Categories
Economic Justice

Commentary: The Dream of a Unionized New Orleans Is Coming True

This post offers commentary on the article, “The Dream of a Unionized New Orleans Is Coming True,” written by Hamilton Nolan and recently published in In These Times. Read the full piece here.

Readers of Voices for New Democracy have long been grappling with the ongoing transformation of the American economy, beginning in the 1970s, towards a post-industrial society. Over the past decades, this has manifested in the decline of manufacturing, rapidly growing financialization, a massive shift towards the service sector, and a series of all-out assaults on organized labor. The American South has been especially hard hit by these trends, particularly in terms of the rights of workers, as Republican control of state governments have created legal regimes that keep wages low, precarity high, and maintain massive obstacles to organized labor.

Amid this trajectory, COVID-19 has been a major disruption, and it remains uncertain whether the fallout could help strengthen the position of workers or serve as a justification for further attacks on labor. That is why the work of unions in the South are so critical, and why the left must focus on these fights; since they represent a model that could upend this trajectory even in the heart of reactionary states.

Hamilton Nolan’s recent piece in In These Times is illustrative. The piece explores the growth of the Unite Here hospitality workers union in New Orleans over the past years, which is especially notable given the low union density across the state and the traditional challenges of organizing in a tourist economy in a right-to-work state. While Unite Here members and staff alike have experienced the fallout from the pandemic, the union has done remarkable work to support its members throughout these challenges, both by negotiating recall rights with employers and providing direct support services to members. All of this work is offering new visions for what the city’s hospitality industry could look like with an organized working class:

The bulk of Unite Here’s organizing in New Orleans happened after the 2008 recession, meaning the pandemic has been the first major economic shock most members have lived through as union members. Even as it lost staff, Local 23 had to transform itself into what Patrick-Cooper describes as ​“a social service beacon.” The union turned its focus to helping newly laid off union members navigate the state’s broken unemployment system. It created a hotline for members to call for assistance, ran a food bank and searched everywhere for fundraising, all while marshaling support for Unite Here’s massive national door-knocking campaign in support of Joe Biden’s presidential run — and fighting for extended recall rights for workers.

https://inthesetimes.com/article/unionized-new-orleans-labor-workers-organizing-pandemic-south

While Unite Here continues to face an uphill battle, its efforts on behalf of its members during the pandemic could help turn the tide for organized labor throughout the state. Union members are the only workers in the city who won guaranteed recall rights, which offers a strong incentive for more hospitality workers to unionize especially at a moment when many working people feel they have little left to lose. And if these local efforts prove successful in these critical right-wing strongholds, they will be key stepping stones to rebuilding a powerful labor movement on a national scale.

As Unite Here’s international president, D. Taylor, says:

You change the South, you change America.

https://inthesetimes.com/article/unionized-new-orleans-labor-workers-organizing-pandemic-south

Read the full piece, “The Dream of a Unionized New Orleans Is Coming True, via In These Times.

Categories
Economic Justice

Long Live the Day Laborers!

The following is a speech by Professor José Calderón Clausura of the José Fernando Pedraza Institute, which was originally published in Popular Education Liberates.

The development of the National Day laborer Organizing Network, Radio Jornalera, and this Institute, are very close to my heart.

I was part of the start of the Day Labor Center in Pomona in 1997. At that time the City Council passed a law that, if implemented, would have fined each day laborer $1,500 just for looking for work on the street. We responded with a march and filled the Council with hundreds of people. Out of this organizing, the city council rescinded the unjust ordinance and agreed to help support the development of the Pomona Day Labor center.

I was also part of the beginning of the National Day Labor Organizing Network alongside twelve organizations at a conference held at Cal State Northridge in July 2001.

I have to tell you that my commitment – my passion – in support of these struggles came from the fact that I was an immigrant from Mexico, that came to this country when I was 7 years old with my parents – who were farmworkers their entire lives in Colorado and with my father who was a day laborer in the winters, waiting on the corners, even when there was snow, for a job so that we could eat. I never forgot – and when I graduated from college, I went to work for a while with the United Farmworkers Union of Cesar Chavez in Delano, CA – and when I returned to Colorado with my parents, I started a little school in the back of my parents’ house – and I have to tell you, I started teaching 18 students who did not know English in the same way that you are using the Paulo Freire and Popular Education method.

