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Viewpoint from Honduras: CAFTA, Forced Immigration, Deportation Connections

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

Larry CohenAt the deportation center in San Pedro Sula, planes land with more than 100 Hondurans a day, returned from our border prisons to their native land. They are mostly young men, with shackled hands and legs, who have harrowing tales of days in what they call the “ice box,” the U.S. detention centers on our borders that are so crowded they must stand up for hours, taking turns lying down to sleep. These were heartbreaking conversations, nearly hopeless tales through tears, of failed attempts to unify with families or find work.

At the same center, beautiful posters highlight jobs for English speakers in call centers to handle call center work for U.S. customers. Call center companies tout minimum wage call center jobs for deportees so they can pursue “the American dream” without leaving San Pedro Sula. One particular poster touted a call center company that received a big boost from T-Mobile two years ago after it laid off 3,000 in the U.S. and moved work to Honduras, the Philippines, and other locations. T-Mobile then denied that it had moved the services outside the U.S. and tried to prevent the fired employees from collecting trade adjustment assistance. Consistently, working families pay the cost of increased profits on every side of our disastrous trade policies.

We spoke to community, union, women’s and children’s groups, the Honduran government, and our embassy. Amazingly, all confirm a unified story—an economy in collapse, widespread violations of minimum wage and all social protection laws, small farmers forced from their land, subsistence farming replaced by African palm, and the jobs created in maquila zones dwarfed by the numbers forced to leave ancestral lands and travel to cities already jammed.

The subsistence farmers, or campesinos, describe how they are pushed from land where they grew beans or corn. Now it is corporate farms growing African palm for sale to the U.S. and other multinationals, while Honduras imports beans from the U.S. or even Ethiopia, and the campesinos line up for work at factories far from their homes. There are not enough jobs and 70 percent pay under the poverty level minimum wage while labor inspectors say they are outnumbered by the violations.

The unions confirmed constant violations of organizing rights in direct violation of CAFTA. These included everything from the murder of leaders to the collapse of bargaining rights where they once existed. But our AFL-CIO complaint has sat at the Labor Department for more than two years, just as the complaint of widespread abuse in Guatemala was held for six years before the U.S. Trade Representative finally raised it with the government there. Eighty-three human rights lawyers and 43 journalists have been murdered in recent years trying to enforce or report on the constant violations of everything decent.

So as we return, what can we do besides shout loudly, motivated by the pain of the Hondurans we met? First we need to look at the economic frame that has produced this 19th-century capitalism largely unregulated. Second, we need to look atour own immigration policy, concentrating enormous resources on deportation and nothing on resettlement. Third, we need to look at the trade deals, in this case, CAFTA, that accelerated the free market devastation. NAFTA, CAFTA, trade preferences for China, millions of lost jobs in the U.S., our wages depressed by global comparisons, and more than $10 trillion in total trade deficits have destroyed our industrial cities and created huge budget deficits nationally and in those same cities with cuts to social services.

We await the president’s action on immigration, not only on the potential easing of deportation for certain categories of immigrants, but also on a change in processing immigrants for deportation. We expect him to act boldly after deferring for months after waiting and waiting for House Republicans to act.

But just as importantly, we need to build the widest possible coalition against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Farming communities in Mexico and Central America already devastated by subsidized U.S. corporate farm imports will now see maquila factories close in droves as U.S. and other multinationals head for Vietnam,  which has 90 million people and a 27-cents-an-hour minimum wage. That minimum wage is about one-third of the minimum in Honduras. How long will Hanes, Fruit of the Loom, and other employers remain in Central America when competitors head to Vietnam with labor costs far lower and a government there that will agree to protect the profits from those lower wages?

Our president promised a different trade regime when he ran for election in 2008. The misery of 20 years of trade deals in the U.S. and the Americas needs to confront his Trade Ambassador. Multinationals and especially the financial sector have benefited tremendously. The rest of us, whether global north or south, are left only with some combination of hope and anger as motivation to fight for real change.

Let’s end Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) which allows multinationals to sue for lost future profits. This means that if Honduras passes new legislation to safeguard the environment from African palm or a higher minimum wage, multinationals that lose profits can sue the government for billions of dollars. Let’s kill TPP or any trade deal that benefits governments like Vietnam where human rights are an illusion. Let’s link together the campaigns for immigrant rights, environmental justice, and workers’ rights like never before. I met amazing freedom fighters in Honduras from labor and elected officials to women and community members who have not given up. We haven’t given up either. The voices from Honduras and our own communities will strengthen our determination to stand for justice.

