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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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Building nationwide political power, with Joe Dinkin

The Working Families Party began in just a few states with a very specific strategy, utilizing “fusion” voting laws to gain a ballot line and cross-endorse progressive Democrats. But lately it’s been lending its weight to elections far outside its usual orbit, from Birmingham, Alabama to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Communications director Joe Dinkin talks to me about the wins for the WFP’s endorsed candidates on November 7, the expanding and changing strategy for the party, and whether working within the Democratic party is the best way to pass social democratic policies.

 

I think down ballot what we saw was Democrats picked up something like 15 seats in the House of Delegates. I think most of the Democratic Party operatives were expecting to pick up more like 3 to 5 or 3 to 6 seats. The candidates actually won in some of the toughest districts, the more uphill, Republican leaning districts were some of the most progressive candidates running, people like Hala Ayala and Elizabeth Guzman, who were the first two Latina candidates to be elected to the state legislature in Virginia; Danica Roem, the first trans candidate; Lee Carter, Democratic Socialist and member of DSA. All those candidates were running as sort of full-throated and bold progressives.
I think it blows up this prevalent myth in the Democratic Party that the way to win swing districts is with these boring, moderate, uninspiring, white men, generally, who run these cautious campaigns where they try really hard not to offend anyone. These candidates in some of the swingiest races in Virginia who won were candidates running really as full-throated progressives and they were a diverse slate and really blew up that idea of the Democratic Party and proved that, at the very least, there is another way to win; which is having a progressive vision and actually inspiring people with the change that you want to make in their lives and telling them how you are going to do that.
And this wasn’t just Virginia. Around the country there were municipal races. The Working Families Party, in total, endorsed a thousand candidates in 2017, over a thousand. Around the country we were seeing a new crop of movement progressive candidates picking up the mantle to run for local office and winning. These are a lot of candidates who are not out of the traditional structures of the Democratic Party, but whose backgrounds are often in union organizing or in community organizing groups or in social movements, and that kind of candidate was running on these very bold and transformative visions in a lot of cases and being rewarded by the voters for it.

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What could we spend $95 million on rather than police? With Monica Trinidad

Chicago plans to spend $95 million on a new police academy, but Chicagoans are organizing against it. A coalition of groups that have worked together successfully to bring about reparations for police torture survivors and to replace state’s attorney Anita Alvarez has now turned its attention to demanding that the money earmarked for the new academy be spent on things that the city actually wants and needs. Monica Trinidad of For the People Artists Collective and People’s Response Team explains why the fight isn’t over despite the city council’s vote for the academy.

There is so much we could be doing with that money! It is just absurd that they want to put more money into the police department when $95 million could pay for running 259 mental health clinics in our city. It could mean one brand new high school. A new school in Englewood would cost $75 million. It could build 6 new Chicago Public Library branches. $15 million is the cost for a new library that happened in Chinatown. We are being given this one option from our city that says, “Oh, we are going to give you more policing.” Then, people say, “Okay” because everybody wants more. More, more, more. We want resources. But no one is stopping and asking our communities, “What would you actually like to see done with $95 million?” That is where we are coming in and informing our communities and saying, “Here are all the things that we could actually incredibly benefit from in our city and here is what they are proposing.” This is not okay. This is not right. And, also, just making it clear that this isn’t a transparent process. This plan was well-developed long before it even was made public. And there has been no public comment or input at all whatsoever on the plan at any stage. We are making this clear to our communities that this plan is being put forward without our input in a time when our mayor is saying that the city is broke. But apparently, he can find money when he wants to. That is where we are coming from with the invest/divest. Let’s ask our communities and folks that are directly impacted by a lot of the violence that is happening and say, “What actually would make this violence stop?” That would be job training, that would be after-school programs. I think that imagination piece is what is often missing in the conversations around what we could actually invest our money in.

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Putting Socialists in Office, with David Duhalde


The Democratic Socialists of America had a good night on election night, electing two endorsed candidates and 15 of its members to offices in cities and states across the U.S. From Peekskill, NY to Knoxville, TN, Billings, MT to Pleasant Hill, IA, socialists will be taking office. What does that mean for the political trajectory of the country and for next year’s Congressional races? I spoke with David Duhalde, deputy director of DSA, about the organization’s electoral strategy and where it fits in the overall spectrum of left groups winning elections in 2017.

we really wanted people to show us that they had a pathway to victory. We didn’t need somebody to say, “I am 100% a shoo-in to win” but we wanted people to really show us they have been thinking about what were the steps to win their races. We wanted people who really were going to be out there hitting the pavement and talking to voters. From this, we were able to select six candidates. Then, really built a national infrastructure to support them through our base. Social media is a huge asset, especially for local races trying to draw national and potentially international attention and donations. But also, using our network of hundreds of volunteers and thousands of members to do phone banking and to do door knocking. For example, in Seattle, Jon Grant who ran as a great housing advocate who unfortunately ran against a very good liberal Democrat, so it made it a hard race. The DSA knocked on 22,000 doors and we made sure to send out emails for them to reach other members in the State of Washington they might not have reached.
The same thing with Carter. We worked hard to talk to the media and raise awareness, especially in the D.C. Beltway about his race which helped generate attention he might not have gotten. So, strategically, we shifted and we are trying to look to 2018 about how we are going to expand this program, because 2017 was kind of the test run. We will see what happens, but we definitely want to be more sophisticated, we want to increase the standards to get endorsed, and also, look at now we helped people win, so we want to make sure we hold them accountable. We don’t want people coming to us to get volunteers and leaving. There are a lot of questions that are going to come up that the national political committee, which is DSA’s leadership, the national electoral committee are working on to really make sure we are still a very relevant and democratic organization that is electing Socialists who will be held accountable by their constituents.

