The Renaissance of Student Activism

Today's protests bring about memories of student activism in the 60s. Photo by AP

Just as has been happening in communities at large, campus protests against racism and bigotry—along with related types of discrimination—have become commonplace. Students at the University of Chicago hosted a#LiabilityoftheMind social-media campaign last November to raise awareness about institutional intolerance. A “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” walkout was staged the same month by hundreds of Seattle high-schoolers. Roughly 600 Tufts students lay down in the middle of traffic in December for four and a half hours—the amount of time Michael Brown’s body was left in the street after behind shot. Students at numerous other colleges did the same. Of course, there were other common themes, too. Early last fall, Emma Sulkowicz, then a student at Columbia, pledged to carry a mattress on campus daily to protest the school’s refusal to expel her alleged rapist. Soon, hundreds of her classmates joined her, as did those at 130 other college campuses nationwide, according to reports.

Spotlight On Baltimore

Union and community members joined Black Lives Matter actions in Baltimore. The Fair Development Campaign calls for community-led development and good jobs. Photo: Dorret (CC BY 2.0) bit.ly/dorretphoto - See more at: http://labornotes.org/2015/05/spotlight-baltimore#sthash.n4tS3WWA.dpuf

Baltimore erupted after the killing of Freddie Gray. The crisis has laid bare a city strained beyond human capacity by inequality and police violence. Public policies have created islands of wealth and comfort, surrounded by a sea of service cuts, hyper-policing, and degrading poverty in which most of the city is drowning. It’s those policies that gave rise to the police violence that ended Gray’s life—an extreme example of the injustice that people here are facing every day. What’s unusual about this moment is that, through their own extraordinary effort, Baltimore’s poor people are being seen and heard. The same pundits who usually focus on how to bring more wealthy people to Baltimore and push the poor out to the suburbs are now talking about how to grapple with savage poverty, hyper-policing, and state violence. “The murder of Freddie Gray was like a boomerang,” says West Baltimore resident Randolph Ford, “flipping the status quo around to where the unity of the people and the fight for social justice has strengthened.”

Don’t Blame The Poor For Their Impoverishment

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It’s not fair to say the poor aren’t holding up their end of the social contract when almost two-thirds of employable poor people work and over 40 percent work full time (and their incomes have become more and more dependent upon wages over time). The truth is that the economy the poor are working in—an economy which has grown more and more unequal over the last several decades—has made it harder and harder for them to get by. Instead of focusing on the characteristics of the poor when assigning blame for poverty, we should examine the policy choices we have made that led to such an unequal economy. Going forward, we should focus on policy solutions that will spur wage growth—such as raising the minimum wage, targeting full employment, strengthening worker’s bargaining power, and updating labor standards—in order to make our economy work for all.

New Study Points To A New Normal: Job Insecurity

Photo: Flickr, Jef Safi

A new study released today confirms the broad ranging consequences of precarious labour in urban areas of southern Ontario. In 2013, PEPSO, a research partnership between United Way Toronto and McMaster University conducted a major study on precarious labour in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton areas. Using data collected from a survey of over 4,000 workers and 28 in-depth interviews, The Precarity Penalty, released today, builds on those findings. “The first study generated some questions that we wanted to look at in more detail,” said Wayne Lewchuk, co-author of the report and Professor at McMaster University’s School of Labour Studies and Department of Economics. He explained that revisiting the study three years later has allowed PEPSO researchers to take note of some changing trends within the labour force, and to address some of the issues that came up in their earlier study more thoroughly, such as discrimination, access to child care, and job training.

Black Opposition To Rigged Trade Neoliberalism

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President Obama and the corporate Democrats continue to press Congress to provide Obama with trade promotion authority (TPA), or so-called “fast-track” authority to conclude the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the first of a series of pernicious so-called free trade agreements. The Flush the TPP website, a major resource for the anti-TPP movement characterizes the treaty as: “A secret trade agreement…(that) threatens to undermine democracy by entrenching corporate power in virtually every area of our lives, from food safety and the environment, to worker rights and access to health care, the TPP is about much more than trade. It is a global corporate coup.” In the process of organizing the fight-back to deny President Obama fast-track authority to conclude the TPP and ram it through Congress behind the backs of the people, I wrote about the fact that in some black circles there was uncertainty regarding the priority that the TPP should be given or whether or not it was even an important issue for African Americans.

