Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Trump Gets An F From Workers

January 27th, 2020 | Tom Conway

Donald Trump, the self-proclaimed “great negotiator” and author of “The Art of the Deal,” promised to use his bargaining skills to help the American worker.

Trump vowed to rewrite trade deals, stanch the offshoring of U.S. jobs and reinvigorate American manufacturing.

His behavior tells a different story. Both of the trade deals he produced so far—the original United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) and the “phase one” agreement with China—failed American workers.

Bad trade cost millions of American jobs. Trump’s brand of deal-making won’t bring them back.

Make no mistake, Trump inherited real trade problems. For more than 20 years, politicians of both parties failed to fix a broken system.

Corporations exploited trade agreements to shift family-sustaining manufacturing jobs to MexicoChina and other countries that pay workers low wages and deny them the protection of labor unions. They made boatloads of money offshoring jobs, but in the process, they robbed U.S. workers of their livelihoods and hollowed out countless American communities, decimating their tax bases and exposing them to epidemics of crime and opioids.

Cheating compounded the job losses. China subsidizes its industries, manipulates its currency and then floods global markets with cheaply priced goods, severely damaging U.S. manufacturing in steel, aluminum, paper, furniture, glass and other products.

“Work just started to dwindle,” recalled Bill Curtis, who eventually lost his cloth-cutting job at a Lenoir, N.C., furniture factory swept under by cheap Chinese imports

Trump made fair trade—and standing up to cheaters—a centerpiece of his 2016 campaign.

He railed against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which empowered corporations to shift more than one million manufacturing jobs to Mexico. He excoriated China for illegal trading practices that siphoned off more than three million American jobs, and he vowed to stop the bleeding.

The labor movement was prepared to work with him to achieve its long-sought goals. But as president, he let workers down. America needs a comprehensive trade solution, but Trump’s policy lacks vision.

The omission of enforceable labor standards in the original NAFTA enabled U.S. corporations to move manufacturing jobs south of the border and take advantage of Mexican workers.

Mexican workers make a few dollars an hour, much less than their U.S. counterparts, and they lack the protection of real labor unions. Companies make deals with protection unions to muzzle complaints about wages and dangerous working conditions. Workers have no voice, and U.S. corporations get rich gaming this system.

But Trump’s version of the USMCA also lacked specific mechanisms to enforce labor standards. Because he failed to deliver, labor unions and Democratic members of Congress stepped into the breach and did the hard work of fixing the deal so that it provides real protections for workers and jobs in all three countries covered by the agreement.

Congressional Democrats traveled to San Luis Potosi, Mexico, to visit a Goodyear plant that pays some workers less than $2 an hour, exposed them to hazardous conditions and fired dozens who dared to strike. Goodyear, which laid off workers in Virginia and Alabama while operating the low-cost Mexican plant, refused to let the Congress members through the door.

But the visit showed the importance of incorporating worker protections into the USMCA. Prominent Democrats, including Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal of Massachusetts and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. refused to pass the legislation until it represented a significant improvement over NAFTA.

Under the revised version of the USMCA, Mexico must follow through with promised labor reforms, such as giving workers the right to organize, or face enforcement actions. When Mexican workers join unions, their wages will rise, giving U.S. employers less incentive to relocate jobs.

In addition, the revised version makes it easier for the U.S. to initiate complaints against Mexican companies for trade violations, provides for multi-national inspections of Mexican factories and gives the U.S. the authority to impose significant penalties and ultimately to block violators’ goods.

That’s real enforcement.

Congress passed the revised version of the USMCA, not Trump’s toothless version. The deal is far from perfect, but it’s a significant improvement over NAFTA.

Trump’s failure to follow through on labor standards in the USMCA showed his murky strategy on trade. His use of tariffs does, too.

In 2018, he slapped steel and aluminum tariffs on the whole world—alienating global trading partners—when the right approach would have been a strong, surgical strike against China’s dumping. While the tariffs had some positive effects, they’re no substitute for big-picture fixes Trump has yet to deliver.

Last week, Trump unveiled “phase one” of a new trade deal with China. It’s little more than window dressing and an effort to defuse bilateral tensions during an election year.

