Thursday, March 31, 2011

Workers, It’s Open Season on Bosses!

The Supreme Court is currently determining whether to hear a class action lawsuit against Wal-Mart for gender discrimination. According to the LA Times, the case is the largest job-discrimination case in history, affecting nearly two million women.

According to the California Employment Lawyer Blog, Wal-Mart claims to have no difference in pay between men and woman at 90% of their stores. However, numerous women have come forward claiming that they were paid less than men for doing the same work, or that they were passed over for men when being considered for promotions. One woman said that her boss told her that a man was promoted over her because he had a family to support, according to Democracy Now, even though the woman was a single mother.

Numerous large companies, including Intel, have come out in support of Wal-Mart, claiming that this law suit is too big and will result in an “open season” against large national corporations, as if this were somehow a bad thing. The real problem is that workers and the public at large have any sympathy whatsoever for large corporations and bosses. Open season on corporations is a good thing and should be the rallying cry for workers and the public as a whole. Indeed, we should all declare open season on corporations and the ruling elite, too. In fact, while we’re at it, let’s declare open season on wage slavery and the entire economic system that allows so many people to live with such privation and misery, deprived of health care, decent housing and nutrition, while the richest 1% posses 40% of the nation’s wealth and enjoy healthier, longer lives, lavish homes and all of the social power.

No Miranda Rights For School Children

Up Against the Wall Motherhugger (Image by sass_face)
The Supreme Court heard a case last week in which a 13-year-old North Carolina boy was interrogated by police, at his school, without being read his rights. Until a person is officially in custody, they are not entitled to Miranda rights, the L.A. Times reported. The police argued that the boy was not in custody.

The boy was suspected of being involved in two break-ins. He was questioned in a school conference room without being arrested. The police officer even told him he could leave at one point, indicating that he was not in custody. However, to a 13-year-old, the situation would certainly feel like an arrest and the boy confessed, as a result. 

Under such circumstances, a teenager is unlikely to feel free to get up and leave or to refuse to cooperate, particularly with police and school officials hovering over him. Even an adult under these circumstances might feel like he didn’t have any choice. However, a child has much less experience and knowledge of his rights than an adult and is much less likely to feel confident enough to assert his rights when confronted by authority figures.

Additionally, schools are increasingly starting to feel like prisons. It has become common to find armed police on campus. Indeed, many now have their own liaison officers stationed on campus. Furthermore, many schools now have metal detectors or require some form of security clearance to obtain entry. Kids are monitored by video and closed circuit cameras. Their laptops have video cameras that spy on them. Their movements are controlled on campus. For many students, the distinction between being at school and being in custody may be negligible.

Alito, Scalia and Roberts were skeptical of the arguments in defense of youth Miranda rights and seemed unlikely to rule in favor of youth rights. Nevertheless, however the Court rules, it is critical that adults educate kids about their rights and how to protect themselves from harassment by other adults such as the police, ICE, employers and child exploiters.

Today In Labor History: March 31

March 31, 1927: Birth of Cesar Chavez.

March 31, 1941: Wisconsin state troopers attack striking auto workers in Milwaukee. The strikers succeed in holding off scabs.

March 31, 1966: Two day boycott of Seattle schools protesting de facto segregation.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Abolish Automatic Dues Check Off?

In the old days, union reps came by and collected dues from each member by hand. It gave them an opportunity to organize, to check in with members, see if there were any complaints or grievances or suggestions for how the union could do things better. It also gave members the chance to say “screw you” to the union when they felt it was taking them for granted, which forced the union leaders to be more accountable to the members. In fact, if the union wanted angry members’ money, an organizer or steward would have to go meet with them, listen to their grievances, and resolve them to their satisfaction before they would start paying up.

Automatic dues check off, which allows unions to collect dues as a deduction from members’ paychecks,  is a much easier way to get the money quickly, and it ensures that dues are collected from everyone, even the pissed off members. This has made big unions flush with resources that have been used to pay large salaries to professional bureaucrats (i.e., union leaders) and to lavish money on politicians who they think might do their bidding. It has encouraged the bureaucracies to grow larger and less accountable to members.

The ruling elite would love the automatic dues check off to disappear, as it would make it much more difficult for unions to support candidates who are less business friendly. It was one of the goals of Gov. Walker’s union-busting legislation in Wisconsin. Indeed, it was the preservation of the automatic dues check off that most concerned the leaders of the unions, who ended up giving away significant pay and benefits concessions, without their members’ approval, in hopes of saving it.

Maybe it’s time to let it go.

