Tag Archives: unions

Remembering Karen Silkwood: A Modern Heroine for Workers, Gone but Never Forgotten

alewitz silkwood mural

Mural by Mike Alewitz, 1994, dedicated to Karen Silkwood’s memory.

 

Today, February 19th, 1946, Karen Silkwood was born.  If she had not been the victim of a still mysterious crash on November 13th, 1974, she’d be 68 years old today.

Ms. Silkwood was a chemical technician at the Kerr-McGee Fuel Fabrication site in Oklahoma.  Silkwood was a member of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union and was later elected to her local’s bargaining committee, being the first woman chosen to that position. (from wikipedia).

Silkwood’s life was cut short on the night of November 13th in an auto accident, the fault of which has never seen resolution.  Many facts point to the possibility that Kerr-McGee had a part in her death in order to silence the results of her building work about the safety violations of the Kerr-McGee plant.

Kerr-McGee finally settled with Silkwood’s family after her death regarding her high levels of plutonium in her blood from her work at the plant.  This only after a historically long court battle and finally an appeal all the way to the United States Supreme Court in 1979 by the company that refused to pay or admit any wrong-doing in her death.  A settlement was finally reached with the family.

Silkwood’s life and legacy of fighting against corporate power should serve as inspiration for all future works.  Corporate power has increased in this country by leaps and bounds since Silkwood’s efforts to challenge the shady practices of Kerr-McGee that put worker’s lives in danger for the sake of profit.  The outright hostility and disregard for human life of corporate capitalism is repeated over and over again in the millions of stories and struggles of workers in this country and across the globe.

We can never assume for a minute that any corporation as the safety of the workers as their primary goal in operations; its not.  Their primary goal, as according to the requirement of capitalist competition, is to make a profit and expand operations.  The toll taken to workers on the front lines of producing a profit for companies is seen as an impediment, not a part of, the model of profit and production.

Let us never forget the sacrifice of Karen Silkwood and work always with her legacy as our inspiration.

For more about Karen Silkwood see the links below:

Wikipedia summary: Karen Silkwood
PBS Frontline special: Nuclear Reaction, The Karen Silkwood Story
A television mystery show telling her story: Karen Silkwood, A Life on the Line

h/t Linda Horan, a strong sister dedicated to worker justice in New Hampshire

 

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House Hears Testimony Against Right to Work (Part Deux)

More testimony against HB 402 thanks to NH Labor News again, from Dexter Arnold, a worker and union member in New Hampshire.  The New Hampshire House Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Services Committee is having the hearings and will vote on whether or not to recommend this bill as either “ought to pass” or “inexpedient to legislate” .  Then it will go to the house for a full vote.  Many reps follow the recommendation of the committees.

There is still time to make legislators think twice about passing this horrible legislation, please call or email the members of the committee listed above.

Right To Work Is Just Bad Public Policy

Dexter Arnold

I live in Nashua. I am a member of UAW Local 1981, and I strongly oppose HB 402. HB402 is bad public policy that flunks a truth in advertising test. This bill is not about individual rights, which are already well protected. This bill’s sole purpose is to weaken New Hampshire workers’ ability to have a say over their jobs and working conditions. It is improper state interference with the collective bargaining process.

More than ninety years ago, Supreme Court Chief Justice William Howard Taft, a former President and conservative Republican, who was no friend of unions, stated that “a single employee was helpless in dealing with an employer.” That’s the key issue at stake in this bill. By requiring a state-mandated open shop, HB 402 targets the core of what unionism is all about – that together, workers are able to do accomplish things that they can’t do as individuals

I want to talk briefly from personal and family experience. My father and grandfather were New Hampshire natives. They were lifelong Republicans. And they were local union presidents. Their union responsibilities were in addition to their fulltime jobs as a printer and a machinist. They understood that unions are a way that workers can accomplish together what they cannot do as individuals. That’s why they got together with others to organize their local unions in Nashua. They believed in personal responsibility and did not confuse individual liberty with demanding a free ride on someone else’s back. They certainly would have felt that it was inappropriate to make free rides state policy.

I also want to make a point based on my own experience as vice president and grievance chair in a union that did not have a fair-share agreement. When they had problems, non-members who were paying nothing for representation had no problem coming to the union and drawing on its resources for help. As a grievance representative, I handled and won several such cases.

To read the rest of his testimony, refer to: Dexter Arnold (UAW) Testimony HB 402: Right To Work Is Just Bad Public Policy

 

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Labor’s Unsung Heros: Parts 1 and 2

From a brother working on the front lines of the labor struggle in New Jersey, Kevin Boston,

“It’s push or be pushed. The world belongs to the meat-eaters.” -John P. Morris

In society today, we have reached a point at which many people need to live within walking distance from their jobs- that is, if they have one at all. It has become very expensive to travel any distance to and from work: between fuel, maintenance, tolls, insurance, fees… Or bus fare, which is ever-increasing. A cab? Forget it! Jobs these days do not pay enough of a living to cover transportation, much less provide a subsistence for workers and their families. It’s amazing they even get out of bed for a minimum wage of $7.25/hr ($2.13 for servers) with no security, benefits, retirement, or rights whatsoever on the job.

