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Elect Working People For Everything

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The 2022 midterms were full of surprises to many political pundits, analysts, and consultants. A popular narrative predicting a massive Republican wave election turned out to be wrong, with Democrats retaining the U.S. Senate and performing stronger than expected in many states despite serious inflation and low favorability ratings for national party leaders.

A major force behind these election results is an often overlooked list of scrappy, grassroots organizations focused on building working class power through political engagement, voter education, and better candidates. In my corner of rural America, that group is Down Home North Carolina.

‚ÄúOur strategy is going places where no door knockers and no phone canvassers have gone before,‚ÄĚ Down Home‚Äôs Dreama Caldwell told me when I asked her about the group‚Äôs 2022 election efforts. ‚Äú80 of our state‚Äôs 100 counties are rural. We focus on rural people and rural places because there‚Äôs no path to victory in our state without a rural strategy. There tends to be less voter engagement in rural communities, and we‚Äôre flipping that script here in North Carolina.‚ÄĚ

Wearing shirts that read ‚ÄúElect Working People for Everything,‚ÄĚ Down Home‚Äôs volunteers and staff knocked on more than 150,000 doors during the election cycle, leading to 36,712 in-person conversations with potential rural voters. The group‚Äôs phone canvass team made more than 155,000 phone calls and sent over 181,000 text messages. They also sent more than 500,000 pieces of rural mail.

The goal of this massive mobilization was to support Down Home’s slate of working class candidates for state legislative races, county officials, and multiple school board districts. Ultimately, Down Home’s election efforts helped to elect two new rural working class candidates to the state house and one to the state senate, preventing the Republicans from obtaining their sought-after supermajority.

Down Home member Lisa Hanami knocked on hundreds of doors in Cabarrus County. She was particularly proud to be getting out the vote for newly elected state representative Diamond Staton Williams, a Black nurse who won by just 425 votes.

‚ÄúWe knocked on doors and talked to people about the issues that matter to us. Issues like being able to put food on the table, being able to just pay your bills. Most people we talked to agreed that we need stronger candidates who are actually working class themselves, and Diamond, she‚Äôs one of us. She‚Äôs a nurse, a regular working class person,‚ÄĚ Hanami said.

When she was growing up, Hanami was challenged by her grandparents to become politically active, to join the family tradition of activism and organizing for racial justice and economic equality. Her experience knocking doors in Carrabus County was her first major campaign.

‚ÄúWhen you meet people in person, get to know them, you start to realize there are different problems than we hear about in the mainstream media. And that especially matters based on what media people are listening to or watching. I found out so many people had bad information, even misinformation. That‚Äôs a problem, and one way to solve it is more face-to-face interactions,‚ÄĚ Hanami said.

Caldwell told me that Down Home is committed to deepening its voter engagement work in rural North Carolina in the years to come.

‚ÄúWhat we‚Äôre trying to do is build a bigger ‚Äėwe.‚Äô Our organizing in rural communities is a year-round commitment. And we‚Äôre finding that where we work the election results are a little less red each time. And we‚Äôre inspiring more working class people to get involved, to run for office themselves.‚ÄĚ

I’m hoping that voter engagement efforts like this can spread throughout the countryside, growing in impact and influence here in rural North Carolina as well as other areas where working class issues are being neglected by mainstream politics. And selfishly, I’m hoping that Down Home can get the attention and funding they deserve to grow their organizing efforts to where I live in the mountains of Transylvania County.

Working class politics grows the map in rural America, and that’s a lesson we all need to remember come 2024.

This blog originally appeared at Our Future on December 7, 2022. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Bryce Oates is a freelance reporter and opinion writer covering rural issues, policy, and politics. He lives and works in Transylvania County, North Carolina.

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Union Members Are Democrats’ Last Defense in Swing States

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Maximillian Alvarez

The soul of the labor movement is the fight for democracy in and outside of the workplace.

From the shop floor to the ballot box, organizers, volunteers, and rank-and-file workers with UNITE HERE are putting everything they have into that fight. Even in the midst of a deadly pandemic that hit the service and hospitality industries especially hard, union members with UNITE HERE hit the pavement in record numbers ahead of the 2020 general elections. 

As Harold Meyerson¬†notes¬†in¬†The American Prospect, UNITE HERE members canvassed “more precincts than any other organization on the Democratic side of the ledger that year.”

Talking to well over a million voters in Vegas, Reno, Phoenix, Philadelphia, and Atlanta, they played a key role in Joe Biden’s victory and in the Democrats winning control of the Senate.

This year, ahead of the¬†2022¬†midterm elections, “they have even more members knocking on doors than they did two years ago.” As working people face an increasingly unbearable cost-of-living crisis, as the right continues to attack abortion rights (and voting rights, and workers‚Äô rights, and LGBTQ people, and teachers, etc.), as basic human needs like healthcare, housing, and clean water are put farther out of reach for the poor and working classes, as more people give up on a¬†political system they feel gave up on them a¬†long time ago, the fight for a¬†better society is happening at the grassroots¬†level.

In a special panel, recorded a¬†week before the¬†2022¬†midterm elections, we talk with three UNITE HERE members — Maggie Acosta (Arizona), Bryan Villarreal-Vasquez (Nevada), and Sheila Silver (Pennsylvania) — about their tireless canvassing efforts in battleground states, what they‚Äôre hearing from voters, and what the struggle for democracy means to them and their¬†union.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on November 8, 2022 alongside a podcast. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Maximillian Alvazerez s editor-in-chief at the Real News Network and host of the podcast Working People, available at InTheseTimes.com.

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California proves it’s not as liberal as you think

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OAKLAND, Calif. ‚ÄĒ The myth of lockstep liberal California took a hit this election.

Voters in the deep-blue state rejected a progressive push to reinstate affirmative action, sided with technology companies over organized labor and rejected rent control. They are poised to reject a business tax that had been a decadeslong priority for labor unions and Democratic leaders.

President Donald Trump regularly portrays California as a land of complete liberal excess, and Democrat Joe Biden currently has 65 percent of California’s vote. Yet decisions on ballot measures this week reflect a state that remains unpredictable, flashing a libertarian streak with a tinge of fiscal moderation within its Democratic moorings.https://e3b374dfacf220d92b4c6008a9eb8004.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

‚ÄúWe‚Äôre not going to go for everything that‚Äôs progressive,” said Mindy Romero, head of the University of Southern California’s Center for Inclusive Democracy. ‚ÄúWe think of ourselves as such a progressive state, and I‚Äôve always said we‚Äôre a blue state but really we‚Äôre many shades of blue.”

California has long been an incubator for policies that go national, so industries and labor unions know that winning a ballot fight here has much wider implications. Already, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said Thursday that he wants to build on his California success by pursuing the same law in other states and nations. And just as the state’s 1996 affirmative action ban touched off a similar set of laws across the nation, the California vote this week could deter other states from trying to reinstate racial or gender preferences.

The ballot outcomes underscore that California voters are not a liberal monolith even as Democrats enjoy unprecedented control in the state that produced Republican presidents Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon.

Liberals thought 2020 was their moment to secure long-desired changes: California’s electorate has steadily more diverse and Democratic in recent decades, relegating its once-mighty Republican Party to the political margins. A deeply galvanizing presidential election tantalized liberal groups as a potential high-water mark for turnout and a chance to enshrine ambitious ideas.

Decades after a more Republican California electorate curtailed property tax increases in 1978 and banned affirmative action in 1996, campaigns believed that demographic shifts would produce different outcomes a generation later.

But they seemingly miscalculated. There was no bigger example than voters’ decisive rejection of Proposition 16. The ballot measure would have reinstated affirmative action and directly repudiated what liberals consider a racist chapter of California’s recent past.

State lawmakers, inspired by a summer of racial justice activism, saw a rare window to repeal Proposition 209, the 1996 law backed by then-Gov. Pete Wilson, a Republican widely blamed for turning Latino voters against the GOP for good in the state. The affirmative action ban passed when California still had a white majority population, and it was the second major wedge issue initiative that Wilson championed.

Many of the Democratic lawmakers of color who placed the repeal measure on this year’s ballot were inspired to enter politics during that divisive era. They saw Proposition 16 as not only a legal change but a moral imperative ‚ÄĒ and figured voters would as well.

The ballot measure had a clear cash advantage with $31 million from wealthy activist donors and foundations, compared to only $1.6 million raised by opponents. Yet it failed badly, securing only 44 percent support as of Thursday.

California is not uniformly liberal. It is still home to millions of Republicans, while the ever-larger Democratic tent includes plenty of moderates. And the state’s booming minority population still lags in voter participation.

“We have a history of being a more red state,” Romero said. “A big reason why California is blue is because of the growth of communities of color, most dominantly because of the growth of the Latino community,” but “it does matter the shape of the electorate. We still have a voting electorate that is white, wealthier, better educated than the rest of our population.”

Democrats saw a chance to go after another long-sought target: commercial property tax hikes.

Since its passage in 1978, Proposition 13 has been blamed for starving governments and schools of tax dollars by keeping property taxes low relative to the soaring value of housing and commercial real estate in California. Liberals acknowledge the political reality that they can’t convince homeowners to repeal Prop 13 provisions on residential property, often called the third rail of California politics. But they have long wanted to untether business property from the same protections.

Unions, education groups and the foundation started by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg were so convinced that November 2020 was their best opportunity that they gathered enough signatures for the ballot twice, the second one taking revisions they believed were an easier sell. It landed on the ballot as Proposition 15.

They presumed that high turnout from liberals and anti-Trump voters would translate into an anti-business vote; their ads regularly featured white businessmen in board rooms as a foil. Yet the initiative is poised to lose, trailing with only 48.3 percent of the vote.

Former Assemblymember Catharine Baker, a moderate Republican who was the last GOP lawmaker from the Bay Area, suggested Prop 15’s failure could “be an example of how a gigamajority Legislature might have not its finger on the pulse of the California electorate.”

The pandemic loomed inescapably over the election and reshaped campaigns’ appeals to voters. On Proposition 15, for example, backers argued they needed the money more than ever during a debilitating recession, while opponents countered that it would be foolish to further burden reeling businesses. The message of economic caution appeared to resonate, Baker said.