This blog originally appeared in Huffington Post reposted on AFL-CIO Blog site. http://www.aflcio.org/Blog/Global-Action/Viewpoint-from-Honduras-CAFTA-Forced-Immigration-Deportation-Connections. October 27, 2014.

About the Author: Communications Workers of America (CWA) President Larry Cohen was in Honduras Oct. 12-15 for meetings with Honduran workers and union leaders, community and women’s activists, elected officials, and others to focus awareness on the immigration crisis affecting Central American families and the connection with CAFTA and similar bad trade deals. He was joined by Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), the leading Democratic member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre, and other U.S. union leaders.

 

Show Your Support for Philadelphia Teachers

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

Kenneth-Quinnell_smallThousands of members of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT), other local labor union members, parents, students, community groups and elected leaders are taking to the streets today to fight back against actions taken by Gov. Tom Corbett’s cronies to further dismantle and defund the Philadelphia public school system. In a shocking example of what happens when anti-worker politicians get elected, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers lost their contract last week through a unilateral decision by Gov. Corbett’s appointees.

This move not only impacts 12,000 teachers and paraprofessional staff in the Philadelphia School District. It has serious repercussions for the city’s children and families and is a stark reminder of what’s at stake this Election Day.

In 2013, the School Reform Commission (SRC), a statewide committee whose members are appointed by Corbett, unilaterally laid off 3,800 employees, including teachers, counselors and other support staff. In the aftermath, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers offered additional concessions up to $100 million. The district refused and pushed for additional “work rule” changes.

PFT President Jerry Jordan objected to the new changes, arguing that “we can’t agree to that, because that’s not good for kids.” The contract protects children’s needs with limits on class sizes and staffing requirements, including that every school have a counselor, nurse and librarian.

“The school district needs the collective dedication, wisdom and input of all of its employees to solve the problems caused by Gov. Corbett and SRC,” said Pat Eiding, president of the Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO, after the SRC announced its cancellation of the contract. “Yet instead of working with the PFT through the collective bargaining process, the SRC has simply said, ‘Take it or leave it’.”

AFT President Randi Weingarten, who flew in to Philadelphia to support the Philadelphia teachers during the SRC’s surprise meeting last week, told the teachers and other union members afterward that “the path forward is to elect a new governor who believes in education and is willing to take responsibility” for the district instead of “ideologically blaming” teachers for its fiscal troubles.

This is what happens when we don’t vote—when we don’t ask our parents, children and neighbors to vote or don’t knock doors for candidates who will stand up for our values. Whether you live in Kentucky, Alaska, New Hampshire, your commitment to the Labor 2014 program means that anti-worker politicians like Corbett won’t get a chance to tear down our schools and our communities in 2015.

Need more persuading? Watch this video on why none of us can afford to stay home this November.

The Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools launched a “solidarity selfie” campaign asking supporters to stand with the city’s teachers after the state’s SRC launched a sneak attack last week. Supporters are asked to take a selfie photo while holding a sign that explains why you support Philadelphia teachers and include the hashtag #solidaritywithteachers when the solidarity selfie is published to the group’s Facebook page.

The rally is today at 4:15 p.m. outside the district school headquarters. The rally and related actions can be followed on Twitter using the #phled hashtag.

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist.  Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.  Previous experience includes Communications Director for the Darcy Burner for Congress Campaign and New Media Director for the Kendrick Meek for Senate Campaign, founding and serving as the primary author for the influential state blog Florida Progressive Coalition and more than 10 years as a college instructor teaching political science and American History.  His writings have also appeared on Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.

Three Winning Ways to Create Jobs

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

safe_image[1]With the election nearing, Americans still know what they want: job creation. Unemployment is still elevated near 6 percent, and underemployment – including people who have given up looking for work, or who are working part-time when they want to be full-time – was still above 13 percent at last count.

And America’s employment problems precede the recession. That’s important because it suggests that this problem isn’t going away on its own. Underemployment hasn’t dipped below 8 percent in the last 10 years. Consider the decades-long stagnation of middle-class wages and the fact that it often takes two incomes to make ends meet, the long-term decline of union membership, the decimation of manufacturing, and the fact that higher education is becoming more of an economic necessity while also being less affordable. The 21st century labor market leaves too many Americans out in the cold.