The deal removes some tariffs on Chinese goods and theoretically commits China to purchasing $200 billion in pork, jets, energy and other U.S. products. It gives new market access to U.S. financial firms, allowing Wall Street to line its pockets. But it does nothing to address job loss.

The U.S. lost 3.7 million jobs to China since 2001, 700,000 of them during Trump’s presidency, and the trade deficit actually increased during the first two years of his term.

The loss of American jobs is no accident. It’s part of China’s policy to destabilize competitors and boost its own power.

China subsidizes its industries, giving companies raw materials, land and cash. Then the companies sell their products abroad at prices that U.S. companies—lacking government handouts—can’t match.

In addition, China allows its industries to overproduce and flood global markets, further driving down prices with gluts of steel, aluminum and other products. And it artificially depresses the value of its currency to encourage still more overseas sales.

These are the major problems that U.S. trade policy must address, but Trump’s phase-one deal doesn’t resolve any of them.

Instead, before announcing the phase one agreement, he backpedaled. He rescinded China’s designation as a currency manipulator.

Now, just like they did with the USMCA, labor unions and Democratic members of Congress must be ready to wade in and demand improvements to the China deal.

More jobs will disappear unless Trump pursues a cohesive trade strategy that prioritizes the American worker. Now, he’s just helping to perpetuate the broken system he bitterly criticized.

This blog was originally published by AFL-CIO on January 27, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Tom Conway is international president of the United Steelworkers (USW).

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Unions face another year of eroding membership as the war on workers continues

January 27th, 2020 | Laura Clawson

The share of U.S. workers represented by a union ticked down slightly from 2018 to 2019, dropping from 11.7% to 11.6%; the share of U.S. workers who are union members also dropped from 10.5% to 10.3%. The overall number of workers represented by a union stayed about the same, growing by 3,000. (Interestingly, unions grew by 47,000 members in Missouri, hitting a 15-year high.)

While the picture for unions remains dim, after decades of decline, it’s worth noting that the Supreme Court’s anti-union Janus decision hasn’t—so far, anyway—dealt public-sector unions the intended death blow. “The meaningful decline in the union membership rate among local government workers (from 40.3% to 39.4%) might suggest Janus is having its intended effect. However, there was not a similar decline among state government workers,” the Economic Policy Institute reports. But “The share of state government workers who are members of unions rose substantially between 2018 and 2019, from 28.6% to 29.4%.”

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on January 25, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.

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Bernie’s labor support snowballs

January 24th, 2020 | Holly Otterbein

Image result for Holly Otterbein

Most national unions haven’t picked a favorite yet in the Democratic presidential primary.

It’s been a boon for Bernie Sanders.

Sanders has already racked up 11 labor endorsements, more than any of his Democratic rivals, most of which are from local, regional and statewide unions. And some are among the most powerful labor organizations in early-voting and Super Tuesday states.

“He’s picking up more labor endorsements because the national unions, almost without exception, have not made endorsements, which implicitly or explicitly sets the local and regional unions free,” said David Kusnet, a former speechwriter for Bill Clinton who co-authored a book with an ex-AFL-CIO president. “He has a lot of friends and fans and supporters in the union movement, and some of them are succeeding in pushing their local labor unions to endorse him.”

The local endorsements are filling the political void left by national unions, still gun-shy after the acrimonious 2016 primary election left many rank-and-file members furious that their leaders supported Hillary Clinton over Sanders. Most are staying neutral for now, including some that have longstanding relationships with Joe Biden.

Five unions have come out for Biden, including three international or national unions, and three have gone for Warren, one of which is a national group that also co-endorsed Sanders. None has endorsed Pete Buttigieg.

The support of labor unions such as New Hampshire’s SEIU Local 1984, which represents more than 10,000 members, gives Sanders a boost of momentum and ground troops in critical early-voting states. Sanders has also won the backing of large teachers local unions in California, which votes on Super Tuesday, and in Nevada.

“We will have boots on the ground, canvass for him, get out the vote,” said Rich Gulla, president of SEIU Local 1984. “He’s talking good-paying jobs, he’s talking health care. I think he’s resonating with labor and, quite frankly, with a lot of working people in this country that are finding it more difficult to make ends meet, and I think that’s why he’s getting the endorsements that he’s getting.”

