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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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Healthcare for the heartland, with Jesse Myerson


After the election, Jesse Myerson wanted to build something in a place with little progressive infrastructure. He found himself in Bloomington, Indiana, where alongside Kate Hess Pace and a handful of other Hoosiers, he is helping to build Hoosier Action. Many of its earliest actions have focused on fighting Medicaid cuts on the state and national level. He’s also the host of a podcast that, like Interviews for Resistance, aims to spotlight organizers from around the country and the work they are doing.

A lot of this organizing is based on having long one-on-one discussions with people, what their lives are like, what they are interested in, what they are concerned about, what they are afraid of, what they are angry about, what they are hopeful for and growing relationships that way. That is both on the doors and ideally in follow-ups after people get knocked or called. Those stories are important in the actual day-to-day organizing, talking to people and letting them know who you are and finding out who they are. As a kind of public expression, really what we hope to do is to mobilize people with that, but that ultimately that mobilization should turn into becoming a dues-paying member, coming to monthly member meetings, joining a team and taking on work. That can be going and knocking on doors, it can be doing data entry, it can be helping to promote issues or taking on a shift at the farmers market or at a county fair, flyering or taking petitions, but ideally it is not a high temperature sort of organizing such as you and I saw at Occupy Wall Street where it is lots of marches, lots of heat, lots of intensity.

Really, that emotional heat is being channelled into really well-functioning systems that people can take on discrete amounts of work that make sense with their working lives and their family lives, but that they can see serving to proliferate the organization.

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Rising out of poverty, with Annie Chambers, Rachel West and Pat Gowens


Welfare reform briefly became a hot topic on the campaign trail last year when Hillary Clinton was criticized for supporting the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, signed into law with great fanfare by her husband, President Bill Clinton, who famously declared that the law would “end welfare as we know it.” The law did precisely that, turning the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program into the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families block grant, which came along with stringent requirements for the people, most of them women, who received it. Since that time, extreme poverty has spiked in the country, and the share of single mothers with no income or benefits has gone from 12 to 20 percent. But welfare rights activists never stopped fighting for their rights, and many are backing a bill being reintroduced by Congresswoman Gwen Moore of Wisconsin, the RISE Out of Poverty Act. I spoke with several supporters of the Act at the People’s Summit in Chicago recently.

Pat Gowens: The RISE Out of Poverty Act would say that instead of only allowing mothers to do this unwaged work, that women could do their mandatory hours on job search, number one, and they could also do it going to college. They could get a two-year degree, a four-year degree, and that would could as employment. In the states right now, they can require the mother to leave their babies at two months, three months, whatever, one year. In Wisconsin it is two months. At that point, the children have no one on one care anymore from their mom and the mom has to, again, go into that unwaged workforce or, if they can find a job, the paid workforce.

This would say the states couldn’t do that. They would have to at least let the mothers be home—right now it isn’t clear whether it is going to be one year or whether it is going to be more. It’s up for grabs, because the bill is being revised.

Then, there is a third thing. The states wouldn’t be able to only say they cut the rolls. The law would have to be changed to say the states have to reduce poverty and increase employment, not just say, “Well, we cut a million women off this year” and they are all in the streets with zero income, or they are working for…probably ninety-six people are working for no pay at their Head Start. The states would have to prove that they are reducing poverty.

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A unified working class movement, with Nijmie Dzurinko


The conversations since the election have mostly hinged on how divided Americans are, on the splits between rural and urban, black and white, immigrant and citizen. But there are material issues that affect many, many people in this country right now, starting with healthcare, and Nijmie Dzurinko of Put People First PA has been organizing across divides in the deeply split state of Pennsylvania for years, using healthcare as a way to unify working-class communities around the things that matter most.

To speak to a long-term organizing strategy, I think we have got to get clear on a few things. One is that my work is still around the idea that we have got to be organizing an intersectional working class movement. That means that we have got to be organizing the folks who are forced to work for wages and particularly folks who are the most marginalized workers and/or folks who can’t work, who are locked out of the system of work, but who need to in order to survive. That group of people is representative of every race, every gender, every status of documentation. That group of people is very broad. We need to make sure that the most marginalized people in the class are in the center of our work, but we have got to be organizing a working class movement.

