Texas Longhorns with newborn calf in Bluebonnets

Texas Longhorns with newborn calf in Bluebonnets

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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...

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Labor Day 2011; State of Today’s Unions

With Labor Day coming up, I am publishing this guest blog by trade union activist Pancho Valdez which I think many of you will find very helpful, interesting, informative and useful. 

Pancho Valdez has been an activist in the labor movement for many years. In my opinion, we need many more trade unionists voicing their concerns and articulating their views like this if we are going to create the kind of labor movement we need to win the kind of world we want where working people have a voice in the decision-making process in a way where our problems are solved because this is what democracy is supposed to be all about. 

Following this guest blog post by Pancho Valdez is an article from Workday Minnesota about a demonstration for jobs organized by LIUNA in conjunction with the national conference of Netroots Nation 2011 held in Minneapolis, Minnesota and a hearing held, again, in Minneapolis in conjunction with Netroots Nation 2011, by the Congressional Progressive Caucus on the need for jobs.

At the very bottom is an article about John Conyers' remarks concerning the deficit debate. I would also suggest checking out this presentation of Democratic Congressman John Conyers because this fits in with this guest blog:

Hopefully through sharing our views we can reach a "meeting of the minds" where grassroots and rank-and-file activism initiate movements that can turn campaign rhetoric about "end the wars," "tax-the-rich" and real health care reform into legislation that ends up creating jobs putting people to work solving our pressing problems.

I would also like to share an article of mine published in last year's Labor Day edition of Labor World newspaper: 

(see Page 8) "How is the war economy treating you?"

What I have tried to do with this blog posting is create a discussion centered around what kind of labor movement we need to build the kind of labor movement required to win the kind of world working people are entitled to because it is labor, with considerable help from Mother Nature that creates all wealth and as long as the wealth we create is being squandered on wars we will never achieve the kind of peaceful world required to deliver social and economic justice.

This Labor Day trade unionists need to be asking people: 

How is Barack Obama's Wall Street war economy working for you?

As we consider these views- 1,300 American Crystal Sugar workers in the Red River Valley have been locked out by management- which makes a discussion about strikes raised by Pancho Valdez all the more important--- plus, what kind of strikes for the particular situation.

A couple questions we may want to ponder:

Given that the management of American Crystal Sugar stated well in advance they intended to lockout the workers and keep the sugar beet processing operation going using scabs, should workers have called a strike and occupied the plants?

Why didn't the union leadership present this option to the workers for their consideration?

There is a lot for working people to consider this Labor Day.

I ask you to keep in mind this Labor Day the controversy casino workers trying to organize in the mobster dominated Indian Gaming Industry were just involved in where an organization affiliated with the International Trade Union Confederation < http://www.ituc-csi.org/ > rented the non-union facilities of the Grand Portage Casino/Resort/Convention/Conference Center in Grand Portage, Minnesota knowing that the workers are employed in a loud, noisy, unhealthy smoke-filled environment at poverty wages without any rights under state or federal labor laws--- all with the approval of the Minnesota and national AFL-CIO.

I also call to your attention efforts being made by the New Progressive Alliance (NPA) to break free from this two-party trap we are stuck in; check us out, get involved: 

This is our national steering committee:

Looking for some good reading? Check out the book by Stewart Acuff and Richard Levins: "Getting America Back to Work."

Yours in struggle and solidarity,

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

Labor Day 2011; State of Today’s Unions

By Pancho Valdez

“All that serves labor serves the nation. All that harms labor is treason. If a man tells you he trusts America, yet fears labor, he is a fool. There is no America without labor and to fleece the one is to rob the other.”- Abraham Lincoln, Former president of the United States

This past Spring the nation witnessed an attack on organized labor unlike any other in the past 30 years. Public workers in Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, New Jersey, Missouri, Michigan and Minnesota have been made the scapegoat of their state’s economic crisis which is as phoney as a three dollar bill given the fact that the crisis was not only caused by Wall Street, but also profited Wall Street as well. Another major factor to our nation’s economic woes that seldom is mentioned is the huge war budget wasted on the unjustified wars in AfghanistanIraq and now Libya.

