The Prostitutes' Union

I love this article from The Scientific American, which reports on an alternative form of collective bargaining: the negotiation of condoms by sex workers in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), India. In their case, solidarity is not channeled toward winning wages increases or better benefits, it is focused on supporting the use of condoms. According to the article, other HIV-prevention efforts, like education of sex workers, counseling, or condom distrbution don't work because "if a prostitute insisted on condom use, her customer just went to someone else."

The founder of the collective states, "Counseling, educating--it just doesn't work...Higher up in the social hierarchy, people are able to act on the information given to them. Not so in the lower levels." Basically, educate all you want, but if people don't have power to advocate for themselves, then nothing is going to change.

I think this "prostitutes' union" is inspiring because it highlights really innovative thinking about workers' rights, and shows an example of how unions can further the public good: by slowing HIV infection rates. Go worker power!


Hungry for Justice

There's something pretty amazing going on at the University of Miami; students and workers are on a hunger strike to make the U of M comply with the janitors' demand for a union.

Up til now, this hasn't been getting a whole lot of press (probably overshadowed by what's happening at another big-name University in the South), but it was written about in today's NYTimes.

It's unfortunate that the hunger strikers are forced to go to such great lengths to make the university see the importance of a union. The president of the University thought the workers should have declared victory when a committee she created recommended giving them health coverage and increasing their wages to at least $8.55 an hour, from $6.40. She believed she had smoothed things over by 'awarding' the workers increased benefits.

The workers, however, believe justice won't be served until they have a representative voice that allows them to win those benefits through collective bargaining.


Retraining Laid-Off Workers, but for What?

Interesting article in the NYTimes about the closing of a United Airlines aircraft maintenance center in Indianapolis. It's a classic tale of union trying to assert its power and employer choosing outsourcing over negotiating with the union. The article isn't especially flattering of the union, but it strikes me that the union didn't really have any other choice. The "global economy" basically undermined any chance that the workers had of standing up to their employer. Some people might read the article and say that the workers shouldn't have been so "militant" or that they asked for too much, but what other options did they really have? I like this quote from the article in particular:
Saying that the country should solve the skills shortage through education and training became part of nearly every politician's stump speech, an innocuous way to address the politics of unemployment without strengthening either the bargaining leverage of workers or the federal government's role in bolstering labor markets.

All in all, quite a sad story for these workers.


NSPS blocked!



Back to Blogging

After a much too long sabbatical from blogging, I'm back. I just got internet access at my new apartment, so I should be able to blog anytime of the day or night without fear of my employer discovering my non-work-related activities. Prepare yourselves.

Anyway, I just wanted to highlight a couple of really exciting things that are going on with unions in the US - these are all very 'newsworthy' events, so you've probably come across them already...

1. UNITE!-HERE Hotel Worker's Rising Campaign is SO impressive and has been getting some really good publicity. They've identified Hilton as a major target and come out with an incredibly ambitious campaign plan for the next year. And this is a simple enough campaign to support - all you have to do is be a conscious consumer when you are making hotel arrangements. For more information on showing your solidarity with hotel workers who are striking, see http://www.unitehere.org/hotelguide/default.asp

2. The SEIU janitors at the University of Miami. These women and men are taking a huge risk by walking off the job without the protection of a union, but that's what they've got to do to get their union recognized. Donna Shalala, former Secretary of Health and Human Services under Clinton and current U of M President, acts more hypocritical every day in her refusal to support these workers' right to health insurance. And you've got to smile when you hear that her home gardeners walked off the job today in solidarity with the janitors!

3. And then there is the discussion over the immigration/guest worker bills. While the AFL-CIO and a number of other unions have come out against the McCain-Kennedy bill (which would allow undocumented workers to earn legal status), the SEIU and UNITE!-HERE are supporting it. Considering all the crazy talk going on around immigration these days (minutemen, building a fence on the border!), it makes me happy to see some unions taking a progressive stand on these issues.

So, in a time when there seems always to be so much bad news about unions, I thought I'd start back by talking about a few hopeful things.


