Sunday, December 27, 2009
By Scott Marshall
There he was on Christmas Eve on the TV news. Arizona Senator John Kyl, pumped with anger, calling the just passed Senate health care reform bill "a massive, very bad assault on liberty." You got to ask, whose liberty is he so concerned about? The insurance companies "liberty" to gouge us, cut benefits, exclude those who might really need coverage, and tell us in the middle of treatment that our policy won't cover any more medical care?
You hear these rightwing characters and their tea bagger friends throwing around terms like "liberty, freedom, and special interests" and you got to wonder.
But of course it's a class thing and these Wall Street stooges understand it very well. For them liberty means deregulation, tax breaks and bail outs for the banks and the rich. Freedom means no Employee Free Choice Act that might give workers a real voice at work and limit arbitrary corporate power. And special interests are unions, civil right organizations, immigrant rights organizations, women's organizations, environmental organizations, and any other mass people's organizations that might interfere with capital's maximum ability to exploit and dictate. Democracy just seems to bring out millions of these pesky types of taxpayers.
But what really struck me about Kyl's ringing cry of liberty was how these rightwing Republicans today always seem to quote Ronald Reagan and not Abraham Lincoln. I mean if you're going to boom out ringing rhetorical flourishes, why not quote in the spirit of the greatest Republican of them all. Ronald Reagan went from acting for GE to action on behalf of GE. Lincoln actually did something about liberty and freedom.
But when you think about the health care debate and then you think about my favorite Lincoln quote, you know why Lincoln just doesn't fit the Republican agenda today. Abraham Lincoln said:
"Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration."
In today's popular discourse Lincoln might have substituted "Main Street" for labor and "Wall Street" for capital - but you get the point. If Kyl and his ilk were saying it today they would just reverse "labor" and "capital" in the quote.
And what do these "extremist in defense of (corporate) liberty" have to say about "certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” today. It sure seems to me that any reasonable interpretation of an unalienable right to life would include the right to health care.
Sunday, December 6, 2009
by Scott Marshall
East Chicago, In. - Local 1010 of the United Steelworkers Union (USW) is proud of its militant history. It is also proud of its newly renovated union hall. Hundreds of 1010 members and other USW members from the surrounding area attended a spirited and festive rededication meeting this past Friday.
The ceremony featured the unveiling of a large and stunning black granite slab on the beautifully redecorated auditorium wall. It is etched with a scene from the Memorial Day Massacre of 1937 at Republic Steel in South Chicago and features the names of the ten union supporters who were gunned down by Chicago police as they peacefully marched to the plant gate to picket. The rededication renamed the 1010 union hall, "Memorial Hall," in their honor. Four of those killed were members of local 1010.
Local 1010 president, Tom Hargrove, set a tone of pride in labor militancy and partisanship for the meeting in his welcome. "We started our meetings with the Pledge of Allegiance. How many corporations do that? Not many, if at all. The corporations are global now and their only allegiance is to money." Hargrove also recalled a long history of progressive action by the local, like fighting Jim Crow segregation in East Chicago in the 1940's when he city was pushing for even greater racial discrimination against African Americans.
Featured speaker, Leo Gerard, international president of the USW, used the opportunity to blast the big banks and financial institutions for plundering the world and ruining the economy. He called for an all out labor led fight for jobs and rebuilding the manufacturing sector of the US economy. Gerard hailed the fighting spirit of the Memorial Day ten and local 1010 as needed for the fight today. (see video below)
Ed Sadlowski, former district director of the Chicago and Gary region of the USW, spoke of the many challenges facing the labor movement today. And to thunderous applause he warned that as we make the fight for health care reform, labor rights and other labor programs, the rightwing, anti-labor crowd will start to call it all socialistic. "Well I hope it is," Sadlowski said, "there is nothing wrong with democratic socialism. That's the direction we really have to go in."
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
By Carl Davidson
Cross posted from Beaver County Blue
Oct. 27, 2009–The United Steel Workers Union, North America’s largest industrial trade union, announced a new collaboration with the world’s largest worker-owned cooperative, Mondragon International, based in the Basque region of Spain.
News of the announcement spread rapidly throughout the communities of global justice activists, trade union militants, economic democracy and socialist organizers, green entrepreneurs and cooperative practitioners of all sorts. More than a few raised an eyebrow, but the overwhelming response was, “Terrific! How can we help?”
The vision behind the agreement is job creation, but with a new twist. Since government efforts were being stifled by the greed of financial speculators and private capital was more interested in cheap labor abroad, unions will take matters into their own hands, find willing partners, and create jobs themselves, but in sustainable businesses owned by the workers.
“We see today’s agreement as a historic first step towards making union co-ops a viable business model that can create good jobs, empower workers, and support communities in the United States and Canada,” said USW International President Leo W. Gerard. “Too often we have seen Wall Street hollow out companies by draining their cash and assets and hollowing out communities by shedding jobs and shuttering plants. We need a new business model that invests in workers and invests in communities.”
“This is a wonderful idea,” said Rick Kimbrough, a retired steelworker from Aliquippa, Pa, and a 37-year-veteran of Jones and Laughlin Steel. “Ever since they shut down our mill, I’ve always thought, ‘why shouldn’t we own them?’ If we did, they wouldn’t be running away.” J&L’s Aliquippa Works was once one of the largest steel mills in the world, but is now shutdown and largely dismantled. Much of the production moved to Brazil.
The USW partnership with Mondragon was a bold stroke. While hardly a household word in the U.S and little known in the mass media, the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation (MCC) has been the mother lode of fresh ideas on economic democracy and social entrepreneurship worldwide for 50 years. Started in 1956 with five workers in a small shop making kerosene stoves, MCC today has over 100,000 worker-owners in some 260 enterprises in 40 countries. Annual sales are pegged at more than 16 billion Euros with a wide range of products–high tech machine tools, motor buses, household appliances and a chain of supermarkets. MCC also maintains its own banks, health clinics, welfare system, schools and the 4000 student Mondragon University–all worker-owned coops.
Over the past decade, there have been a handful of efforts to apply the model and methods of MCC to projects in the United States. Almost all are on a small scale–several bakeries in the Bay Area, some bookstores, and most recently, an industrial laundry and solar panel enterprise in Cleveland. In Chicago, Austin Polytechnical Academy, a new public high school in a low-income neighborhood, was inspired, in part, by Mondragon, and a group of its students recently took part in a study tour of MCC in the Basque region.
But the USW initiative, and the potential clout behind it, puts the Mondragon vision on wider terrain. An integrated chain of worker-owned enterprises that might promote a green restructuring of the U.S. economy, for instance, would not only be a powerful force in its own right. It would also have a ripple effect, likely to spur other government and private efforts to both supplement and compete with it.
The USW is proceeding cautiously. “We’ve made a commitment here,” said Rob Witherell during a recent interview at his Organizing Department’s offices in the USW Pittsburgh headquarters. “But for that reason, we want to make sure we get it right, even if it means starting slowly and on a modest scale.”
What this means at the moment, Witherell explained is that the USW is looking for viable small businesses in appropriate sectors where the current owners are interested in cashing out. The union is also searching for financial institutions with a focus on productive investment, such as cooperative banks and credit unions.
“It can get complicated,” Witherell continued. “Not only do you have to fund the buyout, but you also have to figure out how to lend workers the money to buy-in, so they can repay it at a reasonable rate over a period of time, and still make a decent living.”
The core Mondragon model was developed in the 1950s by a Roman Catholic priest, Father Jose Maria Arizmendi. It starts with a school, a credit union and a shop–all owned by workers who each had an equal share and vote. The three-in-one combination allows the cooperative to rely on its own resources for finance and training. The worker-owners cannot be fired. In regular assemblies, they hire and fire their managers, as well as set the general policies and direction of the firm. The workers themselves decide on the income spread between the lowest paid worker and the highest paid manager, which currently averages about 4.5 to one. (Compared with more than 400 to one in the U.S.) As the worker-owners accumulate resources, they can encourage the formation of new coops, indirectly through their bank and directly through their firms, and bring them into the overall structures of MCC governance. This is how they grew from one small shop to 260 enterprises in the past 50 years. Finally, if a worker-owner retires, he or she can ‘cash out,’ but the share cannot be sold. It is only available for purchase by a new worker-owner at that firm.
This last crucial point was developed by Arizmendi during the course of deep study of Catholic social theory as well as the works of Karl Marx and the English cooperativist Robert Owen. A worker-owner’s ability to sell his or her share to anyone was a flaw in Owen’s approach, Arizmendi decided, since it enabled outsiders to buy the more successful coops, turning their workers back into wage-labor, while starving the other less successful coops of resources. With Arizmendi’s new approach, only four out of the several hundred MCC coop ventures have failed during the half century since Mondragon began.