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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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Mitigating the medium-term disaster and making long-term change in Miami, with Jennifer Hill

Miami is recovering from Hurricane Irma slowly, but weeks out from the storm, secondary effects are creeping in. Organizers from the Miami Workers Center have seen up close the primary and secondary effects of the disaster now, and how they impact unequally, how opportunists use the storm to push through already-existing agendas of displacement, how race and gender and immigration status shape the relief people receive. Jennifer Hill is an organizer and attorney with the Miami Workers Center and Advocacy Parters Team and she talks about the work they’re doing to rebuild and strengthen the community against systemic problems.

Like many other people, we have gone back and forth about what makes something organizing versus servicing. It is not necessarily the nature of the work. It is more, I think, the approach to the work, how one carries out the work. In the wake of a disaster, people need a lot of services. They just need a lot of very practical help. It might be giving out water and it might be helping with disaster unemployment applications, and it might be many other things. What we have started to think about that it is important to be able to respond to some of the immediate needs in the community with actual services that are helpful and we want to partner with different groups that have different expertise if they can do that. But, it is also important to try to inject political education into the delivery of services. We want to make sure that when people get information and they go to a legal clinic, like when they came to our disaster relief legal clinics, that in addition to getting information about FEMA applications and disaster unemployment applications and disaster food stamp applications, that they get time to talk and that we have time to talk with them about their rights on the job and what to do if there is a problem and they face a threat or what to do if they are not paid or whether they anticipate any problems with access to healthcare and where they go for healthcare so we can try to make sure that the healthcare centers are open and that they have the ability to get all the services they need and they know about the sorts of programs for reduced fees or for access to healthcare. We try to set up these clinics, so they get to go from one station to another station and they get the services that they need. Then, they go to a station that is really a political education station where we talk about what is needed to make sure that people have their rights and how they can access and express their rights, but also, what is needed to make the changes that will make this better.

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Taking back control of Philadelphia’s public schools, with Antoine Little and Arielle Klagsbrun

Philadelphia’s public schools have been a political football for years, under the control of the state and systematically underfunded. But after sixteen years of organizing, a new mayor and a new governor, the Philadelphia school district is going to come back into the city’s control. Arielle Klagsbrun and Antoine Little of the 215 People’s Alliance and the Our City Our Schools coalition join me to explain how, in the midst of a war for public education, they won a victory for public control.

Our City Our Schools coalition started about a year ago, under the 215 People’s Alliance umbrella. We started this fight a year ago because we knew that our children here in Philadelphia deserved more, so we decided to take on the challenge of getting rid of the SRC either through self-dissolvement or through whatever method needed to be done to get it done. We took on the fight.
It was a hard fight because we had to go out and organize communities, we had to have tons and tons of meetings with the powers that be, the stakeholders that are in place, and we had to sit down and have conversations with them and give them our vision of what the fight would take and what we would have to do in order to win the fight and be able to move forward and to regain local control.
Now, for myself, I got involved with the school situation when they decided to close sixty-four schools. One of the schools that they were deciding to close was, number one, my old alma mater, T.M. Peirce Elementary School, but it was also the school that my children attended. And not just my children, but many children in that school and from that neighborhood would be forced to walk almost over ten blocks just to get to the next school that they were talking about sending these children to. So, I got involved to say, “Hold up. No, we can’t do this.”
We went out and we organized the community, sat at different SRC meetings, testified, meeting after meeting challenging about having to walk this distance that some of these children would have to walk through and some of the communities and the neighborhoods that they would have to walk through in order to get to this school weren’t the best. So, we had to show them what he was deciding to do with this one particular school and then, from there, T.M. Peirce was one of the schools that was saved, but unfortunately, many of the other ones weren’t able to be saved. But, again, they were only in the Black and Brown communities.

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Out of the headlines, the labor movement works to rebuild Puerto Rico, with Dan Maldonado

The rumors always come when disaster strikes, it seems–failures of the disaster recovery system are blamed on rank-and-file workers. As Dan Maldonado of Teamsters local 445 notes, the rumor this time was that Teamsters went on strike rather than deliver relief supplies across the island. The rumor was demonstrably false, and indeed the Teamsters sent workers down to the island for weeks of volunteer work. Maldonado was one of those workers–of Puerto Rican heritage himself, he has family still on the island–and he tells us what it’s still like down there and why recovery is likely to take a long time, and likely to slip from the headlines.

When you look at the death toll…and right now, they are saying it is 51. It may not seem like a lot, 51. But, the bigger concern is the long-term health effects. Let me give you two examples: one from what I knew from another Teamster and a personal one, myself. One, being that there was a Teamster that went to a neighborhood with a group of nurses and the lady had gangrene. Basically, she was in such a condition that her daughter kept obeying all her commands and we basically had to tell the daughter, “We understand that you respect your parents, but her mind is not there. The gangrene is getting inside of her.” We were able to get a VIP room for her. Unfortunately, her legs were amputated, but that was the only way for her to survive. Me, on a personal level, I have an uncle who is a diabetic, he had no electricity… So, for 7 days he didn’t take his diabetic medicine and he has the funds, he is economically stable to come over here, but now, because [he didn’t take his medicine], his legs got swollen which affected his kidneys and now he has got a pacemaker. So, he is in a catch 22 where he can’t get on a plane because he has got a pacemaker and he has got to stay in Puerto Rico. So, a lot of the long-term ill effects are something that we are concerned with down the road.

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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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