Manufactured Emergency: The Neoliberal Assault on Michigan

Click here to see the full neoliberalism issue of The Public Eye magazine

Click here to see the full neoliberalism issue of The Public Eye magazine

Those who want to privatize public services and destroy unions have made some successful incursions into the once union-friendly state. Whether Michiganders can mount an effective resistance remains to be seen.

 

**This article appears in PRA’s upcoming Fall, 2014 issue of The Public Eye magazine, a special edition on neoliberalism and the Right**

 

When Michigan Republicans decided to push through a so-called right-to-work bill in December 2012, schools in three districts were forced to close for a day because so many teachers went to the Capitol to protest. Several dozen protesters demonstrated in the Capitol Rotunda; nine were arrested.

Misnamed right-to-work laws make a certain type of agreement between a union and an employer illegal: union-represented employees may not be required to pay dues or near-equivalent “agency fees.” By law, the union is still obligated to represent non-paying workers as if they were members, which is why unions call the laws “right to freeload.” Since a certain portion of the workforce will take advantage of the chance to save a few bucks, these laws weaken unions financially—including their political operations—as well as breaking up solidarity. A weaker union has less clout to defend its members at the bargaining table or on the shop floor.

But right-to-work in Michigan was a done deal, signed into law by Governor Rick “The Nerd” Snyder just a week after it was introduced. Unions hastily bused demonstrators to Lansing, bringing the crowd to 10,000, but Snyder remained unmoved. After all, the previous year his counterpart in Wisconsin, Scott Walker, had ignored crowds of up to a hundred thousand who kept the state in turmoil for a month as they protested an anti-union bill.

A central goal of the neoliberal project is to weaken unions, and state legislation is one method. Unions are anathema in the free-market ideology, since they constrain employers’ liberty to operate exactly as they please. Unions also bargain higher wages and benefits and give employees some workplace rights not to be ordered about like indentured servants—thus cutting into potential profits, in the private sector.

A Midwestern Trend

Several Midwestern states have become laboratories for such neoliberal experiments. Wisconsin’s legislature passed a bill in 2011 that required state employees to contribute more to their pensions and health insurance—the equivalent of an eight to 12 percent pay cut in some cases—and eliminated collective bargaining for most public employees on everything except base wages; raises were in practice limited to the rate of inflation.

In Ohio, the legislature passed a measure that effectively took away collective bargaining rights from  state employees, including those in higher education, changed their pay structure, and required many of them to pay at least 20 percent of the cost of their health care plans.  (Ohio voters later overturned this bill in a hard-fought referendum.)

Indiana became the first Rust Belt state to take the right-to-work path, in February 2012, as thousands of unionists shouted their anger from the Statehouse hallways.

Michigan made use of an “emergency manager” law, which allowed the governor—citing any of a variety of triggers—to appoint an unelected overseer to run towns or cities. This included those whose budgets were in the red. These managers used their authority to tear up union contracts. Detroit’s takeover by an emergency manager, and its subsequent bankruptcy, had a similar effect, with city employees taking wage and pension cuts.

Still, Michigan’s sudden move to become the 24th right-to-work state rocked the labor movement nationwide. A birthplace of industrial unionism, Michigan still enjoyed a 16.6 percent unionization rate, the seventh-highest in the country. Its premier union, the United Auto Workers, was treated in the press as a major political player. And yet Michigan had joined the ranks of anti-union strongholds like Mississippi and Wyoming.

Too Divisive

How did right-to-work come about in the seemingly solid union state of Michigan? Governor Snyder had previously said it was too divisive and not on his political agenda. So, union members and supporters were shocked when the governor announced his change of heart. United Auto Workers (UAW) President Bob King, who had 151,000 members and 190,000 retirees in the state, said the governor’s about-face had “blindsided” him.

But the plan to make Michigan right-to-work was actually long brewing. With its record of voting for Democratic presidents, Michigan was a tempting target for such billionaire-funded national groups as Americans for Prosperity (founded by the Koch brothers) and for the state’s home-grown billionaire, Richard  DeVos of the Amway fortune. As Lee Fang reported for The Nation, Americans for Prosperity’s Michigan chapter quadrupled its spending in 2010, the year Snyder was elected, to $1.1 million. The Mackinac Center, a longtime right-wing think tank in the state, spent $5.7 million on Michigan-based advocacy in 2011. (DeVos is a funder of both groups.)

Mark Brewer, who was then the Michigan Democratic Party chair, dated the plotting for right to work to at least 2007. A video shows former Michigan Republican Party Chair Ron Weiser speaking to a Tea Party meeting in August 2012. Weiser, who was  finance chair of the Republican National Committee, described meeting with DeVos, former Michigan Governor John Engler (now with the Business Roundtable), representatives from Americans for Prosperity, and Frank Keating, the former governor of Oklahoma which passed right-to-work in 2001. (The CEO of Oklahoma’s Chamber of Commerce had admitted he can’t name any companies that moved to Oklahoma because of right-to-work.  But that inconvenient fact, which holds true in other states as well, has not deterred the pro-right-to-work forces from claiming to be “job creators.”)

