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Watching the Good Wife, the question is how do US workers unionise? How do any workers anywhere? February 18, 2017

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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I was watching an episode of the Good Wife recently, Season Four, the penultimate one of the season (and sheesh, don’t talk to me about Season Five and one massive plot point regarding a central character which I did not see coming). In it Alicia Florrick is brought into a labour dispute in a tech company where she is pivotal in unionising them. This goes all the way to the National Labor Relations Board. This by the way actually exists.

Meanwhile in Lockhart Gardener secretarial and administrative staff are radicalised by these events and demand better working conditions and so on. And then… other characters working in Lockhart Gardener start to compare and contrast.

I wouldn’t describe it as pro-labour, though it was striking how the tech workers unionisation is depicted as a victory. There’s more to it. And I liked a lot of of the sidebar stuff, partners in Lockhart Gardner discussing whether to fire those who are unionising – and then there’s one of the tech workers who when they are fired, or about to be, tries to recant, or that insidious little line about how workers in tech or wherever are ‘artists’ and ‘creatives’ and therefore not equivalent to unionised workers.

In sum – and I like the Good Wife as a series a lot, it was pretty damn good.

But as someone who has some experience with others of organising unions in a private sector context across a group of related companies it drove home just how hard it is to convince workers to join unions and how essential it is that this exercise is done.

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1. Pasionario - February 18, 2017

Attitudes towards unionization in the US are pretty revealing about where the true priorities of the liberal elite lie. Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and the Ivy League represent the core of the Democratic establishment. Again and again these institutions have shown themselves to be aggressively anti-union. So do not expect anything of substance from them when it comes to the anti-Trump “resistance”.

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2. EWI - February 18, 2017

Difficult enough to unionise even in the state sector (a deceptive and collaborationist trade union establishment doesn’t help).

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3. Aengus Millen - February 19, 2017

True there was a big to-do about a vote to unionize at a boeing factory in charleston south carolina during the week. In the end around 70% voted against. Also it seems like so called right-to-work laws which allow workers not to join the unions are the order of the day so unions will only get weaker.

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CMK - February 19, 2017

‘Right to Work’, if I remember correctly, means that workers are not compelled to join the union, but the union is compelled to represent the interests of non-members as well as members and any gains won by the union have to be given to non-union members in a workplace where there is a union. This legislation provides legal protection to ‘Free Riders’ and is explicitly designed to financially undermine unions in the US. Many of those 70% who voted against unionisation are going to die in poverty, some in extreme poverty, but it will never be stated as bluntly as that. A voracious finance capital combined with an extreme Right wing government will have precisely zero hesitation in tearing up whatever pension provision they have. And if the Republicans have their way there won’t be social security, Medicare or Medicaid for them when they retire. It’s a modern death cult the attacks on unions in the US. Luckily there is a glimpse of a more civilised world in the various migrant devised strike movements including the ‘Fight for 15’.

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RosencrantzisDead - February 19, 2017

‘Right to work’ is nasty stuff, alright.

To make matters worse, it has been the law in this state since 1973.

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CMK - February 19, 2017

Is that the CIE v Meskell case (I think that’s what it’s called?). I don’t think Right to Work legislation is needed here to run the union movement into the ground. The upper echelons, with some honourable exceptions, are doing a good enough of that as it is. Facilitating the introduction to two and three tier workplaces has been trade union policy here for decades and some of those chickens are coming home to roost. My union SIPTU sent out a stinker of a statement attacking Tesco management and pointedly, and correctly, referred to the anti-worker nature of employers unilaterally seeking to impose cuts to wages, terms and conditions. Of course, the state arrogated to itself the right to unilaterally attack wage, terms and conditions for public sector workers in 2010 and, more dangerously, in 2013 with the FEMPI legislation. On both occasions, the leaderships of the trade unions and ICTU had the employer’s back and tolerated no attempts to publicise the passage of this repressive legislation. In my more cynical moments I often think of the slogan: ‘An injury to one is an injury to all’ [terms and conditions apply, not applicable to new entrants or those retiring soon, for instance].

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RosencrantzisDead - February 19, 2017

Yep, Meskell v CIE – the ‘right to disassociate’ is granted by Constitution. Closed shop agreements and their variants are not possible as a consequence.

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CL - February 19, 2017

‘House Republicans plan to introduce a bill Wednesday that would institute right-to-work policies in the entire country if it became law, delivering a severe blow to the labor movement.’
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/republicans-pursue-national-right-to-work-law-while-they-hold-the-reins-in-washington_us_5891fb30e4b0522c7d3e354d

Its quite remarkable that Ireland is more anti-union in this respect than Trump and the Republican Party.

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RosencrantzisDead - February 19, 2017

I agree, and it think it is telling that we do not discuss our labour laws in the same way we discuss labour laws in the United States

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WorldbyStorm - February 19, 2017

In part it is because people aren’t aware of the similarities, in part because being in unions isn’t – particularly amongst the middle class, but also amongst what we can broadly define as the left – a shared experience even in the way it was a generation ago. I’m continually surprised though I shouldn’t be by the numbers of people on the left who aren’t union members. Part of that may be a response to union bureaucracies but another part of it is reflective of the way the tide has gone out on unions. Though just for the record the point of the OP was precisely to point to the similarities in struggle between here and the US (and I think the UK too in some ways).

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CMK - February 19, 2017

Part of the problem is that trade union officialdom seem utterly detached from the reality of workers’ lives and experience and how both have been shaped by historically low levels of strike action. I see on FB one Monsieur B. Ogle Esq. taking to task someone who makes the rudimentary point that some people are passing the Tesco picket lines because they have literally zero idea that they are committing a massive transgression. A trade union movement that prizes ‘talks’, ‘deals’, ‘responsible trade unionism’ over class conscious trade unionism has no comeback when people are unschooled in basic trade union values.

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WorldbyStorm - February 20, 2017

Yep, it’s a loss of political knowledge and values. I’ve said it before – the 90s and early 2000s was precisely the time for unions to educate public and private sector members and push for an expansion in both areas and also sow the necessary seeds for downturns and an ability to resist same, given the inevitability of downturns.

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4. Clive Sullish - February 19, 2017

In a US sitcom ‘The Mindy Project’ (that I encountered for first time recently on a long-distance flight) a nurse’s strike is treated sympathetically, if rather unrealistically.

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