Archive for the ‘United States – economy’ Category

Thousands of high school workers protest in Phoenix, Arizona for pay rises and increased school funding. Photograph: Ross D. Franklin/AP

by The Spark

State-wide teacher strikes are rolling across the United States. What started in West Virginia has spread to Kentucky, Oklahoma, and now Arizona and Colorado. In every one of these states, all or most of the school districts in the state have been closed for periods of up to nine days. Tens of thousands of teachers, support personnel, and other school workers have descended on the state capitals in massive demonstrations of determination and solidarity.

In every one of these states, the teachers have made it clear that they are not just demanding pay raises or pensions for themselves. The fight has included demands for pay raises and protections for all school employees and even other public sector workers.

Broader demands

And in every state, the fight has included demands for increased school funding to improve the quality of education for the students. Striking teachers and other school employees have reached out to the students, the parents and the communities, making it clear that this is a fight of ALL working people for a better education and a better life.

These revolts follow two decades of (more…)

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by Guy Miller

“The beating heart of the labor movement.” That’s how the moderator of the Friday evening April 6th plenary session of the 2018 Labor Notes (LN) Conference introduced six West Virginia school teachers. The teachers were fresh from a historic victory in their unauthorized – and unexpected – strike. The same could be said about the conference itself: it represented the beating heart of American labor. The record 3,200 activists who attended the three-day Chicago conference were living, fighting proof of that

History of Labor Notes

Labor Notes was founded in 1979, just as the attack on the American working class was about to shift into high gear. The three founders – Jane Slaughter, Kim Moody and Jim West – were members of the International Socialists(1), one of several American groups tracing their roots back to Trotskyist origins. Slaughter, Moody and West realized that just creating a “front group” for the IS would result in a dead-end for their project, so they sought from the beginning  to create an organization that would support and encourage rank-and-file activity in the trade union movement.

1979 was the year that Paul Volcker, Chairman of the Federal Reserve, set the Fed’s interest rate to a record high, bringing on what is often called the Volcker Recession. The double dip recession that ensued saw the loss of over a half a million manufacturing jobs, at the same time bringing the number of strikes to a screeching halt. This was under the presidency of (Democrat) Jimmy Carter; things only got worse under the following (Republican) Reagan administration. In 1981 Reagan broke the national Air Traffic Controllers’ strike and smashed their union as well. Meanwhile, the leadership of the AFL-CIO – equivalent of the CTU in New Zealand – essentially sat and twiddled their collective thumbs. The long, slow Thermidor of American labor had begun.

The height of organized labor in the U.S. had been reached in 1954 when 35% of the workforce belonged to a union. The absolute number of union members, however, continued to grow, reaching 21 million in 1979. However, by 2017 the percentage of unionized workers fell to an (more…)

West Virginia school workers defied the authorities and their own union leaders – as a result they won an important victory

by The Spark

Over 20,000 West Virginia public school teachers and 13,000 school employees will get 5 percent raises, starting in July of 2018. How did this happen?

A strike that started in a few southern coal mining counties caught fire. It was joined by other workers and became a state-wide strike. Every public school in West Virginia was closed for 9 days.

In this state where public employees have no collective bargaining rights, over 30,000 people “bargained” by not going to work. They gathered by the thousands each day at the state capitol and decided together when they would go back to work.

Rank-and-file teachers made sure their strike was well organized. When union officials announced a tentative “deal” with the governor, teachers organized themselves to not go back to work. They had no trust in the politicians and wanted everything in writing.

Many teachers had not wanted to (more…)

by Phil Duncan

Teachers and school service workers in the US state of West Virginia are currently setting an example for workers across North America – and here in New Zealand – with a massive ‘wildcat’ strike.  These public employees are defying the bosses (the local state government and governor), the law and the top bureaucrats in their own union.

The workers’ industrial action has been in pursuit of not just their 5% pay claim, but also around worsening living standards due to high insurance and other ‘out-of-pocket’ costs. Teachers in the state are among the lowest-paid educators in the country – West Virginia ranks 48th out of 50 states in terms of teacher pay.  The last time the state’s 20,000 teachers and 15,000 school service workers got a pay rise was four years ago.

They have also been facing rising insurance costs – like other public employees, they pay into the PEIA (Public Employees Insurance Agency) and the premiums have been rising as faster rates than pay has been increasing, thus depressing their actual take-home pay.

As one of the striking teachers reports, “Even with a master’s degree plus 45 credits and 15 years of teaching experience, I bring home an estimated (more…)

by Tony Norfield

Warren Buffett is one of the wealthiest people in the world. He is also Chairman of the Board, President and Chief Executive Officer of Berkshire Hathaway, a huge US investment conglomerate. Looking at Berkshire’s investment policy reveals some important features of the economics of imperialism today and the role of money capitalists. Buffett’s public image as a kindly old gentleman – the Sage of Omaha – who favours increasing taxes on the rich and donates to charitable causes, does not sit well with evidence that he is a predatorygouger of profit. But these are the times in which we live.[1]

Berkshire’s nondescript name belies the fact that it is the (more…)

The piece below appeared as one of the editorials in the latest round of workplace bulletins produced and distributed by The Spark organisation in the United States; we’ve slightly changed the title but left the American-English spelling of the original.

by The Spark

The words are bad enough, but they are symbols of something much worse: the vicious ideas that Trump and others like him try to peddle.

The countries Trump denigrated are all poor. So let’s talk about why they are poor – the truth which demagogues like Trump trample on.

U.S., Spanish and French capitalists stole the wealth produced by labor in Haiti and El Salvador. That’s what impoverishes them.

Let’s talk about the European and American slave traders who stole 20 million human beings and their labor power from Africa. Let’s talk about the colonial system which drained Africa’s mineral wealth to enrich European industry. Let’s talk about (more…)

Michael Wolff, Fire and fury: inside the Trump White House, Little, Brown 2018, pp336, retailing for $NZ34 at  The Warehouse and just over $2o from the Book Depository (free delivery); reviewed by Paul Demarty

The appearance of Michael Wolff’s extraordinary account of Donald Trump’s presidency has already become the pre-eminent succès de scandale of 21st century letters thus far.

The White House response has been trenchant and hysterical, with the president denouncing it as a complete fiction, and the latest in what the book reminds us is a long line of press secretaries reinforcing the condemnation. Legal action is threatened against Wolff, publisher Henry Holt and – not uninterestingly – Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon. It is surely more than mere gratitude that led Wolff to thank in his acknowledgements, pointedly, the libel lawyer he hired to give Fire and fury a once-over. The truth is that Trump has blundered directly into what is now called the ‘Streisand effect’, whereby attempts to suppress some item cause it to spread more rapidly among outraged enemies.1 Even British readers, whose much trumpeted national veneration of liberty reaches no further than the door of the libel courtroom, will benefit from the samizdat PDFs circulating online once Trump’s legal team cast an eye over the Atlantic in pursuit of a cheap victory.

Peculiar

What we find, in whatever format, is a very peculiar book, albeit compulsively readable, droll and frankly horrifying. The sourcing of various anecdotes in here is a particular problem, to which we shall return; certainly, there is a great deal of eyebrow-raising material, which will be confirmed or refuted in the coming months and years. If even a third of it is true, however, Americans are living through some of the most preposterous events in modern political history. Certainly, those looking for evidence that Trump is not what he often appears to be in the presentation of his hated enemies in the media – a narcissistic, vindictive man-child, a demonic cross between King Joffrey of Game of Thrones and (more…)