About 5,000 people gathered at the state capitol on Saturday, despite the frigid temperature of 16 degrees F (-9 C). The protesters waved U.S. flags, rang cow bells and chanted “This is what Democracy looks like.” Many held signs denouncing the bill. William Carroll, a Teamsters business representative from West Bend, called on workers to become more active in their unions. “If we don’t do this, we will die a death of a thousand cuts,” he told the crowd. Union members chanted “shame” as senators voted narrowly to approve a right to work law on Wednesday and moved it to the state Assembly, also controlled by Republicans, where a public hearing is scheduled for Monday.
Revolutionary changes are taking place in the global labor process, creating new labor relations while expanding the ranks of the precariat. Informed observers predict that within the next decade, one in every three labor transactions will be done online as part of the “on-demand,” “sharing,” “gig,” or “crowd labor” economy. On-demand taskers must be available at most times of day and night or risk losing income or future opportunities. Unlike the classic proletarian employee, they own the means of production, in the form of a car, apartment, bicycle, machine tools, or whatever. And they do not have fixed or even known hours of labor. They must do a lot of work-for-labor, work neither compensated nor even recognized as work. They must wait around, unable to devote themselves to other activities in case the iPhone calls them to do a task. On-demand taskers are usually isolated, without bargaining power. They are in a buyer’s market, having to accept a price set by the buyer. While many may feel “grateful” for the opportunity to earn a little, they must bear all the risks – accidents, ill-health from stress, loss of friendships, non-payment, repairs to vehicles or tools, replacement of stained carpets, health insurance, and so on.
The United Steelworkers aren’t just on strike because of wages. They’re concerned about safe practices, because workers are in constant danger from a corporate culture that does not care for their safety. In Deer Park and Pasadena, Texas, refineries line the ship channel, processing everything from sweet crude to diluted bitumen from tar sands oil. The area makes up the largest network of petrochemical plants in the world. Plant operators act as the last line of defense against industrial disasters, and they are fearful of the results of company decisions to cut costs at the expense of safety. “It’s like working around a bomb,” said one LyondellBasell employee while sitting outside of the Pasadena plant’s gates. The plant itself has not been inspected since 2010, when OSHA found sufficient violations to justify a fine.
At the heart of this struggle is the reality that we’re no longer working in traditional, family-sustaining careers. As the way we work continues to change in this country, isn’t it time that the rules and standards governing our workplaces do too? If we’re going to rewrite those rules, we need to give everyone a seat at the table. When the powerful few get to decide which wages, benefits, and workplace standards the rest of us deserve, the economic picture goes wildly off-kilter. But what if we all had a stronger voice at work? What if we all had the ability to share our ideas, negotiate on behalf of the collective good, and stand up for issues that really matter? Isn’t that voice a critical piece of helping us restore the good, family-supporting jobs that seem to keep disappearing?
Thousands of oil workers walked out, for the first time in 35 years, over issues and demands that Tony Mazzocchi helped publicize and build coalitions around for much of his career. About 30,000 refinery employees are still covered by the USW agreement that expired last weekend. Nearly 4,000 of them are on strike at nine plants already, including Teosaro refineries in Martinez and Carson, CA. Other USW members, including those employed at Chevron in Richmond, CA. may join the walkout if industry negotiators fail to address non-wage issues summarized by USW vice-president Gary Beevers as follows: “Onerous overtime, unsafe staffing levels, dangerous conditions the industry continues to ignore; the daily occurrences of fires, emissions, leaks and explosions that threaten local communities without the industry doing much about it and the flagrant contracting out that impacts health and safety on the job.”
The attacks on labor and workers cannot be sugar coated. It is a crisis of the highest order. This is no time for complacency or an attitude of resignation to additional defeats. The employers’ campaign has been a record of relatively easy victories, and it is high time for changes in labor’s strategy in order to bring the corporate class to heel. We have to say “No to Austerity Measures!” imposed on the working class while the high rollers laugh all the way to the bank. The alternative strategy, which we in the Labor Fightback Network have urged since our inception, is for labor and our community allies to run our own candidates for pubic office, based on a program that reflects the needs of the great majority of the population, with candidates we put forward accountable to their base. So long as we continue to depend on either of the two corporate parties to overcome the crisis that the labor movement is up against, more defeats loom in our future. It’s time for a change!
