LABOR BRIEFING

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by Charles Walker

A rival Canadian congress?

 

In the aftermath of the Canadian Auto Workers Union having been virtually expelled from the Canadian Labour Congress (see story on pages 14-15), CAW President Buzz Hargrove has indicated that the CAW may organize a rival to the CLC.

“I’m going to be talking to a lot more people,” Hargrove told the press, “about whether or not there’s a mood out there to have another central labor body in Canada that’s more progressive or militant, more democratic.”

If history is any guide that’s not an idle threat. In 1985, Canadian auto workers rebelled against the United Auto Workers (UAW), saying that “in 1982 we … had to fight as hard with the [American] leadership of our union as with the corporations.”

Hargrove’s speeches don’t sound a lot like his American counterparts. For example: “Hostility from employers and governments meant that cozy business unionism, in which union leaders take few risks and actively co-operate with employers in return for annual wage increases, was no longer sustainable.”

At the same time, Hargrove talks like an ardent trade protectionist, pushing trade policies that won’t unite workers across borders: “We are recommending that the government, instead of removing the tariffs for everyone, that they raise the tariffs for everyone-including GM, Ford, and Chrysler-on imports that they bring in from offshore. This includes the parts industry and the Japanese, who simply ship parts from Japan to their assembly operations in Alliston and Cambridge, Ontario. They should pay a penalty in tariffs to help protect the auto industry in Canada.”

And Hargrove’s tariff plan must be good for the American auto bosses, for he claims, “We have the auto majors on [our] side. GM, Ford, and Chrysler are agreeing that rather than take the tariffs off of everyone, they will accept a tariff on their product coming in from offshore.”

The CAW broke from the UAW, denouncing its “enterprise unionism.” Still, Hargrove is far from being a class-struggle unionist. For example, he recently recounted his often successful efforts at getting the Big Three auto giants to invest new capital in one plant or another. Since, investors aren’t in business for their health, but for increased profits at the expense of their workers, one has to wonder what advantages Hargrove pointed out to them that they couldn’t see for themselves. That part was left out of his speech.

 


 

Democrats nix L.A. bus strike

California’s governor, Democrat Gray Davis, asked Attorney General Bill Lockyer (also a Democrat) to get a judge to ignore the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition against involuntary servitude and issue a 60-day injunction to block 6700 transit workers from striking the Los Angeles bus system.

The judge was routinely compliant, the injunction was ordered, and, reported the Los Angeles Times, a Davis spokesman declared that “the governor is obviously pleased that the courts have responded.”

Some estimated that the strike could cost the transit district $1 million a day, and downtown business would lose $1.5 million a day. But others emphasized that Davis’s motivation for turning on the dues payers of his labor allies was that a walkout during the convention “could prove politically embarrassing for Davis, a Democrat who has endorsed Vice President Al Gore” (Associated Press, July 6).

The press also reports that labor unions have donated $15 million to the Demos for 2001 races, 50 percent more than the last two election cycles. At the same time that labor tops are handing out the cold cash, they are giving some of their Seattle youthful allies the cold shoulder, or worse:

“Labor leaders have closed ranks around Vice President Al Gore and distanced themselves from protests planned for [the Democratic Party Convention], suggesting that the streets will be far less mobbed than some had feared or hoped” (Los Angeles Times, July 20).

 


 

Court vs. Detroit strikers

When six newspaper unions struck Detroit’s two major dailies five years ago, they passed up the chance to win the struggle in the streets, choosing instead to rely on the fairness of the law and its enforcers.

Back in 1995, it seemed that Detroit’s workers, including thousands of auto workers, were ready to spring into action, if only they were asked. The evidence for that is the large numbers of workers who in the first days spontaneously showed up to shut down the printing plants and block the scabs being herded to work by jack-booted security thugs.

Then in 1997 the unions returned to work without a negotiated settlement. But not all the workers got their jobs back. To this day at least 250 strikers are waiting for an opening, while the scabs remain on the job. The federal labor board eventually ruled that the bosses had broken national labor law and that all the strikers were entitled to return.

Until early July, the workers probably thought that the newspapers would have to pay them millions of dollars in retroactive wages and benefits. But a judge has overturned the labor board, saying that the board’s decision was “legally erroneous and unsupported by substantial evidence.”

If the former strikers feel that they are victims of a soft-cop, hard-cop, governmental con-game, who could blame them? In the meantime, the ranks seem to be pressuring the unions to maintain some sort of struggle. That’s indicated by the union’s call to maintain a boycott against the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press.

 


 

Safeway’s costly ‘bitter fruit’

Julia Stewart worked for Safeway for 30 years, yet was fired allegedly for buying a 25-cent “distressed lemon,” without first getting a supervisor’s OK. Safeway told the press that the United Food and Commercial Workers Union “did not aggressively fight for her reinstatement.”

It’s not clear that that’s the case, but in any event Stewart, a Black woman, took her case to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). More than two years later, she won a moral victory with a $27,500 discrimination settlement, but didn’t return to her job.

“The EEOC investigation found that other Safeway employees who were not minorities had similarly purchased flawed products at reduced prices but were not disciplined as harshly or terminated” (Washington Post, June 13).

Safeway called the lawsuit “a frivolous case.” Nevertheless, Stewart also won Safeway’s agreement to “reinforce its equal-employment-opportunity training.”

“Even though Ms. Stewart had an unblemished record at Safeway for three decades,” Stewart’s lawyer told the press, “the price she paid to buy a half-priced lemon was the price of losing her job.” Stewart said, “I had worked at Safeway for 30 years. I still can’t believe it. It’s been a very traumatic experience.”

Socialist Action News

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