InZane Times: Bring Back Our Boss (Artie T Demoulas)

p7300456I have to cheer when workers take collective action to defend dignified working conditions.  So I was happy to stop by the picket line outside the Demoulas Market Basket Supermarket in Concord for a chat with some of the workers this afternoon.

Three workers were out on the road, waving signs and collecting honks from motorists.   Others were by the doorways, hanging out with fellow workers who were on the job.  Workers are even making picket signs inside the store. They don’t have a union and the workers I talked to don’t want one.  This is the strangest strike I’ve ever observed.

Strangest of all:  their demand is to win reinstatement of the company’s paternalistic CEO, Arthur T. Demoulas, who workers say has treated them well.

The chain’s 71 stores have been open since the labor conflict erupted two weeks ago.  The issue is a conflict within the Demoulas family, which has been squabbling for years.  When Arthur T. was deposed by the company’s board, workers revolted, from management to entry-level.  The stores are open but the shelves are getting bare, especially since the regional distribution center is mostly shut down.

The Boston Globe has provided a useful chronology.

Austin, who was waving a sign on Fort Eddy Road in Concord this afternoon, said the struggle has “a lotof union aspects,” but said the workers have no interest in forming an actual union.  Apparently they believe their interests are being adequately represented by others who are at the negotiating table with the Demoulas family and the Board of Directors.

p7300461I told him my own activist career started, in a sense, as a participant in supermarket picket lines during the United Farm Workers boycotts of the 1970s.  He has heard of Cesar Chavez and says the Demoulas workers have had supportive visits from union reps.

Demoulas workers say that under Arthur T. they have been treated well, prices have been kept lower than in other chains, and customers have been happy.  Their fear is that the Board will discard profit-sharing and other policies that make Demoulas a good place to work.

Brianna, who has been working as a cashier for a year, has been happy with her wages and says there’s been no talk of unionizing.  She just wants everything to go back to the way it was.

What I wonder is whether workers who have gotten a taste of their power will go back to what she called “normal.”  “Normal” has a way of changing.

InZane Times: “On the Centennial of Joe Hill’s Trial”

I can’t say I ever dreamed about Joe Hill, the legendary songwriter and Industrial Workers of the World member. But on the hundredth anniversary of the verdict in a Salt Lake City court that would put him before a firing squad sixteen months later, he is once again in my waking thoughts.

It was probably Joan Baez singing about Joe Hill that first drew my attention to him. (No, I wasn’t at Woodstock, but I saw the film and listened to the record album.)

“The copper bosses killed you, Joe,

They shot you Joe,” says I.

“Takes more than guns to kill a man,” said Joe,

“I didn’t die.”

My sister brought home a 1968 Phil Ochs album, “Tape from California,” with his ballad about Joe Hill’s life. Like Joe Hill did so many times, Ochs put new words to a familiar tune, in this case the English folk song, “John Hardy,” which had also been used by Woody Guthrie for his “Ballad of Tom Joad.”

Ochs described Joe’s arrival in New York as an immigrant from Sweden, how he took up with the IWW “cause the union was the only friend he had,” and how he began writing songs to raise the spirits of union members.

Now, the strikes were bloody and the strikes

Were black as hard as they were long

In the dark of night Joe would stay awake and write

In the morning he would raise them with a song

The IWW – known as “The Wobblies” for reasons that remain a bit obscure – had a revolutionary vision of a single union that would unite workers across lines of race and national origin, across lines of gender, across industries, and even across borders to take away power from the capitalist class and put it in the hands of workers. As the final phrase of “Solidarity Forever,” a labor anthem written by an IWW member puts it, “We can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old when the union makes us strong.”

The Wobblies believed in direct action, especially strikes, as the primary means for achieving power in the workplace and in the larger society. Their “anarcho-syndicalist” approach contrasted with the socialists who put up candidates for election.   But the radical movements of the early twentieth century found much in common. Eugene Victor Debs, for instance, was present at the IWW’s founding convention in 1905.

