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Tag: "labor"

Silicosis Rule

[ 69 ] March 25, 2016 |

Silicosis 1

Another day, another great move by Obama’s Department of Labor.

The Department of Labor is issuing a long-awaited and controversial rule Thursday aimed at better protecting workers from inhaling silica dust.

The new rule dramatically reduces the allowed exposure limits for workers in a slew of industries, from construction to manufacturing to fracking.

About 2.3 million people in the U. S. are exposed to fine grains of silica on the job; inhaling the dust is one of the oldest known workplace hazards. Silica, which is basically sand, scars the lungs, causing diseases like silicosis and cancer.

Secretary of Labor Tom Perez says the existing rule that limits a worker’s exposure to silica dust hasn’t been changed since the early 1970s. And even back then, he adds, research showed the exposure limit didn’t offer adequate protection.

“We’ve known for over 40 years that it needed to be strengthened, and it has taken 40 years to strengthen it,” says Perez. “Many people who are going to work right now and breathing unacceptable levels of silica dust are in for a brighter future.”

He says the current rule for construction sites caps exposure at 250 micrograms of silica per cubic meter of air.

“And the science says we need to be at 50,” says Perez. “So that’s what the final rule will say.” That same updated exposure limit will apply to general industry as well, he adds, which will cut the current exposure limit in half.

Of course, we know there really isn’t any difference between the two parties and voting is a consumer choice anyway, so why even bother if Bernie Sanders isn’t the nominee, unless you think that we can heighten the contradictions with a Trump presidency……

Incidentally, I love this trial balloon of Hillary naming Secretary of Labor Tom Perez as her VP candidate. I think that would be great. No, he’s never been elected to office. But that never hurt Chester Arthur! He’s tremendously competent, is a really strong progressive, is Dominican-American and speaks fluent Spanish, and has a lot more concrete accomplishments than Julian Castro. My wife, a historian of Latin America with very deep roots in Mexican immigrant communities and therefore who knows far more about these things than I do, assures me that Latinos won’t really care that Castro can’t speak Spanish and that’s it would be an aspirational assimiliationist story more than a liability. But it certainly isn’t going to hurt that Perez is fluent in Spanish. We all know that barring naming someone who turns into a huge liability like Tom Eagleton or Sarah Palin, VP candidates don’t really shift elections. But given the likely significant increase in Latino voting because of the open Republican war against them, reinforcing that Democrats are the party of Latinos by naming a very skilled Dominican to the ticket is certainly not going to hurt. Plus it would be nice if organized labor actually got a big prize for all its support for once.


On Peeps

[ 109 ] March 25, 2016 |


It’s always good to have a union-based holiday. So here’s a list of union-made candy, usefully provided by UFCW.

However, I want to be clear on something. Don’t blame unions for Peeps. Peeps are candy bought by parents who don’t love their children, but feel social pressure to buy candy for them anyway. People often blame unions for the terrible U.S. cars of the 1970s and 1980s. This is ridiculous. It’s not like the UAW was involved in the design process. Similarly, it’s not like UFCW is involved in the decision to continue to make the worst candy in known human history. They are just making sure said terrible candy supports a middle-class household.

In Conclusion, Voting is a Consumer Choice and Both Parties are the Same Anyway, So If Bernie Sanders Isn’t Nominated, Might as Well Vote Trump

[ 76 ] March 23, 2016 |


Obama’s Department of Labor, Ted Cruz’s Department of Labor, really what’s the difference?

The Labor Department on Wednesday released the final version of a rule requiring employers to disclose relationships with the consultants they hire to help persuade workers not to form a union or support a union’s collective bargaining position.

The department said the rule, which will be published on Thursday and apply to agreements made after July 1, is necessary because workers are frequently in the dark about who is trying to sway them when they exercise their labor rights.

“In many organizing campaigns, decisions that workers make about whether to choose to stand together are often influenced by paid consultants, or persuaders, who are hired by employers to craft the management message being delivered to workers,” Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said in a call with reporters. “About 75 percent of employers hire such persuaders, and too often, workers do not know.”

The 1959 law on which the regulations are based already required employers to disclose the hiring of such consultants. But the Labor Department argued that previous administrations had allowed an enormous loophole that effectively exempted consultants who coached supervisors on how to influence employees so long as the consultants didn’t interact with the employees directly.

The use of consultants has proliferated since the 1970s, and the techniques they deploy to discourage workers from forming unions have become progressively more sophisticated — more akin to modern political campaigns than workplace discussions.

There are consultants “scripting what managers and supervisors say to workers,” Mr. Perez said.

The new rule will require employers to disclose in government filings any consultant they hire to develop plans or policies for supervisors involved in attempting to persuade workers, who create materials that will be distributed through the workplace for this reason, and who lead seminars on how to discourage workers from forming unions or bargaining collectively.

In addition to disclosing the hiring of a consultant, the employers will have to disclose the fees involved. The consultants will also have to disclose the relationships and fees in filings of their own.

This is a great rule. At the end of the article, the writer interviewed Paul Secunda, who is a very smart person and who recently suggested that the DOL also require equal time for union organizers to speak when employers speak to employees about the evil of unions. That’s a really good idea. Maybe the DOL will move in this direction under Democratic presidents. But really, I’m sure Ted Cruz or Donald Trump would do the same. And if they don’t, then Democrats are complicit for some unknown reason and this will heighten the contradictions and bring Full Communism anyway.

