Recession: Time to Organize

From Infoshop

Monday, July 13 2009 @ 11:11 AM CDT

Contributed by: Admin

We started this year in the middle of the hardest economic times we have seen in decades. The real estate bubble popped, followed by the dissolution of longstanding financial institutions, the subsequent doling out of taxpayer money to bail them out and the gouging of a weakened U.S. workforce. Tens of thousands of workers are now jobless, and thousands more are lining up behind them every week. All industries are feeling the pinch with this crisis.

Recession: Time to Organize

By Mykke Holcomb & Adam Welch
Industrial Worker July 2009

We started this year in the middle of the hardest economic times we have seen in decades. The real estate bubble popped, followed by the dissolution of longstanding financial institutions, the subsequent doling out of taxpayer money to bail them out and the gouging of a weakened U.S. workforce. Tens of thousands of workers are now jobless, and thousands more are lining up behind them every week. All industries are feeling the pinch with this crisis.

In our precarious workforce, we now find ourselves on even shakier ground than before. With no net to fall back on, many are laying low to hold onto what they’ve got. Many workers who’ve been laid off have justified their bosses’ cutting them loose, naively assuming that their employers simply couldn’t afford to keep paying them. Most truckers know better. We know better than most how much money we generate for our bosses and the corporations and how little we see of it. For example, as Citigroup sacked 30,000 of its workers, it would come as no surprise to us that, just the year before, its CEO raked in $15,105,376. As Sotheby’s so desperately sought to save $7 million to stay afloat by cutting a quarter of its U.S. workforce, we might have guessed that its CEO pocketed $10,341,357 in that same year. And, of course, we’re not shocked to find that Richard K. McClelland, director and chairman of the board of courier industry giant Dynamex, took home $1,222,513. Dynamex workers in New York City, many of whom are recent immigrants, are among the lowest paid in the industry.

There is no good reason these layoffs should be occurring. There is no good reason we should catch the brunt of a recession we did not create. We created the profits the bosses and companies are protecting when they fire us. Or when they cut our pay and benefits. Or when they give us less work. And then, of course, we’re expected to understand. The figures above should suffice to explain why our hardship usually is not necessary. But, nonetheless, you may wonder what we can do about it. Working people have an inspiring history of struggles and victories, even in times of recession. In fact, in these tougher times it is all the more vital for us to be organized. To accept defeat now will only hurt us more later. In this historic time, we may find history has valuable lessons for us.

Our current recession has been compared to the onset of the Great Depression that began in the late 1920s. The Great Depression was a time of increased union activity and worker militance. When unemployment soared, rather than hunkering down and hoping for the best, workers stood their ground and fought back.

During this time, teamsters in Minneapolis had organized an industrial union of truckers where there had been almost no union presence before. What union did exist was very small, divided by craft and hindered by a dead-weight bureaucracy. This situation allowed the power to stay in the hands of the employers, and the prospect of making gains didn’t look good. But the rank and file organized and fought for representation of all workers in the industry.

In 1934, when the bosses refused to recognize the union, they went on strike, and many of the Minneapolis’ workers followed. For weeks the city was at a standstill, and what did function was at the strikers’ call. They allied with farmers, the unemployed and the local public to strengthen support and so that the bosses couldn’t break the strike with scab labor. Decisions were made democratically, putting the rank and file in control of their own fight.

After a pitched battle that lasted weeks, the truckers won. The victory was a turning point, not only for the truckers, but for the city’s workers in general. From then on, labor had a strong voice, where before it had nearly none.

Around the same time in Detroit, IWW autoworkers at the Hudson Motor Car Company were successfully using the sit-down strike to push their wages up.

According to the IWW website:

“‘Sit down and watch your pay go up’ was the message that rolled down the assembly line on strikers that had been fastened to pieces of work. The steady practice of the sitdown raised wages 100% (from $.75 an hour to $1.50) in the middle of a depression.”

Today—as the economy recesses and bosses respond by threatening wages and jobs—many are taking the hint and standing their ground. The airline industry has been especially hit throughout the world recently, with more and more job actions fighting layoffs and other grievances. IWW truckers are fighting back. Even Starbucks baristas are making gains!

