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National assembly of university workers discusses strikes against cuts

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 27/08/2020 - 5:30pm in

An unprecedented national assembly of university workers has condemned the job cuts and funding cuts to the university sector and resolved to mobilise against them, including going on strike. 

More than 460 staff from around the country attended the assembly on 24 August and committed to, “mounting a vigorous campaign of coordinated actions with the goal of making democratically planned unprotected industrial action possible so as to defend universities from funding cuts and protect all university jobs”.

The successful assembly was organised by the National Higher Education Action Network, a rank and file grouping of NTEU members.

The size and diversity of the assembly shows there is a new layer of staff coming into struggle for the first time and keen to push the bounds of what is possible. There are a lot of steps between taking a vote like this and getting a mass strike off the ground, but the sentiment needs to be nurtured and connected to campaigns on campuses.

There were also non-union members at the assembly. These workers can be won to joining the union and taking collective action, but there needs to be a clear strategy for building power and confidence.

On a number of campuses union members are already leading campaigns against the cuts. At the University of Melbourne, an open letter against hundreds of job cuts has been launched and there is an online rally planned.

At Sydney University, hundreds-strong members’ meetings in the Arts and Social Sciences Faculty have condemned the 30 per cent cuts mooted there and resolved to campaign against them through mobilisations, up to and including industrial action. There is also a push for a vote of no confidence in the Dean of the Faculty and upper management.

Staff are also preparing to join the next student protest planned for 16 September, and there is a push for a staff walk-off as part of this. NTEU branch officials should support and amplify these initiatives.

At UTS, shamefully, the NTEU officials have refused to organise a members’ meeting for over two months despite a clear resolution from the previous members’ meeting calling for one. It has been left to ordinary members to convene a meeting to plan the resistance to the cuts announced by the Vice-Chancellor.

Seeking “transparency” about the cuts is not good enough, the NTEU leadership needs to come out strongly against the cuts and help organise the resistance.

Connecting the fights

All of these local campaigns are absolutely critical. But at the same time as targeting the Vice-Chancellors and university management we also need to target the Liberals’ refusal to extend JobKeeper to universities, and their plans to further slash university funding and hike student fees.

These two campaigning angles are not counter-posed, as some groups like NTEU Fightback have claimed. Large demonstrations against the cuts, jointly organised with student activists, will strengthen union members’ confidence and willingness to fight—especially if the plans for fee increases can be stopped.

The motion passed at the national assembly called for a major mobilisation in October around the time of the federal budget. This would be a perfect opportunity to connect the struggles against the Vice-Chancellors’ cuts to the Liberals’ attacks.

The NTEU leadership is still pushing its dodgy deals that cut pay and conditions around different campuses. But having been embarrassed by the rank and file revolt against the deals, it has now pivoted to spruiking its Fund Universities Fairly campaign, which consists mostly of lobbying federal politicians. If it is serious about winning fair funding the NTEU leadership should support an October rally and build it among the membership. 

Our most powerful weapon against the cuts is large-scale strike action. But that does not mean serious action has to wait until next year’s bargaining, as NTEU Fightback have argued.

We need to begin campaigning against the cuts now by mobilising on the largest scale possible, including through online meetings, protests and walkouts. But every action needs to build towards the kind of strike action we need.

The success of the assembly shows there is a sentiment to fight back right now, and we need to seize on this to push for the most militant action possible.

To get a mass strike means winning NTEU branches to support this strategy. Of course, the officials that were spruiking the surrender agreement of the Jobs Protection Framework will not lead the call for this. But if they endorse actions like the October rally, it makes it easier for activists to argue for more militant action as part of this.

Most union members still look to union endorsement of actions to give them security.

But being part of mass mobilisations can give them the confidence to go beyond what the union officials are prepared to support.

By Miro Sandev

The post National assembly of university workers discusses strikes against cuts appeared first on Solidarity Online.

Woolies workers win big on permanency and pay, but more to be gained

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 13/08/2020 - 10:44am in

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unions

After almost two weeks outside the gates, members of the United Workers Union at Woolies’ Wyong distribution centre in NSW have won big pay rises and an increase in permanent jobs. But their demands on equal pay rates with other Woolies’ workers and picking rates are still to be won.

Their stand shows that, even as many workers face pay cuts due to the COVID-19 crisis, strike action can win. “We hope what we did inspires other workers to stand up”, Kayla, one of the workers, told Solidarity.

Most of the 550 workers will receive an 11.2 per cent pay rise over three years, while around 200 of them classified as “level 2” with six years’ service will get 17.4 per cent over the period.

There is also a big improvement on casualisation, with 80 per cent of jobs guaranteed to be permanent positions. This is an important victory, given that during some peak periods the centre has employed close to 50 per cent casual workers.

Many workers have been kept on casual contracts for years and subjected to humiliating performance checks to justify refusing them permanent contracts. Shift times have also been changed without notice.

After two 24 hour strikes, Woolworths imposed an indefinite lockout on workers lasting a week. They returned to work on 6 August after forcing a much-improved offer.

Demands

The workers went into bargaining demanding equal pay with other Woolies’ centres and a reduction in work speeds. Workers at the centre were paid 16 per cent less than distribution workers in Sydney and elsewhere in NSW.

The pay increases won from Woolworths are significant, but still fall short of the full demand. And their demand for an end to pick rates also hasn’t been met. Workers at the centre often do 10-12 hour shifts, lifting tens of thousands of tons of boxes. Management monitoring and pressure over work speed is deeply resented.

Kayla, one of the picketers during the dispute, told Solidarity that following the return to work, there were, “a lot of mixed feelings, but I’d say the majority thought it was a win.”

“Everyone thinks the conditions we got are wins, the permanent to casual ratio and the pay level 2 to 3.”

