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How Can We Rebuild Working-Class Politics? Let’s Go to “Strike School.”

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Through­out Sep­tem­ber and Octo­ber, thou­sands of activists and union­ists from sev­en­ty coun­tries par­tic­i­pat­ed in the inter­na­tion­al ?“Strike School” orga­niz­ing train­ing led by Jane McAlevey and spon­sored by the Rosa Lux­em­burg Stiftung.

Jacobin?’s Eric Blanc spoke with McAlevey about the key lessons of the course, the rea­sons why this tra­di­tion has been mar­gin­al­ized with­in orga­nized labor, and the ways smart orga­niz­ing meth­ods can help rebuild work­ing-class pol­i­tics and trans­form unions today.

Can you talk about Strike School, who par­tic­i­pat­ed, and what its main pur­pose was?

JM: To be hon­est, we orga­nized Strike School part­ly in response to the increase of talk about strikes and gen­er­al strikes. A lot of peo­ple now are say­ing we need a gen­er­al strike, so it seemed like exact­ly the right time to dig into orga­niz­ing fun­da­men­tals and teach how to build to super­ma­jor­i­ty strikes?—?the kind that we need to stop the Right and turn things around for the work­ing class.

Strike School has turned into an impor­tant space for the past two months?—?it’s real­ly been some­thing to see this blos­som. There were thou­sands of par­tic­i­pants from sev­en­ty coun­tries, and all the train­ings and mate­ri­als are trans­lat­ed into Ara­bic, Span­ish, French, Por­tuguese, Hebrew, and Ger­man. It’s spon­sored by the Rosa Lux­em­burg Stiftung, which is beau­ti­ful?—?to be able to car­ry on Rosa’s name today and to keep the idea of strikes, big strikes, alive.

We designed the course to empha­size the fun­da­men­tals of orga­niz­ing?—?and linked these specif­i­cal­ly to how we devel­op strike-ready unions. But there are also a whole bunch of fan­tas­tic ten­ants’ rights and cli­mate orga­ni­za­tions involved, who are apply­ing these lessons to their work.

I get so many emails that I can’t keep up with, where peo­ple say, ?“I want to learn the stuff you write about.” I decid­ed one thing that I can do for those who can’t read the books?—?which is many peo­ple?—?is to part­ner with the Rosa Lux­em­burg Stiftung to get out there a cou­ple of times a year to teach like crazy. This time, for this Strike School, we required peo­ple to reg­is­ter as groups. Get­ting strike ready is not about indi­vid­u­als?—?it’s about peo­ple who can form orga­ni­za­tions togeth­er, even if they start small.

And if there’s one thing that unites Strike School, beyond its rad­i­cal pol­i­tics cen­tered around bot­tom-up change, it’s a com­mit­ment to build­ing a spe­cif­ic method of orga­niz­ing: struc­ture-based orga­niz­ing. Because it’s not just enough to fight. What our side needs is to fight back and win. And to do that, we need to learn and relearn the fun­da­men­tals of organizing.

One of the big argu­ments that ties togeth­er the spe­cif­ic train­ings taught in Strike School, and that you’ve writ­ten about in books like No Short­cuts, is the dif­fer­ence between ?“orga­niz­ing” and ?“mobi­liz­ing.” Can you spell out that dif­fer­ence and why you think it’s so important?

JM: It’s real­ly urgent that we under­stand this dif­fer­ence, par­tic­u­lar­ly for left­ists and pro­gres­sives. ?“Mobi­liz­ing” means we’re talk­ing to our already engaged base to take action. The act of mobi­liz­ing any­one into an elec­tion or into a strike or a protest by def­i­n­i­tion means you’re talk­ing with the peo­ple who already agree with you.

Mobi­liz­ing is not orga­niz­ing?—?it’s get­ting the folks who already agree with you to get off the couch and do some­thing. The Left spends a lot of time mobilizing.

Don’t get me wrong, we actu­al­ly also have to get bet­ter at mobi­liz­ing, too, by learn­ing to be more sys­tem­at­ic. But before we can have a strike mobi­liza­tion, the deep­er part of Strike School is how to get to the 90 per­cent of work­ers you need to be ready to be mobi­lized for the strike. A strike vote is the ulti­mate test of whether the nec­es­sary orga­niz­ing has been done.

The orga­niz­ing work is much hard­er, and it’s not very well under­stood and not as sexy. In the Unit­ed States, for exam­ple, to make a strike real and effec­tive?—?and to have the pow­er to deliv­er the kinds of demands work­ers are mak­ing?—?you need north of 90 per­cent to walk out.

That’s why what was won by teach­ers in Los Ange­les and Chica­go was so sub­stan­tial. To get to that point is real­ly hard work. And the broad­er and more diverse the work­force, the more com­plex the project of try­ing to build uni­ty and sol­i­dar­i­ty across races, gen­der, immi­gra­tion sta­tus, across shifts, across dif­fer­ent identities.

So the ques­tion ?“How do you move work­ers to a project that they believe they don’t agree with?” is fun­da­men­tal to the ques­tion of build­ing pow­er and get­ting strike ready. Most peo­ple, includ­ing most social­ists, don’t under­stand that we don’t just call for a strike. It’s about build­ing and expand­ing the uni­verse of peo­ple who are with us in this strug­gle for justice.

The cen­tral con­cept of the course is that, for orga­niz­ers, we wake up every morn­ing ask­ing how to engage the peo­ple who don’t agree with us?—?or who think they don’t agree with us. These folks are def­i­nite­ly not part of our social media feeds, and they’re not com­ing to our activist meet­ings, they’re not there.

In Strike School, we do a pow­er analy­sis of what it will take to get to some­thing like a 100 per­cent strike. This means you are tak­ing a lot of time engag­ing with those who don’t want to engage with us and for whom hav­ing some skills in your con­ver­sa­tions is actu­al­ly going to matter.

That’s why it’s so impor­tant to teach the dif­fer­ence between orga­niz­ing and mobi­liz­ing, and to focus on teach­ing the skills required to move the hard­est-to-move peo­ple in order to bring about the kind of sol­i­dar­i­ty and uni­ty required for a suc­cess­ful strike.

If this method of orga­niz­ing is so pow­er­ful, why do you think this tra­di­tion has got­ten lost not only in the Unit­ed States, but in so much of the world?

JM: It’s a good ques­tion, but I’d like to reframe it: I think the tra­di­tion was not ?“lost”?—?I think it was beat­en, jailed, and (depend­ing on the coun­try) mur­dered out of most of the movement.