And I must also share with you today that there is no better way to honor the life of José Fernando Pedraza, than with the development of this Instituto, because truly, Fernando was an example of the development of a consciousness, of a day laborer who organized other day laborers – on a street corner – to respect each other in the search for work – and also to fight injustice. Fernando was part of the classes with some of my students on the street corner in Rancho where he was not only a learner but a teacher – and went beyond the learning to read and write – but to use his skills in organizing against injustices.

In 2002, when the city of Rancho Cucamonga passed a law against day laborers being able to look for work on the street, Fernando was not afraid and took the city to court to ensure that his comrades could continue to organize themselves on the corner. After that victory, Fernando continued the struggle to create a center for day laborers.

That is the way it was for Fernando, Don Gilberto, and other workers who, with the support of students, the Pomona Day Labor Center, and NDLON, developed a corner of struggle that, not only helped the workers in employment and education, but organized them to respond to monthly attacks, on the corner of Arrow and Grove, by such anti-immigrant groups as the Ku Klux Klan and the Minute Men. Hence, on April 2, 2007, a dozen of Ku Klux Klansmen wearing their Klan t-shirts and hats protested the day laborers on that corner. A month later, on Cinco de Mayo 2007 (a day celebrated in Mexican communities when the colonial French army was defeated in Puebla by a largely Mestizo and Zapotec force in 1862) dozens of Minute Men protested across the street from the day laborers. In the middle of the protest, two cars collided on the road and one of the cars landed on the sidewalk killing our leader Fernando.

Although his death hurt all of us deeply, Fernando is very much alive in the ongoing development of the Pomona Day Labor Center, the continuance of classes and leadership development at the corner, and in the annual organizing of an annual memorial attended by day laborers, students and the community. The example and spirit of Fernando is here today with all of you – leaders from all over the country- with the advancement of the National Day Labor Organizing Network (which began with a few and now includes hundreds in corners, centers and cities throughout the nation).

We are here in the spirit of Fernando, to use our skills – without fear – to defeat the walls of ignorance, racism, and scapegoating. At this time when the conservative right and the government use the frustration of workers– (many who don’t have livable salaries and benefits) to advance hatred against our immigrant communities – now, more than ever, it is necessary that we commit ourselves to fight and organize (in the spirit of Fernando) for justice, for fair wages and benefits, for the legalization of our immigrant communities (that contribute billions to the economy with our labor and the taxes that we pay).

We all know very well that this is what Fernando and all those who have sacrificed their lives across the nation would want. Their spirit is very much alive among us – and in that spirit – with the NDLON – with the development of the Jose Fernando Pedraza Institute – we can be sure that in the end we will win – and that a better future – as a result of our efforts – is on the horizon for our communities.

Fernando Pedraza Lives and La Lucha Sigue!

Categories
Economic Justice

Commentary: No, China didn’t steal our jobs. Corporate America gave them away.

The following article was originally published in Salon.

For as long as outsourcing has been a major trend in global capitalism, the ruling classes have had to weave a narrative of how workers in the Global South are “stealing our jobs” as a cover for the reality that global capital actively seeks out cheap, exploitable labor. These narratives have long been embraced by the American right-wing to scapegoat non-American labor and drive a wedge between the international working classes. As such, it is always worthwhile to sharpen our arguments highlighting the ways that these trends are a result of our global economic system and the will of the ruling elite, and the only way to fight back is to forge international solidarity among workers. The following article by Cody Cain in Salon is an important contribution to these efforts.

China is not “stealing” American jobs.

President Trump loves to blame China for the job losses that have devastated American workers under globalization. But the truth is that Trump is blaming the wrong party. Trump’s reckless trade war against China is misguided and amounts to a colossal charade that will not solve the actual problem.

Yes, it is true that numerous American manufacturing jobs have been shipped overseas to China, thereby leaving American workers jobless and suffering. But China did not steal these jobs.

No. These jobs were given to China. It was all legal and legitimate. China merely accepted the gift.

What would anyone expect China to do? Accepting these jobs was a perfectly rational course of action.

China was an underdeveloped nation with a large population of poor people willing to work for a fraction of the hourly wages of American workers. And then corporations came along and presented China with an attractive offer: We would like to build manufacturing plants in China and hire droves of your unemployed people to work there. What was China supposed to do? Naturally, China said yes.

