Volunteers May be the Only Good Thing to Hit New Orleans after Katrina

DSCN0432New Orleans    Opinions are divided on the New Orleans so-called recovery after Hurricane Katrina, and it is more than a glass half-full, half-empty situation. Talking to Vanessa Gueringer on Wade’s World, her articulate anger still rages, and listening to her describe how her community in the lower 9th ward has had to fight to win the fulfillment of every promise to the area, it is impossible not to agree. There are many in the city who are ready to evacuate if they hear the word “resilience” even one more time.

Presidents Obama and Bush have now visited along with the current and former HUD secretary and a host of others. I listened to the disappointment expressed by neighbors and colleagues that President Obama didn’t double down on his commitment to rebuild. Mayor Mitch Landrieu has been everywhere enjoying his Mardi Gras moment. Former Mayor and current head of the Urban League Marc Morial was more sober, releasing his report on the state of black New Orleans, where the short summary is: bleak with little change or hope.

DSCN0424-1 DSCN0423-1 DSCN0422-1The one place where almost everyone can find agreement is in thanking the hundreds of thousands of people and thousands of organizations who have come to the city over the last ten years as volunteers to help in any way they can. Appropriately,  even the City of New Orleans and Landrieu somehow understood this universal consensus and got behind the effort. People of good will from around the world made a difference to New Orleans in some way shaming our own government for its inaction, inequity, and racism. And, what better way to mark the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina than by organizing a humongous volunteer service day.

The volunteer goal for the anniversary was 10,000 people and for a change almost the same level of preparation and support is going into the affair as you find during Carnival season, which until this anniversary is the New Orleans benchmark for volunteer extravaganzas. Hosts of nonprofits were recruited to the effort. Individual projects by Tulane University and Xavier University were subsumed into the overall city campaign. ACORN International is hosting 100 volunteers at the ACORN Farm. A Community Voice has 100 volunteers canvassing the Upper 9th Ward, and Southern United Neighborhoods (SUN) has another 100 in the Lower 9th Ward. It’s all in!

There are even corporate sponsors. Just as Walmart trucks rolled into the area after Katrina and there were special vouchers for purchases in their stores, Walmart is a big sponsor of this volunteer assault on the city as well. Coordinators got water, peanut butter crackers, and of course blue volunteer t-shirts at pickup points at Walmart stores throughout the week. The blue in the t-shirts, not surprisingly, looks identically like the Walmart blue customers see in their stores, but, hey, what else would you expect, they say Walmart on the back along with sponsors.

DSCN0425-1 DSCN0428-1 DSCN0426-1The volunteers will only work three hours, and given the heat and humidity that surprises so many in late summer in the city, that probably has more to do with public health than public need. They will have lunch and entertainment later at the Superdome. You get it, right, we’re saying thank you, and whether corporate and tacky, or political and boosterism, we all really mean it.

DSCN0429-1 DSCN0430-1 DSCN0431-1For real, this is thanks to all the volunteers that made such a difference and came to help New Orleans. We’re hoping you feel welcome enough to keep on coming until the job is finished!

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Kindle version of Battle for the Ninth for reduced price to mark the 10th Anniversary. 

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More Battles in the Walmart Wars: Florida, Strikes, and Delhi

walmart-headquartersNew Orleans    The war room in Bentonville must be on 24 hour Def-con 4 alert these days, given the steady back and forth of advances, feints, and setbacks due to its “profits first, workers last” mantra that is a foundation of its standard operating procedures.

            The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) after waiting for weeks before issuing a complaint in hopes of a settlement between Walmart and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), went ahead and pulled the trigger setting in motion a long game legal procedure.  The complaint from the NLRB alleges that Walmart disciplined over 50 workers and fired over a dozen in violation of their protected rights to organize stemming from the Black Friday publicity strikes.  Ironically some of the evidence against Walmart comes from its remarks on national TV news reports, so add to the list of firings some people in their communications department that are probably already long gone. 

            There are two sure things underpinning these reports.  One is that if this goes to an ALJ, administrative law judge, hearing to prove the allegations, the delays, appeals, and everything could take seven or eight years.  The lawyers make the money, the workers get pennies even if they win.  Secondly, if the NLRB was waiting for negotiations before issuing the complaint, then this was the time that the UFCW tried to convert its publicity strikes strategy into real organizing leverage and concessions from Walmart.  The rest is show, this was the real strategy.  The complaint being issued may look like good news but really signals a setback for the strategy and a failure to gain organizing advantages, and that’s a damn shame.

            Walmart always spinning joined with the worker advocacy organization in Florida, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, to issue a statement that they were joining the Fair Food Program managed by the Coalition which guarantees an extra penny to raise farmworker wages and combat sexual harassment.  You can follow this right?  We may look like bad guys, but, hey, we’re ok, look we’re helping some poor, immigrant farmworkers.

            Meanwhile confirming that perhaps cutting and running from India finally was the right thing to do, ACORN International’s FDI Watch Campaign (www.indiafdiwatch.org) spread the news this week that the new government in the Delhi political jurisdiction has listened to the protests and has now rejected the modifications in foreign direct investment given to multinationals for multi-brand retail and threatening millions of small traders, shopkeepers, hawkers and others.  A “do not enter” sign is now going up around Delhi, and it will be a while before anything changes that warning sign.

            There’s no ceasefire in the Walmart wars, but the fight is very much still on.

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