Joe played the fiddle and other instruments, but is not remembered as a musician. He was, however, a decent cartoonist and a brilliant lyricist, who took popular tunes and substituted new words.

Phil Ochs sang:

He wrote his words to the tunes of the day

To be passed along the union vine

And the strikes were led and the songs were spread

And Joe Hill was always on the line

The late folksinger and song-writer Utah Phillips used to say the IWW songwriters  used hymns because they had pretty tunes and wrote new words “so they’d make sense.” In that vein “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” becomes “Dump the Bosses Off your Backs.” The Doxology becomes,

Praise boss when morning work bells chime,

Praise him for bits of overtime,

Praise him whose wars we love to fight,

Praise him fat leech and parasite.

Joe Hill’s most famous song, “The Preacher and the Slave,” is a send-up of a hymn often sung by Salvation Army bands on street corners. During the free speech fights, when IWW members who were barred from using the same street corners to proselytize for the “One Big Union” took to the streets in acts of mass civil disobedience, Joe converted “In the Sweet By and By,” to “You’ll get pie in the sky when you die (that’s a lie).”

It was Joe Hill, who “more than any other one writer, had made the IWW a singing movement,” according to Joyce Kornbluh, editor of Rebel Voices: an IWW Anthology. His songs, and others, were printed in The Little Red Songbook, new editions of which the IWW would put out from time to time. The publication’s was designed so workers could easily fit it in their pockets and take it out on picket lines or in jail cells. (I’m proud to say I have a song in the 38th edition, on sale from the IWW.)

“A pamphlet, no matter how good, is never read more than once, but a song is learned by heart and repeated over and over,” Joe wrote in a letter from his prison cell. “I maintain that if a person can put a few cold, common sense facts into a song, and dress them … up in a cloak of humor to take the dryness off them he will succeed in reaching a great number of workers who are too unintelligent or too indifferent to read a pamphlet or an editorial in economic science.”

In addition to “The Preacher and the Slave,” Joe Hill is remembered for “There is Power in a Union,” “Casey Jones: Union Scab,” and “The Rebel Girl,” a song inspired by Concord native Elizabeth Gurley Flynn.

Joe Hill on Trial for Murder

When John Morrison, a Salt Lake City shopkeeper, and his son Arling were killed at their store on January 10, 1914, Joe Hill was living and working nearby. A victim of a never-explained gunshot wound received the same night, Hill was arrested and charged with the crime.

“In reality, there was virtually no evidence to suggest that the police had the right man,” writes William Adler, in an excellent biography, The Man Who Never Died: The Life, Times, and Legacy of Joe Hill, American Labor Icon.“The state’s case was entirely circumstantial and leaned heavily on the theory that the younger

Morrison, in the moment before he had died, had fired the shot that had torn Hill’s chest. But the prosecutor could not prove that Morrison’ gun had been fired, let alone that Hill had been at the store. Nor could the state show a motive, or produce the murder weapons, or elicit testimony that positively identified the defendant. In short, the state failed to meet Utah’s statutory standard for a cased based on circumstantial evidence; that the chain of proof ‘be complete and unbroken and established beyond a reasonable doubt.’”

Hill insisted he had been with a woman that night and would not divulge her identity out of a sense of honor. Whether he had a naïve faith that the American system of justice really did put the burden of proof on the prosecution, or whether in some sense he desired martyrdom, he failed to mount an effective defense. “Like many Wobblies,” Adler writes, “Joe Hill was principled to the point of recklessness.”

Adler holds that Joe Hill chose “apparently came to believe, consciously or unconsciously, that he could better serve the union by dying. And later, once it was clear that he would not be getting a new trial, he perhaps came to see his death as necessary, or at the very least as valuable propaganda for advancing the cause of industrial unionism. The cause needed a martyr, someone to incite his fellow workers, to inspire them not to mourn but to organize, and he cast himself in that swaggering role.”

