Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Scranton PA, another front in the assault on workers. Labor tops file a lawsuit

Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty

The decline in living standards, Unionization rate and workplace protection in the US will continue until there is an explosion within the ranks of organized Labor that discards the present leadership whose policy of collaboration with the bosses has brought us this far.  The limited response when the Labor hierarchy's collaboration is met by increased aggression from the employers, file a lawsuit and ask a Democrat to send an e mail to the governor, is way beyond its due date. 

Yet we see this disastrous strategy being applied again and again as the political representatives of the 1% wage war on public services and that last bastion of organized Labor, public sector workers. The latest is Scranton Pennsylvania, another broken US municipality where the capitalist class continues to shift the crisis of their system on to the backs of workers and the middle class. Looting treasuries, selling off public assets laying off workers and driving down wages to cover the cost of the predatory global wars fought on behalf of the US corporations is all part of the war at home.

The Democratic mayor of Scranton cut wages of the city's public sector workers down to the state's minimum wage of $7.25 an hour last Friday because the city is broke.  Unions had successfully gotten an injunction preventing the city from cutting salaries unilaterally claiming it was a violation of the workers' contracts with the state as well as a violation of federal law.  The Union officials would no doubt prefer to negotiate the concessions and that way keep their jobs as well much like Wisconsin where all concessions that affected workers were agreed to.  The only Union demands on the table were to stop the elimination of bargaining rights and dues check off as they would negatively affect the hierarchy who would lose their roles as willing negotiators and their  "seat at the table", while dues checkoff would curb the flow of cash from the member dues base to the Democratic Party.

The Unions are filing a motion with the Lackawanna County Court asking it to to declare the mayor and city in contempt, the Wall Street Journal reports. The Union will also file a federal lawsuit against the city claiming the council is violating the FLSA, the Fair Labor Standards Act. This is the two-pronged attack devised in the halls of power atop organized Labor, file a lawsuit and then another lawsuit.  Unions were not won through the courts.  Unions were illegal and workers could be charged with conspiracy for even discussing the issue of collectively banding together to raise wages and improve conditions at work. The present decline in our living standards and Union power is not and will not be halted through the courts or by relying on the courts or the Democratic Party but with the same methods that built the Unions in the first place, direct action, workplace occupations, a mass movement linked with our communities and independent political action.

The city says it needs to close a $16.8 million budget deficit.  Go to Forbes.com and see how many individuals make way more than that, people that do no productive Labor. The mayor suggests a 78% property tax increase as well as an increase in garbage collection fees. Both these are an assault on the working class but are generally supported by the Labor hierarchy as stop gap measures to fill budget cuts or lack of funds for education until "things improve" but things never improve.  Property tax increases simply divide the working class making the building of a broad, united mass movement against the capitalist offensive more difficult.

Apparently, the majority of the Council oppose the wage cuts but we can be sure they don't oppose cuts in general, they just want to abide by the law and work with the Union officials. One council member opposes them but is all for selling off public buildings and other assets. Pennsylvania has a state law that requires cities to follow contract terms set by arbitration "regardless of the city's financial situation".  This law is being blamed for Scranton's financial woes but this of course is just a smokescreen, suddenly the three trillion or so on wars, the trillions given to the banks and financial service industry are all forgotten.  Anyway, when this law was applied last fall and the state's Supreme Court ordered Scranton to pay $30 million in Labor costs, the Union heads willingly negotiated that down to $15 million. Even when the law favors us, the Union hierarchy never fails to turn help out the boss.  See, why go to far, why push? Keep them their seat at the table and they'll cooperate.

One city official, egalitarian that he is, wants to cap any Labor cost increases awarded through arbitration, "We're not suggesting that anybody's collective bargaining rights be taken away," he says, "...but they need to have reasonable caps on them."

That's no problem for the top Union officials, they don't generally have to work under the concessionary contracts they negotiate for their members. And what good is a right to negotiate when the other side sets the limits of the game. The limits are set by the balance of class forces, capital on one side, Labor on the other.  The role of leadership in this struggle is crucial as we can see.

The amounts we are talking about here are minuscule. The other issue is that public spending is social spending, it is returning the wealth we create to us in forms of quality of life, something that they never did willingly, they have been forced to and the present heads of organized Labor are offering to the bosses on a platter, the gains made by generations of workers and their sacrifice.

Think hard about that statistic I used in the blog piece a couple days ago about inequality.  Six members of one American family (the Waltons of Wal Mart fame) have more accumulated wealth ($90 billion) than 90 million other Americans.

There's a prime source of funds. 

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