Feature Launch: TrenchNews

With the passing of Jordan Barab’s Confined Space and Nathan Newman’s Labor Blog, it falls to the rest of us to try to pick up pieces of his work and keep it going. The most natural piece for me to concentrate on is covering organized labor. In my surfing, I almost always come across way more labor-related stories than I have time to write about. I hate to just let them go by since hardly anyone else is talking about them.

So, with that in mind, today I’m launching a new Trenches feature called TrenchNews. Once a week, I’ll try to do a round-up of some of the news stories on unions and labor issues that the MSM either buries in the Business pages or doesn’t cover at all. Taking a leaf from The Carpetbagger Report, TrenchNews will be a collection of links with brief summaries and/or quotes attached to stories I think need to be up and around more than they are. Sometimes I’ll follow up one of these stories with a detailed post; most of the time I won’t. But at least you’ll have heard a little of what the media isn’t telling you.

Now, without further ado:

TrenchNews, Verse 1

Unions Split on Immigrant Workers:

Union leaders are fundamentally divided over how to best tackle immigration reform as they wrestle with how to convert illegal immigrants from job threats to dues-paying members. The split reflects long-standing questions over the place of undocumented immigrants in the labor movement.

One side supports a guest-worker program, which could permit hundreds of thousands of immigrants to enter the country annually depending on the needs of U.S. businesses. The other side says such programs encourage employers to pay less, exploit immigrant workers and drive down working conditions for everyone.

Stephen Barr 1: “Head of TSP Moving On”

His mission accomplished, the executive director at the Thrift Savings Plan has resigned to join a union-owned financial services holding company.

Stephen Barr 2: “Settlement at Social Security”

A settlement has been reached in a case brought by the Social Security Administration’s inspector general against four employees in the agency’s Des Moines office, the National Treasury Employees Union has announced.

Colleen M. Kelley, the union president, said the inspector general had withdrawn charges against the employees and agreed not to undertake any other action against them.

This was looking like a real judicial travesty for awhile, so it’s good to hear sanity has returned to the SSA thanks to a little help from the NTEU.

Nathan Newman: “Dems’ Stupid Positioning on Minimum Wage”

Nathan isn’t posting all that often these days (this post is from Dec 22, then there’s nothing until the latest, dated Jan 7) but he’s always worth reading, especially when he’s ticked off.

As a followup to discussing why politicians need to appeal to a broad consensus, it’s worth emphasizing that it’s easier for them to do this when non-politician leaders and advocates are pushing for even bolder goals– thereby allowing the politicians to position themsevles as “centrists” and consensus builders.Which makes Dem leaders’ positioning on the minimum wage, at least as detailed in this NY Times story a few days ago, look absolutely stupid.

Bush Uses NCLB to Override Collective Bargaining by Teachers:

Democrats and teachers’ unions are criticizing the Bush administration for proposing to let school officials override collective bargaining agreements and state laws in an effort to reshape the No Child Left Behind law.

The recommendations are part of a plan that Education Secretary Margaret Spellings released Wednesday. It details changes the administration wants in the five-year-old education law, which is up for renewal this year.

This deserves its own post. Margaret Spellings is a horrorshow. She knows nothing about govt and less about education but she’s a faithful neocon follower of Newt Gingrich’s old “Third-Wave Theory” and she hates teachers’ unions.

LaborNews: “Illinois Voters Reject Wal-Mart-Backed Candidates

Democratic gains throughout the State were a major component to Tuesday’s election; voters sent a strong message by rejecting Wal-Mart’s backed candidates in several key races. These results prove that the views of Wal-Mart-endorsed candidates do not reflect the issues that are important to working families in Illinois or throughout the country.“

On a national level, Wal-Mart’s right wing agenda to maintain low wages for working families, export American jobs overseas, and force their employees into tax-subsidized programs while corporate executives gain billions in profits, will no longer have Republicans to drive their agenda in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Labor Notes: “Smithfield Workers Arrested in Immigrant Raids”

21 immigrant meatpackers were arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers January 24 at the Smithfield Foods plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina.

The Tar Heel plant’s 5,000 workers have been fighting to organize a union since the early 1990’s. Pro-union workers have faced fierce employer opposition, including retaliatory firings, beatings, and harassment.