This is hardly stealing.

It is true that these new jobs in China were intended to displace American workers. But does that concern belong to China? Does China have the responsibility to care for the well-being of American workers? Is China supposed to prioritize American workers over its own workers?

Of course not.

China is supposed to look out for itself and for its own workers, not for American workers. Thus it was perfectly proper for China to allow the manufacturing plants to be built in China and employ Chinese workers. China did not steal these jobs.

So if China is not at fault, then who is to blame for the devastation caused to American workers?

The answer is plain to see, and it lies within our own shores. The fault belongs squarely with corporate America.

It was corporate America that made these decisions. Corporate America decided to close their American plants and open new plants in China. Corporate America decided to lay off multitudes of American workers and ruin entire American communities.

And who profited from the destruction to American workers? It was the wealthy executives and shareholders of American corporations. They earned millions of dollars for themselves by cutting the costs of their workforce.

This is part of the larger trend of economic inequality that is eroding the entire middle class in America. Wealth is being shifted away from the workers down below and transferred up into the hands of the wealthy executives and shareholders at the top.

Trump blaming China is nonsense. China is not at fault. To be sure, China is hardly an angel and indeed engages in improper trade practices. But even if China agreed to whatever bone-headed demands Trump is seeking, the problem still would not be solved. The truth is that America cannot possibly compete against China on labor costs. The standard of living is much lower in China and thus Chinese workers are willing to accept wages far below living wages in America. So corporate America will continue to transfer more and more jobs to China and elsewhere. If we do not address this fundamental economic reality, then we will never solve the problem.

Trump blaming China has an insidious aspect to it as well. Focusing all the ire upon China is a grand misdirection that conceals the true culprit, namely, the super-rich corporate executives and shareholders in America.

This is part of Trump’s standard playbook. Trump falsely proclaims to be fighting for blue-collar workers, when in truth, Trump acts entirely in favor of the rich at the top.

Surprisingly, this seems to work. Some of the hard-working Americans who are being crushed by Trump’s idiotic trade war and who should be denouncing Trump, nonetheless praise him for standing up to China, believing that Trump is fighting for blue-collar jobs. It is painful to witness such good people falling victim to Trump’s despicable con job.

In order to actually save the middle class, we need to focus on the true cause of the problem. We must direct our great powers of reform where they belong — upon the wealthy executives and shareholders of corporate America who caused this problem in the first place.

The nature of the problem is that corporate America has no incentive to protect American workers. In fact, corporate America has every incentive to harm American workers by shifting their jobs overseas.

So the financial incentives must be reconfigured. If corporate America is going to ship American jobs overseas, it must not be permitted to pocket all the profits themselves and leave their displaced workers with nothing. Instead, corporations that send jobs offshore must be required to sufficiently compensate their displaced American workers. Executives and shareholders must not be permitted to enrich themselves unless and until their workers are financially secure.

Our society must favor people over profits, not profits over people.

Categories
Uncategorized

Commentary: On Solidarity with AAPI Communities

| Wenda Tai |

I’ve spent the last 3 days reaching out to my AAPI friends and family, responding to other non-AAPI friends, doom-scrolling through the news coverage and experiencing a traumatic cycle of emotions – sadness, grief, anger, anxiety and more ANGER.

There were some rays of hope and comfort from AAPI representatives and groups speaking up and educating the public about a history of violence and exclusion deliberately buried and distorted. What has been most upsetting for me is the deafening silence from friends and colleagues and many people in the progressive movement. Some have expressed solidarity, issuing statements and committing to
actions. We need more. Now is the time for a true united front against white supremacy and misogyny, against colonization and divide-and-conquer manipulations by the state. We need respected civil rights groups to speak up, not just the AAJC and the ADL. [Note: since this was written, many groups have put out clear and powerful solidarity messages: Poor People’s Campaign, M4BL, Racial Equity Anchor Collaborative, and the NAACP, among others.]

I heartily support Marion’s suggestions. And I applaud the observations about the racist undertone in Biden’s foreign policy toward China.