The difference between worker-owned coops Mondragon-style, and ESOPs, or Employee Stock Ownership Programs more prevalent in the U.S., has to do with legal structure and control. In an ESOP, a portion of the companies stock, ranging from a large minority bloc to 100 percent, is owned by workers but held in a trust. Its value fluctuates with the stock market and workers can get dividends as they are paid, buy more stock, or “cash out” when they retire. If they do “cash out,” they pay taxes on the closing amount, unless they roll it over into an IRA. By and large, ESOPs are financial instruments and do not automatically lead to worker control over the workplace or a role in shaping the firm’s capital strategies. Managers are hired by the firm’s board of directors, in turn, connected to the trust.
“We have lots of experience with ESOPs,” said Gerard, “but we have found that it doesn’t take long for the Wall Street types to push workers aside and take back control. We see Mondragon’s cooperative model with ‘one worker, one vote’ ownership as a means to re-empower workers and make business accountable to Main Street instead of Wall Street.” The USW, however, will insist on at least one modification of the Mondragon model: the worker-owners will be organized into trade unions, and will sign collective bargaining agreements with the management team. This sets up a unique situation whereby unionized workers reach an agreement with themselves as a workers’ assembly and with the management team they hire.
This is not as big of a problem as it may sound. “’This is not heaven and we are not angels’ is a common phrase heard by visitors to Mondragon,” said Michael Peck, MCC’s North American delegate. Within the structure of each MCC enterprise is a ’social committee’ of the workers, which looks to their broader social concerns. But, it has also come to play the role of settling day-to-day disputes with the management team, thus serving as a de facto union. Class struggle surely continues, even in a modified form in a worker cooperative.
There are also other features unique to MCC that may or may not apply to its replication in the U.S. Father Arizmendi developed his plan as a community-based survival mechanism following the devastation of the Spanish Civil War and World War Two. He was imprisoned under Franco. The Basque region, a center of anti-Franco resistance, was not only in economic ruin, but was also punished by the Franco government by being denied resources. MCC evolved through self-reliance.
Under Spanish law, because the MCC worker-owners are not technically wage-labor, but get their income from a share of the profits, they are excluded from much of the country’s social welfare safety net pertaining to workers. MCC responded by organizing and funding it’s own ’second degree’ cooperatives–health care clinics, retirement plans, schools and other social services, all cooperatively owned with their own worker assemblies. Much of this integrated second-degree structure may not be required in the U.S. Here, it may make more sense for worker-owned enterprises to form local or regional collaboratives and stakeholder arrangements with county government, credit unions, community colleges and technical high schools, and other nonprofit agencies.
What’s in the partnership for Mondragon? Josu Ugarte, President of Mondragron Internacional declared: “What we are announcing today represents a historic first–combining the world’s largest industrial worker cooperative with one of the world’s most progressive and forward-thinking manufacturing unions to work together so that our combined know-how and complimentary visions can transform manufacturing practices in North America. We feel inspired to take this step based on our common set of values with the Steelworkers who have proved time and again that the future belongs to those who connect vision and values to people and put all three first.”
Along with its core values and unique ownership structure, MCC is still a business producing goods and providing services in markets, anchored in Spain but reaching across the globe. It seeks to sustain itself and grow, although it is not driven by the same ‘expand or die’ compulsion of traditional corporate or privately owned firms. Adding more worker-owners simply gives each worker a smaller slice of a bigger pie. There’s no removed batch of nonproducing stockholders raking in superprofits, or trading their stock speculatively as it rises or falls.
MCC firms still compete with traditional rivals for customers in the marketplace, and thus are always seeking a competitive edge. MCC enterprises, for example, are mainly known for high quality products. But when this is combined with a fact of self-management, that they have far fewer supervisory layers on the payroll, the higher quality products hit the marketplaces with a lower price. This puts MCC on the leading edge of Spain’s economy.
MCC also looks for other advantages, such as horizontal integration and securing competitive sources of supply. This is why it has cautiously been expanding abroad, buying up supply firms or other complimentary businesses, and seeking to reshape them into the MCC cooperative structure. Often, however, they run into difficulties, where another country’s laws treat cooperatives with disadvantages.
That is not the case in the U.S., where even though industrial coops are not common, there are few undue restrictions on their formation. “As we look for firms to purchase,” said Witherell, “MCC is not just interested in buying up companies and having the workers as employees. It’s the MCC rep that’s always pushing on how readily we can convert to worker ownership.”
The Mondragon initiative is not the first innovative project of the Steelworkers seeking wider allies. With the encouragement of International President Leo Gerard, following on the anti-WTO street battles in Seattle in the 1990s, the USW helped found the Blue-Green Alliance together with the Sierra Club and other environmentalists. It has worked closely with Van Jones and ‘Green for All’s jobs initiatives and the union plays a major role in the ongoing annual ‘Good Jobs, Green Jobs’ conferences. Most recently, the USW was a major participant in the week-long series of events making the oppositional case at the G20 events in Pittsburgh.
For Gerard and the USW, these alliances are matters of utmost practicality and survival. Gerard points out that 40,000 manufacturing facilities in the U.S. have closed since the onset of the 2007 economic crisis, throwing 2 million people out of work. His answer is structural reform in the economy along the lines of a ‘green industrial revolution’ and to fund it with a tax of speculative capital’s financial transfers, known as the ‘Tobin Tax.’
“Americans going green–manufacturing windmills and solar cells–would benefit both the economy and environment,” said Gerard in a Campaign for America’s Future article. “As the Wall Street debacle that pushed this country into the Great Recession last year showed, the United States cannot depend on trading in obscure financial products to support its economy. To survive, America must be able to manufacture products of intrinsic value that can be traded here and internationally.” He often notes that there are 200 tons of steel and 8000 moving parts in every large wind turbine–a concept that is never lost on the unemployed and under-employed manufacturing workers that hear it.
The same point is not lost on small and medium-sized businesses looking for orders from new endeavors. This is where green entrepreneurs can form alliances with worker-owned cooperatives, trade unions, living wage job advocates and the global justice movement. The key question is whether the political will and organizational skill can be brought together to make it all happen in a way that most enhances the strength and livelihood of the working class.
Here is where the ball returns to the court of left organizers and solidarity economy activists. Lending a helping hand to the new initiative entails a good deal of investigation into the state of local businesses and conditions, plus building alliances, generating publicity, and contributing educational work among all those concerned. It’s not crowded, and there’s a lot to be done.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
“When nurses are exposed to tuberculosis, the hospital notifies us. When nurses are exposed to head lice, the hospital notifies us. Why then are we not told when we are exposed to H1N1? Staff need to know if they have been exposed in order to keep our patients from further unnecessary exposure,” said Carol Koelle, an RN at St. Bernardine Medical Center in San Bernardino, Calif.
“We can’t get enough masks, patients are not being properly isolated, and nurses are not informed of the latest guidelines. Last time I worked it took me more than four hours to get masks when we ran out. If we don’t put the proper precautions in place now before flu season peaks we will be in serious trouble,” said Kathy Dennis, a registered nurse at Mercy General Hospital in Sacramento.
These concerns, voiced by nurses this week, follow months of warnings by the nation’s RNs about inadequate swine flu hospital safeguards. In California alone, more than 3,000 people have been hospitalized and over 200 have died, including a nurse infected on the job.
Some 16,000 registered nurses from three large Catholic hospital chains in California and Nevada will do more than just continue their warnings this weekend when they stage a one day strike and picket Oct. 30 to dramatize the lack of readiness by hospitals to confront the swine flu pandemic.
The strike will affect hospitals throughout California from San Bernardino and Long Beach in the south to Eureka and Redding in the north, and include major facilities in Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Jose, Bakersfield, Stockton and the Central Coast. Nurses will also picket major facilities in Las Vegas and Reno, Nev.
Nurses at almost all the hospitals involved agree with Koelle and Dennis that hospitals are doing a poor job at isolating patients with swine flu symptoms and are not taking other steps necessary to limit contagion, including provision of masks and safety gear for workers and patients.
As late as last week the Centers for Disease Control confirmed that it had re-issued guidelines for isolation and safety equipment and had urged hospitals to stop encouraging employees to work when sick, another problem cited by many nurses.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration confirmed, also last week, that it plans to issue a compliance directive to ensure uniform procedures “to identify and minimize or eliminate high to very high risk occupational exposures” to H1N1.
The California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee issued a statement Oct. 19 urging incorporation of all CDC and OSHA guidelines into its existing contracts with hospitals.
In August CNA/NNOC released the findings of a survey of 190 hospitals in the U.S. where nurses cited major problems with poor segregation of patients, lack of sufficient masks, numerous cases where nurses were infected, inadequate training and punitive sick leave policies. The union says that substantial problems remain all over the country.
Making the swine flu issue even more serious, many nurses say, is the failure of hospitals to assure proper staffing.
