Weekly news update, June 13, 2012

Wisconsin | Canadian pension plans | Davis Day, Cape Breton | Wages and CEO compensation in the U.S. | Iraqi oil workers | Hyundai receives 22,000 applications for 877 jobs | Report on trade union rights |

In a major setback for workers in Wisconsin and beyond, the state’s Republican Governor Scott Walker survived a recall vote on June 5 with a larger margin and more votes than his election in 2010. It was the second defeat to Walker for Democratic candidate and Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett.

Walker’s victory is a severe blow to the Wisconsin uprising of early 2011 when a weeks-long occupation of the State Capitol building in Madison, and several enormous rallies upwards of 100,000 people, awakened millions of Americans against the agenda of the one percent. The movement was set off by Walker’s attempt to repeal the collective bargaining rights of the state’s public sector workers. Achieving them in 1959, Wisconsin was the first state to recognize public sector collective bargaining rights.

The initial struggle against Governor Walker took the form of a continuous occupation of the Capitol Building, mass protest rallies, and illegal strike action by Wisconsin teachers. However, the movement’s focus was shifted to a recall election of Governor Walker while important labour council resolutions favouring a general strike were shelved by labour leaders.

As labour activists and their allies spent months gathering an impressive half million signatures to recall Walker, followed by a primary race to choose a Democratic challenger, Walker’s Republicans gathered huge sums of corporate money from unregulated, secretive SuperPACs and waged a year-long TV propaganda campaign in favour of Walker’s political policies, and against the recall campaign itself. In the end, the Republicans outspent the Democrats 7 to 1. As Wisconsin journalist John Nichols pointed out on the June 6 edition of Democracy Now, high profile Republicans across the country campaigned relentlessly for Walker, while Democratic President Barack Obama did nothing to back the recall campaign, or defend collective bargaining rights – short of a single tweet on the evening of the recall election.

As many labour critics have argued since the recall campaign started in the spring of 2011, the electoral route was a dead-end for workers. The Democratic Party will readily take union money, but is not an ally of labour, and remains one of the two political wings of the same corporate party. Recall efforts redirected the energy of the protest movement into the electoral campaign around a previously defeated Democratic candidate who failed to make the defence of collective bargaining rights central to both the primary race and the recall itself.


Davis Day, Cape Breton
June 11 marked the 87th Davis Day, celebrating the struggles, achievements and tragedies of Cape Breton and Nova Scotian coal miners. It marks the anniversary of coal miner William Davis’s death in 1925, when he was shot dead by police in New Waterford, Cape Breton during an all-out strike of the United Mine Workers District 26 against the British Empire Steel and Coal Company. 150 people gathered in New Waterford for the ceremony, including family members of the Westray mining disaster, a corporate crime that killed 26 miners in Pictou County 20 years ago on May 9.

CEOs and working America
Between 2007 and 2010 the median earnings of working class people in the United States fell more than 4 percent according to an analysis of Census data prepared for Bloomberg media. In fact, America’s wealthiest corporations made an average of $420,000 per employee, which is higher than reporting earnings in 2007, a year before the recession. Even as certain sectors of the American economy have rebounded, wages have remained stagnant or actually decreased.

CEO’s of America’s publicly traded companies, on the other hand, experienced average wage increases of 6 percent last year. For the 50 CEOs ranked in an annual list of the best-paid chief executives in finance, average pay rose by over 20 percent. This comes at a time when Wall Street has shed tens of thousands of workers, bank shares have dropped, and the overall economy struggles to break from the grips of recession and slow-growth.




Harassment of Iraqi oil workers
The trade union network, Labour Start, has initiated a campaign calling for an end to the harassment of oil workers in Iraq. The supposedly democratic Iraqi government frequently interferes with internal union affairs by punishing union activists, imposing transfers, fines, travel restrictions, and other penalties allowed by the country’s labour law, which dates from the regime of Saddam Hussein. Workers and union activists are routinely arrested for demonstrating against oil companies. The suppression of worker rights has been most severe in the oil sector, where the Oil Ministry has worked hand in hand with the oil companies to enforce these punishments.


Hyundai Plant Receives 22,000 Applications For Just 877 Jobs
Hyundai’s plant in Montgomery, Alabama, received over 22,000 applications after announcing 877 job openings. Those fortunate enough to land a job at the plant will receive one of two positions: a production-line assembly job at $16 an hour, or as a maintenance worker at $22 an hour. In the summer of 2011, 18,000 people applied for the 1,800 jobs at a Ford plant in Louisville, Kentucky. That same year, 41,000 applied for one of the 1,300 positions at the new Toyota plant that had recently opened in Tupelo, Mississippi. Last April, when McDonald’s announced it would be hiring around 60,000 workers, the fast-food giant received more than one million applications.

Despite these figures, and the fact that almost 13 million Americans are currently looking for work, U.S. companies complained that they had trouble finding workers, according to a report published by the ManpowerGroup, citing a problem of structural unemployment and a skills mismatch. Economist and New York Times columnist, Paul Krugman, called the idea of a skills mismatch and structural unemployment “a fake problem”.



Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights
The International Trade Union Confederation has released its 2011 survey of violations of trade union rights. As the report emphasizes, workers throughout the world who stand up for their rights as people and trade unionists face dismissals, arrest, imprisonment, and even death. Colombia remains one of the most dangerous places to be a trade union member. Of the 76 people murdered in 2011 for their trade union activities, 29 lost their lives in Colombia. While the Arab Spring has opened the door for free, independent trade union movements, there is still no freedom of association in countries like Saudia Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Eritrea, and the Sudan.

Migrant workers remain the most vulnerable, especially the over 100 million mostly-female domestic workers employed throughout the world. Even in countries like Canada, the United States, and the EU, these workers are restricted from joining trade unions.


Employer pension plans in Canada
The market value of Canadian employer-sponsored pensions totalled $1.1 trillion at the end of 2011, a 3.4 percent increase from the previous quarter. In 2011, these pension fund assets increased almost 5 percent, compared to 14 percent in 2010. Revenues increased to $29 billion, mainly the result of special payments made by employers to cover pension liabilities, increased investment income, and profits from the sale of securities.

To put this in perspective, Canada’s GDP for that same period was approximately $1.3 trillion and the country’s economy grew by just 0.4 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011.


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