Workers belonging to such unions as the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and the public sector division of the Communications Workers were the target of a well planned, vicious assault by the Tea Party and other Republican extremists using the falsehood of “balancing the state budgets”. As was shown in Wisconsin and elsewhere the real reason for the anti-union attacks was to weaken and/or destroy public worker unions and their right to collective bargaining. The state budget of these states not unlike the state budget of Texas could have been balanced by means of taxing the profits of large corporations and the incomes of the wealthy. Of course such a move requires that state legislators to have courage and the wisdom to do so. As has been shown, most elected officials lack these essential qualities!

In light of a concerted attempt to weaken or destroy public sector unions we must take into account the percentage of organized workers in the private sector, which is now around a dismal 7%! With such a low number of organized workers it is very clear that the working class of the U.S. is in for more hard times. When one sees the small percentage of private sector workers that are organized, one must ask; Why? There are several pertinent factors for this: 

1) Many (if not most) jobs in the basic industries such as auto, steel, electrical appliances, garment, shoe and rubber have been off shored to such places as S. Korea, China, India, Pakistan, Mexico, Costa Rica, Haiti, Honduras and other Third World countries. The number one factor for this is cheap labor, weak or controlled unions even weaker than the U.S. trade unions or labor laws that are seldom enforced by right wing governments friendly to the U.S. and the corporations. 

2) Another factor that comes to play a vital role in keeping the U.S. labor force non-union is the fact that under current labor laws, employers have had a free reign to harass, intimidate and fire workers who expressed interest in organizing. Along with weak enforcement of vital labor laws, other laws passed in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s forbid unions from engaging in such militant acts as sit-down strikes, secondary boycotts and other effective tactics utilized by the CIO during the 1930’s when the American labor movement had it’s greatest growth. It could be said with accuracy that U.S. labor unions grew at a faster rate when we had no federal laws to “protect” us as compared to today with laws in place!

One other major factor is the fact that today’s labor unions appear reluctant to use strikes as a means of offensive strategy. In the past decade labor strikes have averaged only 20 per year as compared to 350 per year in the 1950’s. While I have yet to see or hear any official reason from labor leaders for this decline in strikes, my guess is that the use of strikes has been put on hold due to weak enforcement of labor laws which basically give employers an open door to replace strikers with scabs ( common word describing strikebreakers). One factor that should be discussed is the mindset of “cooperation” that was prevalent in the middle 1970’s and early 1980’s. This way of thinking promoted “labor peace and harmony” as a means of settling contractual disputes. I can remember several unions that were big on this idea that included the United Steelworkers, the United Autoworkers and the Transport Workers Union, a public transit and airline industry union. This absurd policy resulted in weaker contractual gains, demoralized memberships and did not
prevent employers such as Ford, GM, United Steel, Bethlehem Steel from shutting down mills and factories in the U.S. and moving operations to the aforementioned Third World countries. At the time of this revolutionary concept labor leaders were counting on bosses not to de-certify unions, or shut down operations. It doesn't take a PhD. in Industrial Relations to see that such a lame idea puts workers at a distinct disadvantage and gives employers the signal that it’s ok to do whatever it takes to cut down labor costs! Anytime a labor organization goes into negotiations from a point of weakness, quite naturally the employer will go on the offensive and attack without mercy! In an attempt to impress upon the employers, the news media and the government that labor believed in the concept of “what’s good for GM is good for America” it weakened itself into the present day situation.

