Labor Notes #373, April 2010

Healthy unions should welcome workplace discontent. Stewards can turn discontent into campaigns that build workplace power. Sometimes, though, too much unproductive discontent is floating around. What's a steward to do?

Everyone wants to “be his own boss,” right? But when a real boss says you're an independent contractor, often it’s to steal wages and cheat on taxes. Worker centers are striking back as lawmakers look to haul in tax-shirking employers.

Labor’s campaign for the Employee Free Choice Act appears to have failed. It’s time for our movement to rethink a long-term strategy to change this country’s dysfunctional labor laws, starting by putting modern union busting on trial.

It’s day 58 of the miners’ lockout in the harsh desert of Boron, California. From the pews to the union halls, the coffee shops, and schools, the town has galvanized into a community driven for its very survival.

For eight months 3,000 Steelworkers have been on strike at Vale Inco mines in Ontario, standing against a crush of concessions. They rejected an insulting settlement offer by 87 percent in mid-March.

A 48-day, 250-mile march across California is carrying the fight against the devastation of the state's K-12 schools and vaunted public colleges, once the gateway to opportunity for the working class, to cities and towns hit hard in the recession.

Twenty-one Bangladeshi garment workers were killed February 26 when a sweater factory caught fire. Its goods are purchased by major chains, including H&M. Unions and labor federations are demanding that manufacturers and the government address workers’ safety concerns, but H&M is hiding behind the mirage of self-regulation.

Whether Congress passes a weak health care bill this month or puts the debate out of its misery altogether, labor’s single-payer activists are showing no signs of slinking out of sight. . . .

Walkouts, student strikes, and marches shook every level of California’s embattled public education system March 4. And the action paused only briefly as activists savored short-term victories and set about planning the next wave of challenges to lawmakers and administrators.

The “reinvention” of the “New GM” began with the opening of a lithium-ion battery plant in Brownstown, Michigan, near Detroit. The event not only signals GM’s return to electric vehicles—for the first time in about 30 years, GM has opened a non-union plant in the U.S.

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