Industry chipping away at gains made by labor
The labor unity celebration today raises optimism about what might be happening in Hawaii among the trade unions.
However, this Labor Day we are faced with a number of situations that call the prestige and power of unions into question, and whether or not the labor movement - long inspired by a vision of what it can do for working people - can come up with answers to what is now the lot, not only of working people, but of those with middle-class incomes.
The community at large must do its part by holding industry accountable for corporate irresponsibility and callous treatment of the working class.
Times Supermarket, for example, has refused to take the meat cutters' demands into consideration and is still operating under a boycott initiated by the Teamsters - a boycott that apparently is being ignored by many in the community.
The Laborers Union is now fighting a government agency with regard to whether or not one of its former members can run for union office, despite the fact that democratic procedure is supposed to dictate how union elections should be run.
The most egregious confrontation, however, exists in the refusal of Pacific Beach Hotel to recognize and negotiate with ILWU Local 142 after the union won two representation elections. Furthermore, the company has discharged workers with 5, 10, 15, 20 and 25 years of service - workers who have devoted their skill and talent to making the hotel a success.
This Labor Day should make it obvious to everyone that industry is beginning to erode many of the gains obtained for workers through past democratic procedures.
For example, as the profit margins of employers were bit into by market economics, they have begun to stop making contributions to pension plans. The result is that the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, which has taken over defunct pension plans, pays workers often less than half of what they expected to receive. Meanwhile, very little is done about improving Social Security, which the Bush administration has wanted to privatize.
There is need for the entire labor movement to sit down and talk about what has been done to it since the 1970s, when Reagan dissolved the air traffic controller's union, up until now, when federal Homeland Security workers are denied the chance to join a union.
This Labor Day should serve as the beginning of the trade union movement's endeavor to understand where it is going and how it can make improvements in our political and economic system, so that workers will not go through huge job losses, increased unemployment, high inflation and falling wages.
The community at large, also, must do its part by holding industry accountable for corporate irresponsibility and callous treatment of the working class.
That is the job that still needs to be done.
Ah Quon McElrath served for many years as the social worker for the ILWU Local 142. She lives in Honolulu.