There is almost no coverage of unions or labor issues in the nation’s mainstream press. As Studs Terkel pointed out 15 or 20 years ago – and before that, for all I know – every newspaper has a Business Section, along with a Lifestyle Section (now that’s critical news), an Entertainment Section, an Automotive Section. Not one – not one – has a Labor Section. Nor have they ever had one, not even in the 50’s when 35% of the US workforce belonged to a union. When (if) they cover labor news at all, they usually put it in the Business Section where you can pretty much count on a certain, well, slant to the reporting. (There. I’ve said it.)
One day a year, at least, we used to be treated to saccherine paeans to the Old Labor Movement, although they were almost always quickly undercut by “historical reminders” of how corrupt the Teamsters were. Nowadays we don’t even get that. We get instead stories about the modern (mainly non-unionized) workforce “adapting” to the “new workplace”. I’ve seen articles on the incredible levels of employee stress, on employee health care, child care, and the “productivity costs” of absenteeism due to sick children or sick parents. In virtually all of these articles there are two glaring omissions: any mention of unions and any mention of employer responsibility for the problems discussed. Few business reporters are willing to bite the bullet and name the obvious culprit: employers who expect too much and pay too little for it.
I wrote about this in the previous post – and no, I’m not going to get back on that horse again here – because it is the biggest unaddressed issue in the working world today, and probably the biggest reason for workers to unionize. Labor unions, as I wrote a few days ago, have been looking for ways to make alliances with corporations and conservative groups that promise to cut through some of the built-in animosity that exists between them by joining together to work on issues common to both. Yesterday the Washington Post reported on the second such merger this week. This time the issue is immigration reform, and once again the SEIU is right in the middle of it.
Worried that surprise raids are driving away workers who are their lifeblood, businesses are pooling their money and joining unusually broad alliances that include labor unions and civil rights groups to push Congress to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws.
The coalition Alliance for Immigration Reform 2007 announced its formation this week, placing the force of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Service Employees International Union and the nation’s largest Hispanic civil rights group [La Raza-MA] behind a unified lobbying effort to get a law passed before the politics of the 2008 presidential campaign make a compromise on the contentious issue unworkable.
To hold the marriage of business and labor and right- and left-leaning politics together, the coalition’s ideal bill would include both a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already here and more visas for temporary workers, said Douglas G. Rivlin, spokesman for the National Immigration Forum, which is a member of the alliance.
The coalition splinters on the details. Labor unions advocate a new kind of visa that would not make the immigration status of temporary workers dependent upon their employers. Business groups want the visa program to be as simple as possible.
“As simple as possible”. Translation: “We want to be able to tell them to get lost whenever we don’t need them.”
That’s kind of a stumbling block to unity, I’d say, and one of those inherent business/labor conflicts that’s tough for both sides to compromise on. Managers laced into tight budgets by penny-pinching corporate executives don’t think they can afford – or will be allowed to afford – employees they may only need during peak periods. Unions aren’t about to buy into a hire-them-today-fire-them-tomorrow-hire-them-back employment system that leaves immigrant workers at the mercy of an unstable or part-time marketplace. There are probably compromises that could work here, but they’d be a hard sell for either side even without the monkey in the wrench: anti-immigration wingnuts.
In opposition are groups such as the Minutemen, which raised nearly $1 million for its political action committee last year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The money was used primarily to back candidates who support building physical barriers to illegal immigration and deporting those who are here illegally.
Remember “The Fence”? Remember Pat Buchanan’s speech at the Republican National Convention not that long ago? These bozos will do everything they can to de-rail any sensible reform. They’re a roadblock to sanity, and they’re going to have to be smashed before anything reasonable can be done.
But if anything can do that, it seems to me an alliance between business and labor might be that thing. For that reason alone, I wish them well, however quixotic their crusade might be.