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Labor Notes

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No, not the superb labor newspaper, just a few links with commentary.

1. Dave Johnson has an interesting post up (with many links) on the NLRB decision to speed up labor elections, noting the power of recess appointments. The deciding votes in this election were Obama’s 2 recess appointments. Craig Becker and Mark Pearce have led a number of important changes to the NLRB, making it a functioning board that gives labor an increasingly fair shake and infuriating Republicans. Yet Obama hasn’t learned the lesson of recess appointments despite the overwhelming obstruction to his appointments. Seemingly temperamentally opposed to angering Republicans who will never be placated no matter how much he caves, he has issued less than 40 recess appointments, as opposed to over 170 for Bush. Obama needs to use this power if he can’t get up and down votes on his appointments in order to not only help working people, but to govern effectively.

2. Joe Burns excerpts from his new book at In These Times, arguing that labor needs to resort to radical measures in order to revitalize the movement. Using the 1989 Pittston coal strike as an example, Burns argues:

For the labor movement to have any chance at reigniting the spark that was present back in the first part of the twentieth century, it must again develop into a fighting, grassroots force, capable of confronting corporate power. While many contemporary trade unionists continue to be stuck in a mindset that favors compromise and compliance over resistance and militancy, several labor conflicts of the last twenty-five years stand out for the tenacity of the union members involved, the level of rank-and-file activism, and the willingness to confront the system of labor control.

I don’t disagree. Pittston used all sorts of tactics, from blockades to sit-ins to violence. In the end, the UMWA succeeded. It was a great moment, though one labor as a whole didn’t learn enough from. After all, what does the labor movement have to lose at this point. As I argued during the Wisconsin protests, there is no reason for labor not to throw the kitchen sink into their organizing tactics. If you are going to go down, as even supposedly Democratic governors like Andrew Cuomo seem to want, you might as well go down fighting and at least start building for the future. And more direct tactics may well inspire working-class people and young people to think of organized labor as representing their future and things spiral up from there. Optimistic, but possible.

However, I also think that while radical tactics, even including violence, have their place in the movement, it will take more than a single factor to reinvigorate labor. Burns knows this too, but there’s a lot of rhetoric from labor writers about doing this or that thing that will turn out the labor movement. I certainly agree that taking a more direct-action approach is absolutely an excellent idea. At the same time, we are a long time from 1937 when radicalism was well within the lived memory of most working-class people. Whether this would affect how working people responded to such tactics, I do not know, but it’s worth noting that we need a lot of labor education as well as part of the package to revitalize the labor movement.

In any case, I look forward to reading Burns’ book. Check it out.

3. We rarely see labor disputes with our own eyes these days. Strikes are so rare–I believe that at the present there is not a single strike going on in the United States. That’s amazing and depressing. But I am presently in the Hudson Valley of New York and there is a consistent presence at the entrance to Marist College in Poughkeespie over unfair labor practices. There’s not a lot of info about it online (which is unfortunate). However, if you Google “Marist College Labor Dispute” you can click on a PDF of a flyer claiming the Marist is undermining the Carpenters union by contracting with low-wage and benefit companies to undermine union labor. The campaign seems to be about embarrassing Marist though the lack of a proper website suggests the limitations of its implementation. Anyway, boo on Marist.

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