[Self] Pep Talk

March 10, 2011

[WARNING: the “pep talk” part of this takes a while to get to…and it’s probably not all that peppy, but headed in the right direction I think…]

Hard to watch or read any news for the last few weeks and not feel a growing sense of doom for those of us who strongly support labor–not just “working people” or “the middle class” (which are categories so diffuse that they don’t capture much anymore), but Labor, as a movement.

Yesterday we took hits in Wisconsin, which most of us know about, and Michigan, which took me by surprise.  The day before, PA’s new Republican Governor, Tom Corbett, offered up a budget proposal that slashes state funding for public universities (already hovering just over 30% of our operating budgets) in half; demanding salary and benefits givebacks from public unions (at least he said it directly); and so on.  We know about the passage of SB5 in Ohio, which will likely pass the House and be signed into law soon.  Idaho legislators have voted to strip K-12 teachers of collective bargaining rights.

And this is, as we all know, just the beginning.  Actually, no it isn’t.  The effort to kill labor has been growing, steadily, for a long time now.  Ronald Reagan’s breaking of the Air Traffic Controllers’ union is a more (but still not entirely accurate) marker of the onset of this strategy.  We can leave it to the labor historians to duke out dates, but the point is that what we’re seeing right now isn’t new; it’s more frontal and more public than we’ve seen–as far as I know, we haven’t seen this level of attack on organized labor since about the 1940s)–but it hasn’t popped up from nowhere.

A lot of my liberal friends will disagree with me here (although a lot will agree, too), but one of the major enablers of the current attacks on labor is the national Democratic Party, which has taken Labor for granted for a very long time now.  And that’s partly Labor’s fault, too, for living in an “At least they’re not Republicans” paradigm.  Dems know Labor won’t desert them, so they vacuum up campaign contributions and organizing/mobilizing energy during elections and then do nothing to support Labor in between.  The Dems could have passed EFCA quite easily had they wanted to, instead of just sweeping it under the rug.  The Dems could have told the Republicans to shove the Bush tax cuts up their bums because we need that money to pay things that actual human beings need.  But they haven’t, and there’s little reason to believe that will change in any future I can imagine.

So where does that leave the actual working people, the people on whose labor this country depends, to turn for support?  All that’s really left, it seems, is each other.  There are millions of us.  We don’t have the cash that Waltons and Kochs and Gateses and Soroses have on hand.  We don’t have the weapons that wingnut militias have lying around.  We don’t have legislatures in our pockets like our self-appointed neo-liberal corporate masters have.

And you know what?  I’m finding myself less and less troubled about those problems as every minute goes by.  Why?  Because the institutions they ru[i]n only continue to work as long as we the people continue to support them.

Whose money are the rich stealing?  Ours!  How do we stop that from happening?  Don’t spend money on stupid crap; buy from union shops; tell the bad guys that you’re boycotting them; make a stink in every setting where people are giving money to culprits of exploitation.

Why do corrupt quasi-representative government institutions continue to sell us down the river?  Because we let them–by voting, or not voting, and then pretending like we’ve discharged our duty as citizens until the next Election Day.  We have to make demands and fight for them.  We have to confront lawmakers and executives face-to-face.  We have to demand that the self-annointed answer hard questions in public, and lambaste their empty answers.

On Facebook yesterday, two of my friends started calling for a General Strike, and quite honestly I think we have to start thinking about that.  If Labor, as a movement, is going to mean anything in this country, it’s time for its proponents to think really hard about throwing down the gauntlet.  For too long, our culture has subscribed to the “What’s good for _____ [fill in the blank with corporate quasi-capitalist behemoth] is good for America” logic, and it’s proven time and again to be a lie.  Why not, “What’s good for American workers is good for America?”

What’s so damn hard about that?

Or put another way:  We’ve allowed ourselves to be pigeon-holed as a “special interest” for too long.  What could be less “special interest” than the basic economic security of the huge majority of the population?  There is only a small cabal (the real “special interests”) to whom our basic economic security doesn’t matter.  We can no longer wait around for those very elite, wealthy, selfish, solipsistic, inhumane people to come to their senses, to wake up, to have an epiphany, to see the Lord (or Karl Marx, or Lech Walesa, or whoever).  We can do this without them.

