Not the Cesar Chavez I Knew

Cesar Chavez (photo wikimedia)

Cesar Chavez (photo wikimedia)

The new biopic of Cesar Chavez makes me sad—and angry. To be sure, it draws needed attention to a key chapter in American Latino, labor and social movement history, as well as to the man whose leadership was central to it all. But it does so by reducing the man, the movement and its meaning to caricatures. The lessons the film teaches contradict the real lessons of Chavez’s work. And the “excuse” that “no movie can tell the whole story” doesn’t really wash. An earlier film in which director Diego Luna had an acting role, Milk, does the man, movement and meaning justice. There have been others—just not this one.

Cesar’s core leadership gifts were relational. He had an ability to engage widely diverse individuals, organizations and institutions with distinct talents, perspectives and skills in a common effort. The film, however, depicts him as a loner: driving alone (when in reality he had given up driving), traveling alone (which he never did) and deciding alone (when his strength was in building a team that could respond quickly, creatively and proactively to the daily crises of a long and intense effort).

Cesar was an organizer’s organizer, the craft in which he prided himself. This required a focus on people, their strengths and weaknesses, the dynamics of power and work behind the scenes. In the film, he gives speeches, which he avoided, and engages in shouting matches on the picket line, which he never did. A believer in the rhetoric of action for many years, he rarely held press conferences, speaking to the public instead from the scene of the action. Continue reading

The UAW’s Election Loss at Chattanooga VW Plant Will Not End the Southern Auto Organizing Drive

by Paul Garver

Attributing its narrow loss at the Chattanooga VW plant to outrageous outside interference by anti-union special interest groups and right-wing politicians, on 21st February the UAW formally filed objections to the election with the NLRB. This is new legal terrain, since the electoral misconduct stemmed not as customary from management but from misleading and coercive statements by right-wing politicians and wealthy anti-union organizations.

The success of the UAW’s novel legal appeal is far from certain, despite its evident justification. It is also uncertain, even if a new election is granted, whether the union would  prevail in an unchanged hostile external political environment and continuing opposition to the union by some workers. However a new combination of political mobilization in the community and renewed organizing efforts by pro-union VW workers and their families can succeed.

I went away from a workshop with renewed hope at the recent Labor Notes conference in Chicago addressed by Volkswagon workers  and by Chris Brooks, of Chattanooga Organized for Action.  The workers and Chris explained with passion and clear analytical thinking how the union came close to victory, only to be blindsided by a massive anti-union campaign fueled by hundreds of thousands of dollars from shadowy outside special interests.

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An Interview With Staughton Lynd About the Labor Movement

by Andy Piascik and Staughton Lynd

Staughton Lynd

Staughton Lynd

For more than 50 years, Staughton Lynd has been a leading radical in the United States. He was an engaged supporter of the Black Liberation Movement in the Deep South in the early 1960’s, most notably as coordinator of the Freedom Schools during Mississippi Summer in 1964. He was an active opponent of US aggression in Indochina, including as chairperson of the first national demonstration against the war in Vietnam in April 1965.[1] In recent decades, Lynd has been an attorney representing prisoners, particularly at the Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown, and has written a book, a play and numerous articles about the 1993 uprising at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville.[2]

Since the late 1960’s, Lynd has also been deeply involved in the labor movement as an activist, attorney and prolific writer.[3] Inspired by Marty Glaberman, Stan Weir and Ed Mann,[4] Lynd has been a passionate and prolific proponent of decentralized, rank-and-file driven unionism. In November 2014, Haymarket Books will publish a book by Lynd entitled Doing History from the Bottom Up: On E.P. Thompson, Howard Zinn, and Rebuilding the Labor Movement from Below and a new edition of his book Solidarity Unionism: Rebuilding the Labor Movement from Below with an introduction by radical labor scholar and activist Immanuel Ness will be published by PM Press in Spring 2015.

