Thursday, January 29, 2009

Despite the massive increase in unemployment, union membership up!...

WOW!!! For two straight years in a row, membership in unions has increased. This after over 25 years of steady declines. This is especially surprising given the heavy job losses sustained in 2008. Though the percentages of growth are small (.1% in 2007 and .3% in 2008), and an even smaller percentage of that growth is the result of newly organized workplaces, this is an important milestone as it is further evidence of the growing support for organized labor among the U.S. working class. Here is the AFL-CIO's press release...

For Second Straight Year, Union Membership Increased in 2008, According to New Govt. Stats

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney: "Shows American workers are choosing to join unions in larger numbers"

(Washington, January 28) – Union membership in the United States increased by 428,000 to 16.1 million in 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The percentage of the workforce that has a union also increased from 12.1 percent to 12.4 percent last year, continuing a second year of growth.

"Today's numbers confirm what many working people already know -- that if given the chance, American workers are choosing to join unions in larger numbers," said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. "Workers in unions are much more likely to have health care benefits and a pension than those without a union; in today's economy, that's the difference between sinking and swimming."

The advantages of having a union on the job were clear in 2008. Last year, median weekly pay for union members was $886 compared to $691 for those who were not represented by unions.
The growth in union membership comes at a time when workers say they want and need unions. Seventy-eight percent of the public supports legislation that will make it easier for workers to bargain with their employers and 60 million workers would join a union today if they had the opportunity, according to research by Peter D. Hart Research Associates.

Much of the growth in union membership came through growth in unionized industries, especially in the public sector. Analysts estimate that only a small percentage of the growth came through workers forming new unions through the company-dominated National Labor Relations Board process. Only 70,000 workers were able to form a union through the NLRB process in 2007, for example. Today, most workers who form new unions do so after their employer has agreed to recognize their union through a majority sign-up process. "In today's economy, America's working men and women need a fair shot at forming a union, now more than ever. The Employee Free Choice Act will give workers the freedom to bargain with their employers for better benefits, wages, and job security, and it will allow them - - not their company - - to decide how to form their union," Sweeney concluded. (-more-) Private sector union membership grew from 7.5 percent to 7.6 percent in 2008. The main increase came from public sector union membership, where workers are less likely to face strong employer opposition to unions. Union membership in the public sector grew from 35.9 percent in 2007 to 36.8 percent in 2008.

Union membership among women grew again in 2008, continuing a trend. The percentage of women workers belonging to unions increased to 11.4 percent and women now comprise 44.5 percent of union membership, representing four consecutive years of increase in the overall share of union members. Union membership among men increased for the first time since 1999, resulting in a .4 percentage point increase in union density to 13.4%.

Employment of white, black and Hispanic workers all declined significantly, but union membership and the percentage of union membership increased among these groups. Employment among Asian and other workers increased, but union membership among Asian workers dropped slightly.

A factor that may have led to the growth in union membership, despite the economic downturn, is the increased job security afforded by a union contract. Similarly, research shows that unionized companies are not more adversely impacted than non-union companies in economic downturns.

Another factor that may account for the increase in union membership is the push at the state level to give workers the freedom to bargain collectively. In states like N.J., N.M., Col., Ill., N.Y., Mich., Kan., and W. Va., workers campaigned for the freedom to form unions through state legislatures and governments.

For daily news, information and facts on this and other workers' issues, go to

Link to BLS report...

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Rally against new school closings...

Over a thousand people gathered today in Downtown Chicago to protest the closing of 20 more schools under the ongoing REN2010 plan (a plan to privatize 10% of Chicago's public schools). Here are some photos from today's rally...

The party is over...

I am shedding a tear over the fact that the economic crisis is spoiling the neo-liberals party at Davos this year. I assume the "Rock Star" they are referring to is Bono, best friend of the World Bank and George Bush. The more important question is why, this year of all years, aren't there massive counter protests?...

"A More Somber World Economic Forum At Davos"...

Monday, January 19, 2009

UE statement on Israel's invasion of Gaza...

I realize that I am posting this a bit late as hostilities in Gaza seem to have ceased (at least for the moment) but I just received this and thought it important to post, if for no other reason than to demonstrate the many ways in which UE represents the best of the U.S. labor movement...

UE General Executive Board Calls for End to Bloodshed in Gaza

16 January, 2009

Meeting in Pittsburgh January 15 and 16, UE’s General Executive Board adopted a statement condemning the current war in the Gaza Strip. The union’s national leadership body reiterated the position adopted by delegates to UE’s 70th Convention in 2007, which called for "replacing the lopsided pro-Israel policy of the U.S. with a good faith, even-handed effort to achieve lasting peace between Israel and Palestine based on full justice and mutual respect." The GEB called on the incoming Obama administration to move quickly to initiate such a new policy.

