By Paul Krehbiel
Workers in Southern California and across the country are fighting to defend their wages, standard of living and rights against the three-decade-long corporate assault on working people and our unions. The giant corporations are unrelenting, but we’re fighting back.
Technical and professional workers at Boeing in southern California have just won a 14-year fight to recover lost wages and benefits, totaling $47 million. They are members of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, Local 2001.
In July, Los Angeles port truck drivers working with the Teamsters Union staged a week-long strike for better pay, hours, benefits, working conditions, and a union. While employers threatened them with firing, the workers got the companies to accept all drivers back to work without retaliation. The union campaign is gaining momentum. Many drivers, mostly Mexicano and Central American, work 10 or more hours a day, 6 days a week and make poverty level wages.
Car wash workers just unionized another car wash, this time in East Los Angeles, bringing to 26 the number of union car washes in So. Cal. They are being assisted by the United Steelworkers.
Earlier this summer 60,000 grocery workers in United Food and Commercial Workers in so Cal stopped company take-away demands and negotiated a new contract. But Food 4 Less (owned by Kroger), refused to settle and push cuts in health and welfare contributions, and work hours. As we went to press, the grocery workers won a no-takeaways contract after threatening to strike.
Social Justice Unionism
While most labor struggles and labor victories are measured in money, benefits, and job protection, some are measured by strengthening our labor movement.
The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) workers refused to cross a community picket-line for four days in mid-August in front of an Israeli ship in the Port of Oakland to protest Israeli’s slaughter of people in Gaza. No cargo was moved, and the Israeli shipping company lost millions of dollars. Actions like this put pressure on Israel to stop its war on Gaza.
Many unions have joined with environmentalists and community groups to stage a giant demonstration in New York City on September 21 to demand action on climate change and to stop global warming. The “People’s Climate March” will coincide with a United Nations summit that will bring together world leaders to deal with the growing problem. Many union members and leaders in New York remember the devastation Hurricane Sandy brought to New York and the east coast. Endorsers include Teamsters Joint Council 16, American Transit Union, Autoworkers Region 9A, Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 3, and many more.
The California Nurses Association and the National Nurses United have launched a national campaign to put a small tax on all financial transactions that Wall Street financial institutions complete every second. Called the “Robin Hood Tax,” it would generate billions of dollars for government to pay for education, health care and other social services.
Tax the Rich
When the Occupy Wall Street movement took off a couple of years ago, many unions joined to help publicize the message that the top 1% are enriching themselves at the expense of the other 99%.
Several years ago, when the Iraq war was killing and wounding many Iraqis and US soldiers, and costing us billions of dollars, the union-based US Labor Against the War-LA noted that the cost of the war for one year could have paid the entire deficit of every state and saved the jobs of hundreds of thousands of public workers who’d lost them then.
Union members marching in the Los Angeles-Long Beach Harbor Labor Day Parade in 2011 carried signs that read: “Tax the rich and their corporations.” The following year, labor led in proposing a tax increase on the very wealthy to fund public education. This proposal became Proposition 30, and it was passed by the voters. Big corporations and banks have been waging war on workers, and on our country, for decades. In 1945, 40% of all taxes collected by the government came from corporations. Today corporations pay less than 10%. Corporations and the very wealthy get tax loopholes and tax rebates, while workers and the 99% are expected to fund the lion’s share of our social programs, or do without.
Unions and our allies also defeated Proposition 32, which would have stopped unions from contributing to political campaigns while allowing corporations to continue to give unlimited amounts of money.
Unions in Los Angeles have been organizing for years in Labor United for Universal Healthcare to bring a single-payer, improved Medicare-for-All type health care system to California and the U.S. That would cover everyone with comprehensive health care, and remove the for-profit insurance industry from ripping off $400 billion a year which could be put back into the system to ensure quality care. Labor United for Universal Healthcare participated in the national single-payer health care conference held in Oakland on August 22-24.
Paul Krehbiel began work as a union auto parts worker in 1968. In the 2000’s, he was the chief negotiator for over 5,000 Registered Nurses in Los Angeles County, members of SEIU Local 660 (now 721). He is a member of Labor United for Universal Healthcare.