Unions and Bargaining Over Pay

Tiered Wage Contracts Are How Bosses Screw Union Workers

Tiered wage systems create separate pay and benefit tracks depending on when an employee is hired. It’s used almost exclusively in union workplaces, and pits workers against each other.

By Ian Kullgren, Bloomberg Law

Thousands of John Deere workers have been on strike for more than a month. Nearly 1,500 Kellogg’s workers likely will celebrate Thanksgiving on the picket line. More than 30,000 Kaiser Permanente workers narrowly avoided a strike this week through an 11th-hour deal with management.

The common thread? Tiered wage proposals that help companies cut costs but that unions say cheat new workers out of pay and retirement benefits.

At John Deere and Kaiser, organized labor prevailed in stripping tiered wage systems from the proposals during collective bargaining sessions—a big victory, but one that required each union to flex the nuclear threat of a strike.

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Nicaragua Elections

Nicaragua: Chronicle Of An Election Foretold

After silencing the opposition, Daniel Ortega claims victory for a fourth consecutive term.

By William I. Robinson, Nacla

With seven opposition presidential candidates imprisoned and held incommunicado in the months leading up to the vote and all the remaining contenders but one from miniscule parties closely allied with President Daniel Ortega and his Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), the results of Nicaragua’s November 7 presidential elections were a foregone conclusion. The government declared after polls closed that Ortega won 75 percent of the vote and that 65 percent of voters cast ballots. The independent voting rights organization Urnas Abiertas, meanwhile, reported an abstention rate of approximately 80 percent and widespread irregularities at polling stations around the country

The vote was carried out in a climate of fear and intimidation, with a total absence of safeguards against fraud. In a complete breakdown of the rule of law, Ortega carried out a wave of repression from May to October, leading the opposition to issue a joint statement on October 7 calling for a boycott of the election. Several dozen opposition figures—among them, presidential candidates, peasant, labor, and student leaders, journalists, and environmentalists—were arrested and detained without trial, while several hundred others were forced into exile or underground.

Among those exiled were celebrated novelist Sergio Ramirez, who served as Ortega’s vice president during the 1980s revolution. While the government charged Ramirez with “conspiracy to undermine national integrity,” his crime was provoking the ire of the regime by publishing his latest novel, Tongolele No Sabía Bailar, a fictionalized account of the 2018 mass protests that marked the onset of the current political crisis and the degeneration of the regime into dictatorship. The book was promptly banned in the country, with customs authorities ordered to block shipments at ports of entry.

The repression particularly decimated the left-leaning opposition party Democratic Renovation Union (UNAMOS), formerly called the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS). The MRS was formed in 1995 by Ortega’s former comrades in arms who either left the FSLN after the failure of their efforts to democratize it or were expelled for challenging Ortega’s leadership of the party.

Among those UNAMOS leaders arrested and to date held incommunicado are legendary guerrilla commanders Dora María Téllez and Hugo Torres, as well as deputy foreign minister in the 1980s, Victor Hugo Tinoco, and party president Ana Margarita Vigil. Amnesty International condemned such detentions and incommunicado conditions as “enforced disappearance as a strategy of repression.”

As part of the crackdown the government also banned 24 civic organizations and professional associations—in addition to some 30 that it had previously banned, including three opposition political parties. The majority of these 24 organizations were professional medical guilds that had come under fire for criticizing the regime’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, including reporting that the government had concealed the number of infections and deaths. Vice President Rosario Murillo accused doctors of “health terrorism” and of spreading “false outlooks and news” on the impact of the contagion.

During the early months of the pandemic the government convened mass public events under the banner of “Love in Times of Covid.” Nicaragua, together with Haiti, has the lowest rate of vaccination in Latin America, with only 4.9 percent of the population inoculated as of October.

