Working In These Times

Wednesday, Jun 28, 2017, 7:18 pm  ·  By Bruce Vail

GM To Colombian Workers Injured On the Job: You’re On Your Own

Workers working in a plant, General Motors Plant, Baltimore, Maryland. (Glowimages)  

A long-term protest by workers charging mistreatment by General Motors in Colombia received a slap in the face from the administration of President Donald Trump this month when one of the protest leaders was denied entry into the United States.

Former GM autoworker Jorge Parra was preparing to visit the United States when the U.S. Ambassador to Colombia abruptly cancelled his visa just 20 hours before his flight was scheduled to depart, says Paige Shell-Spurling, an activist with the Portland, Oregon-based Central America Solidarity Committee. The cancellation has not been officially explained, she says, and supporters suspect retaliation for the aggressive protest tactics employed by the Colombians.

Parra was headed to the United States to continue his seven-year struggle to win better treatment for workers injured at the GM plant in the Colombian capital of Bogota. Parra charges that he was among several hundred employees who were unfairly dismissed at the GM Colomotores assembly plant—and then denied financial help in recovering from injuries sustained on the job.


Wednesday, Jun 28, 2017, 5:52 pm  ·  By Ethan Earle

Trump Is Trying to Make NAFTA Even Worse. It’s Time to Throw Sand in the Gears

Demonstrations against NAFTA in Austin, Texas in November 1993. (Photo by Robert Daemmrich Photography Inc/Sygma via Getty Images)  

Many on the Left have been deeply critical of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) since before it was fast-tracked into law by former President Bill Clinton in 1994. Now, President Donald Trump’s current plan to renegotiate NAFTA is poised to make the massive trade deal even worse.

In late May, a loose coalition of civil society groups gathered in Mexico City to discuss this upcoming renegotiation. Participants included the AFL-CIO, Canadian Labour Congress and over one hundred other labor, environmental, and immigrant rights organizations from across Mexico, the United States and Canada.

The meeting produced a joint declaration opposing a Trump-led NAFTA renegotiation and marked the kickoff of the latest international campaign against free-trade deals that benefit corporations and political elites at the expense of workers, communities and our shared environment.

NAFTA’s legacy is marred by lost jobs, lower wages, increased inequality and a litany of environmentally destructive practices. While the people who gathered in Mexico City have long opposed NAFTA for its pro-corporate bent, a consensus emerged that President Trump and his team are cooking up something even worse.

Two questions follow from this judgment: What can we do to stop Trump, and how can we use the moment to challenge the powerful interests that he represents? 


Tuesday, Jun 27, 2017, 3:59 pm  ·  By Ari Paul

In Defense of the Campus: Why the Left Must Not Write Off Universities

The Left should be organizing on campuses precisely because they are in positions of immense economic power. (Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)  

Higher education in the United States has long been subject to a right-wing smear campaign painting college campuses as incubators for dangerous radicalism. There is little doubt that the election of President Donald Trump, who ran a campaign with explicit anti-intellectual currents, has increased its ferocity.

In late May, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, assistant professor of African-American Studies at Princeton University, was forced to cancel public speaking appearances after receiving a slew of death threats in response to her outspokenness on the issue of racism in America. Johnny Eric Williams, a tenured professor of sociology at Trinity College, was suspended and forced into hiding due to similar threats over an article on race he shared on his personal social media accounts. Essex County College adjunct instructor Lisa Durden lost her job for defending an all-black Memorial Day event on the show of conservative pundit Tucker Carlson. And Drexel University professor George Ciccariello-Maher has once again found himself the target of a right-wing campaign demanding his firing due to his controversial tweets, which have brought on an investigation into his social media activity by his employer.

These conditions present the perfect moment for the Left to redouble its commitment to defending higher education, both to show solidarity with the many liberals and leftists who make their lives in academia, and to protect the importance of the free exchange of ideas under our bottom-line-focused capitalist system.