Republicans Go After That Great Enemy of Freedom: Overtime Pay

[ 60 ] March 23, 2016 |


The Obama administration significantly expanded the salary ceiling for overtime pay. This is of course a total outrage to those freedom-loving Republicans who see the impoverishment of the working and middle classes as a just end.

As the Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) overtime rule hurtles toward finalization, advancing to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) March 14, House and Senate Republicans stepped in and introduced legislation March 17 calling for the rule to be stopped in its tracks.

“This mandate on employers will hurt the lowest paid American workers the most, by reducing their opportunities for a promotion or a better job and making it all but impossible for workers to negotiate flexible schedules,” said Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., when introducing the bill. Alexander said small independent colleges in Tennessee estimate the rule would cost each of their schools a minimum of $1.3 million—“a giant figure that may cost the colleges’ students in tuition hikes and cost employees in job cuts.”

As proposed, the rule recommended setting the salary threshold for exempt employees at $50,440 annually, up 113 percent from the current $23,660 annually. It also called for annual automatic increases to the salary threshold and suggested that the duties tests might be made more stringent, requiring managers to spend at least half of their time on managerial functions.

Bill’s Proposals

The Protecting Workplace Advancement and Opportunity Act (S. 2707 and H.R. 4773) would:

Nullify the proposed rule.
Require the DOL to first conduct a comprehensive economic analysis on the impact of mandatory overtime expansion to small businesses, nonprofit organizations and public employers.
Prohibit automatic increases in the salary threshold.
Require that any future changes to the duties test must be subject to notice and comment.

The legislation “provides a clear vehicle to push back on the overtime rule,” said Lisa Horn, a spokeswoman for Partnership to Protect Workplace Opportunity (PPWO) and director of congressional affairs with the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). “Both Republicans and Democrats have expressed concerns about the unintended consequences of this rule, and this bill provides a reasonable approach to updating the overtime rules in a way that that works for both employers and employees.” The PPWO is a group of more than 60 employer organizations and companies representing the broad employer community’s response to the proposed overtime rule changes.

Some Democrats might have expressed some questions about it. But of course this proposed bill has zero Democratic support.

Two Views on Fast Food and Minimum Wages

[ 159 ] March 21, 2016 |


Turns out if you treat workers like humans, they work better. Who knew!

Turnover is down, and customer service scores are up, company says.

Last year, McDonald’s MCD -0.08% joined a chorus of struggling U.S. companies offering workers pay hikes to help spur a turnaround. And it looks like the move is paying off for the fast-food giant.

The hamburger chain in April announced it would raise the average hourly rate for workers at the U.S. restaurants it owns to $9.90 from $9.01 starting July 2015, with average wages climbing above $10 per hour by the end of 2016. The company also said it would allow those employees to earn up to five days of paid vacation every year following one year of employment. (The higher wages remain very far from the $15 rate many labor advocates are pressing McDonald’s to adopt.)

The raises, which affected only about 10% of workers (the vast majority of McDonald’s U.S. restaurants are franchised), were announced while McDonald’s was developing a plan to shake off a multi-year comparable sales slump and bring people back to its stores.

McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook, who took the helm in 2015, has since moved swiftly, closing hundreds of weak stores, bringing back all-day breakfast, and simplifying the chain’s menu, reducing bottlenecks in serving customers quickly. But improving the customer experience hinges on workers being on board with all these changes, hence the raises.

“It has done what we expected it to—90 day turnover rates are down, our survey scores are up—we have more staff in restaurants,” McDonald’s U.S. president Mike Andres told analysts at a UBS conference on Wednesday. “So far we’re pleased with it—it was a significant investment obviously but it’s working well.”

The move reportedly created friction with franchisees, who hire and pay their own workers, as they felt pressure to match the wage hikes. Still, there are early signs it is paying off: In October, McDonald’s reported its first quarter of comparable sales gains in two years. The company built on that growth with a huge 5.7% increase in the following quarter.

The improvements echo those at Walmart which also offered U.S. workers wage increases that were followed by improved customer service scores.

On the other hand, you have Carl Jr’s automating all the ordering, supposedly because of that dastardly minimum wage. Thus it is evidently the fault of workers themselves they are losing their jobs:

Is he being heartless? No. Just responding to the government’s foolish plans to jack up the minimum wage and put restaurants, hotels, bars and other service industries out of business. “With government driving up the cost of labor, it’s driving down the number of jobs,” said Puzder. “You’re going to see automation not just in airports and grocery stores, but in restaurants.”

He’s right. That’s why whenever the minimum wage rises above the market-set prevailing wage, jobs are destroyed. Who would pay someone $15 an hour to do a job that’s worth less than that? No one.

This isn’t rocket science or even advanced economics. It’s plain common sense — something that populist demagogues on the left seem to be missing entirely.

This is of course ridiculous. While there may be a point where higher wages could directly lead to automation, the minimal moves toward higher wages over the last couple of years is not freaking out fast food CEOs. Current minimum wages in the large majority of the nation are still below inflation-adjusted minimum wages decades ago. This is just a shunt to find someone to blame for throwing people out of work in order to maximize profit.

