Working In These Times

Thursday, Jun 22, 2017, 6:39 pm  ·  By Shaun Richman

How Union-Busting Bosses Propel the Right Wing to Power

Pinkerton's detectives escort strikebreakers in Buchtel, Ohio, 1884. (Photo: Library of Congress)  

U.S. bosses fight unions with a ferocity that is unmatched in the so-called free world. In the early days of the republic, master craftsmen prosecuted fledgling unions as criminal conspiracies that aimed to block their consolidation of wealth and property. During modern times, corporations threaten the jobs of pro-union workers in over half of all union elections—and follow through on the threat one-third of the time. In between, bosses have resorted to spies and frame-ups, physical violence, court injunctions, private armies of strikebreakers, racist appeals and immigrant exploitation.

The labor question has never been a genteel debate about power and fairness in America.

A new book from the University of Illinois Press’ “The Working Class History in American History” series offers a broad survey of how bosses have historically engaged in union-busting. Against Labor: How U.S. Employers Organized to Defeat Union Activism is a collection of scholarly essays edited by Rosemary Feurer and Chad Pearson.

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Thursday, Jun 22, 2017, 11:42 am  ·  By Jeff Abbott

Thousands of Haitian Workers Are on Strike Against Foreign-Owned Sweatshops

Strikers shut down dozens of factories that produce textiles for large U.S. companies, such as Levi Jeans and Fruit of the Loom. Workers temporarily blocked the road to the Toussaint Louverture International airport in Port-au-Prince on May 19. (Photo: Rapid Response Network)  

Thousands of textile workers in Haiti have stopped work in factories and taken to the streets to demand of improved working conditions in the country’s maquiladora export industry. For more than three weeks, workers have mobilized to demand higher wages, an eight-hour workday and protections against increased quotas across the industrial centers of Port-au-Prince, Carrefour, Ounaminthe and Caracol.

The strike follows the annual commemoration of International Workers’ Day.

Currently, workers receive a daily wage of roughly 300 gourdes, or about 4.77 U.S. dollars (USD), for a day’s work. Strikers are demanding that the wage is raised to 800 gourdes, or 12.72 USD—and that the eight-hour day be respected.

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Monday, Jun 19, 2017, 5:44 pm  ·  By Alexander Kolokotronis

Retirement of Boomer Business Owners Could Leave Millions Jobless—Unless Workers Take Over

Companies like Wright-Ryan Construction in Portland, Maine, are increasingly offering Employee Stock Ownership Plans—a step in the right direction toward worker ownership. As baby boomers retire, this creates new opportunities for democratizing businesses. (Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)  

The federal government estimates that more than 10,000 baby boomers retire every day—4 million people every year. Between them, soon-to-retire boomers own 2.34 million businesses, with nearly 25 million employees. Boomer-owned businesses generate $949 billion in payroll, and $5.14 trillion in sales. Yet the vast majority of boomer business owners lack a written transition plan for when they retire, and the coming shift in ownership—what some have termed the “Silver Tsunami”—could affect one-sixth of U.S. workers, decimate membership in local business associations and chambers of commerce, and have ripple effects throughout the entire economy.

For the movement to democratize the workplace, however, this transition could also present a tremendous opportunity. Only around 20 percent of retiring small business owners find a buyer, and when they do, buyers tend to be competitors, larger companies, private equity firms or predatory real estate developers. The above actors, however, rarely have the best interest of workers and local communities at heart, thrusting many into precarious work and in some cases driving gentrification. 

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Thursday, Jun 15, 2017, 3:41 pm  ·  By Stephen Franklin

A Day in the Life of a Day Laborer

Day laborers often wait for several unpaid hours, hoping for an employer to engage them with work.   (Photo by Ken Cedeno/Corbis via Getty Images)

CHICAGO—Come sunrise, the men fill the street corner, among them Luis, quietly sitting by himself, nurturing hopes for work today.

There was no work yesterday, nothing the day before and nothing for weeks.

Still, the 50-year-old Guatemalan, who didn’t want his last name used, waits in the growing heat, saying he has no other choice.

He waits even though he hates day labor work, because he says it is sometimes dangerous, barely enough to live on, and some of the men on the street corner have bullied and hurt him on the job.

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Wednesday, Jun 14, 2017, 1:03 pm  ·  By Neil Martin and Isaias Cifuentes

What You Need to Know About the General Strike That Just Swept Colombia’s Largest Port

Afro-Colombian communities led a two-day civic strike in the city of Buenaventura. (Olivia Plato)  

Little-noticed by the English-language media, the Colombian city of Buenaventura was brought to a standstill by a weeks-long civic strike, in which Afro-Colombian communities won major commitments from the Colombian government. Waged from May 16 through June 6, the mass protest was organized by people demanding that the government declare a state of social and economic emergency and provide basic quality-of-life improvements for a population that has been targeted by systematic human rights violations for decades. Buenaventura’s ports generate $1.8 billion in yearly revenue, but most of it its 400,000 residents—90 percent of whom are Afro-Colombian—live in poverty.

The mass protest was organized by religious figures, social justice groups, unions, students, community councils and Indigenous people. The first several days of the strike resembled a city-wide block party, with dancing and music concentrated around dozens of peaceful roadblocks. Representatives of the departmental and national governments began to negotiate with the Strike Committee.

