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The Supreme Court and the corporate class, with Saqib Bhatti

The Supreme Court last week handed down decisions in Trump’s Muslim ban case, in the public sector labor union case Janus v. AFSCME, and more, decisions that will harm working people, particularly people of color. But most of the time these decisions are talked about separately from one another, and from other Trumpist attacks on immigrants and working people. Saqib Bhatti of the Action Center on Race and the Economy (ACRE) joins me to talk about them all together, contextualizing the slant of the Supreme Court these days and the shape of the struggle to fight back.

Looking at these issues, what is really important to understand is the connections between “Who are the corporate actors that are actually bad across all of these issues?” One of the things that we are seeing is with a lot of these things, the thing that people love to do with the Muslim ban is really beat up on Trump or say, “This is a terrible decision by the Supreme Court,” but the reality is we can raise those concerns all we want and it doesn’t actually hurt Trump for us to be saying, “He is anti-Muslim, he is racist.” In fact, it actually helps him with his base. With a lot of the politicians we are seeing that the reason why they are actually appealing to white supremacists is because they realize that it actually helps them. The way for us to take them on, while it is important to call out those politicians for what they are and what they are doing, we can’t stop there because at the end of the day that is not going to be an effective way to move them. Especially now if we are seeing the Supreme Court that in the coming years is likely to be stacked by far right ideologues, it seems like the avenue to fight on these fights only in the discourse of public sector and government is going to be going away. That is why it is truly important to look at, “Who are the corporations that these politicians are beholden to? Who are the corporations whose agenda the Supreme Court is carrying out?” and really show some of these connections. What we have found in our research is that a lot of the same companies that are really profiting off the mass incarceration system, that are really profiting from our immigrant policies, that are supporting politicians that are anti-Muslim and support policies like the Muslim ban, these are actually a lot of the same corporations, and by the way, those are also the same corporations that are responsible for defunding the public sector because they don’t pay their fair share in taxes.

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A New Social Contract, with Cathy Albisa

It can be so easy to get bogged down in the unending horrors coming from the news every day. But while we get stuck watching the bad news, organizers across the country have been engaged in creating solutions that democratize the economy, broaden participation, and fundamentally change our society for the better. A new report from the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative looks at these efforts and pulls them together to lay a blueprint for “A New Social Contract,” and NESRI’s executive director Cathy Albisa took the time to explain what the report entails and why it matters to look forward to a fundamentally different world.

The first thing we wanted to do was make sure we were looking at things that were truly structural, that would address the various intersections of injustice that people were experiencing today. Structural solutions will deal with economic, racial, gender, climate justice, all at once because they are looking at the root cause and these root causes are integrated. Once we looked at those structural solutions, we did see certain things that they had in common.
The first one should be no surprise to anyone, which is that they are driven by values. Too much in our economic and social policy is driven by profit, driven by hate, driven by things that we would consider completely anathema to our values. These solutions that are driven by core social justice and human rights values.
The second thing we noticed about them is what I mentioned earlier. They really are better for everyone. They center people that are most marginalized, but they are systemic solutions that if we really scaled up would really lead to universal systems that addressed people’s basic needs and offer opportunities for neighborhoods not to just survive, but thrive all over the country.
The third is that almost all of them had a really central component that involved reenvisioning local democracy. It is no secret that our democracy is in peril right now. We have been downgraded by The Economist from a “full democracy” to a “flawed democracy.” Even before this election a report was coming out of Princeton, hardly a radical institution, they deemed that we were no longer a democracy, but really more of an oligarchy. It is clear that communities are feeling this and that they are coming up with new forms of local democracy, community control, worker ownership to rebuild that sense of collectivity from the ground up.

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Defeating the attack on food assistance–for now, with Rebecca Vallas

A lot of things wind up embedded in the massive, regularly-renewed piece of legislation known as the “farm bill” each year, and one of the most important–at least, to the 40 million Americans who rely on it–is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, previously and still commonly known as food stamps. The program has been in the sights of Republicans, fresh off a victory on tax cuts, who want to pay for those cuts by slashing benefits to working people and the poor. Rebecca Vallas has been following the progress of these attacks and the broader push by the Right to put “Work Requirements” on everything, and she joins us once again to talk about how the farm bill was defeated and how SNAP might be saved.

