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  February 16, 2017

Lockout of Honeywell Workers Signals Broader Corporate Offensive Against Collective Bargaining

Professor Paul Mishler, who organized a rally in support of UAW workers in Indiana, says there's a need for community support for labor struggles and tactics outside of traditional collective bargaining -Two-Part Interview
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Paul Mishler is a professor of Labor Studies at Indiana University in South Bend. He received his Ph.D. in History from Boston University in 1988 and taught in traditional history departments prior to becoming a labor educator and labor studies professor. In Labor Studies he has taught at SUNY Empire State College and the University of Massachusetts-Amherst prior to coming to Indiana in 2002. He has been an activist in peace and social justice movements as well as an activist in support of labor struggles. He has been a member of a number of industrial unions, the teachers union and a faculty union.


DHARNA NOOR: We've speaking with Professor Paul Mishler, from South Bend, Indiana. On Saturday, February 11th, Paul Mishler helped to organize a rally in support of locked-out workers of the UAW Local 9. They've been locked out of the Honeywell firm.

Paul, lockout workers went months without receiving any unemployment benefits. This is one of the reasons that there was so much widespread outrage about this lockout, and Mike Pence, until he became Vice-president of the United States, was actually the governor of Indiana. Talk about the role of his administration in this fight.

PAUL MISHLER: Well, you know, one of the reasons that it's happening in Indiana. I mean, there are other reasons why it happens elsewhere, but Indiana is a very divided state. And the state as a whole -– and, you know, people say it's partly because of gerrymandering, but it's also partly because there's always been a major political division between the northern manufacturing sector. Which really was sort of culturally, politically, demographically connected to Chicago -– and voted that way –- and the rest of the state, which is essentially small town, rural, white migrants from Kentucky and Tennessee. Which brought "Southerness" with them, very, very conservative.

So, Pence and the Republican Party in Indiana are very conservative. They're allied with the Tea Party. And they are willing to go... you know, they will be willing to go against labor whenever they can. So, the cutting off of unemployment benefits, the making it hard for the workers, is easier done here. There's very little countervailing pressure. The Republicans have complete control over both Houses, both Houses of the Legislature, and the Governor's Mansion, and their attitude is that they can do whatever they want.

So, I think that was also very discouraging. I think for the union both materially, because people are going without. But also because the kind of image that this local had a kind of, history of collective bargaining that was very stable. This was seen as a violation of a tradition, within the relations between the Local, and the company.

DHARNA NOOR: But in this case, the administration actually classified this case as under review, right?


DHARNA NOOR: And this administration was under the leadership at the time of Mike Pence.


DHARNA NOOR: So, with Pence and Trump and their appointees in office, and the Republican controlled House and Senate, many expect the labor movements would be under attack for a number of reasons. Talk about what your response is to the threat of anti-labor legislation, and how the federal administration could impact this fight, and fights like it. What in the face of the new administration comes next?

PAUL MISHLER: Well, there a couple of obvious reasons ... I think the members of the National Labor Relations Board are appointed by the President, and all this sort of lower-level appointees, the National Labor Relations Board, not only have people in it who are anti-labor, but their funds are going to be cut for investigators, right?

One of the ways the Board has traditionally worked, you know, let's say you take an OSHA case, somebody gets killed on the job. You're supposed to have an investigator from the NLRB, as well as OSHA, investigate what happened. Well, what's happened over the last period of time under Republican administrations is, I think there are two investigators for the entire Midwest.

So, the belief that there's some kind of stable, union-management relationship, is not going to be true. The appointment of judges, and that enforcement of injunctions, about fights over rights to picket, all those kinds of things are going to be taken away. The Trump administration has already... his friends in Congress have already filed for a bill of a National Right to Work legislation. So, that the kinds of laws that were passed in Wisconsin and Indiana, that will essentially make union membership voluntary, and totally upend the majority union concept that has been the kind of base, of American collective bargaining.

Now, the problem with all this, aside from the... this is going to really destroy the unions, and really make it very hard, is that the American labor movement, I don't think, is ready to confront this. They're very... they were very committed to this kind of notion of stable, collaborative, collective bargaining. And it's been going downhill for the last 30 years, but they haven't really recognized it.

And I think that one of the jobs for the trade union movement, I think Trump could recognize it, and I think it's recognized in a number of different unions, is that you can't do a kind of quiet collaborative, friendly, collective bargaining anymore. It's really going to be antagonistic, and workers have to be ready to fight. If one of the things that I think was, sort of practically important about having this community-wide rally, is that trade unions can't do it alone. They didn't do it alone when they began in the 1930s. They always depended on both popular support, support for the working class community in general, and support from the elected officials that workers put in power.

And as things had gotten easier for a while, they stopped doing it. They stopped doing community mobilizations, they stopped making arguments as to why working people of all sorts, depend on unions. And they've let the right wing sort of take the philosophical high ground. So, you have lots of working people say, "Why should I support them? They're the elite. They make more money than I do." You know? And I've had students tell me that, you know, the problem is that the UAW has become an elite organization.

Well, if you're a minimum wage worker, and you don't see the UAW sticking up for you, why should you stick up for them? Right? So, there has to be these kind of new, kind of connections, that bring people together, and so having public activities that say, lookit, UAW is part of our community, and our community sees this union as part of us.

DHARNA NOOR: Absolutely. We've been joined...

PAUL MISHLER: And I think, in towns like South Bend, it's not only metaphorically true, that the two UA... the Studebaker and Bendix, were the largest factories in here for most of the period from the 1920s on. That how workers fared in those factories, determined whether the working class was going to be able to live decently in this town, or not.

DHARNA NOOR: As the UAW Local 9 lockout continues in South Bend, we'll be sure to reconnect with you, Professor Paul Mishler. Again, Professor Paul Mishler is a Professor of Labor Studies at Indiana University in South Bend. He helped organize Saturday's rally in South Bend.

Thanks so much for joining me today, and we hope to talk to you again.

PAUL MISHLER: Thanks, Dharna. I look forward to talking to you again. Good night.

DHARNA NOOR: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.




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