Cognition Issue 14

On Planet ProMess
When last we met our heroes, they had hidden out on an abandoned ice planet while they waited for the victorious ProMess union election to be settled in the courts. Things had gotten kind of sleepy. While the pro-union workers had trounced the opposition by a two-vote avalanche, the eleven challenged ballots threw the election's outcome into uncertainty. The National Labor Relations Board was investigating several charges made by both sides regarding the other sides' conduct during the campaign.
ProMess owner Joel Ritch, not entirely unlike Rick Moranis in Spaceballs, was a sinister if slightly buffoonish archvillian. The company's compensation schemes were so wildly illegal that to pay back ProMess workers would cost slightly more than the GDP of certain West African nations. And the workers had sued. Just before Thanksgiving, the Superior Court Judge hearing the massive wage and hour lawsuit of ProMess workers ordered Joel Ritch to turn over the names of all the workers since April of 1996, so they could be given the option of getting some serious cash money in the lawsuit.
Mr. Ritch panicked at massive liabilities looming and approached International Longshore & Warehouse Union President Brian McWilliams in early December to cut a deal. Flush from having just trampled global capitalism in Seattle at the WTO, President McWilliams told Joel that he could not make a deal, and that he would still have to talk to his workers. After some two months of running in circles and posturing, Joel agreed to sit down with union representatives with Pro workers on hand to settle union recognition, a union contract, and the lawsuit all at once. The workers proposed settling the $1.5 million lawsuit for a modest $412,000, and demanding in the contract only such improvements as would be necessary to equalize heinous variations among many Pro workers who get paid differently for the same work. Joel announced that the workers were being unreasonable, and offered $10,000 and no changes in wages and benefits.
Meanwhile, the legal system was on its inexorable march towards Joel Ritch. He coughed up names and addresses of 1200 former Pro workers who may want to join the lawsuit. And the National Labor Relations Board issued sixteen (count 'em!) complaints against ProMess over its illegal conduct during the union election campaign in August and September. This anti-union activity ranged from threats and bribes to attempting to make the employees independent contractors and turn their finances over to the National Independent Contractors Association. (NICA, incidentally, had been convicted of eleven counts of felony over workers compensation fraud. Curiously, the NLRB was also rumbling about charging whitebread union supporter and bike messenger Bill Bridges with improperly electioneering in Punjabi.) The NLRB determined to bring ProMess to trial in March, and to seek a bargaining order which would require Joel to recognize the union and begin negotiating in good faith regardless of any lingering challenge ballots.
The mighty workers of ProMess, emboldened by the support of the American justice system, took matters into their own hands. On Tuesday, February 8 they stopped work and headed to 600 Bryant Street by 5pm. They picketed and chanted and hollered. When the UPS drivers arrived as scheduled to collect overnight packages for ProMess going across the country, they honored the picket line and the packages did not move. The UPS drivers honored the picket line because they are Teamsters and they know the meaning of solidarity. The strike/picket completely took Pro management by surprise. They trembled with fear, and not knowing if the strike would continue the next morning, they sent intown packages by UPS later instead of having Pro workers deliver them.
Having stirred from their icy lair, the Pro Mess organizing committee has sent a message loud and clear that they are going to make the cost of fighting the union greater than the cost of working with the union. They are going to make it near impossible for Joel Ritch to continue to run his business like it was his own personal playpen. Workers who have heretofore not been particularly involved in the union drive joined the work stoppage on Tuesday. They will continue until they get justice. -Nato

We've had enough of lies and bluff/We want our share for sure! -Jimmy Cliff

DMS Action Update

As you are probably aware, on Wednesday, January 12 DMS messengers struck without warning and presented DMS management with demands for higher pay, winter bonuses, and better working conditions. The strike---which closed down the entire SF biker boards, and much of the in-town vehicle board---lasted 5 days, the longest same-day messenger strike in San Francisco history.
Striking messengers returned to work on Wednesday, January 19, satisfied that we had demonstrated our collective power and unity. DMS Vice-President Patrick Gallagher, who was sent from New York when the strike hit, promised that real changes would be implemented ASAP. We, in turn promised that DMS would continue to face turmoil if shit doesnât shape up fast. The basic conditions we placed upon returning to work---that confiscated radios and pagers be returned, that scabs be let go by the morning of January 19, and that a striking driver whose car was totaled during the strike be provided with a new vehicle so he could work---have been fulfilled. Additionally, since returning to work, DMS management has announced that starting February 1st all bike and walking messengers will receive a $40 winter bonus per week.
While DMS management is certainly on the defensive, they are simultaneously mounting a counter-offensive (as expected). In the three weeks since the end of the strike, DMS management has attempted to create conditions that will cause those who participated in the strike to feel demoralized and quit. This has been done by management's stalling on implementation of changes, routing work away from bicyclists, and other punitive measures. In response, on February 1st and 2nd, bicyclists conducted a work slow down that severely hampered DMS business.
We are keeping the pressure up. At a meeting with management on February 8th, we presented documentation showing that new riders consistently have had 15% shaved off their payout. This slimy manipulation is the tip of the iceberg of DMS abuse and wasnât recognized until the strike gave us the opportunity to cross-reference payouts. Management has agreed to rectify this situation and compensate people retroactively. Pressure is also being exerted to increase payouts for all messengers.
Learning form this most recent strike and from the worker actions over the last two years at DMS, it is clear that increasing our paychecks requires connecting with all DMS personnel and coordinated actions at all major courier companies. We are resisting the temptation to shuttle from one shitty courier firm to another as that only assists management in maintaining a fragmented and docile workforce.

Book Review: Confessions of a Union Buster
"Confessions of a Union Buster" by Martin Levitt (with Terry Conrow) is an autobiography of someone who is certainly not the greatest person born in Ohio. Martin Levitt (a native of Cleveland) reveals the slimy tricks of the "littler men" and women whose job it is to strip away rights from working people. He notes that it was strictly his job to make sure workers had NO representation while he represented the companies. He states that he would come into a town he'd never even seen before and proceed to start calling the union "outsiders". He tells the reader that he would try to soak his clients for as much as he could. He points out that if the union buster cannot defeat a company's workers in the election to choose or reject a union he simply bargains in bad faith (illegal but hard to prove) to prevent a contract. Bad faith bargaining tactics include negotiating once a week (or less), pitting middle management against the workers, scapegoating middle managers for mistakes made by the bosses (even getting some middle managers fired), encouraging high turnover (hey what a surprise!) and insinuating himself into making company policies. And he admits that if it wasn't for folks sticking up for themselves guys like him would have to WORK for a living. In fact one of the problems he has is trying to find honest work after he decides to quit the union busting business.
Needless to say much of this sounds familiar to most of us.
In one telling scene a business owner orders his attorney to bargain in bad faith in contract negotiations with a union local. The attorney refuses for ethical reasons. But Levitt takes up the owner's cynical offer. "...I was not bound by any code of ethics or any professional canons and therefore would not have to worry about my behavior at the bargaining table." It should not surprise anyone at Ultra, Pro, DMS or other companies that there is no code of ethics for union busters.
But the one decent thing Mr. Levitt does is that he finally quits his career in disgust. Seems like after making the mega-bucks he still couldn't drink enough booze to drown his conscience.
Unfortunately there are many more union busters who don't have a conscience available for drowning. ---HW

Beyond the Economics of Scarcity
The world is in a process by which communities are taking and maintaining the economic initiative in the face of the formidable physical capital and credit advantages of the massive corporations and political states, i.e., the non-collateral loan program empowering women in Bangladesh or the case of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe in the United States. These actions continue as people reform the context in which they live instead of reforming humans, by doing more with less. The wealth regenerating prospects of such design will induce all humanity to realize full, lasting economic and physical success plus worthwhile employment of all the Earth.
Since the middle of the twentieth century the world has turned from wire to wireless, from track to trackless, from visible structure to invisible structure. In each instance humans are able to do more with less. During the same period, the worldâs financial and political institutions have abandoned gold, silver, and copper as the basis for currency. Yet the institu tional world maintains the same mindset of currency and economies based upon scarcity out of habit rather than assessment of reality.
Currency is presently based upon productivity and credit. In the latter half of the twentieth century the world's currency flow has expanded tremendously. Now it is the time for more realistic distribution of resources. Enough food, clothing, housing etc., are being produced to provide for the whole of humankind. Where people think there is enough for all, the possibility exists for a more realistic approach to the distribution of goods and services rather than to waste valuable rescues in war and the practice of hegemony. ---Dr. Howard L. Meredith

The bourgeoisie had better watch out for me/All across this so-called nation
---Bad Brains

Movie Review: "The Messenger"