But given how much so many people love to do work for Kroger and Safeway while throwing grocery clerks out of work by checking out their own groceries just so they don’t have to interact with another human being, I’m sure there will no major backlash to Carl Jr’s actions. In fact, I’m sure this will expand. It won’t have anything or much to do with the minimum wage. It’s part of the broader move toward automation. Were there actually a jobs program in this country for people who do not have a college education, I might say that something like a fast food cashier is a job that one might want eliminated. But there are no jobs program. The alternative to the fast food job is nothing. And that’s where the working class is headed because of automation and because of capital mobility. To nothing. Carl’s Jr and your own willingness to embrace automation are part of the reason for that.

The Fight for $15: A History

[ 23 ] March 20, 2016 |


This is a good history of how the Fight for $15 started, how SEIU has promoted it, and the impact it has had on American political life.

The groundwork for the movement was laid in 2011, when the Occupy movement started drawing unprecedented attention to the growing chasm between haves and have-nots. Around the same time, the Service Employees International Union launched a campaign called Fight for a Fair Economy.

The SEIU, which represents 2 million health care, janitorial, and other service workers, formed a coalition of 15 labor and community groups to reach out to low-wage workers and address concerns such as job creation and foreclosures, then running rampant through working-class communities.

Advocacy groups around the country were also stepping up efforts to help struggling residents. One of them, New York Communities for Change, started surveying low-income residents about affordable housing and other issues. Many of the most destitute — and vocal — people they met worked in fast food.

These cooks and cashiers were not teenagers working part time for extra cash, but parents struggling to feed their children. Some had worked in fast food for years, while living in public housing and relying on food stamps.

“It was a really a flashbulb to us,” said Jonathan Westin, executive director of New York Communities for Change.

But the size and scope of the fast-food industry — employing close to 3 million people, according to the US Census — was beyond NYCC’s abilities, Westin said, and he sought help from SEIU, a frequent partner.

That initial fall 2012 meeting attracted about 40 workers. Twice that many showed up to the next one. This time, the conversation revolved around forming a union and how much money it would take to survive, said Kendall Fells, an SEIU organizer.

The fast-food workers decided $10 an hour wasn’t enough, and $20 an hour didn’t seem possible. So they settled on $15.

At the third meeting, they set a strike date: Nov. 29, 2012. And early that Thursday morning, a week after Thanksgiving, 200 fast-food workers took to the streets of New York City. Many of them walked off their jobs, risking being fired and losing what little income they had.

“The individual courage of these few hundred workers making a bodacious demand galvanized the next stage of the national conversation about inequality,” said Mary Kay Henry, president of the SEIU.

Demonstrations soon spread to Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, Milwaukee, and beyond. A year later, a one-day strike calling for $15 and a fast-food workers’ union took place in more than 100 cities, including Boston.

Darius Cephas got involved in early 2013, when an organizer walked through the door of the McDonald’s in Dorchester where Cephas was working. Cephas, 24, had been working since he was a teenager to help support his younger sisters and mother, who had a stroke when he was 18. On his McDonald’s wages, he said, he sometimes couldn’t afford to eat.

Cephas quickly became a leader in the movement, using his days off to recruit Boston workers to join the cause and traveling to Europe and Brazil on the SEIU’s dime to spread the word to workers and elected officials.

Cephas still makes low wages — at McDonald’s and at a Dollar Tree discount store in Hyde Park. But he now has something he previously had little of — a voice, and respect. “I’m actually going to be a part of history,” he said. “My name’s going to be remembered.”

There’s more. But a couple of points here. First, this probably doesn’t happen without the support of SEIU. There is a labor journalist world that hates SEIU with enormous passion–they see SEIU as worse than no union at all. Sometimes they have good points, but usually, like this terrible Arun Gupta article which claims that *GASP* SEIU is behind the Fight for $15 and interviews a bunch of anonymous organizers about this fact and how it is a “problem,” they let their internal hatreds get in the way of understanding how change happens. In fact, SEIU was and is absolutely critical to this in terms of using its significant organizational advantages, particularly its experienced organizers and money, to promote this movement.

Note also how being involved in such a movement can empower people in ways they never could have imagined, like Darius Cephas. This is the story of organizing–people who never felt they have a voice in fact can develop a very powerful voice. This is a wonderful thing.

Finally, I love that the $15 demand was basically just splitting the difference between $10 and $20. And that’s fine. Creating a rhetorically powerful demand is more important in creating change than all the economists’ studies of what a proper minimum wage should be in 2016. Those studies can sometimes be used to support said demands, or not. But the catalyst to change is a catchy slogan and people willing to work for that slogan more than anything academics or think tanks will ever do.

Lot to chew on in this history. Be a lot more to chew on as it continues to develop.

Corporations: The Folks Who Want to Take Away the Weekend

[ 18 ] March 19, 2016 |

Remember the halcyon days of the past, where if you worked on the weekend and especially on Sunday, you would get premium pay? Not too long ago. Say goodbye to that.

Walmart discontinued Sunday premium pay, which had been $1 extra per hour, for new hires back in 2011. Those who had continued to receive it will receive a lump sum equal to half the amount of Sunday pay they received last year, according to a company release in January outlining a handful of adjustments that Walmart explained were a way of “simplifying its pay structure” — and reducing the overall cost of increasing base wages to $10 an hour across the board.

