I was recently asked to take part in a “role play” for a group of Hyatt hotel housekeepers in the basement of their union hall, in the Pico Union neighborhood of Los Angeles. Each had taken a leave of absence from work to talk with community leaders about conditions for room attendants in their hotels, and they needed a chance to practice. The women belong to UNITE HERE Local 11, and are part of a national campaign of housekeepers reaching out for community support of boycotts at several Hyatt properties.
Even though some of them knew me as an active supporter of hotel workers, first as a community volunteer and then as part of the LAANE staff, I agreed to play the director of an environmental organization with limited knowledge about the hotel industry. (This last part didn’t require much acting from me.)
Sometimes struggling to express themselves in English,
I’ve met more guys in the building trades that raise kids on their own than anywhere else in my life. That’s how I knew it was possible to do. I’m a single dad and I have primary custody of my son, Ayden. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the stability I got from working on the L.A. Live project.
Ayden is seven now. He just started second grade. Every day after school, I help him with his spelling and sentences. We do flashcards and memory games. I have him write down a daily paragraph from Kermit the Frog’s song, “It Ain’t Easy Being Green.”
I’ve been out-of-work as an ironworker for over a year — L.A. Live was the last long-term job I had. When I worked on the project, Ayden and I lived in Long Beach. I didn’t drive and took the Blue Line every day to the Staples Center When you work construction,
The American labor movement needs a jolt and Joe Burns’ new book, Reviving the Strike, delivers just the right shock treatment.
Debunking commonly held assumptions about labor’s inevitable decline and extinction, Burns, a veteran union lawyer, argues clearly and persuasively that worker power is still possible — but will require a dramatic shift in thinking and strategy.
Don’t expect standard academic or progressive bromides about “coalition-building,” “corporate campaigns,” “organizing-to-scale” or “social unionism.” In taking on some of the labor left’s sacred cows — living wage campaigns, worker centers, etc. — Burns praises and honors the commitment, brains and tenacity of activists. But these approaches, he suggests, lack the singular component necessary to transform power relations in the political economy. That, he contends, is the capacity to stop production.
Burns makes his case in a tightly-written narrative. After the union insurgencies of the 1930s, Congress and the courts imposed a system he calls “labor control,” one designed to disable unions’ principal and primary weapon: the strike.
A few years ago the nonprofit, nonpartisan Los Angeles Economic Roundtable released a study that got too little attention. It found that union workers in the county earn 27 percent more than nonunion workers in the same jobs. These extra wages for the 800,000 union workers—17 percent of the labor force—added $7.2 billion a year in pay. As union workers spent their wages on food, clothing and other items, their additional buying power created 64,800 jobs and $11 billion in economic output. Let me repeat: $11 billion.
Clearly unions are good for the economy. But to hear business propaganda tell it, that 11 billion is the 11th Plague, because anything that moves the country away from an imaginary, 19th-century Utopia where business held all the cards, is to be avoided — like the plague.
This winner-take-all crowd should be happy because, in many ways, America today does resemble its Gilded Age of the late 1800s —
Corporations are forever arguing that all that stands between consumers and paradise is the “lousy gummint” and its lousy regulations. “Get out of the way!” is their rallying cry. Well, we had a bit of a natural experiment this past summer, as Congress forced a shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration. (As it happens, the shutdown sprang, in part, from anti-union ideological reasons, but that’s a whole other story.)
In addition to furloughing some 4,000 FAA employees and idling tens of thousands of construction workers, the shutdown deprived the government of an estimated $30 million in ticket taxes—every day.
Some might argue that the government needs that revenue. But let’s focus on the positive: Without the taxes, ticket prices are lower for consumers, and that’s a good thing, right? Awwww, you’re adorable. A couple of airlines did pass the savings on to travelers, but according to a travel agent I spoke with (yes,