For me, the Atlanta murders hit very close to home. Not sure many of you know that I spent my teen years in Atlanta as a new immigrant. My memories of high school bullying, micro-aggressions, invisibility, and invalidation just came flooding back. Yet I am encouraged that this is now out in the open and people (Asians and non-Asians
alike) are confronting this. No more hiding because we’re forced to feel white- adjacent and presumed to have the same level of white privilege (“model minority” myth). No more hiding because we feel we don’t “count” as POC. No more hiding because we still have to deal with inter- and intra-Asian colorism and racism within each of the Asian American communities.
 
“Let’s take this opportunity to build solidarity across communities of color and ensure that AAPI voices are listened to. That we count, and are COUNTED, literally! How many official reports and research papers actually disaggregate AAPI data and statistics to get to the underlying issues and needs, instead of getting lumped together and ignored/dismissed?”

This is what I told my former boss, the director of the largest LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS advocacy organization in the Pacific Northwest yesterday and helped him edit a statement. Next, I’m going to work with the largest Community Land Trust in this area to do the same in my capacity as a board member. I hope all of us in the family do the same with the platforms we have and the organizations we work with.
 
Thank you to those who are already on it. Thank you for the thoughtful support and resource sharing. Some of us are starting to keep a tally of who’s done what – not in a negative way – as a document of AAPI movement building to take charge of our lives and futures, avenge the suffering of our ancestors and earn the respect of
future generations, to paraphrase the preamble to the M4BL Reparations Now Toolkit.

One step in many towards healing and restorative justice.

Categories
Uncategorized

Commentary: On the Atlanta Massacre

| Sally Alvarez |

I want to acknowledge and mourn the horrific violence that happened in Atlanta on Wednesday. Now is also the time to check in with our AAPI family members and let them know we are listening for them. We hear and see you.

The more we learn about this attack, the clearer it becomes that it was an attack cooked in a horrific stew of racism, misogyny and toxic, deranged, religious fundamentalism driven even further aboveground by the racist rhetoric coming out around the pandemic. It reveals a lot about our culture and politics that Americans would rather not face, and it’s only the latest attack in a long and ugly history.

One of the most compelling and transformative elements of our CWP history was its broad reach across racial and national divisions. Many of us have had deep and meaningful relationship with so many people across those divisions that we never would have had without our common journey. This is an example of targeted violence that reverberates with the hatred and racism that also fueled November 3rd.

We must also seek our other ways we can contribute to a response or offer comfort to those in our family who are feeling this the most painfully and deeply.

Below is a powerful video by John Kim at the Advancement Project. I encourage you to view and circulate the clip as we build solidarity with AAPI communities and allies against white supremacy.

Categories
Economic Justice

Commentary: The Unionizing Workers Who Became Amazon’s Biggest Threat

Commentary on the new Vice article, The Unionizing Workers Who Became Amazon’s Biggest Threat.

“It wasn’t lost on workers that Amazon wanted to spend hours filling workers’ ears with anti-union rhetoric, but resisted calls to give workers more time to eat lunch, socialize, and use the bathroom.”

Since the beginning of our transformation to a post-industrial society, and especially throughout the pandemic, we have seen a new wave of consolidation of capital. Nothing exemplifies this quite like Amazon, the digital retail behemoth that has propelled founder Jeff Bezos to become the world’s richest man.

But despite promises of innovation, career advancement, community investment, and starting wages of $15/hr, Amazon workers are reporting that Amazon workplaces are increasingly looking like the shop floors of the early Industrial Revolution. They recount how workers are surveilled constantly and hounded to keep up productivity at all costs, leading many employees to forgo bathroom breaks and sleep in their cars in the parking lots of Amazon’s “fulfillment centers.”

Amid these conditions, Vice has published a new article highlighting how workers are finally beginning to push back. Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama are mounting a major unionization effort with the RWDSU that would mark the first American union of Amazon employees — 5,800 of them.

The article is an important look at a union drive that is increasingly seen as a national referendum on unions, with major national figures and even President Biden voicing support for the vote. The Amazon drive could also be an important bellwether for the American labor movement as a whole, as it represents the changing face of the American working class (which is increasingly occupied in the service sector rather than the traditional union strongholds of manufacturing). Downwardly mobile millennials and former union manufacturing workers in their 40s, 50s, and 60s are the driving force behind the unionization effort for a workforce that is 85% Black. This intergenerational and interracial solidarity could be the key to their success.

