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Dr. King’s Radical Revolution Of Values

January 21st, 2020 | Richard Eskow

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

 

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

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

King’s Answer

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Radical Spirit

In other words, Dr. King was a radical.

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

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

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

Nonviolent Protests

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Struggle for Economic Justice

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

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

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

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

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

Expanding Access to Health

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

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

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

The Fight for Workers’ Rights

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

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

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

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

An End to Militarism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The New Poor People’s Campaign

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 21st, 2020 | Alice Herman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Forgotten Socialist History of Martin Luther King Jr.

January 21st, 2020 | Matthew Goodrich

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.

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

January 17th, 2020 | Ari Paul

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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Greater Boston Labor Council Makes History with Latest Election

January 16th, 2020 | Kalina Newman

Kalina Newman

The Greater Boston Labor Council (GBLC), AFL-CIO, made history last week with the election of the first woman of color to its top office. Darlene Lombos takes over as executive secretary-treasurer, replacing Richard Rogers, who officially retired after leading the GBLC for the past 16 years.

Lombos brings more than 20 years of community and youth organizing experience in the labor movement to the position. She served as vice president of the GBLC and has been the executive director of Community Labor United since 2011. A vital asset to the greater Boston community, her work continues to protect and promote the interests of working-class families and communities of color in greater Boston and throughout the commonwealth.

“I am honored to lead such an amazing group of dedicated workers in the Boston area,” said Lombos. “Rich was a true mentor and I look forward to continuing his legacy of empowering working families for years to come.”

Rogers, a member of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) Local 391, leaves behind an impressive legacy in the labor movement. Prior to leading the GBLC, Rogers served on the staff of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO for 21 years, 12 of those as the state federation’s political director. He was the chief organizer for several influential political campaigns, including Ted Kennedy’s 1994 U.S. Senate race and the elections of Jim McGovern and John Tierney to the U.S. House of Representatives. He played an integral role during his four terms as GBLC executive secretary-treasurer in growing and strengthening the Boston-area labor movement.

In recognition of his lifetime of hard work and dedication to the movement, The Labor Guild awarded the prestigious Cushing-Gavin Award to Rogers in December 2019.

This blog was originally published by the AFL-CIO on January 13, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Kalina Newman is an editorial fellow for Washingtonian. Previously, she covered metro news for the Boston Globe. Her work has appeared in ARLnow, DCist, and the Washington City Paper. Kalina graduated from Boston University in 2019 with a degree in journalism.

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Joe Biden Thinks Coal Miners Should Learn to Code. A Real Just Transition Demands Far More.

January 16th, 2020 | Mindy Isser

Image result for mindy isserAs of 2016, there were only 50,000 coal miners in the United States, and yet they occupy so much of our political imagination and conversation around jobs, unions and climate change. During the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump ran on bringing coal jobs back to the United States, and Joe Biden said on December 30 that miners should learn to code, as those are the “jobs of the future.” His comments, made to a crowd in Derry, New Hampshire, were reportedly met with silence.

While coal miners aren’t the only workers in our society, coal miners’ voices do matter, and we can’t leave anyone behind. And it’s clear that they are hurting, a point illustrated by the coal miners currently blocking a train carrying coal in eastern Kentucky, demanding back pay from Quest Energy.

The coal industry is in decline, and mining jobs are disappearing. And the science shows that the vast majority of coal needs to stay in the ground if we want to have a shot at stemming climate change. But does that mean miners need to learn to code in order to earn a living? Coding isn’t necessarily bad or unimportant, and it could potentially be one of many retraining opportunities. But coal miners are skilled workers who do much more than just hit rocks all day: Many of them are trained electricians, engineers and builders. There’s no reason they necessarily need to learn new skills when their skills are easily transferable to other industries.

The Green New Deal, popularized by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), puts forward a bold program for a just transition to a low carbon economy. Of course, this includes moving away from coal. This transition would include a federal jobs guarantee to both clean up the damage inflicted by extractive industries and to provide jobs for workers in those industries in lower carbon work. The training, expertise and experience that coal miners and other workers from these sectors have would be an invaluable contribution towards harnessing new sources of energy and repairing damage caused by climate change. Whatever skilled coal miners do next, they should have a say in it.

In These Times spoke with Terry Steele, a retired member of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) in West Virginia, about Joe Biden’s comments and the future of coal mining in the United States.

Mindy Isser: Can you share your work and union history?