That hasn’t worked out so well for more experienced employees like eight-year Walmart veteran Nancy Reynolds, a 69-year-old cashier in Merritt Island, Fla., who works Thursday through Monday. Her base pay was already slightly above $10 an hour, so she didn’t get much of a raise, and the loss of a few extra Sunday dollars a week will hurt. “The younger people, the ones who haven’t been there that long, they got it, and I’m glad for them,” Reynolds says. “But they did it at the expense of me and everybody who’s been there a long time.”

In cutting Sunday pay, Walmart is actually behind most of the retail industry, which made that change as legal requirements to pay more on Sundays were stricken from state laws across the country. So-called “blue laws” once prohibited Sunday commerce altogether in 34 states in the 1960s. They were often weakened through compromise, with higher pay mandated in exchange for shopping being legalized. Even with no mandate, premium pay was often what the labor market demanded.

$10 on hour and work on Sunday. Sounds like a great future for those Indiana workers whose jobs have fled to Mexico and who are now going to vote Trump because of it! Why not vote Trump if this is your life.

An Environmental Determinist History of the Labor Movement

[ 64 ] March 19, 2016 |

lange oklahomans reach LA-cr

Above: Not people migrating to work at the River Rouge in Dearborn.

Although I write more about labor history in the public sphere, my academic training is in environmental history. As an environmental historian, there’s nothing more frustrating or annoying than environmental determinism (yes, I’m looking at you Jared Diamond). To say the least, nothing can be explained by a single factor and to say that environmental issues determine the past or future completely undermines human agency. It also places unnecessary blinders on our examination of our society that stops us from understanding just why things did happen.

I never thought I’d see a paper explaining the rise of American unions through environmental determinism. But I guess I should have known better. Here’s a summary:

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2015 roughly half of the nation’s 14.8 million union members lived in just seven states: California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, and New Jersey. Yet these states accounted for only one-third of paid employment nationally. And those same states have held the highest unionization rates for decades. So why do some states remain heavily unionized while others do not? “It turns out there was something that happened in the 1930s that set the rank of unionization in place across states in the United States, and that rank has stayed roughly the same ever since,” says Lauren H. Cohen, the L.E. Simmons Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School.

The thing that happened was the Dust Bowl: a series of severe dust storms and droughts that decimated farms in the Great Plains during the 1930s, forcing thousands of families to abandon their property. Many migrated to close-by cities, often in California but also in other states, in hopes of finding jobs.

Wait, what? The Dust Bowl explains why Pennsylvania has high unionization rates?

Alas, the Dust Bowl coincided with the Great Depression. Jobs were scarce, and those who still had jobs were loath to lose them to migrants. And so they unionized.

“Let’s say you were a subsistence farmer,” Cohen explains. “The drought dried up your crops. You still had to feed your family. So you traveled to the closest city and tried to get a job. Of course, that put pressure on people who did have jobs. They were working for a dollar an hour, and you were willing to come and do the same job for 50 cents. So the people who had jobs said, ‘Let’s unionize to make sure these farmers don’t take our jobs.’”

Oh, yeah, those cities close to the Dust Bowl have super high unionization rates. Dallas. Albuquerque. Houston. Oklahoma City. Huh?

Also, I will note that the authors never provide the first shred of evidence that people organizing to keep their jobs from Okies was why unions formed. I mean one could, you know, go to the words of actual union organizers to talk about why they were forming unions or to those of workers to see why they joined. But then that wouldn’t fit into a fancy regression analysis.

They considered the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, which guaranteed the rights of private-sector employees to unionize and engage in collective bargaining. The act certainly encouraged labor forces to unionize. But a national act applies to the whole nation, so it didn’t explain state-to-state differences in unionization rates.

The Dust Bowl, on the other hand, was a massive external force that affected only certain geographic areas.

Yes. Of course the Dust Bowl did not affect the states that had high unionization rates except for California because, yes, lots of migrants ended up there during the 1930s. But they weren’t competing for union jobs at that point. The real turning point for unionization in California was with the rise of the industrial economy during the war that created the big defense plants. And while those migrants were now moving out of the fields and into the defense plants, I’ve never seen any evidence that the growth of unions in those plants had anything to do with keeping other white people out.

The drought-year unionization density predicted relative unionization density in 1943, 1953, 1973, etc., all the way up to 2013. (These findings held true only in those industries in which migrants tried to find jobs during the Dust Bowl—manufacturing jobs, for instance, but not teaching jobs.) In other words, it wasn’t all migration but only the migration related to the Dust Bowl droughts that predicted modern unionization patterns.

“Droughts caused migration. Migration caused pressure on the current workforce. Pressure caused the workforce to unionize. And that unionization just has an incredibly long tail,” Cohen says.

I’m really glad these researchers have a complex view of the past. One things causes another which causes another. OK. Glad we can make these claims without complicating them. I guess I’m in the wrong field.

“I think the reason why this paper is important, especially now, is that unions are a hotly debated issue within policy and within our political process,” Cohen says. “Some people say we absolutely need them. And some say there was a time in history that we needed them, but we’ve outgrown that time. I think both sides have to confront the fact that a fair amount of unionization that exists today was set in place in a random way. So if you want to say unions are great, or if you want to say they’re awful, either way you have to explain why something so obviously great or so obviously awful can be so significantly influenced by something that is essentially random.”

