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Solidarity Unionism

Concrete Examples of Non-Labor Board Organizing

By Nick Walter - Organizing Work, September 27, 2018

Nick Walter describes several examples of concessions-winning labor organizing that does not rely on the labor relations board model of filing for an election and bargaining a contract. The examples span transportation, logistics, food service and retail, in Canada and the U.S. The author is candid about both successes and failures.

Here’s How a Supreme Court Decision To Gut Public Sector Unions Could Backfire on the Right

By Shaun Richman - In These Times, February 8, 2017

Janus v. AFSCME, which begins oral arguments on February 26, is the culmination of a years-long right-wing plot to financially devastate public-sector unions. And a Supreme Court ruling against AFSCME would indeed have that effect, by banning public-sector unions from collecting mandatory fees from the workers they are compelled to represent. But if the Court embraces the weaponization of free speech as a cudgel to beat up on unions, the possibility of other, unintended consequences is beginning to excite some union advocates and stir fear among conservative constitutional scholars.

The ruling could both wildly increase workers’ bargaining power and clog the lower courts with First Amendment challenges to routine uses of taxpayer money. At a minimum, it has the potential to turn every public sector workplace dispute into a constitutional controversy—and one Midwest local is already laying plans to maximize the chaos this could cause.

“There’s No Trick”

By Jamie McCallum - Jacobin, January 22, 2018

“We are worried, but we are ready to fight,” says Barbara Madeloni, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA). “We are more ready than ever, actually.”

With 110,000 members, the MTA is the largest union in the state, a status that could soon change once the Supreme Court hands down its anticipated ruling against unions in Janus v. AFSCME [the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees]. That decision would allow public-sector workers — some of whom are currently mandated to pay “fair share” fees if they opt out of full-fledged union membership — to receive union representation and benefits without paying anything. This would expand right-to-work conditions to the entire public sector in the United States, a crisis even for a movement that is accustomed to crises. Say the word “Janus” to union organizers and they say things like “devastating,” “catastrophic,” “cataclysmic,” and “fucked.” And “organize.”

Two years ago, unions escaped with a victory in a similar case, Friederichs v. California Teachers Association, only because the timely death of Justice Antonin Scalia resulted in a 4-4 decision. But no one is counting on a favorable court ruling this time around; hence, a call to arms.

New Forms of Worker Organization: The Syndicalist and Autonomist Restoration of Class Struggle Unionism

By Henry Laws - LibCom.Org, January 19, 2018

This is the first book to compile workers’ struggles on a global basis, examining the formation and expansion of radical unions in the Global South and Global North.

Unions, Trade and Nationalism

By Tom Crofton - CounterPunch, October 31, 2017

A recent statement from the AFL-CIO regarding a rejection of NAFTA and other corporate/globalist trade agreements unfortunately only skims the surface of the issues working people face.

As the dominate union leadership in America, the AFL-CIO and its member unions need to take a deeper look at their historical behavior, and their role in enabling the evolution of the corporate state with its current right wing/anti labor swing.

American unions never were interested in taking responsibility for production. American unions developed to confront management but not to replace it. The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) was the only organization that tried to organize horizontally across all sectors to create a “new world in the shell of the old”. The vision of workers building a society where prosperity was available to all and artificial class barriers would dissolve was never a popular theme in American labor. We have always felt that we needed the owners, agreeing at least subliminally that capital has more power than basic human needs; that human weakness, pettiness, and laziness would wreck any sort of money-free effort to exchange services; that hierarchies of wages and benefits were natural and that those at the bottom were there due to their own fault.

The evolution of trade unions cemented in place these hierarchies, leaving the least skilled workers unorganized until the CIO attempted to fill the need while organizing mine workers and African Americans during the Great depression. The following era of war-induced prosperity, and the ongoing economic expansion during the Cold War, created a phony, unsustainable sense of American prosperity for a growing middle class, where 5% of the world’s population consumed 80% of its resources. The AFL-CIO was active in this period wrecking third world union organizing attempts as a front for a CIA run, right-wing sponsored, American style Imperialism. On the home front, a rising middle class of workers were happy to build low quality products, for good wages, as the disposable society offered an endless supply of the “latest” consumer goods. Conspicuous consumption and keeping up with the Jones’s did not include the working poor or the third world.

