Is it time for a great coming together of the movement for racial justice and the movement for economic justice? During the Civil Rights era, the political agenda of the Left began to divide. Young, liberal activists and people of color gravitated toward a racial justice agenda while more traditional Democrats clung to a New Deal agenda focused on economic justice. As the racial justice agenda became dominant, the economic justice agenda lost support. We may now be at a historical turning point because of growing concern about economic inequality.
The chasm between rich and poor has surpassed race and immigration as the most important source of societal tension. According to a new survey by the Pew Research Center, two thirds of Americans believe there are “strong conflicts” between the rich and poor. That number has increased 50 percent since the 2009 survey.
Last Friday night at about 10:00 pm I began receiving phone calls with alarming messages that there was about to be a strike on the San Francisco waterfront. I finally realized that workers had walked off an Italian cruise ship at Pier 35. I put on a warm coat and drove to the Embarcadero to see what was going on.
News cameras were interviewing a large group of men and women in red jackets and black bow ties who were on the Embarcadero outside the pier. I found out that they had left the cruiseliner after the dinner shift because they were getting paid wages less than what they had signed up for. Their compensation was being calculated in dollars instead of euros. A substantial difference. They felt that the company was ignoring them at port after port and finally took action in what they had heard was a “union town.”
On October 12, 2011, in Lamont, California, Armando and Eladio Ramirez went into a composting drainage pipe, wearing only painters’ masks for protection – and breathed in fatal amounts of hydrogen sulfide. Armando, 16 years old, went in first to clean out the pipe, and died almost immediately; Eladio, 22, went in after his brother to help him, and was rendered brain dead, dying the next day. These deaths happened at a green waste processing facility run by Crown Disposal Services – a prominent player in L.A.’s commercial waste and recycling market – and are being investigated by Cal-OSHA, the CA Department of Labor and the United States Department of Labor.
On January 17, 1962, President John F Kennedy signed Executive Order 10988. This granted Federal Employees, for the first time, the right to collective bargaining.
This action led to inspire many states and localities to follow suit, allowing their own workers to organize. This triggered a huge wave of unionization in the public sector that saw firefighters, teachers, janitors, social workers and many others form unions in the 1960s and '70s.
Now all this is under attack. The nation's postal unions, whose employees combine to be the largest Federal union in the nation, are being attacked through proposed legislation in the United States Senate.
This week, the U.S. Department of Housing and Development (HUD) and the Big Banks teamed up to propose a multi-state settlement to address the foreclosure crisis. But based on the terms described in numerous media reports, the deal appears to be a settlement for the banks, not a settlement for the middle class. The people of California need real relief, not a quick settlement that lets the banks off the hook.
California is home to nine of the ten cities that were hardest hit by the foreclosure freefall. The two million working families we represent have been at the epicenter of this crisis. Millions have been devastated by the loss of their homes. Many more have watched their home values plummet and now nearly one in three California borrowers are underwater, owing more to the banks than their homes are worth. California has the second highest foreclosure rate in the country, surpassed only by Nevada.
The truck drivers didn’t buy for one minute the claim that work had simply slowed down at America’s largest port, so instead of being silenced—they mobilized! To date the workers have successfully pressured the company to rehire 15, but management instituted an arbitrary 90-day deadline that could put the remaining pink-slipped drivers out of work for good if they are not recalled in the next week.
With the second anniversary approaching of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case – which opened the floodgates to corporate spending on elections – it’s worth a look at whether playing in politics actually pays off for corporate interests. As it so happens, it does.
Between 2008 and 2010 at least thirty US corporations spent more to lobby congress than they paid in federal taxes over the same time period. Clearly, when it comes to politics, corporations really do spend money to make money. In addition to the “Dirty Thirty”, 280 consistently profitable Fortune 500 companies paid about half the statutory corporate tax rate while spending $2 billion to lobby Congress on tax policy and other issues.
In a recent article in the online newsletter Counterpunch, “long time unionist” Alberto Ruiz attacks the AFL-CIO sponsored Solidarity Center, whose mission is to strengthen unions in countries like Colombia, as an “imperialist organization.” Pointing to a half dozen WikiLeaks cables that document meetings at the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, Ruiz claims that Solidarity Center staff are working to undermine the very unions they are supposed to support.
After reading the WikiLeaks cables, a very different picture emerges. The reality is that Solidarity Center staff meet with Embassy officials in order to draw U.S. government attention to the dangers facing unionists in Colombia. There have been 2,837 murders of union members since 1986. The murderers are paramilitary assassins, who avoid prosecution 96% of the time. Colombia is the most dangerous country to be a unionist. That is exactly why the Solidarity Center is active there.
Gov. Jerry Brown put forth a vision for California today that working people can embrace. With today’s State of the State speech, it’s clear that the destructive slash-and-burn politics of the previous administration have been replaced with a forward-thinking vision to invest in our future. While our state’s 21st century challenges are many, the California Labor movement is confident we have a leader at the helm to guide us beyond those challenges.
Gov. Brown understands all too well that we can’t create jobs with stale ideas and cuts to investments that support healthy private sector growth. The Governor’s plan to upgrade our failing infrastructure isn’t optional if we hope to rise above the recession. It’s necessary to rebuilding our economy and putting Californians back to work. We simply can’t sustain a vibrant economy if we don’t invest in the infrastructure that supports it.
I’ve been asked this question various times during my employment with the Hyatt Andaz hotel over the past few years. The last manager who asked me this had deep bags under her eyes. She’d been working eight days in a row and was then on her 12th hour that day. She told me she needed a cigarette, — which was odd, considering she didn’t smoke.
I laughed. I told her I’d be a terrible candidate for management because I enjoy my family time. I like seeing my wife. I enjoy eight-hour workdays. I enjoy the fact that I occasionally get to do menial household tasks like laundry and dishes. I love the fact that once I’m off the clock, I’m truly off the clock.
Local elections rarely matter to the rest of the State. We all are facing so many challenges in our own regions, that paying attention to another part of the State is often just an after-thought. But, once in a while, there is a local politician with such dangerous beliefs, tactics and immense corporate backing, that they warrant statewide attention. Such is the case in San Diego today.
I came of age as a young San Diegan at the same time Pete Wilson left our City Hall to become a U.S. senator and then governor of California. And, as harmful and antagonist as a Governor Pete Wilson was, he was mild compared to Carl DeMaio. DeMaio is one of four high-profile candidates vying San Diego’s top spot this June.
Wisconsin working people hit one right out of Miller Park: Moments ago, they submitted 1 million signatures supporting a recall election of Gov. Scott Walker (R), exceeding the total number of signatures required by 460,000. Walker last year pushed to abolish the rights of public employees to collectively bargain for a middle class life. Overall, Walker’s policies are killing 18,000 jobs a year in Wisconsin, according to a recent report.
Union members and allies also turned in 123 percent of the required signatures against Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, who was thought one of the more challenging recalls to pull off.
“The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress. Out of its bold struggles, economic and social reform gave birth to unemployme¬nt insurance, old-age pensions, government relief for the destitute and, above all, new wage levels that meant not mere survival but a tolerable life. The captains of industry did not lead this transforma-tion; they resisted it until they were overcome.”
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr spoke these awe-inspiring words at the Illinois AFL-CIO Convention almost 50 years ago, yet his message about hope, progress and ‘bold struggles’ still rings true today -- perhaps truer than ever, as we face increasingly aggressive attacks on our rights from the ‘captains of industry’ and their undue influence on our government.