Honor those who have died on the job; support worker safety legislation

Supporters of worker safety legislation gathered Thursday at the Texas state capital to honor workers who have died or been injured on the job. The event, which was sponsored by the Workers Defense Project, an Austin-based worker center that helps low-income workers organize, was held to celebrate Workers’ Memorial Day.

“This day recognizes and remembers workers who lost their lives or were severely injured due to unsafe working conditions and also commemorates the 40th Anniversary of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration,” said Emily Timm of the Workers Defense Project.

Many of the Workers Defense Project’s members are immigrant construction workers, and WDP has focused much of its efforts recently on making construction work safer. “In 2009, a construction worker died every 2.5 days with 138 deaths reported in Texas,” Timm said. “In addition to workplace fatalities, construction workers frequently suffer workplace accidents. A construction worker in Texas has a one in five chance of being seriously injured on the job; with only 45 percent of Texas construction workers covered by workers’ compensation, these accidents have a devastating impact on Texan families and taxpayers.”

After rallying at the Capitol Rotunda and hearing music by the Gustavo Rodriguez Band, www.grbmusic.net, the group split up and began visiting lawmakers urging them to support workplace safety bills, including HB 3020 /SB 1765, which would require a 15-minute rest break for every four hours worked on all government construction sites,  SB 1389, which would require that each employee complete an Occupational and Safety and Health ten-hour safety training course prior to working on all government construction sites, and HB 1739/ SB 938, which would require construction employers to carry workers’ compensation coverage. 

“We must honor the men and women who build our state. No one should have to risk their life on the job,” said Sen. José Rodriguez, author of SB 1765.  “Their deaths should not be in vain – Texas needs to ensure that every construction worker goes home to their family at the end of the day.” 

“Construction work is dangerous but we believe Texas can do more to protect workers,” said construction worker Fernando Adame, who broke his arm in a work site fall in 2009. “Its our families who pay the price when we get hurt or killed on the job.”

Tom Morello’s “Union Town”

You can download singer, songwriter, guitarist Tom Morello’s “Union Town” for free Thursday, April 28 at SaveWorkers.org. Morello’s album by the same name will be available in digital form on May 17 and on CD and vinyl on July 19. Proceeds from the sale go America Votes Labor Unity Fund.

Morello is/was the lead guitar for Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave, and Nightwatchman. His eight-song EP is inspired by the events in Wisconsin. Morello told the Los Angeles Times that we have the chance now to “harness the energy of 100,000 to 150,000 people who were in the streets and want to put some teeth back into the labor movement in the US.”

Public pension opponents resort to Big Lie tactics

Supporters of a bill that would bar newly hired Texas state employees and teachers from enrolling in a secure defined benefits pension plan and, instead, force them into risky defined contribution plans used the Big Lie tactic to make their case Tuesday night at a legislative committee hearing on the bill, HB 2506.

Public employee defined benefit plans forced Illinois, California, and New York into bankruptcy, said Rep. Wayne Chisum, the sponsor of HB 2506, and therefore, need to be phased out.

Talmadge Heflin of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a group that lobbies for fewer government services and more privatization, called defined benefit public pension plans a burden on taxpayers that could cause Texas to become insolvent.

“These lies are a smokescreen that opponents of defined benefit plan use to obscure their real agenda–to make the life of working people less secure,” said Mike Gross, vice-president of the Texas State Employees Union. “When workers are less secure, they’ll often work for lower wages.”

Defined benefit pensions provide a guaranteed pension based on years of service and average salary. On the other hand, the value of a defined contribution pension like 401(k) plans depends on how well the stock market performs. “I would have been in big trouble if all I had was my 401(k) plan when I retired,” said Leslie Cunningham a retired state employee and TSEU member who testified against HB 2506. “My 401(k) plan lost 40 percent of its value in stock market crash of 2001. It lost another 25 percent in the crash of 2008.”

Recently, reporters from the McClatchy news services examined the arguments that opponents of public defined benefit pension plans and found that they have little substance.

Public pension funds, despite what Rep. Chisum said, are not the cause of state budget deficits. In fact, they account for only a small share of state budgets. According to the National Association of State Retirement Administrators, contributions to public pension funds account for only 2.9 percent state budgets. The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College puts the figure slightly higher at 3.8 percent.

(In Texas, the state’s contribution to the state’s pension for state employees (ERS) and for teachers (TRS) is less than 2 percent of the state budget.)

Furthermore, state pension plans are nowhere near the point of requiring large infusions of state money that could cause an insolvency crisis. “On average with assets on hand today, (state pension) plans are able to pay annual benefits at their current level for 13 years,” Jean-Pierre Aubry, a researcher for Center for Retirement Research, told McClatchy reporters.

In other words, even if public pension funds didn’t receive any more money from states and the value of their assets did not improve, on average, they would still be able to pay benefits at their current level for 13 years. Texas is in slightly better shape. ERS would be able to pay benefits for 13.4 years and TRS for 14 years. California, which Rep. Chisum said was bankrupted by its public pension funds, would be able to meet current obligations for 15 years.

Most people who testified at Tuesday night’s hearing opposed HB 2605. The committee took no action on the bill leaving it pending. From the discussion that took place among committee members, it appears that a substitute bill that calls for an interim study of the issue after the Legislature will be considered.

Despite prosperity, GE looks to cut wages

General Electric has recovered nicely from the Great Recession. In 2010, GE reported profits of $14.1 billion, of which $5.1 billion, or 36 percent, came from operations here in the US. On top of all this bounty, GE will be getting a $3.2 billion federal income tax return this year. It currently has $127.1 billion in cash on hand, and its CEO, Jeffery Immelt received $21.4 million in total compensation in 2010. But GE’s prosperity hasn’t stopped it from trying to cut wages.

For instance, at its River Works plant in Lynn, Massachusetts, GE sought to cut wages for new employees by 25 percent in return for a promise to bring new work unrelated to production now going on at the plant. IUE-CWA Local 201, which represents workers at River Works, was willing to accept the lower wages for new workers doing the new work, but GE insisted that all new workers in the plant take a 25 percent pay cut. Local 201 wouldn’t accept pay cuts unrelated to the new work, and GE informed the union that it would not be moving the new work to the plant.

“Today, we were officially informed by GE that they have decided not to put new GE Transportation locomotive assembly into our vacant Gear Plant Building, previously slated for demolition,” said Local 201 business agent Ric Casilli in statement released on April 13. “Local 201 is extremely disappointed by this decision. We did everything in our power during the last 19 days to make this happen and bring new jobs into Lynn.”

Thanks to government stimulus money and an increased interest in light rail and other rail transportation, GE’s locomotive plant in Erie, Pennsylvania has excess work, and GE is looking for a place to perform the work that its Erie plant can’t handle.

Lynn River Works seemed like a good alternative. GE currently manufacturers airplane engines at River Works, but last January, it shut down the Gear Works Building at River Works, where it manufactured maritime gears for the US Navy. It wouldn’t have been difficult to convert the Gear Works site to locomotive production and create 300 to 350 new jobs in Lynn.

Local 201 was eager to get the new work and submitted a proposal that met GE’s specification. The union was willing to make the locomotive production unit a separate bargaining unit from the aviation production unit. It was also willing to accept the lower pay that GE said its locomotive production competitors pay their workers, about 25 percent below what production workers in the aviation unit make .

The union was also willing to allow changes to contract languages about the rules of production. “The union’s last modified bid proposal addressed company requests for competitive wages, multi-skill classifications, teaming, single flow process, ‘temporary workers’, and met the company’s wish to keep the new locomotive workers as a separate unit from our current aviation workers in the plant,” Casilli said. 

But GE insisted that new workers in the aviation unit be hired the same rate as new workers in the locomotive production unit, which would have amounted to a 25 percent pay cut for new aviation production workers. The union wouldn’t agree to the pay cut, and GE walked away from the deal.

Rather than pay new aviation workers the current rate of pay, GE decided instead that it will move forward with its plan to demolish the Gear Works plant later this year.

Unions rally to support Bay Area ILWU Local 10

Supporters of the International Longshore and Warehouse Workers Local 10 rallied today at the headquarters of the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) demanding that the association drop its lawsuit against Local 10. PMA is suing the local and its president Richard Mead over an April 4 work stoppage organized and led by rank-and-file dock workers to support public sector workers under attack by right-wing politicians.

“This was a voluntary rank-and-file action,” said Clarence Thomas, a dock worker and Local 10 executive board member, noting that the choice to walk off the job to show support with other workers was a decision made by each worker.

 ILWU Local 10 represents dock workers at the ports of Oakland and San Francisco. On April 4, dock workers walked off the job  at the beginning of the day shift at an Oakland container terminal, which closed the terminal. The rank-and-file action was taken to support public sector workers, whose benefits and pay were threatened with cuts and whose right to collective bargaining  was being curtailed by right-wing governors and lawmakers in Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, and other states. The port in San Francisco was also closed down.

The PMA subsequently filed suit in federal court seeking unspecified damages against Local 10, which it blamed for the walkout. PMA complained that the walkout delayed the unloading of cargo containers and backed up truck traffic waiting to upload the containers.

Supporters of Local 10 have built a public campaign to support the union. The San Francisco Labor Council passed a resolution calling for the creation of broad-based defense committee to support Local 10 and today’s demonstration at the PMA’s San Francisco headquarters.

