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New Ground 43

November - December, 1995


  • A Modest Proposal for Sweeney and Clinton: The Quick Vote By Kurt Anderson
  • The Unemployment Rate: Separating Fact From Fiction by Rich Reinhold
  • Kids in Deep Shit: a review by Bruce Bentley
  • Illinois Gets a 1.5 GPA By Bob Roman
  • 10th Annual Mother Jones Dinner in Springfield by Bruce Bentley
  • Other DSA News
  • Comments and Opinions By Robert Roman

  • A Modest Proposal for Sweeney and Clinton: The Quick Vote

    By Kurt Anderson

    Many progressives, liberals, socialists and other lefties often complain about the stagnant state of organized labor in the United States. For the most part, they've been correct. Declining numbers, reduced power, an old guard incapable of breathing any life into the unionized 15% of the work force all point to a "movement" which is only moving backwards in numbers and influence. The massive and active membership of the AFL and CIO unions in the 40s, 50s, 60s and early 70s was able to have real influence over big ticket government and social issues such as tax reform, civil rights, economic policy, and foreign policy (although often on the wrong side of the fence on the last). After wielding much influence and facing generally friendly administrations for four decades, the union moment was unprepared for the Reagan administration. For many reasons, they were unable to cope with the outright aggressiveness of an administration which wanted to crush the labor movement and wasted no time in proving so by permanently replacing striking PATCO workers. The labor movement did little. Lane Kirkland and the docile AFL-CIO leadership spent the next 15 years asleep while all working Americans were pillaged.

    "Can't unions just organize more?" It's a good question. A question which the AFL-CIO leadership under the newly elected President John Sweeney will attempt to answer in the affirmative. Sweeney has proposed to spend millions more a year on organizing, to train 1,000 new organizers in a year, to spend more money on corporate campaigns, and to set up networks which will attack companies on an industry wide basis. Good ideas. These plans, coupled with one subtle change in U.S. labor law, would undoubtedly add millions to organized labor's ranks in a few years.

    This is a scenario that is repeated thousands of times a year in union organizing drives across the country. An organizer gets a few names and addresses of workers at a plant that is interested in organizing. The organizer goes and visits these workers at home, hoping to get additional names and addresses of workers that are seen as leaders in the plant. The organizers goes to those workers' homes and has the same conversations with them. By talking to the workers, giving them small assignments and correctly assessing their commitment and competence, the organizer then has an "in plant committee" which will lead the campaign against the boss. This committee's first assignment is to have their co-workers sign union cards or public declarations of support for the union. If the organizer has correctly identified the leadership, 70 to 80 percent of the plant could be signed up in about one to two weeks, depending upon the size of the bargaining unit. If the bosses finds out about the card signing campaign, they will often then start their anti-union campaign and rhetoric.

    If the committee is lucky enough to have a tight lipped plant or an incredulous boss, the bosses' first knowledge of the campaign comes when he receives a letter from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), stating that there has been a petition filed for recognition of the union. Unfortunately, the bosses usually have a pretty good notion of what is happening before this notice arrives.

    The boss can then try to stall for time by disputing the union's definition of the bargaining unit. If, for example, the union claims that "all production and maintenance employees" be included in the bargaining unit while excluding "all supervisors as defined in the National Labor Relation Act", the company can take issue with this definition and, possibly, prove to the hearing officer that one or more hearings are needed to define the bargaining unit. Many corporations are now downsizing to the point where supervisors are fewer and workers are taking on more responsibility or "lead" positions. If these "leads" have much more authority than other hourly workers then they will be excluded from the unit. In order to come to this conclusion, the NLRB has already spent about one to three weeks. In the mean time, your 70 to 80 percent majority is being attacked by the boss. Maybe you've lost 5 to 6 percent.

    After the NLRB regional director finally comes to a decision, which takes about two more weeks after the close of the hearings, an election date is set. This is usually about three weeks after the decision is reached. Again, the bosses have at least three more weeks to whittle away at your majority. If the in-plant committee is strong and active, the workers might still win. If not, then the bosses will win, mostly because they've had three weeks since the NLRB ruling to work on that majority.

