March 28 2011 Letter from ITUC to Prime Minister of Egypt protesting proposed decree on criminalizing strikes and sit-ins
Thousands rally for organized labor in Calif.: As other states push anti-union legislation, workers in L.A. vow to fight efforts aimed at "busting the middle class"
Between 5,000 and 8,000 people, led by a group of Teamsters and including nurses, electricians, teachers and longshoremen, marched in the afternoon protest that began at Staples Center and ended with a rally at Pershing Square, according to police estimates.
One of several rallies around the country, the downtown event had some uniquely Hollywood elements - rallying workers included unionized actors and screenwriters.
The marchers, many of whom were brought in by school bus from as far away as San Diego, carried signs reading "Stop the war on workers" and "We stand with Wisconsin workers."
Speakers including Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa, Maria Elena Durazo from the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, and Fire Fighters of Wisconsin President Mahlon Mitchell roused the crowd at the rally, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Tom Morello, guitarist for the band Rage Against the Machine, performed.
Mahlon shouted at the rally that the battle in Wisconsin is a "direct attack" on all unions and the entire American middle class.
"An injury to one is an injury to all!" he shouted, and warned that similar policies could be instituted in cash-strapped California.
"This is more than just about union-busting, this is about busting the middle class, and this is about future elections as well," Mahlon told KCAL-TV after the speech.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed into law a bill earlier this month stripping most public workers of collective bargaining rights, but it was facing legal challenges.
CBSnews.com, Sun Mar 27 2011
In two guest columns at the AFL-CIO, professors Joseph McCartin and Paul Clark say Walker's plan to eliminate collective bargaining is all about gaining power and that the American people see it for what it is.
McCartin, director of the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor and associate professor of history at Georgetown University, told the AFL-CIO Executive Council earlier this month that local union leaders' actions exposed Walker's motives and that gives workers an opening to change the nation's perception of unions.
It is this realization [that Walker is after power] that has brought people into the streets, suddenly and spontaneously; this realization that has galvanized people in ways you could never have planned or foreseen.
According to a recent New York Times poll, more than 40 percent of respondents had neither a positive nor a negative view of unions. The size of that group, McCartin says, indicates public opinion is in flux.
Suddenly you have an opportunity to explain...why unions are necessary; why they are vital in a democracy; and to do it in a way that connects to people's realities. Walker has given you an opportunity to make a case that you haven't had an opportunity to make on the national stage in a while....You must seize this opportunity and make the most of it.
And the facts are on our side, says Clark, who heads the Department of Labor Studies and Employment Relations at Pennsylvania State University. He worked in a factory at age 18 and learned first hand the value of collective bargaining.
I had the worst job in the place and it was a tough way to make a living. But on breaks, the old-timers would tell us new hires how much better things were since the union had been voted in. They told me to hang in there and after six months or so I could probably bid for a better job. Without that option, I probably would have quit within a week!
He says workers can make the case for public employee collective bargaining by pointing out that collective bargaining raises compensation for public employees, increasing their standard of living. This enables public employers to compete in the labor market for higher quality workers and attract better employees who, in the past, would not have considered a career in government.
Public-sector bargaining is also an exercise in democracy, which is why virtually all democratic nations in the world embrace it, and why it is one of the first things that dictators suppress when they take power. Public-sector unions also regularly work in partnership with governments to improve services and cut operational costs.
Clark notes that one of the most important roles unions play is to act as a counterbalance to the power and influence of employers and other groups.
Most Americans believe strongly in the idea of checks and balances and understand that unchecked power, whether in a workplace or in politics, is a dangerous thing. While the influx of big money in politics may be lamentable, without unions one side of the political spectrum, the right, would basically own government.
The bottom line, Clark says,
is that Walker's efforts to dismantle the system of bargaining for public employees that has served the state well seems much more about what is best for Walker and his party then it is about what is best for Wisconsin. It appears to be a cynical exercise in political opportunism that will increase his party's political advantage and turn back the clock on Wisconsin's public-sector workforce by half a century.
AFL-CIO Now Blog, Sat Mar 26, 2011
Byline: James Parks
MEXICO/GLOBAL: The 50,000 workers, students and human and labour rights activists who took part in the February Global Days of Action are gearing up for another round of mass mobilizations to fight proposed labour legislation that further strips Mexican workers of the most basic internationally recognized labour rights.
News of the proposed regressive reforms comes just weeks after unions from more than 40 countries participated in an active week of massive rallies, marches and high-level government meetings to shine a light on the Mexican government's failure to uphold international commitments to respect basic labour rights and worker protections.