“Our hospitals are not adhering to the safe staffing ratios law,” said Allen Fitzpatrick, a nurse who works at St. Mary’s Medical Center in San Francisco. “Nurses are being harassed by supervisors to accept unsafe assignments and not to take any breaks. Bedside nurses are busy enough trying to provide care to our patients. We need someone to stand up for safe RN-to-patient staffing.”
“We have a comprehensive staffing proposal on the table because no matter how much care a patient requires our hospital won’t add nurses and has eliminated our aides,” said Susan Johnson, an Obstetrics RN at St. Joseph Hospital in Eureka. “We work 12 hour shifts, often without a break, and are assigned to work outside our area of expertise. We have proposed a break relief nurse on every unit and a safe “floating” policy, all essential patient care protections.”
Additionally, the RN’s are insisting that hospitals stop their efforts to reduce healthcare benefits by shifting more costs to nurses and reducing coverage options. In some cases, hospitals are also demanding a wage freeze.
“As nurses, we see the consequences when employers reduce coverage, it’s disgraceful to see our hospitals taking the same step,” said Debra Amour, a registered nurse at Seton Medical Center in Daly City.
Friday, October 16, 2009
"Today we declare a State of Peaceful Insurrection of the people of Puerto Rico", declared Juan Vera, Methodist bishop of Puerto Rico, as he called for going from "protests to resistance to civil disobedience" against the neoliberal economic policies of Gov. Luis Fortuño which have resulted in the laying-off of 25,000 public sector employees. Fortuño had announced earlier this year that the number of government workers to be dismissed from their jobs would reach 30,000. Puerto Rico normally suffers from double-digit joblessness during non-recessionary times.
An estimated 100,000 plus marched from seven points in the San Juan metropolitan area to a massive rally at the Plaza de las Américas shopping mall which was chosen as the rally point because it is seen as a symbol of transnational corporations and its culture of consumerism. Hundreds were already at the starting points before the sun was up.
The owners of Plaza de las Américas announced the day before that the mall, the largest in the Caribbean and one of the largest in all of Latin America, would be closed the day of the strike. Strike leaders had threatened to close it down with massive picket lines.
The march was organized by the coalition All Puerto Rico for Puerto Rico, composed of labor unions, churches, civic, community and political groups. The protestors consisted of people from all political groupings, even those who voted for Fortuño. When the governor first announced his plans for lay-offs, members and local leaders of his own party, the annexationist New Progressive Party, told the press that even though they worked to get out the vote for him, they would protest his economic decisions.
Roberto Pagán, president of the Puerto Rican Union of Workers, said "today is the end of Luis Fortuño". Another Puerto Rican labor leader, Federico Torres, said he would put the number of people in the march at 200,000.
The most prominent symbol in the march which marked a one-day general strike organized by a coalition of labor, political, religious and civic organizations was the Puerto Rican flag being waved by thousands amidst union banners, and signs by different constituencies.
The mayors of 30 of the 78 municipalities helped organize almost 200 buses to the march.
Among the two biggest union contingents one can see in the march were UTIER, the electrical workers union, and the Puerto Rican Federation of Teachers (FMPR). They were joined by other Puerto Rican and US-based unions as well as church groupings, political and civic organizations.
Victor Rodriguez, a member of the FMPR, said he saw the march was a "wave of indignation against [the governor's] attempt at privatization" of state services.
A young woman, interviewed by Radio WKAQ, who worked in providing services to "special needs communities" said the people were there "to stop the current administration's abuse against the country."
Delegations of US union leaders also came to take part in the march said José La Luz, a leader of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Another US labor leader, Dennis Rivera of SEIU-1199 said the Service Employees International Union was "calling on US workers to express their solidarity with the Puerto Rican workers."
Meanwhile, a contingent of University of Puerto Rico students from the Law School and the School of Urban Planning took over the highway from San Juan to Caguas, sitting down to block all traffic. Students from the medical school soon later joined them. After some time police officials were able to negotiate with students opening one lane in each direction. Police reported that other roads in the metropolitan areas were heavy with traffic due to the protestors having taken up many of the adjacent streets. Journalists have reported that some drivers stuck on the highways have left their cars on the roads and joined the protest.
Religious organizations took part in the activities of the day. Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist and Catholic bishops, clergy and parishioners marched behind banners declaring their commitment to fight for social justice. One of the biggest groups was led by Bishop Rubén González of the Catholic Diocese of Caguas. Behind a banner which declared, "Solidarity is the charity of today" marched 2,000 believers.
Fortuño administration official tried to give the impression that the country and government were not hampered by a "few protestors" but had to admit later on that the impact was much more than that. Reports coming in from different municipalities said that many schools had to close down because large number of students, teachers and even principals didn't show up.
The strike and march was first being planned by the trade union movement starting last spring as the governor announced his economic plans.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Hundreds of Thousands of Puerto Rican Workers, Faith Leaders, Students and Citizens in General Strike today
National March Will Protest Massive Cuts in Essential Public Services; Republican Administration Under Investigation for Civil Rights Violations Against High School Students
WASHINGTON - October 14 - As Puerto Rico struggles with a 17 percent unemployment rate, Republican Governor Luis Fortuno is pushing forward with his plan to lay off more than 17,000 state government employees. The Governor has targeted government employees who provide critical public services to children, seniors and the poor. Since the Governor announced the cuts, thousands of workers and citizens have engaged in spontaneous acts of civil disobedience.
Tomorrow, hundreds of thousands of Puerto Rican workers, faith leaders, students and citizens will unite in Hato Ray to peacefully protest the planned cuts in essential public services. Governor Fortuno has threatened to charge citizens with "terrorism" if they take part in the planned march.
One-Day National Strike and Peaceful Protest
10:00 A.M., Thursday, October 15, 2009
Labor movement and civil society organizations
Plaza Las Americas
Hato Rey, Puerto Rico
EDITOR NOTE: Groups are gathering in seven locations a mile north, east, west and south of the main site. They will march simultaneously to the meeting point beginning at 10:00 a.m. People from other towns will go directly to the main site.
Here are the facts about recent events in Puerto Rico:
* On September 25, the Fortuno administration announced it was cutting the jobs of 17,000 schoolteachers, social workers, healthcare workers and other public employees, effective this November 6.
* These lay offs are in addition to the 7,800 workers who were laid off by Governor Fortuno's administration last spring, bringing the total number to nearly 25,000 state government employees.
* In recent days, thousands of university students, workers, faith leaders and citizens have demonstrated, marched and held vigils in support of the working women and men who provide critical public services. Men and women have been threatened, physically attacked, and falsely arrested in some cases.
* On Friday, October 9, students at a high school in Canovanas, Puerto Rico protested the Governor's visit to a nearby public housing project. The protest ended in violence when police invaded the school, arresting teachers and students. Reports from El Nuevo Dia and other outlets show students being physically attacked and arrested on the spot. At least two students were seriously injured and nine were reportedly arrested.
* On Saturday, October 10, the Puerto Rican Civil Rights Commission announced it would investigate police in Canovanas for their actions.
* Later the same day, the Governor threatened to charge Puerto Rican citizens with "terrorism" if they take part in the national march planned for Thursday, October 15.
Additional information on the devastating effects of cuts to critical safety net services is available.
Monday, September 21, 2009
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
People's World Newspaper
PITTSBURGH – Fourteen hour days, five hours of sleep maximum, grabbing a bite of fast food only now and then – it's no problem, so far, for 3,000 delegates, guests and supporters well into their second day here at the 26th Convention of the AFL-CIO.
“I’ve never been so fired up,” Dean Reynolds, a delegate who works as a staffer for AFSCME and serves as president of Pennsylvania’s Northeast Central Labor Council, told the World this morning. “The best part so far was marching for health care with hundreds of my union brothers and sisters from the convention to the Michael Moore movie.”
The famous film maker, nurses from California and national labor leaders linked arms and led 1,300 convention participants in a march for health care to a downtown theater where they viewed the U.S. premier of “Capitalism, a Love Story.” The film, an unabashed indictment of capitalism as an economic system, explores the causes and solutions for the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
“I’m not even going to get a chance to calm down from last night,” Reynolds said, “because, and I still can’t believe it, the president of the United States is coming here today to address a union convention. It’s like the end of a long nightmare and the beginning of a beautiful new day.”
Reynolds hails from central Pennsylvania, the part of the state traditionally seen as the most conservative. “My County, Clinton County actually went blue. A key factor was the way Obama has been able to inspire the youth,” he said.
The convention has been ticking off one first after another during the last two days.
This morning, Thea Wilson, the federation’s policy director, said that as of today, the AFL-CIO will approve a resolution putting itself on record in support of H.R. 676, the Medicare for all plan introduced into Congress several years ago by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) She said that although labor supports the president’s plan which calls for a strong public option, the long term goal is to win passage of H.R. 676.
The federation approved a number of policy resolutions today, including one for new financial regulations including a tax on all Wall Street trading transactions.
