Growing militancy among US airline workers over intolerable work conditions and low pay is fusing with the rebellion by railroad workers, who are heading toward an historic confrontation with the Biden administration and the US Congress with the passage of legislation imposing a contract that workers have rejected. Airline workers are in virtually the same situation as railroaders, with flight crews facing short staffing leading to overwork and potentially catastrophic pilot fatigue. While airlines are raking in bumper profits, boosted by massive government subsidies, airline workers, whose pay has long been stagnant, are being ravaged by inflation. Like railroad workers, airline workers are confronting a ruthless corporate management.
What I can share is that we have almost certainly averted the chance of a legal, national rail strike. The House of Representatives voted on Wednesday to step in and force rail laborers to accept the tentative agreement brokered by the White House in September. The House also passed legislation guaranteeing seven days of paid sick leave. The Senate likely votes Thursday on that legislation. We’ve seen an interesting range of politicians speak out about Congress’ intervention into this strike. As you could expect, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., spoke out against any legislation that would not deliver paid sick leave to rail workers. But so too did Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas. Whether they will merely tweet about sick leave or actually vote to ensure it is another question.
On Nov. 29, 2012, over 100 fast food workers in New York City walked off the job to demand that their wages be increased to $15 an hour and to finally have a voice in their workplaces through union representation. That walkout was the beginning of a movement—a movement that articulated and emerged out of the need for human dignity and democracy in the workplace; a movement that has forcefully asserted that highly profitable industries dominated by multi-billion and multi-million dollar corporations can afford to pay their workers a living wage and allow workers to safely voice their concerns and address issues that impact them and their work. Out of those worker-led demonstrations a decade ago the Fight for $15 and a Union was born, a global campaign pushing to increase wages and improve working conditions for workers in low-wage jobs, from the fast food industry to retail.
If your union goes into negotiations right now and doesn’t win its biggest raise ever, you’re leaving money on the table. Soaring inflation means it takes a bigger raise just to break even. And with unemployment low, labor has extra leverage to win more. Dining hall workers at Northeastern University in Boston just approved a new contract that will raise them to $30 an hour by 2026—triple the $9 they were making in 2012 before they unionized. After a rowdy mass picket, Sysco food delivery Teamsters in Massachusetts won a 39 percent raise over five years. Here in Seattle, Providence Swedish hospital workers just won their largest-ever economic package, with two-year raises of 21.5 percent or $6.50, whichever is more. (They structured it that way so the lowest-paid workers don’t get the lowest raise.) These are just a few of many examples.
Despite the intervention of the Biden administration, after nearly three years of contract negotiations, workers who operate the nation’s freight railroads are poised to go on a nationwide strike as early as next Friday. “Our members, and all rail labor in general, are frustrated,” said Matt Weaver, a Toledo-based rail worker and member of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division (BMWED). “It feels like there’s no respect for us.” Last week, the two largest rail unions announced a split decision on whether to approve a tentative, five-year agreement brokered ahead of a strike that was previously set to begin in September. The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) narrowly ratified the agreement with 53.5% of members voting in favor, while the deal was rejected by just over 50% of train and engine service members of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers-Transportation Division (SMART-TD).
Which side are you on? It’s the most fundamental question in politics, and President Joe Biden has given us his answer. Last night, the White House released a statement calling on Congress to impose a contract on railway workers, with more than a week remaining before the December 9 strike deadline. Describing himself as a “proud pro-labor president” and expressing his “reluctance,” Biden nonetheless indicates his intention to try and force terms on workers that many already rejected earlier this year. The rhetorical triangulation was even more glaring in the statement released by outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, which hit many of the same notes as Biden’s while adding, “As we consider Congressional action, we must recognize that railroads have been selling out to Wall Street to boost their bottom lines, making obscene profits while demanding more and more from railroad workers.” Well, indeed.
The left has not become marginalized because of exhaustion or infighting. Its decline was caused by the US government’s more than century long police state operations, purging the left from its historic home in the working class movement, so that it now has only tenuous connection with the organized working class. The national security state – the actual US government – has constantly worked to neutralize anti-imperialist and class conscious working class voices, and instead promoted a “compatible left” in their long-term strategy to divide and control the left. The working class, particularly the sector in industrial production, had significance for the left not because workers are progressive in their thinking, but because they possess the power no other social forces have: they can vanquish the rule of capital by halting production, shutting off the capitalists’ ability to generate surplus value, life blood of their system.
California - Add Peet’s Coffee to the list of unionizing coffeehouse chains. Workers at two Davis locations of the popular California-based cafe chain will submit signed union cards to the NLRB on Monday. The public submission will mark the culmination of five months of quiet work by organizers for Workers United, the SEIU offshoot that has provided the muscle and infrastructure for Starbucks Workers United. Leaders at the two Peet’s stores say that they have near-unanimous buy-in from their co-workers, who have grown tired of the low pay and high-stress demands placed on them by the company. “I really love what I do, and I really believe in the Peet’s values, but every year it gets harder to do this job, it gets busier and busier and everything gets more and more expensive,” Alyx Land, an organizer at the North Davis location, tells More Perfect Union.