Adler says “The irony of Hill having taken on the role of good soldier in the class war was as inescapable as the penitentiary. For he was on trial for his life for a crime that had nothing to do with politics. Yet his prosecution, baseless as it was, in the end was about nothing but politics: about a partial judge … abetting an ambitious prosecutor to make the case that State of Utah v. Joseph Hillstrom was as much a class action against the IWW as it was a murder trial.”

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, “Utah was the first state to resume executions after capital punishment was reinstated in the United States in 1976, when Gary Gilmore was executed by a firing squad on January 17, 1977.” It is also the only state that has used a firing squad in recent times.

Many more rebels have been jailed on trumped up charges since Joe Hill’s day. And as has become terribly clear, plenty of people have been sentenced to death for crimes they did not commit. Since 1973, 140 people have been exonerated and freed from death row. How many innocent people are still under sentence of death is impossible to know, but a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences estimates it could be more than 4% of the death row population.

As for Joe Hill, “Death imbued his life with meaning,” Adler concluded. “What, after all, attests more powerfully to a righteous cause than the willingness to die for it?”

On June 27, 1914 Joe Hill was found guilty of the murder of John Morrison. He was killed by a firing squad on November 15, 1915.

Phil Ochs:

Yes, they lined Joe Hill up against the wall
Blindfold over his eyes
It’s the life of a rebel that he chose to live
It’s the death of a rebel that he died.

Ochs may have gotten a few facts wrong, but hey, it’s a folksong, and it worked for me.

The song Joan Baez sang at Woodstock is from a poem written by Alfred Hayes in 1934.  The labor icon appears in a dream.

“Joe Hill ain’t dead,” he says to me

“Joe Hill ain’t never died,

Where workingmen are out on strike,

Joe Hill is at their side.”

Yours for the O.B.U.

Canterbury Residents Push For Medicaid Expansion In Town Meeting (InZane Times)

Twenty Canterbury residents exchanged perspectives with their three State Representatives at the town’s Meeting House Saturday morning.  Long-time Representative Priscilla Lockwood, and first-termers Howard Moffett and Lorrie Carey fielded questions on topics including unsatisfactory road conditions, tar sands, burdens on municipal government, building codes, GMOs, and the influence of corporations on elections and policy-making.

Responding to a question for Doris Hampton, who organized the session, Rep. Moffett gave a passionate call for the state to expand Medicaid.  “The House is going to support Medicaid expansion as often as it’s given the opportunity to do so,” he said, but explained that the resistance is coming from Republican Senators.

“It’s partisan,” agreed Rep. Lockwood, who made sure to say she was one of six Republican Representatives who voted for it.

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Rep. Howard Moffett

“What i have seen coming out of Republican Senators just doesn’t hold water,” Rep. Moffett said.  Medicaid expansion would bring two and half billion dollars – money we’ve already paid in federal taxes – back to the state “to create jobs and provide health insurance,” he observed.

“It feels like a war on the poor,”  Rep. Moffett said.  No one in the room seemed to disagree.  Rep. Carey threw in an anecdote about a landscaper badly injured on a job across the street from Concord Hospital who was afraid to seek medical attention for fear of getting a bill he’d be unable to pay.

“We can’t let any member of our population think they need to bleed to death because can’t afford care,” she said.

Rep. Moffett hopes pressure can be exerted on Republican Senators – only two are needed to join the unified Democrats and create a majority – in order for the Medicaid proposal to pass.

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Rep. Lorrie Carey

Rep. Carey is a member of the State-Federal Relations and Veterans Affairs Committee, which tends to get responsibility for non-binding resolutions that if adopted express the sense of the legislators on a wide range of topics.  Last year the House adopted a resolution calling for a Constitutional Amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision and declare that constitutional rights are intended for natural persons, not corporations.  The Senate refused to take it up, but the issue has re-surfaced this year, with two resolutions in Rep. Carey’s committee calling for a Constitutional Convention to be convened on this matter.