Democratic Ownership and the Pluralist Commonwealth: The Creation of an Idea Whose Time Has Come

By Gar Alperovitz - Truthout, September 19, 2017; excerpt from Welcome to the Revolution: Universalizing Resistance for Social Justice and Democracy in Perilous Times by Charles Derber (NY: Routledge, 2017)

The following piece by Gar Alperovitz forms one of the guest "interludes" in Welcome to the Revolution.

On September 19, 1977 -- a day remembered locally as "Black Monday" -- the corporate owners of the Campbell Works in Youngstown, Ohio, abruptly shuttered the giant steel mill's doors. Instantly, 5,000 workers lost their jobs, their livelihoods, and their futures. The mill's closing was national news, one of the first major blows in the era of deindustrialization, offshoring, and "free trade" that has since made mass layoffs commonplace.

What was not commonplace was the response of the steelworkers and the local community. "You feel the whole area is doomed somehow," Donna Slaven, the wife of a laid-off worker, told reporters at the time. "If this can happen to us, there is not a secure union job in the country." Rather than leave the fate of their community in the hands of corporate executives in New York, New Orleans, and Washington DC, the workers began to organize and resist. And they joined with a new coalition of priests, ministers, and rabbis -- headed by a Catholic and an Episcopal bishop -- to build support for a new way forward. I was called in to head up an economic team to help.

Working together, the steelworkers, the ecumenical coalition, and our team put forward a bold proposal to re-open the mill under worker–community ownership. With support from a creative Carter Administration official, a study was financed that demonstrated the feasibility of a plan to put the old mill back into operation with the latest modern technology. A worker–community-owned facility could operate efficiently, re-employ 4,000 people, and generate a profit.

Peace activist, civil rights advocate, and labor lawyer Staughton Lynd worked with me and the coalition to develop the transition effort. Lynd subsequently wrote:

What was new in the Youngstown venture was the notion that workers and community residents could own and operate a steel mill. ... Employee–community ownership of the Campbell Works would have challenged the capitalist system on the terrain of the large-scale enterprises in basic industries. ... This was the ownership model the workers themselves chose.

The coalition knew that their only chance against big steel was to build a popul

Rebuilding Radical Unionism: An Organiser’s Notes

By an Anonymous Organiser - Novara, January 31, 2016

Britain is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Still, a substantial minority of the workforce works for less than what it takes to get by. A much larger part of the workforce gets by in a haze of exhaustion, alienation and frustration, with little recourse. For the unemployed, disabled, ill or precariously employed, the sorrows of work are replaced or compounded by the malicious bureaucratic violence of the Department for Work and Pensions. For the retired, pensions are among the worst in the developed world and social care is a disgrace.

Chronic low expectations, low levels of worker solidarity and enfeebled official union structures – all the consequences of very deliberate legislative and executive action by successive governments – make it difficult to see a way out.

Still, a functional, scaleable, radical, rooted trade unionism capable of transcending bureaucratic hindrance and legal repression is a necessary starting point for a freer, more democratic, more equitable society.

With looming, sweeping automation threatening the movement’s last vestiges of strength in the industrial sectors – on the railways, and in some parts of distribution – the task of building this trade unionism is urgent.

Extensive automation achieved purely on the terms of capital will eradicate what’s left of the unionised working class, hastening the arrival of a purgatorial post-democracy. The absence of any industrial organisation with any means of obstructing the means of production and distribution in moments of conflict will lead to the total exclusion of the working class from civil society and political discourse. Protests and mobilisations are one thing – good unions secure and enforce the gains of the class in a permanent, scaleable way.

To unpack some of the obstacles to this work in the UK today, we need to approach this from the workplace and national level. We need to interrogate which demands, tactics and strategies could – just could – begin to rebuild the political and industrial power of workers and the economically excluded. And such interrogation is a matter of urgency: the Conservatives’ trade union bill – a bill that will make useful trade unionism close to impossible within the law – looks set to pass through parliament with little more than a whimper of labour movement opposition.

Can “solidarity unionism” save the labor movement?

By Eric Dirnbach - Waging Nonviolence, November 4, 2015

The debate on how to revive the troubled U.S. labor movement has been around for decades. Labor activists generally believe that much greater rank-and-file democracy and workplace militancy is the key to labor renewal. However, an essential perspective that is usually missing from the conversation is well represented by Staughton Lynd’s “Solidarity Unionism: Rebuilding the Labor Movement from Below,” which was first published in 1992 and has been recently reissued.