Weiser says the group decided not to move on right-to-work until Republicans controlled both the legislature and the governorship. Those elements were in place by January 2011, but in February the tumultuous uprising against anti-union measures kicked off in next-door Wisconsin, bringing tens of thousands of union members and progressives repeatedly to the Capitol, and demonstrations in cities and small towns across the country.

So Michigan’s neoliberal strategists instead pursued a piecemeal strategy: appointing emergency managers to run financially troubled cities and throw out union contracts; taking away the lifeline of teachers’ automatic union dues deductions; rescinding domestic partner benefits for public employees; defining university research assistants as non-workers; and a host of other measures designed not to rile everyone at once.

Proactive Strategy

To head off the possibility of right-to-work and to nullify all these laws that were interfering with collective bargaining, the UAW’s King and allied unions developed an offensive plan, to pass a constitutional amendment. Proposal 2, on the November 2012 ballot, would have made collective bargaining a constitutional right in the state.

But campaign leaders were reluctant to be specific about any particular laws that Proposal 2 would have outlawed, according to Mark O’Keefe, a staffer for the Detroit Federation of Teachers. O’Keefe said leaders were afraid that any specific was likely to offend someone. Meanwhile, Proposal 2 was opposed by every business interest in the state, some of whom mounted a $30 million disinformation campaign. This included ads from a front group called Citizens for Protecting Michigan’s Constitution claiming that the bill would prevent school districts from firing child molesters. Proposal 2 went down to defeat decisively, 57 to 42 percent.

Locked In

Because of an accident of timing, it’s still too soon to know how right-to-work will play out in Michigan’s largest private-sector contracts, the UAW’s pacts with the Big 3 automakers. The law doesn’t affect contracts already in place, and the Big 3’s won’t expire until September 2015.

UAW leaders, though they decried right-to-work, were oddly complacent about the prospect of losing a chunk of their union’s core members.   The UAW convention this summer—which took place as King retired– even voted to raise dues by 25 percent—surely a disincentive for wavering members to stay on board.

Teachers’ local unions took a different tack, quickly opening up existing contracts and bargaining new ones before right-to-work was due to take effect in March 2013. By signing new contracts under the old law, they locked in dues or the agency fee as a funding stream for the length of the new contracts. In most cases, though, those contracts were concession-filled, as management bargainers took advantage of leaders’ desperation.

A conservative think tank monitoring unions’ efforts to “dodge” right-to-work reported that at least 54 school districts signed contracts before the deadline. In Detroit, teachers signed a pay freeze through 2016—after already taking huge cuts in 2010 and 2011. In Taylor, a blue-collar suburb, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) locked in 10 years of agency fee and took a 10 percent pay cut.

Attack on Tenure

Perhaps the example that shows most clearly how the attack on unions fits with other neoliberal aims is at Detroit’s Wayne State University. Allan Gilmour, then-president of Wayne State (who had been a top officer at Ford Motor Co.), had made headlines a few months before right-to-work was passed, when he proposed that Wayne become among the first major U.S. universities to effectively end tenure. Allies of the union quickly got 6,000 signatures on an online petition, and Gilmour backed down.

But this set the stage for the university to take the offensive during contract negotiations. The union representing 1,950 full-time faculty bargained eight years of dues security but, said chief negotiator Anca Vlasopolos, “We had to make concessions to obtain the length of the contract.”

Decrying the “corporatization” hitting universities everywhere, Vlasopolos said the faculty union was forced to concede on issues that affected the quality of education at Wayne State. “We were not able to hold on as strongly to things that were very dear to our hearts and important for the university to remain a university,” she said.

In particular, under the pressure of settling before the deadline, the question of online teaching—where professors now have no say and may have as many as 350 students in a class—was put off to a committee.

“The aim of the corporate university is to become a diploma mill and rely on a large percentage of part-time teachers,” Vlasopolos said, while the union’s aim is to “make sure we don’t become a University of Phoenix.”

If unions in Michigan do end up substantially smaller, workers will have less bargaining power and therefore can expect even weaker contracts: lower wages, higher payments for health insurance, and less protection against workload increases. After Walker’s successful attack on public employees in Wisconsin, unions there were caught in a vicious spiral: with unions’ right to bargain eviscerated, workers could see less reason to pay dues. As members dropped out in droves, the unions’ infrastructure was weakened and they could do far less to make themselves relevant. Said John Matthews, longtime leader of the Madison teachers’ local: “working conditions have been rolled back to the mid-1950s by some regressive public employers.”

At the Michigan unions’ 2012 anti-right-to-work rally, Teamsters President James Hoffa, who is from the state, admitted that the way back for unions will be a long fight. The slide down has been long, too, but it’s accelerating.