ILWU and its rank-and-file have a long history of demonstrating solidarity for other workers and oppressed people. In 1978, ILWU dock workers refused to load bombs headed for Chile, which was then ruled by a military dictatorship led by Augusto Pinochet, who had crushed unions and maintained power through torture and terror. In 1984, they called a 24-hour strike to protest the racist apartheid government of South Africa. In 2000, they called another 24-hour strike to support dock workers in Charleston, South Carolina, who while legally picketing were attacked by police and charged with felonies.

Most recently, they conducted work actions to demand an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, an end to the bombing of Palestinians in Gaza, and to support Oscar Grant, an innocent young African-American killed by an Oakland transit police officer.

Addressing an April 10 anti-war rally, Thomas told the audience that the action taken by ILWU members was important because the events in Wisconsin, where the very right to join a union is under attack. Tthe history of the US has come full circle, said Thomas.  On April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated while supporting public workers who were trying to organize a union in Memphis. Two weeks after his death, Memphis sanitation workers won the right to join a union and bargain collectively. “Now 40 years later their Wisconsin counterparts are threatened with losing theirs, Thomas said.  But their “fierce resistance that is inspiring all of us today.”

Johnson Control workers win contract, union recognition

Johnson Controls workers at the company’s Interiors/Resurrection plant in Cuautlancingo,Puebla, Mexico recently won a contract that increases pay, provides for more job security, improves benefits, and recognizes their independent union, Section 308 of the National Union of Mine, Metal, and General Workers of Mexico (Los Mineros). The contract is the first one that Johnson Controls, a US-based company, has signed with an independent union like Los Mineros.

The company manufactures car seats and other interior equipment mainly for Volkswagen but also for Ford, Chrysler, Mercedes-Benz, and Nissan at its Interiors/Resurrection plant, which employs 800 workers, the majority of whom are women.

The contract increases wages by 7.5 percent, limits the ability of the company to outsource work to contractors, and increases benefits such as life insurance and supplementary school aid. It is the culmination of a five-year campaign that overcame violence, intimidation, and firings of union supporters.

Back in 2006, staff from the Centro de Apoyo al Trabajador (CAT),  a non-profit group that supports organizing efforts by workers, began going door-to-door to interview Johnson Control workers about conditions at their factory. CAT staff learned that the company was violating the Mexican labor code and that the union in place at the time wasn’t doing anything about it. In fact, the union spent most of its time disciplining workers for the company, a practice common for most of Mexico’s recognized unions and the reason that these unions are known as protection unions.

CAT began helping workers organize an independent union. The company reacted by ordering workers not to talk to CAT staff about conditions at the plant and fired some of the independent union supporters. The campaign came to a head in May 2010 when the company paid workers a profit-sharing bonus of about $5, much less than workers had anticipated.

When the union wouldn’t do anything about the under payment, workers staged a protest and signed affiliation cards with Los Mineros. They threatened to strike if the company did not oust the protection union and recognize Los Mineros as their union. 

The next day, a busload of thugs from the protection union showed up at the plant gates and tried to intimidate workers into renouncing Los Mineros. Instead of being intimidated, workers walked off the job and stayed on strike for three days until the company agreed to recognize and bargain with Los Mineros.

During the summer, the company stalled for time as it sought ways to get out of its agreement. In August, more thugs entered the plant, beat union leaders and activists, and forced union leaders to sign letters of resignation. The company did nothing to stop the thugs from entering the plant or beating Los Mineros supporters.

In response, workers walked out on strike again and returned only after the company said that it would bargain with Los Mineros. Over the next eight months, intimidation and threats continued, but on April 8, Johnson Controls agreed to the contract.

Leaders of the Mexican government whether they belong to PRI or PAN, two of the three major political parties in Mexico, would like to keep Mexican workers’ wages low in hopes of attracting foreign investment. The biggest obstacles to doing so are workers like those at Johnson Control who aren’t afraid to fight for justice and independent unions like Los Mineros willing to support them. That’s why the two parties are working together to change Mexico’s labor law to make it more difficult for independent unions to organize workers.

NLRB charges Boeing with illegal retaliation

The National Labor Relations Board on Wednesday filed a complaint charging Boeing with illegal retaliation for moving a second line of production of its new Dreamliner 787 airplane from Everett, Washington to Charleston, South Carolina to punish members of the International Association of Machinists District 751 at the Everett plant for exercising their legal right to strike against the company in 2008, 2005, 1995, and 1989.

The NLRB filed the complaint after investigating an unfair labor practice charge filed in 2010 against Boeing by IAM District 751. The complaint was filed in response to comments made by Boeing executives like CEO and President James McNerney, Jr., who in October 2009 told a quarterly earnings conference call that Boeing would diversify its labor pool and labor relations by moving the second 787 production line to South Carolina due “to strikes happening every three or four years in Puget Sound (Everett).”

“By opening the line in Charleston, Boeing tried to intimidate our members with the idea that the company would take away work unless (workers)  made concessions at the bargaining table,” said Tom Wroblewski, president of IAM District 751. “But the law is clear; American workers have the right to pursue collective bargaining and no company–not even Boeing– can threaten or punish them for exercising their rights.”

In 2008, a strike by IAM  members stopped Boeing from forcing workers to make health care and pension concessions. The company wanted workers to pay more for their health care premium and prescription medicines, and it wanted  to take away pension benefits for families of deceased workers, even though the company had recorded $13 billion in net profits since 2002. The strike also limited Boeing’s plan to outsource work.

After the strike ended, Boeing executives complained that the union gave workers too much say in how the plant was run, which led to its decision to move the second production line to South Carolina. Before Boeing moved to South Carolina, it told workers at the Charleston airplane factory that Boeing had purchased from a company that went out of business that they would have to vote to decertify the IAM as their bargaining representative if they wanted the work moved to South Carolina, which they did.

South Carolina sweetened the deal by offering Boeing $170 million in grants and incentives and tens of millions of dollars in tax breaks to move the work to Charleston.

A hearing on the complaint will be heard on June 14 by an NLRB Administrative Judge. The labor board will be asking the judge to return the work moved to South Carolina in retaliation for the strikes back to Everett.

“Taking work away from workers because they exercise their union rights is against the law, and it’s against the law in 50 states,” Wroblewski said. “Had we allowed Boeing to break the law and go unchecked in their actions, it would have given the green light to corporate America to discriminate against union members and would have become management’s new template to attack employees.”

Tunisia’s economic problems still festering

An advisor to Tunisia’s main union confederation, the UGTT, warned that the economic problems that caused Tunisians to revolt against the country’s dictator last January are still festering, and the country’s new political leadership does not have a plan for addressing these problems.

Hassine Dimassi, an economist at Sousse University and a UGTT member, studied Tunisia’s economic problems prior to the revolt and found that the neoliberal economic policies of the old regime–policies recommended by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and implemented in the mid-1990’s by former president Zine el Abinde Ben Ali–caused uneven economic development that marginalized most the country, lowered wages, made work less secure, and failed to generate enough jobs to employ young people entering the workforce.

Unfortunately, most of the political parties vying for leadership have no plan to change the country’s economic direction. “The overwhelming majority of new parties, even now, have no social or economic program,” Dimassi told Al Jazeera in a recent interview. “In terms of development models there is almost nothing.”

Tunisia’s old development model was quite popular with the World Bank, the IMF, and the Davos Economic Forum. All praised the country’s economic development model that encouraged foreign development, created a flexible workforce, and lowered taxes on businesses.

Between the mid-1990s, when Ben Ali implemented the model, and the present, Tunisia’s economy grew at an annual rate of 6 percent and created a lot of wealth. But as Dimassi told Le Monde, “The problem with Tunisia is not the creation of wealth. . . but the division of wealth.”

For one thing, regional development is uneven. The center-west of the country, where the revolt began, has a high rate of unemployment, and the poverty rate is four times greater than the rest of the country.

Dimassi concluded that the regime’s economic policies were responsible for these and other economic ills. Ben Ali threw open the door to cheap imports from China, “which flooded the market and destroyed Tunisia’s traditional handicrafts, which was an important income for families, especially in rural areas,” Dimassi said.

Ben Ali quit making public investments in these regions; instead, he offered tax breaks and incentive to private businesses in hopes that private investment would spur development, but there were few takers.

With little public investment or private investment, there were few new jobs created. The lack of jobs, hit young people the hardest. Dimassi said that the Tunisian economy needed to create 60,000 new jobs a year just to employ young people graduating from college; instead, it created only about 25,000, which left about 300,000 college graduates without jobs.

Ben Ali changed the labor code, which lowered wages and made precarious work, such as temporary employment, more common. The new labor code allowed for more outsourcing of work, and as a result the use exploitative outsourcing contracts came into being. Dimassi calls these outsourcing contracts “a complete catastrophe.” Many businesses and some public agencies began outsourcing work like cleaning services to private companies, whose workers, according to Dimassi, were paid miserable wages and had no social security.

While Ben Ali’s economic policies created the conditions for revolt, Tunisia’s new leaders have no plan to address them. “The overwhelming majority (of new leaders) have not done any  analysis of the policies of the past 20 or 30 years,” Dimassi told Al Jazeera. “Instead, they have been preoccupied with slogans about freedom and the like. That’s good and necessary, but it’s not sufficient.”

