Media silence weakens labor's cause

When News Hits heard about the melee at the recent Labor Notes conference in Dearborn, all we could hear in our heads was the union anthem "Solidarity Forever."

Here's the first verse, as sung to the tune of "Battle Hymn of the Republic":

There can be no power greater anywhere beneath the sun;
Yet what force on earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one,
But the union makes us strong.

Unfortunately, it's the song's irony we've taken notice of — what happened at the event was anything but strengthening for labor's cause. News about the incident was hard to come by locally — neither of the dailies said boo about it. But it was a big deal in the national world of labor politics.

Here's a summary of what happened:

The Labor Notes conference was going at the Dearborn Hyatt, April 11-13, with about 1,000 union members from at least 50 different groups from all over the country learning how to organize and mobilize grassroots forces. Labor Notes is a nonprofit organization that produces a monthly magazine of labor news, creates other printed materials and hosts the biennial conference to support grassroots union efforts. The spunky newsletter founded with the organization in 1979 has a reputation for in-your-face criticism of the labor movement.

During the Saturday evening banquet, members or sympathizers of the Service Employees International Union showed up in buses — the exact numbers of people and vehicles are in dispute — to demonstrate against the planned keynote speaker, Rose Ann DeMoro.

De Moro, as executive director of the California Nurses Association — which is a huge proponent of single-payer health care — was supposed to speak about that issue, but canceled her appearance. Apparently that didn't matter to SEIU members and supporters. The 1.9 million-member union was interested in making a very public statement about De Moro, her West Coast-based nurses group and its organizing work that competes with SEIU.

It seems the SEIU folks also have a burr in their britches over the role the National Nurses Organizing Committee, an affiliate of the CNA, has played in a health care workers dispute taking place in Ohio.

SEIU accuses the Committee/CNA of spreading false information and derailing an election to certify 8,000 employees with the Catholic Health Care Partners system. CNA says SEIU cuts deals with employers at the expense of the workers and stepped into the Buckeye State business, in part, because it learned the employer had asked for the union certification election — that's unheard of, nurses union folks say.

Incidentally, the CNA-SEIU friction goes back years in California, where the groups have clashed over nursing home employment, patient care and quality issues. Just last week — a few days after the Michigan incident — CNA obtained a temporary restraining order against SEIU in California.

Anyway, back to Michigan and that little ditty in our heads:

Is there anything left to us but to organize and fight?
For the union makes us strong.

So when somewhere between 300 and 800 people (it depends on who's counting) showed up to demonstrate at the Dearborn hotel, the doors were locked.

But some SEIU members attending the conference — under false names, organizers say — pushed the doors open after chanting and banging on them, says Chris Kutalik, Labor Notes editor.

With Labor Notes attendees linking arms to keep them out, SEIUers pushed forward and into the banquet room.

What happened next depends, again, on who's talking.

"They knocked people down," Kutalik says.

"It was a peaceful protest," says Zac Altefogt, spokesman for SEIU Healthcare Michigan.

Regardless, Dearborn police showed up, though no one was arrested. A 68-year-old woman was injured. Labor, as a cause, was damaged.

"I just find it really inexplicable what they hoped to gain by this," Kutalik says. "We don't want to damage their union, but we certainly think the leadership just seems to be on a disaster course at this point."

And lost among the melee was the main message of the conference, which came at a time when union membership is down and union leadership is losing clout in national and local politics:

We can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old
For the union makes us strong.


Stern angers, saddens union movement

I had a fantastic time at the Labor Notes conference last weekend, and am eager to build on the new connections I made and campaigns I learned about. However, I find myself unable to shake some of the negative parts of the weekend. Putting aside the mess at the banquet, I've been thinking a lot about the workshop experience I had earlier in the day. I was facilitating a session on Labor and Politics, at 10:15 on Saturday morning. A speaker from the California Nurse's Association (CNA) was talking about the political mobilization they have been doing in California -- how they've gone after the governor; how they've been organizing around issues like single payer; how they are mobilizing their members.

A little bit into the talk, a woman in the audience starts speaking out. At first we think she is asking a clarifying question, but I slowly realize she is interrupting to bring up the Ohio situation. I told her she could speak her mind but she had to wait until the discussion period, after the speaker was done. She keeps talking, and a man in the audience joins in, yelling at the speaker. To be honest, I can't even remember what they said, but they were basically yelling at the CNA speaker, calling her a scab, union-buster, etc.

I raised my voice, telling them they had to be quiet but they kept going. Others in the audience also backed me up, telling them to be quiet, to no avail. Eventually I yelled very loudly, going into the audience, telling them that they had to respect me as the chair and the guidelines of the session. I assured them they would get to speak their piece after the speaker. One woman said, "Will I get my questions answered?" and I said yes, so they quieted down and the speaker finished her talk.

I then set out some rules: keep comments to 2 to 3 minutes; everyone speaks once before anyone speaks twice; keep focused on the topic of labor and politics.

I called on some people in the audience, including the disrupters. The first disrupter, an 1199 staff member, began by apologizing for his behavior and then said his piece, and then asked that Sally, a nurse from Ohio, be allowed to say her piece. I said I was happy for Sally to speak and I would call on her, but there was a list. I then called on a number of people who spoke to the topic of the workshop -- the Democrats, Obama, etc. I also called on a number of people who were with SEIU, including Sally. Everyone was relatively civil and kept to their 3 minutes when I told them to wrap it up.

I then gave the CNA folks a chance to speak, and as they did, the SEIU staffers began to shout them down, yelling out. "liar! scab!" etc. I tried to get them to be quiet, but the two of them just kept shouting out. It became a ridiculous scene of the CNA folks trying to talk over the SEIU people shouting out, and me trying to maintain order.

I made a plea for democratic exchange, saying that if we could not discuss our differences here in a civil way, then there is no hope for us. I also said that many of the people in the room didn't even know what the issues were so that they should keep that in mind.

Eventually I yelled at the man to leave the session and he said, "No! I won't!" Eventually he got up and threw a bottle of water, pushed a chair, and stormed out, yelling. Then he came back in and I yelled at him to leave and he yelled back that he would not. The audience was supportive of me, trying to get the people to stop their yelling and interrupting.