‚ÄúThere‚Äôs just no embrace right now for Californians, many of whom are suffering economically, for more taxes, the possible cost of that, and any closure of economic activity,‚ÄĚ Baker said. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs made all the worse by the pandemic, in a time like this you want people to be able to make a living and be able to afford living here.‚ÄĚ

Yet, the California electorate defies easy conclusions. The criminal justice landscape was a mixed bag after a year of surging activism. Voters handily rejected law enforcement’s effort to increase property crime sentences and limit early prison releases. They overwhelmingly voted to enfranchise felony parolees. Progressive Los Angeles district attorney candidate George Gascón built an early lead over incumbent District Attorney Jackie Lacey in a bellwether contest for criminal justice reform.

But Californians voted to keep cash bail, repudiating a 2019 law that sought to prohibit it and undercutting a state-by-state movement to eliminate the practice. In rejecting Proposition 25, the electorate sided with bail companies that spent millions to stay in business. They also vindicated civil libertarians and criminal justice advocates who warned a replacement system of predictive algorithms would perpetuate discrimination.

Those dynamics led the bail bonds industry to adopt the rhetoric of criminal justice reformers in warning about systemic bias ‚ÄĒ a tactic that reflected a calculation that progressive messages would resonate with voters.

‚ÄúI think they knew they had to in order to win,‚ÄĚ said Democratic strategist Katie Merrill. ‚ÄúYou can‚Äôt win statewide in California on issues unless you are appealing to Democrats and progressives, and they knew they had to do it.‚ÄĚ

Those licking their wounds this week pointed to one thing: money.

They said massive campaign spending can be a better predictor than partisan affiliation when it comes to ballot initiatives. Health care unions failed again to rein in kidney dialysis providers after they were outspent enormously by the dialysis industry’s $100 million counterattack. Real estate groups poured money into defeating a second consecutive rent control initiative.

But nowhere was cash clout more evident than in a battle over the tech industry’s employment practices. Homegrown Silicon Valley giants like Uber shattered state spending records by plowing more than $200 million into Proposition 22, which allows them to circumvent a state mandate to convert their independent contractor workers into employees. That massive outlay was enough to surmount unified labor opposition.

‚ÄúI don‚Äôt know if we should be looking at this as progressive versus not progressive or if we should be looking at the overwhelming impact that money has in campaigns,‚ÄĚ said Sandra Lowe, a Democratic consultant and former top California Democratic Party strategist. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs pretty hard to compete against $200 million of advertisements and most of the people that‚Äôs the only thing they know, is what they‚Äôre seeing on their television.‚ÄĚ

Democratic strategist Michael Trujillo echoed that sentiment, noting that for all of organized labor’s political California clout, “labor’s money isn’t infinite.” Well-funded special interest groups were better able to sway critical Democrats, he said.

‚ÄúCalifornia‚Äôs a liberal, Democratic state so if Democrats want to get an initiative passed it‚Äôs really on the backs of Democrats,” Trujillo said, and “for the most part, the folks that were able to get their message through in a very expensive state like California tended to do well.”

Some campaigns likely had a harder time breaking through airwave saturation and mailbox inundation of other big-money measures, said Public Policy Institute of California president Mark Baldassare. That may have been the case with affirmative action, which failed despite polls showing widespread support for racial equity measures. Though backers had $31 million, that was a fraction of the money other campaigns had to blitz voters.

‚ÄúIt was a very difficult landscape for other ballot initiatives to get attention and get support for voters,‚ÄĚ which often means people default to voting no, Baldassare said. ‚ÄúThe connecting of dots in some cases just didn‚Äôt take place.‚ÄĚ

Still, Republican consultant Rob Stutzman pushed back on the notion that cash mismatches were the sole determining factor in organized labor getting “creamed at the ballot.”

If money exclusively swung elections, Stutzman argued on a post-election panel, “there would be 60 Democratic senators as well,” referring to cash-soaked challenges to GOP senators like Mitch McConnell, John Cornyn and Lindsey Graham, all of whom won.

This article was originally published by Politico on November 12, 2020 Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Jeremy B. White co-writes the California Playbook and covers politics in the Golden State. He previously covered the California Legislature for the Sacramento Bee, where he reported on campaigns, myriad nationally significant policy clashes and multiple FBI investigations of sitting lawmakers.

He has a bachelor‚Äôs degree in English from Tufts University and a master‚Äôs degree in journalism from Columbia University. A native of Bethesda, Maryland, one of his life dreams is to throw out the first pitch at a Washington Nationals game ‚ÄĒ although he would settle for winning a playoff series. He lives in Oakland with his partner and his cat, Ziggy Pawdust.

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What’s at Stake for the Labor Movement on Election Day? Everything.

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Amer¬≠i¬≠ca is in cri¬≠sis. There can be no doubt about that. All of our imme¬≠di¬≠ate crises‚ÄĒthe pan¬≠dem¬≠ic and the unem¬≠ploy¬≠ment and the eco¬≠nom¬≠ic col¬≠lapse and the death spi¬≠ral of var¬≠i¬≠ous pub¬≠lic insti¬≠tu¬≠tions‚ÄĒhave lent the upcom¬≠ing pres¬≠i¬≠den¬≠tial elec¬≠tion an air of emer¬≠gency. For work¬≠ing peo¬≠ple in Amer¬≠i¬≠ca, though, the emer¬≠gency is noth¬≠ing new at all. What is at stake for labor in this elec¬≠tion is every¬≠thing. Noth¬≠ing, there¬≠fore, has¬†changed.¬†

Don¬≠ald Trump and the coro¬≠n¬≠avirus, the two fac¬≠tors infus¬≠ing this elec¬≠tion with urgency, are of recent vin¬≠tage. But the cri¬≠sis for work¬≠ing Amer¬≠i¬≠cans has been grow¬≠ing worse for at least four decades. Since the Rea¬≠gan era, eco¬≠nom¬≠ic inequal¬≠i¬≠ty has been ris¬≠ing, union pow¬≠er has been declin¬≠ing, and glob¬≠al cap¬≠i¬≠tal¬≠ism has been widen¬≠ing the chasm between the rich and every¬≠one else. 

Orga¬≠nized labor has been fight¬≠ing a¬†los¬≠ing‚ÄĒand some¬≠times inept¬≠ly fought‚ÄĒbat¬≠tle against these trends in every elec¬≠tion since¬†1980. The once-in-a-cen¬≠tu¬≠ry cat¬≠a¬≠stro¬≠phe sur¬≠round¬≠ing the¬†2020¬†elec¬≠tion may be what it needs to final¬≠ly reverse two gen¬≠er¬≠a¬≠tions of dis¬≠re¬≠spect and¬†defeat.¬†

Labor unions, which rep¬≠re¬≠sent work¬≠ers in a¬†work¬≠place, have always includ¬≠ed peo¬≠ple of all polit¬≠i¬≠cal stripes. The labor¬†move¬≠ment‚ÄĒthe broad¬≠er uni¬≠verse of groups pur¬≠su¬≠ing the inter¬≠ests of work¬≠ing peo¬≠ple‚ÄĒwill con¬≠tin¬≠ue to lean left, in the direc¬≠tion that val¬≠ues labor over cap¬≠i¬≠tal. (See¬≠ing police unions endorse Trump, whose admin¬≠is¬≠tra¬≠tion is deter¬≠mined to crush labor rights, is an exam¬≠ple of the fact that indi¬≠vid¬≠ual unions and their mem¬≠bers can act in self-inter¬≠est¬≠ed ways that go against the labor move¬≠ment as a¬†whole.)¬†

For rough¬≠ly the past half cen¬≠tu¬≠ry, union house¬≠holds have tend¬≠ed to vote Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic by about a¬†60‚Äď40¬†mar¬≠gin, but that mar¬≠gin has fluc¬≠tu¬≠at¬≠ed. In¬†1980, Ronald Rea¬≠gan nar¬≠rowed the gap to only a¬†few points. Barack Oba¬≠ma took the union vote by¬†34¬†points in¬†2012, but in¬†2016, that gap shrank by half. Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic pres¬≠i¬≠den¬≠tial nom¬≠i¬≠nee Joe Biden, tout¬≠ing his Oba¬≠ma con¬≠nec¬≠tions and fac¬≠ing an out¬≠right incom¬≠pe¬≠tent racist, will like¬≠ly expand that mar¬≠gin¬†again.¬†

Since Con¬≠gress passed the Taft-Hart¬≠ley Act in¬†1947, unions have been oper¬≠at¬≠ing in the¬†frame¬≠work of a¬†set of labor laws¬†designed to rob them of pow¬≠er. The state of those laws today is abysmal. The right to strike is restrict¬≠ed, and com¬≠pa¬≠nies have been able to clas¬≠si¬≠fy large swaths of their work¬≠ers as¬†‚Äúinde¬≠pen¬≠dent con¬≠trac¬≠tors,‚ÄĚ who lack the right to union¬≠ize. More than half the states in the coun¬≠try have passed¬†‚Äúright to work‚ÄĚ laws, which give work¬≠ers the abil¬≠i¬≠ty to opt out of pay¬≠ing union dues, mak¬≠ing it extreme¬≠ly dif¬≠fi¬≠cult for unions to orga¬≠nize and main¬≠tain mem¬≠ber¬≠ship. The¬†2018¬†Supreme Court deci¬≠sion in the¬†Janus v. AFSCME¬†case¬†made the entire pub¬≠lic sec¬≠tor¬†‚Äúright to work‚Ä̬†as well, which is sure to eat into that last bas¬≠tion of strong union den¬≠si¬≠ty. The unful¬≠filled desire to achieve some sem¬≠blance of labor law reform has been the pri¬≠ma¬≠ry rea¬≠son that unions in Amer¬≠i¬≠ca have poured mon¬≠ey into the Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic Par¬≠ty for decades, despite get¬≠ting decid¬≠ed¬≠ly mod¬≠est leg¬≠isla¬≠tive wins in¬†return.¬†
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs critical that in the new administration, labor doesn‚Äôt just get siloed: ‚ÄėWhat‚Äôs the thing we can do to make the unions happy‚Äô It‚Äôs got to be an approach to looking across everything, especially in light of the economic situation.‚ÄĚ ‚ÄĒSharon Block, former Labor Department official in the Obama administration

