Tag Archives: workers

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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Whatever Happened to Overtime?

Here’s an excellent article from Politico magazine on another level of the increasingly easy way that the capitalist system is robbing regular people of their earnings.  While the workers who work by the hour feel their wages squeezed and benefits compressed. Wages have only grown about 18% over the last thirty years, see here, here and here].

While there is much focus on raising the minimum wage and its effect on our most impoverished workers, another struggle needs attention; the growing number of people working on salary.  Increasingly salary pay dominates the lower, and middle management business sector.  While traditionally upper management and executive management have allows worked on salary, the higher pay and the bonus package compensated for the increased responsibility and demand on one’s time.  As CEO salaries increase at an alarming rate in comparison to the average worker, salaried workers below them also have felt the squeeze in order to feed the top.  As explained briefly here in an NPR report, it has become common practice for low level management positions to have salary pay that is exempt from overtime rules or other benefits that hourly workers enjoy.  At the same time, most of the workers still earn in the lowest income brackets and do not enjoy the autonomy, high pay, benefits, stock option plans and other perks that the traditional exempt employee enjoys in exchange for giving up overtime compensation.

In other words, the current wage rules have become manipulated as a means for big business to increase their profit margins at the expense of workers.  Unfortunately many young people enter into this work culture unaware of the extent to which they are being duped.  Also, with our current culture of disallowing workers to discuss their pay rates, the shame associated with many low wage workers not wanting to share their pay rates and the fear of retribution if they complain, what would they do anyway?

While this article talks about the options that Obama has for making changes in the rules, the fact is, nothing will change until the people who suffer the hurt get out and demand change.  But nevertheless, its a very good article about the rise in an average worker’s work week, the increased pressure on workers and the lack of any increase in compensation.  Once we understand the problem, in a democracy its our responsibility to do something to fix it.  Its our country, our state, our local government, our lives.  In actuality, big business fears the collective power that would take place if all workers joined together and refused to support a corrupt system with their hard labor and lives.

Whatever Happened to Overtime?

by Nick Hanuer

If you’re in the American middle class—or what’s left of it—here’s how you probably feel. You feel like you’re struggling harder than your parents did, working longer hours than ever before, and yet falling further and further behind. The reason you feel this way is because most of you are—falling further behind, that is. Adjusted for inflation, average salaries have actually dropped since the early 1970s, while hours for full-time workers have steadily climbed.

Meanwhile, a handful of wealthy capitalists like me are growing wealthy beyond our parents’ wildest dreams, in large part because we’re able to take advantage of your misfortune.

So what’s changed since the 1960s and ’70s? Overtime pay, in part. Your parents got a lot of it, and you don’t. And it turns out that fair overtime standards are to the middle class what the minimum wage is to low-income workers: not everything, but an indispensable labor protection that is absolutely essential to creating a broad and thriving middle class. In 1975, more than 65 percent of salaried American workers earned time-and-a-half pay for every hour worked over 40 hours a week. Not because capitalists back then were more generous, but because it was the law. It still is the law, except that the value of the threshold for overtime pay—the salary level at which employers are required to pay overtime—has been allowed to erode to less than the poverty line for a family of four today. Only workers earning an annual income of under $23,660 qualify for mandatory overtime. You know many people like that? Probably not. By 2013, just 11 percent of salaried workers qualified for overtime pay, according to a report published by the Economic Policy Institute. And so business owners like me have been able to make the other 89 percent of you work unlimited overtime hours for no additional pay at all.

Read more at: Whatever Happened to Overtime?

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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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Tell it Brother! Michgian Rep Slams Fellow Legislators Hard!

Workers at capital building in Lansing day of vote.

Workers at capital building in Lansing day of vote.

Finally, unfortunately a little too late as Michigan, in a heavily controlled and blocked manner managed to pass the “Right To Work” bill in one of the traditionally strongest union states in the country.  A Democratic Rep from Grand Rapids, Brandon Dillon had finally had enough and called bullshit on the entire lot.  Standing before his fellow legislators he hammers them hard on their slimy tactics in keeping the people from voicing their opinion on this bill before being voted on or allowing amendments, or even allowing the public in to view the voting.

Representative Dillon deserves a pat on the back for his courage in being a truth-teller in front of the fools and stooges who have answered to the ALEC agenda of destroying American labor and breaking the backs of working people across the country.

Click here to get to his website, send him a note, give his office a call.  We need to encourage those who speak truth to power.  This man has principles and we need more of that, what’s most telling is that he points out that his district is not a strong union district; but he demonstrated the ability to see the big picture and not just the interests of the people in his district only.

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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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