Privatizing Ports

It's been disguised by all this talk of supposed 'security' issues, but the more significant concern regarding the Bush administration's new business deal, selling port management to a foreign corporation, lies within the privatization debate. Though the North Carolina News & Observer coverage included photos of unionized port workers protesting this deal, the article itself made no mention of why they would be doing so.

John Nichols, however, in his Online Beat hits the nail on the head:

While traditional port authorities still exist, they are increasing marginalized
as privatization schemes have allowed corporations -- often with tough
anti-union attitudes and even tougher bottom lines -- to take charge of more and
more of the basic operations at the nation's ports.
For the activists out there, Public Citizen has an on-line petition campaign, aimed at Congress, to decry the real problems with this kind of corporate maneuvering.


Public Enemy No. 1 (Domestically, that is)

This is really interesting read in today's New York Times about some internal Wal-Mart communications between our country's number one bad guy, Lee Scott (CEO of Wal-Mart) and some managers throughout the country.

When one manager asks the perfectly reasonable question of "Why can't the world's largest company provide retirement medical benefits?" the *compassionate* CEO tells him to quit his job if he's not happy. Pretty great stuff and goes to show that all this asshole really cares about is his $17 million dollar salary.

The communications came from a secret internal web page that Wal-Mart hosts called "Lee's Garage." I'd love to find a way into that site, if you are a hacker and looking for something fun to do please post a comment to this on how to get into the site, we could do some serious hijacking of his site if we could get in and pose as disaffected managers asking all sorts of difficult questions.



Check this steaming pile of horse shit out. Its the prez and CEO of Wal-Mart's editorial in the Washington Post about Maryland recently passing a bill that requires companies who employ more than 10,000 people in the state to provide a minimum level of health insurace coverage (it's aimed directly at Wal-Mart since they are the only employer in MD with over 10,000 employees and who provide abysmal benefits to their employees). This guy sucks, and his Wal-Mart-as-responsible-business cheeleading makes me sick.


Goin' Green

An interesting follow-up to one of Brother Josh's posts (12.02.2005) appeared in today's New York Times. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union has called for a decrease in port pollution and vowed to contribute their part in this challenge. As pointed out in the article, this step is not just good for Los Angeles' overall air quality, but for the very union members who work in the polluted ports.


Ford cutting 25,000-30,000 jobs

A brief follow up to a post I wrote back in December '05. As a native Minnesotan, I am happy for the workers in St. Paul who were on the chopping block and went to work this morning thinking they were going to be let go with the news of Ford's new plan for restructuring. They are spared... for now. Ford says it is still going to close two more plants later this year. But, in cutting three plants and two parts manufacturers--25,000 to 30,000 in all--there is still more bad news than good.

The thing I think is important to keep in mind here, is as much as Labor contracts will be blamed as this gets reported in the news media, is that the workers are the victims, not the villains. This is not UAW's fault. This is not the fault of the workers from the plants who are being let go. I think the real crime will be when the media and business types blame workers' quest for a better life, for higher wages, for a secure retirement, and the myriad other things that collective bargaining does for them, when in fact the real culprit here is bad management. CEO and Chairman of Ford said it himself, "If we build it, they'll buy it. That's business as usual and it's wrong." Workers don't determine the production capacity of Ford's SUVs and sedans, and workers don't make the business decisions that lead to overproduction of its cars and trucks. They don't control the marketing, they don't sell the cars from the lot. There are many things to blame for Ford's reported $1.6 billion loss last year, and the least of those is the hard working men and women who build the vehicles. So whenever you hear someone saying something along those lines, push back and stick up for the workers who are just trying to make a decent living.


Labor and immigration

CORRECTION: If you viewed this post yesterday (probably not) I think I was probably being inaccurate in my claim of 10+ million undocumented workers. It is more accurate to say undocumented immigrants, not assume they are all workers since many are probably children and/or elderly.

This is a very interesting peice from the NYT today. The SEIU, Laborers, and the US Chamber of Commerce (of all groups) are forming a pro-immigration coalition to lobby Congress. While SEIU and the Chamber support a broad guest-worker program that would legalize the 10+ million of undocumented immingrants in this country, Laborers aren't quite on board with that just yet. And the AFL-CIO is having none of it, they oppose the plan entirely.