Ear¬≠li¬≠er this year, Sharon Block, a¬†for¬≠mer Labor Depart¬≠ment offi¬≠cial in the Oba¬≠ma admin¬≠is¬≠tra¬≠tion who now heads the Labor and Work¬≠life Pro¬≠gram at Har¬≠vard, and labor expert and Har¬≠vard pro¬≠fes¬≠sor Ben¬≠jamin Sachs spear¬≠head¬≠ed the assem¬≠bly of the¬†‚ÄúClean Slate for Work¬≠er Pow¬≠er‚ÄĚ agen¬≠da‚ÄĒsome¬≠thing of a¬†union-friend¬≠ly labor law plat¬≠form for Democ¬≠rats in exile dur¬≠ing the Trump years. That agen¬≠da is a¬†fair sum¬≠ma¬≠tion of the labor movement‚Äôs wish list. It calls for a¬†swath of reforms that make it eas¬≠i¬≠er for all work¬≠ers to orga¬≠nize and exer¬≠cise pow¬≠er. Its pil¬≠lars include sec¬≠toral bar¬≠gain¬≠ing, which would allow entire indus¬≠tries to nego¬≠ti¬≠ate con¬≠tracts at once; a¬†much broad¬≠er right to strike; work¬≠er rep¬≠re¬≠sen¬≠ta¬≠tives on cor¬≠po¬≠rate boards; stream¬≠lined union elec¬≠tions; more labor rights for inde¬≠pen¬≠dent con¬≠trac¬≠tors and oth¬≠er gig work¬≠ers; the end of statewide¬†‚Äúright to work‚ÄĚ laws; and stronger enforce¬≠ment of labor stan¬≠dards. Biden‚Äôs own labor plat¬≠form, while not quite as rad¬≠i¬≠cal‚ÄĒit con¬≠spic¬≠u¬≠ous¬≠ly does not include sec¬≠toral bar¬≠gain¬≠ing‚ÄĒdoes include the major¬≠i¬≠ty of the Clean Slate agen¬≠da. Biden‚Äôs plat¬≠form also says¬†there will be a¬†‚Äúcab¬≠i¬≠net-lev¬≠el work¬≠ing group‚Ä̬†of union rep¬≠re¬≠sen¬≠ta¬≠tives, which could pre¬≠sum¬≠ably push his plat¬≠form even fur¬≠ther left. Though Biden was among the most cen¬≠trist of the Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic pri¬≠ma¬≠ry can¬≠di¬≠dates, the party‚Äôs cen¬≠ter has moved so much in the past four years that he has the most left¬≠ist labor plat¬≠form of any nom¬≠i¬≠nee since the New¬†Deal.¬†

While Biden is regard¬≠ed by many as very pro-union, his¬≠to¬≠ry has taught the labor move¬≠ment that its great¬≠est chal¬≠lenge will be get¬≠ting him to actu¬≠al¬≠ly pri¬≠or¬≠i¬≠tize labor if he assumes pow¬≠er.¬†‚ÄúI had the priv¬≠i¬≠lege of see¬≠ing Joe Biden in action. When he walked into a¬†room where we were dis¬≠cussing pol¬≠i¬≠cy, we knew that the inter¬≠ests of work¬≠ers, their col¬≠lec¬≠tive pow¬≠er, and the labor move¬≠ment was going to be on the table,‚ÄĚ Block says. But, she warns,¬†‚ÄúIt‚Äôs crit¬≠i¬≠cal that in the new admin¬≠is¬≠tra¬≠tion, labor doesn‚Äôt just get siloed:¬†‚ÄėWhat‚Äôs the thing we can do to make the unions hap¬≠py‚Äô It‚Äôs got to be an approach to look¬≠ing across every¬≠thing, espe¬≠cial¬≠ly in light of the eco¬≠nom¬≠ic¬†situation.‚ÄĚ

In oth¬≠er words, the new admin¬≠is¬≠tra¬≠tion must treat orga¬≠nized labor not as a¬†spe¬≠cial inter¬≠est but as the key to chang¬≠ing our increas¬≠ing¬≠ly two-tiered econ¬≠o¬≠my. That point is key to under¬≠stand¬≠ing the divide between the part of the labor move¬≠ment that sup¬≠port¬≠ed left-wing can¬≠di¬≠dates like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Eliz¬≠a¬≠beth War¬≠ren (D-Mass.), and those that sup¬≠port¬≠ed Biden. While Sanders‚Äô back¬≠ers will speak of his fanat¬≠i¬≠cal moral devo¬≠tion to pro-work¬≠ing class pol¬≠i¬≠cy, Biden‚Äôs allies will speak of the per¬≠son¬≠al rela¬≠tion¬≠ship they have with him. It is the divide between those who see unions more as part of a¬†greater effort to improve con¬≠di¬≠tions for all work¬≠ers, and those who see them more as a¬†prac¬≠ti¬≠cal tool for mem¬≠bers.¬†‚ÄúJoe Biden had an open door pol¬≠i¬≠cy. That was the biggest thing. That was the crux of the rela¬≠tion¬≠ship,‚ÄĚ says a¬†spokesper¬≠son for the Inter¬≠na¬≠tion¬≠al Asso¬≠ci¬≠a¬≠tion of Fire Fight¬≠ers, the first big union to endorse Biden when he entered the¬†2020¬†race.¬†‚ÄúWith Joe Biden at the White House, our voice is heard. We get pri¬≠or¬≠i¬≠ty¬†access.‚ÄĚ

This trans¬≠ac¬≠tion¬≠al, loy¬≠al¬≠ty-cen¬≠tric approach is unsur¬≠pris¬≠ing for a¬†career politi¬≠cian like Biden, but it can leave out labor lead¬≠ers who don‚Äôt have such a¬†long his¬≠to¬≠ry of back¬≠ing him. Most major unions did not endorse in the¬†2020¬†Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic pri¬≠ma¬≠ry, pre¬≠fer¬≠ring to focus on back¬≠ing who¬≠ev¬≠er became the nom¬≠i¬≠nee to oppose Trump. And Biden‚ÄĒthough he has many union allies‚ÄĒis not a¬†cru¬≠sad¬≠er, but a¬†politi¬≠cian with decades of strong cor¬≠po¬≠rate back¬≠ing, lead¬≠ing many in labor to won¬≠der how much he real¬≠ly¬†means¬†what his plat¬≠form says. The Biden cam¬≠paign tried to mit¬≠i¬≠gate that wor¬≠ry by includ¬≠ing mul¬≠ti¬≠ple pro¬≠gres¬≠sive union lead¬≠ers in the Biden-Sanders¬†‚ÄúUni¬≠ty Task Force,‚ÄĚ which was explic¬≠it¬≠ly set up to uni¬≠fy the left and cen¬≠trist wings of the par¬≠ty, in part by get¬≠ting pro¬≠gres¬≠sive poli¬≠cies into the Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic plat¬≠form. That task force prod¬≠ded Biden mod¬≠est¬≠ly to the left but not so far as to endorse core pro¬≠gres¬≠sive ideas like Medicare for All. The unions clos¬≠est to Biden, par¬≠tic¬≠u¬≠lar¬≠ly the fire¬≠fight¬≠ers, are opposed to Medicare for All because they want to keep the health¬≠care plans they nego¬≠ti¬≠at¬≠ed for¬†themselves.

The biggest labor unions often have strong pro¬≠gres¬≠sive fac¬≠tions but most¬≠ly plant them¬≠selves firm¬≠ly in the Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic Party‚Äôs main¬≠stream. In fact, four major union lead¬≠ers who serve on the plat¬≠form com¬≠mit¬≠tee of the Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic Nation¬≠al Com¬≠mit¬≠tee vot¬≠ed against includ¬≠ing Medicare for All in the party‚Äôs plat¬≠form. One was Ran¬≠di Wein¬≠garten, pres¬≠i¬≠dent of the Amer¬≠i¬≠can Fed¬≠er¬≠a¬≠tion of Teach¬≠ers, who also served on the Biden-Sanders Uni¬≠ty Task Force. She says the DNC plat¬≠form vote was a result of a pri¬≠or agree¬≠ment among those on the Uni¬≠ty Task Force to vote for its rec¬≠om¬≠men¬≠da¬≠tions, in the way you might vote for a union con¬≠tract that was imper¬≠fect but the best you could get.

The wretched¬≠ness of the Trump admin¬≠is¬≠tra¬≠tion has pushed unions to view the elec¬≠tion as a¬†mat¬≠ter of sur¬≠vival.¬†‚ÄúWhat Trump has done with his abysmal han¬≠dling of Covid, and his even worse han¬≠dling of racism, is to have sobered up every¬≠one that this is an elec¬≠tion like no oth¬≠er,‚ÄĚ Wein¬≠garten says.¬†‚ÄúThat this elec¬≠tion needs to be won by Biden to make sure that our democ¬≠ra¬≠cy, as imper¬≠fect as it is, stays in place. ‚Ķ Yes, it‚Äôs aspi¬≠ra¬≠tional about how we need to do bet¬≠ter. But it‚Äôs also very pri¬≠mal, about what the stakes are right¬†now.‚Ä̬†

The bru¬≠tal real¬≠i¬≠ties of the pan¬≠dem¬≠ic mean that many unions are forced to focus on their imme¬≠di¬≠ate needs more than on long-term ide¬≠o¬≠log¬≠i¬≠cal goals. In the Feb¬≠ru¬≠ary run-up to the Neva¬≠da cau¬≠cus, Joe Biden and the oth¬≠er Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic pri¬≠ma¬≠ry can¬≠di¬≠dates bat¬≠tled to win the endorse¬≠ment of the pow¬≠er¬≠ful Culi¬≠nary Union, which has orga¬≠nized the state‚Äôs casi¬≠no indus¬≠try. (The union ulti¬≠mate¬≠ly did not endorse, and Bernie Sanders won the cau¬≠cus.) Less than two months lat¬≠er, the unem¬≠ploy¬≠ment rate for the union‚Äôs mem¬≠bers was close to 100%. Geo¬≠con¬≠da Arg√ľel¬≠lo-Kline, the union‚Äôs sec¬≠re¬≠tary-trea¬≠sur¬≠er, says the pres¬≠i¬≠den¬≠tial elec¬≠tion is now framed in relent¬≠less¬≠ly prac¬≠ti¬≠cal terms: The refusal of Repub¬≠li¬≠cans to deal with the pan¬≠dem¬≠ic and the eco¬≠nom¬≠ic cri¬≠sis show that only Biden can make the gov¬≠ern¬≠ment sup¬≠port work¬≠place safe¬≠ty leg¬≠is¬≠la¬≠tion, pro¬≠tect health insur¬≠ance and pen¬≠sions, and fund ade¬≠quate unem¬≠ploy¬≠ment ben¬≠e¬≠fits until Las Vegas is back on its feet. 

