August 31, 2005
Change or Die for Steel Unions
A Union-Firms-Markets reader, Rob D, sends the following story.
CLEVELAND - When steelmaking was king in this city and others across the nation, labor unions were as strong as the metal their members made.
With hundreds of thousands of members, the United Steelworkers of America and Independent Steelworkers Union held their own against multimillion-dollar companies.
Today, when organized labor is shrinking with the steel industry, union workers are trying to figure out how they can remain influential in the United States and become a force internationally. The steel industry has emerged from tough times by consolidating, and businesses that survived are increasingly tied to foreign firms.
"This is a global steel world whether we like it or not," said Thomas Conway, vice president and a globalization strategist of the Pittsburgh-based USWA. "We believe labor needs a global solution."
Exactly how globalization will redefine unions is a work in progress.
Experts say declining membership has hurt unions' clout with companies and in politics. The USWA is down to 90,000 members who make steel. Ten years ago, it had 140,000.
Workers have made concessions to keep plants open, such as agreeing to cut jobs and retiree benefits at International Steel Group Inc., based in Cleveland, before it merged this year with Mittal Steel Co., based in the Netherlands.
(click above link for full article)
August 25, 2005
Two Articles on Northwest Strike
The Detroit News has an important column today on the demise of community support for labor unions which is tied in to the strike going on at Northwest.
Maybe Michigan -- with its accelerating brain drain and declining job-base -- is becoming the Deep South of the North.
This state, which played a major role in spawning the nation's labor union movement, is now becoming a cutting-edge laboratory for the demise of unions.
What we built here is now getting busted here.
Even that phrase -- union-busting -- that once carried the full-force charge of an epithet has become a mild curse or even, in some circles, a term of approval.
The Teamsters, once the nation's most fearsome union brotherhood, slunk out of the AFL-CIO last month, at once weakening the nation's largest union and drawing attention to the consortium's modern toothlessness.
But the newly energized, modern science of challenging unions is fast becoming a Michigan export.
Frank Vega, who headed the Detroit Newspaper Agency during the 20-month strike that began here in 1995, now wields a publisher title in San Francisco, where his grit and expertise in management of labor relations were deployed in what were tense negotiations at the San Francisco Chronicle.
The San Francisco Bay Guardian, an alternative newspaper, reported July 19 that a memo from the publisher to management employees urged them to "not worry about sleeping quarters or food ... We intend to publish and distribute the Chronicle no matter what."
Ten years after the Detroit newspaper strike, when such hard-boiled tactics still carried the capacity to shock, Northwest Airlines is adopting the pattern without the social heat the newspapers took a decade ago.
Nobody's shocked now.
The pattern is set: Hire replacement workers. Hunker down for the long haul.
And keep flying, no matter what.
Travelers, with tickets in hand, nod and smile and in some cases wish the workers good luck. And then keep walking.
In more halcyon times, labor unions were full partners in Michigan prosperity and social progress: They helped raise much more than wages. They boosted the status of women and minorities, forged a new standard of health and dental care in southeast Michigan that created some of the best hospitals in the country, and bargained contracts that, at the stock market's inflated peak, transformed factory workers into 401K plan millionaires.
Whoosh. As Alice Randall, parodist of the most famous southern novel quipped, "the wind done gone."
Now, though, as the industries that relied on crafts and trades and factory workers dismantle the equipment and lay off workers, a company like Northwest Airlines is fully, extensively prepared to go to battle.
It's got the muscle, the jobs, the determination, and the public relations savvy to cast itself as beleaguered victim of unrealistic union workers. Most important, though, it has the tacit support of a community that no longer rouses itself in outrage -- even here, in a historic labor spawning ground.
Most of us will keep walking. And they'll keep flying, no matter what.
Yesterday's NY Times featured a story on Northwest's scabs:
August 23, 2005
Northwest Finally Admits Strike Problems
For the last couple of days newspapers carried bold headlines stating they are weathering a strike by its mechanics. Tomorrow's Wall Street Journal however is running a cover story on the strike and the problems it has thus far caused for Northwestern.
Northwest Reveals Higher Rate of Cancellations as Strike Persists (subscription required)
Northwest Airlines, lifting the veil slightly on its reliability problems since its mechanics went on strike Saturday, said its flight cancellation rate Monday was roughly triple its rate a year ago.
The carrier said it operated 96.9% of its schedule Monday, suggesting it canceled 46 of its 1,473 scheduled flights that day. Northwest earlier this week said it expects to be able to complete 96% of its schedule in the first week of the strike, which implies it will cancel about 400 flights over seven days.
For all of August 2004, Northwest canceled 490 flights, or 1.1% of its schedule, according to the Department of Transportation. The company has declined to comment on its flight punctuality since the strike, despite the fact that travelers anecdotally are reporting a higher-than-normal number of delays.
P9 20 Years Later
Today's Austin Daily Herald features a story on a gathering commemorating the 20th anniversary of UFCW Local P9 strike against Hormel. Understanding the lesson and story of UFCW Local P9' is important for grasping the complexities of the crisis the US labor movement finds itself in. Even the current strike by AMFA against Northwestern has some pointing to similarities with the events surrounding P9.
Here are some excerpts from the Austin Daily Herald story Former P-9ers gather for strike anniversary. Below the excerpts I provide links for a book and documentary on the P9 struggle:
On Sunday afternoon, the remnants of the meat packers union that waged a strike against Hormel Foods Corporation 20 years ago this month held a rally and reunion at Austin American Legion Post No. 91.
Some things never change. For instance, the militants' blame-fixing: it was the International UFCW union's fault along with the community of Austin, which didn't support the strike, according to former union president, Jim Guyette.