But an important reckoning still remains to be had with Woolies.

Workers narrowly rejected the offer in a vote on 6 August, held by secret ballot rather than a show of hands.

But officials and delegates successfully argued that 200 absent workers who didn’t cast votes should be counted as endorsing a return to work.

The steamrolling of the majority vote was questioned by some members.

Another key demand that hasn’t been met is to limit the EBA to a two year agreement. This would ensure bargaining at the Minchinbury and Wyong distribution centres line up when the agreements expire, to prevent one centre being used to undercut the other’s strike.

Workers are set to vote this week on whether to accept the agreement. If Wyong workers took a stand to demand a two-year deal, it would mean workers at both Minchinbury and Wyong could strike together next time to win the common conditions for all Woolies workers.

During the dispute Woolies took full advantage of the fact it was able to shift orders from Wyong to its other distribution centres, including the Minchinibury centre in Sydney, to keep its stores stocked.

Wyong workers protested at Woolies’ Sydney HQ as well as outside the Minchinbury centre on 3 August.

Crippling Woolies’ stores in the Central Coast area requires solidarity action at the other distribution centres to refuse to process orders re-directed from Wyong during strike action.

This would have forced the bosses to concede more, faster.

As the Morrison government and bosses try to make workers pay for the COVID-19 crisis, the Wyong workers’ action and determination has been an example for workers everywhere.

By Adam Adelpour

The post Woolies workers win big on permanency and pay, but more to be gained appeared first on Solidarity Online.

Woolies workers stand strong despite indefinite lockout in Wyong

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 03/08/2020 - 11:28am in

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unions, unions

Workers at the Woolies distribution centre at Wyong on the NSW Central Coast have been locked out indefinitely since Friday after taking strike action demanding equal pay and reduced casualisation.

Michael, one of the workers on strike, told Solidarity, “It’s garbage. Five hundred people will go without pay, last week and this week now. We couldn’t even come back if we wanted to, to earn money for our families.

“We’re losing money each day. And that scares people. But we have a fight on our hands. And it’s motivated us to win.”

The over 500 workers at the centre are paid 16 per cent less than distribution workers in Sydney and elsewhere in NSW. They are demanding equal pay with other centres, 80 per cent permanent jobs, and a reduction in work speeds.

Many have been kept on casual contracts for years. This allows management to subject workers to humiliating performance checks. This is then used to justify refusing them permanent contracts, despite being long term employees. Shift times are also changed at the whim of management, with no notice. One worker told Solidarity that casuals had been called in multiple times in a single day, only to be sent home again after management changed their mind.

Workers also suffer from brutal workloads. They work long shifts—often 10-12 hours a day, lifting tens of thousands of tons of boxes. Management closely monitors work speeds, putting unbearable pressure on workers on shift day in day out.

After taking 24 hours of protected industrial action on Friday 24 July, Woolworths locked them out for five days. Workers stayed on strike for a further day but Woolworths stormed out of negotiations after offering only a 0.6 per cent improvement to its pay offer, and imposing the indefinite lockout.

Woolworths has profited from an unprecedented sales boom all around the country as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When COVID hit we got flattened. We had to work overtime. People were burning out from the amount of work here.” Michael told Solidarity. “Now, you’d think we’d maybe get a reward for that. People busted their guts through COVID. Our reward is we got locked out.”

The company made $16 billion in the first half of 2020, with profits down only because it has had to compensate workers illegally paid below-award wages, and because it spent hundreds of millions automating distribution centres—slashing thousands of jobs during the biggest unemployment crisis since the Great Depression. If anyone should be paying for this current crisis, it should be criminals like Woolworths.

Management even claimed that workers should be grateful to be employed at all in the current climate. But this dispute has been a long time coming.

This is not the first time workers at Wyong have put up with shocking conditions to keep supermarket shelves stocked, “During the fires, you couldn’t breathe in here from the smoke, Michael said. “It was crazy. If we were going for this pay rise just based on getting through the fires, I think it would be justified.”

Woolies is trying to shift orders from Wyong to its other distribution centres, including the Minchinibury centre in Sydney, to keep its stores stocked.

These other distribution centres should refuse to process the orders in solidarity. This would cripple Woolies’ stores in the Central Coast area and force them to concede. Such action requires confronting the anti-strike laws which ban solidarity action.

The strikers at Wyong are continuing to stand strong. As the Morrison government and bosses everywhere try to make workers pay for the COVID-19 crisis, the Wyong workers’ action is a model for workers everywhere.

By Cooper Forsyth and Tooba Anwar

Support the Woolies workers by donating to their strike fund here

The post Woolies workers stand strong despite indefinite lockout in Wyong appeared first on Solidarity Online.

UCSD Lays Off Housing & Dining Workers- Temporarily?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 31/07/2020 - 8:47am in

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unions


by Amie Campos, PhD Candidate, History 

Simeon Man, Associate Professor, History 

Rihan Yeh, Associate Professor, Anthropology 

On the morning of June 15th, approximately 200 Housing, Dining, and Hospitality workers at UC San Diego were given notices of “temporary layoffs.” Those who were at work that day were instructed by management to meet at a cafeteria, with a promise of free lunch. Citing a 90% drop in students on campus, management told the majority-Spanish-speaking workforce - via a management-appointed translator - that they would be laid off for the rest of the summer. They were handed some information, including a sheet on how to apply for unemployment, and dismissed with written assurances that they would be returned to their jobs in early September. Lunch, unsurprisingly, was never served.

This move came just two weeks after Chancellor Pradeep Khosla’s to the university community denouncing the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery — a message that included a promise of “doing what can be done within our institution to make sure everyone feels that they belong and that they matter.” This juxtaposition reveals the unwillingness of the university to put its money where its mouth is. It has chosen a path that leaves 200 workers and their families, from low-income communities of color disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, without income for at least 2 months.