Labor Notes recently had an interesting article on workers at Kennametal Corp. in western Massachusetts who were forced by anti-union attacks by their bosses to return to the old school method of collecting dues by hand. While union officials were scared that they might lose dues, screw up paper work, or have members revolt and refuse to pay, they found that the process worked pretty well. Out of 75 members, only two refused to pay.

By collecting dues in person, stewards’ and organizers were forced to spend more time with members, which ended up helping them convince members to wear T-shirts, attend after-work gate meetings, sign petitions, picket before work, and prepare grievances. One challenge was the new hires, many of whom didn’t want to pay. This forced organizers to meet regularly with the newbies, listen to their grievances, and work to satisfy them, something that often never happens in unions nowadays. One of the biggest complaints I hear when I am organizing younger teachers, especially temporary and probationary teachers, is that they feel abandoned by the union (particularly during March, when they are being sent pink slips).

NewTLA Candidate Upsets Washington, Wins UTLA Presidency

Contrary to most predictions, Julie Washington was beaten by Warren Fletcher in the runoffs for president of the United Teachers of Los Angeles. According to the L.A. Times, Fletcher had 4,711 votes or 53.6% and Washington had 4,247 votes or 47.4%. However, less than 80% of members actually voted.

Washington was the former vice president and considered by most to be an insider who would carry on the legacy of A.J. Duffy. She was the chief negotiator on several occasions in which UTLA gave up significant concessions. Fletcher, in contrast, ran a campaign that was critical of the previous UTLA administration and its weakness in defending teachers’ interests. He had the support of a small opposition movement within the union called NewTLA. According to In My Trends, NewTLA endorsed Fletcher “based on the belief that he would help promote a more respectful, civil environment within UTLA where meaningful reform may be more likely.”

NewTLA has argued that UTLA is an antiquated union, stuck in the old ways (e.g., fighting to protect teachers’ pay, benefits and working conditions), unwilling to collaborate with the bosses to facilitate reforms (i.e., unwilling to accept reforms that would undermine working conditions and labor protections and maybe not even benefit students). (See NewTLA: Voice of Reform or Reaction?) The question is will Fletcher be their man? Fletcher's campaign platform emphasized returning “UTLA to its core priorities" of salary, benefits, retirement and job security, implying that he is not interested in fighting privatization and the proliferation of charter schools, attempts to tie teacher pay to student test scores, or other “tangential” issues also known as top down reforms. Furthermore, he hardly mentioned rank and file organizing during his campaign, suggesting that he does not intend to rule by consensus.

If Fletcher turns out to be a true NewTLA union president, UTLA members will surely suffer, while the billionaire Ed Deformers will have a valuable insider where they need it most: heading the nation’s second largest teachers union.

Today In Labor History: March 30

March 30, 1930: 30,000 unemployed marched in New York City. At the time, there was virtually no formal or institutional aid available for the unemployed or poor. Even the AFL did not support unemployment insurance, as it saw itself as the representative of skilled workers only, and could care less about the unskilled and factory workers. Another reason for the lack of government support for the unemployed was that working conditions were so terrible the ruling elite feared that workers would choose the dole over work if given the choice. In New York, police attacked the marchers.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Indiana Dep. Prosecutor Suggests Fake Shooting to Discredit Unions

Indiana Deputy Prosecutor Carlos F. Lam suggested to Wisconsin Gov. Rick Scott that he use provocateurs to discredit the unions protesting his union busting bills. Lam even went so far as to propose a fake assassination attempt against Scott. According to the WSWS, Lam’s email was sent the same day that Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Cox sent a Twitter message calling on Scott to use live ammunition against demonstrators. Both Cox and Lam resigned after journalists traced the provocative messages to them.

As crazy as these two provocations may seem, Walker was already thinking along those same lines. He had already threatened to call in the National Guard on public sector workers if they went on strike. The National Guard, of course, carries live ammunition with them. Furthermore, in a telephone conversation with a blogger pretending to be billionaire David Koch, Walker admitted that he had considered using provocateurs against demonstrators.

The WSWS suggests that such conspiracies are usually reserved for wartime and counterinsurgency operations. However, the U.S. government and business have a long history of using whatever means necessary to disrupt labor organizing and political opposition. Anti-war organizations, civil rights groups, environmental groups AND labor have been infiltrated by provocateurs and spies bent on disrupting and discrediting them. Nevertheless, the WSWS is correct that these two examples are emblematic of the explosive class tensions permeating the country today, with harassed and beaten-down workers on the one hand, desperately fighting to save what little protections they have left, and the ruling elite, on the other hand, hell bent on crushing every last vestige of organized labor.

Click here to see news coverage on Youtube