In the Unit­ed States, you can real­ly look at [the 1947 anti-union leg­is­la­tion] Taft-Hart­ley and McCarthy­ism as a turn­ing point. This was a moment when cap­i­tal­ists under­stood the very real threat of work­ers build­ing class sol­i­dar­i­ty across race and gen­der. It was a peri­od, with the com­plic­i­ty of some trade union lead­ers, where there was a real effort to destroy the tra­di­tions that built the pow­er­ful unions formed in the 1930s.

For those union lead­ers who were will­ful­ly com­plic­it in going along with the purges of rad­i­cals at the time, it showed a real naïveté about the fact that, in the long term, their own unions and the lives of their mem­bers would even­tu­al­ly be destroyed or huge­ly under­mined by these same cap­i­tal­ist forces.

After, with the turn to busi­ness union­ism, many of these labor lead­ers thought work­ers would just stay put, that unions would have insti­tu­tion­al secu­ri­ty for life. That was a rad­i­cal mis­un­der­stand­ing of how pow­er works and how peo­ple work.

The skills we’re pass­ing on in Strike School are skills I learned from extra­or­di­nary men­tors in the real tra­di­tion from the old 1199 [health care work­ers’ union]. They’re skills that were beat­en out of the move­ment and worse. You can see that look­ing across the world: many of the same meth­ods of deep orga­niz­ing cross inter­na­tion­al bor­ders, and that’s why many polit­i­cal lead­ers in all sorts of coun­tries jail and mur­der and do every­thing pos­si­ble to beat the most effec­tive lead­ers out of the move­ment. So the more we can teach these skills today, the better.

What do you think the Left and social­ists can learn from this method of orga­niz­ing for class pol­i­tics more gen­er­al­ly, not only for union organizing?

JM: The meth­ods and the dis­ci­pline of struc­ture-based orga­niz­ing in the work­place apply gen­er­al­ly to build­ing a stronger Left. There’s a lot of those lessons.

The first is foun­da­tion­al: Do you spend most of your day talk­ing to peo­ple who don’t agree with you? If you’re seri­ous about build­ing class pol­i­tics, the answer is yes. That’s the first strate­gic choice.

Are you spend­ing all your time in the units in the hos­pi­tal or the schools in a dis­trict where peo­ple already agree with you and your num­bers are pret­ty good? The answer, if you’re build­ing a strike-ready union, is that you’re focused on the places where there’s real oppo­si­tion and where peo­ple think they don’t agree with you. The same goes for how we build a strong Left.

The sec­ond big les­son is that there’s actu­al­ly a method for how to do this. In the old days, the thing that real­ly turned me off from the orga­nized US left was that every time I would show up at a Left con­fer­ence, I’d be imme­di­ate­ly swarmed by white guys hawk­ing papers in four-point font with their polit­i­cal line. And that’s not going to build a class-based, effec­tive move­ment that’s tack­ling race and gender.

What you have to do is come to appre­ci­ate and under­stand the per­son you’re tak­ing with, and real­ly respect that they may have come to con­clu­sions dif­fer­ent from yours based on a set of social con­di­tions in their life that might be rad­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent from the organizer’s. That’s one of the things that sep­a­rates an orga­niz­er from an activist: we under­stand our job is to have patience and appre­ci­ate where the per­son we’re engag­ing with is com­ing from, why they might be that way, and how we can actu­al­ly work with that per­son to help them come to the con­clu­sion that they want a dif­fer­ent coun­try, that they want a dif­fer­ent polit­i­cal-eco­nom­ic sys­tem than the one we have.

That type of change does not come from lec­tur­ing peo­ple, from talk­ing at them, or from mak­ing judg­ments about them.

I’ve seen some peo­ple claim?—?and I think it’s unfair?—?that the meth­ods you teach are only rel­e­vant for union lead­ers and staffers, not for trans­form­ing the labor move­ment from the bot­tom up. How do you look at the rela­tion­ship between the meth­ods taught in Strike School and the ques­tion of how social­ists can most effec­tive­ly help build and trans­form the labor movement?

JM: First of all, whether you’re inside the rank and file strate­gi­cal­ly because you took a job there, or whether you’re out­side the rank and file because you mapped the entire nation­al health care indus­try and you under­stand which eight cities can col­lapse the sys­tem?—?both are good ideas in our country.

For me, the ques­tion is whether you under­stand your role as an orga­niz­er as fun­da­men­tal­ly doing rad­i­cal polit­i­cal edu­ca­tion. Are you skilling peo­ple up? And do you start by under­stand­ing that you respect the social con­di­tions that formed and framed dif­fer­ent peo­ple? That’s a respect, and a val­ue, and a method of work that you can do effec­tive­ly posi­tioned inside or outside.

I think it’s great, as you know, for peo­ple to take jobs in strate­gic indus­tries. But I think the over-roman­ti­ciza­tion of that can be dan­ger­ous. Part of why we’re doing Strike School is that there is a skill set to doing the hard­er work. It isn’t rock­et sci­ence, but it is a skill set, whether you’re going into the work­place or whether you’re approach­ing the work­place from the out­side. Win­ning mat­ters?—?and so hav­ing some appre­ci­a­tion of the method and the skill real­ly matters.

That’s why we’re doing Strike School, because peo­ple need to be exposed to the best meth­ods to move a real­ly hard con­ver­sa­tion and why you wake up focus­ing on the hard­est-to-move unit and not on the unit where all the work­ers want to talk to you.

We’re try­ing to stitch togeth­er the talk about a gen­er­al strike and the real­i­ty about how we get there. The same is true for class pol­i­tics more broad­ly. When peo­ple ask me, ?“Why don’t you teach a class on how to trans­form unions?”, my answer is that this is basi­cal­ly the same skill. Because if you can’t first build major­i­ty sup­port for chang­ing your local union, you need to stop call­ing for a gen­er­al strike.

How do you trans­form unions? It’s the same skill. You need to learn how to build major­i­ty and super­ma­jor­i­ty sup­port. That’s the real les­son from Chica­go and Los Ange­les. When you show you can win over a major­i­ty of your cowork­ers to a dif­fer­ent ver­sion of their own trade union, that’s step one.

Every­thing we dis­cussed in Strike School, start­ing with leader iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, how to have suc­cess­ful hard con­ver­sa­tions, under­stand­ing the issues that mat­ter most to each work­er you are engag­ing, to learn­ing how to make and move a major­i­ty peti­tion?—?all that trans­lates into learn­ing how to win. Real­ly good orga­niz­ing is real­ly good organizing.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on October 23, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Eric Blanc is the author of Red State Revolt: The Teachers’ Strike Wave and Working-Class Politics.