I decided I wasn't going to call on any more SEIU people, but then when I called on one woman she passed her time to the SEIU staffer. At first I told her she couldn't do it, but then she insisted it was within the rules I had set out, so I felt I had to concede. The staffer then went on to give a speech, and then I felt I needed to give the CNA speaker a chance to respond to that -- which was then also shouted down.

Its a bit of a blur to me, but somehow we got to a period of calm again, and I ended the workshop slightly early, making a plea for us to work together to figure out the larger issues facing us and the need to build political power for the working class.

This is a long-winded explanation of the workshop, but I feel the need to write it all down for a few reasons.

First, whatever the word is out there about the banquet -- whether there was violence, whether SEIU really intended to disrupt, etc. -- my workshop experience made it completely clear that the SEIU staffers were not there for dialogue. The SEIU press release says that the Labor Notes conference is a place to discuss the issues, but there was no possibility of that in my workshop.

Second, I felt so conflicted in the session about what to do. I had not anticipated that scene, and didn't have a plan to deal with it. I really wanted to err in the direction of inclusiveness, and made a point to give the dissenters space to speak. I felt confused: what was democratic process in this sense? Was it allowing the SEIU folks to remain in the workshop (versus calling security to have them thrown out)? Was it giving the SEIU folks equal chance to speak their mind? Was it right to let them speak? Or would democracy in this case be to cut them out, keeping to the more rigid outline of the workshop, on labor and politics? Should I have asked the audience to vote on what to do? I struggled to think quickly on my feet, and feel I could have handled it better. But I'm not of a generation that had lots of experience with this and it was new to me. I am not sure what real democracy looks like in this situation. It would be easier to handle in a regular union or organizing meeting where there is a clear agenda and membership, but the Labor Notes conference is different.

Third, I am more and more angry by the day about what happened. Many people in the workshop had no idea what was going on, and didn't know anything about the dispute. Most people at the conference pay their own way, and take their own time to be there. Some people drive all night; some people take vacation days from work. People come to learn. They wanted to talk about the election, they wanted to talk about their lives. A young man from Portland talked about his sister's health problems and the health insurance industry. An older woman from Georgia talked about organizing unemployed and poor people in rural areas. I feel so angry that the SEIU staff felt completely justified in taking away a learning opportunity from everyone in the room. I feel I betrayed the audience in my role as the chair by not kicking SEIU out of the session, and that makes me angry too.

Finally, I feel deeply sad. I could tell that the SEIU staff and members were angry and passionate. I could tell that they believed deeply that they were right. But the fact that they chose this approach to deal with their feelings is so troubling. I wonder what it means for my political view that people are generally open to education and new ideas, and that democratic debate over differences is possible.

Several of my students have worked for the SEIU 1199 local involved in the Ohio dispute, and one of our students was on the front lines of the protest of the banquet. I also know Dave Regan, president of 1199 Ohio/West Virginia/Kentucky -- in fact, I had a heated argument with him about Jimmy Hoffa Senior at a wedding more than ten years ago. I may be more sympathetic to SEIU’s concerns with the CNA than many in the labor movement because of my relationships with some of these folks and respect I have for the intensity of their work and convictions. Yet, I feel the window for any kind of dialogue or debate is completely shut after this weekend.

When I had that argument with Dave Regan at my friend's wedding, he was arguing that Hoffa Senior was probably one of the best things that happened to the labor movement, since he was powerful and built a powerful union. I brought up union democracy, and he said something like, Fuck democracy! Workers don't care about democracy -- they want power! They want a good paycheck and a good contract. Many of them don't even want democracy -- they want a powerful union that can represent them well! That was long before he was head of 1199, so it is interesting to see how consistent he has remained.

There is a part of what Dave said that is compelling, and I think it is something we should not brush off too lightly. But I believe no one is in the position to determine "what workers want" but workers themselves. Because, of course, the working class is not monolithic. Some people might want more money and not have to go to union meetings; others aren't as concerned about raises but need health care. Still others may care more about being able to perform their job adequately with proper staffing ratios. Who is Dave Regan to say what workers want? Who am I to say?

On the other hand, one thing I might say, if I had to guess, is that most people don't want a world where differences are settled by who shouts the loudest. And if what I saw in that workshop on Saturday represents the vision that SEIU is about, I know it is not for me. On Saturday night an SEIU Executive Vice President issued a press release saying, "Tonight, SEIU members stood up for the future of the labor movement." But that isn't a future I want. I already live in a world where bullies get their way most of the time. I don't need a union for that. I don't need to devote a life of organizing to build that.

Of course, the level of disruption is nothing compared to what people have experienced in union struggles in the past, or what happens to trade unionists on a regular basis today in countries like Guatemala, Mexico, Colombia or the Philippines. And I know by writing this, I am likely to be called a wimp, or worse, because I can’t handle the toughness required to take on ruthless employers. But I wonder if SEIU has lost sight of the real battle. It is ironic how they seem happy to sign partnership deals in peace with the employers, and save their yelling and disruption for a random group of union members who get together on a Saturday morning in Detroit to talk about labor and politics. What is the price we are willing to pay to achieve our vision of union power? Hoffa Senior was willing to deal with the mob to get his power. What is Andy Stern willing to do, and is it worth the price? Maybe I should not be surprised at the ways things turned out in Detroit, but still, it is hard to watch up close, and hard not to be angry and sad about it.


Blackballing writers' union slapped with ULP

The Writers Guild of America Monday posted the names of the 28 scribes online along with an open letter ridiculing them for exercising their rights under U.S. labor to resign union membership while continuing to be covered by the WGA contract. By declaring "financial core" status, those writers still pay union dues in return for guild representation. But they give up union voting privileges, the right to attend guild meetings, hold union office or otherwise participate in union activities. All 28 writers singled out by the union filed for financial core to keep working during the 14-week strike by 10,500 WGA members that shut down much of the television industry and derailed numerous film projects, the guild said.

The majority of the writers named by th
e guild worked on various daytime television dramas, which managed to stay on the air with original episodes long after most prime-time shows had been forced out of production.

They "must be held at arm's length by the rest of us and judged accountable for what they are -- strikebreakers whose actions placed everything for which we fought so hard at risk," the WGA letter said.

