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Tag: "labor"

Happy Triangle Day!

[ 30 ] March 25, 2017 |

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Triangle Fire Day is such a happy time. Good thing we have learned so much and we treat our workers with respect, allow them to work in safe workplaces, give them a voice on the job, and generally allow them to live a dignified life, unlike those savage times of the past.

“The supply chain isn’t going just to Bangladesh. It’s going to Alabama and Georgia,” says David Michaels, who ran OSHA for the last seven years of the Obama administration. Safety at the Southern car factories themselves is generally good, he says. The situation is much worse at parts suppliers, where workers earn about 70¢ for every dollar earned by auto parts workers in Michigan, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (Many plants in the North are unionized; only a few are in the South.)

Cordney Crutcher has known both environments. In 2013 he lost his left pinkie while operating a metal press at Matsu Alabama, a parts maker in Huntsville owned by Matcor-Matsu Group Inc. of Brampton, Ont. Crutcher was leaving work for the day when a supervisor summoned him to replace a slower worker on the line, because the plant had fallen 40 parts behind schedule for a shipment to Honda Motor Co. He’d already worked 12 hours, Crutcher says, and wanted to go home, “but he said they really needed me.” He was put on a press that had been acting up all day. It worked fine until he was 10 parts away from finishing, and then a cast-iron hole puncher failed to deploy. Crutcher didn’t realize it. Suddenly the puncher fired and snapped on his finger. “I saw my meat sticking out of the bottom of my glove,” he says.

Now Crutcher, 42, commutes an hour to the General Motors Co. assembly plant in Spring Hill, Tenn., where he’s a member of United Auto Workers. “They teach you the right way,” he says. “They don’t throw you to the wolves.” His pay rose from $12 an hour at Matsu to $18.21 at GM.

In 2014, OSHA’s Atlanta office, after detecting a high number of safety violations at the region’s parts suppliers, launched a crackdown. The agency cited one year, 2010, when workers in Alabama parts plants had a 50 percent higher rate of illness and injury than the U.S. auto parts industry as a whole. That gap has narrowed, but the incidence of traumatic injuries in Alabama’s auto parts plants remains 9 percent higher than in Michigan’s and 8 percent higher than in Ohio’s. In 2015 the chances of losing a finger or limb in an Alabama parts factory was double the amputation risk nationally for the industry, 65 percent higher than in Michigan and 33 percent above the rate in Ohio.

Korean-owned plants, which make up roughly a quarter of parts suppliers in Alabama, have the most safety violations in the state, accounting for 36 percent of all infractions and 52 percent of total fines, from 2012 to 2016. The U.S. is second, with 23 percent of violations and 17 percent of fines, and Germany is third, with 15 percent and 11 percent. But serious accidents occur in plants from all over, according to more than 3,000 pages of court documents and OSHA investigative files obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

Feel the Freedom!

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This Day in Labor History: March 24, 1934

[ 25 ] March 24, 2017 |

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On March 24, 1934, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Tydings-McDuffie Act. Better known as the Philippine Independence Act, Tydings-McDuffie initially sounds like a victory for anti-colonialist forces. However, a look at the history of law demonstrates that it actually came out of the deep anti-Asian racism of the West Coast who saw Asian populations both as competition for white labor and competition for white women.

From the beginning of Anglo-American occupation in California, white workers defined the state as a white man’s republic. This was basically repeated in Oregon and Washington. And yet from the very beginning, the polyglot population of the region challenged those assumptions. The arrival of Mexicans and Chinese along with whites into California freaked out the white population, which quickly sought to take over the diggings. The Chinese were pushed into menial labor, as well as the most difficult and dangerous labor, such as railroad building. White workers saw these workers as a direct threat, committed murderous violence against them, and lobbied for the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act, the first major legislative victory for unions in American history. But California employers continued their search for cheap labor, turning to the Japanese. But the same anti-Asian sentiment rose up against the Japanese, especially as these workers began organizing as well, and the Gentlemen’s Agreement cut that labor off in 1907. But western employers now had a new source of labor: Filipinos. This was much more difficult for anti-Asian zealots to organize against, for Filipinos had the right to immigrate as colonial subjects of the United States since the 1898-1902 war of subjugation.

