Paul Booth: Organizer, Teacher, RIP

Six days ago, I was having an email exchange with the author of a piece I was editing on how Democrats can both turn out their base and reach out to voters outside their base in the 2018 midterms. We were going back and forth on three points in the piece—chiefly, on whether Latinos could be said to have realigned themselves more toward the Democrats during the 1990s (the author’s position) or whether so many new Latino voters came forth during that decade that their Democratic shift was more a surge than a realignment (my position).

After dredging up the exit poll percentages from the California gubernatorial elections of 1990, 1994, and 1998, and doing the numerical calculations (candidate preference percentage times Latino share of the electorate times raw number of votes cast) to come up with the steadily declining number of Latino votes for the Republican gubernatorial candidates in those three elections, the author quietly and indisputably won his point.

He then added: “I’m a trifle indisposed though I will try to do some revisions on points 2+3 later this morning. (Actually I’m at Sibley [a Washington, D.C., hospital] dealing with a flare-up of leukemia!). Can you point me to more data sources on the CA question?”

The indisposed author—Paul Booth—suddenly and shockingly died yesterday, succumbing to his flare-up of leukemia. So suddenly and unexpectedly that his wife, the legendary organizer Heather Booth, was on Capitol Hill getting herself arrested for demanding justice—and legal standing, and a path to citizenship—for DACA recipients and the other undocumenteds. Continue reading


Is Traditional Union Organizing a Lost Cause?

The Most Successful Union Organizer in America Thinks Traditional Organizing Is a Lost Cause

On the latest episode of “The Bottom Line” podcast, David Rolf of the SEIU explains why worker advocates need to move to a different model.

Remembering Martin Luther King and His Roots in the Labor and Socialist Movement


By Nathan Newman

As we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, it’s worth remembering that his legacy was based firmly in the labor and the socialist movements of the 20th century. It takes nothing away from King to highlight how his work built on those movements and his voice was magnified by his association with them.

Martin Luther King Jr. was recruited in Montgomery by a labor organizer, gave his most famous speech at a DC rally funded by labor unions, was bailed out of a Birmingham jail with union dues and would die in Memphis fighting for a union.

E.D. Nixon and Montgomery

Most people know at this point that Rosa Parks was not some random woman sitting down on a bus because she was tired, but was a civil rights activist in the Montgomery community who had become chapter secretary of the local NAACP chapter. Less known to many is Edgar Daniel (“E.D.”) Nixon who was a long-time leader of the NAACP chapter and who in fact launched the Montgomery Bus Boycott and recruited the young Martin Luther King Jr. to help lead the campaign. Continue reading

Celebrating the Life and Work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

California Labor Federation

Many chapters in the story of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. are well-known to Americans. The I Have a Dream speech. The Nobel Peace Prize. The Mountaintop speech. His Letter from a Birmingham Jail. His commitment to nonviolence. All the incredible accomplishments of a visionary.

Our series on Martin Luther King Jr., to mark the 50th anniversary of his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968, covers some of the lesser known parts of his history. Follow the links below to discover more about this civil rights icon.

1. Jay Smith, United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals’ (UNAC/UHCP’s) counsel, who shared a story his mentor, Jerome A. “Buddy” Cooper, told about King’s Birmingham campaign.

2. King is perhaps best known for his iconic 1963 I Have a Dream speech. Less is known about predecessors to that speech, like the one King gave to the AFL-CIO in 1961.

3. King began with prepared remarks, the most famous part of the speech containing the theme ‘I Have a Dream’ was created on Aug. 23, 1963, as King addressed the crowd of more than 250,000 on the Mall in Washington, D.C.

4. King accepts the Nobel Peace Prize and then joins workers on strike in Atlanta to publicize their campaign during 10 days in December 1964.

5. International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10 made King an honorary longshoreman in 1967. When King was assassinated, the ILWU showed they truly regarded him as one of their own.

6. Jerry Wurf, AFSCME’s president in 1968, was a strong and consistent supporter of King, as well as the civil rights movement in general.

This post originally appeared at UNAC-UHCP.

The Janus Effect in New York

Me Too + Labor Unions

Why Physicists Don’t Rule the World

by Stan Sorscher

Labor Representative at SPEEA/IFPTE

I was a physicist for 30 years. My brain still works that way. In a post-factual world, scientists are at a distinct disadvantage. That may explain why very few physicists hold positions of authority.

A few years ago, I had a moment of insight in Los Angeles, after watching eight powerful videos at a labor conference. One video documented the joy of accomplishment for dancers negotiating their first contract. Another video shared an unforgettably poignant moment for family members on opposite sides of the border wall between the US and Mexico. A third video connected workers around the world who would lose social, political and economic power through our misguided approach to globalization.

In the videos, we experience the dignity of work and the power of solidarity. We could see and feel our problems with inequality, immigration, weakened social cohesion, and climate change.

By conveying the lived experience of workers in the videos, they had crystalized the power people have when they organize around a common purpose. The videos had more clarity and meaning than all the resolutions, speeches, strategies, and policies woven into the business portion of the meeting.

I went outside the conference to process what I had just seen. Standing on S Figueroa St, I carried the effect of the videos with me. I looked one way, and saw fashionable restaurants with customers accustomed to comfort and privilege. Looking the other way, I could see systemic inequality.

I had a second insight. My approach to the world has been shaped as a physicist. I believe in an objective reality, which I observe and test. Nothing I say can change that objective reality.

If a beam of electrons passes through a diffraction grating, I can inspire the electrons, intimidate the electrons, or pray for the electrons, but I get pretty much the same diffraction pattern, either way.

On S Figueroa St, I saw that my approach to the world is well-suited to roughly 6 percent of human experience, which includes microwave ovens, the thermodynamics of the internal combustion engine, and the motion of roller coasters at Universal Studios.

For the other 94% of human experience, what we say does affect our lives. Most people don’t make decisions based on a number. They need a story. When I studied physics in college, I had no idea what happened in the Communications Department. I do now. They’re running my world.

Many years ago, a member of Congress gave one of the best technical talks I have ever heard on climate change, alternative energy, and distributed power generation. It was full of ideas, solid data, and solutions to real problems.

Later, in an office visit with him, we brought our facts and data to another policy discussion. He listened, and then said, “I need a story.”

I was crushed.

I thought he doubted our compelling logic and data. In my eyes, his credibility dropped like a stone. Years after that meeting, back on S Figueroa St, I realized he understood his business much better than I did.

We were content to be smart. He needed to be effective. He might intend to vote our way, but he also wanted our position to have broad public support. We could help him with our argument AND by generating 20,000 emails, 137 phone calls to his office, and endorsements from 17 popular organizations in the next election.

A good story would make him effective. That’s human nature.

Spiderman, among others, warns us that great power comes with great responsibility. The power of story comes with risk. Stories work whether the idea is good or bad, true or false, benign or destructive. When leaders have good character, things can work out. It’s a different story, so to speak, when a President with serious character issues says, “People will just believe you. You just tell them and they believe you.”

Science is all about sorting good ideas from bad ones. Ideas start as hypotheses, which are tested repeatedly against reality. In the technical world, scientists and engineers tell a story with facts and data. A well-designed graph tells a story, based on credible meaningful data. Professional doom awaits a scientist or engineer who relies on story, or ignores contrary information, or disparages alternative interpretations.

In the larger 94% of human behavior, a powerful story can sustain a bad idea for far too long. It is some comfort to scientists that we know, deep down, that you can’t just make shit up. Science is true, whether you believe it or not. Eventually, nature delivers a reality check.

Leaders will use a good story to be effective, because that’s its great power over human behavior. We can all also apply critical thinking to look through a good story to see the reality carried within it. That’s our great responsibility.

Stan Sorscher’s article first appeared in the Huffington Post, and is reposted here with his permission.