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Archive for January, 2020

Bernie’s labor support snowballs

Friday, January 24th, 2020

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.

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

Thursday, January 23rd, 2020
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.

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

Thursday, January 23rd, 2020

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.

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

Thursday, January 23rd, 2020

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.

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

Thursday, January 23rd, 2020

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.

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

Thursday, January 23rd, 2020

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.

Dr. King’s Radical Revolution Of Values

Tuesday, January 21st, 2020

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.”

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

Tuesday, January 21st, 2020

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.

The Forgotten Socialist History of Martin Luther King Jr.

Tuesday, January 21st, 2020

Image result for Matthew Miles GoodrichIn 1952 a 23-year-old Martin Luther King Jr. wrote a love letter to Coretta Scott. Along with coos of affection and apologies for his hasty handwriting, he described his feelings not just toward his future wife, but also toward America’s economic system. “I am much more socialistic in my economic theory than capitalistic,” he admitted to his then-girlfriend, concluding that “capitalism has outlived its usefulness.”

King composed these words as a grad student on the tail end of his first year at the Boston University School of Theology. And far from representing just the utopianism of youth, the views expressed in the letter would go on to inform King’s economic vision throughout his life.

As Americans honor King on his birthday, it is important to remember that the civil rights icon was also a democratic socialist, committed to building a broad movement to overcome the failings of capitalism and achieve both racial and economic equality for all people.

Capitalism “has brought about a system that takes necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes,” King wrote in his 1952 letter to Scott. He would echo the sentiment 15 years later in his last book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?: “Capitalism has often left a gap of superfluous wealth and abject poverty [and] has created conditions permitting necessities to be taken from the many to give luxuries to the few.”

In his famous 1967 Riverside Church speech, King thundered, “When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

And in an interview with the New York Times in 1968, King described his work with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) this way, “In a sense, you could say we are engaged in the class struggle.”

Speaking at a staff retreat of the SCLC in 1966, King said that “something is wrong … with capitalism” and “there must be a better distribution of wealth” in the country. “Maybe,” he suggested, “America must move toward a democratic socialism.”

In Where Do We Go From Here, which calls for “the full emancipation and equality of Negroes and the poor,” King advocates policies in line with a democratic socialist program: a guaranteed annual income, constitutional amendments to secure social and economic equality, and greatly expanded public housing. He endorses the Freedom Budget put forward by socialist activist A. Philip Randolph, which included such policies as a jobs guarantee, a living wage and universal healthcare. He also outlines how economic inequality can circumscribe civil rights. While the wealthy enjoy easy access to lawyers and the courts, “the poor, however, are helpless,” he writes.

This emphasis on poverty is not always reflected in contemporary teachings about King, which tend to focus strictly on his advocacy for civil rights. But Where Do We Go From Here and the final project of King’s life—the Poor People’s Campaign—show that King’s dream included a future of both racial and economic equality.

“What good is having the right to sit at a lunch counter,” King is widely quoted as asking, “if you can’t afford to buy a hamburger?” In King’s view, the Greensboro lunch counter sit-ins, the voter registration drives across the South and the Selma to Montgomery march comprised but the first phase of the civil rights movement. In Where Do We Go From Here, King called the victories of the movement up that point in 1967 “a foothold, no more” in the struggle for freedom. Only a campaign to realize economic as well as racial justice could win true equality for African-Americans. In naming his goal, King was unflinching: the “total, direct, and immediate abolition of poverty.”

The shortcoming of the first phase of the civil rights movement, to King, was its emphasis on opportunity rather than guarantees. The ability to buy a hamburger at a lunch counter without harassment did not guarantee that the hungry would be fed. Access to the ballot box did not guarantee anti-racist legislation. The end of Jim Crow laws did not guarantee the flourishing of African-American communities. Decency did not guarantee equality.

Some white people had gone along with the fight for access and opportunity, King concluded, because it cost them nothing. “Jobs,” however, “are harder and costlier to create than voting rolls.” When African-Americans sought not only to be treated with dignity, but guaranteed fair housing and education, many whites abandoned the movement. In King’s words, as soon as he demanded “the realization of equality”—the second phase of the civil rights movement—he discovered whites suddenly indifferent.

King considered the Poor People’s Campaign to be the vehicle for this next phase of the movement precisely because it offered both material advances and the potential for stronger cross-racial organizing. For King, only a multiracial working-class movement, which the Poor People’s Campaign aspired to be, could guarantee both racial and economic equality.

King was disgusted by the juxtaposition of decadence and destitution in America. We “compress our abundance into the overfed mouths of the middle and upper classes until they gag with superfluity,” he fumed. Quoting social justice advocate Hyman Bookbinder, King wrote that ending poverty in America merely requires demanding that the rich “become even richer at a slower rate.”

