— Mark Brenner
Sunday, December 30, 2007
— Mark Brenner
Sunday, December 23, 2007
Kim Moody has long been an insightful analyst of developments in the labor movement as a former union organizer and one of the founders of Labor Notes. His new work - U.S. Labor in Trouble and Transition: The Failure of Reform from Above, The Promise of Revival from Below – takes a look at the reasons for organized labor’s precipitous decline in membership and power over the past few decades, and provides solid advice on what is necessary to turn the situation around. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS BOOK…
Kim Moody also has another important book out on the economy and labor in New York city since the mid-1970’s…
Historian Peter Cole has just published a new book on the IWW called - Wobblies on the Waterfront: Interracial Unionism in Progressive-Era Philadelphia. The book not only discusses a fascinating period in the history of this most important and heroic of American labor unions, but alludes by example to some of the same proscriptions addressed by Moody in regards to how to empower today’s labor movement…
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
This is an extremely important effort, as no-match letters and ICE raids are a key strategy of the anti-immigrant forces who are pursuing what they call an "Attrition through Enforcement" strategy (for more on this see the last link on this page). Those who oppose rights for immigrants and working people have mobilized behind their strategy – we need to counter their attack with a strategy of our own, based on mobilizing our communities and hitting them were it hurts – their corporate bottom line. Unscrupulous employers have already used no-match letters, often illegally, to intimidate workers who are trying to organize or improve conditions in their workplace. But the Chicago Committee Against No-Match has successfully assisted hundreds of workers organize in their workplaces and beat back the employers assault. At the heart of the effort is UE’s innovative 1-888-DIGNIDAD hotline number, where immigrant workers can call for information and support.
Read the following article on the Labor Notes website for more…
Listen to the following Labor Express Radio programs with interviews from leading activists in the Chicago Committee Against No-Match Letters…
Here is an article with more info on how the anti-immigrant forces are planning out their strategy (note, I am not all that familiar with this organization, and many of their policy positions listed on their website, I am not in agreement with, but this is a very interestingly article)…
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Video of our visit to Obama campaign HQ can be viewed at the following links, thanks to the work of Larry Duncan from Labor Beat T.V…
You can view a copy of the letter to Obama here…
Monday, December 10, 2007
Labor activists, fair trade advocates, Latin American solidarity activists, environmentalists, immigrant rights organizers, people of faith, and others are concerned with the recent lack of interest of our U.S. Congressional and Senate leaders when it comes to stopping un-fair trade deals - as evidenced by the recent House and Senate votes on the US-Peru “Free Trade” Agreement. We find it very troubling that one of our Illinois Senators, Barack Obama, a current candidate for President of the United States, skipped the vote on the Peru trade pact, missing an important opportunity to stand up for working people and the environment both here and in Peru. We are even more concerned that Obama, along with Sen Hillary Clinton, made public statements supporting the Peru Trade deal and that our other Senator from Illinois, Dick Durbin voted in favor of the trade pact. At a time when Democratic candidates for president, including Sen. Obama, are making stump speeches about the disaster wrought by NAFTA, it is surprising and distributing that these same candidates are not ready to take a stand against future NAFTAs. The Chicago “Free Trade” Working Group, a recently formed network of activists from the labor, religious, immigrant rights, environmental, Latin American solidarity and peace movements is delivering a letter asking Sen. Obama for an explanation of his position on the U.S.-Peru “Free Trade” Agreement. A press conference will be held outside Obama’s campaign HQ at 300 W. Adams at 1:30 PM.
WHEN: Saturday, December 15th – 1:30 P.M.
WHERE: Obama for America - 300 W. Adams St., Chicago, IL.
WHO: Members of the recently formed Chicago "Free Trade" Working Group
Statement of Lori M. Wallach, Director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch Division, following the Senate’s passage of the U.S.-Peru “Free Trade” Agreement. Wallach has been one of the most knowledge and consistent critics of the neo-liberal “free trade” agenda…
Here is an excellent analysis of the U.S.-Peru “Free Trade” Agreement from United for a Fair Economy (UFE). Note the fact that this analysis points out the weakness of the much touted improvements in labor and environmental protections that many Democrats used as political cover when they voted yes on the deal. Also note the broad range of organizations that signed on to this statement…
Excellent article on the dangers of the U.S.-Peru "Free Trade" Agreement...
Article in the The Nation about the Democrats unprincipaled about face on the U.S.-Peru "Free Trade" Agreement and the reasons for it...
Article from Peruvian newspaper about protest organized by the CGTP, Peru's largest union federation, opposing the U.S.-Peru "Free Trade" Agreement. Unions in Peru have been vehment in their rejection of the trade pact...
International Trade Union Confederation (ITCU) statement on the poor state of labor law in Peru...
10 Reasons to oppose the U.S.-Peru "Free Trade" Agreement from Peruvian civil society leading the fight against the trade deal in Peru...
OXFAM America's statement opposing the U.S.-Peru "Free Trade" Agreement. Note OXFAM's concerns over the effect of the trade deal on poor farmers in Peru is not resolved by the supposed improvements in the labor and environmental protections in the agreement...
