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They're comin' for ya...

By Owen Paine on Saturday January 22, 2011 03:00 PM

... brothers and sisters of the public service!

It's a historic moment. Last year the lines crossed; now we have more pubsec union workers then prisec -- both in the 7 million range. Amazing!

The pubsec unions are waking up to the horror: "we are alone now... almost."

Much of the corporate McShitski jobholding citizenry, as unionless as a flock of barnyard fowl, see the public sector unions as a nasty cartel made of boneless blubbery parasites, freeloaders, no-shows, etc. -- a menagerie of human vice. And of course this conclave of leeches is also seen as the puppetmaster of the Democratic party, which doesn't do the latter any good.

Yes, it's a terrible unfair soul-draining caricature and to a large extent a figment of ignorant willfulness; but not only do large toonish abstractions make for nice punch toys on talk radio, it's a outcome I blame on the Dembots.

What with the snarling lizardry of the GOP in perpetual motion attacking them, what heros have these poor white-collar geefs toiling in the public interests, if their champions are the likes of inconvenient bore Al Gore and Bobby "miniature golf" Reich? Are these the lead hounds you'd want defending you against the yahoos of business liberty?

It's bad enough we got a president like Bill "NAFTA" Clinton from the state of Arkansas, where unions are non existent outside the walls of Bugrustle State Prison. Now add in endless nanny talk about "what you folks need is more tax-supported spinach and schoolin'" from the mouths of blithely supercilious pompous frauds like Cherry Tree John Kerry. With friends like these the pubsec unions might as well shoot themselves in the head right here today and have done with it.

Pubsec fish must swim in a sea of private union voters, not hope to survive off the preachings of Ivy League Ichabods and furfaced Oxford-trained mutts.

If I were a pubsec union leader I'd be setting up a private sevice sector equivalent of the glorious Committee for Industrial Organization. Much as the miners' money funded the steel and auto organizing drives, the pubsec guys and gals need to fund organizing drives aimed at Walmart, Best Buy and Freshdirect, the big national restaurant chains, the counter, cashier and table server class.

Comments (45)

Op-san, you'd make a very fine swinger of Al Shanker's old gavel! Alas, his old operation is 97 percent owned by the Dimbots. The "political action" newsletters I receive from them are 100 percent get-out-the-vote, lobby-the-ledge, pure narrow-minded Dimbot claptrap.

As for the discretionary money, well, you know where that's going.

It's easy for me to say that in the abstract, the destruction of the public sector organized labor movement is a bad thing.

On a personal level, I think of the bullies, dimwits, and various all-around assholes that I frequently worked with (or against) in my days as a Government clerk. It's hard for me to care very much that they'll be robbed blind now along with the rest of us.


No doubt we can all agree that unions are a Good Thing, public or private, and that their ongoing evisceration is a Bad Thing. Owen's point is a slightly different one, if I understand him correctly: to wit, that pubsec unions don't have a prayer of survival without extensive prisec unions. Unfortunately, the unions have retreated over time to their supposedly impregnable pubsec strongholds, and let their prisec outworks be re-taken, one by one; and so they now stand naked to their enemies -- and ours. They were promised, and for a while given, a Seat At The Table; and so, as an old friend of Owen's and mine used to say, they went for the okey-doke, and now they're waking up in the Barack Obama Bondage Dungeon.


I already mentioned this over at the Drunken Pundit's place as well, but I figure that as usual it will probably play out that those at the top -- who were most responsible for the shittiest of the shit decisions-- will suffer least when the whole thing comes down.


OP's post struck me as the wishiest of wishful thinking, like a wallflower running after a drunken lout at the end of the dance.

Maybe we have to think the unthinkable -- that unions are not the solution. There are many ways into the subject, among them the anarchist objection that any top-down organization is suspect, or liable to be co-opted. Another would be the disproportionate power of the state and private enterprise over their respective worker sectors. A third might be the heretofore invisible figure of a large scale pissed off public, spontaneously moving to resistance, boycott, trouble-making, as in Tunisia, Egypt, etc. I mean, Cripes, aren't we oppressed enough yet?

Huh. I guessed I missed the bulletin in which Unionization and Anarchy could do nothing but work at cross-purposes. Is there any rule that states labor organization only functions when it's top-down, senecal? Not that I've ever claimed to be a huge expert, but...

Big Bill Haywood and the real Mother Jones scared rich people.