By the 1920s, Filipino immigration to California expanded rapidly, with over 24,000 coming between 1925 and 1929, mostly young men to work in the fields. In response, the San Francisco Chronicle editorialized, “There is a serious immigration problem involved in the introduction of large numbers of person who are unassimilable yet who are given a statue little short of full citizenship.” They lived in the same terrible camps that other workers suffered through in the fields, with housing that was basically chicken coops. The growers liked them because they worked hard and made little trouble on the farms. But the new arrival of non-whites infuriated many Californians. To make it worse for white Californians, many Filipino men, and men made up 94% of the migrants, ended up having sexual relationships with white women. This was not what their cheap, exploitable labor was supposed to do. Said Fred Hart, a farmer from Salinas, “The Filipinos will not leave our white girls alone…Frequently they intermarry.” That these new workers had status as Americans made their brazenness even more outrageous for white California.

So whites did what whites do so frequently in American history–they turned to violence against the people who color who dared stand up for human rights and labor rights. On January 21, 1930, about two hundred white Californians tried to raid a Filipino-owned club near Monterey where nine white women worked as entertainers. The mob expanded to about 500 people and the next night they started attacking Filipinos they found on the streets and in the orchards. On January 23, the mob killed a farmworker named Fermin Tobera, who had come to California in 1928 to work in the fields and send money back to his impoverished family. The bunkhouse in which he slept on the Murphy Ranch near Watsonville was set upon by whites who started firing into it. Tobera was shot in the head. This outraged the Filipino community working for the rights of their people in Washington, as well as Filipinos in Manila. Other violent incidents popped up around California over the next couple of days, leading to beating and a stabbing. On January 29, someone blew up the Stockton headquarters of the Filipino Federation of America. Although several people were sleeping inside, no one was killed. Given the trans-Pacific anger this violence caused, California law enforcement had to do something. Eight men pleaded guilty for incitement to riot; four of them served thirty days in prison and the rest of the sentences for all of them were suspended.

This violence is the context in which the U.S. considered granting the Filipinos their independence. Both supporters and opponents of Filipino migration to the U.S. thought independence was probably the best solution by the early 1930s. The Watsonville Evening Pajaronian editorialized that it hoped the Philippines would get their independence so Japan would invade them and turn them into a new Korea. Given the rapidly growing availability of white labor as the Great Depression deepened, the California growers wouldn’t struggle to find a new labor force either.

The law itself granted the Philippines independence after ten years. In exchange, Filipinos would have to abide by the racist immigration quota system of the 1924 Immigration Act immediately. A whopping 50 immigrants from the Philippines a year were allowed into the United States. They were also denied citizenship rights. A 1946 law, the same year that the Philippines actually received independence, doubled the quota to a whole 100 immigrants and restored the ability of Filipinos to become citizens. A year after Tydings-McDuffie, Congress passed the Filipino Repatriation Act that provided free transportation for Filipinos who wanted to return to the islands but could not afford to do so. The nation didn’t quite get to the point of rounding up these workers, but they can awfully close.

In conclusion, the United States was actually too racist and too concerned about interracial sex to remain a colonial power.

Of course, Filipino labor did not disappear from the United States after Tydings-McDuffie, even as new immigration did. These workers would play a critical role in the early farmworker movements that eventually led to the United Farm Workers, even as Latino workers supplanted the Filipinos in the movement.

I borrowed from Dorothy B. Fujita-Rony, “Empire and the Moving Body: Fermin Tobera, Military California, and Rural Space,” in Bender and Lipman, Making the Empire Work: Labor and United States Imperialism in the writing of this post.

This is the 212th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

Feminism and Class at Harvard

[ 179 ] March 21, 2017 |

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This is an outstanding essay about the class divisions within feminism, using Harvard as a background. Sarah Leonard and Rebecca Rojer note that both famed Harvard graduate Sheryl Sandberg and Harvard president and historian Drew Gilpin Faust talk about feminism but neither of them cares at all about the 90 percent female workforce at the Doubletree that Harvard owns in Cambridge. Noting how the workers and their student allies had to fight for years to finally win a union while Sandberg spoke repeatedly to rich women at the school and Faust has done everything in her power to hurt the school’s workers, the essay gets at a critical issue in feminism: a feminism that only speaks to rich white women really isn’t a feminism at all.

 What the majority of women want has, in many ways, not changed—economic security, good and accessible childcare, freedom from violence, the pleasures of life with enough education and leisure time to allow us to flourish. But intractable problems remain: Pregnancy is penalized by lack of time off, or time off for women but not for men, which exacerbates the wage gap. Childcare has been deemed unaffordable by the Department of Health and Human Services in every single state. Ninety-eight percent of women in abusive relationships are subject to financial abuse, and a woman without an income has a hard time getting away—a topic that was the subject of Sandberg’s own undergraduate thesis, “Economic Factors and Intimate Violence.” Luckily, we actually know quite a bit about how to fix these things. In Sweden, women and men are motivated to take parental time off (if the man doesn’t take his time, they both lose some), ensuring family time and a smaller wage gap. We know that universal childcare, as organized in Norway, produces happy kids and greater gender equity. In fact, America almost had something comparable in 1971, when a bill for universal childcare passed both houses, only to be vetoed by Nixon under the influence of a young Pat Buchanan.

