MLK Day 2018, A Time to Reflect on Socio-Economic Injustice In All Forms

In honor of MLK Day, we post a short educational video here with excerpts from Martin Luther King, Jr. and James Baldwin that draw the connection between racial injustice and economic inequality in the United States. Their insights are as true today as they were fifty years ago, showing just how far we’ve come and how far we have to go. If we want peace, we must work for justice in all its forms.

N.F.L. Players May Have an Ally in Their Protests: Labor Law

From today’s New York Times by Noam Scheiber:As National Football League team owners consider President Trump’s call to fire players who refuse to stand for the national anthem, they have stumbled into one of the most consequential debates in today’s workplace: How far can workers go in banding together to address problems related to their employment?

In principle, the answer in the N.F.L. and elsewhere may be: Quite far.

To the extent that most people think about the reach of federal labor law, they probably imagine a union context — like organizing workers, or bargaining as a group across the table from management.

As it happens, the law is much more expansive, protecting any “concerted activities” that employees engage in to support one another in the workplace, whether or not a union is involved. The National Labor Relations Board and the courts have defined such activity to include everything from airing complaints about one’s boss through social media to publicly supporting political causes that have some bearing on one’s work life.

The league’s operations manual says players must be on the sidelines during the anthem and should stand. While the law might not bear on whether an individual player can kneel during the anthem, many experts say it could protect players from repercussions for making such a gesture together — or taking other action — to show solidarity on the job.

And as unionization continues its decades-long decline, some believe that these alternative forms of taking collective action may be crucial to enabling workers to speak up.

Read the entire article here.

Fast-Food Workers Seeking $15 Wage Planning Civil Disobedience

From NYT September 1 by Steven Greenhouse:

The next round of strikes by fast-food workers demanding higher wages is scheduled for Thursday, and this time labor organizers plan to increase the pressure by staging widespread civil disobedience and having thousands of home-care workers join the protests.

The organizers say fast-food workers — who are seeking a $15 hourly wage — will go on strike at restaurants in more than 100 cities and engage in sit-ins in more than a dozen cities.

But by having home-care workers join, workers and union leaders hope to expand their campaign into a broader movement.

“On Thursday, we are prepared to take arrests to show our commitment to the growing fight for $15,” said Terrence Wise, a Burger King employee in Kansas City, Mo., and a member of the fast-food workers’ national organizing committee. At a convention that was held outside Chicago in July, 1,300 fast-food workers unanimously approved a resolution calling for civil disobedience as a way to step up pressure on the fast-food chains.

“They’re going to use nonviolent civil disobedience as a way to call attention to what they’re facing,” said Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, which has spent millions of dollars helping to underwrite the campaign. “They’re invoking civil rights history to make the case that these jobs ought to be paid $15 and the companies ought to recognize a union.”

President Obama, in a Labor Day speech in Milwaukee, mentioned the fast-food campaign, saying, “All across the country right now there’s a national movement going on made up of fast-food workers organizing to lift wages so they can provide for their families with pride and dignity.”

Mr. Obama added that if he had a service-sector job, and “wanted an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work, I’d join a union.”

Fast-food chains and many franchise operators have said that $15 an hour was unrealistic and would wipe out profit margins at many restaurants. Some business groups have attacked the campaign as an attempt by a fading union movement to rally a new group of workers.

Some franchise operators have dismissed the walkout, saying that in previous one-day strikes, only a handful of employees at their restaurants walked out, barely disrupting business. But organizers say that workers walked out at restaurants in 150 cities nationwide during the last one-day strike in May, closing several of them for part of the day, with solidarity protests held in 30 countries.

The S.E.I.U., which represents hundreds of thousands of health care workers and janitors, is encouraging home-care aides to march alongside the fast-food strikers. The union hopes that if thousands of the nation’s approximately two million home-care aides join in it would put more pressure on cities and states to raise their minimum wage.

“They want to join,” Ms. Henry said. “They think their jobs should be valued at $15.”

S.E.I.U. officials are encouraging home-care aides to join protests in six cities — Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit and Seattle. Union leaders say the hope is to expand to more cities in future strikes.

Jasmine Almodovar, who earns $9.50 an hour as a home-care aide in Cleveland, said the $350 she took home weekly was barely enough to support herself and her 11-year-old daughter. “I work very hard — I’m underpaid,” she said. “We deserve a good life, too. We want to provide a nice future to our kids, but how can you provide a good life, how can you plan for the future, when you’re scraping by day to day?”