‚ÄúThe gov¬≠ern¬≠ment real¬≠ly has to pro¬≠vide every¬≠thing that the work¬≠ers need dur¬≠ing this pan¬≠dem¬≠ic,‚ÄĚ Arg√ľel¬≠lo-Kline says. Her union is adapt¬≠ing its leg¬≠endary get-out-the-vote machine for a¬†social¬≠ly dis¬≠tanced era, rely¬≠ing on phone bank¬≠ing, text mes¬≠sag¬≠ing and dig¬≠i¬≠tal com¬≠mu¬≠ni¬≠ca¬≠tion more than door-knock¬≠ing and ral¬≠lies. She‚Äôs con¬≠fi¬≠dent that Trump will not car¬≠ry Neva¬≠da.¬†‚ÄúEvery¬≠body in the coun¬≠try sees how he‚Äôs being oppres¬≠sive to minori¬≠ties over here. How he‚Äôs attack¬≠ing the Lati¬≠no com¬≠mu¬≠ni¬≠ty. How he doesn‚Äôt want to have any¬≠body in this coun¬≠try who doesn‚Äôt look like him,‚ÄĚ she says.¬†‚ÄúWe know work¬≠ers nev¬≠er have an easy¬†road.‚Ä̬†

Across the coun¬≠try, unions that typ¬≠i¬≠cal¬≠ly would be spend¬≠ing the sum¬≠mer and fall months focused on elec¬≠tion¬≠eer¬≠ing are forced to bal¬≠ance that with the work of triag¬≠ing the needs of mem¬≠bers fac¬≠ing very real life-and-death sit¬≠u¬≠a¬≠tions. The Retail, Whole¬≠sale and Depart¬≠ment Store Union rep¬≠re¬≠sents front-line retail work¬≠ers who have been sub¬≠ject¬≠ed to wide¬≠spread lay¬≠offs that now appear to be per¬≠ma¬≠nent. It also rep¬≠re¬≠sents poul¬≠try plant work¬≠ers in the South who have con¬≠tin¬≠ued to work through¬≠out the pan¬≠dem¬≠ic with des¬≠per¬≠ate short¬≠ages of pro¬≠tec¬≠tive equip¬≠ment. It is hard to tell whether the work¬≠ing mem¬≠bers or the unem¬≠ployed mem¬≠bers of the union face more dan¬≠ger. Stu¬≠art Appel¬≠baum, the union‚Äôs pres¬≠i¬≠dent, has been a mem¬≠ber of the Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic Nation¬≠al Com¬≠mit¬≠tee for decades, but he has nev¬≠er dealt with an elec¬≠tion year that com¬≠bines such dire cir¬≠cum¬≠stances for work¬≠ers with such logis¬≠ti¬≠cal chal¬≠lenges to mobi¬≠lize them to fight. 

If there is any sil¬≠ver lin¬≠ing, it is that the val¬≠ue of unions is clear¬≠er than ever before. Their pub¬≠lic pop¬≠u¬≠lar¬≠i¬≠ty is near a¬†50-year high. Trump‚Äôs car¬≠toon¬≠ish class war lent the Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic pri¬≠maries a¬†strong pro-union fla¬≠vor, and the work¬≠place inequal¬≠i¬≠ty exposed by the pan¬≠dem¬≠ic has only sharp¬≠ened the recog¬≠ni¬≠tion of the need for work¬≠place pro¬≠tec¬≠tions.¬†‚ÄúWe heard more talk about unions and sup¬≠port of unions than we‚Äôve heard in any oth¬≠er cam¬≠paign that I¬†can remem¬≠ber,‚ÄĚ Appel¬≠baum says.¬†‚ÄúThere is more of a¬†recog¬≠ni¬≠tion in the Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic Par¬≠ty now and in soci¬≠ety as a¬†whole as to the impor¬≠tance of work¬≠ers hav¬≠ing a¬†col¬≠lec¬≠tive voice. I¬†remem¬≠ber when Bill Clin¬≠ton was first elect¬≠ed, and I‚Äôd go to union meet¬≠ings where peo¬≠ple would say,¬†‚ÄėIs the pres¬≠i¬≠dent ever going to men¬≠tion the word union?‚Äô That‚Äôs not a¬†ques¬≠tion we have¬†now.‚Ä̬†

That, of course, is no guar¬≠an¬≠tee that things will work out in unions‚Äô favor. The right wing‚Äôs long attack on orga¬≠nized labor has sapped some of the basic abil¬≠i¬≠ty of unions to exer¬≠cise pow¬≠er. No employ¬≠ees have been more direct¬≠ly sub¬≠ject¬≠ed to that attack than the work¬≠ers of the fed¬≠er¬≠al gov¬≠ern¬≠ment itself. The Amer¬≠i¬≠can Fed¬≠er¬≠a¬≠tion of Gov¬≠ern¬≠ment Employ¬≠ees has butted heads with the Trump admin¬≠is¬≠tra¬≠tion inces¬≠sant¬≠ly over issues such as the lack of pay¬≠checks dur¬≠ing the gov¬≠ern¬≠ment shut¬≠down, efforts to take away col¬≠lec¬≠tive bar¬≠gain¬≠ing rights from hun¬≠dreds of thou¬≠sands of employ¬≠ees at the Defense Depart¬≠ment, and work¬≠ers at fed¬≠er¬≠al agen¬≠cies being forced back into the office before the pan¬≠dem¬≠ic is under control. 

‚ÄúFor us, this elec¬≠tion isn‚Äôt about par¬≠ty affil¬≠i¬≠a¬≠tion. It‚Äôs not about the dai¬≠ly out¬≠rages from Twit¬≠ter. It‚Äôs about our very liveli¬≠hoods. It‚Äôs about our rights and our lives at work,‚ÄĚ says Everett Kel¬≠ley, pres¬≠i¬≠dent of the¬†700,000-member union.¬†‚ÄúThe issues that our mem¬≠bers are fac¬≠ing are real¬≠ly the same issues that face labor as a¬†whole‚ÄĒour mem¬≠bers just work in a¬†sec¬≠tor where the Trump admin¬≠is¬≠tra¬≠tion has the widest lat¬≠i¬≠tude to imple¬≠ment its anti-labor poli¬≠cies. But there‚Äôs no doubt that they want to export their union-bust¬≠ing play¬≠book from the fed¬≠er¬≠al gov¬≠ern¬≠ment to the broad¬≠er pub¬≠lic and pri¬≠vate¬†sectors.‚Ä̬†

All of the mon¬≠ey, email blasts and vir¬≠tu¬≠al get¬≠ting-out-the-vote that unions are engaged in on behalf of the Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic Par¬≠ty will, if suc¬≠cess¬≠ful, result in mil¬≠lions of mail-in bal¬≠lots. And all of it will be worth¬≠less if those bal¬≠lots are not deliv¬≠ered and count¬≠ed prop¬≠er¬≠ly. Sav¬≠ing the post office‚ÄĒand, who knows, per¬≠haps democ¬≠ra¬≠cy itself‚ÄĒis a¬†job that has fall¬≠en in the lap of the labor move¬≠ment. Unions have been key play¬≠ers in pub¬≠li¬≠ciz¬≠ing the threat to the postal ser¬≠vice. They have ral¬≠lied polit¬≠i¬≠cal sup¬≠port behind postal work¬≠ers and the pop¬≠u¬≠lar insti¬≠tu¬≠tion as a¬†whole. What may have been seen as just anoth¬≠er under¬≠fund¬≠ed gov¬≠ern¬≠ment agency a¬†few years ago is now an avatar of every¬≠thing wrong with¬†Trumpism.

The U.S. Postal Ser¬≠vice is, like many oth¬≠er insti¬≠tu¬≠tions, fac¬≠ing a pan¬≠dem¬≠ic-induced loss of rev¬≠enue. It is also the tar¬≠get of the Repub¬≠li¬≠can Party‚Äôs long-term desire to pri¬≠va¬≠tize mail deliv¬≠ery and allow cor¬≠po¬≠ra¬≠tions to take over its oper¬≠a¬≠tions. Add to that the president‚Äôs appar¬≠ent desire to sab¬≠o¬≠tage the postal ser¬≠vice before the elec¬≠tion to pre¬≠vent mail-in bal¬≠lots from being count¬≠ed, and sud¬≠den¬≠ly, the hum¬≠ble post office finds itself at the cen¬≠ter of a nation‚Äôs sense that the entire gov¬≠ern¬≠ment may be tee¬≠ter¬≠ing on the edge of irre¬≠triev¬≠able corruption. 

‚ÄúPri¬≠va¬≠ti¬≠za¬≠tion usu¬≠al¬≠ly means three things. It means high¬≠er prices for the con¬≠sumer, less ser¬≠vices, and low¬≠er wages and ben¬≠e¬≠fits for the work¬≠ers,‚ÄĚ says Mark Dimond¬≠stein, head of the¬†200,000-member Amer¬≠i¬≠can Postal Work¬≠ers Union.¬†‚ÄúThis is cer¬≠tain¬≠ly the fork in the road of whether we‚Äôre going to have a¬†pub¬≠lic insti¬≠tu¬≠tion that belongs to every¬≠body, serves every¬≠body and is the source of good, liv¬≠ing-wage union jobs‚ÄĒor a¬†pri¬≠va¬≠tized, bro¬≠ken-up gig econ¬≠o¬≠my postal¬†service.‚ÄĚ

With tens of mil¬≠lions of Amer¬≠i¬≠cans unem¬≠ployed, a¬†dead¬≠ly dis¬≠ease rag¬≠ing and an incum¬≠bent pres¬≠i¬≠dent who appears not to care very much about either cri¬≠sis, unions and their allies find them¬≠selves pushed into a¬†famil¬≠iar cor¬≠ner: Fight like hell for the less-than-ide¬≠al Demo¬≠c¬≠rat‚ÄĒmain¬≠ly because there is no alter¬≠na¬≠tive. Joe Biden is an imper¬≠fect ally. His record is busi¬≠ness-friend¬≠ly, and his labor plat¬≠form, though strong in the¬≠o¬≠ry, is not as aggres¬≠sive as those of some of his pri¬≠ma¬≠ry rivals. Labor move¬≠ment vet¬≠er¬≠ans remem¬≠ber¬†2008¬†well, when the Oba¬≠ma admin¬≠is¬≠tra¬≠tion swept in with promise but failed to deliv¬≠er on the Employ¬≠ee Free Choice Act, which would have enabled¬†‚Äúcard check‚ÄĚ orga¬≠niz¬≠ing (a method of form¬≠ing a¬†union with a¬†sim¬≠ple major¬≠i¬≠ty vote) and was labor‚Äôs main (rel¬≠a¬≠tive¬≠ly mod¬≠est) wish. Biden is sell¬≠ing him¬≠self as Obama‚Äôs suc¬≠ces¬≠sor. It is up to the labor move¬≠ment to ensure that a¬†Biden admin¬≠is¬≠tra¬≠tion does not take them for¬†granted.