A little bit of background on what the SNAP program is. It used to be called food stamps. People might be familiar with that name for the program, but today it is called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. It helps about 40 million Americans put food on the table in any given month. Now, the benefits that it provides are already extremely meager. Just $1.40 per person per meal. Just pausing there for a second. Imagine that as your food budget, but you have got Republicans in Congress saying, “Nope, that is too much. We have got to actually take some of that away from people who are struggling to put food on the table.”
That is what this what this farm bill would have done, is to make a program that is already incredibly meager, where families already, by and large, report running out of food by the third week in the month. It is to make that program even harder to access for people when they are facing hard times. And the people that it targets, by and large, are people who are struggling to find work or can’t get enough hours in their job. That is who would be most hurt by this proposal.
Now, what happened last week, is we saw total unity among Democrats. We saw Democrats saying, “This is a heartless bill that I can’t vote for” and we saw that from every single Democrat in the house. What we saw in the Republican caucus was really disarray. Not super dissimilar from what we have seen on a number of occasions with a number of pieces of legalization where Republicans can’t quite seem to agree on how heartless they want to be.
We actually saw the bill go down literally in the middle of the voting. It seems like Republicans weren’t aware that they didn’t have the votes to pass the bill. So, we saw Democrats in lockstep say, “No, I can’t vote for a piece of legislation that takes food away from as many as 2 million Americans,” which is what this bill would have done. And we saw Republicans split between wanting to see the bill be even crueler and take even more food away from even more people. In some cases, in the case of moderate Republicans, we saw them saying, “Actually, I am realizing this is going to be bad for me in November.”

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Making Private Equity Pay, with Debbie Beard and Carrie Gleason

When Debbie Beard found out the company she’d worked at for 29 years, Toys R Us, was closing down, she was shocked–she knew the company had been having financial difficulties for a while, but didn’t realize it was that bad. The more she learned, though, about the way the company had been looted by private equity firms Bain Capital and KKR, the more she determined that no one else should have to go through this. Debbie and other Toys R Us workers are organizing to demand severance pay from the company, and beyond that, organizing to stop the kind of leveraged buyouts that saddle viable companies with unsustainable debt. She joins me along with Carrie Gleason of the Fair Workweek Initiative at the Center for Popular Democracy to explain what can be done.

CG: This has been going on for quite some time, and during the recession, about ten years ago now, retail companies started to turn to these private equity firms to help them with their financial struggles. Many retail companies were bought out through this process called a leveraged buyout.
In the case of Toys R Us, what happened was in say 2005 the company only had 30% debt. Then, as soon as KKR and Bain Capital bought it out, that flipped and the company went to 70% debt and only 30% equity. The company had long paid back this debt, but then, as every year, they had to pay management fees and other kinds of, basically, fees to take care of Bain Capital from one year to the next, on top of interest, and it became financially unviable.
Then, Amazon gets on the scene and all of these investors across all of these retail companies look at what is happening with Amazon. Last year, it became the second largest retail company in America. They thought, “Well, maybe we should get out now, it is going to take too much investment, capital investment, to make this company competitive. So let’s just close the doors.”
The truth is that Toys R Us is a completely viable business. Many of these other retail companies that are closing doors, like Nine West, are completely viable businesses, but the problem is that the owners aren’t looking to run the business of retail. It is a big problem. Then, it is not just this private equity ownership. Big companies like Macy’s and Kohl’s have other kinds of debt that are really crippling them in this moment where they actually need to be changing their strategies for the new retail industry that is emerging.
As a result, I will say, a lot of people are losing their jobs. A lot of hard-working women like Debbie are losing their jobs. And, this is a disaster, a financial crisis that could completely be avoided if we just regulate these Wall Street firms.
DB: There are several single moms in my store. I get emotional about this. I am sorry. I have got a mom, Melissa, she has got three young boys under six trying to make a living because she is a single mom. Julie has a specific schedule because she is taking care of her mom. It is going to upset their whole lives. Julie, as a matter of fact, has been with this store for twenty-one years. She opened this store and now she is going to close it.

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May Day Without Immigrants in Wisconsin, with Gabriel Quintero


As May Day comes around again, once again immigrant workers take to the streets in protest of continued criminalization. Having defeated the 287g program, which makes local law enforcement into an arm of immigration enforcement, in Milwaukee, Voces De La Frontera and other organizations have called for a “Day Without Latinxs & Immigrants” strike action to halt the program in Waukesha. Gabriel Quintero is a member of Voces and spoke to me about the day, the departure of Paul Ryan, and their organizing under the Trump administration.

