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union labor built the American dream
(DonkeyHotey based on a WWII poster)
Democrats and progressives who see labor as just another special interest to be tapped for funds during election season and then negotiated with (or more often, forgotten about) when it comes time to govern have forgotten ... that unions represent millions of working Americans, struggling under the weight of austerity policies and a stagnant economy, who are getting increasingly fed up with their treatment by politicians.
Sarah Jaffe's point here is one that's especially important as election season heats up. While unions are crucial to electing Democrats—at least, ones who will represent workers with some regularity—and while electing politicians who will support pro-worker legislation is crucial to unions' mission to represent their members, politics isn't most of what unions do.
“Most people's idea of a union is what we do politically. Let's face it, politics is now a 365-day-a-year sport, so that tends to get most of the focus. It's not sexy to talk about somebody's 4 percent raise or somebody who just got health care for the first time,” Jason Perlman of the Ohio AFL-CIO told AlterNet.

Most of those little victories -- those 4 percent raises and new contracts with health care benefits -- are won day by day, inch by inch, in grinding organizing campaigns and lengthy negotiations with management. They don't make headlines the way a multimillion-dollar ad buy does. As Perlman pointed out, unions are workers' organizations that do politics, not political organizations.

Unions aren't above criticism, of course, but it's important to remember in assessing their electoral work that electoral work is not what unions exist to do and that the Democratic party is not their top priority. They exist to represent working people—their members, people who might become their members, non-union workers in the industries they represent whose wages and working conditions are tied to those of union members. Their day-to-day work is in those "grinding organizing campaigns and lengthy negotiations with management," in representing members with grievances, making sure workers facing discipline get due process, in fighting for laws that will give working people, union and non-union, a little more power in the workplace.

  • Union workers at Lockheed Martin are on strike. Because giant defense contractors obviously can't afford to pay their workers' pensions.
  • Taxes for union-busting by government contractors.
  • A group of Verizon workers rescued a cat from a tree where it was trapped with a noose around its neck. Cats everywhere respond:
    union cat
    (CWA)
  • As discrimination suits go, this one, by a black, Jewish, female charter school principal, is a doozy:
    Knowing that plaintiff was a black, Jewish female, one of the teachers decided to put a Holocaust exhibit at the school. He chose the hallway of plaintiff's office despite there being several other options. The first thing that was painted on the wall was large swastika. Plaintiff complained to the co-principal as well as to board members and the superintendent about this project and continued to complain as the 'project' developed. When all was said and done, order for plaintiff to get into her office and around the school, she had to go through doorway. Her door was painted black with a white peephole. To the right of her office was a picture of a lever that was what was used to put chemicals in the gas chamber in Germany that killed thousands of Jewish people. Over the door of her office were the words 'Majdanek Bad Und Desinfektion' which was a concentration camp gas chamber. Directly over her door was the German word for women.
    Also she was paid less than other people at her level, denied basic professional supplies, and excluded from meetings.
  • California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill banning bans on Project Labor Agreements. That is, you don't have to use PLAs for big California construction projects, but cities and towns can't pass laws banning them.
  • New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is such an asshole:
    Janitors are making too much money! #Bloomberg2012 http://t.co/...
    @ThisBowers via Twitter for BlackBerry®
  • A few noteworthy National Labor Relations Board actions for you. A federal magistrate recommended that the Pacific Beach Hotel of Waikiki pay more than $250,000 in attorney fees to the NLRB and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. A Jimmy Johns franchise in Minnesota illegally fired six workers because they exercised their legal rights campaigning for paid sick leave. And a Chicago bus company was ordered to reinstate two illegally fired drivers and quit interrogating workers about their union activity.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Sat Apr 28, 2012 at 05:55 PM PDT.

Also republished by ClassWarfare Newsletter: WallStreet VS Working Class Global Occupy movement and Daily Kos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  People forget that (7+ / 0-)

    those top-tier industrial/manufacturing jobs, the ones with good pay and benefits, were lousy, dangerous, and low paying until workers organized and demanded their fair share.  

    There is absolutely no reason why low paying retail jobs should be low paying. Raise the minimum wage (gradually, but not that gradually) to the point where it is a living wage--around $18 per hour would be about right. Index it to inflation.

    Imagine the tax revenue. Imagine the SS trust fund, medicare hospital fund, all growing. Imagine the spending and the demand driven economic growth.

    Countries with a low minimum wage are low wage countries.

    "A lie is not the other side of a story; it's just a lie."

    by happy camper on Sat Apr 28, 2012 at 06:19:55 PM PDT

  •  Labor's period of ascendancy was 1 period of Dem (9+ / 0-)

    dominance in American history--roughly mid-1930's-mid-1970's.   It's not a coincidence.   That essential fundamental truth trumps all other political considerations--a point that's largely lost on the party "leadership."

