workers freedom

economics as if workers mattered

Monthly Archives: February 2015

Bribing the bosses

A Bangladeshi garment firm has agreed to stop assaulting union activists, to pay the medical bills of a union leader who was badly beaten by company goons last year, and to reinstate several fired union activists with back pay, the New York Times reports. The firings and beatings at two Azim Group factories in Chittagong were captured on video tape; Azim manufactures garments for North Face, Nautica, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, the Gap, and other brands.

After weeks of negotiations, Azim agreed to halt its gangster-style union-busting (illegal even under Bangladesh law) and recognize the union in exchange for the companies (which say their garments were produced at different Azim Group factories) agreeing to resume placing orders with the company. Azim insists it is paying the medical bills only as a “humanitarian” gesture.

Would a union member caught on camera beating a boss be permitted to resume work if he agreed to pay the medical bills?

Nonetheless, it is a victory of sorts, as decades of anti-sweatshop work have left some contractors unable to turn a blind eye to the abuses that inevitably result from their race-to-the-bottom subcontracting, forcing them to insist at least that workers be able to manufacture their garments without being beaten for their trouble.

Union scabbing

Building Trades unions have directed their members to cross picket lines at Marathon Petroleum, so that the strike will not unduly inconvenience the bosses. This is how strikes are lost, and a major reason so many workers repudiated the American Separation of Labor more than a century ago.

The American Separation of Labor

The lockout of the Teamsters and Carpenters from the Philadelphia Convention Center continues, and the labor courts have just struck another blow against union leaders who have been trusting to the courts and to the new governor they spent huge sums to help elect, rather than to industrial action and solidarity, to return their members to the job.

First the National Labor Relations Board ruled that it did not have jurisdiction because the Convention Center Board was a public agency. Now the Pennsylvania board has ruled that it doesn’t have jurisdiction because the locked-out workers were hired and dispatched by a private contractor, not by the Convention Center. The unions say they’ll appeal, but that could take years and neither body has a record of defending workers’ rights.

Meanwhile, the picketers continue their token presence in a picketing pen set up by the police far from the loading docks where they might hope to persuade fellow Teamsters not to cross picket lines to deliver the truckloads of stuff absolutely essential to the conventions and trade shows (so far, there is not a single documented example of workers honoring the picket line) the Center relies on. Members of the four unions which have been crossing the picket lines to work the shows from day 1 continue waltzing across the lines, as do members of both locked-out locals working under different agreements.

No doubt some locals have refused to enter the scabby facility (I’ll be staying away from the Flower Show this year), but since the picketing pen is too far from the entrances to be seen they would have to know about the dispute in advance.

Union piecards have been trusting to the courts and to the politicians to get their members’ jobs back. The newly elected Democratic governor has not said one word in their behalf since ousting the Republican by a healthy margin. There’s no justice to be found in the courts.

So we see the complete bankruptcy of the American Separation of Labor. The workers can’t capitulate — they already offered to crawl back on the bosses’ terms just hours after the lock-out began. They’ve been clear that they’re ready to work on whatever conditions the bosses demand. They just want their jobs back.

But the bosses don’t need them, in part because the craft-based structures the American Separation of Labor was built around have been obsolete for more than a century. There were six unions representing the floor workers in the Convention Center, and it’s long been clear that the work wasn’t so distinctive or specialized that almost all of it couldn’t be done by someone trained in a different craft.

As long as the other workers continue scabbing, the Convention Center doesn’t need the workers it’s locked out. The only industrial power they might have would come from workers acting in solidarity with one another, rather than paying dues to “unions” competing with each other to deliver workers to the bosses under the most favorable terms. If the four scabbing unions stopped their union scabbery, the lock-out would end within a day. If Teamster drivers refused to deliver to the scab-ridden Convention Center, no trade shows or conventions could be held.

If, that is, American workers had a union movement worthy of the name…