Working In These Times

Thursday, Apr 16, 2015, 1:22 pm  ·  By Arielle Zionts and Micah Uetricht

During Yesterday’s Fight for 15 Protests, Nearly 50 Chicago Armored Guards Decided to Go on Strike

Brink's workers at the Fight for 15 rally at the University of Illinois-Chicago.   (Arielle Zionts)

The Fight for 15 campaign says that yesterday’s protests in over 200 cities around the country were the biggest yet since the movement began almost three years ago. Organizers say their numbers have grown larger with each round of strikes. But they have also expanded in ways that no one, including the campaign’s staffers, thought possible—like when nearly 50 drivers and security guards employed by Brink’s, the global security and logistics company known for its armored bulletproof trucks, suddenly decided to walk off the job early Wednesday morning.

The workers say they made the decision that morning after reaching out to an organizer from the campaign a few days before April 15. After making the decision at their headquarters that morning, they were joined by a group of Fight for 15 staffers and supporters. The workers attempted to present a signed letter to management stating they were going on strike, but messenger John Downes says managers refused to come to the door. Workers have not yet received a response from management.

At 5:00 a.m. this morning, a group of about 20 Fight for 15 staffers and community supporters accompanied a group of around two dozen workers back to work, a tactic which the movement has used after every strike. Workers attempted to deliver another letter to management today that explained their strike, but management instead called the police on the group. Staffers say the workers did, however, successfully return to work.

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Thursday, Apr 16, 2015, 9:21 am  ·  By David Moberg

Fast Food Workers in 236 Cities Pull Off Largest Strikes Yet as Other Low-wage Workers Join Fight

(Milwaukee Teachers Education Association / Flickr)  

A hand-lettered placard, reading “McDonald’s: Stop Fooling Around, $15 and a union,” caught the spirit of the crowd of at least 3,000 protestors in Chicago for a march to a McDonald’s restaurant in the downtown Loop area connected to the Chicago Board of Trade. In 236 cities in the U.S. and roughly 100 more around the world from Sao Paulo to New Zealand and from Glasgow to Tokyo, according to protest spokespeople, fast food and other low-wage workers joined together to pressure employers like McDonald’s to raise their workers’ pay.

Organizers claimed that it was the largest protest by low-wage workers in U.S. history. And it may very well rank as one of the broadest global worker protests ever undertaken against multinational corporations—one reinforced by recent investigations and lawsuits in Europe against the company for violations of labor, health, safety, tax and other laws.

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Tuesday, Apr 14, 2015, 6:42 pm  ·  By Sonia Singh

How the Fight for 15 Has Inspired Bold Action and Demands from Workers Everywhere

Milwaukee low-wage workers on strike in September 2014. (Wisconsin Jobs Now / Flickr)  

As thousands of low-wage workers are rallying and striking Wednesday, demanding $15 an hour and a union, their high-profile mobilization has already inspired workers in a range of industries far beyond fast food.

From school support staff to UPS part-timers, Fight for 15 is raising the confidence of unions to put bold demands on the bargaining table for their own low-wage members—and to back up those demands with community action.

The surge in low-wage worker organizing is also fueling campaigns to boost the minimum wage, spreading the momentum for $15 to new cities, including a wave of action across Canada.

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Tuesday, Apr 14, 2015, 5:57 pm  ·  By Leo Gerard, United Steelworkers President

The Courage of Low-Wage Workers On Strike

(Annette Bernhardt / Flickr)  

This is no plea for pity for corporate kingpins like Walmart and McDonald’s inundated by workers’ demands for living wages.

Raises would, of course, cost these billion-dollar corporations something. More costly, though, is the price paid by minimum-wage workers who have not received a raise in six years. Even more dear is what these workers have paid for their campaign to get raises. Managers have harassed, threatened and fired them.

Despite all that, low-wage workers will return to picket lines and demonstrations Wednesday in a National Day of Action in the fight for $15 an hour.