One is probably asking; why would any competent labor leader ever agree to such nonsense? The reason is quite simple. When worker’ organizations fail to see or comprehend the difference between the interests of capital and the interests of labor there will be serious errors made and grave consequences to face. This failure on the part of organized labor’s true role is the direct result of the shameful purge of communists and socialists from labor’s ranks during the McCarthy era. Without the presence of strong working class ideology organized labor opened itself up to be used and abused by the ruling class. It also gave a free ticket to social democrats to assume “leadership roles” and reward themselves to lucrative salaries for themselves, their friends and relatives. Such corruption along with mob control of many local unions of the Teamsters, International Longshoremen’s Association, some local unions of the Hotel & Restaurant Employees, the Laborers International Union and others resulted in sweetheart deals and reduced the organizations to being merely “paper tigers!” While employers prefer NO union at all, they will settle for one that is mob controlled as the workers have no democracy in these organizations. Sweetheart agreements are about as good as it’s going to get and even in local unions not corrupted by the mob, workers ownership of their unions was taken away as union leadership chose a top down approach in running their organizations. When workers have little if any control over their unions, participation is very shallow and in the event of an employer turning on its workers, the members are ill prepared for an effective and successful defense. 
Today’s labor organizations have become far too dependent on utilizing attorneys,
mediators, arbitrators and administrative hearing to resolve disputes. Gone are the times when a group of workers would engage in old fashioned “get in your face” tactics. While labor and governmental bureaucrats along with attorneys are all in favor of this change of strategies, it does nothing to build a strong and militant labor movement in the U.S. Many younger workers today are reluctant to join a union  not willing to fight for it’s members.

While organized labor in the U.S. has its flaws, it would be unfair to describe only those without mentioning its strengths. Within the past 30 years the AFL-CIO has begun supporting the call for progressive immigration reform. The labor federation has learned that many of the immigrants from Mexico and other Latin American nations have extensive labor and political experiences that make them good union activists here in the U.S. Undocumented factory, building service, meat processing and hospitality industry workers have all stepped  up and joined organizing campaigns with some degree of success. Other areas where organized labor has shown willingness to open up and become more progressive are in the areas of women trade unionists, African American, Asian American and Latino trade unionists as well as an organization for gay and lesbian trade unionists.

Before viable solutions to this present day situation are discussed, it is important to know that not all labor organizations fall into the above mentioned categories. In San Antonio and across the nation UNITE HERE is organizing hospitality workers and has no problem using mass picketing as well as civil disobedience to protest unsafe and unfair working conditions. Unions like the independent United Electrical Workers and the west coast International Longshore & Warehouse Union  (ILWU) are examples of two left led labor organizations that also use much more militant and confrontational tactics with a great deal of success. Recently the ILWU locals  in Oakland and San Francisco refused to unload cargo that was from Israel in a show of solidarity with the struggle of the Palestinians in Gaza! This is reminiscent of their refusal to unload or load ships either from or headed to S. Africa during the struggle against apartheid. The UE is the union that got national attention when it took over a small factory in Chicago when workers were laid off without proper notice and denied their pay. At that time even the president expressed support for these workers who through their action received the unpaid checks and the factory was reopened with a new owner making a different product.

A more recent and surprising development is the AFL-CIO participating and helping to organize May Day events across the nation. May Day was abandoned as the official Labor Day in the height of the McCarthy era to appease right wing politicians who were hell bent in destroying anyone with Left wing tendencies.

While all is not where it could or should be within the American labor movement, it has progressed since the days of George Meany who bragged that he never walked a picket line! Meany was also against racial equality and a big proponent of the Vietnam war.

There are solutions to help improve the situation within the labor movement which would include assuring that all affiliated local unions are democratic whereby workers have the right to approve or disapprove contractual agreements. Workers should also have the right to run reform candidates without fear of beatings, killings, expulsion from their union and retaliation from their employers.

Another major reform idea would be for the labor movement to seriously begin working on organizing and building a worker based political party as a viable alternative to the Democratic or Republican parties. This party would include civil rights, civil liberty, environmental, gay and lesbian, peace activists and others who feel disenfranchised from the electoral system as both major parties are controlled by corporate bribes disguised as “campaign donations.” An important factor of this new party would be full support and adherence to our nation’s Constitution.

