This week—from Wednesday through Friday—employees at Volkswagen’s factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee may well make history. Actually, they may make it twice.
If a majority of the roughly 1,500 workers vote to recognize the United Auto Workers as their union, their plant will become the first unionized auto factory in the South. It will also become the first American workplace of any kind to have a works council—a consultative body of employees who regularly meet with management to jointly develop policy on such work-related issues as shifts, the best way to use new machinery, and kindred concerns.
One fundamental reason why the American economy continues to limp along is that no one—at least, no one with major bucks—is investing in it. The Obama Administration countered the collapse of private sector investment in 2009 with its stimulus program, which, alas, was partially offset by all the cutbacks in state and local government spending. It’s not been able, however, to get any subsequent investment projects through the Republican House. The private sector—the corporate sector more particularly—returned not just to profitability but record profitability by the middle of 2010, but its profits have neither resulted from nor led to increased investment.
In 1995, when John Sweeney ran the first and as-yet-only insurgent campaign for the presidency of the AFL-CIO, his platform took the form of a book entitled America Needs a Raise. If that title rang true in 1995, it clangs with deafening authority today.
The 1974 midterm elections, held in the wake of Watergate, were a Democratic landslide. The party increased its strength in the House of Representatives by more than 50 new members, many from suburban districts that had previously elected Republicans.
Election night, New York City, November 5, 2013. Mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio, the candidate for both the Democratic and Working Families parties, is racking up a huge victory after running on a platform that calls for raising taxes on the rich and raising wages for workers. Shunning the usual Manhattan-hotel bash, de Blasio has decided to celebrate in a Brooklyn armory, where his supporters have gathered to mark the end of the Michael Bloomberg era and, they hope, the birth of a national movement for a more egalitarian economy.
New York–area voters had the opportunity this fall to cast their ballot for one of two Democrats who are divided by more than the Hudson River. Cory Booker, the Newark mayor, whom New Jersey’s electors sent to the U.S. Senate in October, and Bill de Blasio, the Democratic nominee for mayor of New York City, personify two distinct futures for the Democratic Party.
Booker is a corporate Democrat—more precisely, a Wall Street and Silicon Valley Democrat—who praises the beneficent rich as sources of charitable giving and policy ideas that can lift the poor. De Blasio is an anti-corporate Democrat who condemns big business and the financial sector for using their wealth to rig the economy in their favor and at everyone else’s expense.
One hundred years ago next week, the water came to Los Angeles. On November 5, 1913, civic dignitaries gathered at the north end of the arid, undeveloped San Fernando Valley for the opening of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, a marvel of both engineering and chicanery. Five years in the making, the aqueduct pumped the water out of the Owens River Valley (to which the spring runoff from the melting snows of the Sierra Nevada descended) and carried it over 223 miles of mainly desert to the L.A. suburb. Raising his voice to be heard over the noise of both the crowd and the water cascading downhill, the project’s chief engineer, William Mulholland, proclaimed with epic succinctness: “There it is—take it!”
In early 1953, a number of democratic socialist intellectuals gathered in literary critic Irving Howe’s living room to discuss the formation of a new political journal. McCarthyism was at its height in the United States, while Joseph Stalin still ruled over the Soviet Union. Howe and his guests knew what they wanted their new journal to be: A quarterly publication of ideas, criticism, and reporting from around the world—from de-colonialized New Delhi, from New York housing projects and Michigan auto plants—that illuminated and excoriated both the structural inequalities endemic to capitalism and the self-perpetuating tyranny baked into communism. The journal’s political perspective was clear: Capitalist economies and polities needed to be democratized and socialized so that human potential could flourish; communist totalitarian regimes needed to be democratized and socialized so that, well, human potential could flourish. At the same time, the magazine would eschew the turgid rhetoric that afflicted so much socialist writing. It would speak in plain, smart English, such as the sentence—“Socialist is the name of our desire”—with which Howe and Henry Pachter began the first issue’s ideological-definition essay.
