“‘We need a society where anti-racism is hard-wired into every policy and practice,” says labor economist Steven Pitts.
The Democratic frontrunner’s mixed economic record leaves him vulnerable to progressive opponents.
Co-published by the American Prospect
A veteran labor reporter finds hope for unions in boycotts, minimum-wage campaigns and strikes.
For the past year Capital & Main has produced a wide range of coverage of Janus v. AFSCME. Below we offer a comprehensive primer on the case, its origins and its potential implications.
Co-published by AlterNet
A Supreme Court case that could topple the power of California’s unions has been a perfect storm gathering for 40 years.
The biggest reason for the decline of unions, says author Rick Wartzman, is because “companies have set out to beat the hell out of them. Corporate America has really ground down organized labor through means both legal and illegal.”
As workplace protections have come under attack, California has created labor-organizing models to resist attempts to erode labor standards and impose right-to-work measures.
If legendary labor activist Joe Hill were alive today — and some contend that he is — he would have plenty to say about the state of the American worker. And the country, if it listened, would have plenty to learn.
Hill, who was executed in Utah 100 years ago this month, was an unapologetically radical union organizer whose rough-hewn songs and poems matched the brutal working conditions endured by tens of millions of Americans in the early 20th century. While his lyrics might at first sound anachronistic to contemporary audiences, their underlying spirit speaks directly to the experiences of far too many in our often unforgiving 21st century economy.
“Would you have freedom from wage slavery… Would you from mis’ry and hunger be free,” from Hill’s 1913 anthem “There Is Power in a Union,” could easily have been inspired by the thousands of truck drivers who haul goods to and from the nation’s largest port in Los Angeles.
For the past seven days America has watched a government shutdown unfold, courtesy of the Tea Party-controlled House of Representatives – a moment of political vaudeville more worthy of the description “circus” than “theater.” Beginning this week, however, we may be in for the start of a truly Grand Guignol event befitting the Halloween season.
That’s because the Supreme Court will hear several key labor cases this term, along with yet another plea from billionaires to be allowed to purchase a larger share of the electoral process. Just as the shutdown has battered the economy and harmed countless Americans through its curtailment of Headstart programs, the closing of federal parks and suspension of government health programs, so could damage be done to the national welfare by a handful of pro-business decisions by the high court. If the present conservative majority continues to vote within its ideological groove,
Chances are you’ve heard a union member or leader called one of these things (and in all likelihood, more than once), and it made your blood boil. The unfortunate truth is that misconceptions, stereotypes and all-out lies seem to be dominating the public discussion and perception of labor unions, even among some progressives. We in the labor movement know that unions stand for the working class as the sole and vital counterbalance to corporate greed and excess…but no one else seems to have gotten the memo.
That disconnect—between what we actually do and what others think we do—is the impetus behind yesterday’s action session at the AFL-CIO Convention, entitled “10 Ways to Change How People See Unions.” Featuring AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Shuler, AFSCME’s Chris Policano and Brandon Weber of Upworthy’s Workonomics, this exciting session focused on reintroducing unions to America by focusing on what we actually do every day for working families.
Why are so many Americans wary of labor unions? Unions are, after all, good for everyone who works for a living. In occupations with a high rate of unionization all the workers get paid more, even employees who aren’t in a union. As rates of unionization have fallen, so has compensation. One might expect unions to be all the rage with anyone who ever put in a hard day’s work. But this is not always the case, particularly in the United States.
Americans have WEIRD attitudes towards unions – as in, Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic. The Canadian behavioralists who coined this acronym were interested in how sweeping generalizations about human psychology and economic behavior might be incorrect if they were based on only one kind of (WEIRD) people, and reviewed a number of cross-cultural studies to make their point. To scholars at the University of British Columbia,
Last Saturday’s commemoration of the 1963 March on Washington spotlighted the power of grassroots activism. But it was no exercise in nostalgia. Activists are pushing for social change across the nation, and I discuss dozens of these campaigns in my new book, The Activist’s Handbook, Second Edition: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century, officially released today by UC Press. The book thoroughly revises and updates the 1996 edition, which the late Howard Zinn praised as “enormously valuable for anyone interested in social change.” The new edition adds my analysis of the strategies used by social movements around immigration reform, gay and lesbian rights, the Keystone XL Pipeline, school “reform” and other campaigns that really took off in the past decade.
While some believe the past 15 years have weakened the power of grassroots activism against big moneyed interests, I disagree. In fact, in writing the new book I realized that activism has increased since the original edition,
Why Labor Organizing Should be a Civil Right: Rebuilding a Middle-Class Democracy by Enhancing Worker Voice, by Moshe Z. Marvit and Richard D. Kahlenberg, was released last year to critical and academic acclaim but not nearly enough attention. The book, whose authors are both fellows at the progressive think tank the Century Foundation, lays out a simple, brilliant idea: to amend the Civil Rights Act so that it prohibits discriminating against workers for attempting to organize a union.
We recently had a chance to pick the authors’ brains about the inspiration for the book, how the legislation would work and why this is an idea whose time has come.