In a public statement regarding this mass firing, the university characterized the layoffs as inevitable. We should not be misled into accepting this austerity narrative. AFSCME, the union representing the majority of the affected workers, released its research findings based on publicly-available UC financial statements on May 18th. This report showed that the UC system can leverage its vast resources and stellar credit standing to lead California’s economic recovery by maintaining employment for its 227,000 workers rather than pursuing cuts. UCOP has not refuted AFSCME’s claims about usable reserves. Further undermining the austerity narrative,

the university advertised temporary positions in dining services following the layoffs. At the May 20 Regents meeting on “Projected COVID-19 Impact on 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 Revenue,” UC’s Chief Financial Officer Paul Jenny also presented a variety of options for weathering the COVID-19 financial storm, including dipping into the endowment’s unrestricted funds and applying for low-interest federal loans through the CARES Act at different campuses.

Without evidence that the University will face financial hardship if it does not enact layoffs, UCSD affiliates should not accept the administration’s chosen course. Dining service workers have an average annual salary of $41,000 -- well below San Diego County’s Area Median Income (AMI). While significant for workers, a two-month layoff has a negligible effect on UCSD’s overall budget. Chancellor Khosla, whose gross salary in 2018 was $477,384, has taken just a 10% pay cut, and the University continues to employ over 600 people whose regular payexceeds $200,000.

UCSD’s treatment of its workers also exposes the dangerous assumptions and inequities embedded in its much-publicized “Return to Learn” program. The majority of laid-off workers have been working on campus on rotating shifts throughout the pandemic, serving students who could not leave and staff who could not work from home. Yet since the university began its ambitious pilot plan in May to test all students on campus prior to the official start of “Return to Learn” in the fall quarter, UCSD has not offered its workers ample opportunities for free testing, nor has it provided them with adequate PPE or regular COVID-related training. Many workers have had to take precautionary measures themselves, in the absence of clear protocols or guidelines from supervisors, and have for months been worried about being exposed to the virus on campus and bringing it home to their families. The university’s demonstrated disregard for the health and well-being of its essential workers underscores the view that they are disposable and not part of the “campus community” deemed worthy of protection. This casts further doubt that the university will ensure the safety of other campus workers including students, and faculty as the “Return to Learn” program ramps up.

The effects of these decisions will reinforce existing racial and gender inequalities at UCSD and fly in the face of ongoing organizing by students, faculty, and staff, who demand that administrators address the institution’s own anti-Black, anti-Latinx, and anti-Indigenous realities. A 15-page list of demands issued by the Black Student Union (BSU) on June 22nd, which objects to these layoffs and calls for the defunding of the campus police, is one important example. Another is an op-ed published on July 4th by United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS Local 94) titled “We Will Not ‘Return to Earn.’”

We reject the University’s plan to wait until early September to return laid-off workers to campus when they will have to scramble to meet the needs of arriving students. We view the plan as part of a flimsy and unethical strategy of UCSD administration hedging its bets to collect housing deposits from students who are promised a safe campus opening in the fall despite rapidly rising infection rates, while keeping labor costs down and reneging on its rehiring promise in the event that “Return to Learn” is unfeasible.

UCSD must reverse these layoffs, especially given Covid-19's trajectory and disproportionate impact on communities of color in San Diego. The close to 200 Housing and Dining workers and their families are invaluable members of the campus community and should be treated as such. UCSD is a major employer in the San Diego region that holds the livelihoods of many people in its hands. As a research institution, medical center, and major hospital, UCSD depends on labor provided by communities in San Diego, including low-income communities that have served as sites of clinical training, research, and experimentation for UCSD researchers. Reinstating these workers will be a small step in repairing the extractive relationships on which UCSD’s reputation as one of the nation’s top research institutions depend.

How you can support HDH workers: We call on the university to reverse the layoffs. In the meantime, donations can be made to UCSD Mutual Aid’s gofundme page in order to support workers facing financial difficulties. Chancellor Khosla’s office can be reached at 858-534-3135.

A Spanish language version of this piece is here

UCSD North Campus: Photo Credit  Erik Jepsen, Triton May 16, 2019

 

Strategy needed to halt uni bosses’ job cuts

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 29/07/2020 - 11:24am in

Around the country, university Vice-Chancellors are launching massive attacks on jobs, on top of their previous cuts to casual and fixed term staff.

University of New England is targeting 200 job cuts by the end of the year, the latest in a line of attacks. UNSW management want to axe close to 500 jobs and both University of Melbourne and Sydney University have threatened job losses to plug budget holes mostly caused by the loss of international students due to the pandemic.

Rather than lead a national fightback the NTEU leadership offered to help managers implement cuts to wages and conditions through their Jobs Protection Framework (JPF). Both argued that the only way to save jobs was for university workers to voluntarily give away their pay and conditions in exchange for vague promises on job security.

The JPF was rightly defeated by a massive rank and file revolt. 

Nonetheless, the NTEU leadership supported similar concessionary agreement variations at individual campuses like La Trobe and Monash Universities among others.

It’s clear now that the concessions have not saved jobs, as we were promised by the bosses and the union officials. Monash has announced that it is pushing ahead with 300 job cuts.

At La Trobe, after members voted for a variation that cut pay by up to 10 per cent, and a round of voluntary redundancies, management are still pushing for between 215 and 415 further redundancies. And that will not be the end of it as La Trobe seeks further cost cuts. 

Further concessions will only embolden VCs to increase their demands that workers pay for the crisis, and take the pressure off the Morrison government to fully fund higher education. 

Build the resistance

But it is possible to organise even in the face of these attacks and the rising unemployment more generally.

Organising by the University of Sydney casuals network and by student activists has forced the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences to scale back cuts to courses and casuals’ hours. Crucial subjects have been saved.

