Bloggers and Labor: We Need Each Other

Cross posted from DailyKos

In labor's heyday -- the 1940s and 1950s -- as post-war Americans built the middle class, there were thousands of reporters who covered labor full-time. Today, there are only two full-time labor reporters at metropolitan newspapers in the United States -- Steven Greenhouse of The New York Times and Stephen Franklin of the Chicago Tribune.

This is why labor needs bloggers. This is why the Teamsters are on YouTube, MySpace, Flickr, Kos and MyDD. Because while the MSM prattles on about Britney's shaved head, and Anna Nicole's body, hundreds of cases of unfair labor practices and other incidents of worker injustice would otherwise go unreported.

According to The Center for Economic Policy and Research, almost one in five union organizers or activists can expect to be fired as a result of their activities in a union election campaign. But you will not hear about this statistic in your local TV news or read about these incidents in your local newspaper. That's because the news media are money-making ventures operated by large corporations or local elites interested more in their own political and commercial connections than free speech or the public good.

The issue isn't bias among reporters. It's class. It's about what stories are allowed to get reported and which ones aren't. It's about not pissing off local employers, bankers, business partners and most importantly, advertisers.

The battle going on right now at the Santa Barbara News-Press is perhaps the grossest example of what I'm talking about. Here a battle has broken out over a news staff's ethical quest for editorial independence and a dictatorial heiress publisher who wants to maintain her grip on her community's hearts and minds.

To help them in their struggle, the News-Press' reporters and editors voted last fall to become Teamsters. Publisher Wendy McCaw continues to contest the vote and refuses to negotiate a contract. Instead, she is papering her community with cease and desist orders, trying to get small businesses to take signs of union support out of their shop windows. Just two weeks ago she fired eight reporters and editors for their union activity and for exercising their free speech rights.

It's about control -- control of our language and our public consciousness. In the case of the News-Press, it's blatantly obvious. But in most cases it isn't.

If we read about our city's 50 wealthiest businessmen, we begin to believe that we could reach those heights. Yes, there are plenty of resourceful people who make it rich on their own, and more power to them. But the truth of the matter is, far more Americans will work for someone else until the day they retire than will make a successful living working for themselves -- let alone make it rich.  

If we are told that business and markets are efficient and that government is glutted with bureaucracy, we begin to believe it and support the gutting of education, transportation and social programs.

If we are told that global competition is the cause for layoffs, the reason to push higher health care costs onto individual workers and that pensions and retiree benefits are killing American business, we believe it. Nowhere in the mainstream press will you read that American CEOs soundly defeat their global counterparts in terms of compensation. In 2001 the average CEO earned 531 times more than the average worker (by 2004 the ratio had actually shrunk to 431:1). In Japan the ratio is 10:1; in Germany the ratio is 11:1; and in the UK the average is 25:1. No, it's more likely that you will hear that union scale wages and benefits are making the company less competitive, not the top management's skim.

Even in popular culture, unions and the working class are often seen in a negative light or are nonexistent. Books on labor history are absent from our bookstores. Depictions of working Americans on television or in the movies are commonly negative (with the exception of a few pro-labor movies such as Bread and Roses and Norma Rae). Union workers are routinely depicted as lazy, comedic or criminal. Meanwhile, viewers aspire to the OC, The Apprentice, and Survivor. TV is filled with shows that depict deceit, wealth and individuality as virtues, and teamwork, social responsibility and working toward a common good as quaint.

But I'm preaching to the choir. We all know the MSM is inadequate or we wouldn't be here. And the struggles of the working class did ring through the midterm elections. But these struggles did not begin with the Bush Administration, and this brings us to a bigger issue.

Not only are the struggles of the working class not discussed as current affairs, they are not discussed as historical facts. American classrooms are void of worker struggles. School children learn of Henry Ford's assembly line and his adoption of the eight-hour day, but they are not taught that the struggle for an eight-hour day began as far back as 1836 when the average worker in America worked 16 hours, six days a week. Mass strikes such as the Pullman Strike of 1894, the Haymarket Riot of 1886 or the Minneapolis Teamsters Strike of 1934 are not discussed, the reasons for the mass worker actions or the repressive violence that followed are never revealed.

One of our MySpace friends teaches junior high students. He told me:

When I taught 7th grade history last year, they summed the ENTIRE labor movement up in one sentence: "Gradually workers formed unions and demanded better wages." Trash like this does not belong in a history book. It needs to be replaced with a section on important strikes, education on collective bargaining and workers rights, and the proven wage and benefits advantages of joining a union.

Even at the high school level there is no discussion of how labor unions helped advance women's rights, civil rights and progressive causes throughout history. So unless today's youth grow up in a union household, it is very unlikely they would even know what a union is, let alone what the labor movement stands for.

