Continuing Development Wars

  Austin        Austin still has the feel of a city on the bright side of the recession.  Unemployment has hardly hit 6%.   The airport is new and busy.  Developers are still trying to build and finish projects, and community fights against them are real and important.  
    I caught up with the fight to shrink a Wal-Mart proposal from 200,000 on down at Norcross in central Austin which has been engaged for some time.  Though the high-jinks in court has delayed the project, it did not produce a win, but even without winning the project is now on a slow negotiations where Wal-Mart has already shrunk down to 97,000 square feet.  Furthermore, Austin has a big box ordinance restricting at 100,000 feet now, so the issues are pretty set.
    The last time I was in Austin I met proponents of an initiative to block a $60,000,000 subsidy from the city to a development.  Our long time and erstwhile attorney, Doug Young, has been involved with all of these efforts.  His report this morning was hard to hear.  Delays and an expensive campaign had put the measure on the ballot last November where the City of Austin campaigned improbably on the slogan that a “deal was a deal,” no matter how stupid or expensive I suppose, and somehow in the confusion had managed to win the election by 52-48 when the balloting was complete.
    After a almost 2 years of drought conditions and little relief, the earlier Wal-Mart proposal to build on the aquifer was dead-on-arrival, but perhaps has led to the wink and nod on some of these other measures.  Environmental impacts around growth, water, and resources, could become bigger tools for fights in the future.
    Austin continues to have committed cadres of activists and community residents willing to fight for their neighborhoods and their sense of the value of the Austin community as something more than a “market” for whatever, so this city could still be a place worth watching on the fights to bring accountability to development and developers in the United States.

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Finding New Ways to Organize

 Toronto    Some of the most interesting meetings in my several days in Toronto were with our friends in the Canadian labor movement in Ontario, especially at the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW), SEIU Canada, and the Steelworkers.  There’s a hunger to organize in most of these unions even though several of them are getting hammered by the current economic implosion and watching membership plummet.  Nonetheless the organizers are open and anxious to talk about new ideas, innovations, and other things that might work in the future.
    Our friend, Colin Heslop, who heads the skilled trades department of the CAW, was interested in developments in New Orleans where he and his people had helped us build houses, but it was also fascinating to catch up with him on the organizing developments in the unusual and groundbreaking deal that former CAW President Buzz Hargrove had made with Magma auto parts.  Despite the fact that the staff and national executive board had approved this very “different” kind of arrangement with Magma including the no-strike provisions in order to organize more than 30,000 workers, predictably this “concession” had been an issue in the election for Buzz’s successor.  All that was old news now, but the agreement with Magma had only netted about 1200 workers of the expected yield to date for various reasons.
    SEIU Canada continued to be heavily engaged in pulling together the building service sector with growing campaigns in Ottawa and emerging efforts in Vancouver.  We had a fascinating discussion about living wage campaigns that are heating up in both areas and how this could feed into service-based organizing, as well as the usual wide ranging discussion about targets and opportunities.
    With our friends at Steel, we visited briefly with Canadian USW president Ken Neumann, and then hunkered down with his EA, Ken Delaney, to continue another chapter in the discussions about new innovations in organizing that we had had with him over the years.  We caught up on the work with domestic workers which had interested us last year as well as other drives with taxi drivers and university workers which have solid legs.  Ken wasted no time recognizing that the last six months had been a blur where most of the time and energy had focused on stopping the membership losses in the mounting recession and blunting their impacts.  This had been like the classic “lost weekend,” where time had stopped since our conversations last summer and only now were our friends focusing on organizing again.  
    Saying all of that it was exciting to start making plans and brainstorming with our friends and allies again in Canada.  They were also interested and supportive of the informal worker organizing we are doing with ACORN International and the lessons we have learned from organizing along “majority union” lines in Wal-Mart.  I’m still predicting big things for labor in Canada in the months and years to come.

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