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Review: Blood Runs Coal Tells the Notorious Assassination of a Mine Workers Union Reformer

By John Lepley - Labor Notes, January 20, 2021

Most people are familiar with the politically motivated killings that punctuated the 1960s. From Medgar Evers to Robert Kennedy, bloodshed galvanized the antiwar, civil rights, and student movements, but eroded trust in government and higher education. The labor movement was no exception to the rule.

On New Year’s Eve 1969 in Clarksville, Pennsylvania, three gunmen shot Mine Workers (UMWA) leader Joseph “Jock” Yablonksi, his wife Margaret, and their daughter Charlotte as they slept. The killers were petty criminals from Cleveland, one of whom had ties to the union by marriage.

This horrific moment is the subject of Mark Bradley’s book Blood Runs Coal: The Yablonski Murders and the Battle for the United Mine Workers of America.

Jock Yablonski is a tragic figure in the classical sense: a good person killed while trying to do the right thing. Bradley tells the story well—although readers of Labor Notes will wince at his frequent references to “union bosses” and “big labor,” and his focus on attorneys that overshadows miners.

Why Unions Are the Key to Passing a Green New Deal

By Dharna Noor - Gizomodo, September 25, 2020

There’s a persistent conservative myth that the clean energy transition must come at the expense of employment. Nothing could be further from the truth, though. The Congressional resolution on a Green New Deal, introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey last February, includes a proposal guarantee employment to all those who want it. And increasingly, climate activists are focusing on the potential to create millions of good jobs in clean energy.

These pro-worker proposals—and the knowledge that it will take an economy-wide effort to kick fossil fuels and the curb to avert climate catastrophe—have won the platform support from swaths of the labor movement. Yet some powerful unions still oppose the sweeping proposal. The president of the AFL-CIO—the largest federation of unions in the U.S.—criticized the Green New Deal resolution, and heads of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, the United Mine Workers of America, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers have outright opposed it. That poses a political roadblock to achieving the necessary transformation of the U.S. economy. 

“The Green New Deal movement needs broader support from the labor movement to be successful,” Joe Uehlein, founding president of the Labor Network for Sustainability and former secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO’s Industrial Union Department, said. “As long as labor isn’t a central player in this movement, they will they have the power to block pretty much anything. on Capitol Hill. They contribute in electoral campaigns. They’re a very powerful force.”

Does working from home weaken the working class?

By Blue Bird Beta - New Syndicalist, September 16, 2020

This piece came about from conversations within IWW Cymru, and we hope that it kicks off discussion in the wider labour movement. A quick note, while many forms of labour take place at home, such as unemployed and unpaid caring, in this piece “work from home” is used to refer to employed and “self-employed” workers who carry out computer-based work, or former office work.

For many years, workers have been told that flexible hours and working from home are impossible demands. But as companies have been forced to adapt to lock-down this perceived common sense has been shattered. This presents a range of possibilities and opportunities for workers who seek more autonomy in how and where they work.

However, trade unions have yet to examine the enormous challenges that arise when people work from home. Despite surface appearances, it is not quite as liberating as we might think. If not organised by and for the workers, working from home could actually make our conditions worse. This mode of work challenges our typical methods of workplace organising, and it could weaken the working class in some fundamental ways.

Why Every Job in the Renewable Energy Industry Must Be a Union Job

By Mindy Isser - In These Times, September 3, 2020

The renewable energy industry in the United States is booming. Prior to the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has put millions out of work, over 3 million people worked in clean energy — far more than those who worked in the fossil fuel industry. And though the decline of fossil fuel jobs appears unstoppable, the unions that represent those workers are very protective of their members’ jobs. Similarly, they’ve also been resistant to legislation like the Green New Deal, which would create more green jobs while also transitioning away from work in extractive industries. Environmental activists believe that green jobs are the future — for both workers and our world — but unionization rates in the renewable energy industry are extremely low. In order to get unions on board with green jobs, the environmental movement will have to fight for those jobs to be union. And unions will have to loosen their grip on fossil fuels in an effort to embrace renewables.

Fossil fuel jobs can pay well (both oil rig and refinery workers can take home around $100,000 per year), but due to automation and decreased demand, the number of jobs is shrinking. And so are the unions that represent them. At its peak, the United Mine Workers of America boasted 800,000 members, but hundreds of thousands of workers have been laid off in the last few decades. Now UMWA is mostly a retirees’ organization and only organizes a few thousand workers in the manufacturing and health care industries, as well as workers across the Navajo Nation. When a union like UMWA hemorrhages members, many see it as an insular problem that doesn’t concern anybody else — environmentalists may even celebrate the closure of mines and refineries, potentially paying lip service to lost jobs, without doing much to create new ones.