Another change would be for organized labor to depend less on federal agencies, attorneys, arbitrators and mediators to resolve disputes. Adoption of the proven and far more militant tactics of the CIO are in definite order. Laws and regulations designed solely to protect the interests of the bosses should be ignored and broken whenever possible. A union that is afraid to fight is a union that does not deserve to collect dues from its members!

A step in this direction will help make the U.S. trade union movement a force to be reckoned with by elected officials and employers alike. It may sound like wishful thinking, but it can be done. Doing it depends on our willingness to make it happen!

-Pancho Valdez is a member of Laborers Local 1095 and has been active in the movement for justice since 1965. He can be reached at: 210-882-2230 or mestizowarrior210@yahoo.com

Hundreds rally in Minneapolis for jobs
19 June 2011
MINNEAPOLIS - The Laborers’ International Union of North America led a rally in downtown Minneapolis to call for desperately needed investments in the country’s roads, bridges and water resources – investments that would create millions of middle-class jobs for the state and America.
“The Fight Back for Good Jobs” rally on Friday brought together hundreds of members of LIUNA and attendees of the 2011 Netroots Nation conference, the year’s largest gathering of progressive online activists. Joining them were labor, political, business, environmental and community leaders, including LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan, former White House green jobs adviser Van Jones, U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., U.S. Reps. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman.

“We have staggering needs that are putting America’s greatness at risk, but we also possess an army of men and women who are ready to rebuild their country,” O’Sullivan said. “It’s time for our leaders to get down to business and quit playing games with our future and our workers. It’s time to build Minnesota, build America and build our middle class.”

O’Sullivan and others rallied the crowd gathered on Minneapolis’ historic Stone Arch Bridge, which overlooks the site of the fatal I-35 W Bridge collapse in 2007 and the state-of-the-art span that replaced it in 2008.

rally for jobs
Hundreds gathered on the Stone Arch bridge Friday to demand action to create jobs.

Workday Minnesota photo

The Fight Back for Good Jobs rally demonstrated growing recognition that the needs facing America’s roads, bridges and water resources can be addressed in a way that creates jobs, grows the economy, helps the environment and lifts up communities, all while leaving behind a positive legacy for taxpayers and future generations.

“We can do more than just build roads and bridges – we can invest in communities by creating local jobs that can’t be sent overseas,” Jones said. “We can create a new transportation system that’s more efficient and will serve America’s needs for decades to come.”

In recent years, America has fallen behind other nations who have raced to expand their transportation systems and water resources. Nations like China and India are investing 10 percent of their gross domestic product in such needs, while the United States only manages to invest 2 percent.

Due to years of neglect, America’s basics now require $2.2 trillion in investment just to meet current needs. More than one-fourth of all U.S. bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. Congestion on roads causes Americans to waste nearly $4 billion a year in gasoline. Leaking pipes cost the country 7 billion gallons of clean drinking water every day.

Addressing these needs will require action from Congress – including passage of a fully-funded six-year highway bill that would create 8 million jobs over six years while putting America on track to have the roads and bridges it deserves. The last highway bill expired in 2009 and a series of short-term extensions haven’t provided the long-term funding or vision required to address needs or create good jobs.

“Creating jobs is one of the highest priorities for Congress. We need to break the deadlock that has been stifling progress and work together, on behalf of the American people, to create jobs and energize our economy,” said Cardin. “At the heart of our national economic recovery is investing now in our workers who are rebuilding America’s roads, bridges, tunnels and infrastructure.”

Unfortunately, recent proposals in Congress would do nothing to create jobs or address needs. The budget authored by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and passed by the U.S. House contains devastating, job-killing cuts to transportation investment that would only accelerate the decline of America’s basics.

“This is a problem that no amount of budget cuts can fix,” Ellison said. “Budget cuts can’t build roads, bridges or water treatment plants. Budget cuts can’t create jobs building Minnesota and America. We need to get down to business in Washington and start having a real conversation about creating jobs and facing our problems.”

