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Alan Maki

Alan Maki
Doing research at the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas

It's time to claim our Peace Dividend

It's time to claim our Peace Dividend

We need to beat swords into plowshares.

We need to beat swords into plowshares.

A program for real change...


What we need is a "21st Century Full Employment Act for Peace and Prosperity" which would make it a mandatory requirement that the president and Congress attain and maintain full employment.

"Voting is easy and marginally useful, but it is a poor substitute for democracy, which requires direct action by concerned citizens"

- Ben Franklin

Let's talk...

Let's talk...

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Minimum Wage and the AFL-CIO & Change to Win

Not long ago, I published what has probably been my most controversial blog to date; at least it generated the most response... over 700 e-mails, many phone calls, and many personal conversations... pro and con, with very sharp divisions in thinking.

Here is the link to my original blog:


This is the part which created so much controversy:

It is important that the distinction between organized labor, its present leadership, and the over all working class is made because very often the present leadership of many unions, and especially the leadership in the national labor federations— the AFL-CIO and Change To Win— do not represent their own members very effectively, let alone the entire working class.

This is evident in many struggles.

As might be expected, rank and file workers pretty much supported this while a number of elected and appointed union leaders felt I was way off base.

I got an e-mail from a friend of mine in the UAW employed at Bradford White, a manufacturer of hot water heaters in southwest Michigan stating:

Alan, you sure put into one small paragraph just what many of us have been thinking for years as the labor movement has been deteriorating, losing members, and losing influence.

A Regional Director from a large international union, had a different view:

Maki, you don't know what the hell you are talking about.

What I also found is many liberal and progressive writers and the thinkers in academia did not even understand the point I was making.

I was actually quite surprised with the response I received from a well known professor and labor historian, who wrote:

Mr. Maki you obviously know nothing about what you are writing about. Union leaders in this country do an excellent job reflecting what working people need. Most workers couldn't care less about politics or labor history. Workers don't read or understand anything in this country. They are very fortunate to have well educated labor leaders looking out for their interests.

I would note that neither the Regional Director nor the professor have taken a stand on saving the St. Paul Ford Twin Cities Assembly Plant.

I think this demonstrates why it becomes so important for rank and file workers to begin expressing their views more aggressively... especially through writing. For some reason lots of working people are timid in stating their views in writing; and, without the views from rank and file workers the debates on many issues in our country are extremely lacking when it comes to finding solutions to problems working people are experiencing.

I often receive these wonderful letters from working people responding to what I write... most based upon their personal experiences where they work and in the communities where they live. I suggest to them they should begin publishing their views through blogging, leaflets, letters to the editors, etc. and they often respond, "I can't write well enough." Something is terribly wrong with our culture when people are made to feel their views will not be taken seriously and only the views of the adjuncts from the corporate think tanks and university professors have a corner on expressing their views through the written word.

Even progressive list serves often take the view that writing has to be to a certain standard and quality... in my opinion this is just plain wrong.

On a national level I think the issue of the minimum wage very clearly demonstrates the truth of this statement I refer to above.

Closer to home here in Minnesota, I think the issue of the future of the St. Paul Ford Twin Cities Assembly Plant slated to close and send two-thousand jobs down the river demonstrates my point quite well; tomorrow, on this blog, I am publishing a letter I sent to a leader of UAW Local 879.

Even among progressive working class bloggers I see this problem over and over again where it is accepted without challenge that leaders like John Sweeney of the AFL-CIO speak for the entire working class; there just isn't any truth to this when it comes to many issues.

I am publishing below my response to a well known labor blogger concerning the minimum wage which I think reflects the problem.

If more workers being forced to "live" on the minimum wage and poverty wages would begin to detail their life experiences in writing I think we would see some changes very quickly.

Note: If Dick Meister responds to me I will publish his response in its entirety.

Mr. Dick Meister;

While I agree with you that the present increase in the minimum wage is no where near what it should be… your miserly nine dollar figure is also shameful; and far short of what is required.

Here is what I do not understand: We have a United States Department of Labor which pays people extremely well for the purpose of calculating what a living income actually is.

Why would progressives and the labor movement advocate anything short of the real living non-poverty wage calculated by the United States Department of Labor for any workers in this country?

In lieu of a real non-poverty wage, incomes could be subsidized through advanced social programs like child care; single-payer, universal health care; heavily subsidized quality, integrated public housing; public takeover of closing manufacturing facilities like the Ford Plant in St. Paul; heavily subsidized higher public education; lowering the threshold for welfare and food stamps, etc… in line with the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

I note that the anti-communist clause was not put back into the new AFL-CIO constitution; however, the approach of solving the problems the “reds” in the labor movement have advocated for years in solving the problems of the working class remain “taboo.”