In the past, our Sheriff in Waukesha County, he wants to participate in the program called 287g, which would allow the sheriff’s department to act an immigration enforcement agent. This program has been known for not… What can I say? The purpose is not what the people wanted. We all hear about Sheriff Arpaio in Maricopa County, which is Arizona, he was using that program to intimidate and put all our community, immigrant community, and pretty much base it on your race. It was people afraid of this programs because you can be racially profiled. People being pulled over just for the color of their skin and to be questioned about status. So, this is not a good program for our community and, in general, the public.
We fought this battle before with Sheriff Clarke in Milwaukee and we won the battle. He was trying to use the program in the Milwaukee area and thanks to Voces De La Frontera and the actions of all the people together, we defeated this program in Milwaukee. Now, we’re trying to do the same thing in Waukesha.

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The strike wave rolls on, with Noah Karvelis of Arizona Educators United

Arizona may well be the next state to see a massive teacher strike, as they voted last week for a Thursday strike deadline. Part of the wave of teacher militancy, the #RedForEd movement began through a Facebook page with support from existing unions, and has led to a point where 78 percent of the 57,000 teachers who participated in the strike vote last week voted to walk out. Noah Karvelis was one of the founders of Arizona Educators United, the Facebook page that helped spur the movement, and he explains why Arizona joined the wave.

A lot of our kids here in Arizona don’t have textbooks that they need to be successful. They stop at President George W. Bush, for example. They don’t have working desks and a lot of the classes don’t have paper towels and just the bare necessities that you need for a classroom. What is happening is we have an entire generation of Arizona citizens who haven’t been given a chance at academic success. It has been thrown away by the state, any chance that they had of academic success. Which is incredibly maddening, especially as an educator. So, what happens, in addition to that, is educators are working in, just really bad, bad situations. Then, on top of that, they are getting underpaid. We have the worst pay in the nation for elementary school teachers and we have the second-to-worst pay in the nation for high school teachers. What we really have is an education crisis because our students don’t have the resources that they need to be successful, our teachers don’t have the resources they need to be successful or to even stay in the job, and our public school infrastructure is crumbling on top of it and we are hemorrhaging teachers.

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Repeal and replace the barriers to progress regardless of party, with Joe Dinkin

In a busy week for the Working Families Party, they announced a new director, found out that Paul Ryan was dropping out of his race against WFP member Randy Bryce in Wisconsin, faced threats of defunding, held a political education training, and voted to endorse the challengers in the New York gubernatorial race. Oh, and somewhere in there they helped pass paid sick days in New Jersey, too. I spoke with WFP’s Joe Dinkin about the party’s national strategy, how its challenge to Paul Ryan helped make him quit, and why they’re finally breaking with Andrew Cuomo despite his threats.

I think especially with Trump in the White House, with a cabinet and an administration composed of billionaires and avowed white nationalists who’ve been running the country, the urgency for our kind of values is felt more deeply and more broadly than ever before. People who are the opponents of that progressive agenda–whether they’re Republicans or whether they’re Democrats–are really feeling the heat right now. And it’s emboldened people to pay closer attention to politics–when I talked about the IDC in New York, we spent six years, eight years banging the drum about the Independent Democratic Caucus and how this third caucus was blocking progress on the progressive agenda, and almost nobody cared and almost nobody really understood it. It took until the election of Donald Trump for people to really wake up to the politics, pay attention to the news in a deeper way, look around and say “Well why can’t New York pass the DREAM act here, pass healthcare for all to ensure that if Trump guts Obamacare people are still covered, pass the Reproductive Health Act, and all of these measures of the progressive agenda that people deeply needed, why can’t we do that?” It was because of these state senators who were caucusing with the Republicans, and people got active and people got mad. I think that kind of thing has happened all over the country where there is this new, activated, almost radicalism, there’s a new energy in voters who are hungry for serious change and are really more open than ever to big ideas about the kind of change we need.

SJ: It separates you a little bit from the old model, which was very much based in New York, unions and community groups and the fusion voting strategy. That still matters but it’s not quite the center of the WFP strategy anymore.

JD: We have always been built on a base that includes unions, community organizations and grassroots activists, and what we’ve seen since the election of Trump especially but even going back before that to the Bernie Sanders campaign, to the rise of some of the social movements over the last couple of years is that that grassroots base, the individual activists are on fire.

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Striking against austerity and the Right, with Jane McAlevey


West Virginia’s teachers proved that supermajority strikes can even beat a trifecta-red government, if they bring their community along, argues Jane McAlevey, organizer and author. Teachers, nurses, and other public sector workers, far from being the also-rans of the labor movement, have the power to challenge austerity and to organize their communities. McAlevey explains the difference between organizing and mobilizing, why she’s hopeful about the March For Our Lives and the Poor People’s Campaign, and what to expect from the Supreme Court’s forthcoming Janus decision.