It is beyond me how we have allowed the methodical downslide that has brought us to the point at which we are today; especially when we have been periodically warned well in advance by so many. The corporate-owned lamestream media is of little help, if any. They obediently skirt around the real issues wherever possible. If you have come of age in the last 20 years, you have been trained without being told that you have to accept the new reality: that a good life (like that in which you likely grew up) simply is not available to you. If you haven’t “made it” by now, don’t ever expect to… It’s not happening. I cannot accept that, and neither should you.

Where is the REAL LEADERSHIP in today’s Labor Movement? Certainly, it is not with our so-called “Leaders”… Where is the representation? Where is the fire in the belly? Where is the organizing? How do they continue to allow a select few of entitled blowhards to roll back decades worth of rights and gains for working class folks? Those in the 18-35 age bracket have NEVER known job security, a DECENT wage, or a comfortable standard of living that is even close to that once enjoyed by the previous two generations. They have amassed a large sum of debt in the name of education that presently, they cannot profit from. The interest is going to rise, and the only ones profiting will be the Pigs in the Boardroom in banks, schools, the government, and so on.

Look at the Dow. Look at CEO compensation. Look at advertising budgets. Look at real PIGS in the Boardroom; all of those who have bought and paid for seats in our “representative” government. It’s time to move some dead weight out of the way! If we had real leadership, everyone would be in the streets and on strike by now. The discriminating news junkie can easily filter through all the fluff pieces and front page stories and get down to what really matters: the real news, the truth- the good, the bad, and the ugly. What is ugly is that just out of John Q. Public’s scope of vision is a massive, expensive political agenda designed to wind back time. There is no telling how far back the Chamber of Commerce, Supreme Court, ALEC, Congress, and the rest of the big business lobby intend to take us; through their totally anti-worker agenda- inclusive of a weak job market, weak dollar, stagnant wages, rising personal debt, and an all-out assault against the interests of students, graduates, seniors, women, minorities, the unemployed, the disenfranchised, the homeless, the uninsured, the working class, and voters. Intentionally left off this list was the middle class, because in my opinion, that has all but gone extinct. If you work for a living you are working class. If you used to work for a living you are now poor. What they cannot hit you with through national politics has been taken up by hacks in the states, individually. Notice the heavy concentration of Republican governors dancing to the big business beat like the political puppets they are.

Personally, there is not enough coverage in the news about the assault on workers’ rights. The dismantling and stagnation of the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) up to this point has been intentional, as was the nearly unnoticed death of EFCA (Employee Free Choice Act). Recent decisions by the courts, judges, and others regarding harassment, bullying, and limits set upon protests only exacerbate an already frustrating situation. To have large corporations such as Walmart fire and/or discipline some 40 striking workers; to have officials from the Teamsters, obviously in bed with employers such as UPS and YRC, pushing contracts that large numbers of members were unwilling to accept… None of this passes the smell test. Forty-seven percent of members of Congress are millionaires, and that begs the question: “Who is representing working people these days?” [Editor’s note: Not to mention the entire dismantling of the rust-belt and the near death of the core of American industry from autos to steel to machining.  Where was Lane Kirkland in the 1980’s? Where is Detroit now? What does working with capitalist bosses gain us?]

No one in the limelight is taking up the cause for working class folks in this country, save for a minute fraction of Congressional representatives and Senators. You won’t find them on the Supreme Court. As much as he talks a good game, we are still waiting for President Obama to don a pair of “comfortable walking shoes” and walk on the picket lines with striking workers. It is likely, however, that he has been advised by his controllers that this is something they forbid him to do. He will attend a rally, but strikes and rallies are far different in meaning. The “Leaders” of “Big Labor”? Most of those are more interested in their “big” paychecks and “big” perks, the fact that they wear a suit to work and negotiate agreements over lobster, shrimp, and wine, rather than representing their union members in earnest.

The main thing to remember is that no matter how upside down everything appears to be, there is nothing out of order here. The system is doing to us exactly what was intended: the choice is whether to allow it. It is entirely clear that working people in this country presently have no identifiable leaders, aside from Occupy Wall Street, Anonymous, and those willing to toss fear and consequences aside to make their point known, [italics added by editor] like the AFT in Chicago, Walmart and fast food workers, and UPS and “Rebuild/No more concessions” Teamsters. These people are self-led, self-directed, and driven by a cause that was nearly dead and anemic for the past 40 years. Welcome to the second phase of the Civil Rights era, as predicted over 20 years ago by Philadelphia Teamsters Leader John P. Morris, “Champion of the Working Man.”

Champion for the Working People

According to the late John P. Morris (1926-2002), a legendary Philadelphia Teamster Leader:

“If some company has to be union-free to exist, then who needs that kind of company?”

