Labor - USA

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A World to Win? Perspective on Labor and Global Change

Zwelinzima Vavi, Congress of South African Trade Unions, Cornell Global Labor Institute, September 23-24, 2004

Let me start by expressing my gratitude for the opportunity to participate in this conference. We are here to learn as well as to share our own experiences. It is particularly important that the universities give us in the unions this type of chance to reflect on our circumstances. Otherwise the day-to-day rush can mean we have no chance to develop stronger strategies. ... A World to Win

US Labor In Crisis

The Current Internal Debate and the Role of Democracy in its Revitalization
Conference on "Work and Social Movements in the United States"
Jerry Tucker, University of Paris - Sorbonne, March 12, 2005

There is today a rare open debate going on within the US Labor Movement over its future and the alleged crisis it currently faces. Rarer still is the fact that much of it appears on competing internet blogs. The current debate, provoked by some within Labor’s national leadership, has been almost exclusively focused on "restructuring" and resource reallocation. Not part of the leader-led debate is the more fundamental question of the ‘culture’ of unionism in America today.

Fighting for Unions

Stewart Acuff, The Nation, April 18, 2005

Some 57 million nonunion workers in the United States say they would form a union tomorrow if given the chance, according to new poll conducted in February by Peter D. Hart and Associates. For many of them, especially women and people of color, having a union is often the difference between living in or out of poverty. Yet the truth is that a sophisticated and systematic effort to deny workers their basic freedom of association is rampant in this country.

Employers and antiunion consultants have effectively thwarted the intent and efficacy of the law that supposedly guarantees workers the freedom to form unions, a human right protected by the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and recognized by the US government thirteen years earlier in the National Labor Relations Act.

Speech by Dawn Stanger, Teamster, at VT Rally against War and Budget Cut

Dawn Stanger, Vermont Workers Center, April 20, 2005

Hello. I’m Dawn Stanger and I’m a Teamster. I work up at UPS in Williston. And I’m here representing folks from the Vermont Workers Center, and US Labor Against the War - USLAW. The Workers’ Center is a coalition of trade unions, community groups, and individual workers pushing for economic justice. We are also Vermont’s only Jobs with Justice chapter. In January ‘03’ the Workers’ Center affiliated with USLAW, the union group opposed to attacking Iraq, and in September ‘04’, I’m proud to say that Vermont’s AFL-CIO joined millions of union workers across the US in opposing the occupation.

Happy Birthday, Wobblies!

The Industrial Workers of the World was founded in 1905 and its legacy still shapes the thoughts and actions of progressive trade unionists everywhere. Turn on your sound and listen to this half-hour celebration in song and story: John O'Connor

Re: Surrendering the Shop Floor and Union Centralization

Marilyn Albert, RN, Portside, October 18, 2004

The question of unions not organizing as they should on "shop floor" issues is related to the recent dialogue on Portside regarding union democracy, the NUP, and Richard Hurd's excellent article on the future of the labor movement. My experience working in large hospitals was that as the union came to see new ways of exerting its power - political action, endorsements of elected officials or candidates, alliances with the employers with the purpose of generating revenue for the industry - the shop floor became less important, to the point where working conditions which were making workers miserable and were endangering the quality of patient care, were not struggled against by the union.

Surrendering the Shop Floor Means Surrendering the Future

Charley Richardson, Labor Notes, October 2004

Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, is famous for having said that if he had his way, he would put his factories on barges and drag them around the world, in search of the lowest wages and least regulation. Jack Welch’s dream of infinitely mobile factories is one in which the workforce has been made irrelevant - where workers have little or no control over the production process, have become replaceable cogs in a management-controlled machine, and have lost key sources of leverage. In many ways Jack Welch’s vision is becoming a reality, as advances in technology and work organization allow management to take increasing control over work processes and ultimately put work on “electronic barges” (through a combination of computerization and telecommunications) - moving it around the world at will. The failure of unions to take on the restructuring of the workplace is a disaster for workers’ future. ... Surrendering

Organizing, the New Unity Partnership And the Future of Unions

Richard Hurd, Professor of Labor Studies, Cornell University, Portside, October 11, 2004

The New Unity Partnership (NUP) has stirred up afirestorm of controversy in union circles. The unlikely alliance includes three of the most progressive unions [SEIU (service employees), UNITE (needle trades and textiles) and HERE (hotel and restaurant)], plus two comparatively conservative construction unions [LIUNA (laborers) and UBC (carpenters)]. The common ground is a commitment to organizing. As explained by Andy Stern, president of SEIU, "all of us are radicals about growth" (Business Week Online, 2003).