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References   [ + ]

1, 2, 3, 4. AP Photo/Carlos Osorio

Neoliberal Feminists Don’t Want Women to Organize

Click here to see the full neoliberalism issue of The Public Eye magazine

Click here to see the full neoliberalism issue of The Public Eye magazine

Lean any way you want; the view from the bottom of the economic system doesn’t change.

 

**This article appears in PRA’s upcoming Fall, 2014 issue of The Public Eye magazine, a special edition on neoliberalism and the Right**

To say that Sheryl Sandberg ruined my life would be to make the same mistake that Sandberg herself makes—it would be to assume that the successes or failures of an individual woman, feminist or no, equal the successes or failures of feminism.

Nevertheless, writing about feminism and the workplace in the shadow of Lean In has been a task in itself. One must, it often seems, either define oneself as for or against Sandberg. Critique of her was critique of feminism, at least for the heady months around her book’s publication when well-known feminists felt compelled to take sides.

Sandberg is not herself the problem, but she exemplifies it in a way that has been instructive. When Jill Abramson was fired from her position as executive editor at the New York Times, reportedly after she confronted the paper’s publisher over her discovery that her pay was less than that of her (male) predecessor, among the many outraged reactions from feminists was the response that leaning in doesn’t work after all. Abramson’s experience, similar to that of so many women, seemed a rebuke to the idea, promoted in Sandberg’s book, that individual women were holding themselves back. It reminded us that no matter how hard we try, sexism—sexism in the workplace—cannot be defeated individual success story by individual success story.

One of the insidious things about neoliberalism is how it has managed to absorb our vibrant, multifaceted liberation struggles into itself and spit them back out to us as monotone (dollar-bill-green) self-actualization narratives. The way this has happened to feminism is particularly instructive. As I wrote in Dissent last winter, the so-called “second wave” of feminism fought for women to gain access to work outside of the home and outside of the “pink-collar” fields. Yet in doing so, as Barbara Ehrenreich has written, some feminists wound up abandoning the fight for better conditions in what had always been considered women’s work—whether that be as teachers and nurses, or the work done in the home for little or no pay.

National Domestic Workers Alliance members protest

National Domestic Workers Alliance members protest

In fact, the flight of middle-class women into the paid workplace left other women, namely domestic workers, cleaning up the mess left behind, and many of those middle-class women seemed unwilling to deal with the fact that they too, sometimes, could oppress. As Ehrenreich wrote in “Maid to Order,” a piece published in the anthology, Global Woman, which she co-edited with Arlie Russell Hochschild, “To make a mess that another person will have to deal with—the dropped socks, the toothpaste sprayed on the bathroom mirror, the dirty dishes left from a late-night snack—is to exert domination in one of its more silent and intimate forms.”

While some women have experienced the workplace as a site of liberation and increased power, for many others, the workplace was never a choice. Particularly for women of color, whose domestic work was excluded intentionally from New Deal-era labor laws, the workplace was and remains a site of oppression. And to this day, women remain concentrated in the economy’s lowest-paying jobs—some two-thirds of minimum-wage workers are women, and three of the fastest-growing occupations in the country are retail sales, food service, and home health care, which are both low-wage and female-dominated jobs. Home health care workers, in many ways the face of the new service economy, were just ruled only “partial” public employees by the right-wing Roberts Supreme Court. More than 90 percent of them, according to the Economic Policy Institute, are female.

Those are jobs at which, no matter how hard one leans in, the view doesn’t change.

And these days, the conditions for more and more workers are beginning to resemble those at the bottom; fleeing the female-dominated workplace, rather than improving it, has left middle-class women more, not less, vulnerable. The devaluation of work that involves care, work for which women were assumed to be innately suited, continued apace when feminism turned its back. As other jobs have disappeared, the low wages that were acceptable when women were presumed not to need a “family wage,” because they ought to be married to a man who’d do the breadwinning, became the wages that everyone has to take or leave.

Though the movement for paid sick leave has gained some important wins in recent months and years, alongside a growing movement to raise the minimum wage, a more expansive family policy that would actually allow more than a few days’ paid leave or allow workers more control over their own schedules remains a pipe dream.

Equal pay for equal work means little when the wages for all are on the way down. You would be hard pressed to find a self-proclaimed feminist, even of the most neoliberal variety, who doesn’t argue in favor of equal pay, but this focus has often served, as I have argued, to stifle discussion of other concerns in the workplace. As Marilyn Sneiderman, lifelong labor organizer and director of the New Labor Center at Rutgers University, told me for Dissent, the fight for fair pay might seem an individual struggle for high-end workers like Abramson, but for a hotel housekeeper, a nurse, a janitor, the best way to improve your job isn’t to get promoted through the ranks, but to organize with your fellow workers.

