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Iowa Public Safety Union Solidarity

[ 26 ] February 14, 2017 |

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When Scott Walker and the Wisconsin Republicans pushed through their draconian anti-public union law, one of the ways they succeeded is to cleave the police and firefighter unions off of the other public sector unions. This is the also the plan in Iowa. But the Iowa cops and firefighters aren’t going to play the patsy, even though they are as conservative as other cops and firefighters.

And although the legislation would exempt public safety workers like firefighters and police officers from some of the law’s broadest changes, many public safety workers showed up in uniform and rallied alongside the hundreds of other union workers who filled the Capitol.

“It’s not very popular to attack us these days,” said Jon Thomas, a police officer and a member of Teamsters Local 238. “I’m a Republican. I have very conservative values. Most of my coworkers in public safety are Republicans, and there’s plenty of union members who are Republicans. But we didn’t vote to get stabbed in the back while we protect and serve our communities. … The truth is, though, police and fire don’t want (to be) carved out. We stand with our teachers, our snow plow drivers, our public works personnel, our correctional officers and nurses.”

Of course, this is just one officer who is mentioned and I don’t know how deep the police support for resisting this is. But the bill itself is truly horrible, a Wisconsin level that would only allow bargaining over wages. Given how states work, where wages are often the one thing that public sector unions can’t really bargain over, this is the death knell of public unionism in Iowa. And that’s of course the point.

Say what you want about any police officer who votes Republican and then is outraged by Republicans doing what they say they will do, they aren’t any more low information voters than most other voters. The point is to pressure these politicians not to do this. We want the police on our side for this. Stripping the police of collective bargaining rights, as has been the response on much of the left to racist police violence isn’t going to help stop said racist police violence and will take away the one possible path of solidarity between the police and the left.

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This Day in Labor History: February 14, 1940

[ 8 ] February 14, 2017 |

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On February 14, 1940, a group of Navajos named Scott Preston, Julius Begay, Frank Goldtooth, and Judge Many Children wrote a letter of protest to their congressman, John Murdock of Arizona, against the livestock reduction program pressed upon them by Commission of Indian Affairs head John Collier. Noting how the program would radically transform their economy, driving them into greater poverty, they wrote, in part:

The Navajo Indians are not opposed to grazing permits as such, in fact we believe they heartily approve them if the manner of issuance is fair and the limits are sufficiently high to permit the family to exist.

For instance, in our own district (No.3) the sheep unit is set at 282. If a person has 5 horses, that would be the equivalent to 25 sheep; 1 head of cattle is the equivalent of 4 sheep. A Navajo family will consume 150 head of sheep or more per year depending on the size of the family. In addition to this amount, it is necessary to sell for their staples enough to keep the family from starvation. Then each family must be prepared to meet natural losses. We understand the families with smaller than the maximum are not permitted to raise that limit, but those above must be reduced.

282 sheep units is not sufficient for even the bare existence of a moderate size Navajo family without additional income, and such a policy will mean the impoverishment of the entire Navajo tribe.

The creation of Navajo sheep culture was already a response to the forced transformation of Navajo work culture around raiding and hunting in the face of white domination in 1860s, a phenomenon faced by many tribes during these years. Many tribes faced allotment under the Dawes Act, forced into small farming economies they were not equipped for and losing their lands to whites as part of the larger strategy to dispossess indigenous people of their land, culture, and work traditions.

The Navajo had begun integrating sheep into their work culture in 1598, as Spanish flocks wandered north out of Mexico into what is today the American Southwest, along with other domesticated animals that transformed what was possible for Native American life. While sheep and weaving became very important to Navajo life, it was originally another animal, the horse, that primarily redefined their work culture. Engaging heavily in raiding well into New Mexico, where they, along with the Comanches, made the Spanish colony and then Mexico, as well as the Puebloan peoples who lived there, reside in constant fear, the U.S. put a stop to this when, in 1864, the Navajo were rounded up and forced on the Long March to the Bosque Redondo in eastern New Mexico. There they were dumped for four years and about 25 percent of the population died. Reports of the conditions at the Bosque Redondo went public at the same time that the nation was engaging in Reconstruction and there was enough outrage in that rare moment when white Americans cared enough about people of color to do something to help that the Navajo were allowed to return to a large chunk of their lands, in no small part because it seemed to have no economic value to whites. But in doing so, they had to give up their raiding and horse culture ways. Sheep and weaving became ever more important to Navajo work culture after this.