The letter drew a sharp rebuke on Tuesday from the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the studios' bargaining agent, accusing the WGA of violating labor law by "seeking to deny employment to these writers in the future."

The producers alliance, which had encouraged writers to seek financial core status during the strike, said it has filed an unfair labor practices complaint against the union in response to the WGA's letter.

The union fired back with its own statement, calling the studios' charges "baseless" and branding them "an intrusion ... into an internal union matter."

"Contrary to the studios' claim, the guild has not encouraged anyone to refuse to hire a resigned former member," the WGA statement said.

The WGA walkout, which idled thousands of production workers and cost the local economy some $3 billion, ended Feb. 12 after the two sides reached agreement on a deal giving writers more money for work distributed over the Internet.

But the possibility of further labor strife still hangs over Hollywood as the Screen Actors Guild enters the second week of its own contract negotiations with the major studios under a strict media blackout.


Tenet welcomes unions to Texas

There hadn't been a nurses' union in Texas since the 1970s – until last month's vote brought one to a Houston hospital. Now it looks like Dallas will be the next battleground. It was Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare Corp., the nation's third-largest publicly traded hospital system, that opened the door to nurses' unionization in this business-friendly, right-to-work state.

A March 27 vote at Tenet's Cypress Fairbanks Medical Center in Houston was the first successful union vote in Texas history, although an existing nurses' group here once operated as a union.

A 2003 union vote in Longview, Texas, failed.

But last year, Tenet signed a so-called peace accord with the California Nurses Association, one of the nation's largest nurses' union, as well as the Service Employees International Union, the largest health care union. Under that agreement, Tenet must allow those unions an opportunity to organize employees in certain states, including Texas.

Following its Houston victory, the CNA is hoping that agreement will give it enough leverage to push its way into D-FW, where Tenet owns Doctor's Hospital at White Rock Lake, Centennial Medical Center in Frisco and Lake Pointe Medical Center in Rowlett. From Dallas, the union says, it plans to head into unaffiliated hospitals throughout the state, bringing Texas in line with other states where nurses are organized.

In February, the CNA asked for the names, phone numbers and addresses of the 2,500 nurses at Parkland Memorial Hospital, which had to provide them because Parkland is a government-funded hospital.

What's more, the union already has a handful of paid organizers in Dallas drumming up support for a union here.

If the CNA succeeds, health care here could change dramatically. Whether those changes will improve quality – or just raise costs – depends on whom you ask.

A look at issues

Money isn't the issue – it's the workload, says Rossia Avery, a registered nurse with a staffing agency in Dallas and chairwoman of the Dallas-Fort Worth National Nurses Organizing Committee, an arm of the CNA.

Local registered nurses already can make more than $38 an hour, which works out to just over $79,000 a year based on a 40-hour week, said Ms. Avery, a frequent speaker at rallies who says she does not get paid for her organizing efforts.

"They won't give us more help, but they'll give us more money," Ms. Avery, a nurse for 28 years, said of hospital executives.

Still, union membership does usually mean bigger paychecks. Last year, nonunion registered nurses nationally earned $28.71 an hour. That's 48 percent less than the $42.60 an hour that unionized registered nurses in California made, according to NNOC statistics.

Although California has a higher cost of living and wages in general, union nurses there still made 18 percent more than their nonunionized counterparts.

But it's not as if hospitals are refusing to hire more nurses, says Doug Hawthorne, chief executive of Texas Health Resources, the largest hospital system in North Texas. There just aren't enough nurses to hire, he says.

"There are plenty of people who want to become nurses," he said. "The problem is we lack enough qualified instructors to train them."

More than 11,000 qualified applicants were turned away from Texas nursing schools in 2006 because of a lack of teachers. The average age of nursing faculty in Texas is 54, according to the Texas Hospital Association; almost 57 percent of all nursing faculty will reach the traditional retirement age of 65 within 10 years.

Relationship fears

Local hospital executives and nurse representatives, who are a part of the executive team, say unions will fracture the good-natured relationship between nurses and hospital managers as they work together on staffing issues.

The Texas Nurses Association is more of a professional organization that works with the Texas Hospital Association to draft legislation benefiting both groups. (The TNA did operate as a union, beginning in 1974, when the National Labor Relations Act was amended to cover registered nurses. But in 1979, the members voted to drop union status.)

In last year's legislative session, hospitals and nurses joined together to get $14.7 million to expand nursing education programs. Lawmakers also earmarked $4.1 million from the state's tobacco settlement funds for grants to increase enrollment in undergraduate and graduate nursing programs.

Meanwhile, states with nurses' unions have seen strikes, with pickets trying to steer patients away from hospital doors.

California, for example, has had nurses' strikes that lasted for days.

At one San Francisco hospital, police were called in because striking nurses were upsetting patients with their noise and blocking traffic, said Jan Emerson, spokeswoman for the California Hospital Association.

Strikes are "always the last resort," said Ed Bruno, NNOC national organization coordinator. And, under the 1974 Health Care Amendments to the National Labor Relations Act, the union must give a 10-day notice before a strike so the hospital can line up temporary staff – something Ms. Emerson says hospitals have been able to do.

Staffing concerns

Nurse-to-patient ratios can depend on a litany of variables, including the health of the patients, the nurses' skills and the working environment.

In California, the first state to pass laws setting nurse-to-patient ratios, the numbers are determined more by political negotiations among nurses, insurers and hospitals than by scientific evidence.

In October 1999, Assembly Bill 394, dubbed the California Safe Staffing Ratio Law, established minimum nurse-to-patient ratios for acute-care, acute psychiatric and specialty hospitals. The ratios range from one nurse per patient for trauma patients in the emergency room to one nurse per six patients in psychiatric wards. For general patient care, the ratio is 1-to-4.

The ratios apply at all times, including during nurses' meals and breaks, and offer no leeway in high-volume periods such as flu season, said Jennifer Banda, a THA lawyer and public policy director. That means hospitals must overstaff, Ms. Banda said.

It's uncertain whether patient care is better because of the ratios.

Attentive nurses long have been identified as the best way to prevent pneumonia, postoperative infections, pressure ulcers and urinary tract infections in patients. However, in states with nurse staffing ratios, studies are mixed on whether they've made a difference.