AP Images/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/Stephanie S. Cordle
The story of the United Mine Workers of America is the story of the American labor movement as a whole. The Mine Workers were once the single most important union in the United States: the union that broke from a stodgy labor federation in 1935 to devote its resources to organizing the nation’s factories, the union that built such dynamos as the United Auto Workers and the Steelworkers; the union that sunk so much money into Franklin Roosevelt’s 1936 campaign that FDR didn’t raise a peep when striking auto workers occupied General Motors’ Flint, Michigan, factories and didn’t come out until GM had recognized their union; the union that had the strength and cojones to strike during World War II’s strike ban; the union that transformed industrial America
Michael Bloomberg has declined to endorse anyone in the race to succeed him as New York’s mayor. Neither Democrat Bill de Blasio, whose entire campaign is a critique of Bloomberg’s tenure in office, nor Republican Joseph Lhota, who is trailing de Blasio by a mind-boggling 50 points and who has been heard disparaging Bloomberg to boot, has endeared himself to the billionaire mayor.
But Bloomberg has not been without other local endorsement options—just not for mayor. Earlier this week, hizzoner’s spokesman said that Bloomberg would endorse Newark Mayor Cory Booker in his bid to win New Jersey’s U.S. senate seat later this month.
The three buildings arrayed around the central fountain at New York’s Lincoln Center are, north to south, Avery Fisher Hall, the Metropolitan Opera House, and the David H. Koch Theater. Avery Fisher was a radio and sound reproduction technologist who amassed a fortune from his hi-fi ventures in the mid-20th century, and donated a vast sum of money to the New York Philharmonic, which today performs in his eponymous auditorium. The Metropolitan Opera is the Metropolitan Opera. And David Koch is the same David Koch who is financing the destruction of the United States as we know it.
The AFL-CIO held its national convention in California last week, and it turns out it couldn’t have picked a better time to be there. For it was last week that California really began to deliver on the promise of the labor-Latino alliance.
The AFL-CIO Convention concluded Wednesday, having made some major structural changes in the way labor will operate—though nowhere near so major as the changes that the Federation’s top leader was advocating in the weeks leading up to the convention.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka iterated and reiterated that labor would no longer limit its members to those who had successfully convinced their employers to recognize their union. With employers able to flout labor law with impunity, illegally firing workers who sought to organize and refusing to sign contracts with those whose unions had won recognition elections, the number of workers who actually emerge with a contract grows smaller with each passing year. So the Federation’s unions would welcome workers who had tried to organize their workplace but didn’t prevail. It would welcome workers such as cab drivers, who were misclassified as independent contractors and legally proscribed from forming a union, though they were actually employees. It would welcome domestic workers, who also had been excluded from National Labor Relations Act coverage, and day laborers.
The most impressive aspect of Bill de Blasio’s victory in yesterday’s Democratic primary for the post of New York’s mayor is its breadth. He ran first in all the boroughs, carried parts of the city ‘s most African American neighborhoods in Harlem and Brooklyn, despite the presence of a prominent African American candidate in the race (William Thompson, who may yet squeak into a run-off depending on the count of the outstanding ballots), and romped through such white liberal strongholds as Greenwich Village, the Upper West Side, and Park Slope.
During the floor debate yesterday on a resolution expanding the AFL-CIO’s commitment to take the workers excluded from the labor law’s protections into its ranks—domestic workers, taxi drivers, day laborers and the like—one delegate to the union’s quadrennial convention likened the proceedings to the 1935 AFL Convention, when a sizable group of unionists wanted the Federation to expand its ranks to include factory workers. The more conservative Federation leaders, including its president, William Green, believed that unions should represent only workers in skilled trades – carpenters, masons, plumbers and so on. But John L. Lewis of the Mine Workers and Sidney Hillman of the Clothing Workers believed that there were millions of factory workers who would flock to unions if given the chance.
Harold Meyerson is the editor-at-large at The American Prospect and a columnist for The Washington Post. His articles on politics, labor, the economy, foreign policy, and American culture have also appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New Republic, The Nation, The New Statesman; the op-ed, commentary, and book review sections of The New York Times, The Washington Post, andthe Los Angeles Times, and in numerous other publications.