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Organizing Against Police Unions Has Invigorated Hollywood’s Labor Movement, Members Say

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The labor movement is split on the question of cops. While union officials have signaled their tempered support for police unions, the push to expel law enforcement from the movement has grown quickly in the rank-and-file. 

The Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE) led the way with a June 8 resolution urging the AFL-CIO to drop the International Union of Police Associations (IUPA). Nine days later, the Martin Luther King, Jr. County Labor Council, an AFL-CIO regional affiliate, voted to expel the Seattle Police Officers Guild from the coalition. Union shops representing postdoc researchers and teaching assistants have since passed resolutions demanding police union disaffiliation from the AFL-CIO, and a coalition of workers within the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) have put forward a similar call to expel its police union affiliates. 

Except the WGAE, no national unions within the AFL-CIO have positioned themselves against police unions beyond calling for the IUPA—a union representing over 100,000 officers across the United States—to reform itself. But a movement is brewing in two large Hollywood unions.

Within the ranks of two unions representing theater and entertainment workers—International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) and the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA)—the push to kick police out of the AFL-CIO has ballooned in the span of a few weeks, with members of each union saying that the effort has pushed them to consider, some for the first time, the power they possess as unionized workers.

Taking inspiration from the WGAE, Nicholas Monsour, a television and film editor credited on “Us” and “The Twilight Zone,” wrote a petition urging his union, IATSE, to pass a resolution calling for the ouster of police unions from the AFL-CIO. The petition has been shared widely on social media, garnering hundreds of signatures and bringing together a coalition of IATSE members organizing around the “drop cops” campaign. 

Another editor represented by IATSE, who preferred not to be named for fear of retaliation from the Los Angeles Police Department, says he joined the campaign because he has seen the police indiscriminately target Black people and “[has] relatives who have been mistreated by the police.”

“There’s IATSE members who actually get mistreated by the police, and I think we should look out for them,” he says. “Being a person of color in IATSE, I love being a union member, I love the benefits and my coworkers, and I would love more if we used our power to make the community a better place.”

He adds, “I’m very encouraged to see these actions happening, and I hope that union leadership listens to its grassroots.”

Members say the push has also had the secondary effect of pulling union members into union politics who might not have participated otherwise; in the fight for the Black Lives Matter movement, rank-and-file members have found and exercised their union power. 

“The culture when I joined [was] a little bit sleepy,” Monsour says. “I’m a dues paying member who has occasionally gotten slightly more involved in our discussions and meetings around contract negotiations but I’ve never sought any positions or anything within the guild, the union.”

Through the campaign, interest in the structure and leadership of the organization has grown among members who were less involved in union politics before this month. 

“I wasn’t day-to-day involved in Local 700 stuff, but . . . knowing that IATSE is part of the AFL-CIO and that [the International Union of Police Associations] is part of AFL-CIO too, a lot of this is definitely new to me,” said editor and producer John Cantú. 

“Everyone that I’ve been in touch with has been just like me, where they had no idea that IATSE was part of the AFL-CIO and that police unions were also tied into that.” 

Alexis Simpson, an actor and member of SAG-AFTRA, says that the parallel push within her union has yielded a comparably strong increase in union activism. “I would say I’m probably more engaged in union stuff than most of the membership. And that’s not saying much … the number of people [to whom] I have said, ‘Hey, did you know that we’re affiliated with the police unions?’ who are like, ‘What? I did not know that.’ It is waking them up to learning more about their union, at least at that initial level.” 

In each union, members started their respective campaigns by circulating petitions. While gathering signatories and connecting with interested members, the member-organizers simultaneously pressured leadership to take a position against police unions. Members of each organization say they have coordinated efforts on internal message boards and launched internal campaigns to demonstrate popular support for expelling the police from the labor movement. Meanwhile, SAG-AFTRA member-organizers have partnered with Color of Change, an organization that has rallied against racism in the criminal justice system and media

There’s precedent for the action they are calling for: In 1957, the AFL-CIO expelled the Teamsters from the federation for corruption and unethical practices. 

Both SAG-AFTRA and IATSE have issued statements in response to the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department and the movement to end police brutality that has ensued. But neither has gone so far as to actually call for the expulsion of police from the AFL-CIO. 

A June 11 statement from SAG-AFTRA calls on police unions to “dismantle the structures they have erected that have been used to protect officers who engage in racially targeted violence, racial profiling, and other racist and unlawful conduct towards Black and other citizens of this country.” It’s an argument that mirrors the logic of AFL-CIO’s original statement on police brutality by condemning discrete acts of violence while maintaining that the police unions are capable of changing course. 

But cop unions have long formed an ardent opposition to police reform, providing legal cover for killer cops and quashing efforts to increase transparency. And IUPA reacted to the labor federation’s statement on police reform with outrage: In a letter to AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, Sam Cabral, the head of IUPA, called the idea that brutality is endemic to policing “ridiculous.” 

Leaders of the 55 unions in the AFL-CIO have skirted the question of expelling cop unions from the labor movement or outwardly rejected the idea. But as calls from the rank-and-file grow, so will the pressure for their representatives, in unions representing workers across industries, to respond.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on July 9, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Alice Herman is a writer based in Madison, Wisconsin, where she works at a restaurant. She contributes regularly to Isthmus, Madison’s alt-weekly, and The Progressive magazine.


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Assisted Living Facility Staffer Says He Was Fired for Organizing His Coworkers During the Pandemic

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In March of this year, Schuyler Stallcup was working as an “activities assistant” at an assisted living facility in Lincoln Park, Chicago, owned by Sunrise Senior Living. For the past year and a half, he had spent his days planning and leading recreational activities for the elderly residents, working to keep them entertained and engaged. When the coronavirus crisis hit, he decided that it was time to start organizing his coworkers. That’s when the trouble began.

By the middle of May, Stallcup was fired. He says that his employer fired him on a flimsy pretext, as retaliation for workplace organizing that started with a single petition, and grew into a union campaign. He has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board seeking to be reinstated. His is a disturbing story that illustrates the difficulties of trying to improve workplaces from the inside in the midst of a health crisis that has everyone on edge.

Sunrise Senior Living is a national chain of more than 300 assisted living facilities, employing thousands of non-union workers. Anti-union material is a standard part of employee training. Stallcup was making $15 an hour in March, watching with dread as Covid struck. Staffing levels began dropping as employees called in sick, or were forced to stay home to take care of their children. Family visits for residents were put on hold, which meant that the remaining Sunrise staffers, already overworked, were forced to spend more time interacting with residents to keep them from becoming isolated and agitated. On top of that, masks were in short supply—Stallcup said it was not until mid-April when Sunrise was able to issue fresh masks to everyone for their shift each day.