Bill Samuels, the federation’s legislative director, told the World this morning that he believes the 60 votes to prevent a filibuster of the Employee Free Choice Act will be present as soon as all the Democrats are seated. He was including the replacement for the seat vacated after the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy.
The convention gave a rousing reception to Hilda Solis, the Secretary of Labor.
They cheered wildly when she declared, “When labor is strong, America is strong and that’s why the president and I join you to fight for the Employee Free Choice Act.”
Delegates gave a rousing welcome to Caroline Kennedy.
She remembered her uncle: “One of Teddy’s favorite things to do at a labor rally was to count up the years that he, my father, my uncle Bobby, and my cousins Joe and Patrick had spent in the halls of Congress. Then he’d proudly proclaim, ‘That’s 85 years of Kennedy's voting with labor!’”
A major effort has been made to reach out to non-traditional labor organizations. Pablo Alvarado, president of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network addressed the full convention. He told them that every day, “over 120,000 men and women work as day laborers. And this is just in one day. The number of day laborers over the course of the year is far higher, as people move back and forth, in and out of the informal economy and in an out of permanent jobs.
“We, the day laborers, work in an economy that depends on our services but in a country that is not yet ready to grant us our rights. An economy that accepts the fruits of our labor but does not accept our humanity.”
Alvarado brought the convention to its feet in prolonged thunderous applause when he made three pledges to the crowd: “Brothers and sisters, I want to be absolutely clear: My organization makes the following pledges to you:
“First: No day laborer that belongs to our network will cross any picket line. They never have and they never will. Instead we will join the picket line to fight together. Shoulder to shoulder.
“Second: My organization will use every available resource to ensure passage of the Employee Free Choice Act. We must restore the right to organize in America.
“And Third: We will take the fight for worker rights directly to communities. Because building healthy communities requires strong unions, strong worker centers, and a strong labor center."
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
People's World Newspaper
PITTSBURGH - A labor convention different in more ways than one from any prior gathering of the labor movement in U.S. history opened here yesterday.
Some 2,000 delegates, alternates and guests kicked off the convention with a rousing tribute to retiring AFL-CIO President John Sweeney.
While labor movement gatherings often feature tributes to great leaders much of the rest of what is happening here departs from the usual.
Today, for example, the entire convention will leave the hall, enter the streets of Pittsburgh and turn itself into a mass march and rally for universal health care. The throng of labor leaders, activists and their allies, led by the federation’s secretary-treasurer, Richard Trumka and award-winning film maker Michael Moore, will end up at a theatre where they will rally and watch the U.S. premiere of Moore’s highly anticipated film, “Capitalism, a Love Story.”
The convention departs radically from tradition also in terms of the composition of its delegates.
Women, minorities and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people comprise 43 percent of the delegates. All 55 unions at the convention were required to send delegations that reflected the composition of their memberships.
The convention is different also because it is able to record accomplishments that are entirely new for the labor movement.
During John Sweeney’s tenure the AFL-CIO became the nation’s largest grassroots political action movement.
The labor movement grew under his tenure after the establishment of Working America, a vehicle for people without a union on the job that now has 3 million members. Alliances with non traditional labor organizations that represent immigrant workers were formed. One of the most important of those was with the National Day Laborers, which represents many immigrants from Latin America but also workers from Asia and the Pacific.
“Brothers and sisters, this week isn’t about what Sweeney has done, it’s about what you have done,” the outgoing president said in his final keynote address. “When we started down this road together I said it wasn’t about who heads the AFL-CIO but where the AFL-CIO was headed…We’ve taken our federation in a new, positive, progressive direction.
“We elected a champion of working families as the first African American president in the history of our country – and what a thrill it was to watch him last week as he took on the ugly forces that are ripping at the right of American families to have health care – health care as a right and not a privilege.”
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
By Scott Marshall
Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr (D-Il) hosted an overflow town hall meeting on health care reform last night (8.18.09) He hailed the meeting, held in a local church, as a model of civil and respectful debate and discussion. In lively back and forth with the crowd, Jackson fielded questions and invited participants to tell their stories. Jackson concluded that the fight for “a more perfect union” that features comprehensive health care for all will be an ongoing fight, even after passage of HR 3200, the House version of health care reform. “But we have to win this one first,” he declared.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
As President Obama continues his push for comprehensive health care reform and as reports emerge about “compromises” designed to win backing from Senate Blue Dog Democrats and Republicans, Health Care for America Now, a huge national coalition, and some unions have launched a new $650,000 television ad campaign targeting GOP leaders in the House and Senate and Republican members of Congress.
In support of a robust public option, the ad points out that while the Republicans take advantage of such a plan as members of Congress, they oppose giving the same benefit that would lower costs to both American consumers and small businesses. The ad blames their reluctance to back a public option on the millions of dollars in campaign contributions the lawmakers have taken from the health care industry.
The ad is running this week nationally and in the districts of Republican members of Congress who have spoken out against health care reform. The national version targets House Republican leader John Boehner, House Republican Whip Eric Cantor, Senate Majority Leader Mitchell McConnell, and Senate Republican Whip John Kyl. The national ads are paid for by HCAN, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
“These Republicans on Capitol Hill are working for the insurance industry, not the American people,” said AFSCME International President Gerald McEntee. “They are putting profits ahead of people, and the voters need to know it. Congress has to make real reform happen – Americans can’t wait for reform that guarantees quality, affordable health care for all.”
The 1.6 million member AFSCME, one of the leading members of HCAN, represents public service workers in hundreds of different jobs across the country.
“It’s shameful that elected officials who, because of a public plan, don’t have to worry about being able to see a doctor when they get sick would stand in the way of making sure every family and every business in our country has the same guarantee of quality, affordable care,” said Richard Kirsch, national campaign manager for HCAN. “Is their opposition to health insurance reform motivated by the millions of dollars in campaign contributions they’ve taken from the health care industry?”
The stepped up efforts on behalf of a bill that includes a strong public option come in response to reports that pressure is on in the halls of government to craft a compromise that would replace the public option with either a proposal for a non-profit co-operative or a mechanism for creating a public option only after it becomes clear that other measures are leaving too many people still uninsured.
AP has reported that remarks by the president in Colorado Sunday where, after giving detailed reasons for his support for a public option, he described that option as only part of his health care reform agenda, as indicative of his willingness to sacrifice it for the sake of compromise. Other reports cite remarks by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius who described the public option as “not the essential element” of the administration’s healthcare agenda and remarks by White House spokesman Robert Gibbs Sunday on the CBS program “Face the Nation.”
Pressed on whether the administration was willing to compromise on the public option, Gibbs would only say that the president has thus far sided with the notion that choice and competition can best be achieved with a public option.
Former Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean said this morning that he expected the House to pass a bill with a public option and the Senate to pass a bill, with 60 votes, that will not include a public option. He said that the two bills will then have to be reconciled and that if there is a strong enough push from people across the country combined with the fact that the final bill, under allowable “budget reconciliation procedures,” will need only a simple majority of 50 votes, “we will end up with the public option.”
There are some Blue Dogs in the Senate who, under this scenario, would be freed up to vote “no,” the thinking goes, to cover their so-called “right” flank without actually sabotaging passage of a bill with a public option.
Health care activists aren’t taking any chances on the ins and outs of the legislative process, however, and have called for a continued push for the public option during the closing weeks of August.
Dean said last week at a labor-backed “Netroots Nation” gathering in Pittsburgh that the only thing that made health reform legislation proposed by the House worth doing was the public option. “The public option is incremental reform,” Dean said, “but there is no incrementalism without the public option.”
Progressives in Congress are more determined than ever to push for the public option.
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, said Sunday, “The only way we can be sure that very low-income people who work for companies that don’t offer insurance have access to it, is through an option that would give the private insurance companies a little competition.” The congresswoman, a former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, also worked in the past as the chief psychiatric nurse at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Dallas.
Kirsch notes that even if the public option weren’t part of the Obama reform plan, “the right would be screaming about a ‘government take-over’ as loudly as it is now.” He noted how, during the recent period, the right shifted its focus to “scare stories about government-backed euthanasia.”
“If scuttling the public option won’t quiet the right, it will definitely quiet the left,” Kirsch warned. “And that would be disastrous to the prospects of Democrats passing legislation this fall. Giving people an alternative to the private health insurance industry is the one issue that highly motivates progressives. Over and over again at Health Care for America Now, it is what our tens of thousands of activists – from grassroots community people to high-dollar Democratic donors – want to talk about. For them it has become the measure of whether health reform is about real change or just a cosmetic lift to a broken system.
“Responding to those same voices,” Kirsch added, “four Democratic committees in two houses of Congress have passed legislation that includes a public option, and the President has consistently reaffirmed his support.”