    Even if a union drive does not have to go through the maze of hearing, waiting for a ruling, waiting for an election, but instead immediately gets a date for an election, the workers, by law, must wait approximately 45 days for the election to take place. Here is where elections are either lost or won.

    I am, for example, currently working on a campaign where 80% of the workers signed a public declaration of support for the union rather than a union card. Copies of these petitions were delivered to the boss on September 15. The workers asked for voluntary recognition of the union without the need for an election. The boss, of course, refused. The same day, the union filed a petition for an election with the NLRB. After about 12 days, the company and the union agreed on a bargaining unit without the need for any hearings. Even though this was a relatively quick agreement, the workers still have to wait until October 27th to vote! Almost four weeks will elapse from the time a bargaining unit was agreed on before the workers will have the opportunity to vote for a union they already said they wanted to join and have bargain on their behalf. It is here that one small change in labor law could benefit the labor movement immensely. This one change would be: one week after the agreement between the union and company on the appropriate bargaining unit is reached, an election is held.

    It is within the four week time period that the boss will run his strongest campaign and have a better than even chance of winning.

    70% of the time, the boss will hire a "labor consultant", otherwise known as a union buster. These "professionals" will lie (The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled they can lie during campaigns.), coerce, plant drugs on workers, pit one against the other, tear friendships apart, teach the boss and supervisors how to threaten without breaking the law, teach the management how to talk about strikes, e.g. how the outsider union will call you out on strike, etc. All this expert knowledge for about $4,000 to $7,000 a day. Busting fledging organizing drives is a one billion dollar a year industry. The four week period before the vote means millions for the union busters. And these guys are good.

    Only about half of all union elections are won by the unions. And this is after the organizer has a solid majority of 70 to 80 percent signed on. The bosses' campaign is geared towards convincing adults that they made a mistake by signing a union card, that they will suffer violence at the hands of the outsider union, etc. Here are some excerpts from a union buster's letter which does not break the law but comes close:

    "When it comes to negotiating a union contract, the law does not require us to agree to anything. If we should refuse to agree to any union demand, the only way the union could put pressure on us would be to call an economic strike. You would lose both pay and benefits.... The potential of a strike can only threaten the job security we all look for...."

    With three to four weeks to think about this, a worker might get scared and vote against their own interests.

    Many unions have been organizing at levels unprecedented since the CIO drives. The Steelworkers, UNITE, United Electrical Workers, and the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, to name a few, are winning elections and winning big. These workers and their unions are now using some very effective and aggressive techniques to fight the union busters. Many of these techniques come from the IWW and the CIO organizing drives: by having a visible and confrontational committee in the plant, workers have a better chance of beating the most expensive union buster because the workers experience their own power. They see that they can beat the boss consistently with confrontation and action. But these canny and expensive techniques only go so far; the deck is still stacked in favor of the bosses. A "level playing field" requires a change in labor law.

    Ideally, if a majority of adults in a workplace sign a union card, they should be granted a union, just as they are in some provinces in Canada. But this approach would be a futile waste of time and scarce resources with this conservative Congress. A much more winnable goal would be a one week time limit on elections. A quicker election schedule would lead to an explosion of union victories across the nation, especially in the south which still needs organizing badly.

    How winnable would this minor change be?

    Well, we do finally have something to thank the Republicans and conservative Democrats for: their immensely unpopular proposals for cuts in Medicaid to pay for a tax break for the richest Americans. The uproar has been so great and the potential political dividends so large for even centrist Democrats that even Bill Clinton shouldn't miss the point. One hopes that Clinton will learn from this lesson that government policies which directly impact working class Americans still resonate loudly with voters. He could even use the argument that speedy elections would save taxpayers millions of dollars in unfair labor practice charges that arise from extended campaigns.

    It is no secret that American workers are fed up with their employers' lack of loyalty and greed. A moderately anti-corporate stance by Clinton on this one issue would be a windfall for the labor movement. It could revitalize labor's support for him in the upcoming election. If Sweeney and the newly elected leadership apply pressure to Clinton and the Democrats on this one issue, we could see some real movement. If Clinton refuses then the labor movement will continue to become more militant and offensive in its organizing efforts. It's obvious that a demand for extensive labor law reform in the age of the Dunlop Commission will fail. This one change, however, would do much to breath new life into organizing. Make no mistake about it: either with or without labor law reform, the new labor movement will still be organizing.

