contracts with consumers. The question for the justices in the new cases is whether the same principles apply to employment contracts.

In both settings, the challenged contracts typically require two things: that disputes be raised through the informal mechanism of arbitration rather than in court and that claims be brought one by one. That makes it hard to pursue minor claims that affect many people, whether in class actions or in mass arbitrations.

I think we know where this is going and why Merrick Garland is not on the Supreme Court. Republicans saw a real threat to their plan to bring us back to the Gilded Age. And they were going to stop at nothing to kill that threat, ranging from unprecedented destruction of norms concerning confirming justices to approving of massive Russian interference in our election to allow Emperor Tangerine to take the throne despite his massive lawbreaking and impeachable offenses.

If the Roberts court, presumably up to 5 members thanks to Trump outsourcing his selections to Jim DeMint by the time oral arguments occur, there is almost no way it does not rule in favor of employers. To do so would take away one of the only tools workers have without unions to ensure some sort of rights on the job. Forcing mandatory arbitration returns the workplace to the Lochner era of the Gilded Age, where workers and employers were legally assumed to be equals in power on the job, inevitably resulting in the utter crushing of workers. Going back to this point is not the policy of Donald Trump. It’s the policy of the entire Republican Party.

Building International Solidarity

[ 13 ] January 14, 2017 |

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With the overall attack on unions in the United States, the ability of the AFL-CIO to engage in international solidarity actions gets harder and harder, as does its ability to lead the way on working-class issues at home. This is of course the point of anti-union laws. But if we are to tame the horrors of the supply chain, with American companies moving jobs overseas to increase profit and undermine work at home, the American labor movement has to build solidarity with those workers overseas and figure out ways to tame the global exploitation of corporations. Of course for a long time the labor movement worked closely with the government to undermine international solidarity in the AFL-CIA days and it’s a sad irony that the labor movement has finally moved toward helping build social democracy in other nations at the same time it is losing its ability to do so at home.

Anyway, the AFL-CIO has an excellent set of ideas of working toward justice in Bangladesh, where American corporations have targeted workers for death in their supply chains.

Nearly five years after the torture and assassination of Bangladeshi labor leader Aminul Islam, the country’s garment-sector employers and the government continue to persecute workers who try to exercise basic rights. In the three weeks since a December strike to protest the paltry $68 per month minimum wage, garment employers and the government have again shown their hostility toward workers and their rights. At that wage, workers in Dhaka would need to spend 60% of their income solely to rent substandard housing in a slum, leaving little to live on in a city about as expensive as Montreal (where the minimum wage is more than ten times higher).

Initially, employers and the government responded to the strike by closing 60 factories on Dec. 20 and deploying hundreds of police to the area. After the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) ordered owners to reopen factories on Dec. 26, employers fired and suspended more than 1,600 workers for their alleged involvement in the unrest. Labor leaders and activists in Bangladesh and abroad demanded the reinstatement of all workers.

Instead, both employers and government responded with increased repression. Since Dec. 21, at least 15 union leaders and workers’ rights advocates have been detained or arrested and 11 individuals remain in police custody. At least two of these have been beaten, and at least one was threatened with death. Clearly, the BGMEA and the government have the power to end these abuses immediately. Instead, garment employers and their association, exercise their considerable political power (at least 25 members of parliament are garment employers!) to demand that the government repress any worker or labor activist attempting to organize or represent workers’ interests. And the government delivers quickly on this request.

American companies may not be pulling the strings on the repression of the Bangladeshi labor movement. But they are very happy about it and it’s happening with their clear consent. Here is the call to action:

The AFL-CIO calls on the following to act:

The U.S. government must maintain its current suspension of GSP benefits to Bangladesh.
The Bangladesh government must stop using national security/anti-terrorism laws to criminalize trade union activity and release arrested trade union activists.
The Bangladesh government must enforce its own laws with regard to registering unions.
The Bangladesh government must convene the minimum wage board and union federations with real representation in the garment industry and must negotiate on behalf of the workers.
The BGMEA and all garment manufacturers must actually negotiate collective agreements with the unions and workers in their workplaces to address wage and other issues.