Twin Cities mayors address rally
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak (center) and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman (left) both addressed the rally. At right is Laborers Local 563 Business Manager Tim Mackey.

Workday Minnesota photo

Federal action on repairing America’s basics is especially important as states and cities struggle with budget shortfalls and are unable to make needed investments.

“Minneapolis has seen the worst that can happen when we let our roads and bridges fall into disrepair,” Rybak said. “The collapse of the I-35 W Bridge was a tragic wake-up call. In Minneapolis, we’re accelerating the rebuilding of our infrastructure, but the city can’t do it alone. This is a national issue that requires a national solution.”

“In this economy, cities like St. Paul simply don’t have the resources to do what’s needed,” Coleman said. “Congress is in a position to help us and put our citizens to work.”

Investing in America’s basic needs has drawn support from across the political spectrum. Groups who have supported addressing the nation’s needs include the Sierra Club and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“We can build new roads and new bridges that reduce our dependence on oil and reduce urban pollution,” said Tarryl Clark, co-chair of the BlueGreen Alliance’s Jobs21! Campaign. “We don’t have to choose between helping the economy and our environment. We have to do both, and we can.”

“Building Minnesota would help communities where a good job is hard to come by,” said Scott Gray, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Urban League. “We could provide men and women with jobs right away, while giving them training that would help them for years. We can lift families out of poverty and create wealth that will find its way to local workers and businesses.”

The push to build Minnesota and America comes at a dark time for the construction industry. Nationally, nearly 1.4 million construction workers are without a paycheck. While the rest of the economy has seen a slow, steady recovery over the past two years, job growth in construction has been nonexistent.

“If Congress does nothing, we can’t make investments in our business, whether it’s through buying equipment or through hiring workers,” said Mike Welch, president and CEO of Ulland Brothers, a leading Minnesota highway contractor. “If business, labor, environmental and community groups can agree on this, why can’t Washington?”

In Minnesota, the industry supports fewer jobs than at any time since 1994 – a fact the state’s construction workers feel the impact of every day.

“When my husband and I couldn’t find work, we had to sell our car and move into a smaller house just to get by,” said Sheila Claeson, a construction worker from Woodbury. “I feel that if we put people to work, it’s not just going to help me. It’s going to go back to the community and help everyone.”


Firedoglake: The Return of Economic Justice to the Progressive Agenda

(Source: Firedoglake)

I agree with Marcy Wheeler that Netroots Nation 2011 consisted in many ways of a “desperate conversation to save the middle class.” I don’t think anybody figured this out. But some members of the coalition kicked off some important test campaigns.

I went to the old Wesley Church in Minneapolis on Saturday, to the premiere of the “Speakout for Good Jobs Now” event put on by ProgressiveCongress.org and the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Essentially this was a field hearing, where members of Congress – in this case, Progressive Caucus co-chairs Raul Grijalva and Keith Ellison, along with Rep. Jared Polis and former members Mary Jo Kilroy and Alan Grayson – could listen to the stories of working people and the poor, and find out directly from them how they have had to navigate the real economy. It was a very productive event. The members of Congress heard from an hourly Wal-Mart worker who got two raises and still only makes $9.80 an hour. They heard from a woman who was told right before a second check on a mammogram that her insurance company wouldn’t pay for the service. “What the hell are they doing with my premiums,” she said, noting that they were just raised 40%. They heard from a woman who will “be homeless by July 1st if nothing changes.” They heard from people who would just be happy to have a job and a little help to get back on their feet.

As former Rep. Kilroy said, “the fight for good jobs is a fight to define our society.” It’s the only way to reverse the terrible, almost feudal stratification of society. The Speakout for Good Jobs event, which will be replicated in almost a dozen cities across the country, is a way to define the problem, and also provide a pledge for a solution. The Progressive Caucus came up with a three-part pledge that people can endorse.