“A job that pays less than seven or eight dollars an hour, without any benefits, is not worth saving.” (1983)

There is no mystery at all as to why, if you live on the West Coast, in the South, or are below a certain age, you have never before heard the name Johnny Morris; or that if you have, it has not been in many years and you likely have forgotten about him. Mr. Morris was not at all like other Labor Leaders of modern times. He had the old-school grit, creativity, intelligence, and determination unseen since the very early days of the Labor Movement. Imagine for a moment a clean, honest version of Jimmy Hoffa Senior, and there you would have John Morris. Mr. Morris saw no reason whatsoever to engage in diplomacy when dealing with employers and government officials who would rejoice in seeing unions’ very existence legislated away. Teamsters everywhere, whether they know it or not, benefited greatly from his presence in the leadership structure. Never one to back down from a fight, Morris was quick with a witty line, a four-letter word-laden tirade, his one good fist, his trademark fedora, and was an expert at conducting a powerful, rousing Union sermon… Much of the former and the latter has spurred what have become renowned quotes and legendary stories.

His great organizing abilities and selfless representation of his contemporaries were recognized during his genesis in the Labor Movement: at the age of 29, he was given a new charter for a local Union to run on his own. Nothing big or fancy, and with just the 18 members from the department store he himself organized, the rest he had to build on his own through organizing and strikes- and organize and strike he did. People began to call upon his local for representation. All of the larger companies were already represented by the larger established locals, so that left the smaller businesses- usually with a forgotten, downtrodden, almost defeated workforce toiling under sweatshop conditions and severely in need of representation, a pay raise, some dignity, and health benefits. Many did not even have clean bathrooms available for their use. Those were the workers who had nothing to lose and everything to gain, and they would put it all on the line for their Brotherhood. Morris’ Teamsters in the Philadelphia region became such a powerhouse that he was elected president of the area Joint Council of Teamsters, and he later was able to create the Pennsylvania Conference of Teamsters, a regional Union STRONGHOLD which thrives to this day because of its member-directed power and its sheer numbers alone. Teamsters in the Pennsylvania Conference haven’t forgotten where they came from. Peak membership for the conference was around 140,000.

John Morris wrote a strike manual, the only one of its kind, that is still in use to this day. It was printed at the in-house print shop that he had built at Local 115 for Union publications. He created, ran, and even taught an organizing school that trained hundreds, if not thousands of union member-organizers. Had he been around for it, it is nearly certain that he would have had a food tent and educational seminars present at the Occupy Philadelphia encampment.

September 4, 1983, journalist Lucinda Fleeson wrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer: “In John Morris’s world, the needs of the workingman come first, the city’s economy second. Period. This ferocious devotion to the principles of unionism has made John Morris one of the most popular and powerful labor leaders in Philadelphia. As such- more so perhaps than any other union boss around- Morris embodies the conflicts and contradictions that come with the job of being a modern-day labor leader. A beefy, scrappy Irishman, he is a master of ’30s-style hard-nose tactics. Yet Morris, 57, almost always wears a three-piece suit and is usually accompanied by a retinue of attorneys and college-educated aides. He is a balding, pale-skinned man with a withered right arm, yet he revels in his physical mightiness and exudes undeniable charm. At times, he can be the picture of smiling affability, amusing a visitor with an endless stream of yarns and jokes. Yet he also has a temper, and his face can darken with thunderclouds of outrage in an instant. As secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 115, with 2,500 members, and president of the area Joint Council of Teamsters, with 85,000 members, he is the local chief of a union with one of the worst reputations in the nation. But while national Teamsters leaders are regularly sent to jail for one form of labor racketeering or another, John Morris is regarded by the FBI’s Philadelphia labor squad as ‘Mr. Clean.'”

The above appeared in a profile story entitled “The Toughest, Meanest Union Boss in Town.”

Luckily, several copies of that publication have survived all this time, because you will not find a link to the original piece online or in an archive, as far as I am aware. When you google John P. Morris, much of the information and many of the links that you will find, I have searched for and reposted heavily to make his visions of the Labor Movement more prominent and relevant again. However, most curiously, you cannot find any video archived footage of interviews or speeches featuring Morris- and believe me, there were plenty. John Morris was on the Philadelphia news more than any other Union Leader, spokesperson, agent, organizer, or anyone involved in organized labor. If you wanted Labor’s message, you went to John.

If there was some business he could not personally attend to, Morris knew exactly whom to send where and for what purpose. He did not take any flak from any employers, government officials, corrupt Union officials, the Mafia, even school officials both while he was a young man and student and later as the representative of schools’, municipalities’, and private-sector employees. When John Morris made a threat of a labor action, it was known to be taken seriously. Pictures of Morris-led strikes used to line the halls of the Local 115 building on Cottman Avenue in Philadelphia. It is thought that they were placed there so that the employers would walk down the hallway toward the conference room and be forced to look at what could happen to them if they crossed the Teamsters. This became so true that many planned labor actions were settled the day before striking was to take place.

Somebody somewhere in the Teamsters Union knows what has happened to these photographs, as they are not where they rightfully belong- with the Morris family. The true story of how Morris was hated by current Teamsters President James P. Hoffa, and how a scheme of political retribution had been unleashed upon and carried out against his last remaining powerful and ultimate foe- the last force which stood between Teamster democratic strength and unity (Morris), and a complete takeover by the “old guard” style of top-down business unionism espoused by Hoffa and his supporters, the latter of which we suffer under today- has not yet been fully told. After the witch hunt of Morris and his ultimate ouster, the rest fell in line like dominoes. These Hoffa operatives have tried their very best to bury the legacy of “The Last of the Molly Maguires” but they have failed. The real story behind all of that will surface in the very near future; they know what they’ve done and they will pay dearly.