“An injury to one is an injury to all” is not just a slogan in the labor movement because it sounds good, but because it’s true. When union density is low and unions are weak, the jobs that are created are more likely to have low pay, lack benefits, and be unsafe. And because union density in this country is already so low (33.6% in the public sector, 6.2% in the private), every time an employer of union labor outsources or shuts down, it affects not only those newly unemployed workers, but all workers, union and not. When oil refineries and other fossil fuel employers close their doors, union members and other workers lose their jobs. And while that may feel like a win for environmentalists, it’s also a loss for all working people, even those concerned about climate change. Unions are one of the only ways working people have power in this country — without them, there will be very few organizations equipped to fight for the programs and services we deserve, including ones that are tasked with fighting climate change. These kinds of contradictions have caused tension between both movements, and corroded trust between them. And while there have been some inroads made in the last few years — including unions endorsing the Green New Deal — there’s still a long way to go until unions eschew fossil fuels.

Young Workers and Just Transition

By Staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, August 26, 2020

In case you missed it, on Wednesday, Aug. 26, at 8 p.m. Eastern, the Labor Network for Sustainability and friends hosted "Young Workers and Just Transition," the fourth in a series of webinars as part of the Just Transition Listening Project.

Moderated by Climate Justice Alliance Policy Coordinator, Anthony Rogers -Wright, the panel featured young workers in the labor and climate justice movements: 

  • Celina Barron, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 11 RENEW
  • Eboni Preston, Greening for Youth; Georgia NAACP, Labor and Industry Chair
  • Judy Twedt, United Auto Workers, Local 4121
  • Ryan Pollock, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 520
  • Yolian Ogbu, This is Zero Hour

Watch this event now to glean insight into who the challenges these young movement leaders face when initiating dialog around transitioning to a sustainable economy that offers equitable and just opportunities for future workers. Also learn about LNS' Young Worker Project and to hear what's next:

Special thank you to the following on the Labor Network for Sustainability team: Joshua Dedmond, Veronica Wilson and Leo Blain; and Vivian Price, Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies, California State University Dominguez Hills for their organizing and technical support before and during this important conversation.

The Green New Deal Just Won a Major Union Endorsement. What's Stopping the AFL-CIO?

By Mindy Isser - In These Times, August 12, 2020

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the second largest teachers’ union in the country, passed a resolution in support of the Green New Deal at its biennial convention at the end of July. The Green New Deal, federal legislation introduced in early 2019, would create a living-wage job for anyone who wants one and implement 100% clean and renewable energy by 2030. The endorsement is huge news for both Green New Deal advocates and the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the United States. The AFT’s endorsement could be a sign of environmental activists’ growing power, and it sends a message to the AFL-CIO that it, too, has an opportunity to get on board with the Green New Deal. But working people’s conditions are changing rapidly, and with nearly half of all workers in the country without a job, the leaders of the AFL-CIO and its member unions may choose to knuckle down on what they perceive to be bread-and-butter issues, instead of fighting more broadly and boldly beyond immediate workplace concerns.

The AFT endorsement follows that of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA-CWA), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), National Nurses United (NNU) and the Maine AFL-CIO — all of which declared their support for the Green New Deal in 2019. And while local unions have passed resolutions in support of the Green New Deal, the AFT, NNU and AFA-CWA are the only national unions in the AFL-CIO to endorse the Green New Deal. (SEIU is affiliated with another labor federation, Change to Win.)

Yet the AFL-CIO has remained resistant. When Sen. Ed Markey (D‑Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D‑N.Y.) introduced the Green New Deal legislation in February 2019, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told reporters, ​“We need to address the environment. We need to do it quickly.” But he also noted that, ​“We need to do it in a way that doesn’t put these communities behind, and leave segments of the economy behind. So we’ll be working to make sure that we do two things: That by fixing one thing we don’t create a problem somewhere else.”

Where Trumka has been skeptical and resistant, some union leaders in the federation have been more forceful in their opposition; many unions with members who work in extractive industries, including the building trades, slammed the legislation. Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), and Lonnie Stephenson, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, wrote a letter to both Markey and Ocasio-Cortez on behalf of the AFL-CIO Energy Committee that said, ​“We will not accept proposals that could cause immediate harm to millions of our members and their families. We will not stand by and allow threats to our members’ jobs and their families’ standard of living go unanswered.”

Southern Struggles in Transit During Covid-19: Safe Jobs Save Lives Campaign

By various - Southern Workers Assembly, July 12, 2020

Transit workers, particularly in the public sector, have been on the frontlines of struggle in the midst of both the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter uprising. Numerous successful job actions, work stoppages, and strikes have been held by workers in Birmingham, Alabama; Greensboro, North Carolina; and Richmond, Virginia, among many other cities throughout the South and the U.S.

