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Permanent protections instead of temporary status, with Jaime Contreras


Trump has now revoked temporary protected status (TPS) for immigrants from four countries, the latest being El Salvador. Some 200,000 Salvadorans have come to the US fleeing civil war, earthquakes, and gang violence under this status, but now the administration demands they go home. SEIU 32BJ, the building service workers union, has 100,000 Salvadoran members, many of whom relied on TPS to work in the US. Jaime Contreras, a vice-president with the union and a Salvadoran immigrant himself, explains what the TPS policy has meant to people like his family and what the union is doing to protect its members and pressure Congress to fix the immigration system.

To me, this didn’t come as a surprise. We all heard the rhetoric during the campaign from this president. We knew it was coming. If there is one thing different between the Republicans and the Democrats it is Republicans say what they are going to do and they do it. Democrats, it is the ever-frustrating part where you say you are going to do something and then you do something opposite. Republicans at least stick to their guns and [Laughs] do what they said they were going to do. It is unfortunate. A lot of people were hoping it was only going to be rhetoric, but it is not a surprise.
You asked earlier “What are we going to do and how are we going to get ourselves organized?” SEIU and the rest of the labor movement, along with churches, community organizations, even the business community… The Chamber of Commerce is against eliminating TPS. Obviously, they weren’t heard. Now it is in the hands of Congress. Congress has to act and fix DACA, fix TPS, and allow these people to continue living in the United States as they have been. A lot of these people, like I said, they own homes, some of them are business owners, they have US-born children, they have roots here. They have roots here. You can’t uproot people who have been here for over two decades just like that. It is just not the American thing to do. So, we are going to be lobbying Congress and demanding they fix this problem once and for all for these people who really should be US citizens by now, if they were allowed the opportunity to do that.

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Serve your constituents or grow your own wealth, with Campus Action for Democracy

Rep. Trey Hollingsworth of Indiana is one of the richest members of Congress; he is, as the members of Campus Action for Democracy point out, a prime beneficiary of the Republican tax bill poised to pass. On the other hand, in the middle of his district–Indiana’s 9th–is Indiana University, where students, campus workers, and graduate students make up a large part of his constituency. The rest of the district is largely working class. When a group of Campus Action for Democracy and Hoosier Action members went to his office to ask to discuss his vote for the tax bill, they were met with stonewalling–for eight hours. They share their story, and the organizing they have been doing to challenge the tax bill and more across Indiana.

 

THG: The congressman has never been available publicly to his constituents at either office, anyway. We really felt when we went there yesterday like we don’t have the opportunity to have any kind of communication with this person who has been elected to represent us and is supposed to be our voice in Congress.
And over 8 hours yesterday he really proved that point to us, that we actually have no way to communicate with him. I can’t speak for everyone here, but I think we all had similar experiences. I felt really dismissed and disrespected and honestly disenfranchised by that experience yesterday, by the way that he and his D.C. office coordinated things around us without engaging us. It was a really troubling and upsetting experience as a constituent and a voter.
JK: We felt that the only recourse that we had to communicate with our congressman was to show up in his office and refuse to leave or else, perhaps, get arrested, we really honestly thought that was the only way we could get in contact with him. And it didn’t work. Maybe it would work if we went to D.C. and did this. But, again, the idea that you would ever have to leave your own state to communicate with your congressman is pretty patently insane.

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Taxing people out of higher education, with Tom DePaola

One of the remarked-upon features of the House version of the Republican tax bill currently headed to reconciliation is that it would tax tuition waivers given to graduate students who do much of the teaching and research workloads on campus as income. (To explain: When I was a graduate student teacher, my stipend–the money in my pocket–was around $16,000 per year. Tuition for my program was nearly $30,000, but was “waived”–no checks were written, no loans taken out. The GOP plan would tax me as though I made $46,000 for that year, taxes I would have to pay out of my measly $16,000 to live on.)

Graduate workers, though, have been organizing their workplaces in recent years, and are ready to fight. A group of graduate workers organizing with SEIU’s Faculty Forward campaign went to Washington, D.C. to greet Paul Ryan and ask him why he wants to raise their taxes. When Ryan wouldn’t talk to them, Tom DePaola and others were arrested. DePaola, an education PhD student and researcher at the University of Southern California, talks to me about the tax bill, the Republican attacks on campus, and the universities’ ambivalent response to the Trump administration.