Though Biden has fewer unions backing him, he won the support of two international unions that together represent nearly 400,000 U.S. members: the International Association of Fire Fighters and the Iron Workers. Sanders has three national unions behind him.

Given teachers’ and nurses’ close relationships with members in their communities, Sanders’ team is hopeful that their canvassing will be especially effective.

It’s unclear which candidates other labor groups will endorse as the primary unfolds. More building trades are expected to side with Biden at some point, and there is a possibility that some pro-Sanders local unions will put pressure on their national unions to put their weight behind him.

Robert Reich, who served as labor secretary under the Clinton administration, suggested that Sanders’ success stems from his work courting unions and their members, including by proposing to offer them advantages if Medicare for All passed. Under his plan, businesses whose workers have union-negotiated health care coverage would have to renegotiate their contracts if single-payer became the law of the land — and direct any windfall to the employees.

“Sanders has been particularly diligent in appealing to unions and workers. He’s proposed expanding union power and doubling union membership during his first four years in office. He’s demonstrated solidarity with striking workers,” Reich said. “Many unions are still weighing other candidates, especially Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden, but Bernie seems to be in the lead right now.”

Sanders might also be benefiting from the effort he’s made to professionalize his 2020 campaign, including his political operation. In 2016, he had no political director. Analilia Mejia, who previously worked for SEIU and UNITE HERE, is now his national political director.

“I come out of the labor movement. My deputy comes out of the labor movement. A bunch of the staff comes out of the labor movement,” she said. “I was talking to one labor leader and they were like, ‘It’s nice to talk to a campaign that understands the difference between a lockout and a strike.’”

Sanders’ campaign has also texted and emailed its supporters to encourage them to stand on picket lines and raise money for labor groups.

“When I was political director [for unions], the thing I most wanted was a big turnout at my actions. And we were like, ‘Hey, wait — we have a list of people who care about Bernie. Let’s tell them they should come out in solidarity,’” Mejia said.

While Sanders’ supporters in labor unions are campaigning for him in early states, the pro-Biden Fire Fighters are blanketing the same areas. In Iowa, international leaders are meeting with locals and educating them about the caucus process, including how to persuade people during the second alignment.

“That is when you can use the influence, the voice, your reputation with your neighbors to say, ‘Come stand with us. Stand with your firefighters and stand with Joe Biden,’” said Harold Schaitberger, president of the IAFF. “They trust you, they admire you, they hold you in high regard.”

This article was originally published by Politico on January 24, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Holly Otterbein is a reporter.

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How a 15-Hour Workweek Could Change Our Lives for the Better

January 23rd, 2020 | In These Time Editors
15-hour work • week
noun

1. Exactly what it sounds like—less work for the same money

I work nearly three times that much now. Is this normal?

Sadly, yes. The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development shows that American workers put in an average of 1,786 hours annually, 200 more hours than their British and French peers. Yet study after study reveals that working more hours doesn’t increase productivity—just stress, health issues and carbon emissions.

How much less should I be working?

An often-cited 2016 study found that workers performed best when they were clocking in just three days a week, five hours a day. Advocates of a 15-hour workweek, such as Dutch author Rutger Bregman, argue that much of the work we do now is pointless at best and harmful at worst, so we should do much less of it. Major trade unions in Germany, the Netherlands, Ireland and the U.K. have all backed a four-day workweek, and the British Labour Party’s shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, has promised to reduce the average workweek to 32 hours within the next decade, proclaiming, “We should work to live, not live to work.” Microsoft Japan experimented with a shorter workweek and trumpeted that it actually boosted productivity and cut down on time-wasting.

What about in the United States?

Thanks perhaps to a national case of workaholism, until recently it was self-proclaimed do-gooder CEOs talking about why we should work less (to increase their profits, naturally). But there are signs the American labor movement could once again take up the fight for fewer hours. Notably, Bernie Sanders said he would consider a 32-hour workweek (for the same pay) at the United Food and Commercial Workers 2019 fall forum in Iowa.

Sounds great to me. Is there a catch?

