Kiln Steven Greenhouse of the New York Times is pretty much the dean of what is left of the labor press in the United States. He expresses surprise at the news that the UAW is establishing a local union in the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant where they narrowly lost an election earlier in the year. It’s pretty clear Steve is not on the ball here and neither listened to nor read the Chief Organizer’s report on April 22nd entitled, “UAW Objections Withdrawal a Sign that They Want a Second Shot Soon.”
In an unorthodox move, the United Automobile Workers announced …that it was forming a union local in Chattanooga, Tenn., to represent workers at the Volkswagen plant there even though a majority of the plant’s workers voted in February against joining the union. U.A.W. officials said the new local — which will have voluntary membership and not be recognized by the automaker — would serve as a collective voice for its members and would also facilitate Volkswagen’s efforts to form a German-style works council made up of workers and management.
Here’s the Chief Organizer looking at the UAW’s options and explaining why I believed that the union’s withdrawal of their objections in April after losing the election in February meant that they were hunkering down for the long haul to go big and win this thing.
The other choice, which is bolder organizing, is to immediately get the clock ticking for a second election, and this is clearly what the UAW is doing, signally in truth that they are committed to the campaign and in fact that they like their chances inside the plant and, perhaps as importantly, with Volkswagen. You can bet that UAW organizers have done extensive work in the last three months to reassess their “yes” votes and gauge the hardness of the “no” votes and whether they can turn them if they can offset the onset of fear and panic before the last vote count. You can also bet that UAW leaders have had extensive discussions with Volkswagen union leaders in Germany, who have board seats in the company, about how a second election would work and how the company would react. The signs have obviously been encouraging on both counts.
The issue is not starting a local with or without collecting dues now but the fact that the union is saying they want to “…serve as a collective voice for its members and would also facilitate Volkswagen’s efforts to form a German-style works council made up of workers and management.” Like I said, there’s little question that Bob King, the president of the UAW then, and Dennis Williams, the president now, have had some serious discussions with the company and know they have a place at the table, no questions asked.
The local business community needs to start learning to adapt to modern life and the 21st Century and come to grips with the fact that expansion on the line with another 1000 workers and continuing economic injections from Germany just aren’t going to happen without labor peace in Chattanooga. They’re all still in it to win it, and as I said before and I’ll keep saying again, this is exciting for the labor movement in the South and everywhere else.
Kiln The southern border surge at the US-Mexico line is something ACORN International knows about firsthand through our work with ACORN Honduras in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, often reported as leading the list of the most violent cities in today’s world. President Obama asked for almost $4 billion in aid to secure the border, provide housing for children, and speed up hearings, even trying to shame Texas Governor Rick Perry into joining him in rounding up Republican support. None of which is likely to happen since Speaker John Boehner and the Tea-people want to pretend that the pressure at the border is caused by poor enforcement and the rumors of amnesty for immigrants, neither of which has any factual basis.
One of the reasons for all of these political head fakes and dodges lies in bi-partisan legislation passed by the US Congress in recent years to stop sex trafficking and actually protect children.
“…the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, [was] named for a 19th-century British abolitionist. Originally pushed by a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers as well as by evangelical groups to combat sex trafficking, the bill gave substantial new protections to children entering the country alone who were not from Mexico or Canada by prohibiting them from being quickly sent back to their country of origin. Instead, it required that they be given an opportunity to appear at an immigration hearing and consult with an advocate, and it recommended that they have access to counsel. It also required that they be turned over to the care of the Department of Health and Human Services, and the agency was directed to place the minor “in the least restrictive setting that is in the best interest of the child” and to explore reuniting those children with family members.
So besides the fact that Obama’s real reputation in this area is as “deporter-in-chief” as reform advocates have called him, the truth is that he in fact is enforcing the law, even though the wild right may want to obscure this fact since their fingerprints are also on some positive legislation that they should be proud of.
But the other reason for the surge, as we know from our work in the colonias in and around San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa, is that in the post-golopista period the Honduran various US-backed puppet governments have lost the political support of the people, while the government at every level has also lost the fight to provide minimal public safety.
Nowhere is the flow of departures more acute than in San Pedro Sula, a city in northwestern Honduras that has the world’s highest homicide rate, according to United Nations figures.