I think this is much bigger than just the tax bill. It is much bigger than just graduate students. I try to keep that in mind because in past iterations of the labor movement in the US, I think that there were a lot of fatal mistakes made when we may have pivoted too hard to bread and butter issues as opposed to what we might call social movement unionism where we are all advocating for each other, we are all standing up for each other. USC is the largest private employer and the largest private export in the entire city of LA. We have the most international students of any private university in the country. They like to say that this the evidence that their fundamental valuing of diversity, but when we saw the immigration ban rolling out, we saw DACA, all of these things, the university was basically silent. A couple of memos went out, “Oh, we respect everyone. Oh, if you need some advice, head on down to the law school and maybe someone can talk to you there.” If I were an international student who was scared, that would have done nothing to assuage my fears. We, students, the workers themselves, we have to come together to protect each other because really that is all we have. The university isn’t going to protect us. I have tons of work to do. None of us have the time for this. None of us have the time to take days to fly down to Paul Ryan’s office to get arrested. But, at the same time, we are not going to step aside while folks come in and just try to rip our careers out from underneath us and our ideals and intellectualism at large.

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Putting trickle-down cash into the contract, with Jody Calemine

Trump says his tax cuts will give every American a $4000 raise. But American labor unions have been burned by trickle-down claims for decades, because the wealth has just been zooming upward faster and faster. So when Trump made his promise, the Communications Workers of America told corporations: “Put it in the contract.” The union opposes the tax bill, which will hit many members with tax increases, but if it’s going to be forced to swallow more trickle-down policy, says general counsel Jody Calemine, then the companies getting the big breaks need to pony up the cash to make it up to their workers.

As far as I know, we have never responded in such a direct way before. The promises made by this White House are so specific about what the outcome would be that it simply spurred us to try and hold them to this promise and got to our employers and ask them to sign. There is another specific promise that these guys made, on Paul Ryan’s website in big letters, that this tax bill is going to prevent the off-shoring of jobs. That is a big issue for us. We have been fighting off-shoring for a long time. It is what the Verizon strike up and down the east coast last year was all about. They are saying this is going to prevent off-shoring? Then, we are going to our employers and in these contract proposals, there is a second provision. It says “So long as this tax bill is in effect, they will not off-shore work. New jobs will be created here rather than overseas and work that is here isn’t going to move overseas.”
Again, just like the wage increase, this is something entirely within these corporations control. Based on the tax savings they are going to enjoy under this tax bill, they get to decide what they are going to do with it. The politicians are saying, “This is what will be done with it. That is why working people should support this bill.” So, we are going to those employers and saying, “Is that, in fact, true?” and we haven’t gotten a response.

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Class warfare in a tax bill, with Michael Kink

“Whether or not you agree with fighting class warfare on behalf of workers, the billionaires declared class warfare on everyone,” says Michael Kink of the Republican tax bill. Earlier tax-cut plans might have offered a little bit to working people in order to pass big cuts for the wealthy, but the Trump-Ryan-McConnell plan on the move in Congress right now gives tax breaks to billionaire heirs and heiresses and pays for it by slashing healthcare for the elderly, poor, and disabled; ending deductions for graduate students, teachers, and the self-employed, and essentially raising taxes on people making between $10,000 and $75,000 a year–which is the vast majority of the population. Luckily, it’s also deeply unpopular, and the coalition that grew out of the healthcare fights is mobilizing again for one last battle to halt the GOP agenda before the holidays.

One, at even the most moderate level, if you look at public opinion polls, things that pollsters already ask people about, most Americans want the wealthy to pay their fair share. Most Americans want to see higher taxes on rich people, not lower taxes on rich people. Most Americans would like to see a lot of loopholes eliminated, particularly the loopholes for outsourcing jobs. Most Americans would like to see a tax system that doesn’t overly reward people that are already wealthy, that doesn’t over-reward people that just invest for a living, that does something to help families that are struggling. We don’t have any legislation that does that.
More aggressively, what is the single payer of economic policy or fiscal policy? I would argue that if most people want to see the wealthy pay their fair share and most people want to see government budgets that actually invest in and create jobs by hiring people and giving them paychecks as opposed to just sprinkling helicopter-loads full of cash on rich zip codes, we could talk about fiscal policies that actually redistribute income and invest in the future. We can talk about public goods. We can talk about the opportunity to close loopholes, make the wealthy pay their fair share and invest in an economy that would actually employ a lot more people then we have now. We could make the transition into a clean energy infrastructure. We can move forward with single payer healthcare and staff that out in a way that responds to our opioid addiction crisis, that responds to the aging of America, that provides more independent living options for seniors and for people with disabilities.
There are a lot of things we could do that would create a lot of good, meaningful jobs for Americans with decent paychecks and we have the money to do it. The Republicans are saying they would be willing to spend a $1.5 trillion on something. If we were going to spend $1.5 trillion on clean energy and public health and education and higher education, a lot of people would be in favor of that. The tax system is a way that can provide the resources to do it. You could be scared of the phrase “redistribution of income,” but when pollsters ask questions about “Make the wealthy pay their fair share and invest in programs that create jobs and pay off for the public in the future,” that is what they are talking about. When we have young people supporting socialism over capitalism by significant margins because they have been screwed so badly by the economy, then I think it is incumbent on politicians to provide more effective public policies that were previously extended.