Tuesday, Jun 27, 2017, 1:03 pm  ·  By Sarah Jaffe

Meet the Rough-and-Tumble Ironworker Ready to Unseat Paul Ryan

Randy Bryce's background as a steelworker gives him firsthand insight into the needs of working people. (Randy Bryce)  

Welcome to Interviews for Resistance. Since election night 2016, the streets of the United States have rung with resistance. People all over the country have woken up with the conviction that they must do something to fight inequality in all its forms. But many are wondering what it is they can do. In this series, we'll be talking with experienced organizers, troublemakers, and thinkers who have been doing the hard work of fighting for a long time. They'll be sharing their insights on what works, what doesn't, and what has changed, and what is still the same.

Randy Bryce: My name is Randy Bryce. I have been an ironworker for the past twenty years. I am a U.S. Army veteran, a dad, and a cancer survivor—and I am currently running to take Paul Ryan’s seat in the 1st Congressional district.

Sarah Jaffe: Your first ad, announcing your candidacy, got a lot of attention across the Internet, specifically talking about healthcare. Tell us about what kind of healthcare policy you want to see and your personal experiences that shaped that.

Randy: I am very opposed to pharmaceutical companies making huge money off of us. Everybody is corralled into paying high prices for not just drugs, but medical care overall. This stems from my own personal experience. Shortly after I got out of the Army, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. The doctor told me I probably wouldn’t be able to have children as a result of the surgery. People had asked, “Didn’t you get anything through the [U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (V.A.)]?” The thing is, the culture that we live in today—I should speak for myself, but it is also the guys I work with—it is only when it gets really bad that we take time off work to go to the doctor.


Monday, Jun 26, 2017, 4:43 pm  ·  By Teke Wiggin

Meet the Mom-and-Pop Company That Went from Union-Friendly to Union-Busting

Workers are on strike against the Long Island beer distributor Clare Rose. (Teamsters Joint Council 16)  

When Louis Chiarelli reflects on his 26 years at Long Island beer distributor Clare Rose, he remembers a family culture, company-wide vacations and the firm’s second-generation owners waiting late into holiday nights for drivers to return from their routes.

But now he finds himself standing across the picket line from his long-time employer. He’s one of more than 100 warehouse workers and drivers who have been on strike since Clare Rose slashed drivers’ wages and ended their pension plan, after allegedly failing to budge significantly in negotiations. 

Now entering its ninth week, the strike is a case study in how relations between family-owned businesses and unionized workers can take a turn for the worse after management passes on to a new generation and new industry pressures take hold. 


Friday, Jun 23, 2017, 2:50 pm  ·  By Waqas Mirza

When Anti-Poverty Programs for Immigrants Are Used to Bolster the Surveillance State

Imam Sheikh Sa'ad Musse Roble (4th L), President of World Peace Organization in Minneapolis, MN, and other city representatives listen during a roundtable discussion of the opening session of the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism February 17, 2015 at Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)  

Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric demonizing refugees and immigrants reached its apotheosis as he arrived in the state of Minnesota last November. During a rally, the then-candidate decried the presence of Somali refugees in the state, declaring that Minnesotans had “suffered enough” from admitting them. “Here in Minnesota you have seen firsthand the problems caused with faulty refugee vetting, with large numbers of Somali refugees coming into your state, without your knowledge, without your support or approval,” Trump said.

While Trump’s brazen fear mongering was consistent with his campaign rhetoric, his tone was nothing new for the state’s Somali communities—long targeted by institutional racism and stigmatization.

Minnesota is host to the largest Somali population in the country, concentrated mostly in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Like many other immigrant communities of color, Somalis in the state are confronted with a plethora of social and economic needs and receive little-to-no help from state and federal government agencies. Community-led organizations that seek to fill the gap constantly struggle with a lack of funding and resources.