Lobbying for universal childcare, unionization, or any of the other things we know help most women would mean making enemies in a way that advocating for “empowerment” or “banning bossy” never would. It would mean a fight not just with Republicans (Sandberg gives money mostly to Democrats, although she has paid into Olympia’s List and Facebook’s PAC, both of which have supported several Republicans), but with Democrats, too, and maybe even some of Sandberg’s pals on the Davos circuit. It would mean being political, and it would not serve her as PR. It would not help Facebook. But it would place her considerable resources in the service of women. Without solidaristic feminism, in the words of Osorio, “you haven’t solved the problem. You’ve just solved your problem.”

When I asked Lemus what she would have Sandberg do, she offered that Sandberg had enough money to make the government listen to the needs of women. Osorio noted that Sandberg might listen to women who are unlike her. The problem is not that women like Sandberg and Faust have failed to be saviors; as the DoubleTree workers have shown, working-class women are leading their own movements and stand at the head of their own struggles. It’s that women like the DoubleTree housekeepers are doing the concrete work of increasing equality, and women like Faust and Sandberg are thwarting instead of helping them. It is possible for a woman to sound like a feminist, and serve the function of The Man. We don’t need them to lead us, but if they aren’t going to express solidarity, they can at least get out of the way.

That’s the conclusion but the whole thing is really well worth your time. I will also say that Faust is an embarrassment to the reputation of historians. Faust herself works on issues of justice in her writing and yet has sold out all the way. I really struggle to understand how you can know everything she knows and then want to treat pregnant hotel workers or impoverished dining hall workers in this way. I guess that’s why I will never climb the corporate ladder.

The Republican War on Workers: Iowa Edition

[ 105 ] March 21, 2017 |

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Colin Gordon has an excellent if depressing summary of the horrors Iowa Republicans have pushed through this year, which has included an anti-union bill that makes Scott Walker look like a piker and the repeal of local ability to set wages or other progressive standards. The state’s workers comp system is next. Why? Because unions support Democrats.

In this sense, ALEC is accelerating the “risk shift” brought about by the growth of precarious employment and the fraying of the social safety net. The assault on workers’ compensation in Iowa, for example, is animated not by “out of control” claims and costs but by a desire to further shift the burden from employers onto the backs of injured workers and taxpayers, as uncompensated claims end up on the balance sheets of Social Security Disability Insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid. The prohibition on bargaining over health care, in turn, is widely regarded as the first step in the state’s retreat from offering any meaningful health coverage via public employment.

The final, and perhaps decisive, motive for Iowa Republicans is starkly political. The peculiar enmity for public-sector workers and their unions is less about fiscal constraint than it is about their critical role in the Democratic Party. The state’s largest public-sector unions (AFSCME and ISEA, the teachers’ union) contributed nearly $1 million to Democrats in the 2016 cycle. The collective-bargaining law (especially the dues and recertification provisions) is simply meant to turn off that faucet. This is what has played out in Wisconsin, where public sector unions have lost almost half their members (from 175,000 in 2010 to 91,000 in 2016): AFSCME has retreated to a single statewide council, and political contributions—and energies—have withered. The icing on this cake, unsurprisingly, is a new voter-ID law whose burden would fall largely on Democratic supporters.

Some in the statehouse may genuinely believe that this path makes sense for Iowa, but the evidence suggests otherwise. This is a frighteningly destructive agenda, virtually guaranteed—as we have seen play out in Kansas and in Wisconsin—to undermine the prosperity, security, and mobility of most Iowans. State Republicans and ALEC know this, which is why they’ve made sure to pair their economic agenda with measures designed to defang and defund their political opponents. The warm epigram from Field of Dreams—“It’s not heaven, it’s Iowa”—now sounds like a cruel joke.

This is of course the national Republican agenda and there’s a very real chance much of this goes nationwide by 2020.

Unionize Uber

[ 36 ] March 19, 2017 |

Uber

Great news out of Seattle:

A judge in Washington State has rejected Uber’s attempt to overturn a Seattle ordinance that gives its drivers the right to unionize, potentially opening the door for higher rates and labor costs. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Teamsters labor union intends to begin working to organize drivers soon.