Some progressive economists worry that enforcing a shorter workweek could lead to an economic contraction and pay cuts. One proposal for a “leisure agenda” from the People’s Policy Project recommends a mix of measures instead, including more federal holidays, more guaranteed vacation time, and more paid parental and sick leave. However we get there, the end goal is clear: We need to get a life.

This is part of “The Big Idea,” a monthly series offering brief introductions to progressive theories, policies, tools and strategies that can help us envision a world beyond capitalism. For recent In These Times coverage of reducing hours and raising pay in action, see, ”How Working Less Can Help Prevent Climate Catastrophe and Promote Women’s Equality,” “California Workers Win Equal Overtime: ‘This Bill Corrects 78 Years of Discrimination’” and “Long Hours, No Rest: Overworked Americans Still Dream of Vacation.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on January 22, 2020 by the editors of In These Times. Reprinted with permission.

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Childcare costs are sucking U.S. parents dry and still leaving early childhood teachers in poverty

January 23rd, 2020 | Laura Clawson

Parents in the U.S. pay a staggering amount for care for their young children—and here, as in so many other areas, the support they get from their government falls short of what peer nations provide. A new report from the Economic Policy Institute shows just how big the problem is, and what it’s costing the economy.

With government spending predictably lagging other countries (as a share of GDP), parents spend $42 billion a year on early care and education. It’s so expensive that many parents leave the paid workforce or scale back their hours, losing $30-35 billion in the process.

Meanwhile, the patchwork early care and education system leaves many teachers wildly underpaid, with a median of $25,218 a year in salry. Almost one in five live in poverty. The teacher at a preschool makes dramatically less than the kindergarten teacher who gets the same kids a year later.

Several of the Democrats running for president have proposed major overhauls of this broken system: universal childcare was one of Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s first policy plans, Sen. Bernie Sanders has endorsed universal childcare in broader strokes, and Pete Buttigieg has an ambitious plan as well.

Check out the details of early care and education funding for your state.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on January 20, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.

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Marriott's 'green choice' isn't so green, and it's hurting workers

January 23rd, 2020 | Laura Clawson

Why would environmental organizations like the Sierra Club, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and 350.org have signed a pledge that they wouldn’t use a hotel chain’s environmental program? Because Marriott’s “Make a Green Choice” program, in which hotel guests are asked to opt out of having their rooms cleaned during a stay, is a classic case of greenwashing, and one that hurts workers.

According to Sierra magazine, Marriott won’t disclose the environmental benefits of not having rooms cleaned as often, while UNITE HERE Local 2 President Anand Singh told the magazine that “when housekeepers do get into a room that hasn’t been serviced in days, they report needing to use more water and chemicals, and they experience pain and injury from having to push their bodies to the limit to get the job done.” At the same time, they’re losing work hours, and income, to people doing what they think is the right thing.

Marriott has pushed “Make a Green Choice,” but it hasn’t pushed larger environmental efforts. “Despite setting a goal of acquiring 30 percent of its overall electricity consumption from renewable sources by 2025, the hotel chain did not report purchasing any of its millions of megawatt-hours of energy from renewable resources in 2018” Sierra reports. “That same year, Marriott’s $33 million investment in energy savings initiatives like LED lighting retrofit projects were dwarfed by the $3.4 billion that Marriott returned to shareholders.” Marriott’s climate goals are also less ambitious than those of rival Hilton.

Meanwhile, 91% of Marriott housekeepers told the union that they’ve lost hours since “Make a Green Choice” was put into place, with some having lost so many hours that they’re no longer eligible for health care.

We should all be making green choices. This isn’t the one, though.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on January 20, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.

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Pregnant Workers Fairness Act takes a step forward in the House, this week in the war on workers

January 23rd, 2020 | Laura Clawson

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act took a step toward a full House vote on Wednesday when it passed in the House Committee on Education and Labor. “The federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) would explicitly require employers to make reasonable accommodations for women with pregnancy-related limitations absent undue hardship to the employer—the same familiar process in place for workers with disabilities under the ADA,” A Better Balance co-president Dina Bakst explained in The Hill.

