Monday, September 3, 2012

Hugs, Not Thugs

To give you an idea of how mushy the movement in Labor Movement has become in the past several decades, take a gander at how the unions are behaving in anti-union North Carolina this week. Instead of aggressively demanding stuff like collective bargaining, a living wage bill and job protection, they're eager to demonstrate their "soft side" to the voting public. (Translation: Wall Street, corporations, and slanderous Republicans.) The once-great AFL-CIO has actually set up a "Hug a Union Thug" booth to demonstrate how quietly they plan to go into that good night. And there's a website that couldn't be more conciliatory if it tried:

While several unions are boycotting the convention because the Democrats chose a right-to-work state (with the lowest union density in the entire country) for their quadrennial confab, the heavy hitters  are there with their whiffle balls and bats. People like AFL-CIO Chief Richard Trumka, who often whines that the Democratic Party has betrayed the unions, writes vociferous letters blasting job-killing free trade deals, and vows to withhold contributions -- and then eagerly endorses their candidacies all the same. Where else can they go? Wa-a-a-a-a-h.

The union people on display in Charlotte have sadly devolved into performance artists for the purpose of President Obama's re-election. According to The Hill's Kevin Bogardus, the labor groups are "trying a mix of celebrity, social media and humor to polish up the labor movement’s image in the eyes of everyday people".
MaryBe McMillan, secretary-treasurer for the North Carolina State AFL-CIO, said the state labor federation wanted to break down stereotypes regarding union members by dishing out the hugs.

“We see this as an opportunity to dispel that stereotype that union members are mean, scary and violet. (sic) What better way to disarm folks than to hug them?” McMillan said. “Union members take care of you in the hospital, deliver your packages and sit next you in church. We are just average folks.”
Oh, no. That dreaded phony populist "folks" word has insidiously crept even into the parlance of workers' rights. Give me the Purple Meanies any day.  From Jimmy Hoffa tough to McDonaldland's plummy Grimace character tender, is just about correct. The shrinking violet-not-violent unions are now just fine with people working at temporary minimum wage jobs rather than having no jobs at all. Just think of all the poor unemployed people in Charlotte getting pocketfuls of change from the Hollywood celebrities and professional athletes and A-listers of all stripes converging in town this week, to see and be seen.

North Carolina is so anti-labor that the United Nations International Human Rights Committee has condemned a Jim Crow-era law on its books forbidding public employees to  collectively bargain. And here you were wondering why President Obama did not join the protests against Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker trying to do the exact same thing.

Labor journalist Mike Elk, writing for Working in These Times, has an excellent piece about the Democratic Party's sellout of the labor movement. While some workers in Charlotte were putting in dangerous amounts of overtime at low pay to prepare for the convention, he says, the irony is that unions were treated well in Tampa for the GOP orgy of the oligarchs. It seems that Florida still does have collective bargaining rights.

Read the whole article. His description of DNC Chairperson Debbie Wasserman Shultz's canned endorsement of labor and her subsequent running away from his pointed questions would be hysterically funny if it weren't so depressing. The conventional wisdom among the unionists, Elk says, is that they're going for Obama for the simple reason that he is a slower bleed compared to Mitt Romney's "bullet to the head."

Even the unions not attending the convention are careful not to use the word "boycott" for fear of hurting Obama's re-election chances. They're just passive-aggressively not showing up. Among them is the International Association of Machinists, which came up with the idea of Labor Day in the first place.

So, Happy Labor Day, everybody. But when it comes to hugs not thugs, all I can do is shrug.

Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, Your McJobs


Denis Neville said...

Instead of the "Hug a Union Thug" booth, the AFL-CIO should be holding Obama and the Democratic Party’s feet to the fire to back economist James Galbraith’s call for a substantial increase in the minimum wage (currently $7.25 per hour) to $12.00, which would raise the incomes of 28 million Americans.