Neoliberal feminism is a feminism that ignores class as a determining issue in women’s lives. It presumes, as Tressie McMillan Cottom pointed out in an article on her personal website, that giving power to some women will automatically wind up trickling if not power, than at least some lifestyle improvements down to women with less power.

This applies internationally as well as domestically. Nancy Fraser, in her book Fortunes of Feminism: From State-Managed Capitalism to Neoliberal Crisis, cites Hester Eisenstein’s argument that feminism has entered into a “dangerous liaison” with neoliberalism, embracing critiques of the state and men’s economic power that allowed for deregulation. Fraser sees neoliberal feminism embracing a pro-globalization mentality that regards women in the developing world as in need of “saving” by enlightened Western feminists.

Take Somaly Mam, the Cambodian NGO entrepreneur who built her career on her own fraudulent tale of being sex trafficked as a child. Westerners flocked to her story and her cause, joining her on trips to “save” women from brothels. Sheryl Sandberg was on the board of her foundation, alongside Susan Sarandon. Hillary Clinton was a fan. Mam’s rise to fame dovetailed with the rise, across the U.S., of an obsession with “saving” sex workers and increasing criminal penalties for sex trafficking.

Her fame attracted prominent feminists to a cause that continues, as Melissa Gira Grant writes in her book Playing the Whore, to be supported by the Religious Right and to criminalize women who are trying to make ends meet any way they can. Yet the solutions offered to the women saved by Mam’s organization (currently undergoing a name change after Newsweek published its expose of Mam’s fabrications) were mostly low-wage sweatshop jobs producing clothing for Western consumption. As Anne Elizabeth Moore, who has spent years working in and reporting on Cambodia, writes in Salon of Mam’s organization and others like hers, “What they do is normalize existent labor opportunities for women, however low the pay, dangerous the conditions, or abusive an environment they may be. And they shame women who reject such jobs.”

This is neoliberal feminism at its finest. As Gira Grant writes, the idea that women in Cambodia—or in the United States—can organize themselves and change their working conditions is almost always absent from the conversation.

Selma James, one of the founders of the 1970s Wages for Housework movement and a leader in the Global Women’s Strike, criticized how some feminists turned grassroots organizing projects into “jobs for the girls” as a way for some women to have power by creating mechanisms to save others. In today’s political climate, we must be wary of claims that feminism is best served by increasing the power of individual (white, middle-class) women, and question over whom they exercise that power. We must understand the difference between power for a few and a real change in how power affects us all.

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The Shell Game of Contingent Employment

Click here to see the full neoliberalism issue of The Public Eye magazine

Click here to see the full neoliberalism issue of The Public Eye magazine

When subcontractors, freelancers, and independent contractors get hurt or abused on the job, these workers are finding it harder to hold employers accountable. This is no accident—it’s a direct result of a neoliberal labor agenda.

**This article appears in PRA’s upcoming Fall, 2014 issue of The Public Eye magazine, a special edition on neoliberalism and the Right**

In 2011, Host Hotels & Resorts, Inc., a corporate partner of the Marriott hotel chain, used a general contractor that it had hired to renovate guest rooms at the Host-owned Copley Marriott in Boston.   A convoluted web of subcontractors emerged, as the general contractor subcontracted the work to several other companies, and some of that subcontracted work was then further subcontracted, with more than a dozen firms working on the same project.

construction site

A state-led, multi-agency investigation found that 15 contractors on the project committed a wide array of labor law violations. Workers from a church-sponsored rehabilitation project in Philadelphia were paid only four dollars an hour—just half the state minimum wage—and no overtime, though they were required to work 12-hour days and more than 60 hours per week. All told, contractors failed to report or pay taxes on more than $1 million in wages, and at least one of them failed to maintain workers’ compensation insurance policies for the hazardous work. They misclassified many of the workers as independent contractors, thus evading tens of thousands of dollars more in unemployment insurance taxes, workers compensation premiums, and employer-side taxes, while stripping workers of basic workplace rights.[1]

Because so many layers of contractors were involved in the project, investigators had difficulty determining which ones could be held responsible for the violations. Host Hotels, which ultimately benefited from the sub-minimum wages and tax evasion, asserted that it had no legal obligation to the workers and should not be held liable for any of the violations committed by the subcontractors or their subcontractors.[2]

Companies at every possible level of the project avoided accountability for the mistreatment of the workers.  Despite having found that 15 companies had broken the law and abused their workers, authorities only held three subcontractors to the most immediate sanction—Stop Work Orders. The general contractor neither faced significant penalties nor admitted wrongdoing. As a summary of the investigation put it, “The issue of which entity was legally the employer and responsible for the wages was never resolved.”[3]

 An Old Neoliberal Paradigm

We increasingly see businesses like the Marriott (and corporate partner Host Hotels) seeking to shed the burden of government regulation by passing off liability to intermediaries, like staffing agencies, or by falsely claiming that no labor laws at all apply because the workers are either independent contractors or corporations in business for themselves. By restructuring work relationships in these ways, some of the nation’s largest corporations aim to shift much of their workforce outside the scope of employment laws and employment taxes that apply to “employees”—as defined by a set of labor laws that still presume a conventional workplace with one employer and the on-site workers it directly hires.

