Why Don't We Hear About Labor Issues Anymore?

Last week security guards working at Kaiser Permanente facilities in California went on strike to protest illegal anti-union activities on the part of their employer, Inter-Con Security.  Instead of hiring security guards directly in California, or using a union-friendly security contractor, Kaiser contracts with Inter-Con.  The strike lasted three days.

A few local TV news broadcasts covered the story, and there were a few newspaper articles announcing that there was going to be a strike.  But there was almost no actual coverage of the strike except on progressive sites and labor outlets.  What's up with that?  

Why does the media barely cover labor issues?  


I am proud to be helping SEIU spread the word about this strike.  sfs-234x60-animated-v2

Of course, when I write "the media" here I mean the newspapers, TV and radio that we usually call the "mainstream" media and lots of us call the "corporate" media.  This is where most people get the news and information that forms the basis of their opinions and understanding about what is happening - and why it is happening.  And therefore for most people the information presented by this mainstream or corporate media necessarily forms the basis of their voting decisions, their opinion poll survey answers, and their overall acceptance of and consent for actions conducted in their name by government and other institutions of society.

When things are repeatedly reported in "the media" as problems, most people begin to become concerned and perceive that these "problems" need to be somehow "solved." We see cycles of this development of public concern.  In recent years, for example, the media has done a great deal of reporting on the problem if children being kidnapped.  And there is a great deal of concern about this among parents -- to the point that societal patterns are changing and children rarely are allowed out of the house unaccompanied.  Fewer and fewer children walk to school, go to parks alone, etc.  

In reality child kidnappings are extremely rare, which makes this a case study of the power of the major media to sway the behavior of the entire country.  Over the years similar media-driven concerns about drugs, shark attacks and satanic cults have created waves of national hysteria.

If actual threats held sway, car accidents, guns, and other real threats would receive much, much more public attention and concern.

The other side of this ability to drive public attention is the power to hide real problems.  The national debt is approaching ten trillion dollars, and interest on that debt is approaching half a trillion dollars per year, but is rarely mentioned as a concern.  The military budget is greater than the military spending of all other countries in the world combined, much, much higher than when we faced down the Soviet Union, while a lot of people are making a whole lot of money from it with little public scrutiny.  (This is not even counting Iraq/Afghanistan spending.)  But this is never brought up.

And then there is the problem that labor unions are trying to address.  This is the domination of our government by big-business interests and the accompanying concentration of wealth into the hands of a very few people at the expense of the rest of us.  Workers like the Inter-Con security guards who are trying to organize to demand even minimal pay and benefits are absolutely invisible in today's mainstream/corporate media. The illegal tactics being used - with the assistance of the Bush administration - are not covered by today's mainstream/corporate media.  But what else would you expect, as the media becomes further and further concentrated into the hands of a few very, very large corporations?  Do you think for a minute that a large corporation would allow any kind of pro-labor stories to be carried on news media that it owns?

You hear that the reason for this is that "labor is declining." Well there are a lot more members of unions in this country than there are Fellows at neo-con think tanks, but you sure do hear from them a lot in the mainstream/corporate media.  There are a lot more members of labor unions than there are members of the far-right Christian Coalition, but you sure hear a lot about their concerns the corporate media.  And there are a lot more people who work for a living in jobs that pay too little, don't provide adequate health care or sick leave or other benefits and need to hear about the benefits of joining unions.  That's for damn sure.

In fact any coverage of the plight of these security guards is necessarily pro-labor.  When you hear about their living and working conditions you will understand what I mean.  My next post will be about that, so stay tuned.

I encourage you to visit StandForSecurity.org.

Tags: corporations, Labor, Media, SEIU (all tags)



Re: Why Don't We Hear About Labor Issues Anymore?

The US is less unionized than it once was. I come from a union family, but my kind are becoming less and less common. As our numbers dwindle, so does media coverage.

by 8th District Dem 2008-05-16 06:22AM | 0 recs
Well good news..

In 2007, the percentage of the work force that was unionized rose, largely pulled up by healthcare organizing.  

by California Nurses Shum 2008-05-16 07:15AM | 0 recs
Re: Well good news..

You know, I think this really does underscore the reason why Healthcare is such a huge issue and why Clinton really has a good plan that Obama should incorporate.

Think about it for a second... it revitalized the unions? Thats huge. One issue.