Where is the AFL-CIO support for the economic rights of millions of Americans for whom the minimum wage is not a living wage? Taxpayers subsidize corporations, who do not pay a living wage, by financing necessary social safety net programs for the working poor. By increasing the minimum wage, payroll- and income-tax revenues would increase and the federal deficit would decrease and Social Security strengthened.

Organized labor’s silence is a reflection of their subservience to the Democratic Party. This is not Walter Reuther’s labor movement.

“American democracy has been too long on pious platitudes and too short on practical performances. One of the problems is what I call too much high-octane hypocrisy in America. To me, today's question is a moral question which transcends partisan politics, and this rally today should be the first step in a total effort to mobilize the moral conscience of America to ask the people in Congress of both parties to rise above their partisan differences." - Walter Reuther, United Auto Workers Union President, March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963

Valerie said...

It is hard to be sympathetic to people who have the choice but choose to support the candidate who is selling them out. If all the unions got together and asked their membership to vote for Jill Stein and all the people who consider themselves environmentalists did the same, we would have a substantial Third Party option. Of course, we wouldn’t win, but we would be setting ourselves up for better elections in the future.

I liken American politics to a monopoly like AT&T or the cable company we had in Tacoma. We used to get crappy service and high prices until some competition came along. Suddenly, the monopolies are all about service and fair pricing. We aren’t going to get good service from our politicians if we continue to fall into line every time they pull out the fear card. – What a slap in the face by the Democratic Party to their union voters to have the convention in North Carolina assisted by non-union workers! Yet the union membership will still fall in line and give up their vote for mere crumbs.

I am totally disgusted by the unions – but also by my fellow liberals. GET A BACKBONE - instead of devising superficial crap like hugs from union members to change their image. Can you think of anything more pathetic!

I agree with Denis – as usual – the union should be fighting for compensations that are fair. People need a liveable wage – which should be $12 to $20 an hour. And I really believe most fair minded people would agree with that.

The problem lies with the outliers. Example: two friends of mine who work at Boeing. One is an engineer who has worked there since he got out of college. He makes $68,000 a year – nothing brilliant but good benefits and job security. He helped out my other friend who was a teaching aide at my school and had her hours cut, to get a night janitorial position at Boeing. She is a hard-working and within a year and a half, has been promoted. She now makes $85,000 because of the union. The unfairness of the two salaries really gets to my engineer friend’s wife as their family of four has to live extremely carefully on $68,000 to make it every month. While they don’t begrudge my friend’s janitorial pay, these are the kinds of stories that put people OFF the unions.

Denis Nevillw said...

The National Employment Law Project report on job loss and job growth trends during and after the Great Recession:

"During the recession (2008 Q1 to 2010 Q1), employment losses occurred throughout the economy, but were concentrated in mid-wage occupations.

By contrast, during the recovery (2010 Q1 to 2012 Q1), employment gains have been concentrated in lower-wage occupations, which grew 2.7 times as fast as mid-wage and higher-wage occupations. Specifically:

•Lower-wage occupations constituted 21 percent of recession losses, but 58 percent of recovery growth.
•Mid-wage occupations constituted 60 percent of recession losses, but only 22 percent of recovery growth.
•Higher-wage occupations constituted 19 percent of recession job losses, and 20 percent of recovery growth.

The unbalanced recession and recovery have meant that the long-term rise in inequality in the U.S. continues."

Labor Day message from Jill Stein, Green Party:

“I welcome and endorse the AFL-CIO's campaign to finally fulfill President Roosevelt's 1944 call for a second, Economic Bill of Rights, including the rights to jobs, living wages, labor unions, voting rights, health care, education, and retirement security. As the Green Party candidate for President, my Green New Deal platform already has specific proposals to secure these rights.”

“The AFL-CIO leadership are demanding that the two corporate-financed parties, the Democrats and Republicans, adopt the Economic Bill of Rights in their platforms at their conventions this year. They must know this is a lost cause with the openly anti-union Republicans. They should know that a real commitment to an Economic Bill of Rights is as much a lost cause with the Democrats, who have taken labor's political support for granted for many decades with no significant pro-labor reforms to show for it.”