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Philadelphians Stage ‘Sip-In’ To Support Casino Workers

blumgart_sugarhouse_sip_in_850_593

On April 2, supporters of SugarHouse workers stage a ‘sip-in’ at one of the eateries in the massive casino. (Photo by Jini Kades)

Philadelphia’s SugarHouse Casino opened almost four years ago. Unite Here Local 54’s campaign to unionize workers there is almost as old. And at the end of the month, after a history of reported union-busting activity that includes alleged retaliatory firings, SugarHouse will face its first National Labor Relations Board hearing. According to the complaint filed with the NLRB, a manager stopped a few workers from handing out union literature, crumpled it up and threw it away, also known as “interfering with, restraining and coercing employees in the exercise of rights.”

On April 2, in response to the increasingly tense work environment, union members, staffers and a variety of concerned Philadelphians came together to organize a “sip-in” at SugarHouse. Continue reading

How Jews Brought America to the Tipping Point on Marriage Equality: Lessons for the Next Social Justice Issues

dean_meIn a few short years, same-sex marriage went from being an untouchable political hot potato to a broadly accepted civil right in eighteen states and the District of Columbia. Jews, and their social justice organizations, helped make that happen. In fact, this magazine was a prophetic voice of marriage equality, supporting same-sex unions in the early 1990s and helping to lay the groundwork for the current wave of victories.

The story of Jews’ contributions has continuing political relevance.  The campaign for marriage equality offers valuable lessons for how to break through public resistance on other issues that Jewish groups are now addressing, including economic justice initiatives like paid sick leave, rights for domestic workers, and raising the minimum wage.

A forward-thinking strategy, combined with local and regional organizing, could be key to helping Jewish activists win victories on other issues that may seem unwinnable today, either because of intransigence in Congress or because they don’t yet have popular support. For example, Congress is nowhere near passing the $15 minimum wage that has become the clarion call of several campaigns for workers’ rights. It may seem equally farfetched to imagine that all workers could earn and receive paid sick time, or paid family leave, or that domestic workers such as nannies and housekeepers could enjoy the same rights to livable wages and safe workplaces that workers in other industries receive.

Yet these are several policy issues for which activists—among them Jewish social justice groups—have already begun to stitch together a region-by-region patchwork of victories. For instance, Jewish social justice groups like Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ) and Bend the Arc were early supporters of the domestic workers’ rights movement. Moreover, San Francisco, Albuquerque, San Jose, SeaTac, and Santa Fe have all passed citywide minimum wage increases; and legislatures in Washington, DC, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Dakota, Alaska, and several other states are considering raising their state minimum wages. To chart a way forward on these issues, it is worth examining how Jewish activists gathered enough force to help push the state-by-state dominoes over to legalizing same-sex marriage. Continue reading

Review of Lines of Work: Stories of Jobs and Resistance

by Joe Burns

LoW fcover pf5

Many times in discussing labor issues the tendency is to focus on policy issues or major events far removed from the workplace. In Lines of Work: Stories of Jobs and Resistance, a couple dozen workers from the US, Canada and Great Britain, loosely affiliated with the Industrial Workers of the World, seek to turn the conversation in a different direction—to tell stories of work and the workplace. Sometimes they talk about workplace struggles and resistance; sometimes they talk about their jobs and work. There is something refreshing about this approach.

The book contains over thirty chapters with stories ranging from a warehouse worker’s fight against speedup to a clerical worker’s struggle to make her liberal boss at small non-profit understand her class privilege to a liquor store worker’s organizing against sexual harassment. Some of the stories are about organizing campaigns, such as Starbuck workers, others are about personal battles with victories as small as getting workers to celebrate each other’s birthdays over the boss’ objection. All, however, are up close and personal and share a common perspective that talking about time spent at work is important.

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How to Fan the Flames

Two activists with Labor Notes discuss some of the issue that will be discussed at this weekends Labor Notes conference.

by Alexandra Bradbury and Jane Slaughter

Where will the next big movement come from? Fights in the workplace can be the training ground. Photo: OUR Walmart.

Where will the next big movement come from? Fights in the workplace can be the training ground. Photo: OUR Walmart.