Demands on management—small and large—are key. At RMIT unionists are fighting over members being forced to return to unsafe workplaces. This campaign has been linked to opposing voluntary redundancies—with the local Branch demanding a health risk assessment be conducted of the workload impacts on remaining staff.

A demand that sacked staff get six months’ access to their emails, software and library resources has brought dozens of less active members into campaign networks. Wage theft disputes over a 25 per cent cut to marking rates and unpaid time to provide HR with massive amounts of documents has helped galvanise non-ongoing members.

Unionists at Melbourne Uni defeated management’s non-union agreement variation, holding over 20 local area meetings and several on campus speak-outs.

But even at campuses where the branch presidents supported the concessionary JPF, determined organising can win the branch to a fighting position that puts real demands on the bosses.

At UTS, the branch has rejected a management-driven proposal to alter leave provisions after the university refused to guarantee funding for all casual jobs. The branch is now committed to a campaign to defend casuals’ jobs and oppose any other attacks from management. This is a step forward and opens the prospect of more serious union campaigning, although further rank-and-file organising will be necessary to ensure this.

Many NTEU members can see that making concessions to management without a fight leads down a dead end. But how to build a fight from the ground up is not so obvious. What’s required is three things: taking every opportunity to put member-led demands on managers; building local rank and file networks out of these disputes; and arguing for ways to relate to a wider layer of union members and build towards taking industrial action. 

The union campaign also needs to target the Liberals’ funding cuts, fee hikes and denial of JobKeeper payments to universities.

The National University Staff Assembly on 24 August provides a good opportunity to do this. Hundreds of workers will come together to condemn both the Liberals’ and the Vice-Chancellors’ attacks on staff. NTEU branches and casuals’ networks around the country have been endorsing the action.

The assembly has the potential to build up the militant sentiment for mobilisations over the next few months. It can extend the argument and win further layers of staff to the idea that we will eventually need strike action in order to win big gains or fight off substantial attacks. 

We need to organise to defeat any concessionary variations and job cuts on any campus. Alongside this we also need national days of action against the Liberals’ funding cuts, ideally organised together with any student campaign to defend education. These mobilisations can build up the confidence of workers to organise and strike.

By Miro Sandev

The post Strategy needed to halt uni bosses’ job cuts appeared first on Solidarity Online.

Monopoly Mayhem: Corporations Win, Workers LoseWhy do big...

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 08/07/2020 - 5:46am in

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unions, wages, Video

Monopoly Mayhem: Corporations Win, Workers LoseWhy do big corporations continue to win while workers get shafted? It all comes down to power: who has it, and who doesn’t.    

Big corporations have become so dominant that workers and consumers have fewer options and have to accept the wages and prices these giant corporations offer. This has become even worse now that thousands of small businesses have had to close as a result of the pandemic, while mammoth corporations are being bailed out.  

At the same time, worker bargaining power has declined as fewer workers are unionized and technologies have made outsourcing easy, allowing corporations to get the labor they need for cheap.    

These two changes in bargaining power didn’t happen by accident. As corporations have gained power, they’ve been able to gut anti-monopoly laws, allowing them to grow even more dominant. At the same time, fewer workers have joined unions because corporations have undermined the nation’s labor laws, and many state legislatures – under intense corporate lobbying – have enacted laws making it harder to form unions.

Because of these deliberate power shifts, even before the pandemic, a steadily larger portion of corporate revenues have been siphoned off to profits, and a shrinking portion allocated to wages.

Once the economy tanked, the stock market retained much of its value while millions of workers lost jobs and the unemployment rate soared to Great Depression-era levels.

To understand the current concentration of corporate power we need to go back in time. 

In the late nineteenth century, corporate power was a central concern. “Robber barons,” like John D. Rockefeller and Cornelius Vanderbilt, amassed unprecedented wealth for themselves by crushing labor unions, driving competitors out of business, and making their employees work long hours in dangerous conditions for low wages. 

As wealth accumulated at the top, so too did power: Politicians of the era put corporate interests ahead of workers, even sending state militias to violently suppress striking workers. By 1890, public anger at the unchecked greed of the robber barons culminated in the creation of America’s first anti-monopoly law, the Sherman Antitrust Act. 

In the following years, antitrust enforcement waxed or waned depending on the administration in office; but after 1980, it virtually disappeared. The new view was that large corporations produced economies of scale, which were good for consumers, and anything that was good for consumers was good for America. Power, the argument went, was no longer at issue. America’s emerging corporate oligarchy used this faulty academic analysis to justify killing off antitrust.

As the federal government all but abandoned antitrust enforcement in the 1980s, American industry grew more and more concentrated. The government green-lighted Wall Street’s consolidation into five giant banks. It okayed airline mergers, bringing the total number of American carriers down from twelve in 1980 to just four today. Three giant cable companies came to dominate broadband. A handful of drug companies control the pharmaceutical industry.

Today, just five giant corporations preside over key, high-tech platforms, together comprising more than a quarter of the value of the entire U.S. stock market. Facebook and Google are the first stops for many Americans seeking news. Apple dominates smartphones and laptop computers. Amazon is now the first stop for a third of all American consumers seeking to buy anything.

The monopolies of yesteryear are back with a vengeance.

Thanks to the abandonment of antitrust, we’re now living in a new Gilded Age, as consolidation has inflated corporate profits, suppressed worker pay, supercharged economic inequality, and stifled innovation.

Meanwhile, big investors have made bundles of money off the growing concentration of American industry. Warren Buffett, one of America’s wealthiest men, has been considered the conscience of American capitalism because he wants the rich to pay higher taxes. But Buffett has made his fortune by investing in monopolies that keep out competitors.

– The sky-high profits at Wall Street banks have come from their being too big to fail and their political power to keep regulators at bay.