In 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt appointed John Collier as Commissioner of Indian Affairs. For most tribes, this was a breath of fresh air. Collier rejected the corrupt and genocidal policies of the past, attempting to treat indigenous Americans as relative equals and respect their cultural heritage. Collier and New Deal land managers, heavily influenced by the Dust Bowl, saw Navajo sheep herding practices as incredibly destructive to the land and completely unsustainable. They noted the erosion transforming the land, the gullies turning into deep canyons, and the impossibility of this continuing for long. By 1931, the Navajo owned perhaps one million sheep on land with a carrying capacity of 500,000; they had only owned about 15,000 in the 1870s, but their population had also exploded from 8000 people in 1868 to 39,000 in 1930. So Collier acted, even though the Navajo themselves were not brought on board. Collier respected the Navajos, but felt he needed to save them from themselves. In 1934, the first of the sheep and goat slaughters took place. By 1935, the Navajos were actively resisting. People refused to sell their livestock to anyone who would kill them. By 1937, in the face of this resistance, Collier and the Department of the Interior issued a new plan setting a cap on the amount of livestock each extended family could own.

Weaving and harvesting the sheep provided about half the cash for the Navajos and nothing was done to replace that. Much of this loss was gendered. Weaving was the source of women’s income in a matrilineal society. It had provided women with economic authority even as the pre-1864 Navajo economy was forcibly terminated. They controlled their own means of production. Collier and the other New Dealers did not see this at all. Men handled the relationships with whites and so the New Dealers never even spoke to women, nor did they think of asking about them. With control over the means of production stripped away, masculine economic and political dominance was reinforced and the gendered norms of Navajo work and life were transformed.

The irony of this is that Collier was right. The Navajo were vastly overgrazing the land and they refused to admit it. It was absolutely not sustainable. But in the tradition of white northerners pushing their ideas of free labor upon African-Americans in the days after slavery without asking the ex-slaves what they wanted, Collier shoving his reforms down the throats of the Navajo without their consent resulted not only in a transformation of the intersection between work and culture, impoverishing many already poor people, but also created a long-term resistance to environmentalism still powerful on the Navajo Nation today.

The stock reduction program ended as the nation went into World War II and the government had bigger fish to fry. But it also happened in the face of widespread resistance, such as the letter that opens this post. In 1940, the Navajo Rights Association formed to lead the resistance to continued stock reduction. The government started threatening the Navajo with police power if they refused to hand over their livestock, which broke the resistance. John Collier started realizing that there was a problem with his program only in 1941, which was far too late. He relaxed some of the restrictions, but the damage to Navajo work and life was already done. An already poor people were made more impoverished. After World War II, many men would seek to escape that poverty through uranium mining, which would have enormous implications of its own on the health of the miners and work culture of the Navajo people.

The letter that opens this post was taken from Peter Iverson, ed., Dine Letters, Speeches, & Petitions, 1900-1960. You can read the whole letter here. Many of the other details come from Marsha Weisiger, Dreaming of Sheep in Navajo Country.

This is the 210th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

This Day in Labor History: February 13, 1837

[ 18 ] February 13, 2017 |

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On February 13, 1837, the Equal Rights Party, better known as the Loco Focos although that was a pejorative from the city’s Whigs, held a rally in City Hall Park in New York City to protest the high cost of living. This led to the Flour Riot, where workers raided flour mills to gain what they thought what rightfully belonged to them at a much lower price than they paid. This brief moment of labor agitation is a good window into both the problems early 19th century urban workers faced, as well as their nascent labor organizations.

The Loco Focos were a faction of the New York Democratic Party that defined itself as being anti-Tammany Hall. Many of them were former members of the Working Men’s Party that existed between 1829 and 1831. That was one of many nascent workers’ parties that developed in this period, with a platform of land reform, government confiscation of inheritances, and opposition to monopoly. The Loco Focos held to similar ideas, promoting the legal protection of labor unions, and against paper money and state banks. In short, this was a grassroots movement of white working men who distrusted the burgeoning system of capitalism growing especially fast in their city and the booms and busts that went with it such as the devastating Panic of 1837, soon to follow the Flour Riot. Food prices skyrocketed as well, with a barrel of flour rising from $7 in September 1836 to $12 in February 1837.