On March 17, Stallcup submitted a petition to his manager, signed by about 30 coworkers—roughly half of the total frontline staff. It called for two weeks of additional paid sick leave, increased staffing, a “clearly articulated plan” for how to stop Covid from spreading in the facility, and childcare subsidies and free meals for employees. Of these demands, the company only ended up granting free meals. Each free meal saved employees three dollars.

In a sworn affidavit filed with the National Labor Relations Board, Stallcup says that his supervisor warned him that he shouldn’t have circulated the petition, and then sent him back to work. But he could see that the issues he had raised were not being addressed. “There was so much fear and uncertainty,” he said. “We would have days when all the caregivers [who provide direct patient care] would call out and there would be no one there. Those of us in activities would be doing those tasks.”

By early April, Stallcup decided that Sunrise needed a union. He began talking to coworkers, during breaks, after work, and on social media. On April 7, he says, he began posting union fliers and informational material in the break room, and quickly garnered 15 to 20 verbal commitments of interest. Only a few days later, though, two coworkers who had been enthusiastic supporters of the idea began to say they wanted nothing to do with it. The chill of fear had begun to creep in to the nascent campaign.

In the first week of May, management came for Stallcup’s job. They accused him of disabling an alarm connected to a door leading to a second-floor patio area, where staff took residents outside to get fresh air. “I immediately recognized it was retaliatory,” Stallcup said. Not only does he say he didn’t do it during the shift in question, but also that turning off the alarm was a “common and approved practice” for the entire previous summer, because forgetful residents tended to accidentally set off the loud alarm, startling many other residents. He was also accused of “leaving residents unattended”—a charge, he says in his written statement to the NLRB, that is “a particularly and obviously frivolous allegation as Sunrise is an assisted-living community meaning residents are left unattended constantly and the staffing levels make it mathematically and functionally impossible for residents to never be unattended.”

Nevertheless, following an internal “investigation” by management, Stallcup was fired in mid-May. He believes it was direct retaliation for his petition and union organizing. (“They were always on the ball for union busting,” he said ruefully. “Not so much for a pandemic.”)

Asked about Stallcup’s allegations about Sunrise and the circumstances surrounding his firing, a Sunrise Senior Living spokesperson sent the following statement: “We do not comment on litigation matters or issues related to former team members. Sunrise is proud of its longstanding Open Door Policy, which demonstrates the Company’s commitment to hear, listen to, and support team members to be successful at Sunrise. Moreover, Sunrise of Lincoln Park has had a sufficient supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) consistently over the past several months and has been carefully following applicable guidance from the local department of health, CDC, and other government authorities. Team members have been trained and retrained regarding appropriate use of PPE including masks, googles, gowns, gloves and face shields.”

Another current employee at Sunrise, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation from management, corroborated much of Stallcup’s story. The employee said that in the early days of the coronavirus crisis, workers were given a single mask in a paper bag with their name on it, which they reused each day at work. After Stallcup began his organizing campaign, the employee said, “it became apparent that people were very scared”—fearing that they might lose their jobs if management came to know that they were associated with the union effort.

And in fact, it seems that Stallcup’s firing has successfully caused the organizing at the Lincoln Park Sunrise facility to grind to halt. Stallcup himself spoke to an attorney and to union organizers after he was fired, and is hoping to be reinstated after an NLRB ruling. But that process can be painfully slow. In the meantime, he says, the remaining employees have not continued to pursue the union drive after seeing him lose his job.

The staffing issues that he asked the company to address in his petition months ago still persist, according to the current Sunrise employee. Since Stallcup left, “his department is really bare,” his former coworker said. “He was so good with the residents.”

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on June 16, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Hamilton Nolan is a labor reporter for In These Times. He has spent the past decade writing about labor and politics for Gawker, Splinter, The Guardian, and elsewhere. You can reach him at [email protected]


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Field Museum Workers Say It’s Time for the CEO to Start Making Sacrifices, Too

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Facing devasting pay cuts and layoffs amid the Covid-19 crisis, workers at Chicago’s Field Museum are organizing to demand greater transparency and equitable sacrifice from upper management.

“We fear these cuts will disproportionately impact staff of color and those already paid the least,” Field Museum workers explain in a petition that has now garnered over 1,700 signatures. “We are proud to call the Field home, and are prepared to make sacrifices to preserve it for generations to come. We are asking leadership to do the same.”

Best known for being the home of SUE, the most intact T. rex skeleton in the world, the Field is the nation’s third largest natural history museum after the Smithsonian and New York’s American Museum of Natural History. As of 2019, the museum had an endowment of approximately $440 million, up from $299 million in 2012.

The museum has been shuttered since mid-March due to the pandemic, and it remains unclear when it will be able to reopen to the public. Though the Field secured a loan from the federal Paycheck Protection Program and 70% of its revenue comes from sources other than ticket sales, at a May 19 virtual town hall with employees, CEO Richard Lariviere announced an impending 10% pay cut as well as an unspecified number of layoffs.

“At the town hall, we had a lot of staff proposing alternatives and various cost-cutting ideas like rotating furloughs, graduated pay reductions, and reducing hours, and asking if those had been explored,” says Anna Villanyi, an educator who has worked at the museum for two years. “But those ideas were dismissed without transparency about to what degree leadership had already explored them.”

Lariviere’s total compensation in 2018—the most recent year with available data—was $796,000. While the presidents of the Boston Museum of Science and American Museum of Natural History have respectively taken a 50% and 25%pay cut in light of the crisis, Lariviere reportedly dismissed the idea of reducing his own compensation as “a meaningless gesture.”

“A lot of museums are experiencing hardship due to this time, and we can see the different ways that is being addressed,” Villanyi tells In These Times. “We have such a large and seemingly financially stable institution that’s choosing not to make equitable moves like graduated pay cuts that other museums are doing.”

The Field Museum’s nearly 400 employees include scientists, collection managers, educators, technicians, guest services workers, maintenance workers and security guards. Many, like Villanyi, have been working from home during the pandemic, but others, like those who manage the upkeep of the museum’s exhibits, are not able to work from home.

Staff who can work remotely have been donating their vacation hours to their coworkers who don’t have the option of working from home, ensuring they continue receiving income. “It has been a really helpful act of sacrifice,” Villanyi says. “I believe it’s been over $200,000 worth of vacation hours that have been donated into that pool.”

In addition to aiding one another through the crisis, Field Museum employees have also been helping the public by sewing face masks and repurposing 3-D printers to make face shields for frontline workers.