– The high profits the four remaining airlines enjoyed before the pandemic came from inflated prices, overcrowded planes, overbooked flights, and weak unions.

– High profits of Big Tech have come from wanton invasions of personal privacy, the weaponizing of false information, and disproportionate power that prevents innovative startups from entering the market.

If Buffett really wanted to be the conscience of American capitalism, he’d be a crusader for breaking up large concentrations of economic power and creating incentives for startups to enter the marketplace and increase competition.

This mega-concentration of American industry has also made the entire economy more fragile – and susceptible to deep downturns. Even before the coronavirus, it was harder for newer firms to gain footholds. The rate at which new businesses formed had already been halved from the pace in 1980. And the coronavirus has exacerbated this trend even more, bringing new business formations to a standstill with no rescue plan in sight.

And it’s brought workers to their knees. There’s no way an economy can fully recover unless working people have enough money in their pockets to spend. Consumer spending is two-thirds of this economy.

Perhaps the worst consequence of monopolization is that as wealth accumulates at the top, so too does political power.

These massive corporations provide significant campaign contributions; they have platoons of lobbyists and lawyers and directly employ many voters. So items they want included in legislation are inserted; those they don’t want are scrapped. 

They get tax cuts, tax loopholes, subsidies, bailouts, and regulatory exemptions. When the government is handing out money to stimulate the economy, these giant corporations are first in line. When they’ve gone so deep into debt to buy back their shares of stock that they might not be able to repay their creditors, what happens? They get bailed out. It’s the same old story.

The financial returns on their political investments are sky-high.

Take Amazon – the richest corporation in America. It paid nothing in federal taxes in 2018. Meanwhile, it held a national auction to extort billions of dollars in tax breaks and subsidies from cities eager to house its second headquarters. It also forced Seattle, its home headquarters, to back away from a tax on big corporations, like Amazon, to pay for homeless shelters for a growing population that can’t afford the city’s sky-high rents, caused in part by Amazon!

And throughout this pandemic, Amazon has raked in record profits thanks to its monopoly of online marketplaces, even as it refuses to provide its essential workers with robust paid sick leave and has fired multiple workers for speaking out against the company’s safety issues.

While corporations are monopolizing, power has shifted in exactly the opposite direction for workers. 

In the mid-1950s, 35 percent of all private-sector workers in the United States were unionized. Today, 6.2 percent of them are.

Since the 1980s, corporations have fought to bust unions and keep workers’ wages low. They’ve campaigned against union votes, warning workers that unions will make them less “competitive” and threaten their jobs. They fired workers who try to organize, a move that’s illegal under the National Labor Relations Act but happens all the time because the penalty for doing so is minor compared to the profits that come from discouraging unionization. 

Corporations have replaced striking workers with non-union workers. Under shareholder capitalism, striking workers often lose their jobs forever. You can guess the kind of chilling effect that has on workers’ incentives to take a stand against poor conditions.

As a result of this power shift, workers have less choice of whom to work for. This also keeps their wages low. Corporations have imposed non-compete, anti-poaching, and mandatory arbitration agreements, further narrowing workers’ alternatives. 

Corporations have used their increased power to move jobs overseas if workers don’t agree to pay cuts. In 1988, General Electric threatened to close a factory in Fort Wayne, Indiana that made electrical motors and to relocate it abroad unless workers agreed to a 12 percent pay cut. The Fort Wayne workers eventually agreed to the cut. One of the factory’s union leaders remarked, “It used to be that companies had an allegiance to the worker and the country. Today, companies have an allegiance to the corporate shareholder. Period.”

Meanwhile, as unions have shrunk, so too has their political power. In 2009, even with a Democratic president and Democrats in control of Congress, unions could not muster enough votes to enact a simple reform that would have made it easier for workplaces to unionize.

All the while, corporations have been getting states to enact so-called “right-to-work” laws barring unions from requiring dues from workers they represent. Since worker representation costs money, these laws effectively gut the unions by not requiring workers to pay dues. In 2018, the Supreme Court, in an opinion delivered by the court’s five Republican appointees, extended “right-to-work” to public employees.

This great shift in bargaining power from workers to corporate shareholders has created an increasingly angry working class vulnerable to demagogues peddling authoritarianism, racism, and xenophobia. Trump took full advantage.

All of this has pushed a larger portion of national income into profits and a lower portion into wages than at any time since World War II. 

That’s true even during a severe downturn. For the last decade, most profits have been going into stock buybacks and higher executive pay rather than new investment.

The declining share of total U.S. income going to the bottom 90 percent over the last four decades correlates directly with the decline in unionization. Most of the increasing value of the stock market has come directly out of the pockets of American workers. Shareholders have gained because workers stopped sharing the gains.

So, what can be done to restore bargaining power to workers and narrow the widening gap between corporate profits and wages?

For one, make stock buybacks illegal, as they were before the SEC legalized them under Ronald Reagan. This would prevent corporate juggernauts from siphoning profits into buybacks, and instead direct profits towards economic investment.

Another solution: Enact a national ban on “right-to-work” laws, thereby restoring power to unions and the workers they represent.

Require greater worker representation on corporate boards, as Germany has done through its “employee co-determination” system.

Break up monopolies. Break up any bank that’s “too big to fail”, and expand the Federal Trade Commission’s ability to find monopolies and review and halt anti-competitive mergers. Designate large technology platforms as “utilities” whose prices are regulated in the public interest and require that services like Amazon Marketplace and Google Search be spun off from their respective companies.

Above all, antitrust laws must stop mergers that harm workers, stifle competition, or result in unfair pricing.

This is all about power. The good news is that rebalancing the power of workers and corporations can create an economy and a democracy that works for all, not just a privileged few.

