A so-called “labor shortage” in the United States has quickly become a catch-all justification for policies that prevent workers from gaining too much power on the job, or collectively organizing by forming unions. Not enough applicants for low-paid jobs packing meat, or working the cash register at Dairy Queen? Better crank up the Federal Reserve’s interest rates (a policy explicitly aimed at spurring a recession and putting people out of work), so that we have a larger reserve of the desperate unemployed. Pandemic-era social programs ever-so-slightly redistributing wealth downward? Better shut them down, lest we eliminate the supposed precarity needed to incentivize work.
Oakland, California - The Schools and Labor Against Privatization (SLAP) coalition held a barbecue on June 26 at Parker School, which the school board has ordered to be closed and eliminated. But the East Oakland elementary school is still operating this summer unofficially as a community school for its majority Black and Brown student body. “The billionaires are not really that interested in educating working-class youth,” said Oakland teacher Divya Farias at the barbecue, “just like they don’t seem to care about preserving working-class jobs in the port of Oakland.
The AFL-CIO recently hosted a fundraiser by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) which aimed to support labor organizations in Ukraine assisting families suffering through the current crisis. One of the labor organizations is the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine (KVPU) which is a partner of the AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Center. The current chairman of KVPU is Mykhailo Volynets who is pictured on the left sitting next to his deputy, Ihor Kniazhansky, of the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion.
A stunning 24% of workers in the temp industry say they have had their wages stolen from them by their employers, according to a survey, released Feb. 3, that examines cycles of poverty and precarity for the industry’s disproportionately Black and Brown workers. The findings are based on surveys carried out by seven worker advocacy groups, including the National Employment Law Project (NELP) and Temp Worker Justice, across the country. In the study, 1,337 temp workers in 47 states answered questions about pay, safety, job mobility, workplace discrimination and employer retaliation. Temporary staff, or temp workers, are hired by staffing agencies to work at a worksite run by a host employer. They typically do the same jobs as their direct-hire counterparts, but often receive less pay and few to none of the same benefits, according to the report.
What ultimately settles grievances? More often than not, it hinges on the union’s ability to pressure management to settle. When managers look at the steward and the grievant across the table at a grievance meeting, they must clearly understand that they are dealing with more than just two people. They are dealing with the entire union. Management must also go to the grievance meeting feeling some immediacy, so they don’t drag the grievance out through all the steps.
The Solidarity Center’s activities in Venezuela and Colombia skyrocketed last year. Funding from the mis-named National Endowment for Democracy (NED) soared to almost 60% over the previous year’s awards. The 2020 funding, alone, represents over 40% of the total for similar grants for the last five years on record ($3,617,000). In 2020, the Solidarity Center’s Bogotá office received $1,470,000 in regional NED funding. That is up over $626,000 in 2019. Additionally, the NED gave a $50,000 award for “a survey of labor rights violations” but did not specify to whom the grant was given. The Solidarity Center works closely with long-time partners, the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV, for Confederación de Trabajadores de Venezuela), as well as the Labor Solidarity Movement (MSL for Movimiento de Solidridad Laboral), which includes current and former CTV officials in its leadership, as well as Orlando Chirino, who was a candidate for president of Venezuela against Hugo Chávez in 2012.
The capitalist vultures are wheeling low, but they’re finding slim pickings to choose from these days. “No one wants to work!” The bosses whine about a worker shortage—though it’s one they brought about. Eighteenth-century British economist Adam Smith noted how common it is to hear complaints about workers coming together to fight for their interests, and how rare it is to hear about all the scheming the bosses do to plunder workers’ labor. “Masters are always and everywhere in a sort of tacit, but constant and uniform combination, not to raise the wages of labor above their actual rate,” Smith wrote in The Wealth of Nations. That scheming is the background to the current labor shortage.
Labor Day is a good time to reflect upon how American workers have been doing — especially the majority who have been left behind for most of the past 40 years. From 1979 to 2018, the median wage has grown by just 11.6 percent. If we compare this to prior decades, e.g., 1948 to 1979, that increase was 93.2 percent. These two facts tell a big part of the story of a social transformation that is both inexcusable and historically unusual: a high-income country becoming vastly more unequal, as most workers’ pay fails to rise with most of the gains in productivity that has accompanied their work. Then came COVID, which has disproportionately harmed and killed lower-wage and Black workers. Hopefully, the current wave will subside and pass soon, as more people are vaccinated.