In August 2005, the California Nursing Outcomes Coalition – a union and management partnership that measures quality improvements – published the first report tracking the success of staffing ratios.

In the first six months after the ratios were implemented, there were no statistically significant changes in patient safety or quality outcomes, it found.

Joan Clark, a chief nurse executive who joined Texas Health Resources last month, has worked for union and nonunion hospitals throughout her 35-year career.

Ms. Clark, who opposes unionization, said nurses typically join unions because they feel excluded from hospital decision-making.

She says she's never seen unions improve hospital operations or quality of patient care.

Ms. Avery of the organizing committee disagrees: "Nurses have left the bedside because of the conditions they are working in, and they won't return until they improve."


Worker-choice alternative gains in labor-state

The Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors came out Tuesday in favor of Colorado's proposed right-to-work amendment. The group's board voted unanimously to endorse the amendment, which is set to appear on the November ballot.

The proposed amendment would allow Colorado workers the freedom to choose whether or not to join a union. Right-to-work laws prohibit unions from requiring workers to pay dues, even in workplaces where employees enjoy the benefits of collective bargaining. Opponents say right-to-work laws are aimed at crippling organized labor by limiting its funding sources and hampering growth.

"The Right to Work Amendment is at the very core of the ABC merit shop philosophy -- freedom of choice," said Mark Latimer, president and CEO of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors. "Just as companies should have the right to work on a job, regardless of labor affiliation, that same right should be given to employees."

The Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry favors the proposal. The South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce have come out against the proposal.


U.S. ports will be closed on May Day

On May 1, all 29 ports on the U.S. West Coast are to be shut down by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) in protest against the U.S. war on Afghanistan and Iraq. This is a historic event of international significance: labor action against imperialist war by a major American union. The strategically placed port workers in the ILWU can bring commerce with Asia to a grinding halt, and they’re about to demonstrate it. The maritime employers are already screaming, and you can bet it’s got the attention of the warmongers in Washington. All labor should take up the challenge this poses: For workers strikes against the war! Hit ’em where they feel it.

Meanwhile, immigrants’ rights groups are once again mobilizing on May Day. We say: everyone here should have equal rights; otherwise the bosses and reactionaries play one group off against another. Full citizenship rights for all immigrants! Mobilize labor action to stop the ICE raids! And on April 30 and May 1, the independent truckers who move cargo to and from the docks may play an important role in a shutdown, particularly in Los Angeles (where immigrant truckers closed the port on May Day 2006) and possibly some East Coast ports.

The imperialist war on Afghanistan and Iraq is also a war on immigrants, minorities, working people and democratic rights “at home.” As a longshore picketer declared in 2002, the “War on Terror is a War on Us.” We need to defeat this attack here and abroad, in opposition to both the capitalist war parties. The “antiwar movement,” whose aim has always been to pressure the Democrats, is at a dead end. But a battle is brewing. Workers, immigrants, opponents of imperialist war: All out on May Day!

The Bay Area ILWU local was the first American union to condemn the war. In April 2003, as invading U.S. troops reached Baghdad, six longshoremen were injured and a union official was arrested as police fired on hundreds of antiwar protesters in the port of Oakland. Now, while Democrats in Congress keep voting for the war budget, while all the presidential candidates of the twin parties of American capital vow to keep U.S. troops in Iraq indefinitely and to expand NATO occupation forces in Afghanistan, dock workers have decided to shut down the entire Pacific Coast in the most powerful single action in decades aimed at stopping a U.S. war.

When we broke the story last month, many rubbed their eyes in disbelief. Yes, it’s for real. In a notice posted on the ILWU website and printed in the union newspaper, The Dispatcher (April 2008), the union announced: “Longshore Caucus calls for Iraq war protest at ports on May 1.” The resolution by the union’s elected delegates called for this unprecedented labor action to “demand an immediate end to the war and occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan and the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the Middle East” (see ILWU motion, page 3).

The longshore delegates said they were issuing a “clarion call” with an “urgent appeal for unity of action” to all of labor “to bring an end to this bloody war once and for all.” Now it’s up to the rest of us. The workers movement and all opponents of imperialist war should follow the lead of the West Coast waterfront workers.

Industrial action by one of the most powerful and militant American unions against a U.S. imperialist war – this is not just a couple of labor bureaucrats mouthing empty phrases at an antiwar rally, dock workers are using their muscle. Although it is a “symbolic” action – stopping work for the day shift, on May Day, the international workers day – the symbolism is not lost on the ruling class. It is a warning of big trouble on the home front of their imperialist war, a vivid demonstration that American workers have the power to shut down the war machine – and that the most militant sectors are ready to use it.

Around the country, a number of labor bodies have endorsed the ILWU action. As of this writing, this includes the San Francisco, Alameda County (Oakland) and King County (Seattle) Labor Councils, Vermont AFL-CIO, Puerto Rican Teachers Federation (FMPR), U.S. and NYC Labor Against the War, Oakland and California state teachers unions, and others. Postal workers union locals in San Francisco and Greensboro, North Carolina (NALC) and in New York (APWU) are going to stop work briefly on May 1. At the City University of New York, teach-ins and rallies sponsored by chapters of the union of CUNY faculty and staff (PSC) will be held in solidarity with the ILWU port shutdown. Internationally, the ILWU action has been supported by the International Dock Workers Council, the International Transport Workers Federation, UNITE in Britain, and others.

Endorsements are nice, but action is what’s needed – working-class action – more substantial and a lot more of it, and above all independent of the bosses. What that takes is a fundamental break from the Democratic Party and the pro-capitalist politics that infuse the labor bureaucracy.

Maritime Bosses in a Frenzy

The announcement of the ILWU’s upcoming action caught the attention of some in the media. The SF Weekly (12 March) headlined, “ILWU to Shut Down West Coast Ports on Socialist Holiday.” The article reported that after heated discussion, “Union rank and file took a vote and made it official: During the eight-hour day shift on May 1, portside traffic in goods between the U.S. and Asia will cease.” The San Francisco Chronicle (9 April) published an article by Jack Heyman, the author of the motion that was passed by the union’s longshore caucus, who noted:

“This decision came after an impassioned debate where the union’s Vietnam veterans turned the tide of opinion in favor of the anti-war resolution. The motion called it an imperial action for oil in which the lives of working-class youth and Iraqi civilians were being wasted and declared May Day a ‘no peace, no work’ holiday. Angered after supporting Democrats who received a mandate to end the war but who now continue to fund it, longshoremen decided to exercise their political power on the docks.”

