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Posts Tagged ‘right to work’

5-5-12 038 “Don’t trust your employer to say everything’s all right,” says Al Bouchard, a member of NH COSH and an advocate for workers injured by chemical exposure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Re-Awakening the Spirit of 1912

NASHUA — Keeping their fingers crossed that the biggest legislative battles of the year are behind us, union members and labor allies rallied in Nashua on May 5 to raise spirits for whatever struggles lie ahead.  The “Solid as Granite” rally drew about 75 people to the Greeley Park band shell. 

The mood was defensive and defiant sixteen months into an intense State5-5-12 004 House battle that isn’t over yet.  “We will not be intimidated.  We will not go away,” shouted Mark MacKenzie, president of the NH AFL-CIO.  

With two right-to-work-for-LESS bills tabled in the State Senate, prospects are good that Speaker of the House Bill O’Brien’s anti-labor onslaught has been stopped.  But the Speaker, who recently took other proposals sidelined by the Senate and re-attached them as amendments to other measures, 5-5-12 011 may have more tricks up his sleeves. 

“Do not let up on any of us,” said Rep. Mary Gorman, one of ten local Representatives recognized for their “dedication to the middle class.”

The role of unions in creating and defending the middle class is by now well established.  Labor would be making a mistake, however, if it fails to connect with the issues facing people who aspire to the middle class.  Diana Lacey, president of the state’s largest union, was the only labor speaker who explicitly linked labor’s agenda to the needs of the poor.  5-5-12 012

Lacey, whose mom migrated from Mexico, also linked labor’s agenda to the importance of stopping the Arizonification of America.  She was also the one who mostly clearly identified labor with “the 99%.” 

MacKenzie also understands that labor’s fortunes are tied to other sectors, including “the religious community who care about the labor movement.” 

“That’s how we gonna take back the state of New Hampshire,” MacKenzie said.  I’m not sure we ever really had it, but his point is well taken.  With O’Brien already running again for Speaker, the 2012 election is looming large for labor. 

Other speakers included Robert Sherman of the Nashua Federation of Teachers;  Paul O’Connor from the Metal Trades Council at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard; Magnus Pardoe of the Nashua chapter of SEIU 1984; Ed Foley of the Sheet Metal Workers; Ed Barnes of the Mail Handlers; Craig Lange of the new union of Community College adjunct faculty; and Laura Hainey of the AFT.   Matt Murray, editor of NH Labor News, served as emcee.  Gerry O’Connor spoke about growing up in Lowell and made reference to the “Bread and Roses” strike of 1912.

If the New Hampshire unions are working hard to stand their ground and defend the4-28-12 008 status quo, labor activists and scholars a few miles south are looking back to 1912 in order to look forward.  The 100th anniversary of the landmark “Bread and Roses” strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts has occasioned a variety of cultural programs, including last week’s  Academic Symposium.  300 people ranged between several buildings in the city’s historic mill district for workshops on topics as diverse as “Music and Culture and Labor History,” “The Strike and Immigration in the Classroom,” The Importance of Strike Activity in Building New Unions,” and “The Legacies of Labor’s Response to Racism.” 

One hundred years ago thousands of workers, mostly immigrants and about half women, walked out of Lawrence’s mills when employers cut their pay.  According to the Bread and Roses Centennial Committee,

What started as a wage protest quickly became a fight for better conditions both on and off the job. The strikers angrily complained about mistreatment by overseers and a job pace that made them work “like horses.” They also objected to a premium system that held part of their expected earnings hostage to month-long production and attendance standards.

After eight weeks of strike activity led by the Industrial Workers o4-28-12 007f the World, the bosses gave in and granted a 15% pay hike, with the biggest raises going to  the lowest paid workers.

The Centennial is “an incredible event for my family being able to reclaim our own history,” said Donna San Antonio, whose grandparents participated in the 1912 strike and who now teaches educators.   

While there were plenty of professors at the symposium, everyone present seemed eager to apply scholarship to current struggles for workers and immigrants.  That group includes the last unionized textile workers 4-28-12 015 in the city, 500 UNITE HERE Local 311 members working at Polartec.  “We continue to fight for bread and roses in our community,” said Juan Williams, who spoke at a lunchtime plenary that also featured AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. 

