[Neoliberalism] keeps a double set of books. On the surface, it celebrates free individuals making voluntary agreements on a footing of formal equality. But look just a little deeper and it turns out to be a musty, medieval system of morality that venerates human hierarchy and inequality. If taken literally, an accusation of insufficient ‘competitiveness’ would refer to a failure to buy or sell on the terms objectively demanded by the dispersed actors of the marketplace. But nine times out of ten, this literal meaning is just a facade for the real underlying meaning, which is all about policing the socially accepted rules concerning who is a worthy human being and who is not. Workers at an industrial bakery are losers. They need to take a pay cut — not so much to make the numbers add up (that’s a secondary consideration for all the commentators and columnists) but as a ritual affirmation of their debased social status. The refusal to take the cut was shocking and revolting — an act of lèse-majesté. It’s in that sense that the union was uncompetitive. The workers didn’t know their place.
Seth Ackerman, The Twinkie Defense, or What Does “Uncompetitive” Mean? (via brosephstalin)
This control is wielded through rules that state agencies have to make in order to implement laws. Under Act 21, the Governor approves the scope of proposed rules and also has the power to void or approve of the final rules. In a hearing of the Joint Committee for the Review of Administrative Rules last year, Walker’s own Attorney General, J.B. Van Hollen, had this to say about the new process: “We can pass as many laws as we want, but if we can’t enforce them then they’re meaningless.”
The case against Act 21 was brought by leaders of state and local teachers’ unions against Walker, Secretary of the Department of Administration Mike Huebsch, and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers last year. They argued that since the superintendent is an elected constitutional officer of the state, neither the Governor nor the DOA Secretary has the power to determine or influence rules in the Department of Public Instruction.
Superintendent Evers, technically a defendant in the case, filed a brief in support of the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment earlier this year.
Judge Smith agreed with the plaintiffs, finding the law “unconstitutional beyond a reasonable doubt.”
And what about labor activism? Matt is right, of course, about the repressive Chinese state. But as I’ve long argued, a good deal of worker activism in the United States also gets repressed. One in 17 of every eligible voter in a union election gets illegally fired or suspended for his or her support for a union. While it’s true that the American state is not the equivalent of the Chinese state, it’s also true that a great deal of repression in the US has always been outsourced to the private sector—even in ‘the heyday of western labor activism.’ Over the summer, when Chris Bertram, Alex Gourevitch, and I were advancing our thesis about workplace tyranny, Matt repeatedly professed bafflement as to why we were even talking about this issue. Well, this is one reason: repression and coercion in the workplace actually prevent the union organizing that helps ensure that that growth in worker productivity translates into higher pay and benefits for workers. Matt gets it. In China.
Corey Robin, Matt Yglesias’s China Syndrome
But there is a bigger story here as well: the entire country received a High Def, prime time lesson in the difference between skilled, union labor and a ramshackle operation of unskilled scabs. When Scott Walker is sticking up for the union, you know we’ve arrived at a teachable moment worth shouting from the hills. People who care about stable jobs with benefits and reversing the tide of inequality in the United States should seize this moment. We should ask not only the Scott Walkers of the world but politicians of both parties drinking from the same neoliberal fever-swamp: why do you think we need skilled union labor on the football field but not in our firehouses, our classrooms, or even our uranium facilities?
Higher wages mean more consumer spending and more growth, but corporate America is focused, with increasing intensity, on driving wages further down. Important wage-stabilizing policies—minimum-wage laws and collective bargaining, among others—are under assault. Republican governors have declared war on unionized teachers, firefighters, and police officers—all solidly middle-class jobs. And they are looking to extend the reach of so-called “right-to-work” laws that strip private-sector workers of the ability to bargain for decent wages and benefits. Hostility to unions has become so intense that a simple proposal for workplaces to post information about the right to collectively bargain under federal law (as they already must do for minimum-wage, OSHA, and other worker protections) unleashed a torrential assault by the Chamber of Commerce.
It wasn’t always this way.
To be sure, business lobbies throughout the twentieth century fought minimum-wage laws and unions. But this opposition was tempered by business voices that articulated the importance of American purchasing power through higher wages and the stabilizing force of union collective bargaining. As early as 1914, Henry Ford famously raised his workers’ wages so that they could purchase his cars. How, Ford wondered, could we make “20,000 men prosperous and contented rather than following the plan of making a few slave-drivers in our establishment multi-millionaires?”
[The] bottom line is clear: There is a demonstrable wage premium for union workers. In addition, this wage premium is more pronounced for lesser skilled workers, and even spills over and benefits non-union workers. The wage effect alone underestimates the union contribution to shared prosperity. Unions at midcentury also exerted considerable political clout, sustaining other political and economic choices (minimum wage, job-based health benefits, Social Security, high marginal tax rates, etc.) that dampened inequality. And unions not only raise the wage floor but can also lower the ceiling; union bargaining power has been shown to moderate the compensation of executives at unionized firms.Union decline and rising inequality in two charts | Economic Policy Institute
I find it really rich that Limbaugh would consider union workers pampered and overpaid. This, coming from a mega-millionaire whose idea of “work” is to sit on his fat ass in his air-conditioned studio, spewing lies into a microphone for a few hours a day. No wonder Limbaugh pulls down hundreds of millions of dollars from anti-union corporate America. Memo to Limbaugh: you don’t have a f*cking clue as to what real work is. I’m talking about the sort of physically demanding work done every day by millions of ordinary blue collar union workers across America.My Challenge To Rush Limbaugh: Why Don’t You Insult A Union Worker To His Face? (via azspot)
I opt here to discuss just one facet of [Joe] Burn’s book [Reviving the Strike]: his first principle of labor rights. In Chapter 7 of the book, Burns argues that labor activists should rely, both philosophically and rhetorically, on the principle that “labor is not a commodity.” Drawing upon the speeches of notable labor leaders like Samuel Gompers and Walter Reuther, Burns makes the case that a labor movement which accepts the idea that labor is merely a commodity to be bought and sold on the market immediately reduces its role to mere wage-bargaining.