Rebel Rank and File: A review


The following book review of Rebel Rank and File (Verso) was submitted to Left Labor Reporter by Greg King

INSURGENT WORKERS AND THEIR LESSONS: A Review of Rebel Rank And File by Greg King

Rebel Rank and File, edited by Aaron Brenner, Robert Brenner, and Cal Winslow, is a collection of writings about an insurgent workers movement in the US that took place from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s. In the Foreword, Mike Hamlin a co-founder of the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement writes that “If there is an axiom for revolutionaries, it is that you must study history and learn from the mistakes of those who have gone before. We failed to do that and paid a terrible price.” Aaron Brenner, a senior researcher at SEIU, in the Preface echoes Hamlin’s assessment of the damage caused by the insurgency’s decline, which he says opened the door to Reagan and the new right.

Rebel Rank and File tells the stories of the insurgency in order to learn from its mistakes. While Hamlin and Brenner may believe that these mistakes caused the sorry state we’re in today, I will argue that some respects, it has rarely been more hopeful; the labor movement today is rising like a Phoenix from the ashes.

In the book’s Overview, Cal Winslow, a professor at UC Berkeley, describes the era and the insurgent movement it spawned. Post-war full employment and rising wages gave the working class confidence and encouraged combativeness. “Nowhere was the new mood of rebellion seen more clearly than in the emergence of a black movement in the workplace.” This mood of rebellion was ignited by the assassination of Martin Luther King. Black workers across the country walked off the job to protest his assassination; some white workers joined them. The revolt of African-American workers was vital part of the overall fight back of the “long 1970s,” as this period is called.

During the 1930s, “Communists, Trotskyists, and socialists of various sorts successfully organized industrial workers, writes Robert Brenner, a professor at UCLA in the next chapter. They “called . . . for reliance on mass mobilization against employers, avoidance of the courts and the government, autonomy from the existing official union leaderships, and the fullest internal democracy.” The insurgent workers of the long 1970s continued this tradition, which Brenner argues contradicts the premise of Stayin’ Alive by Jefferson Cowie, who asserts that the problem with the US working class was that it was never able to break free of union leadership and bureaucracy.

McCarthyism and the purge of left-wing workers and unions is what defeated the working-class movement that began in the 1930s. During the rank-and-file insurgencies which came to the fore in the long 1970s, what held the workers back and ultimately defeated them was their inability, in most cases, to throw out entrenched leaderships.

Judith Stein, a City University of New York history professor, writes about the inflation of the 1970s, which took the gloss off rebellion for a lot of working people. Workers became more concerned about hanging onto their jobs at all costs; although, many still fought for wage increases to keep up with rising prices. Stein says Paul Volckers’s austerity measures, plus oil prices which began to fall somewhat cured inflation. President Reagan convinced the nation that his tax cuts, deregulation, and privatization yanked the economy out of the recession that Stein says was caused by Washington’s austerity policies implemented to fight inflation.

As a result, a new economic paradigm was replacing Keynesianism. Businesses, having banded together in the Business Roundtable, the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute, began to hold ideological sway, at least over the elite. This era saw the birth of the Reagan Democrat, and the slow, steady growth of culture wars and increasing economic uncertainty, which  drove many working people away from solidarity with one another and toward a reliance on the elite.

Kim Moody, a founder of Labor Notes, says that American workers were increasingly faced with speed-up and a worsening of conditions on shop floors. They had to do something about this themselves because union leaders had grown accustomed to cooperating with bosses. These workers had forerunners, whether they were aware of this or not, in the Montgomery domestic workers, the coal miners seeking Black Lung Disease benefits and the antiwar protesters. The black workers of the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement (DRUM) led the way, with coal miners, farm workers and the long-haired young white workers of the General Motors Lordstown plant also leading the way.

In going back to the roots of rebellion, Moody tells us how the class solidarity of the 1930s and ’40s was undercut by all the individual labor leaders giving up on the brief postwar dream of an American social democracy and instead making firm-by-firm, union-by-union private welfare pacts with the managements. Also, big centers of production were broken up as corporations shifted production to smaller, more technically advanced facilities away from the old hubs of industry, moving production to the West and South, just as they would move production to China and Vietnam in more recent history. Much of the workforce in the South and West was not unionized, so when the rank-and-file rebelled during the long 1970s, industry-wide solidarity was no longer possible, and they could be picked off one-by-one.

Frank Bardacke, a farmworker organizer and later Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) chapter founder, explodes the myth of the docile, cowering, unskilled worker in his chapter on farm workers and the United Farm Workers (UFW) union. Farm work is highly skilled, and agricultural laborers were militant, often self-organized workers who put together their own work stoppages, slowdowns, and sabotage throughout their long history. But, Bardacke says, organization in the fields was ineffective because of the seasonal nature of the work and the high turnover of the workers themselves. The UFW was able to overcome this problem through their grape boycott campaign, reaching out and building support among consumers, students, liberals, Democratic party officials, and unions.

Cesar Chavez, while not some sort of savior or completely indispensable icon, nonetheless played a key role in the initial success of the UFW. At the time that Chavez began the 1965-1970 grape boycott, such a tactic was not popular among labor unions. Chavez revived the boycott as a tactic, and it went on to be crucial for many movements.

Chavez sent farm workers to Midwestern and Eastern cities to organize the boycott, and a lot of f liberal and religious enthusiasts joined the boycott movement in the northern cities; some became UFW staff members. Since those recruits to La Causa were allowed to become members of the union, this led to inevitable problems developing between paid staff and rank-and-file members, exacerbated by cultural misunderstandings.

Bardacke says there were “countless” strikes by farm workers throughout the 1960s and 1970s, but he is able to flesh out only six of them. In describing these strikes, he reveals some of the factors that led to the undoing of the UFW. Chavez and the leadership started concentrating on winning reforms in Sacramento to support these strikes. One side effect of this was that the union leadership lost their feel for what was going on in the fields among the membership. When Republicans came to power, they were able to undue some of the reforms implemented by UFW supporters like Gov. Pat Brown. Among other things the agricultural labor board was made ineffective, which gave some owners their chance to stop dealing with the UFW. Then union companies couldn’t compete and went out of business.

In the meantime, the leadership’s desire for control incensed many farm workers, who led walkouts from their conventions. The UFW was reduced to a combination advocacy group and family enterprise. A major reason for this was the leadership’s placing faith and trust in their liberal supporters, and not the militant farm workers.

 Paul Nyden, a reporter for the Charleston Gazette in West Virginia, writes the rise of Miners for Democracy in the United Mine Workers (UMW). Mechanization deals with the union in 1940s and 1950s resulted in the loss 300,000 jobs in the coal fields. But by the mid-1960s, employment had rebounded because of growing demand for electricity, much of which was produced in coal-fired power plants.

The growing demand for coal miners gave those who already had jobs in the mines a sense of job security, which emboldened them to start speaking up about conditions in the mines. Many of the new miners were fresh from Vietnam, too. Having survived the rice paddies, they had no wish to die in a coal mine.

 The result was a growing wave of strikes for better wages, concerns about health issues in the mine and mine safety. Eighteen thousand miners walked off the job in 1964, revolting against a bad contract signed by Tony Boyle, leader of the UMW. In 1966, 40,000 more miners struck in opposition to another bad contract. As 1968 began, 60,000 UMW members walked out in five states to show their displeasure with the arrest of picketing miners in Pennsylvania. In October of that year, 66,000 miners wildcatted.

The next month, 78 men were killed by an explosion at a mine in West Virginia, which led to the formation of the Black Lung Association in 1969. In February-March, 45,000 West Virginia miners participating in the Black Lung strike, called by Nyden “the most important political strike in modern labor history.” This strike brought about the first Black Lung compensation law in West Virginia.

Jock Yablonski began his run against Boyle in May of 1969. Yablonski called for an end to the Vietnam war and for the UMW to play a role in reforming social conditions in Appalachia. He lost the election in December 1969 and was killed, along with his wife and daughter, three weeks later by Boyle hired guns.

Miners for Democracy (MFD) was founded at Yablonski’s burial in the first few days of 1970. The MFD was bolstered by the Disabled Miners and Widows and the Black Lung Association. The new organization turned the new fighting spirit in the mines into a campaign for control of the UMW. At the end of 1972 they put their own man, Arnold Miller, in as union president. The Miller leadership, almost from the beginning, demonstrated incompetence and started backsliding into the old ways.

With the renewed confidence and militant spirit of the rank-and-file miners, though, there were quite a few wildcat strikes. When the contract expired in December 1977, the UMW began a 110-day strike. Miners not only closed organized mines, they walked out of unorganized pits as well. Miller tried to ram through one proposed settlement after another. The first one was rejected by the bargaining council. The second proposed agreement was rejected by the membership by a vote of 77,292 to 33,751. President Carter invoked the Taft-Hartley Act, but the miners defied the back-to-work order. Unions inside and outside the AFL-CIO supported the striking miners. When they finally approved the third proposed agreement, it was because they had become dispirited by Miller’s constant sabotaging of the strike.

One thing the mining companies did in response to all this rebellion in the pits was to increasingly move their mining operations out West, where the mines were not unionized. Hundreds of thousands of organized coal miners lost their jobs, and the UMW was reduced to a shadow of its former self. However, as Paul Nyden says, the miners had demonstrated tremendous solidarity and fighting spirit that serves as encouragement for us all.