Terry Steele: My name is Terry Steele. I have worked in the coal industry for 26 years. All that time was union: United Mine Workers. I’ve worked over 50,000 hours underground, and I belong to UMWA Local 1440 as a retired member.

Mindy: Can you describe the work you did in the mines? Feel free to be as detailed as possible.

Terry: I’ve done about everything there is to do in the mines—from running shuttle cars to roof bolting to running scoops. A lot of my mining career was on a move crew: We moved belts, we moved power, we also ran coal when the sections were down, we built stoppings. About anything there was to do in the mines, I have done it. I haven’t done any electrical or maintenance work or anything like that, but as far as running equipment and stuff I can run about anything in the mines.

Mindy: When did you become union?

Terry: I went in the mines on my 19th birthday: May 27th, 1971. I’m a fourth generation coal miner. My dad worked in the mines, my grandfather and my great grandfather all worked in the mines. At that time, if you wanted to make good money and have healthcare, that’s what you did in the area that we lived, you went into the mines.

Mindy: Why did you leave the mines?

Terry: I got laid off and had a hard time getting back on at a union mine. There were jobs in the non-union mines, but I didn’t want to do that, so I just went and started doing carpenter work and things like that. I also had to leave the area for awhile, and when I came back I took my pension at age 55, which the UMWA allowed me to do with 20 years of vested time in. I could take my pension and also get my healthcare. So I’ve done that.

Mindy: Why didn’t you want to go to a non-union mine?

Terry: Well, one reason I worked in union mines, besides the pay and healthcare and benefits, there’s another thing you can do in a union mine: You can speak your mind. And I always liked being able to do that, because when you’re underground between two rocks, there’s no one who’s going to take care of you but yourself. And in a union mine you can speak up with no fear of being retaliated against.

Mindy: Do you feel like you’re skilled as a mine worker, a skilled laborer?

Terry: I thought I was then. Some of the work that we’ve done—especially on the move crews—when you’re moving belts and power, people have been at it on these crews for years and they know every move to make. No boss has to tell them what to do, they already know what to do. Some of that work was very skilled. But the thing about it is working underground is a whole lot harder simply because you’re in close quarters, and things are not as simple underground as they are outside.

Mindy: I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but a couple of weeks ago, Joe Biden said, “Anybody who can go down 300 to 3,000 feet in a mine, sure in hell can learn to program as well, but we don’t think of it that way.” He was encouraging miners to learn to code as a transition away from mining. What do you think miners should be learning to do or transitioning towards with work? Do you think coding makes sense?

Terry: Just to be honest with you, I had to go look up what the hell coding was. I had no idea. Coding and programming is something I don’t have a clue about. And I don’t really know whether I could learn it or not. A lot of miners probably could. But the thing about this is, even if you could learn it, where in these areas are these jobs available at? Especially here in southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky, where these miners have lived their whole lives and want to live the rest of their lives. And where are these jobs that pay money like these miners were making in the mines and that also have health care? And especially if you worked for a union mine, a pension.

Biden, in a way, makes me mad for the same reason Obama and a lot of the Democrats make me mad—and I’m a liberal. I’m a progressive Democrat. I just think this is another one of these stupid remarks that the Democratic party makes at times.

The Democratic Party has become a bunch of pussy-footers. We have become a person that takes blue collar work and labor for granted. And that’s why they lost the damn election, that’s why we have an idiot in the White House now. So I want to know where those coding jobs are at, and what they pay, and if they’re gonna last for years to come, and if a person could actually stay in an area and buy a home, and live where he wants to live with something like this.

Mindy: Everyone deserves to live where they want to live.

Terry: I think they do. My family all worked in the mines. My dad worked 45 years in the mine. He died with silicosis (lung disease) after he’d been on a respirator for two months at Cabell Huntington Hospital. I’ve seen what mining does to people. It kills people. We live in an area here where they wanted us to be miners, and in a way they forced us to be miners. This is not as simple as what Biden makes it out to be—“just go ahead and do this if you can’t do that.”

We’ve put up with this for years in our area where we live. For many years, West Virginia was as blue as a state could be. But we ended up being first in the things that were bad, and last in the things that were good. So, I can see why the people in this state are mad. But I think we jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire. Now we have an idiot in there that tells us what we like to hear, but he definitely don’t do what we know needs to be done.

Mindy: And what do you think needs to be done?