Why? New immigrants should not be viewed as an obstacle, but as potential members. They probably won't have much of a voice in their workplaces without representation, and would probably love to have the opporuntiy to collectively bargain for their compensation, especially since new immigrants predominantly take low-income jobs. Right? Am I wrong here? Further, and this may be a stretch on my part, but immigrant communities seem to have a greater sense of community and solidarity than the rest of us. After all, they need to stick together in a country where about half the population thinks they oughta go back to wherever they came from. Doesn't all this combined make them prime targets for organizing?

Ideologically, I am about as pro-immigration as it gets so i am happy to see SEIU take sides with a dreaded rival (Chamber of Commerce) if its for a good progressive cause. It just strikes me as old school backwards thinking to me that Labor in general would not be in favor of more immigration. Seriously, that there would all of the sudden be 10+ million new potential members is probably the best news the AFL-CIO could hope to receive these days, isn't it? And aren't we a nation of immigrants, after all? How does this escape people?


The King Holiday

Happy Birthday Dr. King. May we continue to learn from your life, both the example you set and the words you preached, and let us not forget that there is still work to be done.

While a lot of people probably think racism is no longer an issue in this country, they are just plain wrong. Racism is alive and well and is pervasive in our culture, in our media, in our news, in our entertainment, in our politics, and in our schools. It may be more subtle and nuanced than it was 50 years ago, but it is still there. We are about to confirm a Supreme Court nominee, Samuel Alito, who doesn't believe that the Constitution affirms the principle of one-person, one-vote. And even though the Voting Rights Act affirms that no one should be turned away from the polls, we know this is still happening in states across the countr. This Washington Post article shows how many minority Americans still have little to no voice at the polls, and what they have is being stripped away by redistricting schemes to preserve power where it already exists.

Further, the economic ineqaulity in this country--the "richest" country in the world--is morally reprehensible. I am encouraged that a major news media organization is willing to pay it credence; even if it is buried in its weekend magazine, this New York Times Sunday Magazine article is a good read. It talks about living wage campaigns going on across the country in an effort to reduce poverty and help raise the standards of living, and it discusses some of the barriers these types of campaigns face from businesses and politicans. It talks about what the raises will mean to actual individuals who make the minimum wage. And yet the article doesn't reference the racial implications of these campaigns (although it does focus on the Santa Fe living wage experiment and the mostly Latino beneficiaries of the living wage increases in that community). Poverty affects all Americans, regardless of skin color, but it disproportionately affects Black and Hispanic/Latino Americans. Katrina, in its 15 minutes of fame, laid bare one of the faces of poverty in this country today. But look how soon we forget? We had one big collective "awww, that is terrible, I wish there was something I could do," and then 98% of us stopped paying attention and effectively stopped caring. I'm guilty too.

So there is still work to be done, and we cannot wait around for another Dr. King to propel us into action. And while I shamefully work on this day of rememberance, I am making a personal commitment to learn more from Dr. King and to do a better job of honoring him in my actions.


Mine Safety

In an article yesterday, it was reported that the current Sago Mine owner, International Coal Group, had committed numerous violations of federal mine health and safety rules in 2005, increased from the previous years, when the Sago Mine was owned by Anker West Virginia Mining Co. Ironically, however:

Kitts (ICG Senior vice-president) said safety at the mine has improved dramatically since ICG took over and the company is working closely with regulatory agencies to make further improvements.

"We think that we are operating a safe mine," he said. "We have no real clue about what triggered this explosion or what happened today."

This tragedy in West Virginia is made more poignant by a comment by the son of one of the miners killed in the accident:

Problems at the mine had been "going on for months ... and they still send men in," Bennett told Today, adding that he felt that if the mine owner had allowed workers to unionize the violations wouldn't have happened.


A bit of tongue in cheek

for those of you who appreciate dark humor.


NY Transit Strike

First the bad news:

"It's a pain in the neck," (a 28-year old foriegn currency analyst) said. "I'm very anti-union, especially this time of year. It's ridiculous. If you look what they're asking for, that's 50 years ago. Pensions don't work like that anymore."

