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Workers Uniting: The First Global Union: USW (Steelworkers) and British union Unite (Britain’s largest union)


Workers Uniting: The First Global Union

by James Parks, Jul 2, 2008

In a global economy where multinational companies operate across borders, unions are developing global strategies to better represent their members and sustain the middle class.

Today, the United Steelworkers (USW) and Unite, Britain’s largest union, took a giant step in that direction by formally joining together to form the world’s first global union.

The new union, dubbed Workers Uniting: The Global Union, will draw on the energies of the two unions’ more than 3 million active and retired workers from the United States, Canada, Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland. The members work in virtually every sector of the global economy, including manufacturing, service, mining and transportation (see video).

USW President Leo Gerard and Unite General Secretary Derek Simpson signed the agreement in a transatlantic ceremony broadcast live at the USW convention in Las Vegas.

“This union is crucial for challenging the growing power of global capital,” says Gerard, adding:

Globalization has given financiers license to exploit workers in developing countries at the expense of our members in the developed world. Only global solidarity among workers can overcome this sort of global exploitation wherever it occurs.

While the two unions will remain largely autonomous, they will have a joint leadership to coordinate common policy and collective bargaining. The two unions represent workers at some of the same companies in both countries and will be able to coordinate bargaining.

Simpson adds:

The political and economic power of multinational companies is formidable. They are able to play one nation’s workers off against another to maximise profits. They do the same with governments, hence the growing gap between the rich and the rest of us. With this agreement, we can finally begin the process of closing that gap.

The genesis of Workers Uniting came in April 2007 when the USW, Amicus, the largest manufacturing union in the United Kingdom, and the U.K.’s Transport and General Workers’ Union (T&G), agreed to set up joint committees to move toward forming a global union. In May 2007, Amicus and T&G merged to form Unite.

At the time, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney hailed the agreement as “a bold and innovative approach to addressing the crushing effect of corporate-driven globalization on workers and their communities.”

Together, these unions have put multinational companies on notice: Pushing down wages and working conditions for your employees by pitting one country’s workforce against another will not work forever. By exploring what it would take to build the world’s first trans-Atlantic union, these unions have proven themselves to be on the cutting edge of not only the global union movement, but the future of the global workforce.

Tony Woodley, Unite’s joint general secretary, summed up the importance of the new union, saying:

This agreement will enable us to use our considerable resources to organize workers from new and growing sectors at home and in developing countries. There will be no more no-go areas for trade unions.

Unions key to greater opportunities for workers


Unions key to greater opportunities for workers

Former senator promotes values of higher education in commencement address at National Labor College

In a society that values profits over the common man, everyday workers must fight even harder for their rights, former U.S. Senator and presidential candidate John Edwards told graduates from the National Labor College on Saturday.

Edwards, ‘‘the son of a millworker,” as he is fond of mentioning in his speeches, told about 90 graduates of the labor studies college in Hillandale that all Americans deserve the opportunities he had to rise out of a small town, earn a law degree and run for president.

‘‘No one should work full-time in this country and live in poverty,” he said.

And organized labor movements like the unions most NLC students belong to are key in making sure no one has to, Edwards said.

‘‘It’s an example of making higher education available to people who worked hard all their lives,” he said of NLC. ‘‘America is a place that was built by people who work.”

NLC offers bachelor of arts degrees in fields such as labor studies, union leadership and administration and the political economy of labor, as well as master’s degrees through a partnership with American University.

Edwards, a Democrat from North Carolina and a former 2008 presidential candidate and 2004 vice presidential candidate, was a perfect choice for NLC’s commencement speech, said John Sweeney, the president of the AFL-CIO, a federation of labor unions.

‘‘Many of our unions supported him for president, and he really set the tone during the primaries; raising the issues of working families and the economy,” said Sweeney, who is also the chairman of NLC’s board of trustees.

Most of NLC’s students are working families who come from around the country to do the one-to-two year program in the middle of their careers in the labor field, said the president of NLC, William Scheuerman. The average age of the graduates Saturday was about 46, he said.

‘‘They’re committed to the labor movement because they know the labor movement brought them into the middle class,” he said.