Change to Win, the U.S. trade union federation's statement opposing the U.S.-Peru "Free Trade" Agreement...
AFL-CIO statement on the U.S.-Peru "Free Trade" Agreement. Note that even though the AFL-CIO recognized some improvements in the agreement's labor and environmental protections in October, these relatively minor changes did not change the agreement's central character. In particular, note that the investor-to-state dispute resolution mechanisms in the agreement continue to be a real threat to democracy in the U.S. and Peru...
Statement from the President of the AFL-CIO, John Sweeney. Though much was made by the Democrats and others in regards to the AFL-CIO's lack of effort to defeat the U.S.-Peru "Free Trade" Agreement, the following statement makes it clear that the union federation still opposed the neo-liberal principals upon which the agreement is based...
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Labor Educators Helena Worthen and Joe Berry report on Peruvian Attitudes Toward the Proposed Peru/U.S. Free Trade Agreement…
Professors Helena Worthen and Joe Berry with the Chicago Labor Education Program, will offer a report back from their recent visit with trade unionists and labor department officials in Peru. Come hear about the new US/Peru Free Trade Agreement from the perspective of the Peruvian working class…
Monday, Dec. 10th - HUMAN RIGHTS DAY– 6:00 P.M.
Chicago Labor Education Program (CLEP) Office in Chicago
815 West Van Buren St., Chicago
Monday, November 19, 2007
David Bacon's suggestion for a "No-Match" Solidarity Campaign - Making the slogan "an injury to one is an injury to all" real!
A Solidarity Campaign in Response to No-Match Letters:
In the late 1980s, when anti-immigrant racism began to rise in Europe, the French labor movement and leftwing political activists responded with a campaign called "touch pas mon pot" (pardon my terrible French), which means "dont touch my pal." We can use this idea as an inspiration for getting our own members involved in solidarity and mutual support, and strengthen our unions and organizations. The problem with the way we've dealt with the threat of no-match letters and immigration raids in our workplaces and unions so far is that we've concentrated on a "know your rights" approach. There's no question that it's important for workers to know their rights, but limiting our activity to this has two big problems:
1. We don't have a lot of rights. This isn't a very effective way for our members to protect themselves and each other.
2. We're saying, by implication, that the threat of firings and raids is the problem of those people who would be directly affected -- immigrants themselves. We're not looking at how they affect the whole workplace and union, or asking members to stick up for each other. That is, after all, why we have a union in the first place.
I suggest instead that we begin by trying to find ways that our members and workers can stick up for each other. While our primary goal here is to help defend immigrant workers, this kind of campaign will encourage members to defend each other on other issues as well. That will help strengthen our unions and workers centers.
This campaign could involve, as a series of steps in which each builds on the one before:
1. A pledge, like the Jobs with Justice pledge, that says if any of us is fired unfairly or threatened with a raid, that we will treat it as an action against all of us. We could have cards like the JwJ pledge cards that say "an injury to one is an injury to all." The idea here is to get our members thinking about the danger, and how we should respond, before something actually happens.
2. We could have a ribbon or button campaign, that makes that support visible in the workplace. That would have a very good effect on the morale of immigrants, and make everyone feel like we have a real union.
3. We could organize a delegation to the employer, saying that we will oppose any firings based on no-match letters, and demanding that they consult with us immediately if they're approached by ICE demanding records. In the case of workplaces like those in Local 2 where the contract already offers this kind of protection, these delegations could make that contract language well-known among workers, and warn employers that we intend to enforce it. For unions without that language, this could inspire including it in future negotiations, especially if we have model language.
4. We can ask our members to take action outside their workplaces. At the minimum level, this can be the circulation of postcards by stewards, asking members to sign, that demand that the no-match regulation be rescinded, and that elected officials support that demand. As members become more educated and active around this issue, it can involve coming out to rallies and marches.
5. Unions can organize their own public demonstrations of opposition to the no-match letters and immigrant bashing. For example, unions with a lot of Filipino healthcare workers, like CNA or SEIU-UHW, could organize public protest over the racist and anti-immigrant "joke" on Desperate Housewives, denigrating the degrees received by health care professionals at Philippine universities. That's a real hot issue right now in the Filipino community.
To make this campaign work, we'd need an education program to go with it. We need printed materials, written in the language our members feel comfortable with, that explains what no-match letters and immigration raids are, and how they're used to harm all workers.
We need to train workers themselves to speak about this. If we have a core of active, educated workers, they can go with union staff to worksite meetings at lunchtime, for instance, to explain the campaign. As it begins to gather momentum, they can also talk about success stories in differnt workplaces. These workers can speak in public events, from rallies to hearings before city councils or supervisors.
I have not included worksite actions, like stoppages in the event of raids or firings, not because I don't think they're possible or desireable, but to concentrate on a campaign that gets members active where they are, and that starts from the education and commitment level that actually exists. If our members and workers can do most of the things outlined above, they're certainly capable of carrying out worksite actions if required.