The New York Times also expressed interest in publishing an article, but rejected it when it referred to the 1919 Seattle dock workers’ boycott of U.S. arms being shipped to the counterrevolutionary White Armies to fight the Bolsheviks in Russia.

The prospect of a coast-wide work stoppage has certainly shaken up the shipping bosses, particularly coming just as a new contract is being negotiated. The Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) notified the union on April 3 that it “doesn’t consent to a stop-work meeting or any other effort to disrupt port operations.” Subsequently the PMA threatened the union tops with heavy-duty court action if they don’t call it all off. The employers are threatening to bring down an injunction under the “slave labor” Taft-Hartley Law. The bosses’ attempt to stop the port shutdown means that a class struggle is already being waged over this issue.

The PMA’s move is no idle threat: the feds issued an injunction during the 2002 bargaining, saying that any stoppage was a threat to the war effort. They could do it again. If that happens, the dock workers should defy the labor-hating government, and all labor must use its muscle to back them up! Can it be done? Yes, and the ruling class knows it. An article by Matt Smith in the on-line business publication Miller-McCune (9 April) expressed amazement that, “Would you believe...blue-collar dock workers” could “bring down the economy.” Smith explained:

“The ILWU, which represents 25,000 dockworkers at 29 Pacific coast ports, is simultaneously the most politically radical, materially comfortable and economically significant group of U.S. workers....

“The union’s industrial might has its roots in a 1930s San Francisco general strike that created one of the most politically radical, democratically run and impenetrably unified American labor syndicates....

“The union and shippers are already butting heads over ILWU plans to shut down all West Coast ports May 1 in protest against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The idea was to exploit a work rule allowing the union to request a day off for a local shop meeting, by requesting simultaneous days off at every port. The shippers refused. And now the ILWU is poised to conduct the equivalent of a one-day walkout.”

In response to the threats, the author quoted a union spokesman saying nobody was intimidated:

“‘For us, folks aren’t going to be working on May 1. Everybody here’s clear about that,’ said ILWU Communications Director Craig Merrilees.”

The maritime employers are particularly worried because bargaining is underway on the union contract. The article quoted a Berkeley economist saying that a dock strike could produce “a chain reaction that’s really rather a nightmare.... This affects the whole economy very broadly and very quickly.”

Earlier, another business publication, the CalTrade Report (14 March) tried some old-style red-baiting in a front-page article with a subhead declaring: “US West Coast action called to protest ‘imperialist’ war in Iraq, Afghanistan” The article declared:

“A number of organizations including The Internationalist Group-League for the Fourth International, a New York-based Marxist activist group, have voiced their support for the ILWU action.

“According to a story on the front page of the organization’s website – http://www.internationalist.org, ‘This is the first time in decades that an American union has decided to undertake industrial action against a US war.’

“The action, it continues, ‘should be taken up by unions and labor organizations throughout the United States and internationally…and the purpose of such actions should be not to beg the bourgeois politicians whose hands are covered with blood, having voted for every war budget for six and a half years, but a show of strength of the working people who make this country run, and who can shut it down!’”

The smear tactics went nowhere. Despite the hyperventilation in the trade papers, the union has stood its ground.

Break with the Democrats – Build a Class-Struggle Workers Party!

But the battle over the antiwar port shutdown is far from over, including inside the ILWU. As we reported earlier, the union’s International leadership initially tried to divert the call for an antiwar work stoppage, as it has done before and just as it buried Local 10’s call to stop work and march for immigrant rights last May 1. Having failed to “deep-six” the resolution, the union tops are now trying to present it in a “social-patriotic” light. Writing to AFL-CIO president John Sweeney, ILWU president Robert Ellrath said the action was called to “express support for the troops by bringing them home safely.” This phrase was highlighted in the official union announcement. Meanwhile, the union Executive Board has endorsed Democrat Barack Obama for president.

In fact, the resolution passed by the Longshore Caucus has none of these social-patriotic appeals, and it explicitly attacks the “bipartisan and unjustifiable war in Iraq and Afghanistan” which “Democrats and Republicans continue to fund.” Wrapping themselves in the American flag, the bureaucrats are playing the game of the warmongers in Washington. All the talk of “supporting the troops” coming out of the “antiwar movement” is a loyalty oath: they’re saying they oppose the (losing) war in Iraq, but they still salute the flag of U.S. imperialism. Similarly, slogans calling for “jobs not war,” “books not bombs,” etc., pose opposition to the war as a question of priorities. Yet if there was no U.S. war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Colombia and the Philippines, and if there were no U.S. troops in the more than 700 U.S. bases in 130 countries around the world, the U.S. capitalist rulers still would not provide jobs or books or healthcare.

It’s not about foreign policies or budget priorities, it’s about the imperialist system that produces one war after another as the U.S. seeks to nail down its current position as the “sole superpower” in the post-Soviet world. The whole “war on terror” is a war for U.S. world domination. It’s the lead-up to a new world war in which the “enemy” is not a Saddam Hussein or some other tin-pot dictator but the U.S.’ imperialist “allies” and rivals. The Democrats are 110 percent for that war – they just think, as Obama said, that Iraq is “the wrong war.” And their “right” war “against terror” – to terrorize the world into submission – hits longshore workers directly, through the Transport Workers Identification Card. The TWIC is being pushed in particular by the Democrats, and its introduction will bring a racial purge on the docks.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton remarked a few weeks ago, in response to claims by President George Bush and Republican candidate John McCain that withdrawal from Iraq would be a defeat: “Well, let’s be clear, withdrawal is not defeat. Defeat is keeping troops in Iraq for 100 years. Defeat is straining our alliances and losing our standing in the world. Defeat is draining our resources and diverting attention from our key interests’” (Boston Globe, 18 March). Clinton wants to withdraw (some of the) U.S. troops, precisely in order to avoid a defeat for U.S. imperialism. For his part, Barack Obama has said that he would leave residual troops in Iraq among other things to “fight terrorism,” that he wants to up U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan, and that the U.S. should launch missile strikes on targets in Iran and Pakistan. The ILWU leaders’ endorsement of Obama hurts rather than helps the struggle against imperialist war and undercuts the May 1 work stoppage.