    Post Script

    Kurt Anderson, in addition to being Chicago DSA's Co-Chair, is an organizer for the Oil Chemical and Atomic Workers Union. The plant which he used as an example had its election on Friday, October 27. OCAW won with 65% of the vote. It was a quick election.

    The Unemployment Rate: Separating Fact From Fiction

    by Rich Reinhold

    The official July, 1995, unemployment rates for the U.S. and Illinois were 5.9 and 5.0 percent, respectively. At face value, these numbers reflect labor market strength across most of the country, including Illinois. However, despite such good news, economic insecurity is widespread and growing. Although unemployment rates are still closely followed, their validity and usefulness have increasingly been brought into question.

    Part of the public's skepticism has to do with how the government defines employment and unemployment. The unemployment estimates developed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics are based on a survey of 60,000 households conducted each month by the U.S. Bureau of the Census. All those 16 years and older are interviewed and classified into three categories: employed, unemployed and not in the labor force. To be counted as employed, one must have worked at least one hour for pay or profit, 15 unpaid hours in a family enterprise, or have been temporarily away from work due to reasons such as an illness, bad weather or a labor dispute. The unemployed include those who were: without a job but able, available and actively looking for work during the last four weeks; without a job but were to begin employment within 30 days; or laid off but expecting recall. Finally, persons such as retirees, students, homemakers, and discouraged workers are considered to be out of the labor force.

    Some argue that the existing criteria for estimating unemployment are too narrow and exclude substantial numbers who should be counted as unemployed. We can estimate alternative rates of unemployment by, ironically, using information developed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In addition to the unemployed defined above, we could add discouraged workers, or those who want a job but were not looking for work due to poor employment prospects, the absence of child care or the lack of transportation. We could also count half of those who worked part-time involuntarily for economic reasons, reasoning they work, on average, half-time. If this approach were used to calculate the July, 1995, unemployment statistics for Illinois, the unemployment rate would rise from 5.0 to 7.5 percent.

    But even the above "real" unemployment rate is more exclusive than what one would expect. In January, 1994, as part of its household survey redesign, the Bureau of Labor Statistics began counting only those discouraged workers who looked for a job sometime during the previous year. Nationally, this new criterion more than halved the number of discouraged workers. If we include all discouraged workers, regardless of when they last looked for work, and half the involuntarily part-time employed, the July unemployment rate for Illinois rises to 9.2 percent (184% of the official rate- see the chart below).

    The aggregate unemployment estimates published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics also don't express the disparities in labor market performance for various demographic groups. In Illinois, for example, blacks had a July unemployment rate of 16.2 percent, more than three times higher than for the entire labor force and five times higher than for whites. The unemployment rate for 16 - 19 year olds was also relatively high: 12.6 vs. 5.0 percent for the entire Illinois labor force.

    While far from perfect, these alternative unemployment rates demonstrate that unemployment as well as underemployment continue to be serious problems. More inclusive or "realistic" unemployment estimates would not only strengthen the credibility of government statistics, but, more importantly, inform public debate on critical issues such as welfare and job training.

    Official & Alternate rates

    Alternate as percent

    Kids in Deep Shit: a review

    by Bruce Bentley

    The movie, Kids, opens with a scene of two teens kissing: a metaphor of the entire film. The kissing is not of romantic passion but of excessive hedonism. Thus begins the teens' quest of nihilism. The male's quest is a sexual expedition to conquer virgin females. His journey is constantly filled with hedonistic acts of alcohol binges, drugs, violence and crude dialogue on sexual conquests which female audiences will find quite offensive. In the meantime, a previous female sex partner discovers that she is HIV+. Thus begins her futile and despairing quest to inform her former lover that he is the carrier of HIV.

