“Every worker deserves a voice in their workplace,” says Matt Murray, founder of New Hampshire Labor News. No joke, if you aren’t down with NHLN, stop reading this and click the link. Get over there immediately. Follow them on Twitter and like them on Facebook. They make it really easy for you – subscribe and you’ll get everything hot off the “press” sent right to you.
No self-respecting reader of Communique New England who cares about workers and the labor movement can afford to ignore or overlook NH Labor News, the state’s only source for daily, hourly, even real time updates pertaining to any and all labor-related activity in the state. If this sounds suspiciously like advertising, don’t worry about that – we’re all socialists here at CNE, and everyone knows socialists don’t know how to do enterprising things like advertise. Besides, Murray’s made it this far without our endorsement; even without having the traffic numbers, I can say with confidence his site gets more clicks in an hour than we get in a week. He’s got very little incentive to buy me off.
Through the herculean efforts of several committed volunteers, NHLN has demonstrated itself the kind of invaluable resource and information hub with which we could never dream of competing. That’s precisely why I had to talk to Murray – great admiration for his work.
That, and the fact that we defenders of the working class have got to stick together.
The site was founded in 2011, as Republicans statewide began pushing a nefarious Right to Work agenda and Murray saw a need for the kind of online presence with the capacity to respond to right-wing propaganda – quickly. The site grew, claiming its first anti-worker scalp in May of the following year, when NHLN reported that State Representative DJ Bettencourt had cheated his way through law school. The legislator resigned. Later that year, he tells me, the site attracted even more attention and acclaim through its commitment to covering the movement to privatize the postal service.
“The NHLN has grown immensely since our humble beginnings,” he told me via email last month. “As labor has broadened their efforts to build a stronger community, so has the NHLN. Some of this comes from me, finding out who I really am politically and fighting for the things I care about.”
Murray himself has spent the last fifteen years as an activist, and the last fourteen happily married – he lives with his wife and three kids in the Nashua area. “As the NHLN has grown, people have jumped at the chance to be a part of it. Different organizations supply written posts and invite followers to their events. They are the real organizers – I am just the promoter.” Indeed, the site boasts contributions from the NH AFL-CIO, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Communication Workers of America (CWA), National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC), Advancing New Hampshire Public Education, and Arnie Alpert of the NH American Friends Service Committee (AFSC).
“I think to make a real difference, you need both,” Murray elaborates, recognizing the need for different individuals and organizations to perform in different roles and capacities. It’s a notion that strikes a chord, of course, given that CNE was founded in part to identify just such a local role within which to faithfully serve. “You need that face-to-face organizer to help people when you need it, and you need that promoter to keep the message driving forward….The NHLN was created to combat the anti-worker lies being pushed in the media and help to raise awareness to issues that face working families. We needed to make our collective voices louder and make sure than everyone was listening.”
It’s an experience that has opened many doors for Murray, allowing him to continually ramp up his role as labor’s town crier in the Granite State. “Creating the NHLN has connected me with many great people,” he said. “I have met union advocates and union leadership, locally and nationally I have met community activists fighting to organize here in New Hampshire and learned from organizers fighting similar fights in other states.”
I asked the veteran observer and reporter for any insights he might be able to provide us regarding the state of the labor movement in the state. The answer is illustrative of the fact that despite our inclination to see our state as unique and idiosyncratic, we face the same class problems faced everywhere. “Like every other state in the US,” Murray told me, “New Hampshire has seen a significant loss in manufacturing, which his resulted in a decline in union membership and a decline in wages.” Nevertheless, he recognizes some positives, elements to potentially consider advantages to build on in the fight ahead. “Even though the number of union members has declined, members are still very devoted to their unions and to labor as a whole. Look at how we have fought to keep New Hampshire Right to Work-free, even through the worst years of the [very conservative] Bill O’Brien legislature.”
Consistent with his role as union signal booster, he is reluctant to praise one particular union over another, but I nevertheless asked him to identify the state’s strongest unions and what they might be doing right. “There are many ways to slice this [in terms of] who is the strongest[. As far as] union density? I believe it is the National Education Association (NEA-NH). Who is the strongest politically? I would probably say the Professional Firefighters of NH, because they have led some huge campaign wins in recent years.” He cites their taking the lead in the case against the Local Government Center (LGC) and the continued fight against forced changes to the NH public employee retirement system, a fight in which they are joined by many of the other public sector unions. He also cites the IBEW (electricians’ union) for its political expediency, although those of us on the left of the spectrum might consider their main goals – implementation of the Northern Pass (a power scheme criticized by many environmentalists) and the push for a casino at Rockingham.
“Almost every union,” he added, “is working on some legislation that would help protect their workers and help their members in the future. I think ultimately that there are many unions throughout NH that are working hard every day on behalf of their members, and the strongest one is the one that is fighting to protect you, your rights, and your job.”
Turning toward the national political climate for a moment, I ask his thoughts on the democrats’ weak-kneed capitulation in granting Obama the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) that all but guarantees “free trade pacts” like the TPP will inevitably pass. “I was very disappointed in the way that Senator Shaheen and 27 other Democrats voted on the [TPA] bill.” He explains, “We fought very hard to inform our elected leaders of the dangers of signing an agreement without public input, congressional oversight, and negotiated in secret. Although we ultimately failed to stop this bill, we did show that organized labor still has a strong presence in Washington and more importantly back home in the member’s districts where people called by the hundreds of thousands to their legislators.”
Murray’s tendency to look on the bright side is both infectious and consistent – he also holds a great deal of optimism with regard to labor’s future, even as the movement assumes a more nontraditional and at times asymmetrical structure. “The labor movement is not just about union members, it’s about helping all workers. In New Hampshire, as in many other states, organized labor has teamed up with many different community advocates to build powerful coalitions to push for a higher minimum wage, paid sick days, [and] against title loans, paychecks via debit card, wage theft…and more.
“This is what the new labor movement looks like and it is working. It has helped lift the wages of many low-income families in other states and helped to pass bills that help protect workers, knowing full well that their current job is not open to a union.”
Bound by no silly standard of objectivity, we unabashedly express our gratitude for the work of Murray and his comrades – and we share in a sincere hope and expectation that we will speak and work alongside NHLN with frequency in the years to come. Toward that end, I ask about his future aspirations. “Keep building on the momentum we have created,” he replied. “We are also considering expanding to include more progressive voices from inside and outside the labor movement. We have also begun our work on the First in the Nation Primary. As always, we plan to watch as many of the candidates as we can and push back against the right wing agenda to harm working families, while promoting the candidates and their policies that promote our progressive values. We will continue to push for a higher minimum wage, protecting workers rights to form and join unions, ensuring that all Americans have access to quality healthcare, protecting our environment, protecting our Constitutional right to vote, and so on.
“The primary will be a wild ride and we look forward to being a part of the fun. With so many candidates, we will need your help to send us stories, videos, and statements made by candidates out on the campaign trail. If you happen to talk with a candidate about an issue and video tape it, send it to me (or send me the link) and we can the message out.”
Murray’s parting message for workers, especially those without a union, is one of defiant hope: “Together, you can accomplish great things.”
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