Gamewatch.org is a new organization founded a bit of a watchdog on the games industry, founded by Erin Hoffman , who shook up the industry in 2004 when she wrote an anonymous letter on the harsh (and illegal) working conditions at Electronics Arts and other video game companies that have led to lawsuits over violations of overtime laws.
A useful reminder that for regular workers, the "knowledge industry" is often as harsh and arbitrary as the old industrial economy-- and a good sign of a maturing consciousness among workers that they need some real discussion and organization to change things. Whether such efforts evolve into anything resembling unions is an open question, but as I always note, the Hollywood unions show that there is no incompatibility between the knowledge economy and strong labor rights.
With no help from Donna Shalala, the strikers at University of Miami won their crucial demand yesterday-- the right to card check recognition for their union from the university contractor, Unicco Service Company. Part of the agreement was that the union would have to sign up 60% of employees to gain recognition, rather than the 50% required to win an NLRB election.
Which illustrates how bad the NLRB election process is. The workers preferred a lengthy strike, a hunger strike that hospitalized multiple workers, and a requirement for a super-majority rather than face the buzzsaw of a federal election, where employers manipulate the rules and routinely threaten and fire workers to defeat unions.
Congratulations to the University of Miami strikers -- a win for them and a major beachhead for the whole union in traditionally non-union Florida.
By Jordan Barab, Reprinted from Confined Space
I'm ust getting around to writing about this mildly amusing and ironic story. NY Times labor reporter Steve Greenhouse reported last week about a proposal by Change to Win (the unions that broke away from the AFL-CIO last year) to get together with the AFL-CIO to form another labor federation that would do many of the things they criticized the AFL-CIO for spending too many resources on: political action, grass-roots mobilization, member education, legislative initiatives, and health and safety.
Change to Win Chair Anna Burger sent a letter to AFL-CIO President John Sweeney on April 11 suggesting they work together on common issues:
Several important pending issues, including immigration, health care, retirement security, labor law reform and the looming 2006 election cycle make it imperative that we coordinate our strategies and resources in the interests of all working people in this country.She suggested creating a "permanent structure"
In a response, Sweeney declared himself "mystified" at Burger's proposal to create "a third federation," and although he supports coordinating strategies and resources,
the last thing we can imagine doing -- less than ayear after SEIU, UFCW, UNITE HERE and the Teamsters voluntarily left the Federation -- is investing time and resources in "cofounding" yet a third labor federation, with all the bureacracy, expense and additional staffing that would entail. And we cannot ignore the irony that the united federation of all unions that you propose...precisely describes the work of the AFL-CIO before the disaffiliations last July.Now I'm not privy to all the inside plotting and planning of all the different sides, but on the surface it looks like Change to Win is figuring out that while greatly increased organizing is essential to ensuring workers' rights, it's not sufficient: you also need to translate some of that energy into policy and political power in Washington where many of the programs are developed and implemented that can help -- or hurt -- working people.
One of those important issues, of course, is workplace safety and health. And although Change to Win unions are doing a good job integrating workplace safety with organizing (in their hotel campaign and University of Florida, for example), they have no political program equivalent to the dearly departed AFL-CIO health and Safety Department (R.I.P.) or even the activities of the remaining AFL-CIO health and safety staff.
So here's my suggestion: Both federations should take note of the life and death struggles that workers are facing every day on the job, and both should established well-staffed and funded health and safety departments -- which could then coordinate their activities in Washington and around the country.
Now there's a crazy proposal I could get behind.