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LABOR ‘Solidarity Is a Verb’: Pittsburgh IBEW Local Rallies to Side of Striking Newspaper Workers

PITTSBURGH UNION PROGRESS, Janelle Hartman, March 28, 2024

“They have been through so much,” Layhew said of the NewsGuild-Communications Workers of America members who walked out in October 2022 over health care, wages and audacious attacks on their contract. “I really felt for them.”

Until he attended his first labor council meeting in February, Pittsburgh Local 29 lineman Jordan Layhew didn’t know about the long strike against his city’s newspaper or how badly its workers were hurting.

Shaken to hear a veteran Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter’s grim update on their shrinking strike fund, Layhew sprang into action.

“They have been through so much,” Layhew said of the NewsGuild-Communications Workers of America members who walked out in October 2022 over health care, wages and audacious attacks on their contract. “I really felt for them.”

Read More: PITTSBURGH UNION PROGRESS

 LABOR Worker-to-Worker Unionism: A Model for Labor To Scale Up

JACOBIN, Eric Blanc, March 24, 2024

At the heart of the current uptick in union organizing at companies like Starbucks has been “worker-to-worker unionism.” That model could be key to scaling up organizing and revitalizing the labor movement.

Young, radicalized, digitally coordinated workers have initiated and driven forward many of the highest profile strikes and union drives of recent years. From the red state teachers’ walkouts to union wins at Starbucks and Amazon, rank-and-file organizers have begun challenging business as usual not only within corporate America, but also within organized labor.The model of “worker-to-worker unionism” has spread contagiously, as workers have attempted to replicate inspiring successes seen elsewhere. In early 2018, West Virginia’s strike — initiated over the internet via a viral Facebook group — motivated teachers to organize similar statewide actions that spring in Arizona, Oklahoma, and Kentucky. Similarly, recent unionization efforts of baristas in Buffalo prompted workers elsewhere to say, “If they did it there, we can do it here too.”

An increase in worker-initiated organizing has been clearly identified by labor’s opponents. In a 2022 report, the notorious union-busting law firm Littler Mendelson sounded the alarm:

There has been a shift in how people are organizing together to petition for representation. What was once a top-down approach, whereby the union would seek out a group of individuals, has flipped entirely. Now, individuals are banding together to form grassroots organizing movements where individual employees are the ones to invite the labor organization to assist them in their pursuit to be represented.

Labor analysts have also begun to grapple with the strategic implications of this new movement. Here I focus on the strengths of worker-to-worker unionism — drives that are initiated by self-organized workers and/or in which workers take on key responsibilities traditionally reserved for union staff, such as training in organizing methods. The major promise of this approach is that it’s capable of scaling up.

How is worker-to-worker unionism different than what labor organizers call hot-shop organizing? Workers in “hot shops,” where workers organically decide to initiate a union drive on their own, usually reach out to a union for help, but they don’t start organizing — systematically persuading skeptical coworkers, etc. — before getting staff guidance. And, insofar as any training of workers takes place — it often doesn’t with hot shops — this also comes from staff.

There is also a difference in scale. While hot-shop organizing is often content to organize a single workplace, worker-to-worker union drives have tended to be part of efforts to organize an entire company or an entire regional industry.

My core argument is that while traditional, staff-intensive unionism is too costly to diffuse widely, a worker-driven organizing model can lead enough organizing drives to capture the billionaires’ massive anti-union fortresses. It has the potential to win wars, not just isolated battles.

Read More: JACOBIN

LABOR America’s Richest Ask the Courts To Make Unions Illegal

AMERICAN PROSPECT, Harold Meyerson, February 24, 2024

Lawyers for Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’s Amazon say the Court erred in 1937 by letting workers have rights on the job.

Fourscore and seven years ago—1937, to be exact—our fathers on the Supreme Court (well, five of them, which was just enough) brought forth a new nation: New Deal America. In that year, the justices ruled that the most fundamental legislative works of Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency—Social Security and the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA)—were constitutional. So said the Court; so said, in the NLRA case, Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes, the decision’s author, who had been the Republican candidate for president in 1916. From these decisions, which saved seniors from destitution and enabled workers to form unions, a broadly shared prosperity emerged that gave the nation a middle-class majority for the three decades after World War II.