“Is there a lot of money being pumped in by the corporations?” she asked.  “The answer is yes,” she responded to her own question.

Despite what the Representatives indicated was strong support for something to be done, none of them felt that passing resolutions makes any difference.  “Resolutions in the end are meaningless,” Rep. Carey said.

The presence of two town Selectmen guaranteed that state-municipal relations was on the agenda.  The Selectmen, Tyson Miller and Bob Steenson, worry the legislature could adopt bills intended to increase transparency but which would have the effect of impairing the ability of volunteer town officers to manage local affairs.  They also were eager for funds for road improvement.  The three State Representatives were supportive of proposals to raise taxes on gasoline, with Rep. Carey pointing out that it hasn’t been hiked since 1991. 

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Rep. Priscilla Lockwood

The Representatives said they read all their email, but that messages which appear to be form letters crafted by advocacy groups tend to be ignored.  So write your legislators, use your own words, and make sure you let them know you’re a constituent.

Rep. Lockwood, a legislative veteran who has also served on the Select Board, said she plans to step down after the current term.

This story was cross posted with permission from InZane Times.

Concord Activists Join “Black Friday” Walmart Protests (InZane Times)

concord112913010_thumbSix hardy activists held signs outside the Concord NH Walmart store this morning in solidarity with workers calling for higher pay and more respectful working conditions.  The “Black Friday” protest was one of many across the country intended to put pressure on the nation’s largest employer and the world’s largest retailer, which has built a business model on the lousy labor standards faced by its workers and those who produce the products it sells.

According to Making Change at Walmart, most of the company’s workers earn less than $25,000 a year.  Wages are so low that 42% of the company’s Massachusetts workers are eligible for subsidized health insurance, according to figures generated by the state’s Center for Health Information and Analysis.

concord112913004The Black Friday protests were coordinated by Making Change at Walmart,  a campaign challenging Walmart to help rebuild our economy and strengthen working families. Anchored by the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW), it unites  Walmart employees, union members, small business owners, religious leaders, community organizations, women’s advocacy groups, multi-ethnic coalitions, elected officials and ordinary citizens who believe that changing Walmart is a vital priority for the economic health of our communities.  Making Change works closely with OUR Walmart, an organization of employees, many of whom have taken risky actions to  insist on a more respectful work environment.

It’s a busy season for “Days of Action.”  One focused on preserving Social Security will be held next Tuesday.  Another, focused on solidarity with fast food workers, will be held Thursday, December 5.   In addition to supporting the efforts of workers at low-wage retail chains and fast food restaurants, the actions can also boost support for legislation to raise the minimum wage at the national and state levels.

In New Hampshire, where the legislature abolished the state’s minimum wage in 2011, a bill to raise the wage for the state’s lowest workers in two steps to $9 an hour will be introduced in January.

Walmart can afford to raise wages.  Citing sources such as the annual Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans, the web site “The Walmart 1%” says the six wealthiest Waltons, the heirs to Walmart founder Sam Walton, have a net worth of $144.7 billion and that the family has as much wealth as 42% of the American population added together.

(Originally posted on InZane Times by Arnie Alpert)

Old McDonald’s, Pay Fair Wages, EIEIO — Community Show Support For Striking Workers

Maine Fast Food Strike Support

Photo Credit Arnie Alpert

COMMUNITY RALLY FOR FAIR PAY

ELLSWORTH, MAINE — On the outskirts of Ellsworth, Maine, just after we turned off Route 1 in pursuit of a more scenic route home, we heard a notice on WERU, an Orland-based community radio station, announcing that a rally in support of fast food workers had just begun.  Having been on vacation, we had been unaware that August 29 had been designated a day for fast food workers and their allies to strike and rally for a hike in wages to $15 an hour until Jan mentioned it to us the previous day.

