Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Election Season 2010

The mid-term season is upon us once again, and like a lot of labor activists out there, I find myself trying to make up my mind whether or not to get actively involved this fall. I have often found myself in this position in the past. It's not very often that a candidate comes along on whose behalf I actually want to go out and canvass. I can actually count them on one hand:

Ann Richards

Barack Obama(candidate Obama was a hell of a lot more liberal than the centrist President Obama)

Andrew Duck

That's pretty much it. Not a long list. What this means is that because of the lack of any viable leftist political party in the United States, I am almost always forced to choose between holding my nose and voting for the Democratic candidate, or voting 3rd party or write-in.

The 1st question I have to ask myself this time around is, "What have the Democrats done to inspire me to hit the pavement for them?" I have to say, not a damn thing. They sold us out on the Health Care Bill, which did not include single-payer or a public option. They have all but abandoned the Employee Free Choice Act, and they attacked labor unions who backed a pro-labor candidate against an establishment Democrat who has screwed us in the past.

I've heard pleas from big labor leadership that we have to get out and support Democrats because the Republicans are worse, and that staying home will be cutting off our nose to spite our face. I don't buy that argument because in the end, a Republican who doesn't support EFCA and Public Option Health Care and a Democrat who doesn't support EFCA and the Public Option produce the exact same result.

I will support Andrew Duck this fall in the MD 6th District because of his strong support of labor, but the DNC will have one less activist this fall. They can have Blanche Lincoln.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Andrew Duck For Congress 2010

As my wife and I have been preparing to move to Brunswick, Maryland, one of our first priorities was to research who our elected officials would be, and how they have voted.

We were disappointed to find out that Roscoe(a la Boss Hogg) Bartlett(R) opposes just about everything that we believe in. I'm not talking about extremely partisan issues here. I'm talking about opposing common sense solutions that most Americans support. Things like unemployment benefits in the worst economic down
turn since the Great Depression. Issues like making sure that a big insurance company can't deny coverage to a child fighting cancer. And worst of all, siding with BP, while the lives of working folks, who are no different than the folks in Maryland's 6th District, have their livelihoods destroyed.

The good folks in Maryland's 6th District deserve a champion who will fight for our interests and not the interests of corrupt CEOs. Luckily, we have that champion as one of our neighbors here in the Maryland 6th Congressional District.

Andrew Duck is a man who will go to Washington and fight for the hard-working folks in the 6th District. While many people may have heard of his 20 years of exemplary service in the US Army, including tours in both Bosnia and Iraq, many folks have not yet heard about his excellent economic credentials. Andrew has studied economics at the graduate level, and has worked as a financial consultant. He has also held Series 7 and 63 licenses from NASD. The incumbent, Roscoe Jenkins, supported George Bush's economic policies that led to this financial crisis. We need a Congressman like Andrew Duck who has the financial expertise to right our economic ship.

Andrew is also solid on labor issues. he fully supports the right of working men and women to have a voice in their workplace. He is someone that we can count on to back the working men and women of Maryland's 6th and not the corporations who are trying to put profits above people.

If you live in, or around the 6th District, or if you live somewhere else and just want to send someone with integrity to Washington for a change, please consider volunteering your time or making a donation of any amount to Andrew Duck's campaign. I look forward to mobilizing my sisters and brothers in the labor movement between now and election day.

Find out more about Andrew and where he stands on the issues here:

Friday, June 25, 2010

Merging: Why Less Is More

As I mentioned in my last entry, I believe that the labor movement needs to take a hard look at industries and trades where there are overlapping unions and make some tough decisions on merging certain organizations together.

First, let's look at a few obstacles to the concept of merging unions:

1. The big labor federations receive per capita dues from their affiliates, which means that if some of the unions in the AFL-CIO or CtW merged, there would be less per capita dues being paid to the aforementioned federations. This means the federations would most likely oppose any idea of mergers.

2. As I mentioned, each labor union has developed its own sort of fiefdom, which will not be given up easily, but if one looks at the long-term interest of the labor movement, I believe they would agree that it is a necessity.