The isolation from fellow workers that the “independent contractor” designation engenders cuts against workers’ ability to organize to challenge abuses resulting from subcontracted work structures.

This shift in work structures, combined with increased attacks on the labor movement and the de-funding of the nation’s labor enforcement agencies, has depressed workers’ income and weakened their ability to claim basic workplace rights like overtime pay and health and safety protections. Outsourcing and independent contractor misclassification have also drained millions from local, state, and federal coffers, undermining the social safety net just as workers need its protection even more.  The isolation from fellow workers that the “independent contractor” designation engenders cuts against workers’ ability to organize to challenge abuses resulting from subcontracted work structures.

Reorganization of work structures also acts to direct workers’ anger away from the company calling the shots (such as a general contractor) and onto the direct employer, or even to the workers themselves, who may believe their situation stems from their own failings as independent business people.  All of these factors undermine workers’ ability to organize into unions and worker collectives, one of the fundamental goals of neoliberalism and its pursuit of an unregulated free market.

 Free Markets, Unfree Workers

The rise to power of Ronald Reagan in the United States and Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom ushered in a new era of economic policy. Minimal corporate taxation, privatization of public goods, and the deregulation of businesses became the dominant policies promoted for economic growth. The attacks against organized labor, progressive organizations, and community groups that opposed the new regime were brutal. The percentage of workers in unions plummeted.

Across the country, new formations emerged that tried to deal with this onslaught of attacks on workers.  Coalitions of organized labor, grassroots organizations, and worker centers began fighting back together and winning campaigns using a combination of militant rank-and-file membership, intelligent planning, and strategic organizing. The target of these campaigns was often a clearly identifiable owner of the business, and so workers and community allies knew whom to hold responsible for the conditions of work. This, however, is no longer the case, as seen in the Copley Mariott and other examples where companies pass on liability to their subcontractors and outsourced agencies, making it difficult for workers to hold real employers accountable.

Such interruption in the employer-employee relationship is reminiscent of the neoliberal structural adjustment policies the World Bank and International Monetary Fund have imposed on so-called developing countries.  As the IMF and World Bank required national governments to loosen labor laws and other regulations to promote free trade and supposed foreign investment, corporations have similarly restructured the relationship between employer and employee to avoid government regulation altogether and to create confusion over who is responsible for workers. Ultimately, the result is the same: structural adjustment and debt repayment policies increased poverty and stripped local governments’ ability to provide basic health care, education, and employment for their citizens, while the restructuring of employer/employee relationships has helped create a shadow (or underground) economy free from regulation and has reduced the government’s ability to provide an adequate safety net for the growing low-wage, contingent workforce.

In Massachusetts, the Joint Task Force on the Underground Economy and Employee Misclassification has collected more than $55 million in the past five years from individuals and businesses that engage in strategies to avoid responsibility to their workers.[4] The Task Force utilizes existing labor laws and regulations to recover nonpayment of wages and payroll taxes; licenses and permit fees; unemployment and workman’s compensation insurance, and other important monies owed to workers and the state. Despite its successes, the Task Force is limited by existing labor law and is unable to broaden its scope of accountability to include companies who surely profit from workers, but may not be legally defined as their direct employer.

 Toward A New Legal Framework

Extensive use of abusive subcontracting and misclassification schemes and other outsourcing tools are eroding the 80 years of labor protections that many have come to take for granted. Community Labor United and the Immigrant Worker Center Collaborative are working to close that accountability gap in Massachusetts with a new legal framework, being developed by the National Employment Law Project, that holds all entities in the labor supply chain responsible—whether they initiate the demand for the work, orchestrate a project, or directly hire and supervise the workers. We call this the “accountable employer” framework.

Accountable employers know what work is being performed, often control the conditions under which it is performed, and have the power to ensure compliance with labor laws and regulations. All entities and creators of supply chain or outsourced work arrangements would then be held liable for performing these key employer functions.

In the Copley Marriott case, the Accountable Employer framework would hold multiple parties responsible because of the labor violations they perpetrated. The Philadelphia church that supplied $4-an-hour workers would be accountable for creating and ending the employment relationship; the general contractor and its subcontractor would be accountable for managing the enterprise internally and externally; and Host Hotels would be accountable because it received the fruits of the workers’ labor.

Similarly, a new Accountable Employer statute would make a large corporate employer like Wal-Mart responsible for wages and working conditions in its supply chain even if it outsources much of the labor (and even management). Wal-Mart controls the timing and manner of delivery of the goods on its store shelves, decides how goods are handled when they are unloaded and delivered, and uses its market dominance to force contractors to keep costs as low as possible. Wal-Mart engenders labor violations in its supply chain and therefore should be on the hook for these abuses.