Directed by Luc Besson, Screenplay by Luc Besson and Andrew Birkin
Most reviews of this flick have dumped on it... and with some reason. "Kill the Messenger! " screamed the title of the East Bay "Express" review. Others were even less sympathetic.
But let's get real: most reviewers are just a bunch of wimpy indoor people not really able to understand what Messengers are about whether they're us or a 15th Century French Catholic girl trying to throw foreign invaders out of her homeland. Of course the more important question is whether the people who made "The Messenger" are a bunch of indoor people or have some idea about what it takes to deliver a message through celluloid thick and thin.
My answer is a definite and rock solid "They do---sort of."
"The Messenger" is based on the true story of Joan of Arc (played by Milla Jovovich), a French teenage girl in the 1420s who went from being an illiterate peasant to leading her nation's armies against English invaders. Joan of Arc faced a powerful English army that had occupied northern France since 1337. Paris was in English hands as was much of the wine country. The French had been fighting for almost 100 years (so that's why they called it the Hundred Years War) and couldn't kick out these soccer hooligans with bad cuisine. So when an illiterate teenage girl came to the French crown prince (played by John Malkovich) and claimed that voices from Heaven had told her to lead the French army to victory, the prince did what any reasonable person in his position would do---he put her in charge of the army. She won some major victories and liberated a major part of France. The problem with this flick is that it tries to do too much. It has great battle scenes that will certainly attract the male adolescents who make up a big part of the American movie audience: decapitations by maces, amputations, all kinds of medieval weapons causing all kinds of medieval mayhem. Speaking as a former adolescent I dug it! But of course I want more than that in a flick especially for $5.50 for a matinee. Much of the dialogue was more 1990s than 1420s. "Yeah" and "whatever" were all over the first half of the film. But the gory battle scenes in the middle of the flick provide an ironic transition to the last---and very serious---part of the movie. After Joan has liberated enough territory for the Crown Prince to be crowned Charles VII, the king refuses to give her any more military support to liberate the rest of France. That's gratitude for you. A Messenger gets a kingdom for some lazy wimp and he can't even say "Thanks" in a decent way. Joan who's been doing these miracles for God and France not some ungrateful monarch raises a smaller army and tries to liberate the rest of her homeland. She fails and is captured by pro-English French forces who turn her over to their English masters. This actually presents the English with a problem. They want to kill her but they need to make it look legal and proper. Their soldiers want to believe they're killing and dying for what's right not just a claim on France by their king. The English leaders are convinced that Joan is a witch because they just can't believe a peasant girl can beat the best army in Western Europe. This arrogance isn't unusual. When the Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho wiped out Custer in 1876, newspapers began spreading fertilized stories that Sitting Bull was secretly a white man who had graduated from West Point because they just couldn't believe that a Civil War general could be beaten by a bunch of illiterate savages.* So the English forced the local Catholic bishop to try Joan on witchcraft. Here the film gets into issues of heresy and sainthood, self-defense (and national defense) and a believer's duties to the Church on Earth when it appears to conflict with the Church in Heaven. The movie raises more questions than it answers and some of the answers won't work with me---or many of you---but it does make the audience members think not just react... and the "Yeahs" and "Whatevers" miraculously disappear. In one scene Joan's conscience (played by Dustin Hoffman) says to her, "What makes you think God needs a messenger? " We all know the answer to that one: God doesn't need messengers---God WANTS messengers. Ever notice that the saints and angels are called Messengers of God? They're not called Lawyers of God or Accountants of God and certainly not Investment Advisors of God. I won't tell you the ending but it's basically true to history (unlike some of the beginning scenes). "The Messenger"---check it out . . . when the video comes out.---HW

*Last Confederate general to surrender in the Civil War: Stand Watie, Cherokee Indian. Fuck Custer.---ed.

Has the unionizing movement affected you?
- and -
Have you ever been doored?
SARAH BLUE (Go!): Uhh - Well, it hasn't at all - not at all. Not at my company. There's no chance of it.
Doored? Half a door.

COLIN (Times Up): It's given me greater faith in my coworkers.
Doored? Three times.

MONGO (Express Network): Just made my company aware: treat us how you want us to treat your clients. After we met with union reps, they [management] bounce more ideas at us. They take more seriously. I've noticed a change in other companies and as well.
Doored? Never doored.

RICO (ProMess): Oh shit, I'm not sure. I just got hired at Pro and now they only hire IC's, but I can always can work some where else. I'm glad there is union. When I was at Advanced the union was trying to help us out.
Doored? Once. - Rak