From the Labor Commission of the CPUSA, updates, information, news, analysis, and organizing materials in solidarity with workers of the world.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Specter To Switch Parties

The New York Times
April 28, 2009

By Carl Hulse

Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania said on Tuesday he would switch to the Democratic party, potentially presenting Democrats with a possible 60th vote and the power to break Senate filibusters as they try to advance the Obama administration’s new agenda.

“Since my election in 1980, as part of the Reagan Big Tent, the Republican Party has moved far to the right. Last year, more than 200,000 Republicans in Pennsylvania changed their registration to
become Democrats,” Mr. Specter said in a statement. “I now find my political philosophy more in line
with Democrats than Republicans.”

Mr. Specter, the long-time Republican party maverick, faced a difficult re-election next year, against conservative opponent Pat Toomey, the former Pennsylvania representative.

If Al Franken prevails in his ongoing court case in Minnesota and Mr. Specter begins caucusing with Democrats, Democrats would have 60 votes and the ability to deny Republicans the chance to stall legislation. Mr. Specter was one of only three Republicans to support President Obama’s economic recovery legislation.

“My change in party affiliation does not mean that I will be a party-line voter any more for the Democrats that I have been for the Republicans,” he said. “Unlike Senator Jeffords’ switch which changed party control, I will not be an automatic 60th vote for cloture.”

Democratic leaders expressed their enthusiasm. President Obama was handed a note from an aide at 10:25 a.m. on Tuesday during his daily economic briefing. The note, according to a senior administration official, said: “Specter is announcing he is changing parties.”

Seven minutes later, Mr. Obama reached Mr. Specter by telephone. In a brief conversation, the president said: “You have my full support,” according to the official who heard the phone call. The president added that we are, “thrilled to have you.”

“We will welcome him with open arms,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Labor on the Road to Unity

By Scott Marshall

Mayday is a great time to think about labor unity.

Labor unity is not static. Labor does not “arrive” at a final place called unity. Labor unity, like the broader fight for working class unity, is a constant journey. It is a continuous march up hills and around obstacles. At times it is a difficult hike over rough terrain through rain snow and sleet, against powerful headwinds. Talk about bad weather, think eight years of George Bush and 30 years of unbridled corporate attack on organized labor.

Nor is labor unity a big abstraction. Labor unity is motion. It is action and direction with purpose. It flows out of hard work around issues and program. Real labor unity is distilled from shared experience and estimates.

What I’m trying to get at here is that the current disunity in labor today is more a matter of form than of content. Yes there remains a formal spit in labor between the AFL-CIO and the Change to Win unions. But at the level of action there is incredible functional unity in labor. While there is no formal statement of a united labor program, one clearly emerges on the action level. All of labor is united around a program of action that includes: Passage of the Employee Free Choice Act. Sustainable economic recovery that creates jobs and income. Solutions to the housing crisis that keeps workers in their homes and provides affordable housing for working families. Real health care reform that is comprehensive and universal. Sustainable development that creates “Green” manufacturing and other jobs and that protect and repair the environment.

And just last week there was the incredibly important joint announcement of a unified approach to immigration reform by both federations and the National Education Association. This was not just a statement of agreement. It also signaled labor unity and support in action for the Obama administration’s call for the Congress to act. Further it underlined labor’s determination to actively work to influence the debate and legislation in a direction that not only protects immigrant workers rights, but that also promotes wider labor unity.

Labor’s experience with the 2008 elections has been critical on the road to unity. No one seriously challenges labor’s key role in electing President Obama, changing the balance in Congress and ending the far right Republican grip on power. While we celebrate the incredible role labor played in the elections, we also have to note the powerful influence the wider overall Obama movement had on labor. Work with the broader progressive coalition around Obama not only illustrated the power of unity, but it further developed the sophistication of labor’s independent political action while training thousands of new rank and file activists. Corporate, rightwing hysteria around the Employee Free Choice Act stems in no small part from their fear of this political awakening in the labor movement.