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Monday, Apr 13, 2015, 1:37 pm  ·  By Erik Loomis

How We Can Hold American Companies that Use Sweatshop Labor Accountable

Textile workers at a sweatshop in Dhaka, Bangladesh, the same city where the Tazreen and Rana Plaza factory disasters occurred. (Flickr / Asian Development Bank)  

A small news item in the Mumbai Mirror in late October caught my attention. A zipper sweatshop in the city of Ghatkopar was the home of several young boys who were routinely beaten and tortured by the owner. The story quoted an 11-year-old rescued from the sweatshop. Speaking about owner Rajdeep Chaudhary, the boy said:

He used to hit the other two boys with a thick stick. Just like me he did not take them to a doctor even when they were bleeding badly. Finally one day last month, the two boys somehow managed to escape from the factory. Chaudhary did not even bother to look for them, but he started locking me up during the nights after that.

The boys in this sweatshop worked 16-hour days, were rarely fed and even starved, and lived in horrible conditions all too common in the global apparel industry. Such conditions are, if anything, encouraged in the industry by the multinational corporations who have long looked to avoid responsibility for their actions by outsourcing and subcontracting work to ever poorer nations.

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Saturday, Apr 11, 2015, 11:27 am  ·  By James Thindwa

Citizens United: The Elephant in the Room in Rahm Emanuel’s Mayoral Reelection

Maybe it's time for labor to rethink its stance on Citizens United. (Stephanie Barto / Flickr)  

Rahm Emanuel’s reelection on April 7 was not a conquest. Despite the millions he spent, and the much longer lead time he had to prepare and run for reelection, the mayor managed simply to survive. And he did so by buying the election, period.

Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who entered the race much later and was outspent 4 to 1—not counting the Emanuel-aligned corporate super PACs—forced the arch-neoliberal incumbent into a run-off and only lost the general election by 66,000 votes. Emanuel’s victory was a testament not to the triumph of ideas, but to the distorting role of money in politics.  

Much is being made of the Garcia campaign’s mistakes, and there were many. But for any candidate who comes into the race with so many disadvantages, glitches and errors are par for the course. What is clear—and what progressives cannot ignore—is that this election is ultimately a symbol of the post-Citizens United electoral terrain.

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Friday, Apr 10, 2015, 6:36 pm  ·  By David Moberg

Chicago Progressives’ Mixed Results Against the ‘Money Machine’

Jesus "Chuy" Garcia campaigns in Chicago during the final week of his campaign. (Stephanie Barto / Flickr)  

With a little interpretive help, an empty lot can tell quite a bit about a city. In his failed bid to oust Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in their April 7 run-off election, Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia incorporated many “empty lot” stories into his tale of two cities—a thriving Chicago for the rich, a city of people struggling to survive—or wasting away—for the majority.  

One March day, Chuy walked with a retinue of reporters around two typically grim square blocks in Englewood, a poor, black, depopulated and crime-plagued neighborhood on the city’s South Side—suffering from near-death blows from the last recession and the excessively high unemployment and foreclosures for its residents. Roughly a third of the lots were vacant and another third were occupied by boarded-up, abandoned homes and stores. The only governmental presence was a school Emanuel closed last year; a single church represented the nonprofit institutions of civil society.  

It could have been different: the Chicago Housing Authority could have chosen not to hoard several hundred million dollars and instead put the local jobless to work rehabbing rather than demolishing many of Englewood’s foreclosed homes, thus providing customers to sustain local businesses. Now the only noticeable legal enterprise on those blocks is a rundown but sadly busy storefront: Illinois Casket Company.

Days later, Garcia stood before an empty lot near the lakefront McCormick Place convention center, at the south edge of the Loop, where construction was underway on a new Marriott Hotel. The city contributed $55 million from a special account (tax increment financing) that diverts increases in tax revenue from the general fund supposedly to eliminate “blight.” In practice, it’s a slush fund for the mayor to provide “pinstripe patronage” to cronies. 

Two big investors in the hotel (and in Marriott itself) were private equity fund managers, including the richest man in Illinois, Citadel CEO Ken Griffin. Together, the two men gave Emanuel at least $1.5 million in March alone (while also generously funding many conservative Republicans).