‚ÄúWe have to look at a¬†Biden vic¬≠to¬≠ry not as an end to our work, but a¬†begin¬≠ning,‚ÄĚ Dimond¬≠stein says.¬†‚ÄúThe his¬≠to¬≠ry of this coun¬≠try is, it‚Äôs always been the peo¬≠ple and the move¬≠ment, includ¬≠ing the work¬≠ing class move¬≠ment, that have cre¬≠at¬≠ed change in Con¬≠gress. Not the oppo¬≠site¬†way.‚ÄĚ

That, in fact, is the task that the labor move¬≠ment‚ÄĒshrunk¬≠en, bat¬≠tered and divid¬≠ed though it is‚ÄĒshould be pour¬≠ing most of its ener¬≠gy into, even now. Union den¬≠si¬≠ty in Amer¬≠i¬≠ca has fall¬≠en by half since the ear¬≠ly¬†1980s. Bare¬≠ly one in¬†10¬†work¬≠ers are now union mem¬≠bers. That exis¬≠ten¬≠tial decline must be turned around, or labor will nev¬≠er have enough pow¬≠er to win the eco¬≠nom¬≠ic and polit¬≠i¬≠cal gains that work¬≠ing peo¬≠ple need. No new pres¬≠i¬≠dent can do this for the labor move¬≠ment‚ÄĒthey can only remove some bar¬≠ri¬≠ers to make it eas¬≠i¬≠er for the move¬≠ment to do it for¬†itself.

Biden¬†looks strong in the polls, but there is no cer¬≠tain¬≠ty about what lies ahead. Few union lead¬≠ers want to engage seri¬≠ous¬≠ly with the ques¬≠tion of what hap¬≠pens if Trump wins. The answer is always some vari¬≠a¬≠tion of¬†‚ÄúJust keep fight¬≠ing.‚ÄĚ But anoth¬≠er four years of Trump would be grim, and sur¬≠viv¬≠ing it would require a¬†fero¬≠cious turn toward rad¬≠i¬≠cal¬≠ism. After¬†2016, some fac¬≠tions of the union world toyed with the the¬≠o¬≠ry that the way to meet the moment was to cater to the minor¬≠i¬≠ty of¬†‚Äúwhite work¬≠ing class‚ÄĚ union mem¬≠bers who felt left behind and embraced Trump. That approach was always flawed‚ÄĒTrump‚Äôs base is the upper, not low¬≠er class‚ÄĒand sub¬≠se¬≠quent events have ren¬≠dered it a¬†moot point. The labor move¬≠ment has loud¬≠ly allied itself with Black Lives Mat¬≠ter and pledged to join the fight for social jus¬≠tice. Liv¬≠ing up to that pledge means mak¬≠ing a¬†choice to oppose Trump. If he is reelect¬≠ed, orga¬≠nized labor should expect to be one of many tar¬≠gets of his¬†vindictiveness.

All of which points to the fact that nei¬≠ther elec¬≠tion out¬≠come will mean auto¬≠mat¬≠ic sal¬≠va¬≠tion for work¬≠ing peo¬≠ple. The past 40 years of his¬≠to¬≠ry demon¬≠strate that. Con¬≠trol of the White House has gone back and forth, but through it all, the rich have got¬≠ten rich¬≠er, the wages of work¬≠ing peo¬≠ple have stag¬≠nat¬≠ed, union den¬≠si¬≠ty has declined and labor law has remained bro¬≠ken. The worst-case sce¬≠nario for the labor move¬≠ment is to see more of the same.

‚ÄúI don‚Äôt real¬≠ly look to the Democ¬≠rats for lead¬≠er¬≠ship; I¬†look to the labor move¬≠ment,‚ÄĚ says Sara Nel¬≠son, the head of the Asso¬≠ci¬≠a¬≠tion of Flight Atten¬≠dants and one of labor‚Äôs most promi¬≠nent pro¬≠gres¬≠sive voic¬≠es.¬†‚ÄúAnd we have the pow¬≠er to change this right now if we choose to do so. That pow¬≠er is not an appendage of the Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic Par¬≠ty. It‚Äôs our labor. It‚Äôs our sol¬≠i¬≠dar¬≠i¬≠ty,‚ÄĚ she says.¬†‚ÄúAs long as we out¬≠source our pow¬≠er to politi¬≠cians, we are nev¬≠er, ever going to get what work¬≠ing peo¬≠ple¬†need.‚ÄĚ

The views expressed above are the authors‚Äô own. As a 501¬©3 non¬≠prof¬≠it, In These Times does not sup¬≠port or oppose can¬≠di¬≠dates for polit¬≠i¬≠cal office.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on September 22, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Hamilton Nolan is a labor reporter for In These Times. He has spent the past decade writ­ing about labor and pol­i­tics for Gawk­er, Splin­ter, The Guardian, and else­where. You can reach him at Hamilton@InTheseTimes.com.

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‚ÄėA tale of 2 recessions‚Äô: As rich Americans get richer, the bottom half struggles

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The path toward economic recovery in the U.S. has become sharply divided, with wealthier Americans earning and saving at record levels while the poorest struggle to pay their bills and put food on the table.

The result is a splintered economic picture characterized by high highs ‚ÄĒ the stock market has hit record levels ‚ÄĒ and incongruous low lows: Nearly 30 million Americans are receiving unemployment benefits, and the jobless rate stands at 8.4 percent. And that dichotomy, economists fear, could obscure the need for an additional economic stimulus that most say is sorely needed.

The trend is on track to exacerbate dramatic wealth and income gaps in the U.S., where divides are already wider than any other nation in the G-7, a group of major developed countries. Spiraling inequality can also contribute to political and financial instability, fuel social unrest and extend any economic recession.

The growing divide could also have damaging implications for President Donald Trump’s reelection bid. Economic downturns historically have been harmful if not fatal for incumbent presidents, and Trump’s base of working-class, blue-collar voters in the Midwest are among the demographics hurting the most. The White House has worked to highlight a rapid economic recovery as a primary reason to reelect the president, but his support on the issue is slipping: Nearly 3 in 5 people say the economy is on the wrong track, a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll found.

Democrats are now seizing on what they see as an opportunity to hit the president on what had been one of his strongest reelection arguments.

“The economic inequities that began before the downturn have only worsened under this failed presidency,” Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said Friday. “No one thought they’d lose their job for good or see small businesses shut down en masse. But that kind of recovery requires leadership ‚ÄĒ leadership we didn’t have, and still don’t have.”

Recent economic data and surveys have laid bare the growing divide. Americans saved a stunning $3.2 trillion in July, the same month that more than 1 in 7 households with children told the U.S. Census Bureau they sometimes or often didn’t have enough food. More than a quarter of adults surveyed have reported paying down debt faster than usual, according to a new AP-NORC poll, while the same proportion said they have been unable to make rent or mortgage payments or pay a bill.

A historic House vote on marijuana legalization will take place later this month. We break down why Democrats are voting on the bill despite the fact that it’ll be dead upon arrival in the Senate.

And while the employment rate for high-wage workers has almost entirely recovered ‚ÄĒ by mid-July it was down just 1 percent from January ‚ÄĒ it remains down 15.4 percent for low-wage workers, according to Harvard‚Äôs Opportunity Insights economic tracker.

‚ÄúWhat that‚Äôs created is this tale of two recessions,‚ÄĚ said Beth Akers, a labor economist with the Manhattan Institute who worked on the Council of Economic Advisers under President George W. Bush. ‚ÄúThere are so obviously complete communities that have been almost entirely unscathed by Covid, while others are entirely devastated.‚ÄĚ

Trump and his allies have seized on the strength of the stock market and positive growth in areas like manufacturing and retail sales as evidence of what they have been calling a “V-shaped recovery”: a sharp drop-off followed by rapid growth.

But economists say that argument fails to see the larger picture, one where roughly a million laid-off workers are filing for unemployment benefits each week, millions more have seen their pay and hours cut, and permanent job losses are rising. The economy gained 1.4 million jobs in August, the Labor Department reported Friday, but the pace of job growth has slowed at a time when less than half of the jobs lost earlier this year have been recovered.

Some economists have begun to refer to the recovery as “K-shaped,” because while some households and communities have mostly recovered, others are continuing to struggle ‚ÄĒ or even seeing their situation deteriorate further.

‚ÄúIf you just look at the top of the K, it‚Äôs a V ‚ÄĒ but you can‚Äôt just look at what‚Äôs above water,‚ÄĚ said Claudia Sahm, director of macroeconomic policy at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth. ‚ÄúThere could be a whole iceberg underneath it that you‚Äôre going to plow into.‚ÄĚ

The burden is falling heavily on the poorest Americans, who are more likely to be out of work and less likely to have savings to lean on to weather the crisis. While recessions are always hardest on the poor, the coronavirus downturn has amplified those effects because shutdowns and widespread closures have wiped out low-wage jobs in industries like leisure and hospitality.

Highly touted gains in the stock market, meanwhile, help only the wealthiest 10 percent or so of households, as most others own little or no stock.

The disconnect between the stock market and the broader economy has been stark. On the same day in late August that MGM Resorts announced it would be laying off a quarter of its workforce, throwing some 18,000 workers into unemployment, its stock price jumped more than 6 percent, reaching its highest closing price since the start of March.

‚ÄúThe haves and the have-nots, there‚Äôs always been a distinction,‚ÄĚ Sahm said. But now, she added, ‚Äúwe are widening this in a way I don‚Äôt think people have really wrapped their head around.‚ÄĚ

A store going out of business
A customer leaves a retail store, which is going out of business, during the coronavirus pandemic. | Lynne Sladky/AP Photo

Without further stimulus, the situation appears poised to get worse. Economic growth until now had been led by increasing levels of consumer spending, buoyed by stimulus checks and enhanced unemployment benefits that gave many people, including jobless workers, more money to spend.

Low-income consumers have led the way, and they spent slightly more in August than they did in January, according to the Opportunity Insights tracker ‚ÄĒ even as middle- and high-income consumers are still spending less.