What is interesting to me is that mostly men in our movement over the last 25 years have had a consistent line that the private sector matters more than the public sector and that the private sector is the most important place that we have to do our work. Like, if we are going to re-build the labor movement, it has to happen in the private sector and not until we get the private sector numbers back up to something close to the public-sector numbers can we win again. I have taken a decidedly fairly public different position, which is one sector does not matter more than the other and, in fact, where I have been evolving to lately is that if anything the public sector matters more. Not only because it is where we still have, until Janus, a majority of the membership of the labor movement.
But, it is actually also, I argue that it is the mission-driven, largely female, often people of color – certainly not in West Virginia, but elsewhere – who are the people suffering the consequences of austerity and who have the capacity to fight back because of those incredibly deep structural relationships they have with either their patients in the healthcare sector or their clients in the home care part of the healthcare sector. People who they serve and take care of or the students and the parents and the families in the case of education workers. Austerity is going after them. The austerity front is around healthcare and education. That is where massive cutbacks are happening.

Everywhere in the world, despite a multi-million dollar attempt, from Waiting for Superman on, to decimate the image of teachers. Even though the pages of The New York Times or any other mainstream liberal media outlet occasionally will agree, ordinary parents in strike after strike choose to stand with their teachers. Students stand with their teachers. No matter how many millions of dollars they try and use to degrade and attack and insult every educator–they haven’t moved on nurses yet, but as I am studying the attack on teachers, it is like it doesn’t matter how much money they waste, the relationship that is forged every day organically between mission-driven workers, workers who care deeply about their work, mostly female in the healthcare and education sector, is like an inseparable bond. That is why it becomes organizing and not just mobilizing, because they are bringing hundreds of thousands more people into the struggle and helping them understand who is to blame for the pain in their lives.

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Cleaning house, winning power with Ady Barkan

Ady Barkan became a household name when he was spotted over and over again at protests against healthcare cuts in Washington during the fight for the Affordable Care Act and then against the Republican tax cut bill—which included cuts to healthcare programs. For Barkan, a longtime organizer diagnosed in 2016 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, the fight for healthcare had become very personal. We sat down last week in Baltimore at the Congressional Progressive Caucus strategy summit, where Barkan, who masterminded the Fed Up campaign as well as being central to the healthcare struggle, was being honored with the Tim Carpenter Advocate of the Year award.

As to resistance, I think it has proven more effective than I or I think many people thought possible. Chuck Schumer and the like were all ready to capitulate on everything until “What the f**k, Chuck?” protests started popping up in Park Slope. And we actually were able to gum up the works to block a bunch–I mean, ultimately, he has really passed, enacted only one significant piece of legislation. Which is not terrible for a unified government.
I don’t think they are going to get anything else. They don’t have any good reconciliation instructions and it is an election year. We will see about this bank lobbyist Dodd-Frank roll back where the Democrats are being traitors, which brings me to the third point, which is that we have a lot of house cleaning to do.
The Dems are still way too in the pocket of Wall Street. Elizabeth Warren’s speech on the Senate floor was really fantastic. It is just so embarrassing and infuriating to see the DCCC endorse a union buster in Houston and all these Dems support rolling back Dodd-Frank. It is like, who among the American people are clamouring for reducing the regulations on banks? It is crazy.

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Trump’s infrastructure plan left the infrastructure out, with Hunter Blair


Donald Trump has been promising a big infrastructure plan since the campaign days. But what he’s got is a whole bunch of nothing. The president dropped his plan on Monday and it’s low on the funding and high on the private giveaways. Hunter Blair at the Economic Policy Institute has been following the twists and turns of Trump on infrastructure and the problems with so-called public-private partnerships for a while, and he joined me to break down Trump’s infrastructure plan.

I think the structure of the plan is what we expected to see. It is only $200 billion in federal funding, as opposed to the headline claims of either $1.5 trillion or $1 trillion that the administration had been claiming. Of that, $100 billion goes to this sort of grant program that kicks the funding decisions to states and localities. They are required to come up with 80% of the funding and the federal government only provides 20%. There is $50 billion for rural projects. All of it comes back to what appears to be their belief that state and local governments need to spend even more on funding our infrastructure. Then, there are quite a lot of boilerplate claims about leveraging the private sector.
…At the end of the day, private entities don’t bring any more funding to the table. Either the federal government is going to fund it or you are going to be looking at taxes or tolls or user fees. Private companies do not build our infrastructure for free and they don’t manage or maintain anything of the sort for free and they expect to earn a return. They will earn that return through partnerships that allow them to collect tolls or pay them through state and local taxes. Leveraging the private sector, it gets thrown around a lot, but it certainly doesn’t bring any new money to the table.

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