Labor unity is driven by all aspects of the class struggle itself. It is not just a question of will power or of “correct” understanding and thinking. Unity is driven by the economic crisis. It is driven by the attacks on autoworkers. Labor unity is driven by job loss, the struggles of the unemployed, housing foreclosures, and right-to-work laws. It is driven by attacks on immigrant workers, on worker’s rights, by racist attacks and discrimination against women. It is driven by inadequate healthcare and lack of funding for education. And labor unity is driven by all attacks on democracy. As the class struggle intensifies the driving pressure for unity builds. The fierce urgency of now is building labor unity today.

Of course there are still real problems. We cannot stick our heads in the sand and ignore the current crop of inner union turmoil and infighting. But in each of these situations there is a struggle at the grassroots for unity, democracy and rank and file rights. These are issues that will be settled internally. The dominate, overall trend towards greater unity in labor will be a powerful influence in these situations.

Nor can we ignore the thorny structural and leadership questions that still hold back the creation of a single house of labor. We can, however, be assured that the overall pressures for unity are also driving the current talks between the AFL-CIO, Change To Win and most of the independent unions.

On this Mayday we can and must redouble our efforts to promote the broadest possible labor unity. Not through abstract agitation, but by digging into action on the burning issues facing labor and the people. So much is happening at the local grassroots level. Every Central Labor Council demonstration or rally for the Employee Free Choice Act, every joint action on any of labor’s issues is a powerful force for unity. Every act of solidarity, every picket line, every labor convention and conference, every tie we help build between labor and labor’s natural allies, every labor community coalition strengthens and builds labor unity.

This Mayday the weather forecast is good. No matter how difficult the unity road ahead for labor, for the first time in a long while the wind is at our backs.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Steelworkers March for Justice and Dignity in Chicago

Photo's by Scott Marshall

Friday, April 17 Steelworkers and allies including Chicago Jobs w/ Justice, held a protest March in front of Commercial Forged Products plant in Chicago. Since signing a new union contract a year ago, CFP has mounted a vicious anti-union campaign targeting Black and Latino union members and stewards in particular for harassment and unfair treatment. Charles Gilyard, president of United Steelworkers (USW) local 2154 led the march demanding the company stop the attacks on the union and treat employees with dignity and respect. He also called for Congress to pass the Employee Free Choice Act to build a stronger labor movement that can stop such abuses and fix the economy for working families.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Unemployment -- not a ‘lagging indicator’ of economy

Author: Jim Genova
People's Weekly World Newspaper, 04/10/09 16:01

It is conventional wisdom pontificated ad nauseam on business channels like CNBC and Bloomberg that employment figures are “lagging indicators” of the state of a country’s economy.

Their argument is that as recessions begin businesses start to contract the labor force in order to “hedge” against expected declines in revenues and profits, even if they are not at that time losing money. This “streamlining” and “cost-effective” measure is designed to keep businesses profitable even as the economy as a whole slides into crisis. The result is that those employers who take proactive measures by dismissing their workers in advance of a deepening economic crisis will be the healthiest coming out of it. They will have surplus capital available to capture market share and swallow their competition. Such activity is a sign of economic health, so the argument runs, an indication that the “natural functioning” of the business cycle is working and the markets are “correcting themselves.” The result is that healthy businesses that continue to lay off workers as the economy bottoms will invest in new technology, improve efficiency in production, and prepare the ground for the next stage in the economic recovery. That means unemployment is likely to continue increasing even as businesses’ balance sheets get healthy, the stock market rises in value, and productivity rates improve. Those workers still employed are likely to receive better wages through working longer hours (not necessarily wage increases), which improves their purchasing power, thus contributing to the overall expansion of the economy – even as millions continue to languish on unemployment lines and more join them month after month.

The argument outlined above is flawed and reflects the perverted standards used by capitalist economists to measure economic vitality. As is obvious, the perspective outlined above to determine whether an economy is expanding or contracting is taken entirely from the standpoint of corporate balance sheets. A business is deemed “healthy,” i.e. profitable, even as those workers it lays off have seen their lives disrupted if not destroyed through loss of income...