One of the things we have got to recognize in that sense is that to build a long-term strategy is that the 1% is not necessarily going to fund the unity of the 99%. The 1% is pretty comfortable funding segments of that group to fight for their own piece, but not necessarily for the coming together of that class as a class. I think that in terms of long-term strategy, we need to be okay with that. We are going to have to do some things that might not get funded. We are going to have to put in some work that might not get paid. No one wants to hear that necessarily. We are in this moment where there are some dreams about how everyone is going to have a career, everyone is going to be able to do some kind of revolutionary work and get paid really well to do it and that is still a contradiction. It never hasn’t been and it always will be because, again, the 1% is not going to put their money behind a class struggle that is aiming at them. They might put their money behind a struggle that was aiming at better representation among their class of a certain group of people, but they are not going to put their money behind a unified group of folks that are coming for them.

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An equitable infrastructure plan, with Bishop Dwayne Royster

Donald Trump’s plans to “Make America Great Again” included promises of massive infrastructure spending, but it turns out he’s mostly interested in privatizing what’s left of the American public sector to make his cronies rich at the expense of everyone else. But infrastructure spending is desperately needed, so the “Millions of Jobs” coalition is coming together with a big, positive, public-oriented vision for infrastructure that goes beyond roads and bridges to the infrastructure of care. Bishop Dwayne Royster of the PICO Network is part of that coalition, and he explains:

I think Trump and others are trying to make deals and they are trying to maximize the profits for their friends and the other billionaires that they care about. But, when we think about infrastructure I think we have to think about the whole in terms of how we are building out our country, our nation, how we are building out future generations. Any infrastructure project is a project that you are looking at that has to last several decades. What better investment in infrastructure could there be than building up solar energy, building out education priorities for our kids, making sure that we are creating job opportunities for people that have been locked out of those opportunities by creating good-paying middle-class jobs? I think that is infrastructure, as well.

I think infrastructure is much bigger than just looking at roads and bridges. Of course, they are incredibly important, don’t get me wrong on that. But, it is important that we are looking at the infrastructure of a nation which also includes the human resources that we have, as well.

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Listening to the picket line, with Cecilia Aldarondo


The workers at the Momentive plant near Albany, New York didn’t get as much attention in the weeks surrounding Donald Trump’s election as did those at Carrier in Indianapolis, but in many ways they are similar. While the Carrier plant was closing down, the workers there had faced repeated demands for givebacks in their contracts like the ones the Momentive workers fought against. And like Carrier, in the state from which Trump drew Vice-President Mike Pence, the Momentive plant too had a Trump connection: Steve Schwarzman, billionaire hedge-fund titan and Trump economic adviser, had been part of the team of private equity investors who owned the plant once it was spun off from GE. Yet when filmmaker Cecila Aldarondo began visiting the workers on the picket line they walked outside of Momentive for over 100 days, she found that many of them had voted for Trump. Her short film, Picket Line, is part of Our 100 Days, a short film initiative from Firelight Media and Field of Vision examining America after Trump, and we talked about stereotypes of Trump voters, the power of the union in resistance, and how to talk to people on the other side of the political line drawn by the 2016 election.

One of the things that has already sort of bothered me and troubled me a little bit is in seeing how people have reacted to the film since it was released, is people making knee-jerk statements about the white working class. Mostly people who think of themselves as liberal, who are rabid anti-Trumpers, who are essentially saying, “I am sick of hearing the story about the aggrieved white working class. These people are idiots,” etc. and “Thanks for screwing us over.” Something like this.
The first thing that I would say to that is, “First of all, this is not a universal… These people are not all white” and like you said, they are not all male. I would say this area is largely white, but there were a lot of people of color that I talked to for the film. I think that these sort of bumper-sticker narratives are things that people have been clinging to to explain very complicated and much longer-running issues around the growth of economic inequality, the erosion of union power in this country, etc.
Anyway, I just want to say, this is a film that really tries to challenge those kind of monolithic understandings of not just what happened, but what is happening to working people in this country. That includes all working people of all ethnicities, all genders, etc.

