The United State Of Labor
March 4, 2019 6:43 AM   Subscribe

Driving through Oakland late last week was almost festive. The rain had finally let up, striking teachers, parents and kids at what felt like every corner. Neighbors and bus and garbage truck drivers honking their solidarity.

At the little neighborhood school we were picketing, a lady in a fancy car drove up and gave $100 for the strike fund. The organizer said it had happened a couple times before.

It was so heartening to see 12-year-olds run the picket line at the big board meeting rally on Fri - made me tear up. On the other hand, what a fucking shame little kids have to literally beg for a bare minimum of education...
posted by The Toad at 7:11 AM on March 4, 2019 [5 favorites]

Clearly I do not have the right movement attitude, was totally for the Stop & Shop workers but seriously secretly hoping the vote would be postponed as there was a killer sale on the best ice cream last week, it's over now so STRIKE STRIKE STRIKE!!!
posted by sammyo at 7:19 AM on March 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

On the other hand, how do we break the police unions?

Faculty at my alma mater just went on strike. The words of the administrator, they are weasely.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 7:20 AM on March 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

Under Wabtec’s proposal, new hires would make around 38 percent less than current workers, according to Kissam.

Companies often say they need to institute two-tier systems in order to stay competitive. In an op-ed on the Erie strike, Greg Sbrocco, a Wabtec senior vice president, argued that global pressures necessitated it, calling the lower rates for new hires ”a standard practice by U.S. manufacturing companies to aggressively compete with competitors in low-cost countries like China or Mexico.”
That's the epitaph that will eventually be carved on the American middle class' tombstone, if we keep on the road we're on. The strikes are great, and I hope they can accomplish something, but ever since we decided that unrestricted trade with low-labor-cost, low-worker-protection, low-environmental-regulation regimes was just fine, it's been a race to the bottom. The workers in Erie are just buying time, until Wabtec figures out how to move the entire operation offshore. Or maybe they don't, in which case they get bled to death trying to compete on cost with products manufactured in cheap-labor jurisdictions. There's no good, long-term sustainable outcome when your competition has an unlimited supply of disposable workers, no pesky retirement plans, and can dump all the waste it wants in the nearest river.

Pressuring employers, the traditional role of organized labor, is only half the problem; the other half is the pressure on those employers from their foreign competition, who we let dump products on the US market with no regard for what it does to domestic industry. (Well, except in cases where pro-trade cheerleaders knew exactly what it was going to do to domestic industry, and saw drowning labor in a bathtub full of cheap imported goods as a win.)

The thing I find intensely frustrating is that you seemingly can't find a politician who is willing to go after both sides of the problem. Sanders et al and a growing swath of the Democratic Party are increasingly willing to support organized labor, including supporting strikes, but are milquetoast on trade at best. Much of Trump's appeal in the Rust Belt states was his tough stance on trade, but of course he doesn't give a shit about actual workers (and it's entirely possible the trade thing was just a scam anyway, like the rest of his presidency). But because Trump was in favor of it, apparently now Democrats have to be against it, so when he's out of office I'm concerned it'll be back to the status quo w/r/t China (that it will please the big Wall Street donors is just coincidental, of course).

Bluntly: I don't think you can protect labor in the long run without a tough trade policy that prohibits imports from countries whose "structural advantage" is just abusing workers or the environment. Simultaneously, it's beyond useless to implement trade restrictions without ensuring that domestic industries can step in and deliver the goods—else you'll just end up with empty store shelves and angry consumers. The two need to be worked in concert, but it seems like voters are likely to be presented with an either-or choice.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:53 AM on March 4, 2019 [4 favorites]

Kadin2048 highlights exactly why labour used to be, and needs to be again, an internationalist movement. Improving conditions for workers in one country is a short-term positive for them, but doesn't help workers elsewhere and -- since capital is mobile in a way labour isn't -- ultimately serves to undermine those workers who have fought for better working conditions; their employers will either move jobs overseas or, if that's not possible, automate as much as possible.

Obviously, this doesn't mean that labour should just give up and not fight for better wages and working conditions. It means that they must, necessarily, think of themselves as an international movement, especially when free trade agreements are being negotiated.
posted by asnider at 8:02 AM on March 4, 2019 [11 favorites]

Wright State in Dayton had a strike last month, with the last straw being the right to negotiate over health insurance.

After two weeks, the administration put out a call for scab labor; the link goes to a post about the ad on The Professor Is In, a pretty popular job-hunting-advice blog for academics, with the runner of the site saying "I have never before used my platform to urge readers to boycott a job ad, but I am doing it now."
posted by damayanti at 9:03 AM on March 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

The teachers won the strike last month in Denver, too!