No Labor Leader around today can match the giant that was John Morris. Even though he was respected by state and national politicians alike, the government was scared to death of him. He could not be bought- not by management, not by the mob, and not by the politicians. He was marked to die by the Mafia, but by the grace of God, Morris survived. He created and championed an aggressive and militant union action plan in his repertoire, and one that was widely recognized. Morris had a keen eye for the truth and made predictions about society and the political landscape that have come true, some 20 years since making them and more than 10 years after his death. John Morris saw it all. The quotes, the stories, the predictions, and the proud legacy live on through many hardcore, old school unionists who are not all too impressed by James P. Hoffa, who gained the Teamsters presidency simply through his name recognition and a good bit of help from the federal government. Before becoming the General President of the Teamsters, Hoffa Jr. had to work as an administrative assistant to a Detroit Teamster leader for two years just to earn membership rights to run for the top spot. Hoffa Jr. was elected president of the Teamsters without ever having run a Teamsters local or organizing a union contract.

More Morris Quotes:

“Companies that don’t treat their employees decently don’t deserve to survive.”

“I grew up in the day of the coal and iron cops fighting the unions, and let me tell you, the hate here against unions is like the hate there was 100 years ago. There’s no one who fights for the poor in this city or this country. The haves will never agree with the have-nots. We represent the have-nots. And because the Teamsters are a little tougher to deal with, because we stick up for our members, they try to make us look like the bad guys.”

“Anytime you get into a concerted activity that requires pressure, you got to offend somebody. You got to hurt somebody’s feelings… But I’ve always considered what the right thing to do is. There are certain things that you’ve got to say, there’s right and wrong.”

“The easiest thing to do is accuse us, but you know, an employer doesn’t think twice about hiring his own private army of security guards with dogs and sidearms. It’s an accepted practice. Look- we could take the easy way out. We could let strikebreakers through our picket lines. We could allow anybody to run over our people, and it would soon be well known all over town that Local 115 can’t take it. If we were the kind of union that accepted low wages and no benefits and all the rationalizations, then we would be a general run-of-the-mill union and we wouldn’t be protecting anybody.”

“Working people are not going to get decent pay anymore, (In place of the labor movement), I think there’ll be social unrest. I think there’ll be something like the civil rights movement. It’s my hope it will turn into a third party. Not a labor party. A third party.”

“If you want to organize, you’re going to get arrested.”

“If you let them get away with that, they’re gonna eat your breakfast!”

“We’re not putting up with that!”

 

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Remembering a Martyr for Labor: Joe Hill

Joe Hill

Born Joel Emmanuel Hagglund on October 6, 1879 in Sweden and later known in America as Joe Hill, died on November 19, 1915.

Convicted of murder on no more evidence than that of some eye-witnesses to the murder.

Since our post is late and after his date of death we’ll not tarry any further composing our own essay since many have written extensively already on his life.

We will leave you with inks to his bio from the IWW site and ironically a very good write-up from the AFL-CIO labor history site (Joe hated the AFL-CIO as many other IWW members did as they rightfully felt they compromised union strength by working with capitalists).

Also, wikipedia has an good write-up about his trial as well.

We’ll also leave you with some musical tributes as well, which seems fitting since Joe’s live was committed to using music and the lyric as his means of organizing.

 

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night,
Alive as you or me
Says I, “But Joe, you’re ten years dead,”
“I never died,” says he
“I never died,” says he
“In Salt Lake, Joe,” says I to him,
Him standing by my bed,
“They framed you on a murder charge,”
Says Joe, “But I ain’t dead,”
Says Joe, “But I ain’t dead.”
“The copper bosses killed you, Joe,
They shot you, Joe,” says I.
“Takes more than guns to kill a man,”
Says Joe, “I didn’t die,”
Says Joe, “I didn’t die.”
And standing there as big as life
And smiling with his eyes
Joe says, “What they forgot to kill
Went on to organize,
Went on to organize.”
“Joe Hill ain’t dead,” he says to me,
“Joe Hill ain’t never died.
Where working men are out on strike
Joe Hill is at their side,
Joe Hill is at their side.”
“From San Diego up to Maine,
In every mine and mill,
Where workers strike and organize,”
Says he, “You’ll find Joe Hill,”
Says he, “You’ll find Joe Hill.”
I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night,
Alive as you or me
Says I, “But Joe, you’re ten years dead,”
“I never died,” says he
“I never died,” says he

*************************************************************

                

            

 Workers of the World Awaken!
by Joe Hill

taken from the site for the International Workers of the World, a still active international labor union for all workers

Break your chains, demand your rights.
All the wealth you make is taken
B y exploiting parasites.
Shall you kneel in deep submission
F rom your cradles to your graves?
Is the height of your ambition
To be good and willing slaves?

Arise, ye prisoners of starvation!
Fight for your own emancipation;
Arise, ye slaves of ev’ry nation, in One Union Grand.
Our little ones for bread are crying;
And millions are from hunger dying;
The end the means is justifying,
‘Tis the final stand.