Progressivism and the labor movement have been intertwined from the beginning. Both began as a response to industrialization and have stood for workers rights and social justice. A strong labor movement is good for Progressives; a strong progressive movement is good for Labor. And Americans have benefited from our combined strength. The DOL, NLRB, FDA, OSHA, EPA, were legislated into being thanks to our actions. Unfortunately Americans have forgotten these agencies' origins and have let them become corrupted by the very corporate interests they were created to protect us against.

The Internet, blogs and social networks provide unions with new hope -- to educate and inform without a corporate filter -- and new allies.

This is why the Teamsters are jumping into blogs with both feet. Not only are we doing more to write our own messages and educate the public on our issues and solutions, we are also contributing to BlogPAC's efforts to create a 50-state progressive bloggers network, and encouraging our organizers and lobbyists in the field to reach out to local and state bloggers. And we are reaching out to our members to get more active online as well.

It is in our best interests -- progressive bloggers and unions -- to work together. We can provide organization, support and mobilization. You can provide us with a voice to broadcast the issues that are important to us both.

And as long as we agree that the working class is underrepresented in the American conversation and in American politics, that the capital class maintains far too much control in the halls of government regardless of branch or political affiliation, then we can return to the days when thousands of writers worked for the workers, spoke for the voiceless, exposed the corrupt and empowered the powerless.

Tags: Class, Education, Labor, Media, Teamsters, Unions (all tags)



Re: We Need Each Other

Excellent post. And you are exactly right about the under-representation of workers' issues in the MSM. Only the progressive blogs like MyCC and Kos are open to the discussion of workers' rights and the trade union movement. Jonathan Tasini's, Daily Blog, gives the best discussion of workers' issues.

Take the Employees Free Choice Act. Virtually no mention on MSM about this most important bill that has come out of committee in the House. The only place where it is discussed is on the progressive blogs. Edwards is the only candidate who consistantly mentions it as a necessary piece of legislation. The Dems in Congress certainly don's seem to be rallying around this most important pro-labor legislation.

Trade unionist need to increase their participation within the progressive blog community. We need to advocate on behalf of pro-labor, pro-worker legislation. If we can't galvanize support among progressives, within the community and within Congress, we should consider different stratagies for organizing workers.  We should realize that the resources that we have consistently given to so called, progressive candidates, could better be spent on organizing campaigns. If the politicians, whose campaigns the trade union movement has bank-rolled, can't deliver for us, than maybe we need to sit-out the election in 2008, and put our money into organizing workers on our own.

John Foster
GCC/IBT Local 4C

by jfoster 2007-02-21 03:30AM | 0 recs
I am going to go one step further

You don't really need bloggers. You can actually be part of the blogger movement. This way there is no middle man.

by Pravin 2007-02-21 09:20AM | 0 recs
Re: I am going to go one step further

We are. The number of union or pro-labor bloggers is growing. But as our ranks increase, we would certainly appreciate any help we could get in echoing our message.

by Teamsters 2007-02-21 09:30AM | 0 recs
Re: I am going to go one step further

agreed. I was not trying to be critical by the way in case my tone came off as abrupt.

by Pravin 2007-02-21 09:34AM | 0 recs
Re: I am going to go one step further

Being a pro-labor blogger, I'm glad to see unions themselves doing some blogging as well.  

Is there an email listserve to keep pro-labor and union bloggers connected?  That would be a great resource for sure.

by Peter from WI 2007-02-21 04:22PM | 0 recs
Re: I am going to go one step further

Yes there is actually. Shoot me an email Peter.

by juls 2007-02-21 07:46PM | 0 recs
Re: I am going to go one step further

"Is there an email listserve to keep pro-labor and union bloggers connected?"

I'm the online coordinator for the Change to Win federation of unions (of which the Teamsters are a member) -- we operate just such a listserve.  Anyone who's interested in getting on it, just drop me a line with your name and the address of your blog and I'll get you hooked up.

by ChangeToWin 2007-02-23 06:37AM | 0 recs
Re: Bloggers and Labor: We Need Each Other

As a former Teamster myself, I agree with you.

by Vox Populi 2007-02-21 11:29AM | 0 recs
Unless you are Obama ...

Who could not be bothered with showing up in Nevada today.  Unions matter in Nevada.

by dpANDREWS 2007-02-21 05:21PM | 0 recs
Re: Bloggers and Labor: We Need Each Other

Someone should do a series on union history and why it is important for Democrats - post on MyDD and Dkos.  I really don't know that much about it.  

Also why expanding unions is important and for whom.   And how does this intertwine with a progressive agenda.  

Just some thoughts. I am supportive of Edwards for his populist agenda but am not as aware of the union movement.

by pioneer111 2007-02-21 08:53PM | 0 recs
Re: Bloggers and Labor: We Need Each Other

2 thumbs up from a CWA member.

by viperlmw 2007-02-22 06:44AM | 0 recs


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