-David Bacon, Photographs and Stories http://dbacon.igc.org
Friday, November 16, 2007
TRIBAL COUNCIL COMPLICITY IN “BORDER”
OPPRESSION OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLE.
Thursday, November 8, 2007
45% of Chrysler workers voted “No”
Ford workers can vote it down!
The “No” vote at Chrysler was the biggest ever “No” vote against any contract that was ratified at the Big 3. And since then, many Chrysler workers who voted “Yes” have been quoted as saying that they would have voted “No” if they knew about the layoffs that were kept secret until after the contract was ratified. They want to sell us a contract based on false promises of “job security”. They want us to forget that this contract has concessions that will lead to a devastating drop in the standard of living for current autoworkers, future autoworkers, retirees, and workers across the country...
TO READ MORE CLICK HERE...
Ford 2007 Contract Info...
Chrysler 2007 Contract Info...
GM 2007 Contract Info...
"We never had bathrooms, fresh water or water to wash our hands. Sometimes we do not get any breaks. They put a lot of pressure on us to work faster. When I helped them packing hay, I worked up to 16 hours without breaks." said Gerardo Negrete. "I am a sprayer and they do not give us what we need to protect ourselves from the chemicals. I have sprayed [pesticide] without gloves, masks or overalls. They only give those to us when we are close to roads where maybe some inspectors can see us...The foremen make fun of us for not having the protection we need."
Workers of Starrh and Starrh Cotton Growers--a large cotton, hay, and almond producer in California—need your help. They need you to e-mail Cal OSHA immediately and tell them to investigate the violations at the ranch right away and prosecute the company to the fullest extent of the law. When you hear what the workers’ lives are like, you will be horrified...and furious. Please take a moment to help these workers by sending your e-mail today!
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Monday, October 15, 2007
Greg Shotwell is a GM worker, a member of Local 1753 of the UAW, and a leader in the Soldiers of Solidarity (SOS) organization within the UAW. SOS opposes the cooperative relationship between the UAW leadership & the auto industry management that has developed in the past few decades, blaming this cozy relationship for concessionary contract after concessionary contract in which workers wages, working conditions and benefits have continually declined. They argue that a militant fight back strategy against the boss is essential if the industrial working class in this country is not going to be reduced to 19th century like conditions. In this interview, I talk with Shotwell about the 2007 contracts between the UAW, GM, Ford & Chrysler. The version I aired on the Oct. 14th episode of Labor Express Radio was heavily edited. Here is the full version. I start the conversation by asking Shotwell if he was surprised that 66% of the UAW membership at GM voted in favor of the contract (because this was a phone interview, the audio quality is not perfect)…
Jerry Tucker is a former director of Region 5 of the United Auto Workers union (UAW), former International Executive Board member, and was one of the leaders of the New Directions reform movement in the UAW. He is the co-founder of the Center for Labor Renewal. In this interview, I talk with Tucker about the 2007 contract negotiations between the UAW, GM, Chrysler & Ford. Tucker is very critical of the concessionary contracts negotiated by the current UAW leadership. The interview starts with Tucker talking about the Center for Labor Renewal (this is another phone interview, but with slightly better sound quality)...
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Chrysler Workers Wary of New Contract
By DEE-ANN DURBIN and TOM KRISHER – DETROIT (AP) —
As they assembled cars Thursday, workers at Chrysler's Sterling Heights assembly plant were talking about their new labor contract, wondering if Wednesday's six-hour strike was enough to get a good deal from the company. Even as they waited to hear the details, industry analysts were predicting crosstown rival Ford will try to get more concessions than Chrysler.
Some workers were skeptical about job security promises, one worker said.
"A lot of people are sort of surprised that we only stayed out that long," said Brett Ward, a forklift operator at the Sterling Heights plant and a member of a group that's often critical of the union. "They're thinking that it might have really not gotten us that much."…
Read the rest here…http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5iGb3e554ZIoaHipJevFbe6vQ85jAD8S7AJGO0
Listen to Labor Express Radio this Sunday night for interviews with Gregg Shotwell (UAW Local 1753 member and one of the founders of Soldiers of Solidarity) and Jerry Tucker (Former Director, Region 5 - UAW and Co-founder - Center For Labor Renewal) about what this all means for the UAW and the labor movement in general.
On the Radio in Chicago - 88.7 FM - 7:00 P.M.
Everywhere else - http://www.wluw.org/ - live streaming audio
Saturday, October 6, 2007
For more information call Mark Meinster at (312) 829-8300, United Electrical Workers (UE)
(from Oct. 5th Chicago Jobs with Justice E-Update)
Thursday, October 4, 2007
In any case, here is an excellent summary of the tentative contract from Labor Notes. It is actually worse than what I said in my R.I.P UAW entry. Only 3,000 temporary workers will be made full time employees (I know I read 6-7,000 somewhere earlier, but I can't remember where at this point). And rather than solid guarantees of job security (supposedly the strength of the agreement), it looks as if there are 15 more plant closings coming down the pike...
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
Here is a link to Malcolm’s website…
Saturday, September 29, 2007
Thank you to Carlos at Chicago JWJ for calling my attention to this article!