Dan LaBotz, a founding member of Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), describes how TDU developed in response to employer offensives and the union leaders’ concession-driven responses. LaBotz details the sellouts by the corrupt, thug-ridden leadership of Jimmy Hoffa and his incompetent successor, Frank Fitzsimmons, and describes how the International Socialists (IS) cadres made the decision in 1969 to get jobs in industry, doing so in the Teamsters in the early 1970s.

If I might interject a bit of my own history here, I was a member of the Hawaii Vietnam Moratorium Committee in 1969 when Art Rutledge, then president of the Teamsters & Hotel Workers, Local 5 in Honolulu let us have free office space and the free use of a phone. I was a member of Local 5 as a dishwasher for the Hilton Hawaiian Village at about that same time, and found there to be quite a fighting spirit among my mostly Ilocano-speaking Filipino coworkers. Then, from 1975 to 1977, I was an international air courier, picking up and delivering bank and corporate documents throughout East Asia for Loomis Courier Service. We made three complete 7-to-9-day Far East circuits a month, every month. Then the company proposed making a bad schedule even worse. I was handed the union sign-up cards by the last coworker to try and fail. I succeeded in getting everybody to sign cards for the Teamsters, with the help of a fellow courier. Then the company fired us both for union-organizing. We sued them through the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The Local 5 business agent, Earl Kim, really went to bat for us before both the company and the NLRB. We won reinstatement, back pay minus unemployment benefits and free tickets to LA, where the company had fled to escape the union. I organized them into the union again in LA. They fired me again. But the Teamsters in LA proved very different from those in Honolulu. They didn’t really fight for us, and we lost.

LaBotz says that Teamsters launched militant strikes, many of them wildcats, to fight against increasing control by the employers over their schedules and the work itself. Truck drivers had been fairly free of that for much of their history. TDU played a leading role in some of these strikes and in efforts to reform the union, culminating in the election of Ron Carey to the Teamster presidency in 1991, which LaBotz says led to the election of John Sweeney and his reformers to the leadership of the AFL-CIO in 1995.

The first really successful fight of a union in years, the UPS strike of 1997, followed. Then came the TDU-affiliated Seattle Teamsters alliance with environmentalists in the 1999 demonstrations there against globalization.

Over 30 years since its birth, TDU still thrives and fights for member empowerment in the Teamsters. LaBotz says that TDU has survived because of its commitment to rank-and-file control “on the shop floor, in the union, and in society.” What I would say about this is that they have faltered on the last of these. Failure to counter the brainwashing of American workers is not the fault of the TDU alone, however. Progressive organizations in general have yet to find a way of doing that successfully.

Marjorie Murphy, a Swarthmore professor and author of a book on the teachers’ unions, writes about the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and how the urban rebellions affected it. Murphy says the AFT was the first major union to really integrate its locals. She recounts how they became a powerful, progressive union which launched numerous wildcat strikes. However, they ran up against the Black Power movement. This pitted basic union issues against community control. The conflicts which resulted, Murphy says, pretty well destroyed the lives of some of the leading African-American AFT officials and tore at the loyalties of a lot of rank-and-file teachers of color as well. The encounter with Black nationalism, and the conservative leadership of Albert Shanker, severely weakened the AFT and contributed to the growth of its major rival, the National Education Association (NEA).

Aaron Brenner writes about the Bell Workers Action Committee (BWAC), United Action (UA), the Telephone Revolutionary Union Movement (TELRUM), militant, rank-and-file groups that developed among the technicians and other workers at American Telephone & Telegraph (AT&T) and local Bell companies like New York Telephone and Western Electric. The groups mainly developed within the Communications Workers of America (CWA). TELRUM was an African-American group pattern after other Revolutionary Union Movements. There were an increasing number of Latino phone company employees as well. Besides the groups formed by people of color, SDS veterans played significant roles in these rebellious rank-and-file phone-worker organizations.

Fighting against both the racism and the sexism of the phone company, BWAC, UA and TELRUM made common cause with both the workers of color and the female telephone operators. They respected the operators’ picket lines, causing major disruptions in the routines of the phone company. The workers resisted increasing management encroachment on control over their work by a major strike in 1971. This proved a turning point in the almost-constant class war waged by the owning class against the rest of us. Management of NY Tel had been asserting its prerogative more strongly. The strike was a defensive action on the part of the workers, and the latter lost. The bosses’ victory in the ’71 strike left a number of stewards afraid to do their job. Insurgent rank-and-filers lost their jobs, although most of them were eventually rehired.

The institution of national bargaining agreements gave the union more power at the negotiating table, but it did nothing to renew strength on the shop floor. Some militant members continued resistance, but it was a shadow of its former self. The union had lost the power to have much say over the introduction of further automation, and many telephone workers lost their jobs.

A.C. Jones (a nomme de plume), an author and activist out of DC, writes about the United Auto Workers (UAW) insurgencies. At the time, the union leadership saw its role as cooperating with companies to maintain the extensive private welfare system built up over the years by its contracts with the Big Three auto makers. They looked the other way while GM, Ford and Chrysler increasingly cut into workers’ control on the shop floor and asserted management prerogatives. As the rank-and-file rebelled against this, the UAW leadership used strong-arm tactics to suppress worker militancy. But the membership fought back.

The General Motors Assembly Division (GMAD), brought into being in 1965, was charged with increasing the pace of work to increase profits for GM. Workers resisted the speed up throughout GM local lea tried to get the UAW bureaucracy to fight the speed up, to no avail. UAW allowed local strikes to allow workers to vent their anger but tool little action to support workers. ineffective.

Jones also mentions the League of Revolutionary Black Workers (LRBW), the subject of the next chapter in the book, and the United National Caucus (UNC), a rank-and-file dissident group made up mostly of skilled white workers. The UNC from recruited African-Americans and women and fought against racism and sexism. The UNC also sought more stewards, more democratic union voting procedures and a fairer grievance process.

The UNC and the LRBW were very effective for a time. Auto workers in general fought back during this period. The tide turned with the economic collapse of 1973-1975, however. With well over 100,000 auto workers laid off, the ones who still had jobs fought to hold onto them and their benefits. Concessionary bargaining tool its toll on the workers’ spirit, and by 1979, hundreds of thousands of auto workers had lost their jobs and quite a few production facilities had shut down for good. Foreign competition and lack of ingenuity had a devastating effect. The UAW leadership continued its propping up of its own jobs and those of the auto executives. As A.C. Jones says, the auto insurgencies had failed to divert the labor bureaucracy from its path of class collaboration.

Kieran Taylor, a University of North Carolina professor and author, writes about the League of Revolutionary Black Workers (LRBW), writes that the League of Revolutionary Black Workers (LRBW) had its origins in the rebellion of Detroit’s African-American workers during the summer of 1967. Black workers battled cops, the National Guard, and the 82nd Airborne for control of the city over five days. Forty people were killed, 1,000 injured, and 7,000 were arrested. One of those who spent two weeks in jail was General Baker, one of the founders of the LRBW. While in jail Baker observed how the rage of his fellow inmates was growing into political consciousness.

Baker along with Mike Hamlin, John Watson and Marian Kramer, who were active in the revolutionary African-American student movement at Wayne State participated in the founding of the Inner City Voice, a newspaper, and a study group centered around it. The group included workers at Dodge Main auto plant, where most of the workers were African-American.

In the summer of 1968, African-American and white workers walked out of Dodge Main to protest speed up. Two of the leaders, one of which was General Baker, were fired and others were suspended. When the union leadership failed to support the fired and suspended workers, the African-American workers formed the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement (DRUM).

DRUM soon spawned revolutionary union movements at other auto plants, UPS, and Blue Cross, and the Detroit News. One group ELRUM organized African-American workers at the Eldon Avenue Chrysler plant. It led militant actions against unsafe working conditions at the plant.

LRBW in addition to helping organize the revolutionary union movements, the League of Revolutionary Black Workers ran a bookstore and publishing house, made films about the movement, and engaged in other outreach work.

Differences over outreach efforts caused a rupture within the organization. Watson and Hamlin resigned, leaving Baker, Kramer and some others. The former were more interested in building alliances with broader forces in order to try to win social change. The latter wanted to rebuild the League, crippled by firings, among auto workers, but they had a narrower, more nationalistic outlook.

The League’s legacy was the many reforms the auto companies and the union were forced to make in response to them. The LRBW inspired a lot of other people of color as well as white radicals to immerse themselves in the working class and to remain there, keeping the ideals of the New Left alive, as Kieran Taylor says. But the bureaucratic morass that was the typical union swallowed many of them up. They gradually became more interested in their own careers and in preserving their particular union as an institution, rather than building, as Mao says, “reliable base areas.”

Dorothy Sue Cobble, a Rutgers University professor and author, writes about the struggle against sexism by flight attendants, clerical workers, and domestic workers. Flight attendants fought against the sexualization of their work. They demanded to be treated as people, not objects and to be judged by objective criteria such as job performance and experience, rather than their age or their weight. Clerical workers as well fought back against their traditional role of “office wives” and “go-fers.” They demanded respect, better pay and benefits and a clear definition of their work, so their boss could no longer demand of them whatever came into the boss’s head. Domestic workers sought similar goals. The traditional relationships they were part of in homes were not far removed from the days of slavery. They sought more modern, contractual relationships.

All these movements started in the late-1960s, early-1970s. Among flight attendants such organizations as the Stewardesses for Women’s Rights (SFWR) developed. This organization, while only lasting a few years, brought many airline women together and, through multi-faceted campaigns, laid the groundwork for the plethora of flight attendants’ organizations which were to follow.