Lynd is a legendary progressive lawyer and activist from Youngstown, Ohio. He is the coauthor with his wife Alice Lynd of the classic “Rank and File: Personal Histories by Working-Class Organizers,” a collection of oral histories of militant union organizers, which informs much of the framework of “Solidarity Unionism.” At around 100 pages, the book reads more like a summary of his organizing philosophy, and many readers will come away wanting a more extensive discussion. It should be read along with several other recent books which make similar arguments: Stanley Aronowitz’s “The Death and Life of American Labor: Toward a New Workers’ Movement,” and “New Forms of Worker Organization: The Syndicalist and Autonomist Restoration of Class-Struggle Unionism,” edited by Immanuel Ness, who also provided the introduction for “Solidarity Unionism.”

Lynd argues for a rethinking of the assumptions of the labor movement and for a revived version of labor organizing that was more prominent in the pre-New Deal era that he calls “solidarity unionism.” What may surprise most labor-oriented readers is that central to this kind of unionism is the absence of a contract between the union and the employer.

Isn’t the whole point of forming a union to get a written collective bargaining agreement? Lynd doesn’t think so and he argues that workers fighting together with direct action on the job to make improvements in the workplace do not need a contract and may be hurt by having one. He is critical of the “management rights” and “no-strike” clauses that are standard in almost all union contracts. He believes they reduce the power of workers to influence major decisions in how the workplace is run and to solve their problems at work immediately as they arise. Contracts tend to remove agency from the workers and place it in the hands of union staff who typically bargain and process grievances while the members may be uninvolved and cynical. Lynd is also skeptical of a union’s exclusive representation of all workers in the workplace and automatic dues check-off, preferring for workers to actively join the union and pay dues because they want to.

Lynd’s view of the prevailing “contract unionism” differs from standard labor history, which considers the 1935 National Labor Relations Act, or NLRA, labor reforms as a progressive advance for workers. In the mainstream view, workers organizing, with the support of President Roosevelt, finally won full government enforcement for the right to organize and bargain collectively. In exercising this right, unions typically hold workplace elections and then negotiate contracts with employers that set the conditions of employment and also guarantee labor peace (no strike/no lockout) for the term of the contract. This industrial relations framework led the way for millions of workers to organize and improve their wages and working conditions. This “class compromise” held for several decades until employers changed their mind and increased their opposition to unionization again.

Life Under Austerity

By Erik Forman & Eleni Eleftherios - Jacobin, July 12, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Last Sunday, Greeks sent a resounding “no” to the politics of austerity in a historic referendum. In the end, 61% of the country’s voters cast their ballot against the creditors’ proposed austerity deal, and 39% voted yes, with turnout of eligible voters at 62% (3.5 million people in a nation of 11 million). But before the week was over, in a seeming about-face, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had proposed a new austerity package that included minimal debt relief.

What will happen next remains unclear — will the European “institutions,” so intent on making an example of Greece, dismiss the deal as insufficiently brutal? — but the deadly economic conditions the Greek people have endured seem set to continue.

So how have the last five years of austerity transformed the everyday life of the Greek working class? How do Greece’s working poor perceive their reality and the historical possibilities that lie immanent within it? What role could workers and their unions play in the rocky road ahead, as euros vanish from the banks and Greece descends into ongoing economic dysfunction? How do workers view the possibility of Greece exiting the eurozone?

To answer these questions, Erik Forman interviewed Eleni Eleftherios, a fast-food worker in Thessaloniki, Greece, in the run-up to last week’s referendum. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Toronto is now home to world's first harm-reduction workers' union

By Ella Bedard - Rabble.ca, December 8, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Toronto is home to the world's first ever harm-reduction workers' union: THRWU.

On November 11, workers at South Riverdale and Central Toronto Community health centres told their employers that they had joined the Toronto Harm Reduction Workers Union (THRWU) and demanded recognition.

With 50 members and counting, the union represents a wide range of professions including HIV/AIDS workers, workers involved in the distribution of safe usage tools, overdose prevention workers, peer workers, Hepatitis C workers, and nurses -- to name only a few.

While some THRWU members work in paid positions, others work as volunteers or are unemployed. 

Foregoing Labour Board certification and a conventional collective bargaining process, the THRWU is developing a distinct organizing model.

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