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Rep. Hilda Solis and the Prospects for Organized Labor

Wednesday, December 24, 2008
The sit-in workers in Chicago (AP photo by, Gerald Herbert)

The sit-in workers in Chicago (AP photo by, Gerald Herbert)

I got an e-mail a few hours ago from Mahmoud Hossam, a reporter for El Badeel, a newspaper in Egypt.  I’m sort of their labor liaison and beat reporter (thanks to Hossam who is an editor there) for America due to my work with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.  He was asking me about Rep. Hilda Solis being nominated by President Elect Barack Obama to the position of Labor Secretary and as well as the prospects of the Employee Free Choice Act being able to get passed in Congress and in getting support from Obama despite the fact that big busniess and its billion dollor lobbyists are in full swing in trying to get Obama to reverse his position of support for the bill.  This is part of my analysis I gae to Mahmoud.  I will link the article to you guys when I get it:

Thank you for taking time for e-mailing me about your questions.  First off, I will start with the Hilda Solis appointment as I am a trade union activist with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (I’m an elected shop steward for the union) and her appointment to Labor Secretary will obviously affect union work inside the United States.

She is born from immigrant Latino parents and spent 18 years in the California legislature before representing the heavily working class and Asian and Latino 32 district in the U.S. House of Representatives which includes mostly East Los Angeles (a working class Latino and Asian area in the city and county of Los Angeles, California).

Her pick is very much welcomed by the AFL-CIO, the main labor federation in the United States and she is rated very highly by them.  She is also very much welcomed by the other main labor federation, the Change to Win coalition and is called a “An ‘Unwavering and Tireless Voice’ for Working People.”

Now, in my opinion, these two labor federations are still too pro-capitalist and conservative for me, but that is for another time to talk about.  The fact is, is that she is indeed a tireless worker for union and worker rights and has consistently voted for workers and unions time and again on Capital Hill in Washington D.C.

The main importance of her nomination is this, Solis is an advocate of the Employee Free Choice Act (H.R. 800) which will be key in building the labor movement in the United States and will make it easier for workers in the U.S. to unionize.

In the United States it is extremely hard for workers to organize a union at their workplace despite it being legal to do so in accordance with the National Labor Relations Act.

In order to set up a union the workers must first be actually interested in setting up a union, but the climate for this in the United States is very dismal as union membership has shrunk in the U.S. As of now unionized workers only make up 12.1% of the U.S. workforce, in 1953 unionized workers made up 35.7% of the workforce.  And even if they do agree to unionize management essentially still has a strangle hold on its workers due to the way U.S. law has been set up against the worker to unionize.

The way to combat this will be with a card check system which the Employee Free Choice Act will do.  Now, nationally, with UPS the Teamsters negotiated a “card check” process which UPS agreed to do in order to unionize the newly acquired UPS Freight Division which UPS bought from a non-unionized company some years back.  Because we have a card check process we have unionized tens of thousands of workers in a relatively short times span in the last six to eight months.  This would have taken years under the current law.

What the Employee Free Choice Act does is allow “card checking” to replace costly and flawed vote drives which take three months to complete.

Now, for President Elect Obama.  While Obama has supported the Employee Free Choice Act he may well differ to the capitalists in the country who cry foul siting that they need “freedom in the workplace” and that Congress can not legislate their workplace as it is essentially their property.  There is already intense lobbying by pro-capitalists groups and lobbyists in Washington D.C. against this act and as well by senators and representatives.  However, there is also equally intense lobbying by the AFL-CIO and the Change to Win coalition and Change to Win supported Obama from the beginning while the AFL-CIO supported Clinton in the Democratic Party primaries.  But, after Obama won he got full fledged support from the unions across America and received money from the unions and from individual union members.  There was also intense speeches by union leaders to workers and citizens all across the country to support Obama.  It will be very hard, in my opinion, for Obama to actually scuttle support of the Employee Free Choice Act as he will be bucking one of his largest base supporters, that of organized labor.  However, Obama may very well support some changes for the bill which will better please the capitalists and therefore create a bill that doesn’t really please the workers or the capitalists but will at least keep both of them at bay.

The trouble, however, might not be with the capitalists convincing Obama not to support the bill but in the Senate.

As of now the Democratic party has a caucus of 56 Democrats, one independent, and one democratic socialist.  Depending on the Michigan recount race they may pick up another caucus member from the Democrat-Farm-Labor party.  But even if they pick up this extra seat they will only have 59 caucus members in the Senate, which is a problem since the Republicans can fillibuster the bill (60 votes are needed to get cloture).

In my opinion Obama will more than likely support the Employee Free Choice Act, especially if Solis is the Secretary of Labor as she will more than likely push Obama hard to support the bill.  If anything, the big problems will be in the Senate if a small minority of Republican senators decide to filibuster the bill.

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