For King, the only solution to America’s crisis of poverty was the redistribution of wealth. In a 1961 speech to the Negro American Labor Council, King declared, “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.”

From his early letters to Coretta Scott until his final days, King put forward a vision of a society that provides equality for people of all races and backgrounds. This is the cause King spent his life fighting for. And it is one we should recommit to as we honor his legacy.

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

About the Author: Matthew Miles Goodrich is a New York State Director at Sunrise Movement. He has contributed in-depth political commentary, searing polemics, personal essays, and newsworthy interviews to various outlets including Dissent, The Baffler, LA Review of Books, In These Times, Catapult, and Brooklyn Magazine.

The Multinational Trying To Bankrupt the Dock Workers Union Has a Sordid Past

Friday, January 17th, 2020

Image result for Ari PaulThe International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) is facing an existential crisis.

Founded by the militant labor icon Harry Bridges, the ILWU has made a name for itself as the take-no-crap West Coast dockers union, one that has engaged in work stoppages and other tactics both to protect their jobs and benefits, but also to oppose war and racism.

A federal jury in Portland, Oregon granted a $93.6 million penalty in November against the union to the American subsidiary of the Philippines-based International Container Terminal Services (ICTSI), which formerly operated the Portland terminal. The back story is a complicated one about union jurisdiction. In 2012, the local ILWU began a series of work slowdowns over two jobs that involved handling refrigerated containers (as well as electrical equipment related to those containers) that the union believed were wrongly being put outside of the ILWU’s collective bargaining agreement. Instead, these two port jobs were represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). ICTSI sued the ILWU, claiming the industrial action was an illegal secondary boycott and that years of battling the union had taken financial toil on the company. The jury sided with ICTSI.

The ILWU has $8 million in assets, according to its most recent Department of Labor filing (Local 8, the local involved in the suit, has $386,000 in total assets, according to its DOL filing). Needless to say, the award, if upheld by the judge in proceedings in February, will almost certainly lead to bankruptcy for the union.

While officials say that this would not be the end of the union necessarily, the restructuring of the union would likely cramp its ability to administer the business of representing and organizing workers. The union’s president, Willie Adams, said in a message in the union’s newspaper, the Dispatcher, “We’re hoping that the Court will review the verdict and explore a different outcome—one that is more fair and consistent with the evidence. If that doesn’t happen, there’s a possibility that we may seek protection in federal court to re-organize our finances under protections allowed by the federal bankruptcy court. While nobody wants to take this step, it may be the best way to protect the ILWU and to allow us to return to sound financial footing as quickly as possible.”

For maritime unionists, the involvement of ICTSI in this case raises eyebrows. It is one of the most notorious ports operator in the market, a company that profits off of war, misery and labor exploitation. The news that ICTSI would seek to destroy a union is in line with its troubling global track record of undermining workers’ rights—and exploiting low wages and poor working conditions to protect its profits.

An international labor-rights abuser

The company brings a global track record mired in accusations of labor abuses. Starting in 2017, the International Transport Workers Federation, the global alliance of transport unions, intervened in what it called a severe undercutting of labor standards by ICTSI, the operator at the Port of Tanjung Priok, in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta. Specifically, union activists alleged that the ICTSI-run terminal was paying workers 15% less than other nearby port operators. The International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) also alleged that the company had broken Indonesian labor law by continuing to outsource labor, against the government’s orders, and avoiding issuing overtime pay. As one Indonesian labor leader, Didik Noryanto, said at the time, “Workers at the ICTSI port are looking to the Indonesian Government to show leadership and step in to defend these workers’ basic human rights because ICTSI is waging an aggressive campaign to drive down their wages and conditions.”

These concerns led to the Maritime Union of Australia leading a several-week-long blockade in late 2017 of the Port of Melbourne’s terminals, run by the ICTSI, specifically on grounds that a firm with such a bad reputation within the ITF had no business in Australia. Paddy Crumlin, the IFT’s chief dockers official, said at the time, “Everyone is awake to ICTSI’s destructive ways and won’t cop it anymore.”

Crumlin described ICTSI’s rogue labor record as a “cancer” spreading around the world. Indeed, that same year, the Guardian uncovered union busting and low wages at Madagascar’s main port, also run by ICTSI. This drama, once again, made its way back to Australia, where ICTSI was looking to increase its presence. In 2018, the ITF demanded an investigation of the company after it was awarded the Webb Dock terminal at the Port of Melbourne. The ITF also raised concerns about the firm’s anti-union practices in Madagascar with ICTSI shareholders, urging them to vote out two board members for failing to reign in the company’s operations in places like Madagascar, where, according the trade journal Maritime Executive, ITF “said that hauler strikes and protests have led to delays, with some vessels reportedly anchored and unable to berth for weeks.”