“If they didn't know that, it should have been clear on August 11 when a 40,000-strong AFL-CIO sponsored rally in Philadelphia called for the Economic Bill of Rights. The rally heard by video from President Obama, who made no mention of the Economic Bill of Rights. Meanwhile, in Detroit, the platform committee of the Democratic National Convention put the final touches on the platform to be adopted over Labor Day week that has no planks to secure any of these economic rights.”

DNC AFL-CIO Hug a Thug - “We’re bringing the love to Charlotte and the DNC” – action? They should be raising hell, not bringing love to the DNC and Obama!!!

d12345 said...

Great stuff Denis,

But, I think that in fact, the current union movement is very much the heritage of Walter Reuther..

Reuther was a principal player in the expulsion of the left wing unions from the CIO. He fought against a labor party and made the unions an arm of the Democratic Party. (He supported Johnson and then Humphrey during Vietnam)

He was a founder of the "liberal" ADA, and is very akin to the Obama supporters that most bloggers here scorn.

Compared to today, he is a giant. But that says more about today than it does about him.

He did play a strong role in the civil rights movement. Which isn't a small thing.

Best to all here..

Valerie said...

Do you all recall the unions saying that they would support candidates who supported them and that the Democratic Party couldn't just take them for granted anymore? I guess all Obama had to do was appoint Trunka to one of his "councils" to shut him up.

Fred Drumlevitch said...

Off topic, but nevertheless important, as this country seeks to spy on its citizens in a manner similar to totalitarian states:

And for those who didn't notice this example of corporate censorship with respect to drone information when it was linked on Sardonicky's Blog Roll:

Zee said...


Regarding the "Jim Crow-era law on its [North Carolina's] books forbidding public employees to collectively bargain,"

well, FDR himself was no great fan of allowing public- sector employees either to bargain collectively with, or to strike against their employer, viz., the government:

"All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress. Accordingly, administrative officials and employees alike are governed and guided, and in many instances restricted, by laws which establish policies, procedures, or rules in personnel matters.

Particularly, I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place in the functions of any organization of government employees. Upon employees in the Federal service rests the obligation to serve the whole people, whose interests and welfare require orderliness and continuity in the conduct of government activities. This obligation is paramount. Since their own services have to do with the functioning of the Government, a strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government until their demands are satisfied. Such action, looking toward the paralysis of Government by those who have sworn to support it, is unthinkable and intolerable."
--Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1937

There is even more to be found at this link:

I think that I'm with FDR on this one, even if I'm not anti-private-sector-unions.

As I have said before--and have been pummeled for saying it before--there is nothing more incestuous than to allow public-sector unions to bargain collectively with the government (which is not synonymous with "the public"), and then turn around and offer huge campaign contributions to the very individuals who have cut them their "sweetheart deals."

This needs to be fixed somehow, if public-sector unions are to continue to survive and have some credibility with the "public."

Denis Neville said...

Zee quoted from the FDR "smoking gun" letter that the conservatives/GOP rely on in their claim that FDR opposed public employee unions.

Zee reveals yet another misleading conservative/GOP talking point that is endlessly repeated in the conservative echo chamber: FDR would support Republican proposals to outlaw collective bargaining for public service employees. When middle-class destroying, union bashing Republicans quote FDR in support of their agenda, assume they are lying.

If we read the entire letter, we can see that FDR did not oppose federal public employee unions, although he did oppose strikes by them. FDR’s letter to the President of the National Federation of Federal Employees which reveals his true feelings about public employee unions:

“As I am unable to accept your kind invitation to be present on the occasion of the Twentieth Jubilee Convention of the National Federation of Federal Employees, I am taking this method of sending greetings and a message. Reading your letter of July 14, 1937, I was especially interested in the timeliness of your remark that the manner in which the activities of your organization have been carried on during the past two decades "has been in complete consonance with the best traditions of public employee relationships." Organizations of Government employees have a logical place in Government… It is, therefore, with a feeling of gratification that I have noted in the constitution of the National Federation of Federal Employees the provision that "under no circumstances shall this Federation engage in or support strikes against the United States Government." I congratulate the National Federation of Federal Employees the twentieth anniversary of its founding and trust that the convention will, in every way, be successful.” - Letter on the Resolution of Federation of Federal Employees Against Strikes in Federal Service