The museum workers are specifically calling for a moratorium on pay cuts and layoffs until they can have a greater voice in cost-cutting measures, particularly by having a staff representative present at all future budget meetings.

“I’m hopeful that the increased awareness through our petition puts pressure on accountability for those things to happen,” Villanyi says.

Their organizing effort is being assisted by the Emergency Workplace Organizing Committee (EWOC), a joint project of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) and the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).

EWOC was launched shortly after the pandemic hit the United States to give non-union workers the resources needed to organize their own workplaces around coronavirus-related demands like hazard pay, sick leave and provision of personal protective equipment.

UE International Representative Mark Meinster says that over 1,000 workers from a range of industries including fast food, manufacturing, meatpacking, retail and higher education have received advice and assistance through EWOC on how to take workplace action around Covid-19 related issues.

With help from EWOC, workers around the country have already won several victories, including improved health and safety measures for grocery workers in Texas and Pennsylvania, and hazard pay for 250 Taco Bell workers in Michigan.

Meinster says that most of the work of EWOC is done through volunteers including DSA members, former Bernie Sanders campaign staff and UE activists.

“We’re building on models developed around the Bernie Sanders campaign of doing distributed organizing—where you’ve got a large group of motivated volunteers—and apply that model to workplace organizing,” Meinster explains. “That’s one of the keys to revitalizing a fighting labor movement. We’ve got to figure out how to go beyond mere staff resources and engage lots of motivated people out there.”

Meinster says the Field Museum organizing is a perfect example of workers organically coming together and reaching out to EWOC for assistance. “Like all museum workers, they’re facing some real difficult fights,” he says. “But here we’re seeing workers start to stand up and do something about it.”

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on June 12, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jeff Schuhrke is a Working In These Times contributor based in Chicago. He has a Master’s in Labor Studies from UMass Amherst and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in labor history at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He was a summer 2013 editorial intern at In These Times. Follow him on Twitter: @JeffSchuhrke.


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The Long-Neglected Online Labor Organizing Space Is Getting More Crowded

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A glance at the website of various unions will tell you that organized labor is not always the most tech-savvy field. It has been clear for years that organizing at scale in the modern world will require a lot of online organizing—it is, as they say, where the workers are. The coming launch of two new online organizing tools could signal a new age of healthy competition in a space that should be a hive of activity, but is not.

The internet has been America’s dominant communications medium for decades now. Despite this, the attitude of traditional unions towards using the internet as an organizing tool has been, very broadly speaking, disinterested. Union organizing is a field with a history stretching back more than a century, tightly constrained by labor laws, and always under attack from hostile forces; it is inherently suspicious of new methods. For that reason, unions and other labor groups are, for the most part, an afterthought in online culture. The AFL-CIO has fewer Twitter followers than Steak-Umm.

It is easy to see why this is a problem. Union membership has been declining for more than a half-century. The demographic most positively disposed to unions is younger people, who spend their lives online. Reaching the next generation of union members means online organizing. It also means taking a much more flexible approach to organizing—one that does not restrict itself to only traditional union campaigns. The raw materials are millions of hard working, younger people who are at ease online, and who have the general political and moral tilt that would make them prime candidates for organized labor, but who don’t know much about unions, or how to connect their day-to-day work issues with what organized labor does. The attitude of traditional unions has often been that these working people should beat a path to their door. Instead, the labor movement needs to bring its tools to the people.

The most well established online organizing platform is Coworker.org, a site that allows workers to start and run campaigns in their workplace—not union campaigns, but issue-based campaigns, which have won workers at a wide range of companies everything from wage increases to the right to wear beards. Founded in 2013, the site has hosted campaigns for a million workers, including more than 300,000 in the past month who have participated in a slew of workplace campaigns related to the coronavirus crisis, many of them seeking hazard pay and safer working conditions. Coworker has also been intimately involved in the organizing that led to the Google walkout and other prominent labor actions in the tech industry in recent years.

Michelle Miller, an SEIU veteran who is the cofounder of Coworker (and a friend of mine), says that the site’s value is not only in its ease of use, but also in the organizing expertise that its staff earned by working on hundreds of successful campaigns. “Historically, the labor movement has thrived when we were able to meet people in the spaces they were convening—in the early part of the last century those spaces were the backrooms of bars, churches and synagogues, parks and, eventually, we built union halls where people could gather for both meetings and celebrations,” Miller says. “Online spaces should be considered no different. They are places people gather to talk about what matters to them and a savvy, thoughtful labor movement is part of those conversations.”

Coworker, a 501(c)3 nonprofit funded by donations and foundations, does not run union campaigns per se. But a new site set to launch soon aims to do just that. Unit.work, formed as a benefit corporation to support worker rights, allows workers to make an account, sign union cards, and form an independent union at their workplace, which Unit staffers then help to administer. It is not allied with any existing unions; rather, it aims to make it easy for people who work in the nooks and crannies that organizers often don’t have the time or resources to reach—small companies, out-of-the-way locations, industries without strong union interest—to unionize and administer their own union with one set of centralized resources. It’s an intriguing model. And if it works, it could help solve the omnipresent problem of how to unionize workplaces that major unions don’t consider to be worth the effort.

Unit’s founder is James White, a self-described “tech guy” with an MIT degree, who found himself drawn to labor by witnessing campus union actions in Boston and the rise of Occupy, and by reading white papers about the need for more virtual organizing. White worked on the tech and business sides of a medical device company when he graduated, but left a year ago to dedicate himself to building Unit, which he hopes to formally roll out later this year.

On one hand, those who work in the labor movement may dismiss tech people like White as neophytes; on the other hand, the labor movement could certainly use as much tech competence as it can get. White notes that the weakness of organized labor is manifesting itself online every day. Since the coronavirus crisis began, he says, Google searches for “layoffs” have increased seven times over, but searches for “labor union” and “strike” have barely risen at all. That’s indicative of a problem. “Tech tools can lower the barriers,” White says, “but ultimately power comes from the worker led actions.” Though unions can often be territorial, he sees himself as filling a gap, rather than competing with existing unions. He grew up in a small town of 5,000 people in Texas, and dreams of helping people in places like his hometown unionize, even though there may not be any union locals for miles around.

Another new entrant into the field is GetFrank.com, which just launched in an early beta phase. The site, a for-profit company that aims to eventually support itself via subscription revenue, has a model similar to Coworker: Workers subscribe, organize and create campaigns privately, and then “Frank helps to privately send your campaigns to management and works to ensure you are heard.” The company is being built by a team of tech industry veterans, based in Chicago.