Now the good news:

However, two other unions, which represent Metro-North ticket collectors and track workers, have vowed to show solidarity with Local 100 by refusing to cross picket lines, and they could conceivably delay, though not disrupt, regular train service.


Washington Ballet dancers locked out!

Last night after work I was walking by the Warner Theatre in downtown Washington and stopped to talk to some dancers represented by the American Guild of Musical Artists who were picketing b/c of a management lockout that has lead to the canceling of the entire Nutcracker run that was scheduled to go until Christmas Eve.

I was really inpressed with the resolve of the dancer I talked to. He said that the Ballet doesn't understand that the union cares just as much as management does about having the Nutcracker go forward, but when dancers are scared for their own safety at work b/c of a extremely grueling rehearsal and performance schedule, "Enough is enough!"

The dancer asked me to send an email to ballet management to let them know that they need to negotiate in good faith with the union to end the lockout and get the dancers back onstage. Please email if you can:

Jason Palmquist, Executive Director jpalmquist@washingtonballet.org
Kay Kendall, President of the Board k.kendall@earthlink.net


A Travelers Night - a poem by a NW airlines striker

A Travelers Night
By Mike Klemm

T’was the night before Christmas
as they stood side by side,
the weather was frigid but they walked with such pride.

I was traveling to Dallas, to Paris,
and Rome.
but stopped when I spotted these
marchers walking alone.

I looked at the travelers as they moved on their way,
they walked past our marchers
with nothing to say.

With bags filled with presents, for family and friends.
they moved through the airport
eager for their travels to end

Throughout the day and
into dusks waning light
the marchers held cadence
as they walked through the night.

While others stayed home all
snug and secure,
these marchers walked miles
Sub zero temps they endured.

On occasion a traveler would
glance toward these few,
and wonder what drives them
to come back each day anew.

I studied these marchers trying to listen to some,
what was their story,
from where had they come?

Mechanics, Cleaners, and Custodians
the signs they carried read,
these marchers were Union
a picket line they now tread.

Where once t’was their duty passenger safety they ensure,
now forced to the picket line
with conditions no one could endure

They struck for their jobs
for benefits and wages,
to battle mismanagement
that had plagued them for ages.

For on the backs of the workers
management will always lay blame,
unable to acknowledge it was their failure
their blunders
their shame.

I couldn’t help but wonder
of the picketers still home,
of these brave men and women
this Union marching alone.

As I stood watching these
brave picketers with such pride,
the thought of their struggle
brought forth tears
I could not hide.

For this battle is labor’s,
for workers of all kind,
but so many just stood silent, as if deaf and blind.

For Labor united,
cannot be undone,
how could they forget this lesson,
in blood labor had won.

As I stood there beside them
I could not help but weep,
not just for these workers
but all the others asleep.

For the Scabs, these betrayers
of their friends and of labor,
whose judgment is coming
for in hell they are favored.

I didn’t want to leave on
this cold winters night,
to leave these guardians of labor so willing to fight.

Then a picketer walked over
with a voice strong and true,
“Its alright Santa
we‘ve both work to do”.

“Remember our struggle, and how Labor still has fight”.
Watch out for stray parts from those Red Tails in flight.”

Merry Christmas,
to all
to all a good flight.

**Thank you to Peter Rachleff for sharing this poem with the Working Class listserv**


WTO Meeting in Hong Kong starting tomorrow

Have heard from a couple of sources that the WTO meeting in Hong Kong that is starting tomorrow is a "big" deal. Found this website, but think it is still confusing. If anyone has a good site/article that explains what is going on in Hong Kong, please post. Thanks!



"He He, Ho Ho: Unionbusting's got ta go!"

Today Kitten and I were able to participate in the AFL-CIO's lunchtime "Restore Human Rights for America's Workers" rally at AFL-CIO hq and then marched to the White House. The march was super empowering and I'm not going to dwell on it here, but two points have have been sticking in my head since.

