USA: Unions Could Make A Comeback — If We Help Them

unions-2012-statsBy Michael Wasser, Senior policy analyst at Jobs With Justice

From the Washington Post August 3rd

You won’t hear opponents admit it, but unions are popular and have been for a while. Last year Gallup found that 58 percent of Americans approved of unions. Since Gallup first asked people about their support for unions in 1936, approval dipped below 50 percent just once — when it dropped to 48 percent at the height of the Great Recession in 2009.

Anti-union advocates prefer to focus on the long-term decline of union membership in the United States, which can suggest that unions are unnecessary or in an inevitable decline. It is true that union density has shrunk from its peak of 35.4 percent of the workforce in 1945 to 11.1 percent in 2015. But the erosion in union membership is not a natural, pre-ordained outcome — the reality is that intentional policy choices significantly contributed to fewer people becoming union members.

[How employers broke unions by creating a culture of fear]

Benign market forces alone do not explain the continual loss of union membership in the midst of broad support. Take the difference in union density in Canada and the United States: Union membership trends in these similar economies closely tracked each other until the late 1960s and early 1970s. If globalization alone were the main driver of declining union membership, we could expect the countries to have comparable unionization rates. Instead, Canada — which affords real protections for people coming together as a union — has more than twice the percentage of people in unions as the United States.

Our country has allowed a broken and outdated labor law to remain in place for too long. Unlike other workplace laws, the National Labor Relations Act lacks meaningful financial penalties for employer wrongdoing, creating an economic incentive for employers to violate the law. Employers routinely influence union elections in their favor through intimidating and coercive tactics. In doing so, employers both regularly break the letter and spirit of the law, often aided by anti-union consultants and lawyers who are paid handsomely to provide advice on how to get away with manipulating the system. The fact is that current law does not offer working people a level playing field, advantaging chief executives set on denying their employees’ right to organize and negotiate together.

Despite the challenges, people continue to want to come together to have a say in their working lives. The last year saw a “wave” of digital newsroom staff joining in union. Nine thousand American Airlines passenger service agents won their union election in late 2014, doing so in the historically anti-union South. From 2000-2010, the National Labor Relations Board received nearly 3,000 requests for union elections from nursing home and non-acute care employees alone.

Americans are choosing to speak up together at work because they recognize that unions serve as a needed check and balance on corporate power. When working people can negotiate a fair return on their work, they earn higher wages and better benefits. The activism of individuals in unions has a ripple effect across communities. Non-union employees in similar industries and nearby locations generally see their working standards improve. It’s no surprise, then, that the decrease in unions has contributed to the increase in income inequality.

[The incredible decline of American unions, in one animated map]

People also know that joining together is the only effective rampart against the flood of money in a post-Citizens United world that promotes the agenda of the wealthy few. Unions have proven to be the singular political force that can speak up for the betterment of everyday people, regularly advocating for expanded access to affordable health care, improved class sizes in our schools, investments in infrastructure, the protection of Social Security and Medicare, safer patient care and a fairer tax code.

Unions of working people led the national conversation about raising the minimum wage, making wage stagnation and inequality a national priority. Unions even played a key role in defending the Obama administration’s update to our overtime rules from political attacks. The new rule will significantly increase the number of people who qualify for overtime protections by raising the annual salary threshold from $23,660 to $47,476, improving the lives of supervisors as much, if not more so, than people who are or could potentially be union members.

The reason for the difference between the high numbers of support for unions and the number of actual union members is not so paradoxical. We can narrow the gap between these two statistics by modernizing our labor law, establishing real financial penalties to end employer retaliation and ensuring every person’s workplace rights are protected. Doing so will give Americans a fair shot at coming together to negotiate for a better life for themselves and their families.

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Korean Union Leaders Jailed

Han Sang-Gyun, the head of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), reacts before surrendering voluntarily to the police at Jogye temple in Seoul, South Korea, December 10, 2015. REUTERS/News1

Han Sang-Gyun, the head of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU).

Harsh prison sentences for two Korean trade union leaders are the latest installment in the South Korean government’s ongoing war on trade unions, freedom of association, democratic protest and basic rights and civil liberties.

Han Sang-gyun, president of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment on July 4th for taking part in strikes and protests last year against the government’s promotion of greater casual employment and support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

On July 28th  Cho Sung-deok, vice-president of the Korean Public Service and Transport Workers’ Union (KPTU), received a two-year sentence for ‘criminal offenses’ in connection with the protests.