Assuming we would find the rally on the strip we had sought to avoid, we did a u-turn, re-traced our path, took a right, and soon found a small group of sign-holding protestors in front of McDonalds.

Maine Fast Food Strike Support 2

Photo Credit Arnie Alpert

For the next hour we joined them, with chants of “Low Pay, Not Okay,” and conversations about their other activities.  Standing under the sign reading “Looking for a job?  We are looking for you,” we waved at passers by, many of whom gave us friendly waves in return.

The activist group, made up of local retirees, began its life as Occupy Ellsworth and continues to meet regularly for social and educational events plus occasional actions.  The call themselves “Community Union,” and are already planning a Black Friday protest at a local retail store.

The nationwide protest, backed by the SEIU, called attention to the low pay rates typical of work in fast food establishments and also to the fact that the federal minimum wage – stuck at $7.25 an hour – is far from enough for workers to support themselves, let alone their families.  In fact, members of the Ellsworth group pointed out that the wages earned by fast food and many retail workers are so low that they are eligible for public assistance.  That means taxpayers are subsidizing the operations of highly profitable corporations like McDonalds.

The protest drew attention from Maine Public Radio Network and two local TV stations.  My hope is that workers will be emboldened to demand better pay, that state and federal lawmakers will raise the minimum wage, and that even giant corporations will be forced to give in.

Originally posted in InZane Times.

Nashua: Activists Rally For Immigration Reform (From Arnie Alpert)

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“The Time is Now”nashua 4-6-13 012 crop

More than a hundred immigrants rights supporters rallied today at Nashua City Hall  and marched to the offices of Senators Kelly Ayotte and Jeanne Shaheen to call for reforms centered on a clear and direct path to citizenship for the millions of undocumented immigrants living in the USA. 

Rally speakers included Eva Castillo of the NH Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees; the Rev. Tom Woodward of the Granite State Organizing Project; Juan Zamudio, a student at Derryfield School in Manchester; Marisol Saavedra, a Nashua student; and Carols Escobar of SEIU  nashua 4-6-13 040cropLocal 615.

In many years of working across the US, I saw time and time again bosses use the broken immigration system to mistreat, intimidate, underpay and over work undocumented workers,” said Escobar, an Ecuadoran immigrant who works as a janitor in Nashua. 

“When employers pay lower wages to some workers, all workers are affected and standards are lowered for everyone,” the Local 615 member added.

Participants included union members, faith community leaders, and otnashua 4-6-13 014cropher social justice activists adding their bodies and voices to the movement calling on Congress to act now for humane immigration policies. 

Following the brief rally, the crowd marched north into Nashua’s downtown shopping district and crossed over to the east side of the road by the office of Senator Kelly Ayotte.  There, they taped a giant letter to the window, where marchers added their signatures to a statement calling for commonsense immigration reform that fosters unity.

nashua 4-6-13 031“The time for action is long overdue and there is bipartisan agreement on moving forward,” the statement said.  “A reform package that includes a path to citizenship makes economic sense and is true to our ideals as a nation.  Taking action now makes sense politically, as well, since the American public supports immigration reform.”

Marchers continued northward to Senator Shaheen’s office where another letter was taped to the window for signatures. 

The program concluded with a statement from Germano Martins, a member of the State Employees Association (SEIU Local 1984) followed by a prayer led by the Rev. Sandra Pontoh of the Maranatha Indonesian United Church of Christ. nashua 4-6-13 109

The organizing committee included SEIU Locals 615 and 1984, the NH AFL-CIO, NH Civil Liberties Union, Lutheran Social Services, the Granite State Organizing Project, the NH Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees, the United Church of Christ Immigration Working Group, and the American Friends Service Committee.

Another rally will take place at State House Plaza in Concord at noon on Wednesday, May 1.

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All images credit to Arnie Alpert and Inzane Times.