As corporations continue to look for ways to skirt government regulations and increase their profit margins, many will continue to hire intermediaries or misclassify workers as a way of outsourcing their responsibility and escaping liability. This shift is part of neoliberalism’s broader political realignment towards deregulation of markets and the empowerment of corporations.  However, employer accountability can be restored through legislation that holds all entities throughout the web of contractors and subcontractors responsible for their workers.

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Article Authors:

Darlene Lombos started with CLU in 2006 as a Senior Organizer, became OrganizingDirector then Co-Director in 2008, and finally Executive Director in 2011. She is also the Vice President of the Greater Boston Labor Council.

Sarah Leberstein is a staff attorney at the National Employment Law Project (NELP). She advocates for policy reforms promoting the workplace rights of non-standard workers and enforcement of wage and hour and workplace laws.

Elvis Mendez is a coordinator at the Immigrant Worker Center Collaborative in Boston, Mass.

 


Endnotes:

[1] Massachusetts Joint Enforcement Task Force on the Underground Economy and Employee Misclassification (JTF), 2013. “2012 Annual Report,” p. 6. [http://www.mass.gov/lwd/eolwd/jtf/annual-report-2012.pdf] [2] Casey Ross, “Marriott Copley Place project flouted pay law.” Boston Globe, 4 September 2012. [http://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2012/09/03/investigators-find-widespread-labor-violations-copley-marriott-renovation/iIRlNeRovG05Dkbta3rOTI/story.html] [3] Massachusetts Joint Enforcement Task Force on the Underground Economy and Employee Misclassification (JTF), 2013. “2012 Annual Report,” p. 6. [http://www.mass.gov/lwd/eolwd/jtf/annual-report-2012.pdf] [4] Massachusetts Joint Enforcement Task Force on the Underground Economy and Employee Misclassification (JTF), 2014. “2013 Annual Report,” [http://www.mass.gov/lwd/eolwd/jtf/annual-report-2013.pdf]

 

CHART: The Well-Funded Anti-Labor Arsenal

Public attention has been galvanized by the attack on working people in Wisconsin
by an ultraconservative governor. Appropriate attention has been paid to funders such as the Koch brothers and right-wing institutions such as the American Legislative Exchange Council. But there is a far larger process at work.

Over the past 20 years, right-wing corporate conservatives and economic libertarians have spent more that $170 million trying to convince us that labor unions are bad for America, and that government laws and regulations should not protect a worker’s right to organize a union without harassment and termination.

And this is just part of the $1 Billion spent by right-wing funders to shift wealth upwards and stomp on the basic human rights of most of us.

($1 Billion for Ideas: Conservative Think Tanks in the 1990s)

The coalition of foundations that fund conservative and right-wing think tanks and other institutions that attack organized labor give money to an array of allied and interconnected think tanks that numerous reports and issue an endless stream of press releases. This creates the impression that there is a groundswell of support for reigning in labor unions and government “interference” in corporate affairs.

These foundations often give long-term grants that provide stability and ensure the survival of conservative and right-wing think tanks.

Until a similar progressive movement infrastructure is created and sustained, the
Democratic Party will continue to move to the right and the right-wing attacks on working people
and a living wage will increase.

The chart below illustrates the strategic way in which the Anti-Labor Arsenal is funded.

Follow the Right-Wing Money Funding the Attacks
on Working People and a Living Wage

Click to enlarge the chart

Click to enlarge the chart

Resources For Organized Labor and Working People

Right-wing attacks on organized labor and working people are nothing new. This page is a starting point for connecting to resources and conducting research into this problem.

Recognize that the Right is a complex movement.

No one organization “controls” the Right. No single funder is “behind” the Right. Some large organizations are important, but many others appear to be more influential than they really are. Recognize that there are multiple networks of organizations and funders with differing and sometimes competing agendas. Find out as much as you can about the groups you see. Incorporate this information in your educational work.  It is helpful in organizing to know a great deal about your opponents.  Be alert to evidence of the Right’s “new racism.” The Right has replaced simple racist rhetoric with a more complex, “colorblind” political agenda which actually attacks the rights of people of color.

This advice is from the PRA flyer “Ground Rules & Tips for Challenging the Right.