Within the S.E.I.U., there has been some grumbling about why has the union spent millions of dollars to back the fast-food workers when they are not in the industries that the union has traditionally represented.

But Ms. Henry defended the strategy, saying that underwriting the fast-food push has helped persuade many people that $15 is a credible wage floor for many workers. She said it prompted Seattle to adopt a $15 minimum wage and that San Francisco was considering a similar move. She also said the campaign helped persuade the Los Angeles school district to sign a contract for 20,000 cafeteria workers, custodians and other service workers that will raise their pay, now often $8 or $9 an hour, to $15 by 2016.

“This movement has made the impossible seem more possible in people’s minds,” Ms. Henry said. “The home-care workers’ joining will have a huge lift inside our union.”

MI workers resist “right-to-work” law

Michigan lawmakers began debate today on controversial “right to work” legislation that would forbid requiring workers to pay union dues. The legislation is expected to pass despite widespread protests in and around the state capital. If it passes MI will be  the 24th state with such laws that limit union participation as a condition of employment.

Two years ago Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker proposed other controversial legislation limiting the bargaining power of public employee unions as a cost-cutting measure. The measure passed despite opposition from both unions and the public, but Walker was punished for it in a brutal recall election he barely survived. Similar legislation failed to pass in Ohio a year later as anti-union sentiment continues to thrive in a difficult economic climate.

So-called “right to work” legislation is anything but employment guarantees and workplace protections. In fact, by diluting the power of unions to maintain “closed shops” with employers, such legislation actually diminishes the individual and collective voice rights in labor contracts, making it easier for employers to pay weak wages, provide little benefits, and terminate employees on demand.

The recent movement to pass “right to work” laws has been backed by corporate and industry lobbying efforts in conjunction with the Republican Party and groups such as the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. The wisdom of such legislation is questionable in the long run as the wages of American workers continue to decline and the cost of employment benefits are increasingly placed on the shoulders of employees. In the short term support for this misnamed legislation has received a boost from calls for austerity against big government. However, it isn’t big government spending that is to blame for the sluggish economic recovery, but declining revenues tied to a tax base that has significantly shrunk in the wake of the recession.

Once again it appears that workers with good paying jobs will pay the price of corporate and political corruption, and unfortunately many Americans are helping to destroy these jobs by backing right-wing policies against workers‘ rights.

NYC fast food workers stage walk out, fighting for rights to unionize

Dozens of fast food workers at some of the country’s largest chains, including McDonald’s, Taco Bell, and Domino’s, walked off the job today in a coordinated campaign to highlight low wages and encourage unionization. The campaign is backed by community groups, civil rights groups, religious leaders, and a labor union, the Service Employees International Union.

Workers are protesting what they said are low wages and retaliation against those workers who have backed unionization among the thousands of fast food worker in New York City. Coordinators claim this is the first multi-restaurant strike by fast food workers in American history, and promised further action as unions make in-roads into the traditionally anti-union fast food industry.

Over the decades there have been efforts to unionize single fast-food restaurants or chains, but there has never before been an effort to unionize multiple restaurants at one time. The new campaign states advocates raising low wages and reducing the disparities of income inequality.

CUNY sociology professor Ruth Milkman said, “These jobs have extremely high turnover, so by the time you get around to organizing folks, they’re not on the job anymore.”

 

Greece votes to stick with euro zone

After months of political turmoil, a slim majority of Greek citizens voted for the center-right New Democracy Party in a signal that Greece will stick with the euro zone in spite of widespread opposition to financial austerity policies imposed by the EU in the face of uncontrollable debt.

World markets reacted cautiously but favorably to the news, which turned the tables in the wake of last month’s vote in which a sizeable majority of Greeks voted for the left Socialist Party, which promised to roll back austerity policies and press the EU for better repayment terms for loans. Investors appeared cautious about the news, in part, because of the volatility of the Greek situation. A large and vocal portion of the population blames the economic catastrophe on the financial collapse globally and political corruption locally, leading to massive ongoing protests and violent clashes with police in that country.

However, in mixed news Spain announced over the weekend that its borrowing costs have already exceeded its ability to pay back loans, in spite of the widespread and harsh austerity measures imposed there. Along with that country, Italy similarly appears to be on the edge of bankruptcy as its borrowing costs soar and credit rating slides. Although EU officials claim the euro zone will maintain its integrity, increasing doubts about the ability and willingness of countries like Germany and France to extend large lines of credit indefinitely to countries with terrible records for keeping balanced budgets, collecting taxes, and living within their means.