Support The Workers

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The Navy has determined that its shipbuilding budget is “unsustainable.” It can’t afford to cover the mounting costs of new aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines, and the expensive Zumwalt destroyers being built at BIW. The latter cost more than double what the previous Aegis destroyer cost – price per ship has risen to more than $4 billion. The Navy’s solution to its budget crisis? Cut jobs, outsource to non-union workers, and, over time, likely move to get rid of the unions at shipyards like BIW. What is the Plan B for Bath? Who ever thought the nearby Navy base in Brunswick would close and that thousands of jobs would be lost? How can our nation afford the expensive high-tech weapons systems that are costing the taxpayers an arm and a leg? How can we effectively deal with the coming ravages of climate change unless we immediately begin a transformation of our industrial policy from endless war to building rail systems, wind turbines, a solar society, and tidal power – all of which would help us in some degree deal with climate change?

Mexican Farmworkers Reach Agreement After 2-month Strike

Photo by Alfredo Estrella, AFP

After two months of striking, marching and blocking roads, farmworkers in Baja California, Mexico have finally reached an agreement with the Mexican government that may end their current struggle for better wages and working conditions. Mexican government officials and farmworker leaders held an 18-hour meeting in Ensenada, Mexico starting on May 13 that ended the next day with the government agreeing to meet several demands of the striking workers. Among the demands being met by the government are requirements that companies get certification ensuring that they’re not using child labor, social security benefits for retired farmworkers, equal rights and pay for women, housing built for laborers, recognition of the farmworkers’ union, and healthcare for workers.

A Winning Strategy For The Left

Protesters at a Fight for 15 action last September. Michael Courier

Finally, this movement strategy may be more conducive to the long-term goal of promoting systemic change, since it focuses our anger and analysis on the institutions at the heart of capitalism, racism, patriarchy, and war. Winning policy reforms, after all, is not enough: reforms are by definition tenuous since they leave intact the basic institutions and systems of society. As recent history makes painfully clear, labor protections and civil rights for black people have been subject to intense counter-attack by entrenched interests. Military withdrawals have not ended imperial violence. Ultimately, only by destroying the old institutions and building more civilized ones in their place can we hope to safeguard the reform victories we win. And directly confronting the oppressive institutions that shape policy seems to advance this goal better than focusing on politicians.

Fast Track Robs Medicare To Pay For Workers Who Lose Jobs From TPP

(Image: Health care via Shutterstock)

New disturbing information has surfaced that the House Republicans’ trade adjustment assistance bill, which supports the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, contains a Medicare poison pill. The bill includes $700 million in Medicare cuts at the end of a 10-year budget period to cover the cost of trade adjustment assistance for displaced workers, Americans who will lose their jobs because of lower cost imports. Please let members of Congress know that they should not support the bill in its current form. Covering the cost of assistance for displaced workers is important. But, in the words of several groups representing older Americans, including the Medicare Rights Center and The Alliance for Retired Americans, “Medicare should not be used as a piggy bank every time the government needs funding for other purposes.”

I Read Obama’s Secret Trade Deal. Warren Is Right To Be Concerned

Lead image by Getty.

I can tell you that Elizabeth Warren is right about her criticism of the trade deal. We should be very concerned about what’s hidden in this trade deal—and particularly how the Obama administration is keeping information secret even from those of us who are supposed to provide advice. So-called “cleared advisors” like me are prohibited from sharing publicly the criticisms we’ve lodged about specific proposals and approaches. The government has created a perfect Catch 22: The law prohibits us from talking about the specifics of what we’ve seen, allowing the president to criticize us for not being specific. Instead of simply admitting that he disagrees with me—and with many other cleared advisors—about the merits of the TPP, the president instead pretends that our specific, pointed criticisms don’t exist.