The good news is that 27 states have passed similar laws to this one that is unlikely to get a vote in Mitch McConnell’s Senate. The bad news (aside from the final clause in that previous sentence) is that in other states, women continue to be forced between their jobs and a healthy pregnancy. CBS News reported on some typical cases: a paramedic whose ambulance company employer refused to transfer her to a desk job, even though there were some available; and an airport passenger services agent who had to go to the ER after she was pulled onto a luggage belt while moving a suitcase, and whose employer similarly refused to reassign her.

These are not isolated experiences. According to an ACLU attorney, “Roughly a quarter of a million women a year don’t get the accommodations they need to keep working.”

Congress needs to pass—and some president needs to sign—the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on January 18, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.

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Trump Labor Department gives big companies the go-ahead to exploit franchise workers

January 23rd, 2020 | Laura Clawson

The Trump Labor Department is taking action to protect massive corporations from their low-wage workers seeking justice in court, because the Trump Labor Department, currently headed by Eugene Scalia, is all about putting a boot on the neck of workers. The department is finalizing a rule making it more difficult for workers at franchise businesses or contractors—like fast food workers or warehouse workers technically employed by staffing agencies—to sue the companies they actually work for for wage theft and other such violations.

The Labor Department is tightening up the joint employer standard that the Obama administration had made more worker friendly. Under Obama, companies would have counted as joint employers if they substantially set the terms of employment even if they only exerted indirect control over any individual worker. So McDonald’s, which exerts incredibly tight control over every detail of its franchisee-owned restaurants and has even told some franchisees they were paying workers too much, would count as a joint employer of McDonald’s workers. Under Trump, McDonald’s is off the hook unless it directly hires and fires workers, directly supervises the workers and sets their schedules, directly sets their pay, and manages their employment records.

But that’s the point—McDonald’s and other big companies that want to keep wages and working conditions at rock bottom while maintaining plausible deniability have gotten really good at getting franchisees and contractors to do their dirty work. They claim—and the Trump administration will back them up on this—that it’s not McDonald’s or Walmart engaging in wage theft and forcing workers into unsafe working conditions, even as the wage theft and working conditions are found across dozens of franchisees and contractors with McDonald’s or Walmart as the common factor. The common employer, in fact, exerting significant control over the places where its business is conducted.

This is a plan to let major companies abuse and exploit their workers without any legal risk for the labor law violations involved. Or, in Republican-speak via Scalia, “This final rule furthers President Trump’s successful, governmentwide effort to address regulations that hinder the American economy and to promote economic growth.” Economic growth for multi-billion-dollar companies at the expense of low-wage workers, that is.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on January 15, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.

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Dr. King’s Radical Revolution Of Values

January 21st, 2020 | Richard Eskow

RichardEskowThis Monday, the nation celebrates Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. If he hadn’t been murdered, he would be 91 years old. How would Dr. King view today’s activists?

 

The words to his “I Have a Dream” speech will be repeated from podiums and in classrooms across the country. But many of the people repeating these words have never heard other King quotes, like this one:

“I am convinced that if we are to get on to the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values.”

King’s Answer

To those who condemn idealism, who preach the quiet cynicism of self-limiting “pragmatism” and insist it’s “how the world works,” Dr. King had an answer: He was, in his own words, “maladjusted.”

In a 1963 speech at Western Michigan University, he said:

There are certain things in our nation and in the world (about) which I am proud to be maladjusted… I say very honestly that I never intend to become adjusted to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism, to self-defeating effects of physical violence.

But in a day when sputniks and explorers are dashing through outer space and guided ballistic missiles are carving highways of death through the stratosphere, no nation can win a war. It is no longer the choice between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence…

Dr. King also said: “This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.”

“We must… realize,” he continued, “that the problems of racial injustice and economic injustice cannot be solved without a radical redistribution of political and economic power.”

A Radical Spirit

In other words, Dr. King was a radical.

A few years ago, invocations of Dr. King’s radical spirit were hard to find. They’re more common today, but even the best-intentioned of these pieces tend to place his radicalism in the past tense. That’s a mistake. Dr. King is gone, but his ideals live on.

We can never be sure how Dr. King might view current events, but he can still guide us through his rich record of words and deeds.

Here are six ways that the revolutionary spirit of Dr. King lives on.

