Working In These Times

Saturday, Jan 17, 2015, 4:00 am  ·  By Jonathan Rosenblum

100 Years Old Today: The Story Behind ‘Solidarity Forever’

The radical pro-worker, anti-boss song has had surprisingly durability over the years. (Light Brigading / Flickr)  

On a windblown, gray Chicago day exactly 100 years ago today, Ralph Chaplin left his home on the city’s South Side for a raucous poor people’s rally at Hull House, the famed settlement house co-founded by Jane Addams. He asked a visiting friend he'd met organizing coal miners with Mother Jones to listen to the lyrics of a new tune he had been working on:

“Solidarity Forever,

Solidarity Forever,

Solidarity Forever,

For the union makes us strong!”

The self-described Chicago “stiff” and “rebel editor” merely wanted to write a song that could be for workers what “John Brown's Body” and “Battle Hymn of the Republic” were for abolitionists. In fact, he borrowed the very melody.


Friday, Jan 16, 2015, 4:08 pm  ·  By Mario Vasquez

2,600 California Mental Health Care Workers On Strike Against Kaiser Permanente

(NUHW / Flickr)  

Around 2,600 therapists, psychologists, and social workers represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers in California (NUHW) began a weeklong strike this Monday to protest inadequate care for their patients due to what they say is understaffing at Kaiser Permanente medical centers throughout the state.

They will be joined this week by another 700 Kaiser workers who report similar issues at almost three dozen strike locations where picketing will be taking place. Kaiser is the largest HMO in California and the state’s largest private provider of mental health care.


Thursday, Jan 15, 2015, 1:23 pm  ·  By Micah Uetricht

In Surprise Announcement, Karen Lewis Says She Will Return to Chicago Teachers Union Next Week

Karen Lewis speaks to the media about her return to the Chicago Teachers Union earlier today. (Chicago Teachers Union / Facebook)  

After battling a brain tumor that took her out of the Chicago mayoral race, Karen Lewis says she will be returning to work as the president of the Chicago Teachers Union next week.

Lewis made the announcement at a CTU breakfast celebrating Martin Luther King's birthday with Cook County Commissioner Jesús "Chuy" García, who entered the race after Lewis dropped out and progressive groups around the city prodded him to run.


Thursday, Jan 15, 2015, 11:35 am  ·  By Alexandra Bradbury

We Need Less Work, Not More

Working less isn’t just a humane goal—it’s a planetary necessity.   (Raven712 / Wikimedia Commons)

This story first appeared at Labor Notes

I keep getting these emails from the Laborers union: “The Keystone XL Pipeline isn’t just a pipeline, but a lifeline to good, family-supporting jobs.”

In the labor movement we’re supposed to be for anything that creates more paid work. But here’s some heresy for you: I think we need less work.

Senators who voted against the pipeline in November, the union says, threw away a chance to “unlock millions of work hours,” and instead “killed thousands of jobs.”


Thursday, Jan 15, 2015, 7:00 am  ·  By Roger Bybee

Is Gov. Scott Walker Preparing to Push for Right to Work in Wisconsin?

RTW laws are overt efforts to weaken unions and to deprive workers of a political voice in setting state priorities.   (John Michlig / Flickr)

The chips are down in Wisconsin. Wisconsin employers’ war against union rights may be about to heat up again as Republican legislators weigh pushing for a “right-to-work” bill. 


Wednesday, Jan 14, 2015, 1:15 pm  ·  By Leo Gerard, United Steelworkers President

We Don’t Just Need ‘More Jobs’—We Need Higher Wages

As corporate profits soar with the help of politicians and trickle-down economics, working wages have barely increased over the past 35 years. (Light Brigading / Flickr)  

The jobs report Friday set off cheering: a quarter million positions added in December; unemployment declining to 5.6 percent. This good news arrived amid a booming stock market and a third-quarter GDP report showing the strongest growth in 11 years.

It’s all so very jolly, except for one looming factor: wages. They’re not rising. In fact, they fell in December by 5 cents an hour, nearly erasing the 6-cent increase in November.


Wednesday, Jan 14, 2015, 11:46 am  ·  By Trish Kahle

Whole Foods Worker Fired for ‘Stealing’ a Sweater—Though It Never Left the Store

Janette Belandres was a favorite among customers and staff at the Lincoln Park Whole Foods. (Belandres)  

Janette Belandres worked at Whole Foods Market in Chicago's Lincoln Park for more than three years. A small woman with a wide, pleasant smile, she was a favorite among coworkers and customers, and had a sterling work record. That is, until she was fired on December 28, 2014.