We troublemakers keep hoping for the spark that will set a wildfire of workers in motion. The worse our situation gets—economically, politically, ecologically—the more we yearn for a vast movement to erupt and transform the landscape.

It’s not impossible. Look at 1937, when workplace occupations spread everywhere, from auto factories to Woolworth’s. The 1930s wave of militancy forced Congress to aid union organizing with new laws and to enact Social Security and unemployment insurance. Industrial unions formed during that upsurge continue to this day.

So why not here and now? Continue reading

Beyond the Minimum Wage: Interview With Jobs With Justice’s Sarita Gupta

by Amy B Dean

Sarita  Gupta

Sarita Gupta

Raising the minimum wage is an idea whose time has come. Long an important grass-roots demand, campaigns to raise the wage are taking place throughout the country. Even the national Democratic Party has recognized it as it winning issue that its candidates should embrace. Yet, although a minimum wage boost is long overdue, an increase from $7.25 an hour to $10 an hour will not bring the working poor out of poverty. Nor will it restore the type of labor rights and collective organization that built the American middle class in the mid-20th century.

This dilemma raises a critical question: How do we use the enthusiasm around this issue to promote a more robust and thoroughgoing vision of economic justice?

Sarita Gupta is one progressive leader who is searching for an answer to this question. Gupta is executive director of Jobs With Justice, a national organization whose mission is to “win real change for workers by combining innovative communications strategies and solid research and policy advocacy with grassroots action and mobilization,” according to its web site. A dynamic contributor to the effort to build coalitions between labor and community, Gupta has led Jobs With Justice since 2007 in campaigns alongside employees at Walmart for better treatment, to help extend labor law protections to domestic workers and to defend immigrant workers from deportation.

In a recent interview, I talked with Gupta about connecting today’s minimum-wage demands to a more far-reaching strategy to counter inequality. In our discussion, Gupta emphasized a new generation of organizing tactics, such as the Retail Action Project’s Just Hours campaign for workers to be guaranteed enough hours on the job to have a living wage. This is the sort of tactic that could contribute to a comprehensive strategic agenda for economic justice. The following is a condensed and edited version of our conversation.

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Cesar Chavez, The UFW, and Strategic Racism

by Duane Campbell
Cesar Chavez

On March 31, Eleven states will hold holidays celebrating labor and Latino Leader Cesar Chavez. A new film Cesar Chavez: An American Hero, starring Michael Peña as Cesar Chavez and Rosario Dawson as Dolores Huerta opens in cities across the country on April 4, 2014. It is reviewed in a post by Randy Shaw.

Let us be clear. Chavez was religious, but he was not a saint. Neither were the growers, their Teamster collaborators, nor corporate agribusiness saints. Celebrations should not be about hero worship or uncritical praise, nor should we ignore the present oppression of farm workers in the U.S.

What they did accomplish along with Philip Vera Cruz , Marshall Ganz, LeRoy Chatfield, Gil Padilla, Eliseo Medina and hundreds of others was to organize in California the first successful farm worker union against overwhelming odds.

Each of the prior attempts to organize a farm worker union had been destroyed by racism and corporate power. Chavez, Huerta, Philip Vera Cruz, and the others deliberately created a multiracial union; Mexican, Mexican American, Filipino, African-American, Dominican, Puerto Rican and Arab workers, among others, have been part of the UFW. This cross racial organizing was necessary in order to combat the prior divisions and exploitations of workers based upon race and language. Dividing the workers on racial and language lines, as well as immigration status always left the corporations the winners.

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Theses toward the development of left labor strategy

by 

Concept paper:  Theses toward the development of left labor strategyPreface: The following is what used to be termed a “struggle paper,” i.e., a paper presented as an argument for a position. It is not presented as a final position, however. It is, instead, inspired by the content of the February Left Strategies web discussion on the labor movement. This paper does not try to present the ideal tactics or all elements of strategy. It does, however, attempt to identify–for purposes of discussion–issues and concepts for consideration in the development of a full-blown left labor strategy. Feedback is welcomed.
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