Labor Advocate Online

KC Labor Newsletter
Week In Review, October 10, 2004
by Bill Onasch, webmaster,

Heading to Washington
I’m pleased to report that, thanks to contributions received this past week, I can now cover travel expenses to go to Washington to report on next Sunday’s Million Worker March.

KC Labor was an early endorser of this action. Numerous trade union, civil rights, and antiwar groups, collectively numbering millions of members, have gotten on board with endorsements, publicity, and contributions. While there will not likely be a million persons at the Lincoln Memorial October 17 the organizers say, with some justification, that those present will demonstrate the sentiment of millions.

Other formations who could not, for one reason or another, formally endorse have found indirect ways to express sympathy.

US Labor Against the War issued an "advisory" on the March that included:

"The fact that USLAW has not officially endorsed should not be interpreted as opposition to participation in the MWM. The program of the MWM is fully consistent with the Mission Statement of USLAW, including the demand for an immediate end to the occupation of Iraq, return of the troops now, and reallocation of national priorities to meeting human needs. Individual USLAW affiliates have endorsed the Million Worker March. With the consent of the Steering Committee, Gene Bruskin, Co-convenor, also endorsed as an individual with organization for identification only."

Labor Party national organizer Mark Dudzic issued this statement on behalf of the party’s Interim National Council: "The Labor Party supports the goals of the Million Worker March. We salute our many affiliates who will use this day to mobilize members around a pro-worker political agenda as well as all of our members and affiliates engaged in grassroots organizing to move this agenda in the post-election period."

The only downside to this opportunity to report back to you is that while I am on the road I won’t be able to update the Daily Labor News Digest. I’ll get Thursday’s done before I leave but the next won’t be until the following Wednesday, October 20. There will also be no Week In Review next Sunday.

Packinghouse Floor Collapse
The wage floor that is. In 1979 the packinghouse division of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters–a major component of today’s United Food & Commercial Workers–negotiated the last industry-wide agreement. It set the floor–the starting wage–at 10.69 per hour. At the beginning of last week the starting wage at Tyson’s Cherokee, Iowa plant was 10.69 per hour. But, after ratification of a new five-year UFCW contract, the starting wage is now 9.00 per hour.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only give-back. Whereas the employer previously paid, as was once the industry standard, 100 percent of health insurance the workers will now pay 25 percent. Their pension plan is now scrapped, replaced with a 401(k).

My Old Man, who was a charter member of the United Packinghouse Workers at Armour’s long defunct Kansas City plant, a participant in sit-down strikes and a victim of police brutality on picket lines, must surely be turning angrily in his final resting spot. His generation transformed the packinghouses from low wage hell holes in to decent, if still unpleasant, jobs. Today’s meat industry workers–including those that are unionized–are being pushed back into Upton Sinclair’s Jungle.

Some will say the problem is that industry restructuring eliminated the strongest union bastions–such as Kansas City, Chicago, and South St Paul–and greatly eroded union density in meat packing. Of course that is true. But union density during its peak was not built on the basis of negotiating massive cuts in wages, benefits, and working conditions. It’s not going to be rebuilt that way either.

Today’s meat workers can learn a lot from the study of my dad’s generation’s struggles. Even better educated, and equipped with such handy new technology as instant text messaging, with the right fighting perspective today’s workers can also win a better workplace and a better standard of living for their families.

Is Purple Ocean Just Purple Prose?
A few weeks ago I posted an article by Steve Early, Reutherism Redux: What Happens When Poor Workers' Unions Wear The Color Purple, taking a critical look at the workings of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). A few days ago, Jim Hard, an SEIU activist in California, submitted a rejoinder on the Portside listserve to Early’s article. With dizzying speed, Early cranked out an e-mail reply to the rejoinder, including me on his copy list. I’ve posted both new articles, side-by-side in columns, on Labor Advocate Online.

I will add an SEIU anecdote of my own. From time to time we get requests from workers trying to find a union to organize their workplace. We’ve been able to help in some cases. Recently I got such a plea from a worker at a nonprofit in a medium sized town in Wisconsin. I turned first to Purple, talking to a rather brusque lad in the SEIU organizing department. He told me straight away that this was not something the international union would ever be interested in. Perhaps one of the larger locals could check out such a situation but, unfortunately for workers in smaller towns in the Badger State, there was no such local in their area. I asked if he knew of any other unions who might be willing to talk to a small group of workers wanting to organize. He assured me he didn’t have a clue and suggested I look in the Yellow Pages under "unions."

Not quite ready to let my fingers do the walking aimlessly, I decided to try another union that makes organizing a "priority"–the Teamsters. I even shamelessly dropped the name of their new organizing director, Jeff Farmer, who I know from some brief encounters when we were both in Minnesota. A very nice lady told me all of the staff were out of the office, quite busy, and she was unsure when any might return. She did take my name and number. That was two weeks ago but the IBT hasn’t yet shown up on my Caller ID.

That’s all for this week. The next Week In Review will be in two weeks.

Regards to all