Finally, the AFL-CIO urges the European Union to seriously review its current GSP program with Bangladesh since its market is the largest for garments from Bangladesh.

This is fine but it doesn’t go far enough. The AFL-CIO also needs to call for American law to restrain American corporate behavior in their supply chains, holding companies accountable for what happens in the production of their products and the creation of trade agreements and international law that allows workers access to courts to fight for their human rights.

Right to Work a Man to Death

[ 27 ] January 14, 2017 |

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A key reminder that the intellectual founder of the right to work a man to death movement was Vance Muse, anti-Semite, racist, and anti-worker. Of course these things are not unconnected. Neither are they today as Kentucky destroys its unions and Missouri may well do the same, building on the many states to do so in recent years.

Muse had long made a lucrative living lobbying throughout the South on behalf of conservative and corporate interests or, in the words of one of his critics, “playing rich industrialists as suckers.” Over the course of his career, he fought women’s suffrage, worked to defeat the constitutional amendment prohibiting child labor, lobbied for high tariffs, and sought to repeal the eight-hour day law for railroaders. He was also active in the Committee for the Americanization of the Supreme Court, which targeted Justice Felix Frankfurter, a Vienna-born Jewish man, for his votes in labor cases.

But Muse first attracted national attention through his work with Texas lumberman John Henry Kirby in the Southern Committee to Uphold the Constitution, which sought to deny Roosevelt’s re-nomination in 1936 on grounds that the New Deal threatened the South’s racial order. Despite its name, the Southern Committee to Uphold the Constitution received funding from prominent northern anti-New Deal industrialists and financiers including John Jacob Raskob, Alfred P. Sloan, and brothers Lammot, Irénée, and Pierre du Pont.

Among Muse’s activities on behalf of the Southern Committee was the distribution of what Time called “cheap pamphlets containing blurred photographs of the Roosevelts consorting with Negroes” accompanied by “blatant text proclaiming them ardent Negrophiles.” Muse later defended the action and the use of its most provocative photograph: “I am a Southerner and for white supremacy… It was a picture of Mrs. Roosevelt going to some n—-r meeting with two escorts, n—–s, on each arm.”

In 1936, on the heels of the Southern Committee’s failure to deny Roosevelt’s nomination, Muse incorporated the Christian American Association to continue the fight against the New Deal, offering up a toxic mix of anti-Semitism, racism, anti-Communism, and anti-unionism. The Christian Americans considered the New Deal to be part of the broader assault of “Jewish Marxism” upon Christian free enterprise.

The organization’s titular head, Lewis Valentine Ulrey, explained that after their success in Russia the “Talmudists” had determined to conquer the rest of the world and that “by 1935 they had such open success with the New Deal in the United States, that they decided to openly restore the Sanhedrin,” that is, both the council of Jewish leaders who oversaw a community and the Jewish elders who, according to the Bible, plotted to kill Christ.

This “modern Jewish Sanhedrin” – which included people like Justice Frankfurter and NAACP board member Rabbi Stephen Wise – served as the guiding force of the Roosevelt Administration and the New Deal state. Vance Muse voiced the same anti-Semitic ideas in much simpler terms: “That crazy man in the White House will Sovietize America with the federal hand-outs of the Bum Deal – sorry, New Deal. Or is it the Jew Deal?”

By the early 1940s, Muse and the Christian American Association, like many southern conservatives, focused much of their wrath on the labor movement, especially the unions associated with the Congress of Industrial Organizations. The Christian Americans solicited wealthy southern planters and industrialists for funds to help break the “strangle hold radical labor has on our government” through the enactment of anti-union laws.