It's interesting watching these teachers' strikes kicking off, in part because teaching is by definition pink-collar labor and vocational labor at that. Which means that these are jobs that are underpaid and overworked because we don't value the work of women, but the workforces make the traditional labor slurs at lazy, physically threatening, blue-class workers in bed with organized crime ludicrous: those are women! Nice women! Who are entrusted with our children, and who keep pointing out that what they want is to be able to teach our children better! (That was very much the messaging of the LA and WV strikes, at least that I saw.)

Which is a really brilliant way of turning the sexism that devalues this work and strangles it of the resources to be done correctly and using it as a weapon against the district. It's so hard to combat it, morally, because the children and their welfare is literally the shield that their teachers are organizing behind, and everyone with a child in the district knows damn well that the districts are struggling to do things better, and people without children in the districts at least know what children should have.

The Denver and Oakland strikes, then, coming in on the heels of that and demanding enough payment for teachers to make salaries that allow them to live comfortably in their own communities: that's both a harder case to make for this kind of pink-collar vocational work, because so much of it is predicated on the idea that women do it because they just inherently kind of want to, and women in these professions are obviously not the main breadwinners; they're subsidized by their (assumed) husbands' salaries. So you can't quite weaponize sexism in your favor in the same way on these strikes, but what you can do is point out and emphasize the lives of single women in these professions and hit people on the "look, I'm a pretty young woman and I have to live in scary neighborhoods with slumlords" tack if you spin it right, and weaponize it in a different way.

These strikes are so incredibly intersectional, is the thing, and the tactics that teacher's groups have to use and now are using to achieve public support despite the background of misogyny are just--they're old but they're effective and they're coming back. They don't exactly undermine patriarchy but they use it to achieve a stable place for women who don't fit the assumed molds of the defaults to stand in, so they can live their lives and make a foundation. You saw similar tactics from suffragettes and in the beginning of the social work movement and in early peace movements, and the parallels keep popping out at me. I'm really happy to be seeing these tactics, too, because I think there's an essential importance to putting a value on women's work, and I'm delighted to see that the banner of labor activism is being carried in a very real, pointed way by women of both middle and working classes, and that women are getting credit for it too.
posted by sciatrix at 9:22 AM on March 4, 2019 [6 favorites]

Will 2020 Be the Year Presidential Candidates Actually Take Labor Issues Seriously? (David Goodner, In These Times)
.. By and large, the announced 2020 presidential candidates have not spoken at length on the stump about their agenda for labor, at least not yet, instead sticking to broader themes such as economic inequality and policies like raising the minimum wage, Medicare-for-All, free college tuition and universal child care.

“The candidates are making a distinction between labor policy and labor issues,” David Yepsen, the host of Iowa Press and a leading expert on presidential politics, told In These Times. “It’s politically safer to talk about health care, expanded Medicare, and a higher minimum wage than it is to talk about things like card check.”

Most voters don’t understand the latter, even though you’ve got to do things like the latter to get the former,” Yepsen added. “If you don’t find ways to strengthen the labor movement, there isn’t going to be the political support to do the things needed to rebuild the working class.”
posted by ZeusHumms at 7:42 AM on March 7, 2019

After Janus, Cities and Towns Are Poised to Become the New Battleground Over “Right to Work” (Nick Johnson, In These Times)
Local RTW laws have been slow to spread in part because local governments like Sussex County fear that they violate the NLRA. But with union busters running out of states in which they could realistically seek to pass RTW laws, they have looked to local RTW laws as a way to make inroads into non-RTW states. If the Supreme Court gives local RTW laws their blessing, the significant legal risks will be removed and right-wing groups will begin pushing them on counties and towns throughout the country.

What can the labor movement do in the meantime? One strategy is legislative. In states where Democrats hold the governorship and the majority in both state legislatures, we can push politicians to follow the Delaware approach and enact laws guaranteeing the right to enter into union security agreements. But even after significant Democratic gains in the midterm elections, there are only 13 of these states other than Delaware.
posted by ZeusHumms at 7:45 AM on March 7, 2019

"Today, Anchor Brewing workers voted to join the ILWU. This victory has been the result of workers' organizing to win control over their jobs and life, and DSA has been proud to organize with these workers every step of the way. @anchorunionSF #anchorunion #anchoredinSF"
posted by The Whelk at 1:55 PM on March 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

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