The faction’s influence began to grow and started shaping the economic policies of Martin Van Buren, founder of the Democratic Party and New York’s most powerful politician in these years. He was just about to take over the presidency when the Loco Foco riot occurred. The Working Men’s Party and Loco Focos that followed were highly concerned about their ability to earn enough to support their families. Self-identifying as husbands and fathers in their rhetoric, they saw the rise of financial capitalism as undermining the self-sustaining male economy they valued. Their rhetoric focused heavily on paternal duties, on providing children what they need to grow into the next generation of independent workers, and to provide decent housing for their families at reasonable rates. They built upon a quasi-religious message, bringing spirituality into their movement without being explicitly denominational and certainly without falling toward the growing alternative religious movements popping up during this time. All of this was responding to the desperation working men felt about a politics they did not feel they could control, even as white male democracy was in the ascendant. Said William English, a Philadelphia worker who was involved in labor politics at the same time that the Loco Focos formed in New York:

Once a year they call us men; once a year we receive the proud appellation of freemen; once a year we are the intelligent, virtuous, orderly working men. But then they want our votes, and they flatter us; they want our interest, and they fawn upon us; and it grinds them to the very soul, to have their delicate fingers clenched in the friendly gripe of an honest hand, but they dare not avow it then. There is contamination in the very touch of a man who labours for his bread

For the Loco Focos, the banks were at the heart of their loss of control. One Loco Foco named Clinton Roosevelt, serving in the state house in Albany, stated, “banks decrease the wages of mechanics and others when they appear to rise” because they manipulated the supply and type of paper currency in circulation that workers used to pay their bills so that they could play the market on the discounted bills that marked early 19th century paper. Bosses would frequently pay workers in paper currency worth less than its stated value. With the price of this currency often declining daily, it took money away from workers because they assumed they were being paid in face value. Given that much of this unregulated currency was developed for speculation in western lands the middle class engaged in, the Loco Focos also rightly claimed that their landlords were passing along their own debts from this system to the working class through raising their rents. This angered them tremendously because a hard-working artisan should be able to support his family. At a March 6, 1837 rally, a Loco Foco committee stated that workers should not face such high “prices of provisions, rent, and fuel,” given that they had “not been unusually wasteful or lazy.” As would often be the case in American labor history, workers also blamed immigrants for their low wages, saying that Irish and German migrants were undercutting their labor power to set wages.

To rally people to their February 13 protest against all these problems, Loco Focos put out handbills that demanded “Bread, Meat, Rent, And Fuel! Their prices must come down!” They protested that “every article of necessity—bread stuffs, flesh meats, fuel and house rents, are at exorbitant rates; and an increase is demanded beyond the means of the working and useful classes of the community.” They had no interest in blaming the flour merchants. Rather, the focus of the Loco Focos was the bankers and their nefarious discounted paper money. At the rally, they called for taxing the wealthy and prohibiting bank notes larger than $100.

However, the crowd quickly got rowdy, as was not uncommon during these days where street protests frequently turned violent. As soon as the official rally ended, about 1000 protestors went to nearby flour processors, broke down the doors, and looted the flour and wheat. This food riot went on for a few hours. Fifty-three people were arrested, but none of them were known Loco Focos. Generally, the Loco Focos avoided displays of riots, preferring to work through the political system. So they largely ignored the criticism they received in aftermath of the Flour Riot. In fact, they built upon this action to continue to demand an end to monopoly and the banks. Later that year, their rallies attracted up to 40,000 people. By the end of 1837, Tammany Hall agreed to adopt most of their program and the Democratic Party was reunited in the city. The Loco Focos disappeared as an organized political movement, although the Whigs would not let it go, simply using Democratic Party and Loco Focos as synonyms, lasting all the way into the early days of the Republican Party.

I borrowed from Joshua Greenberg, Advocating the Man: Masculinity, Organized Labor, and the Household in New York, 1800-1840, for the writing of this post.