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Socialism has failed. Now capitalism is bankrupt. So what comes next?

The headline may be a bit sensational but the article offers some food for thought - BA

By Eric Hobsbawm
The Guardian (UK)
April 10 2009

The 20th century is well behind us, but we have not yet
learned to live in the 21st, or at least to think in a
way that fits it. That should not be as difficult as it
seems, because the basic idea that dominated economics
and politics in the last century has patently
disappeared down the plughole of history. This was the
way of thinking about modern industrial economies, or
for that matter any economies, in terms of two mutually
exclusive opposites: capitalism or socialism.

We have lived through two practical attempts to realise
these in their pure form: the centrally state-planned
economies of the Soviet type and the totally
unrestricted and uncontrolled free-market capitalist
economy. The first broke down in the 1980s, and the
European communist political systems with it. The
second is breaking down before our eyes in the greatest
crisis of global capitalism since the 1930s. In some
ways it is a greater crisis than in the 1930s, because
the globalisation of the economy was not then as far
advanced as it is today, and the crisis did not affect
the planned economy of the Soviet Union. We don't yet
know how grave and lasting the consequences of the
present world crisis will be, but they certainly mark
the end of the sort of free-market capitalism that
captured the world and its governments in the years
since Margaret Thatcher and President Reagan.

Impotence therefore faces both those who believe in
what amounts to a pure, stateless, market capitalism, a
sort of international bourgeois anarchism, and those
who believe in a planned socialism uncontaminated by
private profit-seeking. Both are bankrupt. The future,
like the present and the past, belongs to mixed
economies in which public and private are braided
together in one way or another. But how? That is the
problem for everybody today, but especially for people
on the left.

Read more here.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Of Long Fuses and Seven League Boots

By Scott Marshall

I don’t know if Steven Greenhouse, of the New York Times, writes his own headlines. Doubt it. But I was sure struck by his article headlined, “In America, Labor has an Unusually Long Fuse.” (Read it here.) It reminded me that Friedrich Engels once said something to the effect that American workers are slow to move, but when they do, they move with “seven-league boots.” Meaning they move very quickly and cover a lot of ground.

The gist of the Times article was to say that American workers are not as militant or as action oriented as their counterparts in Europe. The article cites the wonderful labor demonstrations at the G20 meeting in London and the million workers in France who demonstrated against lay-offs and the economic response of their government. It also mentions the recent actions of French workers; holding their bosses captive to draw attention to their grievances.

The article misses on a couple of counts. Workers and unions are learning from each other all the time. Modern communications doesn’t only allow the media to do its job faster, it also lets workers exchange ideas and experiences globally. Marx and Engels even mention this duality of modern communications in the Communist Manifesto. Somewhere a boss is cursing Greenhouse for the article. The actions in France and England are not lost on American workers.

Europe and America have very different union histories and experiences. The Times article does discuss some of the militant history of US labor. But in a way that makes it seem like US labor militancy, strikes, sit-ins, general strikes, marches and demonstrations etc, are a thing of the past. This is the biggest miss of the article. Militant direct action is just one tool in labor’s arsenal. Labor in both Europe and the US are too far advanced to be confined to one set of tactics. The article mentions the recent successful sit-in by Republic Window workers in Chicago to stop the owners from moving equipment to a non-union operation and to demand pay and benefits due them in the plant closing. But it fails to mention some pretty big militant demonstrations by labor in the recent past – The Battle in Seattle and the Anti-FTAA (Free Trade Agreement of the Americas) in Miami to name a couple. The thing is theseactions took place during the Clinton and Bush years – very different political times.

To put it another way: there is a big difference between French president Nicolas Sarkozy and American president Barack Obama. One is a conservative who is trying to undue years of political gains for labor and one is advancing an agenda that undoes years of attacks on labor and actually promises reforms very much in line with the interests of labor.

The article even acknowledges in the last paragraph that much of the energy and drive of labor in the recent past went into the 2008 elections. Well yea! What an understatement.