Another one that deserves its own post. Smithfield, with classic employer corporo-hypocrisy, is using the INS to bust illegal workers – workers it knowingly hired – because they’re trying to form a union. Outrageous.

Communications Workers of America: The Strike Against Verizon Goes On

Chanting “tear down the wall” and “your fight is our fight,” hundreds of CWA stewards and local union officers in New York City showed solidarity with Verizon Business technicians in a Jan. 25 demonstration outside the corporation’s offices in lower Manhattan. Since the former MCI workers became part of Verizon following the companies’ 2005 merger, the corporation has intentionally separated the workers from the CWA and IBEW Verizon workforce, fearing that the technicians would seek union representation as well.

SEIU, Jan 27: “SEIU Interviews Presidential Candidates”

Yesterday in Washington DC, SEIU local union leaders individually questioned five Democratic presidential hopefuls—Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE), Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), and former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC)—about where they stand on the issues that matter most to SEIU members: affordable health care, good jobs, and retirement security.

Then top five Dems visited the maverick union all at the same time? Cool.

Labor Union, Redefined, for Freelance Workers“:

Herding freelancers is a bit like herding cats. Both are notoriously independent.

Nonetheless, Sara Horowitz has figured out a way to bring together tens of thousands of freelancers — Web designers, video editors, writers, dancers and graphic artists — into a thriving organization.

Ms. Horowitz has founded the Freelancers Union, offering members lower-cost health coverage and other benefits that many freelancers often have a hard time getting.

A former labor lawyer, Ms. Horowitz intends to form a forceful advocacy group for freelancers and independent contractors, the most mobile members of an increasingly mobile work force. In addition, she is trying to adapt unions to a world far different from yesteryear, when workers often remained with one employer for two or three decades.

“This really is about a new unionism,” she said, “and what it means is to bring people together to solve their problems.”

A third that deserves its own post. I’ve been meaning to write about the Hollywood union model for a year-and-a-half. Well, this is it, applied to non-Hollywood folk. It’s a structure that has tremendous possibilities for future union organizing given the realities of today’s work world: temporary employment, self-employment, and professional gypsyism. The film industry unions are loosely based on the old Craft Guilds and – as Ms Horowitz just proved – they work. Needs to be explored.

Before I leave you, however, a short, unhappy note to union webmasters in general:

Guys (I’m from New England and “guys” for us is a non-gender-specific term that is a synonym of “folks” or “people”), many of your websites need attention desperately. You’re updating them so infrequently they’re virtually useless. Get with it. The internet is becoming the vehicle-of-choice for activists, political organizers, gadflies, and even plain working stiffs like me. So get your act together. Make your presence felt. It isn’t enough just to have a website and then walk away, throwing something new up every few months and expecting people to find it. The web changes hourly, and if there’s nothing new at least every week, we’ll simply stop going to your site, which means you’ve got it up for NOTHING.

LaborNet, for example, updates every few days, LabourStart sends out a weekly newsletter, and SEIU seems to update at least once a week – all excellent models – but at the home website of the nation’s biggest union, the AFL-CIO, I couldn’t find anything more recent than December 23. It was an entry on their so-called “blog”. The previous entry is dated October 17, more than two months between posts. Pathetic. You’re all fired.

Look, people, the MSM is IGNORING YOU. They’ve been ignoring you for years. 90% of the country has no idea what you’re doing or why, apart from the occasional media acknowledgement that you still exist – sort of – and lame Labor Day “Tributes” that have an unfortunate tendency to become snarky – and half of that 90% don’t think you should still exist because their heads are full of right-wing, corporatocratic lies, misinformation, and claptrap. The net is one of the cheapest and least time-consuming ways of making your message available to people who may actually want to read it.


I will be glad to help spread any items you might want published, and although my little blog doesn’t have a huge readership, what it has is pretty choice and I can help pass things along. And they will pass them along to yet others and so on and so on. That’s how the internet works.

(Sheesh. That I should have to explain this to unions in 2007….)

(At this point, I suspect I may have something further to say on this subject at some time in the future.)


2 Responses

  1. How old are you?

  2. 58. Why?

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