The legal battle over the rule, which originally passed in December of 2015, has been lengthy. Last August, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce business group seeking the rule’s suspension.

Gee, you wouldn’t want to frame this “potentially opening the door to dignified lives for workers” or anything. Of course, this is from Fortune, magazine of the New Gilded Age. Anyway:

Uber has extensively lobbied its own drivers to oppose unionization. The company says the rule could impinge on drivers’ flexibility, and has previously protested a provision that would give voting rights on the unionization question only to drivers who make at least 52 trips in a three-month period. Those higher-volume drivers are presumed to be more likely to support unionization.

Observers have long argued that Uber’s business model depends on very low pay for drivers. A British government report last year found that Uber drivers often took home substantially less than that country’s hourly living wage. Elsewhere, Uber has battled lawsuits over its classification of drivers as contractors rather than employees.

Even under such conditions, Uber has repeatedly posted huge operating losses. Drivers pushing for higher fares or pay rates, then, are a major threat to the company’s viability.

The entire company is losing money on every ride while also relying on poverty wages and playing with employment law to shield itself and force its low-paid drivers to bear the burden of responsibility on the job. To say the least, this company needs to die. If employment law was to cover these workers and if unions were to represent the drivers, I would have no problem with rideshare services. The problem is not that I need to defend the traditional taxi companies, which are pretty bad in their own right. The problem is that the rideshare companies won’t do such less than crazy things as “consider their workers employees” and “run background checks on the drivers” and “make sure the drivers make at least the minimum wage.” This, on top of Uber’s cozying up with Cheeto Mussolini, makes it one of the New Gilded Age’s most rapacious and awful corporations.

Labor, Environment, Neoliberalism

[ 1 ] March 16, 2017 |

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I did this podcast with the environmental historian Michael Egan last week on the relationship between environmentalism and neoliberalism. This is actual neoliberalism, not the current definition of “someone in the Democratic Party who does something I don’t like” so commonly used on the left. The whole last half is a discussion on the relationship between the labor and environmental movements. Check it out.

Labor’s Future

[ 55 ] March 10, 2017 |

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Rich Yeselson is always worth reading, agree with him or not. His long review essay of books by three former SEIU leaders, including former president Andy Stern and the activist Jane McAlevey, is quite good. Each of the three have different prognoses that represent their preexisting interests, which is not surprising. Stern, who may have started with his head on straight but was terrible in his last several years as SEIU president, is all into futurism and buddying up with corporate leaders, which is reflected in his love of Universal Basic Income, imposed from on high with no meaningful input from the unions that he now sees irrelevant. David Rolf is big on major wage campaigns such as the $15 campaign in Seattle, but he notes that these don’t actually help unions very much. He believes that unions should try anything, but try something. McAlevey disdains top-down campaigns and wants more organizing, which as Yeselson points out, has its own set of problems and which has been a call from labor reformers for a long time now, but often without much in the way of strategy behind it. There’s an emotional rallying cry against bureaucratic unionism involved in this line of thinking and it’s not one that I find particularly convincing, even though we do indeed a lot more organizing campaigns. As Yeselson also notes, some of each of these ideas is going to be necessary in the future.

What I think each of these writers misses, although I have not read the books, is that the ultimate problem of American unionism and thus the ultimate solution revolves around the position of the government. Unions have been strong in this nation when the government has allowed them to be strong. When the government has assisted employers in repressing them, through force or through law, nothing organized labor has done, whether top-down or bottom-up campaigns, has made much difference. It’s hard to read the history of American labor, for me anyway, without that as the central tenet. It’s uncomfortable for a lot of labor activists who have a lot of emotional baggage at stake in whatever their given critique is of the movement. Of course, none of this means we should sit back and wait for the government to someday be on our side again. Obviously, that means it would never happen. I agree by and large with the try anything strategy, even though I am extremely skeptical of UBI or for that matter anything Stern is involved with. Certainly McAlevey is right about the need for more organizing, but it’s not enough and it never has been.

All I can say is that movements of workers will never go away. Conditions and strategies change with the time and most certainly no one can argue that things will always get better, but at the core, we have to organize with the intent of moving politicians toward our side while also building worker power and capacity for organizing. Whatever that looks like on the ground, I am by and large for.