No. Just no. Good lord.

There is so much wrong here. We are talking problems solved by taking History 101. First, there’s no evidence that I am aware of that white migrants from the Dust Bowl played a major role in manufacturing unionism or even trying to take manufacturing jobs during the Depression. These were mostly rural people and they wanted to stay mostly rural people. They most famously went to California but also many went to places like southwestern Washington where they bought up logged-off land to start a new generation of impoverished farming. Many of these migrants of course did eventually end up in the suburbs working in manufacturing, but that’s a generation later. This is a non-issue in the 1930s.

Second, relatively few Dust Bowl migrants ended up in union-dense states. You did see rural migration to these states during the 1930s. Mostly it was from southern Appalachia. Those people did affect the union campaigns of Michigan and Ohio and Pennsylvania, but a) they were not fleeing climate disasters and b) the unions didn’t appear to keep these workers out. If anything, they joined the unions to keep African-Americans out.

Third, the development of mass unionization in certain states was not “random.” It was a complex confluence of factors that included a) the Fordist factory floor that employed thousands of people which did not exist in most states, b) traditions of socialism from European immigration, c) state governments willing to tolerate unions, d) sizable Catholic and Jewish populations versus the evangelical Protestantism of the South and Great Plains. Could climate-based migration play a role in union history? Sure, I guess. But is this argument had merits, wouldn’t have there been some sort of union growth in cities near the Dust Bowl to protect workers from this new competition? Yet there was so little union presence in these states that even Democratic politicians from these states could attack unions with ferocity and vote for Taft-Hartley because there was no labor movement to speak of in their states. Thus, you have LBJ using his strong anti-unionism as a major campaign point in the 1948 election to the Senate, even though his opponent was equally anti-union.

In other words, this is a dreadfully wrong argument. Of course it is made by a professor at the Harvard Business School.

Capital Mobility and Trumpism

[ 223 ] March 19, 2016 |


As I have been saying throughout the election season, the collapse of the working class thanks to capital mobility is going a long way to feed Donald Trump’s popularity.

The fuzzy video, shot by a worker on the floor of a Carrier factory here in the American heartland last month, captured the raging national debate over trade and the future of the working class in 3 minutes 32 seconds.

“This is strictly a business decision,” a Carrier executive tells employees, describing how their 1,400 jobs making furnaces and heating equipment will be sent to Mexico. Workers there typically earn about $19 a day — less than what many on the assembly line here make in an hour. As boos and curses erupt from the crowd, the executive says, “Please quiet down.”

What came next was nothing of the kind.

Within hours of being posted on Facebook, the video went viral. Three days after Carrier’s Feb. 10 announcement, Donald J. Trump seized on the video in a Republican presidential debate and made Carrier’s move to Mexico a centerpiece of his stump speeches attacking free trade.

In fact, many Carrier workers here say that it was not so much Mr. Trump’s nativist talk on illegal immigrants or his anti-Muslim statements that has fired them up. Instead, it was hearing a leading presidential candidate acknowledging just how much economic ground they’ve lost — and promising to do something about it.

Mr. Trump has repudiated decades of G.O.P. support for free trade, calling for heavy tariffs on Mexican-made goods from the likes of Carrier. This has helped put him within arm’s reach of the Republican nomination.

Opposition to trade deals has also galvanized supporters of Mr. Sanders, helping him unexpectedly win the Michigan Democratic primary this month. At the same time, it has forced his rival Hillary Clinton to distance herself from trade agreements she once supported, like the proposed 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership and the North American Free Trade Agreement, the 1994 deal with Mexico that is an important part of President Bill Clinton’s political legacy.

Exit polls after the Michigan primary , for example, showed that a clear majority of both Republican and Democratic voters believe international trade costs the American economy more jobs than it creates.

Nicole Hargrove, a 14-year Carrier worker, said she was an undecided voter and was uncomfortable with Mr. Trump’s attacks on immigrants, particularly Mexicans. “But I’d like to turn him loose on the financial world,” she said. “Maybe if Carrier had to pay more to bring stuff in, they’d think twice about moving jobs out.”

Mark Weddle, 55, started work at Carrier 24 years ago and earns $21 an hour running a machine that makes heat exchangers. “I have two brothers-in-law from Mexico,” he said, explaining why he disagrees with Mr. Trump’s anti-immigrant stance.

But when it comes to Carrier, “we’ve all worked our butts off,” he said. “And now they’re going to throw us under the bus? If Trump will kick Carrier’s ass, then I’ll vote for him.”

That’s pretty much what Mr. Trump has threatened to do. At rally after rally, to rapturous crowds, he vows to impose a 35 percent tax on Carrier products from Mexico. Then, the laugh line: “I want to do this myself, but it is so unpresidential to call up Carrier.”

And Mr. Trump vows not to take Carrier’s calls until it agrees to change course. “As sure as you’re here, they will call me up within 24 hours,” he promises, and say to him, “‘Sir, we’ve decided to stay in the United States.’”

Consistently in the comments of this blog, people wave away these connections or say it is an acceptable cost to pay for global capitalism. Well, maybe. But you have to live with the political consequences of a declining working class. And while people may support dreamy ideas like Universal Basic Income or more politically possible ideas that would help around the margins like an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit, none of these things are happening now while all the manufacturing jobs are in fact disappearing. And whether that is because of capital mobility or it is because automation, we have zero concrete plans on what to do with millions of working class people. At best, we might give slight subsidies to retraining programs for careers that pay less and may not have a future anyway. At worst, we start drug testing for people who get on public assistance or slash those programs to nothing anyway.