Muse and his allies continued to claim that Marxist Jews were pulling the national government’s strings, but the membership of this cabal shifted from the likes of Wise and Frankfurter to CIO leaders like Lee Pressman and Sidney Hillman. The Christian Americans, like other southern conservatives, insisted that the CIO – which had become shorthand for Jewish Marxist unions – was sending organizers to the rural South to inflame the contented but gullible African-American population as the first step in a plot to Sovietize the nation.

Nice guy. Perfect for the Republican Party of 2017.

Also, in case any needs a primer on the origin of my term for those laws.

This Day in Labor History: January 6, 1909

[ 7 ] January 6, 2017 |

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On January 6, 1909, oral arguments before the Supreme Court concluded in the case of Moyer v. Peabody. The decision by the Court on January 18 gave official approval for the state militia or National Guard imprisoning people without the benefit of habeas corpus during a time of insurrection, the definition of which was of course left vague. This was one of many anti-worker Supreme Court decisions of the Gilded Age that made it extremely difficult for unions to operate with any sort of effectiveness.

In 1902, the Western Federation of Miners was organizing mill workers in Colorado City, Colorado. One company placed a spy among the organizers. This led the employer to fire 42 union members. Tensions rose at the mill and in February 1903, the WFM called a strike. Colorado governor James Peabody was an anti-union extremist who would use any method to eliminate the WFM, which had outraged employers in 1894 with an overwhelming victory in the state’s mines. Throughout Colorado that year, several strikes took place. Peabody worked with employers and private detective agencies such as the Baldwin-Felts, Thiel Agency, and of course the Pinkertons. Peabody called out the Colorado militia in response to the Colorado City strike, leading miners in Telluride and Cripple Creek to walk off their jobs. Mass arrests of strikers began that fall. Among those arrested was Charles Moyer, president of the WFM. Moyer had done nothing more than travel to Telluride to support the strike and sign a poster denouncing the mass arrests. He was then arrested for desecrating the American flag. This ridiculous charge allowed him to be released the next day, but he was immediately rearrested without any charges.

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The strike was soon crushed by Colorado and Peabody’s forces, but Moyer fought the obviously unconstitutional arrest he faced. He petitioned for a write of habeas corpus to a Colorado court. He received it but the Colorado attorney general refused to honor it. He appealed to the state Supreme Court, which ruled that his constitutional rights had not been violated by his arrest for supporting a strike. He then appealed to the U.S. District Court based in Missouri. These judges overturned the state court and granted him the writ once again on July 5, 1904. This finally forced Peabody to let Moyer out of jail. Moyer wanted full exoneration so he took his case to the U.S. Supreme Court. It eventually accepted it, with oral arguments taking place on January 5 and 6, 1909. By this time, Moyer had survived the framing of he and Big Bill Haywood for the 1905 murder of former Idaho governor Frank Steunenberg, thanks to the extremely shoddy case and the defense skills of Clarence Darrow leading to the rare court victory for unions during these horrible years.

Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote the decision for the unanimous court. The decision completely ignored whether the strike was an insurrection. It gave the governor complete discretion in making this determination, effectively saying that if the governor called out the National Guard, there was in fact an insurrection. He wrote, “But it is familiar that what is due process of law depends on circumstances. It varies with the subject-matter and the necessities of the situation.” And while it makes some sense for law to have limited flexibility dependent upon the particulars of a given situation, in this situation Holmes was giving employers and their bought politicians carte blanche to do whatever they wanted to labor unions. So long as there was an insurrection, then the governor could call out the state militia or National Guard and have them act accordingly. He left open the possibility than an exceedingly lengthy time behind bars might be open to another challenge but that was not what Moyer was after. This decision also avoided any of the sticky constitutional questions–since the states cannot declare war, can the executive of a state declare a state of war to exist? But as was common for Holmes, he found ways to exclude ideological or racial minorities from full citizenship; unfortunately, he was frequently joined in the Gilded Age Supreme Court by his colleagues.

Holmes’ decision in Moyer v. Peabody helped to radicalize the labor movement, especially in areas that had already seen the iron fist of state violence. With Holmes giving governors the right to use violence at will, moderate unionists had a harder time telling workers that capitalism might work for them. The Industrial Workers of the World would build their case for radical syndicalism upon this point, up to the point where the IWW was itself crushed by massive state-sanctioned violence, including the government allowing employers to do what they wanted to unions and with government crushing workers defending themselves against that violence.

The case was so shoddy that the Court largely ignored it. In 1932, it revisited the ability of a governor to unilaterally decide to call a strike an insurrection, when in Sterling v. Constanin, it decided that the governor of Texas doing the same as Peabody was not constitutional. That is until 9/11. Then the Bush administration was all over it because of the possibility to justify indefinite detention whenever the government declares a state of insurrection. It was heavily discussed in the 2004 case of Hamdi v. Rumsfeld and remains an extremely threatening decision to workers today as Republicans seek to return the nation to the Lochner years. And the Moyer v. Peabody years as well.

Although Charles Moyer eventually broke from Haywood and the IWW, he remained deeply involved in union politics for many years. He was in Hancock, Michigan when the Italian Hall disaster took place in 1913 and rallied the WFM in nearby Calumet to take care of their own, although this had the effect of telling impoverished survivors to not take much needed charity. While in Calumet, he was beaten and deported from the town while bleeding from his wounds. The state did nothing to find who did this to him. He continued to lead the former WFM, now Mine, Mill, until 1926, dying in obscurity and largely forgotten in 1929.

This is the 206th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

Uber Workers Are Employees and They Should Be Categorized That Way

[ 36 ] January 2, 2017 |

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I completely agree with Benjamin Sachs that the idea of a third category of employment to cover Uber and gig workers is a terrible idea that would carve out a substandard regulatory framework. Employers would explode this loophole if it existed.

During the last few years of the Obama Presidency, we saw a productive debate over the question of whether changes in the organization of work called for a new legal categorization of workers. In particular, the question was whether we need a third category, intermediate between “employee” and “independent contractor,” to capture the kinds of work arrangements typified by gig economy firms like Uber. Seth Harris and Alan Krueger, in a leading example, called for the creation of a legal category they named “independent worker,” which would grant some – but not all – protections of employment law to workers engaged in these types of work relationships.

The Obama administration, with the Perez/Weil team in charge at the Department of Labor, presented a relatively favorable political context for trying out a third category of worker. Had that administration embraced such a development, it would have worked to ensure – perhaps through veto of any problematic legislation, perhaps through administrative action – a legal category with the best chance of leveling up conditions for workers. Even in that favorable political context, there was robust debate about what the results of a third category would have been. There was genuine disagreement among policymakers and commentators, all committed to improving conditions for those working in the new labor market, over whether a third category made good sense.

But whatever the results might have been in positive political circumstances, it ought to be quite clear what the results would be in the political context that will begin on January 20th: implementing a third legal category of work would almost certainly be disastrous for workers. Should the incoming Congress, or the Puzder Department of Labor, be charged with creating the third category, we could safely predict that it would be constructed in a way that allows employers to shift employees down into the less-protective intermediate classification, and not to enable independent contractors to shift up into the more protective middle ground.

Accordingly, for those interested in protecting the interests of workers, a third category should now constitute a third rail. Instead, our energies should be focused in another direction: on ensuring that as many workers as possible – across the gig economy and in similar work arrangements – get classified as employees, which, in my opinion, is where they’ve belonged all along. The legal definition of “employee,” as complicated as it might sometimes become, is broad and fully adaptable to the new systems of work organization. It allows, for example, charity canvassers – who set their own schedules, are permitted to hold multiple jobs, and who are never directly supervised by anyone – to be classified as employees. In numerous cases, in fact, courts have found an employment relationship despite the fact that the workers controlled the hours they worked, were unsupervised, and enjoyed all the associated indicia of “flexibility.”