The Return of a Racist Union Movement

[ 26 ] March 9, 2017 |

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The relationship between organized labor and immigration is complicated, to say the least. For many decades, far too long, the labor movement was outright opposed to immigration, partially on the ground of a higher population undermining wages and partly on the grounds of whiteness. In recent decades, that has changed fairly significantly. The United Farm Workers, even if it had very little real impact on the lives of workers in the end, helped start that. The growth of immigrant workers in unions such as UNITE-HERE and SEIU made some of our largest labor organizations also some of our largest immigrant rights organizations. This moved the AFL-CIO into supporting smart, sane, humanitarian immigration policy. But of course the AFL-CIO is a complex maelstrom of a lot of organizations. With the decline of the industrial unions, the building trades have reasserted a lot of authority within the labor movement. And while some of the building trades, especially at the local level in immigrant-heavy places, have embraced a diverse workforce, at the international level and in many, many locals, the old desire to keep America white is still very strong.

This helps us understand why many of the building trades have embraced Trump. It’s not just about pipeline construction. It’s about Make America White Again. One of those unions is the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, long one of the most politically conservative unions in the United States. In fact, it did not endorse a Democrat for the presidency until LBJ and while it was technically non-partisan before that, everyone knew that the Hutcheson dynasty that ruled the UBC for generations openly lobbied for Republicans. The actions of Carpenters leaders in Buffalo concerning immigrant workers are, to say the least, highly disturbing and must be denounced by the rest of the labor movement.

Federal agents are not the only ones trying to remove people from the Buffalo area who have entered the country illegally.

If Bill Bing, a carpenters union official, discovers that undocumented immigrants are working at a local construction project, the union tips off authorities.

That information has led to some raids and arrests, he said, although the detention last month of 32 individuals suspected of being in the country illegally and working at projects was not his tip.

“We were not directly responsible for the information on those two raids,” said Bing, the local representative for the Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters.

Bing said he is glad to see the enforcement of immigration laws and makes no apologies for when he or other union members tip off federal and state authorities.
The jobs should go to American citizens and that it is not a union-versus-nonunion issue, he said.

“There are very good local union and nonunion contractors who suffer the fallout from dirty business,” Bing said. “This directly affects area living standards, not to mention the tax dollars New York State, Erie County and the local municipalities don’t and won’t see.”

Other trade unions, he said, tip off authorities, “but they are not as proactive as we are. The carpenters union devotes a lot of money and resources to this.”

But even as the uniond supply tips, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials say there have been numerous false reports of federal officers conducting law enforcement actions against immigrants.

“Reports of ICE checkpoints and sweeps are false, dangerous and irresponsible,” said Khaalid H. Walls, an ICE spokesman. “These reports create mass panic and put communities and law enforcement personnel in unnecessary danger,” Walls said. “Any groups falsely reporting such activities are doing a disservice to those they claim to support.”

And how do these random Carpenters members in Buffalo know that a worker is undocumented? The don’t, of course. What they see is a brown-skinned person speaking Spanish. What more evidence do they need? How many people here with documentation are also being harassed by our proto-fascist immigration officials because of openly racist union members?

This is why, as I said in this piece for The New Republic, no one on the left is going to care when Trump signs a bill repealing Davis-Bacon. Even other parts of the labor movement aren’t going to care. Why would SEIU go to bat for the Carpenters over an issue that does not affect them when the Carpenters turn workers into ICE, the American Gestapo, for deportation? They won’t. Losing Davis-Bacon will decimate the building trades as so much of their work is contracted through the government. But that won’t get in the way of their whiteness campaign. I know there are good people inside the Carpenters who disagree with these sorts of policies. But until the international comes out and disciplines local leaders who engage in open racism and until the Carpenters commits itself to alliances with other groups who also care about better lives for workers, the whole union has to be held responsible for actions like what is happening in Buffalo. None of this is to say that contractors aren’t using undocumented workers to avoid using union crews. Of course they are. But the response of the Carpenters needs to be organizing these workers and hiring Spanish-speakers to work in those communities, not seeking to get them thrown out of the country.

Kicking the Chinese out of California in 1882 did not lead to a strong union California and kicking the Mexicans out of Buffalo in 2017 won’t lead to a union town either. The problems are much deeper than immigrant competition. Recognizing and acting upon that fact is the first step to an inclusive labor movement.

This Day in Labor History: March 1, 1932

[ 12 ] March 1, 2017 |

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On March 1, 1932, the Norris-LaGuardia Act passed the Senate by a 75-5 vote and was signed by President Herbert Hoover a few days later. This critical act outlawing some of the most loathsome tactics used by employers against workers laid the groundwork for the rapid growth of labor rights over the next several years.