 


Academic Union Supporters–two signature campaigns for you

March 8, 2011

[If you’re anti-union, or don’t care about unions, I’m not talking to you right now :)]

Just got this e-mail from a group whose EFCA petition I signed a long while back.  They’ve got two signature campaigns: a petition against right-to-work laws (those of you in PA should most certainly sign) and a statement in support of collective bargaining for public employees.

Hello scholar,

State legislators in several states (PA, MO, ME, NH, IN) are attempting to pass so-called “right to work” laws.  Please consider adding your name to our petition opposed to these efforts:

http://act.americanrightsatwork.org/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=1650

We also have a statement in support of collective bargaining rights for public employees.  We’re just shy of 1,000 university professors and researchers.  If you haven’t already added your name, please do so today.  We are getting ready to release the statement as soon as we hit 1,000.  Here is the link:

http://act.americanrightsatwork.org/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=1371

Finally, stay tuned for information on the national Day of Consciousness around workplace rights, planned for April 4th.

Thanks for all you do,

Erin Johansson

Research Director

American Rights at Work

202.262.7002

ejohansson@americanrightsatwork.org


Jobs and the stimulus

February 27, 2010

Early this week, in an exchange of letters to the editor in the West Chester Daily Local, a regular (as in often) conservative writer named Anthony Oleck responds to praise for the stimulus bill with this letter:

**************************

There’s a big difference

Stephanie Markstein, in her letter to the editor, wrongly asserts that the stimulus package was supported by “the greatest economists in the nation (and) all agree that, not only was it the right thing to do, but the only thing that has kept us out of a full-blown depression.”

You are confusing TARP with the boondoggle stimulus package. Economists mostly agreed that TARP, the bailout for the banks, was necessary to avert a full-fledged financial collapse.

Stimulus is nothing but a piggy bank for pork … plus it has not worked.

Obama said we needed it to keep unemployment below 8 percent, he passed it and unemployment immediately went to over 10 percent.

As far as the “saved jobs” he keeps touting … the stimulus may have saved and certainly did add government jobs, with big benefits and big pensions that we and our children will pay for from here to eternity … those are just the jobs we should be losing to help stimulate our economy and reduce our taxes.

Stimulus is a huge slush fund for Democrats to pay back their union friends.

Anthony J Oleck

**************************************

I wrote a response that the Daily Local (understandably) declined to publish, and I want to post a revised version of it here because I think the discussion is worth continuing.

A version very similar to what I sent the DL:

************************************************

Only somebody who hates the Democratic Party as much as Anthony Oleck does could believe that: (1) the stimulus is bad because it’s creating good jobs with good benefits; and (2) the cost of private sector versions of those jobs wouldn’t be passed along to consumers anyway.

Oleck’s argument is a strawman at its worst.  At a time when what we need most is to put people to work at decent wages and with decent benefits, complaining about who actually hires them reveals his true agenda–to attack Democrats no matter what they do.

*********************

To be more explicit (since I’m no longer bound by the DL’s length limits…

Stephanie Markstein, to whom Oleck is replying, is actually correct.  The huge majority of economists supported the stimulus.  Those who didn’t were universally conservatives who reject any form of government intervention in anything besides abortion/birth control, and/or prayer/creationism in schools, and/or …  Most critiques of the stimulus from economists without neoconservative axes to grind critiqued it for being too SMALL, not too big, a critique I agree with.

The evidence is clear, and getting clearer every day, that stimulus has in fact kept unemployment from getting worse.  Yes, the number of unemployed has gone up during the Obama presidency, but to pin that on the stimulus is short-sighted at best, disingenuous (read, a lie) at worst.  There was no doubt that the economy hadn’t bottomed out yet (in fact probably still hasn’t).

As I note in my original letter, Oleck reveals his real agenda in his letter.  He doesn’t care the least bit about people; he wants only to attack Democrats.  The simple facts of the matter are that more jobs are better than fewer, and more jobs that pay reasonable salaries and benefits are better than fewer.  The “free market” (read, unregulated orgy of exploitation) has had plenty of chances to hire and pay workers.  Instead, corporations have downsized and off-shored, leaving millions of capable workers in this country in the lurch.  These are the people Oleck trusts to fix the very problem they’ve created, out of the goodness of their hearts?  Ridiculous. How could anybody who cares about people decry the creation of good jobs?