Now we are engaged in a war with the rulers of the new economy, who, having already downsized that middle class by appropriating an ever larger share of the proceeds from its work for themselves, actually want to strike down the NLRA. In the past few weeks, three pillars of that economy—Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Jeff Bezos’s Amazon, and the Albrecht family’s Trader Joe’s—have all asked federal courts to declare the core functions of the NLRA unconstitutional, on the grounds that the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) administrative courts, like those of other regulatory agencies, mix judicial functions with executive branch functions. In actual practice, what those bodies do is hear and rule on cases such as those brought by workers on organizing campaigns who’ve been illegally fired. What Elon and Jeff would prefer is that federal courts hear such cases directly, which guarantees that by the time they reach the bench, those organizing campaigns will have become a dim memory. Or maybe, they want no one to hear such cases. Or perhaps, given the deep hatred that Sam Alito holds toward unions, they hope that Alito can persuade enough of his colleagues to toss the NLRA altogether, as he did with Roe v. Wade.

Their arguments are the same that came before the Court in 1937, when the most reactionary corporate overlords of that era sought to destroy the threat of some modestly countervailing worker power, which then had been rising for several years. That same dynamic clearly threatens the Musks and Bezoses today, with unions’ approval rating at its highest levels in 60 years, with young workers particularly bent on winning a say in their work lives, and with Joe Biden’s NLRB working to restore some teeth to the NLRA, which had been largely defanged by decades of decisions from pro-corporate courts.

Read More: AMERICAN PROSPECT

 LABOR How Four Black Women Changed Homecare Organizing Forever

THE FORGE, Keith Kelleher, February 19, 2024 

Forty years ago in Chicago, McMaid workers sparked a movement.

Irma Sherman, Chair of McMaid Workers Organizing Committee,

Forty years ago, Irma Sherman and the over 150 homecare workers employed by “McMaid” (Yes, McMaid really was the name of the company) decided they’d had enough of low wages and no benefits and began to organize their union with United Labor Unions (ULU) Local 880, a small, independent union founded by ACORN, the national community organization.

While McMaid advertised itself as one of Chicago’s premier “maid services,” with a green and white logo depicting a scantily clad white “maid” happily dancing around with feather duster in hand, in reality, the workers at McMaid were mostly Black and Brown middle-aged women who were not happy about their conditions. While their employer lived very well off the backbreaking labor of Black women, they were forced to scrape by on minimum wages.

Although they were providing vital, life-saving health care –– which was well beyond their job description –– to hundreds of homebound seniors and people with disabilities throughout Chicagoland, they had no health care for themselves or their family members. If they fell sick, their only recourse was “the County” –– the then very aged Cook County Hospital with daylong waits for care. Unable to sacrifice a day or longer at the County Hospital, many ignored their own health to care for their clients, more commonly known as consumers, endangering themselves, their families, and their consumers chasing the pay they needed to put food on the table.

Any consumers over the age of 60 were served through the Illinois Department of Aging’s (IDOA) Community Care Program, from which McMaid received the bulk of their funding through contract. McMaid was reimbursed at an hourly rate set by the IDOA through a competitive bid process. Agencies competed to see who could pay the lowest, so the competitive bid process drove down wages to at or below the then federal and state minimum wage of $3.35 with few to no benefits.

Irma and her coworkers knew they were being abused and they organized to stop it. Little did they know that their titanic struggle with their employer would require pioneering new tactics and strategies, lead to new models of organizing, and spark one of the largest organizing successes in modern labor history. 

But the boss wasn’t going to give in lightly. He hired one of the largest blue chip law firms in the city to fight their organizing drive, spending thousands of dollars of public funds to interrogate, harass, and intimidate Black women who only wanted to organize their union.

Read More: THE FORGE

 LABOR Tens of Thousands of Workers in Florida Have Just Lost Their Labor Unions. More Is Coming

WLRN, Daniel Rivero, February 16, 2024

An outright crisis is emerging for public sector unions. Some fear that with the new union law in effect the working class in Florida faces a bleaker future.

In St. Johns County, on the Atlantic shore of Northeast Florida, more than 55% of public school teachers paid their union dues this last year. Despite that, nearly 3,500 teachers are facing the threat of having their union representation revoked. At the same time, in Southwest Florida, only 16% of law enforcement officers of the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office paid union dues last year. Their union is under absolutely no threat of being decertified.