Statement on the Conflict in Gaza
We are appalled by the rising death toll and human suffering that have resulted over the past few weeks from the worsening conflict between Israel and Palestine, in particular Israel's military assault on Gaza. While we in no way condone the provocative and senseless firing of rockets into Israel by Hamas, the Israeli response shows a complete disrespect for human life and violates all standards of international law. More than 1,000 Palestinians have been killed so far, and of those, more that 300 are children. Close to 5,000 have been wounded already, as the fighing continues.

In a scathing statement, the International Committee of the Red Cross, which carefully avoids taking sides in conflicts, has accused the Israeli army of failing to meet its obligation under international humanitarian law to care for and evacuate the wounded and to recover the bodies of those killed in the fighting, many of whom are women and children.

Even before the current military offensive began in late December, the humanitarian situation in Gaza was dire. Gazans live in poverty with one of the highest population densities in the world – 1.4 million people crowded into a territory just 25 miles long and approximately 5 miles wide. Malnutrition is widespread, and conditions have been made worse over the past three years by Israel’s economic blockade causing severe shortages of food, medical supplies, heating and cooking oil and other essentials. Many Gaza civilians have lost access to safe drinking water and to electricity, in the recent fighting. The Vatican said in recent days that the conditions in Gaza “increasingly resemble a big concentration camp.”

Delegates to UE's 70th Convention in September 2007 adopted a resolution on the need for change in U.S. foreign policy. On the Israel-Palestine conflict, it called for "replacing the lopsided pro-Israel policy of the U.S. with a good faith, even-handed effort to achieve lasting peace between Israel and Palestine based on full justice and mutual respect." The resolution said that the current "one-sided" U.S. policy "perpetuates injustice, instability, and the threat of war," and pointed out that, "U.S. aid to Israel far exceeds that of any other country, although Israel is by far the richest country receiving U.S. aid."

We agree with the January 2 statement issued by U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW), a leading labor voice for peace with which UE is affiliated, which said in part:

"The U.S. government supplied Israel with the military means to carry out this attack and has generously underwritten the Israeli government and military with tens of billions of U.S. tax dollars. Our government’s failure to condemn this latest action makes it complicit. The economic crisis which daily deepens in the U.S. requires that we seriously reorient our foreign policy and stop spending hard earned taxpayer dollars on proxy wars and reinvest the needed resources right here at home… We urge all parties to agree to an immediate cease fire and seek peaceful and lasting solutions. Recent history demonstrates that bombings, rocket attacks, blockades and military invasions won’t provide the best road to peace and security for the peoples of the region. Quite the contrary, such actions perpetuate the cycle of death, destruction, fear and heightened insecurity among the people of all countries, including us here in the U.S…”

Senzeni Zokwana, president of the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’ Unions (ICEM, with which UE is affiliated) and president of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) in South Africa, issued a statement for the ICEM that calls on all parties to address the serious humanitarian needs in Gaza. “There must be the immediate opening of border crossings to ensure that the people of Gaza are supplied with food, water, fuel and medical treatment. The Israeli blockade of Gaza must be immediately lifted and full, unimpeded and urgent access for medical teams allowed.”

UE reiterates its position in favor of peace, security, justice and mutual respect for the Palestinian and Israeli peoples. We add our voice to the many voices calling for an immediate end to the killing and the suffering. We call on the new Obama administration to immediately inaugurate a new U.S. policy that addresses the needs and aspirations of the Palestinians as well as of Israelis, and that will bring about true peace on the basis of human rights principles.

UE General Executive Board

January 16, 2009

Sunday, January 18, 2009

New book by Bill Fletcher Jr. essential reading for labor activists in the U.S.

On tonight's episode of Labor Express Radio I will air an interview I conducted with Bill Fletcher Jr., co-author (along with Fernando Gapasin) of the recently released book Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice. I consider the book mandatory reading for any serious labor activist in the United States. It is an excellent campanion to last year's book by Kim Moody, U.S. Labor in Trouble and Transition, which I reviewed last year on Labor Express and here on pilsenprole.

To order a copy from, click here...

For more on the book see the publisher's website...