This is the 209th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

Radio

[ 3 ] February 12, 2017 |

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Talking general strikes (extremely skeptical) and building trades’ snuggling with Trump (sigh) with Joshua Holland.

This Day in Labor History: February 11, 1903

[ 11 ] February 11, 2017 |

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On February 11, 1903, the Japanese-Mexican Labor Association formed to build racial solidarity among workers against sugar beet farmers near Oxnard, California. This was the first major cross-racial, non-white agricultural union in California. The following strike and victory was a sign of the possibilities of cross-racial organizing in the United States, but the aftermath and its eventual defeat a sad story about how white racism within the labor movement has undermined labor organizing in American history.

On the West Coast, and especially in California, a complicated labor situation developed soon after the United States stole it in the Mexican War. With the discovery of gold, white men rushed to what soon became a new state. But so did other people from around the world. This created immediate tension, as the white working class preferred to labor for themselves than do the hard service labor required, but also deeply resented any competition to them in what they saw as a white man’s state. So while the Chinese and Mexicans soon became banished to service labor and the most dangerous labor such as building railroads, the state’s burgeoning union movement wanted to eject Asian labor from the state entirely. They succeeded with the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. But employers, especially in the state’s growing agricultural sector, quickly found other sources of cheap labor, both from Japan and Mexico.

Japanese workers soon gained a reputation for breaking contracts to force wage increases. One farmer complained to an investigator with the Department of Labor, “Every Japanese gang is a trade union; they come and quit together.” When one farmer hired a group of Japanese to pick his almonds in 1901, he thought he had a great deal because he hired them for $1.25 a day when he was paying whites $1.50. But after being on the job for two days, the Japanese demanded a raise to $2.50 and had to find a new labor force for that year, switching to hiring Japanese contractors in the future so he didn’t have to deal with it. As a whole, Japanese laborers found themselves earning steadily higher wages each year after 1900.

In response, the farm owners formed their own organization to collectively push down wages. The Western Agricultural Contracting Company sought to take control of the labor situation by undermining the Japanese contractors, forcing them and all other non-white contractors to subcontract through the WACC. They had a Mexican Department and a “Jap Department” to do this with the individual racial groups. This was effectively a racist labor monopoly. The prices paid for the thinning of the sugar beets were reduced from $5-6 an acre to $3.75. The promised $1.50 wage a day the reality became a brutal piecework system. It was this that spurred the organization of workers, not only the Japanese, but the smaller number of Mexican workers caught up in this system.

On February 11, 500 Japanese workers and 200 Mexican workers formed the Japanese-Mexican Labor Association. They named Kosabura Babo, a Japanese labor contractor, as president and then had a Japanese and a Mexican secretary for each ethnic group. The union soon grew to 1200 members. Their primary goal was eliminating the WACC. Believing the employer labor monopoly artificially suppressed wages, they wanted the end of the subcontracting system as it required workers to pay both the contractor and the subcontractor to work and they wanted to be paid in cash instead of company scrip, always a classic way employers sought to steal from their workers in rural areas. The one thing the workers had going for them, as farmworkers always do, is that crops must be planted and/or harvested within a short and very specific amount of time, before they go bad. In this case, the critical thinning of the sugar beet seedlings was just around the corner.

On March 23, white farmers struck back, as they would against organized labor so many times in their sordid history. A group of them shot into a crowd of strikers, killing a Mexican worker named Luis Vazquez and wounding four other workers, two Mexican and two Japanese. The media blamed the JMLA for this, even though the workers were innocent. The Los Angeles Times, ever an anti-union outfit in these decades, wrote that “agitation-crazed Mexicans and Japanese” had attacked “independent workmen.” Charles Arnold was soon arrested for Vazquez’s murder but even though he was obviously guilty, the all-white male jury was not going to convict him. So the JMLA upped the ante, engaging in more aggressive actions to win the strike. In one action, 50 Mexican strikers wearing masks went to a scab camp, cut down their tents, and forced them to leave the farm. They also managed to win a lot of the scabs being brought from elsewhere over to the strike by just talking to them.