Monopoly Mayhem: Corporations Win, Workers LoseWhy do big...

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 08/07/2020 - 5:46am in

Tags 

unions, wages, Video

Monopoly Mayhem: Corporations Win, Workers LoseWhy do big corporations continue to win while workers get shafted? It all comes down to power: who has it, and who doesn’t.    

Big corporations have become so dominant that workers and consumers have fewer options and have to accept the wages and prices these giant corporations offer. This has become even worse now that thousands of small businesses have had to close as a result of the pandemic, while mammoth corporations are being bailed out.  

At the same time, worker bargaining power has declined as fewer workers are unionized and technologies have made outsourcing easy, allowing corporations to get the labor they need for cheap.    

These two changes in bargaining power didn’t happen by accident. As corporations have gained power, they’ve been able to gut anti-monopoly laws, allowing them to grow even more dominant. At the same time, fewer workers have joined unions because corporations have undermined the nation’s labor laws, and many state legislatures – under intense corporate lobbying – have enacted laws making it harder to form unions.

Because of these deliberate power shifts, even before the pandemic, a steadily larger portion of corporate revenues have been siphoned off to profits, and a shrinking portion allocated to wages.

Once the economy tanked, the stock market retained much of its value while millions of workers lost jobs and the unemployment rate soared to Great Depression-era levels.

To understand the current concentration of corporate power we need to go back in time. 

In the late nineteenth century, corporate power was a central concern. “Robber barons,” like John D. Rockefeller and Cornelius Vanderbilt, amassed unprecedented wealth for themselves by crushing labor unions, driving competitors out of business, and making their employees work long hours in dangerous conditions for low wages. 

As wealth accumulated at the top, so too did power: Politicians of the era put corporate interests ahead of workers, even sending state militias to violently suppress striking workers. By 1890, public anger at the unchecked greed of the robber barons culminated in the creation of America’s first anti-monopoly law, the Sherman Antitrust Act. 

In the following years, antitrust enforcement waxed or waned depending on the administration in office; but after 1980, it virtually disappeared. The new view was that large corporations produced economies of scale, which were good for consumers, and anything that was good for consumers was good for America. Power, the argument went, was no longer at issue. America’s emerging corporate oligarchy used this faulty academic analysis to justify killing off antitrust.

As the federal government all but abandoned antitrust enforcement in the 1980s, American industry grew more and more concentrated. The government green-lighted Wall Street’s consolidation into five giant banks. It okayed airline mergers, bringing the total number of American carriers down from twelve in 1980 to just four today. Three giant cable companies came to dominate broadband. A handful of drug companies control the pharmaceutical industry.

Today, just five giant corporations preside over key, high-tech platforms, together comprising more than a quarter of the value of the entire U.S. stock market. Facebook and Google are the first stops for many Americans seeking news. Apple dominates smartphones and laptop computers. Amazon is now the first stop for a third of all American consumers seeking to buy anything.

The monopolies of yesteryear are back with a vengeance.

Thanks to the abandonment of antitrust, we’re now living in a new Gilded Age, as consolidation has inflated corporate profits, suppressed worker pay, supercharged economic inequality, and stifled innovation.

Meanwhile, big investors have made bundles of money off the growing concentration of American industry. Warren Buffett, one of America’s wealthiest men, has been considered the conscience of American capitalism because he wants the rich to pay higher taxes. But Buffett has made his fortune by investing in monopolies that keep out competitors.

– The sky-high profits at Wall Street banks have come from their being too big to fail and their political power to keep regulators at bay.

– The high profits the four remaining airlines enjoyed before the pandemic came from inflated prices, overcrowded planes, overbooked flights, and weak unions.

– High profits of Big Tech have come from wanton invasions of personal privacy, the weaponizing of false information, and disproportionate power that prevents innovative startups from entering the market.

If Buffett really wanted to be the conscience of American capitalism, he’d be a crusader for breaking up large concentrations of economic power and creating incentives for startups to enter the marketplace and increase competition.

This mega-concentration of American industry has also made the entire economy more fragile – and susceptible to deep downturns. Even before the coronavirus, it was harder for newer firms to gain footholds. The rate at which new businesses formed had already been halved from the pace in 1980. And the coronavirus has exacerbated this trend even more, bringing new business formations to a standstill with no rescue plan in sight.

And it’s brought workers to their knees. There’s no way an economy can fully recover unless working people have enough money in their pockets to spend. Consumer spending is two-thirds of this economy.

Perhaps the worst consequence of monopolization is that as wealth accumulates at the top, so too does political power.

These massive corporations provide significant campaign contributions; they have platoons of lobbyists and lawyers and directly employ many voters. So items they want included in legislation are inserted; those they don’t want are scrapped. 

They get tax cuts, tax loopholes, subsidies, bailouts, and regulatory exemptions. When the government is handing out money to stimulate the economy, these giant corporations are first in line. When they’ve gone so deep into debt to buy back their shares of stock that they might not be able to repay their creditors, what happens? They get bailed out. It’s the same old story.

The financial returns on their political investments are sky-high.

Take Amazon – the richest corporation in America. It paid nothing in federal taxes in 2018. Meanwhile, it held a national auction to extort billions of dollars in tax breaks and subsidies from cities eager to house its second headquarters. It also forced Seattle, its home headquarters, to back away from a tax on big corporations, like Amazon, to pay for homeless shelters for a growing population that can’t afford the city’s sky-high rents, caused in part by Amazon!

And throughout this pandemic, Amazon has raked in record profits thanks to its monopoly of online marketplaces, even as it refuses to provide its essential workers with robust paid sick leave and has fired multiple workers for speaking out against the company’s safety issues.

While corporations are monopolizing, power has shifted in exactly the opposite direction for workers. 

In the mid-1950s, 35 percent of all private-sector workers in the United States were unionized. Today, 6.2 percent of them are.