Between January and May of this year, more than 2,200 children from the city arrived in the United States, according to Department of Homeland Security statistics, far more than from any other city in Central America. More than half of the top 50 Central American cities from which children are leaving for the United States are in Honduras. Virtually none of the children have come from Nicaragua, a bordering country that has staggering poverty, but not a pervasive gang culture or a record-breaking murder rate. “Everyone has left,” Alan Castellanos, 27, the uncle of two victims [in San Pedro Sula], said. “How is it that an entire country is being brought to its knees?”
The President is right. This is a “humanitarian crisis,” but where he is only telling a part of the story is that the real crisis is Central America, and that the Mexican-United States border surge is the tail end of this tragedy.
Kiln Everywhere we look the internet is under assault in one way or another. Countries are banding together to regionalize the internet so that it is less worldwide and more immune from the NSA by creating a Euro-web or other nationalized webs in Iran, Russia, Turkey, and wherever. Cable monopolies are handling the FCC like a red-haired stepchild and trying to block access and create variable speeds on the internet highway in the US. Access is strained everywhere, and costs are rising. In fact the very utility of the internet as a necessity for communication seems endangered, even as communications authorities in North America prepare to open the debate on classifying the internet formally as a public utility.
And then there’s the new Anti-Spam Legislation in Canada (CASL) which seems to be designed by either intent or incompetence to curtail almost any communication, including those of nonprofits like ACORN Canada and thousands of others. Columnists are moaning about “regulatory overreach.” Lawyers are having a huge payday, largely because no one seems to have a clue what is banned and what is allowed through so-called “implied consent” versus explicit consent versus a right to privacy.
Total consensus seems to exist on two fronts. One is that the fines are crazy high ranging from a $1 million for individuals to $10 million for corporations. The other universal agreement is that the anti-spam legislation will not stop 98.5% of the stuff coming into your in-box that in fact is spam from countless sources from Nigeria to wherever.
All of this is especially worrisome to nonprofits who have embraced e-communications as an inexpensive and effective way to keep their members informed, activate support, and even mobilize resources. From the south side of North America where we still scream about “freedom of speech” night and day, I would have thought that communications by nonprofits and especially membership organizations were by definition NOT commercial electronic messages (CEMs as the constantly refer to them). Unfortunately it’s not a clear call, as this legal advisory tries to spell out:
Yes, section 6 of CASL applies, but consent may be implied where CEMs are sent to members of an association, club or voluntary organization. When sending CEMs to your membership based on implied consent, you should ensure that you are only sending to members.
“Membership” means the status of having been accepted as a member of a club, association or voluntary organization in accordance with its membership requirements. You should also ensure that your organization is a club, association, or voluntary organization that is:
· a non-profit organization,
· organized and operated exclusively for social welfare, civic improvement, pleasure or recreation or for any purpose other than personal profit, and
· no part of its income is payable for the personal benefit of any member, proprietor or shareholder unless that entity is an organization whose primary purpose is the promotion of amateur athletics in Canada.
The CEM must still respect the other two requirements – it must contain the identification information and unsubscribe mechanism.
So, ACORN Canada may be OK, but a lot of others, especially those nonprofits that are not membership-based, are going to have to spend money they don’t have to solve a problem that doesn’t exist while risking fines so onerous that they would be put out of business. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the internet has become the same kind of threat in Canada now as we read about in Iran, Turkey, and elsewhere, and that this is way more about curtailing speech, than stopping spam.
Kiln Walmart may be the largest company in the United States in terms of gross sales, but mounting evidence indicates that its business model is collapsing. The company seems in a near state of panic as return on investment dips and quarterly returns drag consecutively lower. In a bitter irony the very inequality ravaging the United States may be a fundamental part of the problem, since the company harvests 18% of all food stamp expenditures from low income families, and our constituency has been the slowest to recover from the Great Recession.
A report in the Wall Street Journal indicates the whole Walmart business model is up for grabs. The new CEO is requiring people to read a book on Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, who claimed to have built his company by watching and then targeting Walmart. They are even talking about building standalone liquor stores in some communities.
This year, for the first time in its history, Wal-Mart will open more smaller grocery and convenience-type stores than supercenters. At 10,000 to 40,000 square feet, its Wal-Mart Express and Neighborhood Market concepts are a fraction of the size of a 200,000-square-foot superstore. Stores now double as pickup stations for shoppers to collect televisions, bicycles and other items purchased online.
Talking to one of UFCW Canada’s national representatives, Ken Shimmin, recently on KABF/FM’s “Wade’s World,” about the impact of the Supreme Court of Canada’s recent decision affirming back pay for almost 200 workers displaced by Walmart’s antiunion closing of a store to prevent there being a collective bargaining agreement in Quebec, it was clear that the union’s phones have been ringing off the hook with workers who are fed up and want to organize. Something is happening here.
Furthermore, analysts are finally beginning to notice how few clothes the emperor is wearing overseas, and looking harder at the company’s failures internationally. As even the Journal notes, “It has stumbled in country after country in its attempts to expand overseas….” As ACORN International’s India FDI Watch Campaign has consistently highlighted in our decade-long effort to force accountability on any big-box operator, whether Walmart, Tesco, Carrefour, Metro, or others trying to upend the mass employment and small scale retail operations within India, the company’s claims there will lead to the same problems of reduced employment and hollowed out retail districts that have been the company’s hallmark in North American countries from Canada to Mexico.
I have only gotten through the first 100 pages of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, but it didn’t take me long to find on page 70 that he would join us in questioning the demands of Walmart and others for modifications of foreign direct investment in retail in India. Piketty says,
Furthermore, if we look at the historical record, it does not appear that capital mobility has been the primary factor promoting convergence of rich and poor nations. None of the Asian countries that have moved closer to the developed countries of the West in recent years has benefited from large foreign investments, whether it be Japan, South Korea, or Taiwan and more recently China. In essence, all of these countries themselves financed the necessary investments in physical capital and, even more, in human capital, which the latest research holds to be the key to long-term growth. Conversely, countries owned by other countries, whether in the colonial period or in Africa today, have been less successful…
If the Walmart business model is up for grabs, as it certainly should be, perhaps the international footprint and the way the company stomps around the world, as well as its labor relations policies and the way they stomp down their workforce, should get the same kind of attention as smaller stores, liquor, and their website.
Kiln There’s no question that there are new regulations governing bank transfers. Banks are trying to claim that anti-terrorism measures are the cause, though more than a decade after 9/11, it seems unlikely to me. There seem to be three reasons that some banks are running from money transfers and remittances.
The current cause celebre is the fact that HSBC and BNP Paribas got caught in down-and-dirty money laundering for countries like Iran and others that they were banned from handling. BNP pled guilty and is paying fines of almost $9 billion. HSBC’s wings were also clipped for almost $2 billion. Citibank’s Banamex affiliate in Mexico got burned for almost a half-billion on sketchy oil company prepays and likely investigations will find that they – and certainly others – were up to their neck in handling drug money there as well. Money laundering is not terrorism, and neither is it the simple transfers of remittances for migrant workers and immigrant families.
A more substantial reason that banks are exiting the remittance business is that once you block out laundering and the obscene profits involved there, many banks charge exorbitantly to transfer funds solely for their individual and corporate customers, and justify the charges, as I have heard them do numerous times, by saying they only do it as a “convenience” for their clients. In every study ACORN International has done standard money transfer organizations (MTOs) like MoneyGram and Western Union charge significantly less to move remittances.
The third reason, and I suspect the more fundamental and serious one, is that many of the large money center banks are running from minorities at every level in the wake of the recession and the changing economic situation and credit markets. With the erasure of 25 years of gains by African-Americans and Hispanics in home ownership since the beginning of the Great Recession including millions of homes still underwater, owing more on the mortgages than the home’s value, and the refinance market drying up, banks have figured out who has the money now, and it’s not low-and-moderate income families, at least not if the banks are going to have to play square and follow the rules. I would bet just about any dollar I could get my hands on that as the HMDA reports become available for 2013 and 2014 that we are likely to see the fewest number of loans to minority families that we have seen in the 36 years since the passage of the Community Reinvestment Act in 1978. We’ve already looked at the early returns for some US markets, and seen some banks with single digits of loans or no loans whatsoever. Banks are going where the money is. They’re looking for 1% land. The LMI business and minorities are now just leftovers.
Bank public relations departments may be planting stories about the cost and fear that banks have in transferring remittances, but we make transfers every day and talk to banks regularly, and given the electronic nature of these charges and the real costs, we’re only talking about the difference between something being crazy profitable and simply wildly profitable.
But, you have to want the business, and that’s the rub. I think big banks are simply bailing on all those left behind. The Times swallowed the spin, saying…
Many banks had considered remittances an attractive business because they generated steady fees and required little capital. In some cases, remittances could satisfy Community Reinvestment Act requirements to serve a certain percentage of low-income customers. But the regulatory pressures and increased costs of compliance have started to outweigh the potential profits.
There’s no question they’re running from remittances, but despite all of the antidotes and finger pointing at the government, it’s clear the big banks just don’t like the looks of us, and rather than making the needed repairs and simple fixes are trying to rationalize their way out of defending their charters by claiming we’re too risky for them. Our hard earned dollars are becoming dirty next to their white shoes. This is just another kind of white flight, and we’re going to have to gear up for the fight again.
Kiln Ralph Nader understood a huge amount about building self-sufficient operations. His original public interest projects were financed by the settlement he won from General Motors and his book, Unsafe at Any Speed. The Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs) established in numerous large publicly funded universities shrewdly created capacity for consumer advocacy by winning student votes to finance them through a part of their school fees. Direct canvass programs still support PIRG, decades later. He built projects though not organizations. Lawyering and acting as an advocate for others, for ideas, and for himself has been an immutable part of his DNA and permeates his life and work.
Reading his new book, Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State, is a curious exercise, partly because this is a book hoping that the mantra of claiming “convergence” of political and ideological views will somehow conjure a reality that doesn’t exist. Basically, the book in reality is a conversation Nader is having with himself, richly populated by the scores of meetings and hearings he has attended, speeches given, and people he’s met along the way. Working over much of the same time period, I found interest here that might bore others. A reference to former Justice Sandra Day O’Conner’s twenty-year old proposals to the American Bar Association to provide better representation for the poor was worth something to me. Discovering in the book that Jonathan Rowe had passed away recently was a shock because I remember him and many of our conversations well when he helped us mightily in the 1970’s on ACORN’s tax reform campaigns when he was with the Nader-related Tax Reform Research Group.
Nonetheless, the chapter which is a letter to a mythical billionaire pleading for the money to create this convergence is unsettling and kind of weird, like reading a 200-page funding proposal where Nader is looking for one last big client, one last big score, rather than learning the lessons he claimed to have soaked up at the small town Connecticut store that his family ran in his youth. If he had listened harder, he might have realized there were some unbridgeable gaps rather than simply diverse opinions, and one such chasm is the notion that the rich are really ready to fund the divestment of their own riches.
All of which made me wonder why in railing against corporations and writing letters to billionaires, he didn’t spend more time on the notions of what other business formations or even funding mechanisms might be able to accomplish. His opinions on all of that might have been fascinating. He mentions Lawrence Goodwyn’s Populist Moment, a great book, and it might have been interesting to hear him on cooperatives and mutual aid formations. Or how about social benefit corporations or L3C’s (Low Profit Limited Liability Corporations), like ACORN Global Enterprises the owner of Fair Grinds Coffeehouse locations?
Looking for alternatives, Ralph and I both might find something worth serious contemplation in Yale economist and Professor Robert Shiller’s notion of “participation nonprofits,” that give larger stakes to donors in exchange for mega-contributions.
Here’s Schiller in the Times on participation nonprofits:
…a “participation nonprofit,” meant for causes that need substantial contributions. Such an organization, which might run a school or a hospital, would offer to sell shares instead of requesting donations. The share sales would really be donations, but would be framed differently and come with rights that would change the whole giving experience. Shareholders could vote their shares at stockholder meetings, as they would in a traditional corporation. The organization would pay some kind of dividend, too, though this would go into a restricted account, to be used only for a charitable purpose of the owner’s choosing. And shareholders could bequeath the stock to heirs, and could even sell it, though the proceeds would also go into the restricted account. For this plan to work well, people would need to receive a tax deduction for their share purchases, which are really irrevocable contributions to charity. Structured this way, charitable giving would become personally meaningful in the way that investing is. Givers would feel a real sense of participation and partial control over their activities. Charities might also experiment with various other organizational forms to foster philanthropic or community impulses. Perhaps they could involve cooperatives, mutual societies or other groups that also impart a sense of ownership. To date, however, large-scale experiments with such forms have been limited — whether by tax or other legal barriers, or simply by old-fashioned mistrust of change.
I’ll stick with membership-based organizations, because I understand the “participants” better as well as what they want, but Ralph might do better with this kind of formation for his next project than writing letters to billionaires, especially since he’s turning up again in the business pages as a shareholder advocate. Either way both Shiller and Nader are proposing turning over more power and influence to the rich, this time in the nonprofit and advocacy sectors, and as clever and novel as it all seems, I would have thought there was convergence on the notion that the rich had quite enough power and influence in public life already.