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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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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here.

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Finding healing justice, with Cat Brooks

The Justice Teams Network is a new project aimed at challenging dominant narratives of police shootings and helping communities find healing. Building on models developed by the Anti Police Terror Project and Dignity and Power Now, the network brings together activists with training in investigation, community support, and communication to deal with the aftermath of police violence, and works on policy to prevent it. I spoke with Justice Teams Network director Cat Brooks, who has also just decided to run for Mayor of Oakland, California.

When the cops kill somebody, the responding organization, whether it’s APTP, or somewhere else, our Facebook pages go off, our Twitter pages go off, our personal phones go off, We then send an email out to a list of about 500 people who are trained and are active in the database, who are trauma-informed investigators. That means they have been trained on how to engage communities and people that have dealt with various traumas. They go to the scene, they talk to community members. They look at the pictures. They scour the scene for any video footage that might be in existence of the incident. Sometimes the will pick up evidence that might be helpful that the cops leave behind.
Then, hopefully, the find someone that is connected to the family at that scene. If they don’t, they come back to social media and they scour social media. Because, inevitably, in this day and age someone who was there has posted something to Twitter. Once we have connected with the family, we have got two primary agenda items. One is to, within 24 hours, either hold a vigil or support the community in holding their own. The second, of course, is to see what they need. Then, in talking to the family, it is about finding everything out about the person that was killed. So, the news by that time, of course, has come out and said, “Oh, the police shot a black man–black suspect is actually how they say it most of the time–He had a gun and he stole a lollipop and he stole a lollipop in 1922 from Samuel Adams.” as if whatever happened in 1922 has anything to do with why he’s dead now.
We then come out with our narrative, the family’s narrative, “They liked the color blue, they went to church on Sundays. They were parents. They took care of their mother.” Just humanize them, because…when you talk about people, like dentists, students, mothers, lawyers, cashiers, whatever, we are having a different conversation.
Then, from there, we connect them to our legal team, which is pro bono legal support, and then we support them with communications, legal, fundraising—they have to hold a funeral, often have to raise money for independent autopsies because often the one you get comes from law enforcement, they’re not going to challenge what law enforcement said happened. Then, we walk with them, and that is a long walk because while the story is in the media for a week, maybe two, for families, this is years and years and years, it never ends. The pain never ends.

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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here.

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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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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here.

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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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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here.

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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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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here.