The big miss here is not to appreciate the radical transformation taking place in American labor today. Unfortunately it’s not just the New York Times that misses – it is also some of labors friends and allies on the left. Big things are happening in labor when the movement takes the path of political action to fight for its interests. The 2008 election fight was labor at its strongest and most militant since the 1930’s. Even with its small numbers US unions were central and critical not only in defeating the Republican far right and electing Obama, but labor was instrumental in changing the balance in Congress. Labor’s operations gained in political sophistication and trained tens of thousands of new union members in independent political action. Further labor’s election work and its ongoing efforts on the Employee Free Choice Act, health care reform, green jobs and development, show a growing class consciousness. American labor increasingly sees itself as the champion of all working people.

Now back to Engels. He was right. The New York Times should not worry. American labor is fully capable of using more militant tactics as the need arises. Yes American workers will continue to work politically within the system to fight for its interests. Yes US labor understands the importance of having a friend in the White House and building pressure for its agenda in Congress. But rest assured that the Republic Windows union workers are just the tip of the iceberg of worker militancy. Mass militant action remains a well known part of American Labor’s vocabulary. It would be a big mistake for the captains of industry and finance to underestimate American workers when they put on their seven league boots.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Standoff Ends at Caterpillar Plant in France

Published: April 1, 2009, The New york Times

PARIS — Workers at a Caterpillar plant in the French Alps let their bosses go Wednesday after holding them overnight in a dispute over their severance packages.

The Caterpillar executives, jeered by union members, were escorted from the plant by police and union security, after being detained for more than 24 hours, according to an Associated Press reporter at the scene.

The standoff ended after President Nicolas Sarkozy said in an interview with Europe 1 radio Wednesday that he would “save the site,” and that he would meet with union members. “We won’t abandon them,” he said.

On Tuesday, striking workers at the plant detained five managers in a dispute over benefits to departing employees. They later let one manager go out of concern for his health.

A Caterpillar spokesman, Jim Dugan, said Wednesday that no one had been hurt.

“At a time when the company is making a profit and distributing dividends to shareholders,” Pierre Piccarreta, a representative from the C.G.T. union, on Tuesday told The Associated Press, “we want to find a favorable outcome for all the workers and know as quickly as possible where we are going.”

A member of the worker’s council reached by telephone through a union contact said “the employees just want a fair deal.” He refused to identify himself.

Chris Schena, a Caterpillar executive, said Tuesday in a statement that the company “is hoping this matter can be resolved quickly,” and that Caterpillar’s the “utmost priority is to find a solution that guarantees the sustainability of our presence in Grenoble.”

Caterpillar, based in Peoria, Ill., in January and February announced 22,000 job cuts worldwide. It is seeking to lay off 733 workers — about a quarter of the work force — at its factories in Grenoble and Échirolles. Combined with those already laid off and those whose short-term contracts will not be renewed, a total of about 1,000 workers at the French factories are losing their jobs.

Caterpillar France has said the job cuts were necessary because its order book had been cut in half.

In another show of worker anger on Tuesday, François-Henri Pinault, the chief executive of PPR, had to be rescued by riot police in Paris after workers protesting job cuts at his FNAC and Conforama units surrounded his car and blocked the road with garbage cans to keep him from escaping.

Workers at a 3M plant in the plant in Pithiviers, in central France, held their boss last week for more than 24 hours in a labor dispute. Workers at a Sony plant in Pontonx-sur-l’Adour, in southwest France, held their boss overnight to gain better severance packages.

France, with a long history of labor militancy, has becoming increasingly restless as the impact of the global economic crisis deepens. The French unemployment rate rose to 8.6 percent in February from 8.5 in January, according to the European Union.

Demonstrations in recent months have drawn millions of protesters to the streets to challenge Mr. Sarkozy’s handling of the economic crisis. Opponents of Mr. Sarkozy’s government say he has focused on bailouts for banks and industrial companies while ignoring the fate of workers.