Feldner-Shaw: For those who haven’t heard about it, can you briefly describe the premise or thesis of the book?
Marvit and Kahlenberg: As the title suggests, the book Why Labor Organizing Should be a Civil Right makes the argument that labor activities are a civil right and should be treated as such by our laws.
You’ve probably heard it from a colleague, or maybe from a friend or family member:
“Kids these days… they’re just too ambivalent to care about labor unions or workers’ rights.”
But as it turns out, that’s just not true. Young people are actually big fans of unions. Fully 61 percent of young people view labor unions favorably – and that’s more than 10 points higher than the national average, according to a new Pew poll. In fact, young people are the only age group that views unions more favorably than they view corporations.
But despite the overwhelming support young people have for unions, they’re far less likely to belong to one. Harold Meyerson writes in the American Prospect:
The irony for unions —and in theory, the opportunity—is that the youngest Americans are the least unionized.
Gallup and Pew concur: Just over one-half of Americans approve of labor unions.
In late June, the Pew Research Center released the results of its biennial poll on unions and corporations, and reported that 51 percent of Americans had a favorable view of unions—up from just 41 percent in 2011, the last time Pew popped the question. Pew’s new number is almost identical to Gallup’s, which found that 52 percent of Americans approved of unions when it last asked that question in August of 2012. Gallup polls on union approval every year and has reported a 52 percent approval rating each of the past three years. Before then, union approval had hit an all-time low for Gallup surveys, with just 48 percent in 2009.
(This post first appeared on the American Prospect and is republished with permission.)
As the number of American public- and private-sector workers belonging to a labor union reached an all-time low this past year, many of us sat on the sidelines scratching our collective heads, wondering why. Academics and economists will say it’s because the type of work Americans do is changing and, as we shift from a manufacturing to a service economy, union jobs in factories (those that haven’t already been offshored) are being replaced by nonunion desk jobs. However, ask an average employee or person on the street why fewer workers belong to a union than a generation ago. They will most likely say it’s because unions have lost their relevance, are outdated concepts or that they aren’t needed.
But how can the latter be true when the mean real wages of American workers are lower than they were in the 1970s, around the time that union manufacturing jobs began globally migrating south and to Asia?
How a union of Yale employees aligned itself with community activists and won control of a beleaguered city.
This article and illustration originally appeared in The American Prospect.
Major Ruth became a civic leader because he made a promise to his neighbor, Brian Wingate. Both had moved to the Beaver Hills section of New Haven, Connecticut, in 2003. A neighborhood of aging single–family homes that had seen better days, Beaver Hills had been targeted by the city for a housing–rehabilitation program, and, with the zeal of new arrivals, Ruth, a manager at the local utility company, and Wingate, a custodian and union steward at nearby Yale University, sought to involve themselves in neighborhood–improvement ventures. That proved harder than they had anticipated. Although New Haven aldermanic districts are tiny, encompassing no more than 4,300 residents, Ruth and Wingate couldn’t find anyone who could identify,
There are many similarities between the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s and the union movement that preceded it in the early decades of the 20th century. Both met with hostility, opposition, and violence. Yet today we look back on the former with gratitude and admiration, while the latter is either forgotten or distorted in our collective memory.
Hard-fought union gains have become part of the fabric of our society: the eight-hour day, elimination of child labor, and safer conditions are but a few of the benefits that unions have secured for all of us. Yet unions have been broadly demonized, and the gains they have won are slipping away.
I’ll be the first to admit that unions have their issues. Nevertheless, I am grateful that my husband and I have been loyal union members all of our adult lives (I am a teacher; he is a Teamster).
For all the talk of saving and rebuilding the middle class, no public official from the President on down has mentioned the U-word. The U-word? “Unions.” From the 1930s through the ’70s, unions turned working-class jobs into middle-class jobs. Hourly wage earners organized themselves into unions that could fight for livable wages, health and retirement benefits, safety rules, job protection and on-the-job respect. These became such national standards that even in the historically right-to-work states in the Deep South, many of these principles prevailed.
But for three decades those work standards have been under attack, wages have dropped — with benefits cut or stolen. Why is this happening? Because union membership declined as free trade agreements shipped those jobs off-shore, as business mergers stripped workers of health care, and as strategic corporate bankruptcies took away their pension funds. Workers have been asked to “give back” in order to keep their jobs from vanishing,
Last week’s annual national union membership numbers were eye-opening, and well, pretty depressing. The relentless attacks on unions nationwide have caused overall union density to drop to a startlingly low 11.3 percent. The share of union members as part of the workforce is the lowest it’s been in 97 years. That’s not just bad news for unions, that’s really bad news for everyone.
According to the Center for American Progress:
Without the counterbalance of workers united together in unions, the middle class withers because the economy and politics tend to be dominated by the rich and powerful, which in turn leads to an even greater flow of money in our economy to the top of the income scale.
But despite last week’s bad news on a national level, there were silver linings. Not the least of which is the trend here in California.