Since the 1980s, corporations have fought to bust unions and keep workers’ wages low. They’ve campaigned against union votes, warning workers that unions will make them less “competitive” and threaten their jobs. They fired workers who try to organize, a move that’s illegal under the National Labor Relations Act but happens all the time because the penalty for doing so is minor compared to the profits that come from discouraging unionization. 

Corporations have replaced striking workers with non-union workers. Under shareholder capitalism, striking workers often lose their jobs forever. You can guess the kind of chilling effect that has on workers’ incentives to take a stand against poor conditions.

As a result of this power shift, workers have less choice of whom to work for. This also keeps their wages low. Corporations have imposed non-compete, anti-poaching, and mandatory arbitration agreements, further narrowing workers’ alternatives. 

Corporations have used their increased power to move jobs overseas if workers don’t agree to pay cuts. In 1988, General Electric threatened to close a factory in Fort Wayne, Indiana that made electrical motors and to relocate it abroad unless workers agreed to a 12 percent pay cut. The Fort Wayne workers eventually agreed to the cut. One of the factory’s union leaders remarked, “It used to be that companies had an allegiance to the worker and the country. Today, companies have an allegiance to the corporate shareholder. Period.”

Meanwhile, as unions have shrunk, so too has their political power. In 2009, even with a Democratic president and Democrats in control of Congress, unions could not muster enough votes to enact a simple reform that would have made it easier for workplaces to unionize.

All the while, corporations have been getting states to enact so-called “right-to-work” laws barring unions from requiring dues from workers they represent. Since worker representation costs money, these laws effectively gut the unions by not requiring workers to pay dues. In 2018, the Supreme Court, in an opinion delivered by the court’s five Republican appointees, extended “right-to-work” to public employees.

This great shift in bargaining power from workers to corporate shareholders has created an increasingly angry working class vulnerable to demagogues peddling authoritarianism, racism, and xenophobia. Trump took full advantage.

All of this has pushed a larger portion of national income into profits and a lower portion into wages than at any time since World War II. 

That’s true even during a severe downturn. For the last decade, most profits have been going into stock buybacks and higher executive pay rather than new investment.

The declining share of total U.S. income going to the bottom 90 percent over the last four decades correlates directly with the decline in unionization. Most of the increasing value of the stock market has come directly out of the pockets of American workers. Shareholders have gained because workers stopped sharing the gains.

So, what can be done to restore bargaining power to workers and narrow the widening gap between corporate profits and wages?

For one, make stock buybacks illegal, as they were before the SEC legalized them under Ronald Reagan. This would prevent corporate juggernauts from siphoning profits into buybacks, and instead direct profits towards economic investment.

Another solution: Enact a national ban on “right-to-work” laws, thereby restoring power to unions and the workers they represent.

Require greater worker representation on corporate boards, as Germany has done through its “employee co-determination” system.

Break up monopolies. Break up any bank that’s “too big to fail”, and expand the Federal Trade Commission’s ability to find monopolies and review and halt anti-competitive mergers. Designate large technology platforms as “utilities” whose prices are regulated in the public interest and require that services like Amazon Marketplace and Google Search be spun off from their respective companies.

Above all, antitrust laws must stop mergers that harm workers, stifle competition, or result in unfair pricing.

This is all about power. The good news is that rebalancing the power of workers and corporations can create an economy and a democracy that works for all, not just a privileged few.

Morrison’s ‘Accord 2.0’ talks are a trap for the unions

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 23/06/2020 - 2:12pm in

Tags 

unions, unions

Scott Morrison has set a trap for the union movement and the ACTU has walked straight in.

In late May, he announced the formation of five working groups made up of employer and union representatives, to be chaired by the Minister for Industrial Relations, Christian Porter.

The groups would “chart a practical reform agenda, a job-making agenda, for Australia’s industrial relations system”.

The ACTU immediately took the bait, welcoming “the opportunity to sit down with the Government and employers to discuss how our economy can be rebuilt”.

Commentators dubbed the exercise Accord 2.0 in a nod to the Prices and Income Accord implemented by the Hawke and Keating Labor governments and the unions from 1983 until the early 1990s.

Morrison’s five working groups will examine award simplification; enterprise agreement making; casuals and fixed term employment; compliance and enforcement; and greenfields agreements for new enterprises or projects (which are finalised before any of the workers are employed there).

The words hide a minefield of threats to workers. The top bosses’ organisation, the Australian Industry Group, has already issued its wish list.

It includes scrapping the Better Off Overall Test, so that deals can make some workers worse off; more individual “flexibility” for award workers, making it easier for bosses to divide the workforce; and greenfield agreements that run for the life of the project, which means workers in mining, for example, can be locked into shoddy deals for decades.

The ACTU has drawn its own lines. Secretary Sally McManus said: “The ACTU will measure any changes to industrial relations law on the benchmarks of: will it give working people better job security, and will it lead to working people receiving their fair share of the country’s wealth?”

In return for the ACTU’s cooperation, Morrison withdrew the Ensuring Integrity Bill, the vicious legislation aimed at deregistering militant unions. But while this is welcome, the Liberals had already been defeated in the Senate and knew they had little chance of getting the Bill passed.

The ACTU thinks it is making sure “the voice of working people continues to be at the table”. But the working group exercise is no more than Liberal window-dressing.

After the political debacle created by his response to the bushfires, Morrison has twigged that looking inclusive and appearing to listen strengthens his image. Creating the National Cabinet has seen his ratings soar.

Political theatre

Bringing the unions into the tent is the next bit of political theatre.

But it will be very short-lived, with the process wrapping up by September. And even as he announced the working groups, Morrison made it clear they would have no real influence on the government’s agenda.