In the aftermath of the violence, with the JMLA showing continued success and the beets needing their trimming, the farm owners finally agreed to a deal, which the union made more likely by threatening to take all their workers out of the county if they did not agree. On March 30, they signed the agreement. The wages for thinning were reset to $5 and then up to $6 an acre. The JMLA won union recognition and the right to represent workers on 5000 acres of farms through Ventura County, excluding only one large farm. Japanese and Mexican contractors retook control over the hiring process.

So this is a happy story, right? They even won union recognition at a time when that was pretty rare, especially for low wage, low skill workers. Nope. That’s because Samuel Gompers denied their AFL charter since the organization would not allow Japanese members. After the JMLA’s victory, J.M. Lizarras, secretary of the Mexican branch of the new union, petitioned the AFL for a charter. This would have made the JMLA the first agricultural union in the AFL. The California AFL was extremely anti-Asian. This was only a couple of years before the San Francisco population, including many unions, went ballistic over the idea of Asians going to school with white children and tried to institute a Jim Crow system of segregation that forced President Theodore Roosevelt intervene to avoid an international crisis with a growing power, leading to the Gentlemen’s Agreement that ended Japanese immigration. So the willingness of California white workers to accept even the idea of unionized workers of color was pretty fleeting. Some labor councils were better than others and the Los Angeles County Council of Labor adopted a resolution to favor the unionization of all unskilled workers regardless of race or nationality, even at the same time also opposing further Asian immigration. But most would not go this far. Neither would Gompers. He turned them down after heavy lobbying against them by the San Francisco Council of Labor. Without that official support, the JMLA declined quickly and there is little evidence of it existing even by the end of 1903. There was more agitation over labor exploitation in 1906, but no documents mention the JMLA. Once again, racism got in the way of an effective American labor movement.

This would be far from the last time the different races in the California fields and other agricultural sectors of the U.S. organized to help each other, although as the marginalization of the Filipinos within the United Farm Workers demonstrates, such cross-racial solidarity was never easy to maintain. It would not be the last time by any means that California farmers would resort to violence to bust a strike. It would also be far from the last time that white unionists hurt their own economic interests by opposing the unionization or employment of people of color.

I borrowed from Mark Wyman, Hoboes: Bindlestiffs, Fruit Tramps, and the Harvesting of the West and Tomás Almaguer, Racial Fault Lines: The Historical Origins of White Supremacy in California for the writing of this post.

This is the 208th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

How’s Embracing Trump Working Out for the Building Trades?

[ 64 ] February 10, 2017 |

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I and many others have excoriated the building trades for embracing Trump. Not only is it betraying the rest of the left and betraying the interests of many of their own members who are black, Latino, and/or Muslim, but it’s not even going to work out for them. Trump is going to sign a bill repealing Davis-Bacon if it gets past the Senate. And now he’s brought the former head of the construction industry’s chief lobbying group into the Department of Labor.

Last month, President Donald Trump hosted the chiefs of several building trades unions at the White House in a meeting notable for how friendly it was given that they had endorsed Hillary Clinton in the campaign.

In a particularly glowing statement after the meeting, Terry O’Sullivan, president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, said Trump “has shown that he respects laborers who build our great nation, and that they will be abandoned no more.” That was in response to the administration’s effort to restart two controversial pipeline projects.

But the recent hiring at the Department of Labor of Geoffrey Burr, the former chief lobbyist of the construction industry’s trade group, has worker advocates alarmed.

It also highlights the dilemma of the building trades unions, the segment of organized labor that has been most friendly to Trump: They largely support his agenda on infrastructure and trade even as he is assembling a Department of Labor team that is hostile to unions and cherished wage standards on government contracts.

“What does it mean that we are putting people in charge of the Department of Labor, which is meant to be the strongest advocate for workers within the administration, who built their careers around advocating dismantling protections for workers?” asked Karla Walter, director of the American Worker Project at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank.

Burr, now a member of the Trump beachhead team at the Department of Labor, spent seven years as the vice president for government affairs at the Associated Builders and Contractors.

The group is a fierce opponent of the law that gives workers on government construction contracts the right to be paid in line with local prevailing wages — a rate determined by the Department of Labor. The idea of the Depression-era law, called the Davis-Bacon Act, is to protect workers from being undercut by lower-paid, less-skilled workers from other areas of the country.

But hey, the Laborers will get to build the Dakota Access Pipeline before their union is destroyed!