In late 2020, the Sandinistas decreed a spate of laws that allows authorities to criminalize anyone who speaks out against the government. Among these are a Cybercrime Law that allows fines and imprisonment of anyone who publishes in the press or on social media what the government deems to be “false news.” Meanwhile, a “hate crimes” law allows life sentences for anyone considered to have carried out “hate crimes,” as defined by the government. Among the varied offenses listed by Sandinista prosecutors for the recent wave of detentions are “conspiracy to undermine national integrity,” “ideological falsehood,” “demanding, exalting, or applauding the imposition of sanctions against the Nicaraguan state and its citizens,” and “using international funding to create organizations, associations, and foundations to channel funds, through projects or programs that deal with sensitive issues such as sexual diversity groups, the rights of Indigenous communities, or through political marketing on topics such as free expression or democracy.”

A week before the vote, Ortega proclaimed that his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, was henceforth the “co-president” of the country. While his bizarre declaration has no legal basis or constitutional legitimacy, it was widely seen as a move to anoint her as his successor—the 76-year-old Ortega is known to be in ill health—and a further step towards the rule of a family dynasty. The ruling couple’s eight children already serve as advisors to the presidency and manage the family’s empire of private and ostensibly public media outlets, investment funds, and family businesses.

A mid-October poll by CID-Gallup—an independent pollster that has been conducting political opinion surveys in the country since 2011—found that 76 percent of the country’s electorate believed the country was moving in the wrong direction. The poll reported that 19 percent of the electorate planned to vote for Ortega, 65 percent stated they would favor an opposition candidate, and 16 percent remained undecided. A rival pollster contracted by the FSLN, M&R, showed Ortega with nearly 80 percent support.

While all polls should be assessed with caution given the methodological limitations to surveys conducted amid political instability and civil conflict, it is noteworthy that Ortega’s support dropped to 19 from the 33 percent support reported by a CID-Gallup survey conducted in May of this year, which in turn was down from the high point of popular support for Ortega, 54 percent, registered in CID-Gallup’s 2012 poll.

Now that the votes have been cast, it is impossible to get accurate figures for the results given that the Sandinistas control the Supreme Electoral Council and exercise a near absolute control over reporting on the results. In addition, independent foreign observers were banned, and the threat of repression has dissuaded journalists and civic organizations from speaking out.

Ortega will now start his fourth consecutive term in office since the FSLN returned to power in 2007 in the midst of economic and political crisis. With its legitimacy shattered in the aftermath of the 2018 mass uprising and its violent repression, the regime has to rely more on direct coercion to maintain control. After the economy contracted each year from 2018 to 2020, the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America estimates a 2.0 percent growth rate for the current year and 1.8 percent for 2022—not enough for the economy to recover from the three-year tumble.

As the crisis has intensified, the number of Nicaraguans trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border climbed to historically unprecedented levels to exceed 50,000 this year, compared to just a few thousand in 2020. These numbers are in addition to the 140,000 who had already fled into exile since 2018, mostly to Costa Rica.

The International Left Remains Divided on Nicaragua

The international left remains divided on the Nicaraguan crisis, with some among it arguing that the Ortega-Murillo regime represents a continuation of the 1980s revolution and that the United States has been attempting to overthrow it. However, as I showed in an earlier NACLA article, there is little evidence to corroborate the claim that the 2018 mass uprising was instigated by Washington in an attempt to carry out a coup d’état against the government, or that the United States has since carried out a destabilization campaign aimed at overthrowing the regime.

The Ortega inner circle hacked its way into the ranks of the country’s elite in the aftermath of the 1980s revolution and launched a new round of capitalist development starting in 2007. During this period, the Sandinista bourgeoisie set about to vastly expand its wealth. Leading Sandinistas grouped around Ortega heavily invested in tourism, agroindustry, finance, import-export, and subcontracting for the maquiladoras.

Ortega and Murillo championed a program—dressed in a quasi-leftist discourse of “Christian, Socialist, and Solidarity”— of constructing a populist multiclass alliance under the firm hegemony of capital and Sandinista state elites. This model did improve material conditions until the economy began to tank in 2015. It was not until the mass protests of 2018 that the co-government pact that Ortega had negotiated with the capitalist class, organized into the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP), broke down.