The entire idea of “flexibility” is a construct designed to exploit workers. It must be beaten back, not embraced. We should be concerned that the Trump administration will seek to create this through the Department of Labor. Fighting this possibility should be a top priority for all concerned with worker rights.

Imagine a Law Protecting Us From Our Employers. Must Be Those Crazy French Again!

[ 31 ] January 2, 2017 |

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One of the major problems with many recent technological advances that supposedly save time or create convenience is that they allow employers to demand more time from us. That’s been a huge issue with cell phones. Driverless cars will do the same, as employers will find that time we aren’t driving perfect for doing even more work. This is a real issue that of course does not get taken seriously in the United States. But it does in France.

French workers rang in a new year at midnight — as well as a “right to disconnect” law that grants employees in the country the legal right to ignore work emails outside of typical working hours, according to the Guardian.

The new employment law requires French companies with more than 50 employees to begin drawing up policies with their workers about limiting work-related technology usage outside the office, the newspaper reported.

The motivation behind the legislation is to stem work-related stress that increasingly leaks into people’s personal time — and hopefully prevent employee burnout, French officials said.

“Employees physically leave the office, but they do not leave their work. They remain attached by a kind of electronic leash, like a dog,” Benoit Hamon, Socialist member of Parliament and former French education minister, told the BBC in May. “The texts, the messages, the emails: They colonize the life of the individual to the point where he or she eventually breaks down.”

Such a law in the United States would be just common sense. So of course it will never happen.

Why Holding Corporations Accountable for Their Supply Chains is the Only Answer to Global Labor Exploitation, Part 45,018

[ 16 ] January 1, 2017 |

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Yes, another post on trade policy and global labor rights that will be sure to get me into the LGM Top 10 posts of 2017!

This essay on the relationship between migratory labor and supply chain exploitation in the apparel industry, including making links between the likelihood of climate change causing even more possibilities for exploitation because of the huge number of refugees, is basically right on. But I think it does fall short of nailing down a reasonable answer to these problems. Certainly global labor solidarity is absolutely critical and connecting the labor and climate justice movements great. But I continue to maintain that I see no end game to these problems without holding western corporations accountable for what happens in their supply chains. That happens through both trade agreements with legally enforceable labor and environmental standards. It happens through the U.S. and other nations creating import standards. And it happens through allowing workers around the world to use U.S. courts (and other national courts) for enforcement of those standards.

Sadly, there are always going to be migrant laborers. But they don’t per se have to be exploited by the apparel industry. At the very least, we can force the retailers at the top of the food chain to take accountability for their suppliers. That is the single most effective way to do something about this problem and creating the legal framework to regulate that process is more realistic than hoping for international labor solidarity and workplace organizing, which is exceptionally slow and difficult, desperately needed as it is.

This Day in Labor History: January 1, 1935

[ 6 ] January 1, 2017 |

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On January 1, 1935, the Carl Mackley Houses opened in Philadelphia. Built in conjunction with the Hosiery Workers Union, this project represents one of several attempts during the New Deal era to create workers’ housing complexes that combined ideas of solidarity with modern architecture and a futuristic idea about where the working class was headed.

Decent housing for workers in cities was expensive and this is why unions began to become interested in new ideas to solve this problem. This was not the only example of a union-based housing project during these years. The Hosiery Workers’ sister union, the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, was already working on such a project and the International Ladies Garment Workers Union had worked to create a workers’ cooperative apartment building in the Bronx as early as 1925. Philadelphia had a higher home ownership rate than other cities, but most of this was single-family and the rental market was very tight. So the Hosiery Workers decided to target a union-sponsored housing complex for its members and other workers. It believed that big projects were better for workers and hoped to influence federal housing policy through its housing program.