If the workers take a notion,
They can stop all speeding trains;
Every ship upon the ocean
They can tie with mighty chains;
Every wheel in the creation,
Every mine and every mill,
Fleets and armies of the nation,
Will at their command stand still.

-Chorus-

Join the union, fellow workers,
Men and women, side by side;
We will crush the greedy shirkers
Like a sweeping, surging tide;
For united we are standing,
But divided we will fall;
Let this be our understanding-
“All for one and one for all.”

-Chorus-

Workers of the world, awaken!
Rise in all your splendid might;
Take the wealth that you are making –
It belongs to you by right.
No one for bread will be crying,
We’ll have freedom, love and health,
When the grand red flag is flying
In the Worker’s commonwealth.

-Chorus-

 

 

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November 5, 1855

Today in Labor History

m07-elec-post-480Eugene V. Debs – labor leader, socialist, three-time candidate for president, and first president of the American Railway Union — is born. “The Republican and Democratic parties, or to be more exact, the Republican-Democratic party, represent the capitalist class in the class struggle. They are the political wings of the capitalist system and such differences as arise between them relate to spoils and not to principles.”

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Carpenters Get Hot on Cheating Contractors

whatever 011On Thursday in Seabrook, NH, the carpenter’s local 118 got busy drawing attention to large contractors cheating labor out of pay and benefits and the state out of revenue. Focusing on a drywall company known as Metro-Walls, the carpenters held what they call a “banner line” to inform passersby of this issue.

The carpenters made their intent clear to remain in front of the construction site as long as Metro-Walls continued operating in violation of the law.

“Missclassification is the biggest problem in the industry right now, its destroying the industry slow but sure. We definitely intend to fight this to the bitter end, we’re not going anywhere, as long as misclassification continues, we’ll be on the front lines.”

“The real victims here are the guys being misclassified and they don’t even know it.” said Johnnie Berry, organizer for Carpenter’s Local 118.

Missclassification of workers involves the practice of cheating works out of workman’s compensation, unemployment eligibility and any future social security benefits.  Since the employer pays either all or a portion of the costs for these programs through payroll deductions, the incentive is high for unscrupulous employers to skirt payment of any of these, keep the employee entirely “off the books” and pay the employee cash instead, or “under the table” as commonly referred to.

We contacted Jim Craig, the Commissioner of Labor whose department handles the enforcement of labor law in New Hampshire. We asked to what extent its a problem in New Hampshire, “It hasn’t been qualified yet in New Hampshire, but I think there’s an enormous underground economy, I think its a national problem.”

We asked about why enforcement seems too slow for many, “You know the trouble with this is these guys move fast, ” explaining that in the construction business in particular a contractor may be on a project for a limited time and also the department handles many investigations that complicate their ability to allocate manpower on just this issue, “We also have to investigate many other labor issues.” he said adding, “We’ve come a long way — we have better enforcement, we have a couple inspectors working just on this issue now.”

We also asked Mr. Craig about the process wherein those found in violation often receive reduced fines and as such operate with labor fines as a cost of doing business, “We’re trying to change that and one way is with attorneys representing the department and we’re working on trying to change the definition of employee, making it more clear.”

As a result misclassification, employers unfairly compete for large contracts due to their reduced labor cost and also avoid responsibility for accidents or injuries on the job.  These costs then fall to the public in lost work time, unpaid medical care and strains on local assistance programs to deal with basic unmet needs to workers and families.

Metro-Walls is one of many companies working on two shopping center expansion projects on Lafayette Road in Seabrook, NH and has a substantial history of labor law violations according to reports made by Local 118 of the New England Regional Carpenters, Manchester New Hampshire.

One of many projects occurring on Lafayette Road.  Metro-Walls is contracted for hanging sheetrock.

One of many projects occurring on Lafayette Road, Seabrook, NH.  Metro-Walls holds the contract to hang sheetrock.

The Department of Professional Employees provides a detailed explanation of the most common types of misclassification on their website here.

More information can be found at the IRS website Independent Contractor (Self-Employed) or Contractor?

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Workers in Chicago Arrested at Protest for Minimum Wage Raise

chicago protesters

In this article from the Chicagoist, workers and protesters demanded that the minimum wage be raise to a living wage level of $15/hour.  As reported below, 21 people were arrested but sympathy among even the arresting cops existed as quoted in the story.

We need more of this action, more everywhere across the country as people are pressed to work for less than what is required to survive.  Contrary to popular opinion and even apparently the opinion of some unions, “protecting the middle class” is not what unions are all about; they also must be about raising living standards for everyone.

The people who serve the middle class — the people who work on weekends, holidays and nights, who turn their hotel sheets, who smile and say “Thank you come again” because if they don’t they’ll get fired all serve many who already make a living wage, who enjoy the protections that unions brought them.

It is in the interest of all Americans to raise the living standard for everyone so that everyone can live a decent life and participate in the economy in a productive and meaningful way.

Read the full story here: 21 Protesters Arrested at Mag Mile Demonstration for Raising the Minimum Wage

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Yes, Right to Work Will Kill the Middle Class — But Why Empower Classism?

