It’s been a busier week than usual for us in the labor movement, making it impossible to spotlight any one event. So here are highlights.
Global Union Summit. The AFL-CIO this week hosted the first-ever global union summit of top union leaders—more than 200 of them from 63 countries—to strategize on how working people can combine forces to better meet the multinational challenge. We’ve synched up organizing and other campaigns with international unions for some time, but the goal here is to establish the framework for a coordinated worldwide union movement. International Trade Union Confederation President Sharan Burrow says the summit established "a New Internationalism based on fighting the oppression of working people by the commodification of labor." Fred Van Leeuwen, chairman of the Council of Global Unions, which sponsored the conference, summed it up this way:
As never before, we must link global action with local action.
U.S. Corporations Export Anti-Unionism. The United States has a lower rate of union membership than any other industrial nation because of bad labor laws and virulent employer attacks against workers who seek to form unions. Now, U.S. corporations are exporting their tactics to other countries to prevent workers from freely forming unions. These findings were released by London-based economist John Logan during a press conference and forum on Capitol Hill in conjunction with the global union summit. Here’s Logan:
The intensity of employer opposition and government hostility to collective bargaining in the United States is unique among developed nations.
Some 60 million people in the United States say they would join a union if they could—and low rates of union membership are in large part due to what Logan called the “repressive character of U.S. labor law, which allows free rein to anti-union employers.” Kelly Beringer, an R.N. at Resurrection Health Care, in Chicago, where nurses have tried to form a union with AFSCME for nearly five years, describes the obstacles to forming a union as "death by a thousand cuts." Beringer joined Logan and the global union leaders on Capitol Hill for the press conference as well as for two forums with members of the House and Senate, led by Sen. Edward Kennedy and Rep. George Miller. Putting their unity into action, global leaders urged Congress to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, which we pushed for hard this year and which would level the playing field for workers seeking to form unions. Great start to global solidarity.
No Justice at Bush’s Labor Dept. We had no doubts about that, but a new report (yep, another one) shows just how bad the situation is. Seems the Bush administration loaded the Labor Department with political extremists who are carrying out a Newt Gingrich/Grover Norquist strategy to destroy unions. One example: Bush appointed Don Todd to head the Office of Labor Management Standards, even though he is not an attorney and had no background in labor issues. But he did have experience with developing the Willie Horton ad for the George H.W. Bush campaign. The report, by Center for American Progress senior fellow Scott Lilly, puts it this way:
The underlying purpose, of course, is to undermine the reputation of the labor union movement through a classic political misinformation campaign—all under the supervision of a lifelong partisan political operative whose career has been dedicated to the destruction of his political opponents.
Labor Board Overboard. Another Bush-run, anti-worker agency, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), is in the spotlight today, as the House holds hearings on NLRB rulings that repeatedly attack workers and their unions. The NLRB regularly has ruled against workers after Bush Republican appointees took the majority on the five-member board, most notably in a decision last year that took away the right of some 8 million workers such as nurses, construction workers and journalists to form unions by expanding the definition of "supervisor.”
But in September, the board outdid its worst previous efforts when it issued a series of sweeping decisions that cut to the core of workers’ freedom to form unions and bargain. Some say the NLRB may be shoving through decisions because the clock is ticking on the Bush administration—and there’s always the possibility a pro-worker president may be elected (please, God).
Chris Bowers of OpenLeft is covering the hearings for us over at the AFL-CIO Now blog and elsewhere. He has the ideal background: As a graduate student leader seeking to form a union with AFT at the University of Pennsylvania, Bowers felt the impact of one of the first Bush NLRB rulings that made it much harder for private-sector graduate employees to form unions.
Will let you know how it went.