Washington would have liked to have a more pliant regime in place from the start, and the recent events have upped the ante in U.S.-Nicaragua relations. Nonetheless, successive U.S. administrations accommodated themselves since 2007 to the Ortega government, which cooperated closely with the U.S. Southern Command, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and U.S. immigration policies. Although the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has supplied several million dollars to opposition civic organizations through the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), USAID also granted several hundred million dollars directly to the Ortega government from 2007 until 2018.

On the eve of the Nicaraguan vote, the U.S. Congress passed the RENACER Act, which calls for targeted sanctions on Nicaraguan government officials found guilty of human rights violations and corruption. It also requires the executive branch to determine if Nicaragua should be expelled from the Central American Free Trade Agreement and to “expand oversight” of lending to Nicaragua by international financial agencies. In 2017 the U.S. government passed almost identical legislation, the NICA Act, which to date has resulted in sanctions slapped on several dozen top Nicaraguan government officials, affecting the assets they hold in the United States.

Apart from these sanctions on individuals, however, Washington did not enforce the NICA Act. It did not apply trade sanctions and has not blocked Nicaragua from receiving billions of dollars in credits from international agencies. From 2017 to 2021, Nicaragua received a whopping $2.2 billion in aid from the Central American Bank of Economic Integration (BCIE), and in 2020-2021 it received several hundred million in credits from the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund.

Some among the international Left condemn calls for sanctions on Ortega. Yet the U.S. and international Left broadly mobilized (unsuccessfully) in 1978 and 1979 to force Washington to impose sanctions on the Somoza dictatorship and block international financing because of the regime’s gross human rights violations. The worldwide Left similarly demanded sanctions against apartheid South Africa, sought to block U.S. and international financing for the Pinochet dictatorship, and currently calls for “boycott, divestment, and sanctions” against Israel.

Grassroots opponents of the Ortega-Murillo regime find themselves between the rock of an Ortega-Murillo dictatorship and the hard place of the capitalist class and its political agents among the traditional conservative parties. The Right—just as disturbed as Ortega by the outburst of popular protest from below in the 2018 uprising—tried to hitch mass discontent to its own agenda of recovering direct political power and assuring there would be no threat to its control over the Nicaraguan economy.

It was the government’s repression of the popular uprising of students, workers, feminists, and environmentalists that paved the way for the Right’s current hegemony over the anti-Sandinista opposition. The mass of Nicaraguans—beyond the Sandinistas’ secure base in some 20 percent of the population—have not shown any enthusiasm for the traditional conservative parties and businessmen that dominate the opposition and have no real political representation. Indeed, the October CID-Gallup poll found that 77 percent of the country’s electoral does not feel represented by any political party.

Oil drilling ban in Chaco Canyon

Biden Moves To Protect Native American Site From Oil Drilling

President Biden pushes a 20-year ban on new oil drilling near Native American site in New Mexico, Chaco Canyon.

By Ella Nilson, CNN

President Joe Biden announced Monday a proposal for a 20-year ban on new oil and gas drilling near Chaco Canyon in northwest New Mexico — one of the oldest Native American sites in the US — White House officials said.

In the coming weeks, the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management will start the agency process to effectively bar new oil and gas leasing on federal lands within a 10-mile radius around Chaco Culture National Historical Park. The park is one of just 24 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the country.

“Chaco Canyon is a sacred place that holds deep meaning for the Indigenous peoples whose ancestors lived, worked, and thrived in that high desert community,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement. “Now is the time to consider more enduring protections for the living landscape that is Chaco, so that we can pass on this rich cultural legacy to future generations.”

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Crises in Eastern Ukraine

Ukraine Remains A Ticking Time Bomb

Tensions are growing between the Ukrainian military and Russian-supported separatist forces.

By Anatol Lieven, The Nation

Amid the public storm in America over the fall of Kabul, it is important not to lose sight of other looming crises around the world—some of them potentially much more dangerous than Afghanistan. For if the US political elites were so surprised by the speed of the Afghan state’s collapse, that was largely because the US media stopped paying attention to developments on the ground in Afghanistan once most US forces withdrew and Americans stopped dying there in large numbers.

