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Is It Time for Labor to Return to Its Socialist Roots?

Richard Cucarese

Richard Cucarese Rapid Response Coordinator, USW Local 4889

“I have raised hell all over this country.  You don’t need a vote to raise hell!  You need convictions and a voice!” – Mary Harris (Mother) Jones

Since its inception, the American labor movement has had a progressive, socialist voice aiding in its efforts to produce agreements with corporations that have included health care, pensions, strongly worded language on worker equality, civil rights issues and many more important benefits which some of us still enjoy to this day.

As the decades ensued, socialist ideals like those instituted by noted, founding member of the IWW and five-time Socialist Party of America candidate for President, Eugene V. Debs, came under heavy fire from red-baiters, such as the late Republican Sen. Joseph McCarthy and the late FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.

And as some of those same ideals, enjoyed by millions of American union workers and their families were deemed “un-American” ways of thinking, and as the country, pushed over the years to a much more neo-liberal (aka neo-conservative) leaning philosophy, began to take on a more unabashed, nationalistic tone, the voices of socialist union leaders were banished to the dust bins of history under the ever present oversight of scurrilous government watchdogs, such as the House Un-American Activities Committee.

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The Call for a General Strike

Richard Cucarese

Richard Cucarese Rapid Response Coordinator, USW Local 4889

It’s been only a few weeks since Labor pushed back against the longest, most punishing government shutdown in recent history, but sadly, over the jubilant cheers of victory, the ominous drumbeats of Congress warring in the trenches could be heard again, leaving 800,00 AFGE members pondering if they’ll be furloughed once more.

President Trump’s decided that the ‘Wall to Nowhere’ will be the hill to die on in this inane battle of attrition, government workers livelihoods be damned.  Keeping this in mind, the ominous question should be how much longer will it be before Trump and the entitled imperialists of D.C. realpolitik turn their sights towards millions of American workers, over 40% of whom, according to CBS News data, are one missed paycheck away from poverty?

As we suffer under the grim reality of decades long wage stagnation, no calls for a realistic minimum wage increase to keep the One Percent’s vulture bankers from our doors, nor a social program of Medicare For All, easing the burden of burgeoning medical costs overrunning the populous meager discretionary incomes, the powers that be seem more than willing to shutter government again, leaving scores unemployed, airport safety and security in perilous shape and costing the taxpayers $3 billion to do so.

And while Congress apparently shows no guilt spending an inconceivable $1.45 trillion dollars for 2018/19, to voluntarily spill blood in every conceivable corner of the globe promoting crony capitalism, strong armed acquisition of natural resources and the continuation of imperialistic follies, the long suffering American worker is left sifting through the rubble, limping through countless miles of crumbling infrastructure, closed factories, failing schools, bankrupting college loan payments, mass shootings and scores of broken dreams, leading to shortened life expectancy, drug overdoses and suicides.

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Labor Brought an End to the Shutdown

Richard Cucarese

Richard Cucarese Rapid Response Coordinator, USW Local 4889

With the outlook growing bleaker by the minute for over 800,000 Federal Employees who remained furloughed or deemed essential and working without pay for weeks, a rare sense of elation occurred, if albeit temporarily when the U.S. Government opened for business again on January 25th after the longest shutdown on record.

And although a few media outlets gave coverage to the plight of AFGE members and their valiant efforts to flood Congressional phone lines and the streets of Washington D.C. with their Labor allies, it fell far short of the expanded coverage given to members of Congress who gregariously championed their paltry efforts in front of the spotlights glare.

Although Speaker Pelosi was the face of the battle on television screens around the world, this victory is not hers or Congress’ to own; victory belongs to Labor, especially since, at best, they’re paid minimal lip service by the majority of our nations elected officials.

While some may say this is sour grapes and splitting hairs, it really isn’t when you consider that Labors’ efforts to create a more autonomous workplace, barely registers a blip on the radar of the mainstream media as well and when a network voice champions us, it’s almost immediately drowned out, shifted away from its prime-time slot and eventually rendered useless by corporate apparatchiks.   

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Yellow vests and general strikes

Richard Cucarese

Richard Cucarese Rapid Response Coordinator, USW Local 4889

“The enemies of the country, and of freedom of the people, have always denounced as bandits those who sacrifice themselves for the noble causes of the people.” ~ Emiliano Zapata

In November of 2018, the rallying cries of the proletariat emerged. Protesters demanded that those in power address the grievances of the working class, the working poor and the forgotten masses, who carry the burden of funding the ventures of capitalist corporatists and their special interests.

