Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Labor Power

Reading today that the port strike in LA was settled and that, apparently, the parties had essentially reached agreement when the federal mediators arrived at the request of the Mayor of Los Angeles.

On the bright side of this story is that the related union assisted by honoring the picket line, making the strike effective. That is the kind of utilization of the power of workers that has been missing for too long, and that I have been advocating for more than a year.

Last week I was reading a discussion of the victimization of workers by corporations and the low wages that they are forced to endure, and one commenter asserted that, “we need a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right of workers to organize for the purpose of collective bargaining.” I expected to be roundly flamed for responding that this was another example of waiting for government to do for us what we are simply unwilling to do for ourselves, either through lack of courage or due to sheer laziness. Oddly, the comment generated no response.

This port strike illustrates that we do not, indeed, need to wait for the government to do anything for us if we are willing to stand up for ourselves. Clearly, workers have sufficient power to win the day when we have the determination and courage to use it. This port strike has been a somewhat heartening event.

Less heartening is the crappy reporting that leaves the issue so murky. "...the union's contention that terminal operators wanted to outsource future clerical jobs out of state and overseas — an allegation the shippers denied. Shippers said they wanted the flexibility not to fill jobs that were no longer needed as clerks quit or retired. They said they promised the current clerks lifetime employment."

Clearly one side, or both, is fundamentally misrepresented in that inadequate "he said she said" presentation of the dispute. I'm sure many liberals are quite happy to assume that the workers' side is accurate and that the reporter is lying like a rug about the shippers, but I'm not sure that it is that simple at all. I would like to have a clearer picture of what the dispute was actually about.

Be that as it may, this is the first time that workers have united to exercise power in a meaningful way in a long time, and I am heartened by it.

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