Here are a few examples of unions that should consider merging:

The Amalgamated Transit Union(ATU) and the Transport Workers Union(TWU) and the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen(BRS) and the American Train Dispatchers Association(ADTA)

The International Longeshoremen's Association(ILA) and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union(ILWU)

United Farm Workers(UFW) and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee(FLOC)

International Association of Firefighters(IAFF) the International Union of Police Associations(IUPA) and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees(AFSCME)

American Postal Workers Union(APWU) and the National Association of Letter Carriers(NALC)

With all these proposed mergers, I must point out that while I do favor merging different organizations, I am very strongly opposed to the creation of what I refer to as "Mega-Locals." Members of SEIU's Local 1199 will understand what I'm saying here. A Local with 20,000 members in several different states is entirely too big to give its members adequate representation.

If these, and other unions merged, it would free up funding for member education, along with a plethora of other opportunities to further the labor movement.
Fewer Unions, but with more members. Locals that are truly local.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A New Direction: Reform Ideas For The Labor Movement

I've given a lot of thought lately to the future of the labor movement, and where we're heading. I had a nice conversation over the weekend with a Political Director from an unnamed union regarding where the labor movement is headed in the next twenty years. It was his prediction that within the next two decades, at least two dozen mainstream unions will cease to exist. Although it is a sad thought, I have to agree with his sentiment.

What can be done to help change our direction?

1. I believe that unions must go back to a rank-and-file style of operation. We operate too much like corporations, and not enough like the people who fight against them. Although it's not anywhere near the level corporate CEO's are paid, we still pay our national officers too much.

2. I know I've said this before, but we need to stop wasting our money on PACs, and start using it on member education programs, organizing, and actual political action. It's time to admit our PAC money has been wasted, and return to actual mobilization that yields actual results.

3. There needs to be some serious consideration given to merging some of the overlapping trade unions. This will have to be done by the members, as leadership will not want to give up their fiefdoms.

4, We need to create a new union specifically for Retail and Food Workers. Specifically, one that is not the UFCW. I have coined the name: FARWA, which is an acronym for Food And Retail Worker Association. This would cover the service industry workers that the labor movement has ignored. They have ignored them because the workers are young and turnover is high, or because the small workforce.

I believe we can be successful in organizing these industries if we go franchise by franchise. I believe the main reason the turnover rate is so high is because of the poor work conditions and low pay. These are the very things that unions are supposed to exist to combat!

These are just a few points to start with. We have to change direction soon, or it will be too late.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Opportunity Missed: How The Tea Party Beat Big Labor To The Punch

Big Labor has once again missed a major opportunity to further its cause. While Rahm Emmanuel's "Never let a crisis go to waste" quote made most of us cringe, there is a grain of truth to be found in his statement.

With the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression ravaging our country coupled with high unemployment and corporations laying off employees and gutting their benefits, there is an unrivaled amount of anger in the American population. Who would channel this anger towards corporate greed and lukewarm politicians?

Not the Labor Movement.

As we have all seen over the past year, this populist anger has been hijacked by the tea party, and used for the political gain of it's mainstream political leaders(Dick Armey, anyone?). Instead of seeing labor unions mobilize their members at town halls, and in the halls of Congress, we've seen the populist high ground purposely misdirected into no man's land by the extreme fringes of the right wing.

How did this happen?

I am in the crowd that believes that spending money on PACs is a complete waste of resources. If the labor movement were more involved with actually mobilizing its membership and the working public to take action instead of relying on lobbyists in failed attempts to enact political change, it might have been able to direct this anger in the right direction: the corporate plutocracy that enslaves the working class.

We have to do better.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Disconnected: Why Rank and File Union Members Don’t Trust Their Leadership

This is a hot button issue among rank-and-file union members from nearly ever mainstream labor organization in the United States. It matters little whether the union is public or private sector, trade union or white collar. Ask your random dues paying member if the International Office staff understands what they are going through on a day to day basis, and the answer is almost always no. This presents a serious problem for a labor community in the Unites States that is already suffering from declining membership and growing apathy within their ranks.

What is the cause of this dilemma?

