US right-to-work court case

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R Totale's picture
R Totale
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Jun 28 2018 07:08
US right-to-work court case

Anyone got any hot takes on this? Seems like a significant change to the structure of labo(u)r relations there. This seemed like a pretty decent article: https://mobile.nytimes.com/2018/06/27/opinion/supreme-court-janus-unions...

Also it's weird to me that 1) American unions apparently just got beat by a roman god, and 2) a few years back the SWP were using the main slogan of American union-busters as their major front. Anyway.

Mike Harman
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Jun 28 2018 08:25

This has some more detail: http://abc7news.com/politics/scotus-rules-states-cant-force-government-w...

There's apparently about 24 states that enforce agency fees.

A handful of states have already passed legislation that will more or less protect the status quo: https://uk.reuters.com/article/usa-court-unions-states/some-us-states-em...

To be honest until this case came up I didn't realise agency fees existed, it looks like a compromise on closed shops (i.e. not requiring people to actually join the union, but everyone has to pay fees anyway).

It only applies to government employees, so teachers, firefighters, police unions. It'd be great if police unions went bust but that's probably unlikely.

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Steven.
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Jun 28 2018 14:28

Yeah, I know that American lefties always lose their shit when it comes to this sort of thing and general "right to work" laws, saying that it means unions are effectively illegal. I have seen lots of people say that the US government is like the Nazis banning unions, and get absolutely outraged when you try to point out that not allowing people to be forced to be union members or to pay money to unions is not the same as outlawing unions and throwing all of their activists into death camps…

Also when you try to point out that the whole EU has been "right to work" since at least 1992 because of our human rights laws which ban union shops (called closed shops in the UK, which means something different in the US), and we as workers do okay, they don't seem to understand it and start getting very angry saying that you hate unions blah blah blah.

I can see that union bureaucrats won't like this as it means they will actually have to demonstrate value to members to get them to join.

A course in general this law will weaken workers' bargaining power, however bargaining power enforced by a bureaucracy backed up by laws isn't that genuine in any case. And as the teachers in the American South have shown, you don't need union recognition agreements to take action and win – if anything they can be an impediment, as if those states had not been right to work, those teachers would have all been subject to union no strike clauses, and would face discipline by the union for striking.

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Jun 28 2018 18:29

Yep, that's why I thought that NYT piece was (surprisingly) good:

"That the Janus decision dropped so soon after what by any definition has been a momentous strike wave — mostly by public-school teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Colorado, Arizona, Kentucky and North Carolina but also by 50,000 public employees at the University of California system and others — is probably the best circumstance labor could have hoped for.

Workers are standing up and fighting, and they have been doing so in states where right-to-work is already the law, proving that the rules of Janus don’t have to spell death...

Yet what is often lost in the conversation around organized labor is that the entire idea behind organizing is that working people are their own best champions. The union is not supposed to be the third party that you call when your boss is being a jerk. The union is what happens when you and your colleagues get together and refuse to work until that boss is gone. Or, in the case of West Virginia, Arizona and Oklahoma teachers, until the state decides to put some money where its never-ending paeans to education are...

But no candidate has electrified working people from coast to coast the way a wave of teacher strikes did, and though they sprang from weak unions with their backs to the wall, the labor movement can in fact think strategically about how to build and wield its power through what Ms. Henry appropriately called “disruption.” The court has decided that labor peace will no longer be traded for fees; labor can look to West Virginia for an example of what the end of labor peace looks like.

As Jane McAlevey, a labor organizer and the author of “No Shortcuts,” argues, health care and education workers in particular — but also public employees in general — have a distinct ability to bring the community together around their demands. They have relationships with the people they serve every day, relationships built on trust and commonality that can build power in the near term — rather than simply hunker down, take the hit and think about the next election.

The corporate class isn’t going to wait until November — it is acting now, and its allies on the Supreme Court have dealt labor another body blow. But this is the wrong time for labor to wait, to get hesitant and timid. Union budgets will no doubt take a wallop.