In the Lochner era, a misnomer that uses a single court case to represent a doctrine of work that had already existed for more than a half-century before that 1905 decision, there was a widespread belief in the sanctity of the contract between employers and workers. In other words, if a worker agreed to work on a job, it was inherently implied that said worker agreed to the conditions of work the employer set. If the employer created conditions where the worker did not want to sell his or her labor, that worker could quit. Of course, this completely ignored power dynamics. The idea that a single worker in the Gilded Age held equal power as the employer was beyond absurd. But employers and politicians held on to this ideology with great tenacity. In the years after Lochner, it began to be chipped away, such as the Mueller case, where the Supreme Court revised Lochner to create exceptions for some women workers. But the overall framework held strong well into the 1920s. Courts routinely ruled that unions were unlawful combinations and that strikers were illegal conspiracies that halted interstate commerce, while of course allowing monopolies to do whatever they wanted in ways that actually were unlawful combinations and illegal conspiracies to limit interstate commerce except in ways that helped corporate bottom lines.

One of the ways that employers took advantage of this ideology was the so-called “yellow-dog contract.” This made it a condition of employment that a worker not be a union member. This was an outrage for both workers and for the Populist movements that had briefly taken power in many states during the late 19th and early 20th century and outlawed them. New York was the first, in 1887. Congress did the same nationally, at least for railroad workers, with the Erdman Act of 1898. The Supreme Court routinely struck against these laws. In 1915, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in Coppage v. Kansas that a Kansas law banning the yellow-dog contract was unconstitutional. In 1917, the Supreme Court, in Hitchman Coal and Coke Co. v. Mitchell, expanded upon the previous decision, ruling that yellow-dog contracts were enforceable by law. This disgusted not only labor activists but a lot of Progressives, who believed that unions should at least be legal, even if they did not believe in the closed shop or other elements of labor solidarity.

After Hitchman and in the wake of the Red Scare shortly to follow, employers increased their use of the yellow-dog contracts and their political opposition grew. Moreover, aggressive uses of injunctions, also increased by Hitchman, led to courts effectively outlawing the United Mine Workers in West Virginia. By the late 1920s, the movement against the yellow-dog contract had grown. In 1930, the Senate rejected Hoover’s nomination of John Parker to the Supreme Court because he had upheld yellow-dog contracts as a judge. As the Great Depression deepened and the overwhelming demands of workers for dignity became impossible to ignore, the momentum for labor law reform became hard to stop. This wasn’t per se because of a great rush to support unions, but rather because the yellow-dog seemed an anachronism of the violent anti-union days that the middle-class of the 1920s, much more interested in soft anti-union power such as company unionism, increasingly found embarrassing. Behind this reform was two of the great progressive Republicans of the period, Nebraska senator George Norris and New York congressman Fiorello LaGuardia. The roots of the bill came in the late 1920s, as pro-labor senators used language coming recent court cases, including from William Howard Taft, that noted the contract ideology that dominated the workplace made no sense when government and business combined to make the idea that workers and employers had equal power in agreeing to work completely antiquated, even as it in fact had been for many decades by this point. Said Harvard labor economist Carroll Daughtery in the Harvard Business Review yellow-dog contracts were “among the greatest strongholds of individualism” in an America where the economic reality made laissez-faire individualism “outmoded and outworn.” The final bill outlawed the yellow-dog contract, established the principle that unions are free to form without employer interference (although it had no real enforcement mechanism for that principle), and prevented federal courts from issuing injunctions in nonviolent labor strikes, which had been a classic strategy of employers to bust their unions in the past half-century.

Organized labor was somewhat ambivalent about Norris-LaGuardia because it undermined the voluntary nature of unionism that had been dear to craft unionists since the 19th century. American Federation of Labor-affiliated unions saw themselves as private, volunteer organizations outside of government regulation. Norris-LaGuardia bean to change that in ways that would become much stronger in a few years. 1932 was a major year of transition for the AFL around these issues. It was only in that year when union leaders faced a rank and file revolt over unemployment insurance that the AFL finally came around to endorsing even a program that would directly help its members because it reeked of government involvement with unions. It did ultimately support Norris-LaGuardia, even though it wanted greater protection from injunctions than the bill provided. AFL head William Green testified for the need to eliminate the yellow-dog. Business of course opposed the bill.

The Norris-LaGuardia Act was a law passed at a time when the federal government was still in a nascent period of reform and when the discomfort with much government interference in the economy was still strongly felt in both parties. It would take much, much more, including strikes, the murder of workers, and groundbreaking labor law within a new conception of the state, to create real rights for workers in the United States. However, Norris-LaGuardia is a key early moment in this struggle.