If Obama gets it. Then we've got a real realignment election coming.

by Trey Rentz 2008-05-16 07:41AM | 0 recs
Re: Well good news..

I'd rather he incorporate Edwards' plan...

by LordMike 2008-05-16 08:51AM | 0 recs
I don't think Obama could adopt the Clinton plan

in part. The math for the Clinton plan works, unlike Obama's because it includes everyone in the insured, and because it caps heathcare costs for families at a level comparable to other developed countries which is 5-10%  Right now we are paying much more than that and getting less healthcare, because so many people can't afford it.

Simply having 'choice' is a false promise because many people wont have the money for a plan that really covers them when they get sick so they will not have any 'choice' but to buy the cheapest plans. Then when they get sick, high co-pays or exclusions or low 'usual and customary' payments end up leaving them with huge uncovered bills they can't pay, even though they theoretically 'have insurance'.

Negotiating as a group, with both heathy and unhealthy, will allow us to get the lowest costs.

Otherwise, prices will rise when insurance companies are not allowed to price by risk, causing more and more people to drop out of the system entirely. This will have a similar effect to McCain's plan of eliminating employer-provided healthcare, it will be a unmitigated disaster for working people.

The oft-maligned 'mandate' is the ONLY WAY. There is no way around it.

by architek 2008-05-16 08:52AM | 0 recs

Clinton's healthcare plan is a law to force every person to purchase products from the very insurance corporations who broke our healthcare system--at whatever rate they want to charge.  One of Obama's smartest moves was reject this bad idea.

On a political level--mandates are DOA.  Just look at how the labor coalition destroyed the Schwarzenegger mandate plan in California (although SEIU supported it).  Whether it's Romney's, Wyden's, or Clinton's version, it will never ever pass.  "They garnished my wages becuase I fell behind when Blue Cross raised my premiums."

On a policy level--we know how to fix the healthcare system.  Every other industrialized democracy has some version of a flourishing single-payer system...Medicare for All...replacing insurance corporations with non-profit, universal coverage.  Why not here?

by California Nurses Shum 2008-05-16 11:31AM | 0 recs
Please Don't Say Single-Payer

When I ask people what "single payer" means, they think it means you have to pay all your medical bills yourself.

Please say "Medicare For All."  EVERYONE understands and loves Medicare.  So you start off with 100% name recognition, complete public understanding and a ton of goodwill.  With "single payer" you have to start from scratch and try to explain to regular people what this obscure, strange phrasing is supposed to mean.  

Little things like this can make a very big difference in winning public support.  They have to understand what it means and what the benefits to THEM are before they'll support something.  Otherwise they will resist it.

by davej 2008-05-16 12:48PM | 0 recs
Re: Why Don't We Hear About Labor Issues Anymore?

The truth is ever since Reagan fired the Air traffic controllers their has been an invisible concerted effort by the repiglicans and their Corporate masters to destroy the Union movement and Clinton's Nafta aggreement was the near fatal straw. For example there is no excuse for Walmart NOT to have a real Union is there? What a difference that would make for all amreican workers, right.

by eddieb 2008-05-16 07:47AM | 0 recs
Re: Why Don't We Hear About Labor Issues Anymore?

True -- but let's never forget Labor's decision to let Reagan's action stand is why the Republicans have felt so free -- and been so successful -- to do so.

I work at a union of nurses where we all but have to apoligize to our members for their being in a union. The burden of proof is always on us -- not the management that keeps cutting their benefits, raises and threatening layoffs -- and while I'd like to blame that on Stockholm syndrome, it's worse than that.

Labor failed workers in the 80s the day the Air Traffic Controllers were fired. I can't imagine another country doing that without a nationwide general strike. And what followed was this idea of corrupt, ineffectual union bosses that had enough truth in it to stick -- and enough truth in it that those involved let it stick.

And what's left now is a shell of what Labor could have been.

I remember thinking it ironic how America lauded the Polish shipworkers for their strike because it was against the Soviets pretty much at the same time.

by Lettuce 2008-05-16 08:24AM | 0 recs
Re: Why Don't We Hear About Labor Issues Anymore?

solidarnosch !!

by Trey Rentz 2008-05-16 08:44AM | 0 recs
Re: Why Don't We Hear About Labor Issues Anymore?

I was about 8 when all that happened. My dad got the family Polish "solidarity" shirts at the AFT convention.