Thursday, Jun 22, 2017, 6:39 pm  ·  By Shaun Richman

How Union-Busting Bosses Propel the Right Wing to Power

Pinkerton's detectives escort strikebreakers in Buchtel, Ohio, 1884. (Photo: Library of Congress)  

U.S. bosses fight unions with a ferocity that is unmatched in the so-called free world. In the early days of the republic, master craftsmen prosecuted fledgling unions as criminal conspiracies that aimed to block their consolidation of wealth and property. During modern times, corporations threaten the jobs of pro-union workers in over half of all union elections—and follow through on the threat one-third of the time. In between, bosses have resorted to spies and frame-ups, physical violence, court injunctions, private armies of strikebreakers, racist appeals and immigrant exploitation.

The labor question has never been a genteel debate about power and fairness in America.

A new book from the University of Illinois Press’ “The Working Class History in American History” series offers a broad survey of how bosses have historically engaged in union-busting. Against Labor: How U.S. Employers Organized to Defeat Union Activism is a collection of scholarly essays edited by Rosemary Feurer and Chad Pearson.


Thursday, Jun 22, 2017, 11:42 am  ·  By Jeff Abbott

Thousands of Haitian Workers Are on Strike Against Foreign-Owned Sweatshops

Strikers shut down dozens of factories that produce textiles for large U.S. companies, such as Levi Jeans and Fruit of the Loom. Workers temporarily blocked the road to the Toussaint Louverture International airport in Port-au-Prince on May 19. (Photo: Rapid Response Network)  

Thousands of textile workers in Haiti have stopped work in factories and taken to the streets to demand of improved working conditions in the country’s maquiladora export industry. For more than three weeks, workers have mobilized to demand higher wages, an eight-hour workday and protections against increased quotas across the industrial centers of Port-au-Prince, Carrefour, Ounaminthe and Caracol.

The strike follows the annual commemoration of International Workers’ Day.

Currently, workers receive a daily wage of roughly 300 gourdes, or about 4.77 U.S. dollars (USD), for a day’s work. Strikers are demanding that the wage is raised to 800 gourdes, or 12.72 USD—and that the eight-hour day be respected.


Monday, Jun 19, 2017, 5:44 pm  ·  By Alexander Kolokotronis

Retirement of Boomer Business Owners Could Leave Millions Jobless—Unless Workers Take Over

Companies like Wright-Ryan Construction in Portland, Maine, are increasingly offering Employee Stock Ownership Plans—a step in the right direction toward worker ownership. As baby boomers retire, this creates new opportunities for democratizing businesses. (Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)  

The federal government estimates that more than 10,000 baby boomers retire every day—4 million people every year. Between them, soon-to-retire boomers own 2.34 million businesses, with nearly 25 million employees. Boomer-owned businesses generate $949 billion in payroll, and $5.14 trillion in sales. Yet the vast majority of boomer business owners lack a written transition plan for when they retire, and the coming shift in ownership—what some have termed the “Silver Tsunami”—could affect one-sixth of U.S. workers, decimate membership in local business associations and chambers of commerce, and have ripple effects throughout the entire economy.

For the movement to democratize the workplace, however, this transition could also present a tremendous opportunity. Only around 20 percent of retiring small business owners find a buyer, and when they do, buyers tend to be competitors, larger companies, private equity firms or predatory real estate developers. The above actors, however, rarely have the best interest of workers and local communities at heart, thrusting many into precarious work and in some cases driving gentrification. 


Thursday, Jun 15, 2017, 3:41 pm  ·  By Stephen Franklin

A Day in the Life of a Day Laborer

Day laborers often wait for several unpaid hours, hoping for an employer to engage them with work.   (Photo by Ken Cedeno/Corbis via Getty Images)

CHICAGO—Come sunrise, the men fill the street corner, among them Luis, quietly sitting by himself, nurturing hopes for work today.

There was no work yesterday, nothing the day before and nothing for weeks.

Still, the 50-year-old Guatemalan, who didn’t want his last name used, waits in the growing heat, saying he has no other choice.

He waits even though he hates day labor work, because he says it is sometimes dangerous, barely enough to live on, and some of the men on the street corner have bullied and hurt him on the job.