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
You can listen to audio of Gettelfinger’s announcement here…
Now I am not saying we should relish the idea of a long strike. Strikes are always much harder on the individual worker than they are on their corporate bosses. No one wants a long drawn out strike that leads to workers losing their homes, pulling kids out of college, sinking deeper into debt, etc., etc., etc. Let me say right of the bat, even though I have been a labor activist for 15 years, I have never myself had to endure the pain of a strike. But I have seen what it can do to working families who are forced to endure them. And I have suffered through my own bouts of unemployment. I know what it is like to eat Ramen noodles for breakfast, lunch and dinner for days on end. I know what it is like to live with cold showers and cold food because the gas was cut off when I couldn’t pay the bill. I know what it is like to move out of an apartment and into small room in someone else’s home, because that is all I could afford. Hell, with my current meager income and mountain of debt, I am still only one or two paychecks away from disaster. I have no desire to see other workers in the same situation. But from what we know so far about the deal struck between the UAW leadership & GM, it seems hardly even worth the two days pay the members gave up.
Again, the full details of the agreement are yet to be revealed, but most reports are pretty consistent. The best article I have read so far, detailing the wins and losses for the UAW & GM can be found here…
Here is a summary of the situation…
Loses for the UAW & it’s Members:
1. Acceptance of an under funded VEBA (Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association) for retiree health care.
2. A two-tier wage structure where new workers receive lower wages.
3. Lower wages for "non-core" jobs.
4. No actually wage increases for current workers.
Gains for the UAW & it’s Members:
1. Some 6-7,000 temporary workers will be made permanent (but will fall into the lower wage, new worker category).
2. Lump sum payments equaling around $4-5,000 (or bribes as some have called them).
3. Vague promises of job security for the current workforce.
VEBA (Vandalizing Employee Benefits Again):
I confess. That line is stolen from the Soldiers of Solidarity (SOS) website. But I think it sums up the situation pretty well. Gettelfinger is upholding the VEBA agreement as a victory. Some analysts are arguing that some retiree health care funds under union control is better than no retiree health care funds if GM eventually goes bankrupt. But the truth of the matter is the UAW has accepted an under funded retiree health care package that will be a boon for GM and its investors, but might very well spell disaster for retirees in the future. GM has been let of the hook, and the union has taken on a tremendous burden. Increased co-pays and benefit reductions are a practical financial certainty. As Greg Shotwell of SOS points out, at least there are legal and contractual obligations with the retirees and GM under the current arrangement. It is a very dangerous gamble, with market forces, and talents and trustworthiness of UAW money managers playing a huge role in the success or failure of the plan. And if it fails, the workers will have the UAW to blame, and not GM. As former UAW executive board member Jerry Tucker suggested in his interview with Building Bridges in May, at least the UAW could have demanded that GM agree to use its political muscle and financial resources to push for universal health care legislation.
Two-Tier Wage Structure – Selling Out the Next Generation:
The death knell of worker solidarity, there is nothing worse than two tier wage structures. No union can accept such conditions and remain health. New workers will inevitable feel stabbed in the back. The inequality will be felt on the shop floor. And future retirees will have less credibility when they look to the future workforce to defend their pensions and benefits.
Of course, many will say GM’s workers can’t ask for more from a company with such a bleak financial outlook. They will argue that Gettelfinger and the UAW leadership have gotten the best deal they can without jeopardizing the future of the U.S. auto industry. But I’m sorry, that is really just a load of B.S.! The bastards running GM aren’t going to arrest the race the bottom because of the goodwill of the UAW bosses. To whatever extent they can, and at every opportunity, they will keep outsourcing jobs to labor markets where workers are as close to slavery as our diminished governmental institutions will allow. They will take this round of concessions the same way they have taken every other concessionary contract in the past – as a sign of the weakness of the U.S. labor movement.
This country is in such desperate need of a real working class victory. After decades of being beaten down by declining real wages and benefits cuts – longer work days and less control over conditions of work– de-industrialization and corporate globalization – the U.S. working class is demoralized, degraded and disempowered. We need a break, a turning point, a line in the sand. We need a battle of Gettysburg & Vicksburg, of Midway & Stalingrad, in the class war that we are so badly losing right now. We need the UAW of the 1930’s sit-down strikes which checked the power of capital for decades. Or at least the UAW of the 1960’s with it’s commitment to social movements and civil rights. Instead what we got is the UAW of the 80’s and the 90’s, and one more in a long line of concessionary contracts. One more nail in the coffin of the U.S. industrial working class.
OK, my hyperbole is exhausted. UAW rank & file, it is up to you now to turn defeat into victory - VOTE NO!
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
As a proud member myself of UAW Local 1980 – the National Writers Union, I call on all working people to aid and assist in whatever ways possible our brothers and sisters at GM.