I don't recall them worrying whether or not the folks with the red cards worked for Town Hall or the railroad.


ms zeno: I was shorthanding a general attitude about labor. How many union histories can you name that remained democratic, that didn't become conservative to the point of excluding their own brothers, that were able to bridge generation and salary gaps, that didn't finally identify their interests with the interests of their employers? I'm happy to be corrected.

I don't think the problems you're describing are endemic exclusively to unions, senecal. I think they have more to do with scale. The smaller and more local a movement is, the easier it should be for its originators to stay in control of it and to protect their own interests.

David H:

On a personal level, I think of the bullies, dimwits, and various all-around assholes that I frequently worked with (or against) in my days as a Government clerk. It's hard for me to care very much that they'll be robbed blind now along with the rest of us.

Yes, because disagreeable people don't deserve to make a decent wage & retire in semi-comfort. Only the people we like deserve that.

And anyway, we should all be good workers, do what the boss says, make sure the chairmen get as much money from our work as possible. It's a crime to steal company time, don't you know.

The problem with union leaders of any stripe is that they aren't working for workers, they're working for themselves. They prefer to not rock the boat, because that pisses of their confreres in management, i.e. the bosses of their workers.

Only when the actual workers, who still actually work, run the unions will they be able to effect any real change. When you've got careerists running unions, they want things to run smoothly. Conflict threatens their jobs.


Practically speaking, how does OP imagine public employees could form unions? Are there not legal barriers against them at the national level? How about cultural/economic differences between, say, California prison guards (hugely influential in California politics and handsomely paid) and overworked, underpaid unemployment workers? Not arguing, just asking.

David H.:

Yes, because disagreeable people don't deserve to make a decent wage & retire in semi-comfort. Only the people we like deserve that.

Dude, I already explained that I differentiated my personal feelings from the concept of what is the right and/or wrong thing to do for employees.

While the money working under Big Labor's aegis was very nice, the majority of the people I worked with are a huge reason why I don't work there anymore. I might add that a number of them either paid no attention at all to labor issues, or were actively hostile to them. Yep. Even in this here supposed "progressive" stronghold.


Great comments
For anarcho syndicalists you are quite open to discussion
Better then as anarch nihilists
Despite a certain well warranted
Scepticism about business unionism
I might note unions played an important role in the recent eventsv
In Tunisia despite top down power
As instruments of the class struggle they are indeed more like a archubuss then an ak 47

But we use what the culture and context provide
I prefer that to waiting in my electronic cave till the rev comes...or peak resourcary turns to resource famine and road warrior world
Smog shrouded poisoned road warior world


Big bill I love the guy crow bird
I wish u and I ciould beam back to the lux hotel in Moscow to chat with him
From a fairly careful review of IWW events I submit st John was prolly a better
Union administrator and several other IWW orgers better at on the ground orging
But none equal his charisma and phrase making skills as a gait prop journalist he is peerless in his era


It is perplexing to me what sen is after suggesting pub sec unions face legal barriers organizing private sector jousters
As to the organization that might serve as the conduit for fund flow from pub sec dues payers to some sort of committee for service and commercial organization
Why is the CIO paradigm used by the united miners and amalgamated clothiers
Back in1935 dated ?


Sen u are on the mark about the gap between the pri sec jousters
And union pub sec jousters
This is the point of
Union public Fish
H must swim in a sea of organized citizens


The most successful private sector unions are typically in industries where labor is already very specialized, and somewhat irreplaceable, like the NFL. I've seen SEIU hotel employees striking every week for the past nine years and while admirable for their determination, it's just kinda sad to watch now.

Public sector unions should really not be considered unions any more than lions and tigers in the zoo should be considered "wild animals". Let's see em strike, for instance. Or raise a poop about their salaries being frozen for two years. They bitch about things like cubicle dimensions and who gets the new computers.

When I worked at the state level they could be a bit more militant, but they'll still suck up a third furlough day rather than be thrown to the wolves.


OP: I re-read your original post. It's actually pretty smart. You're not saying this is the way to general revolution, just that pub sec folks better do something or you're going down.

I'm a little nervous about my skepticism about unions, but most of the commenters here seem to share it. I can never forgive George Meany for supporting the Vietnam war. (Al Shanker too, as I recall.)

The big question is: are unions progressive or parochial?