With clerical workers, one of the most important steps toward improving their lot was the creation of 9to5, later District 925 of SEIU. After 9to5 laid the groundwork for much that was to follow, SEIU and other unions such as District 65 took up the torch.

Among domestic workers, groups such as the Detroit Household Workers Organization (HWO), the National Council of Household Employees (NCHE) and the National Domestic Workers Union (NDWU) fought hard in the 1970s for reforms which were eventually built into the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and codified in other ways into several states’ laws. Their legacy lives on in the professionalization of household work in all the “merry maids” type employment agencies, family-to-worker contractual relationships and the transfer of much of such work to daycare centers, hotels, school cafeterias, etc.

The flight attendants and clerical workers had built-in advantages, in this society, because they were mostly white and privileged, whereas the domestic workers were mostly black and poor. But all three groups fought for and won both recognition of their humanity and better wages and working conditions, as Cobble points out. She also tells us of how these movements reminded all those in the labor movement and the rest of society of how gender is so closely entwined with matters of race and class. What is already coming out of the struggles of these women workers is a new awareness within and among unions that economic issues are not the only ones: That respect and dignity are important, too.

Steve Early, long-time labor activist and journalist, closes out the book with a chapter on lessons to be learned from the labor battles of the 1970s. He says on the surface the fight backs of the 1970s appear totally disconnected from what was a quiet labor scene nationally these days, until Wisconsin woke everybody up, I might add. However, he says many labor activists who cut their teeth on the struggles of that long decade have continued their militancy through the years since.

Early mentions his own labor activism with the United Mine Workers (UMW), the United Steel Workers of America (USWA) and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT). He writes of how rigid labor bureaucrats in all three unions were all those years ago, and how the rank-and-file movements in which he participated made them more fluid. He says the struggles against labor misleaders were in a way fights against corporate bosses, because without responsive union structures it was impossible to fight the employers.

What neither the AFL-CIO nor Change to Win (CtW) has managed to deal with is the steady decline in union membership, as Early points out. He says organizing and links between the members, not just the leaders, of different unions are what’s needed to start the process of rebuilding, along with less reluctance to use civil disobedience as a tactic. A number of labor movement veterans with roots in the “long 1970s” have started addressing just these issues, according to Early.

Early underlines the importance of Labor Notes in bringing activists together and keeping them in touch with each other and up on the latest news. He also goes into the formation of Change to Win, with Andy Stern’s SEIU in the lead. Early continues with a history of that union’s battles with UNITE HERE and its internal battles with United Healthcare Workers West (UHW) and its leader, Sal Rosselli. He recounts for us the sorry history of the placing of UHW under trusteeship and the beginnings of its wars with SEIU in the former’s re-incarnation as the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW).

Early describes the sad descent of SEIU from a union which relied in large part on the rank-and-file in its Justice for Janitors (JFJ) campaign, to one which all-too-often relies on backroom deals with employers for the privilege of representing their workers. SEIU under Stern cared little for democracy and a lot for “market share” of workers in particular industries and the weight of campaign contributions in electoral politics. My hope is that the new SEIU, under Mary Kay Henry, will re-emphasize empowering the membership.

Early also describes recent rank-and-file successes in the New York City Transit Workers Union, the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA), Local 1422 of the International Longshoremen’s Association of South Carolina, which successfully fought its corrupt, thug-ridden international, and the attorney general of South Carolina.

Early tells us about the successful defense of health benefits by his own long-time employer, the Communications Workers of America (CWA). He also mentions the union’s desire to form a federation-wide strike fund, balked at by other union leaders and then made hopeless by the split between the AFL-CIO and CtW.

Early says that learning the lessons of the long 1970s gives us reasons to reconsider the establishment of gargantuan locals and growth for-growth’s-sake and think seriously of ways to make democratic practice more feasible and give the rank-and-file a chance to empower themselves. Strengthened membership control can give the union movement a chance to grow again with the aid of member-organizers.

With what’s happening in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee, New Hampshire, Maine and a host of other states, working people are waking up to the fact that we’ve got to take a stand or it will be too late. We can learn from the struggles of those who dealt with the beginnings of what we face today. Then, it was a growing assault from the Right. Now, it’s a full-blown fight-to-the-death. They smell blood in the water, with private sector unions now at 6.9% of that workforce and public sector unions still at 30% of the government sector. Now that we’re almost extinct in the world of business, they want to tear us to pieces in the realm of government as well. With nobody from among the working people able to fund Democrats or even an alternative party, their only source of funds will be Wall Street and corporate America. The rich will have no opposition to their anti-people, pro-Almighty-Dollar policies. That’s why we’ve got to learn from those who’ve gone before.

I am like a number of those folks referred to in Rebel Rank And File. I’m a veteran of the antiwar movement and struggles over ethnic studies and land use in Hawaii. I’m a long-time labor activist of a Left persuasion. I’ve been a rank-and-file member of SEIU for 22 years, more recently a shop steward. I know what we working people can accomplish if we join together and fight hard for our rights and livelihoods and those of our sisters and brothers. We have already started fighting back now, all across the country and a good chunk of the world. Here we will re-orient our country’s priorities away from incredibly wasteful wars and runaway-shop subsidies, from tax breaks for the rich and cutbacks “for” the poor, and toward spending and priorities that support, not negate, human life. We will continue fighting till we win.

State pay cuts on hold for now

The Texas Legislature is considering a number of measures that would drastically erode state services and harm workers who provide the services. Last week, the Texas State Employees Union mobilized members against two particular bills, HB 2720, which would authorize state agencies and universities to furlough workers without pay for up to 30 days a year, and HB 3168, which would eliminate longevity pay for state employees.

“Longevity pay helps the state retain skilled and qualified state employees. Losing them would have a huge impact on the state’s ability to provide services,” said Derrick Osabase, TSEU’s political director.

Currently Texas state employees receive an extra $20 a month in longevity pay after two years of service. Every two years after that, up to 40 years of service, they receive an additional $20 a month.  Eliminating longevity pay would cut state employee salaries by as much as $2,500 a year.

HB 3168 would replace longevity pay with a merit pay system. Replacing benefits like longevity pay that helps all public sector workers with merit pay that helps only a select few has been a priority of the right wing’s political agenda. The American Legislative Exchange Council, a  group that provides state lawmakers with ideas for right-wing legislation, has made merit pay for teachers an important piece of its education agenda.

But merit pay does little to improve services and contributes much to income inequality. A study by Vanderbilt University of a pilot merit pay program in Nashville found that students of teachers in the merit pay program “did not outperform students of teachers (not in the merit pay program).” A study by Harvard University researchers found similar results in a study of the New York City schools merit pay system.

While merit pay doesn’t do much to improve performance, it does create more inequality in the workforce. A study by Lemieux, MacLeod, and Parent found that the rise of merit-based pay systems between the late 1970s and the early 1990’s played a big role in the growing inequality of male wages. The authors, who generally support the use of merit raises, found that their “use is constrained by the quality of available performance measures.”

Heywood and Parent found that African-American workers were less likely to benefit from merit raises than their white counterparts. They suggests that the lack of transparency in the process for determining who receives merit pay allows racial bias to creep into the process. 

TSEU thought that the House committee responsible for HB 3168 would vote on the bill this week and mobilized members to contract lawmakers and urge them to oppose the bill. “We thought that it would be reported out of committee soon,” Osabase said. “But other lawmakers on the committee told us that Rep. Calagari (the bill’s sponsor) didn’t expect such a large backlash and is considering postponing a vote on the bill.”

The furlough bill, HB 2720 sponsored by Rep. Jim Pitts, the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, would reduce state employee salaries by as much as  12 percent a year and would make it much harder for people to access state services.

“When agency or university workers are furloughed, the work does not go away,” Osabase told lawmakers at committee hearing. “Furloughs and wage cuts that they will cause will increase employee turnover rates and lessen productivity.”

Osabase reminded lawmakers of what happened earlier in the decade when budget cuts caused turnover rates at the state’s Health and Human Services Commission to skyrocket. “The commission gave more than 4,000 pink slips to health and human service workers because lawmakers thought that a private contractor could do the work more cheaply than state employees,” Osabase said. “But the privatization scheme failed, thousands of children lost their Medicaid and health care through the Children’s Health Insurance Program and families went hungry because they couldn’t get food stamps. In the end, the state had to fire the contractor and rehire state employees, but the impact of those cuts is still being felt today.”

TSEU urged members to call lawmakers and urge them to oppose the furlough bill. For now,  HB 2720 remains in committee where TSEU will try to keep it until this session of the Legislature expires at the end of May.

Defeating these bills and other attacks on state services and people who provide them will require TSEU to build on the momentum it generated from its largest Lobby Day ever, which drew 5,000 people to state capital to protest the proposed cuts.

In an e-mail message to members TSEU vice-president Mike Gross urged members not to bask in the success of Lobby Day, but to keep organizing and mobilizing to save state services. “Get your co-workers off the sidelines– sign them up into the union today,” Gross said. “It is imperative that the politicians understand that this movement is fueled by a constantly growing organization of people who have demonstrated their commitment to fight back no matter how long it takes.”

