Arizona is in Play in November and It Could Matter

Promise Arizona Get Out the Vote Float

Promise Arizona Get Out the Vote Float

Rock Creek, Montana    Whenever a state is compared to Mississippi, it’s a sure fired signal there’s trouble coming, so I hunkered down to read an article in the recent New Yorker that referred to Arizona as “the Mississippi of the West.” Trust me, that’s not a complement, and trust me on this as well, Arizona has earned every piece of this putdown in the way that it has dealt with its Latino population, calling to mind in excruciating detail the way Mississippi has been infamous for its discrimination against African-Americans over the years.

No surprises, the article focused on the fact that there are huge efforts to register 75,000 Latinos to expand the voting pool. Most of the groups mentioned in the article are organizations we know well and have worked with at various times in the past in one way or another: Puente, Promise Arizona, and One Arizona. These are good people with deep commitments. There’s a real organizing community in Arizona, which makes it a pleasure to work there.

Given the fact there is always more turnout in a general election year, and that Republican nominee Donald Trump has gone out of his way to alienate the Hispanic population nationally, and especially along the border, this is an important peoples’ effort to make a difference and prevail despite incredible efforts by the state legislature to suppress voting access and create voting barriers. There isn’t a poll tax, but there’s’ almost everything else, including the kitchen sink that politicians have thrown in the way of voters. The recent scandal when polling places were reduced in Maricopa County, home of Phoenix the state’s population center where 40% of the electorate is Hispanic, to about one-third of what they had been, thereby creating huge lines and waiting periods is just one example. What’s at stake may not be the Presidential election, because there are other, larger battlegrounds like Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania that will play a larger role, but to the degree that longtime Senator and former Presidential candidate, John McCain, could lose his seat, affecting the Senate majority, and that arch nemesis Sheriff Arpaio could finally fall make this coming election worth watching.

Last time a joint effort called Adios Arpaio came very close to throwing the Sheriff out of office. This could be the time, but only if the registration effort succeeds and voter turnout is high. A recent effort, covered in the article, was successful statewide when all groups joined together to push through a ballot proposition that will reallocate $3.5 billion from the state’s land trust to the public-school system where 44% of the population is Latino. Importantly, the measure won by 20,000 votes.

Much of the article focused on Petra Falcon, a former Industrial Areas Foundation organizer and longtime activist in the state, who directs Promise Arizona. It was fun to read that she still uses the old Fred Ross house meetings as a regular part of their methodology. The piece didn’t paper over the fact that the Latino organizing community is not monolithic. The religiosity Falcon and her organization attach to the work is not shared as widely by other groups and her support for the Gang of Eight immigration compromise, roundly attacked by almost all other immigrant groups when proposed, puts her a bit out of step with others.

More importantly though, on this election, everyone in Arizona is united and that could mean something great for the whole country and speed up the process of taking the Mississippi out of Arizona in the future.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

The Human Cost of Globalism: New York Nannies and Georgetown Slaves

The grave of Cornelius Hawkins, one of 272 slaves sold by the Jesuits in 1838 to help keep what is now Georgetown University afloat. Source:thenewyorktimes

The grave of Cornelius Hawkins, one of 272 slaves sold by the Jesuits in 1838 to help keep what is now Georgetown University afloat. Source:The New York Times

New Orleans   The argument changes when the global economy acquires a human face. Rarely has that been clearer than in two recent stories, one about a Filipino nanny in New York City and the other tracing the descendants of slaves sold by Georgetown University to their graveyards and relatives in Louisiana.

We talk about the predatory nature of remittances frequently because they bleed immigrant families and migrant workers of critical financial resources that they are sending their families and communities in their home countries as well as the quality of living and employment conditions where they work. The New Yorker ran a long story about a woman they called “Emma” from the Philippines, college educated in accounting with nine daughters and a husband. At forty-four years old with her oldest two daughters in college she came to the realization that there was no way on the wages paid in the Philippines that they would be able to pay for seven more to also go to college. She then made the wrenching decision to join a migrant “mother’s march” of sorts, joining a sister, women from her church, and a former home economics teacher in illegally migrating to the US to work as a nanny and caregiver.