International trade union organizations, including the IUF and its affiliates, are mobilizing together with international human rights organizations against the criminalization of trade union activity in Korea as many more trade unionists are awaiting trial.

The president, general secretary and assistant general secretary of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) attended Cho Sung-deok’s sentencing.

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Farewell To Davey Hopper From CTUF

CTUF Star ad DHopper aw

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Watch out! Brexit Won’t Save Us From Anti-Worker International Trade Deals

Adrian Weir addressing the CTUF Adrian Weir speaking at the CTUF rally at Tolpuddle on the new generation of trade deals

Adrian Weir addressing the CTUF Adrian Weir speaking at the CTUF rally at Tolpuddle on the new generation of trade deals

By Adrian Weir, Assistant National Secretary of the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom.

One of the central themes of the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom (CTUF) has been its opposition to the new generation of trade agreements – TTIP, CETA, TiSA and TPP – not least because of the deregulatory impact on employment rights that these treaties pose.

Those readers of the Morning Star who also follow the Centre for Labour & Social Studies – Class – on social media may have noted that right at the start of the referendum campaign I blogged about Brexit and the pro-corporation investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) procedure contained within TTIP, making the point that Leave or Remain would be likely to make little or no difference to the rush to get these treaties signed.

I said back in May that “TTIP is an issue that transcends Remain or Leave not least because TTIP is just one part of the network of new generation deregulatory free-trade deals being negotiated around the globe.”

As things have turned out it seems to be that it is the treaty with Canada – CETA – that is being promoted for ratification first, and by the most dubious means.

CTUF pointed out to supporters that the EU Council of Ministers would be submitting proposals for the provisional application of CETA in June with a final sign-off in October.

But there were big legal and democratic questions to be answered here.

The council said that it was working on the basis that CETA was not a “mixed agreement” — with authority to ratify “mixed” between the EU Commission and the member states — and therefore the EU’s 28 countries had no part to play in the ratification.

The legal basis for establishing if these treaties are “mixed” or not is not due in the Court of Justice of the European Union until 2017 when the court will rule on the Singapore free-trade treaty.

Clearly there is a rush to get the deal done before the court hands down its decision.

This cue offered by the Council of Minsters was taken up by Jean-Claude Junker for the commission and Chrystia Freeland for the Canadians, who both were keen to press ahead without the member states’ involvement.

However, earlier this month, the commission backed down and acknowledged that the 28 member states would have to play a role in ratification.

Seemingly, a great victory for the European alliances of unions and social movements that have made CETA as toxic as TTIP.

But, and this is a big but, the commission says it will “provisionally implement” CETA while the member states debate the issue, perhaps over the next two years.

Given that “provisional implementation” could allow for almost 90 per cent of the treaty to be made operational prior to ratification, victory on “mixed” may turn out to be very pyrrhic.

So, where does that leave Britain post-Brexit?

The facts of the matter are until we leave the EU we are a member of the EU. Freeland for Canada argues that it will take two years for Britain to withdraw from Europe and in the meantime Britain has promised to vote in favour of CETA.

Well, no surprise there, but who has made the promise and will that person will be in the government in October?

Although it probably makes no difference as any of the Tories would presumably sign.

Of course, CETA contains the same investment protection provisions as TTIP and most of the other free-trade deals.

To seal the deal, Freeland is claiming that the investment chapter has been rewritten to strengthen the rights of governments to regulate in areas of the environment, labour standards, public services and a fairer arbitration process.

But that is not true.

Faced with mounting public opposition to ISDS, EU trade commissioner Celia Malmstroem has introduced a rebranding that she calls the investment court system (ICS).

Under ICS, cases will be heard by three qualified judges — drawn from a panel of 15 who cannot be involved as lawyers in other ICS cases — with appeals heard by a bilateral appellate body of six judges. Hearings will be held in public.

But ICS will still give rights to foreign corporations to sue sovereign states in a special transnational court while denying that right to trade unions and citizens.

And which foreign corporations are most likely to take advantage of the right to sue sovereign states? No prizes for guessing: those of the United States.

Eighty per cent of US corporations have subsidiaries in Canada that meet the criteria defining a “substantial business interest” and could therefore initiate proceedings against European governments through the “back door” of CETA.

EU-US trade deal TTIP may take much longer to ratify and may not involve Britain, but has Brexit saved us from TTIP?

There is no shortage of right-wing pundits with suggestions for alternatives.

Mathew Lynn, financial columnist on the Daily Telegraph, says that Britain should sign up to Nafta, the treaty that links Canada, the US and Mexico (and scrap EU-mandated labour and social protection as fast as possible).