Fast Starters:

The Right Wing Attack on the American Labor Movement
by Joanne Ricca, Wisconsin State AFL-CIO

Harvard Trade Union Program (HTUP)
The HTUP collection of links pages for labor

ZNET Labor Watch by Elaine Bernard, Dan Swinney, & Carl Davidson
(See especially the archive of articles)

General Web Links

Guide to Labor Oriented Internet Resources Institute of Industrial Relations Library, University of California, Berkeley

LaborNet

Labor Net’s Extensive List of Links:  Union Directory; Labor, Employment & Government; Statistics & Resources; Labor News Publications; Labor – Relevant Legislation & Legal Information; Labor Cartoons, Art, Video, Radio, Culture, History; Mainstream But Useful News Sources; International Labor Information; Other Excellent Labor Resource Sites; General References

Labor Research Association

Union-busting

Researching Labor and Corporation Links Page: UMASS Labor Relations and Research Center

AFL-CIO

AFSCME

Privatization: The Public Pays

Union Network International

Anti-Union / Anti-Labor / Anti-Regulation

National Right to Work Committee Anti-union propaganda with a nasty tone.
Heritage Foundation Conservative pro-business.
Cato Institute Libertarian, anti-regulation, darwinian economic analysis
American Enterprise Institute Big business, anti-regulation, darwinian economic analysis.

Research Studies

The Real Story Behind ‘Paycheck Protection’
The Hidden Link Between Anti-Worker and Anti-Public Education Initiatives:  An Anatomy of the Far Right.  Washington, DC: National Education Association, 1998.

    Well-researched and extremely useful, this report is a welcome contribution from the labor movement—a sector long targeted and vilified by the Right. The sections “The State-based Assault” and “State Battlegrounds” are good companion pieces to understand, through the use of case studies, how the State Policy Network operates. Also valuable is the guide to State Policy Network Members which gives profiles of each organizational member in a state-by-state format. The precision of the report, however, is somewhat marred by the author’s tendency to use inflammatory rhetoric to describe the conservative movement. To obtain copies, contact:  NEA Communication, 1201 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036

The Assault on Working Families
by the Public Policy Department of AFSCME. Washington, DC: American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO, 1998.

      In addition to the standard, albeit important, descriptions of  conservative policy organizations, this report has some practical appendices. Included are an analysis of state-based and regional research and policy analysis groups and samples of model state legislation that move the anti-labor, anti-working family, anti-government agenda of the American Legislative Exchange Council. Order driectly from AFSCME.

From 03/23/98  AFSCME Leader:

IT’S YOUR VOICE.
USE IT OR LOSE IT.

BIG BUSINESS WANTS TO TAKE AWAY
YOUR VOICE — AND THEN YOUR UNION.

The same groups that have tried to kill minimum wage increases, gut workplace safety laws, promote privatization, create management-run “unions” and pass “right-to-work” laws — undermining unions and all workers — are spending $149 million to pass phony “paycheck protection” measures across the country. We call them “Paycheck Deception” laws.

These laws would force unions to get advance approval from individual union members to use dues for “political purposes” — in other words, to stand up for working people in the American political system. But corporations would remain free to give millions of dollars to their friends in government, without the permission of their stockholders. Big Business already outspends unions 11-to-1.

Big Business doesn’t want working Americans to have a voice in politics. Big Business wants to buy laws that give them profit protection — and knock out anyone who tries to get in their way.

America’s working families have to act now to save
their right to speak out through their union.

Online overviews

        March/April 1998

AFSCME Public Employee, Don’t Let Them Fool You! Big Business takes its biggest step to silence working families.

Overview 1
Overview 2

Privatization: The Public Pays, by AFSCME

“All across America AFSCME members are up against the threat of privatization of the services they provide.”

“From public works and public assistance to environmental protection and correctional facilities, corporations are trying to seize control of public services of all kinds. They’re winning the support of elected officials eager to score political points by cutting government payrolls and to raise campaign funds by befriending wealthy contributors. And they’re supported by a new breed of right-wing ideologues who are working overtime to convince the country that private companies can do everything better than the public sector.”

“This coordinated campaign to privatize government at every level far exceeds anything we’ve seen in the past — including the efforts at “contracting-out” which AFSCME has observed and opposed for decades. And, while contracting-out used to be promoted by home-grown, “mom and pop” operations, today’s privatizers are more likely to be huge multinational corporations.:

About the Right-Wing Policy Network

Buying a Movement: Right-Wing Foundations and American Politics, (Washington, DC: People for the American Way, 1996).

Sally Covington, Moving A Public Policy Agenda:  The Strategic Philanthropy of Conservative Foundations, Washington, DC: National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, July 1997.
Online excerpts at Media Transparency.

    Extensively researched and sharply analytical, this report documents the important role conservative foundations have played in building the infrastructure of the Right and influencing public policy at the national, state and local level. Covington analyzes 12 key foundation’s grant-making programs and the missions, activities, staff and boards of grantees. The report includes sections on types of institutions supported; strategic funding; how philanthropic resources have been mobilized; and the institutional, ideological and public policy impact of this conservative philanthropy.

David Callahan, $1 Billion for Ideas: Conservative Think Tanks in the 1990s, Washington, DC: National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, March 1999.

    This report focuses on the top twenty conservative policy institutes of the 1990s. In addition to the well-known Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute and the American Enterprise Institute, Callahan examines seventeen less-known think tanks. The report includes sections on: how conservative think tanks have expanded their influence in the 1990s; how they operate both in terms of policy research, marketing and change at the state and local levels; how they are supported; and how they are structured internally. Of particular interest is Callahan’s analysis of the Right’s victories in 5 policy areas: welfare; Social Security and Medicare; deregulation and the environment; taxes; and education.

