Saturday, 20 September 2014

‘Right to collective action extends to the unemployed who are forced to do unpaid work’

Unemployed people who are required to work without a receiving wages still have fundamental labour rights like anyone else, including to the right to take collective action. This was confirmed by Amsterdam alderman Arjan Vliegenthart in response to a question from council member Maureen van der Pligt.

The question was prompted by reports about intimidation of participants in a work programme who wanted to join a protest against unpaid work.

The organisation Doorbraak argues:

In principle, the right to collective action includes the right to strike. However, until now, welfare recipients have been punished with benefit cuts or ending their benefit when they refuse to perform forced labour. Of course, such a punishment is at odds with the right to strike. Historically, strikes have always been one of the most powerful forms of action of the labour movement. People who perform forced labour could use the same form of action to support their demands.

Incidentally, the Amsterdam government has announced it will end the requirement for the unemployed to work below the minimum wage.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Advice to unions: ‘Stop complaining, start organising’

Hotel cleaners in Manhattan earn $28.50 per hour; three times as much as their British counterparts, Aditya Chakrabortty of the Guardian reports. Why? Because hotel staff in Manhattan are organised and have a unionisation rate of 70%.

Unions in the UK (and elsewhere) complain that many new jobs are low-paid service jobs. “Graduates are becoming not barristers but baristas – and not just for a few weeks but for years.” Chakrabortty argues this criticism is justified but no excuse for fatalism:

First, for the labour movement to recognise that Britain’s major growth industries are in poverty-pay sectors, and then not to try organising those sectors, amounts to little more than an early call for its obituarists to get typing. Second, workers in those sectors can not only organise – they can take serious industrial action.

He points to a strike of care staff in Doncaster and to cleaners who won a living wage after a campaign at University of London.

Over the past weekend, Chakrabortty has been talking to workers at InterContinental Hotels Group. He heard stories about low pay, intimidation and discrimination. This can change, he argues. What it takes is ‘committed, deft organising’.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Fastfood workers plan sit-ins on Thursday; home care workers join fight

On Thursday, fastfood workers in the US will go on strike in over a 100 cities and will stage nonviolent civil disobedience in over a dozen cities, Steven Greenhouse of the New York Times reports. In addition, thousands of home care workers will march alongside fastfood workers, further broadening the movement for $15 per hour into a social movement.
Earlier this week, President Obama referred to the fastfood workers’ fight, adding that if he’d work in the service sector and “wanted an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work, I’d join a union”.

Update - here’s a report on the actions.

Friday, 15 August 2014

How SIPTU organised 12,000 care workers

In an article that will appear in Industrial Relations Journal, Caroline Murphy and Thomas Turner analyse how Irish trade union SIPTU used a combination of grassroots organising, court cases and political lobbying to organise (home) care workers and oppose cutbacks.

The campaign started in 2004 when the economy was buoyant. As a result of the 2008 fiscal crisis, the care sector faced cutbacks and outsourcing. The union responded with intensified organising aimed at creating solidarity among all workers in the care sector.

A crucial element in the campaign was the support of recipients of care and their family members, who participated in public demonstrations. Another element was a series of ‘road shows’ on the restructuring of home care, organised in collaboration with the government. Care workers were entitled to paid time off to attend. The meetings provided the union with an opportunity to mobilise more workers.

Up till now, SIPTU has concentrated on preventing further privatisation of care. An important challenge lies in organising care workers already employed by private sector companies, Murphy and Turner argue.

Article (gated)

Friday, 1 August 2014

Union organizing should be a civil right

US lawmakers have presented a plan for a bill that would make union organizing a civil right. Partly, the bill is about making a statement: “We have a fundamental right to stand up and speak out about injustice in this country”. But the issue is not just symbolic: the bill would give workers the possibility to take meaningful legal action if they’re discriminated against as a result of their union activities.

The Nation, Working in these times

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Ruling: ‘McDonald’s accountable for labour violations of franchises’

In a ruling called ‘outrageous’ by business groups, the American National Labor Relations Board asserts that McDonald’s may be held jointly accountable for labour and wage violations at its franchises. Experts quoted by the New York Times suggest the ruling, if upheld, may have far-reaching consequences, “making businesses that use subcontractors or temp agencies at least partly liable in cases of overtime, wage or union-organizing violations”.

The labour board ‘found merit in 43 of the 181 claims, accusing McDonald’s restaurants of illegally firing, threatening or otherwise penalizing workers for their pro-labor activities’. Another 64 are still being investigated.

Via. Background on fastfood campaign

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

New phase in fastfood campaign may involve direct action

The past months have seen an amazing spread of fastfood workers’ protests over the US and even across the world (last May, see map above). Workers are demanding $15 per hour and the right organize. Last weekend, over 1,300 fastfood workers attended a convention in Illinois to discuss the next stage of their campaign, vowing to do ‘whatever it takes’. This may include direct actions such as occupying restaurants and sit-down strikes.

Inspired by Martin Luther King and by the Justice for Janitors campaign, workers ‘voted unanimously to conduct a wave of civil disobedience actions’. The campaign is growing into a broad social movement:
A video shown at the convention on Saturday morning drew an explicit line between the civil rights era, organized labor, feminism, the immigrant justice movement, the push for marriage equality, and the fast food workers. Speakers repeatedly emphasized the inclusiveness of the fast food workers’ movement, and its commitment to immigrant rights, racial justice, gender parity, and LGBT equality. (MSNBC)
The campaign is already paying off, explained president Mary Kay Henry of service workers’ union SEIU. The union has just signed a contract for 20,000 cafetaria and other service workers in the LA school district that will raise their wages, now often $8 or $9 per hour, to $15 by 2016. The campaign has also put income inequality on the political agenda. Seattle introduced a local minimum wage of $15 per hour and similar measures are considered in San Francisco and Chicago. In the midterm elections in November, there will be efforts to raise the minimum wage in many states.

Meanwhile, fastfood ceo’s earn about 1,200 times as much as they pay their workers. Since 2000, their pay has increased by over 300% while their workers’ wages have risen only 0.3%.