FDR never says he is against public unions, only that they have a special responsibility when it comes to strikes. FDR said: “The desire of Government employees for fair and adequate pay, reasonable hours of work, safe and suitable working conditions, development of opportunities for advancement, facilities for fair and impartial consideration and review of grievances, and other objectives of a proper employee relations policy, is basically no different from that of employees in private industry. Organization on their part to present their views on such matters is both natural and logical…”

In 1962, President Kennedy signed Executive Order 10988, granting federal workers collective bargaining rights for the first time. Executive Order 10988, not only permitted workers to join and engage in union activity, but also set the stage for expanding collective bargaining rights under future presidents. This action caused many states and cities to allow their own workers to organize. This led to a wave of unionization in the public sector - firefighters, teachers, sanitation workers, social workers and many others in the 1960s and '70s.

Today critics claim that collective bargaining by government is responsible for today's budget deficits and that public sector unions are lining the pockets of their members at taxpayers' expense. The facts don't support these allegations. There is little correlation between states that have public sector collective bargaining and states with large deficits.

“Reviewing the history of the last 50 years gives the lie to those who have persistently argued that public sector collective bargaining inevitably corrupts the political system. No such debasement has occurred. Rather than serving as an instrument of plunder, public sector collective bargaining has proved to be a bulwark of an important sector of the American middle class.” - Joseph A. McCartin, author of "Collision Course: Ronald Reagan, the Air Traffic Controllers, and the Strike that Changed America."

Karen Garcia said...

Thanks, Denis, for your exhaustive research which should once and for all debunk the rumor that FDR was anti-union.

Zee said...

@Denis and @Karen--

I did indeed read the whole of FDR's letter before making my comment, and I don't believe that I anywhere said in my remark that FDR was "anti-public sector union."

What I did say at the outset of my remark was "FDR himself was no great fan of allowing public-sector employees either to bargain collectively with, or to strike against their employer, viz., the government."

Now, how you can read into those words that I am saying "FDR was anti-public sector unions," I simply cannot understand, except, perhaps, to suggest that you suffer from a slight over-eagerness to see me as a stereotypical Republican, which I'm not.

And I thought that what I said at the close of my remark would have at least implied that I, myself, am not anti-public sector unions, only that they should not be allowed to bargain collectively (at least, not in the same way as private sector unions) or to strike, until and unless the issue of possible corruption--one hand washing the other--is resolved:

"This [the opportunity for corruption] needs to be fixed somehow, if public-sector unions are to continue to survive and have some credibility with the "public."

As a former, quasi-public sector employee in the national defense sector, I had to avoid "even the appearance" of impropriety throughout my career. I did so, scrupulously.

I expect no less of other public sector employees. With all due respect to Joseph A. McCartin, this is not what I see in the current relationship between public sector unions and the government, today.

Public sector unions--as discrete entities--should not be allowed to make direct contributions to political campaigns; their members, of course, can do anything they like with their money.

Karen Garcia said...

Thanks for parsing the difference between being anti-public union and being anti-collective bargaining by public unions. Now I get it -- Unions should be seen and not heard. We should defend their right to exist, but not to strike, make demands, or otherwise rock the yacht.

Zee said...


Evidently, FDR made the same parsing that I did:

"All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service." --FDR


"Since their own services have to do with the functioning of the Government, a strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government until their demands are satisfied. Such action, looking toward the paralysis of Government by those who have sworn to support it, is unthinkable and intolerable." --FDR (Bold emphasis added.)