Terry: For one thing, coal is not going to be around forever. And I’ll tell everybody that, I’ll even tell my union officials that. I’m a union miner, I’m not a coal miner. We understand it good in our local because we’re all retired. Retired people look at things differently than what the active coal miner would. We’ve already put our time in. We’ve already worked all we’re gonna work. So we’re looking to get what was promised, and coal companies certainly haven’t lived up to their responsibilities. So it’s kind of passed over to the taxpayers, and then the taxpayers are saying, “Why should I take care of something like your pension or your healthcare or stuff like that?”

And I would tell them, simply, that we’re in this shape mostly because these coal companies filed bankruptcy under laws that allow corporations to pass the responsibilities to the taxpayers. So if you’re angry because the coal companies’ responsibilities were passed on to you and you voted for these sons of bitches, don’t quarrel at me, honey, you’re quarrelling at the wrong man. Because we put our time in, we’ve done what was required of us. We worked a dangerous occupation.

Mindy: Do you have any ideas of jobs miners could do that are similar to the jobs they’ve already been doing?

Terry: We’ve been in the energy industry. We have provided our electric, we’ve provided the coal to make steel from, we’ve provided the things that the country needed to have during the time of war. And here in the southern part of West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky and Southwestern Virginia, after they mined most of the coal underground, they started blowing the tops of the mountains off: mountain-top removal. And they blew them off under the pretense of creating jobs, when actually what it did was put underground miners out of work. It was a cheap way of making more money for coal corporations before they took their last shit on people and moved out of the area.

In our area right now, people think coal is coming back. I am under no impression at all that coal is ever going to be coming back. The county where I was raised in—Mingo—most of the coal there has already been mined. About all that’s left is coal that’s hard to get to and that they have to cut a lot of rock to even mine, which will cause more cases of Black Lung. And Black Lung is on the increase again, and that’s one reason why.

You asked me what could these areas do and what kind of jobs could these areas have. One thing I’ve always been hollering about is I’m sitting here—I’m in Nicholas County right now—we own a home in Nicholas County. We also own our home in Mingo County. The union allowed me to do that. Because of the union, because I’m union. My wife belongs to the union too, she was a school teacher. These jobs allow you to do things you couldn’t do.

But my whole point is, I’m looking right now as I’m talking to you, at dozens of wind turbines in Greenbrier County. And they’re building more. These things have to be built somewhere. Solar panels have to be built somewhere. Batteries and the technology that goes along with storing electricity has to be built somewhere. What other, better place to build them then these areas that have no jobs, that have sacrificed everything for this country already, than areas like this right here?

I know for wind turbines, there’s probably a lot of pipe fitting and welding and things along those lines, which miners are good at. As far as solar jobs, I don’t know what it entails exactly, but miners are smart enough to do those things if they’re trained. That’s the only thing I think that Biden was right on in that sense, that they’re smart enough to do some of these jobs with the right training. But to get people to get behind something like the Green New Deal, it’s difficult until you give them something to go on. Build one of these things and hire them, and you’d see them flood to your site. You’d see them flood to these jobs.

Mindy: If you could wave a magic wand in your area, what kind of jobs would you hope for? Would it be rebuilding coal towns, creating public gardens, cleaning coal ash? Anything you could think of in West Virginia and eastern Kentucky, what would you want those jobs to be?

Terry: From what I do know of the Green New Deal, the transition off of dirty fuels onto newer energy sources, like solar jobs and building wind turbines and battery and storage power. It should be in areas that have had the coal mining, areas that are in a depressed state right now. We’re the ones that need those jobs, and it could create thousands of new jobs. It could create a different type of mindset. And we could do them, our miners could do those jobs. Miners can weld, they can build stuff, they’re great with their hands, and they’re great with their minds, too. We could do these things, but right now we have a country that seems like they want to shoot these jobs off to some other place where they can get them done cheaper instead of bringing them back here. And I think the Democratic Party is guilty of these things.

The North American Free Trade Agreement was a total screwup on Bill Clinton. It’s like what they said, that Bill Clinton got things done for Republicans that they could have never get done for themselves. He is what has happened to the Democratic Party, people like Clinton, and Obama to a certain extent. And that’s why Hilary got beat. People were tired of hearing the same old same old bullshit as they kept on going downhill.

Mindy: Who do you like for president right now?

Terry: There’s two I really like. I’ve been a Bernie man, and I could vote for Elizabeth Warren. I do not like Joe Biden, and I do not like Pete Buttigeg, because I think he’s a middle-of-the-road guy too. And I have to tell people the only thing that happens to middle of the road people is like a dog that sits in the middle of the road—most of the time they get run over. And that’s how I feel about Biden and several of the others too, including the senator from Minnesota, Amy Klobuchar.