But, in the midst of talks, riot police swept through the city in an attempt to restore the flow of vehicular traffic, shooting tear gas into high-density residential neighborhoods. This crackdown provoked a night of havoc, during which several of Buenaventura’s commercial establishments had their windows smashed and goods taken. When protests resumed, they were marked by ongoing confrontations between the police and protesters until June 6, when an agreement was reached between the government and the Strike Committee.

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Tuesday, Jun 13, 2017, 7:12 pm  ·  By Jeff Schuhrke

Cab Drivers Union Says Chicago Taxi Industry Is Nearing Collapse

In addition to repaying loans on their medallions, taxi operators also have to pay thousands of dollars each year in city expenses, like the ground transportation tax and medallion license renewal fee—expenses that rideshare drivers are not subject to. (Cab Drivers United/ Twitter)  

Ghana-born John Aikins has been a cab driver in Chicago for two decades. About 15 years ago, he decided to go into business for himself by taking out a loan with his wife to purchase a medallion—a city-issued license to operate a taxi—for $70,000. Paying it off within a few years thanks to a steady stream of passengers, they took out loan for a second medallion five years ago, using the first as collateral.

Watching his medallions appreciate in value over the years, Aikins planned to eventually sell or lease them to other drivers, a common practice in the industry. “I hoped it would be my retirement investment, and I had planned to retire this year,” Aikins told In These Times.

But with the introduction of Uber and other rideshare companies to the city—which can operate without the expensive, city-issued medallions—Aikins has seen his clientele plummet over the past three years, making it increasingly hard to keep up with his medallion loan payments.

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Tuesday, Jun 13, 2017, 3:07 pm  ·  By Bruce Vail

Maryland Governor Vetoes Sick Leave. Progressives Declare War.

Maryland’s paid sick leave law would have guaranteed workers at businesses with 15 employees or more the right to a minimum of five paid sick days a year. (United Workers/ Facebook)  

BALTIMORE—Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan ignited the anger of labor unions, workers’ rights advocates and religious groups when he vetoed high-profile legislation last month that was meant to guarantee the right of private sector employees to paid sick leave. That anger is now coalescing behind plans to override his veto and remove Hogan from office in 2018.

The sick leave issue is assuming center stage in the broader struggle statewide to repel attacks on the working class by President Donald Trump and other pro-business conservatives, says Jaimie Contreras, vice president at Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU 32BJ). The union and allied groups are planning a joint campaign in Maryland to force a legislative override in early 2018, Contreras says, which will then segue into a broader electoral campaign to elect pro-labor Democrats at all levels of government across the mid-Atlantic region.

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Monday, Jun 12, 2017, 7:05 pm  ·  By Douglas Williams

This is Why Labor Should Care About Virginia’s Gubernatorial Primary

Much like the open shop referendum last year, this year’s gubernatorial election in Virginia is significant for labor. It’s a chance to contest the open shop in a region that has long seemed closed to any pro-labor advances on the issue. (Photo by Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post via Getty Images)  

Last year, I wrote about the open shop referendum in Virginia, calling it the most important election for the labor movement in 2016. While Virginia has been a “right-to-work” state since 1947, supporters of the referendum argued that a constitutional amendment was necessary to prevent Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring or future Democratic legislative majorities from overturning the statute.

In a year where the election of an anti-labor president coincided with votes in Alabama and South Dakota that affirmed the open shop, Virginia gave labor its brightest victory: Almost 54 percent of voters across the Commonwealth rejected the constitutional amendment. And the “no” vote was spread out across the Commonwealth, with places as disparate politically as urban Arlington and rural Accomack voting against the measure, which was bitterly opposed by Virginia’s labor movement.

Much like the open shop referendum last year, this year’s gubernatorial election in Virginia is significant for labor. It’s a chance to contest the open shop in a region that has long seemed closed to any pro-labor advances on the issue. The primary vote is set for Tuesday and the labor movement would do well to make its presence felt.

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Monday, Jun 12, 2017, 4:35 pm  ·  By Jeff Schuhrke

Charter School Educators Just Voted to Join the Most Militant Teachers’ Union in the Country

Members of the Chicago Teachers Union march to the heart of the financial district on June 9, 2015. (Scott L/flickr)  

Unionized teachers at Chicago’s charter schools are one step closer to unifying with their counterparts in the city’s public school district, a historic move that would strengthen opposition to austerity and neoliberal education reform.

Last week, members of the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (ChiACTS)—the American Federation of Teachers local representing about 1,000 educators at 32 charter schools—voted to merge their local with the nearly 30,000-member Chicago Teachers Union (CTU). 

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Friday, Jun 9, 2017, 11:03 am  ·  By Bruce Vail

Behind the Big AT&T Strike: Years of Shipping Jobs Overseas

The outsourcing is hitting vulnerable communities in the United States hard. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)  

A recent three-day strike against telecommunications operator AT&T attracted nationwide attention, even though the modern incarnation of the company is a far cry from the gigantic “Ma Bell” monopoly of old. The strike took nearly 40,000 workers off the job. The Communications Workers of America (CWA) union was sending a message to management: Stop stalling, start negotiating.

The immediate cause of the strike was the slowness of the company to reach new contracts with the union for improved wages and benefits for some workers, including those in AT&T’s wireless communications network. But underlying the dispute is a long-term strategy by the company to degrade the quality of its U.S. jobs as it shifts much of its business to lower-paid workers overseas, the union says.

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