Both quotes are from the same letter that both @Denis and I cited earlier:

Clearly, FDR went beyond @Denis's assertion that public unions merely have a "special responsibility" with respect to strikes. Strikes were, apparently, both "unthinkable and intolerable" in FDR's own words.

Now, how FDR proposed to allow public unions, yet refused to allow them to strike or to bargain collectively (as "the term is "usually understood), I don't pretend to know.

But I think that his words are perfectly clear, and I don't think that I have misreprented them.

Karen Garcia said...

FDR was likely referring to public workers essential to health and safety not being allowed to strike. Plus I think there is a huge difference, not to mention false equivalence, between striking and demanding collective bargaining rights. The rationale or fear on the part of the govt is that workers might take a mile if you give them an inch. Ergo, they try to nix collective bargaining thereby preventing workers walking out in the first place and going on strike. You might say trashing collective bargaining is a pre-emptive "strike" by the govt bosses.

In New York we have what is known as the Taylor Law to keep teachers and the like from striking. I once covered a strike of county workers, who were all then charged with violating this law. All the reporters who wrote stories and/or took pics of the pickets, etc were subpoenaed as the prosecutors' "evidence" that a strike had in fact taken place. And we journalists were so pissed off that we refused to testify when called to the stand, even under threat of contempt from the state Supreme Court judge presiding. Long story short, we made the government lawyers look like idiots and they just let the reporters walk. I have been pro-union ever since, even though I never had the good fortune to actually belong to one.

Valerie said...


You are trying to transfer the focus of corruption by the corporations, where they are essentially buying politicians who then turn around and give them sweetheart government contracts or sweetheart tax breaks with the influence of the unions to do the same.

It is a false equivalence - and obvious one. How do I know this? How well are the unions doing in this country? How well are the corporations doing? Are the unions getting what they want or are they losing ground. There might have been a time when the unions were corrupt and they ran the show, but those days are LONG over.

You are totally trying to distract from the REAL issues here. And I can tell you, as a teacher making $60,000 a year (top of the pay scale by the way)all I saw with each new contract was the state putting more and more on my plate and giving no compensation. With every new contract came more work and a cut in my benefits. Now there are cuts in salaries for my colleagues still in the classroom. Yet, teachers are AFRAID to strike because they understand that there will be a lot of ill-will from the parents who use school as a babysitter and Republicans who are looking for just one more reason to bag unions. Republicans act like unions strike at the drop of a hat – yet they only consider it as a last resort when NOTHING else works.

I have my gripes with the unions, but you are bringing up the same ole same ole arguments that might have made some sense in the 70’s and 80’s but are totally inappropriate at this point in time - particularly concerning public sector employees.

And yes, I know, you were only talking about FDR in your comment – but you were alluding to something else – that unions are bad and out of control and there need to be laws limiting their power to come together as a group and bargain for reasonable pay and reasonable benefits.

And what is your latest fixation with FDR? Are you reading a book or something?

Jay - Ottawa said...

To hug a union, or to mug a union: that is the question.

This interesting thread, with its humorous oxymoron (unions without collective bargaining) and fighting quotations of chapter and verse from the same letter of FDR, brings to mind those curious debates between believers and non believers, both sides pointing to passages from the Bible to prove their contrary points of view.

I think it was Cardinal Richelieu who said that with but one paragraph written by any man he would have enough evidence to condemn the fellow to death for treason.

Yes, FDR was capable of nuance in his official statements. But what did he DO?

He appointed Frances Perkins as his Secretary of Labor. We haven’t seen the likes of her since then at that post. In recent decades, secretaries of labor at the national and state levels have been political hacks more interested in sucking up to business than fighting for the union.

For a superficial check on what Perkins did for the common man and woman and unions, take a quick look at this Wiki article. Minimum wage, child labor, women in the workforce, collective bargaining, unemployment benefits, social security – all the big stuff. Without her, the New Deal would have been a shadow.

Did FDR boot her out because she missed those nuanced sentences about strikes by government employees in his address to union chiefs? Give me a break. She served as FDR’s Secretary of Labor throughout his long term in office.