Bernie Sanders is a Thoroughbred

Senator Bernie Sanders   Photo by Don Shall

Senator Bernie Sanders Photo by Don Shall

Bernie Sanders is a thoroughbred—why call him a stalking horse?

by Michael Hirsch

Voltaire wrote that “the best is the enemy of the good,” but he cited it as a foible and not a redeeming practice.  Within hours of Bernie Sanders announcing his candidacy for the Democratic Party presidential nod on April 30th, in some warrens of the radical left, the long corrective knives were already out for the only socialist in Congress. Why? Because Bernie is just not good enough, they said. Criticism ranged from his being a faux socialist, a stalking horse for Hillary Clinton whose backing by the left would be a practical waste of a year that could be better spent building a movement. Politicking for a candidate who can’t win the nomination and who would be destroyed by corporate America and an avalanche of corporate funding if somehow he did was seen as a mug’s game.

They would be wrong.

Take this example: in his incisive report on the recent Future of the
Left/Independent Politics Conference in Chicago, Dan La Botz cites remarks made by Bruce Dixon of the Georgia Green Party to the effect that “Sanders is a sheep dog whose job is like that of the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Congressman Dennis Kucinich in earlier elections, to round up folks who had strayed to the left in response to the Democratic Party’s retrograde domestic and foreign policies and to bring them back to the Party.” At least Dixon didn’t say Judas goat, leading lambs to the slaughter, but it’s still early in the campaign, and the cat-scratch phase hasn’t kicked in yet.

Another group that would at first blush seem natural allies of the insurgent Sanders is organized labor. Despite favorable coverage of him  in AFL-CIO Now , the website of the national labor federation, reporting on his role at a recent anti-TPP rally in Washington, D.C. and his remarks on the U.S. Senate floor against the job-swallowing trade bill and the slight-of-hand that would fast-track a vote on legislation no one has even seen, neither the national federation nor its 56 constituent unions are even hinting that Sanders could be their man. While there is considerable support for Sanders among middle-level union staff, that won’t be–and never is–enough to cinch an endorsement. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has said that the beating Democrats took last fall during the midterm elections was due to the fact that labor issues–specifically  economic issues close to workers’ hearts–were not foremost in almost any campaign. Now Trumka and the others have a chance to correct that blunder by backing a presidential candidate who reflects and expands on their economic views. Will they do it? Or will they make a Christmas peace with their class enemy again. We’ll know by December.   Continue reading

Justice for Janitors: A Misunderstood Success

by Peter Olney and Rand Wilson

Los Angeles, CA. 15 Ap. 08:  The first day of the labor sponsored 3 day march

Los Angeles, CA. 15 Ap. 08: The first day of the labor sponsored 3 day march “Hollywood to the Docks”.

Part two of a series looking back on the 20th anniversary the AFL-CIO’s New Voice movement

John Sweeney, his officers, and their staff team came into office with high expectations and great optimism. A good part of their inspiration was drawn from SEIU’s Justice for Janitors campaign that many had directly participated in or saw as a model of success. After all, Justice for Janitors had succeeded in mobilizing members, winning better contracts and organizing thousands of new, mostly Latino members while garnering broad public support.(1)

Founded in 1921, the Building Service Workers was a Chicago-based janitors, window washer and doormen’s union. George Hardy, the predecessor to John Sweeney as International President, was a San Francisco native and organizer who took his comrades from Hayes Valley to Southern California after World War II to organize janitors in Los Angeles. From his base at Local 399 in Los Angeles, Hardy launched the campaign to organize Kaiser and health care that would transform the Building Service Workers into the Service Employees International Union.(2)

By the 1980s, much of the union’s market power among urban janitors had eroded as the industry restructured to a cleaning model that relied on outsourced contract cleaners instead of permanent staff. When Justice for Janitors was launched in the late 1980s however, the union still retained tremendous power and thousands of members in its traditional strongholds of New York City, Chicago and San Francisco.

In these cities, the union had excellent contracts with good wages and benefits for doormen and cleaners. These were the “fortresses” that played such a crucial role in the success of the janitor’s campaigns in Los Angeles, San Jose, Oakland, Denver and San Diego where the battle was to reorganize weak and degraded bargaining units and organize thousands of new members.

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. Thus, when rank and file union janitors marched for “justice for the unorganized janitors” it meant marching to increase their own wages and benefits and to gain a more secure future.

In Los Angeles long-time union signatory contractors like International Service Systems (ISS) were operating non-union or in the case of American Building Maintenance (ABM) double breasting by creating new entities like “Bradford Building Services” to clean non-union in LA.(4) On May 29, 1990 the SEIU janitors boldly struck non-union ISS buildings in the entertainment high rise complex called Century City. When the Daryl Gates-led police department brutally attacked the striking Los Angeles janitors on June 15, the shocking news footage traveled around the country.(5) With some prompting, SEIU Local 32 B-J leader Gus Bevona threatened ISS with a shutdown in New York City if the company didn’t settle in LA. That strategic solidarity contributed to victory and the nearly immediate organization of thousands of new members for SEIU Local 399.

Most successful organizing is not done in a vacuum, existing members have to be front line apostles.

The campaign even had a movie made about it; “Bread and Roses” directed by the Scottish filmmaker Ken Loach.(6) It did a fine job of presenting SEIU’s strategy to organize industry-wide and build a campaign that resonated broadly in the community particularly among Latinos. It also portrayed the challenges organizers always face in holding the unity of the working class. The deep divisions and contradictions among workers are often the biggest obstacle that needs to be overcome in order to have a shot at beating the boss.(7)

The Justice for Janitors campaign was often showcased by New Voice supporters as a premier example of “new” organizing. But what many union leaders and key staff strategists have missed is the fact it was not a “blank slate” campaign disconnected from the sources of SEIU’s membership and contract power. As we have shown above, it was a campaign (as William Finnegan also pointed out in an excellent New Yorker article) deeply rooted in the existing power, base and history of SEIU.(8)

Herein lies an important lesson: It takes members to organize members! While obvious and hardly a new concept, it was embraced as part of the New Voice strategy of “bargaining to organize” in 1996. But sadly the importance of worker-to-worker organizing, building strong committees and using our bargaining power with employers got lost. As a result, we’ve seen a multitude of costly “Hail Mary” passes being thrown in the labor movement with little chance of success because there is not the power of the market or the members in play.
Continue reading

Boston Demonstration Launches Global Wage Action A Day Early

by Paul Garver

Boston wage demo 14th April

Boston launched the April 15 global day of action for higher wages a day early. Not out of competitive fervor, but because April 15 is reserved in Massachusetts to celebrate Patriot’s Day. As I write this today, drums are drumming, pipers piping and muskets firing in the towns around me as suburban Minutemen assemble and march towards the Old North Bridge in Concord to reenact a confrontation with the Redcoats.

In Boston yesterday, a diverse throng of several thousand people of all ages and colors assembled and marched past numerous institutions that underpay their workers, whether cleaners in office buildings and theaters, burger fryers at fast food joints, or adjunct faculty at universities. The unifying demand was the fight for $15 an hour. But the speeches, banners and chants expressed a hunger for a movement that goes far beyond reenactment. Even if some of these same marchers had previously participated in the equally spirited, though smaller and less diverse marches of Occupy Boston, they were not merely reenacting Occupy. Here is what democracy looks like.

Yesterday’s action in Boston was all about improving the real present conditions of the 99%, and building a future that includes all of us and our children and grandchildren. We are not Minutemen fighting Redcoats or a distant monarch, but struggling for the more difficult task of achieving greater economic and social justice in a sustainable world. This is not the work of Minutemen, but of long distance runners. Yesterday showed that the movement in Boston is advancing in that direction.

Join The Fight for $15

$15DSAThousands of people across the country will be taking part in a huge strike for better pay and working conditions  on April 15.  From fast-food to home care, airport, construction, and Walmart workers to adjunct professors and other underpaid workers, folks from every corner of the country and the globe will be joining together across industries on Tax Day, April 15th, for the Fight for $15.

Will you stand with them this Wednesday? Find an action near you.

You and I know that it’s inevitable in the capitalist system for bosses to exploit workers. But it’s not just happening at the level of individual workplaces. Corporations must compete with each other or die, and that means avoiding expenses as much as possible. Low-wage workers struggle to make ends meet and, if they can navigate the deliberately complicated application process and the constant shaming that comes with public assistance, they get the support they need from taxpayers while their employers get off the hook for paying higher wages. That’s what I call corporate welfare.

All workers deserve a union to demand their fair share of the fruits of their labor, but in the meantime, let’s demonstrate that collective action can be society-wide, not just in one workplace. It’s good practice for building a movement for democratic socialism. Continue reading

Working Class Under Siege- Forum

$15DSAFIGHT FOR (APRIL) 15: Fight for $15 readies for its next rounds of strikes, to be held on Tax Day.

DSA Brings Fight for $15, CSU -Sacramento

Working Class Under Siege:

Organized labor and students fight for a brighter future.

Forum: April 16, 2015.  3 PM.

Speakers, video, dialogue. Join us.

Fabrizio Sasso; Executive Director of Sacramento Central Labor Council.

Kevin Wehr, President, California Faculty Association. Paul Burke, Sociology, Ian Lee, the Fight for $15, Robert Longer-CWA, Citizens to Trade Campaign TPP,  Zobeida Menez, Victoria Ordorica Yanez, SQE, Andee Suderland. DSA Student Debt Campaign Leisa Falkner- exploitation of adjunct faculty. Continue reading

Raising Wages from the Bottom Up – part 2

By Harold Meyerson

$15DSAThree ways city and state governments can make the difference.

This article appears in the Spring 2015 issue of The American Prospect magazine.

THE FIRST STRATEGY, PIONEERED by the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE) and copied in multiple cities, is to condition city approval of new projects seeking tax abatements, public funds, or other municipal assistance on those projects meeting labor criteria that benefit the city’s residents: the payment of living wages, the hiring of women and minorities, the adherence to environmental standards—and the ability of workers in the project to join unions.

No one has done more to foster unionization through such policies than Madeline Janis, LAANE ’s founding director and now the head of Jobs to Move America, which seeks to bring the manufacture of rail cars and buses—an industry almost entirely offshored in recent decades—back to the United States and back to unionized American workers. In 2008, Los Angeles voters levied a tax increase on themselves to fund the construction of an ambitious rail system. When L.A.’s transit authority began looking for a rail-car manufacturer, however, virtually all were overseas. Even more problematically, the federal Department of Transportation conditioned its considerable financial support for such transit projects on conventional lowest-bidder criteria. Janis managed to persuade the department to add a “best value” criterion that gives points to bidders who hire veterans and workers from neighborhoods with high poverty rates. Able to choose a bidder by those criteria, the L.A. agency selected a Japanese manufacturer that pledged to build a factory in L.A. County and, with further prodding from Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, not to oppose its workers’ efforts to unionize. Transit agencies in Chicago and Maryland have now adopted contract criteria similar to those in Los Angeles. Continue reading

Labor in the Fields of California

Immigrant Farm Workers Pull Leaves off Vines in a Coachella Valley Grape Vineyardby David Bacon
When hundreds of people marched to the Los Angeles City Council last October, urging it to pass a resolution supporting a farm worker union fight taking place in California’s San Joaquin Valley, hardly anyone had ever heard the name of the company involved. That may not be the case much longer. Gerawan Farming, one of the country’s largest growers, with 5,000 people picking its grapes and peaches, is challenging the California law that makes farm workers’ union rights enforceable. Lining up behind Gerawan are national anti-union think tanks. What began as a local struggle by one grower family to avoid a union contract is getting bigger, and the stakes are getting much higher.

The Gerawan workers got the City Council’s support and, on February 10, the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education passed a resolution that went beyond just an encouraging statement. The LAUSD purchases Gerawan’s Prima label peaches and grapes through suppliers for 1,270 schools and 907,000 students. The LAUSD’s resolution, proposed by board member Steve Zimmer, requires the district to verify that Gerawan Farming is abiding by state labor laws, “and to immediately implement the agreement issued by the neutral mediator and the state of California.”

Verifying compliance, however, may not be easy.  In mid-March a hearing on Gerawan’s violations of the Agricultural Labor Relations Act (ALRA) ended after 104 days of testimony by 130 witnesses.  Continue reading

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