I was always convinced it was pronounced "SolidariNose."

And I still, quietly, in my head, say "solidarinose" whenever I hear the word "solidarity." Which, working at a union, means, every 10 minutes.

by Lettuce 2008-05-16 09:30AM | 0 recs
Re: Why Don't We Hear About Labor Issues Anymore?

Unions have gotten a very bad rap, lately...  They are being crushed and held hostage by big business, so their members don't see them as useful anymore.

Part of the problem, though, is the DLC-like attitudes of labor leaders, like the UAW.... who pretty much refuse to stand up to the big companies and let them slash jobs, benefits, et al.  It's no wonder that confidence in unions is at an all time low.

It's not all their fault.  Manufacturers have unions over a barrel.  They can ship jobs overseas at a drop of a hat.  At the same time, I'm tired of union leaders insisting they want a "partnership" with management.... maybe they should start fighting them.  At this point, what is there to lose.

by LordMike 2008-05-16 08:54AM | 0 recs
The right's campaign to marginalize unions?

and working people in general.

I think its also due to globalization. We can't turn back the clock on that, so we have to make the best of it.

This adversarial situation is destructive to everyone. Wouldn't it make more sense to do it differently, somehow.

Employee equity/part ownership...

by architek 2008-05-16 06:24AM | 0 recs
Re: Why Don't We Hear About Labor Issues Anymore?

Thanks for keeping us informed!

I think that John Edwards as Attorney General or Secretary of Labor could bring labor issues to back into the public eye. I'm hoping that he will be involved in the next Democratic administration.

by chicagovigilante 2008-05-16 06:56AM | 0 recs
Why Don't We Hear About Labor Issues Anymore?

The reason is really very obvious. The media consolidation that has infected our entire media spectrum. Add the rights never ending attacks on the media and you get what the repiglican and their Corporate puppeteers want. A shallow sideshow form of "News" pretending to be the fourth estate.

by eddieb 2008-05-16 07:39AM | 0 recs
The Reason Why (not for the faint of heart)

The reason why is pretty simple.

America now stands firmly in an era where, thanks to the Bush republicans, corporations have unprecedented control over American institutions.

Six or Eight media companies buy, schedule and otherwise completely (80% ) control every word you read, image on television, or tune you play on the radio.

Big retailers like WalMart have raked down more
mom and pops than you can count with a cray supercomputer. Well almost. Those crays are pretty sweet iron...

And . Because. The. Unions. Are. Irrelevant.

Toyota's American operations are a good example. Toyota and Honda both built plants and the UAW tried to get in there. But Toyota simply decided to pay the employees a decent wage, and good benefits and the UAW couldn't get their foot in the door.  

Service Industries like computer programming are a big example. There is ZERO labor presence in this market and its rapidly becoming the biggest market.

Basically. And this is not a flame post, but I am just saying. The situation we find ourselves in.
Most labor unions are .. dare I say it. Toothless tigers.

Now the SEIU has an interesting way out of this mess, but I'm not sure I fully understand it. And I know for sure that they've not fully implemented it.

I get it. I know that labor unions have been key to democracy itself. So my question is.

Where will they be in 20 years at the rate they're going now?

And what the heck are they doing to make things better for me, personally (an IT guy).

Or for people like those guys at the Toyota plant?
Over to you!

by Trey Rentz 2008-05-16 07:39AM | 0 recs
Consumer Unions (tongue in cheek, not serious)

The most powerful unions in the future will be unions of consumers because increasingly, work will be done by machines and machines don't strike or require benefits. Plus, they learn permanently. We will enter an age of either universal learning and plenty, or extreme poverty and misery. It will be our choice.

The power natural or corporate people hold will be based on their buying power.

People who have money, 'the investor class' and those with inherited wealth, (most wealth) will be able to use tools like the Internet to organize boycotts. If a company does not like the way it is seen, they will have fewer options in greenwashing than they do now. Eventually, a tax will be placed on communication and everyone who speaks without a license will be subjected to huge fines. People whose debts exceed their assets for an excessive amount of time will be retired. This will make work mandatory, as the punishment for redundancy will be banishment to the polluted zones, where life will be impossible. People will start paying for jobs, rather than the the other way around.

