Living Wages in Czech Republic and Being a Fly on the Wall as Labor and Parties Plan

IMG_1559Prague        Much of the day seemed like a 100-mile march through Prague as I got to know the organizers and leaders of ACORN Czech on a 10000 walk around the city complete with churches, cemeteries, synagogues, statutes galore, breathtaking views, and more Czech-lish jokes that I would want to recount on how many structures were built when America “was still just Indians.”  Priceless!

In the afternoon I did my second presentation to another group of activists, intellectuals, and potential supports, this time in a juxtaposed baroque room in the Social Democratic Party building right behind a fancy, beer joint with taps at individual tables (?!?).  The crowd included a former Czech ambassador to the United Nations from the late ’60’s, organizers of cooperatives, a philosophy professor who had traveled over from Bratislava, and, among others, a free lance researcher worried about the aging “demographics” of the Czech people and the funding for Social Security, so needless to say, I felt right at home.

The quIMG_1553estions got most interested  when they honed into the notion of a Living Wage Campaign for the Czech Republic.  The minimum wage is 8000 crowns per month (Czech like UK has not gone euro) and has been frozen for 7 years in a familiar lament.  They do have the ability from what I could tell to do initiated petitions, so a lot of these stories resonated deeply.  There was some difficulty understanding the notion of a “community-labor” partnership because such an idea was so far removed from experience, but the more that people began to understand the concept of building a base that was not just right wing and property protecting on the community level, the more excited people became about forging ahead in this direction.  Frankly, I got excited at the notion of this kind of campaign here as well.

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We rushed from this meeting to the imposing building of the Federation of Trade Unions where somehow Michal Ulver, our head organizer for ACORN Czech, had gotten us an invitation to sit in on a critical meeting that was assembling a coalition of the trade unions and progressive political parties to breakthrough on the economic challenges and stalemate from the right-center governing party.  Perhaps a dozen men and women were assembled around the conference room and despite uneven translation one had no difficulty recognizing that this was a group able to handle hard problems with good humor and quick conversation and compromise in order to make things happen.  The plan was designed to forge a three-pronged strategy for a mid-November general strike led by the Federation, a petition to the government, and a coordinated legislative push in Parliament.  At least one-third of the participants had been former ministers in previous governments with portfolios in health, social security of labor, so these were experienced hands who had traveled the roads back and forth between politics and government and labor.   Part of what was unusual here is that despite the fact that the Communist Party has the most seats in the Parliament, they are not able to form a government because other parties will not coalesce with them.  In this meeting they were more than an equal and enthusiastic presence embraced fully by all of the other parties and formations in the room.  Fascinating!

In my final debriefing for the day it turned out that some of our meetings were garnering some press attention on the internet, TV, and print, so perhaps we were providing support and sustenance for our new affiliate here.  At the least I was impressed here in the “heart of Europe” about our prospects for the future and the potential our organizing might have in such friendly soil.

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