Norris-LaGuardia only applied to private sector workers. Government workers, especially teachers, were forced to sign yellow dog contracts into the 1960s and it was only when the government opened up the public sector to organizing that this finally ended. Much of the anti-injunction power of the bill was regained by employers with the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947.

I borrowed a bit of this post from Ruth O’Brien’s Workers’ Paradox: The Republican Origins of New Deal Labor Policy, 1886-1935 as well as from Daniel Ernst, “The Yellow-Dog Contract and Liberal Reform, 1917-1932,” published in Labor History in 1989.

This is the 211th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

Trump’s Appeal to the Working Class

[ 417 ] February 18, 2017 |

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I would hope that the horrors of Trump would have moved workers against this anti-worker fascist president who attempts to name utterly horrible humans as Secretary of Labor. But with the Democratic Party having no answer on industrial jobs, if anything, even more union members are finding him appealing.

Mr. Trump summoned the heads of the building and construction trade unions, most of which supported Mrs. Clinton, to discuss infrastructure spending three days after his inauguration. “It was a substantial meeting about good middle-class jobs,” said Terry O’Sullivan, general president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, adding that Mr. Trump was the first president to invite him to the Oval Office.

Some of Mr. Trump’s other early moves, like his presidential memorandums giving the go-ahead to the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines and killing the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, and his announcement that he would quickly seek to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, were clearly conceived with a similar objective.

They appear to have had the desired effect. Dennis Williams, head of the United Auto Workers union, which endorsed Mrs. Clinton, has professed eagerness to meet with Mr. Trump to discuss how they might undo Nafta and protect American jobs.

“He’s the first president that has addressed this issue, and I’m going to give him kudos for that,” Mr. Williams said at a round-table discussion with reporters in Detroit on Thursday.

Other unions may also have reason to do business with the White House. Consider the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which also endorsed Mrs. Clinton. Some portion of the union, namely its freight railroad workers, is heavily dependent on coal, and union officials say members in that sector voted heavily for Mr. Trump because he refused to foreclose on its role in the national economy.

If you need work or you see a recent past where you had more economic security than you have now (which is probably not a myth), it’s pretty easy to see why you might not pay attention to any of the facts that Trump is your enemy and embrace the idea of building a border wall, of building infrastructure in projects corrupt and ineffectual, of wanting to see pipelines built.

There’s no way around it–this is a response to the utter failure of Democrats to have a real jobs program for working people. As I have said for a very long time, people want WORK. They want jobs. Americans wrap dignity up in work. The lack of work is embarrassing. This isn’t new. The Great Depression and 25 percent unemployment didn’t lead the U.S. working class toward revolutionary ideology. It led them to leave their families and live in shame. Democrats became the party of the working class because they promised and delivered on jobs and then on working class security through the FHA, the GI Bill, and other core legislation of the postwar period that turned the white working class into the middle class, while offering the black working class at least more than the Republicans did.

The Democrats however embraced capital mobility and the growth of financial capitalism with a gusto nearly that of Republicans. Beginning under Carter and then Clinton and Obama, they never had a good answer for the working class. Job retraining for lower-paying jobs, reeducation assistance, and telling people to move to Texas are not answers. Economic destabilization makes both racialized nationalism and lies about job creation increasingly appealing to the white working class. Until we have answers about how there are going to be good jobs for people in the places where they live, we are really going to struggle holding on to the union members still voting for Democrats, especially the white ones, many of whom live in states that Democrats narrowly lost in 2016.

Another Union Loss in the South

[ 58 ] February 18, 2017 |

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The International Association of Machinists had hopes to organize Boeing’s plant in South Carolina, which exists precisely because Boeing executives wanted to bust the unions in their Seattle plants. It did not end well.

Organizers with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers failed to persuade a majority of about 3,000 union-eligible Boeing workers in the state to vote for the union amid enormous pressure from management.

Boeing said 74 percent of the more than 2,800 workers voting rejected the union.

Many analysts say that Boeing decided to put its second Dreamliner aircraft assembly line in the state to reduce the leverage of the machinists’ union, which represents Boeing’s work force in the Puget Sound region of Washington State and has used work stoppages to exact concessions from the company in the past. South Carolina is one of the least unionized states in the country.

Hoyt N. Wheeler, an emeritus professor of business at the University of South Carolina who taught labor relations and employment law, said in an interview before the vote that a victory would be “highly significant” because “one of Boeing’s motivations for coming to South Carolina was to escape the union.”

