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May 5

STAYING IN THE FIGHT

I read this piece and my head was nodding in agreement.  Environmental issues are important to me, but that was less the reason for the head-nodding than the author’s three principles of strategy, tactics, and hope.  As I am primarily a Labor activist it has long been clear to me that those three principles are largely missing from the Labor movement.  Strategy that hasn’t worked is repeated mindlessly and tactics often have no strategic value.  It is the third principle - hope - that is conspicuous by it’s absence.  Labor seems constantly to be on defense.  In sports that usually means the other guy is scoring more.  The inability to score leads to frustration which is another way of describing lost hope.  While Labor has had a few recent small victories, they receive precious little attention.  The setbacks, however, are trumpeted as though they are historic.  Few are aware of the April UAW win in Toledo, while anyone with a television knows the UAW lost in Chattanooga.  Of course, it’s not accidental, it is intentional.  The media, in subservience to their corporate advertising revenue, tell the stories that Business wants told in the manner in which Business wants them presented.  The resulting hopelessness on the part of working people is to be expected.  Labor activists must find a way to overcome this and inspire hope in place of despair, confidence in place of frustration.  Let that be the strategy from which tactics flow.

A SNATCH OF “FACEBOOK” CONVERSATION

I can’t resist this “low-hanging fruit” to update this page.  This is  a part of a conversation that began as a response to a millionaire whose video made fun of the Wal*Mart workers attempts to improve their situation.  If you’d care to see the whole thing, let me know and I’ll post a link.  As you’ll see, Michael isn’t a fan of unions.  So far, Facebook hasn’t allowed my response to post.  Here we go: 

  • Michael James

    Trade Unions have infected so many companies, and the fact that there are Public Sector Unions is nonsense.

    I’m proud of accountability and hard work, not endless job security, mediocrity and a bloated and undeserved pension.

    Detroit and Cleveland are looking really good these days

  • Today
  • Ed Mattos
    Ed Mattos

    You appear to be one of the many who think that unions are “outside groups”. Trade unions don’t “infect ” anything. Trade unions, far from perfect as they are now, represent the interests of the employees in the bargaining unit. Collective bargaining means that the unions negotiate with the employers until there is MUTUAL agreement on pay, benefits, and working conditions. Employers have unions, too. They call them Trade Associations and they pay dues as members to finance the “government relations” operations, otherwise known as lobbying for legislation favorable to their businesses. These associations, in fact, have far greater influence over policy than do unions. Michael, it appears that you have swallowed the entire cup of “kool-aid” served by these associations when you speak of “bloated and undeserved” pensions, and accept the claim that unions caused the problems plaguing many cities and states. Do CEO’s not also get bloated and undeserved pensions? Have their decisions not eroded the US manufacturing base? Did unions dream up the sub-prime mortgage schemes from which the real estate industry has yet to fully recover? You are free to scrutinize your beliefs, as you are free to not do so. You decide.

Leniency for the Oak Ridge 3: Ask the judge for leniency for nonviolent protesters of nuclear weapons

- http://bit.ly/1iztzDw

(Source: act.rootsaction.org)

Feb 4

POST TO THE POST

I sent this to the editor of the WASHINGTON POST in response to AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka’s remarks.  When asked about the Keystone XL Pipeline, here’s what he said:

"We think that anything that’s going to create jobs, help the country and do it in an environmentally sound way ought to be done."

[Read the article here.]

Whether it gets published remains to be seen, but here is what I wrote to the Post:

I’ve been a union Ironworker for more than 40 years. My union is one of the affiliates which AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka asserted is supporting construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Nevertheless, I feel compelled to register my disappointment with Pres. Trumka’s comments as reported in the Feb 1 lead article regarding the State Dept. final environmental impact report on the Keystone project.  His statement reflects the shortsightedness that has plagued the US labor movement for decades.  This emphasis on expediency is partly responsible for the lack of enthusiasm for organized labor among activists with whom the AFL-CIO could form alliances.
Mr. Trumka said that AFL-CIO affiliates support anything that creates jobs, which clearly a massive project such as the pipeline would do.  How many of those jobs would go to union construction workers is an open question.  Wind farms and solar installations also create jobs and do so in the “environmentally sound way” Mr. Trumka seems to prefer.  Given his background as a coal miner, his allegiance to the fossil fuel industry is understandable.  But he is a recognized Labor leader and leadership often requires breaking with the past in order to move forward, as painful as that might be.
In my career I’ve worked on coal and gas-fired power plants.  I’d occasionally look at the smoke billowing from the stacks and wonder if my work was eventually going to be harmful to my children and theirs.  Unfortunately, scientists are saying yes, it will.
Human progress means that new industries replace old in order to meet society’s needs and wants. Steel drums have replaced wooden barrels, autos have replaced horse-drawn conveyances. Workers had to learn to adapt, and part of that adaptation involved creating unions through which they could advocate for themselves.  How significant it would be to have Labor acknowledging the need for a clean energy industry and advocating for its development.

UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES

Labor Notes is a monthly newsletter which has as its stated purpose “putting the movement back into the Labor Movement”.  A lofty goal, indeed!  To that end the staff reports on the efforts of Labor activists to reestablish the clout that organized labor once had - and then build from there.  Labor Notes also reports on issues that threaten organized labor, which might otherwise go unnoticed.

One such issue appeared in the October, 2013 newsletter, and is the reason for the title of this little piece - “Unintended Consequences”.  It involves multiemployer pension plans many of whose sponsors are seeking a change in pension law. Multiemployer plans are negotiated between unions and employers who compete in the same industry such as construction, trucking, and grocery.  Many of these plans are underfunded due to reduced union density in the private sector, a problem that unions should never have allowed to arise.

The story to which I refer describes the efforts of plan sponsors to allow benefits to current retirees to be reduced in order to ease the funding burden on contributing employers.  Current law doesn’t permit such reductions, but the provisions expire in 2014.  The National Coordinating Committee for Multiemployer Plans [NCCMP] issued a report describing the seriousness of the funding issues and the possible remedies that plan sponsors are seeking.

Now, I’m not a disinterested observer.  Because of the “Great Recession”, I had to retire from the construction industry sooner than I had intended.  My pension comes from a multiemployer plan of which I was a Trustee for 15 years.  Whenever a possible benefit increase was before us, we always discussed its sustainability.  We knew we couldn’t cut retiree benefits if funding problems arose - nor did we want to ever do that.

So to what unintended consequences am I referring?  These funding issues are the direct result of unions failing to defend and extend their market share in their various industries!  Of all of the causes of underfunding that the NCCMP report describes, market share is the one that unions could control - through aggressive organizing - and didn’t. 

A small part of my career was spent working as a union organizer.  I did what I could given the limited resources at my disposal.  It was frustrating to know that organizing the unorganized was a low priority item.  At an international union convention, a resolution to establish an organizing fund was at first defeated, and then very narrowly passed on reconsideration.

The unintended consequences of the failure to respond to decreasing numbers of employers and members by organizing?  One of them is to try to pay for this error by picking the pockets of retirees.  These labor “leaders” would have to fight, if those who built the unions were to return to life.

Nevertheless, Labor Notes gives me great hope for the future.  The activists whose campaigns fill every issue are evidence that the sleeping giant that is labor is stirring and stretching itself awake.

Volunteered Slavery…

…was the title of Rahsann Roland Kirk’s first album following his performance many years ago at the Newport Jazz Festival, which I had the pleasure to witness.  For those who don’t recognize the name, Roland Kirk was a blind, multi-instrumental jazz artist .  He played several instruments at the same time!  Some thought it a gimmick, while others recognized the artistry.  Anyway, this cartoon made me think of him.  He died in 1977 at age 42.  I don’t know the original source but I’ll provide the credit to Pro Labor Alliance Inc.’s Photos.

For far too many of us our jobs amount to wage slavery for which we have volunteered.  America’s Labor leaders need to recognize the opportunity the country’s current mood presents.  With all of the clamor about income inequality and raising minimum wages coupled with the assault on the poor manifested by the SNAP reductions, Labor needs to marshal every resource available to lead working folks out of this mess. If current leaders hesitate then new leaders with vision must challenge their authority.  Our heritage demands it!

Listen to the Music

This song by the O’Jays sums up the image I lifted from WhoIsGovt [@fuller_derek]:Embedded image permalink

LOL - Lincoln On Labor

We don’t celebrate his birthday anymore and so few get to know much about the old rail-splitter.  Nevertheless, his thoughts are worth more than the penny on which he appears! [Thanks to Bro. Ron Hoyle - ronhoyleart.com - for posting this so I could copy it!]

Oct 7

We Are The Union

Click We Are The Union to view the video.

With thanks to @UnionizeTMobile.  I’d heard about this but never seen it.  I don’t use the word “awesome” much but when I do, I prefer to describe things like this.  Stay awesome, my friends!

Oct 1

With propers to UpWorthy, AFL-CIO, and IBEW 2357 [@UNION2357]; I saw this and laughed ruefully.  If only humans would react this way, there might be fewer liberties taken by the 1%!