Pointing to the impact of immigrant labor, out-sourcing and other means of big business to control its work force, Rachleff said, "Organized labor isn't organized and the labor movement isn't a movement anymore."
For more proof, he mentioned the fracturing of the AFL-CIO.
But Rachleff added, "All the answers to what the labor movement needs was here in Austin."
An excellent documentary exists on the P9 struggle titled American Dream
An important reference book on P9 is Peter Rachleff's Hard Pressed In the Heartland
August 19, 2005
Republican Backing Unions Protest Democratic Mayoral Candidate
Yesterday I posted on the comments Congressman Anthony Weiner made during a mayoral debate in NYC regarding unions endorsing Republican billionaire Michael Bloomberg for mayor.
SEIU, The Carpenters and others who are backing Republican candidate Bloomberg rallied outside Democrat Congressman Weiner's offices yesterday with signs calling Weiner a scab and displaying an inflatable rat outside his offices.
Here is a link to the story and an excerpt:
ugust 19, 2005 -- Enraged union leaders called Democratic mayoral hopeful Anthony Weiner "a rat" yesterday, after he said during Tuesday's debate they should "hang their head in shame" for backing Mayor Bloomberg's re-election.
The unions placed an inflatable rat outside Weiner's campaign headquarters.
"The only time we hear from Anthony Weiner is when he's looking for campaign donations," fumed Steven McGuiness of the carpenters union.
Weiner said he would not apologize.
Meanwhile, Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields got the endorsement of the National Organization for Women's NYC chapter. Carl Campanile
Aranowitz on the AFL-CIO Split
In some respects it was fitting that four important affiliates declared their withdrawal from the AFL-CIO in the days running up to the 50th anniversary convention in July 2005. A merger which was conceived in a unity that signified complacency was dissolved. The problem now is what can workers expect from the fissure? Will the defectors form a new federation? How can they fulfill their promise to launch a massive organizing drive in the current reactionary political environment? And can an alliance which embraces quite disparate forces help revive the somnambulism that has afflicted labor’s ranks for more than two decades? Are those who split the kind of leaders that are capable of calling on the rank and file to mount resistance to the ongoing corporate offensive against wages and working conditions? And why should we expect this alliance to make a radical departure from the unimaginative program, and political subservience to the Democratic Party that has marked the decade long record of the Sweeney administration? To gain perspective on these questions we might find it useful to revisit the moment of the AFL-CIO merger. Such a look might clarify why Organized Labor has suffered such devastating defeats since the late 1970s and why, despite the growth of the Service Employees (SEIU), whose president is the main antagonist in the conflict, the rest of the unions, including those that defected with him, are suffering the same stagnation and decline as most others.
(click above link for the full article)
Criticisms Hurled Against "Sell Out" Unions in NYC Debate
SEIU local 32BJ has endorsed Republican Michael Bloomberg for mayor of NYC. I had the opportunity to attend the first debate amongst the Democratic challengers the other night. All the candidates criticized the move by SEIU and a couple of others to support Bloomberg's republican incumbency. As most readers are aware SEIU and other unions that have split from the AFL are considering opening their arms up to more Republicans.
Here is one particulalry harsh criticism from Congressman and Mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner:
Q. Congressman Weiner, the mayor must be doing something right to land these massive endorsements (From some NYC Unions).
WEINER. Well, I have to tell you, these labor leaders should hang their head in shame. They should hang their head in shame because they have turned their back on the values that made the labor movement so powerful in this city. They're supporting a candidate who feels warmly towards Wal-Mart and abandons small business. They support a candidate who raises gobs and gobs of money for Republicans who then turn their back on us rather than supporting progressive Democrats through this country. They are supporting - they are supporting a candidate that in 2004 allowed there to be 500,000 children in this city that had to turn to a soup kitchen or a church basement for a meal. This is the candidate that they are supporting. They are supporting a candidate who stood up at Madison Square Garden and urged everyone to vote for George Bush, saying that he was the best candidate for New York. The heads of these unions should hang their head in shame.
But I have to tell you something, something else should happen. Every one of their rank and file members that have been abandoned by their leadership should walk away from these union leaders and vote for one of these candidates up here.
For full transcripts of the debate Click Here
August 18, 2005
Slice of Andy Stern's Vision
Bill Fletcher Jr at House of Labor posts the a transcrip from an interview Andy Stern gave recentky on cnbc. Here is a link to the full transcript.
STERN: Well, our labor movement was built around an industrial economy back in the 1930s. It was sort of a class struggle kind of unionism, but workers in today’s economy are not looking for unions to cause problems; they’re looking for them to solve them, and this means just like Ireland where business and labor and government all began to work together, we need team America to really work together if we’re going to reward American workers’ work, and to make sure that they still can live the American dream.
August 15, 2005
Organized Labor's Problems
Today's Wall Street Journal features two articles on the problems faced by organized labor.
Labor's PR Problem (Subscription Required)
Unions' New Foe: Consultants (Subscription Required)
Keeping in line with both mainstream and many academic accounts of the causes of labor's decline both articles give multiple and seemingly contradictory causes. On one hand the article points to unions as being weak and irrelevant while in another paragraph they are seen as too strong in terms of being rigid and inflexible in accomodating employers in the new economy. Likewise, one article highlights a Wal-Mart worker who along with 18 other workers in her department unanimously rejected unionization because "She (and her co-workers) don't need a union to protect me" and then a few pargraphs down a janitor, who is trying to unionize coworkers claims that his fellow workers would like a union but are too scared (due to management resistance) to join.
It is difficult to get a read on specific reasons for labor's lack of success in organizing drives and based on what we see among different sectors of workers labor may not be able to be all things for all workers. Divergent, sometimes mutually exclusive, opinions on work and unions pose a serious threat for unions going forward.