Shannye Walker Carroll, a labor studies graduate and Frederick resident who lived in Montgomery County for 30 years, said she came to NLC for the same reason her peers did: to help other people.

‘‘Just about everybody that was there had the same mindset of trying to improve fellow co-workers and employee’s lives,” she said.

Graduate Anthony Yushinsky, an air traffic controller from New York, said going back to school was a sacrifice.

‘‘We all have full-time jobs, families and extracurricular activities, which competed for time with our school work,” he said.

But Yushinsky said it was worth it. Their degrees will be imperative to furthering the labor movement, which has suffered under George W. Bush’s presidency, he said.

‘‘This administration has attacked workers at every turn,” Yushinsky said, by freezing wages and voting down worker protection laws.

Edwards said he is also fighting for the labor movement. Since dropping out of the presidential race, he said he has been working on a national anti-poverty campaign called Half in Ten, which aims to slash America’s poverty rate in half in 10 years.

The project is a partnership with four nonprofit organizations and suggests raising the minimum wage, expanding unemployment eligibility and providing quality child care for working parents, according to Edwards.

The $90 billion it will cost to do all of that can be funded by re-evaluating ‘‘excessive” tax cuts, said Joy Moses, a policy analyst with The Center for American Progress Action Fund, one of the partnering organizations, in an interview Tuesday.

Edwards said he has no plans to stop being an advocate for workers’ rights and told graduates they should be doing the same.

‘‘We are in the fight of our lives to restore dignity and honor to those who actually work,” Edwards said. ‘‘More people ought to have the same chances I had.”

Symons, Rhoades in state Senate match up: Race for the 29th Pennsylvania Senatorial District


Symons, Rhoades in state Senate match up.
Race for the 29th senatorial district

Ron Ennis, Lehigh Valley Postal Workers
Editor, Lehigh Valley Labor Council

In every election cycle, union members step forward and run for political office. A member of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees, Peter J. Symons, has decided to take on incumbent James J. Rhoades for the 29th senatorial district.

Responding to a PA AFL-CIO labor questionnaire, Symons, a resident of Ashland, listed healthcare, taxes, job security within the district and energy as his top three campaign issues. Besides his union membership, the 53-year-old Democrat belongs to the National Rifle Association.

Describing his campaign, Symons wrote, “Being a fourth generation railroad employee was a goal and a great accomplishment of mine. The ability to keep family tradition and values of being a blue-collar worker has helped me in all my endeavors. It will be my duty to preserve that same tradition and values throughout the 29th district.”

Symons notes that, “two things…are very important regarding my railroad career. First, keeping the Symons name and reputation as a good, hard-working member of the blue-collar class.” And second, “belonging to a union which looks out for its members continuously. That is why we need to support unions so they can continue to help get union members a fair wage and continue to fight for a safe working environment.”

The 67-year-old Rhoades is chairman of the state Senate Education Committee. He was elected to the state Senate in 1980.

The Republican incumbent resides in Mahanoy City and, like his challenger, is a NRA member.

When asked by the PA AFL-CIO to provide a short statement describing his campaign, Rhoades wrote, “Since the day I took office, I have worked to improve the quality of life for the people in my district and throughout Pennsylvania. I always have and always will put people first. I want to continue fighting for the working man in Harrisburg. My philosophy of being pro-life, pro-family and pro-second amendment will continue to be reflected in all my votes.”

The 29th senatorial district includes all of Schuylkill County and parts of Berks County (Albany, Windsor, Tilden, Perry and Maidencreek townships and the city of Hamburg), Carbon County (East Penn, Penn Forest, Franklin, Towamensing and Lower Towamensing townships and the boroughs of Bowmanstown and Palmerton), Monroe County (Tunkhannock, Jackson, Polk and Eldred townships), Lehigh County (Lynn, Heidelberg and Washington townships including the borough of Slatington) and Northampton County (Lehigh township and the borough of Walnutport).