    From start to finish the film is poignant, not because teens are behaving this way, but due to its impudent and exploitative portrayal and grotesque adolescent exhibitionism. Reviews have ranged from 4-Star raves to lambasting exploitation. The former rationalizes its position, along with the producers of the film, that the film merely reflects teenage behavior. That is preposterous. While the media daily inundates us with visuals and statistics of juvenile crime, pregnancy, sex, drug and alcohol usage, I agree with the latter critics: this is an exploitative film. The film blurs the boundaries between film (i.e. the script) and documentary (i.e. kids apparently engaged in drugs, alcohol and sex). I find it unethical even placing 12-17 year old kids in these settings.

    I want to elaborate on two points. First, this film is symbolic of the deep crisis of youth and society. Secondly, quite paradoxically, there are two cameo scenes that provide a potential solution for teens in crisis.

    First, although Kids does accurately displays the behavior of many youths, Kids is merely an extension of the media frenzy in visibly displaying teen aggression and sexuality without providing any meaningful solutions. In short, violence and sex is profitable. Daily in the media we see journalists interviewing teens who boast of their aggressive and sexual exploits while the adults watch in voyeuristic pleasure. The teens act-out the instinctive "pleasure principle" while the adults enjoy vicariously. This is my first point, that many youth are out of control and adults watch in contradictory horror and pleasure. Just as an adult who was sexually abused will likely set up their own children to be victims, adults vicariously watch teens act-out their own unresolved adolescent themes. These themes generally center around sex and aggression. It is due to the upsurge in these primal instincts that it is so difficult and stressful to work with or raise adolescents. Teens trigger these emotions in all of us. Yet "Life" gives us another opportunity to work through our latent issues and ghosts of childhood.

    Now for some solutions. Two cameo scenes provide us with clues. First, in Kids, the despondent female teen with HIV+ is in a taxi cab seeking her former lover. She is depressed and stares in to endless space. Suddenly, the elderly driver is sensitively aware of her despondency and attempts to cheer her up. His effort is successful and suddenly the youth breaks out a beautiful smile. She then asks him the ancient and perpetual philosophical question: "How does one become happy, especially when you don't feel happy?" The driver responds with a discourse on the secrets of happiness that he learned from his grandmother. This is the first clue and solution. Youth want guidance from adults particularly as it relates to the arduous tasks of adolescence in preparation for adulthood (e.g. social role, occupation role, identity, sexuality, loss of childhood, attachments and losses, independence versus dependency).

    The epilogue of Kids concludes with a horrid alcohol and drug induced frenzy/party where 12 year old kids are smoking pot and a sex scene that borderlines on the pornographic. The pseudo heroine finally discovers the pseudo hero only to see him engaged in coitus with another virgin victim. Subsequently she falls asleep in a drug and alcohol induced stupor. She awakens to her horror or pleasure with a male on top of her in a coital frenzy. Suddenly the torrid orgy ends and there is a return to the calm of the morning dawn. The camera does a cursory scan of a city park where elderly Chinese are practicing Tai Chi. This is the second cameo scene: Tai Chi is essentially about being in harmony with the body, mind and emotions. It is about being in balance with oneself and with nature.

    Problematic youth are out of balance and are crying out for guidance. Their conscious minds and not in congruence with the universal or unconscious forces and developmental tasks that they must master. We must prepare youth for the radical change and trauma of adolescence. It is a journey into Hades where the potentialities of terror and boon abide. It is crucial to inform youth (ages 11-14) on the journey to come so when times get difficult and confusing they can say to themselves, "I'm OK. I'm not crazy. It's natural to have these conflictual emotions relating to my sexuality, relationships, parents, career and who I am."

    The developmental crisis of early adolescence (12-14) is the conflict between "dependency versus independence." The task is to establish a healthy degree of independence from the parents. If this task is not mastered mid-adolescence will be hell and will not be successful. Mid-adolescence (15-17) is the sexual identity crisis and object choice (homosexual versus heterosexual). Mastery of sexual impulses and relations is a life long process. Nevertheless the upsurge of sexual impulses at this age is the "Big Bang" in human development. Consequently at this stage is where we see the most turbulent and delinquent juvenile behavior: gangs, drugs, alcohol, pregnancy and suicide. Most of these behaviors are really forms of "dependency". Teens are dependent on a child for self esteem, dependent on an antisocial peer group for pseudo power and a pseudo identity, dependent on a foreign substance for false self esteem.