At an afternoon workshop other Polartec workers explained that they have better benefits than non-union workers in the city and that the union helps them solve workplace problems.  “If you have no union and someone doesn’t like you, there’s no way to defend yourself,” said a worker named Tony.   Another worker, Anya, said she has developed leadership skills through her union activity. 4-28-12 039 “Thanks to the union I have the opportunity to go anywhere to express myself,” she said. 

Formerly known as Malden Mills, the company where the Local 311 members work had a massive fire in 1995.  In the aftermath, the company shrunk from 2500 workers to 1000 and got bought out by Versa, a private equity firm which tried to cut benefits.  But the union is hanging on.

Labor’s resurgence is an essential ingredient of halting the drift toward plutocracy and lifting up the spirit of 1912.

In the words of James Oppenheim’s now famous poem,

No more the drudge and idler,

Ten that toil where one reposes,

But a sharing of life’s glories:

Bread and roses, bread and roses.

 

 

 

 

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This year’s drama over proposed Right-to-Work legislation hit a climax today5-12-11 006 when the Senate voted to table HB 1677, the latest version of this anti-labor proposal that has been kicking around the State House for decades.

This was not the defeat we would have preferred, but as NH AFL-CIO President Mark MacKenzie said at an impromptu rally on the State House steps, it’s a “step in the right direction.”

HB 1677 was the third bill on the Senate agenda this morning.  As soon as it NH House 5-25-11 024 came up, Senator Jim Forsythe moved to table it.  The non-debatable motion was quickly approved on a voice vote, with no apparent dissent.  Dozens of labor activists in the Senate Gallery seemed a little stunned by how quickly it had happened.  

HB 1677 can be removed from “the table” and put back on the Senate agenda any time by a majority vote, but this bad idea seems to be dead for the year.  Unlike their House colleagues, Senate Republicans apparently decided there was not point in waging a losing battle since their prospects for over-riding a promised veto were slim.

“Hopefully, we won’t see 1677 again,” MacKenzie said .

The message of today’s vote is that the attack on the rights of workers “will not stand in the state of New Hampshire,” said the Rev. Gail Kinney.

Still alive in the Senate is HB 383, a version of “right to work” that applies only to state employees.  This one should meet a similar fate.

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10-12-11 009 

Labor activists and allies endured a morning of speeches by GOP Presidential candidates and an afternoon of procedural votes, then left the New Hampshire State House with the Governor’s veto of the Right-to-Work-for-Less bill still intact.  They’ll be back again whenever the House re-convenes.

Over-riding the veto has been a top priority of Speaker of the House Bill O’Brien for months, but despite a 3:1 Republican majority, he knows he doesn’t have the votes he needs to over-ride the Governor’s veto of HB 474.  In addition to a solid bloc of Democrats, there are still enough pro-labor Republicans to keep the anti-union bill from becoming law.

HB 474 would make it illegal for employers and unions to adopt a union security clause in their collective bargaining agreements, thereby preventing unions from collecting “agency fees” from non-members.  The point of this perennial legislation is to weaken unions by making it possible for workers to be “free riders,” i.e. to get the benefits of a union contract without paying a dime. 

Today’s show was a bit different from the rehearsals to date.  FNewt leaves 10-12-11ollowing last night’s Republican debate in Hanover, five of the candidates – Gary Johnson, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain, and Michelle Bachman – were invited by the Speaker to address the House.  Since members knew the Speaker could spring the the veto over-ride vote on them if they left the House chamber, the pro-labor members dutifully stayed in their seats throughout.  For that sacrifice I thank them.  

Members of the International Association of Fire Fighters showed up in larger than  usual numbe10-12-11 015rs today, making it clear the labor movement is ready for the fight that will go beyond this year’s battle over Right-to-Work-for-Less.  

Also present were faith-based activists making it clear that their religious values place them squarely on the side of worker justice.  

It’s hard to feel like victorious without a vote, but each time Speaker O’Brien decides not to put the measure up for a vote is an indication we are winning.  

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6-1-11 010 

The State House feels a bit like a strike scene these days: the workers and their allies are picketing, and the bosses are trying to force adoption of an agenda that takes 6-1-11 001 decent wages, health care, and retirement security away from workers and their families.   Instead of a contract, this fight is about HB 474, the “Right to Work,” which would be more truthfully called “Work Without Rights.”  