It remains to be seen whether the uneasy overlap of tech industry funding mechanisms and labor organizing cause any problems. The more products that launch in the online organizing space, the more we will be treated to a natural experiment of what works and what doesn’t. Coworker, the nonprofit, must raise its funding from the world of foundations; Unit, the benefit corporation, will operate essentially as a labor side labor consultant, seeking capital but also legally obligated to fulfill its pro-labor mission; and there’s Frank, the regular for-profit firm, which is hoping that there is a high, untapped demand for these services which the market has yet to fill. (There is also UnionBase, a free social network for union members run by Larry Williams, who is the head of the Progressive Workers Union, which qualifies as a fully pro-union project.)

In the big picture, 90% of American workers are not union members, and the vast majority of them are not even involved in workplace organizing in any form. Competition for primacy in online organizing, at this stage, is a good thing. It means that there are more chances for someone to stumble upon a way to organize and become inspired. As Michelle Miller says, “Workers need all the help they can get.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on May 7, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Hamilton Nolan is a labor reporting fellow at In These Times. He has spent the past decade writing about labor and politics for Gawker, Splinter, The Guardian, and elsewhere. You can reach him at [email protected].


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Organizing Amidst The COVID-19 Crisis

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As the 2008 financial crisis unfolded, tens of millions of Americans were hurting and making meaning of what was happening. It was the first time in my life that suddenly, tens of millions of people were significantly more ready to be organized than in the weeks before. To meet the pressing needs of people in crisis, advance overdue structural reforms, and open up people’s sense of what was possible, we began to organize loads of new people. 

Crises expose the inequities and inadequacies of our systems – so they also create moments of incredible opportunity.  Everything is up for questioning. All of it is on the table.

Right now, we are in another moment of crisis – and potential insight – because of COVID-19. With the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the globe, more people are open to organizing than at any time in our lives. The gross inequalities and inadequacies of our systems are being seen in a new light by tens of millions of people. 

I remember during the 2008 financial crisis, people who had lost homes, jobs, and pensions were suddenly ready for action they had never imagined. With more than 25 million now unemployed, there are a lot of people looking for support, meaning, and action. This is a moment that requires organizing. 

But where to start?  We should start where people are at. That is the first organizing maxim I and many others were taught. It made total sense – meeting people where they are is a sign of respect, and respect is a foundation of trust. 

That’s why we have created this video – to meet people where they are, and help them make meaning in this new moment of crisis. Check it out – I think you’ll find it helpful.

This video comes from the political education program we built and run in partnership with Harmony Goldberg and the Grassroots Policy Project.  A big shoutout to Jenn Carrillo, Billie Kirkton, and Harmony for their work on this. 

Mobilizers – who have an important role to play right now – move people who are ready to be moved to action. Organizers build relationships and then move people who didn’t even know they wanted to move to action. It’s an important distinction.

During the financial crisis, people who had no connection to social movements came into organizing through direct service, specific issue campaigns like foreclosure prevention, or needing a place to express anger and simply take it to the banks. 

The COVID-19 context is dramatically more far-reaching in terms of loss of life, loss of livelihood, and loss of social connectivity and normalcy.  People react to things differently and as a result need different things from organizing – and that will certainly be the case now. Some will cope by moving to action, some by building community, and others by going internal and even shutting down. And therefore, what people are likely to join will vary.  The good news is that all of these pathways are valuable, and all can build power.  

As has been well exposed over the last couple of months, there are huge gaps in the left’s reach into working class communities. For all the talk of organizing the multi-racial working class, most are untouched by our organizations. It’s a brutal fact that we have to face. And it raises questions about how much time we spend speaking to the converted, engaging left twitter, or absorbing the existing choir. 

This is a moment that requires us to do better, and opens the possibility of doing just that. Some organizations will galvanize the already converted and that’s important work, and yet I hope most of us look at how we can connect with way more everyday folks who are currently untouched by organizing. 

 Starting where people are at will require us to think about the language we use. Most of the country supports what would have seemed a radical agenda. They support universal basic income, rent suspension, debt cancellation, guaranteed health care, and until now unheard of levels of stimulus investment. And yet, most people are not attracted to or are even alienated by the way the left talks about things that are otherwise wildly popular.  We can start where people are at by using language that people use vs. language designed to show bonafides to the already converted. This doesn’t mean we don’t move people along an analysis continuum, it just means we do it by talking like we did when we were organizers in the neighborhood. 

Tens of millions of people, maybe more, are significantly more ready for organizing than they were just weeks ago. To win the demands needed to sustain people in this period, and to advance big ideas to reorganize our systems for the long haul we will need so many more to join the fight. They are searching to find what they need, we just have to be thoughtful about where and how we engage them.

This blog was originally published at Our Future on April 29, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: George Goehl is the director of People’s Action, a national grassroots organization fighting for economic, racial, gender, and environmental justice. He is commonly credited with moving the field of community organizing to new levels, increasing emphasis on shaping worldview, building political power, and long-term vision and strategy.


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Your Favorite Podcast May Soon Be Union as Gimlet Media Becomes First in the Industry to Organize

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Last week, the 83-member production staff of audio media company Gimlet Media announced its unionization with the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE). The move marks the first instance of unionization at a podcasting company.

According to a statement from the Gimlet Union Organizing Committee, which shepherded the union drive, the union will consist of creative-staff members including “producers, engineers, hosts, editors, and reporters.” The union has asked Gimlet management, which will not be included in the union, to voluntarily recognize the Guild as its collective-bargaining representative.

Among other goals, the union will seek transparency in pay and advancement structures, improved protections for contracted workers, “concrete and ambitious” diversity initiatives, equitable intellectual-property policies and greater employee involvement in company decision-making processes.

“A lot of people had been asking management about [these issues] for a long time, bringing [them] up both privately and publicly at all-staff meetings,” Drew Nelles, a senior producer and union organizing committee member at Gimlet, told In These Times. “We just reached a point where we felt that in order to see the movement on those issues that we desired, it was time to start thinking about collective action.”

Known for a number of narrative podcasts, including StartUp, Reply All, and Crimetown, the venture-capital-funded Gimlet has seen exponential growth since its 2014 inception. The most recent reported figures show that, as of last summer, the company employed over 110 people.

Amidst this expansion, “it was just clear that things at the company were changing,” Nelles added. “There was a group of us who felt that having some kind of collective voice, having a seat at the table, would make the most sense for the production-side employees at the company.” Nelles said informal talks of unionization began last summer, and assembly of the committee followed in November.