Mindy: I’m curious about your thoughts, and maybe some of the other retirees’ thoughts, around climate change. Does everyone believe in climate change? Are people resistant to it because they want coal jobs to come back?

Terry: I know that man is affecting climate, I know that. I think several of our members in our local know that, especially ones that are in positions of control know that. We have a very progressive local, and I do think we’ve had pretty good leadership higher up in the union. I think they’ve done a good job, especially on our healthcare and our pensions. But you know, they’re in a tough boat to tow right now, because they’re the leader of a dying industry. So when you’re the leader of a dying industry, you have to find other ways to grow union membership. And the union is not just coal miners, we have other workers who are members. And I think we need to be more worried about finding union people than we should be about finding coal people.

I’m an oddball: I’m a coal miner who’s an environmentalist. But I can see the mistakes in both the coal industry and in the environmental industry. Every time you take somebody’s job, there’s a face behind that, there’s a family behind that. There’s somebody that’s looking to have something for Christmas that don’t have shit, after you take their job and you don’t give them no hope for a future or anything.

That’s what some of the environmental people have done to this area, even though they were right—mountaintop removal should have been stopped. But they could have come in here and brought 500 good green jobs by building a solar plant, or something that people could have worked at. And instead of creating 500 miners or workers who are screaming at you, you could have created 500 environmentalists. Because they just need work. They don’t care if it’s coal mining. I’ve never met a miner who wanted his son or his daughter to go into the coal industry, to go underground between two rocks, because of how dangerous it is. But we kept electing people who decided that’s the only thing we could do.

Mindy: I know you said you’re an oddball because you’re an environmentalist coal miner, and I am wondering what you think UMWA and other miners think about the Green New Deal and climate change? Do they believe it’s real?

Terry: It’s hard to get somebody to believe in something if your job depends on not believing in it. So, we have that group. But we have other people, especially in locals like ours, that actually do believe that we’re going to have to do something else to make a living in our area if we’re going to live here and our children are going to live here. We’re going to have to get our people to look at the facts. And train our people, and train our union people to be smarter than these idiots that are friends of coal people. And I think we can do that, I think we have good leadership in the UMWA. I think getting 100,000 miners pensions and healthcare secured is a pretty big hurdle.

The one thing I think that would probably help to unionize this whole country is if we would take the healthcare issue off of the table to start with, and just give everybody government healthcare like they should have. You know, when you start bargaining, that’s the first thing now that comes up. So take that off the table and we’ll bargain for what we need to be bargaining for: wages and pensions and days off and safety and things.

Mindy: What do you think the union could do to lead on climate change? It feels like we’re trying to hold on to these industries that are dying, and like we are banging on this door that’s closed. What do you think union leadership could do to embrace the Green New Deal, and accept the fact that climate change is real and move forward from there?

Terry: As far as transitioning to something else, they need to be looking at other industries. Take Walmart for one thing. If Walmart was unionized, it would be the biggest union in the world. That probably won’t happen because people don’t believe that it could happen.

We keep telling people about how good the economy is and everything, but yet, if you look at it—I read something today that about 40% of people, if they miss their next payday, they couldn’t pay their bills. And the primary reason for that is low wages, no healthcare, and no pension system. Something that unions brought us.

Mindy: How do you think the labor movement and the climate movement can link their struggles together more? Like with mountaintop removal—the environmentalists were right, but it didn’t mean that union members were on board or on their side. So what do you think can be done to get those two sides united for good green jobs?

Terry: People who are really pushing the green jobs need to push for are for jobs to go into these areas that are struggling right now, and to let them be union. I know that would break some of their hearts—to come in here and give something in these areas and let them be union. But you’ll see what that does about switching some of the coal miners’ mindsets in these areas.

We need to go into these areas where the fight needs to take place and build these plants. Build them in these areas that have supplied the energy and the needs for this country for the last hundred years, and build them in these areas where people have suffered—both environmentally and physically, in the sense that the land has suffered and also the people have suffered. I think if you do that, and have them to be union, then you’ll get the union in on it. Because the UMWA is, I believe, a union that will be open to any industry that wants to become a member of the UMWA. It’s like I said, are we coal miners or are we union miners? I’m a union miner.

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

About the Author: Mindy Isser works in the labor movement and lives in Philadelphia.