Once more today, the halls outside the House chamber were filled with union 6-1-11 012 members, clergy, and pro-labor activists who understand that “right to work” is an attempt to drive down standards of living that have been won through countless labor struggles over the years. 

Once more, the Speaker of the House realized he didn’t have the votes to over-ride Gov. Lynch’s veto.  So once more, the House adjourned for the day without a vote on this issue, and once more the labor community is making plans to return.

During the Steel Workers lock-out at Ravenswood in 1990, Elaine Purkey wrote a song,“One Day More,”  to help keep workers spirits up,  The refrain comes to mind now: 

Fight one day more, one day more.  If the company holds out 20 years, we’ll hold out one day more.

Here’s the rest of the lyrics

One day more, one day more,

People let me tell you what we’re fighting for:

We’re fighting for our future, don’t you understand?

And we don’t need your pity, we just need your helping hand.

Chorus:

To fight one day more,

One day more,

If the company holds out 20 years,

We’ll hold out one day more.

If Emmet Boyle things he can win

He’ll get a big surprise,

Cause we’re honest folks and we will

Shut down him down to size.

We’ll throw out the Guards, clean out the yard

Cut that big Boyle down,

But we’ll still be around.

We’ve got to change the way things are,

Make people understand,

Our working class is banking on

The rights in a free land.

Our government lets criminals run free to steal again,

And then takes the jobs of honest working women and men.

Let’s change the laws, remove the flaws

And start all over anew.

Demand our rights, take back our land,

Square freedom through and through.

Keep the scabs out of the White House,

Vote union brothers in,

And then the Feds can’t ever take us off In a ball and chains again.

“One Day More” is recorded on the album, “Classic Labor Songs.” which you can order or download from Smithsonian

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NH House 5-25-11 012

“Work Without Rights” Loses a Battle

New Hampshire’s Speaker of the House, William O’Brien, adjourned today’s session without a vote on the controversial Right-to-Work-for-Less bill because he lacked the two-thirds majority needed to over-ride Governor Lynch’s veto. NH House 5-25-11 017

Today’s victory is testimony to the hard work done by unions and pro-labor groups to communicate with Representatives, including Republicans who have voted against the bill. 

The Speaker had spent recent weeks using his special powers of persuasion to cajole recalcitrant Republicans to vote with him or “take a walk” and abstain from voting.  He will no doubt keep trying, but in the process he may try the patience of even his supporters, many of whom would like to move on to other issues and are tired of getting phone calls about right-to-NH House 5-25-11 024work. 

Mark MacKenzie, president of the NH AFL-CIO, spoke before a crowd of sign-waving activists outside the Speaker’s office after O’Brien held another private news conference.

By the way, this blogger was kept out of the news conference by a member of O’Brien’s staff.  One irony is that his rhetoric has often lifted up New Hampshire’s sovereignty and the primacy of the State’s Constitution.  In that document, Article 22 says:

Free speech and liberty of the press are essential to the security of freedom in a state: They ought, therefore, to be inviolably preserved.

Prior the the legislative session, a couple dozen RTW supporters waved signs on the State House Plaza.  They were greatly outnumbered by pro-labor activists from numerous unions supplemented by Protect NH Families, NH Citizens Alliance, Working Families Win, and several faith-based groups.  Lunch was served from a giant Teamsters truck, parked outside the State House. 

NH House 5-25-11 005  NH House 5-25-11 006

Last week the Speaker suffered a political defeat when Democrat Jennifer DaleNH House 5-25-11 001r won a special election for a House seat in his own district.  The outcome coincides with yesterday’s victory by Kathy Hochul in a NY State Congressional election.  Is it possible that the wave of reactionary Tea Party politics has crested?

Regardless, New Hampshire labor activists can’t afford to rest.  Right-to-Work (which could be re-titled “Work Without Rights”) is not yet dead.  The Speaker controls the House agenda, and can put off an over-ride vote until the end of the year if he chooses.

Senators have removed proposals to strip public sector workers of collective bargaining rights from the fine print of budget and pension bills.  But House and Senate negotiators have agreed to set up a “study committee” on public employee collective bargaining.  Members of the study committee will be appointed by legislative leaders, whose views of workers’ human rights range from moderately hostile to extremely hostile. 

So it may be a long summer.   And a long time to the next election. 

NH House 5-25-11 021

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