Center for American Progress has an excellent in depth article, that we recommend everyone read, on how the Right to Get Union Benefits Without Paying for Them hurts the “middle class”.  Now one would ask, if we’re against classism, why do we find this article so good?

Well, because the article analyzes the economic truths about our current capitalist system.  Its hard for most anyone to deny that the numbers that keep coming up everywhere don’t show that the capitalists and their resulting plutocrat class benefit by squeezing workers to their breaking point — workers are nothing more than a commodity nor different than oil shale, natural gas or water; get as much as you can out of it, as cheaply as possible and then let someone else worry about the resulting damage.

The problem of course with the Americans for Progress analysis is that it supports a frame of “middle class” because some geniuses somewhere get the willies thinking about rubbing ideological elbows with the lumpen proletariat.

Well, here’s a clue; we’re all proletariats, so if you work for a wage or as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, are doing your own thing as a “self employed” (meaning non-covered, under the table employee) “independent contractor” then you are a worker, you trade your labor and time for money.  You don’t have extra cash in the bank to speculate on stocks, business ventures, investments or what have you; your money goes to supporting you and that’s all you got.

Read the article, spread it around, but never forget that we’re all in this together and the ultimate goal to achieving real justice for all and democracy is the destruction of the hierarchy of oppression that capitalism requires to exist; destruction of classism and oppression altogether and the creation of a just, egalitarian socio-economic system.  Its possible.

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Workers Burn While Unions Find Their Ass

Make sure you find your local and stick yourself there.

Of course by now nearly everyone from your wingnut uncle Walter who lives in a trailer in the middle Ozarks to the brain-dead hipster in Greenwich Village knows that the Hostess company has filed for bankruptcy and basically screwed workers out of nearly everything.  Of course anyone with half a brain who’s been around long enough to know the lyrics to a famous Nazareth song about being pissed off and ready to fuck some shit up pretty quick, knows this old story about corporate meltdowns and workers getting the boot with nothing more than their last paycheck.  Its old hat these days.

So why the whining and hand-wringing going on among so many in the leftward blogosphere about “What Really Happened to Hostess”.  I mean really, Black Commentator had a piece a bit back, written by someone on the front lines in St. Louis, telling sordid tales of long active racism within the company’s management, about the company’s anti-union tactics and other misdeeds also so typical of the American worker story today.  We noticed other stories, well written that popped out right away telling the whole story for what it was.

So now again, why now all the Johnny Come Latelies?

Possibly we’d say because the unions have had to wake up from their trance and figure out that they just lost their ass again.   Oh wait, I forget myself; that’s right, the unions that the workers at Hostess were a member of weren’t part of the other fight [name one in your community or Local] because you know, the other unions have their own battles and hey, tough luck there kid.

Or something like that.  I know, how naive of me to imagine that possibly unions might be able to climb over their proverbial, imaginary fences that divide them and reach out and work with each other on a meaningful basis.  Of course that might also mean that the AFL-CIO drop their absolutely offensive “Save the Middle Class” campaign and stop trying to convince their rank and file that they are some kind of bourgeois Third Estate that the worker/proletariat must serve and that they must not soil themselves with fighting their battles.

I mean, have you seen teachers, fire fighters, police officers, janitors, hotel workers, meat packers, millwrights or the candle stick maker, the butcher and the baker for that matter all stand together in solidarity when one of them gets threatened by the plutocracy?  No, neither have I.

It seems high time they did.

Classism is a construct and tool of the elites, whether of tyranny by capitalism or whatever other means.  One will not find a donut in a shit pile and you won’t find democracy or justice within the oppression of classism, racism or any other construct made to divide one group against another, which only benefits those outside the struggle for crumbs.

Despite all the hand-wringing and analysis and the “OMG!” going on about the unholy greediness of the plutocrat class, the fact is you’d have to not only live under a rock, but possibly be living under a rock under Uncle Walter’s trailer and be deaf and dumb as a stump to not know that this has been going on with plutocrats for a pretty long time.  It seems at some point we can conclude that the capitalist class really sucks at creativity no?  They keep playing that old song of rape and pillage and many of us hold our hands to our ears and say, “I can’t believe it! I didn’t know they knew that tune!”

But with a regularity you can set your watch by, the liberals and left end of the spectrum here in the Land of the Not-So-Free acts with shocked and stunned surprise when they find out that a capitalist is greedy and selfish.  This happens so often that one might begin to think that a large portion of our society really wants to believe that capitalism really works.  Like the wife of the cheating husband who promises to be good next time, a large sector of Americans continue to sit at home alone, tears streaming down their faces not believing he did it again!  What happened, they think and then they ruminate on husbands misdeeds.  Well sweetheart, that works for the first time around.  Remember the old saying, “Fool me once…don’t get fooled again.” Oh wait that was the Bush II version, anyway, you know what I’m talking about; stop being a damned sucker.