 

Useful Groups:

Political Research Associates
1310 Broadway, Suite 201, Somerville, MA 02144.
671-666-5300.
contact@politicalresearch.org
www.politicalresearch.org
Extensive eighteen-year file and publication archive on right-wing movements ranging from New Right to white supremacist groups. Publishes a newsletter, The Public Eye. Extensive publications list.

Institute for Democracy Studies
177 East 87th Street, Suite 501, New York, NY 10128. 212/423-9237. fax: 212/423-9352
E-Mail: info@institutefordemocracy.org
Website: http://www.institutefordemocracy.org/index.html
Timely topical reports.

National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy
2001 S St., NW, Suite 620, Washington, DC 20009. 202-387-9177
E-Mail: info@ncrp.org
Website: http://www.ncrp.org/
The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy has been at the forefront in tracking and analyzing the growth and influence of conservative public policy-making.  They have published three important reports.

DataCenter
1904 Franklin Street, Suite 900, Oakland, CA 94612, 510/835-4692, fax: 510/835-3017
Email: datacenter@datacenter.org
Website: http://www.igc.org/datacenter/
Research by contract into a variety of topics with special expertise in corporations and current political issues. Large collection of clippings and specialized computer skills for searching electronic databases. Write for complete resource list.

People for the American Way
2000 M Street, NW, Suite 400, Washington, DC 20036, 202/467-4999, fax: 202/293-2672
Email: pfaw@pfaw.org
Website: http://www.pfaw.org
Has several reports and press releases on the rise of the Religious Right and homophobic campaigns. Resources include a newsletter, Right-Wing Watch and a videotape, The Religious Right, Then and Now. Extensive publications list.

The Long Hurricane

The New Orleans Catastrophe Predates Katrina

Members of Survivors Village, an organization of displaced New Orleans public-housing tenants, and their supporters occupy the Columbia Parc rental office in June 2010.

Five years after Hurricane Katrina and the “federal flood,” as locals call the disaster, the new New Orleans is as much the product of decades of antiwelfare ideology in local and national governments as it is of the unique circumstances of the disaster. Since the storm, a resurgent racist business elite has gained power in the city and region, and instituted a new era of urban renewal—or, as community activists termed it the first time around, in the 1960s, “Negro removal.” Privatization of New Orleans’ public sector has proceeded to a degree that real estate, banking, and industry leaders in other regions only dream of. Federal disaster subsidies have enabled reinvestment in the state’s major economic sectors—oil and gas, shipping, military, and tourism. Characterized by low wages and ecocidal byproducts, these industries dominate state and city politics. Yet New Orleans is held up as a model of redevelopment, its innovations made possible by an unfortunate storm called Katrina.

Concurrent with this neoliberal economic project is a neoconservative cultural project, the goal of which is to remold impoverished Blacks and other underclass people—who are portrayed by the redevelopers as living in a pathological state of dependency, turned into irresponsible burdens on society by decades of failed big government—into “productive citizens.” Foundations both liberal and conservative have converged on New Orleans to experiment with housing, schools, parks, and economic development.

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Beyond Green Jobs

A volunteer from Youthbuild/Service Nation at the September 27, 2008, Green Jobs Now National Day of Action, sponsored by Green for All.

Everyone wants to be green. Fossil fuel companies tout their commitments to the environment, with BP sporting its green and yellow flower logo and Chevron scooping up a Green Apple award for promoting public-school energy efficiency [1]. In 2009 Exxon-Mobil got itself named Forbes magazine’s Green Company of the Year for stepping up its natural gas production [2].

Mix “green” with “jobs,” and everyone ought to love you. In fact, a 2010 Harris Interactive survey found that 72 percent of respondents believed that expansion of green jobs would help preserve a higher quality environment, and 61 percent agreed that expansion of green jobs would have a positive outcome for the U.S. economy. [3] As a candidate, Barack Obama promised to create five million green jobs, arguing that “green jobs are the jobs of the future,” and that they would “help reduce our dependence on foreign oil and save this planet for our children.”  As president, Obama has directed $500 million toward green jobs training as part of the federal stimulus funding authorized in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. (ARRA)

But organized opposition to green jobs does exist; in fact it thrives among conservative thought leaders and business groups, who view any push for an environmentally sustainable economy as simply an excuse to further regulate business. The influential Heritage Foundation, for one, claims that a green economy is a contradiction in terms, an approach that will eliminate more jobs than it would create. [4] Heritage also argues that green jobs are anti-free enterprise, propped up by government subsidies. It even pokes fun at green jobs, asking, as Peter Brookes and J. D. Foster do on the Heritage website, “What could be greener than a rickshaw?” [5]

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