I believe there are two main factors that have led to the disconnect between the international and the local levels of the labor movement:

  1. Over the last decade or two, labor unions have all but abandoned the practice of identifying potential leaders from their rank-and-file members and then training them into leaders at the international level. It has become far too common for labor organizations to recruit kids right out of college to become staff members at the national office. Hiring them as organizers is even more common. The problem with this is that your average Yalie has no clue what it's like to work in a steel factory, or to be a housekeeper at a hotel. Chances are, the closest they have ever come to real work is the federal work-study program. I don't mean to disparage education. It is very valuable and important, but it is not more important than real life experience. Members of the working class resent some ivy league kid who's never had his hands dirty insinuating that he feels their pain.
  2. Labor unions have wasted an obscene amount of money on Political Action Committees that frankly have not yielded results even remotely close to being on par with what has been spent. The fact that has somehow managed to escape the leaders of the labor movement is that the biggest successes that were achieved were not the result of political action funds. They were the result of forcing our will on management(sit-down strikes ring a bell?).

How do we fix the problem?

We need to step up our efforts to recognize rank-and-file members who, given the necessary training, could be effective leaders. I don't think we need to stop hiring recent graduates, but there has to be a healthy balance.

The time for unions to take the fight to the streets is long past due. We need to build another public movement to mobilize our members in real actions that produce real results. In case you were wondering, I'm not talking about canvassing and labor walks here. What I'm talking about is taking large groups of workers to town halls and the halls of congressional office buildings, and corporate offices. We don't need several million dollars to win this fight.

We just have to find the heart to win again.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Case For Salting: Wal-Mart

What is Salting?

Salting is the act of gaining employment with the sole intent to organize a union.

As many people in the labor movement know, Unite Here! is well known for their use of salts in their organizing campaigns. While many labor unions officially oppose these tactics, they are perfect for labor organizations like Unite Here! who represent workers in the service industry, including retail, food service, and in hotels. During an open mic session at the Young Workers Summit, I proposed the following action:

Develop a well-trained force of 200-500 young workers to employ in Salting campaigns around the country. One of the biggest sectors of non-union involvement in the United States is the service industry. The 800lb gorilla in the room is that most permanent(non-student) service industry workers tend to be less educated. I should know - I was one for several years. These workers trust someone they work with who is in the trenches more than they will ever trust some Yalie organizer who was hired by an International Union right out of college having never worked a real job.

Want to know why the UFCW has been unsuccessful thus far in their attempts at organizing Wal-Mart?

It's not the toothless NLRB, the Wal-Mart corporate union-busting team, or the intimidated employees, although the aforementioned factors definitely play their part. The real reason is the strategy. UFCW has historically focused on organizing a few stores at a time. This approach allows Wal-Mart to send in their very effective union-busting team to kill the efforts. Even in Canada, which has more union-friendly laws than the US, Wal-Mart shut down the first store that won an organizing campaign.

If The Old Strategies Won't Work, What Will?

I truly believe that in order to win the war with Wal-Mart, the UFCW must change its strategy.

I propose the following action:

1. Train 80-100 workers to go to work at Wal-Mart locations spread around the country in a massive Salting campaign.
2. The Salts must work for at least a year before any type of mobilization is attempted. This is for the reasons I explained earlier in this article.
3. At the appropriate time, launch a concerted, all-out blitz. This will have to involve an army of organizers. It will also have to be coordinated with every allied community action group possible.

By spreading out the Salts geographically, it will nullify the ability of Wal-Mart's union-busting team to kill every organizing drive. If only 10% of the drives are successful, seven stores will win their campaigns. While Wal-Mart was able to close a single store in Quebec and get away with it, the likelihood that they would get away with closing 7-10 stores in the Midwest or South is unlikely.

I admit that this would be a costly campaign with no guarantee of success, but nothing in the labor movement ever is. One thing we know for sure though, the way we've been doing it isn't working.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Young Workers Summit: Day 2

Today was an interesting day. I found some like-minded militant labor activists during my breakout sessions. I boiled down my solution to energizing young workers into one sentence:

Stop Bullshitting Them.

Talk to young workers straight and stop spoon-feeding them and only trotting them out for canvassing and PR events.

Here's our message to the Labor Movement:

We're ready to fight.

We want to fight.

Either fight with us, or we'll be fighting you.