Here is audio of UAW president Ron Gettelfinger, explaining the reasons for the strike at a Press conference on Monday (the original audio and a transcript can be found on the UAW website - http://www.uaw.org/…
For More info check out the UAW website…
I interviewed Gregg Shotwell of Soldiers of Solidarity (SOS) earlier today, to get his take on the strike. Gregg is an auto worker, a member of UAW Local 1753, and one of the founders of Soldiers of Solidarity, an activist group in the UAW which opposes the union leaderships lack of militancy and concessionary bargaining. The interview started with Gregg providing a little background on SOS (this was a phone interview - please excuse the poor quality audio)…
You can read more about Shotwell’s critique of the UAW leadership at…
Another great website by a UAW activist…
Friday, September 21, 2007
The following is an article I wrote on domestic worker organizing for Labor Notes, based on my interviews over the Summer with organizers in this emerging social movement. An edited version of this piece will appear in next months Labor Notes...
Domestic Worker Organizing: New Front in the emerging “Non-Traditional” Labor Movement by Jerry Mead-Lucero
For over two years, Marian, a Colombian immigrant and a housekeeper in Roslyn, New York, worked 18 hours a day, six days a week for about two dollars an hour. The family that employed her fired her without notice, kicking her out of the home and leaving her with nowhere to turn for support. After enduring months of verbal and physical abuse by her employer, “Vivian”, an Indian immigrant and nanny in Manhattan, refused the orders of her boss. Her boss’s response was to strike her with a sandal and kick her out the house without her pay or her passport. “Judy” a Malaysian immigrant and housekeeper on one occasion found herself locked in the basement of the home where she worked, by the son of her employer. In desperation to escape from her confinement she injured herself, and had to be taken to the hospital with the assistance of the household’s nanny. When Judy’s frustrated employer came to the hospital to retrieve her housekeeper, she stated…”I should have left you for dead, no one knows you are here anyway.” Judy realized at that moment that her employer was right…”If something more terrible happened to me, who would know? Who would help?”
These stories of exploitation and abuse may sound extreme, but according to research conducted by Domestic Workers United (DWU) in New York, and similar organizations around the country, these experiences are all to common among the hundreds of thousands of domestic workers in the United States who live and work largely in the shadows, far from the public eye. A study conducted by DWU entitled “Home is Where the Work Is” found that 41% of domestics in New York earn low wages, with a quarter of them earning below the minimum wage. Another study found that 79% of Latina domestic workers in Los Angeles earn below minimum wage. Two-thirds of these workers are not paid overtime and the vast majority have no health benefits. Worst of all, 33% of all domestics and 48% of live-ins report experiencing some form of verbal, physical or sexual abuse in their workplace. Perhaps no other workforce is more isolated and hidden than domestics, whose workplaces are for many also their homes. This isolation is compounded by the fact that the vast majority of domestic workers are immigrants, either undocumented or residing in the U.S. via special domestic labor visas that make them especially vulnerable to exploitation by their employers. Much like agricultural labor, domestic work is closely tied to the legacy of slavery and a history of racial exclusion dating back to New Deal and the early days of American labor law. The result being that domestics have been denied the most basic legal protections, including the right to organize, the right to bargain collectively and the right to an 8 hour work day. Indeed, domestics continually struggle just to be recognized as employees, in a patriarchal culture in which women’s labor is de-valued and the employers argue, that their housekeepers, maids, nannies, and elder care givers are not workers, but are instead “members of the family.”
Despite such formidable obstacles, across the nation in the past decade, increasing numbers of domestic workers have begun to organize themselves and challenge their status as a hidden and easy to exploit workforce. Domestic worker organizations are an important emerging form of “non-traditional” labor organization, similar in many ways to other more high profile forms of creative, non-traditional organizing such as worker’s centers and regional or local worker’s associations like the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW). Much like their day labor and agricultural labor counterparts, domestics, until recently, have been largely ignored by the mainstream labor movement. Such neglect is both a cause and the effect of domestic’s exclusion from all or part of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OSHA). As a result, domestic worker organizing has arisen, not out of the union movement but from the efforts of community and immigrant rights group, and has developed unique methods and approaches to labor organizing.
CASA de Maryland offers a prime example of domestic worker organizing emerging from within the immigrant rights community. CASA formed in the 1980’s to defend the rights of the growing number or Central American migrants in the D.C. area who were forced by war and political persecution to flee their countries of origin. According to CASA staff member Alexis de Simone, about 6 years ago, in an effort to build a women’s empowerment program within CASA, members -- a large number of whom are domestic workers -- began to share with one another their experiences of exploitation in their workplaces. “Among themselves when they would come to sign-up for employment, or sign up for classes, they would start talking, and they’d see that they had a lot of the same problems. A lot of the people were denied wages, were denied overtime, almost nobody had health insurance, and a lot of the women who were live-ins, or used to work as live-ins, reported cases of employers stealing their passports, not being allowed to leave…From realizing they had so many common problems it seemed to make sense that we form a women’s committee around domestic work.” In a similar fashion, organizations like Mujeres Unidas Y Activas in San Francisco, Pilipino Workers Center in Los Angeles, and DWU in New York, have arisen from within community organizations and immigrant advocacy groups and have only very recently come to the attention of the traditional labor movement.