America needs jobs, and not just any jobs. We need living-wage jobs that provide stability and security through regular working hours, paid time off and career paths for those who want to climb higher. And the economy is not creating those jobs on its own.

The good news is that where there’s a will, there’s a way. Americans want jobs, and the federal government has the means to deliver. Over a trillion dollars in tax breaks each year and historically high Pentagon spending mean that America has the cash to pay for job creation – if we really want to.

Here are three winning ways we could invest our dollars in things that America actually needs, and create good jobs in the process:

? Get Real About Climate Change

Americans are warming up to the idea that climate change is real, and that it poses a threat. But that hasn’t translated to wanting to do something about it.

Of course, we must. From coastal damage from violent storms to disastrous effects on agriculture, climate change is already hurting us. Even the Pentagon is warning about potentially catastrophic consequences of climate change for national security.

Given our collective lack of economic security, perhaps it’s not a surprise that we only really pay attention to climate change when its devastating impacts are looping continuously on our TV screens. But what’s the nudge America needs to get real about climate change?

Maybe more awareness of the tremendous economic benefits that could result from serious action. A recent report from University of Massachusetts’ Political and Economic Research Institute (PERI) and the Center for American Progress (CAP) suggests that if America invested fully in battling climate change, we could achieve a 40 percent reduction in U.S. carbon dioxide emissions within 20 years, and create a net increase of 2.7 million jobs in the process.

The kind of investment that PERI and CAP propose – around $200 billion a year – could be truly transformational to the American economy. And while the proposed $200 billion a year is a big investment, it’s less than the government currently manages to shell out to defense contractors each year.

? Invest in Infrastructure

American ingenuity has taken many forms, and our infrastructure achievements have been some of the most spectacular in the world. From bringing the world the internet, to railroads and the interstate highway system, to hydropower dams like the Hoover Dam that both awe us and provide us with renewable energy, to feats of engineering and art like the Golden Gate and Brooklyn Bridges, our infrastructure has long made Americans proud.

But that infrastructure is crumbling. Major infrastructure investments in the 20th century have been left to a slow and steady decline. This year Congress came within hours of allowing the Highway Trust Fund, a major funding source for states’ road repairs, to dry up – along with 700,000 jobs.

Construction jobs are good jobs. They pay well, and they don’t require a lot of formal education, making them a critical stepping stone to the middle class for workers without a college degree.

Infrastructure is an investment that makes good economic sense for the times we’re in. As former National Economic Council Director Larry Summers has pointed out, infrastructure is a sensible investment for our times: it can’t be offshored, unemployment among construction workers remains high, and interest rates are at historical lows. As Summers asks, if not now, when?

? Believe the Children Are Our Future

Americans talk a good game about this one, but we don’t put our money where our mouth is. Only two percent of all federal spending is for education.

President Obama proposed a modest funding level of $750 million to invest in Preschool for All in two thirds of the states. Despite strong bipartisan support for public preschool among Americans, his proposal has seen no serious congressional consideration and is not likely to be included when Congress revisits fiscal year 2015 funding levels in December.

But it should be. Public preschool is about as winning a proposition as there is. Evidence shows that quality preschool contributes to better outcomes later in life, and not just in education and career outcomes. Preschool contributes to better health and lower criminal activity, and it makes a particularly big difference for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, making it a crucial tool in the battle against economic inequality.

It’s also worthwhile as a pure investment: for every dollar invested in preschool, society saves as much as $17 down the road. At that rate, the president’s requested $750 million, which is a tiny blip on the radar of federal spending, would save more than $12 billion in years to come.

From the job creation perspective, a strong publicly supported preschool system would require many teachers with a credential like an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, and middle-class wages to match.

Each of these proposals requires new uses for our tax dollars. We should remember that America’s greatest achievements didn’t come through austerity or tax cuts; they came through heroic levels of public investment. Making that investment will create jobs now and a strong legacy for the future. Now, that’s a win.

This blog originally appeared in Ourfuture.org. October 21, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://ourfuture.org/20141021/three-winning-ways-to-create-jobs

About the Author: Lindsay Koshgarian is research director for the National Priorities Project.