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Discrimination Based on Hair Styles is Now Illegal Under California Law

January 16th, 2020 | Patrick R. Kitchin

Image result for patrick r kitchinThe Public Shearing of Andrew Johnson’s Dreadlocks

In December 2018, a video showed a white high school trainer in New Jersey cutting dreadlocks from 16-year old African American wrestler, Andrew Johnson. The lead referee had instructed him, ‘Cut your hair in the next 90 seconds, or you will be banned from today’s competition.’

The image is shocking: a white woman roughly cutting a black teenager’s hair in front of an auditorium filled with parents and children.  Andrew stared straight ahead.  The school initially argued haircut was needed for the safety of the wrestlers in accordance with standard rules about wrestlers’ hair length.

The justification for the act quickly was overpowered by its dreadful significance.  In response to the public outcry, the state attorney general’s office suspended the referee for two years, and ordered educators in all high schools in New Jersey to undergo implicit bias training.

A Conversation Begins

Public reactions to the video ranged from outrage to denial.  According to an April 17, 2019 Washington Post article about Mr. Johnson, residents of his hometown, in New Jersey had mixed reactions too.

Many who attended the match that night, saw the cutting of Andrew’s dreadlocks as an act of racial intolerance.  Others blamed Andrew himself for failing to follow hair length rules applicable to all wrestlers.  Some saw the event as proof that racism in America is endemic.  Others argued it was racist to claim that the cutting of Andrew Johnson’s deadlocks was an act of racial discrimination.

California Leads the Way

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) does not lay out an exhaustive list of acts and attitudes that violate the rights of job seekers and employees.  That is part of its strength.  If gives us the flexibility to decide whether an act or process is discriminatory based on the evidence in specific cases.

Instead of relying on a limited number of examples, FEHA sets out protected categories of people and conditions. One’s race falls into one of the protected categories.  Being disabled places a person into another.  A person cannot be harassed or discriminated against based on their status as a member or one or more of these categories.

Beginning January 1, 2020, policies and practices that target hairstyles associated with race constitute acts of discrimination in both education and employment.  Known as the CROWN Act (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair), Senate Bill 188 modifies the California Fair Employment and Housing Act and the Education Code.  The newly defined additional category states that discrimination based on race now includes “traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles.”

Senate Bill 188 Expands Protections Against Discrimination in Employment and Education

California has some of the most broadly protective employment discrimination laws in the nation.  The CROWN Act adds “Protective hairstyles” as an additionally protected category under the Fair Employment and Housing Act.  SB-188 also amends the California Education Code to prohibit discrimination based on “Protective hairstyles,” which “includes, but is not limited to, such hairstyles as braids, locks, and twists.”

In a world where physical appearance continues to be employed as a weapon for denying equal protection under the law to all citizens and residents, the new law makes a powerful statement about race and ethnicity-based discrimination.  “Hair remains a rampant source of racial discrimination with serious economic and health consequences, especially for Black individuals,” the Legislature declares.

The Legislature’s Preamble to SB 188

The Legislative preamble to SB-188 makes a powerful statement about hair in the context of the history of race discrimination and toxic ethnocentrism in America.

To combat bigoted ideas that have permeated “societal understanding of professional,” the preamble states, “Workplace dress code and grooming policies that prohibit natural hair, including afros, braids, twists, and locks, have a disparate impact on Black individuals as these policies are more likely to deter Black applicants and burden or punish Black employees than any other group…, The Legislature recognizes that continuing to enforce a Eurocentric image of professionalism through purportedly race-neutral grooming policies that disparately impact Black individuals and exclude them from some workplaces is in direct opposition to equity and opportunity for all.”

Watershed Moments

The public shearing of Andrew Johnson’s dreadlocks in 2018 is another watershed moment in the history of race relations in America.  The public haircut of a black child surrounded by white adults generated discussions across our country about who we are and how we think about, and treat, others.

Bigotry is almost always accompanied by insults denigrating others based on their physical characteristics, whether it be skin or hair.  The legislative preamble to SB 188 should be required reading for every HR manager, supervisor and educator in California.

Reprinted with permission.

About the Author:Patrick R. Kitchin is the founder of Kitchin Legal APC, a San Francisco, California employment law firm. He has represented thousands of employees in both individual and class action cases involving violations of California and federal labor laws since founding his firm in 1999. Patrick also represents employers requiring guidance in California employment law. Patrick is a graduate of The University of Michigan Law School and rated AV-Preeminent by Martindale-Hubbell, its highest ranking for legal knowledge, skill, experience and ethics.