These struggles have largely elevated health and safety demands for adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), better sanitizing of buses and transit centers, and social distancing - for transit workers and passengers alike - alongside calls for hazard pay. Many frontline essential workers rely on public transit to get to and from their jobs, a reality that has been reflected in many of the fights that have broken out in transit during this period.

Because of the failure of reactionary state governments that have capitulated to the demands of capital and other right-wing forces who have called for a quick return to business as usual, alongside the woefully inadequate for profit healthcare system in this country, COVID-19 cases are once again spiking across the U.S. and particularly in the South.

In April, the Southern Workers Assembly launched the Safe Jobs Save Lives campaign to advance the organization of workers at the workplace and to build solidarity formations such as local workers assemblies, particularly in light of the many struggles breaking out in response to the crisis and a system that values profit above all else. The SWA views the development of this type of organization as critical to confront the two pandemics facing workers, particularly Black workers - COVID-19 and racism.

What can all workers learn from the struggles waged by transit workers during this period? How can we continue to build a regional Safe Jobs Save Lives campaign, alongside the formation of workers unity council and workers assemblies? Join us for the discussion that will take up these and other questions.

On The Front Lines: Climate Change Threatens the Health of America's Workers

Rebuilding our Economy for All: BC Federation of Labour Submission to the Economic Recovery Taskforce

By staff International BC Labor Federation, May 2020

The economic shutdown resulting from this pandemic is historically unprecedented. Never before have we collectively decided to close entire sectors of our economy, and dramatically curtail others in service of a greater good – our collective health. BC has weathered both this pandemic and the ensuing lockdown in large part because of the sacrifices and courage of working people. They have continued to do the important work of treating the sick, providing vital public services, and ensuring we can continue to have the necessities of life. COVID-19 has revealed that essential portions of BC’s economy depend on frontline workers.

But as public respect for the value of their work has grown, so has our recognition of the many gaps this pandemic has exposed. For example, we better understand the paramount importance of workplace safety and standards, the need for robust public services and social supports, and our collective responsibility to address the continued marginalization of vulnerable populations.

We have the chance as our economy emerges from hibernation to address those gaps, and to do much more. The choices we make in the coming weeks and months can help us build an economy – and a province – equipped to address climate change while prospering along the way. Our choices must acknowledge and genuinely embrace reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and communities. Our choices must secure opportunities and equity in every community of this province.

There will always be voices who suggest we move in the opposite direction: that the public sector should retreat from the economy and the community; that working people who were this province’s lifeline revert back to less protections, poorer working conditions and lower wages; that vulnerable populations remain vulnerable; that we should abandon years of progress toward reconciliation. They will argue that all of this will make business more competitive and generate jobs.

But even in an unprecedented situation, we can learn from history. And history tells us again and again – from the Great Depression through countless recessions and downturns – that ’austerity‘ only serves to freeze out working people and the most vulnerable, enriching a handful of already-wealthy people while hollowing our communities and leaving most of us to fend for ourselves. Austerity, in fact, is why we have many of the gaps this pandemic has so glaringly exposed in the first place. We also know that this pandemic will not impact people or communities equally, and thus our response must work to decrease these inequities, rather than exacerbate them. We can’t cut and slash our way back to where we were before – let alone to a better, fairer, more sustainable and more prosperous future.

Read the text (PDF).

Understanding and Responding to the Changing Nature of Work in the Bay Area

By various - ReWork the Bay, Working Partnerships USA, and Jobs with Justice San Francisco, May 2020

New technologies, accelerating climate change, shifting migration patterns, changes in economic and political norms, and a host of other trends are likely to impact—and indeed already are impacting—key features of work and employment, including management relationships, the types of jobs available, compensation patterns, and other issues that shape the day-to-day lives of working people.

This report presents a framework for understanding why and how work is changing in the San Francisco Bay Area. It provides a scan of strategies that Bay Area workers, communities, businesses, educators and elected leaders are deploying to address changes, and offers a suggested rubric for evaluating the potential effects of such strategies.

In the Bay Area and Silicon Valley, a global epicenter of innovation and extraordinary wealth, low-income communities and communities of color struggle with crises in housing and economic stability, and climate change makes itself felt through increasingly destructive wildfires. If Bay Area funders, advocates, policymakers, and worker organizations ever hope to realize quality, empowered jobs for all, we must be able to articulate how work is changing and identify the systemic interventions that will push change to benefit working people.

Read the text (PDF).

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