In 1933, the Housing Division of the newly created Public Works Administration started to offer loans to private companies that would build and manage low-rent residential projects for limited profit. Immediately, the American Federation of Hosiery Workers applied to open a housing complex for its workers. The Hosiery Workers had already articulated a sophisticated housing program. Influenced by Karl Marx Hof in Vienna, the mass leftist housing project erected in the 1920s, it hoped to replicated this in the United States. The Hosiery Workers, based in Philadelphia, was an organization heavily interested in larger left-leaning social and economic questions and hired many radicals. Through strong organizing, it managed to not only survive the Great Depression but actually win good contracts even as consumer demand collapsed, including convincing companies to open its books to the union and working with consumer organizations for union-approved clothing companies.

The union’s leaders also opposed private home ownership. It understood why workers did this. But it claimed that home ownership reinforced the strong privatized nature of American political culture that undermined collective solutions in favor of selfish individualism (a point with which I strongly agree). Leading the project to create a housing project was Hosiery Workers research director John Edelman and Oskar Stororov, the Russian social democratic emigre and modernist architect who in 1970 was on the plane that killed Walter Reuther. When Stonorov heard about the PWA Housing Division, he immediately called its head Robert Kohn, rousted him out of bed, made a pitch, and won the agency’s first loan of slightly more than $1 million.

The union acquired the land and overcame opposition from private realtors and the Philadelphia mayor thanks to its close relations with the city council. It began building in February 1934, with a ceremony attended by Cornelia Bryce Pinchot, wife of Pennsylvania governor and legendary forester Gifford Pinchot. It named the housing project after Carl Mackley, a union member killed in a 1930 strike in Philadelphia who had become a hero to the city’s working classes, when 1500 cars followed the hearse carrying Mackley to his funeral. The complex had nearly 300 apartments, a large swimming pool (the overwhelming recreational desire of the workers who lived there), a nursery school, a basement set up for tenant organizations, and laundry facilities. It was the kind of self-contained community that leftists hoped would spawn working-class consciousness in the American working class.

The complex opened on January 1, 1935. The union made sure that a majority of the tenants were not Hosiery Workers’ members because it feared a strike could bankrupt the housing project. But in fact the costs of the apartments were fairly high and so it ended up attracting a lot of white-collar workers. The PWA loan payments were steep and thus the rents were 20 percent more expensive than anticipated. The tenants did receive good value for their rent, but it was simply pricier than most workers’ housing. The Hosiery Workers asked the PWA to renegotiate the terms of the loan but the agency refused.

But some workers did live there and the residents, working-class or middle-class, generally appreciated the project. The social space around the pool was highly valued by the residents and some workers moved in precisely because of that pool. One worker signed a lease, hoping it would be Bellamyism in action. The union itself did not really shape the communal life in the Mackley Homes as it hoped to, largely because it was fighting for its own survival through the 30s and 40s and the housing complex took a secondary role in the larger union strategy. But an open atmosphere of organizing was quietly encouraged and residents took advantage of that. Some residents put on a performance of “Waiting for Lefty,” while others took art classes, went to fundraisers for the left in the Spanish Civil War, or heard lectures about the need for socialized medicine (tell me about it). The nursery school sought to provide support for women even if they did not work outside the home, bringing progressive ideas about childrearing to the complex. This all scared PWA administrators, who worried about being attacked over the political nature of life at the Mackley Houses.

Leading urban planners such as Catherine Bauer believed the Mackley Houses were the beginning of something much bigger, or as she wrote, “the first step in an movement which may sooner or later change the face of the country.” Of course, it didn’t work out that way. Postwar housing plans would promote suburbanization and white flight, dooming most urban housing complexities to decline thanks to a funding model for public housing that assumed paying renters and not the poor, while private housing models now avoided these sorts of complexes. The experimental politics and nature of the Mackley Homes declined with the Hosiery Workers’ decline after World War II, but the nursery school remained open until 1964 and as late as 1985, the tenets held a celebration to mark 50 years of this amazing complex, even though the commemoration barely mentioned its union background.