A year after Governor DeSantis signed into law a sweeping anti-union bill requiring most public sector unions to boost the rate of members paying dues or be disbanded, the full effects of the new union rules are coming into clear view — double standards and all.

Law enforcement, firefighter and correctional officer unions are exempt from the new law, no matter how few members pay union dues.

For other public sector unions, what is emerging is an outright crisis.

A labor economist warned the law could prove to be more effective in destroying labor power in Florida than the landmark Act 10 proved to be in Wisconsin, a law broadly considered as one of the strongest anti-union laws ever passed by a state government.

“The work conditions of hundreds of thousands of people are going to be up in the air. That’s real lives. That’s not politics … People’s lives are going to be upended.”

Rich Templin, director of politics and public policy for the AFL-CIO Florida.

After reviewing hundreds of pages of state union recertification filings, WLRN can reveal that already several tens of thousands of workers have quietly lost their collective bargaining rights, a right that is explicitly protected by the Florida Constitution.

Unions representing tens of thousands of additional public sector workers across the state are in danger of being decertified and dissolved.

Read More: WLRN

How Can Workers Organize Against Capital Today?

CATALYST, Benjamin Y. Fong, January 25, 2024 

John Womack’s labor strategy is about workers finding the capacity to “wound capital to make it yield anything.” But the massive challenge in today’s deindustrialized economy is locating where that leverage actually lies.

Labor Power and Strategy, the new book edited by Peter Olney and Glenn Perušek, officially aims to provide “rational, radical, experience-based perspectives that help target and run smart, strategic, effective campaigns in the working class.” But by the end of it, it is difficult to avoid the sneaking suspicion that Olney and Perušek have a different goal: to make clear just how far organized labor is from having a strategic conversation about its present impasse.
 

Labor Power and Strategy
John Womack Jr. • Edited by Peter Olney and Glenn Perušek
PM Press; 208 pages
Paperback:  $16.95
January 24, 2023
ISBN: 9781629639741

Read More: CATALYST

How Corporations Crush New Unions

THE NEW REPUBLIC, Steven Greenhouse, December 19, 2023

Bargaining-table negotiations over a first contract are never easy, but now they’re becoming excruciatingly slow and difficult. For companies like Trader Joe’s, that’s the goal.

The spacious second-floor conference room at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, was an unlikely place for labor and management to face off, but there they were: eight Trader Joe’s workers at one row of tables, a Trader Joe’s official and two lawyers for the company at another. On the walls hung student paintings of brilliant, swirling flowers. They did little to cheer the atmosphere.

Three months earlier, in July 2022, employees at a Trader Joe’s in Hadley, four miles from Smith, had voted to become the nation’s first unionized TJ’s, and now they were finally—and nervously—plunging into the bargaining process, in the hope of winning higher pay, better retirement benefits, and safer working conditions. Outside the conference center, several pro-union students carried signs saying “RESPECT WORKERS.” Inside, the workers turned negotiators admittedly felt uncomfortable; unlike the company’s high-paid Morgan Lewis attorneys, they were rookies at collective bargaining.

The union members opened the discussion. They complained about low pay, about the company moving too slowly to deal with employees who harassed co-workers, about a manager who used hourly workers to serve as “human shields” when confronting troublesome customers. Sarah Beth Ryther, who works in Minneapolis at the nation’s second unionized Trader Joe’s, described management’s “deep and insidious” disrespect toward the union. Managers, she said, boasted of Trader Joe’s as a “golden place to work” and belittled the union by asking over and over why people were complaining. “The ugly subtext of this question is, ‘Who are we to want more, who are we to dream of a better life?’”

Read More: THE NEW REPUBLIC

How Can Activists Change the World? Experts Offer Seven Strategies

THE GUARDIAN, Steven Greenhouse, December 17, 2023

The new book Practical Radicals takes inspiration from successful social movements to identify tactics that pay off

In their new book, Practical Radicals: Seven Strategies to Change the World, Deepak Bhargava and Stephanie Luce offer what they say are “winning strategies, history and theory for a new generation of activists”.

Bhargava and Luce – professors at the City University of New York’s School of Labor and Urban Studies – emphasize that strategies can be taught to build successful movements. In their book, they detail seven tactics that have been successfully used to change the world: base-building, disruptive movements, narrative shift, electoral changes, inside-outside campaigns, momentum, and collective care.