 

Remember the ‘Rosie the Riveter’ Image Pretty Much Everybody Knows? It's Not What You Might Think

Monday, October 20th, 2014

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There are icons of our culture that sometimes aren’t what they seem to be. Or maybe they evolve over time to become something else.

Rosie the Riveter was somebody who made it into a popular song, the cover of a Saturday Evening Post and the modern feminist movement. But like many things in our culture, her actual appearance was different from what the media portrayed. In researching this, I was rather amazed at the number of women who were supposedly the real Rosie.

Rosie the Riveter was not really just one person. She was a composite of all of the women who went to work, many for the first time, during World War II. These were the jobs that men used to do—factories, assembly lines, welding, taxicab drivers, business managers and much more. Some 6 million women became Rosies all over the country. From 1940 to 1945, the female workforce grew by 50%. The phenomenon even created a secondary need that wasn’t very much in demand before that: child care workers.

 

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By 1944, the movement increased the number of working American women to 20 million. Some were African American, Latina and other backgrounds who were previously underrepresented in the workforce.

Rosie the Riveter first came into our nation’s consciousness via a popular song. Our country already was experiencing women in the workforce, and the effort to recruit women was being spun up. In 1942, Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb penned a song, “Rosie the Riveter,” about these women who were going to work in massive numbers.

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO.org on October 18, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://www.aflcio.org/Blog/Other-News/Remember-the-Rosie-the-Riveter-Image-Pretty-Much-Everybody-Knows-It-s-Not-What-You-Might-Think.

About the Author: Brandon Weber writes for AFL-CIO on labor and union history.

Wealth Inequality And Middle-Class Decline Is Worse That We Think

Monday, October 20th, 2014

Isaih J. PooleWe know how bad income inequality has gotten in the past few years in America, thanks largely to the work of economist Emmanuel Saez and his colleagues at University of California at Berkeley’s Center for Equitable Growth. But Saez’s latest paper finds that the share of the nation’s wealth going to the bottom 90 percent of Americans has declined to where it was in the 1940s, erasing decades of hard-won gains due to pro-worker, pro-middle-class economic policies.

Meanwhile, the top 0.1 percent of Americans – the 160,000 families with net assets in excess of $20 million in 2012 – now hold 22 percent of the nation’s wealth, up from 7 percent in 1978. That monopolization of a large share of national wealth by an elite few hasn’t been seen since the late 1920s.

The bottom 90 percent, by contrast, saw their wealth share fall from 35 percent in the mid-1980s to about 23 percent in 2012, the paper said. It was about 20 percent in the 1920s, it said.

The paper, “Wealth Inequality in the United States since 1913: Evidence from Capitalized Income Tax Data,” focuses not just on wages and income but on the accumulation of overall wealth, including the value of real estate, stocks and certain other assets. It explicitly refutes the view that while nearly all of the gains in national income since the 2008 recession have gone to the top 1 percent, that hasn’t translated into a substantial increase in the concentration of overall wealth at the top. To the contrary, the paper said, “we find that wealth inequality has considerably increased at the top over the last three decades.”

“Wealth concentration has increased particularly strongly during the Great Recession of 2008-2009 and in its aftermath,” the paper said. Largely because of the decline in housing prices, the share of wealth held by the bottom 90 percent fell more than 10 percent from the middle of 2007 to mid-2008. Afterward, real wealth continued declining at a rate of 0.6 percent a year on average through 2012, while it increased at a rate of almost 6 percent a year for the top 1 percent and almost 8 percent a year for the top 0.1 percent.

The bottom line: “Wealth is getting more concentrated in the United States,” and is in fact “ten times more concentrated than income today.”

How did this happen? “The share of wealth owned by the middle class has followed an inverted-U shape evolution,” the paper said. Middle-class households reached the apex of the upside-down “U” in the mid-1980s, driven by the accumulation of housing wealth and, more significantly, pensions. Since then, housing values for the bottom 90 percent as a share of total household wealth has fallen by as much as two-thirds, and most workers have IRAs or 401(k) defined contribution plans instead of pensions. And these households have significantly higher debt than they did in the 1980s.

