Is this the Winter of our Discontent?

During the winter of 1978-1979, the suspension of the right to collective bargaining by British labor unions lead to what was called the Winter of Discontent. Gas deliveries ground to a halt leading to shortages, blackouts became common, and in London trash sat uncollected for months. The labor activism of that period ended with the election of Margaret Thatcher, and the hollowing out of trade union power. God forbid that labor, the working class, have even a half of the power granted to capital, the men and women who live by the labor of others. Adam Smith was right:

We rarely hear, it has been said, of the combinations of masters, though frequently of those of workmen. But whoever imagines, upon this account, that masters rarely combine, is as ignorant of the world as of the subject. Masters are always and everywhere in a sort of tacit, but constant and uniform combination, not to raise the wages of labour above their actual rate. To violate this combination is everywhere a most unpopular action, and a sort of reproach to a master among his neighbours and equals. We seldom, indeed, hear of this combination, because it is the usual, and one may say, the natural state of things, which nobody ever hears of. Masters, too, sometimes enter into particular combinations to sink the wages of labour even below this rate. These are always conducted with the utmost silence and secrecy, till the moment of execution, and when the workmen yield, as they sometimes do, without resistance, though severely felt by them, they are never heard of by other people.

For the first 2/3rds of the 20th century, American working men and women fought a winning battle to have their rights protected, just the same as those of the wealthy and powerful. It was a triumph of democracy over the dictatorship of an "invisible hand" that always seemed to be servicing the men with the money over those who worked for a living. Ever since Reagan, the democratic rights of labor have been under threat by a cabal of capitalist, who believe themselves above the law.

One of the protections of the rights of labor that has not yet been taken away is the federal WARN (Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification) Act which requires that:

....workers, their families and communities by requiring to provide notice 60 days in advance of covered plant closings and covered mass layoffs. This notice must be provided to either affected workers or their representatives (e.g., a labor union); to the State dislocated worker unit; and to the appropriate unit of local government.

This law has been being violated left and right during the current economic slowdown, and its been gamed by employers who've pushed pushed layoffs right to the limit required in the law and stopped right before they met the reporting requirement.

Right now, in the city of Chicago, a group of 200 workers represented by the United Electrical Workers union have sat down in a factory where a violation of the WARN law is said to have occurred.

Workers laid off from their jobs at a factory have occupied the building and are demanding assurances they'll get severance and vacation pay that they say they are owed.....

During the peaceful takeover, workers have been shoveling snow and cleaning the building....

This could be a limited event, or it could be the start of something much larger.

In times of crisis ordinary people are pushed to do extraordinary things that they would never do in ordinary times. Sit down strikes, forcing owners to pay up what's due by making very public statement in occupying their workplace for one.

This was how in started in Argentina. Factory owners, claiming that an economic crisis has wiped them out try to skip out on their obligations to workers, and ship the equipment out of country. Workers only wanted their what was owed them: backpay and severances. The company refused, and the workers sat down. It's been a possibility that what happened in Argentina was going to happen here for a while. The question is whether what's happening today in Chicago is limited, or whether its the start of something larger.

And more fundamentally, do we have a government (either the current administration, or the one coming in) that will deem it appropriate to hold all equal before the law?

I'm not holding my breath on that one.

Update

It gets better. More is coming out on why the company, Republic Window, is going under. Hint. It involves the bank bailout.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported the workers occupied the factory and warehouse Friday after company officials didn't show at negotiations brokered by U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., between the company and its bank. The workers say they are owed vacation and severance pay.

Republic said it was closing its doors as a result of Bank of America cutting its credit line....

"It's completely shameless that Bank of America took billions in taxpayer dollars and cuts off credit to a company we believe could have stayed in business," United Electrical Workers union official Leah Fried said.

Un...fucking...believable. The reason that these poor guys (and gals) have to take a stand for their rights is because Bank of America (BOA) is cutting of lending at the same time that the US government is dumping billions of dollars into the bank.

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Comments

Margaret Thatcher

What they don't talk about is the incredible economic pain once she was in office and they just claimed "oh this is transitional" and nothing about it was transitional until her and her thought police were booted out of power.

I saw that sit in and at first thought I was reading about Argentina. Oh yeah, we kind of are becoming like Argentina.

The backlash in this country against working people is astounding. So many do not get it that them are us.

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Well...

....when was the last time you saw the workers get up on their hindlegs and....

Fight Back!

Been a while has it not. I in no way excuse the scum who have 'financialized' our nation into disaster but...

...'the workers' appear to have been too busy watching the NBA to bother with their rights. I do believe that that is changing.

If the Democratic Leader$hip allows the auto industry to fail for the chump change of 50 to 70 Billion it might take to save it while allowing rivers of money to be thrown away at the likes of AIG & Co.....

This will change big time.

The 'establishment' is playing with fire here. Every one I talk to an every bar I go to, that's where a lot political discussion takes place here in the SF Bay area, knows about AIG and their looting of the treasury so they can pay double bonuses and they all know that what the economy does not need is 18 million, EP's rough estimate of the effects of an auto industry flameout, more unemployed right now.

I predict the auto industry will get it's dough, due to public outcry, but after that it's a crap shoot as to what happens next...

Latest from Obama is that there does not appear to be enough 'shovel-ready' projects out there to spend Krugman's recommended 1 Trillion on.

I don't believe that.

Do you?

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'When you see a rattlesnake poised to strike, you do not wait until he has struck to crush him.'

Out of curiousity

What are they saying at your pubs about the situation with the automakers?

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Bailed out to ensure lending resumes

Worse still, the bailout was intended to unfreeze the credit markets. Seems it may not be working so well, Mr. Paulson.

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They got stingy

That's the problem. Worse yet, they're using the money simply to buy up their weakened rivals, and saying that it's the same damn thing.

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Stingyness is the default setting of American Culture

"Give me Liberty or Give Me Death"

Why would we expect *ANY* other behavior from a people descended from those who proclaimed for all the world to see that individualism and individual liberty was more important than life itself?

It's not to hard to see when liberty became profit- and profit became king above all else. If you can't pay for your liberty you're just another wage slave, so building a for profit business became a part of liberty. It's just a short step from there to deciding that YOUR liberty (profit) is more important than anybody else's, and base you choices on that.

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Maximum jobs, not maximum profits.

It's starting....

....the pushback from worker's is on the way.

 

'Worker's Occupy Factory in Chicago'

 

The Upper Tenth and their right wing supporters have awakened the citizenry. When you are told you cannot have a job, a loan and that education for your children is 'off the table...' while AGI and Goldman Sach loot the Treasury you start to question....

 

.....just what the hell is going on.

 

And once you start doing that the Upper Tenth is done for.

Note the ethnic group of these workers.

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'When you see a rattlesnake poised to strike, you do not wait until he has struck to crush him.'