The capitalist parties also include the Greens, who ran immigrant-basher Ralph Nader for president in 2000. In 2004 they were on the ballot only in “safe” states so as not to hurt the chances of Democrat John Kerry. The likely Green presidential candidate this time around is Cynthia McKinney. McKinney for 12 years was a Democratic Congresswoman from Georgia, joining the Green Party only after she lost in a primary election due to a Republican crossover vote. She has denounced the U.S.’ criminal response to Hurricane Katrina, in which 100,000 overwhelmingly poor and black people were left to die in the flood. She was one of three members of the House of Representatives to vote for a 2005 resolution for immediate withdrawal from Iraq, and she has recently endorsed the ILWU call for a work stoppage against the war. But she emphasized that she was for an “orderly withdrawal,” that she wants to “support the troops by bringing them home,” and her politics are vintage Democratic liberalism. Explaining her switch to the Greens, she said: “I had a place to go when the Democratic Party left me.” Exactly. The red, white and blue Greens are nothing but a home for homeless Democrats.

In order to defeat the imperialist war abroad and the bosses’ war “at home,” class-conscious workers must oppose all the capitalist parties and politicians, and build a class-struggle workers party. Revolutionaries fight to drive the U.S. out of Iraq and Afghanistan – which will be anything but orderly, as the U.S.’ exit from Vietnam showed – by workers action . We would like to see the “diplomats” (spies) and “contractors” (mercenaries) clambering onto the roof of the U.S. embassy desperately trying to helicopter out of the “Green Zone” in Baghdad. A defeat there would put a damper on U.S. imperial adventures around the world, and would aid the struggle of working people, immigrants and oppressed minorities in the United States itself. The drawn-out U.S. defeat in Vietnam set the climate in which women made many gains including the right to abortion, and the racist death penalty was (temporarily) suspended. U.S. rulers gave in on these issues because they were afraid the entire country could blow.

Fighting for workers action against the war and against all the capitalist war parties is a key way to break the political stranglehold of the captains of industry and their labor lieutenants. The ILWU port shutdown can and should be a catalyst for such action.


Teamster-happy UPS vexed by worker-choice

As the Teamsters union proceeds with organizing UPS Freight Inc. workers under a new contract, the company’s 300 area hourly employees await an agency’s ruling on a rival union’s attempt to do the same. The Association of Parcel Workers of America lost a second election in February trying to persuade workers to join its group at the UPS Freight terminal in Kansas City, Kan.

However, the group objected to the company’s actions prior to the election. The National Labor Relations Board’s Overland Park office found merit to the objection in that the election notice was posted later than it should have been, said Dan Hubbel, the agency’s regional director.

The local NLRB office recommended to the agency’s principal board in Washington that the election results be overturned again and another one be conducted. Since then, UPS Freight has filed its own objection to the local NLRB’s ruling.

The company argues that the small delay in posting the notice did not affect the second election’s results. The parcel workers group lost the February contest 109-87 after losing by a much wider margin last August.

Van Skillman, president of the parcel workers group, said there should be another election.

“The company knows they’re wrong about the notice,” he said. “If it’s posted late, it’s posted late. They’re hammering away at the workers there now, discouraging them from voting for us next time.”

UPS Freight spokesman Ira Rosenfeld said the company could not comment beyond what’s been communicated to the NLRB.

Meanwhile, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters said more than 9,900 UPS Freight drivers and dockworkers have approved a five-year contract with the company that provides wage and benefit gains.

The Teamsters have been conducting a card-signing campaign at UPS Freight terminals around the country. The company agreed to recognize the Teamsters at terminals where a majority of workers sign cards favoring representation. Once the cards are certified, the company then recognizes the union.

The Teamsters said the card-signing campaign has succeeded in more than two dozen big cities, including Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Los Angeles, Phoenix and St. Louis. The union said an additional 2,700 hourly employees at UPS Freight are eligible to sign cards and come under contract.

However, hourly employees at the local UPS Freight terminal may have to wait longer. Another election on joining the Association of Parcel Workers of America remains a possibility. But even if the NLRB in Washington upholds February’s election results that went against the parcel workers group, another labor organization will have to wait one year after the election before being allowed to organize that work force again.


Stern allowed to continue hassling CNA nurses

A ruling by Alameda County Superior Court to vacate its temporary restraining order against the Service Employees International Union and its President Andy Stern on procedural grounds does nothing to justify any continued acts of threats, harassment, and stalking of registered nurses, the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee said Tuesday night.

"The TRO gave the nurses a few days reprieve from harassment," said Geri Jenkins, RN, a member of the CNA/NNOC Council of Presidents who said she had six SEIUers make a stalking visit to her home.

"Nothing in today's ruling should be construed as a license to continue behavior and a pattern of threats and harassment that has become an SEIU trademark," said Jenkins.

"Hopefully Stern and SEIU will use this opportunity to learn from this experience that it is time for them to respect nurses, that their deplorable behavior is not acceptable and does not enhance their reputation or their credibility," Jenkins said.

CNA/NNOC continued to criticize SEIU efforts to hide behind constitutional protections of free speech and broad labor law protections for unions to justify attacks on registered nurses.

"We will carefully monitor their next steps, and Stern and SEIU should understand that we will never stand by when the safety and rights of our members, all registered nurses, and our staff are threatened or jeopardized," said CNA/NNOC Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro


SEIU's Stern gets to judge

An emergency court order last week against the Service Employees International Union, based on allegations that union members were stalking and harassing organizers of the rival California Nurses Association, was lifted Tuesday after an Alameda County Superior Court commissioner determined that he had issued the order improperly.

Commissioner Jon Rantzman had issued an injunction last week in response to a petition by the Oakland-based nurses union claiming that SEIU agents threatened and harassed its organizers at a meeting and at their homes. The injunction barred SEIU President Andy Stern and members of his union from assaulting, stalking or coming near the other union's organizers.

SEIU, which had not been notified of the pending injunction beforehand, appealed to Rantzman, saying California labor law required giving SEIU a chance to respond before the injunction was issued.