The corporate media is reporting that since the Republican leadership and President Obama support Fast Track trade authority, it is a done deal. And that message, also heard by countries negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), is driving the race to finalize that agreement. The truth is: Fast Track is not a done deal. There is bi-partisan opposition in Congress and a large movement of movements organized to stop it. Members of both parties know that Obama will be out of office when the negative impacts of these trade agreements are felt. Congress will be alone facing an angry electorate while Obama is raising money for his post-presidential career from the transnational corporations who get rich off these agreements at the expense of everyone else. Members of both parties know that Obama will be out of office when the negative impacts of these trade agreements are felt. Congress will be alone facing an angry electorate while Obama is raising money for his post-presidential career from the transnational corporations who get rich off these agreements at the expense of everyone else.
Freeway Fliers documents the growth of part-time (adjunct, contingent, associate, non-tenure track) faculty in America’s colleges and universities, and the circumstances under which they work and contribute to the their students, our economy, and our society. Part-time faculty currently make up the majority of the faculty, instruct the majority of the courses, and the majority of the students at America’s higher education institutions. Part-time faculty are paid significantly less than full-time (tenured, or tenure-track) faculty, generally do not have access to health insurance, do not participate in college governance, do not have access to the academic protection of tenure, and can be denied employment for any, or no, reason. This film is the story of the unknown outsiders of higher education, and the prospects for change.
Amid the hubbub of the holiday shopping season, activists in the United Kingdom have been surreptitiously calling on the nation’s largest retailers to raise their wages and “stop scrooging” their employees. Activists with the campaign, which launched in early December and will continue through the New Years shopping rush, are replacing the price tags at Britain’s most profitable chains with fake labels demanding corporate store owners adopt a live wage, which they estimate is £7.85 in the UK or £9.15 in London (which roughly equals $12.21 and $14.23). The national minimum wage in the UK is £6.50, or about $10, an hour. According to one of the campaign organizers, the UK-based group Share Action, retail is responsible for 28 percent of the more than 5 million workers in the UK who are paid less than a living wage.
International union representatives say labor needs a stronger voice in planning the transition from fossil fuels. If that changeover is left to corporations and market forces alone, workers will be exposed and already-vulnerable communities will suffer most, union leaders told Al Jazeera. “Labor should not just be at the table,” Bruce Hamilton, vice president of the U.S.-based Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), said from Lima. “Labor should be planning the transition.” Trade unions send delegations to every COP, but they do not participate in negotiations. That makes it difficult to ensure workers are not left out of the energy industry’s “huge transformation,” Anabella Rosemberg, a sustainable development adviser for the International Trade Union, said from Lima.
One, a big strike, I remember it well—by that time the people knew how to defend themselves. The blackberry boxes were being paid at $4.25, and it was too low for the people. They organized as a crew and asked for a raise. They said if there was no raise then they would not work. They united and communicated with the other crews. Later that day, when the people were gathered, the president of the union [Ramon Torres] arrived. Back then we weren’t yet fully unionized, but since he was president of the committee, the workers asked him to demand a raise for them. Since the people were ready to stop work, the president was able to secure an increase in the wage per box. The very next day he was fired. I was working in another, smaller crew, picking blackberries. I received a phone call from him telling me I needed to be there. We had come to an agreement that none of the committee could face the company by ourselves. I said, “I can’t, because I’m working,” and he said, “well, I was also working, but they are calling me to the office now and I want you to join me.” I said okay and went. He was already in one of their offices. He was surrounded [by] company executives, the president, and six or more security guards. A security guard came up to me and told me that I couldn’t enter. After five minutes Ramon exited, saying that he was fired. He was wrongly accused. Since all the people knew that the day before he had negotiated a pay raise, we [just] had to talk to the people. Everyone was ready, and they stopped.
Three years ago it would have been unthinkable for a Walmart employee to walk off the job, especially on Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year. They would have been administratively disciplined or worse, terminated. But that is what happened on November 28 at the H Street Walmart in Washington, DC when several workers did not report to work, saying they were fed up with low wages, irregular schedules, reduced hours, and economic hardship. unnamed (11) “I worked 40 hours a week but was classified as a part time employee even though I was working full time,” said Glova Scott, a Walmart employee at the H Street location. She said her classification prevented her from qualifying for company benefit programs. Early Friday morning, several hundred supporters from the advocacy group Our Walmart, the AFL-CIO, and other labor groups marched with strikers to the H Street Walmart in northwest Washington to tell managers they wanted better pay and regular hours
Today (Nov. 18th) the Colombian General Motors workers disabled while performing repetitive actions under unsafe working conditions again amplified their struggle for justice, chaining themselves to U.S. Embassy in non-violent protest action. Officials from the Embassy responded violently, kicking Manuel, who was not chained, in the face, breaking his cane, delivering hard blows to Carlos’ back and leaving Jorge unable to move the fingers of his left hand. Manuel’s wife, Carmenza, pictured below holding the letter which the group filed with the Embassy at the start of their action, was also hurt.