Oleck’s claim that the stimulus was a payoff to labor unions is just a gratuitous cheapshot at unions and the President.  Given the President’s unwillingness to push EFCA; to use recess appointments to put capable members on the NLRB; to push for taxing the very health plans that unions have fought hard to earn; it’s very clear that Obama is no friend of organized labor.  He’s not as hostile to it as most Republicans are, but his track record shows, without question, that he’s the last person who would “pay off” the unions.

After years of neo-conservative babble and hostility towards labor and laborers, Oleck’s position shouldn’t surprise me, and it doesn’t.  However, it’s incumbent upon those of us who actually give a sh*t about anybody but ourselves to lay bare the truth behind these arguments.  I don’t think Oleck is malicious in his intentions, but he (and people like him who articulate these kinds of positions) show without a doubt that they don’t much care about what happens to the huge majority of their fellow citizens.  They don’t much care about people who can’t get work because the “free market” has ruined the job market for its own profit.  They don’t much care about people who have to choose between rent, food, and medical treatment.  They don’t much care about anything except attacking a President whose positions, when seen through the lens of reality, are much closer to their own then they’d ever want to admit.

[UPDATED SUN, 2/28]

WordPress’ “related posts” links sent me to this entry on somebody else’s blog.  It’s an excellent compendium of all the Republicans who voted against the stimulus but then asked for stimulus money.  Across the board, they argue that it’s appropriate to accept money they voted against, without recognizing that their own “principled stands” get compromised in the process.

http://thegreatspot.wordpress.com/2010/02/10/you-lie/


After midnight, why am I here?

February 20, 2010

I don’t mean that question in any existential sense.  I should be asleep.  My meeting tomorrow starts at 8:30 am, and I need a good breakfast beforehand (the hotel restaurant opens at 7 am), and I need to be awake for a while even before that.  So I should be crashed, but I’m not.  Maybe if I write a bunch of boring stuff, I’ll put myself to sleep :>.

The good news of the day (non-teaching-wise: teaching is always good news):

1.  Because Ann got off work a little early, and because Rainbow Cab messed up my reservation with them, I got to spend a couple of extra hours with my spouse before I took off for H’burg.  That’s a win!

2.  Routledge e-mailed JongHwa and me this morning that our Activism and Rhetoric manuscript has been shipped to their production facility in the UK.  Now it’s between us and the copy-editors, who we hope will find little to quibble about.  Still on track for August release, which will be just in time for the class I designed around the book.  More to the point, I believe at this point any of the potential logistical problems (like contributors not having signed their contracts) are solved.

3.  Two really cool advising sessions this morning.  I’m always happier (duh) when advisees come to sessions having thought about what they want and need.  Both advisees were prepared, but had interesting things to talk about, questions to ask (not the ones they could have answered for themselves).

4.  Sen. Arlen Specter has signed onto a letter circulating among Dems advocating passage of a healthcare bill with a public option, using the reconciliation process if they have to.  I’m stunned that Specter would sign onto it.  As I wrote on Rep. Mark Cohen’s Facebook wall, I’d like to be able to take this as an omen that Specter is actually enough of a Democrat to remember that years ago he supported legislation that’s almost identical to the Employee Free Choice Act!

The irksome stuff of the day is standard issue and not worth thinking about just now.

OK, that pretty much worked.  Zzzzzz……


Tell Starbucks to stop their anti-union policies

June 4, 2009

A quick but important post today–

Those of you who follow labor politics know that Starbucks is one of the most anti-union corporations in the country, about as bad as Wal-Mart regarding labor practices. Sign the petition below to push them for fair treatment of employees who want to unionize.

http://stopstarbucks.com/

By the way, for those of you who believe that management doesn’t harass employees during organizing efforts, you can find stories galore on this website indicating otherwise.


Arlen Specter’s party switch

April 28, 2009

So the news is out today, news some of us have expected for a few years now–Arlen Specter has announced that he will run for re-election in 2010 as a Democrat.

