Week In Review
September 17, 2012
by Bill Onasch
I delayed the WIR until today awaiting the outcome of the Chicago Teachers House of Delegates first look at an outline of a possible agreement that could end their strike. But, as a glance at today’s News Update on the Labor Advocate Blog demonstrates, there were also lots of other labor and environmental stories breaking over the weekend. I’ll touch on a few of them. Meanwhile, our efforts to get our updates on the kclabor.org site once again continue while this WIR appears on our Blog, is sent out to our Yahoo mailing list, and is usually cross-posted by our friends at Labor Standard.
Off the Job Education
It’s not easy keep up with a strike in progress in the limitations of a weekly column. By the time this WIR is uploaded there may already be dramatic new developments. Over the years I have had some personal experience in contract negotiations that have sometimes led to strikes. Like war, truth is often an early victim in such struggles as both boss propaganda and rumors from various sources, pernicious or naive, gnaw away at early striker enthusiasm. If neglected, this inevitable challenge can lead to everything going sideways fast.
In my opinion, the Chicago teachers’ strike is proving to be the most important and inspiring major walk-out since the 1997 UPS strike victory. I say this not just because of the scale of the action, and the precedent it may set for other teacher contract battles. The most impressive thing about the strike so far is the way the leadership prepared the members who elected them well in advance and have, with needed tactical flexibility, stuck to a sound strategy.
Many cheered while others recoiled in shock when CTU president Karen Lewis referred to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel as a “liar and bully.” This veritable description of the foul-mouthed schmuck who seeks to sterilize the CTU the same way he gleefully did with the UAW during Obama’s “rescue” of the auto industry, could be supplemented with even more colorful language if this were not a family friendly column.
But the CTU leadership has stressed to their members and the public that this is not a personal duel with the Mayor. They have well documented that he is only the ugly face of a ruling class that dominates the unelected Board of Education and that is pursuing the Obama administration’s national policy of privatization of huge chunks of public education, smashing or co-opting teacher unions along the way. The CTU understands better than most unions how their local struggle fits in to the bigger national picture of defending the interests of working class school kids, their parents, and their teachers.
The CTU leaders revived the strategy of a strike at a time when much of the union bureaucracy argues that strikes can no longer be won. The teachers did not shrink from taking this action that is clearly a major embarrassment for labor’s Democrat “friends” and a “diversion” of union activists away from phone calls and door-knocking leading up to the November election.
Some important unions, such as National Nurses United, SEIU janitors, and Chicago Transit Authority ATU locals, have shown genuine solidarity with the teachers. So has Rev Jesse Jackson and other community allies. Early polls showed many more supporting the strikers than the Mayor.
Like nurses and transit workers, teachers recognize their strike causes inconvenience, sometimes even hardship, for those they are dedicated to serve. They don’t withhold their labor lightly. They are eager to get back to teaching, anxious to alleviate the disruptions in student and parent lives resulting from the shut-down. They have done a good job in answering the lies and distortions in the boss-controlled media and have shown good faith in finding a negotiated settlement that preserves public education, improves teaching conditions, and maintains collective bargaining rights for their union.
At the same time, they have made clear that union democracy is paramount in all of their decisions. It’s not easy to facilitate a democratic discussion and vote among 28,000 well educated and articulate members. There had been some early hope that the 800-member House of Delegates, representing each school in the system, might approve an outline of a tentative agreement reached by negotiators and that teachers could return to work while they discussed and voted on the final language. But the building representatives felt rushed and were not comfortable with making a decision without consulting those on the picket lines.
As this is written, the tempo of union process may lead to a decision by tomorrow, Tuesday. However, a new complication has arisen with the Mayor bellowing he will go to court to have the strike declared “illegal.” Obviously that would be a major escalation of the battle but their first attempt to find a friendly judge failed.
As is my custom, I will not parse what is known of the tentative agreement. There will be plenty of opportunity for outsiders to draw a balance sheet when the battle is done. While class war rages, those of us in the auxiliary have the duty to assure those on the front lines, “we’ve got your six [back]”
CAW Down to the Wire. Contracts between the Detroit Big Three and the Canadian Auto Workers expire at 11:59 tonight. The CAW had offered a lower starting wage rate and longer progression to top pay but the bosses were not impressed. The employers want the same two-tier wage structure the UAW gave them. They as well want to also replace defined benefit pensions with the Canadian version of 401(k); eliminate Cost of Living Adjustment; end Thirty-and Out Retirement; and chisel away on other benefits and work rules–also all accepted by the UAW. Late last week the CAW was talking about striking all three companies at once for the first time. As I write, it appears the talks are focusing on Ford as a “target.”
Iberian Austerity. Workers throughout the neighboring countries of Portugal and Spain engaged in massive protests last week against government “austerity” programs imposed by European and international bankers. By far the biggest was in Barcelona, capital of the Catalan nation within the Spanish state, where the official police estimate was 1.5 million. Tens of thousands marched in Lisbon and Madrid. Among their demands was a referendum on the draconian cuts in the public sector accompanied by increased regressive taxes shouldered mainly by workers and the unemployed.
Teamsters Deliver But Bakers Balk at Hostess. Hostess Brands is what’s left of the once mighty Interstate Bakeries best known for Wonder Bread, Twinkies, and Hostess cupcakes. Now privately held in their second bankruptcy, the company demanded huge concessions from their unions under threat of liquidation. Teamsters leaders managed to squeeze a 53 percent majority to approve the latest round of give-backs. But those who bake the iconic brands, 5,000 members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Union, have had their fill of giving to corporate wreckers and decisively rejected the deal. The company’s future remains in the hands of the bankruptcy court.
Badger Bar Bites Walker. A Dade County (Madison) Wisconsin judge has ruled big chunks of Governor Walker’s hotly contested anti-public worker legislation unconstitutional. An earlier legal challenge based on untimely approval by the legislature was denied by the state Supreme Court. This one was based on violating union members’ freedom of speech and association, as well as the equal protection of the law, by subjecting union workers to penalties not imposed on nonunion public employees. The decision doesn’t affect those directly employed by the state but does cover city, county and school district workers. The Governor, who denounced the jurist as a “liberal activist judge,” is, of course, appealing the decision.
Don’t Be A Twit. Regular readers know I am not a big fan of “social media.” One of my many reasons is that unthinking intemperate remarks so often made in such formats can come back to haunt you. Last Friday, Twitter complied with a court order to hand over three months worth of messages sent by an Occupy activist charged with disorderly conduct in relation to a protest on the Brooklyn Bridge.
Blowing Hot and Cold. As previously reported here, there was a record loss of Arctic sea ice, as a result of global warming, this season–an area equivalent to the size of Texas. Scientists have noted a trend of record ice melts being followed by exceptionally severe cold winters in Europe and they expect the same to happen this year.
That’s all for this week.