    In conclusion, Kids is a reflection of society's irresponsible voyeurism upon the aggressive and sexual behavior of teens. Adults must not observe the behavior of youth in vicarious wonder which is a denial of their own loss of vibrant and sensuous youth. Adults must be active mentors and take charge of desperate youth. Adults must have compassion and understanding yet provide firm structure, guidance and accountability to youth. When problematic teens act aggressively or feign psychotic behavior, we must not let this behavior control or intimidate us. This behavior must be challenged with the utmost tenacity. Otherwise the irresponsible adult will "criminalize" aggressive behavior where the teen (mostly the poor) will be "dependent" in the prison system at a cost of $36,000 a year. Or the pseudo psychotic youth (mostly middle class and affluent) will be hospitalized and labeled "Borderline Personality Disorder" and maintain his or her dependency on medication. Teens want power so adults must model prosocial power. If we fail to do this, teens will continue to be in "deep shit." Adult must be mentors and guides for youth in their quest to discover the Hero / Heroine that lies dormant within their being. Otherwise adolescence will continue to be, like Kids, a journey into the abyss of perdition.

    Illinois Gets a 1.5 GPA

    By Bob Roman

    Chicago Jobs with Justice and the Coalition for Consumer Rights issued their annual Labor Day Report Card for Illinois, and the grade was barely passing. Jobs got a "D". Wages got a "C". Organizing rights did surprisingly well: a "B". We flunked workplace safety.

    The study, researched by the Coalition for Consumer Rights and commissioned by Chicago Jobs with Justice, found that workers around Illinois are working harder and earning less. Workers in 61 of Illinois' 102 counties saw their wages decline between 1989 and 1993. The adult population of Illinois has grown faster than the number employed for wages. Most new jobs pay bare-bones wages and offer few benefits. Workers in industries with a heavy volume of exports to Mexico face a layoff rate that is three times the rate for non-NAFTA related industries. Each grade is accompanied by a discussion of the evaluation. A short section on recommendations is included, albeit rather less legislation ready than one might like. The appendices and notes, however, make up for any deficiencies the rest of the publication may have.

    Copies of Working More, Earning Less: the 1995 Labor Day Report Card for Illinois are available from Coalition for Consumer Rights, 225 W. Ohio St, Ste 250, Chicago, IL 60610 - (312) 645-6017.

    10th Annual Mother Jones Dinner in Springfield

    by Bruce Bentley

    On October 14th, the Mother Jones Foundation presented its 10th annual dinner at the University of Illinois, Springfield. Approximately 150 unionists, socialists and activists attended the inspiring event. Participants were energized by the labor songs of musician Eddie Starr. The featured speaker was Charles Kernaghan, director of the National Labor Committee Education Fund in Support of Worker Human Rights in Central America, a coalition of 23 AFL-CIO unions established by the last President of ACTWU, Jack Sheinkman. Mr. Kernaghan spoke eloquently on the acute exploitation of workers in the Maquiladoras of Central America. The horrid labor conditions include: child labor, 18 hour work day, physical abuse, mandatory drug use (speed), $0.75/hour pay, and a computerized black list of pro union labor agitators.

    To add fuel to the fire, ironically the U.S tax payer is funding not only these horrendous working conditions, but in the exportation of U.S. jobs. To date 60,000 jobs have been lost and 600,000 by the year 2005. In 1992 the Bush administration provided $1 billion to USID to export U.S. jobs. The Commerce Department will pay 75% of costs for an interested entrepreneur just to visit the sweatshops in these Free Trade Zones. U.S. companies that exploit these workers included: Liz Claiborne, Eddie Bauer, J.C. Penny, Casual Corner, J Crew and the Gap. For example, a worker earns 77 cents per jacket and Liz Claiborne sells it for $178. Part of this profit goes full circle right into the PAC funds for Republicans.

    Mr. Kernaghan is urging activists to assist in a letter writing campaign to the Gap in order to change these despicable working conditions. Letters can be sent to:

    Mr. Millard S. Drexler
    Chief Executive Officer
    The GAP
    One Harrison Street
    San Francisco, CA 94105


    cc: Mr. Stan Raggio, Senior Vice President, Sourcing


    In Chicago, the Jobs with Justice Workers Rights Committee is organizing an "Adopt a Gap" campaign around just these issues. Organizations are being asked to "adopt" a Gap store in their neighborhood as a target for weekly leafleting and picketing. If you'd like to become involved, contact Frank Klein at (312) 738-6060.