1) In America, every worker deserves a good job.
2) America should work again for people who work for a living.
3) We will use our strength in numbers to counter corporate dollars.

The pledge will be turned into legislation later. Rep. Ellison explained that they need to “getting people to buy into some principles first.” These pledge items will then be passed on to politicians at all levels. “If Grover Norquist can do pledges than we can get people to sign pledges too,” Ellison told me. “We can create a new normal. A movement like the civil rights movement.”

This is basically the perspective of a new group led by MoveOn.org, something that Netroots Nation keynote speaker Van Jones described as the “American Dream movement.” Again, jobs and the middle class were at the forefront of the agenda. It’s about allowing those who work hard and play by the rules to have a living wage, to provide for their children, to get to college, to secure a retirement. There’s a kickoff event for this movement coming later this week in New York, and then house parties to connect people, and future actions.

You’ll notice that there’s not much difference between this and MoveOn’s work circa, say, 2005. The language of coming together and using the new tools at our disposal to progress our values is the same. The activities are largely the same. The difference is that economic justice sits at the center of the agenda, rather than other issue silos. Economic justice can indeed be a solution that fits for all the other problems felt by those individual issue silos. This is in many ways a reaction to the tea party assault on workers and the ravages of a never-ending recession.

It’s also a moment to create a movement based on principle. In a very telling moment in Jones’ PowerPoint presentation, he described how the issue groups filtered up to the Obama meta-brand in 2008, and in one move, he wiped out Obama from the picture in favor of the American Dream Movement. In other words, an icon or a symbol of progress won’t cut it anymore. The movement is sustained not based on an individual but on an idea. It’s a movement that says “I support Democrats when they support me.” It’s the only way for a movement to endure, rather than become subservient to a personality. And we’ve seen proof of this just this year in places like Wisconsin and Ohio.

Again, I don’t think there were any answers at the conference, and certainly there was a good deal of frustration. But I also saw a lot of organizing, built around how to specifically rebuild a middle class and an economy that works. It may or may not be successful, but it’s the only conversation worth having. Otherwise, these jobs, and this middle class, isn’t coming back.

Democrat John Conyers blasts Obama for proposing cuts in Social Security

In a remarkable turn of events over the proposed deficit plans to allow for a raising of the debt ceiling, Democratic Representative John Conyers spoke out and blasted President Obama as the primary individual who put forth cuts in Social Security as a compromise in getting a deficit deal accepted.  In a speech given by the 'Out of Poverty' caucus on August 1st, Representative Conyers called for a march on the White House in protest, and said that neither John Boehner, nor the House Republicans, are at fault in this proposal, and that cuts to Social Security came directly from President Obama.
In the speech, Conyers said, "We’ve got to educate the American people at the same time we educate the President of the United States. The Republicans, Speaker Boehner or Majority Leader Cantor did not call for Social Security cuts in the budget deal. The President of the United States called for that. My response to him is to mass thousands of people in front of the White House to protest this."
The fact that the President is choosing cuts in Social Security over his healthcare plan, pork projects, wasteful government agencies such as the EPA, Department of Education, and the Department of Energy, shows that the White House is preferring to use this hot button expenditure for political motivation, which will undoubtedly inflame many Americans who rely upon these monthly checks.  Social Security payments are in fact, not the problem, as a report by the Treasury Department in June showed the government took in more than $50 Billion in SSI revenues, and only needs to pay out less than half that in August benefits.
The more Americans look at what is being considered by the Congress and the President on deficit spending cuts, the more they realize that neither side desires much change to the status quo.  Republicans are fighting to keep defense cuts out of any plan, and Democrats are pushing for more tax increases versus actual spending cuts in current programs.

By the President being called out by one of his own party Congressman, and blasted in public for offering to cut Social Security entitlements, places Obama in a difficult situation.  Social Security is an issue that both the public and members of his own party do not want touched, and in the end may it lead some Democrats in Congress to move over to the side of the Republicans if a deficit bill is eventually passed.