Garcia’s focus on these two empty lots helps tell the story about how politics in Chicago has changed—and could change yet again. First, Garcia’s candidacy became the first sustained challenge to the new Chicago machine, the “money machine.” Second, it shifted urban politics that have been deeply defined in racial terms for decades towards debate more focused on economic policy and class interests.

“This was the most class-based election I recall in Chicago,” says veteran political analyst and strategist Don Rose, who advised Garcia.

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Wednesday, Apr 8, 2015, 1:37 pm  ·  By Kari Lydersen

Union-backed Sue Sadlowski Garza Claims Win Over Rahm Emanuel Ally in Southeast Chicago (Updated)

Sue Sadlowski Garza (center) and her supporters at a post-election party last night. (Kari Lydersen)  

Update: At 5:15 pm., the Sadlowski Garza campaign claimed victory against Alderman Pope by a margin of 54 votes. 

As Jesus “Chuy” Garcia was conceding and Rahm Emanuel was claiming victory in the historic Chicago mayoral election Tuesday night, the dynamic at an election party for a progressive candidate on the Southeast Side was quite different.

In the 10th ward run-off race for City Council, Sue Sadlowski Garza, a Chicago Teachers Union leader and part of a legendary family of United Steelworkers union activists, was neck and neck with John Pope, the incumbent alderman backed by Emanuel and considered part of the entrenched Chicago machine.

Inside a tavern called Crow Bar, located practically under the Chicago Skyway toll road by the Indiana border, a diverse crowd of black, Latino and white residents nervously shared information about vote totals, the sense of excitement ratcheting up as new precincts reported. Finally there was only one precinct left to tally—and it was the one with polls at Jane Addams Elementary, where Sadlowski Garza is a school counselor.

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Wednesday, Apr 8, 2015, 12:23 pm  ·  By Leo Gerard, United Steelworkers President

Broad Support for LGBT Rights Somehow Caught Republican Governors By Surprise

(IndyPride / Facebook)

After Indiana Republicans passed a license to discriminate law, a restaurant called Memories Pizza in the Hoosier town of Walkerton stepped up last week to make sure potential customers knew its religious rules: “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Certification of Heterosexuality, No Service.”

Indiana GOP Gov. Mike Pence provided official sanction for such acts of oppression when he signed a gay-bashing version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It enabled individuals and businesses to legally claim their faith required hateful acts of intolerance. Pence got all huffy when human rights groups accused him of seeking to change the state’s slogan from Hoosier Hospitality to Hoosier Hostility.

Marriage-equality-hating Indiana Republicans were joined by counterparts in Arkansas, North Carolina and Georgia in advancing government-sanctioned discrimination. This is not the way Americans treat each other. Well, not in 2015 anyway. America traveled down the path of intolerance for too many centuries. Now, Americans look back at all-white lunch counters with shame. Despite anxiety about ISIS, they disapprove of blaming terrorism on all Muslims. Americans aren’t perfect inclusive egalitarians. But they’re trying. On a deeply spiritual level, they hate institutionalization of minority hate.

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Wednesday, Apr 8, 2015, 9:39 am  ·  By Micah Uetricht

Rahm Emanuel Won—But Chicago Progressives Actually Have Much to Be Happy About

Jesus “Chuy” Garcia’s loss to Rahm Emanuel in the Chicago mayoral election is a blow to progressives. But the city’s grassroots movements are hardly dead.   (Bob Simpson / Flickr)

I walked into Jesus "Chuy" Garcia's post-election party last night just after the announcement that Garcia had conceded in the mayoral race against Rahm Emanuel. People appeared morose. But the DJ, surely under strict orders from the campaign, wouldn't stop blasting upbeat music. As I walked past a union staffer with tears in her eyes, Chicago's "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?" began roaring out of the speakers.

A song posing such a question was a fitting coda for the campaign of a candidate who never really seemed to know what time it was in Chicago—or if he did, he didn't seem to care. The campaign is over, and we can now say it openly: Garcia was a mediocre candidate at best, and was far from the best for Chicago’s current moment. 

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