But those low-income consumers were also the most dependent on the extra $600 per week in boosted unemployment benefits, which expired in July. Since that lapsed ‚ÄĒ and since Congress appears unlikely to extend it any time soon, if at all ‚ÄĒ ‚Äúwe‚Äôre likely to see other macroeconomic numbers really fall off a cliff in the coming weeks,‚ÄĚ Akers said.

The expected drop in spending, paired with the expiration of economic relief initiatives like the Paycheck Protection Program, could also spell trouble for businesses in the coming months. Many economists expect a wave of bankruptcies and business closures in the fall, contributing to further layoffs.

In that sector, too, owners are feeling disparate impacts. More than 1 in 5 small business owners reported that sales are still 50 percent or less than where they were before the pandemic, according to a recent survey from the National Federation of Independent Business, and the same proportion say they will need to close their doors if current economic conditions do not improve within six months.

At the same time, however, half said they are nearly back to where they were before, and approximately 1 in 7 owners say they are doing better now than they were before the pandemic, the survey showed.

Those diverging narratives could be understating the need for further stimulus by smoothing over some of the deeper weaknesses in the labor market and the economy, experts say.

‚ÄúThis is a case where the averages tell a different story than the underlying data itself,‚ÄĚ said Peter Atwater, an adjunct economics professor at William & Mary.

While Republicans appear to be embracing the idea of further ‚Äútargeted‚ÄĚ aid, they are also touting what Trump has called a ‚Äúrocket-ship‚ÄĚ economic recovery and emphasizing record-breaking growth while downplaying the record-breaking losses that preceded it.

‚ÄúThere‚Äôs no question the recovery has beat expectations,‚ÄĚ said Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, this week on a press call with reporters.

Talks between the White House and Democratic leaders, meanwhile, have been stalled for weeks. The Senate is set to return from its summer recess next week with no clear path forward on a relief package.

‚ÄúPeople are in these bubbles,‚ÄĚ Atwater said. ‚ÄúAnd if people aren‚Äôt leaving their homes, are not really getting out, it‚Äôs unlikely that they‚Äôre seeing the magnitude of the downside of this K-shaped recovery.‚ÄĚ

This article originally appeared at Politico on September 7, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Megan Cassella is a trade reporter for POLITICO Pro. Before joining the trade team in June 2016, Megan worked for Reuters based out of Washington, covering the economy, domestic politics and the 2016 presidential campaign. It was in that role that she first began covering trade, including Donald Trump‚Äôs rise as the populist candidate vowing to renegotiate NAFTA and Hillary Clinton‚Äôs careful sidestep of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

A D.C.-area native, Megan headed south for a few years to earn her bachelor‚Äôs degree in business journalism and international politics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Now settled back inside the Beltway, Megan‚Äôs on the hunt for the city‚Äôs best Carolina BBQ ‚ÄĒ and still rooting for the Heels.

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Matt Bevin becomes the latest red state Republican to find out you don’t mess with teachers

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One of the big fights that contributed to the downfall of Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin¬†was with teachers in his state. He insulted them, he went after their pensions, he blamed their activism for the death of a child, and, as he was losing on election night, a tweet¬†saying¬†‚ÄúHey¬†@MattBevin, we finally found something you can accurately blame the teachers for‚ÄĚ went semi-viral.

Kentucky was one of several states where teachers organized against Republican attacks and inadequate education funding. But have other Republicans (and other opponents of public education)¬†been punished for their attacks on teachers and education? Not in every case‚ÄĒbut often enough you‚Äôd think they‚Äôd start paying attention.

Also Tuesday night, in Denver, Colorado, where teachers went on strike earlier in 2019, teacher-backed candidates took a majority on the city school board, which had been dominated by supporters of corporate education policy.

In Oklahoma in 2018, 16 educators were elected to the state legislature. It’s Oklahoma, and nine of them were Republicans, but they were educators who ran as such. And the Republicans who opposed increased a tiny tax increase on fracking to raise teacher pay? They were overwhelmingly primaried out.

In fact,¬†The New York Times¬†reports that, more broadly, ‚ÄúThe teachers‚Äô movement has energized Democrats in red states, with record numbers of educators running for office. But it may have had an even greater impact on Republican politics. In primaries, it has picked off Republican legislators who opposed funding for teachers and schools. And it has convinced conservative leaders that voters, particularly suburban parents, are looking for full-throated support, and open pocketbooks, for public education.‚ÄĚ That happened in¬†West Virginia, where one of the most vocal Republican opponents of the teachers strikes there lost his 2018 primary to a more moderate Republican.

Arizona Republicans saw this coming and raced to co-opt education as an issue. To a significant extent they succeeded. Just one of six educators to run for state legislature in the state won her race, and Republican Gov. Doug Ducey was reelected. But educator Kathy Hoffman became the first Democrat elected state schools superintendent in more than 20 years.

Education funding was a significant part of the fall of former Gov. Sam Brownback in Kansas, and while 2018 Republican gubernatorial nominee Kris Kobach had a lot of baggage of his own, Brownback’s unpopularity and the prominence of education issues also helped boost now-Gov. Laura Kelly’s run.

Teachers may not have created a full Red for Ed wave at the polls since their uprising began, but they’ve made a mark. Tuesday night, Matt Bevin and Denver felt that.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on November 6, 2019. 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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Forget Elections‚ÄĒLabor Needs To Get Back to Its Roots

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With the midterms behind us, we have Nov. 4, 2020, to look forward to‚ÄĒlabor‚Äôs next morning after. On Nov. 5, 2008, we were euphoric and full of delusional hope over the imminent passage of the Employee Free Choice Act and the restoration of labor. On Nov. 9, 2016, we were paralyzed by despair and denial.

At this point, betting our future on the next brutal mating ritual of Republicans and Democrats is not a bet most workers are willing to take. Since the 1950s, union membership decline has been a straight line downward, regardless of which political party is in power. Only 10.7 percent of workers are unionized; an enormous 89.3 percent are not. That‚Äôs too low to make much difference for most people in most places‚ÄĒmore molecular level Brownian motion than labor movement. No threat to wealth, the wealthy, or powerful. Much worse, no voice or power of, by, or, for workers. Instead, organized labor has become so marginal Donald Trump has been able to usurp its role as the emotional voice for workers.

The economy is doing great‚ÄĒapart from workers. Wages remain stagnant. Forty percent of adults don‚Äôt have enough savings to cover a $400 emergency expense such as a car repair or medical crisis. Forty-three percent of families aren‚Äôt making enough to cover monthly living expenses. Uncertain work, unpredictable work hours, mandatory overtime, dictatorial bosses, miserable job standards, create day-to-day desperation with psychological and social tolls. The labor market is ripe for an organizing explosion, but it isn‚Äôt happening.

Blaming the rich and the Republicans is great sport. The income inequality research industry is booming and there is no need to catalog Republican offenses‚ÄĒthey campaign on them. Long ago, labor outsourced its representation in the public sphere to the Democratic Party, and in the process become a dependent franchise and an easy target. But the truth is that the Democrats patronize labor on a good day, sell us out on a bad day, and ignore us on most days. (I speak as a recovering politician, a Democrat who ran and was elected four times to city council in my heavily Republican small town.)

Partisan and competitive thinking insidiously affects behavior. Fifty percent plus one passes for solidarity. Unionists succumb to political speak, sounding like Washington rather than ‚Äúfolks ‚Äėround here.‚ÄĚ We blame workers for voting for Republicans. If they‚Äôd only voted how we told them, then we could get things done. We estrange ourselves from large chunks of workers while giving ourselves an excuse for failure. We don‚Äôt have to do the hard work of building a movement, we only need to win an election.

Maybe we should rethink that.

Instead, start today from where we are and who we are. Simple collective self-representation without institutional, ideological, partisan or monetary artifice. Understanding who and where we are by our own compass; by our own position, not opposition. This requires radical respect for our fellow workers. For lack of a better term, this unadorned organizing is social organizing.

Abundant example are scattered across the globe and buried in history. I witnessed a jarring worker tutorial in social organizing in Poland in 1995, when AFL-CIO desperation over labor‚Äôs decline and my good luck resulted in a leave of absence from my elected Central Labor Council job to work in those early post-revolutionary years with Solidarnosc leadership and membership. Ironically, at one point, I was tasked with organizing a conference on American union organizing for Solidarnosc activists. Just as the accomplished, well-educated American organizer sent over by the union began his presentation, one Solidarnosc members interrupted to ask, ‚ÄúWhat do you mean ‚Äúorganize?‚ÄĚ A moment of awkward silence followed. Then, charitably, another Solidarnosc member suggested, ‚ÄúDo you mean, join our organization and we‚Äôll represent you?‚ÄĚ The original questioner jumped in, ‚Äúwe had 45 years of that with the Communists.‚ÄĚ The workers then came up with their own definition of organizing, ‚Äúco-creating our own future.‚ÄĚ Workers, not the organization, were the of, by, and for.

Post-revolution, the solidarity of Solidarnosc dissipated into political and institutional factions. Still, this incident illuminates the commitment to social organizing that helped spark this transformational worker movement.

When all we have is each other, social organizing is where we start.

Back to basics

Social organizing built the labor movement. When 19th-century American workers had virtually no institutional or political voice or power, they developed both by caring about and for each other. In nearly every inch of America, now-forgotten workers came together with that definition of solidarity.

In 1894, Coxey‚Äôs Army of unemployed workers marched on Washington, D.C., to press for defined jobs and meaningful work. As branches passed through cities and towns‚ÄĒincluding Fort Wayne, Ind., where I work‚ÄĒthe¬†Fort Wayne Sentinel¬†reported that local residents lavished them for days with food and social support. That same year the Sentinel reported, during the 1894 streetcar workers strike, housewives directed garden hoses at scabs, horse drawn wagons inexplicably unhitched on the tracks, and riders boycotted the streetcars. Returning the solidarity, striking workers went back to work without pay for one day, Memorial Day, so citizens could visit the graves of their departed. Streetcar workers and the community won that strike.

Thousands of lost histories such as this were the roots of community-based solidarity in industrial America. This populist industrial solidarity spawned and supported Workingmen‚Äôs Associations, Knights of Labor chapters, Trade¬†and Labor Councils. In turn, these organizations incubated worker organizing in workplaces and by trades. Local solidarity in railroad towns and company towns built the institutional, political and legal foundations for our now diminished labor movement. The gravity of solidarity drew workers into the inextricably intertwined labor market and community. This culture of solidarity included direct actions such as strikes and boycotts but, more consistently and importantly, direct education of, by, and for workers. Apprenticeships,‚Äúlectors‚ÄĚ who read news and literature aloud to workers on the job, and intentionally educational union meetings with guest speakers were part of the culture. Railroad and industrial activities were regularly covered in newspapers, with the reporting focused more on workers than bosses or business. Journalists, whether Knights of Labor or just solid reporters, would commonly cover union federation meetings. Union leaders understood their role as representative in the community meant talking to reporters, not hiding from them. Everybody had something to teach and everybody had something to learn and an obligation to do both. A culture of solidarity meant educate to organize and organize to educate.