I notice a vague post kold war softening of unions on Hawk vs dove issues
Openly anti corporate expansionism only takes the form of protectionism
And wretched xenophobic chink and wot baiting
Not fingering the trans national escapades of their own
Employers of the membership
Like gm and ge
Events have
Have dealt roughly with meanyites since 72
But they die hard not always a bad organizational
Trait looked at formally
We need to continue to try the rebuild the union movement
Hisitory indicates brief moments where these dinosaurs roar the will of the entire job class
Not just the labor aristocracy


Top down meets bottom up
In real moments of advance
The CIO suggests it isn't a case of either or


Those who cling to the glorious IWW as paradigm not the cir in it's hay day
I think miss clio's lessons

Lewis is prolly more useful to study then crow and me's fave
Wild bill

The cio's arch from 34 to 56 tells many tales we can still learn from


If we must have Herod I nominate harry bridges


This fucking iPad creates Brits
Heros comes out herod


Seiu uses a strategy that hugs closely to uncle and other state dependent sectors
Like home care workers and nursing homes hospitals
In general taking on non profits with large state fundingnworks just like the hard hat construction unions found out 120 years ago


Non profits and gub contractors

The kold war saw thiis spread to weapons manufacturing of course
A source of labors support for the security planet hegemony role


OP - Don't think these dinosaurs can be rebuilt.

Ultimately, it comes down to can you last longer without a job than your employer can last without you performing it. The employer is only measuring it in cost/benefit terms. and they call the shots (and sometimes call in people to take them).

Two unavoidable social changes since the zenith of union power in the mid-20th century.

1) Shift from industrial manufacturing to service based industries that don't pay time and a half for overtime and have built-in excess capacity in the form of a 40-hpw salaried staff. Much easier to deal with temporary or cyclical fluctuations in output (jobless recoveries anyone?)

2) Savings rate falling and indebtedness increasing for the average worker in a straight line since the end of the Great War. A high savings rate would solve many more ills than a thousand A. Philip Randolphs. Your typical company has about 1-2 months of inventory and 2-3 months of cash before they start really hurting. With 1/2 of U.S. workers living paycheck to paycheck and no social safety net the game is over before it begins.

Fed union member me-self since 1996. I work with these ladies and gents. They mean well, but they don't have a chance. Very lucky we didn't get furloughed this time around. Barry actually did them a favor by redirecting to a pay freeze.


Unions dinosaurs? As trade orgs for merit burghers and trade proles, certainly. For the reasons you outline, among others.


The concept itself deserves a much needed broadening, again.

Nothing wrong with reapplying the concept to rent and housing, medical care and food distribution, as a start.


U outline some real developments
But none preclude job site organization
Now or in the future

The outcome of any struggle over wage share out of a firm or industry
Value added is hardly pre ordained

As to the thrift rx that is an insult really though Im certain it's not intended as such

Crow is of course correct
But to give up the shop floor struggle is true folly
No doubt the corporations like walmart love such discouragement


Fatalism about on the job organizing is very much like we're doomed resource finitude yarns

Both comfort the inactive


superb piece
great link

ought to be a post here
sage like comments from
father revolution himself

the student camp out paperaround the pm's office
and the take over of the french language paper are delightfully apt
as is the reactionary quotes
the shuttered shops and the rock fest contra the security forces

these security forces need to be gingerly tested and pushed into isolation and dissertions
just as theapparently neutral army
needs mass fraternization
encouraged to conduct barracks room
" jasmine rev" pledge ceremonies

the rev hangs forever in the balance so long as the struggle continues to spread and at key points intensify
fresh scenes of struggle need to be conjured
keep the drama lively
and alas don't avoid the strategically useful trickle of heroic blood


"fresh scenes of struggle need to be conjured
keep the drama lively"

Nice conclusion to a lively thread.


Someone mentioned professional players' unions above. I believe one of the sports is about to go through a "negotiation" with threatened strike. These struggles of arrogant ownership with pampered superstars gives the concept of unions an ugly coloring. Contrast the French style of situationist student demonstrations supporting in your face strategic industry strikes -- now there's a promising mix of spontaneity and structure!

Of course, the bourgeois Sarkozy and the Frenchman fearful of losing his two-week holiday, faced them down.