Bailouts, Filibusters and other random acts


Bailouts, Filibusters and other random acts

Ron Ennis, Lehigh Valley Postal Workers
Editor, Lehigh Valley Labor Council

The Federal Reserve bailout of Bear Stearns in March caused an eruption of conflicting opinions. Defenders of the rescue argued that if the investment banking giant had collapsed, it would have created enormous collateral damage and put the entire banking industry in jeopardy. “The right decision here…,” said Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, “was the decision the Fed made…to minimize disruptions.”

Others weren’t so sure. “I don’t know enough about the details of what has been going on at Bear Stearns to have a firm opinion about the latest Fed actions,” wrote Greg Mankiw, former Chairman of President Bush’s Council of Economic Advisors. “But as I am an advocate of free markets and limited government, my knee-jerk reaction is to be deeply disturbed whenever the government comes to the aid of reckless rich guys.”

It’s been customary in our country to come to the aid of “rich guys.” In this year’s presidential contest, GOP candidate Sen. John McCain has argued for a cut in the corporate income tax from 35 percent to 25 percent. His pledge is the latest in a longstanding tradition of governmental assistance to the powerful and the privileged that dates back to colonial America’s earliest settlement.

On July 30, 1619, the first representative assembly in America met in Jamestown, Virginia. Its first order of business: passage of a law to protect plantation owners from losing money growing tobacco.
Tobacco was first exported from the new colony in 1614. Within five years, 10 tons had already been shipped, making it the chief cash crop and enriching tobacco growers. The new law prohibited the crop from being sold for less than three shillings per pound.

In the following four centuries, railroad companies received land, steel producers were given tariff protections, pharmaceutical firms were granted patent rights and media giants were handed bandwidth. Throughout much of our nation’s history, America’s governing institutions have often come to the aid of various corporations, industries and “rich guys.” For many Americans, then, the Bear Stearns bailout should have come as no surprise.

“I need a president I can work with in the White House,” said Pennsylvania Congressman Joe Sestak (D-7th) and “at least 57 or 58 senators” that can prevent a filibuster of worker-friendly legislation.

Rep. Sestak’s comments, presented to a large gathering of union activists this past March at the Operating Engineers Local #542 union hall in Fort Washington, laid out the twin goals for labor leaders this November. And while the first half of Sestak’s request would be achieved with a victory by Senator Barack Obama, the second half will face a stiffer challenge – the election of at least six more Democrats to the U.S. Senate to overcome a filibuster.

Sestak’s remarks to the labor crowd revealed a crucial fact of contemporary senatorial behavior – the surge in filibusters in recent years.

A single senator can speak, or filibuster, for an unlimited time to scuttle a bill, unless there are 60 or more votes to invoke “cloture” or end debate. The word originated in Dutch as vrijbuiter, or pirate. After passing through French, the word landed in Spanish as filibustero, an adventurer who engaged in unauthorized warfare and stirred up revolutions.

The filibuster is not written in the U.S. Constitution. When Congress first met in 1789, both chambers required only a simple majority to cut off debate, a rule that the House has maintained to this day. The Senate dropped the simple majority rule in 1806, giving any member the right to speak as long as necessary on any issue.

It wasn’t until a century later, at the urging of President Woodrow Wilson, that the Senate adopted Rule 22 as a formal means to cut off debate. Borrowing a French parliamentary term, cloture, the Senate ruled that a two-thirds vote was required to end a filibuster.

The first use of Rule 22 was in 1919, when the Senate invoked cloture to end a filibuster against the Treaty of Versailles.

Despite the measure to foil delaying tactics, filibusters remained an effective means to sidetrack legislation, since the required two-thirds vote was difficult to obtain. In the decades that followed, Southern senators employed the maneuver as a means to block civil rights legislation. In fact, the dubious honor for the longest filibuster belongs to Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina who held up the 1957 civil rights bill for a somniferous 24 hours and 18 minutes.

In 1975, the Senate reduced the number of votes required for cloture from 67, two-thirds, to three-fifths of the current one hundred senators.

However, the reduction in votes needed to invoke cloture has not stalled the usage of filibusters. Perhaps it is not so surprising in a chamber that has become so evenly divided in party registration. Currently at 49 Democrats, 49 Republicans and two Independents, even the threat of a filibuster carries clout.