At the G20 meetings this week in Mexico world leaders are expected to encourage EU leaders to act quickly and develop a comprehensive plan for bringing its debt under control and paving the way for a more stable financial framework. Otherwise, mounting debt and the potential bankruptcy of some of the world’s largest economies threatens to not only to frustrate an economic turnaround globally, but may plunge them—and the rest of the world—back into recession.

While Occupy LA is the last to fall, focus on inequality will remain

The national dialogue started by Occupy Wall Street will continue, but the last of the encampments that have sprung up in big and small cities across America will be cleared out tonight.

Occupy LA the last to be evicted.

Last Friday, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Police Chief Charlie Beck held a press conference announcing the city of Los Angeles was issuing an eviction order for the lawn of City Hall where hundreds of protesters associated with Occupy Los Angeles have been camped since October. On Monday at midnight police began enforcing that eviction order, arresting dozens of protesters in a largely peaceful manner. This is in stark contrast to other cities and university campuses where police have used unnecessary and outrageous force to evict protesters from public spaces.

This signals the end of the first stage of this movement, to occupy these spaces in order to draw the nation’s attention to its unchecked economic and political corruption. Although media commentators, some members of the general public, and FOX News have nurtured doubts about the “focus” or the “message” of this movement, there can be no doubt that this Occupy Movement has restored the problem of economic inequality in the conscience of the nation.

The question now is what the second stage of this movement will look like. As protesters and sympathizers search for the means to continue raising consciousness about the problem of inequality, efforts must be made to create a national organization with state and local outreach. This should be done to counter the perception that the Occupy Movement is merely a bunch of malcontents, anarchists, and homeless persons without a message.

In reality, it is a movement made up of diverse Americans all of whom have been adversely impacted by an economic and political system that no longer serves the interests of the supermajority of its stakeholders. These Americans include young and old alike, whether they are homeless, poor, unemployed, or employed is irrelevant. The Occupy Movement represents the most authentic cross-section of America to date, and therefore speaks honestly to the very real problems that plague our friends, families, and fellow citizens.

We live in the wealthiest country in the world. Roughly speaking, that wealth is controlled by 1 percent of its citizens. Meanwhile, the lives and prospects of the remaining 99 percent continue to suffer and diminish in the face of permanent unemployment, massive credit card and student loan debt, and a democracy that has been hijacked by money and special interests. Despite attempts by corporate hacks and establishment apologists to discredit the Occupy Movement for lack of “focus” or “message” because it lacks “sexy” marketing, the nation owes these brave souls who have suffered derision, endured bad weather and faced the batons and pepper spray of police officers, for bringing the real problems of this country to the table.

OWS attempts to shut down Stock Exchange, hundreds arrested

Hundreds of protesters marched on Wall Street early this morning to prevent traders, financiers, and technocrats from reaching their jobs at the Stock Exchange. So far, 100 people have been arrested as the Occupy Wall Street movement vows to keep up its visible presence in New York, highlighting the greed and injustice of the American financial and political system.

84-year-old Dorli Rainey was brutally pepper sprayed by Seattle police, and has become a symbol of the brutal tactics used by law enforcement to suppress democratic dissent.

Protesters clogged the streets around Wall Street, blocking traffic and halting people from reaching the Exchange. Police in riot gear moved in quickly, telling the marching crowds to disperse or face arrest. When dozens of people began sitting down in the intersections, they were quickly arrested. Similar protests and marches are scheduled to continue throughout cities across the nation.

The tactics of law enforcement have come under increasing scrutiny as video footage is leaked to the public and press, showing police pepper spraying and beating otherwise peaceful protesters. In Seattle, the police are being heavily criticized for unjustifiably using pepper spray and truncheons on its own citizens including 84-year-old Dorli Rainey, who has come to symbolize the protest movements nationwide.

As law enforcement moves to evict occupiers in cities across the country, more attention should focus on police tactics, which all too often rely on the brutalization of citizens and the violation of their civil liberties. The police are supposed to “serve and protect,” but their role in suppressing these democratic protests raises the question whether they have become an instrument for the wealthy and powerful to preserve the status quo. Mayors, police commissioners, and officers who are implicated in these brutal tactics should be held accountable for their actions.

NYPD clears Occupy Wall Street encampment, hundreds arrested

The truth hurts us all.

