Hundreds of union members have descended on New York power utility Consolidated Edison’s corporate headquarters in Manhattan following the company’s decision to lock out 8,500 of its unionized workers in the midst of contract negotiations. Workers were sent home on July 1 after Local 1-2 of the Utility Workers Union refused to agree to give seven days’ notice before a strike. Only weeks after the debacle of the Wisconsin recall, and the subsequent consternation among many in the labor movement, it seems these boisterous union members missed the message that labor is on its way out.
About 500 union members, most of them from Local 1-2 but with contingents from SEIU Local 32BJ, CWA Local 1101 and TWU Local 100, among others, have been picketing outside Con Ed’s headquarters each day since the lockout began on July 1. Today, however, that number increased to more than a thousand, as Con Ed canceled healthcare coverage for Local 1-2 members as part of its effort to ramp up pressure on the union. Other pickets have been set up at Con Ed job sites around the region. The contract dispute centers on the fact that Con Ed wants to get rid of defined-benefit pensions and drastically increase union members’ healthcare contributions.
Lockouts have become increasingly common in recent years, as employers have become more and more proactive at trying to force givebacks on union members.
Rich Yeselson: Not With A Bang, But A Whimper: The Long, Slow Death Spiral Of America’s Labor Movement | The New Republic15 Jun
…the cord connecting union organizing and activism to broad currents of the American public has been frayed nearly to the breaking point. Unions always had powerful enemies, but they also had a broad institutional legitimacy grounded in their ubiquitous presence within economics, politics, and even culture. (Who can imagine today a hit Broadway show like The Pajama Game of the 1950s, or a popular film like Norma Rae of the 1970s?) When union membership peaked in the mid 1950s at about 35 percent, it was disproportionately weighted to the Northeast, the Midwest, and California. But that meant that in those regions—the most populous in the country—either a worker was in a union himself/herself, had a family member in a union, or, at least, had a friend or neighbor in a union. People, for better or worse, knew what unions did and understood them to be an almost ordinary part of the workings of democratic capitalism.
Most important, they knew, for better or worse, that unions had power. Sixty years ago, the UAW or the Mineworkers or the Steelworkers, not only deeply affected crucial sectors of an industrial economy, they also demanded respect from broader society—demands made manifest in the “political strikes” they organized, whether legally or not, to protest the issues of the day. Millions supported these strikes, millions despised them—but nobody could ignore them.
For over three decades Big Business has worked hard to keep environmentalists and unions at odds with one another and that have succeeded to an unsettling degree. This antagonism must stop. Unions and environmentalists must band together to create a sustainable world with jobs for all.
Fear at Work systematically debunks many of the myths still present in today’s debates. “The Reagan administration and its allies have been capitalizing on today’s economic crisis to widen the split between labor and environmentalists over ‘jobs,’ while cynically attacking rights and protections that have been won by both movements. The assault on labor and environmental protections will intensify. As in the past, ‘jobs’ will be the rationalization for new antiworker, anti-environmental policies.” Progressives in 2012 would do well to make Fear at Work a sort of reference guide for how we respond to these tactics. Some of today’s greens might be enlightened by its discussion of why job security is such a fundamental issue for unionists—especially construction unions. Unlike in other unions, construction union leaders represent their members whether or not they are employed. And unemployed members retain all the rights of membership, including voting in union elections for—or against—those leaders.
Kazis, reflecting recently on how the situation has evolved since the publication of Fear at Work, said, “It’s the same picture. The issues are the same, the use of job blackmail is the same, the way over-inflated arguments about job creation potential are the same, wild misestimates of the cost of clean-ups is the same, all the tried and true divide-and-conquer techniques are the same, but what has changed is the relative political power and salience of both movements we were talking about.” Unions and environmentalists, in other words, have lost ground, while industry has triumphed. Continue reading
It may not be the revolution’s dawn, but it’s certainly a glint in the darkness. On Monday, this country’s largest industrial labor union [United Steel Workers] teamed up with the world’s largest worker-cooperative to present a plan that would put people to work in labor-driven enterprises that build worker power and communities, too.
Titled “Sustainable Jobs, Sustainable Communities: The Union Co-op Model,” the organizational proposal released at a press conference on March 26 in Pittsburgh, draws on the fifty-five year experience of the Basque-based Mondragon worker cooperatives. To quote the document:
“In contrast to a Machiavellian economic system in which the ends justify any means, the union co-op model embraces the idea that both the ends and means are equally important, meaning that treating workers well and with dignity and sustaining communities are just as important as business growth and profitability.”
There’s ‘boots on the ground’ history behind the project:
It’s been a few years since the USW first became curious about the Mondragon cooperatives after they had a good experience working with GAMESA, a co-op friendly Spanish wind turbine outfit that opened up three plants in Pennsylvania. In 2009, with their Spanish colleagues’ help, Gerard sent a delegation to the Basque region of Spain to investigate Mondragon, now a $24 billion global operation. Since then, the USW has worked slowly with Mondragon and the Ohio Employee Ownership Center (OEOC) a university based coop-outreach center founded by one of the organizers of the Youngstown initiative, to fine tune the US version presented Monday.
Working alongside the union, Occupy Chicago gets results, in one-day, in a labor action:
Whether because of the right’s overreach, the rise of Occupy, or both, struggles like the Serious occupation seem to resonate with the general public. Fried says the existence of a large, easily mobilized Occupy movement made their 2012 action different. . . .
It’s that kind of Occupier/union synergy that has caught on in a few locales and has been given partial credit for union victories in places like Washington state, as well as pushing the labor movement more generally to take risks leaders are usually uncomfortable with.
In the case of Serious, Fried says Occupy’s participation changed the tone of negotiations with the company’s management in California. “When they heard that Occupy Chicago had moved in outside their company, they were alarmed,” she says.
The labor movement is the critical anchor and enabler of democracy grounded on a notion of freedom. Most people have an intuitive understanding of what democracy means: rule by the people (as opposed to rule by the few or an elite). Yet, as Corey Robin so eloquently points out in his book on fear, Americans give up their individual freedom and democratic voice every single day they walk into work. The workplace is an authoritarian dictatorship, and we accept this as legitimate.
Now is the time to challenge that feudal relationship. We need to call into question the assumption that Americans believe democracy stops at the workplace door. If we would not stand for a despot to rule over us with impunity, why do we let the boss do so every day of the workweek? Any progressive advance needs a strong labor movement to achieve a fully free and democratic workplace and society. This vision of freedom and democracy manifests in two domains: the workplace and the southern region of the country.
The Republican-led state legislature aims to pass a law this week that would make Indiana a “right-to-work” state. … In the reality-based community, “right-to-work” means smashing the state’s unions and making it harder for nonunion workplaces to get basic job protections. This has drawn peals of protest throughout the state, with the Occupy and labor movement front and center from small towns to Governor Mitch Daniels’s door at the State House. Daniels and friends timed this legislation with the Super Bowl. Whether that was simple arrogance or ill-timed idiocy, they made a reckless move. Now protests will be a part of the Super Bowl scenery in Indy.
The Super Bowl is perennially the Woodstock for the 1 percent: a Romneyesque cavalcade of private planes, private parties and private security. Combine that with this proposed legislation, and the people of Indiana will not let this orgy of excess go unoccupied. Just as the parties start a week in advance, so have the protests. More than 150 people…marched through last Saturday’s Super Bowl street fair in downtown Indianapolis with signs that read, “Occupy the Super Bowl,” “Fight the Lie” and “Workers United Will Prevail.” Occupy the Super Bowl has also become a T-shirt, posted for the world to see on the NBC Sports Blog.