    Other DSA News

    New Ground is on the internet. Thanks to J. Hughes, Chicago DSA has its very own web page. It includes a variety of local documents, including New Ground issues beginning with the May - June, 1995, issue. Our address is http://ccme-mac4.bsd.uchicago.edu/chicagodsa/chidsa . The web page includes a generous number of links to an unlikely variety of political and Chicago locations.

    Chicago DSA has begun a new project to facilitate communications between Midwest DSA activists and chapters. Called the "Redlist", it's intended to function as a snail mail emulation of an internet listserv mailing list, although it also is distributed via the internet when we have email addresses. If you'd like to participate, give us a call, send us an email message, or drop us a line, and we'll put you on the list.

    Midwestern delegates to the DSA National Convention will be caucusing on Saturday over lunch at the Convention. We hope to come to an agreement on hiring a Midwest regional organizer and to discuss other matters of common concern.

    Columbus DSA member Bob Fitrakis is running for office again, this time as part of a slate of four independent candidates for the Columbus Public School Board. Bob descrbes the campaign in these words:

    "Our slate is directly challenging the Columbus Chamber of Commerce and its control over the present school board. The Board recently passed another so-called "win-win" agreement that essentially establishes economic and racial apartheid. We have developed a 10 point plan, based largely on the book, The Power of Their Ideas, that created democratic schools in East Harlem. We're calling for a mandatory multi-cultural curriculum to combat the rise of racism and xenophobia. We've proposed both a madatory green and labor curriculum."

    Money being the mother's milk of politics, Bob is looking for green. Send it to The Committee to Remember the Children, 295 Highland Av, Worthington, OH 43085.

    In other cyberspace news, the Social Democrats, USA finally came on line with their very own web page. And it is an impressive production. Not only do they have a considerable number of their own documents available, they also have probably one of the most impressive collection of documents related to the recent AFL-CIO leadership contest. It's hardly surprising as the top levels of the AFL-CIO bureaucracy have been the main source of support for the organization for a long time. It's also not surprising that there are not many links to other sites. SDUSA's web address is http://www.socialdemocrats.org/sdusa/index.html.

    Comments and Opinions

    By Robert Roman

    Two major events have happened just before New Ground went to press: the Million Man March and the victory of the Sweeney - Trumpka - Chavez-Thompson slate at the AFL-CIO convention in New York.

    The Million Man March was one of those surprises that should have been no surprise. And considering it was a surprise that should have been no surprise, it's not surprising that the Left has been tentative in its response.

    When I've been asked about the Million Man March, my response has depended on whether the topic was the spiritual aspect of the march or the political aspect of the march.

    If it's the spiritual aspect of the march, my response has been: "Well, I remember Woodstock."

    If it is the political aspect of the march, I've had two responses. First, it reminds me a lot of the anti-war movement when there would be long, divisive fights over whether or not marxist-leninist groups should be allowed to participate in the march or its planning. The fights were over substantive issues of principle and politics but- it rarely made much difference to the people who marched. My second response has been, "Well, I remember Woodstock."

    The victory of the New Voice slate at the AFL-CIO convention was not a surprise although I thought the old guard was going to make the results closer than it was. Never underestimate the power of incumbency, I thought. But the insurgents won.

    This is good news for the Left, and particularly for DSA. A few months prior to the election, John Sweeney joined DSA. This was probably as much a calculated insult to the old guard as it was an affirmation of the need for a new society. This is less cynical than it sounds. The old guard were patrons of the Social Democrats, USA. SDUSA, as it is known, is a conservative group that made the cold war its reason to be, and for various historical reasons, was not at all well disposed toward DSA.

    Still, the more significant benefit for all of us was that there was a contest for leadership in the AFL-CIO and its corollary: a bidding war by both sides on the resources to be devoted to organizing. This is not a benefit that will pay immediate dividends, but all other things being equal, the labor movement and the Left will be much stronger come the turn of the century.

    Who remembers Woodstock?

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