I borrowed from Gail Radford, Modern Housing in America: Policy Struggles in the New Deal Era for the writing of this post.

This is the 205th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

This Day in Labor History: December 30, 1970

[ 13 ] December 30, 2016 |

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On December 30, 1970, a coal mine exploded on Hurricane Creek, near Hyden, Kentucky. Thirty-eight miners died that day, yet another example of the terrible safety conditions of coal mining, even at a late date. This was the worst mining disaster in the United States in two years. That this happened after major federal legislation to prevent these accidents and in the face of indifferent or even hostile union leadership to fixing these problems fed into the larger democratic unionism roiling the United Mine Workers and many other unions during the 1970s.

One miner survived the explosion. A.T. Collins was thrown out of the mineshaft by the force of the blast. Eighteen miners died instantly. Twenty others were deeper in the mine and died before they could be rescued. The dead were brought out and taken to the nearest school gymnasium so they could be identified.

This accident happened one year to the day after Richard Nixon signed the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act into law. The law mandated greater safety standards in the mines, thanks to inspections conducted by the Bureau of Mines in the Department of the Interior. The Bureau was supposed to close mines where workers’ lives were in danger. But it did not. It had found many violations at the Hurricane Creek mine in the previous months but had taken no meaningful action, thus leading to the death of the 38 miners. On November 19, an inspector visited the mine, finding large amounts of coal dust in the air and a lack of trained personnel for maintaining electrical equipment. The mine owner was ordered to fix the violations by December 22. But with the holidays, no one showed up to make sure they had been fixed before December 30.

But the ultimate responsibility for the law’s lax enforcement came from the top. Richard Nixon, the World’s Last Real Liberal Unlike that Neoliberal Sellout Barack Obama, only signed the law reluctantly. He had no interest in regulating the mines and believed the states should do it. Mine owners constantly complained that the Bureau of Mines was too aggressive in enforcing the new law, even though it did very little. Given the indifference of Nixon and his administration, the law was ineffective in its first year, leading to the deaths outside of Hyden.

Angry miners also faced a lot of problems in their own union. Earlier in the year, UMWA president Tony Boyle had ordered the murder of his rival Jock Yablonski. In addition, Boyle had been utterly indifferent over workplace safety and health, both in terms of mine accidents and in fighting black lung. He relied upon retired miners having full voting rights, as well as open corruption, to stay in power. This had already led to the growth of the Black Lung Associations in 1969 to put pressure on both the West Virginia statehouse and the federal government to pass new legislation. It also openly challenged Boyle and pushed for the election of Yablonski.

So when the mine exploded, there was significant discontent at the grassroots and attention at the national level. Ralph Nader called for a congressional investigation into the missed December 22 safety inspection. The Bureau of Mines filed a report noting that high levels of coal dust and the improper use of explosives caused the disaster. It vaguely claimed that it would seek to file charges against unnamed parties. But the miners believed it was the Bureau that held the ultimate responsibility. UMWA Local 5741 wrote to Congressmen Carl Perkins of Kentucky that this was proof that small mines “get away with murder.” It went on:

They holler that they don’t have enough Inspectors, FOOEY [sic], They inspected this mine [Hyden] and found severe violations, didn’t they? Why wasn’t it corrected before he was allowed to operate again. If they had a MILLION INSPECTORS it wouldn’t help any, if, after an inspection and severe violations were found and nothing was done to correct them

The Labor Subcommittee in the House of Representatives generally agreed with the miners, noting in its report that the Bureau:

should have been on notice as to the dangerous atypical conditions in the mine, should have inspected it with greater frequency, carried out more complete inspections and perhaps most importantly, been present to insure that cited violations were actually abated when required.