This is not American streets exploding into rage against the powers that be not seen since 1968. It is, instead, the “Yellow Vest” movement of France, and now Belgium as well. It has taken over the mantle of dissent, which used to exist on our shores.

Americans have bee lulled into a false sense of security that our government would always have our best interests at heart. In the meantime, that government has beaten down workers with Free Trade deals promoting outsourcing, union-busting laws, and civil and voting rights restrictions. All of this has suppressed wages and pitted classes, genders and races against each other.

After decades of stagnant wages, nearly 48% of working Americans are one to two paychecks away from poverty or homelessness, and close to 40% of homeless adults work, but do not make enough to pay the exorbitant rents to allow themselves or their families shelter.

That being the case, it’s a wonder that America is not the vanguard the Yellow Vest movement. 

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U.S. Steel’s CEO is Playing a Dangerous Game of Chicken with the Markets, Steelworkers and America

Richard Cucarese

Richard Cucarese Rapid Response Coordinator, USW Local 4889

With the dog days of summer upon us, many people spent their Labor Day cooling off in pools, heading to the beaches, or just relaxing in the shade without any thoughts of work entering their minds. 

But for approximately 16,000 members of the United Steelworkers (USW) union employed at the mills of the U.S. Steel Corp., the holiday took on a brand new meaning as they prepared themselves for the possibility of the largest work stoppage in the domestic steel industry since 1986. This was in response to U.S. Steel coming to the bargaining table that weekend with a contract proposal nearly as regressive and damaging than ones offered just weeks earlier.

Just three years ago, U.S. Steel was on the verge of bankruptcy, a situation caused by a mixture of bad business decisions, poorly timed austerity measures and illegally subsidized, underpriced Chinese steel dumped onto world markets.

 It was at this time that the Steelworkers agreed to freeze wages over three years and give up the guarantee of a 40-hour work week, reducing it to 32, in the hopes that when the company rebounded, it would reward the work force in the next round of contract talks.

In the ensuing years, U.S. Steel did flourish. This was due to the labor of its dedicated and skilled workers, as well as tariffs imposed by Presidents Obama and Trump.

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It's Time to Get Real about U.S. Steel

Richard Cucarese

Richard Cucarese Rapid Response Coordinator, USW Local 4889

Contract negotiations can be a tenuous experience, to say the least.  And at this time in American history, as a Union, you never know what you’re walking into when dealing with a corporation whom you hope is behaving on a level of trust for its workers.

In the case of U.S. Steel, who at best has a checkered history at the negotiating table, this round of negotiations has proven where they stand with Steelworkers who toil in their mills. 

In 2015, with the company teetering on the verge of bankruptcy and their stock plummeting, the Steelworkers (USW) held fast to preserving many benefits procured during seventy years of contracts with U.S. Steel, but realizing as well that they would have to make sacrifices when it came to wages; thus, freezing them and conceding the 40-hour work guarantee, reducing it to 32 hours over a three-year period.

In good faith, the USW stepped up to the plate to help the corporation reach some semblance of financial stability while continuing to stump for the industry, requesting that the Obama Administration levy tariffs on certain steel products which were being dumped on our shores by China below production cost. 

The USW continued to fight vehemently against the disastrous, 12-nation TPP trade agreement, which, if passed, could have been the death knell for steelmaking in America.

Under the Trump Administration, the Steelworkers increased national awareness, aiding the efforts to squash the TPP, levy more tariffs through the findings of Section 232 against an insolent Chinese government looking to corner the world steel market.

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Make Unions Militant Again

Richard Cucarese

Richard Cucarese Rapid Response Coordinator, USW Local 4889

It’s never been glamorous to be a coal miner, truck driver, steelworker, waitress, janitor or the like, but over the past four decades, it’s been quite an effort to financially survive in these professions.

In earlier times, one way Americans could assuage the combative efforts of corporations that denied them the ability to enjoy a better life was to seek membership in a union, thus ensuring their chances for safer working conditions, better wages, benefits and rights through collective bargaining.

And while in many cases this created a rising, more affluent working class than America had ever witnessed, corporate America, with the assistance of Wall Street, Washington, their powerful lobby groups and certain members of the judiciary were setting the wheels in motion to crush labor’s strides with a tsunami of damaging legislation.

