Q2 2018

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11 Q2 2018 / CINEMONTAGE GET TING ORGANIZED by Rob Callahan A lthough no authority on the genre, I have watched enough action movies to have a vague sense of what makes for a compelling fight scene. Multiple reversals of advantage punctuate the rivals' battle. As a complex choreography unspools — the protagonist and antagonist yoked in an intricate dance of advances and retreats — our hero at one moment appears to dominate the contest, only to lose the upper hand and face mortal peril a moment later. Indeed, the hero will only triumph after having faced a seemingly certain doom. Nobody wants to watch the good guy just run the table. Her or his (usually his, given the genre's gender politics) ultimate victory is predicated upon first enduring desperation. As a committed trade unionist in the 21st century, I know a thing or two about enduring desperation. Our own union is growing, and we rightly tout the Guild's and the IATSE's various victories. But when we pull back for a wide-angle shot of the entire labor movement in this country, the picture has long been bleak. Decades of decline have devastated our ranks. Union density now stands at only about a third of its historic peak. Not coincidentally, wages have stagnated and economic inequality has become increasingly stark. And, in recent years, a barrage of legal and political assaults upon the right to collective bargaining has presented a seemingly existential threat to the remainders of the union movement. Conflict between labor and management is nothing new. The period of post-WWII prosperity in which US union density reached its peak was decidedly not an era of labor peace. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 470 major strikes involving more than 2.7 million workers in 1952. (For comparison, our country saw only seven major strikes involving 25,000 workers last year.) But the labor strife of that era took the form of skirmishes for relative advantage; it wasn't a death match. While industrialists of previous generations arguably pursued strategies of containment, labor's foes today appear bent upon utterly eliminating what vestiges of unionism remain. Following the decline in American manufacturing, unions are now strongest in the arena of the public sector, the employees of which are more than five times as likely to be unionized as private-sector employees. So it's no surprise that unions' enemies, having eroded labor's presence in the private sector over the course of decades, now attempt a coup de grâce to the labor movement in attacking public-sector unions. After years of setbacks to public- employee unions at the state level, the Janus v. AFSCME Council 31 case now pending before the Supreme Court is poised to make every public employer in the country a so-called "right to work" workplace, establishing incentives for represented employees to abandon their unions in droves. The Court will hand down a decision on Janus very soon, and there is little doubt that it will rule against unions. Many observers regard this looming decision as a potential knockout blow to the already battered labor movement. Okay, so a climactic fight scene hinges upon a moment in which we find our hero bloodied, desperate and in mortal peril. Check, check and check. That's supposed to be the pivotal point at which the theme music swells, the protagonist suddenly taps into a hidden reserve of strength or cunning, and we witness our hero bouncing back off the ropes to vanquish the bad guy. That's how it works in the movies, right? Let's be clear: Nobody has promised us a Hollywood ending. Miraculous comebacks from the brink of catastrophic defeat may be de rigeur for the screenplays of superhero flicks, but they're less commonly found in the pages of history books. God has no interest in selling popcorn; more often than not, the odds don't get beaten and the plot proceeds without a twist. That said, if you're looking for signs of hope — I am — then recent months have offered a few. It's far too early to say that unions in the US are rallying to an 11th- hour comeback. But some unanticipated good news does at least enable us to imagine what a renaissance for the American labor movement might look like. Probably the most obvious sign of unexpected life returning to the labor movement is the #RedForEd movement — a startling series of teacher strikes and protests that began months ago in West Virginia. To almost everyone's surprise, educators throughout that state, without the benefit of collective bargaining rights or strong unions, banded together to shut down their Unions' Cliffhanger The Fate of Labor Dangles on the Brink of Catastrophe CONTINUED ON PAGE 13

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