But the recent strike wave has reminded us that unions win more when they bargain with politicians from a place of strength. And the power that unions have — the power they have always had — is in people, not in dollars spent."

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Jun 28 2018 21:39
R Totale wrote:
) a few years back the SWP were using the main slogan of American union-busters as their major front.

You think that's something? Look at the logo of this US paint company:

I can't find it at the moment, but in the court proceedings regarding this decision the union lawyers - on the union side! - argued that eliminating automatic dues deduction would result in unions having to take a more militant stand to recruit and retain members. They were openly arguing that right-to-work legislation undermined the state's interest in having dociles unions there to ensure labor peace!

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Jun 28 2018 21:41

Yeah that was quite a good article, although the Times balances it out with this bullshit: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/27/opinion/janus-supreme-court-scotus-af...

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Jun 28 2018 23:24

I imagine this is going to decimate public sector unions in the short term. Who knows in the long term. The density that they got was largely because of a political partnership with the Democratic Party. With the Democrats basically eviscerated at the local and state level, and with laws now extremely hostile to what public sector unionism has been for the last 60 years...it doesn't look good.

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Jun 29 2018 14:03
Juan Conatz wrote:
I imagine this is going to decimate public sector unions in the short term. Who knows in the long term. The density that they got was largely because of a political partnership with the Democratic Party. With the Democrats basically eviscerated at the local and state level, and with laws now extremely hostile to what public sector unionism has been for the last 60 years...it doesn't look good.

Surely the wildcat teachers' strikes provide some counter-balance to that view though, no? At least a cause for some optimism?

Mike Harman
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Jun 29 2018 14:29
Chilli Sauce wrote:
Juan Conatz wrote:
I imagine this is going to decimate public sector unions in the short term. Who knows in the long term. The density that they got was largely because of a political partnership with the Democratic Party. With the Democrats basically eviscerated at the local and state level, and with laws now extremely hostile to what public sector unionism has been for the last 60 years...it doesn't look good.

Surely the wildcat teachers' strikes provide some counter-balance to that view though, no? At least a cause for some optimism?

I think there were different trajectories between different states, and don't have all the variations immediately to hand, but afaik none of these strikes were what I'd call 'unlawful strikes by unions' (i.e. outside a contract negotiation or whatever). Some of them had post-hoc union support, at least one had a local union leader immediately call for a return to work. All of them were in right-to-work states where agency fees don't apply too?. So they were (very) encouraging, but whether they reflect anything positive about public sector unions is a different question.

Haven't seen any decent articles about how the wildcats actually got organised and what the relationship to the union structures was, that'd be worth doing if it doesn't exist already.

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Jun 29 2018 15:05
Mike Harman wrote:

Haven't seen any decent articles about how the wildcats actually got organised and what the relationship to the union structures was, that'd be worth doing if it doesn't exist already.

A WV Wob who was very involved in the runup there definitely did quite a few interviews, but if I recall rightly they were mostly audio (IGDcast/Final Straw) rather than in depth written ones though. Was thinking about this with regard to the "don't organise on Facebook" thread, since it's my impression that Facebook groups played a really big role at least in WV and I think elsewhere.

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Jun 29 2018 16:34

Yeah, they talk about that in the It's Going Down podcast, and basically the strike in West Virginia was originally organised through teachers' Facebook groups.

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Jun 29 2018 16:55

So, not having been on the ground in the teachers' strikes at all, I do wonder if there's a temptation to overemphasize the role of social media. I listened to those same interviews and whenever they mentioned those FB pages, they also mentioned the (mass?) meetings that took place alongside them. I think it could be a case of social media reflecting the reality on the ground rather than the other way around - although I guess once you get the ball rolling, a large social media presence can build a sense of momentum. And, ya know, it can help to link up militants in those early stages.