Think tanks were created and out of the bowels of back room meetings emerged The Powell Memo, the World Trade Organization, the insidious beginnings of free trade agreements and the crushing of collective bargaining under the guise of the falsely-friendly sounding Right-to-Work laws.

When the dust settled, labor’s grand accomplishments, which had once been a shining example of how democracy with a mixture of solid, progressive ideals could work, were left in tatters.

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Never Fear, the Free Traders Are Here…Again

Richard Cucarese

Richard Cucarese Rapid Response Coordinator, USW Local 4889

Shuttered plants, shattered lives, broken dreams.  Over the past forty years, this could be the descriptive assessment of millions of American factory workers’ existences.  And while some have fared worse than others, America’s steel and aluminum workers have certainly seen their share of depressingly hard times, resulting in vastly dwindling numbers.

On the campaign trail and during his first tumultuous, scandal-filled year in office, President Donald Trump promised to do something about the inequities on steel trade, especially with China, who has used end around tactics to funnel steel products through other trading nations such as Vietnam and also artificially lowered the price per ton of steel, allowing the dumping of cheap, substandard steel and aluminum onto America’s shores.

Initiating a Section 232 Investigation into the national security threat of losing such vital industries, Trump and his team are finally ready to take action with a possible 25% tariff on imported steel and a 10% slap on imported aluminum products.

After inactively broaching the severity of imports to the sector with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross for many months past their promised target date, the only hope is that the president didn’t take too long in relieving the pain of 17% increases in steel imports, plant closings or layoffs during this time period.

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The Art of the Deal is More the Art of the Dupe

Richard Cucarese

Richard Cucarese Rapid Response Coordinator, USW Local 4889

“Buy American, hire American.”  It’s become President Donald Trump’s sing-song mantra. It’s key to his “Making America Great Again.” It’s part of his waxing nostalgic about how he’s the true master of the art of the deal. It’s key to his tales of storming through the boardrooms of corporate America, causing CEOs to cower in his presence as he mandates that American jobs be preserved, and even expanded, or else there will be hell to pay from him in defense of the long-suffering American worker.

To a weakened working class, it raised hopes that there would be a voice in Washington to resurrect of our beleaguered industrial might. It evoked senses of optimism that there would be no more one-sided, mega trade deals which have decimated our industrial landscape.

But do President Trump’s words hold truth?  From the way he’s backpedaled, and basically shown his hand as being nothing more than a great manipulator, the outlook for the American worker returning to the days of solid employment, strong wages, pensions and exemplary benefits is poor.

Take a look at Buy American for infrastructure.  President Trump came storming into office saying he would tear up any deal, past, present or future, not including a provision requiring American steel, from the point of melting until the finished product is delivered.

Then he agreed to allow foreign steel in the recently approved Keystone XL pipeline.

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The Time Is Now: Let’s Put an End to the TPP Once and For All

Richard Cucarese

Richard Cucarese Rapid Response Coordinator, USW Local 4889

“To sin by silence, when they should protest, makes cowards of men.”

These lines were written almost a century ago by Ella Wheeler Wilcox, in her poem titled “Protest.”  With many social issues being ignored in our nation at the moment, the words still ring true to the ears of the disenfranchised. Ms. Wilcox’s words also hold weight with an issue that can galvanize Americans of all ages, gender and races: the fight against TPP Free Trade Agreement.

There is still talk of President Obama and the ‘lame duck’ session of Congress attempting a ‘backdoor’ vote on the 12-nation deal, which appears to do nothing more than infringe on the sovereignty of all nations involved, not to mention the catastrophic impact it will inflict on an already fragile environment, human rights issues, and the loss of over 500,000 jobs in the United States alone.

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Union Matters

A Few Hundred Million Good Reasons Not to Care

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

Millions of American families are still reeling from the aftershocks of the financial crash a dozen years ago. But a key architect of that debacle, Countrywide Financial CEO Angelo Mozilo, is feeling no pain — and no remorse either. In the decade before the crash, Mozilo took $650 million out of Countrywide, a hefty chunk of that just before the subprime mortgage scam Countrywide exploited started to implode. Earlier this month, Angelo described Countrywide as a “great company” at a conference appearance and declared subprimes as “not the cause at all” of the nation’s 2007-2008 financial wreckage. Added Mozilo: “Somehow — for some unknown reason — I got blamed.” The former CEO is acknowledging that all the blame did at one point bother him. And now? The famously always tanned Mozilo notes simply: “I don’t care.” 

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Every Worker's Right

Every Worker's Right