Could the US Labor Movement Lose 3 to 5 Million Members Under Trump?

Sheffield   Visiting with a British union organizer in touch with colleagues in the United States, I was shocked, though perhaps I should not have been, when he told me he had been hearing of worst-case scenario meetings of labor strategists meeting after the election estimating that the American labor movement could lose 3 to 5 million members based on policies and initiatives that might be unstoppable at every level under a Trump Administration. Needless to say, such a mammoth disgorging of union membership would be crippling, not just for existing unions, but for the entire array of progressive forces throughout the country.

In the last 35 years, union membership density in the US has already fallen from slightly over 20% of the organized workforce to barely 11%. There are somewhere around 14.5 million members of unions, so a loss of even 3 million would deplete membership by more than 20%. A loss of 5 million would rip away over one-third of US union membership. The private sector membership of unions is now less than 7%, and even without Trump, organizing strategists for 20 years have warned that without major restructuring of organizing programs and significant organizing initiatives and policy shifts, labor was on a path to only 5% density or one in twenty American workers enjoying union membership. The current jet fueled conservative assault is likely against the more than 35% public sector membership that remains in unions.

We already can see the attack unfolding on several fronts. Republican-controlled legislatures and statehouses have already eviscerated union security provisions in Kentucky and Missouri is likely to fall with the house already having acted and the senate approving after current contracts expire with the governor’s signature seemingly inevitable. Other states are on the list. A bill was offered in Congress and then withdrawn, but certainly close at hand. The other major front already manifesting itself is more broadly aimed at public sector workers. Memorandum attacking paid union leave time in the federal sector for grievance handling and contract enforcement is already proceeding. The defeat in Wisconsin, which had been the birthplace of public unionization, provides a road map for other states to follow, but as we have seen elsewhere home health care and home daycare membership won by executive orders can easily be withdrawn.

Antonio Scalia’s death provided temporary relief when the Supreme Court split on the issue of withdrawing union security provisions for public workers in California and one or two Trump nominees, barring another miracle, means that even in staunch labor redoubts public union membership at the city, county, state, and educational level could be devastating, as we have seen in Wisconsin. Powerhouses of progressive labor like the teachers, service employees, government workers, and even industrial and private sector unions like the communication workers, auto workers, and teamsters which also represent significant bargaining units of public workers would all be hit hard.

Some unions are reportedly taking steps to prepare for these losses, both in their organizing and servicing programs, but lessons from not only Wisconsin but also from the British labor movement where union security was lost under Prime Minister Thatcher, indicate the losses under any reckoning will be severe. Never make the mistake in believing this will be a crisis only for American workers and their organizations. Conservatives know well what progressives should never forget, crippling institutional labor will have a seismic impact on all progressive organizations and capacity.

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Is There a Resistance Movement or Resistance Moment?

Bristol   I definitely don’t want to be standing at the station when the whistle blows that the train is moving out. I have to admit that I have my ears perked up at every sound to try to hear whether it’s the thundering feet of a movement or just the sharp cry of a moment.

I’m too jaded in this work to see Congressional town halls as the birthplace of the next revolution, but I don’t want to be blind to history either, and a snippet of the news like the one that follows makes me sit up straight and stand at total attention:

In fact, some of the most formidable and well-established organizing groups on the left have found themselves scrambling to track all of the local groups sprouting up through social media channels like Facebook and Slack, or in local “huddles” that grew out of the women’s marches across the country the day after the inauguration.

When the people are moving and established organizations and institutions are having to work overtime to catch up with them, that’s a very, very interesting sign. In a time of movement, it may be difficult for this kind of activity and anger to be channeled in the way that these same organizations and institutions are hoping to move the stream. It’s good news though for the 30 million lower income families taking advantage of the Affordable Care Act that there are many of the flags being waved as elected representatives slink home from the Congressional chaos are focusing on saving health care.

There are other signs too. When seasoned organizers report that they expected 200 at a meeting, and 1000 showed up, as my generation said, “you don’t need a weatherman to see which way the wind is blowing.” The Times also reported on other barometers that people were in motion:

Anti-abortion demonstrations in some cities this month were met with much larger crowds of abortion rights supporters. At a widely viewed town-hall-style meeting held by Representative Gus Bilirakis in Florida, a local Republican Party chairman who declared that the health care act set up “death panels” was shouted down by supporters of the law.

And, perhaps more interestingly, an organizer for Planned Parenthood posed the question plainly as she tries to ride this wave of momentum:

“It doesn’t work for organizations to bigfoot strategy; it’s not the way organizing happens now,” said Kelley Robinson, the deputy national organizing director for Planned Parenthood, which is fighting the defunding of its health clinics. “There are bigger ideas coming out of the grass roots than the traditional organizations.”

If she’s right, that’s a call to arms for all of us to get ready to move, because grassroots activity needs formation, planning, resources, and direction in order to win. That’s not bigfoot, that’s soft touch, listening, and work on the ground that takes a moment and helps make a movement and births new organizations and great social change.

When that whistle blows, we have to all be on the train.

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Chaos in the White House Can’t Stop Progress in the Streets

Bristol ACORN

Bristol   Maybe President Trump needs to get out more? Perhaps there’s something in the air in the White House that is clogging up his so-called “fine-tuned machine” and bringing out the crazy? Maybe from the outside looking in, it would be easier for him to understand better why the rest of us are scared sillier every day?

Who knows, but for me it was relief to jump off the merry-go-round of the Trump-Watch and back onto a plane again. And, though sleepless and a walking-zombie imitation, sure enough it was possible to find signs of continuing progress away from the maddening vortex of chaos in Washington.

Visiting with the ACORN organizers in Bristol, the big problem of the day was one every organization likes to have. On the eve of ACORN’s first all-offices, national action scheduled only days away from Edinburgh to Sheffield, Newcastle, Bristol, and beyond against the giant multi-national bank, Santander, they threw in the towel and caved in. The issue was a requirement that Santander attaches on any loans in housing that tenant leases mandate rent increases. ACORN was demanding the provision be dropped from all leases, and Santander announced that it was doing so, and in a bit of dissembling claimed that they had never really enforced it anyway. Hmmm. I wonder if they had told any of their landlords, “hey, ignore that part, we don’t really want you to raise the rents, we’re just kidding, it’s only money.” Hard to believe isn’t it? And, we don’t, but a win is a win, and the action will now become a celebration and a demand that all other banks in the United Kingdom also scrub out any such language.

Back home, ACORN affiliate, A Community Voice, was front page news as they laid the gauntlet down once again around an expansion of the Industrial Canal that divides the upper and lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans. The expansion would dislocate homes and further bisect this iconic and beleaguered community.

Meanwhile, as we get closer and closer to being able to target big real estate operations and private equity that are exploiting lower income home seekers in the Midwest and South through contract for deed land purchasers, there was progress in the courts. A federal judge ruled that Harbour Portfolio, a Dallas-based bottom-fishing private equity operation with a big 7000-home play in FNMA, would have to abide by a subpoena from the much embattled Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and disclose information on its use high-interest, predatory contract-for-deed instruments in its home flipping. As we get closer and closer to having our arms around not only terms and conditions of these exploitative contracts, but also lists of potential victims in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, this is good news, even though far from the relief and victory families will be seeking.

All of which proves that if we can keep our focus away from the chaos created in Washington and our feet on the streets, there are fights galore and victories aplenty to reward the work and struggle.

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Foreclosure Bonds

decline of some foreclosed homes in Detroit

New Orleans   This is such a short limb, I don’t mind crawling out on it: every community needs a foreclosure bond. OK, I’ve said it, now what am I talking about?

I interviewed Gary Davenport on Wade’s World who now works for the Mahoning County Land Bank, which is an interesting operation itself, based in Youngstown, Ohio, one of the many ground zeros in the deindustrialization in the Rust Belt. Gary and I had met briefly four years ago when I was visiting the Youngstown State University and its Center for Working Class Studies and met with community organizers there. When we were talking recently, he had told me about some interesting campaigns that the MVOC, the Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative, had won when he was working as a community organizer there.

Here’s what it says in the city codes now:

Foreclosure Bond Requirement. Any owner of a property which files a foreclosure action against such property, or for which a foreclosure action is pending, or a judgment of foreclosure has been issued shall, in addition to all other requirements of this Section, provide a cash bond to the Deputy Director of Public Works or his or her designee, in the sum of ten thousand dollars ($10,000.00), to secure the continued maintenance of the property throughout its vacancy and remunerate the City for any expenses incurred in inspecting, securing, repairing and/ or making such building safe by any legal means including, but not limited to, demolition. A portion of said bond to be determined by the Deputy Director of Public Works shall be retained by the City as an administrative fee to fund an account for expenses incurred in inspecting, securing, repairing and/ or marking said building and other buildings which are involved in the foreclosure process or vacant.

Yes, it’s a city ordinance and that’s how city lawyers write, but you get the point. Past the problem of foreclosures themselves and the tragedy they bring to families is the attendant devastation they bring to communities, often because the bank and its servicers have limited incentives to take care of the property and the upkeep while they are trying to get it off their books. This is a problem is all communities. In neighborhoods where there is already depopulation due to deindustrialization, natural disaster, or changing demographics, houses can sit vacant for long periods, pulling down values throughout the neighborhood and posing safety hazards and attractive nuisances. Budget strapped cities are forced to step in to cut grass, trim trees, and sometimes to demolish the structure, and left footing the bills. The bond simply forces the mortgage holding institution driving the foreclosure to put their cash down, and do the job, so they can get their money back, and if not, the requirements of the full code give the city a way to deduct the money from the bond to cover their costs of doing the job for the bank and its servicers. Other than the fact that maybe the bond should be higher, this should be standard in every city of any shape and size!

Gary said they had picked up the idea from another community organization, ADT, in Springfield, Massachusetts, and it had now been enacted in several other Ohio cities as well.

Here’s a shout out to community organizers and, what the heck, to city officials: let’s get a foreclosure bond campaign in gear!

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How Can We Keep Up With Boycotts?

Little Rock   This morning as I stumbled out of the trailer and into the main house, my brother-in-law, asked me whether our coffeehouses were benefiting from the Starbucks boycott. I looked at him blankly, tried to start my mental search engine without enough coffee to kick it into gear, until I just said, “The what?” Seems on his Facebook feed and some of his news sources there was drumbeating to the faithful to boycott Starbucks because they had offered to hire 10,000 refugees over the next 5 years. Really, I answered, who is bothering with that? Given the fact that the company has more than 100,000 workers in the USA and the turnover is more than 100% annually, they probably easily hire more than 2000 refugees a year already. He said the boycotters wanted them to hire veterans instead of refugees. I said they probably already hire more veterans than refugees.

Some of the Trumpsters are demanding we boycott the Nordstrom department store because they pulled Ivanka’s clothing line off the racks because it wasn’t selling. The President couldn’t help himself from tweeting that it was “unfair,” even from his White House twitter account, and his senior counselor, Kellyanne Conway, crossed many legal lines on the Fox and Friends TV show with what she called a “free commercial” encouraging listeners to go buy as much Ivanka stuff as they could handle.

A columnist for the New York Times in the the business section recently thought he should lecture the readers about why they shouldn’t boycott Uber, even though more than 200,000 according to the company had deleted the ride sharing application from their smartphones. He mansplained to all that boycotts couldn’t be effective as flashes-in-the-pan, but needed to be sustainable and persistent. Duh! Yet, other stories in the same pages have constantly portrayed corporate titans and their public relations advisors as walking on eggshells these days for fear of a Trump tweet or something else that might catch them in the crosshairs of our polarized left and right country today.

How do we keep up with the boycotts out there?

It’s not easy. I thought there must be a quick and easy source that would allow us to monitor all of this so we know what’s up. A Google search was disappointing. Boycotts, especially the long running boycott of goods made in the area that occupied Palestinian territory were prominent, but nothing that gave you a guide to what was up. Hitting the websites boycott.org and boycott.com produced nothing that was alive, though both are likely for sale. I finally hit something called boycottwatch.org, but it had not been active for almost two years. There must be something somewhere, but it wasn’t coming to me?

As I walked out of my brother-in-law’s kitchen, I told him we didn’t need to worry too much about most boycotts because we didn’t make enough money to buy much from most of them anyway, so we were already on “permanent boycott” mode. More seriously, I thought to myself, we need some kind of boycott monitor or guide where we can all go, find out what’s up, and either jump in or walk away. I sent a note to New Orleans: let’s buy a site!

These days, it almost seems more like a public service to let everyone know, since this seems to be a tactic whose time has once again come.

Oh, and, no, don’t leave any room for cream with that!

***

Please enjoy Rodney Crowell’s It Ain’t Over Yet (feat. Rosanne Cash & John Paul White)

Thanks to Kabf.

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Report from Behind the Bunker, that What We’re Doing is Working

New Orleans   There’s no reason to get the big head. It’ll be a long four years. Or longer. Eventually, they’ll get this right or at least righter. Nonetheless, there’s some evidence that we, the big WE, the collective we of all progressive Americans and maybe more, including those who are not progressive but at least aren’t haters, anti-immigrants, anti-women, anti-Muslim, are having some real impact, and that Trump is even semi-getting it, as well as others.

An article, obviously fueled by leaks from the White House, to Wall Street Journal reporters Carol Lee and Peter Nicholas, quotes the President telling his top aides last weekend, while protests were blossoming like wild flowers at airports all over the country, that, “This has to go better.” Supposedly he tried to straighten out his chaotic staff structure where chaos has prevailed for most of the last two weeks. The always wacky, wild-eyed editorial writers for the Journal were even quoted in a story in their competitor, The New York Times, calling the travel ban rollout “incompetent,” though that seems a kindness. Karl Rove, George W. Bush’s Rasputin, writing in the op-ed page of the Journal spared no words in his criticism and included a grade-school level primer in his column on how quasi-normal governments would have gotten away with such an order.

And then in the most interesting bonbon to come our way, here’s former Reagan speechwriter and hardcore Republican stalwart, Peggy Noonan, calling out a very clear warning that allows us to count coup even while a long way from winning the battle or the war. Here she goes:

The handling of the order allowed the organized left to show its might, igniting big demonstrations throughout major cities. And not only downtown – they had to make it out to the airport to give the media the pictures, and they did. In Washington I witnessed a demonstration of many thousands of people carrying individualized, hand-letter signs.

If all this was spontaneous, the left is strong indeed. If was a matter of superior organization, that’s impressive too.

You should never let your enemy know its own strength. They discovered it in the Women’s March, know it more deeply now, and demonstrated it to Democrats on the Hill. It was after the demonstrations that Democratic senators started boycotting the confirmation hearings. They now have their own tea party to push them around.

The handling of the order further legitimized the desire of many congressional Republicans to distance themselves from the president, something they feel they’ll eventually have to do anyway because they know how to evaluate political horse flesh, and when they look at them they see Chief Crazy Horse.

Sorry about Noonan’s Crazy Horse reference, she went cheap there, but she’s going deep the rest of the way. There is no Facebook fawning here. No Twitter triumphalism. She’s a veteran, and she knows effective political organization when she sees it, and says so.

Can we be our own “tea party?” That might be something to be proud of right now, but we have to be careful. Our strength is showing, but it can’t dissolve into arrogance and can be frittered away without tactical and strategic care. We also have the Times poking us about “black” teams and anarchist growth that no one controls, but they will try to make us own. A Times columnist even tried to lecture all of its readers, and all of us, about the proper way to target and conduct a boycott, while whitewashing Uber. Both of good reminders of how quickly the worm will turn.

We’re not winning, but we’re holding our own. At least for now. We live and work in interesting times, and we’re adding our spice to the stew. Nothing but good can come of this.

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