Exploiting misery

But to fully understand the ICTSI’s reputation as a rogue operator in the world of port management, one must really look more at the company’s business model, one that specifically turns the economic misery and complete lack of democratic governance to its business advantage. And to understand that business model, you have to understand its chairman and president, Enrique Razon.

Razon is one of the richest people in the Philippines with a net worth estimated over $5 billion and is a scion of the ports industry. His grandfather came from Spain to Manila to establish its primary port. From there, Razon has built his shipping fortune—and notoriety—primarily by swooping into countries that are so undesirable from a human rights standpoint that he wouldn’t have to go into bidding wars with rivals and create a near monopoly for himself. He told investors in 2015: “I’m very bullish about Iran, Congo and Cambodia… It’s okay to say that if you make investments in bad places right now, over time, you’ll gain without competition.”

And Razon particularly likes setting up shop in sub-Saharan Africa, where  he’s faced accusations of union busting in Madagascar. Razon specifically highlighted that the desperation for infrastructure means he can charge higher fees. He told the Wall Street Journal in 2014, “Bottom line: Returns are best there with high yields in the handling business. To handle a box in our terminal in Yantai, [China], we charge about $45-$50. The same container in Africa easily goes for $200-$250.”

Crumlin put it crudely in a statement released August 2018: “[It is a] business model of deliberately prioritizing countries where human and labor rights are most at vulnerable and by partnering with some of the worst anti-democratic regimes implicated in crimes against humanity.”

But perhaps ICTSI’s most intriguing operations have been in the Democratic Republic of Congo. With relatively poor rail and paved transport infrastructure, the Congo River is the major highway for goods in the second largest country in Africa in terms of area. This past December, the company announced that it would spend $100 million to double container capacity at its port operations in Matadi, where it has controlling stake in the port company. Ten percent of that company is the state-owned Société Congolaise des Transports et des Ports. For the ITF, this means that ICTSI isn’t simply trading with a corrupt regime, but is inextricably linked to the regime of President Joseph Kabila, which the federation calls on its website ICTSI Exposed, “one of the world’s worst kleptocracies.”

Today, Razon’s business empire includes casinos, a venture he has jokingly called his night job, but the gaming side of his operations is no less sordid. In 2016, cyber thieves made off with $81 million from the central bank of Bangladesh’s American account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, with $29 million winding up in an account for Solaire, one Razon’s gaming subsidiaries. Razon insisted that the scandal did little damage to his business’ reputation.

Australian labor’s resistance to ICTSI operating ports was based on the fear that the company—seeking to expand its presence around the globe—would drive down standards for the country’s port workers. Australian unions had a right to be worried: Economic liberalization has led to a decline in union bargaining power in Australia, and union membership is declining. In fact, the MUA faced a crippling lawsuit, similar to the one the ILWU is facing, regarding a work stoppage involving Chevron cargo, and the MUA ended up merging with another union.

Rattling the transport labor movement

ICTSI is no longer operating at the Portland terminal. But its existence there, unless the judge in the ILWU case decides to rehear the matter or grant some sort of appeal, will forever leave a stamp in American maritime unionism and rattle the transport labor movement worldwide.

It should be noted, however, that ILWU’s campaign at the Portland terminal may be considered ill-advised. The dispute in Portland stemmed from the fact that the jobs in question related to electrical operation of refrigerated containers. Thus, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers claimed, the jobs rightly belonged to the IBEW. ICTSI had made the argument that as the port operator, the ILWU’s targeting of ICTSI in what was ultimately a dispute over union jurisdiction was a secondary boycott. Was it really the best use of the ILWU’s time and energy to fight over a few workers who were likely going to end up with some sort of union representation? In hindsight, it certainly was not.

It isn’t clear if ICTSI-related companies have any port operations in the United States or plan to compete for opportunities at U.S. ports anytime soon—the company did not respond to a request for comment. What is clear from this debacle is that employers are ready and willing to use the secondary boycott ban against transport unions to the extent that it could cripple unions’ operations. Employers have happily embraced the jury award, saying that it puts the union—and rank-and-file port workers—on notice.

“It hearkens back to the Gilded Age when corporations used employer friendly courts to bankrupt and destroy unions,” said James Gregory, a labor historian at the University of Washington. “More important, it threatens the existence of a union that has long been a model of progressive politics and democratic governance, a union that fights for labor rights worldwide, a union that has beaten back every challenge since 1934. And if the courts are again going to issue rulings bankrupting unions, no union is safe, nor are the workplace rights that all of us—union and no union—rely upon.”

This article was originally published at InTheseTimes on January 16, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Ari Paul has covered politics for The NationViceThe GuardianDissentJacobinAl Jazeera America and many other outlets.
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