Justice For Janitors: A Misunderstood Success

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The early janitor organizers in Los Angeles recognized the importance of first rebuilding and re-energizing their base. One of the first campaigns undertaken was the contract campaign for downtown janitors. Cecile Richards(3) skillfully directed a winning contract fight for the approximately 1,000 janitors in the core market of LA. The contract struggle gave the union a new core group of supporters; many of whom became the front line soldiers in the campaign to organize the vast non-union market outside of downtown. A key to the membership mobilization was “market triggers” that Local 399 inserted into its collectively bargained agreements. The triggers provided for automatic increases in wages and benefits if the janitors union succeeded in organizing 50 percent or more of the commercial buildings in mutually agreed upon geographic areas.

Warren Solidly Responds To Obama With The Facts On Trade

No Fast Track for the TPP Labor an environmental rights

The Senate will soon vote on the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015 – also known as “Fast Track.” President Obama has requested Fast Track authority from Congress to ease the passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a massive trade agreement with 12 countries that account for nearly 40% of the global economy. President Obama has repeatedly stated that the TPP is “the most progressive trade bill in history” because it has high labor, environmental, and human rights standards. The President claims the TPP will have “higher labor standards, higher environmental standards,” and “new tools to hold countries accountable.” But proponents of almost every free trade agreement (FTA) in the last 20 years have made virtually identical claims. The TPP is being hailed as the strongest free trade agreement yet. But this is not the first time this claim has been made. Proponents of previous trade agreements have made similar claims about every free trade agreement signed in the last 20 years, from the NAFTA agreement in 1993 to the more recent agreements with Colombia and Panama. By now, we have two decades of experience with free trade agreements under both Democratic and Republican Presidents. Supporters of these agreements have always promised that they contain tough standards to protect workers. But this analysis reveals that the rhetoric has not matched the reality.

Labor Should Shift Its Focus To Organizing Black Workers

Labor leaders are urging a focus on black workers to rebuild the labor movement. (Discount Foundation)

In 1956, as Martin Luther King Jr. and Bayard Rustin struggled to sustain the historic boycott of segregated public transit in Montgomery, Alabama, Rustin turned to the union leader A. Phillip Randolph for advice. The carpool for black workers was faltering. “Go up to Birmingham,” Randolph told them, “where the steel workers are making enough to afford two cars. Ask them to donate their second car.” According to historian Judith Stein, King reported the steel workers saved the boycott. At their height, American labor unions proved an invaluable resource to the civil rights movement—through both financial security, which helped enable private activism, and the institutional funding of organizations like SNCC and events like the 1964 March on Washington.

Postal Workers Fight Back Against Cuts And Privatization

APWU President Mark Dimondstein at the National Day of Action event in front of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Post Office in Washington, DC

“Are you fired up? Are you ready to go?” That’s the question APWU Secretary-Treasurer Liz Powell asked dozens of supporters who kicked off the May 14 National Day of Action in front of the post office on 14thand L Streets in Washington, DC – just one week before the Collective Bargaining Agreement expires. “On this day, May 14, 2015, across the country we are sending a message to Postmaster General Megan Brennan: Not only do you have the postal workers to deal with, you’ve got the rest of the country to deal with,” Powell said. “We’re in this together, it takes all of us.”

LA City Council Recommends Patrol Of 'Wage Theft'

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The L.A. City Council’s Economic Development Committee approved a set of recommendations Tuesday to create a new city “Office of Labor Standards,” which would enforce local wage laws, including any future increases to the minimum wage. The office would be able to fine employers who engage in what’s become known as “wage theft,” or not paying workers what they were promised. As Los Angeles city leaders continue to debate raising the city’s minimum wage, many people have shown up to public hearings to say they support “raising it … with enforcement.” The enforcement part is important to activists who believe not only that the current minimum wage of $9 per hour isn’t enough to live on, but also that there are many low-wage workers whose employers aren’t paying them all that they’re owed.