Without solidarity — you know unity, without workers coming together from all sectors and standing up when any sector is threatened — as a unified act of power — nothing will change.  The plutocracy will not stop until every single worker in this country is reduced to the newly cherished and celebrated “entrepreneur” who struggles for whatever he/she can pinch out of the economy, with little hope of a pension or even basic protections such as worker’s comp or the added luxury of health insurance.  Don’t believe this? Look around at skilled jobs in the “private sector” among the working classes, besides the low hanging fruit of the Wal-Marts of the world.

You will see auto mechanics, trades people, sales professionals, temp workers, computer techs, service workers, maintenance workers, those in the building trades — all often working under the ubiquitous “independent contractor”, temp worker status or as the much maligned and marginalized non-voting/non-citizen resident worker.  A part of the new worker frame, found more and more tolerable as the standard among the young, the world many happily escape with a union retirement just one jump before the ax.

All the while though, the major business unions seem to be doing what?  Wisconsin was ready for a major general strike that would have shut down the whole state and showed workers where their power was, but the major unions bargained that power away with the Democrats who wanted a chance to grab power — and couldn’t do that competently.  For whatever the incompetence or compliance the Democrats demonstrated, the fact is that workers lost and large labor unions cemented their traditional bond with the Democratic party — you pay us to organize our people (not all workers mind you, just the select middle class) and we’ll deliver when you need them or hold them back when you ask.

Now again, a major company falls off the edge and throws its workers off the cliff and although the struggles of the workers at Hostess and the poor management of the company was no secret, the larger unions couldn’t find a way to get there and help the workers out.   Maybe run a picket, a campaign.  What did they do, clear their throats before their party overlords and ask permission that was denied?  Or did they more accurately, realize that they probably couldn’t even get their rank and file anywhere since they can’t even get them most of them to come to a meeting.

Now Michigan is about to turn, as one Facebook commenter aptly stated, “Right to Freeload”.  Unbelievable, historically the last bastion of the rust belt.  First Wisconsin last year, now St. Louis and Michigan in a matter of months.  In some ways its no surprise as the unions sat on their hands for thirty years, have ignored the job of educating their rank and file about the labor struggle and had the audacity to even (under the leadership of Lane Kirkland most notably) let Reagan and Carter before that negotiate rust-belt jobs away in the name of “competition” and some other capitalist tripe about impending globalism sold to the workers as meaningful economic theory for worker prosperity.

St. Louis needs another factory to leave that area like capitalism needs another ethical black  hole.  But hey, who cares? Anyone who had lived in the Mid-West knows damn well that workers there cannot afford to lose a job; the city like most of the rust belt was hollowed out long ago.  But let’s go ahead and talk theory; how and who was screwed over and especially how the Republicans are big bad meanies.  There are people going hungry on the streets, losing their homes — not just houses they bought, but apartments they rent.  There are people whose last paycheck was last week, last month, last year and they know all too well what it is to “struggle” in the “free market”.  Oh and by the way, let’s ask Warren Buckets-O-Money what he thinks.

Nothing like being one of those workers and having a member or a lackey of the plutocrat class tell you about how “liberals” need to stop “programs” because you know, what poor folks don’t have is ambition.  Because finding the ambition to make it to the next week is just small stuff; no worries.  Homelessness is a myth of course; it only happens to the drunks down by the river, in a tent, on your street corner with a cardboard sign.  Because we all know what their problem is and they stand as examples of what a “poor work ethic” will do to you too — until of course your company closes and you are thrown out in the street with the paper recycling; a commodity used up, disposed of and gone.

As I write this, a worker tells me tonight that he has worked for a week and a half, after being unemployed for months, his hands rough and nicked from the metal roofing he works with open in frustration before me, “I work for two days, get out for one day to heal myself and then go back to do it all again to make him [owner of the company] more money!” he then goes on, “Then what do I have? Two days of work, a prescription I can’t pay for a hospital bill that I’ll never be able to pay and if I don’t show up, I’m out with nothing.  I work to make him money and wear myself to the ground.”

He said that he told the hospital staff, “Insurance?! I have no insurance, I don’t even have workman’s comp! I’ll have to pay all my taxes myself, I can’t even get unemployment!”  The woman behind the counter quietly says, “Its too bad you don’t have a friend who has a prescription with Wal-Mart where you can get your prescriptions for a few dollars.”

Well I know that fact to be untrue.  I have a Wal-Mart card and I know that only a few commonly used drugs that are cheaply produced on the generic level are offered to Wal-Mart customers at ridiculously low prices and it wouldn’t surprise me if they receive a grant from the government or from the manufacturers to distribute some drugs cheaply through Wal-Mart.

Whoops, now we’re off on the healthcare system, but frankly, its all related.  As wages among workers stagnate with the least organized going first, all workers will face the multitudinous ways in which the capitalist system screws them over.  If they get paid, its so little that they can barely meet their most basic needs, but, a lifeline is woven inside the thicket of human commodification that helps to keep the workers on the thread and also appearing just saved enough for the masses to ignore.

Ignore at their peril as all worker’s wages are inextricably tied together and one lead weight over the side of the ship pulls the whole vessel further to collapse.  So long has this gone on and so gradual has the shift been (although it is disputable as to how gradual it is now, but that’s another discussion) that most of the workers in this country believe the shift to be minimal, to be an isolated event. “Keep calm and carry on” as they traditionally say in Britain with a stiff upper lip supposedly, carry that burden and shut up, keep up the faith, the one speaks first loses so the game goes.