Anyway, just came across this article. If you ignore the painful liberalness of it, it does contain this interesting little fact:

"Last year, bucking a long trend of decline, union membership in the US grew by 262,000 members. Three in four new recruits were, like Motley-Gibson, under 35."

And, if that article is anything to go on, it sounds like it's the private sector that's pushing the growth in membership.

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Jun 29 2018 16:59
Chilli Sauce wrote:
So, not having been on the ground in the teachers' strikes at all, I do wonder if there's a temptation to overemphasize the role of social media. I listened to those same interviews and whenever they mentioned those FB pages, they also mentioned the (mass?) meetings that took place alongside them.

Don't recall hearing about specifically mass meetings. And I don't really know how meetings between teachers in lots of different schools could even happen if the teachers were not already in communication through electronic means? The only way that could happen would be if there were a pre-existing organisation had the capacity to do that. And while there was a teachers' organisation, it kind of seems like it grew as a result of the struggle, not that it created the struggle in the first place and had the reach to bring people together

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Jun 29 2018 18:20
Chilli Sauce wrote:
So, not having been on the ground in the teachers' strikes at all, I do wonder if there's a temptation to overemphasize the role of social media. I listened to those same interviews and whenever they mentioned those FB pages, they also mentioned the (mass?) meetings that took place alongside them. I think it could be a case of social media reflecting the reality on the ground rather than the other way around - although I guess once you get the ball rolling, a large social media presence can build a sense of momentum. And, ya know, it can help to link up militants in those early stages.

Hah, I guess this is one of the big downsides of audio interviews vs written text (no reason why you can't have both, of course): it was definitely my impression that the FB discussions preceded the mass meetings by quite a while, but since I can't just look the interviews up and use ctrl+f to find the relevant bits and there's no way I'm re-listening to hour-long interviews just to find the bit I'm trying to remember, I suppose it'll have to remain an open question. If anyone's interested, here's an interview where the topic definitely gets discussed because the Final Straw are generally very critical of using social media to organise, so I'm sure I remember the interviewer talking about it specifically as something they were surprised by.

rooieravotr
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Jul 1 2018 19:41
Steven. wrote:
I can see that union bureaucrats won't like this as it means they will actually have to demonstrate value to members to get them to join.

A course in general this law will weaken workers' bargaining power, however bargaining power enforced by a bureaucracy backed up by laws isn't that genuine in any case.

True, I think, but it can be overstated. Under the pre-Jason-setup, now ended by the Supreme Court,unions still had to prove at least some relevance. Otherwise, it would become very easy for bosses to get them decertified, unrecognized as a legitimate negotiation force. Unions have to convince workers to vote for recognition, even those workes who themselves are not members. And those that vote for recognition - even if non-members themselves - know full well that recognition implies paying fees for union services. It is not as if the union has been stuffed through their throats (which is what the right wing Right to Work rhetoric implies). So, the simple fact that the union was recognized meant that it was felt - rightly or wrongly - that it had som,e relevance for many workers.

I agree that this is all within quite narrow boundaries. And I agree that the new situation will not be The End of the Unions,, and certainly not the end of struggle :)'

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Jul 2 2018 05:35
Chilli Sauce wrote:
R Totale wrote:
) a few years back the SWP were using the main slogan of American union-busters as their major front.

You think that's something? Look at the logo of this US paint company:

You think THAT's something? Last time I got arrested my belongings were returned to me in a bag branded 'SWP'.

So turns out it meant 'South Wales Police', but it made me do a double take.

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Jul 2 2018 10:48

Hah, definitely seen some conversations about Sean Wright-Phillips that proper confused me as well.

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Jul 2 2018 13:16
Chilli Sauce wrote:
Surely the wildcat teachers' strikes provide some counter-balance to that view though, no? At least a cause for some optimism?

I didn't follow those strikes very closely so I can't say. But from what I can remember, they received only very modest gains, some of which were paid for out of the coffers of state social services.