Ikea’s flexible labor policies create hostile and intimidating workplace

The National Association of Manufacturers recently laid out a strategy for reviving manufacturing in the US. It calls for lowering business taxes, reducing environmental, safety, and work regulations, and creating a dynamic labor market. If you’re wondering what a dynamic labor market looks like, there’s a good example at the Swedwood furniture plant in Danville, Virginia. Swedwood is a wholly owned subsidiary of Ikea, the Swedish retail furniture giant.

According to NAM one feature of a dynamic labor market is the ability of companies to design flexible work schedules and benefit arrangements. Recently, Swedwood changed its workers’ vacation benefit. Workers are still entitled to 12 vacation days a year, but the company with no input from workers will decide when they can take eight of the days.

Swedwood, or more accurately Ikea, also has plenty of flexibility in setting work schedules. “They routinely force workers to change shifts and to work overtime with no notice,” said Bill Street of the IAM, which is conducting an organizing campaign at Ikea’s Danville plant.

Forced overtime and an erratic schedule can be hard on family life. The Los Angeles Times reports that Kylette Duncan quit her job at the Ikea Danville plant because of the company’s forced overtime and work schedule policy. “I need the money as bad as anyone, but I also need a life,” Duncan told the Times. Duncan had to cancel medical appointments for her ill husband because on several occasions the company told her at the last-minute she had to work overtime.

There’s also a racist tinge to Ikea’s flexible scheduling policy. “(Ikea) bases employment decisions on legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons, such as skills, experience and competence,” said Ingrid Steén, information manager for Swedwood Group in Sweden, in an email to the Times. But  six former African-American workers have filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Ikea charging among other things that African-Americans make up a disproportionate share of the plant’s most undesirable late-night shift, between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m, and the lowest paid departments like shipping. 

Among Ikea’s dynamic and flexible labor policies is its ability to fire workers without cause. Jeffery Dale Eanes told the Lynchburg News and Advance that even though he was hired to program the plant’s computerized machine tools, he often worked outside his job description and, while doing so,  suffered a herniated disk. He asked the company if he could work at his programmer’s job instead of doing the kind of heavy work that caused his back injury. Several weeks later, the company called at home and told him not to come to work anymore. 

In another demonstration of its flexible labor policies, Ikea told its Danville workers that they would not be receiving promised pay raises, even though the company recorded profits of 2 billion euros in 2010. Ikea also reduced the starting rate for some Danville jobs from $9.25 per hour to $8 per hour (The minimum pay rate for Ikea’s Swedish workers is $19 per hour).

Ikea also has problems maintaining a safe work environment. Last summer, the IAM reported that Ikea in Danville “may be the most dangerous plant in the wood furniture industry” with injury rates well above the national average. A subsequent investigation by the Virginia Occupational Safety and Health Administration resulted in fines for numerous safety violations.

Ikea’s abuses have caused some workers to consider organizing a union, and the IAM has been there to help them. But Ikea won’t let the union into the plant to talk to workers and won’t allow union organizers to pass out union information at the plant gates, a practice that violates Ikea’s own stated principles of allowing workers to form unions when they want to. Ikea also hired  Jackson Lewis, a union avoidance law firm, to advise it regarding the organizing drive.

Bill Street of the IAM said that the organizing drive is going well considering the circumstances. “The workplace is phenomenally hostile and intimidating, (and) they have a ruthless termination policy that they apply arbitrarily,” Street said. Despite these obstacle, the IAM has collected union authorization cards from 49 percent of Ikea Danville workers.

Ikea came to Danville in 2008, promising 740 new jobs for an area of the state whose two main industries, textile and tobacco, were in decline. In return for the promise of new jobs, Ikea received $12 million in local and state incentives. Three years after opening shop, the plant employs 335 workers, and as the Los Angeles Times reports, relies on temporary agencies to fill about one-third of its positions.

Ikea  has a reputation for social and environmental responsibility but clearly has no qualms about exaggerating the economic impact that its presence will have on a local economy in order receive a government handout or treating its workers like cogs in a profit generating machine.

Attempted robbery of labor rights in Mexico

Like their counterparts in the US, Mexico’s right-wing politicians have proposed changes to the country’s labor law aimed at lowering wages, making work less secure, and making it more difficult for workers to join unions that fight for the interest of workers.

About six weeks ago, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), after consultation with Mexico’s leading industrialists, introduced a bill in the Chamber of Deputies purporting to be a labor reform bill. Since then there has been a rush to pass the measure with little scrutiny or debate. The bill is supported by the Partido Accion Nacional (PAN), which like PRI is a pro-business, anti-worker party.

The bill amends Mexico’s labor laws, which on paper provide significant protections to workers; however, enforcement of the labor code has been lax since the Mexican government in the 1990s adopted a development strategy that seeks to keep worker wages and benefits low to attract international investment.

The bill also protects Mexico’s traditional unions, which long ago decided to support the government’s low-wage strategy and have since functioned to protect the interests of employers rather than fight for the interests of workers.

On the other hand, the bill seeks to limit the effectiveness of independent unions like the Miners Union  (Los Mineros), Frente Autentico del Trabajo (FAT), and the telecommunication workers union (STRM) by making it illegal for workers to join cross industry unions, like Los Mineros and FAT, or join unions outside of their craft. The bill would also ban temporary workers from joining independent union.

Independent unions have been organizing workers to fight back against the government’s low-wage strategy, with some success. Los Mineros, which organizes workers in diverse industries, has won contracts that significantly boost wages and benefits. 

Writing in La Jornada, Arturo Alcalde Justiniani says that PRI’s proposal “upholds employers priorities” by making it easier to outsource work and fire workers.” Furthermore, if enacted, the bill would give employers more leeway in using subcontractor and temporary workers to sidestep job security protections in the labor code. “Article 15(b) (of the bill) normalizes subcontractor work, without (providing) safeguards against job insecurity,”  inequality, and low wages,” Alcalde writes.

 Another part of the proposed legislation limits back pay in illegal dismissal cases to a maximum of 12 months and does nothing to expedite the long drawn-out process now used to determine whether a dismissal was justified.

Legislators in the Chamber of Deputies, Mexico’s lower house, are fast tracking the proposed legislation and hope to have it heard and reported out of committee by April 18. They are also telling the public that the purpose of the bill is to create more jobs and have discouraged open and honest discussion about the bill.

But Mexico’s independent labor movement is doing everything it can to expose the true nature of the bill. Two large rallies, one on March 31 and the other on April 7, have been held to protest the bill. The unions will host an international tribunal on free trade unionism on April 29 in Mexico City, where those attending will hear “a strong globally supported case against the proposed labour law, as well as specific cases from affected unions.”

The International Trade Union Confederation has sent a letter to Mexico’s president Felipe Calderon denouncing the bill as an attack on free trade unionism. The International Metalworkers’ Federation has been urging people to write letters to key members of the Mexican Congress to demand that the legislation be withdrawn.

In a message sent to the March 31 rally, exiled general secretary of Los Mineros Napoleon Gomez Urrutia wrote, the proposed law is a “robbery of labor rights in Mexico.” He also called on Labor Minister Javier Lozano Alacron to resign immediately to prevent “further damage to industrial relations and social peace in the republic.”

UAW to bargain for social justice and partnership with employers

At its Special Convention on Collective Bargaining, the United Auto Workers adopted a  resolution outlining its bargaining goals that are one part social justice vision, one part pragmatic bargaining blueprint, and one part wishful thinking.

With auto maker contract negotiations looming this summer, the UAW called together representatives from its locals, which include many locals that represent public, non-profit, and workers in industries other than auto,  for a three-day meeting between March 22 and March 24 to plan the union’s bargaining approach in the coming years. The result was a resolution outlining the goals and vision that will guide UAW as it negotiates new contracts.

“Our union has one overriding bargaining goal: to win justice, not just for our members, but for workers across our country and around the world,” reads the opening sentence of the resolution. The key to winning justice, according to the resolution, is to build union power that will convince employers to accept the union as a partner, and the key to getting companies accept the union as a partner is increased union density. 

In the auto industry, the key to building union density lies in the South where eight foreign auto makers, including Toyota, Nissan, and Volkswagen, have built non-union plants. The UAW has intensified its organizing efforts aimed at these non-union plant. 

UAW’s bargaining resolution includes a list of principles for a free and fair organizing drive that it hopes will lower company resistance to the drive.  The principles include secret ballot elections, no disparaging of the other side, no promises of wage or benefit increases by either side, and equal access to workers. Should workers choose the union, the UAW pledges that it will work in partnership with the employer to help it achieve success.

But the idea that these companies, which expressly set up operations in the anti-union South to avoid having to deal with the UAW, will agree to free and fair organizing drive may be wishful thinking. When asked by the Chattanooga Times Free Press whether Volkswagen, which is building a new plant in the city, would be amenable to UAW’s overtures, Volkswagen’s Guenther Scherelis replied non-commitally by e-mail, “At Volkswagen Chattanooga, the employees will decide for themselves about their representation.”

The bargaining resolution does break some new ground, at least for US labor unions. It talks about the need to address the issue of precarious work, (part-time, contract, contingent. or temporary work with few if any benefits and no job security). More companies are employing precarious workers to help lower labor costs, which the resolution says is helping to create a permanent underclass.

The resolution recognizes that in some instances, temporary work may be necessary, but that temps should have union protection, access to permanent jobs when they become available, and where the use of  temporary or contingent workers is well established (like universities where the UAW has organized teaching assistants) job security for these workers should be enhanced.

