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Is There A Global Future For Unions?

I was raised in a company house in a company town where the miners had to buy their own oilers—that is, rubber coveralls—drill bits and other tools at the company store.

That company, Inco Limited, the world’s leading producer of nickel for most of the 20th century, controlled the town of Sudbury, Ontario, but never succeeded in owning the souls of the men and women who lived and worked there.

That’s because these were union men and women, self-possessed, a little rowdy and well aware that puny pleas from individual workers fall on deaf corporate ears.

As I prepare to retire in a couple of days, 54 years after starting work as a copper puncher at the Inco smelter, the relationship between massive, multinational corporations and workers is different.

Unions represent a much smaller percentage of workers now, so few that some don’t even know what a labor organization is—or what organized labor can accomplish. That is the result of deliberate, decades-long attacks on unions by corporations and the rich. They intend to own not only workers’ time and production but their very souls.

I’d like to tell you the story of Inco because it illustrates the arc of labor union ascendance and attenuation over the past 72 years since I was born in Sudbury.

When I was a boy, the Inco workers, about 19,000 of them, were represented by the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers. The union was gathering strength. My dad, Wilfred Gerard, was among the rabble-rousers. We lived just a few miles from the mine, and workers would gather at the house. Someone would bring a case of beer, and my mom would make egg salad or bologna sandwiches.

Conditions in the mine were terrible, and these workers were organizing to achieve change. I recall them talking about a work stoppage over safety glasses. I was amazed that they would have to take action like that to get essential work equipment. The company, I thought, should voluntarily take this simple step to ensure workers were not unnecessarily injured on the job.

I learned two important lessons from sitting on the steps and listening to those meetings. One was that the company would do nothing for the workers unless forced by collective action. The other was that labor unions were instruments of both economic and social justice.

I started work in the smelter at age 18 after graduating high school. My mother told my girlfriend, Susan, my future wife, not to let me get involved in the union because if I did, I would be gone all of the time. For a few years, I resisted union activism. Still, I carried a copy of the labor contract in my pocket, pulled out just high enough so the boss could see it. I knew what it said, and I wanted him to know I knew.

In 1967, when I was 20, the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers merged with the United Steelworkers (USW), and I became a USW member.

It didn’t take long for the guys at the smelter to see that I had a big mouth. And in 1969, they petitioned for me to become a shop steward. That was the beginning. My mom was right. It did mean I was gone much of the time.

I got myself demoted so I could work day shifts and attend college at night. On day shift, I noticed the company was using a bunch of contractors. Many were performing work that was supposed to be done by union members. Other contractors sat in their trucks parked behind the warehouse doing nothing. So I got about six guys to help me track and record the violations every day.

Then we would file grievances against the company. We could not win because the contract language was weak at that point, but we took it through all the stages of grieving, and it cost Inco money. That made the bosses furious.

So they took it out on me. You have to be prepared for that if you are going to be an activist. They made me rake rocks that had fallen off the mine trucks onto the road. They made me pick up trash in the parking lot. They tried to humiliate me. But I always found a way to comply without bowing to them.

The advantage we had in those days was that they thought they were smarter than us. They didn’t understand that we were a team and we stuck together, so there was no way they were going to own us.

That was the 1960s, a different time. Union membership in the United States rose through 1965, when nearly one in three workers belonged. In Canada, the rise continued through 1985, when the rate was 38 percent. The drop-off in the United States was fairly slow until 1980, when it plummeted to 23.2 percent. It has now fallen to 10.5 percent. In Canada, the decline was steady, but much slower. The rate there remains 30.1 percent, close to the all-time high in the United States.

The difference is that in the United States, corporations and conservatives engaged in a successful campaign, beginning in 1971, to seize power from workers and propagandize for what they euphemistically called free enterprise. Really, it’s cutthroat capitalism. The upshot is that U.S. workers have more difficulty forming unions than Canadians, and U.S. corporations can more easily lock workers out of their jobs and hire strikebreakers. The intent is to enable corporations to own their workers, lock, stock and soul.

Lewis Powell, the late U.S. Supreme Court justice, launched this drive to crush labor, the left and environmentalists in the United States with a memo he wrote in 1971 for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and distributed to corporate leaders.

Powell told the Chamber that it had to organize businesses into a political force because, he claimed, corporations and the free market system were “under broad attack,” and in “deep trouble.” He inveighed against regulations sought by car safety activist Ralph Nader, by environmentalists petitioning for clean air and water and by unions demanding less deadly mines and manufacturing. He castigated those on the left pursuing a fairer, safer and more humane society.

Businesses must cultivate political power, and wield it, Powell said, to secure “free market” advantages, such as tax breaks and loopholes specifically for corporations and the rich.

Powell also told the Chamber: “Strength lies in organization, in careful long-range planning and implementation, in consistency of action over an indefinite period of years, in the scale of financing available only through joint effort, and in the political power available only through united action and national organizations.”

That is exactly what the Chamber achieved. It catalyzed a business movement, funded by wealthy conservative family and corporate foundations, including those of Coors, Olin, Scaife and Koch, to name a few. The foundations sponsored conservative professors at universities and right-wing “non-profits” such as the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, Americans for Prosperity, and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which provides junkets for right-wing lawmakers at which it encourages them to champion anti-union and anti-worker legislation. These groups bankrolled conservative candidates and secured appointments of conservative judges.

Between the end of World War II and 1970, during the rise of unions, workers’ incomes rose with productivity. Income inequality declined, and North America became home to the largest middle class in history. After 1970 and the Chamber effort to implement the Powell manifesto, unions declined and workers’ wages stagnated. Virtually all new income and profits went to CEOs, stockholders and the already rich. The middle class dwindled as income inequality rose to Gilded Age levels.

This occurred at the same time that corporations expanded, becoming massive multinationals, with facilities sprawled across the world and without allegiance to any country. This happened to Inco. Vale, a Brazilian corporation, bought it in 2006, and now Vale is a true multinational with facilities worldwide.

Multinationals spurned their obligation to serve workers, consumers, communities, and shareholders. Instead, they focused only on shareholders, the rest be damned. They closed factories in the United States and Canada and moved them to places like Mexico and China, with low wages and lax environmental laws. They exploited foreign workers and destroyed North American workers’ lives and communities.

As far back as the 1970s, the USW, the AFL-CIO, as well as the textile, shoe, steel, and other industry leaders, warned Congress about what this trend, combined with increasing imports, meant for American workers and their neighborhoods. In 1973, after the United States experienced its first two years of trade deficits in a century, I.W. Abel, then president of the USW, urged Congress “to slow the massive flood of imports that are sweeping away jobs and industries in wholesale lots.”

Congress’ failure to heed this alarm resulted in the collapse of the U.S. textile and shoe industries and many others. It very nearly killed the steel industry, which has suffered tsunami after tsunami of bankruptcies, gunpoint mergers, and mill closures. Tens of thousands of family-supporting jobs were lost and communities across both the United States and Canada hollowed out. In 1971 and 1972, the trade deficit totaled $8.4 billion. Last year it was $621 billion. Every imported toy, shoe, bolt of cloth, and ingot of steel means fewer U.S. factories and jobs and more struggling towns.

The USW presidents who followed Abel—Lloyd McBride and Lynn R. Williams—escalated the battle against offshored factories and unfairly traded imports. The USW even filed suit to try to stop the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) because Williams, like independent presidential candidate Ross Perot, saw that it would suck Canadian and U.S. factories and jobs south of the Mexican border.

The late USW President George Becker and I agitated for change, confronting and cajoling presidents and prime ministers and members of Congress and Parliament. The USW martialed all of its forces, including activists in its Women of Steel and NextGen programs, the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees, and its Rapid Response coordinators. Tens of thousands of workers rallied, camped out in Washington, D.C., harangued lawmakers and sent postcards.

Working with allies in the community, such as environmental and human rights groups, faith and food safety organizations, together we have won some short-term relief measures. These include the tariffs on imported steel and aluminum imposed last year and the defeat of the proposed new trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership that would have extended NAFTA problems across Pacific Rim countries.

In the decades that the USW battled bad trade, I moved through the ranks, from staff representative, to District Director to Canadian National Director to USW Secretary-Treasurer. Among my goals was to forge international workers’ alliances to combat the corporate cabals that always got seats at the table to write the trade deals that worked against workers. When I was elected USW president in 2001, one of my top priorities was expanding the union’s coalitions.

Now the USW participates in three global unions, which together represent more than 82 million workers in more than 150 countries worldwide. The USW and partner unions also created more than two dozen global councils of workers, including those for workers at ArcelorMittal, BASF, Bridgestone, DowDuPont and Gerdau. These employers quickly learned that taking on workers at one factory meant taking on workers at all of their workplaces internationally.

In 2005, the USW and the Mexican miners’ union known as Los Mineros formed a strategic alliance. And the USW gave Los Mineros General Secretary Napoleon Gomez sanctuary in Canada when he was unjustly accused of wrongdoing by a Mexican government intent on shutting him up after a mine disaster.

In 2008, the USW joined with Unite the Union, the second largest union in the UK and Ireland, forming Workers Uniting to fight exploitation and injustice globally. And the USW formed alliances with union federations in Australia and Brazil, where the organization is known as the CUT.

This international brotherhood and sisterhood stood with Canadian mine and smelter workers for a year beginning in July 2009.

During its first negotiations with the USW, Vale, the Brazilian corporation that bought Inco, demanded harsh concessions from its thousands of Canadian workers. Though Vale was highly profitable, it said it wouldn’t even bargain with the USW unless the workers first accepted the cuts. That forced them out on strike.

I started talking regularly with the head of the CUT in Brazil to strategize and plan joint actions. Brazilian workers and community groups wholeheartedly supported their Canadian brothers and sisters. They demonstrated in front of the Vale headquarters and threw red paint—symbolizing blood—on the building. They shut down traffic with all sorts of street actions. They protested at the Vale shareholders meeting, inside and out.

They also traveled to Canada, in force with flags, for a rally in Sudbury in March of 2010, when the strike was eight months old and banks were repossessing some workers’ cars and foreclosing on homes. By then, Vale had 100,000 workers in mines and smelters across the world. Supporters from many of those communities—in Asia, Africa, Europe, and Australia—joined thousands of Canadians who marched through the streets that cold day.

Vale could see that its Canadian workers, in Sudbury, Port Colborne, and Voisey’s Bay, were not alone. They had allies from around the world willing to stand up to the giant multinational.

The strike ended 12 long months after it started. We didn’t get everything we wanted, but we certainly didn’t accept Vale’s concessionary demands. Vale failed to accomplish its mission, which was to spread to all of its operations worldwide the authoritarian, top-down, nasty management practices that it had honed in Brazil. The proof of that is the next round of negotiations with Vale went fairly well, and we got an honorable settlement.

Now, for labor to secure gains, in the United States or Canada or anywhere, workers must mobilize. We have to bring everyone together, women, men, poor people, people of color, gay people—all working people.  None of us is big enough or developed enough to win this fight alone.

If we fight together, I can’t guarantee we will win. But if we don’t fight for justice, I can guarantee we will lose.

Since none of us is willing to owe our souls to the company store, we’re going to have to find ways to continue building coalitions robust enough to confront capital and win the battle for economic and social justice.

Leo W. Gerard is the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW).

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

The Very Strange Case Of Stephen Moore

What can you say about Stephen Moore? That his economic views tend toward the nutty, and his research is a slop job? That his juvenile fear of females borders on the pathetic — and that he didn’t find them too embarrassing to air? That he’s Donald Trump’s pick to serve on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors? Yes, but we repeat ourselves.

Fed board members have been liberal, and they have been conservative. Many no doubt harbored sexist views. But there was never a nominee who wrote things like, “No one seems to care much that coed sports is doing irreparable harm to the psyche of America’s little boys.”

He doesn’t like grown-up coed play, either. He called letting women join men in pickup games a “travesty.” (Just wondering what business it is of his whether men choose to play sports with women.)

Something must have happened to the poor lad. Did some girl beat him at pingpong in the third grade?

Were he a star economist, we might avert our eyes from the strangeness of his social scribbles. But Moore’s economic musings are off the wall as well. He’s supported a return to the gold standard. He predicted that George W. Bush’s policies would lead to an economic golden age and that inflation would soar under Barack Obama. Wrong and wrong.

Then there’s his “scholarship.” I used to cite studies from The Heritage Foundation when the conservative think tank was producing solid research. Then Heritage sold its soul to the partisan swamp, out of which Moore rose as Heritage’s chief economist.

Under that title, he submitted a column in 2014 so shot through with error that The Kansas City Star vowed to never publish him again.

His thesis was that low taxes produce explosive job growth. As evidence, Moore wrote that “over the last five years,” no-income-tax Texas gained 1 million jobs while high-tax California lost jobs. For the same reasons, Florida added hundreds of thousands of jobs while New York lost jobs.