What can we do about it? The paper points out that it was New Deal policies of the 1930s that began reversing the effects of Gilded Age inequality in the 1930s, particularly “very progressive income and estate taxation” that made it difficult for the wealthy to accumulate large fortunes and pass them to their heirs. “The historical experience of the United States and other rich countries suggests that progressive taxation can powerfully affect income and wealth concentration,” the paper said.

Other steps that can help include “access to quality and affordable education, health benefit cost controls, minimum wage policies, or, more generally, policies shifting bargaining power away from shareholders and management toward workers.” Finally, the paper suggests policies that “nudge” workers toward sound investment and savings vehicles and offer alternatives to short-term debt at high interest rates.

The fact that a group of people equal to the population of Salem, Oregon controls as much of the nation’s wealth as 90 percent of the rest of the country speaks to the fundamental unfairness of our economy. It is a level of imbalance that is as unsustainable today as it was before the crashes of 1929 and 2008. It also stands as a dire warning that we cannot afford to elect more politicians whose policies of giving more relief to the wealthy and more pain to the working class would only make wealth inequality and, and economic inequity, even worse.

This blog originally appeared in Ourfuture.org on October 20, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://ourfuture.org/20141020/wealth-inequality-and-middle-class-decline-is-worse-that-we-think.

About the Author: Isaiah J. Poole has been the editor of OurFuture.org since 2007. Previously he worked for 25 years in mainstream media, most recently at Congressional Quarterly, where he covered congressional leadership and tracked major bills through Congress. Most of his journalism experience has been in Washington as both a reporter and an editor on topics ranging from presidential politics to pop culture. His work has put him at the front lines of ideological battles between progressives and conservatives. He also served as a founding member of the Washington Association of Black Journalists and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.

Walmart Wouldn't Make a Dime Without Its Workers

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

Jackie TortoraA group of Walmart associates marched today from the AFL-CIO to the Washington, D.C., Walton Family Foundation’s offices to deliver more than 15,000 signatures from workers asking Walmart to pay $15 an hour and provide full-time hours.

Shouts of “We’re fired up! Can’t take it no more!” rang out as the workers and hundreds of supporters and allies marched down I Street and made their way to the foundation offices. Before the workers attempted to deliver the petitions, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka reminded everyone that Walmart, which rakes in billions every year, wouldn’t make a dime without its workers, yet pays wages so low that many of its workers need to rely on public assistance and food stamps to get by.

One Walmart associate, Isaiah, shared heartbreaking stories of seeing co-workers cry in the Walmart break room when they found out their hours had been cut, making it impossible to provide for their families.

When the workers got inside the office, the building manager claimed no one from the Walton Family Foundation was working today (um, OK) and said they couldn’t call the office because they didn’t know the number. “We’ll be back,” shouted the determined workers, including Bene’t Holmes who was leading some of the chants. Holmes said they weren’t going to leave the petition with the front desk and promised this is not the last time they would attempt to hand deliver those signatures.

Following the demonstration outside the office, 15 Walmart strikers and supporters sat down in a cross section of the street in front of Walmart heir Alice Walton’s condo and took arrest. See some aerial views from the action below:

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The associates were accompanied by union members and allies from the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), AFSCME, AFT, Jobs with Justice, UNITE HERE, Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), UAW, United Steelworkers (USW), the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and many others.

This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on October 16, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.http://www.aflcio.org/Blog/Organizing-Bargaining/Walmart-Wouldn-t-Make-a-Dime-Without-Its-Workers.

About the Author: Jackie Tortora is the blog editor and social media manager at the AFL-CIO.

The Civil Rights Act – looking back, looking ahead

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014

CELAVoiceThe Civil Rights Act of 1964 guaranteed equal treatment in the workplace, in public facilities, and in public accommodations, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity or sex.  Equality was not the norm in 1964.  Remembering where we started may provide hope and inspiration for the next fifty years.

This is the first of a two part posting: first, a history we have lived, second, imagining and planning for the future.

 

Looking Back – Part 1

By beginning with a look at the United States of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, we can better appreciate the magnitude of the changes we have experienced.  There and then were the conditions which the Civil Rights Act was meant to address.  The United States Supreme Court struck down segregated schools and the doctrine of “separate but equal” public facilities, only in 1954.  A year later, the Court called for dismantling segregated public schools with “all deliberate speed.”   In practice, communities and states intent on resisting the required changes made much of “deliberate” at the expense of “speed.”

