Activist union teachers around the country continue to stack up victories and anti-union legislators continue to oppose workers’ union rights, as in Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-KY) introduction of a national right-to-work bill.
The more things change, the more they remain the same.
Lest we forget: the Trump administration issued executive orders attacking government employee unions, interfering with their ability to perform their responsibilities to union members. The unions went to court to reverse the actions limiting the basic rights of federal employees.
The much-dreaded Janus decision was rendered in favor of its anti-union plaintiffs. And then, guess what. Union membership did not decrease, it increased. Non-member government workers chose to join the union when they realized that having a strong defender in the workplace outweighed not paying union dues.
Graduate students at various universities (including Brandeis and Harvard) are intent on joining the more than 30 other graduate student unions. Hotel workers on the West Coast are fighting for their rights.
Workers at New Era Cap Company’s Derby, Pa., factory, makers of iconic Major Leagues Baseball players’ caps, are supported by MLB players in their opposition to sending their jobs to a non-union plant.
Sean Doolittle of the Washington Nationals has this to say about his support of the New Era workers: “union membership is not the sole guarantor of job security and a living wage, but nonunion factory workers do not enjoy the same protections as union workers. They’re subject to exploitation, underpayment and lower standards of workplace safety — which is also often the case for manufacturing workers outside the United States.” The Major Leagues Baseball Players Association has called for keeping New Era’s union plant open.
The more things change, the more solidarity matters. ■
Assaults on the First Amendment continue as Republicans tried again unsuccessfully to pass Marco Rubio’s Combating BDS Act, a measure designed to protect Israel. Unfortunately, an act that criminalizes boycotts in one sphere may lead to criminalization of other boycotts and protests.
Reactionaries in state legislatures have enacted similar legislation to Rubio’s proposal. Legal restrictions on protests and demonstrations are becoming more common. Although frequently aimed at environmentalists, these restrictive laws can be expanded to include other protests including labor protests.
Attacks on Labor’s right to protest are a matter of record. The history of the Labor Movement is rife with accounts of legalized repression by reactionary politicians and their backers. If the First Amendment is infringed upon proponents of one cause, what guarantees its sanctity when infringed upon by another interest?
In Los Angeles, 30,000 teachers were striking for a reduction in class sizes, improvements in safety, accountability of charter schools and increases in wages and benefits commensurate with the skyrocketing cost of living in Los Angeles. LA’s striking teachers used their rights guaranteed by the first Amendment. Protecting those rights is a vital concern for the Labor Movement.
The boycott, the strike, the informational picket, leafletting and other actions and communications are the mainstays of protest and social progress. The First Amendment enshrines these activities as basic rights. They must be protected. Any doubt about the need to protect these rights disappears upon reading this Label Letter, numerous workers express their fear of retaliation for expressing workplace dissatisfaction.
The so-called “blue wave” that swept many Democrats and Progressives into office on November 6 contained a less-noticed labor wave. Not only were many of the successful candidates, who frequently washed away reactionary incumbents supported by the Labor Movement, but many were actually current or former union members.
This is an accomplishment on which to build. This election provides a model for the next election, a presidential election featuring a load of Republican Senate seats that can be flipped by candidates who support workers’ rights.
With more than 800 Labor-backed candidates winning in 2018, we expect policy changes at many levels of government. So do the voters, union and general public alike. All across the country, healthcare was a major, possibly determinative issue.
Healthcare is a concern for Americans in many ways: access and affordability being foremost. Those politicians who opposed protecting us against discrimination based on pre-existing conditions frequently and fortunately paid the price at the ballot box this year.
Labor has other matters to press. Perhaps first should be the end to voter suppression, especially affecting minorities, because progressive politics would have been even more successful if all eligible voters had been able to vote.
Moving on to a legislative agenda, the issues of protecting and expanding Medicare and Medicaid are crucial. Defending Social Security from right-wingers who want to roll back FDR’s New Deal is another imperative. Protecting prevailing wage laws is one more critical initiative.
Our allies should press for infrastructure funding and for legislation to address climate change, the harmful effects of which are now visible as fires and floods across the United States.
The 2018 election was a re-start. Let’s make use of it and keep the momentum. ■
The 10 days following Thanksgiving are designated by the AFL-CIO as “Buy Union” week to encourage all union members to look for union-made goods and services when they buy for the Holiday Season.
When you buy union, you’re supporting good jobs in American communities, jobs that provide living wages and benefits, safe working conditions and dignity and respect for work.
Holiday shopping traditionally kicks off on “Black Friday” — designated as such because it’s the timeframe when many retailers move from red ink to black on their balance sheets. Shoppers will find plenty of “bargains,” but union family shoppers will want to look beyond foreign-made electronics, trendy toys and gadgets to find enduring goods that are union made, or perhaps gift cards for union-productions, such as movies or sporting events, or union made food stuff — there are still many union-made candies, baked goods, spirits and specialty items.
The two years since the 2016 presidential election have been tumultuous. As noted in previous issues of the Label Letter, and this one, too, Labor has been lambasted and working people and their families have been hurt by Trump administration policies. The 2018 midterm elections present an opportunity to redress the situation to some extent.
A number of candidates around the country have strong support from the Labor Movement based on their actual record and not demagogic posturing.
Randy Bryce in Wisconsin, Stacey Abrams in Georgia and Andy Levin in Michigan are just a few of those whose positions and records are pro-working people, pro-union nad pro-family. And there are more at every level of government from school boards to mayor to state legislatures. Look for them.
The recent victory in Missouri saw voters reject a right-to-work (for less) measure. The measure had been rammed through earlier by a right-wing governor and legislature. When working people and an informed general public learn what harm anti-labor policies cause, they vote to preserve their rights and hard-won advantages.
Labor leaders and activists at every level have the duty to inform voters about the candidates who are truly on their side. The AFL-CIO website is a strong resource for political information, facts not demagoguery!
The intent of Labor Day, as envisioned by our forefathers, has, of course, eroded over the years.
Most see it as an opportunity to have a last trip to the beach or backyard barbeque, but in reality, the state of labor and capital today make it more important than ever to embrace the meaning of Labor Day.
Created in the late 19th century as a way to repair ties with American workers after the deadly Pullman Railway strike, Congress passed an act making Labor Day a legal holiday. The decades following saw massive parades and celebrations across the country honoring American workers. It wasn’t seen as the last weekend of summer, but instead as an opportunity to show appreciation for those who toiled and built a prosperous nation.
But now, in the 21st Century, we see fewer and smaller parades and celebrations honoring workers. Instead, we see massive retail sales and low-wage workers being exploited, working long-hours for a minimum wage that, for most, doesn’t pay enough to sustain themselves, let alone a family. We see our government attack the rights of federal employees, and the highest courts in the land strike down past laws that ensured public employees’ right to union representation. These attacks by anti-union politicians and employers are meant only to strangle and starve the very mechanisms in place to speak for workers: labor unions.
But this Labor Day, let’s vow to change the narrative. You can enjoy your picnic or family vacation, but when you return to work on Tuesday, do so with a renewed sense of purpose. It is time for all workers to help rebalance the power. As the new AFL-CIO television ad so eloquently shows, “Together we rise.”
So, between now and next Labor Day, let us join together to work towards electing pro-worker politicians. Let us join together to organize the unorganized. Let us join together to fight for our brothers and sisters for fair working conditions, safe workplaces, wages and benefits that lift all workers.
This Labor Day, let’s vow to work together because “Together we rise.”