“The working groups will either reach something approaching a consensus on issues or they won’t … Ultimately it will be the Government that will take forward a job-making agenda from this process.”

This makes this exercise very different to the 1980s Accords. Then the government was looking to tame a union movement that organised half the workforce and led massive strikes.

The Accords were written agreements between the government and the ACTU that, on paper, offered increases to the social wage (welfare, health, education) in return for wage restraint.

While the reality was the biggest cuts to real wages in more than a generation, union leaders could console themselves with being key players in shaping national economic policy for a decade.

This time around, the exercise is a charade—little more than three months of discussion with no guarantee that union claims will be considered seriously.

Weakening the union position further is the way that leaders fast-tracked changes to awards covering more than two million workers to make it easier for employers to cut hours and redeploy workers during the pandemic.

Porter joked that he and McManus had become BFFs. Now he is saying that all sides need to “lay down their arms”.

But the government and the bosses have no intention of declaring a truce. In September, the Liberals will dump one in ten people into deeper poverty by dropping JobKeeper and halving JobSeeker.

They have imposed a year-long pay freeze on federal public servants, ostentatiously refused to fund universities’ deficits and abolished free childcare.

Morrison splashed billions to keep the economy from total disaster but he will expect workers to pay.

Facing these challenges, the union leadership has to relearn an old lesson: you can’t win at the table what hasn’t been won on the ground.

The ACTU should walk out of Porter’s parlour game, declare that workers will not pay the price of the system’s failures and start organising our side for the fight that is coming.

By David Glanz

The post Morrison’s ‘Accord 2.0’ talks are a trap for the unions appeared first on Solidarity Online.

Melbourne Uni no vote on cuts to pay and conditions boosts fights elsewhere

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 23/06/2020 - 1:56pm in

NTEU members at the University of Melbourne (UoM) have dealt a decisive blow to management, voting No to a non-union ballot to vary the existing enterprise agreement.

The result strengthens campaigns against management-driven variations at other campuses including ANU and Wollongong Uni. But the union leadership is continuing to push its own variations at three universities where management backs their failed national framework.

UoM had sought to cut pay by 2.2 per cent and reduce redundancy entitlements.

National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) activists and delegates mobilised around the clock to defeat the variation, a mammoth task given that campus is shut. Over 16 mass workplace meetings were organised by activists and delegates in order to put the no case and encourage union members to campaign amongst their colleagues.

The day before the vote opened, activists organised a socially distanced protest outside the Chancellery building in the morning, crashed the VC’s online webinar at noon and facilitated an online casuals’ speak-out in the evening to clinch the campaign.

The variation was resoundingly defeated, with 64 per cent of staff voting no. Out of this victory, we have many more activists and delegates involved in the branch for the fight ahead of us.

The non-union ballot was management’s response to the profound crisis facing the higher education sector. For decades, university managements have been singing from the neo-liberal song book and running universities like businesses, reliant on private funding arrangements like corporate sponsorship and domestic and international student fees. 

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on this model. The federal government has refused to step in with any stimulus package for universities, as it has elsewhere, and staff have been denied access to the JobKeeper scheme. In response, UoM management is trying to pass the bill on to staff and make us pay for the crisis. The variation was their first attempt. But it won’t be their last.

Shamefully, the NTEU leadership had adopted a strategy of concessions that dovetails with managements’ attempts to pass the pain on to staff. Their failed “National Jobs Protection Framework” (JPF) rested on a vague promise to save jobs if staff accepted pay cuts of up to 15 per cent. The framework was defeated nationally by a rank-and-file revolt. But the union leadership has continued to push versions of it at the University of Western Australia and La Trobe and Monash in Victoria.

Activists at those campuses have continued to mobilise to reject the leadership’s bad deal.

However it’s been an uphill battle. The NTEU leadership have put significant resources into running an unrelenting scare campaign claiming that voting yes to the framework is the only way to prevent mass job losses.

The leadership have won votes among union members to accept the framework with 74 per cent in favour at La Trobe and 78.6 per cent at UWA. A similar outcome is expected at Monash. All three campuses also need to hold an all staff vote to ratify the variation.

It was painfully obvious throughout UoM’s no campaign that our union leadership did not prioritise defeating the variation.

Its resounding defeat at UoM has gone for the most part unremarked upon by the leadership, because it undermines the argument they have been prosecuting on other campuses, which is almost identical to that of UoM management—accept a pay cut to save jobs.

Fight ahead

The defeat of the variation shows the willingness of members to organise and fight for their jobs and pay, rather than accepting compromises that hurt staff.

There is a massive fight ahead on every campus, against pay cuts, job losses and the erosion of conditions. At the University of Wollongong staff have already voted to reject their VC’s attempt to cut wages in an online poll, and at ANU the NTEU branch is in the midst of a No campaign against their VC’s variation.

Now we are also facing a brutal attack from the Liberals through doubling fees for the arts and humanities. This will not only deter working class students from an education in the arts, it will decimate jobs.

The victories at UoM and Wollongong are a modest but significant step in defending the sector. The cuts on campus and the Liberals’ attacks are two sides of the same coin. The Liberals are creating the crisis and the VC’s are trying to make us pay for it. To beat them both back we need mass workplace meetings building towards demonstrations that bring together staff with current and future students. Ultimately we are going to need to challenge the anti-strike laws and flex our industrial muscle.

By Geraldine Fela

The post Melbourne Uni no vote on cuts to pay and conditions boosts fights elsewhere appeared first on Solidarity Online.

Fresh audio product

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 05/06/2020 - 8:11am in

Tags 

Radio, Police, unions

Just added to my radio archive (click on date for link):

June 4, 2020 Alex Vitale, author of The End of Policing, on why cops are being so brutal and what should be done with them • Ben Tarnoff, co-founder of Logic magazine, on tech worker organizing (essay here)

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