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“As goes the South, so goes the nation,” with Libby Devlin, Saladin Muhammad and Rita Valenti


The Southern Movement Assembly is on its seventh year of bringing together movement organizers from across the U.S. South to strengthen relationships, build a deeper political analysis, and connect different struggles. It’s something different from a conference, its participants say–its goal is to build a different kind of movement that challenges the structures of capital and white supremacy. Libby Devlin of National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United, Saladin Muhammad, retired international rep for the United Electrical Workers union, founding member of the Black Workers for Justice, and Rita Valenti of National Nurses Organizing Committee, Healthcare-NOW! all worked to pull together the Movement Assembly and in particular the Workers Justice Assembly part of the gathering, and they joined me to talk about the movement they are building and what the rest of the country can learn from a place that has been Trumplandia for a long time.

RV: I really want to underscore this notion of not just mobilizing, not going backwards in history to a time that is past, and not just a series of workshops, but actually deep political organizing that produces a change of consciousness and begins to actually discuss the vision of the world that we want to build in this hugely transitional and chaotic period. And development of strategies.
I think the South has had much more of a handle on that because we have had a lot less, since our inception, resources that we have had to rely on each other and respect each other and understand the centrality of our history based in genocide and slavery. Wall Street has controlled the South and through that control has really controlled the nation. We see that in not just this Trump era, but more so in the history of Right to Work in terms of labor, the history of “state’s rights,” particularly in terms of healthcare and failures to expand Medicaid. What we bring, I think, to this table is that we try to listen to each other and not just tell each other.
LD: I guess I always kind of hoped that the standards in the northern states would move South, not vice versa. So, when you look at income inequality, it is worse in the South. Health outcomes are worse in the South. Education quality is worse in the South. Infant mortality rates are worse in the South. The percent of unionization rates is directly linked to all of that, as well. Particularly, income inequality and wealth inequality, there’s a reverse correlation between union strength and income inequality. The stronger the union is, the less income inequality is.
I think what we bring from the South is that we have been living under these same conditions that the existing government and their funders would like to see brought throughout the country. We have existed. We have survived. We can say we have done that. I think a lot of people in places like Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, they are all going to be faced with the same conditions that we have now. I know that they are working to try to figure out “How do you fight back in that environment?” because the political climate has been different there. One thing that people can learn from us is how to be scrappier. How do you fight in that context? There has been a lot of cross-state discussion that has been going on and I think that is helpful and useful.
SM: Historically, the labor movement, in particular, has not recognized the strategic role of the South in a national strategy. The south is a zone of global capital very much like, and that pre-existed, NAFTA, the maquiladoras, etc. The South hasn’t been looked at almost as if it had maquiladoras, but international capital is now seeing it as a region of concentration that is protected by a state that is dominant internationally. Economists have said that the regional economy of the South would be considered as the world’s fourth largest economy, following Japan. If we are not recognizing this concentration of global capital in the South and understanding how to challenge the outrageous actions of US and global capital then I don’t think we are looking at a strategy correctly.

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From the Fight for $15 to city council, with Stephanie Gasca


Stephanie Gasca is one of many people this year moving from social movement, community, and labor organizing work into campaigning for office. She got her start with the Fight for $15, and works for Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha, which translates to Center for Workers United in Struggle, a worker center that helped bring Target to the negotiating table for retail janitors with several years of strikes. Now she’s running for a city council seat to make sure that the communities where she lives and works are represented by people who understand their struggles against state violence, against poverty wages, against racism and a vicious immigration system.

I am a mother first and foremost. I have a 14-year-old black son that I am raising here in North Minneapolis where the police have killed black men before, where the police harass our black youth on a regular basis. My politics are automatically different because of my life experiences.
Because of my background and where I come from and being one of nine children and having my step-dad being impacted by the broken immigration system and having our family being hit by poverty wages and a lack of access to education and opportunities and having my mom being impacted by not having paid sick leave, all of these things, all of these disparities, all of these specifics that everyone loves to go on about the numbers and this and this and that, that is my real life. I have a brother who just came home from federal prison in August who I am trying to support right now, helping him and ensuring that he gets a job and ensuring that he has access to the resources that he needs so that he is successful at re-entry and that he is not trapped by the system, because the system is designed to slap folks with a felony and they just keep them going back into the system.
When we talk about children being highly mobile, my niece is living with me right now who hasn’t had stable housing in 5 years because my sister cannot afford the rising cost of rent. All of these things that we talk about, I am living them every single day. So, my politics are automatically different because this is my life. These aren’t reports that I am reading. These aren’t statistics that I am looking at. This is my life and it is about a fight for my survival. It is about the fight for the survival of my family and my community. That is how I always approach my work because that is what it is. I can’t approach it any other way.