The proposed legislation which greatly undermines freedom of association, job security, and work conditions, fails to include any of the many changes to Mexican labour legislation that have been repeatedly called for by the ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations and more recently, by the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association.
In Mexico, preparations at the national level are underway. Public events planned in Mexico this week include:
- rally on March 24 at 1 pm,
- forum on March 30 - debate regressive nature of reform and strategies for resistance and change,
- educational material development and strategic meetings are being held throughout the week.
To join the campaign, the IMF is urging affiliates to send letters to their local Mexican embassy or consulate or government representative, especially those individuals who took meetings with union groups during the February Global Days of Action. See IMF's letter here.
imfmetal.org, Fri Mar 25 2011
Embattled U.S. union leaders met here Thursday and cast themselves as the defenders of the middle class, vowing to fight Republican attacks on teachers and government workers.
"There's a new generation of ideologues -I don't even want to call them Republicans -out there who want to strip us of our voices," said American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten.
"Our job is to take this moment and make an opportunity to re-energize the labour movement."
Republicans pushing to cut taxes, slash government services and undermine unions are pursuing an agenda that will benefit the rich and undermine the middle class, Weingarten said.
While many of these moves have proven unpopular with voters, Weingarten said Republicans are hoping the memory of current battles will fade by the time voters head to the polls in November 2012.
Unions cannot afford to let that happen, she told a conference organized in Detroit by the United Auto Workers (UAW) union.
Seizing on major gains in November's mid-term elections and eyeing next year's presidential race, Republicans in 37 states are pushing legislation to restrict bargaining rights and the unions' ability to collect dues.
The move is aimed at knocking down the most effective Republican opponents in regions critical to President Barack Obama's re-election, said Donna Brazile, a Democratic political consultant and strategist.
And the demonizing rhetoric aimed at teachers and public sector workers who've been called "greedy" and "lazy" is aimed at distracting voters from the real source of budgetary constraints, she said.
"They are blaming the public sector unions instead of huge tax cuts for the rich and unbridled financial manipulation for the mess we're in," Brazile said.
"We're under attack like we've never been under attack before," UAW president Bob King told members. "We have to build a people power movement."
He said the UAW is reaching out to faith groups, environmentalist, civil rights and immigration rights organizations to help resist the budget cuts and anti-union legislation.
Calgary Herald, Fri Mar 25 2011
Think Progress reports today that "a group of House Republicans is launching a new stealth attack against union workers" by prohibiting the family of a worker on strike from receiving food stamps.
The stealth provision is buried in H.R. 1135, a bill based designed to "provide information on total spending on means-tested welfare programs, to provide additional work requirements, and to provide an overall spending limit on means-tested welfare programs."
Republican Reps. Jim Jordan (Ohio), Tim Scott (S.C.), Scott Garrett (N.J.), Dan Burton (Ind.), and Louie Gohmert (Texas) introduced the bill, which also includes a provision that would exempt households from losing eligibility, "if the household was eligible immediately prior to such strike, however, such family unit shall not receive an increased allotment as the result of a decrease in the income of the striking member or members of the household."
As Think Progress notes:
With a record 42 million Americans on food stamps during these poor economic times, it appears that the right is simply looking for more ways to hurt working class Americans.
AFL-CIO Now Blog, Thurs Mar 24 2011
Byline: Tula Connell
"What we've seen at UW-River Falls today is an extension of what we've seen across our state since Walker announced his disastrous bill," said Wes Chapin, a professor of political science at River Falls.
Our state is at a crossroads. Wisconsin has a long and proud history of fairness, integrity and progressivism. The labor movement has been, and will continue to be, central to that history. Today, UW-River Falls faculty made a stand in preserving that history, and moving Wisconsin forward.
Chapin said Walker's anti-worker legislation galvanized the faculty's resolve to form a union.
Our strength cannot be legislated away. Our strength is, and always has been, our collective voice-a voice that is stronger than ever.
AFT President Randi Weingarten said:
This landslide election, along with the other recent University of Wisconsin campus union victories, demonstrates that workers...will not let Gov. Walker's anti-democratic, anti-worker ideological agenda deny them their right to form a union.
Faculty and academic staff tried for years to win the freedom to collectively bargain, a right they finally achieved in 2009. Since that time, faculty at five campuses-UW-Eau Claire, UW-Superior, UW La Crosse, UW-Stout and now UW River Falls-have voted in favor of collective bargaining representation. Three voted after the Walker-backed legislation was introduced.