Steven Greenhouse, a longtime labor reporter and senior fellow at the Century Foundation, conducted this Q&A. It has been edited for length and clarity.

Steven Greenhouse: Why did you write this book?

Deepak Bhargava: I was motivated by a sense of frustration about the state of strategy and strategic thinking among progressive movements. To win big changes on the major issues of the day, we’re going to need to up our game substantially. I wanted to explain: where oppressed groups managed to achieve big gains despite incredible asymmetries in resources, how did they manage to do that?

Greenhouse: Your book seems to be saying that the progressive movement is underperforming, perhaps even failing. How so?

Bhargava: There are examples of breakthrough success in progressive movements that we need to understand better. The book features some of the successes we found the most inspiring, like the movement to abolish slavery and contemporary examples like the Fight for $15 or the campaign to divest from fossil fuels.

Read More: THE GUARDIAN

The Tragedy of Misunderstanding the Commons

IN THESE TIMES – RURAL, Stephen Stoll, August 22, 2023

Twelfth-century peasants developed commons practices to survive domination. We could use them to reclaim our lives from capitalism.

GUILFORD, CONNECTICUT — A thousand people gather on the Green, sharing umbrellas and straining to hear the valedictorian above the thunderstorm. She’s talking about the Green, a sixteen-acre park at the center of town where townspeople get together for concerts, picnics and the annual high school graduation. The speaker does not mention that we are sitting over bodies interred in the seventeenth century, for the Green has served other purposes: At various times it’s been a burial ground, a marching ground, a grazing ground and even a campground for townsfolk who lived too far from church to make it to town and home in the same day.

Today, the Green is a park owned by the town and overseen by a committee, but for at least the first two centuries of its existence, it served as an economically productive space, governed by the townsfolk themselves. It was, in other words, a commons. 

As recently as the nineteenth century, North America included many examples of commons customs. Indigenous nations hunted and gardened in spaces reserved for all their members, often extending rights to other communities by diplomacy and hospitality. White agrarians shared meadow and wetlands in Massachusetts, cooperated in management of lobster fisheries in Maine, and communicated over the ​“law of the woods” in the Adirondacks. But, as private property and state ownership pushed out every other form of possession, practices of collective ownership fell into neglect and are poorly understood today.

Read More: IN THESE TIMES – RURAL

LABOR Los Angeles Hotel Workers Go on Strike

THE NEW YORK TIMES, Jill Cowan and Kurtis Lee , July 4, 2023

The strike is part of a wave of recent labor actions in the nation’s second-largest metropolis, where high costs of living have made it difficult for many workers — from housekeepers to Hollywood writers — to stay afloat.

Thousands of hotel workers in Southern California walked off the job on Sunday demanding higher pay and better benefits, just as hordes of tourists descended on the region for the Fourth of July holiday.

“Workers have been pent up and frustrated and angry about what’s happened during the pandemic combined with the inability to pay their rent and stay in Los Angeles,” said Kurt Petersen, co-president of Unite Here Local 11, the union representing the workers. “So people feel liberated, it’s Fourth of July, freedom is reigning in Los Angeles and hotel workers are leading that fight.”

Representatives for the hotels have said that the union had not been bargaining in good faith, and that leaders were determined to disrupt operations.

“The hotels want to continue to provide strong wages, affordable quality family health care and a pension,” Keith Grossman, a spokesman for the coordinated bargaining group consisting of more than 40 Los Angeles and Orange County hotels, said in a statement.

The strike is part of a wave of recent labor actions in the nation’s second-largest metropolis, where high costs of living have made it difficult for many workers — from housekeepers to Hollywood writers — to stay afloat.

Workers across Southern California in a range of industries have threatened to strike or walked off the job in recent months, displaying unusual levels of solidarity with other unions as they push for higher pay and better working conditions.

Dockworkers disrupted operations for weeks at the colossal ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach until they reached a tentative deal in June. And screenwriters have been picketing outside the gates of Hollywood studios for about two months.

Hugo Soto-Martinez, a Los Angeles City Council member who worked as an organizer for Unite Here Local 11, said that the breadth of industries locked in labor fights demonstrated frustration especially among younger workers, who have seen inequality widen and opportunities evaporate.

“It’s homelessness, it’s the cost of housing,” he said. “I think people are understanding those issues in a much more palpable way.”

Read More: THE NEW YORK TIMES