Denied collective bargaining rights by law, domestic workers have been forced to pursue creative strategies to win concessions from their employers and changes in their working conditions; much like their counter-parts in the CIW, who have utilized their status as a workers association or community organization to pursue campaigns against Taco Bell and McDonald’s that would have been declared illegal secondary boycotts under the Taft-Hartely Act if the CIW was legally recognized as a labor union. In the case of domestic workers, the most often employed tactics have been direct actions of domestics and their community allies such as rallies outside the homes and workplaces of employers, and legislative strategies such as the Domestic Worker’s Bill of Rights, which is working its way through the New York state legislature. This proposed legislation would dramatically alter the status of Domestic Workers at the state level, including such improvements as a the right to a living wage, the right to overtime pay, family and medical leave provisions, paid vacations, health care coverage, termination notice and mandated severance pay. Perhaps most importantly, the bill would alter language in current state law that legally excludes domestics from being defined as employees, opening up access for domestics to a whole range of labor protections already afforded other working people. Founded in 2000, DWU has already succeeded in establishing New York City Local Law 33, which requires employment agencies to obtain signed codes of conduct from prospective employers and the organization claims to have won over $300,000 in back wages for domestics in New York. Ai-Jen Poo of DWU feels confident that the Domestic Worker’s Bill of Rights will be passed by the state legislature soon. A year ago it was approved by the New York State Assembly’s Labor Committee and just this past June it was passed on for a vote of the full state Senate by the Senate’s Labor Committee. Poo attributes the bill’s success so far to the strong support of persons of color caucuses in both levels of the state legislature, even in the republican dominated senate. Similar bill of rights type legislation is being pursued by CASA de Maryland at the county level.
The first United States Social Forum (USSF) held in Atlanta in late June, provided the space for domestic worker organizations from around the country to meet for the first time. As if to highlight their efforts to break the silence that surrounds domestic labor, perhaps no other group of workers at the USSF was more visible and vocal. Whether it be through frequent renditions of the Domestic Worker’s Calypso (a song written by a number of New York domestics which seemed to become an anthem of sorts for domestics at the USSF) or their boisterous and enthusiastic participation in sessions at the Forum, domestic workers were proud to make their presence known. As de Simone from CASA puts it…”I think a lot of these women are tired of having been shut up for so long, of always hearing well you’re just a domestic worker…you need to be quiet…this is my house, please do as I tell you, and so this is their chance to take charge…the chance to give visibility…because it is such invisible work…Its work that a lot of people never even recognize as work, so to say were here, were workers and we are demanding the same rights that everyone else has.” Through a series of both public and private workshops, plenary sessions and meetings at the USSF, domestics from the east coast, west coast and even a few places in between, compared notes and discussed common challenges. The result was the announcement at the Worker’s Rights Plenary on the last evening of the USSF, of the formation of a national alliance of domestic worker groups. The use of the space created by the forum, by domestics and farm worker groups to develop and advance national organizing strategies was one of the more promising successes to come out of the USSF. According to Ai-Jen Poo, the new national organization of domestics remains in its formative stages at this point. She expects more details on organization and strategy to be released around labor day weekend. However, one clear outcome of the discussions has been a national effort of domestic worker groups to support the efforts of DWU to win passage of the Domestic Worker Bill of Rights in New York. In an interview I conducted with her at the USSF, de Simone stated that CASA is also interested in pursuing some sort of national retirement program for domestics.
Despite such success and excitement in the domestic worker community, organizers are very aware of the substantial obstacles that stand in the way of efforts to organize domestics; the isolation of workers from one another and their lack of geographic centrality being the most obvious. Organizations like DWU seek out domestics in such places as city parks, mass transit stations, and outside the private schools attended by children of the households in which domestic workers labor. As Poo explained to me in a recent phone interview, the challenge of organizing is compounded by the commitment of DWU to utilize a member driven rather than staff driven organizing model in which domestics themselves are responsible for most of the outreach efforts. This can be quite difficult for women who frequently work much longer than the typical 40 hour work week. My experience in meeting with domestics at the USSF has lead me to conclude that one area in which domestics need little improvement is in their level of consciousness about their place within the wider world of labor and global economics. As Joycelyn Campbell, a nanny, an immigrant from Barbados, and a member of DWU put it in at one of the public workshops at the USSF…“Our workplace conditions are tied both to the nation’s history of slavery and our nation’s current role in the global economy. Pushing people to migrate away from their home countries and pulling people into service work here. Neo-liberal globalization has put into place policies that are destroying peoples livelihoods in their home countries and pushing people to migrate to places like New York…As New York continues to develop as a global capital, it must also lead the way in innovative protection and rights for those who work and enable that development.” Perhaps the most powerful words uttered by a member of the labor movement at the USSF came from Ai-Jen Poo at the Worker’s Rights Plenary when she argued…”We hope to build our labor movement, to a place where, when we call for a strike as domestic workers it will be for domestic workers rights and for global justice, legalization for undocumented workers, and an end to the war in Iraq. Or maybe, maybe it will be a strike of all informal sector workers or better yet a strike of all workers, union and non-union, the entire working-class.” It is this energy, inclusiveness and forward thinking that is typical of most non-traditional organizing. Driven by changes in the global economy that have lead to an increase in the number of low wage workers taking jobs in sectors of the economy historically ignored by most unions, these new forms of labor organization are breathing much needed new life into what has been a largely moribund labor movement in the United States while also challenging traditional organized labor to return to its own roots as a social movement.