Reposted with permission from InZane Times (Original Link)

Private Prison Off the Table in NH a post by Arnie Alpert (NH-AFSC)

New Hampshire will not privatize its prisons, at least not in the near future.  That’s the decision announced by the state today with the release of a long-awaited analysis of bids submitted by four private firms in response to a 2011 Request for Proposals from the state. 

The state’s consultant, MGT of America, found that none of the bids met the requirements spelled out in the RFP.  All of them “had deficiencies from an operational standpoint.”

[Click here for the report from MGT of America.]

Specifically, according to a parallel report released by the Departments of Corrections and Administrative Services, “all were non-compliant with meeting the Department of Corrections’ legal obligations.”

“More specifically, the proposals exhibited a lack of understanding of the overarching legal requirements placed upon the DOC relating to the court orders, consent decrees and settlements which, in large part, dictate the administration and operation of their correctional facilities and attendant services to the inmate populations,” the state agencies said. 

[Click here for the report from the state agencies.]

The agencies concluded, “The immediate next step, taken in conjunction with the release of this report, is the formal cancellation of the solicitation process. This decision, based upon the detail provided above, is made in the best interests of the State.”

That the private industry leaders were not able to explain how they would actually meet the state’s legal obligations should be seen as evidence that these companies can’t be trusted to operate prisons anywhere. 

MGT also reported that the staff compensation levels built into the privatization proposals was “one-half of the current compensation currently paid to similar positions in the state.”

“The state should be concerned that this significantly lower wage may make it difficult to maintain a trained and experienced staff. This could result in high turnover and ultimately impact the safety and security of the correctional facilities,” MGT added.

“In prior MGT studies of private correctional facility operations,” the report   elaborated, “we have found private correctional facilities with annual staff turnover rates of 42 percent compared to 13.3 percent for nearby public facilities. High turnover, which can result from non-competitive compensation levels, produces a chronically inexperienced work force with direct implications for the integrity of facility security and safety. Low compensation levels can also make staff recruitment more difficult, resulting in staff vacancies and reliance on overtime, which again has a negative impact upon facility security.”

The state’s report leaves open the possibility that the state would entertain privatization as an option at some point in the future.  That would be a huge mistake.  Instead, the legislature should pass HB 443, a bill that blocks the state from considering privatization.  This measure has already passed the NH House and comes before the Senate Finance Committee next Tuesday. 

(Reposted from InZane Times)

“Celebrate, Remember, and Act” by Arnie Alpert

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Talesha Caynon and Marsha Murdaugh make last minute preparations for the 29th annual MLK Day Breakfast.

MLK Day Celebrated in Hollis and Manchester

“Celebrate, Remember, and Act” was the theme of the Rev. Renee Rouse’s message to the Martin Luther King Day Breakfast held in Hollis, New Hampshire jan 21 2013 004this morning.  Yes, today is a day to celebrate freedom.  But what we each do with it is the challenge, the minister from the Brookline Community Church said to a full hall at the Alpine Grove, where Southern New Hampshire Outreach for Black Unity held its 29th annual MLK Day event.

Likewise, Nashua Mayor Donalee Lozeau talked about memory, calling the holiday a day for “thoughtful reflection” on lessons we can learn from history, including what she called “intentional mistakes.”

Surely among those we can count New Hampshire’s stubborn resistance to honoring Dr. King, resistance that was finally overcome in 1999 after a 20-year struggle.  One thing we might learn, I suppose, is the importance of persistence.  Another worthy of reflection is the importance of the holiday itself as a day to not only ponder history but to ponder our own roles as makers of history.  In those roles, Dr. King remains a powerful model.

Every year I  have the privilege of speaking at the MLK Breakfast, giving jan 21 2013 010what OBU calls “the update.”  Back in the day it was an update on the campaign to prevail at the State House for the King holiday.  Now, I get to speak about what is going on at the State House related to the prophetic vision we associate with Dr. King.