Uber: “Maximum Evil Is Our Goal”

[ 27 ] February 10, 2017 |

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Oh Uber. Whenever it comes up in the news, you know it’s going to be because they are doing something awful again.

Late last month, Uber sued the city of Seattle, challenging the city’s authority to implement a landmark law allowing drivers in the gig economy to unionize. It was an opening shot in what is likely to be a long and costly legal battle.

Uber’s legal challenge comes at an awkward time for the ride-hailing juggernaut. The company recently named 2017 “the year of the driver” and has said it will devote energy and resources to improving its relationship with the hundreds of thousands of people who drive on its platform. But the company’s bungled response to a taxi strike during the recent JFK protests led to a grassroots #DeleteUber campaign that saw 200,000 riders canceling their accounts. This latest situation in Seattle may further complicate Uber’s attempts to reverse the negative effects of that campaign.

After its passage in December 2015, Uber and Lyft declined to challenge it outright, instead supporting a lawsuit brought by the pro-business, anti-union US Chamber of Commerce. But then in August, a judge tossed the chamber’s lawsuit, calling it premature until the city moved forward with implementation.

That implementation began in December, when Seattle’s department of Finance and Administrative Services published rules online that cover issues like which drivers get to unionize, working conditions subject to bargaining, and how an organization gets certified to represent drivers exclusively.

Shortly thereafter, Uber filed a lawsuit challenging the city’s rulemaking authority, calling it “arbitrary and capricious” and inconsistent with “fundamental labor laws,” according to court documents. “The City must follow a lawful rulemaking process and adopt rules which properly consider the facts and circumstances of drivers and the industry, and labor law precedent,” Uber argues in the suit.

LGM has exclusive live coverage of Uber headquarters.

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Talking About Buy American Campaigns

[ 144 ] February 9, 2017 |

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One of Trump’s strongest appeals to the white working class is his aggressive economic nationalist rhetoric that seeks to punish other nations for sending goods to the United States instead of having them made here. Trump doesn’t actually care about any of this of course. He pals around with capitalists, the very people who are responsible for this. He tweets at union leaders when called out on his actions, blaming them for the loss of jobs. But it doesn’t really matter to a lot of these workers. Finally, someone is speaking their language. And when combined with other forms of white resentment, this is very powerful for large swaths of the white working class. Even if he fails to bring the jobs back (and of course he will fail because that’s not actually his goal), for white people who remember buying a new car every 3 years, they don’t believe that Democratic politicians are any better, even if they provide them with better health care options and want to save their Social Security. After all, they see those things, especially the older retirement-based benefits, as their rights as working Americans, not gifts from liberal Democrats.

Moreover, it’s simply reasonable industrial policy to create employment in industrial jobs in the United States. It’s necessary on a number of levels. First, it’s smart politics. Second, it stabilizes areas in decline by attempting to build jobs in struggling areas. Third, we have to provide a dignified life with good-paying jobs for working class people of all races. We can’t simply say, “Automation is inevitable. Tough luck. Here’s a little money to get some education to do some other job that will pay not very much, 52 year old worker with maybe a high school diploma.” This is a recipe for social disaster, as we are already seeing with the 2016 election and its horrifying aftermath. Moreover, there are good reasons to produce goods in the United States. The access to clean energy is one of them. If we want to create industrial policy that is going to be useful in mitigating climate change, then considering the whole cost of a project, including its climate costs, may well be a really good reason to produce goods in the United States, even if that costs more up front. Moreover, there are good reasons to not support or allow the labor and environmental exploitation of the world’s poor, and I have long called for international courts and national laws to regulate this, taking away some of the incentive for capital mobility.

One of the areas undergoing a lot of outsourcing right now is industrial food production. Companies like Mondelez, which sounds like a fancy French company but is actually just a renamed Kraft, bought up Nabisco at some point. It has now moved Oreo production out of Chicago to Mexico. The Nabisco workers are doing a national tour, talking to college campuses and other workers, about their plight. These are workers who are suffering. Their good jobs are gone and they don’t have any other options. As part of this, they have produced an animation explaining their position in a very simple way. It’s worth your time.