However, consumer unions will thrive. Companies that don't have active PR efforts will end up having to do global damage control. Eventually, we will change from one person one vote, to one dollar one vote, and corporate people will assume their rightful place as guaranteed them under the constitution over 100 years ago. In 2025 the US will nominate its first corporate presidential candidate. Borg.

People, both natural and corporate, who don't have money will be increasingly marginalized and eventually, they won't be able to afford to stay in America. They will have to move to the low-lying areas prone to flooding, which will be cheap because of their impermanence. Or they will become virtual, heads in jars, selling off their organs for cash. They will inhabit virtual places where they can live on their savings, if the healthcare bills dont take it first.

Perhaps the high cost of organs offers a financial vehicle for some people, who would be able to sell their organs in advance, in a sort of reverse mortgage, perhaps to finance a college education, etc.

by architek 2008-05-16 09:11AM | 0 recs
Re: Why Don't We Hear About Labor Issues Anymore?

It's odd, and more than a little discouraging.  I live in Sacramento for crying out loud, and have barely heard a peep about the strike.

I first read of it here on MyDD.

by fogiv 2008-05-16 07:56AM | 0 recs
Re: Why Don't We Hear About Labor Issues Anymore?

I saw an SEIU ad against McCain in TV the other day!  Good work!  We're going to need them more than ever, now that Obama's strangling our 527's...

by LordMike 2008-05-16 09:00AM | 0 recs
Re: Why Don't We Hear About Labor Issues Anymore?

A couple of reasons.  In chronological order, first - Reagan broke the power of organized labor permanently during his administration when he fired the air traffic controllers.  Second, the manufacturing sector, where most union strength is centered, is dissapearing.  I predict that the US won't make ANYTHING anymore in 50 years time.

by jarhead5536 2008-05-16 09:18AM | 0 recs
Re: Why Don't We Hear About Labor Issues Anymore?

We don't hear about labor issues as much because the Democrats are becoming more like the Republicans when it comes to corporate influence. Unfortunately, money talks and Democrats have started to listen.

by tomanderson13 2008-05-16 09:43AM | 0 recs
The Democrats

I'm a Democrat and I'm not like a Republican when it comes to corporate influence.  I don't know ANY Democrats who are.

So obviously "The Democrats" are not what you say they are.

So why would you say this?

by davej 2008-05-16 12:53PM | 0 recs
Re: The Democrats

When I say Democrats, I am specifically speaking of those in positions of political power, not Democratic voters.

If you can not see the encroaching influence of corporate power on Democratic politicians, I'm not sure exactly what to say. Clinton is a perfect example: http://www.thenation.com/doc/20070604/be rman
Clinton's former chief strategist Mark Penn even works for known union busters.

By the way, Nader has spoken about this ad nauseam. Perhaps Democrats and Republicans alike should listen.

by tomanderson13 2008-05-16 03:13PM | 0 recs
Obama is Corporate?

You say "The Democrats" are corporate. Is John Conyers? John Edwards?  Dennis Kucinich?  

Is Howard Dean corporate?  He's the CHAIR of the party.

How about Debra Bowen out here in my state?

Don't give me this "The Democrats are corporate" crap, please.

Some were, largely because WE were not out there aggressively supporting a progressive position, so the public heard only from conservatives.  And politicians respond to the public.  So what else were they supposed to do?  WE were not out there donating to candidates, supporting them, even letting them know that we didn't like what was going on.

That has changed.  We have started finding avoice.  We have built up the blogs.  And we have started building up an infrastructure of progressive organizations that are starting to reach the public with the other side of the story.  (Though very few seem willing to find them even now.)  

And it is starting to make a difference.  So the public is starting to want to see more progressive policies and candidates.

by davej 2008-05-16 03:29PM | 0 recs
Re: Obama is Corporate?


So are you saying that all Democrats are progressives?

"Some were [corporate]..." So are you saying that corporate influence of the Democrats is a thing of the past? Did you even read The Nation article?

Your failure to admit that some Democrats still ARE motivated by corporate interests speaks volumes.

Good day.

by tomanderson13 2008-05-16 03:49PM | 0 recs
Re: Obama is Corporate?

Of course "some" democrats are corporate, and we're all working to change that.  But saying "The Democrats" are corporate is nonsense.  It's say8ing poeple shouldn't bother to vote.

by davej 2008-05-16 07:16PM | 0 recs
Re: Obama is Corporate?