AFl-CIO Now Blog, Thurs Mar 24 2011
Byline: James Parks
But Republican state legislators are backing a bill that would prevent Wisconsin cities and towns from establishing their own paid sick leave laws. Dana Schultz, lead organizer for 9to5, the National Association of Working Women, says:
Milwaukeeans have made their decision on paid sick days, and now the courts have upheld their vote. The State Legislature should not be trying to rob voters in Milwaukee and cities across the state of their basic right to local decision-making on sick days or any other laws....It's time for the State Legislature to stop its attacks on hard-working families and get to work on policies that will help create jobs and grow our economy.
In November 2008 voters approved by 70 percent the ordinance that requires large businesses to provide employees with up to nine sick days a year and small businesses up to five sick days. But in June 2009, employers were granted an injunction in legal battle that wound its way to the state Supreme Court and then back to the Court of Appeals.
New research on paid sick day laws in other cities shows significant benefits for workers and minimal impact on businesses. A study last month of San Francisco's paid sick days law shows business concerns about job loss were unfounded, with six in seven employers saying that paid sick days have had no negative effect on profitability and two-thirds of employers surveyed supporting the law. Other studies have shown that employees are healthier and more productive when they have access to paid sick days.
Nationwide, more than 44 million private-sector workers in the United States-42 percent of the private-sector workforce-don't have paid sick days they can use to recover from a common illness like the flu.
Recent surveys show three-quarters of Americans say paid sick leave should be a "basic workers' right" and Congress should pass legislation that guarantees workers paid sick leave. More than 160 countries provide paid sick leave, but not the United States.
AFL-CIO Now Blog, Thurs Mar 24, 2011
Byline: Mike Hall
Late last week, 200 of the city's 450 workers were told that they would lose their jobs in September, according to the New York Times. Nearly every city department will be eliminated. More than a dozen tasks will be outsourced, including graffiti removal, firefighting, building maintenance and street cleaning.
But many see this move as political payback, not a real budget crisis, much like the power grabs in Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan. They point out that the drive to outsource the jobs was led by a City Council member who fought a bruising battle against unions in his bid for office.
Wendy Leece, the only Council member to vote against the layoffs and a lifelong Republican, told the Times her colleagues were acting "recklessly."
The sky isn't falling, but there is a real effort by some to exaggerate the crisis.
Helen Nenadal, who has worked in the city's maintenance department for more than 30 years, added:
They should have been thinking from the very beginning what kind of cost saving they were going to get before doing this. They are on their mission.
AFL-CIO Now Blog, Thurs Mar 24 2011
Byline: James Parks
Latouche suggests fat-cat trash collectors, hospital cleaning staff and school maintenance workers are bankrupting government, that their salaries and benefits are to blame for record-breaking budget deficits.
His logic would be laughable were it not so misleading.
First off, governments are in trouble because unbridled corporate greed caused a global recession.
Then they tried to kick-start the economy by rewarding some of the same corporations with massive bailouts and tax breaks.
Over the past decade, the Alberta government has given away billions to the energy industry in incentives and royalty breaks, more than enough to eliminate the deficit.
As for the notion the public sector has enjoyed large pay increases while the private sector has suffered, the Alberta government's own data shows that in the past few years, raises for employees in the health, education and public administration sectors have been on par - or behind - those in the mining and oil, construction and utilities sectors.
Blaming public sector unions for provincial deficits makes about as much sense as blaming oilfield workers for rising gas prices.
Latouche says the answer to the "problem" of public sector unions is "managed competition" - which is just code for privatization and contracting out government services.
Whenever advocates try to make the case for hiring private companies to deliver public services, they conveniently ignore the hidden costs to taxpayers.
These include time and money spent monitoring the contractor, administrative fees and additional charges for "extra" work.
In the U.S., the Government Finance Officers Association estimates that this can increase the real cost of a public service by up to 25%.
Latouche argues that by having private businesses bidding against each other, it will drive down the price because the "lowest or best price will get the contract."
The problem with this argument is that private companies are in business to make a profit - they will do everything they can to keep costs down, perhaps even cutting corners or taking advantage of poorly worded provisions in a contract.
The truth is, the only real way that private contractors can deliver a public service more cheaply is by paying lower wages.
Racing to the bottom that way will only hurt entire communities, especially smaller towns where public sector employees support local businesses.
Bashing public employees has become a popular tactic by people who want governments to cut taxes for the rich and slash services to the rest of us.
Contrary to what Latouche and his ilk would have you believe, public service workers are hard-working, contributing members of the middle class. They coach their kids' teams, mow their lawns and pay their taxes, just like everyone else.
Smear campaigns and attacks on their dignity and their contributions to society are not the answer to government's financial woes.
Albertans should let their politicians know, in no uncertain terms, that a U.S.-style class war is not welcome here.
Calgary Sun, Thurs Mar 24 2011
Byline: Guy Smith, President