Republican Congressman Charlie Dent, supported by House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan and Senator Ted Cruz, plans to introduce into Congress proposals for a North Atlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (NAFTA) to make up for Britain being outside the EU.

And Michael Froman, the US trade negotiator, has suggested that Britain could join TPP — the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which links the US, Japan, Australia and South East Asia.

And of course TiSA is on the horizon, a plurinational treaty aimed a deregulating the service sector. It involves many single countries as well as the EU bloc so there’s no problem for Britain to remain on the inside track.

Brexit will not rid us of CETA and TiSA (or the other more wacky proposals); with Liam Fox appointed as International Trade Secretary we must fear the worst but more importantly maintain the campaigning momentum.


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May’s New Policy Guru Proposed Slashing Employment Rights

A plan up his sleeve: George Freeman MP

A plan up his sleeve: George Freeman MP

Theresa May’ new policy guru George Freeman MP has a plan up his sleeve to slash workers employment rights and cut wages  according to the Daily Mirror.

Freeman was made head of Mrs. May’s policy board last week. His policy paper written with Kwasi Kwarteng MP called  ‘The Innovation Economy Industrial Policy For The 21st Century’, was written three years ago and published by the right wing Free Enterprise Group. It advocated the minimum wage and public sector pay being “regionalised”.

According to The Mirror he also believes people working in new firms should have no employment rights, possibly including maternity pay, paid leave and no minimum wage and advocated Britain’s biggest firms should pay just 10% corporation tax.

He has also suggested: “We should exempt new firms for their first three years from employers’ national insurance, business rates, corporation tax and employment legislation and that green energy subsidies could be “abolished”.

Labour’s Jon Ashworth MP said: “The new Prime Minister may offer warm words about reaching out and putting working people first – but her actions show that those at the top of the Tory Party will do nothing for working people.”

Both Downing Street and Mr Freeman declined to comment to The Mirror .


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GMB Supports Test Cases Against Uber

File illustration picture showing the logo of car-sharing service app Uber on a smartphone next to the picture of an official German taxi sign in Frankfurt, September 15, 2014. A Frankfurt court earlier this month instituted a temporary injunction against Uber from offering car-sharing services across Germany. San Francisco-based Uber, which allows users to summon taxi-like services on their smartphones, offers two main services, Uber, its classic low-cost, limousine pick-up service, and Uberpop, a newer ride-sharing service, which connects private drivers to passengers - an established practice in Germany that nonetheless operates in a legal grey area of rules governing commercial transportation. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach/Files (GERMANY - Tags: BUSINESS EMPLOYMENT CRIME LAW TRANSPORT)

Two test cases have been brought against taxi-app platform Uber at the Central London Employment Tribunal, in order to determine whether drivers are entitled to employment rights such as holiday pay and a guaranteed minimum wage.

The action is supported by the GMB and seeks to establish whether Uber drivers should be classified as workers or as self-employed.

As workers, the drivers would be entitled to be paid at least the minimum wage and would also be able to holiday pay etc.

Lawyers representing the drivers also claim that Uber has frequently deducted sums from drivers’ pay without informing the individual in advance.

This is the first time that Uber has faced legal action of this kind in the UK although cases have been brought in the US with mixed results.

The results the hearing are expected to have an impact on a further 17 claims that have been brought against the organisation.

Jo Bertram, regional general manager at Uber UK, said: “More than 30,000 people in London drive with our app and this case only involves a very small number. The main reason people choose to partner with Uber is so they can become their own boss, pick their own hours and work completely flexibly.

“Many partner-drivers have left other lines of work and chosen to partner with Uber for this very reason. In fact, two-thirds of new partner-drivers joining the Uber platform have been referred by another partner.”

Annie Powell, a lawyer in the employment team at Leigh Day who is representing the drivers, said: “Uber currently denies that its drivers are entitled to the most basic of workers’ rights. Uber’s defence is that it is just a technology [organisation], not a taxi [organisation], and that Uber drivers do not work for Uber but instead work for themselves as self-employed business men and women.

“On behalf of our clients, we will claim that Uber is wrongly classifying its drivers as self-employed with the result that drivers are denied the rights and protections that Parliament intended them to have.”

Sean Nesbitt, partner in the employment team at law firm Taylor Wessing, said: “This is the case of the year in UK employment law for three reasons. First, Uber is battling a wave of litigation around the world. A US class action settlement worth between US$84-US$100million is having trouble getting judicial approval, with criticism that it is too cheap a price. The UK case will further fuel litigation in other industries, and other countries. It will be followed in the UK by cases involving cycle couriers and Pimlico Plumbers.