He compared the GOP strategy for health reform to insurance company strategy for paying big medical claims, “delay and deny,” and suggested that “maybe there’s another reason that Republicans in Congress are so focused on killing the public option. They think that if they succeed in killing the public option they’ll cause mass desertion from the progressive army that’s powering the President’s agenda for reform.”
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Here’s a firsthand account from Rosa Blumenfeld, an organizer for the North Shore (Mass.) Labor Council, on how an organized and well-briefed union presence can counter the tactics many health care reform opponents are using to disrupt congressional town hall meetings.
As we arrived at the Chelmsford Town Hall, there were already people lined up to get in. Some were wearing T-shirts with angry tea kettles on them and carrying signs saying things like, “Stop Socialized Medicine” and “Obamacare: It’s to Die For.” As we were warned, they spread out all over the room and constantly disrupted anyone, including Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.), who spoke out against their lies.
Our side had about a dozen people between the North Shore Labor Council and IUE-CWA Local 201 and another dozen from SEIU Local 615. There were many Obama supporters among the crowd of 200 inside the room, and the 200 more waiting to get in.
What worked were simple signs with large print slogans like “Real Health Insurance Reform Now,” and “Stop Insurance Company Greed.” During Tsongas’ opening remarks, we applauded forcefully and many in the room cheered. We even had folks countering the extremist amongst the crowd waiting outside.
One of the most effective points during the Q&A happened when one union woman stood up and said:
I think that everyone in this room can agree that we need to stop unnecessary death. My grandmother got sick and died from breast cancer because her insurance company refused to pay for her treatment. The system isn’t working. People are dying. We need this health insurance reform.
What we were not warned about was the incredible amount of tension that it would create both within the room and within ourselves. Even our most active members that attended were exhausted by the time it was over.
Two things became very clear during the course of this town hall event. First, if we hadn’t been there, they would have eaten the congresswoman alive. These people were constantly shouting and were not interested in discussion or debate. All they wanted was to disrupt things as much as possible. Because of our support, she stood her ground and answered the questions in a way that supported the public health insurance option.
Second, we have to keep our message on the insurance companies whose insatiable (and thus far unchecked) greed got us into this mess in the first place. We cannot focus on the Democrats who support a public option in health care reform or even President Obama. In our meetings with elected officials, it is entirely appropriate to thank them for their support and push them to be stronger advocates, if necessary. But in our public message to counter the extremists, we must keep the focus on corporate greed.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Organized groups of union members, responding to right-wing attempts to de-rail the movement for health care reform, are turning out for virtually every health care rally and town hall meeting in the nation, knocking on doors, and are holding their own demonstrations. The efforts are part of a special 30-day mobilization that began August 6.
At a health care rally in Chicago last week members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, carrying their union banners, formed a human chain along Dearborn Street to separate and help protect a large and peaceful crowd of health care activists from a loud and hostile group of right wingers.
In a telephone interview Richard Trumka, the AFL-CIO’s secretary-treasurer, indicated that one of the major purposes of labor’s stepped up mobilization for health care reform this month is “to counter the right-wing-organized riots that have disrupted congressional town hall meetings with shouts, chants, shoving and disinformation.” At one such meeting the radical right strung up the local congressman in effigy.
Trumka described the right-wing actions against health care reform as “riots bought and paid for by special interests, the Republicans and the radical right.”
Noting that labor demonstrations are “ also passionate, heartfelt and often loud,” Trumka said, “This is not what corporate-funded mobs are engaging in when they show up to disrupt meetings.”
“Major health care reform is closer than ever to passage,” he declared, “and it is no secret special interests want to weaken or block it. These mobs are not there to participate. As their own strategy memo states, they have been sent by their corporate and lobbyist bank-rollers to disrupt, heckle and block meaningful debate. This is a desperation move.
Mob rule is not democracy. People have a democratic right to express themselves and our elected leaders have a right to hear from their constituents – not organized thugs whose sole purpose is to shut down the conversation and attempt to scare our leaders into inaction,” Trumka said.
The unions are also taking their fight to the nation’s airwaves. The AFL-CIO, AFSCME and others are funding ads that explain to radio listeners and TV viewers the essential points of health care plans emerging from Congress, what the unions see as the most important parts of those plans and what they see as the positive role of the Obama administration.
The union-backed Americans United for Change is mounting a major offensive against the insurance companies.
“Make no mistake: Cigna and the other private insurance companies created the health care mess – and as long as profits keep going up, they are perfectly happy to wallow in the mess forever,” said Tim McMahon, the groups acting executive director.
The stepped up campaign by the unions was launched Aug. 6 by AFL-CIO President John Sweeney who will retire in mid-September. He said that those campaigning on behalf of the nation’s unions are calling on Congress to “side with workers, and not the insurance companies.”
“Side with health insurers and vote for legislation that continues their control over health care in America, or vote for reform that puts people in charge of their health care,” Sweeney said in a memo to union presidents and state federation and local council leaders. “The question for us is: Will we let them make health care ‘Obama’s Waterloo’ or will we make it the next big step in our march to turn around America?”
A major part of labor’s 30-day drive is taking place on line.
Marc Laitin, the AFL-CIO’s online mobilization director, said that the thrust of the federation’s message on the Internet is that “real health care reform must include a quality public health insurance option, a requirement for employers to pay their fair share and no taxation of workers’ existing health care benefits.”
He said that unions are also making an effort to use their online presence to support the president. The message, he said, is that “the plans Obama backs mean health care will be there for you, no matter what. Health care costs will be reduced. There will be an end to insurance company abuses. You can’t be denied coverage because you’re sick or have a pre-existing condition. And you and your doctor will be in charge of your health care decisions.”
The current labor mobilization comes as the nation’s lawmakers, having left the issue of health care hanging when they recessed, now spend the month of August at home.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee had approved a bill that meets the criteria laid out by Laitin, as did both the Education and Labor and the Energy and Commerce Committees in the House.
The key Senate Finance Committee, however, which has jurisdiction over finances, stalled amid reports that it seeks to drop the public option.
Friday, August 7, 2009
People's Weekly World
The AFL-CIO has called on its union affiliates to defend lawmakers’ health care reform Town Hall meetings from “Corporate…mob rule” in recent days.
AFL-CIO President John Sweeney sent out a memo this week outlining a blue-print for union members to counter the campaign of fear and intimidation in which hired thugs are infiltrating health care town hall meetings to heckle, disrupt and even physically assault health care reform advocates.
“We want your help to organize major unions to counter the right-wing ‘Tea Party Patriots’ who will try to disrupt those meetings as they’ve been trying to do to meetings for the last month,” Sweeney wrote, adding, “Remember the hooligans, many of them Republican Congressional staff, who harassed Florida vote counters in 2000? We can’t let it happen again.”
AFL-CIO Vice President Rich Trumka added his own angry blast. The thugs infiltrating the town hall meetings of U.S. Senators and Representatives during the current Congressional recess are “corporate-funded mobs…sent by their corporate lobbyist bankrollers to disrupt.” He added, “Mob rule is not democracy. We call on the insurance companies, the lobbyists, and the Republican leaders who are cheering them on to halt these ‘Brooks Brothers’ riots. Health care is a crucial issue and everyone, on all sides, has the right to be heard.”
The memo also stresses that labor is fighting for real reform and will not accept a sell-out compromise. Reform legislation must include a “requirement that ALL employers pay or play” and must have “a robust public health insurance plan to compete with the private insurers and drive down health insurance costs.” The memo also promised that labor will “redouble our effort against taxation of benefits of any kind.”
The labor memo was a reaction against brazen tactics of fear and intimidation by a gang of paid thugs who are being bused to town hall meetings across the nation to disrupt and intimidate.
A group-let identified as “Patients First” a front for the lobbyist-funded Americans for Prosperity, hanged freshman Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil in effigy outside his office in Salisbury, Maryland, one day last week. The aim is to terrorize him from supporting health care reform with a “public option.” Kratovil has not yet announced his position on the “public option.”
Similarly, a goon squad surrounded freshman Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY), jostling him and screaming epithets at him during a visit back to his home district. Police had to wade in and rescue him and hustle him into his office. Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.) another freshman, has cancelled all town hall meetings in his North Carolina district during the August recess after he received telephone death threats including a message, “Miller could lose his life over this.”
Extremists picketing a town hall meeting on health care reform in Hartford, Conn chanted that Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn), should “commit suicide” as a “cure” for his recently diagnosed prostate cancer. Dodd is a leader in the Senate in fashioning health care legislation with a “public option.”
Democratic Rep. Brian Baird, who represents Vancouver, Washington, also cancelled town hall meetings telling the local newspaper, “What we’re seeing right now is close to Brown Shirt tactics.” Instead, he is holding telephone town hall meetings with his constituents to answer their questions about health care reform.