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Creating a sanctuary union, with George Miranda

Eber Garcia Vasquez had been a New York City Teamster for 26 years when he was deported on September 6th. His union fought to keep him here, but when their campaign was unsuccessful, Teamsters Joint Council 16 moved to ensure that this happens to no one else. The union’s declaration that it would be a “sanctuary union,” explains Joint Council 16 president George Miranda, means education, bargaining, and refusal to cooperate with ICE.

Immigrant rights and labor rights are explicitly tied together. You can’t have one without the other. If you lose on one issue, whether it is immigrants or the labor, you lose the other. It is obvious that we are tied together and there is no way that we could say that we are not a union of immigrants. It seems to us that we need to protect our members. We are all immigrants, but we need to protect our members more than ever now since this administration has taken the position that they have taken on immigrants.

So we have decided to be a sanctuary union, meaning that we protect our members. They are working, they are earning their living, they are supporting their families, and they are not doing anything that is criminal or whatever, we are not going to cooperate with the immigration service whatsoever in going after our members. We are going to indoctrinate our members and help them with attorneys and whatever other expertise they need in order to protect them and their families and, hopefully, get them out of the mess that they may find themselves in.

That is what sanctuary unions mean. We are going to indoctrinate all of our members, all our stewards as to exactly what that means.

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A platform for progress, with Nina Turner


Since the 2016 election, there have been a lot of debates about the direction in which the Democratic party should go. Our Revolution, the organization that grew out of the Sanders campaign and now headed by former Ohio state senator Nina Turner, has been working to provide an answer to that question, and is now backing a “people’s platform” of legislation to tackle inequalities of all kinds, from voting rights to abortion rights to slowing climate change. The Democratic leadership, though, didn’t exactly welcome Turner when she went to deliver the platform.

The reason why we decided to take legislation is because we did want it to be tangible. Sometimes we talk about these issues in ways where people can’t see that they can be realized, and the beautiful thing about the People’s Platform and the coalition that we have of supporting organizations of the People’s Platform is that it is tangible, it is real. The Education for All bill has been introduced that will require the federal government to pay 2/3rds of college. We know how important that is to make sure that we have a workforce that is highly educated and highly skilled. That is what this is about. It is about making that kind of investment.
Medicare for All, which is the signature, was the signature of Senator Sanders campaign. It is the foundation of what we do, which is affirming that we as a country can have Medicare for All, we can create an environment that doesn’t leave anybody behind, that is not attached to a job. To me, that kind of thing can spark an entrepreneurial spirit if somebody knows that their healthcare is not tied to a job and they can dream bigger and they can do things that probably ordinarily they would not do.
And what we are saying to the Congress, but particularly to the Democratic Party, particularly to the Democrats that serve in the Congress is “Here it is. Your members introduced these pieces of legislation. Sign onto them and let us show the people of this country, the folks of this country that this is what we stand for, this is what we are fighting for.” It is important to have all of these options, because for some people the environment might be the most important thing, to other people economic justice might be the thing, for other people racial justice. So we have something in the People’s Platform for everybody.

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Pulling down the statues in Durham and everywhere, with Angaza Laughinghouse


In the wake of the white supremacist attacks on Charlottesville, Virginia this weekend, protests sprang up around the country. In North Carolina, a place laden with its own history of white supremacist violence, protesters pulled down a statue of a Confederate soldier outside of the Durham County Courthouse. Arrests and raids on activists’ homes followed; so have further protests in solidarity with those who took down the statue, including, on Thursday morning, an attempt by hundreds to march on the jail and turn themselves in to protest the arrests and call for charges to be dropped. Angaza Laughinghouse is a longtime organizer in the area and he talks about the protests, the long fight against white supremacy in the South, and workers’ role in that struggle.

One of the things that we do as a union is we oftentimes go to the workplaces, whether it is street maintenance or it is the sanitation yard and usually they are in areas where people have to drive down a road to get into their workplace, to pick up their trucks, their sewer trucks or their equipment. While we are handing out the flyers, oftentimes some of the anti-union people, some of the people that have old white supremacist ideas and they are union haters, “You goddamned union communist organizer…” They try to hit you. So, it is very important that the governor stop this, make sure people are held liable as criminals when they hit or try to run over people as they hand out flyers in front of workplaces.
It is not just a question of protests and rallies. In the “right-to-work” South, where less than 3 percent of all workers in North Carolina are unionized, there is a lot of anti-union feeling. This white supremacist thinking is institutionalized. It is everywhere. In the history, in the workplace. Part of the anti-union right to work climate. These supremacists who are now calling the county government telling them to prosecute these folks who pulled down the statue to the fullest extent of the law. It is fully institutionalized, it is systematic, this white supremacy thing. It is not just a few crazies as some people want to write it off.

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