1. Where were the Change to Win Unions? We only saw 3 reps in the legendary purple SEIU garb.

2. When can there be a union rally that doesn't involve opposing something? All the union rallies that I have attended have been "against" something: whether it be the Defense Department's "National Security Personnel System" that would gut collective bargaining rights for civilian employees there, or today's rally that focussed on the Bush administration's abyssmal record with labor. Please be sure that I am NOT sick of these rallies, rather I feel they are essential steps on the quest to motivate members of unions and the public to take action. What I'm trying to say is that I'm ready to also attend a union rally that has a sole purpose to celebrate and let people know how productive and empowering union workplaces are for BOTH workers and management. Let's use that same energy that we use to rally about things we don't like to also rally for things we do: UNIONS!

$7 Million!

I heard a little (wee, tiny) bit of Washington-insider news yesterday, which was that one of the CAFTA 15 (I won't say who, though evidently his, err...ahem, said representative's staffer, was quite liberal with this news) accepted $7 million for his district in exchange for the 'yay' vote on CAFTA.

Now, a few things here: a) we knew it was happening, but it's a slap in the face to have this representative's office admit so dismissively that its vote was bought, b) their claim was that it is impossible to get monies for this poor district, raising the troubling fact that a representative may feel forced to sell his or her vote for his constituents' interest, and finally, c) upon hearing this, everyone present thought $7 million really wasn't that much to ask for!

Seems like this is all f-d up on various levels. While I'm obviously frustrated (having actively campaigned against CAFTA for almost 2 years), by his sold vote, which completely disregards the damage CAFTA will having on the working and lower classes in all the counntries involved, it is also disturbing to me that the representative in question felt that this was the only way, with a Republican controlled House and White House, to bring improvements to his district. Unfortunately, as I just alluded too, I think it was a band-aid solution; while the district may benefit from a few new roads (and how many can you build with $7 million, these days?), ultimately, his support for CAFTA, and the unfair model it's based on, will leave a legacy of increased economic hardship for those same people.


Tasini for NY Senate!?!

Holy crap! Jonathan Tasini, the workinglife.org blogger and labor activist, is running in the Democratic primary against Senator Hillary Clinton. The reason he is getting involved is the war in Iraq. Check his site out at Tasini for New York.

I don't think it is a stretch to say he has no chance whatsoever of winning, but I like the idea of making Hillary talk about the war. If Hillary has to compete for votes on the left it may help get her away from her staunch pro-war positions, although I am sure she will figure out a way to "triangulate" the issue (that is find the middle ground that she learned so well from her husband).

On the other hand, I am not really in favor of replacing a female in the Senate with another white male (anti-war, pro-labor lefty or not). I don't mean that as a personal knock on anyone, it's just that I'd like to see more diversity in the Senate, not less.


Sad news for Ford employees

I guess it shouldn't be surprising, but it looks like Ford is due to close 5 North American plants starting in January. The Minneapolist Star-Tribune is reporting that among those on the chopping block is the St Paul plant, which assembles Ford Rangers and Mazda B-series pickup trucks (the smaller pickups in the Ford line). This plant is located along the Mississippi, right above historic Lock and Damn No. 1, the first lock and damn on the mighty mississippi. About 2,000 workers in St paull will be out of work if the report is true (all represented by UAW).

While this is sad news for the workers and the union, I have to say that I think maybe the unions are somewhat culpable in the decline of the American auto makers. Let me offer this disclaimer: I am no expert, this is just a hunch I have. My hunch revolves around a central question: Why didn't Labor, as a historically liberal and progressive social movement, lead the charge for the Big 3 automakers going green, if not long before Toyota and Honda, at least simoultaneously? For one, out of self-preservation; for two out of a genuine desire to see cleaner cars for a more healthy environment?

I am probably overestimating labor's pull in the design room in Ford/GM/Chrysler, but it seems you more often hear about union's antagonism to new technoology than you hear about unions embracing new technology. I don't mean to say that the Prius is the reason the Big 3 are in the stinker, but imagine if GM had came up with and hyped a hybrid vehicle like that. And why couldn't unions fight their bosses and try to convince them to be more green? They seem uniquely positioned to influence these companies in my mind. They have something Sierra Club doesn't: the leverage of their actual labor and their contracts. This is probably a fanciful idea, I know, but why couldn't it work?