    Some men see things as they are and ask why. I dream of things that never were and ask why not?

    by RFK Lives on Sat Apr 28, 2012 at 06:20:50 PM PDT

    •  The entire war on labor (6+ / 0-)

      is at its root an effort to defund the Democratic party and deprive it of a ready source of phone bankers, GOTV workers, etc.

      "A lie is not the other side of a story; it's just a lie."

      by happy camper on Sat Apr 28, 2012 at 06:26:00 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I'd argue (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Urizen, Odysseus, greeseyparrot

        that the harm to the Democratic party is secondary.

        The goal in the war on labor is to eliminate the middle class.

      •  It's a war being fought by one side (4+ / 0-)

        I don't see the Dems counter-attacking.  It's funny how EFCA had public support of close to half of Senate when W was in office and sure to veto it.  Once Obama took office, not even a watered-down version came close to the Senate floor.

        In 8/10, our POTUS told the AFL-CIO:

        And we are going to keep on fighting to pass the Employee Free Choice Act.  
        AND
        Getting EFCA through Senate is going to be tough.  It’s always been tough; it will continue to be tough.  We’ll keep on pushing
        By that point, EFCA was beyond dead in the Senate, and election results 3 mos later would bury it in the House, too.  Those comments were an insult to the intelligence of all who heard them.  They were pointless fluff designed to deceive and/or obscure.

        It's not exactly new--the 1978 labor law reform bill died by one vote in a filibuster in a Dem-dominated Senate.    Strengthened plant-closing warning legislation died in a filibuster in a Dem-dominated Senate in 1994.

        Some men see things as they are and ask why. I dream of things that never were and ask why not?

        by RFK Lives on Sat Apr 28, 2012 at 07:30:51 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Pro-worker legislation? (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RFK Lives, greeseyparrot

          It's been a long time since the states or feds did anything significant for workers.

          Instead, we've had decades of tax policies that allow employers to move jobs or suppliers overseas while still making them a fortune.  

          And then, now that union membership is sharply down, the employers go in for the killshots, e.g. here in MI, teachers can't pay dues by payroll deductions and are forbidden by law to bargain over various working conditions.  They're taking away rights, little by little until eventually there's nothing left to bargain over and there will be no need for a union.

          "Unseen, in the background, Fate was quietly slipping the lead into the boxing glove." P.G. Wodehouse

          by gsbadj on Sun Apr 29, 2012 at 10:28:59 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  I love the Jaffe piece, but one important part (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Odysseus, DuzT, gsbadj, greeseyparrot

      is soft-pedaled in the body of the diary:  Democrats haven't done so well since the 1970s because they haven't been willing to dance with those who brung 'em. Labor's big contribution to the political process — besides the education of its members — is the votes it can organize.  But there's a catch:  their members have to believe, and they have long memories.  They won't believe — or come out in support of — politicians who take their votes and then pick their pockets.  

      That is exactly as it should be.  Democrats who have used and then betrayed labor don't deserve to sit in government.  

      Shirley Chisholm was right. Our Republic is in deep trouble.

      by Big River Bandido on Sat Apr 28, 2012 at 07:31:42 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I love that poster (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Urizen, Odysseus

    Romney 2012 - Free the Otterbein 9!

    by Fordmandalay on Sat Apr 28, 2012 at 06:21:55 PM PDT

  •  The War on Unions (8+ / 0-)

    is increasingly the war on women too. As service jobs are increasingly the epicenter of employer exploitation of workers - and as unions fight on behalf of these workers, you can see (for example, in Unite Here's Hyatt campaign) how corporate sexism feeds into corporate union busting - and how unions are standing up against ingrained practices of sexual harassment and intimidation.

    I think that if we are ever going to get to a society where women are paid on an equal scale to men, unions will have to play a big part in getting us there.

  •  Admission, confession, testimony (6+ / 0-)

    The granddaughter of a union worker who fought (or at least fed) the protestors at the "Battle of the Overpass" I want to lend a testament and a Hi-5 to the union members of today. (I'm talking about my Italian grandmother, Carolina the "Riveter")

    As a mid-career professional I found myself somewhat unexpectantly on management side, and found an amazing amount of value in the unions with which I worked. The very capable leadership there became positive partners. Of course, we couldn't agree on everything--because I had to represent some diverse interests. But the great professionalism of the leadership there allowed us to maintain our own consistency and ethics.

    I was totally amazed the year after I retired the union folks asked me to join their negotiations to argue the value of PD from their side.