The resolution contains an expansive list of issues for bargaining. In the auto industry, the UAW wants to “bargain aggressively to increase the domestic production of advanced fuel-saving technologies.”  The union also wants to bargain for work and family benefits, including full benefits for domestic partners, and it wants contracts to include language that will allow members to become more active in their communities. It also recognizes the need to eliminate, or at least compress, two-tiered wage rates but will do so gradually.

The resolution also calls for more worker participation in management decisions. We must redouble our effort “to seek and obtain a voice in decision-making at all levels of the workplace,” reads the resolution, which also envisions establishing factory-based workers’ councils that have a say in decisions regarding production and processes.

One thing absent from the resolution is a call for worker militancy. The resolution emphasizes the importance of an engaged and mobilized union membership, but there is only one reference to strikes and that in the context of including language in contracts about the right to strike over outsourcing issues.

Moving strikes and other militant actions to the background and  fore grounding  company/union partnerships may be the pragmatic thing to do now. After all in the last 30 years, we haven’t won many strikes and some have been downright disastrous.

On the other hand, today’s ruling class is in a triumphalist mood and doesn’t seem to be all that interested in taking on  workplace partners. Furthermore, recent moves to deny public workers collective bargaining rights and expand right-to-work-for-less laws shows that part of our ruling class has made lowering wages and benefits its priority, and the other part hasn’t done much to disavow this effort. All of which suggests that any bargaining strategy that emphasizes company/union partnership at the expense of worker militancy may be little more than wishful thinking.

Bahrain workers facing reprisals for general strike

Hundreds of Bahraini workers who participated in a general strike in March in support of the country’s pro-democracy movement have been fired by private employers and public agencies. Hundreds more are facing the same fate as employers begin a wave of punishment aimed at discouraging further worker participation in the movement.

The Christian Science Monitor today reported that so far 16 companies and government agencies have fired 565 workers for absenteeism because they did not come to work during the general strike that lasted from March 13 through March 22.

There is a good chance that the firings have not ended. The International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers said that Bahraini union leaders think that more than 1,000 workers could lose their jobs for participating in the general strike. Bahrain is an island kingdom off the coast of Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf

The strike was called by General Bahraini Federation of Trade Unions (GBFTU), a confederation of 60 Bahraini unions, to protest the crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators, who had occupied the city center of Manama, the nation’s capital, to demand an end to the autocratic rule of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and to discrimination against the nation’s Shia majority.

So far, all of the executive board members of GBFTU have lost their jobs. The president of GBFTU Salman Mahfooz has been summoned for questioning next week by the country’s security forces, the GBFTU headquarters has been closed by the security forces, and workers trying to get to the union headquarters have been blocked from doing so.

Abdul Ghaffar Hassain, president of the union at Bahrain Petroleum (BAPCO) and a member of the GBFTU executive board, was fired for participating in the strike and for urging other workers at the BAPCO plant to join the strike. About 60 percent of the BP workers did not show up for work while that strike was in progress. BAPCO said that it plans to start legal proceedings against Hassain next week.

“These dismissals are nothing less than a ‘political purification’ of the workplace,” said Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation. “This is totally unacceptable and illegal.” The ITUC on its web site said that reprisals like the ones taking place in Bahrain are ” flagrant violation of ILO Convention 111 concerning discrimination at work, which Bahrain has ratified, and of Convention 87 on Freedom of Association which Bahrain is obliged to respect.”

The general strike was called after the Bahraini government brought in foreign security forces from Saudi Arabia to suppress pro-democracy protests similar to those that overthrew dictators in Tunisia and Egypt. About 70 percent of the Bahraini workforce observed the strike, which brought the nation’s economy to its knees.

The GBTFU agreed to call off the general strike at the request of al-Wefaq, the country’s major opposition group that was seeking a dialogue with the government to resolve its grievances. The GBFTU received assurances from the government that there would be no reprisals against those who participated in the strike.

But earlier this week workers began receiving termination notices. On April 3, workers at Aluminum Bahrain (Alba) showed up for work but were stopped from entering the building. They were then lined up and told to swipe their ID cards through a reader. Those whose ID cards were rejected were detained and given notice that they were fired. More than 200 workers at Alba lost their jobs.

Other major employers, including Bahrain Telecommunications, Gulf Air, Bahrain Airport Services, and APM Terminals Bahrain, which operates Khalifa port, have also told workers participating in the strike that they no longer have jobs.

Thirty doctors and nurses at Salmaniya Medical Complex have been sacked and the union representing doctors and nurses has been disbanded by Bahrain’s health ministry. The education ministry disbanded the teachers union and had its president Mahdi Abu Deeb arrested for inciting hatred against the government.

“(These firings and other retaliation) are a political decision,” said Hadi Al Mosawi president of the telecommunication workers union. “It’s symbolic punishment meant to scare others.”

Spirit of Wisconsin alive in Texas

“Texas has won the race to the bottom,” said Texas State Employees Union president Judy Lugo. “But Gov. Rick Perry and Republican lawmakers in the state House of Representatives want to keep racing.” Lugo was speaking to a crowd of 7,000 Texans chanting, “no cuts” at a rally on the steps of the state capitol to protest the $23 billion cuts to the state’s budget that passed out of the state House of Representative last week.

“Right now, Texas ranks last among states in the number of children with health insurance, 44th in high school graduation rates, 49th in per capita spending on Medicaid, and 50th in per capita tax expenditures,” Lugo said. “These vital services that working people rely on will get much worse if the proposed budget cuts go through.”

Last week, the state house voted to adopt HB 1, which seeks to close the state’s $23 billion budget deficits solely by cutting state services. If these cuts become law, they could do irreparable harm to working class Texans.  A recent study by the state’s Legislative Budget Board found that the proposed cuts will eliminate 335,000 jobs and reduce personal income by more than $17 billion. State Senator Kirk Watson speaking at the rally said that the proposed budget cuts are “an evolving catastrophe.”

Scott Chase, president of the South Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce, which represents small businesses in this South Dallas community, told the crowd that the proposed budget cuts are “bad for business,” which is why his group was the first Chamber of Commerce in the state call on legislators to take a balanced approach to closing the budget gap rather than relying solely on cuts. Chase urged lawmakers to use all of the state’s $9 billion Rainy Day fund to help close the budget gap.

HB 1 would reduce funding for public education by $4.7 billion, resulting in mass layoffs for teachers and other education workers and increased class sizes. “We don’t want our children packed into overcrowded classrooms and we don’t want our state’s economy undermined by pink slips for our teachers and public employees,” Watson said.

HB 1 would also reduce funding for the states health and human service agencies by $10.8 billion. Medicaid will bear the brunt of these cuts. HB 1 cuts $4.7 billion from the Medicaid budget and is $13.7 billion shy of the amount requested by the state Health and Human Services Commission to fund projected growth in the Medicaid caseload.

“We’re already getting calls from hospitals telling us that nursing homes won’t take back patients that they sent to the hospitals because the nursing homes don’t think that there will be enough Medicaid to take care of their patients because of the budget cuts,” said Dalia Martinez, a TSEU member in the audience who works at the Department of Family Protective Services’ Statewide Intake Center, a hotline for reports of abuse to the elderly and children.

The rally against the budget cuts was organized by TSEU and Texas Forward, a coalition of 50 organizations that advocate for better public services. The rally drew a wide range of working-class people. Community organizations like the Texas Organizing Project, a grassroots community group of low- and moderate-income people with 10,000 members in cities all over the state, and Rio Grande Valley Interfaith, COPS of San Antonio, TMO of Houston, and Austin Interfaith, all of which are Industrial Area Foundation groups, sent large contingents.

Union members  from all over the state and from a wide variety of industries were the backbone of the rally.  About a dozen telephone locals of the Communication Workers of America sent members to support their sister public sector union, TSEU. Speaking for the CWA, Richard Kneupper, assistant to the vice-president for District 6 told the state workers and teachers in the audience that “the work you do is important; without public workers, Texas doesn’t work.”

Teamster Local 749 in Dallas filled six bus loads of people to come to rally. Unions representing steelworkers, autoworkers, machinists, sheet metal workers, bus drivers, railroad workers, and many other private sector unions sent large contingents of members to support Texas’ public workers. There were also members from AFSCME and the teachers’ unions on hand to offer their support.

Speaking for the labor movement, Becky Moeller, president of the state AFL-CIO  said, “When I have a hole in my roof, I don’t  burn off the roof to fix the hole; that’s what HB 1 does. HB 1 will throw people out of nursing homes; it will make it harder for people to get health care; it will cause people to get sick and die. It will also cause hundreds of thousands of hard-working Texans to lose their jobs, and to keep running, the machinery of Texas depends on jobs. We in the labor movement will do everything we can for as long as it take to defeat HB 1.We’re united like never before. WE ARE ONE.”

We Are One actions kick off in coal fields of Pennsylvania

“You’d better be standing up for the union,” said Margaret Starkey at a We Are One rally in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania. “Because if they get rid of the unions, you’ll be working for next to nothing.” The rally, held Friday, April 1, kicked off a week of action by unions across the country aimed at mobilizing members and supporters to fight back against anti-worker attacks by right-wing politicians and corporate USA.

The rally in Waynesboro drew 5,000 coal miners and their supporters from West Virginia, Ohio, and Virginia. They marched in freezing rain to declare that they are ready to resist attacks like the ones in Wisconsin and Ohio that robbed public sector employees of their right to collective bargaining.