Apparently, this is a case of misunderstood semantics. When I said "the Democrats are becoming more like the Republicans..." you clearly thought I was speaking in absolutes. For me, nothing is absolute, but for the sake of clarification I should have said "some" or "a plurality of".

By the way, I never said the Democrats were corporate. I said the Democrats were becoming more like the Republicans when it comes to corporate influence. Perhaps I should have said some Democrats are becoming more like most Republicans when it comes to corporate influence.

I never intended to hurt the feelings of Democrats or Republicans with my statement, but I apparently did.

In the end, it's healthy for Democrats and Republicans to admit their parties have problems, and I am glad to see such a discussion.

by tomanderson13 2008-05-16 07:53PM | 0 recs
Re: Obama is Corporate?

It was the particular wording that got me going.  In fact I was having the same argument at Huffington, responding to someone who said "The Democrats" something-or-other so I was primed.  And it is something I have written about over the past few years.

In particular see What Does "The Democrats" Mean? and Don't Blame the Democrats

by davej 2008-05-17 12:40PM | 0 recs
Re: Obama is Corporate?

By the way Dave,

I also have reservations about Obama and possible corporate influence.

by tomanderson13 2008-05-16 06:13PM | 0 recs
Re: Why Don't We Hear About Labor Issues Anymore?

I think the real underlying problem with labor struggles in this country are that they are usually confined to our country only.

The market place has become globalized and while we hear big talk from Democrats about "keeping jobs in America," the reality is that when you can pay someone a tenth as much to do the same job in another place it makes too much sense for your bottom line.

If labor is to be successful it needs desperately to become multinational just like the corporations it fights.

Also, regarding media coverage and unions I agree entirely on corporate media working to cut coverage and distract people.  The frame that has been successful by the MSM is has been that labor already has it too good and they are always being greedy in their demands, unfairly burdening American business and effectively pushing those jobs offshore.  It is clearly designed framing to make people afraid of creating conflict, which again points to the underlying weakness of the Ameican labor movement: it only fights in the confines of this country.

by jlars 2008-05-16 09:49AM | 0 recs
Re: Why Don't We Hear About Labor Issues Anymore?
As a health care provider I was able to join a union for the first time in my life a few years ago, which was actually encouraged by the employer - Kaiser Permanente Northwest. It's been great.
So what have we heard from the leading Dem presidential candidate about the value of labor unions and collective bargaining?
by DeanOR 2008-05-16 10:21AM | 0 recs
Re: Why Don't We Hear About Labor Issues Anymore?

This is a good time to make sure the point is clear that the security guards I have been writing about are not Kaiser employees and not on strike to protest any Kaiser actions.  Kaiser has been and is a responsible employer.

by davej 2008-05-16 12:55PM | 0 recs
Re: Why Don't We Hear About Labor Issues Anymore?

Ask yourself why you were never taught labor history (or the people's history) in American History class. Ask yourself why the average working American knows so very little about how to unionize or how unions work.  Ask yourself why, even on progressive blogs, the single strongest element of the progressive movement actually successful in improving the lives of average Americans generally gets nothing more than a yawn.

We've all been sold a bill of goods about unions and this isn't some recent trend.  Back when it was the most damning thing utterable unionists were portrayed as communists, before that lawless thugs, after that mobsters, now as anachronisms.  We are fed the bullshit that unions make workers lazy, interfer with progress, don't really do anything for their members and are all run by fat cats.  We are taught that only lazy workers, unskilled workers or factory workers need unions.  We are taught that unions make this country non-competitive.  

Why?  Because going all the way back to the serfs and the lords the haves will always exert all the power they have to maintain the subjegation of the havenots.  

Without unions (and the threat of unionization) there would be no weekends, no vacations, no minimum wage, no time and a half,  no sick pay, no pensions, no workman's compensation, no workplace safety standards, no company sponsored healthcare ... for ANYONE.  Without unions we would still have child labor, company stores and sweat shops.  

Reagan didn't destroy the union movement single-handedly.  He was but one of an endless string of union busters.   And the average American worker has been duped into complicity, led to believe that professionals don't need unions, parttime workers can't have them and forming one is next to impossible.

Why aren't unions putting up a better fight?  The full answer is complex.   Not enough time or space for it here.  

by grassrootsorganizer 2008-05-16 07:13PM | 0 recs


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