    America ignores its unions at its peril!

  •  Along with retail and service workers (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    israelfox87

    women who work in offices as clerks and receptionists, bank tellers, and people in private schools need to organized as well.  As an example, when I worked for a large insurance company, we were salaried non-exempt, so that if we worked over 40 hours a week, we got time and half.  However, whenever we had a Monday holiday, the manager would schedule Saturday work, which meant that because we hadn't actually worked 40 hours, we got paid straight time.

  •  Also, this week, Providence's Democratic Mayor (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Chico David RN, greeseyparrot

    got his wish when a Democratic city council voted to upend the rule of law by declaring contracts null and void in regards to retirees' pensions.  The new ordinance, which ends COLAs on all pensions and reduces some, was passed while the city was "negotiating" with the unions.

    The assault on labor is fierce even when there are no Republicans around, just anti-worker liberals and DemoRats.

    "Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars" --Casey Kasem

    by netop on Sat Apr 28, 2012 at 07:24:32 PM PDT

  •  Democrats don't take unions seriously anymore (5+ / 0-)

    This will anger a bunch of Daily Kos fans, but remember when Obama said he would be walking side by side with union members?  Well, where is he in the labor fights in Wisconsin and Ohio?  Labor is under siege, but Obama and the other Democrats don't want to be seen with unions.  I suppose it will upset their corporate donors, and they would not want to do that.  Besides, their attitude is "Where the fuck is labor going to go during an election?"  

    I know that it difficult for union folks to give a rat's ass about politics, but unions are going to have to get involved in Democratic primary fights to get rid of fair weather labor friends.  

  •  Thanks for the catch (0+ / 0-)

    I particularly like this sentiment, about how labor is  

    the core of civil society

    Shirley Chisholm was right. Our Republic is in deep trouble.

    by Big River Bandido on Sat Apr 28, 2012 at 07:34:09 PM PDT

  •  wait, what? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Chico David RN, netop, greeseyparrot
    Democrats and progressives who see labor as just another special interest to be tapped for funds during election season and then negotiated with (or more often, forgotten about) when it comes time to govern have forgotten ...
    I don't know of many true progressive politicians who have taken unions for granted like this. Plenty of Democrats have though. In fact, it's a mystery to me why unions aren't a lot more selective about their endorsements.
  •  Chinese (0+ / 0-)

    companies are being given our tax dollars to build our roads and bridges.

    YES IT'S TRUE! what the Hell!

    U.S. Bridges, Roads Being Built by Chinese Firms

  •  Many thanks (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    israelfox87

    to Laura Clawson for making the point that the primary purpose of the industrial Unions is to represent workers in the workplace, and that Union political action is important but secondary. Most people, including many so-called progressives don't seem to understand this. The narative that Unions are simply another lobby is quite pervasive. No wonder that Unions have so few friends.

    And speaking of friends, when the leading Republican candidate recently made false statements about Union dues being used for campaign contributions, did ANY Democrat stand up and called him on this lie?

  •  Sarah Jaffe must be very young... (0+ / 0-)

    ...because she underplays a number of important historical facts.

    If Democrats and progressives (and Republicans) see unions as just another special interest group, it is because that is the way that labor has behaved, particularly in the last 20 years.

    As the rightward shift in Congress and Washington has swept away discussion of broad social changes, unions have focused on protecting their endangered turf. Although this is entirely understandable as a self-preservation strategy, it does nothing to inspire solidarity in a broader movement for economic change (quite the opposite, in fact).

     

    •  Like I said (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      israelfox87

      Balmer, representing the membership is the first priority of a Union.

      Also, remember that in the last 20 years, Unions demonstrated against NAFTA, the outsourcing of jobs, and held rallies for an increase in the minimum wage and health care for all (among many other issues).

      What other organizations act to inspire a broad movement for social and economic change?

      •  I suppose that is all true... (0+ / 0-)

        ...but, by the same toke, labor has to ask itself why it generates so little support from the general public.

        One reason is that it is seen to often act only in its own narrow self interest. This is a fact whether we like it or not.

        •  When (0+ / 0-)

          was the last time you saw a something positive about Unions from any of the major news outlets Balmer?

          When was the last time you saw something negative about Unions?

          You know the answer to both questions.

          There are literaly hundreds of companies that specialize in Union busting, and many more well funded "non-partisan" organizations that are anti-Union.

          To be clear, some people see Unions as acting in their own self interest because that is the picture Madison Avenue wants them to see. No one is more aware of this than Unions.  

  •  Uniions are the genuine foundation of (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    greeseyparrot

    the Progressive movement.  While the bourgeoisie and small business men are liberals.  

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