In February, digital music-streaming giant Spotify acquired Gimlet, along with podcast-publishing platform Anchor. (Nelles said organizing efforts began before the committee was aware of acquisition plans.) The shift in ownership may pose a challenge for the future of the union, as other outlets such as Fast Company and Vulture have noted. The tech industry has a record of anti-union maneuvering, and recent collective-bargaining drives at such major tech firms as Tesla and Amazon have been met with hostility.

In response to the unionization announcement, Gimlet told In These Times: “We confirm we have received a formal notice from the WGAE union and plan to review. We have nothing further to report at this time.” Spotify has not responded to In These Times’ request for comment.

“We don’t know exactly what [the future] is going to look like because [the acquisition] wasn’t something that we knew about when we started this effort,” Nelles said. “But I would say we’re all pretty confident…I would say, right now, we don’t yet have any reason to be pessimistic about a heavy hand coming down from the head corporate office.”

Some of this confidence stems from the precedents of other trade unions, which provided guidance for the committee’s efforts to align with the WGAE. According to Nelles, the Gimlet staff is made up of veterans of public radio, film, television and other areas of media that have achieved widespread collective-bargaining representation, often with the Writers Guild.

Further bolstering the union’s prospects is a spate of digital-news organizations whose editorial offices have recently unionized. Since 2017, Vox Media, Gizmodo Media Group, the Huffington Post, Vice Media and other organizations have secured representation under the Writers Guild, while outlets including BuzzFeed, New York Magazine, and the Los Angeles Times have unionized with the NewsGuild. What’s more, Vox, the Huffington Post, and numerous other news outlets have significant podcast divisions, further bridging the gap between podcasts and written media when it comes to union representation. (In 2014, In These Times staff unionizedwith the NewsGuild.)

This may also bode well for editorial contractors, who are Gimlet-union-eligible. Contract workers were an active part of the organizing campaign from the beginning, Nelles said, with one contractor serving on the 10-person union organizing committee. According to BuzzFeed News, temporary workers began to negotiate for more benefits over the summer. Organizing committee members hope these efforts will improve the rights of contract workers—who are typically deprived of benefits like employer-subsidized healthcare and paid time off—in the digital-media realm.

Whether the union drive similarly influences Spotify workers has yet to be seen, but Nelles has seen “supportive chatter” on workplace message boards.

The union still awaits recognition from Gimlet management, and according to Nelles, the Writers Guild’s and Gimlet’s counsels are currently in discussions. With the union’s fate in limbo, Nelles’ and the organizing committee’s expectations remain high. “We’re all really excited, and it’s been in the works for several months, and it’s nice to now be able to be public about it,” Nelles said. “We’re definitely optimistic that we will get to recognition soon one way or another.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on March 18, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 
About the Author: Julianne Tveten writes about technology, labor, and culture, among other topics. Her work has appeared in The Nation, Capital & Main, KPFK Pacifica Radio, and elsewhere.

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Reaching the Unorganized

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The results of a recent Department for Professional Employees (DPE) campaign with the Nonprofit Professional Employees Union (NPEU) demonstrate that low-cost social media advertising is an effective way to generate quality organizing leads.

DPE partnered with NPEU?—?formerly the International Federation of Professional and Technical Employees (IFPTE) Local 70?—?on a campaign to promote NPEU and inform nonunion professionals about the benefits of joining together in union. A large component of the campaign was inexpensive advertising on digital platforms. The campaign resulted in more than 60 organizing leads over eight months with advertising costs of just under $2,600.

The campaign was inspired by the findings of DPE’s October 2016 survey of nonunion professionals. The survey found that a majority of nonunion professionals want to join a union, but only 31% know a fair amount or more about unions representing professionals. For professionals who want to join a union, most do not know which union is right for them. DPE created the NPEU campaign with the goal of bridging this information gap.

With the campaign, DPE wanted to test different digital tools to determine which were effective at making a union accessible to the professionals it sought to recruit and getting the union’s message in front of potential members. Ultimately, the measure of success was whether the campaign could generate organizing leads for the union?—?which it did.

Understanding the components of the campaign and what made it successful can help to inform one way unions can reach potential members.

NPEU is a union of nonprofit employees whose employers include the Center for American Progress (CAP), the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) and the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). The focus of the campaign was to actively inform nonunion progressive nonprofit employees that there was a union for them and encourage them to connect with NPEU. Additionally, the vast majority of NPEU’s potential members fall squarely within the demographic and political categories that indicate they would vote in large numbers for union representation in the workplace.

The first step in the campaign was to make NPEU more accessible to potential members, which required a rebranding effort. At the time, NPEU was IFPTE Local 70 and part of the rebrand was to change its name to the Nonprofit Professional Employees Union. The union also got a new logo and website. Building a union identity and website that reflected the membership and spoke to similarly employed professionals was key to connecting with potential members.

In addition to the rebrand and website, DPE sought to explore whether the information gap between potential members and a union could be filled with low-cost paid advertising. DPE believed potential NPEU members would be more responsive to targeted messages about the gains made by nonprofit professionals in NPEU as opposed to general messages about the value of joining a union for all professionals. DPE based campaign messaging on conversations with current members and survey data for nonunion nonprofit professionals. With this messaging, DPE crafted ads that spoke specifically to progressive nonprofit professionals. Centrally, DPE also wanted members to be able to tell their personal stories highlighting what being part of NPEU has done for them. NPEU members told their stories using blogs and social media and shared their NPEU experience with their networks. Ultimately, DPE wanted potential members who clicked on a paid advertisement on social media or Google to visit the NPEU website where they could learn more and reach out.

Another component to the campaign was earned media. Past experience has shown that potential members often learn about a union representing their profession when they read about an organizing victory or contract gain in the news. Many then reach out about organizing their own workplace. For the NPEU campaign, articles and op-eds about NPEU were featured in The Washington Post, The Hill, Bloomberg BNA and the Metro Washington Council’s Union City newsletter. Each time there was a mention leads ticked up. Actively engaging the media about unions and earning press hits should be part of any campaign focused on generating organizing leads.

During the campaign one of the leads received by NPEU turned into a new unit that was voluntarily recognized. Many of the over 60 organizing leads resulted in ongoing conversations with potential members. NPEU and DPE agreed the campaign was a success.

The results show that generating organizing leads from nonunion professionals interested in forming a union is possible using a tailored approach combined with a diverse communications effort. DPE continues to work with its affiliate unions to devise and deploy creative methods to make their unions accessible and reach potential members with a positive union message.

This blog was published by the AFL-CIO on October 19, 2018. Reprinted with permission.