“I’ve got news for you,” said Cecil Roberts president of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA). “Today it’s the public sector employees. Tomorrow it’s the steelworkers! Tomorrow it’s the autoworkers! Tomorrow it’s the coal miners!”

The UMWA is about to open negotiations for a national contract with coal mine owners. The present contract expires December 31. The miners at the march and rally wore camouflage to emphasize their readiness to fight to protect union rights for all workers and to win a good contract that protects wages and benefits and ensures that mine safety isn’t an afterthought.

Roberts said that April 5 marks the anniversary of the deaths of 29 coal miners resulting from an explosion at the non-union Upper Big Branch mine owned by Massey Energy in West Virginia. “One year ago today, 29 miners were alive and well  in southern West Virginia,” Roberts said.” They had a meal with their family, gave a loved one a kiss, shared a laugh with a friend. Today, they are gone, ripped from the arms of their families by a disaster that did not have to happen. Massey Energy operated the Upper Big Branch and other mines with an attitude bordering on contempt for mine safety and health laws.”

At the Waynesboro march and rally, people carried signs that read, “We Are One … This Fight Is Just Starting.” Others carried signs in support of Wisconsin and Ohio public sector workers like the ones that read, “Stand with Wisconsin” and “No to SB 5,” the Ohio law that severely limits Ohio public sector workers’ collective bargaining rights.

The Waynesboro rally kicked off a week of action across the country aimed at mobilizing workers to fight back against the right-wing agenda of breaking unions, lowering the working class’ standard of living, and gutting public services. Most of the We Are One actions were held on April 4. In all, about 1,200 actions were planned including the April 6 Save State Services, Support State Workers march and rally in Austin, Texas sponsored by a coalition of public service advocates including the Texas State Employees Union CWA Local 6186.

April 4 was also the 43rd anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, who was gunned down in Memphis while supporting a strike by public sector workers in the city’s sanitation department. That Memphis strike was as much for dignity and respect for African-Americans as it was about decent wages and benefits.

Roberts recalled the speech that Dr. King gave in Memphis before he was killed. Dr. King said “‘How long before freedom comes? How long?’ Not long!'” Roberts said. “(I say),”How long before working class people stand up to these rich millionaires? How long? Not long!”

Wisconsin anti-worker law put on hold; first recall petition filed

A Wisconsin Circuit Court Judge on Friday extended a temporary restraining order that halts implementation of Act 10, the anti-worker bill passed in March by the Wisconsin Legislature. Act 10 deprives public employees of their right to collective bargaining and cuts their take home pay by raising employee contributions for health care and pensions. In related news, the first recall petition was filed Friday after union activists and their supporters gathered more than 22,000 on a petition to recall state Senator Dan Kapanke of La Crosse, an Act 10 supporter.

Judge Maryann Sumi on Friday ruled that the temporary restraining order that she issued on March 18 would remain in effect until she has had time to decide whether the state senate violated state open meeting laws when it passed Act 10 in March. Sumi ordered both sides to submit briefs on the matter and set a deadline of May 23 for submissions.

The day before, Sumi ruled that Act 10 was not in effect even though the state Legislative Reference Bureau had published the bill. Judge Sumi on March 18 had instructed Secretary of State Doug La Follette not to publish Act 10 until she had time to hear arguments on both sides of a civil action filed by Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne, who argued that senators had violated the open meeting law because they didn’t give sufficient notice prior to a hearing on the bill.

La Follette complied with the order, but a few days later Wisconsin’s Legislative Reference Bureau published Act 10, and Republican state leaders, including Gov. Scott Walker, said that they would ignore Judge Sumi’s ruling and begin implementing Act 10. But after Thursday’s ruling Gov. Walker said that he would obey the judge’s ruling.

Act 10 among other things prohibits the state’s public employees from bargaining collectively on health and pension benefits, working conditions, and disciplinary procedures. It only allows bargaining on wages, but restricts wage increases to increases in the cost of living.

Furthermore, the act discontinues the state’s collection of union dues, a common practices of employers whose workers belong to unions, and requires unions to be recertified every year. Act 10 also increases employee contributions for health and pension benefits, which in effect reduces worker take home pay by an average of 8 percent.

Seven unions on Wednesday asked the judge to let them file an amicus, or friend of the cour, brief in the matter. The request was made by the Wisconsin Education Association Council, AFSCME District 24, AFSCME District 40, AFSCME District 48, American Federation of Teachers-Wisconsin, SEIU-Healthcare Wisconsin, and the Wisconsin AFL-CIO.

In their pleadings, the unions said that “Given the impact of the Act on their collective bargaining rights, thousands of the unions’ members sought to participate in the legislative process regarding the passage of the Act, but were denied the right to do so by the alleged constitutional and open meetings law violations.”

On Friday, representatives of the Democratic party in La Crosse filed a petition to recall Sen. Kapanke. The petition contained 22,661 signatures collected by volunteers without the help paid canvassers. The 22,000 plus signatures, substantially more than the 15,588 signatures required to force a recall election, were gathered in about three weeks, much less time than the 60-day time limit.

The state’s Government Accountability Board now has 31 days to determine whether there are enough valid signatures on the petition to force a new election. If there are sufficient signatures, the recall election would take place this summer.

Union activists played a key role in gathering the signatures. Public sector unions like SEIU and AFSCME mobilized members to participate in the recall effort. Private sector unions like the United Steelworkers also mobilized members.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Friday that organizers of the recall effort against Sen. Randy Hooper of Fond du Lucwere close to collecting the number of signatures they want on the recall petition, which could lead to a second filing soon. 

Unions and their supporters have identified eight Republican senators, who voted for Act 10, as targets for recall campaign. Work to collect signatures on a recall petition  is underway in all their districts.

Shared? Sacrifice

Last week, I visited the office of  my state representative Paul Workman. I was part of a delegation of Texas State Employees Union members who are retired state employees. It was our mini-lobby day during which we urged lawmakers to preserve state services against budget cuts and support state workers who provide these services. We also talked about the problems that retired state workers are facing.

We spoke to a young man on Rep. Workman’s staff, who seemed a bit put out about having to talk to us. We asked if the representative would support a cost-of-living raise for retired state employees, who haven’t had a raise since 2001. One of my union brothers pointed out that nearly 60 percent of retired state employees in Texas receive $1500 or less a month for their pension, which makes some  eligible for food stamps.

The young aide said that given the state’s current budget crisis a pension raise wouldn’t be something that the representative could support and added that we all need to make “shared sacrifices” to close the budget gap.

“Shared sacrifice” has become a common and oft-repeated phrase in today’s political discourse. Right-wing politicians and pundits seem to be especially fond of it, but Democrats, including President Obama, also like the sound of the phrase.

But it seems like the only ones being asked to share the sacrifices are working people like my granddaughter’s excellent teacher, who is scheduled to be laid off at the end of the school year because the state is cutting back funding for local schools. She will be joined by 180,000 other education workers and state employees who will lose their jobs as part of the shared sacrifice that Gov. Rick Perry and other state leaders are expecting from Texas public workers.

Governors in other states are also seeking shared sacrifices from public employees and people who use public services. In Maine, Gov. Paul LePage wants state employees and teachers to pay an extra 2 percent contribution for their pension plan. The increase will raise employee pension contributions from 7.65 percent of salary to 9.65 percent. But the increase won’t be used to shore up employees’ pension fund; instead, some of the money will used to help finance a $203 million tax cut, about half of which will go to 10 percent of Maine’s richest residents.

You might think that since Gov. LePage works for the state he too would share in the sacrifice and raise his contribution to the pension fund. But you would be wrong. Gov. Le Page chose instead to exempt himself from pension contribution increases.

In Michigan, Gov. Rick Snyder also seeks to close the state’s budget deficit through shared sacrifice. Public employees have been asked to take $180 million worth of benefit cuts and other concessions as part of their shared sacrifice. Working people are being told that they will have to give up personal income tax credits as part of their shared sacrifice. Those living on pensions will have to pay state income taxes on their pensions as part of their shared sacrifices. Gov. Snyder, a millionaire business man and former head of Gateway, Inc., will reduce his salary to $1 a year as part of his shared sacrifice. As for businesses, their shared sacrifice will take the form of a $1.8 billion tax cut paid for by the Michigan working class.

Shared sacrifice is also a common theme in Washington. The argument is that workers need to accept cuts to Social Security and Medicare as part of our shared sacrifice to reduce the federal government’s deficit. But apparently Wall Street, which is primarily responsible for the financial crisis that caused the debt to balloon, is not expected to share in the sacrifice. A small tax on highly speculative trades could generate billions of dollars in revenue, but apparently this option, known as the Tobin tax, is off the table for now and for any future discussions about how to reduce the deficit.

Back in Texas, 41 clerical workers at the ExxonMobil oil refinery in Baytown have been told that they must make sacrifices, so that the giant oil corporation can keep its competitive edge.  The workers, all of whom are women who handle functions like payroll, auditing, and accounts receivable/payable, would like a raise.

Their union, United Steelworkers 13-2001, has been in negotiations with company for a new contract. A couple of weeks ago, ExxonMobil, which made $30.5 billion in profits in 2001, made its best and final offer–a zero wage increase for the first year of the contract and nothing but a promise to discuss the possibility of a raise in the second and third year of the contract.

According to ExxonMobil it couldn’t give the clerical workers a raise because doing so would put them at competitive disadvantage with other giant oil companies.