Columbia, South Carolina - Hundreds of service workers from across the South gathered in Columbia, South Carolina, November 17-19 to launch the Union of Southern Service Workers (USSW), taking their fight to a new level. The new organization grows out of the Raise Up, the Southern branch of the Fight for $15 and a Union, a movement backed by Service Employees International Union (SEIU). In addition to fast food, members work in hotels, gas stations, retail, home care, sit-down restaurants, and more. Some of these workers have been organizing their industries for a decade with Raise Up—fighting for higher wages and better working conditions. Others have only recently joined the effort—including many who felt that the pandemic exposed how essential their work was, and how little corporations and politicians valued them.
The four unions that have now rejected the tentative agreement are the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes (representing 19% of unionized workforce in negotiations), Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (6%), International Association of Boilermakers and Blacksmiths (1%) and SMART-TD, excluding yardmasters, (30%). The eight unions that voted to ratify the tentative agreement (and the percentage of the total their members represent) are the American Train Dispatchers Association (1%), BLET (20%), Brotherhood Railway Carmen (7%), International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (5%), International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (5%), Mechanical Division of SMART (1%), National Conference of Firemen and Oilers (2%), and the Transportation Communications Union (3%).
In Britain today, anyone asking a worker about the direction the country is headed will be unlikely to receive a printable answer. Stumbling from crisis to crisis, the country is on its third prime minister of the year. Energy bills have skyrocketed by 96 percent since last winter, and rent has shot up by as much as 20 percent, while inflation—which currently stands at 12.3 percent—has been predicted to rise as high as 18 percent by the first few months of 2023. This is happening in a country which was the first in Western Europe to register 200,000 deaths from the coronavirus and has already been subject to brutal austerity measures that have wrecked the social fabric. An analysis by the Trades Unions Congress (TUC, the British equivalent of the AFL-CIO) released earlier this year found that British workers earned £60 ($70) less per month in real wages in 2021 than at the start of the financial crisis in 2008—the longest wage slump since the Napoleonic Era.
On Thursday morning, thousands of Starbucks workers across the country rose at the crack of dawn — some braving bitter cold — to set up picket lines outside their stores. Over 100 Starbucks locations participated in what workers were calling the “Red Cup Rebellion” — a nationwide walkout planned by Starbucks Workers United (SBWU), the union that represents nearly 7,000 Starbucks workers across the United States. Workers who spoke to In These Times said they hoped the day of action would finally convince Starbucks to negotiate in good faith instead of doubling down on retaliation, intimidation and union busting. The strike was strategically timed. Starbucks’ annual Red Cup Day is a late fall tradition where customers can get certain beverages in reusable, limited-edition holiday cups.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - After a 19-day strike, members of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) union voted overwhelmingly in October to approve their first contract. Daily pickets had cut into the museum’s attendance and impacted preparation for an anticipated exhibit on the works of French painter Henri Matisse. After two years of stalled negotiations, the 180 workers of AFSCME Local 397 forced the museum’s hand and attracted public support that placed the museum’s well-crafted reputation at risk. The agreement includes a 14 percent raise over three years, an extra $500 for every five years of employment, a larger employer contribution to health care coverage, and, for the first time, four weeks of paid parental leave.
Thousands of unionized Starbucks workers at more than 100 locations across the United States are walking off the job Thursday to protest the coffee giant's refusal to engage in good-faith negotiations with stores that have voted to organize. Workers United, the union representing thousands of Starbucks employees, dubbed the nationwide day of action the "Red Cup Rebellion," a pro-labor counter to Starbucks' annual "Red Cup Day." As Starbucks gives away free reusable cups to customers to mark the holiday season, striking employees nationwide are handing out Starbucks Workers United-branded cups to build public awareness of the union drive and spotlight the company's aggressive and unlawful efforts to crush it.
The union representing part-time faculty at The New School, a prestigious private university in New York, has been telling its members “You are The New School.” And for good reason—part-time faculty make up a whopping 87% of The New School’s teaching staff. These instructors love to teach, but they say that theirs is an unrequited love, and that their nominally progressive university has left them with no other option but to strike. At midnight on Nov. 13, after a 14-hour bargaining session that ended without closing the gulf between the university administration and the union bargaining committee, the union’s contract expired. In preparation for the possibility that their existing contract would expire before a new agreement was reached, 1,307 of the roughly 1,678 part-time faculty teaching this semester voted to authorize a strike, receiving a swell of support from students, staff, and other faculty members at the university.