Crises in Eastern Ukraine
Credits: Kwwhit5531 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ukraine_disputed_regions.png

Of these potential crises, one of the most menacing is the armed standoff between the Ukrainian military and Russian-supported separatist forces in eastern Ukraine. Limited numbers of Russian troops (lightly disguised as “volunteers”) are stationed in the Donbas region, and Russia has deployed large forces in southern Russia to defend the territory against any new Ukrainian offensive. However, Russia has not annexed Donetsk and Luhansk (the two Ukrainian provinces that make up the Donbas) or recognized their independence.

Since the Ukrainian revolution and the Donbas rebellion of 2014, successive Ukrainian governments have vowed to recover the Donbas—by force if necessary. Despite a ceasefire in 2015 that suspended full-scale war, probing attacks and retaliations by both sides have led to repeated clashes, as in March and April of this year. Successive US administrations have expressed strong support for the Ukrainian side and for future NATO membership (so far blocked by Germany and France), though they have stopped short of promising to defend Ukraine militarily.

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No more war

Veterans Day Should Be A Reminder That War Is Not The Way

With the U.S. war in Afghanistan over, we need to address the the toxicity of Veterans Day.

By Rory Fanning, Truthout

As a veteran who turned into an antiwar activist after deploying twice to Afghanistan, I’ve been railing against the toxicity of Veterans Day and calling for an end to the war in Afghanistan every year for the last decade.

This year, following the official end to the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in August, there is a new kind of pressure because I fear most people in the U.S. will soon stop talking about Afghanistan — the country I think about nearly every day — entirely.

I know it’s tempting. The war is technically over. We saw it “end” nearly three months ago. But in reality, the war spills on in insidious ways that are harder to see and harder to resist: official and unofficial special forces operations, drone strikes and surveillance, and the training and maintenance of proxy forces.

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Union in Starbucks

Starbucks: From Progressive 'Third Space' To Union Buster

U.S. workers have authorized strikes in a wide swath of industries and quit jobs in record numbers but could soon pull off an even more audacious coup: Winning a unionization vote at one of the country’s signature non-union firms, Starbucks.

By Josh Eidelson and Bloomberg, Fortune

On Wednesday, the National Labor Relations Board will mail ballots to employees at three Starbucks Corp. coffee shops in and around Buffalo, New York, who will vote over the next four weeks on whether to establish the first-ever unionized locations among the chain’s thousands of corporate-run U.S. stores.

The elections involve only around 100 employees, but a vote to unionize would be among the embattled U.S. labor movement’s highest-profile organizing victories in years, creating a foothold at an iconic global brand. It would also extend U.S. workers’ recent momentum into a new arena — the company’s ubiquitous coffee shops, visited by millions of Americans each day, where past organizing efforts have repeatedly fizzled.

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Build Back Better

Future Generations Won't Forgive Biden For Climate Inaction

Failure to pass Build Back Better would disillusion a generation of voters, and potentially fracture the Democratic party

By Daniel Sherrell, The Guardian

Deep into the night last Friday, long past the hour when most Americans had ceased paying attention, Congress passed the $1.2tn bipartisan infrastructure bill otherwise known as the BIF. Its passage was heralded as a victory for President Biden, and the daily news chyrons dutifully marked a point in his column. But beyond the horserace myopia of the Beltway – and especially among young people – the news came tinged with the threat of disaster.

Because for those of us interested in sustained human civilization on a habitable planet, the most relevant fact about the BIF is this: without consequent passage of the clean energy and social welfare bill known as Build Back Better, the BIF alone will exacerbate the climate crisis.

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Sens. John Hickenlooper and Joe Manchin

A 1/4 of The Senate Invests in Fossil Fuels

By Brett Wilkins, Common Dreams

As President Joe Biden aims to assure the world that the United States will fulfill its promise to slash its greenhouse gas emissions in half from 2005 levels by the end of the decade, a new report published Friday reveals that the members of the U.S. Senate who would have to pass climate legislation are heavily invested in the fossil fuel industry.