The miners then pushed for a new black lung bill, but Nixon resisted this strongly, believing it would cost too much. But the pressure did create more urgency in the Bureau of Mines to do its job and inspect the mines. In 1971, the number of mine inspectors increased from around 250 to around 1000 and mine accidents fell compared to the year before. With Tony Boyle now under indictment for his many crimes, the angry miners involved in protesting the Hurricane Creek explosion turned to Miners for Democracy to reform their union. MFD made rank and file concerns like mine safety and black lung central to its platform, running Arnold Miller to be union president against Boyle, still fighting to stay out of prison. But while Miller did win, his administration did not really fix the health and safety issues to the extent rank and file miners hoped it would. This was for two primary reasons. First, Miller wasn’t all that good at his job and second, the real emphasis of MFD was rooting out the corruption in the UMWA that extended back to the beginning of John L. Lewis’ long presidency. The newly reinvigorated union did put more pressure on the companies, who complained, noting their long-friendly relationship with Boyle on these issues. But there wasn’t that much it could do to truly transform safety in the coal mines.

In recent years, with the UMWA a shell of what it once was and automation combining with the widespread move of the coal industry to Wyoming, it can do little about these health and safety issues. Mine owners like Don Blankenship murder workers without concern and only get prosecuted if they leave an extreme level of evidence, as he did. Coal mining remains a tremendously dangerous job today.

This mine explosion was memorialized in Tom T. Hall’s song “Trip to Hyden,” off his outstanding In Search of a Song album from 1971.

Long before I ever heard of this mine disaster, I drove through Hyden. This was the late 90s. The entire town was literally festooned with memorabilia from its most famous resident, Tim Couch, savior of University of Kentucky football and the Cleveland Browns. Not so sure that’s the case there today.

This post borrowed heavily from Richard Fry’s article, “Dissent in the Coalfields: Miners, Federal Politics, and Union Reform in the United States, 1968-1973,” published in Labor History in 2014.

This is the 204th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

Bangladeshi Workers Sure Are Thankful That Our Beneficent Corporations Are Providing Them Great Jobs!

[ 35 ] December 27, 2016 |

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Why it’s almost like we should ask Bangladeshi workers what they want and fight to help them rather than talk about all the great benefits western companies bring to Bangladesh through their low wage, exploitative jobs!

Bangladesh garment manufacturers have sacked at least 1,500 workers, police said Tuesday, after protests over pay led to a week-long shutdown at dozens of factories supplying top Western brands.

Tens of thousands of workers walked out of factories in the manufacturing hub of Ashulia that make clothing for top Western brands like GAP, Zara and H&M earlier this month, prompting concerns over supply during the holiday season.

Police branded the protests illegal and said they had arrested 30 workers including seven union leaders as well as a television reporter covering the unrest.

On Tuesday, they said factory owners had sacked around 1,500 workers and resumed operations, a week after shutting down to try to contain the protests.

What do these workers want?

The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association has rejected the workers’ demand for their pay to be trebled from the current minimum monthly wage of 5,300 taka ($67).

Babul Akhter, head of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation, accused authorities of using a controversial military-era law to shut down the protests.

“They used (the) Special Powers Act to detain union leaders and workers,” he told AFP.

“Up to 3,500 workers have been sacked and 50 leaders have gone into hiding.”

The Ashulia police chief said only those involved in violent protest had been arrested.

How reassuring.

It’s very easy to sit in the United States or Britain or another wealthy world nation, look at Bangladesh from 30,000 feet and say “The apparel industry is bringing so much to this poor nation!” But doing so also allows westerners to ignore the massive oppression these workers face, painting globalization not even as complicated, but as a moral good, with those who question its value demonized as inhuman monsters.

Instead, what we should do is recognize some of the benefits of globalization while also demanding that American companies accept the basic rights that Bangladeshi workers are fighting for, such as a living wage. Moreover, we need to demand that these companies pay living wages throughout their supply chains no matter where they move. Otherwise, those companies may well respond to rising wages in Bangladesh by moving to some other nation, as they have done over and over and over again, especially in the apparel industry. These workers have actual demands. Let’s try to ensure that the products we buy are made in decent conditions that empower workers.

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