"...These struggles of arrogant ownership with pampered superstars gives the concept of unions an ugly coloring"
i'm not so sure its clearly that way

other more humble unions in general
have had good success recruiting support
from players associations

i think u are a bit too strong
about these talented folks
after all they get their major share of the rent flow out of what otherwise would go
to the owners of franchise rights

total team revenue
is strictly demand determined

broadcasting and cable rights
sky rocketed in market value
between 1960 and 1990
stadiums have not increased capacity
in step with local populations etc etc

pampered ?

i'd suggest you look at the physical condition of these guys at age 45 -55

a price is paid
my hero dick butkus is the poster boy on this


old bill vickrey had a nice playful and fanciful
graph of the "utility" effect "
on a subject
that is associated with
the income change of various "others"

ultra low income deserving poor getting more was positive and it went down from there becoming negative at the subjects present level of income
and continuing down and down
exceptions ??

undeserving poor
on the down side
and charismatic folks on the up side

his choice as example of the charismatic types
the queen mother
--he was a canadian after all---
though not gordie howe
--who was screwed by the way--


for lots of humble spirits of moderate to low income
their particular sports music and movie
favorites getting big money
creates most certainly a vicarious glee


i take dave letterman's maxim to heart

in any employee employer scrap
i'm unconditionally
for the employees .....1000 %


"student demonstrations supporting in your face strategic industry strikes -- now there's a promising mix of spontaneity and structure!"

there was a fleeting moment ...


but i hardly attribute that moments glow to
manque class clashing by boho students

as much as any anti establishment frolic
appeals to my better nature

one needs to ponder what separates france then and tunisian now eh ???

are they not all people in both cases ???
cut them ...any of them..
do they not all bleed ??

whence the big diff ??

i'm sure we all have our answers
but never a time waste to review them



latest news from MSM inc

general bluto el haden

" mobilized kids of tunisia
pipe down go home or blow it "

fuck him

audacity ever audacity
take the hearts and minds of his enlisted men away from him
if you can't... all is lost


"Caravans of hundreds of demonstrators arrived in Tunis over the weekend from the impoverished southern provinces where the revolution began. Defying an 8 p.m. curfew, they set up camp for the night in the Old City square between the prime minster’s office and the Finance Ministry.

Witnesses said that the tried to disperse the rowdy crowd with water cannons and tear gas early Saturday, but the Tunisian military intervened to protect the demonstrators and hold back the police — continuing the role it has played since Mr. Ben Ali fled.

On Monday, an army officer stationed in the square, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, said it was “very difficult” to restrain the police every day. He said he hoped the holdover ministers from the old ruling party would soon resign so that revolution could end happily"

fuck him too.... the well meaning prat


The difference between France and Tunisia -- a middle class. Plus, a union with muscle in France. Not saying that the teachers and students won't succeed. But as a learning model, Tunisia's all spontaneity and little structure is less relevant to us.

On the other hand, maybe we're irrelevant to them, and even life on earth.



a voice from the top of the union heep
aimed down at the base level cadre
go out and find friends


NYT article on Tunisian general paints him as a moderate middle voice, protecting the demonstrators from the police, while also asking them to calm down and let the interim government proceed, even while it's falling anyway." I can imagine worse military postures.

Seems possible that the Tunisian revolution (called "ours" by members of the military itself), will really clean house and lead to some kind of democratic government -- a rare result and maybe a harbinger for the area.

At the same time, Hizbullah's candidate in Lebanon wins the right to form a government, but there a peaceful outcome is problematic.


i see a chance of more then reform rectification we got some of that in the phil
recall the marcos fall
or the fall of honnecker
or any color rev
as mjs noticed as a cross check... with distain

or the might have been of tianamen

if there hadn't been so much sand
the veins of antique wizard deng

reform as the probable path of deep crisis
is indeed a shifting of the class plates
but a rev ...


even our founding egg head
talks in manic moments of watering the tree of liberty with blood

to prepare for violence
to not flinch at violent prospects
to value each head but not throw away
a generation of big change perhaps global change
to avoid themashing of that good head
or the spilling of good blood ...

tragedy as craved drama
has its real origins
in the contradictions
of our existence

the condition
of our human condition

i was deeply fluxed by the quida contrast
between a mission devoted to a holy death
as an addiction to a happy life

i myself am totally addicted to a happy life
on some level or other

but i'll not try to debunk that higher standard
in those who do have it
even in a cause i know to be misbegotten

hizzy power is at least in part based on a willingness of many members to die for the cause

contrast that to our blubbery warrior cult
over a few caskets draped in ole glory


"tragedy as craved drama
has its real origins
in the contradictions
of our existence"

I'm shocked! Giving up Clio for Melpomene?

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