Wednesday, Jan 14, 2015, 6:00 am  ·  By Flint Taylor

Blood On Their Hands: The Racist History of Modern Police Unions

Police unions have always played a powerful role in defending cops—no matter how brutal and racist their actions. (Ben Musseig / Flickr)  

Outraged by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s statements concerning the killing of Eric Garner, Patrick Lynch, the longtime leader of the New York City Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA), the NYPD’s officers union, recently made the outrageous assertion that the Mayor had “blood on his hands” for the murder of the two NYPD officers.

In Milwaukee this past fall, the Police Association called for, and obtained, a vote of no confidence in MPD Chief Ed Flynn after he fired the officer who shot and killed Dontre Hamilton, an unarmed African American; subsequently, the union’s leader, Mike Crivello, praised the District Attorney when he announced that he would not bring charges against the officer.

In Chicago, the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), a longtime supporter of racist police torturer Jon Burge, is now seeking to circumvent court orders that preserve and make public the police misconduct files of repeater cops such as Burge, by seeking to enforce a police contract provision that calls for the destruction of the files after seven years.  And in a show of solidarity with the killer of Michael Brown, Chicago’s FOP is soliciting contributions to the Darren Wilson defense fund on its website.

Such reactionary actions by police unions are not new, but are a fundamental component of their history, particularly since they came to prominence in the wake of the civil rights movement. These organizations have played a powerful role in defending the police, no matter how outrageous and racist their actions, and in resisting all manner of police reforms.


Monday, Jan 12, 2015, 12:35 pm  ·  By Chris Maisano

Labor-Management Partnerships Will Not Revive the Union Movement

Who benefits from "more courtesy" on the shop floor? (Works Progress Administration, 1938 / James Vaughan / Flickr)  

First published at Jacobin.

As late as 2008, it was not unreasonable to think that the stars were aligning for a long-awaited revitalization of the U.S. labor movement. The financial crisis focused popular anger on the Wall Street financiers whose speculative activities brought the global economy to the brink of collapse. The election of Barack Obama and Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress raised labor’s hopes for the passage of an economic recovery program and long-sought labor law reforms.

And it seemed as if workers themselves were finally willing to take action against the decades-long trend of increasing corporate power and inequality. The occupation of the Republic Windows and Doors plant in Chicago by a militant United Electrical Workers local—an action that drew approving notice from the president-elect and much of the public—electrified labor’s ranks and seemed to echo President Franklin Roosevelt’s support for unionization and collective bargaining during the New Deal.

This appeared to be the most favorable set of circumstances for the U.S. labor movement in decades, and the first significant hope for revitalization since the successful Teamsters strike against UPS in 1997.

It didn’t happen. Labor law reform was sidelined in favor of health care reform, and the Republicans rolled up big electoral wins at all levels in 2010 and 2014. Despite widespread popular anger at the multi-trillion-dollar bank bailouts, the financial sector has come out of the crisis stronger, and corporate profits are at record levels. Economic inequality has continued its upward path.


Monday, Jan 12, 2015, 6:00 am  ·  By Moshe Z. Marvit

Documents Show Notorious Union-Buster Backing Kentucky’s County Right-to-Work Laws

Anti-union groups from outside of Kentucky are offering to donate their services to the state to pass county-level right to work laws.   (Jobs with Justice / Flickr / Creative Commons)

The conservative push for local right-to-work ordinances has been moving quickly recently. Whereas a few months ago, there was a general understanding that the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act only permitted states and territories to pass these laws—which threaten unions’ solvency by allowing workers to receive the benefits of union representation without paying union dues—now five Kentucky counties are on track to pass local laws. And the coalition of conservative organizations promoting these questionable new measures has also morphed, as a new organization with hidden funding sources has formed to finance any possible litigation.

On Labor Day weekend last year, the conservative Heritage Foundation convened a panel to discuss a newly released paper by two of its scholars to push the idea that cities and counties could pass their own right-to-work laws. Jon Russell, director of the conservative policy organization ALEC’s new American City County Exchange, suggested that model right-to-work laws for localities could be created, and implied that ALEC could take the lead on that front.