The Domestic Workers United study, “Home is Where the Work Is”, can be found on their website…
Sunday, September 9, 2007
In this following audio, you will here Socorro describe to me her own struggles to survive in Pascagoula, as well as the struggles faced by H2B workers, as she drives me around town to see the various facilities at which these workers work and live. You will also hear in the background the steady sound of falling rain on Socorro's car window and the distant sound of Mexican music emanating from her car stereo…
Monday, September 3, 2007
In this interview conducted for Labor Express Radio, IWW organizers Alex van Schaick & Daniel Gross discuss the IWW’s efforts to organize these warehouse workers…
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
In the summer of 2006, members of Section 22 of the Teacher's Union, other members of the working class, students, indigenous people, peasants and others, took control of much of Ciudad Oaxaca, and other parts of Oaxaca State, in an effort to oust the corrupt and brutal governor - Ulises Ruiz Ortiz. What had started as a teacher’s strike for better wages and improved funding for schools turned into a community wide rebellion and lead to the formation of APPO. As the working class of Oaxaca, in the face of government neglect and incompetence, took power into their own hands, a new future for the people of this long improvised part of Mexico seemed a real possibility. But by the fall of 2006, backed a federal government under the control of a illegitimate president, Ruiz and his thugs resumed control of the state by killing dozens and jailing many more. This past summer, the teacher’s and members of APPO returned to the streets to remind the governor they have not gone away.
During my visit in July, APPO was calling for a boycott of the "official Guelaguetza”. The Guelaguetza, a ancient tradition of the indigenous communities of Oaxaca, has been turned into a commercial, tourist orientated celebration by the state government – a celebration that few indigenous people can actually afford to attend. Last year, when the city was in the hands of the popular movement, a free peoples Guelaguetza was organized. This July, APPO organized the second peoples Guelaguetza, and called for a boycott of the commercial, government sponsored version.
During my visit, I interviewed documentary filmmaker and community radio activist, Jill Friedberg – producer of Granito de Arena, a film about the teacher’s movement in Oaxaca - about the current state of the popular struggle. You can listen to that interview here…
The photos you see here are mostly related to the Guelaguetza boycott campaign, including two marches and the political graffiti that covered almost every wall of central Ciudad Oaxaca...
Thursday, August 16, 2007
Today it was announced that management had conceded to the workers demands and the workers agreed to return to work next Monday. Proving what immigrant workers can accomplish when the fight back.
For more tune into this Sunday’s Labor Express Radio program – 7:00 P.M. on 88.7 FM – WLUW.
Friday, August 10, 2007
I visited with FLOC organizers in Monterrey this past July. On upcoming epidodes of the Labor Express Radio program, you will be able to hear interviews I conducted while there. I will also be publishing some print stories based on my visit in coming weeks.
For now, feel free to browse through these photos from my trip...
Thursday, July 19, 2007
Updates on my visits with workers in Mexico should be coming in a week or so. I the mean time I wanted to sum up my experience at the USSF. I will try to post some more audio and info from some of the sessions I attended at the forum, particular those organized by the UE, AFSCME and Domestic Workers United at a later time. The following is a short summation piece I wrote for the Industrial Worker, newspaper of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). An edited version will be published in next months Industrial Worker, which you can find at...
Labor Participates in a Big Way at the First United States Social Forum:
“What is happening in America to workers today is the result of a thirty year sustained, intentional, strategic, assault on workers, unions, our quality of life and our standard of living. It has been a class war against workers and it is time we engage that class war and fought back… (a standing ovation from the crowd and loud applause).” It might surprise you to hear that these words were spoken by Stewart Acuff, Organizing Director for the AFL-CIO, at the Workers’ Rights in the Global Economy plenary of the first United States Social Forum (USSF). I don’t expect that Acuff’s speech was meant to announce the Federation’s decision to call for the abolition of the wage system, or that it will lead to any plans for a nationwide general strike. But it is symbolic of mainstream labor’s continued and deepening interest in connecting with other social movements and less “traditional” forms of organizing. “Big labor’s” involvement in the social forum process, since the first few World Social Forums in Porto Alegre Brazil , has served as a way for the AFL-CIO and many of the union internationals to mix and mingle with activists from a broad range of social struggles. They same can be said of the relatively impressive support given to the first USSF by organized labor.
The role of labor in the planning and organizing of the forum was apparent at the opening march and rally on June 27th. Though clearly out numbered by anti-war, racial justice and environmental activists, union members were abundant among the thousand or so marchers who made their way through the streets of downtown Atlanta . The original march route was meant to take participants past a number of sites in the city at which workers are engaged in struggles with their employers or local government. According the AFSCME Local 1644 Deputy Director Nancy Lenk, march organizers were forced to compromise with police on a much less confrontational route due to the opposition of much of Atlanta ’s business community. A destination in the original plan was Grady Hospital , were the green shirted members of Local 1644 had planned to express their opposition to a recent decision by the Chamber of Commerce that Grady, a public hospital, be privatized. The march passed near Grady hospital, and the AFSCME contingent encouraged rally participants to join them in chants of “We are the key to saving Grady” and “the community has got the key to saving Grady”.
