There are plenty of notable labor events occurring at the moment. And by "notable," of course, we mean hideous and horribly depressing. Clearly, management people all over the world believe the stars are in perfect alignment and that they now have a tremendous advantage when it comes to negotiating with their workforce. Naturally, they're looking to exploit that advantage.
First and foremost, at least from an American perspective, is the Chicago teachers' strike, with nearly 26,000 teachers having walked off their jobs. Predictably, the teachers are being portrayed by the mainstream media as greedy (they're overpaid already), callused (they don't care about their students), and gullible (they've been whipped into a frenzy by their militant union). It's positively stunning to see what the media are doing to America's teachers. This once noble profession is being treated with outright disdain.
There's also a strike in South Africa, involving 41,200 miners; Lufthansa flight attendants have hit the bricks; Olive Garden and Longhorn workers have sued their employers for wage violations; American Crystal Sugar workers have been locked out for over a year; a salt mine in Louisiana was shut down for egregious safety violations; and union activists in Bangladesh are under assault (a Bangladeshi union leader was murdered last year).
Clearly, global management feels it's in the driver's seat. And because they have so little to fear, they're practically daring workers to put up a fight, utterly confident it the fact that monied interests will win in the end.
One could argue that the scariest part of all this is the apparent lack of support from the public. Historically, there have always been four components to a strike: labor, management, government, and the public. Each component played a role. While the government almost always sided with management, there was a time when the citizens sided with the workers. But that doesn't seem to be the case anymore.
I saw a Chicago mother on the news, plaintively asking, "What do I tell my daughter about why she has to miss class?" She was furious. "What do I tell her??!" she shouted. It was obvious her anger was directed at the teachers and not at Rahm Emanuel, the smug, bullying, mega-maniacal mayor of Chicago, who, more than anything, needs to have a couple of motivated pilgrims take him out behind the woodshed and beat the crap out of him (Note: we're not advocating violence, only indicating that the only thing a bully understands is force).
Of course, the TV news crew was eating up this melodrama. What a great visual for the six o'clock news -- a tax-paying mother worried that her child's education was being destroyed by arrogant union members. But if anyone on that mobile crew (presumably union members themselves) had had the moral courage to speak up, they would have set her straight.
They would have advised her to tell her daughter that this is a classic labor-management dispute, that what the teachers are asking for is reasonable, that the arguments being used against them are frivolous, and that the anti-union fervor sweeping the country is being orchestrated by evil men seeking to fill their pockets with gold. That's what you tell your daughter. And, believe me, she couldn't get a better lesson than that if she spent a whole semester in civics class.
David Macaray, a Los Angeles playwright and author ("It's Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor"), was a former labor union rep. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org