Bill Fletcher Jr. is the former President of the TransAfrica Forum. He also served for a number of years in the mid to late 1990’s as the Education Director and Assistant to the President of the AFL-CIO. Fletcher is currently the Executive Editor of the Black Commentator, an online journal of African American thought and activism, and he is one of the founders of the Center for Labor Renewal.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Republic to re-open?...

The news from UE Local 1110 and Republic Windows and Doors just keeps getting better. It now looks like the union has helped find a buyer that will re-open the plant. I talked with Mark Meintster, UE International Rep. by phone yesterday about the situation. It looks like nothing will be confirmed till late next week, but as the information becomes available I will post it here. Here is the lastest UE press release...

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: California company ready to purchase assets of Republic Windows and put employees back to work

Chicago, IL, January 14, 2009 - UE Local 1110 is pleased to announce that the leading company in the green window business, Sunnyvale, CA-based Serious Materials, is in the final stages of working out a purchase agreement of Republic Windows and Doors assets. Employees at the Goose Island factory staged a sit-in last month to win severance, health benefits and earned vacation pay. Though some details still need to be finalized, the union is told that the parties are very close to inking a deal. "We are all hopeful about the possibility of Serious reopening our plant. This would be a very happy ending to our struggle," said former Republic worker Melvin Maclin.

Serious Materials is a leading manufacturer of energy saving green building products. Their mission is to reduce greenhouse gasses by 1 Billion tons annually. "These are the green-collar jobs we need for the future of our community," said Armando Robles, former Republic maintenance worker. Serious Materials and the Union believe there is market in the Midwest for the energy efficient, super-insulating windows and commercial glass that Serious makes.Serious hopes, after a ramp-up period, to eventually hire all of the former Republic workforce. For that to happen, however, the bankruptcy court must act quickly. If the court allows too much time to pass, the business will evaporate and it will be difficult to re-hire anyone. "We hope that the creditors, trustee and judge will allow Serious to purchase the assets soon, so I and my co-workers can start making windows again," said Robles.

ATC article on Republic Occupation...

I helped write the following article for Against the Current on the Republic Windows & Doors occupation last month, shortly after writing the Labor Notes & Industrial Worker articles. It was published in the January edition and can be found online here...

The tone is similar to the Industrial Worker article with an added emphasize on the role played by immigrant workers, member education and initial signs of the effect of the action on other workers.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Campaign against Gupta as Surgeon General launched...


I am so glad to see this. I was really upset by the announcement of Obama’s selection of Sanjay Gupta as the next Surgeon General. My impression of Gupta from his reports on CNN is that he is somewhat hostile to the idea of single payer, non-profit, universal health care…

Thursday, January 1, 2009

2008: Year of crisis...

2008 turned out to be a year of crisis for working people in the United States and around the world. By the end of the year we found ourselves in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression – skyrocketing unemployment, foreclosed homes, lifetime savings wiped out, industries on the verge of collapse. But we have all heard by now the old adage that with crisis comes opportunity. We have witnessed the collapse of the reigning economic ideology of the last 30+ years, neo-liberalism and free market fundamentalism. In its wake, calls for radical economic and social transformation are entering the mainstream political discourse in this country for the first time in many decades. This crisis offers the labor movement the best opportunity it has had since the New Deal to make its case to the working people of the nation of the need for organization and a mass movement for economic justice.

Here at Labor Express we have sought to examine in depth the financial crisis that erupted in the second half of the past year. We have discussed the Wall Street bailout and what it means for working people. We have analyzed the root causes of the economic collapse and attempted to determine what the next year will bring for the working class. And perhaps most importantly, we have covered the first attempts of workers to fight back against those who have brought our nation and the world into this mess.

Within the next few weeks, we will be posting online our analysis of the most important developments in the labor movement in 2008. But on this first day of the New Year, we want to remind you that you can listen to archived programs of Labor Express from the past year, covering these historic developments. We already know what the two most important labor news stories will be in our end of year analysis. On the national level, clearly the ever deepening economic crisis will be the defining issue of the past year. But on the local level it will be a shining example of a worker’s response to the crisis that will take first place. The workers at Republic Windows & Doors in Chicago challenged not only their employers but Wall Street itself, in the form of Bank of America, when they took almost unprecedented direct action – one of the few factory occupations to take place in this country since the late 1930’s. And they won!

Listen to Labor Express Radio’s coverage of these two top stories for 2008 at our audio archive on

Economic Crisis:

Republic Windows & Doors Occupation:

And don’t forget to tune in to this Sunday’s episode of Labor Express for a look at the auto industry bailout. That’s this Sunday – 7:00 PM on WLUW, 88.7 FM or listen to the live web stream at…