One one level, this is great news (if he wins, that is).  His victory, along with Al Franken’s (once Norm Coleman shuts the f*ck up and goes home), gives the Dems that golden 60th seat in the Senate.  Of course, this is the Senate Dems we’re talking about, who if they had any spine whatsoever would told have told the Republican fillibusterers to go screw themselves, so maybe the supermajority won’t matter.  But still, better to have it than not (if you’re a Dem, that is).

The problem, however, is already clear from Specter’s party-switch announcement.  In that speech, he ALREADY has declared that he still won’t vote for EFCA.  I know it’s only one piece of legislation, but for goodness’ sake.  The only excuse he might have had for voting against it, as a Senator from one of the most pro-labor states in the US, is that he thought it would cost him primary votes against a more conservative opponent.  If that’s no longer a risk, then why vote against it?  I know, I know, some of you (Lee!) will see that he’s voting against it because it’s a bad bill, and gee, look, a guy with principles!  But that’s crap.

I guess a better way of putting it is this.  If you, Senator Specter, aren’t going to support legislation that Democrats and your constituents support, then what the hell do we need you for?  Be an independent, if that’s what you think you are, but the Democratic party doesn’t need ANOTHER member who refuses to acknowledge the demands of his/her constituents.


The truth about EFCA

March 25, 2009

Again and again (and again and again) and again…

People who oppose unions and pro-labor forces argue against the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act on the grounds that EFCA is “undemocratic.”  Their contention, in simplest terms, is that EFCA erases secret ballots from the unionizing process, thus allowing union organizers to intimidate workers into supporting unionizing efforts.

This claim, and all its variations, is simply wrong.  I won’t go so far as to say the people who make it are lying, although some of them clearly are.

What’s wrong with it?

1.  EFCA does NOT eliminate secret ballots.  It offers an alternative to secret ballots.  Workers who prefer a secret ballot process can have one.  If a group of workers indicate they’d rather have a secret ballot, so be it.  What’s hard about that?  Nothing, except that it inconveniences anti-labor people who want to pretend like they care about democracy.

2.  EFCA does NOT make workers more vulnerable to intimidation.  Under the current system, when management gets wind of an organizing effort, they can harass and intimidate workers with impunity.  Managers can fire people, change their hours and benefits, redesign job descriptions and expectations…  In some cases (Starbucks and Walmart are notorious for this), companies have SHUT DOWN stores and fired EVERYBODY because the organizing effort was going too well.

EFCA would make workers safer from this kind of intimidation in two ways.  The obvious one is that, along with allowing card-checks as an alternative secret ballots, it immensely strengthens anti-intimidation enforcement.  If nothing else, putting an end to the horrific intimidation that happens under the current system is utterly and completely essential to workplace democracy.

The less obvious reason is that it’s actually easier for management to intimidate and harass workers when they can be shadowy about it.  Because the current system doesn’t leave much of a paper trail–even when workers cast secret ballots because they’re anonymous–it’s difficult to prove that management is harassing individuals because of their union support.  The card-check, by making union support visible and public, would actually protect workers because any harassment of a card-signer would obviously be a result of their support.

I have yet to see a single union member or organizer oppose EFCA.  Given how fractious the US Labor movement is in this era, you’d expect some opposition within the movement if anybody actually thought it was a bad idea.

Instead, the only opposition comes from groups who either are managers, or are bought and sold by managers.  Every argument I’ve seen against EFCA begins with the claim that the new system would be undemocratic, but quickly shifts into an argument about why unions are bad.  All of which adds up to one simple fact–the opposition to EFCA isn’t about democracy.  It’s about stopping unions from forming.  If the people who make these arguments actually cared about workers and working conditions, they’d AT LEAST support the part of the law that strengthens anti-intimidation laws.  But I haven’t seen a single one of them discuss that part of the bill either.  They hide behind an empty notion of democracy in order to fight against unionization.

I’ve changed my mind.  They are lying.  Every last one of them.  Perhaps some people simply don’t understand either the law or anything about unions, but that’s no excuse.

Contact your legislators and demand their vote for EFCA.