It’s also notable where this effort is taking place. Bessemer has a poverty rate of nearly 25%, but stands out compared to the rest of the South as having a relatively high unionization rate of 8%. As union manufacturing jobs have left American shores, those former union workers are turning to Amazon, bringing with them their direct understanding of the power of organized labor. And historically, Bessemer has been a hotbed of labor organizing going back to the efforts of the Communist Party in the 1930s.

Nevertheless, there are major challenges. Amazon has colluded with the local government to decrease the length of red lights to limit the amount of time organizers can speak with employees on their way to work, and employees report being forced to sit in meetings full of anti-union propaganda. Vice reports that the 18-24 year-old cohort has been especially skeptical of the unionization effort, both because the decades-long assault on organized labor has left many young workers with little understanding of the importance of having a union and also because Amazon has all but threatened to slash pay or even shut down the facility if the union drive is successful. Effectively, they have become so accustomed to low expectations that even the promise of a better workplace seems fanciful.

Whatever the results, this unionization drive represents a major strategic effort for the American labor movement, and deserves close attention.

Read more via Vice: The Unionizing Workers Who Became Amazon’s Biggest Threat

Categories
Ecological Justice Economic Justice

Commentary: A Job Guarantee Can Challenge Growth and Fight Climate Change

| Steve Clark |

Coming out of this economic recession, we’re hearing a lot of talk about restarting “growth.” But strategically, it’s crucial to stop promoting growth as a thing in itself. We need to employ everyone, but not in the same way that has brought us to the brink of climate change disaster. We need to refocus production and investment in sustainable enterprise, but what about all the working people who need jobs in the meantime? For instance, fracking is way down now; do we want its revival? What is a former fracking worker to do while jobs in the new economy still don’t exist? As this piece in Foreign Policy points out, a Job Guarantee (JG) would immediately solve this problem… as any worker without a job would be entitled to one funded by the government (at $15/hr with benefits) until the private sector is able and willing to hire her. Instead of climate-destroying jobs in the old economy, a JG can provide useful, caring jobs and stability to families and the economy while we make the structural changes necessary to create a sustainable economy for everyone.

Read more: Foreign Policy – “Stimulus Is an Environmental Disaster Waiting to Happen”

Categories
Global Peace & Collaboration

Like It or Not, Space Force is a Thing…

| Steve Clark |

At one of her first press conferences, Biden’s Press Secretary Jen Psaki chuckled derisively when a reporter asked about the new President’s plans for the Space Force, but she said she’d check into it and get back. A couple days later, she corrected herself, saying the new command, established in the last year of the Trump Administration, “absolutely” has the “full support” of the Biden Administration.

Meanwhile, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where the command could be headquartered — and where matters of space and aliens are often top-of-mind — Bob Anderson is a vigilant critic.

“I have been trying to get the local peace community educated to the fact that what is going on here in NM is far worse than the nuclear weapons programs on which they are fixated,” Bob writes. “I like space and technology, but what is going on here is a wild ride pushed by the war profiteers and imperialist policies. They’re looking for ways to make money by raising American anxiety about other nations’ intentions. This is a good article on what is in the mix for now on developing a space policy. The first graphic is breathtaking; this could doom humans to never leave the planet!”

DOD Faces Tough Decisions on Space Rules (Breaking Defense, 02 Feb 2021)

Categories
Global Peace & Collaboration

Transcending Tribalism

| Steve Clark |

In this interview, Alaine Duncan looks at our nation as a “trauma survivor” and discusses how to transcend tribalism. A challenge for our nation’s tribes is learning to tolerate our own discomfort and not perceive discomfort as unsafe.

Transcending Tribalism

Alaine Duncan graduated from acupuncture school in 1990 and completed Somatic Experiencing training in 2007. She was a founding member of the Integrative Health & Wellness program at the DC Veterans Administration Medical Center where she served as a clinician and researcher from 2007-2017. She also co-founded the National Capital Area chapter of Acupuncturists Without Borders who, until Covid 19, provided free weekly acupuncture treatment to immigrants, refugees and neighbors in need. Her book, The Tao Trauma: A Practitioner’s Guide for Integrating Five Element Theory and Trauma Treatment explores East-meets-West approaches to restore survivor’s balance and regulation. It is available in print, audio and kindle wherever you buy books on line.