FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Year in Labor

It’s a shame to have to admit that things have been so bad for organized labor for such a long time, that unless something truly horrendous or headline-grabbing happens during a particular year (e.g., an industry fails, a union membership is decimated), we tend not even to pay attention.

So tepid and uninspiring is the labor landscape, even the occasional strike or boycott is met with a collective “ho-hum.” Meanwhile, private sector membership continues to dwindle, workers’ power continues to be eroded, and corporations continue to find new ways of out-maneuvering the unions. 2014 was one of those “ho-hum” years.

There were exceptions: By engaging in a collective protest of their abysmally low wages, fast-food workers at national restaurant chains and were able to attract some prime-time media attention. Granted, their time in the limelight was short-lived and ephemeral, but these orchestrated protests were not only a step in the right direction, they were way overdue.

And Thomas Perez, who replaced Hilda Solis (and the interim Seth Harris), finished his first full year as Secretary of Labor in the Obama administration. Among the groups to endorse Perez’s nomination were the AFL-CIO, UFW (United Farm Workers) and NAACP, so at the very least, Perez looked good on paper.

The woman he’s replacing, Ms. Solis, did an adequate job as Labor Secretary (she resigned to run for Congress), particularly in regard to assisting low-level restaurant, hotel and carwash employees (“carwasheros”), most of whom are Latinos, and many of whom are systematically victimized by unscrupulous bosses. In fact, the Department of Labor was able to get criminal charges to stick against a couple of corrupt Southern California carwash owners, guilty of cheating workers out of their pay.

In the two years Perez has left on the job, he will have ample opportunity to show whether he’s the real deal—a labor reformer and crusader—or just another ambitious, over-achieving Ivy Leaguer (Brown, Harvard Law) looking to pad his resume while sucking on the government teat (a la former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, another Harvard Law School product).

The last really impressive Secretary of Labor we had—arguably, second only to the legendary FDR appointee, Frances Perkins, the first woman Labor Secretary in history—was Robert Reich, who served in Clinton’s first term before resigning in exasperation, and now teaches at UC Berkeley. Anyone interested in a fascinating insider’s look at the Department of Labor would be advised to read Reich’s memoir, “Locked in the Cabinet.”

There was also a changing of the guard at the UAW (United Auto Workers), with Dennis Williams replacing outgoing president Bob King. Given its illustrious history and immeasurable influence on the American labor movement, focusing on the UAW’s current state of affairs is almost too gruesome to contemplate.

Once boasting of 1.8 million members, the UAW is now down to a mere 390,000. By all accounts, Williams is a gamer, a fighter, ready to push for the reinstatement of boiler-plate contract language (including elimination of two-tier wages and benefits). The only question is: At this late stage, does he have the muscle to do it? He’ll need every resource he can scrounge up to pull it off.

The year 2014 was a terrible one for public school teachers, as the greedy proponents of for-profit education attempted to demonize and vilify them, pretending low test scores (themselves very misleading) were the direct result of substandard teachers—not only a specious argument but one calculated to destroy America’s teachers’ unions.

Arguably, the only union that continues to behave like the proud unions of the 1950s and 1960s is the ILWU (International Longshore and Warehouse Union), and that’s due solely to the fact that they have a firm grip on job security. As much as they would love to do so, the shipping companies can’t relocate the West Coast ports to a Third World country.

As a consequence, the shippers cannot stomach the fact that these longshoremen—unlike so many non-craft, blue-collar workers across the board—actually continue to earn a middle-class wage, something that was common in the 1950s, but is all too rare today.  Keep on truckin’, guys.  You’re an inspiration to union workers everywhere.

David Macaray, a playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor,” 2nd edition), was a former labor union rep. He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com   

More articles by:

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

Weekend Edition
December 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
A Tale of Two Cities
Peter Linebaugh
The Significance of The Common Wind
Bruce E. Levine
The Ketamine Chorus: NYT Trumpets New Anti-Suicide Drug
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fathers and Sons, Bushes and Bin Ladens
Kathy Deacon
Coffee, Social Stratification and the Retail Sector in a Small Maritime Village
Nick Pemberton
Praise For America’s Second Leading Intellectual
Robert Hunziker
The Yellow Vest Insurgency – What’s Next?
Patrick Cockburn
The Yemeni Dead: Six Times Higher Than Previously Reported
Nick Alexandrov
George H. W. Bush: Another Eulogy
Brian Cloughley
Principles and Morality Versus Cash and Profit? No Contest
Michael Duggin
Climate Change and the Limits of Reason
Victor Grossman
Sighs of Relief in Germany
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Robert Fantina
What Does Beto Have Against the Palestinians?
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Sartre, Said, Chomsky and the Meaning of the Public Intellectual
Andrew Glikson
Crimes Against the Earth
Robert Fisk
The Parasitic Relationship Between Power and the American Media
Stephen Cooper
When Will Journalism Grapple With the Ethics of Interviewing Mentally Ill Arrestees?
Jill Richardson
A War on Science, Morals and Law
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Evaggelos Vallianatos
It’s Not Easy Being Greek
Nomi Prins 
The Inequality Gap on a Planet Growing More Extreme
John W. Whitehead
Know Your Rights or You Will Lose Them
David Swanson
The Abolition of War Requires New Thoughts, Words, and Actions
J.P. Linstroth
Primates Are Us
Bill Willers
The War Against Cash
Jonah Raskin
Doris Lessing: What’s There to Celebrate?
Ralph Nader
Are the New Congressional Progressives Real? Use These Yardsticks to Find Out
Binoy Kampmark
William Blum: Anti-Imperial Advocate
Medea Benjamin – Alice Slater
Green New Deal Advocates Should Address Militarism
John Feffer
Review: Season 2 of Trump Presidency
Rich Whitney
General Motors’ Factories Should Not Be Closed. They Should Be Turned Over to the Workers
Christopher Brauchli
Deported for Christmas
Kerri Kennedy
This Holiday Season, I’m Standing With Migrants
Mel Gurtov
Weaponizing Humanitarian Aid
Thomas Knapp
Lame Duck Shutdown Theater Time: Pride Goeth Before a Wall?
George Wuerthner
The Thrill Bike Threat to the Elkhorn Mountains
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Selfhood and Her Ability to Act in the Public Domain: Resilience of Nadia Murad
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
On the Killing of an Ash Tree
Graham Peebles
Britain’s Homeless Crisis
Louis Proyect
America: a Breeding Ground for Maladjustment
Steve Carlson
A Hell of a Time
Dan Corjescu
America and The Last Ship
Jeffrey St. Clair
Booked Up: the 25 Best Books of 2018
David Yearsley
Bikini by Rita, Voice by Anita
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail