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“America Out Of Whack” By Arnie Alpert of InZane Times

American Flag (Sam Howzit FLIKR)

Writing in the New York Times, Thomas Edsall assembles an impressive array of facts that illuminate the realities of wealth inequality in America.  

Citing Federal Reserve figures, Edsall reports that household net worth, corporate profits, and the value of real estate have been going up at an impressive pace.  If you think that sounds like evidence of recovery you’d be mistaken, at least if you equate “recovery” with economic conditions that are improving for most workers.   

“The September Federal Reserve Bulletin graphically demonstrates how wealth gains since 1989 have gone to the top 3 percent of the income distribution,” he writes.  “The next 7 percent has stayed even, while the bottom 90 percent has experienced a steady decline in its share.”

It’s not just wealthy individuals getting wealthier; it’s also the corporations they own and run.    Citing statistics from Goldman Sachs, Edsall says corporate profits rose five times faster than wages last year.  And he quotes an article from Business Insider that stated,

“America’s companies and company owners — the small group of Americans who own and control America’s corporations — are hogging a record percentage of the country’s wealth for themselves.”

Edsall asks, “Why don’t we have redistributive mechanisms in place to deploy the trillions of dollars in new wealth our economy has created to shore up the standard of living of low- and moderate-income workers, to restore financial stability to Medicare and Social Security, to improve educational resources and to institute broader and more reliable forms of social insurance?”

It’s the right question. 

For answers he turns to a bunch of economists, who provide data about tax rates, labor force participation, the declining growth of well-paying jobs, globalization, and the reduction of labor’s share of profit relative to capital in a time of rising productivity.  

My answer is a bit more straightforward:  America’s companies and company owners — the small group of Americans who own and control America’s corporations — are hogging the political system.  This is nothing new, but in the legal environment created by recent Supreme Court decisions (Citizens United and McCutcheon in particular) it is becoming easier for corporate interests to wage class war and win.  Simply put, the people who make the laws and set the policies have their receptors tuned to the frequency where the corporations are broadcasting. 

Edsall notes survey data that reveal corporations are not so popular in the USA and other so-called “advanced countries.”   He asks if the legitimacy of free market capitalism in America is facing fundamental challenges.

My gut response is to say “I hope so.”  But the dynamics described by all those economists are not the workings of “the invisible hand.”  The market is operating under a set of rules established by those who already have more than their fair share of power, wealth, and privilege.  The legitimacy of our corporate-directed political system that must be challenged as well.

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Democracy Movement Takes a Message to Senator Ayotte (InZane Times)

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NASHUA, NH — The “Democracy for All Amendment” failed on a procedural vote today in the US Senate, but not before a dozen New Hampshire activists made one more attempt to get Senator Kelly Ayotte to support overturning the US SupremeP9110119Court’s “Citizens United” decision.

“Corporations are not people.  They should not control our political process,” Representative Sylvia Gale of Nashua said to the group assembled at City Hall Plaza at 9 am this morning.

The group was small, but they are part of a large movement of people concerned that “corporate people” and the wealthiest Americans have the legal ability to drown out competing voices in the political process.

“I don’t have a lot of money and I want my voice to be heard,” explained Fred Robinson, who drove to Nashua from Goffstown to participate.   

“Democracy should work for people,” offered Dr. Thabile Mnisi-Misibi, an ANC member visiting from South Africa.

The contingent of 13 people walked with signs and chants througP9110155h the downtown district to the Senator’s office.  There, they delivered a petition with 12,000 New Hampshire names calling on Senator Ayotte to support the constitutional change.   

“This is an issue for all of New Hampshire, and Senator Ayotte needs to get involved,” said Dan Weeks of the Coalition for Open Democracy, the group which led the organizing of today’s action.

Weeks handed the petitions and supporting material to Simon Thomson, an aide to Senator Ayotte, who met the group on the sidewalk outside her office.

Dan Weeks presenting petitions to Simon Thomson.

A similar action took place last week at Senator Ayotte’s Portsmouth office.

Ayotte voted Monday for a motion that allowed consideration of the amendment to go forward, but today joined her GOP colleagues voting against ending debate, thereby blocking the measure from an up or down vote on its merits.   New Hampshire’s other Senator, Jeanne Shaheen, was a co-sponsor of the amendment proposal.

The notion that the Supreme Court believes corporations are people, that money is speech, and that therefore corporations can spend without limits to affect election campaigns has provoked a reaction expressed through petitions, resolutions, and proposals for constitutional change.  SJ Resolution 19, the proposal defeated today in the P9110141US Senate, is just one of a couple dozen advanced by members of Congress in response to Citizens United.  Some groups, such as Move To Amend, have made it clear they think it doesn’t go far enough to reverse corporate constitutional rights.  But it was the only proposal likely to get considered in the foreseeable future, so many groups calling for constitutional change were on board. 

Writing in his blog at The Nation earlier this week, John Nichols said:

The amendment that is being considered is a consequential, if relatively constrained, proposal, which focuses on core money in political concerns but which does not go as far as many Americans would like when it comes to establishing that money is not speech, corporations are not people and elections should not be up for sale to the highest bidder.

Yet it is difficult to underestimate the importance of the debate that will unfold this week. The debate signals that a grassroots movement has established the rational response to a political crisis created by US Supreme Court rulings (including, but certainly not exclusively, the Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions) that have opened the floodgates for domination of political debates by billionaire campaign donors and corporate cash.

No one expected the amendment to get the two-thirds vote it would need to pass or get a vote at all in John Boehner’s House of Representatives.   But the fact that any vote took place is evidence of a significant expression oP9110133f public sentiment that the“Citizens United” decision did serious damage to fundamental issues.  The questions now are whether the movement will grow or fizzle, and whether the pro-amendment groups will intensify their demands for more aggressive language or head down the familiar road of further compromise.  A decision to water down the language in hopes of gaining votes at this point would be a huge mistake.

“Constitutional amendments become viable when support for them grows so overwhelming that traditional partisan and ideological boundaries are broken,” wrote Nichols, who will speak at an AFSC dinner in Concord on September 27.  “When this happens, the divide becomes less a matter of Republican versus Democrat or left versus right and more a matter of a broken present versus a functional future.”

Demoulas Workers Hailed on Labor Day (via InZane Times)

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Bread and Roses Heritage Festival, Lawrence MA

In a sense the heroes of Labor Day 2014 are the employees of the Demoulas Market Basket supermarket chain, from part-time baggers all the way up to CEO  P8280015Arthur T. Demoulas, whose dismissal six weeks ago prompted a mass walk-out and consumer boycott that brought him back to the company’s helm.  It was an unusual example of labor solidarity, to say the least.

To re-cap, when Arthur T. was ousted as CEO by stockholders led by his cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas, middle managers walked out, truck drivers stopped making deliveries, baggers and clerks made protest signs during their shifts, and customers heeded the call of workers for a boycott.  Five weeks later, August 27, Arthur T’s bid to buy out his rivals was accepted and workers and shoppers returned to the stores scattered across Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine.P8280001

[See earlier post, “Bring Back the Boss.”]

I talked to two of the workers, Dave and Jordan, at the doorway of the Fort Eddy Road Market Basket in Concord, New Hampshire last Thursday, the morning after the deal was announced.  They run the produce department, but with no produce on the shelves they were spending their shift welcoming customers back to the store after a five-week boycott and strike.

Dave said he had been “ready to battle to the end,” and that in the end “we hit them in the pocket.”

“We won,” said one smiling shopper.  “Congratulations,” said another.  “Those asses don’t know their asses from their elbows,” commented a third.  “Thank you for your resolve,” added a fourth. Speaking of the customers who did their shopping elsewhere during the job action, Dave said, “We did it together.” 

“There’s a power there,” commented Robert Forrant, a professor of history atP9010074UMASS Lowell, speaking four days later in the labor history tent at the 30th annual Bread and Roses Heritage Festival in Lawrence, MA.  The Demoulas story is “evidence of collective action, workers and consumers working together.”

If there are no workers, there is no production,” Forrant said.  While that may be as basic a statement about the power of labor as one could make, it’s not one that has produced many compelling and successful examples in Massachusetts and New Hampshire in the 21st century.  So far. 

“If I was a fast food worker, this would inspire me to think solidarity was possible,” said Forrant, who received this year’s Labor Day Heritage Festival Hall of Fame Award.

The festival also featured the first annual wreath-laying ceremony at the monument to the 1912 strike commemorated by the Bread and Roses Festival.  There, too, Demoulas workers were front and center.  “This monument speaks to me,” saidP9010115 Steve Paulenka, one of several company executives fired for instigating protests.  “Remember what they did and why they did it.”

We should also remember the summer of 2014, “when a whole lot of ordinary folks got together and made extraordinary things happen,”  Paulenka continued.

Professor Forrant says it’s too early to know whether the Demoulas struggle is one for the history books.  But in 1912, he said, no one knew the Bread and Roses strike would inspire workers decades later.   

Flowers laid at memorial to the 1912 Bread and Roses strike

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

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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”

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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)

Rep. Lorrie Carey (image by Arnie Alpert)

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)

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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

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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.

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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)

Immigration rally Nashua 4-6-13 (credit Arnie Alpert)

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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)

american friends service committee logo (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)

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