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The family leave shell game, with Ellen Bravo


Donald Trump’s budget slashes social programs to the bone, if not outright eliminating them. Yet he’s followed up–sort of–on a campaign-trail promise, credited to his daughter Ivanka, of providing paid family leave. Yet longtime labor organizer and family policy campaigner Ellen Bravo says the proposal isn’t worth much to anyone but the wealthiest people, and is designed to create still more cuts.

I have been thinking a lot about shell games. In order to win a shell game, the person has to get your eyes on one shell while they are manipulating the others. That is what this budget is. They are hoping that by naming “paid leave” we won’t notice that they are slashing and destroying everything from Medicaid to food stamps to childcare to disability payments, etc.
Secondly, the paid leave itself, they call it paid family leave, but of course it is paid parental leave. It doesn’t deliver even for parents. The problem is it is relying on an unsustainable funding source, state unemployment insurance. They are already grossly underfunded and leave out large numbers of people. The states will get to set the eligibility and amount of payment for your benefit and it is only for six weeks. So too little time for too little money for too few people. It is going to be another shell game to say that the money will come from reducing fraud in unemployment insurance, which is greatly exaggerated as a problem. Essentially it will mean that states will have to cut unemployment benefits to laid off workers in order to have money for the parental leave and of course it’s the same people. There will be someone who needs one and later the other or their partner. Then, they get to decide who qualifies. So, if you are an unmarried couple, same sex couple, adoptive parents, how do you get certified, who gets to be considered legitimate?

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Fighting Wall Street for Racial Justice, with Saqib Bhatti and Maurice Weeks

There have been a lot of debates recently about Wall Street and its role in fights for racial justice. For Saqib Bhatti and Maurice Weeks, co-founders of a new organization, the Action Center for Race and the Economy, understanding and combating the power of finance is an indispensable part of the struggle for both racial and economic justice, fights that cannot be separated out from one another.

MW: To me, the Trump administration is actually a perfect example of the demonstration of our analysis. On the one hand, you have a group of people who are just outright racist, who are just pushing forward the most hateful, xenophobic ideas that you could possible imagine. And on the other side, you have this group of people who are some of the economic justice targets that we have been fighting for the past ten or twenty years. Folks from Goldman Sachs, Steven Mnuchin, and that whole bunch.

In our analysis it makes a lot of sense that those two camps of people came together. There is a wealth extraction plan that they are pushing forward and the tool to do it is the racist hate language. Blaming the problems of the economy onto Black and Latino, brown folks and whoever else they can blame. It makes perfect sense that those two things are together and it is a really important calling for us to focus on race as a central piece of the work that we are doing. Because, if we don’t, it can be used as a tool against us.

SB: I would add that one of the original sins of the Democratic party going into the 2016 election was the failure of the last administration and the supermajorities in Congress to actually offer meaningful relief to struggling families in the aftermath of the financial crisis. The focus was on “How do we make sure that we can keep the financial system afloat?” and they left working families, struggling families behind.

One of the things that really is important about that is that one of the ways in which Wall Street ensured that they were able to push through their agenda was by racializing the issue. It was that the home owners who were facing foreclosure, they are irresponsible Black and Latino families who got into loans they couldn’t afford and so they didn’t deserve help. The reality is, we know, that Black and Latino families were actually targeted with predatory mortgages.

But, the other side of that, though, is that while it is true that Black and Latino families are disproportionately the people who impacted by the foreclosure crisis, in raw numbers it was a lot more poor white folks who were foreclosed on because there are a lot more poor white folks in the country than there are poor Black and Latino families.

The “white working class,” they very much were impacted by the same pro-Wall Street policies that were justified by scapegoating people of color. What is interesting now, of course, you had Donald Trump who really appealed to a lot of folks who felt left behind by the Democratic Party by saying the system is rigged. He wasn’t wrong that “The system is rigged.” It was rigged. Of course, it was rigged by the very people that he has put in his cabinet. So, it is this vicious cycle. As Maurice said, this is the perfect example of how race and class and racial and economic analysis go hand in hand and come together to give us the moment that we are in now.

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