We could take solace and avoid the hard work of organizing by saying America and the world are different now. Our mid-twentieth century institutions, economy, and democracy have decayed or been hijacked. Our social divisions can feel insurmountable. We’ve been sliced, diced, monetized, politicized and controlled. But are we so special that we now believe we are the first ones to have ever been so seemingly screwed? Or do we try to work through it, experiment based on what we can learn from other times and places and most importantly, each other?

Social organizing after the 2008 Recession

Since 1996, the folks I’ve been working with at the Workers’ Project, a research and education nonprofit, have experimented scores of times with worker representation through social organizing. We are confident and hopeful various configurations of workers have been experimenting elsewhere. We have learned some lessons from our successes and failures.

One instructive experiment focused on unemployed workers’ social organizing for voice and power during and after the Great Recession. A torrent of mostly non-union workers, newly jobless after the economic crash, were overwhelming Indiana’s unemployment offices. The state offices were disinterested or actively hostile toward unemployed workers. Meanwhile, a union foundry in Kendallville, Ind., was closing. Busted up from years of foundry work, the union president, the late Leonard Hicks, was ready to quit working but unwilling to stop representing his folks as their lives became even tougher.

To address both problems, we brought together union and non-union unemployed workers to bargain with the state through a social organizing movement, Unemployed and Anxiously Employed Workers’ Initiative (UAEWI).

First, we listened as workers talked about problems and possibilities. We developed a survey. In the unemployment office parking lot, we surveyed unemployed workers about how the office was doing, giving them a report card style survey to fill out, with a voluntary contact information form. The state immediately called in the police to stop us‚ÄĒclaiming that we were trespassing on private property, because the public office was housed on private land. We alerted the media and the state received reams of bad press.

The media coverage revealed to unemployed workers they could have a voice and some grit. They began coming to UAEWI meetings, along with the union foundry workers in Kendallville and other union shops experiencing mass lay-offs.

Our ranks of unemployed included workers with education and experience in sociology. With their assistance, the UAEWI members developed and collected a broader survey. The survey was not for academic publication, or for an institutional or partisan agenda, but instead for collective self-representation. It had real value for public policy discussions. While the political class talk about or for unemployed workers, UAEWI represented themselves.

Membership was determined solely by a worker‚Äôs decision to participate in the survey‚ÄĒto voluntarily add their voice to the collective voice. We conducted education and training classes as well as group talk sessions. Within a few months, the State‚Äôs unemployment office management found themselves in a union hall across a bargaining table with the UAEWI members. Unemployed workers gained improvements in services including increased staffing and training but most importantly, a change in attitude. Most UAEWI members had never been union members; they learned how collective representation worked.

For seven more years, we continued and broadened annual UAEWI surveys. We gathered responses wherever we found voiceless workers: from folks leaving food banks, township trustee office, social service agencies, a mobile Mexican consulate. Our sampling exceeded 500 workers in 2012 and was conducted in English, Spanish and Burmese. We asked more wide-ranging public policy questions about issues such as economic development.

UAEWI members bargained in the public sphere. They provided local, state, national, and international journalists with reliable data, context, and access to socially organized workers willing to tell compelling stories. Some of the stories supported Peabody and Murrow investigative journalism awards. UAEWI members presented survey report results to other members and the public in very public formats ranging from traditional research reports to semi-theatrical presentations and even cinematic effort. UAEWI members attended and spoke before the local and state Workforce Investment Boards, Fort Wayne City Council, Indiana Economic Development Board meetings.

Just the modest act of asking drew workers out of their isolation and into solidarity. Many UAEWI members were personally transformed as they shaped public policies from the unemployment office to well beyond. They were co-creating their own futures. This was bargaining in the public sphere, bargaining with the state over the terms and conditions of our lives. Bargaining with state is foundational for worker representation in the 21st century, just as it was with Coxey’s Army in the 19th century. The UAEWI effort only updated representation with a bit of worker-driven social science.

In the last four years, learning from UAEWI effort, we have experimented with applying worker-driven social science and applying it to original NLRA intent in workplaces. In labor speak workers develop ‚Äúnon-certified minority status bargaining‚ÄĚ with so-called private employers. (This less legalistic, institutional and technocratic organizing was envisioned when the NLRA was first implemented‚ÄĒthe work of labor law scholar, the late Clyde Summers, as well as Charles Morris‚Äôs in Blue Eagle At Work documents this well.)

We helped workers develop their collective understanding and identity to, from the worm‚Äôs eye view, make things better at work. In each case, their self-organizing grew from¬†‚Äúsolidarity selfies‚Ä̬†and a survey of co-workers‚Äô thoughts on the terms and conditions of their employment. It is simultaneously concerted activity under the NLRA and, more importantly, intellectual property owned by the workers. We provided supportive research and education for Latina workers at a manufacturing plant; sub-contracted workers at a retail outlet; and¬†Burmese workers at a manufacturing plant. One group faced unsafe work conditions causing miscarriages. The second faced a classic bullying boss culture. The third faced systematic ethnic and language discrimination.

We provided them access to social science, legal support, and social organizing talent, as well as a place in our community of solidarity. We supported their conversations to develop strategies to negotiate with the boss. They succeeded on their own terms. First the survey process overcame employer-imposed isolation. Workers experienced their own workplace ‚Äúme too‚ÄĚ revelations which led to collective voice. They built their representational power by developing a research report on their work lives that became collectively owned and copyrighted intellectual property with real bargaining value. Each unit could choose to share the findings with whoever they decide in the public-private spectrum: media, government regulators, elected officials, customers, suppliers, competitors, stockholders or, if willing, across the table with the boss.

The Latina factory workers met with the plant owner to present their findings. Safety conditions improved, maternity leaves were granted, healthy babies were born, and little Jose Manuel now attends our events. Some of the workers were fired, most moved on to other jobs, some won legal settlements. Most remain active in the Hispanic Workers Circle.

The subcontracted retail workers successfully confronted top national corporate management. They ended the bullying management culture and maintain an ongoing social ‚Äúsolidarity union‚ÄĚ collecting no dues and participating in all Workers‚Äô Project activities.

The Burmese factory workers efforts are ongoing. They constitute a significant portion of our Burmese Workers Circle which is developing as a workers’ and civil rights organization.

Stay tuned for more news: All groups continue full-throated participation in Workers’ Project activities and Fort Wayne’s huge annual Labor Day picnic.

We think collective intellectual property is an intriguing innovation. As workers we are robbed of our intellectual property as employers pick our brains, pick our pockets, only to pick up and leave us jobless. As consumers, our data has collected by others, monetized and politicized at our expense to benefit wealth. Intellectual property we own collectively can help us bargain with anyone in the power spectrum, from private employer to the state.

Owning our own voices and power, collective human agency, is our democracy where we work and where we live. Valuing each other, sharing our experiences, information, ideas, and respect seems a great place to start especially when you are starting at scratch. Social organizing, old school or innovative, is still solidarity.

This blog was originally published at In These Times on November 16, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author:¬†Tom Lewandowski is co-founder and director of the Workers’ Project in Fort Wayne, Ind.

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Interfaith Coalition Calls for Moral Action on the Economy

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The largest employer of low-wage workers in America is the federal government. U.S. government contractors employ over two million workers in jobs that pay too little ‚Äď $12.00 an hour or less ‚Äď to support a family. Contract workers ‚Äď organizing under the banner of Good Jobs Nation ‚Äď have walked off of their jobs repeatedly in protest, demanding a living wage and the right to a union.

This Monday, on the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King‚Äôs death, this movement will gain a powerful ally. Led by Jim Winkler, general secretary of the National Council of Churches and Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of the Catholic social justice lobby NETWORK, an interfaith coalition of religious leaders is issuing a call for ‚Äúmoral action on the economy.‚ÄĚ They will seek to meet with presidential candidates, asking each to pledge that, if elected, he or she would issue an executive order to reward model employers ‚Äúthat pay a living wage of at least $15.00 an hour, provide decent benefits and allow workers to organize without retaliation.‚ÄĚ

The movement for living wages is taking off. The federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 for nearly seven years. Unable to provide for their families, fast food and other low-wage workers began to demonstrate, even at risk of losing their jobs. ‚ÄúFight for 15‚ÄĚ ‚Äď the demand for a $15.00 an hour minimum wage and the right to a union ‚Äď swept across the country. And is beginning to win.

In Seattle, a coalition of union, community and business leaders helped pass legislation putting the city minimum wage on a path to $15. From Los Angeles to Chicago to New York, other cities joined. In the last few days, California legislators reached a deal to move the state minimum wage to $15 by 2022. In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo pushed through reforms that will move that state’s minimum wage to $15, starting in December 2018 in New York City.

The pressure of the government low-wage workers moved President Obama to act. He issued three executive orders, raising the minimum wage to $10.10, cracking down on wage theft and other workplace violations, and providing paid leave. The workers continued to demonstrate, calling for ‚Äúmore than the minimum,‚ÄĚ seeking $15 and a union.

Senate cafeteria workers ‚Äď the people who prepare the senators‚Äô food and clean up after them ‚Äď joined the protests. Their plight ‚Äď one was homeless, others on food stamps, one moonlighting as a stripper to feed her children ‚Äď was embarrassing. Democratic Senate staffers organized to support them. Democratic senators like Bernie Sanders (Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), and Brian Schatz (Hawaii) demanded action. When the cafeteria contract was up for renewal in December, workers were granted pay increases of $5 an hour or more. It took more pressure and Labor Department investigation to make the raises stick, but today workers are finally receiving their pay.

Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell, who has documented the struggle highlighted one beneficiary, Bertrand Olotara, a cook in the Senate cafeteria. His wage went from $12.30 to $17.45 an hour. He was able to quit his second job at Whole Foods and stop working seven days a week. That gave him more time with his five children. He’s even thinking of using the extra time to write a book. A living wage makes real differences in people’s lives.