Acting on behalf of the wealthy and powerful interests of Wall Street, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended his decision to clear out Zuccotti Park, where protesters have staged a camp out that has captured the attention of the nation in order to highlight the injustices and inequities of American-style capitalism.

Mayor Bloomberg claimed that conditions in the park had become intolerable, and that “public health and safety” determined his decision. However, he also announced that the park would reopen tomorrow morning, raising doubts that the conditions of the encampment in the public park were to blame. More likely, Bloomberg’s close ties with Wall Street pressured the billionaire to use his official position to deny the Occupy Wall Street movement its constitutional right to peaceably assemble.

This is not the first time Bloomberg has used the coercive powers of the state, as well as the notorious tactics of the NYPD, to deny democratic protesters their constitutional rights on the streets of the Big Apple. In 2004 his administration and the NYPD came under fire for mishandling the Republican National Convention protests around Madison Square Garden. Thousands of people were arrested in broad and unjustified sweeps of the city streets under the guise that “law and order” must be imposed in order to provide security against the threat of terrorism.

Many of those arrested were either innocent bystanders watching the protests from sidewalks, or people out shopping, or New Yorker’s walking home from work. I was personally jailed 46 hours, first at Pier 57 where a bus terminal was turned into a holding pen, and then at the city’s notorious central jail called “the Tombs.” The New York Civil Liberties Union and National Lawyer’s Guild later launched a class action suit against the city, which has been bogged down in a legal quagmire. Hopefully, the Occupy Wall Street movement will receive much needed legal aid from the armies of unemployed lawyers who have lost their jobs because of the greedy fucking pricks running Wall Street, our country, and the global economy into the ground.

Occupy Wall Street is a small movement fronting a gigantic cause for the rest of us. Mayor Bloomberg and has now established a precedent that other cities are likely to follow. In the name of “public health and safety,” the constitutional rights of Americans to protest government incompetence and inaction concerning the causes and consequences of the recession will be ignored and undermined. In the name of cleaning up some shit on the sidewalks, they will be asked to tolerate more shit flowing downhill as their incomes shrink and profits flow uphill.

The use of state violence to deny this constitutional right is a gross injustice that Americans are likely to tolerate, leaving them vulnerable, yet again, to future collusions between the state and wealthy individuals in which they bear the costs, socially, economically, and politically.

What is to be done? #occupycongress

UN moves against Qaddafi regime

Developments in the Libyan conflict moved quickly last week as the United Nations Security Council voted to impose a “no-fly zone” over Libya in order to help rebel forces there, who have had several setbacks at Kaddafi’s loyalist forces and mercenaries have driven them from previously kept rebel strongholds in the eastern part of that country.

President Obama announced that an international coalition led by France, UK, and America would impose the “no-fly zone” as well as target Kaddafi military forces that are targeting civilians. France and the UK took the lead on Saturday by immediately bombing military targets in Libya, including anti-aircraft missile sites and radar installations. In addition, U.S. military warships launched Tomahawk missiles at similar targets.

In less than 10 years now the U.S. has engaged in its third military action in the Middle East, raising questions about the coherence of its piecemeal response to ongoing crises in various Muslim countries as well as its long term strategy for promoting peaceful transitions to democratic regimes. For example, many people are asking why the U.S. is intervening in Libya but not in Bahrain or Yemen where authoritarian regimes have cracked down on pro-reform demonstrators and hundreds of protesters have been killed by military and police forces. On Sunday, demonstrators seethed with rage in Manama, Bahrain as the government  tore down the giant tower in Pearl Square, which had become the central battleground, and effective symbol, for protesters demanding democratic reforms.

The problem with asymmetries in U.S. foreign policy in the region was highlighted on Saturday as Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced that imposing a “no-fly zone” in Libya amounted to a war because it would require destroying key military targets, radar, and airfields. He also was skeptical of the usefulness of “no-fly zones,” but claimed that this would be the only limited the step the U.S. would take at this time, warning that no ground troops would be sent in to support the rebel forces. Gates stressed this was a conflict for the Libyans to solve, and that imposing a “no-fly zone” is to protect the mass murder of innocent civilians by loyalist forces of Kaddafi.

The situation in Libya is growing tense. Many fear that if Kaddafi is not deposed soon, the struggle will turn into a long and bloody one for control of different regions of Libya, exacerbating long and deep tribal and clan divisions. The best hope is that the international coalition provide support and aid to the rebel coalition in an effort to defeat Kaddafi’s loyalist forces before bloody civil war becomes a permanent part of Libyans’ lives.