Struggles of public sector workers were a major theme of labor focused workshops at the conference. A number of panels featured public employees from North Carolina, one of only two states (Virginia being the other) where collectively bargaining for public sector workers is explicitly outlawed. The UE (United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America) Local 150 recently partnered with unions in Canada and Mexico to encourage an investigation of the situation in North Carolina by the ILO (International Labour Organization). In April the ILO declared the North Carolina ban on public sector collective bargaining a violation of international labor standards and called for repeal of North Carolina General Statute § 95-98, the basis of the ban.
Traditionally, social forum planners and participants will engage in a number of public protests to provide some level of direct action to the content of the forum. In the case of the USSF, a number of these actions focused on union or labor campaigns. UFCW (United Food and Commercial Workers) organized a picket outside of a nearby Publix grocery store to demand the removal of Smithfield products from store shelves. Supporters of trade unionists in Colombia took part in an action at Coca-Cola headquarters. And the National Day Laborer Organizing Network held a rally protesting the position of Republican Senator Johnny Isakson who is advocating for legislation in the U.S. Congress, which would bar local governments from requiring Home Depots and other big box retailers to provide shelters for day laborers.
The most impressive labor related workshops and planning sessions at the USSF were organized by “non-traditional” worker’s organizations. Within the space provide by the forum, domestic workers and farm laborers meet together with their fellow workers from around the country. The domestic workers, through their private meetings at the USSF, agreed to form a national coalition of domestic worker organizations. Domestic worker organizing has been developing in major urban centers around the country in recent years. Largely independently - immigrant social service agencies and organizing centers such as Casa of Maryland and Andolan, a South Asian workers center in New York , started to become aware of hundreds of thousands of domestic workers who were facing extreme situations of exploitation and often, verbal, physical and sexual abuse. Isolated by their place of employment and often by their status as immigrants, domestics have largely been ignored by the mainstream labor movement. Labor law in the United States, due in part to racist compromises made in the years of the Roosevelt administration, does not extend to domestics (or to farm workers) – denying them such flawed but important rights as the right to collectively bargain. The domestics who came to Atlanta for the USSF to meet and learn from each others efforts to organize were certainly not content to remain unheard or unnoticed. It was quite impossible to miss the domestics whether because of their boisterous renditions of their anthem, the “Domestic Workers Calypso”, or because of their exuberant, enthusiastic responses to the speakers in the workshops and plenary sessions.
At the worker’s rights plenary, just before Acuff spoke, Ai-Jen Poo of Domestic Workers United in New York, explained…”We hope to build our labor movement, to a place where, when we call for a strike as domestic workers it will be for domestic workers rights and for global justice, legalization for undocumented workers, and an end to the war in Iraq…(standing ovation and enthusiastic applause)…or maybe, maybe it will be a strike of all informal sector workers or better yet a strike of all workers, union and non-union, the entire working-class…(another standing ovation and widely enthusiastic applause).” Following such powerful language, how could anyone in the labor movement call for less than open class warfare.
Saturday, July 14, 2007
I will be posting new stories to this blog in the coming weeks related to...
Visits with workers on the Gulf Coast.
Visits with FLOC (Farm Labor Organizing Committee) members in Monterrey Mexico.
Visits with APPO and Teachers union members in Oaxaca Mexico.
General travel observations.
as time and technology permit. Please check back often. The site will be more fully updated in August.
Wednesday, July 4, 2007
Saturday, June 30, 2007
Presentation given in 2002 by Teofilo Reyes of the Transnationals Information Exchange and contributor to Labor Notes (and a member of the Global Justice Committee of Chicago Jobs with Justice), about linking immigrants with militant labor organizing…
Statement issued by many of the leading Latino immigrant organizations in Sept. 2006, blaming trade agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA for forcing workers to migrate and calling for a new economic model…
Declaration issued from the historic 1st Latin American Migrant Community Summit (Cumbre) held in Morelia, Michoacán last May, which blames NeoLiberal economics for creating the conditions that force people to migrate…
Article by Oscar Chacon & Amy Shannon of NALACC on the role of Free Trade Agreements in creating new migrant flows and the need to build transnational alliances…
Economic Policy Institutes analysis of the effects of NAFTA for working people in all three countries, issued in 2006…
2003 article by David Bacon on NAFTA and it’s devastating impact on Mexican workers…
AFSC’s statement on the WTO and Mode 4 (possibility of global guest worker program)…
Mennonite Central Committee’s primer on immigration and globalization…
Top 10 reasons to oppose the WTO from Global Exchange…
David Bacon speaking in Chicago in April 2007 on the connections between “free trade agreements” and increased migration (this is a 26 minute long MP3 file)…