Nonviolent Protests

Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored … there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.
– Letter From a Birmingham Jail, 1963

Some politicians who invoke Dr. King this holiday will try to reduce his memory to an emoji they can paste onto their platitudes. But Dr. King was a troublemaker, in the best sense of the word. He knew what it meant to create tension, and discomfort, and disharmony.

While he lived, Dr. King was the target of almost unimaginable hatred and condemnation. It rained down on him from the streets of Southern towns and the corridors of FBI headquarters, from the boardrooms of bus companies and the booths of Boston diners.

Dr. King preached communication, but experienced excommunication – from that cozy world of ‘insiders’ who may argue but will never risk their lives or careers for higher ideals.

Would Dr. King have supported the actions of NFL protesters and movements like Black Lives Matter? It’s hard to imagine otherwise. Their actions make some people uncomfortable, but he wouldn’t have been bothered by that. Protests, he wrote, “merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive.”

The attacks on BLM protesters and the blackballing of Colin Kaepernick would feel very familiar to Dr. King and his associates. It’s impossible to believe he would not see their struggle as his own.

As for their motivations, Dr. King said this in his “I Have a Dream” speech: “There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, ‘When will you be satisfied?’ We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.”

The Struggle for Economic Justice

“Call it democracy, or call it democratic socialism, but there must be a better distribution of wealth within this country for all God’s children.” 
– Negro American Labor Council, 1961

King’s spirit also lives on in the movement for economic justice.

A 2014 Princeton study which has since been validated confirms that the United States has become an oligarchy, for all intents and purposes.  Multinational corporations are dictating the rules of employment and trade. The ultra-rich accumulate more and more of our national wealth and income, as the middle class dies and 40 million Americans – including one out of every five children – lives in poverty.

Corporations seek to inoculate themselves from being held accountable by promoting what they call “corporate social responsibility.”  A few people may be helped, but these programs are little more than coins flung at beggars.

Dr. King would probably not be impressed.  He would probably see more of himself in the work of groups like FED UP who are fighting for economic justice.

Expanding Access to Health

Dr. King also told the Medical Committee for Human Rights in 1966, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”

The provenance of this quote was questioned for years, until attorney and editor Amanda Moore tracked it down and confirmed it.  Dr. King said it less than a year after Medicare was passed into law.

Given what we know of his values, is it unreasonable to believe that Dr. King would stand with those groups that are fighting to ensure that Medicare’s protections are available to every American? And can there be any doubt that he would be committed to expanding Social Security, ensuring decent vacation and family leave benefits for all workers, and taking other steps to expand the social safety net?

The Fight for Workers’ Rights

The two most dynamic and cohesive liberal forces in the country are the labor movement and the Negro freedom movement. Together we can be architects of democracy.”
– Address to the Fourth Constitutional Convention of the AFL-CIO, August 1961

Dr. King’s spirit lives on in the most progressive and transformative elements of the labor movement.

He understood that inequality, “the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth,” could not be defeated without organized labor. Dr. King didn’t hesitate to challenge the labor movement when unions practiced racial discrimination.  But he was a fierce advocate for labor rights. He was in Memphis on behalf of striking sanitation workers, in fact, on that terrible night when bullets took his life.

Dr. King understood that the fight for civil rights was closely connected with the fight for workers’ rights. “Negroes in the United States read this history of labor and find that it mirrors their own experience,” he told the AFL-CIO. “We are confronted by powerful forces, telling us to rely on the goodwill and understanding of those who profit by exploiting us.”

An End to Militarism

“We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation, for those it calls ‘enemy,’ for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.”
– Beyond Vietnam, 1967

His spirit lives in the groups fighting to end our country’s campaign of permanent war, and in the brave men and women who work to end the illegal and immoral practices of our military and intelligence services.

Dr. King said this, too, in his 1967 Christmas sermon on peace:

“… when we say Thou shalt not kill, we’re really saying that human life is too sacred to be taken on the battlefields of the world. Man is more than a tiny vagary of whirling electrons or a wisp of smoke from a limitless smoldering.”

He undoubtedly would have opposed the extrajudicial drone killings ordered by our current president and his two predecessors, and the torture campaigns orchestrated by the CIA.