By conceding the commodification of labor, unions implicitly accept the idea that “once workers sell their labor, they have no further interest in the enterprise, as the employer now owns the final product and all profits derived from its sale.” But, according to Burns, this should not be aim of union organizing. Unions should stand for the principle that workers do have a stake in their workplaces, and that management and owners do not have the only legitimate say in the direction and functioning of any particular enterprise. Under that principle, workers that halt production do so justly: it is their workplace just as much as it is management’s, if not more so.
Further, according to Burns, labor commodification functions as a form of social control. Unlike other commodities — soybeans, lumber, and steel for example — labor consists of the actions of human beings with moral importance and lived experiences. The majority of an adult’s waking hours are spent laboring, and if we stand for the principle that labor is merely a commodity to be controlled by its owner, then management and shareholders are free to dominate and control individuals during the majority of their waking lives. Given the profound immorality of such an idea, Burns argues that labor leaders should flatly reject the commodity status of labor, and consequently the idea that “the market should govern every sphere of human activity.”
It’s time to add the right to organize a labor union, without employer discrimination, to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, because that right is as fundamental as freedom from discrimination in employment and education. This would enshrine what the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. observed in 1961 at an A.F.L.-C.I.O. convention: “The two most dynamic and cohesive liberal forces in the country are the labor movement and the Negro freedom movement. Together, we can be architects of democracy.”
ATU locals in the New York area as well as the International Union will be providing support to the movement through donations of food and other supplies, physically engaging in protests, and getting the message out to the public. ATU locals around the country plan to ramp up support by participating in similar Occupy events across the country.
(Note that the ATU is a different union than the Transport Workers Union, which had already offered support to Occupy Wall Street and has gone to court to prevent the city from forcing bus drivers to transport arrested protesters.)
The CWA had already been reported to be planning to join in Wednesday’s rally on a local level, but now the union is officially endorsing Occupy Wall Street at the national level:
The 700,000 members of the Communications Workers of America strongly support the Occupy Wall Street Movement. It is an appropriate expression of anger for all Americans, but especially for those who have been left behind by Wall Street. We support the activists’ non-violent efforts to seek a more equitable and democratic society based on citizenship, not corporate greed.
The Occupy Wall Street demonstrations are spreading throughout the country. We will support them and encourage all CWA Locals to participate in the growth of this protest movement.
Occupy Wall Street protesters had previously joined communications workers rallying outside a Verizon store as part of the campaign to pressure Verizon to drop unreasonable concession demands on its workers.
“What has been happening on Wall Street for the past two weeks is a Main Street Movement in the spirit of the protests in Madison, Wis., seven months ago. Just as a message was sent to politicians in Wisconsin, a clear message is now being sent to Wall Street: Priority # 1 should be rebuilding Main Street, not fueling the power of corporate CEOs and their marionette politicians.
“We stand in solidarity with those protesting Wall Street’s greed. The economy that has wrecked so many lives, obliterated jobs, and left millions of Americans homeless and hopeless is the fault of banks that gamble with our future. Their reckless pursuit of profits, at the expense of working families’ pursuit of the American dream, must come to an end.”
Going into its 14th day, the Occupy Wall Street protest is not only not fading out, it’s about to get a big injection of support and bodies. The established New York City labor and community groups who normally organize local marches, rallies and sit-ins, have announced they plan to join up next week.
Crain’s reports that the groups include The United Federation of Teachers, 32BJ SEIU, 1199 SEIU, Workers United and Transport Workers Union Local 100. The Working Families Party will help organize it, and MoveOn.org will help promote it.
“We’re getting involved because the crisis was caused by the excesses of Wall Street and the consequences have fallen hardest on workers,” a spokesman for TWU Local 100 told Crain’s.
“We’re not trying to grab the steering wheel or to control it,” Michael Kink, executive director of the Strong Economy For All coalition told Crain’s. “We’re looking to find common cause and support the effort. It’s the right fight at the right time and we want to be part of it.”
Modeled after this summer’s demonstrations in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in which protesters occupied the area 18 days, the Occupy Wall Street’s objectives are multifarious, but they generally all object to corporate influence in American politics and decry Wall Street’s contributions to the recent global economics crises.
This week celebrities Michael Moore and Susan Sarandon paid visits to the movement. Roseanne Barr, Russell Simmons, and Lupe Fiasco have also popped their heads in.
New York City labor unions are preparing to back the unwieldy grassroots band occupying a park in Lower Manhattan, in a move that could mark a significant shift in the tenor of the anti-corporate Occupy Wall Street protests and send thousands more people into the streets.
The Transit Workers Union Local 100’s executive committee, which oversees the organization of subway and bus workers, voted unanimously Wednesday night to support the protesters.