SEIU also said that the nurses union's harassment claims were not true and that it was illegally using the courts to try to stifle SEIU's free speech.

Rantzman on Tuesday agreed to lift the injunction, pending the outcome of SEIU's countermotion claiming that the nurses union's petition for the injunction violated the state's "anti-SLAPP" law, which bars any lawsuit designed to chill free speech.

Linda Lye, an attorney for SEIU, called Tuesday's ruling by Rantzman "a complete vindication." She said that CNA's accusations were false and that SEIU will continue to press its "anti-SLAPP" motion, which could pave the way for SEIU to collect monetary damages. "We want to clear our name," she said.

Chuck Idelson, spokesman for the nurses union, said the injunction succeeded for a week in halting "the unlawful acts of violence, intimidation and threats directed at leaders of the California Nurses Association." He accused SEIU of abusing California labor law to get the injunction lifted.


Shame on California Carpenters union reps

You've probably seen those people holding "Shame On" signs around town. As we first discovered, the Carpenter's Union is behind the signs that are meant to protest unfair wages. Now one contractor claims the union is using pressure tactics. It's an investigation we've been following for nearly two years. Local business owners claiming they're being harassed by picketers, but one of the latest incidents didn't involve picketers, but possible union reps.

You may remember back in February, Carlyle Construction was going to renovate a space for Santa Barbara Business College. The crew says, the union guys walked right into the project and the foreman and facility manager started to escort them out. But each time it got more physical, eventually ending with a foreman allegedly being assaulted. On Monday, the Associated Builders and Contractors of Central California filed a complaint with National Labor Relations Board against the local carpenters union local for what it calls attacks against contractors including harassment and physical violence. Laura Barnes, President of Associated Builders and Contractors tells us, "What our hope is that Bakersfield contractors can continue business the way we are used to doing business in our county which is based on merit and without violence and threats."

We did put a call into the Carpenters Union again, their representative has yet to return our phone call. We also put calls into Carlyle Builders and the foreman allegedly injured in the incident, but neither were available for comment.


American Axle strike may backfire on UAW

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For UAW stories, click: here.

Talks between American Axle and Manufacturing Holdings Inc. and striking members of the United Auto Workers union took a turn for the worse yesterday as the company issued a statement that the UAW has rejected wage-and-benefit offers that are better than those paid by competitors. The company also said if the union won’t consider “a U.S. market-competitive labor agreement” it will have to plan for potential closure of some or all of its U.S. facilities.

About 3,600 UAW members have been on strike at American Axle’s five U.S. facilities since Feb. 26.


Another UAW strike notice for GM

United Auto Workers-represented employees at a General Motors Corp. metal parts stamping factory here have given the company warning they plan to strike. GM spokesman Dan Flores said yesterday it’s unclear when the five-day strike warning is effective. The plant has about 1,400 hourly employees.

Its union local is the fifth to threaten a walkout against GM or strike over local contract issues. A local at a plant near Lansing, Mich., struck Thursday, and locals at a Warren transmission factory, a Grand Rapids metal fabricating plant, and an assembly plant in Kansas City, Kans., have threatened walkouts.


School unions take dues hit in San Diego

About 1,200 “nuts and bolts” jobs in the San Diego Unified School District were eliminated by the Board of Education yesterday to help make $80 million in budget cuts. Trustees voted 3-2 to eliminate or reduce hours for a range of positions, including truck drivers and office staff, special-education workers and campus security guards. Unlike the 903 teaching employees who last month received notices that they could be laid off, these employees will be out of work June 30.

Bus monitor Deanna Smiley, who accompanies special-education students to and from school every day, became emotional when trustees eliminated her position.

“I'm really upset because I love these kids,” Smiley said. “They really need someone to take care of them while they ride the bus. Who's going to look after these kids?”

Why the layoffs?

School districts up and down California have been slashing their budgets in anticipation of the governor's proposed $4.4 billion reduction to education funding. Should the state budget picture improve, the district could reinstate programs and employees. But the San Diego Unified School District is bracing for the worst-case scenario.
Trustees listened for hours as employees, parents and students urged them to reject the layoffs, as well as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposed education spending cuts.

“We are the nuts and bolts of the school district. There is no way the schools can run without these people,” said Gustavo Padilla, vice president of the local chapter of the California School Employees Association, which represents the district's 6,000 classified employees.

For example, he said, cutting truck driver positions will make it difficult to deliver thousands of new textbooks – 40 titles were reordered – to schools on time. Fewer warehouse workers mean it will be tough to prepare three new schools slated to open in the fall.

More than 1,000 teachers and others rallied outside the district's Normal Street headquarters to support their colleagues. The chants of protesters and honks of support from passing motorists filtered into the meeting chambers.

The school board voted in March to approve sweeping budget cuts that also will increase class sizes and eliminate programs. The board has until May 15 to finalize decisions for its teachers.

Newly hired Superintendent Terry Grier remained quiet during most of the meeting. But he promised to try “cut more from the top,” including an attempt to increase layoffs at central office administration to 198 from the proposed 150.

“I have heard you,” Grier said. “I know who works hard. I know who's underpaid.”

In response to calls from the crowd to protect jobs and defy the governor, Board President Katherine Nakamura said: “If we stand up and not make these cuts, that feels good as an act of civil disobedience. When we can't pay the electric bills and a state monitor comes in and labor contracts are suspended, that doesn't feel so good.”

Along with Nakamura, trustees John de Beck and Mitz Lee approved the layoffs. Luis Acle and Shelia Jackson opposed them. Lee, Acle and Jackson are running for re-election.

Of the 1,200 positions that will be affected by yesterday's actions, 240 will be eliminated altogether because they are vacant. Of the remaining 960 jobs, 829 are full-time, Human Resources Director Sam Wong said.

About 200 positions affected are employees who work with special-education students.

It's unclear how many people will become unemployed because many whose jobs are eliminated may use their seniority to bump others out of their jobs.

“We don't really know . . . until the very end,” Wong said. “It will be a very complicated process.”

San Diego Unified, the state's second-largest school district, operates more than 150 schools and enrolls about 133,000 students. Its operating budget is $1.2 billion.