Sludge reports the households of at least 28 U.S. senators—in both the Democratic and Republican caucuses—hold a combined minimum of $3.7 million and as much as $12.6 million in fossil fuel investments.

According to the report:

Of the 28 senators, at least 20 hold publicly traded stocks in companies like oil supermajor Chevron, pipeline giant Enterprise Products, or electric utility NextEra that belong to trade associations that are lobbying Congress against taking up strong legislation to curb polluting emissions.

Five senators are invested in energy funds built around oil and gas assets, and three own nonpublic stock in private fossil fuel companies. The investments, held by the senators, their spouse, jointly, or a dependent, are disclosed to the Senate Office of Public Records in very broad ranges and often buried in hundreds of pages of scanned paper forms, making a more precise count of their total value impossible.

At least half a dozen of the senators sit on environment- or climate-related committees. The household of Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)—who has worked incessantly to destroy or dilute climate action in the Build Back Better Act and beyond—has received over $1 million in income from Enersystems, a coal brokerage firm the senator founded in the 1980s.

According to Sludge, Manchin “has stripped the Democrats’ budget reconciliation bill of major climate programs that would have transitioned coal-fired plants like the one where the company, now run by his son, holds a prime fuel services contract,” while the committee he chairs “also added more than $11.3 billion in funding to the bipartisan infrastructure bill that could benefit his family company’s niche waste coal industry.”

Other Democratic senators whose households are heavily invested in fossil fuels include:

  • John Hickenlooper (Col.) holds up to $1 million in investments in Chevron and other polluters;
  • Tom Carper (Del.) owns as much as $274,000 in Chevron and Duke Energy shares;
  • Gary Peters (Mich.) has up to $355,000 in NextEra, DTE Energy, and Pacific Gas & Electric stock in his portfolio; and
  • The wife of Angus King—a Maine independent who caucuses with Democrats—owns up to $50,000 worth of NextEra shares.

Earlier this year, Common Dreams reported that six Democratic senators—Manchin, Chris Coons (Del.), Maggie Hassan (N.H.), Mark Kelly (Ariz.), Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), and Jon Tester (Mont.)—have received hundreds of thousands of dollars in combined campaign contributions from fossil fuel corporations, some of which have touted their purported support for climate action, over the past decade.

Public School

Urgently Needed School Funds ($100 Billion!) Cut From Infrastructure Bill

By Diane Ravitch, Dianeravitch

Many of the nation’s public schools are in poor physical condition. Since the Great Recession of 2008, states stopped or cut the funding necessary repairs and upgrades. President Biden’s infrastructure plan included $100 billion to upgrade the physical conditions of America’s schools. In the last hours of haggling before the bill was passed, this provision was cut, then eliminated.

In a major blow that left educators, school leaders and advocates stunned, Democrats pared back – and then eliminated – $100 billion that Joe Biden earmarked for school modernization in his spending bill.

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U.S. Intervention in Haiti

American Intervention Has Destroyed Haiti

By Jonathan Ng, Truthout

This September, U.S. border patrol agents violently seized Haitian refugees along the Rio Grande, attracting fierce criticism and international attention. Officers on horseback trotted through families, wielded their reins as whips and chased migrants carrying their meager possessions in plastic bags. After scandalizing public opinion, President Joe Biden deemed the operation “outrageous” and promised that the border agents “will pay.”

Yet behind the scenes, his administration has swiftly deported thousands of Haitians. Authorities frequently exploit Title 42 of the Public Health Services Law to expel refugees seeking asylum. “We are doing this out of a public health need,” claims Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. “It is not an immigration policy.” In practice, the legal subterfuge has allowed Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to turn historic numbers of migrants away. Recently, the U.S. special envoy to Haiti, Daniel Foote, resigned in protest, denouncing the “inhumane, counterproductive” policy.

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