The article points out that more than half of the workers surveyed several years ago by the Domestic Workers Alliance were undocumented. It also makes clear that the new, 21st century migrant is more likely to be a women and someone employed in the service industry as a caregiver than in older migrations of construction and factory workers. A huge export from the Philippines is workers, known as OFW or Overseas Filipino Workers since “a tenth of the population now works abroad, supporting nearly half of the country’s households and leaving some nine million Filipino children missing a parent.” And, it’s usually the mothers now, since “in the past decade, three-quarters of OFWs have been women.” Emma has not seen her children or husband or been home in 16 years. She has missed her mother’s funeral, though she and her sister paid for it. She has gotten her daughters through college but the exchange has been living on $20 per week and afraid to go home because she could be prevented from returning and now doesn’t have enough money yet to retire in the Philippines either. Besides the predatory exchange rate on remittances, she now has lived the bad bargain of trading hoped for opportunity for her family with her own life and a list of payments in small tragedies of loss in her family.

The story of Georgetown University’s reckoning with the its actions as a slaveholder and slave seller is the same type of story except under a more coercive commerce when globalism was even more ruthless in finding labor for jobs few wanted at unconscionable pay rates. Prices were put on human life, families were ripped apart, children and adults were chattel. The New York Times detailed how the Catholic priests presiding over Georgetown sold 272 slaves from plantations no longer able to fully support the school to “save” the university and pull it out of debt. The records of the sale and the work of genealogists have allowed them to track down relatives of many of the families that ended up in Louisiana. A great-great granddaughter of one who was sold as a child was able to find his burial place, and she and others are demanding Georgetown do right in partial exchange for its historic wrong by offering scholarships to descendants of that horrid sale. It would seem to be the least they could do.

At the end of these articles, detailing the terrible costs of exploitation, forced or voluntary, it was almost impossible not to have tears in your eyes for them, for ourselves, and for the wretched waste of people ground up in the gears of our unfeeling global economy and the unequal price paid for the wealth of nations and the people who spend it so freely.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Looking Under the Hood at the Pasadena Workers’ Center

DSCN0940Los Angeles    A couple of years ago I spent a fascinating period over almost a year working with Casa de Maryland. They began as a collection of workers’ centers and have become the largest immigration rights statewide organization in the country with huge victories to their credit in winning drivers’ licenses and a state DREAM program along with a membership of over 25000. All of which is a long way of saying that I jumped at the chance to take a good look and visit with the folks at the National Day Laborer’s Organizing Network’s (NDLON) operation at the Pasadena Job Center in Los Angeles County.

Intake

Intake

After years of hand pressing identification badges both with ACORN and in various ways still with our street vendors and hawkers’ union in India, the first thing my eye fell on at the Pasadena intake desk was a good sized oval machine that I just knew had to be the best looking automatic computer driven ID contraption this side of the public driver’s license people. One thing led to another and the next thing you know Angel Olvera, the center’s coordinator, was waking me through “MACHETE,” which is NDLON’s very sophisticated data base system. Not surprisingly the system did more than record name, address, cell, and whatever by also cataloging each individual worker’s skills, so that they could more easily be matched with job calls from employers. And, that’s not easy either because of the 500 workers regularly working out of the center over the year and a center operation that puts out 13,000 people annually, there are also almost 1300 employers in the database that the Pasadena center has to manage. In the same that a workers’ center is handling workers, virtually one at a time, on an almost daily basis, the same can be said about many of the mom-and-pop employers who may be only calling in a couple of times a year for odd jobs, gardening, and whatever. For example, the center was running a special for employers who needed a hand putting up Christmas lights, especially since December is not the busiest time of year.

dressed up for the holidays

dressed up for the holidays

With a line out front at 6AM every morning in Pasadena, the natural question is how do workers actually get the jobs? Several decades ago I had spent an interesting early morning period watching the hiring hall operation of the janitors’ union in San Francisco in the early days of Radio Shack computers and dot matrix printers where they were pioneers at using computers to match workers and jobs. At the time as they registered the computer would spit a number and location out of the printer on the match as hundreds of jobs were sorted out every morning. In Pasadena, there are usually 50 workers on average for 35 jobs early in the morning, so I was curious how they used the computer system for that. With a laugh, Angel pointed me to a big roll of red raffle tickets and a plastic bin, I laughed too, and agreed you sometimes just can’t beat a transparent system that everyone can eyeball for fairness compared the mysteries of the machine.

workers relaxing after the job calls are done

workers relaxing after the job calls are done

You ask, how are the workers’ paid? The center and its members years ago set $15 per hour as the base rate and that’s what the employers are informed by the center, but the workers actually negotiate directly as subcontractors with the employers and are paid directly as well. In a small move toward self-sufficiency the center now collects one dollar per job.

Pasadena, like so many of the workers’ centers around the country, is in some ways like the old classic multi-purpose center that cities once built around the country offering everything but a gym. Gardening skills are displayed in elaborate, native plant beds along the side of the city provided building. A garage is being turned into a tool and work space for some of the more complex jobs the center is handling. They handle immigration issues obviously and advocate aggressively in that regard but also in the areas of wage theft. A small household workers cooperative also works out of the space. Joining with the rest of the community they have become a meeting place and gathering point for the fight for $15 for the entire city.

leaving the center

leaving the center

Pasadena is a good example of a deeply rooted base laying a firm, practical foundation that could support a very expansive membership and movement for informal workers and the entire community. There are models that could be built here, and for now it was a great place to take the tour.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Immigration Made Scary, Yet Again

refugeesNew Orleans  Republican scaredy-cats are embracing the contemporary adage, often attributed to current Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, to never waste a good crisis. The tragedy in Paris has now been seized on by governors throughout the country clamoring to bar Syrian refugees from the United States, despite the fact that state governors don’t have two cents to do with immigration policies that are handled by the federal government. Politics being politics, Congress desperately wants to get in the act, so new House Speaker Paul Ryan has weighed in on the issue for what it’s worth and the red meat caucus will undoubtedly have a resolution on the floor soon.

But, let’s look at “just the facts, ma’am.” The Administration had announced an intention to accept ten thousand Syrian refugees in 2016 which is next year, but thus far despite the huge multi-year crisis which has displaced millions of Syrians in their civil war, now complicated hugely by the Islamic State, we have only allowed the smallest trickle imaginable into the country. A list of the top cities where Syrian refugees have settled in the four year period including 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2014 is headed by Houston with a mere 109 people resettled during that period. The rest of the top ten are Chicago, Louisville (Kentucky), San Diego, Atlanta, Tucson, Troy (Michigan), Glendale (Arizona), Dearborn (Michigan) and Elizabeth (New Jersey). In the number ten spot in Elizabeth there were only 47 people. Louisiana’s governor, fresh off the presidential trail, voiced his opposition to them coming into the state and there seem to have been less than twenty that have come in during the crisis. Needles in a haystack is an appropriate metaphor.

But, wait a minute. Is my reading comprehension going down? From what we know so far weren’t the terrorists implicated, and largely killed, in Paris mostly French and Belgium? Why are the Republicans not calling for us to close our borders to these two countries, our longtime friends and allies? What’s the cure for crazy? France, Great Britain, and a number of other countries, including the United States have documented hundreds of citizens who have jumped into the mayhem in Syria. Last I read we were counting more than 500. Caution needs to be exercised and passports reviewed, but why are we supposed to feel safer with a blanket ban on one country and its desperate refugees?

This seems another battle in the now old anti-immigrant fight on the right. Part of the issue as well is the drum-beating that some are unscrupulously engaging against Muslims. They aren’t like us, goes the argument, and maybe that’s a good thing, might be the rejoinder. None of these groups are assimilating.

Once again, just the facts, ma’am. A comprehensive report on immigrant assimilation in the US, finds that new immigrants are doing as well, if not better than any previous generation. The report looked at 41 million foreign-born, including 11.3 undocumented immigrants and their children born in the US about 37 million. The two generations total 25% of the US-population. 85% speak a language other than English at home, 62% of them speak Spanish. 50% say they speak English well, too.

Terrorism is an unconscionably hard problem, but before we allow demagoguery to plot the path forward, let’s focus on the real issues without blaming the victims.

***

Please enjoy Shoegaze by Alabama Shakes.  Thanks KABF.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Workers’ Committees

SomosUnPuebloUnido-RallyLittle Rock     Sometimes it helps to get a gentle reminder of what we know, but don’t always practice. At our union we live and breathe “majority unionism” by which we mean trying to organize as many workers as we can, in as many ways as we can, with or without demanding direct recognition or collective bargaining, but by trying to organize workers to be union members where they work to protect and advance themselves, act collectively, and build power on the job. Some people call this minority unionism because the union does not have exclusive representation rights on the job which are common in collective bargaining agreements in North America, though this strategy of direct membership recruitment is common in many countries around the world from France to India and beyond.

A piece by Steven Greenhouse, the former labor reporter and now freelancer for the New York Times, recently detailed the success that Somos Un Pueblo Unido, a 20-year old immigrant rights group was having in Santa Fe and elsewhere in New Mexico by assisting in organizing workers’ committees and winning important victories for workers in low wage and service industry jobs that are largely non-union, but desperately need protection and organization. The committee structure allows the workers to trigger the protections for collective action provided by the National Labor Relations Act for workers acting as a group that is not available to individually aggrieved workers. Few civilians realize that the NLRA offers virtually no protection for unions, but lots of protection for workers, especially when they are engaged in concerted activity.

Greenhouse quotes several experts on this score:

“A lot of people thought the National Labor Relations Act could be used only during unionization campaigns,” said Andrew Schrank, a labor relations specialist who recently became a professor at Brown University after teaching at the University of New Mexico. “They’re finding that the National Labor Relations Act is much more expansive than many people thought.” Richard F. Griffin Jr., the labor board’s general counsel, said a 1962 Supreme Court case — involving a spontaneous walkout because a factory was so cold — makes clear that the National Labor Relations Act protects nonunion workers, too. “It’s important that people understand that the law applies to all private sector workplaces and protects activity outside the context of union activity,” Mr. Griffin said.

Somos has put together a good track record using these tools thus far. They have filed charges with the Phoenix office of the NLRB in 12 cases, and 11 complaints of unfair labor practices were won for workers as diverse as carwash attendants, hotel housekeepers, and restaurant workers. Needless to say perhaps, Somos has won reinstatement for many of these workers along with backpay. Not only that but in many cases once the workers have organized they have also realized they were victims of wage theft and other labor violations leading to some six-figure settlements paid out to workers from employers for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act as well.

Supposedly other workers centers in other cities are taking a look at the Somos track record. For our part we’re glad to have fellow travelers after all of these years, and it helps us hew to this path of direct organizing to win power on the job now with or without the employer’s consent but using all the tools we have at our disposal from citizen wealth to direct unionization.

In my organizer’s Spanish I think Somos Un Pueblo Unidos means All the People United. It’s hard to imagine a better slogan for working men and women in any language.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Jindal “No Go!”

Governor Jindal Speaks to Members of Henry Jackson Society in London

Governor Jindal Speaks to Members of Henry Jackson Society in London

New Orleans    It’s not often that almost everyone agrees on something throughout the land and perhaps the globe, but Louisiana’s Governor Bobby Jindal, formerly a Republican presidential hopeful, has truly succeeded in bringing everyone together.  He did so with his crazy, controversial remarks to a conservative group in London named after former Senator Henry Jackson from Washington State.  While there he went on at some length about the fact that there were “no go” zones in cities in Britain, France, and elsewhere that non-Muslims and even the police didn’t go that were functionally ruled by sharia law.

When he left Louisiana, he claimed he was on his way to Europe to drum up business for the state.  Hopefully when he’s talking to corporations over there he will mention that he is on the downside of his last term in office and can’t run again, so it may be safe for them to come to the Bayou State without embarrassment.  Definitely, his sudden notoriety will make it clear that they should wait until he’s gone from the governor’s mansion and the coast is clear.

Fox News jumped on the bandwagon with some of its commentators also parroting the “no go” line.  They have quickly apologized four times on the air and retracted every last line of their remarks. The Mayor of Paris has announced that she is going to sue Fox News for slander, and why not.

In Louisiana, where few agree on anything, both newspapers in New Orleans the daily Advocate and the every once in a while Times-Picayune led with editorials making it clear that Jindal’s hate speech didn’t speak for Louisiana.  They were both embarrassed and horrified by his remarks. The last time they agreed so strenuously was in their assessment that Hurricane Katrina was in fact a bad thing!

It’s easy to understand Jindal’s predicament. He thinks he should be president. Fortunately no one else does. The last poll among Republicans had him in the 2 or 3% range in terms of support and recognition. Jindal’s strategy has been to pretty much leave Louisiana alone, it being Louisiana I can’t say “high and dry,” which is somewhat a good thing, and try to carve out some notice for himself on the far right. He’s willing to go speak to right wing groups and church gatherings that no other candidate will touch.  He’s organizing a prayer thing that seems like it’s a path to perdition itself from the way folks are running away from it. The budget in Louisiana is fabricated on oil and gas revenues so any claims Jindal might have had about finances in the state are long gone and all of his tricks with the numbers are going to haunt the rest of his term and whoever is elected along with the citizens of the state for years.

Jindal’s reaction to all of this? Well, he’s doubled down by releasing a 1700 word press statement in Baton Rouge restating the so-called “evidence” of his “no go” remarks.

I think the only place there is really a “no go” rule is that Jindal is no longer welcome in Europe, especially the United Kingdom and France again.  It seems it won’t be long before Louisiana is also a “no go” spot for Jindal as well.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail