From Prosperity to Austerity: Dialing Down Our Expectations | Labor Notes

Wall Street’s top five firms found $90 billion to pay in bonuses last year. Corporations reported their best returns ever last fall, booking $1.7 trillion in profit.

Still, the pundits tell us that since most private sector workers no longer have real pensions, government workers should lose theirs, too. They quote irate taxpayers: “Why am I paying taxes so public sector workers can have something I don’t?” The Associated Press calls it “pension envy,” and its final result is clear: no pensions to envy.

Read the rest of this Labor Notes article:


Negotiate, don’t legislate!

Governor Chris Christie wants to strip public sector unions of their right to negotiate health benefits with the state. If he has his way, workers in New Jersey will have to accept whatever healthcare package the state legislators decide to impose on them.

But healthcare, like wages and other benefits, ought to be negotiated, not legislated. What Christie wants to do in Jersey opens the door to the kind of union-busting tactics being used by Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin.

AFT Local 2364, at The College of New Jersey, has launched a petition drive to defend our right to negotiated health benefits. Please sign the petition and circulate it amongst your friends and coworkers.


T-shirts, T-shirts!

Please check out the designs below and vote for your combo of choice!


The AFT logo can go either on the pocket of the shirt, or the sleeve.





Please vote and/or give us feedback in the comments section below !

Richard Trumka: “Let’s thank Scott Walker!”

Many campus progressives and union activists in New Jersey have in recent years felt isolated and frustrated in the face of the unyielding attacks on public education, on teachers and their unions, and on our wages and benefits. The resolve with which the powers-that-be in our state have gone about balancing the budget on the backs of workers has been remarkable, matched only by the tenacity with which they have thus far fended off union outrage.

By the end of the Fall semester, it seemed that the rhetoric of “austerity” and “shared sacrifice” had inserted itself firmly into the commonsense of our campus culture. Thanks to various poll results that circulated among coworkers, we wrung our hands at the evidence that the “public” did not support the “public sector” or unionized workers.

We knew, of course, that this had been part of Chris Christie’s strategy all along: to pit private-sector, and unorganized workers against public-sector, and unionized workers. This had, after all, been laid out in so many words in his Transition Team reports before he took office. Nevertheless, we were unprepared for Christie’s sledgehammer approach, largely, I would argue, because we had willingly offered up our necks for Corzine’s scalpel in prior years.

In the months following, as we focused our attention on the intensity of the PR campaign launched by Chris Christie and his corporate buddies, it was understandable to continue to think of ourselves as an embattled minority fighting not only a state bureaucracy but also a hostile public. It was understandable, in other words, to see our glass as half-empty (and soon to be drained completely).

Today, however, such pessimism is not only unproductive, but out of kilter with the mood in the labor movement in the U.S. For in the opening months of 2011, we have seen the return of social struggle on a scale that we haven’t seen in decades. I am referring here not to the Tunisian or the Egyptian Revolutions, but the struggle in Wisconsin that has emerged in opposition to Scott Walker’s attacks. The significance of the uprising (no, that isn’t hyperbole) in Wisconsin has, however, been lost to many of us in the “TCNJ bubble.”

Don’t take my word for it. Here are two videos of a speech that the head of the AFL-CIO, Richard Trumka, gave on March 10 this year:

Now, it is a mere truism to say that NJ is different from Wisconsin, and that Walker is different from Christie. But this truism hides a deeper truth: that while Walker and his emulators in Ohio and Indiana might be the leading edge of this assault on workers’ rights, they represent the interests of a corporate class that hopes to generalize this assault across the board. There are many states hoping to achieve similar goals, even though each might take a different path.

But if you’ve been following this blog in the last week or so, you know that this one-sided assault is fast morphing into a two-sided fight. The labor movement is finally beginning to stand up again, and it is finding its feet among the hundreds and thousands of worker-activists who have been energized by the struggle in Wisconsin. Public opinion, thanks to this struggle, has shifted quite dramatically in our favor; i.e., in favor of public-sector jobs, and of bargaining rights.

If we think that Trumka is right when he says that we know now that “the American public” agrees with us, then it is incumbent upon us to think about what to do with that knowledge. What can we do to “channel this midwest uprising” into a movement that can give us “bold ideas” about “transforming America”? Trumka gives us a clear next step: to mobilize for a nationwide rallies and demonstrations on April 4:

Our next opportunity is April 4th, when we recall how MLK gave his life in support of collective bargaining for public workers.  This struggle erupted over collective bargaining, but it’s about more:  immigration rights, safety on the job, education, retirement security, health care and the American dream that all of us deserve to have.

I promise you: the labor movement will fight to create that and keep fighting until all of us do have it.

It would be remiss of us to not heed this call to fight to rebuild the union movement from the grassroots, drawing upon the lessons we’ve learned from the struggle in Madison, WI.

Of course, Trumka asks us to “turn this movement into a tidal wave in the 2012 elections,” with no mention of the fact that the Obama administration has acceded to the demands to reign in public-sector workers by imposing a three-year wage freeze on all federal employees. And in NJ, few of us have forgotten that the assault on the public sector began under Jon Corzine. So I say let’s be wary of this electoral humbug (I’ve written about this elsewhere), and focus on where our real power lies: in mobilizing and agitating, on the streets and in our workplaces.


What has the union movement ever done for us?

I’m sure many of you remember the classic Monty Python sketch from “Life of Brian”:

Now check this out: Manic Times asks ‘What Have The Unions Ever Done For Us?’

Susan Sarandon: Complete Speech

Here, thanks to the wonders of YouTube, is all of Susan Sarandon’s speech: really worth a listen!

Wisconsin unions: University teaching assistants at forefront of Wisconsin protests –

Elizabeth Wrigley-Field, of the UW Teaching Assistants' union, being dragged out of Capitol

In the ongoing struggle for union rights in Wisconsin graduate teaching assistants have played a central role.

An article in the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Sentinel Journal stated on March 10, two days before last Saturday’s mass rally:

Unions representing teaching assistants are gathering information on possible ramifications of a strike, and are carefully considering the wisdom of a strike, according to sources at both campuses, who are teaching assistants.
Graduate assistants who are both students and teachers will see a 170% increase in their health insurance premiums under the budget-repair bill, UW System President Kevin Reilly told the Board of Regents at a meeting in Madison Thursday.

“They will be some of the hardest hit employees in the state,” Reilly said, “The compensation they receive is to be deeply diminished.”

If the teaching assistants decide to strike, it’s possible several public employee unions could agree to strike together.

Recently, the LA Times ran an article that highlighted the work done by this group of young graduate students in defense of their rights and that of their brothers and sisters in other unions. Here are some highlights from the article; I think the entire article is worth a read, for it shows us the degree of energy and activism that younger unionists are bringing to our struggles.

Members of the Teaching Assistants’ Assn. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison spearheaded the two-week occupation of the Capitol that began Feb. 15 — two days before Democratic senators fled the state to stall legislation limiting public employees’ union rights.

  • The efforts were in keeping with the association’s roots. The group was born of Vietnam War-era student activism.
  • Loren Eadie, 28, a teaching assistant and doctoral candidate in Italian literature, started going to the Capitol protests daily, skipping meals and workouts at the local pool. Grading papers and even her dissertation on Italian Renaissance philology fell by the wayside.
    “Since this happened, my life has been out of control, basically,” Eadie said. “Even on days when I said, ‘I’m not going to the Capitol,’ I end up there.”
  • With its initial contract in 1970, the association became the nation’s first graduate employee union.
  • Now, the teaching assistant union will also be one of the first to feel the effects of legislation, signed into law Friday by Republican Gov. Scott Walker, that rolls back collective bargaining rights for public employee unions, except police and firefighters. The union, with about 1,700 members, represents 3,000 university employees.
  • “We are putting our disapproval into action,” said Peter Rickman, 28, a law student.
    He too spent days at the Capitol, surviving on pizza and coffee, once sleeping underneath a conference table, his Timbuk2 bag serving as a pillow. His supervisors at the university were sympathetic, but he dropped one class because of time spent on protest efforts. “We are going to fight back in a bigger and broader way,” he said.
  • The teaching assistants are among thousands of state employees whose contracts end Sunday. After that, the new law will restrict them to limited bargaining over wages. Members will no longer be required to pay dues.
  • Samantha Vortherms, 25, a political science doctoral student and research assistant, is covered by the association contract but hadn’t joined the union. She thought unions were useful but also in need of restructuring.
    During the recent political turmoil, she became increasingly anxious. She makes about $11,000 for her work during the school year and holds a second job as an insurance biller to help make ends meet for herself and her husband, who is unemployed.
    “I just started crying,” she said. “Just because of the stress of it all as far as paying rent and paying for health insurance.”
    Vortherms found herself spending time at the Capitol, participating in a march and regularly checking her friends’ Facebook pages for updates. She said she plans to join the union now.

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

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