This element of his spirit does not live on amongst the 117 Democratic members of the House, and the  41 Democratic senators, who joined their Republican colleagues in voting for an extravagant $770 billion boost to what was already the largest military budget in human history. They include some people who have been widely characterized as “progressive heroes.”

These politicians stand rebuked by the words Dr. King spoke to the National Labor Leadership Assembly for Peace in 1967:

Congress appropriates military funds with alacrity and generosity. It appropriates poverty funds with miserliness and grudging reluctance. The government is emotionally committed to the war. It is emotionally hostile to the needs of the poor.

The New Poor People’s Campaign

“A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth.”
– Beyond Vietnam, 1967

Dr. King’s spirit surely lives on in the recent revival of his Poor People’s Campaign, the project he was focused on at the time of his murder in 1968. This initiative, led by Revs. William Barber and Liz Theoharis, plans a “Poor People’s Assembly and March On Washington” on June 20, 2020,  to protest King’s “triple evils” of racism, poverty and militarism, and ecological devastation. This new campaign describes itself as “A National Call for Moral Revival.”

The original Campaign had a highly progressive economic agenda.  It called for $30 billion to be spent every year on anti-poverty programs. That would amount to roughly $213 billion per year in today’s dollars, or $2.13 trillion over a ten-year period. That may sound astronomical, but it’s not much more than Congress just gave away in tax breaks skewed toward the rich.

King’s Campaign was scheduled to begin with the construction a shantytown on the national Mall in Washington, DC, followed by a civil disobedience and mass arrests, and concluding with a nationwide boycott of major corporations and shopping areas to pressure business leaders to support its goals.

The original Poor People’s Campaign also called for a program of guaranteed employment and guaranteed income for all Americans, as well as the construction of 500,000 low-cost housing units each year until all slums were eliminated.

Jobs, income and housing for all. King’s vision is as radical and urgent today as it was fifty years ago.  A society dominated by the wealthy, one that has given so much to the few for so long, can surely do this much for the many.

Dr. King’s spirit lives on in the new Poor People’s Campaign, and in every place radicals gather to change the world.

Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.

This is an updated version of a blog OurFuture publishes every year in honor of Dr. King.

This article originally appeared at Ourfuture.org on January 20, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

Richard Eskow is a Senior Fellow with the Campaign for America’s Future and the host of The Zero Hour, a weekly program of news, interviews, and commentary on We Act Radio The Zero Hour is syndicated nationally and is available as a podcast on iTunes. Richard has been a consultant, public policy advisor, and health executive in health financing and social insurance. He was cited as one of “fifty of the world’s leading futurologists” in “The Rough Guide to the Future,” which highlighted his long-range forecasts on health care, evolution, technology, and economic equality. Richard’s writing has been published in print and online. He has also been anthologized three times in book form for “Best Buddhist Writing of the Year.”

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An Upcoming Supreme Court Ruling Could Starve Public Schools—In Favor of Religious Ones

January 21st, 2020 | Alice Herman

Image result for Alice HermanOn January 22, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, a case that could result in the massive expansion of public funding for private religious schools. The petitioners in the case—which will be litigated by the conservative law group, Institute for Justice—are asking that the court rule unconstitutional the denial of “public funds’ to religious schools, invoking the First Amendment “freedom of exercise” clause to defend the position. In the event that the court rules in favor of the petitioner, the result, argue its detractors, would be tantamount to a mandate for religious voucher programs in every state.

Through voucher programs and tax relief for private school donors, more than 20 states are already redirecting public funds into private education. Public schools, already strapped for resources, face increasingly limited budgets when public money is diverted to private schools. In Illinois, a so-called “school choice” state, public school teachers and staff went on strike for 11 days beginning on October 17  to demand support staff in every school and smaller class sizes. The Chicago Teachers Union has identified voucher programs as a cause of underfunding in the city’s public schools. Michelle Gunderson, an activist in the Chicago Teachers Union, says that in her school—where she teaches first grade—persistent underfunding, exacerbated by the state’s funding of private education, has led to unmanageably large classes populated by kids with high needs.

