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8 Union Victories Progressives Should Be Watching--And Learning From

It might be too early to call it a resurgence, but organized labor has been marking some big victories lately.

We always hear that unions are in trouble. But that’s not the whole story.

While nearly one of every three American workers were union members in 1945, today only 6.9 percent of private sector employees have union representation, a historic low. Tea Party governors like Wisconsin’s Scott Walker have pushed anti-union bills through state legislatures. Wisconsin’s bill stripped public employees of most of their collective bargaining rights and was the most significant direct attack against unions by a leading politician since Ronald Reagan crushed the air traffic controllers strike in 1981.

Yet despite the odds, over the past few months unions have achieved significant victories around the nation. Workers continue to fight for better wages, job security, safe workplaces, and health care, regardless of the struggles unions face. Their long-term struggles have not changed. But their success rate may be improving.

Why is this? The terrible economy may have convinced more workers that standing together with their fellow employees is the best chance they have to hold on to middle-class dreams. The less-negative media climate surrounding unions after the draconian anti-union bills in Wisconsin and Ohio may have helped.

Some of this success may also come from the structural changes within the National Labor Relations Board that have helped level the playing field for workers. President Obama has disappointed many unionists in his administration. He did not push very hard for the Employee Free Choice Act, and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has expressed frustration with the Democratic Party for its continued rightward tilt. But behind the scenes, Obama’s appointees to the NLRB, Craig Becker and Mark Pearce, have reenergized the board, and the recent NLRB decision to expedite union elections, undermining employer attempts to intimidate workers, brought howls of protest from corporations.

Here are eight recent examples of forward momentum for organized labor:

1. Writers Guild Organizes Writers for Cable

In the past week, the Writers’ Guild of America, East, has had two significant victories. Writers at the Onion News Network television show on the Independent Film Channel successfully negotiated a collective bargaining agreement that provides retroactive pay increases, as well as pension and health insurance, to workers.

The Writers Guild has also targeted cable television writers in recent campaigns, winning victories to represent workers at Animal Planet, Food Network, National Geographic, and Travel Channel. (Read AlterNet’s coverage of the WGA victories here.)

Lowell Peterson, executive director of the Writers Guild of America, East, said of the importance of organizing cable TV writers, “Most work in basic cable TV is nonunion so working conditions are much less favorable than in Writers Guild shops. No health or pension benefits, grueling hours at low pay. Writers and producers shuffle between companies, and the most effective way to improve conditions is to organize multiple companies at one time, so that is what we are doing. Hundreds of writers and producers are eager to join the Writers Guild because our members know what it's like to be devoted to creating the best possible content and at the same time earning a reasonable living.”

2. Ikea

In late July, workers at a Danville, Virginia Ikea furniture factory voted overwhelmingly to join the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. With European companies moving factories to anti-union and relatively low-wage states in the American South, the Ikea victory is a significant step toward unionizing those workers. Ikea found its anti-union efforts hamstrung by its own image as a company whose products appeal to political progressives. Using the most draconian anti-union tactics threatened to undermine the brand.

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