Today I began my comments at the beginning of King’s career, before Rosa Parks (and Claudette Colvin) refused to give up seats on Montgomery buses.  The issue mobilizing the Montgomery “Negro” community was the wrongful conviction and death sentence of Jeremiah Reeves, a Black musician accused of raping a white woman.  In his Montgomery memoir, Stride Toward Freedom, King said “the Reeves case was typical of the unequal justice of Southern courts,” where Black men could be executed based on false accusations yet white men who raped “Negro girls” were jan 21 2013 018rarely arrested and never brought to trial.

The fact that King’s activism began with a campaign to stop an execution is little known, but might carry some weight in the only New England state where the death penalty remains on the books.  We are also a state in which the outcome of two recent capital trials demonstrates that the “unequal justice” King described is not limited to the South or confined to history.  Remember and act.

King’s career ended in Memphis during a strike of city workers aiming for recognition of their union, and that was where I took my comments.  While our own legislature finally rejected last year’s poisonous right-to-work-for-less bills, attacks on public sector collective bargaining are back.  Senate President Peter Bragdon has just come out with SB 37, a bill that would eviscerate the power of public sector workers at the bargaining table.  We need the spirit of Dr. King and the Memphis workers atjan 21 2013 028 the State House this year.  Remember and act.

But we can’t forget to celebrate, and this year we celebrate the dedication of the  NH Sisters of Mercy, who were awarded the Martin Luther King Award in Manchester at an event aptly called the Martin Luther King Day Community Celebration.  The “Mercies” have been at the forefront of umpteen struggles for social justice longer than I’ve been in New Hampshire.  While the MLK Day Award has almost always gone to individuals in previous years, it felt great for the Sisters to be recognized as the community they are.  

Selina Taylor, an organizer with the NH Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty andjan 21 2013 041 a member of the leadership of the Manchester NAACP was also recognized with an award. 

Richard Haynes delivered the keynote at the afternoon celebration, where he stressed the importance of education to a full house at St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral’s community hall.  I’m sure he would have agreed with Rev. Rouse, who said we make a difference every day by “leaving footprints behind” for those coming up behind us.

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The post is republished with permission from InZane Times

King’s Legacy: Workers Rights, Leader Fought Anti-Union Efforts, From Arnie Alpert

This is an Op/Ed from Arnie Alpert. The Op/Ed first ran in the Concord Monitor on January  16, 2012

 

Dr Martin Luther KingKing’s legacy: workers’ rights

Leader fought anti-union efforts

By Arnie Alpert

At a time when workers are struggling to find decent jobs and local legislators are debating whether to strip public sector workers of their rights to form unions, we would do well to consider that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his life standing up for better jobs and workers’ rights. As was entirely consistent with his stand for peace and justice, he roundly condemned “right-to-work” laws like those now being pushed in New Hampshire.

Now branded a “civil rights leader,” King always tied the black freedom agenda to economics. At the 1963 March on Washington, formally known as the “March for Jobs and Freedom,” King explained that 100 years after slavery had been abolished, “the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.”

Throughout his 13-year public career, from the Montgomery bus boycott to the Poor Peoples Campaign and the Memphis sanitation workers strike, King “consistently aligned himself with ordinary working people, supporting their demands for workplace rights and economic justice,” writes historian Michael Honey in the introduction to a new collection of King speeches.

For a timely example, King spoke out consistently against “right-to-work” laws like the one adopted in last year’s legislative session and vetoed by Gov. John Lynch. “Right-to-work “provides no ‘rights’ and no ‘works,’ King said. “Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining.”

Last week, the New Hampshire House approved HB 383, a version of “right to work” limited to state employees, by a vote of 212-128. A similar bill is up for a hearing this week.

King said of such proposals in 1961, “It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights. It is supported by Southern segregationists who are trying to keep us from achieving our civil rights and our right of equal job opportunity. Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining by which unions have improved wages and working conditions of everyone. Wherever these laws have been passed, wages are lower, job opportunities are fewer and there are no civil rights.”