Now the interfaith coalition joining with these workers and calling on those contending for the presidency to promise to do more. Republican contenders are still opposed to raising the minimum wage. Bernie Sanders has made a $15 an hour minimum wage a central plank in his platform. Hillary Clinton has supported lifting the national minimum wage to $12.50, accepting that some states and cities might go higher.

The interfaith alliance is calling on the presidential candidates to pledge moral action on the economy. When Ronald Reagan came to office, one of his first acts was to fire and replace the striking PATCO air controllers. He sent a message to employers across the country that it was open season on workers and their unions. Imagine the next president taking office and issuing an executive order lifting the wages of millions of contract workers and guaranteeing a right to organize without retaliation. Again a signal would be sent across the country.

‚ÄúThis election is fundamentally about whether the next president is willing to take transformative executive action to close the gap between the wealthy and workers ‚Äď many of whom are women and people of color,‚ÄĚ argues Jim Winkler, secretary general of the National Council of Churches. It‚Äôs time to take the pledge.

This blog originally appeared in ourfuture.org on April 4, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Robert Borosage is a board member of both the Blue Green Alliance and Working America.  He earned a BA in political science from Michigan State University in 1966, a master’s degree in international affairs from George Washington University in 1968, and a JD from Yale Law School in 1971. Borosage then practiced law until 1974, at which time he founded the Center for National Security Studies.

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Why Virginia’s Open Shop Referendum Should Matter to the Entire American Labor Movement in 2016

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The douglas williamsmost important election in Virginia this year has no candidates on the ballot.

On February 2nd, the Republican-dominated General Assembly passed the two-session threshold needed to put the¬†open shop¬†before the Commonwealth‚Äôs voters¬†in November. You might be asking yourself, ‚ÄúWait. I thought that Virginia was already an open-shop state?‚ÄĚ Your inclinations would be correct: legislation barring union membership as a condition of employment was signed into law by Gov. William Tuck (a later adherent to Massive Resistance in response to¬†Brown v. Board of Educationas a member of Congress)¬†in 1947. As a result, Section 40.1-58 of the Code of Virginia reads:

It is hereby declared to be the public policy of Virginia that the right of persons to work shall not be denied or abridged on account of membership or nonmembership in any labor union or labor organization.

So why do this? The easy answer is that Virginia Republicans are fearful that, should the open shop meet a legal challenge in state court, Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring would not seek to defend it. The sponsor of the bill and defeated 2013 nominee for Attorney General, State Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg), stated as much in the deliberations on the bill. In addition, should the Assembly find itself in pro-labor hands in the future, they could overturn the open shop with a simple majority vote. Never mind that the extreme amounts of gerrymandering in the Assembly (particularly in the House of Delegates) makes a unified Democratic state government unlikely for decades to come.

The vote this November will be the first popular referendum on the open shop since 54 percent of Oklahoma voters approved State Question 695 on September 25, 2001. In this, an opportunity presents itself to the labor movement in this country, and it is one that labor unions must take.

In the fifteen years since the Oklahoma referendum, every open-shop law has been passed through state legislatures. This, of course, advantages corporations and anti-worker conservatives as they can flood state capitols with their donations and their lobbyists at a relative distance from public scrutiny. Combined with the gerrymandering described above which ensures that an anti-worker vote will not result in the loss of an election, the deck is often stacked far too high for labor advocates to overcome. The only hope for those who live in the thirty states with a Republican legislature is the presence of a pro-labor governor and legislative procedures that require a higher threshold than a simple majority to override a veto.

West Virginia workers just found out what happens when you have the former, but not the latter.

There are demographic reasons to feel good about this campaign: 18-34-year olds are the generation most supportive of labor unions, and Black workers have both been more supportive and more eager joiners of labor unions than their white counterparts. Virginia has been a prime destination for young people over the last couple of decades due to the economic boom occurring in Northern Virginia, and the state has always had a large number of Black residents.

But the campaign against the open shop this fall cannot rely on demographics to save it. Given the opportunity that labor unions have with this referendum, the goal should not simply be to win: it should be a realignment of the conversation surrounding the role in labor unions in Virginia‚Äôs‚ÄĒand America‚Äôs‚ÄĒpolitical economy.

There have been many issues stemming from the precipitous decline in union density in this country. The stagnation of working people’s wages, widening inequality, and a sense of alienation and disillusionment amongst the working class can all be tied back to the decline of organized labor in the United States.

But there‚Äôs another thing that declining union membership has produced, and it is, perhaps, the greatest victory of all for capitalism: the sense that, rather than being a representative of America‚Äôs working class, unions are no different from any other interest group. Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean sought to mobilize this sentiment recently in support of Hillary Clinton‚Äôs presidential campaign¬†when he¬†stated that¬†‚Äú[Democrats] don‚Äôt go after‚ÄĚ political donations from labor unions because¬†‚Äúlabor unions are Super-PACs that Democrats like‚ÄĚ.

(It should be noted, of course, that the only union that has spent any significant money on Bernie Sanders’s behalf is National Nurses United. It appears that only Hillary Clinton will protect us from Big Nursing and the Caregiver-Industrial Complex.)

Part of this has been on the labor movement: too much money, time, and energy has been devoted to electing Democrats at all costs to federal office, even when they are absolutely terrible. But most of it has been a concerted effort by neoliberals in both parties to erode unions’ once formidable approval ratings by associating them with the most unsavory parts of the legislative process. How unsavory? In 2013, Gallup polled Americans on the honesty of several professions. Those who engage in lobbying, a key part of the legislative and policymaking work that any interest group engages in, were at the bottom with a six percent approval rating. By comparison, an August 2015 Gallup poll saw 58 percent of Americans approving of labor unions, with 37 percent believing that they should have more influence.

By making labor unions a creature of politics, working-class Americans begin to process the information that they receive about unions the same way that they receive other forms of political information: in a partisan manner. In his 2013 book The Partisan Sort, University of Pennsylvania political science professor Matthew Levendusky states that:

[W]hen a respondent moves from unsorted to sorted, he is much more likely to move his ideological beliefs into alignment with his partisanship than the reverse, strongly suggesting that party is the key causal variable.

Therefore, when working-class Republicans think about labor unions, they are less likely to consider the fact that union members make 21 percent more than non-union members or that 29 percent more civilian workers have access to retirement plans if they are a member of a labor union. No, they are more likely to think about Democrats receiving 89 percent of the donations given out by unions in 2014. The fact that the last two Democratic presidents have supported trade deals that acted as accelerants on the continued deindustrialization of America certainly does not help matters at all.

But the labor movement has been given a golden opportunity in 2016, and it is one that should not be passed up: the opportunity to engage in the largest labor education program that this country has ever seen.

Over the next eight-and-a-half months, unions should be running ads that focus on the specifics that so many American labor ads skirt around.

  1. We can tell people that it is illegal for union dues to go towards political action at the federal level. While dues money can go towards political spending at the local and state levels, their dues mostly pay for representation, access to the industry-specific research needed to make negotiations more fruitful, and strike funds to support workers when their meeting their demands requires direct action.
  2. We can tell people about the union difference in wages, benefits, and retirement.
  3. But even more important than that, we can talk about the ways that labor unions benefit the communities in which they exist. Not just through increased spending in local businesses, but also through programs that benefit a community’s most vulnerable.

That last point is important, because it is how we will begin to develop the culture of unionism that we so desperately need in the South. It is important to ensure that the positive feeling that today’s youth have towards labor unions does not turn into anti-labor sentiment through a lifetime of one-way conversation dominated by capitalists and their PR lap dogs like Rick Berman.

But for this to be successful, all hands must be on deck. Virginia is one of a couple of states where such a measure could be defeated at the ballot box (the other, for my money anyways, being Kentucky), and it must be. Defeating this referendum must become the labor movement’s number one priority in 2016, even more so than the presidential election. In the piece I wrote about labor’s engagement in party politics, I stated:

If¬†the labor movement¬†must¬†invest in politics, it would be wisest to do so at the community/local/state level. It is there, our ‚Äėlaboratories of public policy‚Äô, where the labor movement can have the most positive impact on the lives of working people.

There is no time like the present for the labor movement to take this advice to heart.

This article originally appeared on inthesetimes.com on March 3, 2016.  Reprinted with permission.

Douglas Williams is a Ph.D. student in political science at the University of Alabama, researching the labor movement and labor policy. He blogs at The South Lawn.

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President Of Florida-Based Company Threatens To Fire Employees If Romney Loses

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 With fewer than 72 hours before polls begin to close, another report has emerged of a company owner strongly urging his employees to vote for Mitt Romney over Barack Obama, claiming that their jobs are potentially on the line if Obama wins re-election.

Cliff Otto, president of the Florida-based Saddle Creek Corporation, circulated an email to staff this week explaining that, while ‚Äúwe do not support candidates based on their political affiliation,‚ÄĚ Romney‚Äôs positions are in ‚Äúthe best interest of our company, and therefore our jobs and our future‚ÄĚ:

In the past, Saddle Creek has not felt it imperative that we communicate with our associates regarding the political issues that affect our business. This year the positions taken by the two presidential candidates with regard to these issues are starkly different. As such [we] feel it would be wrong for us not to share with you the company’s position on just a few of the critical issues and, at the same time, how each of the two candidates compare to our position. … We do not support candidates based on their political affiliation. We do support candidates that share our positions with regard to the key issues facing our company and our country. Thank you for considering what Saddle Creek believes is in the best interest of our company, and therefore our jobs and our future.

An accompanying flyer, obtained by MSNBC‚Äôs Up With Chris Hayes, highlights by position ‚ÄĒ not candidate ‚ÄĒ which would be more beneficial for Otto‚Äôs employees‚Äô jobs:

Otto is not alone in his effort to sway his employees‚Äô votes by insinuating that they might lose their jobs should Obama win. Similar tactics have been used by other CEOs across the country who warn of ‚Äúconsequences‚ÄĚ should Romney lose on November 6th. One CEO likened the threats to telling employees to ‚ÄúEat your spinach.‚ÄĚ

Indeed, it may be a concerted intimidation effort by right-leaning CEOs that is orchestrated from the top. Just a month ago, leaked audio captured Romney urging conservative business owners to tell their employees who to vote for.

This article was originally posted on November 4, 2012 at Think Progress. 

About the Author: Annie-Rose Strasser is a Reporter/Blogger for ThinkProgress. Before joining American Progress, she worked for the community organizing non-profit Center for Community Change as a new media specialist. Previously, Annie-Rose served as a press assistant for Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Annie-Rose holds a B.A. in English and Creative Writing from the George Washington University.

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