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

Striking Workers Shame Prestigious Johns Hopkins Hospital Over Low Pay

by Bruce Vail

On Wednesday, union workers at Johns Hopkins Hospital began a three day strike, demanding higher wages. With their current pay, many workers qualify for food stamps.   (Rae Rawls)

On Wednesday, union workers at Johns Hopkins Hospital began a three day strike, demanding higher wages. With their current pay, many workers qualify for food stamps. (Rae Rawls)

Some 2,000 union workers went out on strike Wednesday at Johns Hopkins Hospital in a protest aimed primarily at exposing low wages at Baltimore’s second biggest employer and one of the nation’s most prestigious hospitals.

Members of 1199SEIU United Health Workers East hit the picket lines at 6:00 a.m. April 9 for a three-day strike provoked by a stalemate in negotiations for a new contract to cover the union workers. The previous contract expired March 31, and renewal talks earlier this week stalled on the key issue of raising wages, according to 1199SEIU spokesperson Jim McNeill.

Hospital executives had received a ten-day warning of the strike, says 1199SEIU Vice President Vanessa Johnson, so there was ample time to ensure that patient care would not be adversely affected. Union members are primarily in maintenance and food service, with some technical workers such as surgical techs. Operations at the enormous Hopkins medical complex are reported to be near-normal with non-union nurses, administrators and temporaries filling in for the unionized strikers. Hopkins spokesperson Kim Hoppe would not respond to repeated inquiries for additional information from Working In These Times.

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Remembering Martin Luther King: Rallying for the Robin Hood Tax

by Bill Barclay

Bill Barclay speaking at Chicago RHT rally

Bill Barclay speaking at Chicago RHT rally

April 4th was the Fiftieth anniversary of an event that we don’t like to remember: the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. But, it also offers the chance to honor and carry forward MLK’s thinking and goals, particularly the concerns with poverty and inequality that he articulated with increasing intensity in the last years of his life.

So, on April 4th there was a national mobilization around the Robin Hood Tax (RHT), the proposal for a very small tax on financial transactions in stocks, currencies, debt and derivatives, futures and options based on these financial claims. The RHT has two goals: raising a large amount of money to reconstruct the U.S. political economy in a way that serves most of the population and at, the same time, restricting or even eliminating some of the most destructive aspects of finance and financial activities by throwing a small amount of sand into the gears of always increasing and always going faster treading volumes.

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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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Criticism of Cesar Chavez Film Misses Big Picture

OneStepataTimeWhen I saw a preview of the new Cesar Chavez film and wrote a positive review, I did not foresee that I would be the only author of a book on Chavez and the UFW that viewed it positively. And while I understand the critiques offered by Marshall Ganz, Matt Garcia and others, they missed the bigger picture.
Diego Luna’s new film, Cesar Chavez, has been criticized on two main grounds.

First, it failed to show that the farmworkers were a movement filled with key organizers and volunteers, not simply a showcase for a great man named Cesar Chavez. This is the chief criticism I made in my review. For those like Ganz whose own key roles in the movement the film excised from history, their anger is understandable.

Second, the film ends in 1970, ignoring how Chavez began dismantling the movement he launched by that decade’s end. I thought the film should have ended in 1975, when Governor Brown signed the Agricultural Labor Relations Act. But requiring the film to continue into the 1980’s would have required at least thirty minutes in additional running time, and its unlikely funds were available to create a two-hour film.

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College Graduates Face a Permanent Income Loss

collegegradThe payoff of college isn’t what it used to be.

These days, many college-educated workers are struggling to get by with stagnating and falling wages.

This is not to suggest that an “education premium” no longer exists.

But the reality of the country’s educated workforce nevertheless is looking more and more like that of blue-collar workers, who have faced an attack on their living standards for decades.

Media reports abound about how liberal arts degrees—in English, philosophy, anthropology and sociology, to name some—don’t translate into solid jobs. That’s why you can talk to a barista at Starbucks about Hegel’s “Philosophy of Right.”

And sadly, students are graduating with substantial college loan debts, which society-wide amount to more than our collective credit-card debt. Continue reading

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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