In fact, recent research affirms that the number of filibusters has risen in recent decades. In the 1950s, according to Barbara Sinclair of the University of California-Los Angeles, there was an average of less than one cloture vote each congressional session; so far this decade, that number has soared to over 50.

Furthermore, the Senate has witnessed an increased number of party-unity votes. In 1970, roughly 35 percent of all bills were decided on such votes. But, according to the Congressional Quarterly, nearly 63 percent of all legislation in the Senate was decided by party-unity votes in 2005. In an atmosphere of heightened partisanship, reaching the 60 votes necessary to end a filibuster will be daunting.

Rep. Sestak’s warning to union leaders earlier this year serves as a reminder to the rank-and-file that they will need more than Barack Obama in the White House: the key will also rest in the Senate.
It has generally been assumed that Big Business benefits when the Republican Party holds the keys to Washington. In return, corporate campaign donations usually flow to GOP coffers.

But that symbiotic relationship is often not mutually beneficial in one respect: Wall Street prosperity. According to recent research, the stock market does better when the Democrats control the White House.

“Historically speaking,” wrote Charles A. Jaffe, senior columnist for MarketWatch, “the stock market has performed better with a Democrat in the White House than a Republican; on a short-term basis, analysts suggest that trend could continue.”

This bias has certainly held true while President George Bush has been in office. At the end of 2007, the market returns during his tenure were one of the worse in the past 100 years. As measured by the Standard & Poor’s 500, the most widely followed stock index, the annualized return during Bush’s seven years was a meager 1.5 percent.

And most experts don’t foresee an upswing anytime soon. “This downturn is likely to last longer than the eight-month-long recession of 2001,” wrote Newsweek business columnist Daniel Gross last month. “The head winds that drove the economy into this dead calm…have strengthened rather than let up in recent months.”

Consequently, the next president will most likely receive from Bush a stumbling economy, a far cry from the smooth running engine he inherited from Bill Clinton in 2000. Worse, workers who were driven into 401(k) retirement accounts in recent years as companies axed traditional pension plans have watched the values of their nest eggs stagnate. It’s why some retirement planners and pension managers are calling this the Lost Decade.

But it’s not just the paradoxical track record of the stock market under Republican administrations that matters. The real irony is the GOP’s support for Social Security privatization. Even though stock returns have fared worse under their watch than their counterparts, they still try to persuade workers that diverting Social Security funds to Wall Street is a good deal, this is why the positions on Social Security from the presidential contenders are so important. While Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama is opposed to efforts to privatize Social Security, his Republican opponent, Sen. John McCain supports it. “We need personal savings accounts,” he said last October in a GOP primary debate in Florida.

Because so many factors contribute to a growing economy, it would be impossible to predict with certainty which political party would be best at stimulating a long-term bull market. But fears that the Democrats will be bad for stocks are unfounded. The real fear is what John McCain and the GOP will do to Social Security.

VA-05 Candidate Tom Perriello in Martinsville July 7


Democratic Congressional candidate Tom Perriello will be in Martinsville July 7 at 11 a.m.o announce his 7-point economic revival plan. In an area that has been hard hit by NAFTA’s less than American worker friendly agenda, Tom has turned his results driven attention to the problems.

In what is now a bygone era, Martinsville-Henry County was a booming area with companies like Bassett Furniture, DuPont, and Tultex driving the economy. Good wages, lower cost of living helped turn the area into a thriving haven.

Enter NAFTA.

Goodbye to a thriving furniture industry led by Hooker, Bassett and Stanley Furniture companies, goodbye Tultex and Dupont. and just this week American of Martinsville announced it will layoff 400 workers by the end of August.

On Monday, Perriello will be joined by local Union leaders and members and some of the displaced workers and their families.

Where: Historic Martinsville Court House
1 Main St., Martinsville, VA

Date: Monday, July 7, 2008

Time: 11 a.m.

Please come out and support Tom and his candidacy. Working families in Virginia’s 5th Congressional District needs leadership in Washington that will help restore real American values to America’s working families.

Visit Perriello’s website at;