The election took on added significance because of the emphasis President Trump has placed on domestic manufacturing, and on Boeing in particular. The president has called out the company over the cost of the new Air Force One program it is developing, and he recently sought to pit Boeing against Lockheed Martin to hold down the cost of the F-35 fighter jet.

74 percent. Holy moly. That’s not even close. I’m surprised the IAM even went to a vote with that low level of support. There is some speculation that it’s because they fear Trump NLRB appointees. And they had already canceled one vote. So I guess they had to go through with it.

Organizers who work in the South hate to hear this, but the reality is that the South is basically impossible to organize on a large scale. It has always been thus. The failures of the textile strike of 1934, Operation Dixie in 1946, the UAW campaigns of the 1990s, the Volkswagen vote in 2014. Again and again, large-scale organizing has failed in the South. This has been one of the core defining issues of the American labor movement. Southern white workers resist unions. Employers started moving down there quite explicitly because of not only the lack of a union tradition, but traditions of white solidarity that would divide workforces and long traditions of paternalism. From the moment unions started to organize in the South, they were portrayed as scary outsiders, first often as Jews and communists, then as black institutions that would destroy the South.

There simply is no good answer for this. Until the American labor movement can organize the South, it can’t become a force again. But given that it has never been able to organize the South, there’s not any real hope that they will succeed. It’s a heck of a problem. And the problem is most accurately portrayed, as it has always been, that the white working class chooses racial solidarity over class solidarity over and over again.

General Strikes

[ 6 ] February 16, 2017 |

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I have an interview in the Denver-based publication Denverite, presumably in no way connected to our Bronco fan commenter, about this idea of general strikes. Again, I’m skeptical.

Erik Loomis is an assistant professor of history at the University of Rhode Island and his areas of study include the American labor movement.

The first thing he told me is that he’s pretty skeptical about Friday’s general strike, in large part because it’s directed by activists and radicals, not workers, and doesn’t seem connected to existing worker movements.

“They seem to be saying, ‘Let’s shut things down,’ because that’s what they want to do anyway,” he said.

Loomis wrote about the most famous American general strikes — in Seattle in 1919 and in Oakland in 1946 — for In These Times back in 2011 when Occupy Oakland was calling for a general strike. Both of those strikes were incredibly threatening to people in power and were crushed. The Oakland strike started with a strike by department store clerks for better wages and working conditions, and in December of that year, members of the typically more conservative American Federation of Labor joined them.

AFL workers from 142 unions around Oakland walked off their jobs — bus drivers, teamsters, sailors, machinists, cannery workers, railroad porters, waiters, waitresses, cooks. For over two days, Oakland shut down. Over 100,000 workers participated in the strike.

The strikers controlled Oakland. All businesses except for pharmacies and food markets shut down. Bars could stay open but could only serve beer and had to put their juke boxes outside and allow for their free use. Couples literally danced in the streets. Recently returned war veterans created squadrons to prepare for battle. Union leadership took a back seat to rank and file actions.

Loomis said the term “general strike” calls up radicalism, but the goals of the Oakland strike were not particularly extreme. They wanted the department stores to meet the demands of the striking clerks, and they also wanted to break the Republican political machine that controlled Oakland at the time, which had close ties to the department store owners.

On the other hand:

On Monday, thousands of people in Milwaukee held a “Day without Latinos, Immigrants and Refugees” rally to protest immigration crackdowns by Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr., an outspoken supporter of the president. People then called for a national “Day without Immigrants” shutdown on Thursday, with immigrants, regardless of legal status, staying home from work and school, not opening their businesses and not spending money in any way.

Dozens of prominent restaurants in Washington, D.C., plan to close. In Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Austin and other cities, workers have said they’ll stay home, and restaurant owners are closing their doors out of necessity but also solidarity for their largely immigrant workforce.

There’s not a lot of evidence online of immigrants in Denver planning to participate, and a few activists I spoke to hadn’t heard much either. But it’s also not the kind of thing that requires a Facebook group to organize. So we’ll just have to see what happens today.

Loomis said this protest — if a lot of people participate — would have more in common with a general strike than the events calling themselves general strikes.

Why?

“The workers themselves are leading it,” he said.

Immigrants as a group share common interests and common vulnerabilities, and working together to make the impact of their absence felt, they have collective power, Loomis said.

“It’s very organic,” he said. “It’s very real to those workers. They’re saying this is an expression of our power and our interest. It’s not a bunch of radicals telling people what to do.”

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