Veteran Congressman Lloyd Doggett, who represents Austin, Texas, was “ambushed” while trying to hold “neighborhood office hours” at a Randalls grocery store in his district by goons screaming that he is supporting “socialized” medicine. The provocateurs brought with them a mock tombstone with the Texas lawmaker’s name on it. Said Doggett, “This is not a grass-roots effort. This is a very coordinated effort where the local Republican Party, the local conservative meet-up groups sent people to disrupt my event.”
His charge gains credence from Texas Rep. Pete Sessions, chair of the National Republican Campaign Committee, who endorsed the bully-boy strategy. Sessions boasted that the days of civil town hall meetings is “over” and the disruptions will continue. His comments recalled the role of Rep. Tom “The Hammer” DeLay (R-TX) who recruited beefy staff members of Republican House members in December 2000 and sent them to Florida where they banged on the windows of local Election Boards where ballots were being counted, screaming that the vote count should stop.
Jacki Schechner, media spokesperson for the Health Care for America NOW (HCAN) told the PWW that members of the House and Senate went into their August recess with many planning to hold town hall meetings at home to engage in a “conversation” about health care reform. “But when someone hired by the insurance lobby stands up and starts screaming in a meeting, that is not a conversation. The purpose of that is to stop the conversation. They are stopping the democratic process, halting the opportunity of these lawmakers to talk to the people they represent. We can’t let fear win.”
The strategy for disrupting the town hall meetings was drawn up by a rabid ultrqa-right group calling itself “Right Principles.” They tried it out first on another freshman Democrat, Jim Himes (D-Conn), heckling him on the health care issue during a visit to his district. Send in infiltrators who “watch for opportunities to stand up and shout…rock the boat,” declares a “how-to” memo.
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
People's Weekly World
PHILADELPHIA—The setting was the National Constitution Center on a Sunday afternoon. Some 500 people crowded in to hear HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius and PA Senator Arlen Specter (D PA) answer their questions about changing our country’s healthcare system.
The organized “Tell Washington No” crowd was loud and disruptive enough to get a mention in the New York Times which reported that the Secretary and the Senator were “booed and heckled”, but that was not the big story of the afternoon. In fact, while the hecklers may occasionally have been louder, the majority of those in attendance including some disabled citizens in wheelchairs, had come to ask serious questions about the legislative work going on in Washington and to show support for universal health insurance.
Both Sibelius and Specter proved equal to the task of handling baiting questions. When a woman asked how any new plan would handle the 47 million uninsured, given the current long waits in emergency rooms and doctors’ offices, Sibelius took the opportunity to point out that the country desperately needs to train more doctors, nurses and other medical personnel as well as add more medical facilities in underserved communities. When a man spoke in opposition to “rationed care,” Sibelius responded that our current system now rations care for most Americans based on ability to pay.
Specter elicited strong reactions on both sides when he stated that he supported the president’s effort to win universal comprehensive health care and that he believed that “Single Payer should be on the table.”
One man moved everyone in the crowd to silence when he stated that while he was thankful for Medicare and Medicaid which had helped his father, he had had to sue his insurance company for failing to pay for a needed procedure. As the meeting ended chants of “Yes we can!” and “Health care now!” resonated through the large meeting space. The meeting provided a glimpse of the struggle now developing; while a vocal opposition is well organized and ready to be active, healthcare advocates are more than ready to persist in their efforts to win a quality affordable universal healthcare system for our country.
Saturday, August 1, 2009
People's Weekly World Newspaper
DETROIT -- The shocking news this week is Detroit’s official unemployment rate is now 17%. Unless action is taken to re-open closed auto plants and prevent others from closing, the number will surely go higher.
In view of this, the recent letter to President Obama from 50 “Concerned Autoworkers, Retirees and Supporters” takes on special importance. The letter says that while some jobs have been saved, 400,000 auto jobs have been lost and more jobs loss will follow as a result of the bankruptcy restructuring at Chrysler and General Motors.
The letter also warns of a climate “tipping point” and points out how the economic crisis is interwoven with the environmental crisis because auto use contributes 20% of all annual U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and 40% of all U.S. oil consumption.
To solve this combination of crises the letter calls for prioritizing the production of mass transit including buses, light rail, high-speed trains and the tracks they run on and building wind and water turbines as well as solar panels.
It credits the Obama administration for having taken a positive first step by creating two blue ribbon task forces; The White House Task Force on Middle Class Families, called Promoting American Manufacturing in the 21st Century, chaired by Vice-President Biden, and the White House Council on Automotive Communities and Workers, under the leadership of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Larry Summers, chief economic advisor.
It welcomes these initiatives and asks the president “to ensure that the size of the ideas being considered match the size of the problems we face.”
One idea to match the size of the problem is its call for government ownership saying since “the people are now major stockholders in GM and Chrysler, it would be in the national interest to assume direct ownership of the GM and Chrysler plants that are closed or closing (as interest on our investment) to expedite the retooling and conversion of these plants for the manufacture of the products.”
A good chance to put that retooling into action came last week. Midwest governors responding to President Obama’s high speed rail plan agreed to partner to work cooperatively to fund the Midwest Corridor, a regional high-speed rail plan that will connect cities throughout the region with frequent, reliable high-speed.
Through coordination, the region hopes to capture part of the $8 billion that President Obama has made available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for high-speed passenger rail, the largest investment that the federal government has made in over a decade.
Al Benchich, one of the letter’s signers and former president of UAW Local 909 (GM) asked where will they get the trains, the tracks? “We have the people who can do the work, we’ve got the equipment; we just need work in the plants,” Benchich said.
Benchich indicated that Flint, where employment at GM has gone from 80,000 to less than 8,000 has plants that are fairly new and would be a good place for retooling to produce rail and other necessary products.
He also said plants that formerly made engines and transmissions could easily be converted to manufacture wind turbines.
What happens next is a good question. To re-open closed plants and develop an energy and transportation policy that meets the needs of people and the planet we live on requires more than action from the president. It also requires a huge coalition of elected officials at state and municipal levels, of unions and their membership, and of residents in the communities being affected by the crisis, be brought together to demand a new course. One hopes the 17% unemployment rate is enough to spur all parties to come together quickly.
jrummel @ pww.org
Thursday, July 30, 2009
People's Weekly World
The 26th Constitutional Convention of the AFL-CIO, taking place in Pittsburgh in mid September, will be a doozy.
Not since the historic 1995 convention has so much been on the line for the labor movement. The 1995 AFL-CIO convention, was the first ever contested election for top leadership of the AFL-CIO. That election signaled a critical turning point for labor. The New Voices coalition of John Sweeney, Richard Trumka and Linda Chavez Thompson marked a dramatic turn from “business” unionism towards a more fighting stance for labor.
Fourteen years later, labor is poised for even more dramatic change. In 1995 labor was coming to grips with twelve long years of Reagan/Bush led corporate attacks on working people and their unions.
In 2009 labor is finding new footing in a rapidly changing economic and political situation. Shifting gears to confront the worst economic crisis to hit workers in 80 years is no simple matter. Moving from eight years of Bush number two, a time of war, crisis, lawless government attacks on civil liberties and rights, corruption and unbridled profiteering, is hard enough. But dramatic political change can make it even rougher. Now instead of defensive fights against naked corporate power, labor has to develop strategies and broad coalitions that can actually win.
With a pro-labor president, and a greatly improved balance of power in Congress, that may sound easy. It isn’t. Actually winning means the tough work of crafting coalitions and programs that can encompass many different needs, priorities and aspirations. Real life compromises are really hard in the face of years of pent-up frustrations with the lack of progress in many different directions, on many different issues.
So the 2009 AFL-CIO convention will wrestle with making many important turns. Fortunately the convention comes at a time of unprecedented labor unity. OK. I can hear the screaming already. What’s that you say? How can anyone call today’s labor movement united? There’s a big difference between formal organizational unity and unity in action on the ground. It’s true. We have two national labor federations and numerous internal union squabbles that boggle the mind.
At the same time we have important unity in action. Think of the incredible role of a united labor movement in the 2008 elections. It showed a whole new level of labor’s independence and unity in electoral work. Think of the key issue cited in the split that formed the Change to Win federation. Today there is no significant divide in labor on the relationship of political action and organizing. There is tremendous unity in action for the Employee Free Choice Act. And no one seriously argues that labor law reform will “magically” organize millions without renewed commitment to pounding the pavement.
At a deeper level, the work that a united labor movement did to fight racism and promote working-class unity reached entirely new levels in the 2008 elections. Not in the last 40 years has labor been so totally united in backing a single candidate in the general election for president. And this time that unity was in action to elect the first African American president in our history. Labor had to, and did, take on the reflections of racism in its own ranks. Richard Trumka’s brilliant speech on racism and unity at the United Steelworkers convention in 2008 fired up union members across this county.
