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 A bill was offered in Congress and then withdrawn, but certainly close at hand.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but as we have seen elsewhere home health care and home daycare membership won by executive orders can easily be withdrawn.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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Looking at Migration from Honduras Up, Rather than US Down

London   Draft rules being prepared by the US Department of Homeland Security, the parent agency for ICE, Immigration and Custom Enforcement, would provide for expedited procedures for anyone in the US over two weeks, rather than two years, immediate deportation at the border, and potential legal action against parents sending unaccompanied minors. Honduras, where ACORN works in San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa, the two largest cities, was frequently leading the list of countries sending children. We were fortunate to have an intern from Tulane University, Jordan Sticklin, do some research to help our organizers in Honduras understand what many of our members and their families are facing. Looking deeply at the situation in Honduras reveals a more complicated story than many might want to understand.

The crisis of insecurity and violence in many lower income communities forcing families to flee for safety is a real issue, which we confront in our neighborhoods daily, and there is little debate that the government of Honduras has not been able to develop sufficient capacity to protect families. The child migration problem though dates back before this time though to the destruction of Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and its continued aftermath. Many families were displaced then, and a US program allowing temporary stay permits facilitated the migration of many Hondurans during the emergency. Families were often separated then with children left with relatives as migrants hoped to reclaim them once they stabilized in the US and legalized their migratory status. The failure of the US to provide a policy solution there has exacerbated the problem.

A Honduran agency found that between 2013-2016, more than 9,000 Honduran children were detained upon trying to enter the US, and in 276 cases they were unaccompanied minors. Inarguably, the issue in Honduras is not unaccompanied children, but entire families fleeing their communities, and frankly running for their lives. Given this fear-to-flight situation, it is easier to understand the harsh reality that negates much of the US policy discussion. Polls in Honduras indicate that 80% surveyed believed that policies under President Trump for migrants would worsen, yet 40% still believed that they had no choice and would still be forced to migrate.

Meanwhile Mexico is caught in the middle with US pressure to tighten up its borders to prevent transit of migrants from Honduras and other Central America countries to the US. In 2015, 91% of the migrants returned to Central America were from Mexico and only 8% were from the USA. The draft Trump deportation rules, if implemented, will increase the pressure – and cost – to Mexico in handling increased numbers of migrants at the border who are now being housed in the US while waiting on deportation or other adjudication, who will now just be pushed back across the border. We can expect to see the nightmarish pictures coming on television similar to the squatters’ camps in France where African migrants try to figure out how to get across the English Channel to England.

We can keep blaming and shaming, but none of this is a solution, nor is it humanitarian or show any respect for human rights or the basic reality of the situation. At best it looks like a way to make Mexico pay for migrants, whether they pay for the wall or not. None of this will end well.

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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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Country Club Diplomacy

Nuclear crisis at the country club. photo from Facebook

New Orleans   Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize winning economist and op-ed writer for the New York Times, ended a column on the Trump presidency the other day saying, “be afraid.” That’s good advice.

At the same time be prepared to occasionally succumb to the hysterical hilarity of its very ridiculousness. Take for example the weekend display of country club diplomacy at its worst. Please! And, to paraphrase Republican Senator and former Presidential candidate, John McCain, “what will happen next?”

There’s the just plain tackiness and self-dealing of taking Prime Minister Abe from Japan and his wife down for a golfing weekend at your own Mar-a-Lago resort and country club in Florida, still owned and everlastingly promoted by the President, where Abe’s big treat was getting to golf at not one, but two, Trump owned golf courses. Wow!

Then there’s dinner. No special room though, oh, no, right in the middle of the main dining room with the rest of the swells. Living in New Orleans where fancy, big-name restaurants have dozens of separate and high profile rooms for private parties, someone like me would have figured that Trump and his party would have cordoned themselves off to put on the dog, but what do I know about country club diplomacy.

After all, if you jumped the membership price from a hundred grand to two hundred grand, you pretty much are required to put your face in the place, and you can’t do that from a private room, you need to peacock out there with the half-of-one-percenter folks you want to impress. That’s probably covered in the marketing manuals.

Oh, and if all hell breaks loose, you can put on a show. Take for example North Korea, knowing you are sporting the Japanese PM around, decides to do a ballistic missile test, and you have to make one of these big, headline type of presidential decisions about which we should all “be afraid.” You don’t want to go to a secure zone, common to all those other lame presidents from Bush to Obama and whomever, where there’s no danger of eavesdropping by, you know, foreign unfriendlies, but instead, hey, do your secret business right there in the middle of the dining room so everyone can see it. Have your main security advisor use the insecure cellphone he’s not supposed to have and go to the flashlight app so you can see the satellite intel better. Let the waiters deliver the entrées for everyone as they shuffle the papers out of the way. What the heck, let the wives watch the boys do their, oh, so secret and important, jobs, while they are drinking wine at the table.

Oh, and for the rest of the diners, they can not only see the whole deal in real time, but get out their cellphones and take pictures for their Facebook accounts, so that rich people can pretend to be just like teenagers. Or, hey, get selfies with the soldier carrying the nuclear codes – what a great idea.

Unbelievable! You can’t make this stuff up.

Be afraid, doesn’t seem to cover this well enough.

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Protest Inside the Corporate Castles and Behind the Government Walls

New Orleans   If you ever wondered whether mass protests bring social change or just more miles on your wrist FitBit, the evidence of the protests’ impact whether the Women’s March or the mass airport actions around the Trump travel ban are now everywhere including inside corporate castles and behind the walls of government throughout the country.

Perhaps there were no surprises that some of the hipper set of tech companies were quickly forced to get in formation with the protests. More than 127 of them joined the Amicus brief in arguments to the Appeals Court to freeze the ban. Many were caught in a double bind between their employees and the fact they depend on easy entry of foreigner labor for a portion of their best-and-brightest talent. But, other tech companies, less cutting edge and more mainstream, are feeling the heat as well. Almost 1000 “verified” IBM employees signed a petition to their CEO demanding that the company refuse any contract that would restrict American rights and liberties. Several young women who were part of a new acquisition by Cisco began a similar petition, and women seemed to be leading many of these inside challenges.

This is not an isolated phenomenon. More than 1000 State Department workers had earlier signed a “dissent” cable around concerns around the travel ban and the diminishment of core American values. Justice Department officials jumped on their swords on the same issue.

Five members of the Super Bowl winning New England Patriots have said they will not be traveling to the White House for the ceremonial photo op, because they do not feel welcome. Steph Curry, the NBA MVP for the last two years, and a spokesman for the Under Armour athletic wear company said he would walk away from a multi-million dollar contract with the company until the CEO backtracked from his overzealous comments seeming to give a blanket endorsement to Trump. Steve Kerr, his coach at the Golden State Warriors, said essentially that these are times of protest when players need to speak out.

Other companies from Wall Street to Main Street are hunkering down and caught between crazy at the White House and concerns expressed in employee meetings, emails, and local watering holes. Workers are scrubbing social media posts and going encrypted for conversations because of concern about increased surveillance in the new era.

This is what social change looks like. Long hair on the street and suddenly even CEOs have hair over their ears and collars. Pantsuits and low heels start showing up and ties are left at home. Those who were always quiet realize that threats to home, family, community, and country are real enough that silence is no longer acceptable.

When protest leaps over the walls and goes viral, popping up everywhere and anywhere, a tipping point may be reached where the forces of change can’t be stopped and there is a culture shift that legitimizes all protest. When all Americans believe they now have to protect American’s values and reputation, no government is secure.

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