The organized labor movement, for the first time in my adult-ish/politically-aware life, is actually on the rise in recent post-pandemic years. Or so it seems. We've got a longtime labor historian on today's BradCast who seems to confirm that point.
First, very quickly at the top of today's show, a few news headlines...
- Texas' cartoonishly corrupt Republican state Attorney General, Ken Paxton, was acquitted over the weekend by the GOP-dominated state Senate which held a trial on 16 articles of impeachment sent to them by the GOP-dominated state House. Hopefully, a criminal reckoning still lies ahead for the degenerate Paxton.
- Five Americans detained for years by Iran were released today as part of deal in which President Biden agreed to unlock some $6 billion in frozen Iranian oil assets. Their families are overjoyed. Republicans are pretending to be furious.
- Wisconsin Republican election deniers in the state Senate, late last week, attempted to oust the Republican-appointed director of state elections just a few months before ballots must be formalized for next year's Presidential primary election in the critical battleground state. The dispute will likely make its way to the new liberal majority on the state's high court.
- U.S. House Republicans are still battling amongst themselves to even come up with an agreement for a short-term extension to keep the Government open after the end of this month.
- And, of course, the fallout continues from House Speaker Kevin McCarthy's seemingly failed attempt to assuage the far-far right of his Congressional caucus by announcing, last week, an evidence-free impeachment inquiry of Joe Biden.
After dispatching with that news quickly, we spent the bulk of today's show focusing on what my guest describes as a very "exciting" moment for the U.S. labor movement, the first such moment, really, in decades.
On Friday, the United Auto Workers (UAW) called a strike, for the first time in history, at all three major automakers --- GM, Ford and Stellantis (the company formed by the recent merger of Fiat Chrysler with a French automaker) --- at the same time. Workers are demanding major increases in pay to match record profits of the Big Three auto makers, their soaring compensation packages for CEOs and to keep up with inflation.
The union seeks pay raises for workers of upwards of 40% to match what they claim the CEOs have enjoyed since the last contract negotiations in 2019. The CEOs either deny they've received that much of an increase in pay, believe they deserve it more than the workers do, and/or that their companies would go broke if those actually responsible for their record profits were similarly compensated. That, as the companies are transitioning to Electric Vehicle technology and new plants to make batteries for them, even as inflation has outpaced pay increases in recent years. Until the 2008 financial crisis, the workers contracts included cost-of-living increases.
All of this comes at a time when film and television writers and actors are also on strike, similarly seeking long-overdue raises and improved benefits packages, and as younger employees at fast food restaurants and huge companies like Amazon are also unionizing and striking to improve their working conditions following the worst of the pandemic years.
We're joined today by longtime labor historian and progressive author NELSON LICHTENSTEIN, Distinguished Professor at the University of California Santa Barbara, where he directs the Center for the Study of Work, Labor, and Democracy. He is also the author of at least 16 books, including his latest, with Judith Stein, A Fabulous Failure: The Clinton Presidency and the Transformation of American Capitalism.
While Lichtenstein confirms that this is indeed an "exciting" time for the modern American labor movement for the first time in decades, and one of many similar "waves" that labor has seen over the past century, it is still "a pale reflection of what used to happen on a routine basis, up through the end of about the 1970s. There were ten times more strikes each year, twenty times, from the late 1930s on through the late '70s."
Still, he tells me, "there's a certain excitement here, because the unions have been in the doldrums [and] management has been in the driver's seat." in recent years, "and there is clearly a sense of militancy and excitement, and also new workers" participating in the movement.
We discuss, among many other things today with the very colorful professor...
- The specific demands of the auto workers, the soaring profits of the companies and the compensation for the Big Three CEOs --- along with their various lies about whether meeting worker demands would put the companies "out of business," as Ford CEO Jim Farley claimed last week.
- How President Biden is supporting the workers, responding to this critical moment and what what it will --- or could --- mean for his reelection chances next year, after years of aggrieved workers in the midwest turned against a Democratic Party which failed to have their back in recent decades. ("Biden wants to reindustrialize the Midwest and the mid-South," says Lichtenstein today. "This is where Trumpism has gained purchase. He thinks, I think correctly, at least in the long run, that if you have a more vibrant economy for ordinary workers, they won't be looking for rightwing authoritarian solutions.")
- How Presidents --- from Reagan to Clinton to Obama to Trump to Biden --- have an effect on the rise, or fall, of labor movements.
- Why support for unions is now at or above historic highs in the U.S. and how such moments in history have worked out in the past. For example, do workers end up winning these fights along with these surges in organized labor? Or do they shrink in response to public opprobrium if strikes continue over long periods. ("Traditionally, long strikes are losing strikes" he tells me. "But there are sometimes exceptions to the rule. I think in this case there's public support out there, a thirst for successful union negotiations, strikes, etc.," and, he adds, "winning begets winning.")
All of that and much more in a fascinating conversation with Lichtenstein on today's BradCast!...
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