“Second, unlike the US and many other countries, the UK has a third way between costly employee status and low-rights self-employment status. This “worker” label is valuable because it gives some basic protections on working time and pay, and includes the right to litigate, which Uber tries to avoid with arbitration clauses.

“Third, it highlights the growing opportunities for unions to regroup and reverse years of decline, by organising among the fragmented “gig economy” workforce. The case is supported by the GMB just as the couriers are supported by a union. Uber does not recognise unions in the US, and the planned settlement there involves a concession to work with a lesser drivers’ association.”

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Tollpuddle Rallies For Union Rights

Adrian Weir speaking at the CTUF- IER Rally at Tolpuddle

Adrian Weir speaking at the CTUF- IER Rally at Tolpuddle

The annual Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival kicked off in a militant mood with a packed rally on trade union rights jointly organised by the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom and the Institute of Employment Rights.

First to speak was CTUF Assistant Secretary, Adrian Weir, who argued that Brexit would make no real difference to the impact of TTIP because the trade treaty between the EU and US was just one part of a global network of deregulatory free trade treaties.

Adrian argued that if TTIP becomes void for Britain, international capital had an almost finalised treaty with Canada, CETA, and a proposed plurinational treaty on services, TiSA, to use with its push for the deregulation of labour rights, health and safety and environmental standards and the irreversible privatisation of public services.

Prison officers’ union general secretary, Steve Gillan, strongly made the point that there were precious few trade union rights in Britain and even fewer for his members in the prison service.

Steve said he felt sure that a future Labour Government led by Jeremy Corbyn would restore union rights to prison staff and reverse the privatisation of prisons.

Next up was Unison South West regional secretary, Joanne Kaye, who spoke passionately about rights for women workers. Joanne also painted a vivid picture of how low paid workers were being priced out of justice and could no longer use Employment Tribunals because of the fees introduced by the Tories when in a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats.

Professor Keith Ewing, president of both CTUF and the IER, introduced the Institute’s newly published ‘Manifesto For Labour Law: towards a comprehensive revision of workers’ rights’. Professor Ewing argued that three essential reforms were needed in Britain: firstly, the reestablishment of a Ministry of Labour and secondly, the introduction of sectoral collective bargaining to ensure that all workers and not just employees were covered by collective agreements.

The third and most important point, was the establishment of an unequivocal right to strike.

PCS union leader, Mark Serwotka, closed the rally with wide ranging and well received speech taking in attacks on worker and union rights in the Civil Service to support for Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Leader.

Mark said that he had personally re-joined Labour after many years absence and he encouraged all Festival goers to join if they were not already members.

The rally was sponsored by Unite South West and chaired by Regional Secretary, Peter Hughes. The meeting started with a message of support from the Morning Star brought from London to Tolpuddle by Tolpuddle Time Trail cyclist, Les Doherty.

Keith Ewing, Jeremy Corbyn, the late Davey Hopper, Carolyn Jones, John Hendy QC

Keith Ewing, Jeremy Corbyn, the late Davey Hopper, Carolyn Jones, John Hendy QC

The Eve of Gala Rally at the Durham Miners held by CTUF and IER on July 8th proved to be another important date in the trade union calender attracting a packed meeting to hear Jeremy Corbyn speak along with John Hendy QC, Professor Keith Ewing, Carolyn Jones of the IER and the late Davey Hopper of the Durham Miners.

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Vicious Union-Busting At Australian Brewer

AMWU & ETC Pickets At Carlton Breweries

AMWU & ETC Pickets At Carlton Breweries

Carlton United Breweries, who manufacture most of Australia’s most popular beers, has sacked 54 union machine maintenance workers at its Melbourne brewery ahead of the impending merger between Carlton United’s parent company SABMiller and AB InBev.

The workers, members the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) and the Electrical Trade Union (ETU), were told their jobs would be contracted out but they could return to work as employees of the subcontractor – with a 65% pay cut!

The unions are contesting the dismissals and demanding reinstatement and respect for existing agreements, with the support of the production workers at the plant represented by the United Voice union.

AMWU Assistant State Secretary Craig Kelly denounced the dismissals as ‘calculated union-busting’, planned in advance as the company stockpiled supplies to pubs and big retailers. Prior to the dismissals, the company was working the maintenance crews over 60 hours per week but refused to hire new workers.