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Union membership rose in 2017

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This is somewhat unexpected: overall union membership rose by 262,000 workers in 2017, while union density stayed at 10.7 percent. The Economic Policy Institute’s Lawrence Mishel warns against reading too much into the numbers, but pulls out the following interesting data points:

  • Union membership became more common among men: some 32 percent of the net increase in male employment in 2017 went to men who were union members, leading union membership to rise from 11.2 to 11.4 percent of all male employment. Growth of union membership for men was strong in both the public and private sectors and for Hispanic and for non-Hispanic white men.
  • Correspondingly, union membership dipped slightly among women because women’s union membership did not rise in the private sector although employment overall did rise—private sector employment growth for women was concentrated in nonunion sectors. Union membership growth, however, was strong among Hispanic women.
  • Union membership grew in manufacturing despite an overall decline in manufacturing employment. Union membership was also strong in the wholesale and retail sectors, in the public sector and in information sector (where union membership density rose 1.9 percentage points).
  • Union membership density was stable or grew in a number of Southern states: Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Virginia with especially strong growth in Texas.

That last point is particularly interesting, since the South has long been such a challenge to union organizing, and since Republicans are bent on making the union organizing environment in the rest of the nation much more like the South has historically been.

This blog was originally published at DailyKos on January 27, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at DailyKos.


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Republicans Working Against Workers

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Ever-worsening is the chasm between the loaded, who luxuriate in gated communities, and the workers, who are hounded at their rickety gates by bill collectors.

Even though last week’s Bureau of Labor Statistics report showed unemployment at a low 4.4 percent, wages continue to flatline, killing both opportunity and the consumer economy. Meanwhile, corporations persist in showering CEOs and their cronies with ever-fatter pay packages and golden parachutes when they mess up.

This would all be sufferable if workers felt those in control in Washington, D.C. were striving to turn it all around. But the Republicans, who boast majorities in both houses of Congress, are just the opposite.

Their legislation shows they’re indentured to big business. Ever since they took power, they’ve labored tirelessly to destroy worker protections. They’ve swiped money from workers’ ragged pockets and handed it to 1 percenters on a silver platter – a plate bought with massive campaign contributions by the 1 percent.

The most blatant example is Republicans’ so-called health insurance bill. Both the House and Senate versions would strip health care from tens of millions of Americans while granting corporations and the nation’s richest tax cuts totaling $700 billion.

The Tax Policy Center determined that households with incomes above $875,000 a year would get 45 percent of those benefits. For the wealthiest, the annual tax cut would be nearly $52,000, a big fat break that is almost exactly the entire household income for the median American family.

In other words, Republicans want to hand millionaires a check that equals what a typical family earns by working an entire year.

Those massive tax breaks for the rich cost workers big time. Republicans’ so-called health insurance bill slashes Medicaid, so workers’ frail, elderly parents will lose the coverage they need to remain in nursing homes, babies born with cancer and crippling congenital diseases will be cut off care, and relatives who are victims of the opioid epidemic will be denied treatment. But, hey, the rich get richer!

Meanwhile, Republicans are pushing legislation in Congress to hobble labor unions and suppress wages. One House bill would delay union elections, giving corporations more time to bully and fire workers who consider joining. This proposed legislation would also stop workers from organizing small groups instead of the entire roster of employees.

Yet another GOP proposal would change the definition of democratic election. As it is now, a congressional candidate wins when he or she receives the highest number of votes cast. Candidates aren’t deemed losers if they receive votes from fewer than half of all potential voters.

Securing ballots from more than half of potential voters would be a very hard standard to meet because in many elections little more than a third of eligible voters go to the polls. In the 2016 Presidential election, 58 percent of potential voters exercised their franchise. That means neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton would have won under the more than 50 percent of eligible voters standard.

Even so, the bill under consideration in Congress would impose that standard on unions. When workers want to form a union, this legislation would require that they get positive votes from more than half of all eligible workers, not more than half of those who actually vote.

It is a standard no politician would want to be held to, but Republicans are willing to require it of workers to prevent them from organizing and bargaining jointly for better wages and working conditions.

At the bidding of corporations, Republicans are working against workers because labor organizations succeed through concerted action in wresting from fat cat CEOs a more fair share of the fruit of workers’ labor. Workers in labor unions receive higher wages, better health benefits and pensions and safer conditions.

When more workers were unionized, the space between rich and poor was more like a crack than the current chasm. In the 1950s, 33 percent of workers participated in labor organizations. Now it’s 10.7 percent. In the ’50s, the ratio of CEO-to-worker pay was 20-to-1. That means for every dollar a worker made, the CEO got $20. Now the ratio is 347-to-1. For every dollar a worker earns, the top dog grabs $347. CEOs of S&P 500 corporations pulled down an average of $13.1 million in total annual compensation in 2016, while their typical worker received $37,632.

The high point of unionization in America, the 1950s, was the low point in income inequality. It is called the time of the great compression. And a new study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research reaffirms that unionization produced better wages.

In a report titled “Unions, Workers, and Wages at the Peak of the American Labor Movement,” scholars Brantly Callaway of Temple University and William E. Collins of Vanderbilt University analyzed new data and determined “the overall wage distribution was considerably narrower in 1950 than it would have been if union members had been paid like non-union members with similar characteristics.”

They go on to say, “Our historical interpretation is that in the wake of the Great Depression, workers sought and policymakers delivered institutional reforms to labor markets that promoted  unions, reduced inequality, and helped lock in a relatively narrow distribution of wages that lasted for a generation.”

That time is gone. Unions have been declining for decades, largely as a result of onerous requirements legislated by Republicans. As unions shrank, so did worker bargaining power. The result is that while workers’ productivity increased, their wages stagnated for the past three decades.

Still, Republicans are squashing unions even more by, for example, reversing a rule requiring corporations to report when they hire union busters to strong-arm workers into voting against organizing.

And Republicans are working hard on other measures to ensure workers make even less money. For example, Missouri Republicans reversed a minimum wage increase in St. Louis and prohibited the state’s cities from requiring union-level wages on public construction projects.

In addition, in Washington, the Republican administration refused to defend in court a new rule that would have made millions more workers automatically eligible to receive time-and-a-half pay when they work overtime.

If workers feel like the system is rigged against them, that’s because it is. Republicans working at the behest of CEOs and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have created a government by corporations for corporations.

And none of the government welfare and benefits that corporations and one percenters got for themselves in this process ever trickled down to workers.

This blog was originally published at OurFuture.org on July 14, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Leo Gerard is the president of the United Steelworkers International union, part of the AFL-CIO. Gerard, the second Canadian to lead the union, started working at Inco’s nickel smelter in Sudbury, Ontario at age 18. For more information about Gerard, visit usw.org.


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