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Foodies Get Wobbly

5:45 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Workers from Hot and Crusty win recognition for their union after 11 months of organizing. (Photo: Laundry Workers Center)

Originally published at In These Times

Once upon a time in the labor movement, a rebellious vanguard emerged at the margins of American industry, braiding together workers on society’s fringes—immigrants, African Americans, women, unskilled laborers—under a broad banner of class struggle.

The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), or Wobblies, raised hell in the early 20th century with unapologetically militant protests and strikes.

Their vision of a locally rooted, globally oriented anti-capitalist movement was eclipsed by mainstream unions, which had more political muscle. But grassroots direct action is today undergoing a resurgence in the corners of the workforce that have remained isolated from union structures.

Such alternative campaigns have a special resonance in today’s food industries, which employ the roughly 20 million people (one-sixth of the total workforce) who harvest, process, distribute and sell the food we eat. This marginalized, low-wage group is hungry for organizing models that move as nimbly as the corporations that run the production chains. The IWW’s signature organizing model, syndicalism (which prioritizes direct action in the workplace), meshes with the growing trend in the labor movement toward less bureaucratic labor groups, such as worker centers and immigrant advocacy campaigns. Flexible mobilization that doesn’t require formal votes or union certification is well-suited to precarious laborers seeking to outmaneuver the multinationals.

Since 2007, the Wobbly-affiliated coalition Focus on the Food Chain (FOFC) has empowered workers in New York City’s food sectors to challenge abusive employers on the streets and in the courts. The group—an alliance between the local IWW and the advocacy group Brandworkers International—aims to “carry out member-led workplace justice campaigns to transform the industry” and focuses on the oft-neglected links between farm and fridge. According to Brandworkers Executive Director Daniel Gross, these processing and distribution industries are a “sweatshop corridor.” Read the rest of this entry →

ConEdison Puts New York’s Power at Risk During Heat Wave with Lockout of Workers

12:20 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

John Knefel via Alternet

Originally posted at Alternet

As the summer heat seared New York City, tensions between the city’s major electricity company and its union reached a boiling point over the weekend. By Monday, a meltdown in the talks over pensions and benefits left thousands of Consolidated Edison utility workers suddenly frozen out of their jobs. The lockout, a classic anti-union tactic, had paralyzed both the negotiations and the livelihoods of some 8500 union members. But that afternoon, scores of locked out workers assembled outside ConEd headquarters near Manhattan’s Union Square to show they would keep the heat on their boss.

Mario, a 55-year old worker at ConEd’s East River Generating Station, wasn’t shocked by the lockout. “It’s corporate America. A lot of greed, a lot of arrogance,” he said. “Blame the unions, blame the workers, take their benefits away, and just keep increasing their bonuses.”

As of Monday, ConEd was operating on an emergency staff, with about 5,000 “managers” replacing the locked-out workers. The company promised to maintain “essential operations,” though fears of electricity breakdowns loomed large as scorching heat blanketed ConEd’s millions of customers across the five boroughs and Westchester. There were no catastrophes immediately following the lockout, according to local news reports, but outages hit some neighborhoods, and a substation fire in Brooklyn injured a manager.

Local outlets reported that talks with the union,Utility Workers Union of America Local 1-2 stalled early Sunday morning, hitting a major impasse on the issue of pensions. The union said it was kicked out following a dispute over protecting workers’ retirement and health benefits, though ConEd claimed it was open to extending the talks, as long as the union agreed not to strike without first giving the company “advance notice”. The union blasted the move to constrain its striking power, noting that this concession would undermine its leverage during negotiations.

Debbie Thomas could have used some advance notice. The customer service representative would normally have gone to work at the headquarters but found herself stuck outside on Monday, standing with her fellow union members at the demonstration and getting ready to tap temporary unemployment benefits as she waited for a contract deal. Read the rest of this entry →

From Cairo to New York, Which Side Are Police On?

2:26 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Cross-posted from In These Times:

[Ed. Note - Photo removed. It isn't permitted to use AFP/Getty images here unless one furnishes the license/agreement to use such an image. ]

As the Arab Spring enters a tense autumn chill, Tahrir Square remains a fiery political battleground, where struggles between the people and the state constantly churn and redefinine themselves. When police officers went on strike in October, they raised hard questions about the position of the public sector in the struggle against counterrevolution.

Thousands of Egypt’s police, though tarnished by the shameful violence deployed by security forces during the January 25 uprising, are now staging their own revolt. Meanwhile, the military brass, initially lauded in the early days of the revolution when it refrained from crushing demonstrators on behalf of Mubarak’s dictatorship, have become the target of public vitriol. The chaos—part of a continual wave of strikes, demonstrations and crackdowns—illustrates the people’s growing bitterness at the hijacking of their revolution by a reactionary junta.

So are the cops defecting to join the rabble? The momentum comes from struggling rank-and-file officers who actively distance themselves from the corrupt interim regime and notoriously cruel Interior Ministry. Alongside basic bread-and-butter grievances about wages and working conditions—the crux of all the strikes that have rocked the country this year—there are calls for an internal overhaul to restore the integrity and credibility of the institution. Read the rest of this entry →