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Blaming the Workers Until the Bitter End: Company has Long History of Not Being the Hostess with the Mostest

Hostess strikers in St. Louis, MO

Hostess strikers in St. Louis, MO

From the Black Commentator

by Jamala Rogers

Hostess Bakeries was recently allowed to close its doors when mediation between the union and the company failed. In St. Louis, the company never really changed its image or racist practices in 40 years. The ITT conglomerate was hit by a boycott back in 1971 from ACTION, an interracial, direct-action protest organization. Because all the ACTION demands were never met, the boycott remained in effect.

Workers prepare Hostess Twinkies for packaging at the Interstate Bakeries Corporation facility April 20, 2005 in Schiller Park. (Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

Workers preparing Hostess Twinkies at Interstate Bakeries in Chicago, 2005.

There were three unions that represent the 18, 500 workers across the country. They are the Bakers, Confectionery, Tobacco and Grain Millers Union (BCTGM), United Food and Commercial Workers Union and the International Teamsters Union. Union workers stood tall and firm in their refusal to be intimidated by the bullying tactics of the company. They now all face unemployment.

When Hostess Brands announced it was seeking bankruptcy (again) in the midst of contract disputes with its union workers, the workers went on strike. To add insult to injury, the company announced it intended to pay $1.75 million in bonuses to 19 of its executives. The company has been in bankruptcy for about eight years of the last decade. It had stopped paying into the workers’ pensions, and decreased health benefits but seemed to be taking good care of its top execs.

Workers striking in Peoria, Illinois

Even as it was throwing the blame of the company’s dismal future at the feet of the workers, Hostess had already given its executives pay raises earlier this year. The CEO’s salary tripled from $750,000 to about $2.5 million. This doesn’t exactly sound like a company in financial trouble. It sounds more like a company who wants to maintain superprofits for the top execs and its shareholders on the backs of its workers.

Back in 1971, a boycott campaign against Hostess and Wonder Bread, led by Percy Green and ACTION, proved to be incredibly successful even without the internet and cell phones. Within a few months, stores had snatched Wonder Bread and Hostess products off their shelves. The protests and subsequent reactions dominated the local news for months.

Strikers in St. Louis, MO

Those brand names fell under ITT which stands for International Telephone and Telegraph. At one point the ITT portfolio included a number of seemingly unrelated industries such as bakeries, hotels, insurance companies and electronics for weapons of war.

The company brought out its few black employees as the front guard of their fight, including its PR man, Sam Wheeler, (former Harlem Globetrotters basketball player), who called the protest “black against black.” The black drivers who received commissions from the sales of the delivered bakery products were encouraged by Wheeler to set up a protest at the ACTION headquarters. The drivers who were misled by the company apparently hadn’t realized an important element of discrimination uncovered by ACTION: that the black drivers’ routes included small black convenience stores while the white drivers got the big grocery chain stores.

Striking worker Joe Locey pickets outside a Hostess plant Friday in Biddeford, Maine. The Irving, Texas, company said a nationwide strike crippled its ability to make and deliver its products. IBC stands for Interstate Bakeries Corp.

Striker in Biddeford, ME

When the company tactic to pit their black employees against ACTION didn’t work, the corporation tapped into its buddies in higher places. Then Missouri Attorney General Jack Danforth filed an injunction and conspiracy suit against ACTION. The antitrust suit claimed that ACTION and Colonial Bread were in cahoots with one another to bring ITT Continental Bakeries down. Colonial Bread was Wonder Bread’s competition and it became an unintended beneficiary of the ACTION boycott. It also became a surprised co-conspirator in the AG’s anti-trust law suit.

Strikers in LA

Strikers in Billings, MN

This tactic backfired as well. It catapulted the conglomerate and all its dirty linen into the national spotlight for several years. It put the resources of a peer corporation into action (no pun intended) and forced the state attorney general’s office to settle the suit that there was no wrong doing on Colonial’s part.

The conglomerate became a target of antitrust groups but more volatile was being a target of the anti-war movement that prompted a national boycott of Wonder Bread with the slogan, “Don’t Buy Bombs when You Buy Bread!” ITT‘s ugly ties to the CIA’s topple of the democratically elected Chilean leader, Salvador Allende, were also uncovered during this time.

Hostess workers on the picket line in Columbus, Ind.

Strikers in Columbus, IN

The historical struggle of workers against companies like Hostess is a testament that we must stay vigilant in our efforts to uphold racial and gender equality and pay equity, along with issues of worker safety and product quality. These greedy corporations don’t get better with time. Let’s make sure we are fighting for immediate victories for workers but also for worker security and rights that will endure well into the future.

 

BlackCommentator.comEditorial Board member and Columnist, Jamala Rogers, is the leader of the Organization for Black Struggle in St. Louis and the Black Radical Congress National Organizer. Additionally, she is an Alston-Bannerman Fellow. She is the author of The Best of the Way I See It – A Chronicle of Struggle. Click here to contact Ms. Rogers.

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