Muhammed Ali Was a Man of the People

w583h583_37461-african-american-involvement-in-the-vietnam-war-muhammad-aliNew Orleans    In the continuing conversation following the death of Muhammed Ali, a beloved champion of a controversial sport, and a controversial figure who pulled off the magic trick of being beloved and respected even by many who disagreed with his views on war, politics, and race, it is interesting to see how deep his footprints were among real people, not just celebrities. Part of Ali’s appeal was plain and simply that he genuinely seemed to love people, and despite being a “race” man, as many of our older members might have called him, he was a “little people” man, rather than someone who lost himself in the celebrity stratosphere. He never got what Steve McDonald, the first ACORN president, called, “the big head.”

It’s been interesting to collect some telling stories about close encounters with Ali that reveal all of this.

Mike Gallagher, an old friend and organizing comrade over many decades, was originally from the Wilkes-Barre area of Pennsylvania. He shared this story involving one of his brothers and his dear mother, now 96.

The sad news today about the passing of Muhammad Ali reminded me of a chance meeting between the Greatest and my tiny mother many years back:

After his championship heyday and before he finally quit the ring, Ali had a training camp up in the mountains in Pennsylvania not too far from where I grew up. Those of you who were in Fair Share will remember our hilarious friend and colleague Richard Montgomery, a sometime sparring partner who knew the facility well.

One day my mother and one of my younger brothers were out for a drive. They stopped for gas and soon after Muhammad Ali and his large entourage pulled in to the same station. As they were both filling up, they got to talking, one thing led to another and my mother and brother were invited up the mountain for lunch. There Ali fed them and kept them entertained for the rest of the afternoon with stories and jokes and they left star struck. My mother, who is now 96 and frail but lucid, said he was so charming, kind, funny and warm that the time just flew right by.
Tell me that isn’t a dear, dear story!

Here’s another one a bit more political. It’s a reminiscence from Beth Butler, a longtime ACORN community organizer in New Orleans involving Ali and Sherman Copelin, who had, with Donald Hubbard, been promoters of Ali’s bout against Leon Spinks in 1978 in the Superdome, and before that were cofounders of SOUL, the 9th ward political organization that played a huge role in African-American and all politics for decades.

Muhammad Ali and Sherman Copelin crashed an ACORN PAC (Political Action Committee) meeting in the early 80s, in the lower 9 [9th Ward]. Elizabeth Rogers got a jab in about how “he had done nothing for his people since he left Russia” He was pleased that she remembered, but Sherman thought that it was time to leave, and the group then proceeded to endorse the other candidate.

Elizabeth Rogers was an outlier even for an ACORN member back then. With her husband, they were back-to-the-thirties committed leftists, who were white, but lived in the largely African-American lower nine. Rogers held her tongue for no one, and also according to Butler told him to put away his “red handkerchief” because he had more important things to do than magic tricks for all “his people.” That Ali took that “punch with a smile,” also says something profound about the heart and soul of the man.

William C. Rhoden, a sports columnist for the New York Times, and a black man living still in Harlem, in a moving personal reflection about Ali never having sold out and having set a very high bar for not doing so, summed up the special nature of this man and what his life taught as well, saying,

“What I gleaned from Ali’s life, as I’ve lived mine, is that the goal is not to go through life undefeated. The quest is to exercise resilience and come back stronger.

Beloved by much of the world, Ali was nonetheless consistently, unapologetically black.

I loved that about him. Muhammad Ali was an ungentrified black man.”

And, a man of the people. All the people.

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Uber Deal with Machinists is Worrisome

uberNew Orleans   Uber, the ride-sharing service, has announced that it has come to an agreement with the International Association of Machinists (IAM) to create a guild or association of some sorts that it will informally recognize for its drivers in New York City. James Conigliaro Jr., the guild founder and assistant director and general counsel at the International Association of Machinists District 15, which represents workers in the Northeastern US, said, “…we’ve successfully come to agreement with Uber to represent the 35,000 drivers using Uber in New York City to enhance their earning ability and benefits.”

I’m a big advocate of majority unionism and alternative organizing models and techniques, but whatever this is, it doesn’t quite smell right to me. Uber is still maintaining that its drivers are not employees, yet the union is claiming, based on an “agreement” with the company, that it can “represent” all of the workers. The Machinists are also claiming that they can improve their wages and benefits without offering details about how that will happen other than the fact that they now have a five (5), yes five year, agreement that provides for monthly meetings of some bodies with somebody from Uber.

So, if I get this right, a company without workers is signing an agreement on behalf of those workers with a union without members among those workers to create a way to talk about wages, hours and conditions of employment. Except for the fact that everyone has agreed to play-pretend that the drivers are not real Uber employees, under the National Labor Relations Act this would pretty much categorically constitute an 8(a)2 violation or what is known commonly as a “company union.”

Meanwhile, certainly known to the Machinists, more than 5000 real Uber drivers have already signed authorization cards seeking to be represented by the Transport Workers’ Union in New York City. Both the IAM and the TWU are members of the AFL-CIO, so how does this not constitute an Article XX violation of the AFL-CIO’s constitution or what is known commonly as “raiding?” If not raiding, it’s certain interference.

On Uber’s part they already are familiar with direct unionization efforts in Seattle, San Francisco and other cities. Their recent settlement of a class action suit in California was widely seen as an effort to buy time for the company’s effort to continue to pretend that its drivers are not employees, and they agreed in that settlement to also begin meeting in some form or fashion with their drivers on issues as part of the settlement.

All of this also smells a little like the company was union “shopping” for a partner here. The Machinists certainly do a bit of organizing, though that is not their primary reputation. According to NLRB statistics for the five years between 2008 and 2012 they had an excellent win rate and ranked in the top ten, but during that period they only gained 11869 workers in units they won, which isn’t much over 2000 workers per year, if they converted all of them into members, which never happens. Their organizing totals were five times less than the NLRB results for either the Teamsters or the Service Employees and half as many as the Food and Commercial Workers. Meanwhile they have fallen from 730673 members in 2000 to 570,423 in 2013. I’m not saying they won’t try to take this lemon and make lemonade, but when Uber was looking for a partner, Uber would have known the Machinists were “needy” and desperate to grow, one way or another.

When it comes to benefits, still without either talking to the drivers or the Machinists, Uber also announced that it has contracted, yes, contracted, with the so-called Freelancers’ Union in order to see what they can cook up in terms of portable benefits and the like.

It is easy to see that Uber wants, and is getting, huge cover from all of this, but when the workers are on the sideline reading the news in the paper or getting alerts on their smartphones, it seems more like a scam that something substantial for the workers.

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