Just last December, UE workers at the Republic Windows and Doors factory in Chicago stood up and made history. The owners of the factory had been secretly moving operations out of state, where they could employ cheaper, nonunion workers. The factory’s 260 workers were given three days’ notice that it was closing. And the company’s primary lender, Bank of America, had just gotten $25 billion in bailout money, but refused to lend any longer, thus denying the workers what they were legally owed. Not only would they be out of a job right before Christmas, but they would not get the vacation pay they had earned, and would not receive the severance they were due.

So the workers stood together and sat down in the first factory occupation in the U.S. since the 1930s. They demanded their vacation pay and their severance, and that the bank fork over the money they owed. “You got bailed out, we got sold out” was the cry of the strikers as they took on a behemoth, and it resonated far and wide. Support poured in from all over the world. It electrified labor and inspired millions. Even the mainstream press could not ignore it, and politicians lined up for their photoops and speeches of support. After only six days, they won their demands.

Many workers are in a much stronger position to win than many of us think. We know that without us the economy would not function. Goods would not be moved, students would not be educated, food would not be served. And we’ve seen how when folks in other industries got together and flexed their collective muscles, even in times of cutbacks and job scarcity, they’ve gotten results. Even our bosses, who compete with one another, are organized to protect their interests. Why aren’t we?

If we don’t do something now, it may soon be too late. Stand up for yourself and your fellow workers everywhere. Now is the time to organize. And now is the time that we need a democratic fighting union movement. Isn’t it time you joined the One Big Union?

With files from, the AFL-CIO and Subterranean Fire bySharon Smith.

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Total Unemployment

Recently I wrote about cutting people slack and not saying things that are hurtful in response to their claiming they can’t get SRS because of the economy.

It’s official, from the New York Times business section.  20-25% real unemployment.  For minorities and older workers it is worse.

We are a minority and often discriminated against.  Our rate of unemployment/under employment is far worse>

Part-Time Workers Mask Unemployment Woes

In California and a handful of other states, one out of every five people who would like to be working full time is not now doing so.

It is a startling sign of the pain that the Great Recession is inflicting, and it is largely missed by the official, oft-repeated statistics on unemployment. The national unemployment rate has risen to 9.5 percent, the highest level in more than a quarter-century. Yet it still excludes all those who have given up looking for a job and those part-time workers who want to be working full time.

Include them — as the Labor Department does when calculating its broadest measure of the job market — and the rate reached 23.5 percent in Oregon this spring, according to a New York Times analysis of state-by-state data. It was 21.5 percent in both Michigan and Rhode Island and 20.3 percent in California. In Tennessee, Nevada and several other states that have relied heavily on manufacturing or housing, the rate was just under 20 percent this spring and may have since surpassed it.

Almost nobody believes that unemployment has finished rising, either. On Tuesday, President Obama said he expected it to “tick up for several months.”

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Transsexual/Transgender People in the early days of Gay Liberation

I’m currently reading Smash the Church, Smash the State edited by Tommi Avicolli Mecca.

Last month I wrote the obligatory 40th anniversary pieces about Stonewall along with my rationalizations for personal apathy regarding the events that immediately unfolded.

I was already in transition.  I was involved in the anti-war movement.  I didn’t identify as gay.

What I didn’t mention or may have glossed over was that if you were seriously transsexual or transgender the boys of Gay Lberation didn’t want you.

We had the Transsexual Counseling Center in San Francisco and our own organizations.

The Radical Faeries and the Effeminists actually had the balls to trash us for changing our sex.  We were betraying the gay movement.

One piece by Rumi Missabu tells how horrified he was to discover “Johnny” ( knew her by a different name that I won’t use here), a fellow member of the Cockettes as well as one of her friend were going to the Center for Special Problems to get female hormones and were in transition.

By 1973 Sylvia Rivera was pretty much driven from the Gay Liberation Movement.

I wound up in the women’s movement.

As the 1970s wore on the fashionable macho Castro Clone, I’m a manly man who likes other manly men became the norm.

I some times think it is a waste of time to make all the claims for inclusion based on a few who tried to be a part of the Gay Liberation Movement while ignoring those who were building parallel institutions that were contemporanious with but not actually a part of gay liberation.

Transsexuals and transgender although not the part time drag queens were even excluded via ID checks and dress code restrictioms from the most venerable of gay institutions, the gay bar.

By the way, it is a good book and helps in the understanding of why I used to search in vain for even a mention of TS/TG folks in the newpapers and anthologies of the early days.