The doctrine of unrestricted free trade has been basically bipartisan for many decades now. But no one ever thought hard enough about what this would look like when all the manufacturing jobs were gone. We are now finding out. This opens the door to demagogues taking advantage of what is worst about the United States–xenophobia, racism, Islamophobia, political violence, strongmen, intimidating journalists, fascism. When you give working Americans no good options, we might think they would turn to socialism. And a few have, as the Sanders campaigns demonstrates. But without widespread leftist organizing in working-class communities, which in working-class white communities largely does not exist, the appeal of racial and class prejudice added to the appeal of seeing someone tell off the forces that have doomed them to stagnation and poverty, that’s very powerful. That’s the Trump voter. Unless we do something for working-class Americans, even if Trump is defeated this year, the door is open for more demagogues and political violence in the near future.

The question is what to do about it. The answer has to be, in part, jobs that pay well and allow people to live dignified, upwardly mobile or at least stable lives. And for proponents of unrestricted capital mobility and extreme globalization, they simply have no answer on how to do this. We as a nation are reaping the results of their indifference.

Labor and Hillary

[ 74 ] March 16, 2016 |


To paraphrase Hamilton Nolan, did organized labor fuck up by supporting Hillary Clinton?

That is not probable, of course. With the backing of the big unions, Hillary Clinton stands today as the statistically likely nominee. Since Sanders’ upset win in the Michigan primary, she has been raising her voice about her promised opposition to the TPP and other free trade agreements that she supported not too long ago. So it is as good at time as ever for labor leaders to ruefully review Hillary’s actual record on these things. As Dan Kaufman laid out in the New York Times this weekend, that record is not encouraging. She was a happy Walmart board member as the company busted unions; she has repeatedly talked out of both sides of her mouth on free trade, assuring workers she is against various free trade agreements during campaigns only to help enact them once she is safely in power. At a time when manufacturing wages have been stagnant for 35 years and wage inequality across the board continues to grow, there is nothing in Hillary Clinton’s record that should give average workers confidence that she will keep her many promises to them if the political situation should favor breaking those promises.

By backing the perceived safe choice over the candidate who actually agrees with it more, the labor movement helped to ensure that the candidate who agrees with it more will not get the nomination—during what could well be the only election campaign in our lifetime that a candidate as pro-labor as Bernie Sanders could actually win, thanks to the insane and unelectable opponent that the other side could nominate.

Well done, union leaders. You have successfully sold your own interests out in advance. When Hillary Clinton inevitably sells you out again in the future, you’ll have no one to blame but yourselves.

Meanwhile, Dan Kaufman has a Times op-ed asking Hillary which side she is on:

The depth of Mrs. Clinton’s estrangement from labor may not be known until April 5, when Wisconsin holds its primary. Since 1960, no Democrat has won the general election without winning the state, and a loss to Mr. Sanders in Wisconsin could foreshadow trouble against Donald Trump, whose opposition to free trade helped propel him to victory in Michigan. Exit polls there showed that a majority of Republican voters also believe that free trade takes away American jobs. Mr. Trump decisively won that group. “You know, Michigan has been stripped,” Mr. Trump told CNN’s Anderson Cooper the day after his victory. “You look at those empty factories all over the place. And nobody hits that message better than me.”

While Mrs. Clinton’s pro-union shout out at the debate resonated widely, many of Wisconsin’s labor activists remain skeptical. “A lot of our job problems stem from NAFTA, and the TPP will kill us,” Gerry Miller, a United Steelworkers welder at a Caterpillar plant in South Milwaukee, told me last month. “We can’t compete with people being paid two dollars a day in Vietnam. The thing that we’re most upset about is the pandering. Democrats like Clinton speak labor out of one side of their mouth, but the corporate interests pull the strings.” (Mr. Scott estimates that adoption of TPP will result in the net loss of roughly 40,000 jobs in Wisconsin, 215,000 in Michigan and 113,000 in Ohio.)

While Mrs. Clinton has received the endorsement of many of the large national unions, the A.F.L.-C.I.O. has not yet taken sides. Many union locals have chosen to back Mr. Sanders. David Poklinkoski, the president of IBEW Local 2304, a Wisconsin utility union, said his local had never endorsed anyone for any office before, but recently passed a unanimous resolution endorsing Mr. Sanders. Mr. Poklinkoski praised the senator’s consistent opposition to free-trade agreements.

After the Milwaukee debate, Mr. Poklinkoski told me that two of his members who watched it came away as Sanders supporters. But Mr. Poklinkoski was alarmed to hear that the men’s second choice was Mr. Trump. Mr. Poklinkoski believes Mrs. Clinton could be vulnerable in Wisconsin.

“I’m worried about Trump versus Hillary,” Mr. Poklinkoski said. He noted that at home Governor Walker had successfully portrayed himself as an anti-tax, blue-collar politician, an image that helped him divide Wisconsin’s workers during the state’s labor battles. “If you have a right-wing populist, you can beat a corporate Democrat,” Mr. Poklinkoski said. “Scott Walker did it three times here.”