Friday, June 11, 2010

My Answer to Improving Labor Education

I am the first speaker on the panel discussion video above.

AFL-CIO Young Workers Summit: Day 1

Day 1 is a wrap.

Today we heard from the leaders of the AFL-CIO, including President Richard Trumka, and Secretary-Treasury Liz Shuler.

After lunch, we headed to our breakout sessions where we discussed ideas for strategies to energize our young workers.

I'm looking forward to tomorrow.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Live Blogging The AFL-CIO Young Workers Summit

I'll be updating daily throughout the conference on our new ideas for the next generation of the labor movement.

I met some nice guys from IATSE at the bar. They bought me a Yeungling. Nice guys.

The cocktail party was alright. I used my drink ticket and have retired for the evening.

I'm looking forward to a full day tomorrow!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Little Rock A Line In The Sand?

Well, it finally happened.

The leaders of the labor movement seem to have finally had enough of the carrot on a stick from the Democratic Party. Like most of the labor movement, my sentiment is - What took you so long? Perhaps next week, they'll come out against the Taft-Hartley Act as well.

And what, might you ask, finally prompted union leaders to stop being lap dogs to the Democratic Party?

Was it NAFTA, Failure to support the Employee Free Choice Act, Single-Payer or the Public Option?

None of the Above.

Turns out, all it took for labor to draw a line in the sand was a Democratic primary race in Arkansas. I hope the AFL-CIO and the SEIU make good on their promise not to back Lincoln either financially, or with field staff for the general election. Lincoln is not a friend of labor. She does not support EFCA, did not support the Public Option, and supports free trade agreements that are detrimental to American workers.

Here's some fun stuff on the growing feud between the White House and the house of labor:

Until the labor movement builds a political movement of its own and stops diverting resources to a Democratic Party that rarely reciprocates, we will continue to spins our wheels while we go nowhere.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Comcast-NBCU Merger Would Lead To Job Cuts

CWA District 9 Vice-President James Weitkamp made these remarks before a filed hearing of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee. You can read the press release here:

The Communication Workers of America(CWA) represent approximately 700,000 workers in the Unites States. This includes employees at both NBC and Comcast.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Public Employees: The New GOP Whipping Boy

This is such a crock of shit. Why is it that the GOP has it in their heads that public sector employees are vastly overpaid, and that the unions are to blame? The only federal employees who are overpaid are the non-bargaining unit employees that are somewhere above GS 13. The vast majority of federal and state employees are on average paid less than their private sector counterparts. Here is an interesting story by Politico on the subject:

Friday, June 4, 2010

National Mediation Board Changes National Railway Act Election Rules

This is a few weeks old, but I feel that this is still important enough to post. When I was in NYC attending the AFL-CIO Organizing Institute, we did an event with an IAM Lodge that is currently organizing Delta employees, and I was struck by their commitment to the rights of their members. The National Mediation Board(NMB) has ruled to change the archaic election laws in the National Railway Act.

After the Delta/Northwest merger, Delta began a fierce union-busting campaign against the IAM. Delta has been anti-union for years, and was trying not only to keep its employees from having union representation, but also trying to strip unionized Northwest employees of their rights as well. Thanks to this ruling, the union must get 50+1% of casted votes to win the election, as opposed to the previous standard, which forced the union to get 50+1% of all votes, whether the vote was casted or not. This meant that if you were sick and could not make it to vote, your vote was a no vote, even if you had intended to vote yes. This is a HUGE decision for the Machinists Union(IAM).

You can read the press release here:

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Canadian Hotel Employees Vote to Authorize Strike

Hotel employees at 32 Toronto-area hotels have voted to authorize a strike prior to the upcoming G20 Summit. Unite Here! Local 75 represents the approximately 5,500 affected workers. Read the full press release here:

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Striking UFCW Workers March To Boston

Over 300 workers represented by Local 791, UFCW, have been on strike from the SuperValu owned Shaw Distribution Center in Methuen, MA since March 7. They began marching from Methuen on May 23rd, and arrived in Boston to rally in front of the Statehouse on May 27th, before finishing the March at a local Shaw's Market.

Full coverage here: