What labor should learn from Trump’s victory

by Michael Hirsch, Saulo Colón, Murray Schneider and Lois Weiner

[ed. note: This essay is a response to two articles that appeared in the New Labor Forum following the presidential election in November.

Updating a pre-election article AFT President Randi Weingarten and Albert Shankar Institute President Leo Casey defended the support that the AFT and many labor union leaders provided Hillary Clinton in the primary and general elections. http://newlaborforum.cuny.edu/2016/11/22/on-the-contrary-american-labor-and-the-2016-elections

In an addendum to his earlier article, Larry Cohen, chairperson of the Our Revolution Board, suggested that Bernie Sanders might have won the general election, and proposed a way forward for labor through Our Revolution.
http://newlaborforum.cuny.edu/author/larry-cohen/

These authors criticize Weingarten, Casey and Cohen, while also setting forth their views on how organized labor should proceed in the Trump era.]

The exchange between Larry Cohen and Randi Weingarten and Leo Casey focuses on what organized labor could and should have done differently so as to avoid Donald Trump’s victory. Bernie Sanders was the obvious choice for all of labor. He was a candidate custom-made for the movement, and he handed himself to labor’s leaders ready to wear, running as a Democrat rather than an independent.

Unlike Hillary Clinton, a one-time member of the Walmart board of directors, Sanders has been a lifelong friend of labor with the record to prove it. It was Sanders who represented the leftwing of the possible, not Clinton. Moreover, a Sanders presidency was certainly possible, especially at the early stage at which the AFT leadership made its peremptory and undemocratic endorsement of Clinton.

Labor officials, such as Weingarten as well as many others, in refusing to endorse Bernie Sanders while grossly exaggerating Hillary’s viability and worthiness for top office, share responsibility for the Trump victory.

While we agree with Cohen that Sanders was labor’s natural candidate, Cohen’s analysis misses an essential lesson for unions about backward social attitudes our society, workers, and union members harbor, and how unions must address these toxic prejudices.

Continue reading

Both Major Teachers’ Unions Oppose Betsy De Vos

Today was the first day of hearings. Republicans praised her and Democrats raised several important issues including her role as a leading opponent of public schools. The vote will be next week, perhaps Tuesday. Please contact your Senator today.

What will Betsy DeVos’ focus on school choice mean for public education?: Education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos has neither taught nor worked in a school system, but she and her family have used wealth and influence to create more charter schools and champion vouchers. As educators watch her hearing for an understanding of her views, William Brangham talks to Frederick Hess of American Enterprise Institute and Randi Weingarten of American Federation of Teachers.

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/will-betsy-devos-focus-school-choice-mean-public-education/

The more we learn, the more we are certain that Betsy DeVos is bad for public schools and for kids.

When De Vos has to choose between quality schools and “the free market,” she chooses “the free market” of privatized choice every time. The best interests of children take a back seat.

And we know the DeVos endgame–shut down our neighborhood public schools, and replace them with a patchwork of charters, private schools and online learning.

We can’t let that happen and we need your help. Present and future generations of children are depending on us to act now.  We now know that some Senators have grave doubts. It is our job to make those doubts grow into active resistance to DeVos. Our senators are in district offices from 12/17 – 1/2.

Here are our three toolkits to help you do your part.

Toolkit 1. Call your senators’ offices. The toolkit with numbers and a phone script can be found here. It includes a link to phone numbers.

Toolkit 2. Send a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. You can find a model here. Continue reading

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Was a Democratic Socialist

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.by Peter Dreier

As we celebrate his birthday, it is easy to forget that Rev. Martin Luther King was a democratic socialist.

In 1964, accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, he observed that the United States could learn much from Scandinavian “democratic socialism.” He often talked about the need to confront “class issues,” which he described as “the gulf between the haves and the have-nots.”

In 1966 King confided to his staff:

“You can’t talk about solving the economic problem of the Negro without talking about billions of dollars. You can’t talk about ending the slums without first saying profit must be taken out of slums. You’re really tampering and getting on dangerous ground because you are messing with folk then. You are messing with captains of industry. Now this means that we are treading in difficult water, because it really means that we are saying that something is wrong with capitalism. There must be a better distribution of wealth, and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism.”

In holding these views, King followed in the footsteps of many prominent, influential Americans whose views and activism changed the country for the better. In the 1890s, a socialist Baptist minister, Francis Bellamy, wrote “The Pledge of Allegiance” and a socialist poet, Katherine Lee Bates, penned “America the Beautiful.” King was part of a proud tradition that includes such important 20th century figures as Jane Addams, Eugene Debs, Florence Kelley, John Dewey, Upton Sinclair, Helen Keller, W.E.B. DuBois, Albert Einstein, A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, and Walter Reuther.

Today, America’s most prominent democratic socialist is Senator Bernie Sanders, a candidate for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Like King, Sanders says that the U.S. should learn from Sweden, Norway and Denmark — countries with greater equality, a higher standard of living for working families, better schools, free universities, less poverty, a cleaner environment, higher voter turnout, stronger unions, universal health insurance, and a much wider safety net. Sounds anti-business? Forbes magazine ranked Denmark as the #1 country for business. The United States ranked #18. Continue reading

Unions and the Fight Against the White Revolt

Response to Peter Olney and Ruth Needleman
http://www.portside.org.  January 9, 2017
Bill Fletcher, Jr. and Bob Wing

We appreciate the comradely tone and content of the responses of Peter Olney and Ruth Needleman to our essay, “Fighting Back Against the White Backlash.” Both of them are longtime colleagues, and our agreements are far stronger than our disagreements. In this discussion we find ourselves quite aligned with Ruth on the composition and racial politics of the working class and will not repeat some of her cogent points, but will instead focus on Peter’s observations about white worker voters and proposals for trade union action.