In 1960, as part of the Wilmington, Delaware school district’s long delayed preparation for desegregation, I, with a few classmates, had a chance to visit the black school about six blocks from our own.  The only apparent equal part was the architectural plan.  The two schools had the same floor plans.  Even as an eleven year old, I could see that the black school had almost no books, that the sandstone bricks were crumbling, the toilets broken and foul.  By contrast, my own school had well maintained granite, a fully stocked library, plenty of classroom supplies and materials, clean and functioning lavatories.

The lack of adequate facilities and the open lie of “separate but equal” were but the tip of the iceberg of de jure segregation.  Our country had opportunities only for a select few.  We did not tolerate differences.  We murdered those who challenged the assigned order.   State sponsored and state enforced racial separation — combined with political disenfranchisement, and an economic and social caste system — was violent, brutal, and unremitting.   In the Summer of 1964, the world witnessed the terrorism supporting American segregation in the murders of James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner.

Lynchings, counted in the thousands, were carried out over generations, not only in the South, but throughout the country.  “Race riots”, actually pogroms and massacres of entire communities, terrorized people of color.  The ferocity of racial as well as ethnic violence characterized and defined American society in the first half of the twentieth century.

Pervasive discrimination was not limited to African Americans.  Universities had quotas for Jews, Catholics, and other minorities.  Large corporations, law firms, hospitals would not consider ethnic minorities for hire.  Women had limited rights to own property.   Gays were invisible. In quantitative terms, almost two-thirds of our country’s people suffered discrimination.  Freedom and opportunity were reserved for members of a small and privileged class consisting almost exclusively of economically fortunate, white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant men.    The norm, the life experienced by most people, included closed doors, hatred, persecution, and violence.

When we hear the stories of individuals we can begin to understand the extent and severity of discrimination in the mid-twentieth century United States.  From my own family stories: a young woman limited to secretarial work for men who were far less talented than she, a high school girl learning from her admired father that his field of work was closed to all women, a man who died unable to tell his family of his love for another human being, a woman hospitalized for “hysteria” as she came to terms with her love of another woman, an entire family whose parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins were slaughtered after the United States refused them safe haven from Nazi genocide.

There are few in my generation, coming of age in the 1960’s, who do not know such stories.  The details may vary. The story tellers may be Asian, Hispanic, African American, Irish, Native American. Regardless of one’s origins, America of the early and middle twentieth century held up the torch of liberty and opportunity while unapologetically shutting doors and crushing hopes.

Discrimination and violence strike deeply.  At its core, discrimination is a disregard and disrespect of another person’s humanity.  It is an expression of contempt and hatred.  When we suffer discrimination, the pain stays with us for years.  It is felt for generations.  When we engage in discrimination, when we tolerate contempt and hatred, and when we acquiesce in violence, we rend the fabric of our communities.  We corrupt our souls.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, at the time of its passage, represented our country’s highest aspirations in the face of social and political realities far different than our Constitution’s promises.  The ongoing success of that legislation is all around us. Women and minorities have entered the workplace.  Many have risen to positions of prominence.  People with physical and emotional challenges are emerging from the shadows of dependence and isolation.  We are beginning to understand the waste of human potential and the pain we inflict in denying and demonizing love and sexuality.  We have made room for a true diversity of spiritual beliefs and practices.

But we can’t take our progress for granted.  As we try to imagine the challenges and opportunities of the next fifty years, an appreciation of how far we have come may help us choose compassion over misplaced caution and progress over the next iteration of “all deliberate speed.”

We now have a chance to be on the right side of history.  In my next post, I will discuss how we might get there.

This blog originally appeared in CELAvoice.org on October 7,2014. Reprinted with permission. http://celavoice.org/author/marvin-krakow/

About the author: Marvin Krakow (B.A., Yale, 1970, J.D. Yale, 1974), a founding partner of Alexander Krakow + Glick LLP, focuses on discrimination based on race, age, religion, disability, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, and ethnicity, wrongful termination of employment, civil rights, and class actions. He has won seven, and eight figure results. He helps victims of sexual harassment and rape, and represents whistle blowers. He argued landmark cases before the California Supreme Court, Loder v. City of Glendale and Superior Court v. Department of Health Services (McGinnis).

