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AFL-CIO Offers Feeble 'Civil Disobedience' To Blunt NLRB's Attack on Worker Rights

Disclaimer - The following article is reposted here because it is an issue with some relevance to the IWW. The views of the author do not necessarily agree with those of the IWW and vice versa.

LaborTalk for July 19, 2006 - By Harry Kelber

The National Labor Relations Board could decide, as early as the end of August, to take away the rights of millions of U.S. workers in unions or who may want to join unions, and strip them of their collective bargaining rights and other protections by redefining whole categories of workers as "supervisors."

In three cases, known collectively as "Kentucky River," the Bush-appointed Board will rule whether nurses, construction workers, journalists, TV employees and workers in other occupations should be reclassified as supervisors and denied the right to join or maintain their rights as union members.

The Board has thus far refused to hold public hearings where workers can have an opportunity to provide evidence that they are not supervisors and should not be excluded from joining or remaining in a union. It is imperative that unions exert maximum pressure to force public hearings before the Board acts on the three cases.

To respond to the danger of losing millions of current and future union members, the AFL-CIO called for a "Week of Action" that would promote rallies and other forms of protest in 20 cities during the week of July 10-14.

Change to Win had no plan to protest a possibly unfavorable NLRB ruling. It ran a news story from the Boston Globe with the headline: "Labor fears ruling could hurt efforts to organize."

AFL-CIO's Notion of 'Civil Disobedience'

The key demonstration was in Washington, D.C., with the media alerted that there would be "civil disobedience" action by the protesters. Here is what actually happened, as confirmed by the AFL-CIO's Media Outreach Specialist, Steve Smith:

There were about 1,000 participants, who were addressed by eight or nine speakers during the noon-hour demonstration that lasted two hours. The "civil disobedience" action consisted of about ten leaders, linking their arms and standing in front of the NLRB building to block the entrance for about 15 minutes. That was it.

The labor movements in Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa have a variety of ways to fight against injustice to workers. (Remember the situation in France, where strikes by unions and students forced the government to withdraw an unfavorable law involving the employment of young people.)

Unions in these countries also call "mini-strikes" that can last two-hours, a day, a week or longer, depending on the importance of the issue. Their strikes are rarely limited to picketing; they frequently involve entire communities. Workers, unfairly laid off, have occupied factories and locked out their employer. And they have gone on hunger strikes.

Will the 15-minute blockade of the NLRB building have any positive effect on the Board's decision? And is that the finale of the AFL-CIO's show of civil disobedience? Will the fight from now on be limited merely to verbal criticism of the Board or a flurry of e-mails?

There are still the few weeks in August to reach out to the multitude of people who will be affected by the NLRB ruling and involve them in the kind of demonstrations that will force the Board to pay attention. Will our leaders respond to the challenge?

Our two weekly columns (LaborTalk and The World of Labor) can be viewed at our website: www.laboreducator.org.

Harry Kelber's e-mail address is: hkelber@igc.org.