Peter believes we missed the critical role of white worker voters in Trump’s victories in the battleground rust belt states. It’s true that the 77,000 vote victory by Trump in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania was so narrow that it can, in fact, be ascribed to any number of factors, though certainly Trump’s gains with white workers was one of the strongest.

Underscoring this point, a piece published subsequent to our essay argued that Trump received 335,000 more votes from whites with incomes less than $50,000 in the five Rust Belt states than did Romney. (http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2016/12/the_myth_of_the_rust_belt_revolt.html [1]) That is a big swing and if it continues into the future, we are all in big trouble. Continue reading

Unions in the Era of Trump

By Jonathan Rosenblum

Beginning in 1979 in Seattle, WA, Jim Levitt expertly fabricated custom aircraft parts and tools, helping make the Boeing Company one of the most successful businesses in the world. But in 2013, corporate executives issued a threat: They demanded that Levitt and his fellow machinists surrender their pensions, and that Washington State political leaders hand over a record $8.7 billion in tax benefits. In exchange the company promised to keep production jobs in-state. The Democratic governor of Washington, along with virtually the entire political establishment, caved in to the blackmail. So did Levitt’s international union leadership – they had bargained the deal secretly with the company. The capitulation cost 32,000 Boeing workers their pensions.

“We’ve lost collective bargaining, for all intents and purposes,” Levitt observed in the wake of the corporate blackmail.

In recent weeks we’ve seen no shortage of reasons – and excuses – for why Hillary Clinton blew the election and Donald Trump will be our next president: the Russians, an unfair Electoral College system, FBI Director James Comey, xenophobia/racism/sexism, a weak Democratic candidate, Wikileaks, and faked news. Some Clinton backers even blame the “tough” primary run that Bernie Sanders gave their candidate.

What’s barely given any attention in the mainstream media is the role that decades of destruction of union power played in the 2016 election debacle. But it’s no mystery to Levitt, his fellow Boeing workers, and millions of other workers from all walks of life who’ve justifiably grown cynical about a political establishment that repeatedly has failed them over the years.

Today, overall union membership is at its lowest point in more than 70 years. In the private sector, a paltry 1 in 15 workers holds a union card.

Now it will get worse: Public sector unions are bracing for the inevitable Supreme Court decision allowing “freeloading” – requiring unions to let workers avoid paying any dues while still receiving full union representation and protection. The incoming Congress promises to be hostile to worker organizations, eager to do on a national scale what Gov. Scott Walker has done to Wisconsin unions.

Underscoring labor’s weakness, the election results produced the most anemic union turnout for the Democratic presidential candidate in more than 30 years: Clinton won union households by only 51 to 43 percent, an 8 percent margin. In the previous 7 presidential elections, in contrast, the Democrat won union households by an average margin of 22 percent. Continue reading

SEIU to Cut Budget 30%

In response to Trump victory in Electoral College

From: The Hill

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is planning to cut 30 percent of its budget by Jan. 1, 2018, the end of President-elect Donald Trump’s first year in office.

“Because the far right will control all three branches of the federal government, we will face serious threats to the ability of working people to join together in unions,” President Mary Kay Henry wrote in an internal memo obtained by Bloomberg Businessweek.

The SEIU will begin with a 10 percent budget cut immediately at the start of 2017. The union’s current annual budget is $300 million.

“These threats require us to make tough decisions that allow us to resist these attacks and to fight forward despite dramatically reduced resources,” the memo, dated Dec. 14, said.
Henry said the union must prepare for the 2018 midterm elections in addition to the 2020 cycle, arguing that it must “focus our resources and energy on the fights that position us to retake power in 2018, 2020 and beyond.”

“Refinery Town”: A Model for Local Political Action

by Ryan Haney

steve_early_by_robert_gumpert-200x300

Steve Early, Photo by Robert Gumbert

Refinery Town: Big Oil, Big Money and the Remaking of an American City will be available from Beacon Press on January 17th, 2017.

Steve Early’s Refinery Town is a compelling read on multiple levels. It paints an interesting portrait of Richmond, CA (pop. 110,000), a Bay Area city that is home to a massive Chevron refinery. It also works as a journalistic deep dive into contemporary municipal politics, with a cast of reformers and establishment actors clashing over approaches to problems in a city wracked by disinvestment, toxic waste, corruption, and crime.

In November 2016, the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) won a majority on the City Council, overcoming massive campaign funding for their opponents by Chevron.

rpa

(Pictured, left to right: Gayle McLaughlin, Eduardo Martinez, and Jovanka Beckles, three members of the Richmond Progressive Alliance who now serve on City Council. Photo by Tom Goulding, Richmond Confidential.)

Written before this success,  Refinery Town excels as a case study for activists looking to build power at the local level through grassroots organizing and independent electoral work. Early, a longtime labor activist and journalist who moved to Richmond five years ago, counts himself among the reformers. His book is an invaluable documentation of their journey and a testimony of what might be possible in other cities. Continue reading