Whoops. He wasn’t using numbers from the previous five years but from December 2007 to 2012. But even those numbers were wrong. In fact, Texas gained not a million but 497,400 jobs. Florida actually lost 461,500 jobs during that period — while New York gained 75,900 jobs.

“He seemed OK with a correction,” Miriam Pepper, then the Star’s editorial page editor, told me. “But as we dug deeper he got more difficult, then hostile.” She added: “I’m surprised Heritage isn’t embarrassed.”

There are smart fabricators and dumb ones. Only the dimwitted would try to pass off stats that any boy — or girl — with basic computer skills could have countered with a visit to the Bureau of Labor Statistics site.

In his personal finances, Moore is a double deadbeat. He owes more than $75,000 in unpaid taxes. And a court held him in contempt for not paying his ex-wife $300,000 as part of a divorce agreement.

This is the man who brooded: “What are the implications of a society in which women earn more than men? We don’t really know, but it could be disruptive to family stability. If men aren’t the breadwinners, will women regard them as economically expendable?”

Moore the breadwinner is also Moore the stud. Allison Moore’s 2010 divorce complaint noted that he had created a Match.com account and had an affair. She says he told her and their children, “I have two women, and what’s really bad is when they fight over you.”

Add Moore’s economic ignorance to his arrested development and you have a highly flawed character. May the Federal Reserve Board — and the public it serves — be spared his presence.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.

IMAGE: Stephen Moore of the Heritage Foundation, Trump nominee to the Federal Reserve Board.

Trump Will Name Heritage Foundation ‘Hack’ To Federal Reserve Board

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

President Donald Trump plans to appoint right-wing “economist” Stephen Moore to the Federal Reserve Board, and people who know anything about actual economics (and basic factual reporting) are livid.

Moore, a fellow with the conservative Heritage Foundation, is best known for appearing on TV, talking about the economy, and completely botching his facts.

Paul Krugman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist and columnist for the New York Times, lambasted the nomination of Moore, whom he has sparred with many times in the past.

“Moore isn’t just a hack, with terrible judgment,” Krugman said on Twitter. “He’s a hack who has repeatedly shown himself unable even to get basic facts right.”

Binyamin Applebaum, another Times columnist, noted that Moore once “got so many facts wrong that the Kansas City Star’s editorial page editor vowed never to publish his work again.”

Indeed, he wrote a column trying to argue that low-tax states do better than high tax states, and he included this error-ridden passage:

No-income-tax Texas gained 1 million jobs over the last five years; California, with its 13 percent tax rate, managed to lose jobs. Oops. Florida gained hundreds of thousands of jobs while New York lost jobs. Oops.

In fact, as Kansas City Star columnist Yael Abouhalkah pointed out, in addition to choosing a particularly problematic time period to make this judgment, his numbers were just wrong:

Texas did not gain 1 million jobs in the 2007-2012 period Moore measured. The correct figure was a gain of 497,400 jobs.

Florida did not add hundreds of thousands of jobs in that span. It actually lost 461,500 jobs.

New York, with [its] very high income tax rates, did not lose jobs during that time. It gained 75,900 jobs.

Miriam Pepper, an editor of the Kansas City Star, told the Columbia Journalism Review after the incident that his errors were so egregious that she “won’t be running anything else from Stephen Moore.”

Krugman noted that, in addition to this spectacular mistake, Moore was completely unrepentant when his predictions about Kansas’ tax cuts were refuted.

“He made a bad prediction, which happens — but refused to learn from the error, falsified facts, and doubled down on his doctrine,” said Krugman.

Need more convincing? Here he is getting the budget deficit — a simple government accounting measure — completely wrong. Here he is completely botching the facts about the Reagan tax cuts. Here he is making up facts on CNN.

After spending much of his career shilling for the GOP, Moore has since become completely bought-in to Trump’s takeover of the party. Proving he’ll do anything to stay in the good graces of the Republican Party, the Heritage Foundation fellow wrote a book called Trumponomics: Inside the America First Plan to Revive Our Economy lavishly praising the president’s policies, despite increasing evidence that the White House’s boasting is baseless.

Which is just to say, given his record of repeating disgrace, he seems to have the perfect resume to appeal to a president who lives in the world of “alternative facts.”