Pelosi Is Right: We Shouldn’t Have To Wait For A Minimum Wage Increase

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014

Isaiah J. PooleAdvocates for workers have declared today “Minimum Wage Day,” as the 10th day of the 10th month calls attention to the demand for an increase in the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, from the current $7.25.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi marked the day by calling on Congress to drop its campaigning and come back to Washington to vote on a minimum wage increase, as well as an authorization for combat operations against the Islamic State terrorists in Iraq and Syria.

The Hill reported:

“The American people deserve an economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthy and well-connected,” Pelosi said Friday during a press call. “So urgent is this that I think we should come back [to Washington] before the elections.”

That is unlikely to happen, given that the Republican leadership in both houses of Congress have actually gone out of their way to block consideration of a minimum wage increase. But in this case there is a difference between a demand being unrealistic and being unreasonable.

There is real urgency to the need for low-income workers to see an increase in their wages. The federal wage has not increased since 2009, when the latest in a series of increases that started in 2007 took effect. Since then, to quote a group of former lawmakers who wrote a joint op-ed in USA Today, “Groceries cost 20% more, a gallon of gas costs 25%more, and average tuition at a community college increased 44%. But the minimum wage remains at $7.25. If it had kept up with inflation since 1968, it would be almost $10.70 today.”

Who were these lawmakers, by the way? Four Republican former members of Congress: Jack Quinn, Mike Castle, Steve LaTourette and Connie Morella. But these Republicans aren’t cut from the conservative extremist cloth that has now blinded their party’s leadership. They get, as do most of the American public, that you don’t grow an economy by holding down wages, by keeping people who are the backbone of our economy in a state of chronic subsistence and struggle.

Yet on the same day that many Democrats and moderate Republicans are calling on lawmakers to act on increasing the minimum wage comes news that one of the heroes of the tea-party Republicanism, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, sees no problem in holding workers down to $7.25 an hour.

According to The Huffington Post, 100 of the state’s workers filed a complaint with the state Department of Workforce Development last month saying that the wages they received in their jobs – at or just above the federal $7.25 minimum – are in violation of the state’s living wage law, which requires wages “be adequate to permit any employee to maintain herself or himself in minimum comfort, decency, physical and moral well-being.”

The state’s response? “The Department has determined that there is no reasonable cause to believe that the wages paid to the complainants are not a living wage.”

No reason to believe, they say, despite the experience of 700,000 workers who, according to a report done in conjunction with the Economic Policy Institute, earn “poverty wages” in Wisconsin. A “poverty wage” in Wisconsin is $11.36 an hour, according to the report – the point below which a full-time worker cannot keep a family of four above the poverty line. The median age of a worker working poverty wages is 30, and 60 percent of the people in this group are women.

Walker and the federal lawmakers who hew to his right-wing ideology are willing to go all out to protect the profit margins of big corporations and the über-wealthy, but feel no urgency to address the wage stagnation and real suffering of working people.

But for millions of us next month’s rent will come due in about three weeks, and the utility bills and perhaps a car payment, student loan bill or a health insurance premium on top of that. Those bills won’t wait. Neither will election day, when members of Congress should be held to account for not acting with urgency toward – and in fact getting in the way of – an increase in the minimum wage.

This blog originally appeared in ourfuture.org on October 10, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://ourfuture.org/20141010/pelosi-is-right-we-shouldnt-have-to-wait-for-a-minimum-wage-increase

About the Author: Isaiah J. Poole has been the editor of OurFuture.org since 2007. Previously he worked for 25 years in mainstream media, most recently at Congressional Quarterly, where he covered congressional leadership and tracked major bills through Congress. Most of his journalism experience has been in Washington as both a reporter and an editor on topics ranging from presidential politics to pop culture. His work has put him at the front lines of ideological battles between progressives and conservatives. He also served as a founding member of the Washington Association of Black Journalists and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.

Two Leading Labor Activists Receive Global Recognition for Work

Monday, October 13th, 2014

0ba2540[1]Activists’ hard work fighting for workers’ rights often goes unrecognized. This week, however, two leading labor activists received global recognition for their defense of vulnerable workers and innovative organizing and advocacy campaigns. The AFL-CIO applauds our long-standing partners Kailash Satyarthi and Alejandra Ancheita.