In addition to helping to elect a pro-labor president, labor’s efforts against racism and bigotry are also helping to build a much broader working-class unity. Much more of labor today is united around the idea that labor cannot be just the voice of its organized members. Most of labor now realizes that it must become the voice of all workers and the working class. We need only look at labor’s current energy in the fight for health care reform, for economic recovery, for aid to the unemployed, for foreclosure relief, against global warming, for fair trade, for infrastructure rebuilding, and on and on, to see a broad working-class program emerging. Even the fight for the Employee Free Choice Act is couched in terms of economic recovery and raising standards for all working families. Trumka’s recent speech to the national convention of the NAACP (Read it here) further illustrates labor’s growing ties to broader working class organizations and coalitions.
Speaking of Trumka, it looks like the Pittsburgh AFL-CIO convention will elect him as its next president along with his slate of Liz Shuler (Secretary-Treasurer) and Arlene Holt Baker (Executive Vice President). At this point there are no other declared candidates. That would be a problem if there were sharp competing visions of labor’s future as was apparent at the 1995 convention. Sure there are difference in labor about how best to mobilize and maximize labor’s strength and leadership for change. But there are few differences about fighting for labor’s growing working class program and the single slate reflects that reality.
Based on the current level of labor unity in action on the ground, the more formal organizational unity will come. The on-going work to unite Change to Win and the AFL-CIO into one federation will get a boost from the Pittsburgh convention. Labor’s unfortunate organizational splits and fights give pundits and handicappers lots to speculate on. Labor’s unity in action gives members and supporters a real foundation to build on. All in labor’s ranks and labor partisans can help make sure that the Pittsburgh convention is the important milestone it needs to be. We can focus on the fighting program that all of labor is united around. We can focus on building the leading role of labor in building coalitions and movements that can win for all working people.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Original source: morningstaronline.co.uk
Johannesburg has been brought to a grinding halt with 10,000 local government workers marching to Mary Fitzgerald Square to reaffirm their union's demand for a 15 per cent wage increase and a housing subsidy.
About 150,000 workers in the country have stopped work. Unions say that most public services are disrupted.
Marches are happening in all the major centres - Johannesburg, Tshwane, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Sol Plaatjie - as well as in many of the smaller municipalities ranging from Bredasdorp, Mossel Bay and Beaufort West. In other municipalities workers are picketing the municipal offices.
The strikes are the first major challenge for new President Jacob Zuma, who has called for patience from workers but is faced by a situation in which South Africa's organised working class is rapidly running out of it.
Unions reported massive support for the strike, with many services, such as refuse removal, traffic, water maintenance and revenue collection, not operating.
In recent weeks there have been violent protests over the lack of housing, water and electricity in the poorest townships.
The police in charge of traffic policing in the country's major cities are also taking part in the strike.
The country has already faced a major strike by construction workers, threatening stadiums being built for next year's football World Cup.
That strike was ended earlier this month after workers and employers agreed on a 12 per cent rise.
Mr Zuma took power in May after a campaign in which he pledged to ease poverty.
He was supported by the main union federation Cosatu and the South African Communist Party, which wanted a change in the previous administration's economic policies that they argued were too pro-business.
In Cape Town, 3,000 workers marched to the provincial offices of employers' organisation Salga to assert the union's key demands of a living wage, filling of the 25 per cent of vacant posts in the public sector and the improvement of housing benefit, while in Durban 5,000 workers marched and picketed workplaces.
The actions around the country were generally peaceful but there were reports of police action in Polokwane, where workers were shot at and arrested.
Monday, July 27, 2009
Read it here.
FENTON, Mo. — As the crowd swells and hundreds of UAW members line the entrance to the Chrysler North and South Assembly plants here today, I can’t help but think of my grandfather. He gave over 30 years to Chrysler.
On average, the union brothers and sisters here have given 15 to 20 years of their life to a company that has turned its back on the community.
Evidence of the betrayal is apparent in the stilled, lifeless plants, in the lost wages and benefits, in deferred college applications and missed mortgage payments. In addition, the school district has lost its biggest source of tax revenue. And the United Auto Workers union hall, once a center for community activism, will eventually have to close its doors.
As the rally builds, cars and trucks fill the lot. Chants fill the air as a thousand-plus union members, their families and friends walk around with their heads held high. It's almost ironic. The background is filled with steel and metal, towering but silent, while the foreground is alive and vibrant, hopeful. Full of pride.
It really says a lot about working class folks. How they still manage to smile and connect with friends and former coworkers in spite of the situation. But then again, workers have always been able to make the best out of a bad situation.
My grandmother receives UAW-negotiated survivor’s benefits now that my grandfather is gone. Like her, thousands of other Chrysler retirees are loosing their dental and vision coverage due to the bankruptcy. I wonder how many of the thousand-plus workers here and their families won't have health care soon.
Adding injury to insult, over $12 billion in taxpayer dollars was given to Chrysler. They called it a bailout. The workers here call it a scam. Eight plants in the U.S. are being closed, while Chrysler plants in Mexico and Canada increase production.
The first speaker on the podium yells, "This is about using American tax dollars for American jobs." The crowd erupts into chants of "Keep it made in America."
Joe Shields, president of UAW Local 110, motions back to the plants and says, "Look at these factories. They're idle. Look at how Chrysler treats us."
State Rep. Sam Komo tells everybody to "keep fighting." He says, "We've been in this battle before. We've seen economic hard times. But, you know what, brothers and sisters, it’s our friendships that have kept us going. And we're going to keep fighting."
State Rep. Joe Fallert adds, "Americans should be mad as hell. We paid $1.5 billion per plant that closed."
As cars and trucks drive by and blow their horns in support, it’s easy to see how everybody is connected to everybody here in this small Midwestern town. Chuck Bank, Jefferson County executive, says, "Twenty-five percent of all jobs here are tied to the auto industry."
State Rep. Tim Meadows, a 30-year Teamster member, hits the nail on the head when he says, "Corporate America has been feeding at the trough. Enough is enough is enough."
He's right, enough is enough.
tonypec @ cpusa.org
Thursday, July 23, 2009
July 15, 2009
Wow, after an introduction like that I can't wait to hear what I have to say!
Before anything, there are some people I want to thank, not only for their leadership of the NAACP – but also for their commitment to building a strong, new movement for worker rights in this country.
A movement that can strengthen the labor movement – and, with it, the American middle-class. I'm talking, of course, about your incredible vice chair, Roslyn Brock.
Of course, there's someone who I regard as one of the most important agents for change in America today, your executive director, Ben Jealous.
And then there's a man who has been a personal hero of mine ever since 1968 when I first heard him speak out against the war in Viet Nam. He has been, and remains, one of this generation's strongest voices for peace and justice – I'm talking about your chairman – the Honorable Julian Bond!
And there are some other people who I'd also like to thank: and that's you: the women and men of the NAACP. You've made it your mission to see to it that America lives up to its promises -- and that we're always guided by the better angels of our nature. Whether its combating police brutality in California, organizing for better schools in Georgia or leading the fight to protect the city water system in Cincinnati the NAACP is there.
You don't do it because you enjoy setting up meetings or making phone calls or organizing demonstrations. You didn't get active in the NAACP because you thought it would be easy. No: You're in the NAACP because you know it's morally right. Thanks to your hard work . Thanks to your dedication. Thanks to your willingness to lay it all on the line. The NAACP today remains what it's been for the last century:
A force for change!
A catalyst for justice!
A movement to build an America:
Where every voice is heard!
Where every vote is counted!
Where every family matters!
And where all of us – all of us -- have a seat at the table!
That's the kind of America the NAACP believes in!
That's the kind of America the labor movement believes in!
And, in 2009, together with President Barack Obama, that's the America we intend to build! And we don't have a minute to waste! Because if we don't act now … if we don't seize this incredible moment … we may not get another chance – and our grandchildren will never forgive us.
Because you and I know that, as tremendous a victory as Barack Obama's election was, we can't let it be an achievement to rest on. No: It's up to us to make it a foundation to build on. You and I know that the election was a triumph over racism, but it wasn't the end of racism.
It was a milestone, but it wasn't the finish line.
Now, I know everyone here knows that. After all, the reason each of you joined the NAACP to begin with is because you knew that it would take more than an election to turn this nation around – even if it was the election of an African-American president. The roots of the crisis facing our country run deep. The policies of the last eight years helped to turn much of America into an industrial wasteland. You know, people talk about a middle-class squeezed. Well, the African-American middle-class isn't being squeezed; it's being crushed! Though the media doesn't report it, we all know that African-American poverty was on the rise years before anyone thought there'd be a recession. The home ownership rate among African-Americans was dropping long before anyone talked about a foreclosure crisis. And the health care crisis? As everyone in the NAACP knows, there's never been a moment when the African-American community has ever had access to quality, affordable health care. It's part of the reason why African Americans are more likely to die from strokes, and cancer, and heart attacks, and diabetes. Yes, there's an African-American man living in the White House, but the fact is that the life expectancy for African American men in America today is still six years less than it is for white men!
