Monday, December 20, 2010

Labor Picketing Doesn't Cut It Anymore: Taking Back Worker's Rights In The Era of Globalization

By CartoonDiablo
Dailey Kos

The 80s presented one of the most dramatic economic shifts in human history: a shift towards profits and corporate globalization at the expense of the workers.

With a technological shift in how we communicate and the elaborate forms of modern union busting, new steps need to be taken to take back worker's rights.

The Illegal Attack on Unions

One of the things which characterized the Reagan years, is the massive corporate attack on union organizing which nobody in the government cared to stop. It was also a matter of media silence since nobody mentioned the story until BusinessWeek covered it in a 1994 article, explaining that "Unlawful firings occurred in one-third of all representation elections in the late '80s, vs. 8% in the late '60s,".

The chart goes as such:

In June 2010, the U.S. Department of Labor published a study on union representation elections overseen by the National Labor Relations board between 1997 and 2009. It was found that over this period, the number of elections won in favor of union representation decreased by 48 percent, and the total number of employees eligible to vote for union representation decreased by 69 percent.

It's important to note that this is all illegal under the Wagner Act, with even the threat of firing and plant closing to disrupt a union election falling under this offense. In this context, Clinton played his part as well; the signing of NAFTA resulted in many companies threatening to move their plants to Mexico during union elections.

The red represents all the elections threatened with a plant closing.

Effect on Wages

Deunionization is also partially responsible for the loss in wages. As the business week article points out, "If unions had represented one-third of the workforce in 1990, as they did in 1950, the bottom 80% of families...would have received 61% of the nation's income...Instead, they got 56%". It's also unfortunate that real wages have not surpassed what they were in 1974 despite obvious productivity increases.
Right To Work

Good wages and benefits are key to quality of life - both to support families and to provide a reliable tax base for education, infrastructure and public services. Yet the annual median income in so called "right-to-work" states is $6,185 less than in other states, according to 2009 U.S. Census Bureau data.

What's more, these anti-union states tend to have higher poverty rates, less access to health care and lower-performing schools. In the Annie E. Casey Foundation's well-respected "Kids Count" survey, the three worst states for children are in right-to-work states and the three best all allow workers to form strong unions.

Would you prefer to raise a family in "right to work" Mississippi, where the 2009 child poverty rate was 31%, or in Wisconsin, where it was 16.7%?

• Strong unions build a strong middle class.
During the New Deal, federal laws not only permitted but encouraged collective bargaining. After World War II, such policies built a foundation for shared prosperity and a thriving middle class. With the rise of deregulation and attacks on unionization in recent decades, income inequality has skyrocketed as the rich have grown richer, the poor poorer, and the middle class has shrunk.

As The New York Times editorialized Dec. 14, "the drive for more jobs must coincide with efforts to preserve and improve the policies, programs and institutions that have fostered shared prosperity and broad opportunity - Social Security, Medicare, public schools, progressive taxation, unions, affirmative action, regulation of financial markets and enforcement of labor laws."

• So-called right-to-work laws undermine workplace democracy and foster a freeloader mentality.

Right-to-work laws promote freeloading and are a backhanded way of de-funding unions. The union, by law, negotiates wages and benefits that all workers receive whether or not they are union members. The union, by law, represents workers in disputes that arise - whether or not they are a union member. Under current Wisconsin law, all represented employees share in the cost of union representation. Vos' scheme would allow workers to escape paying their fair share while still receiving all benefits.

That's not the way democracy works. Contributing to the common good is an essential component of democracy.

What Kind of Organizing Can Be Done?

The first thing to remember is that economic globalization (and government policies) are causing this decline, so fighting it head on is the only way to stop it. For instance, the big push against labor has been coming from Wallmart and specifically the "Union hotline" which parachutes union busters anywhere organizing takes place.

Well, why not organize a campaign to call this number and have unions "report" on their activity? Its very existence is borderline illegal so tying it down would stall Wallmart in its tracks. (The number being (877) 545-2267 hint, hint, wink)

Other ideas are to have unions advertise just like other products, and not just for strikes, but for joining and starting unions. People are more isolated now then ever so it helps to reach them better.

What Can Be Done At The Government Level?

Pass EFCA! As obvious as it sounds, it's really long overdue but there are other methods.

You can join the government, try passing EFCA-like reforms at the local level and then go for national. It's important to remember that things start at the grassroots level, and are never a gift from above.

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