Labor Advocate Online

Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
October 5, 2005

Help Furnish FLOC
The Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) is a unique union. They have negotiated three cornered agreements that involve not only individual farmers who employ their members but big end users, such as Campbell Soup, who contract with the farmers. Last year they won an unprecedented contract with growers in North Carolina, and the Mt Olive Pickle company, that covers guest workers from Mexico–and FLOC starts representing their rights on the other side of the border. FLOC has also been a supporter of the Labor Party from day one.

To meet the needs of its thousands of new members FLOC broke ground for its permanent North Carolina office at 4354 Hwy 117 South, Dudley, NC, a couple of weeks ago. The 3500 square foot building will not only house eight staffers; it will also provide needed space for organizing, educational, and training activities as well.

This model union is not rich in material resources, however. While cost of the building is assured funds are needed to furnish this center–desks, chairs, tables, filing cabinets, computers, printers, etc. They are appealing to organizations and individuals in the labor and social justice movements for donations large or small. Send your tax-deductible contribution to:

Campaign for Migrant Worker Justice, Inc.
N.C. Office Contribution
1221 Broadway St.
Toledo, Ohio 43609

Dick Again
Were you wondering what ever happened to Dick Gephardt? You remember, the long-time leader of the Democrats in the House who gave up his safe St Louis area seat to run for the donkey’s presidential standard bearer. He got wide labor support–especially from the IAM.

Well, labor’s friend recently surfaced again–as a consultant for Boeing during the recently concluded 28-day strike by the IAM. His decades of experience with the union bureaucracy helped him craft a deal that both sides claimed as a victory. Upon close inspection, however, it seems only one side had reason to celebrate–and it wasn’t the Boeing workers.

The company did pull back some of their more outrageous bargaining chips on health care, modified their demands on outsourcing, and granted a modest increase in monthly pension benefits. But, despite healthy Boeing profits--racking in over a billion the first half of this year--the IAM workers get no general wage increase for three years.

Typically in the past Boeing workers have received modest general raises equal to at least the inflation rate in addition to annual bonuses tied to profitability and worker earnings. Giving up 2.5 percent annual wage increases not only means less money for the next three years–it also means lower wages forever. The compounded loss of 2.5 percent x those three years means a bonanza of hundreds of millions for Boeing in future wage and bonus payments far beyond the life of this contract.

Polishing the Big Apple
Of course labor’s old guard leadership doesn’t just support Democrat friends like Dick. Once in a while they find a nice Republican–such as New York mayor Michael Bloomberg. After working without a contract for over two years the city’s teachers union cut a deal with His Honor just in time to support him for reelection. Unlike Boeing, this agreement does provide 83,000 teachers with raises over 52 months to a cumulative 14.25 percent increase by the end. Because much of this will be retroactive for the 28 months since the old agreement expired teachers will get hefty back pay checks just in time for holiday shopping–and the election. Still, city teachers lag behind their suburban counterparts. And there were big time give backs in other areas. Teachers will be working longer work days, more days per year, and have to take on some additional non-teaching tasks. Language changes gut grievance and seniority provisions. It was, after all, the least the UFT/AFT leadership could do for a friend.

Change Is In the [Hot] Air
Change to Win got supersized from a coalition to a federation last week. Labourstart’s Eric Lee, and the dean of labor movement gossip columnists, Jonathan Tasini, were on hand to give nearly real time Internet commentary about this historic event. Alas, even these eager beavers couldn’t find much to comment about. Anna Burger did go into the history books as the first female president of a U.S. labor federation and Edgar Romney became the first African-American to be a fed secretary-treasurer. The seven principal officers from the component unions all made brief remarks–some briefer than others. A constitution was adopted. Unlike in their former home at the AFL-CIO they didn’t waste any time taking a position on the war, or any social issues. They were there strictly to organize, by golly, and pledged 750 million over five years to do a lot of it. They wrapped up their business in less than two full days.

And Now For Something Completely Different...
This column is late this week because I was invited to speak at a Midwest Socialist Educational Conference in Minneapolis this past weekend. I’m glad I had the opportunity to attend this event, cosponsored by Socialist Action and Labor Standard. It was quite different from typical labor movement gatherings in a number of ways.

It was a young assembly, a majority under 25, some still in their teens. Most were from the Midwest though a number came from Connecticut, New York, Alabama, Arizona, California, Oregon, and Washington. There were also representatives from Mexico and Canada. Not a single expense account was drawn on; virtually everybody was on their own dime, doubling and tripling up in hotel rooms, or sleeping on a local person’s couch.

The conference, held in a Minneapolis union hall, opened by remembering the 150th birthday of Eugene Debs. The agenda was in tune with his heritage as a militant trade unionist, staunch opponent of war, and a socialist with a global vision.

Panel presentations included the environmental crisis, updated with the experiences of Katrina; the dynamics of the global capitalist economy; the future of the labor movement; the challenges facing the antiwar movement; workers’ struggles in Latin America; and examples of the youth radicalization. Those from Canada and Mexico gave reports on the situation in their countries. Each panel was followed by lively discussion from the floor. During one lunch break the powerful documentary film about the 1934 Minneapolis Teamster strikes, Labor’s Turning Point, was shown. After the conference many went on a tour of sites in the rich labor history of the Twin Cities.

My presentation in the future of labor session focused a lot on the two most promising developments I see–US Labor Against the War and the Labor Party. Of course, one needn’t be a socialist to see the value of these organizations. Unfortunately, many who call themselves socialists tend to be uninterested, some even hostile, to these formations. Not this gathering in Minneapolis, however. They could see the importance of a wing of the unions working to build a mass movement against the war. And, like Debs, they also understood how a mass Labor Party, even if not explicitly socialist, would be a giant step forward for the American working class.

This conference managed to charge even my aging batteries. I plan to keep in touch with these folks and look for more like them.

That’s all for this week.

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