A few points here.

1) Hillary Clinton is not and likely never will be a big supporter of organized labor. We know which side she is on–the side of corporations, more or less. This is well-established. If we imagine a scenario where Trump is such a downticket disaster that the Democrats sweep every contested Senate race and end up with 55 votes (not that I think this is likely). With a fairly significant majority that is by and large quite progressive, does anyone think Hillary Clinton will expend that fleeting political capital on the Employee Free Choice Act or a $15 national minimum wage? She might seek an $12 wage, maybe. But EFCA is going to be a lower priority, just like labor’s priorities always are.

2) Bernie Sanders would, almost without question, be better for organized labor than Hillary Clinton.

3) The core of the labor movement in 2016, especially the public sector unions, are African-American and Latino workers. These voters overwhelmingly support Hillary Clinton.

4) SEIU and other unions did survey their members before endorsing Hillary Clinton. Those members said they wanted to vote for Hillary Clinton.

5) Those surveys were so early that most voters did not know who Bernie Sanders was at that time. Would those surveys look differently today? Somewhat, no doubt. Would they absolutely for Bernie Sanders? I doubt it, although they may in some unions.

6) Internationals endorsed Hillary early because like everyone else in the country, they thought the race was over before it started and they wanted to show early support to be favored during her administration. Turns out things are more competitive than they thought and it turns out that the Republicans are nominating Donald Trump, an incomprehensible thought 8 months ago.

The question that unions should be asking themselves is whether to endorse this early in the future. That’s a complicated question. These may be somewhat unique circumstances. But what would a Bernie Sanders endorsement look like? Nolan suggests that Hillary is winning in no small part because of Big Union support. This is dubious. With the possible exception of the disastrous and poorly run Nevada caucuses, there is no solid evidence that official union support has affected any of these primaries in any substantial way. Lots of union members don’t listen to their own internationals and vote for whoever they want to, including Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. Sanders was able to win Michigan despite all those endorsements, largely because union members are independent members of society and can think for themselves. Moreover, in most states, unions have almost no power at all. All of those southern states where Hillary built her lead? None of them have any meaningful union presence. I don’t think there is any substantial delegate difference if unions don’t endorse Hillary early.

I’m not downplaying the money and organizational support unions provide, but they provide less and less of that every election cycle because they are being decimated in the states. That’s the core of Friedrichs, mercifully stalled. Conservatives don’t care about workers right to use their money this way or not that way. They care about kneecapping the organized labor that supports Democrats.

What would the alternative look like? What if none of the big internationals had endorsed early? A couple of things, I think. Unions could have hosted debates and forced Clinton to defend her Wall Street positions. They could have used their power to support Sanders. If it happened to work and he happened to win and he defeated Trump, then sure, that’s great. It’s all shooting the moon and you can understand why labor would not take that chance. If union leaders believe a Democrat is going to win the election, they are going to support them. These are not idealistic people. They are hard-nosed realists. I’m not saying that it was the best choice in this particular election but I can’t blame them for making it, even knowing Hillary Clinton’s flaws.

This Day in Labor History: March 15, 1940

[ 39 ] March 15, 2016 |


On March 15, 1940, John Ford’s film version of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, was released to universal acclaim. This was perhaps the greatest moment of the cultural left during the Great Depression. Of all the New Deal-era art that broadly made up the Popular Front, none were more well-remembered and beloved than the book and film versions of The Grapes of Wrath, despite and possibly because neither Ford nor Steinbeck was closely associated with that movement.

Steinbeck’s powerful 1939 novel was a sensation. Its tale of the Joads and their bitter journey from Oklahoma to California in search of work and a new life was a huge hit. Produced at the tail end of the worst economic crisis in American history, it galvanized attention on the plight of the so-called Okies, even if it didn’t lead to any policy to alleviate their problems, despite the fact that the book and the film both played up the Resettlement Administration camp that treated people decently, with the film even going into a closeup on the RA logo. The plight of white migrants to California had received a good bit of attention from artists, most notably in the photographs of Dorothea Lange. These migrants, more victims of New Deal farm policy that encouraged consolidation and industrial farming than the Dust Bowl, as most, including the fictional Joads, originated well east of the Dust Bowl, were part of the national crisis of the Great Depression, which led to a lot of hand-wringing, no shortage of fear, and a belated and relatively small government response to provide relief for these small farmers. The Grapes of Wrath focused national attention on their plight, especially with the release of the film.

John Ford was a brilliant choice to direct the film adaptation. Although today best known for his often racist westerns, he was more of a broad believer in a salt of the earth white populism that simply assumed a Turnerian view of history (which was almost ubiquitous during the New Deal among intellectuals, politicians, and artists. That is on full display in the film. The original New York Times review well-summarizes the popular reception to it:

We know the question you are asking, have been asking since the book was acquired for filming: Does the picture follow the novel, how closely and how well? The answer is that it has followed the book; has followed it closely, but not with blind, undiscriminating literalness; has followed it so well that no one who has read and admired it should complain of the manner of its screen telling. Steinbeck’s language, which some found too shocking for tender eyes, has been cleaned up, but has not been toned so high as to make its people sound other than as they are. Some phases of his saga have been skimped and some omitted; the book’s ending has been dropped; the sequence of events and of speeches has been subtly altered.

The changes sound more serious than they are, seem more radical than they are. For none of them has blurred the clarity of Steinbeck’s word-picture of the people of the Dust Bowl. None of them has rephrased, in softer terms, his matchless description of the Joad family’s trek from Oklahoma to California to find the promised land where work was plenty, wages were high and folk could live in little white houses beside an orange grove. None of them has blunted the fine indignation or diluted the bitterness of his indictment of the cruel deception by which an empty stew-pot was substituted for the pot of gold at the rainbow’s end. And none of them has—as most of us feared it might—sent the film off on a witch hunt, let it pretend there had just been a misunderstanding, made it end on the sunrise of a new and brighter day.

Steinbeck’s story might have been exaggeration; at least some will take comfort in thinking so. But if only half of it were true, that half still should constitute a tragedy of modern America, a bitter chapter of national history that has not yet been closed, that has, as yet, no happy ending, that has thus far produced but two good things: a great American novel (if it is truly a novel) and a great American motion picture.

Henry Fonda as Tom Joad was classic casting. With his flat Midwestern accent and good looks, he personified the prototype of the All-American young man, an image he would build upon for his entire career (and of course play against type in Once Upon a Time in the West, nearly 30 years later). His ideological transformation from rough and tumble Oklahoma white to organizer and lefty is a story of what happens to people when they are beaten down enough. Sure, grandpa dies, the brother-in-law runs away, and the family falls apart. Preacher Casey gets murdered by the farm owner thugs. But the struggle continues. Ma keeps the rest of the family together (and Jane Darwell was brilliant in this role) and Tom builds on Casey’s legacy, not as an ideological radical but as a man seeking answers to the poverty of his life.

Steinbeck himself was thrilled with the film version, writing “No punches were pulled. In fact….it is a harsher thing than the book.” And as great as the book is, the film is better as it distills the key points with great power while rewriting the book’s dark and somewhat gratuitous ending to provide some sort of hope at the end, as opposed to the flood and endless despair of the last section of the book.

The film and the book both make one huge and regrettable error, which is erasing non-white labor from the land. California was not this agricultural paradise where everyone could eat all the oranges they wanted. Those farmers had always sought cheap, exploitable labor, whether Mexican, Filipino, Japanese, or Okie. It was to serve these farmers that Mexico was exempt from the 1924 Immigration Act. They recruited labor from the Philippines after Japanese migration ended. Those immigrants would play a key role in the history of farmworker organizing. The Bracero Program would be a solution for the disappearance of white labor from the fields during World War II. But neither Steinbeck nor Ford had any interest in these non-whites at all and their stories and histories are a very conspicuous absence.

In the past, I’ve wondered what would have happened to Tom Joad in the future. I still say that had he not been thrown in jail for life by the cops or killed as an organizer, he would have fought in the Marines in World War II. Had he survived, he and his family would be working in the California defense plants like many other Depression era migrant whites, he would have bought a home in Orange County, and probably voted for Goldwater in 1964.

This is the 173rd post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

New Innovations in Union Busting

[ 21 ] March 12, 2016 |


Stephen Greenhouse on the new right-wing effort to crush unions: astroturf door-to-door campaigns.

For several months, Shawna Murphy, a home-based childcare provider in Seattle, had received a stream of emails, letters and robocalls – some two dozen of them – telling her she had the right to stop paying union dues.

Then early one afternoon, while the six children in her charge were napping, a man with a briefcase knocked on her door. At first Murphy thought he was a lawyer, but then she realized he might be a state inspector of childcare providers. So she opened the door.

“He said there’s this supreme court case that will impact me, and he pulled out this leaflet and told me that I don’t have to be part of the union and don’t have to pay union dues,” said Murphy, a member of the Service Employees International Union. “I told him, ‘I’m a proud supporter of the union, and you can leave now.’”

The man was one of the many foot soldiers in a highly unusual offensive against public-sector unions in the US north-west. A conservative group, the Freedom Foundation, has dispatched activists to visit the homes of more than 10,000 childcare and home-care workers in Washington and Oregon to advise them that under a two-year-old supreme court decision, they can opt out of paying union dues.

Tom McCabe, chief executive officer of the fast-growing foundation, funded by a web of conservative groups, said: “My goal is to provide freedom to union members and to give them a choice about whether or not they want to belong to a union.”

But labor leaders and their progressive allies say the group’s goals go far beyond that. Washington state in particular has passed union-backed progressive legislation recently, enacting a $15-an-hour minimum wage and a law that will allow Uber drivers to unionize. They say the Freedom Foundation’s unorthodox tactics are part of a grand plan to weaken unions and their treasuries, sap their political influence and ultimately flip Washington and Oregon from Democratic to Republican.

The idea that Washington and Oregon are going to turn Republican is laughable with or without unions, but when you have this kind of money behind you, why not try it? And it is a real threat to unions. The uphill battle the Koch Brothers face is that they have turned most of the easy states to right-to-work. Doing so in states where you have entrenched liberalism like Washington and Oregon is a real uphill battle. I’d say they have a somewhat better chance in a state like New Hampshire or Rhode Island or maybe even New York where you have Democratic legislators with very little commitment to Democratic Party values. In any case, with the money they have, they are a real threat and if you can overturn labor legislation in Wisconsin and Michigan, you can do it anywhere under the right circumstances.

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