Unfortunately, this video and therefore the workers’ message, is a little bit racist. It starts out OK, playing on a very important point–that Nabisco factories in Mexico pay workers very little and have lax regulatory standards. These are good reasons to say, I don’t want my cookies exploiting others. But it’s a feint. The rest of the video doesn’t care one whit about the Mexican workers. Talking about bad regulatory standards and low wages is an excuse to say instead that we as Americans should want our products made in the United States. It says you should go into the grocery store, find products with Made in Mexico labels, and confront store manages to tell them you don’t want those products. And that’s a level of economic nationalism I’m not real comfortable with. But trying to thread a needle of wanting products made ethically no matter where they come from is going to be a hard sell to these workers. For them, it’s not just about saving their own jobs, it’s about AMERICA! And given that we on the left don’t really have an answer to their particular problems, you can see the appeal Trump would have to the white workers in these plants, as well as of course why black and Latino workers would be deeply disturbed by that appeal. In a global era, the answer to our problems is not AMERICA!, it’s ethical production that raises standards around the world while also seeking to keep good union jobs in the United States. But given how hard it is to articulate precisely how that happens, good luck communicating that to everyday workers. And good luck getting the white everyday workers to think the Democratic Party has an answer to their problems.

Life Under Puzder

[ 196 ] February 8, 2017 |

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I won’t attack Andy Puzder for hiring an undocumented worker to clean his house, but I sure will attack for everything else, including how he treats his own workers.

In 1984, I was hired as a cashier at Hardee’s in Columbia, S.C., making $4.25 an hour. By 2005, 21 years later, my pay was only at $8 an hour. That’s a $3.75 raise for a lifetime of work. Adjusted for inflation, it’s only a 2-cent raise.

Andrew Puzder, the chief executive since 2000 of CKE — which owns Hardee’s, Carl’s Jr., and other fast-food companies — is now in line to become the country’s next labor secretary. The headlines ponder what this may mean for working people in America, but I already know.

I already know what Trump/Puzder economics look like because I’m living it every day. Despite giving everything I had to Puzder’s company for 21 years, I left without a penny of savings, with no health care and no pension. Now, while I live in poverty, Trump, who promised to fix the rigged economy, has chosen for labor secretary someone who wants to rig it up even more. He’s chosen the chief executive of a company who recently made more than $10 million in a year, while I’m scraping by on Supplemental Security payments.

When I began at Hardee’s, I was hopeful. I liked the work and received a promotion to shift manager after only a month. But the pay remained low, and even with my husband’s salary as the head cook at Fort Jackson, we relied on food stamps and Medicaid. We were two full-time-employed adults; we shouldn’t have had to turn to the government, but we had kids to raise, and so we were left with no other choice.

Low pay wasn’t the only reason my family struggled: It was the lack of benefits and respect, too. I remember once my manager came to my house on a day off and demanded I go into work. I remember trudging through Hurricane Katrina to get to the store. I remember being denied a raise multiple times.

In 2005, I was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and had to stop working. After more than two decades at Hardee’s, I left without any savings, a 401(k), pension or health benefits. That’s Puzder’s America.

But hey, fast food workers are all 16 year old kids in their first job and we don’t need to worry about paying them a living wage, right? It doesn’t matter I guess since Puzder will lead us on our Great Leap Forward of Automation in the next four years. Massive unemployment and desperate poverty won’t just be the fate of fast food workers anymore! The New Gilded Age is a glorious time!

The End of Unions, A Continuing Series

[ 45 ] February 8, 2017 |

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Iowa is going full Wisconsin to destroy its public sector unions by outlawing most parts of collective bargaining. Cops excepted of course.

“I think it’s an extremely bold proposal,” said Drew Klein, director of the Iowa chapter of the conservative group Americans for Prosperity. “When you really start to dig into the substance of this bill, it makes a number of really important changes. It does so in a common sense way. It does so while protecting our government services but also making sure that we’re protecting budgets at the state and local level as well.”

The changes would remove health insurance from mandatory contract negotiations for most public-sector union workers, and it would limit mandatory negotiations only to base wages, cutting out discussions over things like insurance, evaluation procedures and seniority-related benefits. Other changes are proposed to the arbitration and certification process for unions.