Reply to Jim Hard

Steve Early, Portside, October 9, 2004

Jim Hard's response to Reutherism Redux seems to be that all union members gripe a lot. Therefore, critiques of SEIU should be ignored because Hard "could walk into any CWA workplace that Steve Early or anyone else represents and find similar criticisms." I never claimed that every rank-and-file (or staff member) criticism of SEIU cited in my review was equally valid or "represents the way most members feel." The piece did accurately suggest, however, that more members are questioning the necessity and desirability of SEIU's forced consolidation of locals, abuse of trusteeship powers, and implantation of new local officers drawn from the appointed national staff, rather than the working membership.

Where is the Real Debate About Labor's Future?

Jim Hard, Portside, October 7, 2004

Having spent the last two decades as a reformer in SEIU Local 1000 in the California State Employees Association, I wanted to respond to a few issues raised in Steve Early's article, Reutherism Redux: What Happens When Poor Workers Wear the Color Purple. I read and re-read Early's essay looking for his proposals for how to stem the rapid decline of the US union movement in virtually every industry. Though he does grudgingly grant that, "At the bargaining table in any industry, its obviously better to have union density than not have it ...", he never says what he would do to build that density by organizing workers in each industry into a united, strong union.

Access to Power is not Democracy

David Cohen, Greenfield, Massachusetts, Portside, September 20, 2004

I would like to throw in my two cents on this discussion on union democracy. The points that Greg King makes in his response to Steve Early's article "Reutherism Redux: What Happens When Poor Workers' Unions Wear the Color Purple" are common to many progressive and left trade unionists and they indicate a similar problem. They confuse access to those in leadership with union democracy. Access is not the same thing as democracy. I can't debate what was going on in SEIU Local 285 but what Greg says is contradictory.

"Democracy and the SEIU" revisited

Greg King, SEIU Local 888, Portside, September 20, 2004

In my short response to Steve Early's article, I'm afraid I came across as dismissive of democracy. On the contrary, I've fought for broader democracy my whole life, especially in the labor movement. The point I was trying unsuccessfully to make was that to talk about democracy was all well and good, but that the actual practice by the members was what mattered. Regarding SEIU, Local 888 President Susana Segat, although she is objectively a trustee, did a very good job of representing and fighting for us in recent contract negotiations.

More on democracy and race in the labor movement (Response to Mel Pritchard again)

Marilyn Albert, RN, former 1199 activist, Portside, September 20, 2004

I tried in the pieces I submitted to Portside to bring a "nuanced" view, and not pit officials and staffers against the "rank and file". I have been a staffer and more importantly, believe that the view which tends to come from staffers and officials is understandable given the pressures they are under to lead in a difficult climate. But there is a clear trend among many well meaning officials which at the very least, does not place an emphasis on building power through greater democracy.

Re: Democracy and the SEIU

Mel Pritchard, San Francisco, Portside, September 19, 2005

Ms. Albert, I think you avoid a question I raised around our discussion of labor union democracy, race and gender. There are a lot of people in the labor movement who demogouge about democracy but ignore racism and sexism on the job; because its difficult to resolve these forms of domination through the grievance process or the other avenues labor unions use for redress and relief. I found many of the would be "union democrats" silent on those issues in my experience and do not know how to raise them as strategies for union democracy, that includes the AUD and TDU.

Re: Democracy and SEIU

Bruce T. Boccardy, SEIU Local 888, Interfaith Alliance, Portside, September 18, 2004

Ms Albert has presented an excellent summary of what ails SEIU. We in Local 888, Boston are experiencing the results of a strict vertical organizational structure as well. While SEIU negotiators recently signed a decent contract with the city of Boston, our leverage emanated from the fact that the police and firefighters unions exerted serious pressure on the city during the Democratic Convention which was held here. We ponder just what the SEIU staff here would have suggested to the rank and file in strategic terms had not this outside leverage existed.

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