“Segregationist” may be a label that no longer applies to anti-union lawmakers, but the connection between race and the impact of unions is not just a matter of history.
“The lingering effects of discrimination, the educational attainment gap, and economic segregation are among the causes of the stubborn racial divide in employment,” reports United for a Fair Economy in its annual “State of the Dream” report, released Friday.
“The erosion of manufacturing jobs in recent decades, coupled with the anti-government attack on public sector workers and labor unions, have exacerbated racial inequalities in employment,” the report says.

With blacks 30 percent more likely than the overall work force to work for the government, the attack on public sector workers reinforces dynamics that keep black poverty rates twice that of whites and keep the net worth of black families one-fifth that of white ones.

It was arithmetic like that that brought King to Memphis in 1968.

Working in dismal conditions at poverty level wages, more than 1,000 sanitation and sewage system workers had walked off the job on Feb. 12 that year. As they held daily meetings and marches over the next eight weeks, the fundamental issues in their struggle were the right to negotiate a union contract and the right to have union dues deducted from paychecks. The very same issues are at stake here.

This week the New Hampshire House Labor Committee is considering HB 1163, which “prohibits employers from withholding union dues from employees’ wages” and HB 1206, which does the same thing, but limits the restriction to public state workers.
More serious, perhaps, is HB 1645, “prohibiting all public employees from participating in collective bargaining.” Teachers, firefighters, police officers, the people who plow our roads and make sure our drinking water is safe, and the entire state workforce would lose the protection of their union contracts should this radical proposal become law.

After King’s assassination, the Memphis workers finally won an agreement with the city.
“In its wake,” writes Michael Honey, “public employees became the leading force for union expansion in America.”

New Hampshire’s public employees did not secure the right to unionize until 1975, which means they owe a debt of gratitude to Dr. King and the Memphis workers.

King was acutely aware of history, and often quoted Theodore Parker’s statement that “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”

But as a scholar who understood the role played by organized labor in ending sweatshops and creating the American middle class, he knew someone had to do some active bending for justice to result.

“Social progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals,” he said in a 1961 speech to the United Auto Workers union.

If we want to be on the side of King’s dream of economic justice, we’ve got some work to do.

INZANE TIMES: Fix the Economy and the Debt Will take Care of Itself

(A repost from InZane Times)

In their recent op-ed for the “Campaign to Fix the Debt,” New Hampshire State Senator Lou D’Allesandro and former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell used several paragraphs to explain the danger that the country could go over the “fiscal cliff,” which they describe as “a series of across-the-board spending cuts and tax increases that will hurt everyone.”

That these measures, intended to reduce the federal government’s fiscal deficit, have aroused dread even among leaders of “Fix the Debt,” should be proof that the “debt’ is not the biggest problem we face. In the short run, the top economic problem the country faces is under-employment and stagnant wages for most workers.

The major cause of the current federal deficit is the economic collapse that began in 2008. When the economy melted down, the taxable income of workers dropped. Moreover, un- and under-employed workers were more likely to receive federal payments such as unemployment insurance, Medicaid, and food stamps.

The other significant causes of the deficit are the tax cuts pushed by President George W. Bush and extended/expanded by President Obama, and rapid expansion of military spending, including (but not limited to) the invasions/occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

The cost of Social Security has nothing to do with the current deficit. If the population and economy grow at normal rates, the future workforce will deposit enough into the system to fund the retirement of those who are working now, especially if Congress raises the payroll tax cap and permits millions of undocumented immigrant workers to enter the formal economy.

Long-term, the cost of Medicare and Medicaid could pose a significant burden on the economy. But this has everything to do with the larger problem of rising health care costs and nothing to do with the fact that these are “entitlement” programs.

If the nation insists on cutting the deficit, we should return our attention to its causes: tax rates, excessive military spending, and the recession itself. If we fix the economy, the debt will take care of itself.