“The only thing that we will be able to is bargain over is wages. Nothing else.” said Danny Homan, president of Council 61 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents 40,000 Iowa public employees. “Wages are not the most important thing that we want to bargain over. It is health insurance, layoffs, transfers … It’s all those other elements in the contract.”

Tammy Wawro, president of the Iowa State Education Association, which represents 34,000 Iowa school employees, described the legislation as “punitive” and lacking any respect for public employees.

“I am beyond angry today,” she said. “I am absolutely mortified.”

But hey, Donald Trump represented the interests of white people so let’s elect Republicans across the board to keep those Muslims and Mexicans out of my state.

The only way to fight this is going to be at the state election level. If people are really that angry about everything that is happening both at the state and national levels, then organizing has to happen starting at the local level to retake those state house seats and overturn this legislation and whatever else these awful Iowa Republicans are going to push through in the next two years. It hasn’t worked in Wisconsin, but maybe the combination of state outrages with national outrages will motivate enough people to action. IT’s the only hope.

Hiring Undocumented Workers

[ 98 ] February 7, 2017 |

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Andy Puzder is a terrible human being. He opposes the minimum wage. He is an unreconstructed sexist. He wants to lay off every fast food worker and replace them with machines. He was a leading opponent of the Obama administration’s attempt to hold fast food companies accountable for the franchisees, as well as of every other thing Obama and Tom Perez and David Weil and the rest of that excellent Department of Labor did to make the lives of workers better. He will be an utterly atrocious Secretary of Labor, a right-wing extremist who will seek to take us back to Gilded Age wages and working conditions. I wish for nothing more than the defeat of his nomination to this fascist Cabinet.

But of all the things I will not attack him for, it’s hiring an undocumented worker to clean his house. An undocumented worker is a worker. That worker deserves to be treated with respect. We need to open the borders to ensure that no workers are undocumented and Andy Puzder is not going to do that. For that reason among so many others, I strongly oppose his nomination. But I am highly uncomfortable with a campaign to defeat him based on the fact that he hired an undocumented worker. To me, this keeps the millions of undocumented people behind the curtain, fearful to be found out or caught, when they need to be integrated into society and accepted as the workers and human beings that they are.

Here Comes Right to Work!

[ 43 ] February 7, 2017 |

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The building trades’ romance with Donald Trump is sure to pay off since he will only totally sign any right to leech bill that comes across his desk.

On Wednesday, Republican Reps. Steve King (IA) and Joe Wilson (SC) re-introduced a so-called right-to-work bill that would significantly hamper unions across the country and likely lower wages for all Americans.

Republicans have proposed this kind of legislation before; King introduced a similar bill almost exactly a year ago. But now they may feel emboldened by having an ally in the White House. On the campaign trail, President Trump said he is “100 percent” in favor of right-to-work laws.

No American can be forced to join a union or pay dues that are used for political purposes. But right-to-work laws go further: they repeal the requirement that all employees in a unionized workplace must pay dues to the union, given that it bargains on behalf of all workers — and, therefore, the benefits of those negotiations flow to everyone. Without that requirement in place, critics of these laws argue, they create a free rider problem: Employees can refuse to pay dues while still reaping the benefits of higher wages or more generous benefits negotiated by the union — including having the union take up a grievance on their behalf, which can be costly.

That can significantly hobble unions’ finances, given that they still have to do the same work as before but with less money, making it more difficult for them to operate and organize more workers.

So far, 27 states have gone right-to-work. And in those states, workers are much less likely to be in a union: Those in non-right-to-work states are about two-and-a-half times more likely to be in one or protected by a union contract.

Research has found that this has a serious impact on everyone’s wages, even those not in unionized workplaces. According to a paper from the Economic Policy Institute, wages in right-to-work states were 3.1 percent lower as of 2012 than in those without these laws, even when controlling for a variety of factors. That translates into a loss of more than $1,500 a year for an individual full-time worker.

Unfortunately, for huge sections of the white working class, their interests as whites are more prominent and meaningful than their interests as workers. But at least we don’t have the candidate of Goldman Sachs in the White House! Meanwhile, Missouri became the 28th right to leech state just yesterday. The only thing standing in the way of national right to leech is the Senate filibuster. And you probably feel more confident about the future of that than I do.

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