Celebrating working-class victories and preparing for the fight ahead, Cleveland Jobs With Justice held its 13th Annual Spring fundraiser May 17.
Larry Cohen, President of the Communications Workers of America, keynoted the event denouncing backward U.S. labor law and calling for deepening and broadening the coalition of labor and its allies that is embodied in JwJ.
The several hundred present gave a long and emotional standing ovation as workers at Hugo Boss, members of Workers United, were recognized for stopping the company’s attempt to close its men’s suit plant in Cleveland.
A video was shown depicting the successful effort led by Cleveland JwJ to compensate workers at InkStop, Inc., which abruptly shut stores throughout the country without paying employees for three weeks of work.
Workers at InkStop had no union, but fortunately, Jobs With Justice was able to stand up for them, Cohen said.
The U.S., he said, is at the bottom among industrialized countries when it comes to bargaining rights for workers.
“Nowhere else in the world are workers forced into adversarial elections with companies when they try to organize unions.”
In nearly every other major economy collective bargaining rights are established when a majority of workers sign union cards, he said.
Because of the backward laws, only 12 per cent of U.S. workers are in unions, comparable to the level of unionization in countries like Indonesia and Turkey, but far below Western Europe and Japan. In Norway the figure is 90 per cent, in Germany it is 76 per cent.
“Can you imagine what it would mean if we were even twice as strong as we are now? Think of any issue – health care, education, anything – we would be much farther along than we are now.”
The Employee Free Choice Act, which would correct this situation, has so far been blocked mainly by the Republicans in Congress, he said, but there are also grounds for hope.
“Thanks to President Obama, we now have the best National Labor Relations Board in decades,” he said, “and there is great hope with Hilda Solis in charge of the Labor Department.”
But, especially when workers don’t have rights they can’t act alone and they “can’t play by the rules,” he said.
He cited his union’s successful fight to organize Continental Airlines that involved shutting down terminals with slow driving traffic, clogging ticket lines at airports and jamming the company’s reservation phone lines. This involved both labor and its community supporters.
“Just like the workers at Hugo Boss, we can never give up. We must continue to organize. We must continue to stand up.”