Union calls for toilet-paper cuts

A union representing 8,000 Montgomery County (MD) government employees suggested the county is flushing away a large portion of its budget — literally. The county could save money by charging library customers a fee to hold materials for them, laying off managers and administrators, and reducing the amount of toilet paper provided to jail inmates, according to the UFCW Local 1994.

The county is facing a projected $292 million budget shortfall on a $2.4 billion budget for fiscal 2009.

The county has ‘‘redundant” layers of managers, many of whom could be cut, said Gino Renne, president of the local. In several agencies, there is one supervisor for every four employees.

The union estimated that nine ‘‘non-essential” supervisory positions at the county’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation could be eliminated, saving the county $1 million.

County spokesman Patrick K. Lacefield said county officials have already gone through the budget to eliminate as many redundant positions and to find as many cost savings as possible.

‘‘We’re always happy to get feedback from line personnel on how to save money,” Lacefield said.

The county would review the six-page memo sent by the union to see if there were other recommended ‘‘to separate the wheat from the chaff, from what is accurate to what is less accurate, and we’ll go from there,” Lacefield said.

County Executive Isiah Leggett’s proposed budget for fiscal 2009 already included $150 million in cuts, Lacefield said.

That includes reducing the county government by 225 positions through either abolishing positions or offering early retirement, Lacefield said.

‘‘Our department will be taking a look at this and giving us an opinion whether additional savings are to be had or not,” Lacefield said.

Including the recommendations from the union, the county has received other suggestions at public hearings to cut programs, Lacefield said.

But a program seen as unnecessary by one group of people is often seen as vital by another, Lacefield said. Eliminating drug rehabilitation programs, for example, might save the county some money in the short term but result in significantly higher costs from more people going to jail.

‘‘You’ve got to look at the unintended consequences,” Lacefield said.

Many of the savings cuts recommended by the union involve eliminating supervisors who are not union members.

The Department of Public Works and Transportation has 12 managers for 54 people, significantly more than needed, according to the union’s memo.

In addition, the county spends ‘‘hundreds of thousands of dollars” annually to repair plumbing because inmates use it to clog their toilets.

‘‘Issuing a maximum of three rolls of toilet paper a week to each inmate would avoid some of those costs,” the union said in the statement.

‘‘We recognize that the county is facing serious budget challenges,” Renne said. ‘‘We want to be responsible and responsive by giving the council and the executive our perspectives for saving tax dollars, protecting vital services and ensuring that residents get their money’s worth.”


Gov't-union cracks down on fraud investigator

A union president is complaining about what he calls "intimidation" tactics by the city's fraud investigator. Four Flint, Michigan parks employees recently were given 29-day unpaid suspensions for allegedly making profane remarks against the city's fraud investigator. But Sam Muma, president of AFSCME Local 1600, said on Tuesday the employees did not use any profanity. The union plans to file a grievance.

And, Muma said the investigator, Christopher Wolf, is wasting the city's time going after employees over trivial issues rather than investigating real fraud.

"Enough is enough," Muma said.

Wolf wrote in a memo that at while he was pumping gas at a city garage, he heard people saying, "Get the (expletive) out of here."

Mayor Don Williamson said Wolf would not be available for comment to the media and he didn't know about the specific incident. But he said he has generally been forgiving of employees who make mistakes.

"I truly hope I am fair and honest with all employees," Williamson said. "Nobody treats the unions better than I do."

Wolf, according to a memo he wrote about the incident, is "security/fraud manager" for the city's Risk Management department.

Muma said denied the incident occurred and said the employees were "very professional."

And, he said Wolf should spend more time going after people who are stealing water from the city or if employees are stealing money.

Franklin Greene Jr., also a union official with AFSCME Local 1600, said he believes it's retaliation for lobbying the City Council to table contracting out weed cutting on medians and boulevards.

Williamson denied that issue is related, adding that he doesn't object to union employees doing the work and that issue can be resolved.


SEIU 1199 organizers subdue nursing home

Iroquois Nursing Home in Jamesville has dropped its challenge of a March 7 election in which workers at the home voted to join 1199 SEIU, the health care workers union. Both sides reached a settlement Tuesday, said Al Davidoff, an 1199 vice president. The National Labor Relations Board was scheduled to hear Iroquois' objection to the vote this week.

As part of the deal, both sides agreed to begin negotiating a contract next month, Davidoff said.

"The workers worked long and hard for this," Davidoff said. "They now have their union and they will have the opportunity to work out a good contract."

Iroquois officials did not return phone calls for this story.

Union members plan to rally in downtown Syracuse this afternoon to celebrate the settlement at Iroquois and focus attention on contract negotiations under way at Crouse and Community General hospitals.

The rally will take place from 4 to 5:30 p.m. at the Oncenter.

Many of 1199 SEIU's contracts with hospitals and nursing homes across Upstate New York expire April 30.

Prior to the settlement, 1199 accused Iroquois of waging an anti-union campaign by intimidating workers. The union had filed complaints with the NLRB, accusing the nursing home of illegally firing three workers who spoke out in favor of the union.

Davidoff said there was a "positive resolution" of those three cases as part of the settlement, but he would not disclose any specifics.

"All three workers were satisfied with what was arrived at," he said.

About 130 workers including certified nurse aides, housekeepers and maintenance staff were eligible to vote in last month's election. Licensed practical nurses did not vote, but may vote in the future, Davidoff said.

Crouse, Community General and St. Joseph's hospitals built Iroquois 16 years ago.

Union negotiators are making progress in contract talks at Crouse, but spinning their wheels at Community General, according to Davidoff. The union represents about 1,900 workers at Crouse and 900 at Community General.

Community does not have enough nurses and other workers to operate the hospital, Davidoff said. The union hopes to address the staffing issue in negotiations, he said.

"Workers at times are being required to work extra long hours to make up for short staffing," he said.

Davidoff said 14 emergency department registered nurses quit at Community over the past 18 months because of morale problems caused by short staffing.

Community spokeswoman Gillian Ottman said negotiations are still in the early stage and the hospital is optimistic the talks will lead to a new contract.

"One of the union's negotiating strategies is to attempt to portray working conditions in a negative light and publicize various accusations against management," Ottman said. "While we disagree with this approach, we will continue to work together toward a negotiated resolution of all issues."


UAW unionizes Foxwoods dealers

Hoffa: This is all about power

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