In fact, organized labor has refused to take up these questions in any kind of principled way… choosing the “press release method of struggle and cozying up to Democratic Party politicians and their political hacks begging for a few crumbs;” rather than mobilizing rank and file working people by empowering them to organize for real change based upon a real progressive agenda which includes real solutions to very real problems they are experiencing at work and in the communities where they live.

It would be very simple to legislatively tie the minimum wage to what the United States Department of Labor calculates a real living income for workers to be.

Many working people are coming to resent well paid and well-heeled leaders of “organized” labor and “liberal” politicians who continue to advocate poverty wages for so many working people when these very same labor leaders, politicians, and political hacks don’t even stand up and fight to protect the jobs and well-being of their own members very well in so many cases.

In fact, close to two million workers are now employed across the country in approximately four hundred or so “Indian” casinos and the related hospitality industries; these workers have no rights at all under state, federal, or tribal labor laws nor the National Labor Relations Act… even as these tribes ignore a recent appeals court ruling stating the NLRA applies to these casinos… these casino managements flagrantly flaunt the ruling now that it has come down even though their attorneys represented them in Appeals court… now their attorneys advise them to ignore the ruling without even appealing it.

Here you have two million workers with no rights in the workplace which means for all practical purposes they don’t have the most basic and fundamental rights to participate in their communities or the political process--- if an employer can fire you at will without reason--- do you really think these two million workers feel comfortable speaking out on issues like the minimum wage or the poverty wages they all receive?

John Sweeney has not once addressed this problem as he claims to be an advocate for increasing the minimum wage as the rest of you sit by without a whimper of protest as Michigan’s labor backed Governor has signed another one of these “Compacts” creating one more casino and the State House has gone along with this “Compact” as the Michigan Senate prepares to follow right along in the next week or so. I would think that progressives would let out a howl of protest and indignation holding these Michigan politicians accountable to the constituency they claim to represent. Why would the Michigan House Floor leader not be able to convince his entire Democratic Party Caucus to send this “Compact” back to be renegotiated… this is common to the collective bargaining process, eh? When one side disagrees… the contract goes back for some fine tuning and upgrading. Is there a reason this can’t happen in the legislative process with a casino “Compact?” None what-so-ever except organized labor has not insisted on this happening.

In fact, Gary Garbarino tells me labor leaders “instructed” his boss, Democratic Floor Leader Steve Tobacman not to discuss with me this solution. Why? Because I am not affiliated with “legitimate” labor unions… when I asked what he meant by “legitimate” he stated “AFL-CIO or Change to Win” affiliated unions. Since when aren’t rank and file initiatives “legitimate” in this country? I made two very simple proposals:

1.) This “Compact” should include extending the protections under state and federal labor laws to casino workers all other workers in Michigan enjoy; and

2.) Casino workers should be employed in smoke free environments. What kind of labor leaders would advise politicians bought and paid for with the dues of union members to ignore this proposal which amounts to nothing more than advocating casino workers be treated with respect and common human decency… as if they were human beings? It is these very same labor leaders that now “inform” our society what the minimum wage should be based upon figures pulled from a hat.

In Michigan, organized labor makes the boast that it controls the Governor and the State House… yet, even unions like the United Auto Workers refuse to acknowledge the problem of ignoring the plight of casino workers in these Compacts.

Let me point out these two million workers are employed in the most atrocious conditions created due to second-hand smoke and managements’ complete control in the workplace.

I am appalled you and “progressive” and “left” outfits like Portside would continue to intentionally ignore the plight of these two million casino and hospitality workers right along with John Sweeney, the AFL-CIO and Change to Win and then choose to put forward a figure you pull from a hat for political expediency as to what the minimum wage should be when you have the figures scientifically calculated by the United States Department of Labor.

How can we explain the AFL-CIO, the UAW, and Change to Win not being able to force a labor backed Governor and State Legislature in a State like Michigan to go back and renegotiate this compact to include the rights of working people… thus creating an industry standard for all of these Compacts?

I would point out that the Fertitta Family and its chain of Station Casinos which will manage the proposed new Gun Lake casino in Michigan will end up making billions of dollars from this casino venture leaving the workers with empty peanut shells.

Is there anyone who is stupid enough to believe, given the way organized crime “skims” these casino operations, that casino workers shouldn’t be making at least as much as any coal miner, iron ore miner, or auto worker?

In fact, a minimum wage increase along the lines of what has been passed and the miserly increase you propose will only be enough to get working people kicked off from existing social programs having “income qualifiers,” while subjecting them to even harsher conditions of poverty while forcing many to take jobs in the casino industry working in these smoke filled casinos for poverty wages without any rights or a voice at work.

I would encourage you to check out my blog for further information on this issue.

Alan L. Maki
Director of Organizing,
Midwest Casino Workers Organizing Council

58891 County Road 13
Warroad, Minnesota 56763

Phone: 218-386-2432
Cell phone: 651-587-5541

E-mail: amaki000@centurytel.net

Check out my blog:

Thoughts From Podunk