“I just had a teacher tell me that she was denied being reimbursed for headphones for one of her students who needs audiobooks because of a disability,” Gunderson says. “We can’t go through the siphoning off of our public funds into voucher systems.” Although vouchers are billed as a resource for low-income families, state-funded private-school scholarships do not always cover the full cost of school tuition, and families who cannot afford to make up the difference cannot ultimately make use of the programs. The programs, Gunderson says, “[end] up subsidizing the schooling of fairly wealthy children.” In fact, in Illinois, up to 28 percent of state scholarships for private education went to middle- and upper-income students in 2018. The upcoming ruling could result in the expansion of similar programs throughout all states.

The origins of the Espinoza case lie in a December 2018 Montana court ruling that a state tax credit program incentivizing charitable donations to private school scholarship funds could not be applied to scholarships for religious schools. The Montana Supreme Court held that the state-implemented tax credit could only be applied to non-religious private schools, per a “no-aid” clause in the state’s amendment—so the petitioners appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. In the event that the Supreme Court rules in the plaintiff’s favor, public funding for private education will increase not only in Montana, but in the 37 states whose constitutions ban the provision of public funds for religious schools. Over 65 percent of private schools are religious, and of those schools, over 78 percent are Christian.

David Armiak of the Center for Media and Democracy pointed out the utility of the case to the right wing, which, he argued, “is increasingly embracing the Christian right.” To that end, Koch-funded organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) have allied with the Christian legal groups pushing anti-LGBTQ litigation like the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s ruling that allowed a bakery to refuse service to a gay couple. Because Espinoza could result in nationwide subsidies for Christian education, conservative Christian organizations have jumped on the case, filing five amicus briefs in the petitioners’ favor. The Institute for Justice, which is litigating Espinoza and has ties to both ALEC and the Koch brothers, has in the past pushed for publicly funded religious education in Ohio and Arizona.

The Espinoza case forms part of the broad conservative legal strategy to weaken labor and public education, which right-wing organizations have identified as electorally powerful—and progressive. Janus v. AFSCMElitigated by the Koch-affiliated National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation (NRTWLDF) and the Liberty Justice Center (LJC), dealt a blow to public-sector unions across the country by mandating that union members in all states “opt-in” to pay union fees, starving unions of dues, their traditional source of funds. Janus, which was decided on June 27, 2018, marked the culmination of a decades-long effort by the Right to Work Foundation, Liberty Justice Center, and myriad other anti-labor organizations funded by Koch and Bradley Center money.

The Janus ruling has only animated the right-wing effort to undermine labor unions: Since the summer of 2018, conservative groups have hired canvassers to encourage union members to opt out of paying dues and sued unions for member payments made before Janus went into effect. The ongoing assault on labor has taken place alongside the gutting of public education; internal Bradley Center documents, reported by In These Timesdescribed the organization’s aim to “defund teachers unions and achieve real education reform” at the same time. By stripping public schools of funding, while passing anti-labor laws, conservative groups intend to limit the organizing power of the left. One such bill, passed by the state of Wisconsin in 2011, simultaneously defunded Wisconsin public schools and deprived public sector workers of the right to collectively bargain. That piece of legislation, known widely as Act 10, has been replicated throughout the country.

Randi Weingarten is president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), which has filed an amicus brief in the Espinoza case. She pointed out, on a press call on January 16 that this case is spearheaded by “the Institute for Justice, which has collected tens of millions of dollars from the Waltons, the Devos’s, Charles Koch, the Lynde & Harry Bradley foundation.” The Walton Family Foundation, founded by the late Walmart owners Helen and Sam Walton, has funded multiple school privatization efforts, while Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s family has long adopted school privatization as an ideological mission. Similarly, the Koch political network and  Lynn & Harry Bradley Foundation have both sustained anti-labor efforts around the country.

“If you peel back the layers,” she added, “you see that the real agenda here is to silence parents, to silence teachers, silence students, and silence those who are trying to make the public schools schools that our kids want to go to.”

This article was originally published at InTheseTimes on January 17, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Alice Herman is a writer based in Madison, Wisconsin, where she works at a restaurant. She contributes regularly to Isthmus, Madison’s alt-weekly, and The Progressive magazine.

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