Do we need to elect more leaders who have the guts to take these issues on?
But, you know, we can't only win these fights at the ballot box; we also have to take them to the bargaining table.
Because we can't win justice in the community, unless there's justice on the job. And winning justice on the job is what the American labor movement is all about! Because you and I know there's a reason why African Americans who have a union earn over one third more than African Americans who don't. It's the same as the reason why they're more likely to have health care and pensions -- and why they're more likely to have access to the training they need to turn jobs into careers.
It's not because unionized employers are nice guys and want it to be that way; no it's because unionized African-American workers have the strength to make it that way! Unionized aren't more deserving, they're just more organized!
And, I want to tell you, that's why your support for the Employee Free Choice Act is so critically important! I know that most folks here already know what the Employee Free Choice Act would do. NAACP chapters all over America have made passing the Act one of their top priorities and I can tell you that, in large part, because of your support we're now within a hair's breadth of winning in the Senate.
And I shouldn't have to tell you that President Obama has made it absolutely clear to me and others that once it does pass the Senate he'll immediately sign it into law.
But we also know that there are some people who have a stake in keeping the Employee Free Choice Act from passing. They're companies who don't see workers as their best asset, but as their biggest expense. I'm talking companies whose definition of labor-management cooperation is when workers keep their mouths shut and so as they're told. I'm talking about CEOs – not all of them, but far too many – who have convinced themselves that there's no way they can get ahead without leaving their employees behind. Those have made it crystal clear that they will do whatever it takes to keep the Employee Free Choice Act from ever making it to President Obama's desk. To they have been waging one of the most expensive, divisive and dishonest lobbying campaigns in U.S. history. Now, am I saying the other side is deliberately trying to mislead people?
Well, I'll let you be the judge. Last October, Bernie Marcus, the co-founder of Home Depot, said that passage of the Employee Free Choice Act would trigger – and this a quote -- "the demise of civilization." Now, think about that for a minute. If you were to walk out of this hall and ask the first ten people you see what the greatest threat to civilization is today, they might tell you it's global warming, or terrorism, or hunger, or, maybe, a flu epidemic. But my guess is that you won't find one who'll say it's revising the 1935 National Labor Relations Act. So why the hysteria? Well, it's not because of the harm it's going to do them. It's because of the good it's going to do for Billy Mason. My guess is no one here knows Mr. Mason.
There's no reason you should. But 23 years ago, after a four-year stint in the Marines, Mr. Mason went to work at the Alcoa plant in Hampton, Virginia. He got a job grinding and polishing metal castings to make airplane parts. Now, on paper, factory jobs like Mr. Mason's can help millions of African-American manufacturing workers like Billy Mason into the middle-class. All it takes is one thing: a union contract. But the Hampton, Virginia plant was non-union – and Alcoa planned to keep it that way. The upshot was that pay raises were so few and far between that, after more than two decades on the job, Billy Mason was actually earning $2 an hour less in real wages than when he started. But that's not all.
One day, Alcoa announced that it had decided to eliminate fully paid health insurance. Of course, since they didn't have a contract the workers didn't have a say in the matter. What did it mean for Billy Mason? With the added cost of health care, Mr. Mason's dropped to the point where he was earning $6,000 less than he did his first year on the job! In fact, if you ask him he'll tell you that he actually had more money in his pocket back when his kids were little and his wife didn't work! So what did Billy Mason do? Well, he and his co-workers decided to do the same thing that other African-American workers had done before him. They decided to form a union and joined up with the United Steelworkers.
Now, if Mr. Mason was one of Alcoa's 32,000 European employees that would have been the end of it. The company would have recognized the union and negotiated a contract. But Hampton, Virginia isn't Europe – and Alcoa did everything it could to keep the workers from having their union. At the beginning of each shift the company held mandatory union bashing meetings. When the day to vote on whether to have a union grew closer, Alcoa began to bring in what Mr. Mason calls "the suit and tie people" to push them even harder.
It went for two months.
The company succeeded. Even though Mr. Mason and two-thirds of his co-workers had signed cards authorizing the Steelworkers to be their bargaining agent, they lost the election. People were scared. But not Billy Mason. Like I said Mr. Mason had been a Marine. He doesn't give up easy. That's why, despite the loss and Alcoa's fear campaign he and some of his co-workers continued to try to exercise his legal right to organize. What happened? Well, in retaliation, Billy Mason was singled out for harassment and, to set an example to every other worker, he was suspended without pay for two weeks.
Of course, the union took Mr. Mason's case to the National Labor Relations Board and, eventually, he was awarded his back pay. But, the damage was done. Workers got the message loud and clear and, as we meet here today, I can tell you that Billy Mason and his co-workers at Alcoa still don't have a union contract. But even though those workers have been bloodied they haven't been beaten. At least not if Mr. Mason has anything to say about it. "I believe the rights we have [today] were fought for," he said. "People shed blood and people died, and I'm not going to let those rights be taken away!"
Well, today I think we ought to send Mr. Mason and his co-workers a message. It's that we hear you…we stand with you… we refuse to accept that any workers should ever have to choose between joining a union and keeping their jobs.
Brothers and sisters, brave men and women didn't risk their lives in Selma and Birmingham and Memphis so companies like Alcoa could rob workers like Billy Mason of his right to organize! We need the Employee Free Choice Act and we need it now! But I need to tell you that the challenge we face isn't only passing the Employee Free Choice Act. It's taking full advantage of it once we do. And that begins by reaching out to organize the workers the labor movement left behind. Who are they? Well, a lot of them are African-Americans. And I'd like to talk about that for a minute.
You know, of all the challenges the NAACP has taken on over these last 100 years few have been as necessary – few have been as important – as the crusade this organization led to end segregation in the American labor movement.
The NAACP understood something that a lot of labor leaders didn't. In July, 1929 – exactly eighty years ago – W.E.B. Du Bois (Do Boys) warned that, unless organized labor took a critical look at itself and abandoned segregation, it would face what he called "irreparable loss."
And history proved him right.
At a time when unions in countries were mobilizing to win universal health care and a new social contract, a lot of union leaders here were more concerned with keeping a "whites only" sign posted on the door of the American labor movement.
At the very time they should have been building one movement of white workers, and African-American workers, and Latino workers, and Asian -American workers – and women workers of every color – they were fighting to keep them out. Du Bois captured the tenor of the times when he wrote that: "Whatever ideals white labor today strives for in America, it would surrender … before it would recognize a Negro as a man."
Well, we can't change the sins of the past. But we can learn from them – and build a new kind of labor movement for the future. A labor movement that goes beyond gestures,
Beyond rhetoric and tokenism, A labor movement that understands that being inclusive isn't just a matter of kicking in a few dollars to UNCF or having an article about Black History Month in the union newspaper.
No. We can't just talk the talk; we have to walk the walk. We can't only preach about change; we have to make change happen. And that means investing the time, the energy, the talent, and the resources it's going to take to begin the work of organizing five million (4.8 million) poverty wage African American workers so they can have the paycheck, the benefits… and the opportunities -- that can only come with a union contract!
Is it possible? The labor movement can't do the job alone, but together – with the NAACP – I'm convinced that we can. Together, a new alliance between the labor movement and the NAACP can begin the work of transforming poverty wage work into jobs with a future.
Together, working as partners – at the grassroots -- we can make the promise of collective bargaining real to a new generation of African American workers. Working together, we can begin to grow the African American middle-class.
I know that's always been a priority of the NAACP – and, after September, it's going to be a priority at the AFL-CIO, too.
Now, I've always been a big believer in the proposition that speeches ought to end on the same day they begin. But as I was getting ready to come up to join you today, I remembered something that I heard a long time ago. It was something Bobby Kennedy said. I'm guessing a lot of you remember it, too. (I know Julian Bond does) He said: "some see things as they are and ask why, we dream things that never were and ask why not." I was thinking about that because, for 100 years, that's the question the NAACP has been asking.
And, today, it's the question the AFL-CIO is asking, too.
Together, we have a vision of a different kind of an America than the one we have today. A nation that's guided by its dreams; not shackled by its fears. We see an America where all of us are able to take our place in the winner's circle. We see not an America where there's dignity in all work -- and respect for every worker. We see an America that doesn't turn its back on people who work with their hands.
An America where everyone who wants a college education can afford one! Where every child who needs a doctor can see one! Where every man and woman who looks for a job can find one!
An America where every single worker who wants to have a union can join one! That's the American future we dream of – and I swear to you that, together, together, that's the American future we're going to win. We're going to win because we're strong!
We're going to win because we're proud!
We are going to win because we are one movement standing together!
One movement marching together!
One movement fighting together!
One movement winning together!
One movement taking this country back together!
Because it's our jobs!
Because this is our America – and we will not be denied!
God bless America – and God bless the NAACP!