“I have pepper spray and I hold it every time I’m alone right now in case I see someone that is really frightening,” said New York City teacher Annie Tan, who is Chinese American. By February 2020, friends of hers had already been verbally harassed on the subway. One had been deliberately coughed on. Another was too scared to take the train anymore. Many Asian Americans and Asian immigrants are experiencing similar incidents. A neighbor pointed to her and said “China virus,” said Ah Ying, a homecare worker in San Francisco who immigrated years ago from Taishan, China. A physical assault on an Asian American occurred near where she lives. Ah Ying has told her daughter to restrict her activities outside the home.
Broadly speaking, there have been two very large labor stories this year. The first is, “I have been forced into unemployment due to the pandemic, and I am scared.” And the second is, “I have been forced to continue working during the pandemic, and I am scared.” America’s labor reporters spent most of our year writing variations of these stories, in each company and in each industry and in each city. Those stories continue to this day. The federal government left working people utterly forsaken. They did not create a national wage replacement system to pay people to stay home, as many European nations did. OSHA was asleep on the job, uninterested in workplace safety related to coronavirus.
My first meeting with Leo Panitch didn’t go so well. I was sitting in a restaurant before the 2016 Labour Party conference in Liverpool with Jacobin editor Bhaskar Sunkara. Leo arrived dressed in a sharp leather jacket and looking far too young for his age. Unfortunately, he seemed to have travelled from Canada with a determination to debate Bhaskar about something or other, and a spirited conversation ensued. I literally didn’t get a word in and we barely exchanged names before he had departed again, already late for a meeting with another of his many mentees. Things didn’t swiftly improve. Bhaskar and I had been involved in organising one of the headline events of the first World Transformed festival, a discussion of the legacy of Ralph Miliband involving Leo Panitch, John McDonnell, and another of Leo’s protégés, Max Shanly.
“Two well-known and highly respected mainstream economists, Carmen Reinhart, a chief economist for the World Bank, and Vincent Reinhart, chief economist for Morgan Stanley bank, have recently published an article in the widely read capitalist source, Foreign Affairs, entitled ‘The Pandemic Depression’. Arguing primarily from a global perspective, the economists have concluded the US economy as of the 3rd quarter 2020 is not merely now experiencing a ‘great recession’ but now qualifies as another Great Depression.
The coronavirus pandemic has revealed much about work in the United States: There have been countless examples of workers speaking out against unsafe work conditions and demanding personal protective equipment (PPE) to try and stay healthy and safe on the job. We also have seen that essential workers are often not paid commensurate with the critical nature of their work. Few U.S. workers have access to paid sick time or paid leave of any kind. And, when workers have advocated for health and safety protections or wage increase, they have often been retaliated against, and even fired for doing so. As a result, many workers have decided to strike in an effort to have their voices heard. Even before the pandemic, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) showed an upsurge in major strike activity in 2018 and 2019, marking a 35-year high for the number of workers involved in a major work stoppage over a two-year period.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ November jobs report released on Dec. 6 showed a 50-year low unemployment rate of 3.5 percent, with 266,000 jobs added. This signals a strong economy. But another recent report, from the Coalition for a Prosperous America, shows that while the quantity of jobs has increased since the Great Recession, the quality of jobs has decreased. The November federal jobs report shows the health care sector leading the way with the number of jobs added, followed by manufacturing and hospitality. Nevertheless, wage growth actually dipped by a tenth of a percent, and wage growth has slowed this year compared to last year.
Labor Organizers Have Filed A Complaint Against The Marciano Art Foundation Over Its Abrupt Closure In The Wake Of Unionization Efforts
“[The museum closure] shows that they would rather shut down a ‘public service’ institution than raise wages a dime—or raise pay a dime above minimum wage,” one of the laid-off workers, Spencer Longo, told the Los Angeles Times. A number of the dismissed employees demonstrated outside the shuttered museum on Friday, where they were joined by workers from other museums. “We have other actions in the works,” Izzy Johnson, a docent who serves on the union’s organizing committee, told the Los Angeles Times.