As AB InBev, the world’s largest brewer, moves to clear the remaining regulatory obstacles to its USD 108 billion acquisition of rival brewer SABMiller, workers are already feeling the notorious cost-cutting which drives AB InBev owners 3G Capital.

3G built a Brazilian brewery company into a global giant through continuous cost-cutting and aggressive acquisitions.

Now 3G threatens to extend its destructive model – the mere prospect of a 3G acquisition generates job cuts.

Click here to show your support for Aussie brewery workers.

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Durham Miners: Jeremy Corbyn To Speak At CTUF Rally


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A Manifesto For Labour Law

Manifesto front page.img_assist_customBy Keith Ewing, John Hendy and Carolyn Jones

The world of work has changed and with it the nature and role of the workforce. For Britain’s 31 million workers, many of the changes have had a devastating impact on their working lives and their living standards. Britain’s workers are among the most insecure, unhappy and stressed workers in Europe.

A prime factor in moulding this situation is a framework of law recognised as “the most restrictive in the Western world.”

It is a framework of law born out of 19th-century conditions, which has bypassed many advances of the 20th century, which ignores today’s economic and workplace realities and which is not fit for purpose in 21st-century Britain.

It is time for the law to change. Jeremy Corbyn has signalled his intention to review Britain’s framework of labour law, launching Workplace 2020 with Ian Lavery earlier this year.

In an effort to assist that review, the Institute of Employment Rights (IER) has drawn up a detailed contribution — A Manifesto for Labour Law: Towards a Comprehensive Revision of Workers’ Rights.

This manifesto represents an IER contribution to a long overdue debate on the future of labour law. It offers 25 major policy proposals drawn up by an impressive list of 15 of Britain’s law experts.

We believe this manifesto shows how the law can be used to create fair, just, secure, democratic and productive conditions of work which will diminish inequality and benefit the economy.

At the heart of our proposals is the need to ensure the voice of Britain’s 31 million workers is heard and respected: in government (via a ministry of labour), in the economy (via a national economic forum), and in industry (via sectoral employment commissions).

The role of employers in building a vibrant economy is acknowledged, but the concept of management’s unrestricted “right to manage” is rejected as undemocratic, unproductive and undesirable.

Instead, our manifesto uses as its model the experience of those economies, including post-war Britain, with extensive sectoral collective bargaining structures underpinned by strong trade union rights.

The benefits are threefold: collective bargaining helps to counter the unequal power of the employer; helps to reduce inequality in wealth and health; and helps to promote a stable and productive economy.

While the manifesto aims to shift the weight of regulation from legislation to collective agreements, that does not mean there will be no role for legislation.

So our manifesto sets out the role legislation will play in underpinning the collective bargaining process and protecting workers’ rights.

Consideration is given to ways to improve wages and working time, equality at work, pay equity and health and safety issues.

The manifesto also addresses the growing problem of precariousness experienced by so many of Britain’s workers.

It sets out radical dispute resolution solutions, based on the view that labour rights should be universal in their application (covering all “workers”), and effective in their enforcement (via the creation of a labour inspectorate and a labour court).

Our proposals for collective bargaining are placed in the wider context of the international treaties and human rights conventions (almost all of which are already ratified by Britain) which establish the minimum standards for labour globally.

Particular attention is given to freedom of association protections, standards on trade union autonomy and protection against acts of anti-trade union discrimination.

We highlight the need to repeal the Trade Union Act 2016 and replace it with positive rights to improve the organisational and financial security of trade unions, and to ensure that independent trade unions have access to workplaces and improved rights to represent their members.

As has often been said, collective bargaining without the right to strike is little more than collective begging.

But in Britain, the law has developed in such a way that industrial action is always unlawful unless the union can demonstrate it satisfies the complex requirements to gain limited statutory protections against judge-made law.

Over the years, attainment of statutory protection has been made repeatedly and seriously more difficult.

The time has come to change the default legislative position and provide a positive right to strike in line with Britain’s existing international obligations.

Our manifesto offers an alternative vision for labour law. This is a manifesto for raising labour standards and improving working conditions for all workers.

It proposes changing the way in which working conditions are regulated by embedding the voice of workers at national, sectoral and enterprise levels and moving responsibility for regulation from legislation to collective bargaining.

It is a model that has form — and proven successful outcomes.

  • The Manifesto for Labour Law was launched last week in the Boothroyd Room, Portcullis House, London. Speakers at the event included John Hendy, Keith Ewing and Carolyn Jones.


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