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Raising the minimum wage prevents suicides, but Republicans won't do it

January 15th, 2020 | Laura Clawson

third study in less than a year has found that raising the minimum wage would prevent suicides. The latest study, in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, adds the finding that a higher minimum wage would be an especially strong suicide prevention measure during times of high unemployment.

The researchers used states with minimum wages above the federal level to analyze the years from 1990 to 2015, writing that “We estimated a 6% reduction in suicide for every dollar increase in the minimum wage among adults aged 18–64 years with ?high school education.” Accounting for other factors lowers it to a 3.5% reduction in some cases. There’s no effect for people with a college education—a finding that both supports the result for people with a high school diploma or less and one “suggesting that minimum wage increases may reduce disparities in mental health and mortality between socioeconomic groups.”

We’re talking about 27,000 lives that could have been saved by raising the minimum wage by $1.

Currently, 29 states and the District of Columbia have minimum wages above the federal level of $7.25 an hour. The House, controlled by Democrats, has passed a $15 minimum wage bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his Republicans have blocked even a vote.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on January 10, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

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

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House Democrats plan push to pass PRO Act strengthening workers' organizing rights

January 15th, 2020 | Laura Clawson

House Democrats are getting ready to pass another pro-worker bill in the coming weeks, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced Friday, tweeting that “House Democrats are proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with working men and women across the country. I look forward to bringing the PRO Act to the House Floor for a vote prior to the President’s Day district work period to protect the right to organize and bargain collectively.”

The PRO Act would strengthen the right to organize in several ways. It would create real penalties for employers that fire workers for exercising their National Labor Relations Act right to organize, and get those workers their jobs back much more quickly than in the current system. It would streamline the union representation election process, preventing employers from holding captive-audience meetings at which they try to intimidate workers away from union support, forcing companies to disclose the money they spend on anti-union consultants, and “If the employer breaks the law or interferes with a fair election, the PRO Act empowers the NLRB to require the employer to bargain with the union if it had the support of a majority of workers prior to the election,” the Economic Policy Institute explains.

Once workers have a union, employers often drag out and delay the process of negotiating a first contract. The PRO Act cracks down on that, pushing employers into mediation and even binding arbitration if they won’t bargain in good faith. On top of that, it “overrides so-called ‘right-to-work’ laws by establishing that employers and unions in all 50 states may agree upon a “fair share” clause requiring all workers who are covered by—and benefit from—the collective bargaining agreement to contribute a fair share fee towards the cost of bargaining and administering the agreement.” It protects the jobs of striking workers and lifts the prohibition on secondary boycotts. And it cracks down on misclassification of workers as either independent contractors or supervisors to make them ineligible for union representation.

Rep. Mark Pocan and Kenneth Rigmaiden, the president of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, offered an example of workers the PRO Act could help. “[D]uring a construction project in Nashville, Tenn., 120 misclassified drywall finishers were never compensated for overtime work and two weeks of work at the end of the project,” they wrote in The Hill. “The Painters Union and other labor groups are fighting back to win these workers their fair pay. The PRO Act would ensure that employers could no longer dodge wage and hour standards by misclassifying workers.”

As usual, House Democrats will do something good for working people and then Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will send it to his legislative graveyard. But when Republicans claim that Democrats are too busy with impeachment to do things for the American people, remember this and so many other bills. Democrats are getting shit done. It’s just that Republicans are determined to keep working people down.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on January 10, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

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

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Major campaign to organize tech and video game industries launches, this week in the war on workers

January 15th, 2020 | Laura Clawson

There are increasing signs that workers in the tech industry are starting to see themselves as … workers. Maybe it’s the 100-hour workweeks as video game companies get products ready for launch, or maybe it’s the layoffs that come after a big release. Maybe it’s the increasing realization that companies such as Amazon and Wayfair are doing terrible work for the Trump administration, and that their employees are helping make that happen and have no control over it.

Workers at tech companies have staged a series of walkouts over a variety of issues, and subcontractors for Google recently unionized. Game Workers Unite, a grassroots group, has called for unionization in the video game industry. Now, following conversations with Game Workers Unite and with one of its founders onboard as a full-time organizer, the Communications Workers of America is launching a major organizing drive, the Campaign to Organize Digital Employees (CODE).

”We’ve been watching the amazing organizing of workers across the industry,” CWA organizer Tom Smith told the Los Angeles Times. “And workers themselves reached out to us while doing that amazing self-organizing, and said, ‘Can we do this in partnership with the CWA?’”

This could get very interesting—and it could really underline the point that unions are not just for blue-collar workers.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on January 11, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

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

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