Kailash Satyarthi won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to eradicate child labor and forced labor. In 1998, Satyarthi created the Global March Against Child Labor, a coalition of unions and child rights organizations from around the world, to work toward elimination of child labor. Global March members and partners are now in more than 140 countries. See Solidarity Center post below:

Kailash Satyarthi, Solidarity Center Ally, Wins Nobel

Labor and human rights activist and longtime Solidarity Center ally Kailash Satyarthi has won the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, the Nobel committee announced this morning. He shares the prestigious award with Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl who survived a brutal 2012 Taliban attack for her stance on girls’ education.

As a grassroots activist, Satyarthi has led the rescue of more than 78,500 child laborers and survived numerous attempts on his life as a result. As a PBS profile describes Satyarthi’s work: “His original idea was daring and dangerous. He decided to mount raids on factories—factories frequently manned by armed guards—where children and often entire families were held captive as bonded workers.”

Solidarity Center Asia Regional Director Tim Ryan said, “Kailash’s lifetime commitment to the cause of eradicating child labor is an inspiration to every human rights defender around the world to promote the rights of the most vulnerable, the most economically exploited young workers, and the paramount importance of finding ways to secure basic education for all children around the world.”

Satyarthi’s decades of work to end exploitive child labor has encompassed advocacy for decent work and working conditions for adults, including domestic workers, because impoverished families must often make the difficult choice of sending their children to work for the sake of family survival.

“Child labor is a largely neglected, ignored, denied aspect of human rights,” Satyarthi told the Solidarity Center in a recent interview. “This is crime against humanity and is unacceptable in any civilized society.”

Alejandra Ancheita, a Mexican human rights lawyer and executive director of the human rights organization ProDESC, received the prestigious Martin Ennals Award. Ancheita and ProDESC have fought for 15 years to protect land and labor rights of indigenous groups and Mexican workers from transnational mining and energy companies. ProDESC has collaborated closely with Los Mineros and United Steelworkers on organizing campaigns at Excellon in Durango and Goldcorp in Guerrero, and has also worked with the AFL-CIO and Solidarity Center on the defense of migrant workers’ human rights.

This blog originally appeared n AFL-CIO.org on October 10,2014. Reprinted with permission. http://www.aflcio.org/Blog/Global-Action/Two-Leading-Labor-Activists-Receive-Global-Recognition-for-Work

 

Nurse's Role Protecting Healthcare Law More Critical than Ever

Monday, October 13th, 2014

Dian PalmerIt’s already October and we are in full swing organizing, educating and mobilizing for Election Day. I am sure many of you are too with so much hanging in the balance!

Again, nurses find themselves in the familiar role of protecting and defending the ?Affordable Care Act. More and more evidence backs up what nurses already know–the healthcare law works. Thanks to the law, the number of uninsured Americans is expected to decline by nearly half from 45 million in 2012 to 23 million by 2023, according to a recent report from CMS actuaries. A new report from the Kaiser Family Foundation further shows the healthcare law is not only working for the millions who have coverage now, especially parents, but it is also working for the nation by slowing down spending on healthcare costs.

Nonetheless, the successes of the healthcare law does not mean the “Party of No” has given up on making Obamacare a polarizing issue in the midterm elections. Make sure you check out the 2014 Healthcare Law SEIU Member GOTV Toolkit to use for member outreach and education in advance of the election.

This blog originally appeared in SEIU.org on October 9, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://www.seiu.org/2014/10/nurses-role-protecting-healthcare-law-more-critica.php

About the author: Dian Palmer has been a nurse for 25 years, and a member of SEIU for 17 years. “Before I joined SEIU, I was disgusted by the numerous abuses suffered as healthcare providers. We were forced to work for seven days in a row, required to do double-shifts, and had no voice in the workplace. I organized my workplace not for better wages, but because as a way to counter the abuses. Before SEIU, I thought we just had to deal with the hand we were dealt, joining a union gave us a voice and a platform to stand up for ourselves.”

Palmer is actively involved in improving working conditions and patient care. Currently, she is President of SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin and an Executive Board Member of SEIU. She is a member of the Milwaukee Chapter Black Nurses Association, and a Governor’s Appointee to the State of Wisconsin Minimum Wage Task Force. In addition, she serves as a member of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin Board, the UWHCA Public Authority Board of Directors and the Wisconsin Citizen Action Board of Directors.
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